The fossorial people are similar to humans. They are around 3ft tall as adults. Their limbs are far stronger, and their hands and feet are larger, with the fingers being shorter and more robust, and the fingernails being like claws. In addition to standing upright, they are also good at crawling and digging with their hands. They live in burrows, which are composed of rooms large enough to stand in and use, and tunnels that must be crawled through. They have access to medievel-europe-level technology, and are rarely involved in war. They mostly have to defend against eachother, but occasionally have to deal with badgers invading their burrows. What weapons would be the most useful to them in defending themselves?


3 Answers 3


Small, large strong hands, strong arms. Burrowing.

Outside: Spears.

But if they have any choice whatsoever, they will fight in their tunnels, where hand-axes will be King. Note not hafted axes, if their tunnels are low enough for a 3-ft creature to need to crawl prone, there literally is no room to swing an axe. Hands that are both larger, but with shorter fingers, will have great strength but impaired fine manipulation. No fancy knife tricks for your people! But with their superb arm and hand strength, they will use hand-axes for attack, and a mix of hand-axes, spears and shields for defense.
(you try getting past a defender in a tunnel, who is blocking the tunnel with a round shield, a spear poking past the shield, and a viciously swung hand-axe if you poke anything past the shield.

I do not see personal armor playing any role at all. The loss of flexibility and mobility is simply to great, and the shield-in-tunnel too effective.

I also do not expect ranged weapons of any sort to be useful, even outdoors. Short limbs and low profiles will make most missile weapons ineffectual, and I strongly suspect that a burrowing, underground-living species will not have the best longrange outdoor vision ability.


The Ixwa

The Ixwa is the short "Zulu spear" a 2ft haft with a wide, 1ft long blade. For tunnel fighting in places so narrow and cramped a 3ft tall person might be required to crawl in places it seems like an excellent weapon. The long blade can be used primarily for thrusting, while providing a fair amount of metal which should make it harder for your opponent to grab past the point and break it off/wrestle it away from you. The shaft still gives you some reach, without being so long as to be awkward to maneuver. around corners. Of course the Ixwa was designed for people, so your Fossorials might use a somewhat scaled-down version. Perhaps a 6-8" long blade with a haft 2x the length.

The Ixwa was designed as a one-handed weapon, leaving the other hand free for your shield. A Fossorial warrior may have a small shield (big enough to be useful, small enough not to encumber them in a tight spot) or may need the other hand to carry a light-source. Not sure. It could theoretically be used two-handed but that's more a slashing technique unsuited for tunnel-fighting. My guess (if they can reliably see in the tunnels) would be a preference for shields.

For surface fighting the answer is probably culturally-driven. The Zulu Ixwa was the standard close combat weapon, backed with javlins for ranged attacks, and they lived in the wide open spaces. So if your Fossorials are fighting each other 99% of the time that's probably how they'll do it. Lord knows a Ixwa would work against badgers above and below ground! The loadout is known to be efficient, and there's no reason to force your warriors to carry/train with two completely different weapon sets unless you absolutely have to!

If they ended up fighting humans best bet is they stick with Ixwa and javlins and either prove such a nuisance the humans back off and learn to live and let live or they're quickly subdued. Either way way I doubt they'd stray away from "traditional" Fossian weapons. If the humans are driven off, why change? If they're overrun, it'll probably happen to quickly to develop human-specific counter-weapons. They might possibly develop something akin to a pike, but that would really only match a human spear in length. So not super useful. Poison weapons may well feature vs bigger foes though, even if they're not used against other Fossorials. The book War Before Civilization has a great section on how human tribal warfare uses poison. Sparknotes version is, against people "similar" to the tribesmen (say two different tribes of X culture people) poisoned weapons aren't used. But the second X culture fight Y peoples everything gets a poisoned/tainted blade. Such tactics would be your little guys' only hope against the Big People.



kaiser with pointed helmet


Seriously! Consider these folks. They are crawling on all 4s. If they are humans that means their face is probably down. They are meeting enemies with the crowns of their heads.

The pickelhaube is best against animals, because the fossorial human version extends down to cover the neck and shoulders, and has additional spikes down the back allowing the wearer to duck head and ram offensively. This leverages all 4 strong limbs of the attacker and does not present a vulnerable target to a bite or weapon of any sort.

The other thing they would use are gloves with metal claws. Most fights in the tunnels are at close quarters and turn into grappling and claw work, both with foreclaws as well as a grip and hold then a catlike strike bringing forward the rear claws. Augmenting the natural claws makes sense. In addition, robust metal fortified claws on hands (and feet) offer better traction.

When fighting on the surface these are the tactics the Fossorians use as well - a low scuttling charge with the pickelhaube forward, followed by grappling and claw work. It is a terrifying thing for upright tall folks. Once one of these guys has a hold of you and the rear claws go to work you are going to lose whatever you have in front.

  • $\begingroup$ I have a tip for the illustration here.. the picture you show is a 19th century helmet. It has a precursor. A Russian, medieval version of the Pickelhaube, the Uriev-Podolsk helmet, covered neck and shoulders with armour. can be found here buhurtworld.com/2019/09/28/kirpichnikov-helmet $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 9:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Goodies - that spike on the Russian helmet is not very spiky. Gots to have that serious spike! $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Commented Jul 24, 2021 at 19:39
  • $\begingroup$ You suppose the character can use the spike as an offensive weapon, like Bismarck's soldiers did on the battlefield, stabbing the enemies eyes, face. In underground tunnels it would be dangerous for the badgers indeed. But to be honest, I doubt a medieval blacksmith would be able to connect the spike to the helmet rigidly. The Russian medieval one is solid (one piece), that is why the spike is small. Using the spike for stabbing would require a very stiff mount. The Germans solved that by using screws. Check google.com/search?q=PICKELHAUBE+restoration $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Jul 27, 2021 at 8:30

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