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What is the Riddle of Steel?
It is invincibility--to strike with all and to be struck by none.
It is understanding--to ask questions and to know the answers.
It is peace--to walk without fear, to know that the end is in your own hands.
It is skill--to feel the elegance found in violence, and to know the beauty found in stillness.
It is Spirit--To gaze into the face of your God and to know him before he comes for you.
The Riddle of Steel is a d10 tabletop role-playing game published in 2002 by the now defunct Driftwood Publishing. The system is set in a Low Fantasy equivalent of Earth called Weyrth and prides itself on historical accuracy and a realistic combat system.
The designer, Jake Norwood, was a senior Free Scholar in the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts and is the current president of the Historical European Martial Arts Alliance. As such, there is a corresponding increase in the level of historical accuracy when The Riddle of Steel is compared to other systems, such as Dungeons and Dragons or GURPS.
It comprises four books:
- the Core Rulebook
- Of Beasts and Men
- The Flower of Battle
- the Companion
A fifth book, Of Sorcery and the Fey, was planned, but Driftwood Publishing went bust before it was published.
The Riddle of Steel provides examples of:
- Anachronism Stew: Semi-averted. There are historical samples of each weapon in reality and they are limited to locations similar to those of Europe in the Dark Ages, but Renaissance era Europe coexists alongside the Roman Empire.
- With the Flower of Battle supplement, it is entirely possible to run Deadliest Warrior style duels between almost any two kinds of fighters from any period in history stretching back to Roman times and coming as far forward as the early 19th century.
- Armor Is Useless: Averted. Even basic padded cloth armour can turn a damaging strike to a glancing blow, while plate armour is capable of turning lethal injuries into a tickle.
- An Axe to Grind: Hatchets, battle axes, kern axes, bhuj axes, take your pick.
- BFS: Doppelhanders. They are as long as a spear, and more lethal to boot.
- Blade Lock: Winding and Binding, with specialization available to Western swords.
- Breakable Weapons: Optional rule for subpar equipment.
- Bow and Sword In Accord: Necessary. A ranged weapon wielder cannot effectively shoot in melee.
- Cast From Hit Points: Magic-users pay an extremely heavy price for their gift. Using magic can take literally years off your life in a single spell.
- The Combat Pragmatist: A very highly recommended character type for those who wish to maximize their survival time without twinking for ultra-high damage reduction (and is still damned effective a strategy for even those sorts).
- Cool Sword: Anything with Fine or Superlative craftsmanship. The Companion adds Weapons of Power, which are weapons that have Spiritual Attributes of their own.
- Dual-Wielding: The proficiencies "Case of Rapiers", "Escrima" and "Kenjutsu: Dai-sho" do this as a primary thing. The standard Rapier proficiency and the Cut and Thrust proficiency can work with an offhand-wielded parrying dagger.
- Every Japanese Sword Is a Katana: Averted. The Flower of Battle notes that most combat was done with the wakizashi and that the katana was mostly used when one knew a battle was imminent.
- Groin Attack: Thrust to Zone X, or upward swing to Zone VI.
- Guns vs. Swords: Always ends in a gun win unless the gunman has to reload.
- Or if you have a really really awesome TN for the Read Body Language skill.
- Iaijutsu Practitioner: Available as a maneuver.
- Improvised Weapon: Modified Tools allows one to use improvised farm tools as weapons. Escrima can also be used for this.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Averted. A katana functions much like a shorter two handed saber.
- And is pretty much useless against any sort of armor better than leather. Its cutting attacks, however, are given the best possible TN one can roll against (5), and the attendant Kenjutsu proficiency has the terrifyingly awesome Evasive Attack maneuver. It generally balances out to being a reasonably solid weapon against anybody not wholly decked out scalp to soles in metal armor.
- Knife Fight: Always ends badly for the participants.
- Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: Shields are very effective in this game, despite inflicting a not-insignificant penalty to one's movement and Combat Pool in the case of the larger types.
- Made of Iron: A high toughness score does exactly the same thing as armour. It is possible to stack 10 toughness and 8AV to render oneself nigh invincible.
- Made of Plasticine: With more average toughness and less heavily maxed out armor, however, a good solid hit WILL put your sorry ass down for the count--be that a hit from a sword, mace, or so much as a little stiletto.
- Master Swordsman: Masters in the various schools of combat.
- Multi Melee Master: Necessary for polearms.
- The proficiency defaults and Flower of Battle weapon school system are both ways that allow one to do this.
- One Hit KO: Oh yes, it happens. A level 5 wound is often immediate fatality regardless of the source of damage. With a large enough degree of success, it is entirely possible to reduce a man's face to Ludicrous Gibs with your fist.
- Royal Rapier: And its derivatives, Smallsword, sidesword, colichemardes.
- Special Attack: At least one available to most weapon proficiencies. Normally a defensive attack maneuver.
- Swashbuckler: Available for Cut and Thrust or Rapier users.
- Sword Almighty: Very averted. Most of the best weapons are polearms.
- The Bastard Sword, however, is quite possibly the single best all-purpose weapon one can take. Straight sixes for TNs, strong thrusting damage, Long reach, armor piercing, and uses the most generally versatile proficiency in the game.
- Sword and Gun: Possible, but requires a loaded gun and leaves one open for an attack.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: If it hits. Most often it won't, but when it does, it is capable of massive damage.