In my last post on the topic, I mentioned how I was keen on the Labyrinth Lord ruleset for a future campaign, but there were a few things about it that irked me. One of those was the rules for weapons. Weapons are a bit of a problem point (or edge, or flange) for D&D and related games in general. A lot of this has to do with where you land on abstraction vs simulationism. Simple, abstract rules such as ‘all weapons do the same damage’ or ‘weapon damage = class HD’ keep weapon choice largely cosmetic and don’t bog down combat with too many variables. Full-fat AD&D, with its Weapons vs Armor Class tables and speed factors for every weapon, succeeds in distinguishing weapons mechanically but slow-down and over-complicate combat with a lot of table lookups and number crunching.
In Dungeons and Dragons, different classes are allowed to use different weapons, with one of the privileges of the Fighter class being their unrestricted weapon access. Assuming this, whatever weapon rules are used will end up affecting the power balance between classes, likely that of Fighters most of all.
I like D&D combat to be fast, deadly and easy to understand. For a while, I was sure class-based damage was the way to go. Now I’m leaning more towards a more complex system. This is mainly for two reasons.
- Watching HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) channels on youtube and increased acquaintance with the size, shape and weight of medieval weaponry has ramped up my enthusiasm for detail regarding these weapons and their relative advantages and disadvantages in use.
- I want the class selection of weapons to be meaningful, and in the case of fighter-types, the choice of which weapons to equip themselves with to be a meaningful tactical choice and appreciable benefit of the class.
- I wanted players do be able to quickly add up their damage rolls + modifiers, and to streamline the mental arithmetic, I wanted just 1 dice for damage rolls (e.g. no 2d4 damage, no d6+1 damage).
Working with these goals in mind, here’s what I came up with:
Generally the most popular weapon in D&D, swords come in wide variety of shapes and sizes, and generally excel at being all purpose damage dealers. The longsword was tweaked to let it be used one or two handed and made interchangable with bastard sword, as far as D&D terminology is concerned. 2H sword has the highest damage around to compensate for lack of shield use, and the fact that I don’t use AD&D’s damage vs large rules. Also it gives the d12 some exercise.
Short Sword – d6
Broad Sword/Scimitar/Falchion/Arming Sword – d8
Long or ‘bastard’ sword – d8/d10 if used 2 handed
2 handed Sword – d12
I used a watered down version of AD&D’s WvsAC rules to highlight the armour penetration factor of axes versus many of the less advanced armour types. This makes the axe a very desirable type of weapon versus a common D&D enemy- low hit dice humanoids. Also good against beasts with leathery or scaly skin. The tomahawk or frankish style hand axe can be hurled. Most medieval battle axes I’ve seen seem to be optimised for 2-handed use, but could probably also be used, albeit less effectively, in combination with a shield.
All axes gain +2 to hit vs light armour (up to chain mail)
Hand axe – d6, can be hurled (hurled weapons gain both Str and Dex bonuses)
Battle axe – d6/d8 if used 2 handed
Maces, Morning Stars and Warhammers
I feel that maces and warhammers effectively fulfil the same role – they’re percussive weapons designed to take down heavily armoured opponents. Morning stars are effectively a spiky mace. Flails, I think, can also be subsumed into this group. To this end they have a bonus that makes them useful against elite enemy characters and things like chitinous monsters.
All maces and warhammers get +2 to hit against heavy armour (banded/splint/plate mail or better)
Mace, Morning Star or Warhammer – d6
2H version- d8
Spears were the ubiquitous military weapon of the middle ages. For low-level adventurers and their henchmen, getting in that first hit can be the difference between life and death. Javelins are primarily missile weapons, they can be used as a 1H d6 damage weapon but do not get the reach advantage of melee spear.
Reach – Spear wielder automatically strikes first in the first round of combat vs any single opponent, and deals double damage if the opponent was charging. This is negated vs another weapon of similar length.
Spear – d6/d8 if used 2H
Javelin – d6, can be hurled.
The last ditch defence option for magic users and the archetypal weapon of thieves and assassins, the dagger is easily concealable and great for a sneak attack. It can be hurled in a pinch, but only specially made throwing weapons can be used effectively thus. Throwing daggers are not available to magic-users.
Dagger – d4, +2 to hit when used in backstab or assassination, can be hurled at -2 penalty.
Throwing daggers – d4
Gary Gygax’s polearm is well-documented, but for our purposes polearms such as halberds, pollaxes, guisarmes, bec-de-corbins and the like are lumped together. The main strength of polearms are their reach and versatility – it pierces, it slashes, it bashes! Reach, high damage and armour penetration are enjoyed by the polearm wielder.
Reach as spear. Armour penetration as both axe and mace. 2H required.
Polearm – d10
For the poor or desperate.
Club – d4
2H Quarterstaff – d6
Labyrinth Lord gives longbows a higher damage die, which I like. No changes to these except to note that I would allow two arrows/round if the user does not also move.
Short Bow – d6
Long Bow – d8
Crossbows user cannot move and fire, but they can pre-load a bolt to be loosed before initiative is rolled for the first round of combat. In addition, the crossbow can be fired straight ahead from a prone or crouching position.
Hand Crossbow – d4, extremely rare except for drow and assassins
Light Crossbow – d6
Heavy Crossbow – d8, +2 to hit vs metal armour.
Same as bows, can be fired twice/round if user doesn’t move. Handy for adventurers on long journeys away from civilisation, as they can collect rocks to re-stock their ammunition.
Sling – d4
Effectively smaller, lighter javelins. Portable and used as hurled weapons only. Longer range than throwing daggers.
Dart – d4
Fighter (and subclasses) – Any
Cleric – mace, morningstar, warhammer, sling, staff, club
Druid – short sword, spear, sling, staff, club, dagger (melee only)
Thief – short sword, 1H sword, dagger, club, staff, light crossbow, short bow, sling, hand axe
Assassin – any
Magic user (and subclasses) – staff, dagger (melee only)
I think these class restrictions combined with the weapon rules work to keep the fighter and assassin on top when it comes fighting power but still gives the other classes some options to choose from. (except for poor MUs but nevermind).
The warrior equipping himself will have to weigh up weapon advantages versus inventory space and what kind of foe he or she thinks the party will face.
My thief list is somewhat expanded because I see the ‘adventuring thief’ as not necessarily limited to urban gang weapons. The AD&D’s Druid’s scimitar was intended to be a sickle like device used to harvest plants, but I don’t see that as being optimised for combat in a way a scimitar would be, but I can see them having smaller blades for self defence, hence the short sword.
I’d love to hear opinions on this, especially from anyone with experience in HEMA or designing custom OSR weapon rules. So far in playtesting with an AD&D group it’s working out well. Does anyone think I’ve made any serious blunders in the weapon attributes?