Almost as long as humans have existed, we’ve had knives in some form or another. As a utility and as a weapon, daggers are one of the most prolific types of blades on the face of the earth, used even to this day from the kitchen to the battlefield.
In medieval Europe, on which most western fantasy is based, daggers were the only type of weapon legal to carry for most commoners. And even if they weren’t, they’re the most cost-effective blade to keep in terms of maintenance, functionality, and transportation. Noblemen carried them as well, albeit more elaborate and ceremonial. And around the world, various types of dagger have evolved to suit the particular needs of the people who invented them.
What a shame, then, that the 5e Player’s Handbook gives you only the option for ‘dagger’s.
But, that’s what flavoring is for. Here are a few ideas about specific styles and functions of daggers for you to use when you’re designing your next close-combatant.
Standard European ‘Knightly’ Daggers
These are the standard ‘miniature sword’ type of dagger that most people imagine when they hear the word. They’re faster to draw than a sword, more portable, and easier to slip between the edges of armor and maille for a finishing blow. European-style ones are usually straight-bladed, double edged, and with a cross hilt. There are, however, plenty of variations.
Dirks are traditionally Scottish weapons, meant both for ceremonial attire and functional combat. They’re big, sharp, and often have elaborate handles with details to indicate group affiliations.
Stilettos are a later-developed type of dagger with an exceptionally long, thin blade like an oversized needle. The often bendable blade could easily slip into the edges of armor, or be carried discreetly, and sometimes came in a triangular triple-edged style, for wounds which bled more and were harder to close.
The bollocks dagger (later called the kidney dagger by the Victorians), is just what it sounds like. A dagger with a guard shaped in two spheres, like a pair of testicles. These daggers were immensely popular with commoners, both for the sturdiness of design, and because of its slightly crass humor.
Standard European daggers are a viable choice for pretty much any class as a backup weapon. Dirks are more associated with knights and fighters, while stilettos are connected to assassins. Bollocks daggers are perfect for a flirty bard or a down-to-earth barbarian.
Push Daggers (aka Punching Daggers)
Push daggers have a t-shaped handle that fit in the palm of the hand, so that you can ‘push’ with them, rather than the usual ‘stab’. This lets you put more force behind them, like you would a punch. They also look really cool – imagine a set of brass knuckles, but with a blade!
3e called these ‘punching daggers’ and included them in the Player’s Handbook and 3e SRD
Katar are a historical push dagger from India. They’re bigger than most modern push daggers, with a larger apparatus to grip, and an intimidating appearance. Functionally, however, they work much the same.
Push daggers would make an easy-to-conceal backup weapon for wizards and assassin rogues, while Katar are an intimidating and close-up weapon well-suited to barbarians and other brawler-type characters.
For most of European history, if you carried a sword, you probably also carried a dagger as well. While many were intended for separate use (like dealing a final blow once you’d already downed your opponent), some were intended as off-handed weapons.
These parrying daggers were carried at the small of the back, or on the non-dominant side, so they could be pulled and used to redirect or block an opponent’s blade.
The main gauche was a French renaissance weapon used alongside rapiers and other fencing swords. It usually had a large guard (to protect the hand) and a long, thin blade that could potentially reach far enough to do some damage as well as redirect.
A swordbreaker is a sturdier-looking parrying dagger. It’s short, thick, and has a bunch of notches along the side, rather than a proper blade. This allows the dagger to catch an opponents sword in it’s ‘teeth’, and send it flying. A worn-down sword might even break!
A main gauche is frequently associated with musketeer or pirate-style swashbucklers, but swordbreakers and parrying daggers of all kinds would fit well in the hands of a strategy-conscious fighter.
There are relatively few curved daggers originating the Europe (which prioritized stabbing ability in order to punch through plate and maille), but plenty to be found in the rest of the world.
Curved daggers make for far better slashing weapons than any straight blade. This means that users can make quick, clean strikes that follow the motion of the body without catching. They’re also easier to conceal under clothing, hook around bracers and shields, and generally get creative with in combat.
The kris is an Indonesian dagger, which is often ceremonial, and heavily referenced in and associated with folk belief and history. It’s wavy, asymmetrical blade is usually multicolored with lamenated iron and nickel. It’s often used in pencak silat martial arts.
Karambit are claw-shaped daggers also originating in Indonesia. Their shape has certainly stood the test of time (just about every wolf, lion, and bear proves the efficacy). Plus, they generally look really cool, and keep a more ‘natural’ appearance than a lot of other knives.
Other Curved Daggers
Aside from the types listed above, there are plenty of other shapes and sizes for curved daggers, mostly alterations on a standard slight curve. Kukri, sica, and falx all originate in different areas of the world, and look and handle slightly different. But they’re all designed to potentially stab as well as slash, reach around shields, and catch and manipulate blades in a close-up fight.
The kris, as a more ceremonial-style dagger used in martial arts, would be a good fit for a monk, paladin or warlock. Karambit, with their claw-like shape, make excellent druid and ranger weapons. And other curved daggers are perfectly functional for any rogue, fighter, or ranger who might specialize in quick attacks.
Utility blades, intended more for daily life rather than combat, are the most common type of knife to be found in real life, and that’s probably true for your dnd campaign as well.
These knives have a variety of uses: whittling, cooking, skinning prey, and cutting material of all kinds. These daggers are likely to be thick and more cheaply made than combat weapons, and tend to have only one bladed edge. The dull side allows you to use your thumb or other hand to exert more direct pressure on the blade to ‘chop’ rather than stab or slice.
It makes sense for pretty much any character to carry a utility knife for daily use. If you want your character to use one as a weapon, though, they’re well-suited to rangers and barbarians.