A long-standing bug with the Backstab command was fixed on 28th April 2011. However, this bug had become so ingrained in the game that, for example, many weapons appear to have been designed to work with the bug.
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Backstab is "a rapid flurry of blows, delivered with an element of surprise which catches the defender off guard".
A bigger (heavier, longer, wider) weapon is probably harder to wield covertly than a smaller (lighter, shorter, thinner) one.
A bigger weapon is probably harder to manipulate rapidly, and thus slower and does less attacks, than a smaller one.
A bigger weapon probably does more damage with each blow than a smaller one.
A more skilled attacker can probably wield a weapon faster than a less skilled one.
A more skilled attacker probably does more damage with each blow than a less skilled one.
Observation - I can manage about 19 or 20 short stabbing motions of perhaps 8 inches * 2 hands in 7 seconds, a combat heartbeat is 2 rl seconds, and corresponds to 6 2/3 game seconds! However, this is without the resistance of penetrating armour / clothing / flesh, or withdrawing a blade against the friction and suction of a wound. Cutting and slashing / bashing type motions are slower.
I'd think that the number of actions in a single heartbeat would be a reasonable limiting factor.
Prime hand may be faster than off hand, so you might with identical weapons in each hand get an extra hit in with your prime hand. Hits with the prime hand might also be better placed and do more damage.
Lots of rapid hits taking advantage of the element of surprise, the element of surprise meaning that your target doesn't defend during the attack. However, these are not the prepared blows of a normal special attack, and might individually be less damaging than a normal base round, the strength of the attack will be the number of attacks combined with the surprise.
Certain weapon types (pure pierce) might be better than others (mixed pierce / slash, pure slash, blunt) due to the relative ease or difficulty of rapidly repeating different strikes. Changing strike during a backstab from eg a stabbing motion to a slashing motion would probably negatively impact the number of blows.
"Shock and Awe" effect is probably down to the surprise of the attack, so a feature of the co.it.weap and co.stealth.* skills.
Damage caused is a feature of the weapon skill and the weapon itself, possibly less intensive than a normal base round per blow.
You need to get closer with smaller weapons than with bigger ones. This might need more stealth. So, smaller weapons, more co.st.* less co.it.we, bigger weapons more co.it.we but less co.st.*.
Backstab might always focus on the upper body.
More of an aesthetic thing than anything else, I always found it odd that pretty much every single member of every single guild backstabbed in exactly the same way.
It would be nice to have more variety to the backstab, maybe having different "styles" that you could set/learn from different sources. Depending on the style used it could give a different "effect" as to how the backstab is performed (or failed). Purely cosmetic, it would add some variety. A few examples:
A "clumsy" backstab in which the attacker feigns tripping over, using the opportunity to stab their victim several times (inspired by Lao Tze and those other seemingly harmless types who can inflict serious damage without ever giving the impression of actually attacking) A violent style, focusing on pure brutality over finesse (with appropriate setup/attack messages) A professional style, with each hit being carefully placed etc.