Wednesday, April 4, 2012

D is for Double Dagger

[This is the 4th of my April A-Z Challenge series of posts on Symbols, Glyphs, and Sigils. Each day I'll try to include some material that old-school role-playing gamers will find useful, but I can't guarantee that there won't also just be a few posts filled with weirdness for the sake of weirdness....]

Today's symbol is the double form of the typographical dagger.  We saw the single form two days ago, as the symbol for Death written on Ben Casey's chalkboard.  Why associate death with a dagger?  Apart from the obvious association that it's something that can kill you... I wonder if the medieval copyists were making a canny allusion to that Biblical verse about how the end will come "like a thief in the night"  (very cloak and dagger, hmm?).  The visual association of the dagger with the Christian cross probably has something to do with it, although the typography people are always quick to distinguish the dagger from the cross.

The DOUBLE dagger doesn't have much unique significance, other than being next in line after its single sibling when making footnotes.  But I think it's cool.  :-)

In RPGs, daggers are sometimes dismissed of as one of the least deadly weapons, fit only as a backup for weakling wizards once they run out of spells.  But to most "normal men" (with 1d4 hit points in many classic versions of D&D), a dagger is just as deadly as a two-handed sword!  Maybe it's time to make the simple dagger more interesting... and dangerous!  Taking a cue from today's symbol, I found the following super-cool "double dagger" in a Google image search:

(Click for link to original source)
Like a thief in the night, indeed, it's got you coming and going!  Here are a few other ideas, which I'm sure are not new, but they're what tumbled out of my addled brain...
  1. Daggers are small, so they're perfect for hiding in everyday objects.  Particularly nasty was this wooden crucifix shiv that someone found in a real prison.
  2. Sometimes daggers are thrown, but what if the thrower attached a light rope or chain to the end, so it can be pulled back and used repeatedly?  One would think the extra weight of the line would make it clumsier to use in battle, but there are styles of Eastern martial arts that make use of this kind of Rope Dart.
  3. I'm sure that many RPGs have special rules for high-dexterity combatants who can fight with one dagger in each hand.  Putting some thought into which parts of clothing conceals such a dagger-pair can be fun... Boots?  Sleeves?  Sword scabbards or arrow quivers that conceal extra hidden pockets?  (i.e., weapons within weapons!)
  4. Some monsters can be damaged only by bladed weapons made of a special metal (sometimes silver, sometimes iron).  Extending that, an interesting "magic item" would be a set of 7 daggers, each made of the one of the 7 classical/planetary metals. (The Mercurial one would have to be merely "infused" with quicksilver, of course...)  Each would have a special effect related to the symbolism of its metal.
One last fun association, fit for this symbol-themed set of posts:  The symbol to the right, used by chemists to denote an equilibrium between competing processes, is often called a "double harpoon!"


  1. Good morning, Cygnus! I was just about to log out when I saw your post come up the roll.

    I would imagine wielding a dagger in each hand would require more than dexterity. In fact, I think the combatant who might be able to execute on such a level without inadvertent self-mutilation might only be one who was taught to do so at a very young age when the grey matter was at a pliant enough stage of development.

    As to equilibrium being called a 'double harpoon,' I think that may be because trying to achieve it is like sticking yourself both coming and going? Best to embrace inherent oscillation, wouldn't you think? :)

    1. You bet! In my day job (mad scientist) I often have to evaluate whether a system is stable or unstable. Unstable is easy: it zooms off exponentially. But "stable" isn't static... it's sinusoidal oscillation around the equilibrium state! :-)

      Also reminds me of Canadian prog-trio RUSH and their synth-pop period of the early 1980s...

      Unstable condition,
      A symptom of life,
      Of mental and environmental change.
      Atmosphereic disturbance,
      The feverish flux
      Of human interface and interchange.

      (Song: Vital Signs)

  2. Huge Rush fan. Did you hear about the Time Machine Tour in the last few years where they played the entire 'Moving Pictures' album?

    'In my day job (mad scientist) I often have to evaluate whether a system is stable or unstable. Unstable is easy: it zooms off exponentially. But "stable" isn't static... it's sinusoidal oscillation around the equilibrium state!'

    Like a strange attractor?

  3. :-) I haven't been to see them for a while, but I didn't miss a show between about '85 and '93. I annoy my family to no end when something Rush-related comes on VH-1 Classic.

    Chaos and strange attractors are beyond my pay grade... But many "classical" linear systems have a wide range of behaviors that people describe using the exponential/sinusoidal stability theory. Even the way that water flows in one's kitchen sink can have aspects that are inscrutable enough to inspire a million-dollar prize...