Having a nice injury system helps a lot in creating a gray area between “fully functioning” and “stone dead”. It can mitigate the 5e problem of fights barely taxing resources until characters are dying left and right.
When your combats lack… bite. Throw in a dog from Dark Souls. They’re mean bastards.
And now unto the non-damage properties, just to finish this off. Ideally, they should be actually important.
So me and the grill-fiend went and saw Dunkirk the day before yesterday. I can’t say it didn’t deserve its good reviews, because it probably did. And the aeroplane combat scenes were just great. In fact, so great, they made me want to write a system for flying planes in your RPG system. Or mostly air combat. With fighter planes.
If possible, I’d like to solve many different things with one fix. Something like having damage dice also be weapon durability and initiative would be good (though not necessarily exactly that combo!).
Anyways, I did some math (or lots, maybe). Basically, I calculated what the average damage of different damage modifiers were, against no to full armor (damage reduction), to make sure that regular weapons in the same category were decently equal.
If you wonder why I’m so harsh with this equal damage thing, it is because I want to remove the notion of an overall “best” or “most damaging” weapon, and make it all situational.
So, as I wrote here, I have a problem with how in some D&D weapons lists, the weapons are basically just a damage die and nothing more. Now, if you’re playing a very minimalist approach where every wepon just does 1d6 damage, it doesen’t matter that much (though the only reason to have a weapon list at all in that case is for flavor). No, I want the weapons to feel different to each other. Weapons are an important part of combat, and combat is an important part of D&D. Thus, this.
- Slashy weapons (swords mainly) cut unarmored people very easily, but are literally worthless against heavier armor.
- Stabby weapons (swords, spears, daggers) can do tons of damage if they hit the right spot, and are pretty good against textile armor.
- Choppy weapons (axes) are decent overall, with a bit of an edge but also heft.
- Crushy weapons (hammers, maces) smash armor decently.
Now, the real idea is a bit down, if you want to skip these other things.
The Olde Way: Weapons vs. Armor Types
Don’t be scared, this isn’t going to be as bad as it sounds (probably). Assuming you are using the regular old AC system, and if you don’t want to change damage values around that much, you can use this good (?) old stuff. Though this is hopefully less messy than the AD&D weapon vs. armor table… This is not by any means a new solution, but it might still be usable.
- Slashing is +3 to hit against unarmored, +1 to hit against leather.
- Piercing is +1 to hit against unarmored and mail, and +2 to hit against leather.
- Chopping +1 against everything.
- Crushing is +1 to hit against leather and mail and +2 to hit against plate.
A Side Idea: Damage Die from Target Armor
This one is just a random thought I had… You could have a weapon’s damage dice based on what level of armor your target is wearing. It doesn’t seem to work out very nicely in a balanced table, though, so I’ll just leave this as an abandonded idea for now.
Using Damage Modifiers
This is the one I used in Disposable Heroes. It worked pretty well actually, but I’d like to run it through design again to make it better. This was used with armor as damage reduction, where you could rack up 4 armor points in full plate.
- Slashing weapons dealt +1d4 damage, but counted enemy armor as double.
- Piercing weapons dealt exploding¹ damage.
- Chopping weapons dealt +1 damage.
- Impact weapons ignored half the target’s armor.
(The large range of damage dice used, d4 through d12, had the peculiar effect of making properties more important for smaller weapons. That might need changing somehow.)
It worked pretty well. I calculated all the weapons’ average damage over 0-4 AP to make sure they were decently balanced from the start.
The new (untested) version of this might get its own post. It got large and math-y… Basically I wanted to change how the damage types worked a bit, while keeping their general effect the same.
The thing the average damage calculation doesn’t do however, is accounting for other weapon properties, namely durability, reach, and versatility. But I wanted these weapon’s overall damage to be the same so you couldn’t find a best weapon in pure damage.
- Slashing, piercing, chopping, crushing, are damage modifiers.
- Reach allows you to fight in two ranks, and to strike first upon closing melee.
- Balanced halves the amount of encumbrance the weapon takes up.
- Brittle and durable affect how easily the weapon is broken.
- Versatile allows you to swap between two damage types.
- Throwable means the weapon can be thrown effectively.
- Small means the weapon is easily carried and concealed.
- Sword: versatile (slashing or piercing), balanced, brittle
- Dagger: piercing, small, throwable
- Axe: chopping
- Warhammer: crushing, durable
- Pole-axe: versatile (crushing or piercing), durable
- Spear: piercing, reach
- Javelin: piercing, throwable
You get the idea… Though I’m not sure what to do with pickaxes? I get this feeling that they should do piercing and crushing damage at the same time, and that seems far too strong…
1. Exploding damage is when you can roll another damage die and add them together upon rolling the highest possible result.
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.