Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Weapon Matrix

For quite some time, I've had a house rule based on "weapon classes" (sword, spear, axe, club) that give a small but noticeable unique benefit to each (inspired, but massively cut down from, the old weapon-vs-AC modifiers). In my recent house rules update, I made two more small changes to weapons: (1) I added the hammer from OD&D Sup-I, and (2) I declared that flails are two-handed and ignore the opponent's shield. Why'd I do that?

Well, in the case of hammers, I've had players ask for them, they're a standard feature of some races like dwarf or gnome fighters -- and they fill in the gap of the "club" type not otherwise having an option for throwing. In the case of the flail, it gives them something distinct from morning stars, and it fills in the gap of there being no two-handed club type. In summary, it fills in each box of the following matrix with exactly the weapon types available in the Original D&D equipment list:

Here's what you see: On the left, the same weapon classes I've used for some years now (swords that are quick to draw, spears that have reach, axes +1 vs. chain/plate, clubs +2 vs. plate only). Across the top, each of three size categories: small, medium, and large.

Generally speaking: "Small" weapons are all one-handed, do 1d6 damage, and can be thrown (exceptions: daggers do 1d4, maces not throwable). "Medium" weapons can be held in one hand, do 1d8 damage, but cannot be thrown (exception: polearms are two-handed, of course). "Large" weapons all require two hands and have some special benefit, like 1d10 damage, extra-long reach, or, now in the case of flails, ignoring some added part of the enemy's armor.

So prior to this alteration, the "club" type lacked any throwing version, and was also missing a large two-handed variety. Now, with throwable hammers from Sup-I, and the flail declared as two-handed with its special benefit, both of these irritating gaps are resolved. Also, there's now something to distinguish any weapon from any other weapon in the system (for example: flails and morning stars used to be identical in usage, now there's some criteria to choose one instead of the other).

Historical note -- in the Middle Ages the flail weapon used by footmen was probably primarily two-handed; so once again historical realism serves to solve our initial game-balancing problem. I lifted the "ignore shield" idea from the Wikipedia article -- if you prefer to have flails do some kind of tripping, weapon-snaring, etc., action, I don't mind, but personally I wanted the benefit to be entirely encapsulated in the hit-versus-armor sphere. (Likewise, if you want to allow thrown maces, I can sympathize with that.)

Side point: Recall that real-world war hammers were little spiky things made to impact armor at a small focus point. They're not Wayne Reynolds-style giant battering-ram sized surfaces. They are basically synonymous with a "military pick", which is why I didn't carry that in separately from Sup-I (also: no one's ever asked for any military picks in my games).


  1. I understand that awesome feeling one gets when finally filling in the last empty spot on a table... :-) Nice job!

  2. I know I'm always using Military Picks. That and the Bohemian Ear-Spoon.

    1. Well then I challenge you to a joust, sir.

  3. I've given some thought to this as well. Instead of Sm - Md - Lg I go with one or two handed. Pole arms and halberds are merged as ultimately they are pretty similar (though I suppose not quite identical, and having the halberd as a "large" axe is a valid interpretation - I may rethink my approach and use yours instead). Flails are separate from club-types, so there can be one and two handed varieties (the dynamics of use are really very different. I actually built a repro flail, and its kinda scary to swing). And then the flail category basically reduces the effectiveness of a shield, which improves AC by 2, rather than 1, so a one hand flail diminishes the shield's usefulness to one place, and a two hand flail negates altogether.

    For damage I am still deciding the specifics, but I'm heavily leaning towards making it depend on class and level, rather than strictly on weapon type, and if you score better than what you need to hit by a sufficient margin, you get to "increment" the damage die to the next one up. So a 1st level fighting-man might do a d6, but if they, say, roll an 18 when they only need a 13 to hit, they may do a d8. Two handed weapons get a +2 bonus to hit, which can therefore indirectly translate into greater damage potential. Basic idea is that damage potential should depend on more on the figure's combat skill, then strictly the weapon (though that has its own influence)

    Each weapon class has specials; flails have already been discussed. Swords are better able to strike at multiple foes and do damage a bit different if they are used against unarmored or heavy (i.e. metal armor) armored foes (basically roll two damage dice and take the highest/lowest respectively). Note that daggers are similar but have a special "niche" role, in that they are disadvantaged in melee vs. larger weapons, but are very dangerous in close quarters grappling. Spears and similar have reach advantages. Maces (and improvised clubs) can be used by fighting men at a +1, and generally can be used normally by otherwise inexperienced combatants (following the real world observations that even chimpanzees can use clubs effectively)

    Just rambling thoughts.

    1. Good stuff, I think it does bear fruit to think closely for some elegant distinction between the weapons. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Oh, and as I've said elsewhere, I do wish that the OD&D halberd was instead titled the "poleaxe". The name "halberd" kind of sticks out in its unusual specificity.