It was Oakeshott who refocused the attention of academia and collectors on the blade itself, instead of merely the swords furniture. Previous studies of swords tended to pay more attention to guards, hilts,and pommels than they did to the blade.
The blade is the sword, however. Oakeshott recognized the sword as a tool designed to perform a function, rather than a totem of war, or a ceremonial showpiece.
Oakeshott's typology concerns the blades shape, length, cross section, and structural design, and groups blades in families of related designs that show how the weapons evolved to overcome the improving defences they faced.
There has always been an arms race, it just used to be slower and more subtle.
Modern sensibilities tend to focus on the flashy weapons of kings and princes. Gold plated hilts and gem stone pommels are what you see in movies and fantasy art, along with ridiculously huge blades with extraneous flairs and curves that no man could actually lift, let alone use in melee.
That sort of thing disrupts my belief in the game world. I haven't any problem accepting a thousand pound, fire-breathing reptilian monster in a fantasy world. I suppose that's because it's not really much of a jump from dinosaurs to dragons.
A twenty pound sword however, makes me roll my eyes. I split alot of wood, with a 6 pound maul and a double bit axe. I play around some with the swords in my own collection, the largest of which is just over 4 pounds, and a two-hander. Actually using anything that weighs more than 4 pounds in melee combat is beyond the capabilities of most humans.
A melee weapon will be as heavy as it must to perform it's function, and no heavier. Speed in combat is more telling than force, and if you use a weapon that is so large it slows your attack, you will be killed by the guy who uses a less clumsy and faster killing tool.
In the Original Edition of The Game all weapons did D6 damage and many aficionados of OD&D and it's retro-clone, Swords&Wizardry use this system. It's fast, and straight forward and streamlines combat to keep the action moving quickly. From the stand point of game rules, it's eminently sensible and is in keeping with the Old School philosophy of rules light gaming.
These are all things I'm in favor of, but I'm an AD&D guy at heart, and I have no problem with variable weapon damage. I prefer the idea in fact. I'm willing to spend the extra few seconds to check a weapons damage rating if I don't already know it.
In an ideal situation, a dagger can kill as easily as a two handed sword, certainly. A single deep thrust from a six inch blade will let the life out of an opponent as surely as would loosing their head to the mighty swing of a four foot blade.
This ideal situation is something that almost never occurs in life though. If you were in a actual melee situation, I think I'm safe in assuming you'd rather be the one with the two handed sword and not the guy with the dagger. This is what I think the variable weapon damage accurately reflects.
Since AD&D/OD&D combat is abstract in nature, the difference in weapon damage is the difference in the potential harm the weapon can cause. Either the dagger doing d4 damage, or the two-handed sword doing 1d10 damage could kill with one blow, but the sword is more likely to do so.
At least at low level, where The Game is most true to life. I've only once had a character make it past 10th level myself. I just prefer low level gaming, it's more thrilling I think.
I've pasted in a few illustrations of portions of Oakeshott's sword typology from historicalweapons.com. These are just a few of the types covered in the full typology. There are sub-types within most categories. The typology covers viking age to renaissance sword types.
For some reason I don't understand, blogger is not allowing me to cut and paste links tonight.
So, you'll have to type these in for yourself if you would like to read more on the web about Ewart Oakeshott and his work.
myarmory.com has and excellent bio of the man, and a type by type example of the swords that make up the typology. There is also a wealth of other arms and armor related information if you're like me, a DM who dwells on that sort of thing.
oakeshott.org will take you to the Oakeshott Institute. The Institute houses Oakeshott's own sword collection and works to expand on his research.