This is something I’ve been working on in many different ways and times. The blandness present in many D&D weapon lists make me disappointed somehow. Not that there isn’t many different weapons (often there are quite enough, if not too many), but the general sameness of those very weapons renders that point worthless. When the only weapon properties you have to work with are damage and weight, the choice of weapon often becomes quite simple (if you’ve got the encumbrance to spare): just pick the most damaging weapon you can afford.
Now, I’m not saying that D&D is a game about combat (unless you are playing 3e or later without lots of house rules, in which case, it’s definitely a game about combat). But the thing is, combat is an integral and important part of D&D, even if it’s not the main point of the game, and weapon choice should play into that.
Now to some points on historical weapons…
In general, most one-handed weapons weighed around the same (1 kg / 2.25 lbs.), just as most two-handed weapons weighed around the same (1.5-2 kg / 3-4 lbs.). There are obviously exceptions, like daggers (0.5 kg / 1 lb.), and things likes halberds and greatswords (around 3 kg / 6.5 lbs.). As far as I know, this 1-3 kg range kind of still applies today (mostly). This means that there are four broad weight categories to use.
Now onto the types of weapons themselves. Generally, there are four-isch “damage types”, from different pre-gunpowder weapons:
- Slashing: swords and other balanced weapons with long edges. Their cuts easily harm unarmored people, but are more or less worthless against heavy armor.
- Impaling: long thin spikes or blades, mainly thrusts but also arrows. They can do a lot of damage if they hit the right spot, and go through textile armor pretty well.
- Chopping: a heavy edged weapon brought down with force, like an axe. This is some kind of compromise between a blunt and sharp weapon.
- Crushing: any impact weapon really. Maces, hammers, clubs and staves. The main point is that it transfers (somewhat) through armor.
Now, one could argue for either more or less damage types, but I’ll make do with these for now. They have served pretty well in my Disposable Heroes campaign (though mostly everyone used swords for some reason, even while tapping plate-armored knights for like 0-2 damage per hit).
In addition to these, there are a couple of more points to consider:
- Some weapons, like swords, are much easier to carry around due to their weight distribution. This was what made swords one of the primary side arms.
- Some weapons, like spears, has much longer reach than other weapons.
- Some weapons, like halberds, are hooked, allowing you to pull someone down with it.
- Some weapons are versatile, allowing one to apply two (or more) different damage types with different attacks.
I’m not sure if I’m missing any important properties now, please tell me if I do.
So some weapons as examples:
- Sword: versatile (slashing or impaling), balanced.
- Battle-axe: chopping.
- Warhammer: crushing.
- Spear: impaling, reach.
And you can figure the rest out yourself. It’s not that complicated.
The problem comes in when you attempt to make these properties have an impact on the game through rules, because you could easily go overboard and make it too complicated and just plain unfun. A balance needs to be achieved, where every weapon is valuable, but in different situations. But I think I’ll take on the mechanics of this in another post. I wouldn’t want this to get too long and messy.