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A sword is a category of bladed weapons.

In general, a sword is a sharp, bladed weapon made of metal, commonly steel, with a short hilt. However, the category of sword encompasses numerous specific weapons. Non-specific use of the word "sword" is nowadays uncommon.

When the term "sword" is used alone to describe a specific weapon, it often refers to the longsword. This usage sometimes appears in certain magic items, such as the vorpal sword or sword of sharpness. However, in current usage, this can also refer to the broad category of swords in general.

Types of sword[]

The best known and one of the most widely used types of sword is the longsword, a one-handed weapon around 3½ feet in length, with most of that length comprising a sharp metal blade. It is a slashing weapon, intended for broad strokes, and can often be wielded in both hands for additional impact.

An especially long longsword intended for two-handed use is called the bastard sword, though it can be wielded very effectively in one hand with sufficient training. The broadsword is a similar weapon to the longsword.

In contrast, the smaller shortsword is used for thrusting and stabbing attacks. A straight blade shorter than a short sword is called a dagger, and is not considered a sword.

A much heavier sword which must be wielded in two hands is known as the greatsword, also called the two-handed sword. An even larger sword, the fullblade, is considerably difficult to wield and is not widely used.

The rapier is a long, very thin, light one-handed blade favored by duelists.

In some cultures, a slightly curved equivalent to the longsword or bastard-ssword is used, known as the katana. A shorter version, equivalent to a short sword, is called the wakizashi. In those cultures, a cheaper straight-bladed wakizashi favored by spies is known as a ninja-to; some carry a blade concealed in a bamboo cane, called a shikomi-zue. A katana with a longer hilt used as a polearm is the nagamaki, often wielded by samurai on horseback. Monks often wield a style of shortsword called the butterfly sword.[1]

Likewise, the curved scimitar, a one-handed sword, is popular in some social groups, including among the druids of many worlds. A heavier, two-handed version of the scimitar is the falchion.

More exotic variants of the sword include the two-bladed sword, a double-weapon with a sword blade on each end; and the gyrspike, which has a sword on one end and a flail or spiked chain on the other.

Other types of sword include the adya katti, babanga, basilard, boku-toh, choora, cutlass, claymore and dwarven claymore, drusus, flamberge, flatchet, flyssa, gladius, impaler, kashara, khandar, kora, mariner's sword, masai, nyek-ple-nen-toh, pata, piercer, ram dao, sabre, shamshir, shotel, sivak draconican sword, sosun pattah, spatha, sword-staff, swordlet, takouba, talwar, yatagan, and zafar takieh.[2]

Construction and design[]

The material and shape of a sword can vary considerably.[2]

The blade—the weapon's sharpened cutting edge—is typically made of iron or steel, but swords are made of various other materials. Rare steels include damascus steel (a layered form of steel), high-carbon steel (vulnerable to rusting), and stainless steel (a rust-resistant metal). Rarer metals often used to make swords include adamantite and mithral. Some sword blades are made of bone, while crystalline materials include obsidian, crystal, ceramic, or glass magically strengthened with glassteel.

The blade may have an indentation along its length, known as a fuller or blood groove. It may be straight, curved, or wave; the latter is known as a kris. It may be notched along its length. It can taper toward the end.

The hand-guard, a cross-guard at the end of the handle which protects the wielder's hand from either accidentally sliding up to touch the sharp blade and from being struck by an opponent's sword, is usually made of a hard material, such as steel, brass, bronze, or nickel. It is sometimes carved into an elaborate shape, representing such forms as arched snakes, clashing dragons, clenched fists, humans or deities.

The handle, where the wielder holds the weapon, is often made of wood or ivory. Rarer versions of this material include antlers, dragon teeth, fossilized ivory, horn, monster bone or horn, and ebony or another exotic wood. Other materials include jade, marble, and metal wrapped in leather. Some grim weapons have hilts crafted from human bone.

