Thrown Weapons in Arms Law. A critical component of combat.

A recent thread over at the RMU Arms Law Beta Forums discussed the viability of thrown weapons. The general impression is that thrown weapons aren’t used regularly by most players; according to the poll over 60% of player use thrown weapons 0-20% of the time. There are a number of reasons stated or implied for the low use of thrown weapons:

  1. Limited damage.
  2. Limited range.
  3. Limited “ammo”; once you throw it, it’s gone for the remainder of combat usually.

But there might be a systemic problem within Rolemaster combat that minimizes the use of thrown weapons–I’ll get to that in a bit.

First, let’s distinguish between larger thrown weapons like spears and war hammers and smaller less potent weapons like daggers, darts, shurikens, needles or even ball bearings. All of these smaller weapons are cool, add personality to players and NPC’s and are portrayed as being quite deadly in popular fiction. But in many RPG’s, small thrown weapons aren’t that potent; or as seen in the forum thread, rarely used.

Terry includes a lot of thrown weapons in his NPC’s. Wrist dart guns, axes and  shurikens are frequently used, but they are often magical (return via long door) or have other bonus properties (exploding flame cartridges or sleep powder). These “add-ons” overcome some of the real or perceived  limitations of thrown weapons, but also reinforce the idea that mundane small thrown weapons aren’t that usable.

So solution 1 is to enhance thrown weapons with Weapon Runes, poisons, or powders/pastes. I like this solution as it adds even more utility to the Herb/Poison skill and can be a accessible solution for lower level players.

Where and when does one throw a weapon? The base 50′ movement rate/rnd allows players to shift from long distance ranged weapon use to melee in a single round. 50′ is usually too far for effective thrown weapon use, and within 10′ it’s basically melee engagement. Throwing while moving incurs fairly high penalties and basically removes the ability of the player to use a more effective melee attack at the end of the movement phase. It feels like a small window of opportunity and combined with low damage, makes thrown skill less important when allocating scarce development points. Certainly everyone modifies or house rules their combat rounds, so ask yourself how your methodology encourages or discourages thrown weapons.

Therefore, Solution 2 addresses issues that might be arising from the RM combat rules itself by allowing for thrown weapon use in melee. If we consider normal melee engagement distance to be between 5′ to 10′ then allowing small thrown weapons at the outer limits of that range, as an extra attack, to be advantageous. We’ve worked this into our system with the “combat sphere” in our initiative rules and our individual weapon modifiers. With this system, if the “thrower” wins the initiative they’ve created a small space/distance to effectively throw (similar to the combat sphere of a polearm wielder). That means an opponent with a shorter weapon will be at a disadvantage against the thrower.

However, you don’t need to add those extra rules –just permit  thrown small size weapon use in melee with the understanding that the small give and take positioning of combat allows for gaps needed to throw. Allowing more flexibility with thrown weapons and adding some enhancements can make these small, even innocuous, weapons quite deadly!



7 Replies to “Thrown Weapons in Arms Law. A critical component of combat.”

  1. Those are definitely some intriguing suggestions!

    I think you are dead right to point out that the high rates of movement in RM2/SS seriously limit the viability of thrown weapons.

    Happily, RMU addresses the problems with thrown weapons in multiple ways, and makes them much more viable. RMU for example reduces the length of the round to 5 seconds from 10, thus effectively halving movement rates. Thrown weapons thus start to become more attractive.

    RMU also seems to be considering allowing characters a free move, which would mean characters could move a little bit and still throw weapons in the same turn without penalty. We also discussed reducing the number of action points needed to throw a weapon from 3 to 2, which gives thrown weapons a niche as fast, medium-distance weapons. The thief who stumbles upon the town guard archer can throw his dagger a split second before the archer can raise his bow to shoot. Finally, we also discussed the possibility of using the charge rules to give a thrown projectile extra momentum: this represents the way a javelin-thrower for example can get some extra power to his throw if he takes a run up. You can’t really do that with a bow.

    So, I think you do make a great point about thrown weapons being a bit underpowered due to movement rates, and I like your ideas for addressing thrown weapons in previous editions. I just think RMU is doing a great job of fixing these issues in the new edition, and I think it is going to be a lot of fun to start throwing some spears!

