Between shortymonster, Art, History and RPGs, and myself, there have been several posts on slings in RPGs as of late. Now, I’ve already gushed about the utility of the staff sling, as a melee weapon and siege device, proclaiming it to be the New Vorpal Blade. But, I’d like to add one more to the list, at the special request of Varg Vikernes, in regards to the Spear Sling.
Now, don’t be confused by the name: a spear sling is NOT a spear-tipped staff sling (which would be awesome). In fact, there are three devices that are referred to as Spear Slings, and I’d like to highlight each of them.
Atlatl or Spearthrower
First developed and used around 25,000-30,000 years ago , the atlatl was one of the first major advances in human weaponry technology since the throwing spears by Heidelberg peoples. Though these are often associated with Native Americans who brought them over the Bering land bridge, the earliest known atlatls were discovered in France. The atlatl is usually a 2’ long carved wooden or bone rod with a notch at the end where the butt of the spear is fitted. The atlatl is held in the spear thrower’s hand, effectively giving him a 4th arm joint and point of leverage.
Normally, when you hold a spear to throw, you would have two ways of holding it. You could hold the butt of the spear, which would give you the necessary leverage to get some distance on your throw, but because of the angle which you would need to hold it at (imagine trying to hold a 3’-5’ foot spear for any length of time, by the butt, at a 20-30 degree angle with your arm), you would have trouble maintaining the weapon’s balance, and your accuracy would be affected as well. Your other option would be to hold the spear somewhere along its body, your arm perpendicular to the shaft. It’s a lot easier to hold and thrust in this manner, but you won’t have much leverage, and therefore will not be able to get much distance or penetrative force.
The atlatl allows you to comfortable hold and balance the spear along its body, maintaining a fairly perpendicular relationship between the body and forearm, while granting the leverage that you get from throwing the spear from its butt. The atlatl takes little practice to learn to use effectively and will greatly increase both the distance and force which one can throw a spear. Additionally, atlatls can be customized to have different properties. They can be carved in ways to make them silenced and weight can be added in various places to increase or decrease resistance to affect range and accuracy.
Okay, this is a gaming blog, let’s get to the gaming part. Any character that can use a spear should also be able to use it with an atlatl. It would be a simple weapon skill. There is historical evidence from Spanish conquistadors that while spears thrown from atlatls couldn’t effectively penetrate plate mail, they could pierce chain hauberks. Now, considering that only things with a tremendous amount of acute force can pierce plate, this shouldn’t be taken a limitation. We’re probably talking stone tips; a metal tipped spear could probably even pierce some types of plate. The main effect of the atlatl would be the increase in range, but it should also add some sort of stackable bonus both to damage and to hit (if they apply; a magic atlatl would certainly stack with a magic spear). The atlatl should therefore be treated as an item independent of the weapon, adding whatever bonuses based on its quality. The average atlatl would give a thrown short range of 65’ (no penalties to hit), and a long range of 330’ (standard penalties to hit).
The Amentum, while a simpler device, represents another significant advance in spear throwing. Developed by the ancient Greeks, the Amentum was a leather thong that was tied around the shaft of the spear around its center of gravity. The thong then is wrapped, twisted, around the body of the spear, and the thrower places his fingers in the remaining loop. The loop gives a point of leverage for the thrower, similar to the atlatl, though it doesn’t really grant the same additional leverage gained from having the additional pivot point placed further back. But what it does have, due to the effect of wrapping the thong around the body of the spear, is increased accuracy from the spin put on the spear upon release. For complicated reasons having to do with science, projectiles that spin are a lot more accurate than ones that don’t. One of the advantages of amentum is that it keeps the spear balanced in its flight arc, allowing it to land head first on its target. It’s adjustable on the spear, and, based on where it is in relation to the spear’s center of gravity, you can affect distance at the cost of accuracy and vice-versa.
Due to the amentum’s simplicity, I would not consider it an item unto itself, rather, anything explicitly referred to as throwing spears could probably be considered to have these, unless otherwise specified. Long range of 260’ (standard penalties). I’d estimate that short range would probably be about 50’; in most combat situations, spears with amentums are being thrown parallel to the ground with the cords adjusted for accuracy over distance.
Modern Spear Sling
Now we get to the modern spear sling, which is a whole different animal. The modern spear sling is a device made of some sort of elastic material, typically rubber, which is affixed to the butt of a spear. The tension created by the band allows for the spear to be thrust with super-human speed and accuracy. The quickness with which the spear is released makes it optimal for fishing. Not sitting in a boat and waiting for something to happen fishing, but hardcore, diving in headfirst, knife in your teeth,* spearfishing. Please take a moment to note and recognize Mr. Don Pinder, a King among men, who slew an 804 pound Goliath Grouper with a spear sling. Gorillas of the deep!
Most of your typical fantasy game weapons are going to be incredibly lacking when it comes to any aquatic combat. Water resistance will significantly reduce the effectiveness of any weapons you may be using underwater (that giant sea-termite lurking around the isle of dread is probably going to shrug off your slow-mo sword and axe blows, never mind how hard swimming with those would be!). Any sort of piercing weapon would overcome some of the water resistance, but having a spear sling would allow you to quickly strike any sort of large aquatic creature with the force and penetration needed to get through the tough hides of large underwater critters and do some real damage.
Unlike the other two, I would not treat this as a ranged weapon. Yes, it’s technically thrown, but only ever a few feet. What I would do for this is give a substantial ‘to hit’ bonus against anything large, maybe an automatic hit against anything the size of a person (like our friend the Goliath Grouper there).
Anyway, I don’t know about the last one, but MYFAROG includes the Spear Sling (the atlatl and amentum, I assume) under concussion weapons (along with hammers, axes, swords, etc.) and thrown weapons. There are mechanics for these as well as a lot of other weapons that are considered non-standard in fantasy games. I strongly recommend any group out there to do a little digging on unique ancient weapons; swords get boring after a while. Unique weapons are one of the easiest ways to add flavor to your game world!
*note: diving in headfirst and having a knife in your teeth are not required.