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Basic Information

A flail - primarily an agricultural tool used for threshing grain - consists of one or more striking heads linked to a handle by a flexible connector. From this comes a family of bludgeoning weapons.

The basic design has a wooden handle and wooden heads connected by rope or leather thongs. It serves as a passable improvised weapon for the medieval peasant puzzled for something to arm himself with - particularly the two handed version common to most of Europe and the Middle East. The overrated Okinawan/Japanese weapon the nunchacku has similar origins but is much less effective.

For military use the weapon is upgraded to a war flail, flail of arms or ball mace which uses spiked or studded metal heads linked to the handle by chains. Again, these can be one or two handed, although in this case the one handed version seems to have been more common1. The name "morning star" is often misapplied to these weapons, but in reality belongs to a far more practical weapon altogether.

Frequently intermediate versions were used with agricultural tools partially upgraded by the addition of metal spikes to the strikers - the Hussites seem to have deployed a lot of these during their revolt.

Properly used the war flail can achieve an impressive impact and be extremely hard to block or parry, but it requires a great deal of skill to master and, if mishandled, can be as dangerous to the user as to his opponents.

This class of weapon can also be assumed to include the various rope or chain linked weapons that appear in several Oriental fighting styles where any number of balls, hooks, darts and spikes have been attached to the ends of ropes and chains and 'martial arts' styles developed around them. Whilst visually impressive there is some doubt as to whether they ever became widespread historically and, indeed, whether they constitute a practical weapon given the time and space required to deploy them. Like nunchaku they have a substantial fanbase amongst martial arts enthusiasts, but it seems greater effect could be achieved by applying the same amount of training to a more practical weapon.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • The oriental rope/chain weapons are very "rule of cool" for Westerners. Subvert the Fanboi appeal with an Indiana Jones shot at the wielder as he's still spinning up.
    • Otherwise, expect to find them arming mall ninjas and similar walts - extra points for those that prove to be unable to use the "weapon" for any purpose other than waving it about in a theatrical display. Nunchaku seem particularly attractive to idiots for some reason.
  • Another good improvised flail weapon is a ball-and-chain, as in the type once attached to prisoners to slow them down. Suitable for very strong characters only - and preferably berserkers.
  • If designing a combat system, a war flail should probably have an unusually high chance of a critical failure when in use - or at least be more likely to hit the user when it fails.
  • Possibly a good signature weapon for a slightly deranged or utterly fearless character (particularly if he dual wields them!!!), although a war flail probably isn't a good choice for a berserker as the user needs to keep his wits about him.
  • Obviously the "improvised" version will be found fairly often in the hands of outraged peasants - who will generally be pretty good at wielding it given that they probably use it all day for about a month a year.
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