So I was going through the old posts on the Development forum and found a topic on the evolution of the atlatl. We’re going to give the Saurids the atlatl and make it preferential to the bow for a number of reasons.


The first and most obvious contributor is the semi aquatic lifestyle of the species as a whole. Bowstrings don’t like getting damp. They quit working when they get wet. Bows themselves aren’t fond of water. Atlatls, on the other hand, can readily be made from bone, and the Gruv has some pretty massive bones available. I mean, you’ve got theropod transitionary-avian dinosaurs being used as mounts both by the civilians and the military, and then you’ve got giant mammals like the golden sloth. So materials also contribute. You work with what’s available. We also thought about the hand structure of the Saurids. They have three fingers and an opposable thumb, which is a little more manoeuvrable than our thumb, which is going to affect their technique. Here’s a bit of the discussion, with a really sweet illustration of a trio of fancy atlatls. This is what we’re driving for, the Saurids carrying elaborately carved atlatls, weapons handed down through the generations with stories attached, leading eventually to Legend and thread items and a big chunk of the CoreStep mechanic that got left out because of the low magic nature of 1879.

Tim Martin, who’s done some of the writing on the Saurids Forcebook for the Minis game, and contributed significantly to the development of the Saurids as a race, posted this:

I’m working on Saurid weapons and want to beef up the capabilities of the atlatl. As Andrew points out, the atlatl would never have lost the popularity contest against the bow given the Saurid aquatic nature and the detriment of moisture on bow strings.

I was thinking I’d like to see the Saurid work more physics into the evolution of the atlatl. What comes to mind is the mechanism behind the 2013 NASAW pumpkin chunkin’ trebuchet seen here: I was wondering if we could throw this out here for brainstorming on how it might look at work after a few thousand years of development. Miniaturization maybe, reminiscent of the cannon to the musket?

Brad Decker, who wrote the Engines chapter for the 1879 Players Guide, and has been our mechanic and statistician (this is a guy who does physics for fun and has a whiteboard in his living room) replied:

Miniaturization in this case would reduce the amount of power you’re getting out of the throw; you want it as long as possible so you can get the maximum amount of power out of the throw, within the constraints of what a humanoid can handle easily. After some preliminary reading, I’m thinking you’ll end up with a design like this: … -tioga.jpg. Long handle, refined shaping and carving to make it strong and aerodynamic, and weight balanced for maximum control and accuracy. I could also see the area where the butt end of the spear rests being made out of carved or magically shaped and reinforced stone, so that the atlatl itself can perform double duty as a club. In this case, you may also want to include a stone pommel for counterbalance on the other end. This could also give us a plot point in encounters with the British, as someone along the way will offer to make the head out of metal rather than stone, and it will tie into the debate among the Saurids on whether or not it’s okay to use metal for their tools.

I could maybe see trying to come up with a two-handed version that would function like a staff. Aside from being longer and giving greater length, you can use it with a pivot point between the two hands, like a katana swing, which will give an extra burst of power. The trouble with it is that in order to use it, you’ll have to be standing sideways, otherwise the lower end will hit you on the back swing, and accuracy will become a problem. I’m thinking this would be developed for long range bombardment, similar to how a mass of arced bow shots were used, and restricted to a warfare setting rather than hunting.

A lot of the improvements will need to come from the spear/darts themselves. Strong but flexible shafts are best, and the capability for flexible shafts was one of the main advantages of the bow and arrow over the spear in terrestrial development. Coming up with some sort of treatment for their wood that will give it flexibility without sacrificing strength would be highly sought after. This could be a magical process or treatment with some sort of technique developed uniquely in the Gruv; perhaps a certain extract from a plant or animal that shrinks the cellulose in the cells of a larger branch, so that it retains its strength from being a thicker limb with more mass, but the mass is now compacted and in a smaller container. Carving a spiral pattern into the shaft would also be an improvement, as that would have the same effect as barrel rifling for guns, giving the projectile spin and thus stability in flight. Carving the spiral will take time to develop, but we’re talking about a culture that has a few thousand years of choosing to use the same technology, so they’ve got the time to work on it. Combining the two ideas, I’m thinking they’ll cultivate trees specifically for the task, letting them get a few seasons of growth and cutting them down when they’re about three to five inches in diameter (and working them while they’re still green and flexible). From there, they’ll skin the bark and shape it to a more uniform diameter, then have a device set up that consists of a ring with three sharpened stones or blades arranged in a triangle pattern. There would be a spindle that holds the soon to be spear shaft and allows it to rotate as it passes through the ring. Multiple passes through with rotation and deepening the cut on the blades will create the desired spiral pattern to the shaft. Then it’s taken to a trench with the shrinking extract and soaked in it for several days, shrinking the shaft down to the desired size and scaling the spiral pattern down along with it. Having the spiral pattern put in before the shrinking would make the process easier than trying to do it in small scale after the fact. Once that’s done, you add your fletchings to the end, toss on the desired tip, and you have your spear.

There’s more to this topic on the development forum, but this is the point where we started organizing the project to turn this into mechanics and do a section on Atlatls for the Equipment chapter of the 1879 RPG Saurids Sourcebook. You’ll just have to wait for the book to see how that came out.