Q&A: Dual Wielding: Power and Control

is it actually possible to wield dual weapons like swords and axes? I ask because I always thought swords were kind of heavy

galaxytiger700

Yes, it’s possible. You’re also understandably mistaken.

The weight of a given sword or axe will vary depending on the individual artifact. So, you could reasonably find an absurdly heavy ornamental sword, designed for display, which would be impractical to use because of its weight. These certainly existed, and there are many surviving examples. But a sword intended for combat would be quite light.

In fact, it’s possible, though somewhat more taxing, to wield the “heavy” 2h swords like the Zweihander or Claymore with one hand. The key piece of information is, even the large greatswords rarely exceeded 8lbs (~3.6kg.) Put this in a frame of reference you’re (probably) familiar with: A gallon of milk weighs more than that.

A one-handed European sword would weigh somewhere between 2 to 4lbs (~0.9-1.8kg). Easy enough to lift and operate in a single hand without issues. Early modern light blades, like the rapier, would weigh even less.

Saying they’re too heavy to wield in one hand is, kind of, ridiculous. Now, it is defensible to make this mistake. A lot of RPGs get pretty sloppy with weapon weights. D&D used to err at the upper edge, so if you crack open a 3rd edition book, it’ll give you the upper values I just listed as the default weight. (5th Edition’s corrected this with average weights.) Fire up something like Skyrim, and it will glibly tell you that a Steel Greatsword weighs 17 “units,” whatever the hell those are. Though, you could be forgiven for thinking that Bethesda meant 17lbs.

There’s a similar misconception with armor. The idea that armor is heavy and cumbersome. Sometimes taken to the point that there are people who legitimately believe a knight in full plate who was knocked over couldn’t get back up. Again, as with the display and parade weapons, there is a little truth to this. Particularly with armor designed for tournaments, that really impair the user’s mobility in the game of greater protection. However, any combat equipment that is too cumbersome or heavy to use in a real fight is fundamentally flawed.

Swords and other weapons intended for combat were kept light. Strength is not the issue, endurance is. If you’re going to be fighting all day, a heavier weapon will wear you out faster. While you could lift and swing a 20lb sword around, it would quickly exhaust you. This is fine if you’re working out, trying to build up conditioning, or putting on a performance, but when you’re trying to kill someone, that’s a detriment. If it’s heavier, it’ll be harder to control and more exhausting.

As a result, even the big, “heavy,” swords were kept pretty light. They’re agile, lethal, and require skill to use effectively. When fighting an armored opponent, the goal was (usually) to find gaps in their armor and run it in through there, rather than flailing wildly and hoping the kinetic force got the job done. (Hint: it wouldn’t.)

So, is it possible to dual wield an axe and sword? Well, yes. It is. It also wasn’t done with any frequency. You’re, ironically, better equipped to face off an opponent two handing a single blade or axe, than you are if you try dual wielding. This goes back to what I just said, the heavier the weapon the less control, and more exhausting it is. If you have your offhand free to aid use of the sword, you can use it to help with control and power, making far more dangerous, than an opponent who’s splitting their attention on two offensive weapons.

While I’m not being explicit, most of this also applies to an axe.

There’s one very common form of dual wielding that most people don’t think about: The sword and shield. Yes, this is dual wielding. The shield is a weapon, more defensive, making it less viable for use on its own, but still a weapon. 

So, the short answer is that people did dual wield, just not in the way you’re thinking. Wielding two offensive weapons will, counter-intuitively, put the combatant at a significant disadvantage against an opponent with one weapon.

There’s an argument for a sufficiently skilled combatant dual wielding, or an experienced combatant using an off hand weapon opportunistically. (Such as grabbing a discarded weapon to exploit a moment’s vulnerability.)

The main reason to have a character dual wielding is because it’s visually dynamic. As with many other things, if you’re not working in a visual medium, that effect will be lost, and you’re making more work for yourself without the benefit.

-Starke

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