Maces Are Not Slow

The historical mace was not a gigantic pole with a tremendous 20 pound ball of iron-sheeted lead at the end of it.  This was more properly a maul.  The footman’s mace was actually a light weapon with all of its weight at one end.  It was designed to deliver a decent amount of energy to the target while being swung quickly.  Plus, it was extremely easy to use.

The mace has been in use since the Neolithic era, when someone figured out that a rock tied to the end of a club with sinew would be a nifty way to bash one’s food source, or enemy.  It requires relatively little training to use, works decently against most types of protection, and doesn’t require the wielder to worry about which way the weapon is oriented when it slams into the target.  It was popular as a hand weapon for shieldbearers backed by spearmen, in case someone got through the shield wall, and amongst cavalry, where its ease of use was appreciated while one was trying to stay mounted.

The mace, especially with developments such as the flanged head, was fairly effective against most forms of body armor, though never spectacularly so.  It did fairly well against boiled leather, cloth, and stuffed armors, although these armors were particularly well-suited to deal with impact weapons.  When flexible maille was developed as a counter to slashing weapons like the battle-ax and falchion, the mace was hardly slowed down by wire mesh.  When steel plate was used to avoid the unpleasant experience of having one’s maille split by a stiletto, spear, or greatsword, the mace could still deliver a decent shock to the target, and with enough energy and a concentrated force like you would get with a flanged or spiked head, one might leave an extremely inconveniencing dent in the metal, pressuring the wearer until he could get it off, or even pulverize the bone and flesh underneath with transferred power.

Why then did the mace not remain the weapon of choice through the various eras of pre-gunpowder warfare?  Well, it was very popular, but never gained the romantic airs attributed to more aristocratic weapons like swords and lances, and it still wasn’t very decent against the pre-eminent group tactic of the time, the spear phalanx.  The mace did okay against most types of personal protection, but didn’t really excel against any of them, and an informed fighter would logically want to pick the right tool for the job based on what his target was wearing.  The use of the mace, or any short-handled weapon, carried with it the problem of reach disadvantage, a very important concern.  In addition, various advanced and complex treatises have been found relating to the use of weapons like the English broadsword, but to my knowledge there was no similar study of the use of the mace.  You swing, you hit.  Very straightforward and effective, but it doesn’t lend itself well to fantastic notions about being a great warrior.  Nobody ever wants to be known as "Supreme Master of the Mace."

In any case, the mace of the typical fantasy game milieu perpetuates the myth that a mace is a huge, heavy, slow as all hell weapon, a label that carries with it slow speed ratings and weaknesses in game systems.  Only in a system where the effectiveness of a damage type vs. a particular type of armor can the mace really come into its own as a decent secondary weapon:  quick to swing, all-around effective, and easy to learn.

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