The handle may be hand-fitted, made with particular craftsmanship to fit the blade. It can be straight or tapered, and fluted with straight or spiral grooves. Most hilts are rounded, but some are prism-shaped, having flat sides. Some hilts are made hollow, with a detachable pommel which allows hiding small items such as gems, tools, papers, or a liquid.

The pommel fits on the end of the handle, and may have special shape or construction. They are commonly made from plain steel, though crystal or gemstone are often used. Such gemstones may be magically hardened. The pommel can also be specially shaped or engraved to represent any number of things, including a cross, a family crest, a hand or paw, a holy symbol, a monster's head or skull, or a treetop. It may even have a short blade at the end.

Finally, swords are sometimes given extra embellishments for artistic or personal reasons. These include engravings and carvings of pictures or designs, precious metal inlay, inlaid gems, word engraving, and magical runes.

Cultural significance[]

Among the skalds of Midgard, a sword is poetically called glory of battle, hilt-wand, war-flame, wound-engraver, and wound-snake.[3]

According to the chapter Skaldskaparmal in the Poetic Edda, other terms by poets to refer to a sword include "Heimdallr's head", "man's measure", "Odin's fire", "fire of the helm", "fire of the byrnie", "ice of the rim", "hurt of sheltering weapons", and "wand of battle". Slashing weapons including swords and axes are called "fire of blood", "fire of wounds". The sword itself is used in numerous other kennings, or poetic metaphors.

Publication history[]

Original D&D[]

Men & Magic (1974) listed only the sword and two-handed sword. The two weapons had no mechanical difference unless one used the Chainmail man-to-man combat rules or later sourcebooks such as Supplement I: Greyhawk (1975), which added variable weapon damage.

Basic D&D[]

The Basic D&D product line continued the OD&D tradition of using the term "sword" rather than "longsword" to refer to a general type of sword.

AD&D 1st edition[]

The Players Handbook (1e) (1978), p.35-37 refers to the long sword, short sword, bastard sword, broad sword, and two-handed sword.

AD&D 2nd edition[]

The Player's Handbook (2e) (1989), p.69 reprises the long sword, short sword, bastard sword, broad sword and two-handed sword. It adds to this category the Egyptian khopesh sword and the scimitar, and gives the bastard sword separate entries in the weapon damage table based on whether it is wielded one-handed or two-handed.

D&D 3rd edition[]

The Player's Handbook (3.0) (2000), p.96-104, and Player's Handbook (3.5) (2003), p.112-122, no longer include the khopesh and broad sword. They do include the short sword, longsword, bastard sword, greatsword, rapier, scimitar, falchion, and the two-bladed sword.

The katana and wakizashi first appeared in the Dungeon Master's Guide (3.0) (2000), p.161 as variants for an Asian-inspired campaign setting, and the asian weapons were expanded upon in Oriental Adventures (3e) (2001). Various sourcebooks such as Sword and Fist (2001) introduced new types of swords to third edition.

D&D 4th edition[]

The Player's Handbook (4e) (2008), p.215-220 formally divided weapons into categories, with all swords appearing as either light blades or heavy blades. Swords categorized as light blades were the short sword and rapier, while the heavy blades included the longsword, scimitar, falchion, greatsword, and bastard sword.

D&D 5th edition[]

The Player's Handbook (5e) (2014), p.149 details the greatsword, longsword, rapier, scimitar and shortsword. Of note, "shortsword" is now consistently spelled as a single word. The bastard sword no longer appears, but the longsword can be wielded in two hands to deal d10 damage, and assumes its niche. The falchion no longer appears, perhaps as Wikipedia defines it as a one-handed weapon in contrast to past D&D depictions of it as a two-handed blade.

Reception and influence[]

In Dragon #248 (Jun 1998), reader M. Kant argues that the sword is justifiably superior to other weapons in AD&D because it was historically one of the best weapons, and that other weapons were only used because they were cheaper, easier to use, or mistakenly believed to be better.


  1. Oriental Adventures (3e) (2001), p.70-74.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Encyclopedia Magica Volume Four (1995), p.1335-1336.
  3. HR1 Vikings Campaign Sourcebook (1991), p.26.