  2. I haven’t really studied the latest Beta; waiting for the final product to come out. The reduction of the round to 5 sec and movement to 20′ does help, but the ability to move into melee engagement from “throwing range” is still easy. My players would rather engage with a more damaging weapon and ability to parry than to stay just far enough away. IMOH, smaller thrown weapons are only effective up to 30′ and at that distance, don’t have the mass to pierce heavy armor.

  3. Thrown Weapons (RM2 at least) are underpowered. Check.

    Distance restriction. Check.

    Use it and lose it. Check.

    But there are ways around this, without magical means. I’ve always viewed the Long Door return as a cop-out. “Lazy writing” to quote Dead Pool. There are so many weapons Long-Dooring back to the thrower, no one should be using bows and cross bows anymore.

    I love the idea of runes on a blade. It’s a lower cost and much faster to put a rune on a small item vs. enchanting it with a higher level spell at item creation time even more so if it is several times for a set of five daggers, etc.

    We (my group) tend to view thrown weapons as the prelude to combat, a quick sneak attack, an “emergency” tactic, someone brought a knife to a bow-fight, closing distance, distraction, so on. It was never meant to be a mainstay form of combat. The Dancer in our group has thrown weapons with Martial Arts being her primary attack. If someone tries to run, she zips a dagger and gets a nice back attack bonus.

    I’ve been giving bolas to one or two baddies in the larger groups of NPCs and those have been very confounding to the players. Thrown weapons, like any other skill in RM is very effective when used correctly.

    Compare a set of 5 non-magical throwing daggers or even 3 of them. They can be thrown each round. Pit that against a bow man who fires every other round, a crossbowman firing every 3rd round, or a mage casting a spell every 3rd round (maybe every other round). All of those attackers are at the mercy for the thrown dagger for 3 rounds.

    Would I use thrown weapons as my ONLY means of OB? Of course not. Use them for closing distance or getting a way. Use them for a nice back attack at a fleeing foe. Use them disrupt the spell caster!

    But we can’t look solely at RM or RMU and say “Thrown weapons are underpowered, low ammo, etc.” Look at every single roleplaying game we play. D&D, Vampire, Werewolf, GURPS, Star Wars, Pathfinder, Robotech, Spacemaster. How many players in any of those systems use thrown weapons?

    And why don’t they? For all the same reasons they aren’t popular in RM. But in the hands of a creative player or a skilled tactician, in any gaming system they are very useful.

  4. We very much used thrown weapons as an opening salvo. Our fighter used a combination of two weapon combo and adrenal speed to launch two hand axes as he closed and then draw his two handed sword as he got into melee.

    My PC had the dreaded long dooring thrown knives, adrenal move speed and two weapon combo. My OB was something like 140+ with them so facing me was a bit like facing machine gun fire.

  5. Well, you can´t parry ranged weapons (at least in our local interpretation) and thrown are easily holstered or brought to bear compared to 2 handers like bows which end up on the ground once melee ensues. We had a camppain with a bow expert that used lightning draw to mow down the opposition which worked well until an opponents thrown dagger cut his string.

  6. Those are some good ideas for thrown weapons. I especially like the point Matthias made about not being able to parry thrown weapons (this is true in RMU too).

    Another use is when you win initiative but are too far away from your opponent to move and attack without penalty. Then we allow combatants to ‘hold’ their thrown attack for when the enemy moves within range. This is what the Romans did of course: hold their javelins (pila) until they were about to close with the enemy, then let off a disruptive volley before closing to melee.

    I was also thinking that one of the main reasons players don’t use thrown weapons very much is that it requires an entirely separate skill. The cost of that is too high for casters and most semis. What about if you included thrown weapons in the same category as the melee skill? So RMU’s polearms category would include not just spear (melee), but also spear (thrown), on the assumption that mastering spear combat includes mastering how to throw it?

    RMU already has similar skill rules, so even if you didn’t do that, the penalty for throwing an axe is only -25 your normal (melee) axe OB. You could go further and add a rule about thrown weapons that reduces that penalty to say -15 or -10 from your melee OB of the weapon, provided that the thrown weapon is in the same Combat Training category. E.g.: a Hand Axe can be thrown or wielded in melee, and is in the Hafted category, so it would only be at -10 or -15 off your melee OB.

  7. Oops, my bad: the penalty in RMU would be -50 by default, since throwing an axe would be the ‘same category but different skill’ compared to the melee axe (Combat Training: Ranged: Thrown vs. Combat Training: Melee: Hafted).

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