Q&A: The Disadvantages of Battlefield Brawling

How would a fighter class fight in a war? Especially if their main skill set is brawling.

If their main skillset is brawling, they’re going to need to learn a new skillset. Knowing unarmed fighting can be a useful skill for a soldier, but, it’s never going to be their primary fighting method. The biggest problem is the lack of reach, and the lack of natural weapons.

If you’re trying to wage war by punching people, and the other side has a bunch of spears, you’re out of luck. They just poke you to death before you can land a single hit.

The problem persists even if their armed with shorter weapons, like swords or axes. You still need the ability to close the gap, before brawling will become a viable option.

It is important to understand, there are applications for knowing how to throw a punch, even in the middle of a massive battle. Times when your character may not be able to use their weapon for whatever reason. A good example of this is if enemies are too close for a character’s primary weapon, which can occur in melee. However, it’s never going to be a soldier’s first choice, and even in very tight quarters, as a knife or dagger would be preferable.

It’s also not particularly viable to strap blades onto your arms, to augment your punches. Weapons like bladed gauntlets, wrist blades, and (worn) cestuses may look cool, but they’re wildly impractical in warfare. If the weapon is damaged, it cannot simply be discarded, and you’re stuck with a weapon you may not be able to use.

Beyond that, these styles of worn weapons will be slower than a carried blade. Because you need to put your entire arm into the strike, you cannot match the speed of a weapon that pivots on the wrist. That will impair your ability to block or parry incoming strikes, and quickly end with your death. There are very real reasons that worn weapons never caught on or saw widespread use; they’re impractical.

Now, having said that, there is a specific place where these kinds of weapons are ideal. Gladiatorial combat. It’s important to remember that, from a structural point of view, any kind of arena combat will be entertainment. That can be modern sports matches or Roman(-style) gladiators. In cases like those, having “non-viable weapons,” like wrist blades strapped to the participants is entirely legitimate, because it’s not about efficiently killing the enemy, it’s about having inefficient, and bloodier, combat for the crowd. While I can’t remember the name off-hand, I’m pretty sure there was a Roman gladiator variant who was armed with a pair of cestuses, and nothing else. You wouldn’t want to take that to war, but it would produce a bloody spectacle in the arena.

Fighter classes tend to be combat generalists. For most RPG systems, if you’re wondering what the infantry of that setting looks like, the answer are low level fighters. If you’re wondering what the elite units are comprised of, also low to mid level fighters. Who’s commanding? Probably a fighter. What about the city guards? Probably fighters. What about the gang enforces the guards scuffle with? More fighters. What are the gladiators in the arena? It’s yet more fighters.

Now, that’s not all RPGs. Some will break apart the fighter into distinct classes (or sub-classes.) So, it’s possible you’re looking a game where, “Fighter,” refers exclusively to a kind of gladiator, and there’s a warrior or solider class for characters with a more militant focus. I’m not familiar with any RPGs which do that, but it wouldn’t surprise me. (My first suspect is The Dark Eye, but I’m not familiar enough with that system to know for sure.)

Many RPGs encourage hyperfocusing on a single weapon for your fighter. Even D&D does this through the Weapon Focus and Specialization feats. While having a character who is a master of one weapon, but otherwise mediocre is a reasonable character concept, it’s not particularly realistic, or at least, it should be considered as a serious character flaw and/or limitation.

Being an effective combatant is about knowing how to use all your available tools, and a single weapon fighter can’t do that. They have one option, and only one option. All weapons are situational, and an unarmed fighter in a war is a long way from any of the situations that benefit them.

-Starke

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