Monday, July 5, 2010

What the Hell are Darts?

I've read about shuriken and chakram, I know about throwing sticks, throwing axes, and throwing knives, but I have no idea what Mr. Gygax envisioned when he put darts in D&D as a weapon.

According to the all-wise Wikipedia, darts differ from javelins by being fletched, except it doesn't mention any actual dart usage in warfare, just speculation that men probably used darts before javelins.

My best guess is that they were supposed to be like Roman plumbata. But those were heavy, lead-weighted things thrown overhand. They were meant to be used on the field of battle and fall down into massed units of men. I don't think a wizard would be chucking them in a dungeon.

I'm thinking, even though there is 40 years of precedence, I should just replace darts with throwing knives. That might mean an adjustment in weight, damage, and rate of fire, though.



  1. An old computer sandbox-like RPG called Darklands included darts as a choice of equipment. The setting is a pseudo-historical Germany with alchemy replacing magic-user spells and saintly aid replacing cleric spells.
    It is still a great game (tons of inspiration for sure), and I've used darts in low level combat with much success (mainly due to their rate of fire).

  2. Could be something akin to this -

    - or even what is mentioned here (last paragraph of Chapter XXXVII) -

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    @Marcelo: I'll have to check Darklands out.

    @Mark: Great quick response. Where is that first pic from?

    The text link mentions the darts might have been skeptifletta, anyone know more about them? It also mentions they may have been corded, some thing you sling? Seems odd on shipboard, but maybe meant to be used as ships are closing?

  4. Yeah, I was going to say plumbata too. I actually imagined jarts or lawn darts when I began playing D&D, although one of my friends insisted they were just like the darts you see at bars, and a few old Grenadier AD&D figures seem to carry tiny pub style darts too.
    I'd say lump shuriken, throwing knives, and such as generic darts.
    I always thought darts with their AD&D rate of fire of three were pretty sweet. They may not do much damage but you get a lot of chances.

  5. They are like lawn darts. The Romans used them in the late empire period instead of javelins. Better range. Called Plumbata.

  6. There's a number of videos on YouTube that might be illustrative of plumbatas abilities. It seems like the size of these would inhibit having a large number on hand for instant combat purposes (none of this "I've got a dozen darts at the ready in my cloak" business.)

  7. I assumed pub darts, but weaponized. Or more accurately, what pub dart probably are based on in-game. So, built studier, sharper, and all that. Like tiny metal arrows you throw.

  8. According to a dutch etymological dictionary, skeptifletta are throwing weapons (thanks a lot, dictionary people). It also mentions that the word literally means flint-on-a-stick. A different source translates it as "Wurfwaffe", again, German for "throwing weapon". All the other Google hits are in Scandiwegian, and might be very interesting, but I haven't a clue what they read. The general consensus would seem to be a flint-headed javelin.

    All I know is that darts are throwing weapons shorter than javelins and bigger than knives. Roman plumbata seem like a good fit for such a thing. If you want to go a bit further out, before they invented bombers, they used to drop heavy iron darts (like massive pub darts) over the side of their planes during WW1. Probably a better tactic when they can't throw 'em back, but there you go.

  9. I've always just described them as throwing knives.

  10. Oh man oh man. Thank you Marcelo for reminding me of the name of that game. Definitely one of the most memorable computer RPG's from the 90's, wish it had been ported to tabletop.

    Darts are silly, especially at 3 a round (and why can't a fighter dude throw handaxes at that rate?) I prefer my low-rent magic users toting crossbows, Basic D&D style.

  11. Robert Graves' "Count Belisarius" describes Byzantine cataphracts using weighted darts (presumably plumbata) as close-in throwing weapons.

    IIRC they are described as being held by the fletched end with the point aloft, and then thrown like knives or clubs

  12. Thanks everyone!

    @Roger: I've always wondered what to do with crossbows. In real life they were a way to send a missile without the lifetime of training a longbow required. I think you just killed two birds with one stone, crossbow wielding wizards. Brilliant.

  13. I've long assumed that they are like the long, straight style of shuriken, as opposed to the star style. Basically a small throwing knife. Great big lawn darts just seems silly :)

  14. I remember reading about China's professional armed caravan guards. They favored the dart as a weapon, and were, if I recall correctly, members of "dart bureaus".

  15. From Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World 3000 BC ~ AD 500 p. 71: "Another missile weapon was the plumbata, a type of heavy dart, which has also been found in large numbers at third- and fourth-century sites. It has been reconstructed as a fleched weapon with a barbed head, resembling an arrow; Vegetius related that certain selected units carried five plumbata in the hollow of the shield."

  16. This has bugged me too.
    Yeah, the plumbata is a real thing, but I don't think thats what the "dart" is supposed to describe.
    I think It was just meant as a javelin as would be used by a small character-hence less damage.
    But here's an idea: Its supposed to be like a swiss-dart, aka york arrow, aka gypsy dart: basically an arrow that you throw using a length of string to add leverage and propel the dart. its a real thing.

  17. I'd be mean and flame you all on not finding the 'dart', but I'd be just as guilty. Do a google search 'throwing dart' image (I know you've gone this road) now change search term to 'throwing spike' and Ta Da; long slim nail-like metal, half pound weighting piercing dart with real life range just as Gary Gygax described. Other search terms Bo-shuriken (sound exotic but it's a nail with tail).
    Thing I kind of question why is it a magic-user weapon since like archery it takes long term practice to stay skilled