Melee Weapons in Fantasy RPGs
Aim: Simple but with flavor, flavor in this context meaning that cinematic weapon categories should have a functional niche. Cinematically a longsword is a broadsword is a cutlass (more or less) but an axe is not a sword because a sword is swishy while an axe is smashy.
Historical context (imo)
1) Spears were the norm in battles for most of history. I think because they were cheap, relatively low-skill and as thrusting weapons they allowed the soldiers to stand close side by side creating a mutual defensive benefit (Weapons that needed more of a swing would need more space between the soldiers)
2) Spears used two-handed were also used for hunting as they are good against animals who charge, leap or pounce as their own momentum adds to the damage (boar spears had a horizontal bar across as stuck boar would try to reach the guy with the spear).
3) Swords seem to have been the most handy weapons as they were balanced for cut & thrust but not that good at getting through heavy armor.
4) Axes, maces, picks, hammers etc all follow the same principle of putting the weight at the end focusing the force to a point. This makes them better at punching through armor but slower and less swishy (because not balanced). Used especially in the late middle ages for smashing through armor.
5) Axes were also often used by cultures which had limited access to metal e.g. nordics.
6) Daggers, fast but low reach, generally a very bad choice except when attacking from stealth or in a grapple.
7) Short sword, similar to dagger, ranks of shield and short sword men (e.g. Romans) get the same shoulder to shoulder defensive bonus as spearmen)
8) Piercing weapons like daggers and short swords have a chance of finding chinks in armor.
9) Long sword (bastard sword) can be used one or two handed, reasonably well-balanced and designed for cut & thrust, pierce attack for dealing with armor.
10) Two-handed smashy weapons are slower than one-handed but more smashy.
11) Halberds, a combination of spear and 2H axe, can be used either way but only one mode at a time.
12) Polearm, shorter knightly version of halberd, more handy 2H smashy weapon which can be used to parry with.
so the key attributes of melee combat (all imo)
1. Swords as the best choice overall if available
2. Spears as both a cheap, low skill beginner weapon and optimal in the context of a shoulder to shoulder fight or hunting
3. Axes etc not as good as swords overall but relatively cheap and lower skill compared to swords and better penetration against heavy armor
4. Short swords, not great unless you’re the Romans, cheaper and lower skill than a sword, faster than an axe so a good rogue weapon
4a. rogue class skills could require the rogue character to be “light” where light is defined as only carrying items of gear from the “light” list (which could include short swords but not axes, maces etc)
5. Daggers, as (4) but more so.
6. 2H weapons, slow and last to strike so vulnerable unless protected by heavy armor
Swishy: cut & thrust weapon
Smashy: slow but high momentum weapons, good against armor, ability to damage armor/shields
Very Smashy: as Smashy but more so
Chink: pierce weapon has a chance to bypass armor
Pierce: exploding damage
Brace: charging, leaping, pouncing creatures add their momentum to damage if weapon braced
Precision: bonus to chink and piercing (but only dagger surprise/stealth attacks)
Defensive: weapon has parrying ability
light, 1H, 2H
Dagger: light, chink, pierce
Knife: light, swishy
Spear: light, chink, pierce, throw
Spear: 2H, chink, pierce, brace, defensive, throw
Hatchet, Club: light
Axe, Mace, Hammer: 1H, smashy
2H Ace, Mace, Hammer: 2H, smashy
Shortsword: 1H, chink, pierce
Broadsword: 1H, swishy
Longsword: 1H swishy or 2H swishy or 2H chink, pierce
Staff: light, defensive
Polearm: defensive and (2H smashy or 2H chink, pierce)
Halberd: defensive and (2H smashy or 2H chink, pierce, brace)