Proposal: Weapon Classes

I rather quickly shot off a proposal for simple weapon vs. armor adjustments a few weeks ago; I wasn't completely happy with it, and I've been meditating on the subject ever since.

I suppose that you can take the subject in one of two directions, depending on your motivating principles. One: You could decide that you really want to work up a simulation of the penetration ability of certain weapons against different armor types, within the context of the D&D combat system. Two: You could instead decide that your overarching goal is to give each weapon some metagame reason to be chosen by characters in different circumstances.

Having mulled it over, I think I'll have to pick option #2 as my priority. I will again point out DMG p. 9, where Gygax makes clear that for D&D, the designer is supposed to put game-design principles ahead of realism-simulation, when a choice must be made between the two ("This is not to say that where it does not interfere with the flow of the game that the highest degree of realism hasn't been attempted...") Taking this longer-view perspective, the answer will sometimes be to-hit-adjustments, and at other times be something entirely different. It will not be systematizable in a matrix of numbers.

So here is a new proposal for distinguishing between different weapon types. First of all, let me be clear that I use the variable weapon damage from Greyhawk, but ignore the separate statistics for L-size enemies (and other modifiers). Hence weapon damage follows this simple rule:

Weapon Damage
  • d4: Dagger, sling.
  • d6: Hand axe, mace, spear, arrow, quarrel.
  • d8: Sword, battle axe, morning star, flail, pole arm, lance, pike.
  • d10: Halberd, two-handed sword.
Now let's divide up the different weapon types into a few recognizable categories, based on how the blow is delivered, and come up with a concise reason why they might be chosen over other types of weapon (melee weapons only for today). As usual, these points should be easy to remember, so we don't have to look up the information while the game is in progress.

Weapon Classes
  • Swords (dagger, sword, two-handed sword): Blades are light and compact. They can be easily carried in a scabbard (half encumbrance), and can stab in constricted spaces where other weapons are unusable (e.g., narrow tunnel, monster gizzard, etc.)
  • Spears (spear, lance, polearm, pike): Pole weapons provide reach. The wielder gets a free attack when readied against an onrushing attacker with a shorter weapon; however, in each later round of melee they permit a free attack on the part of the enemy.
  • Axes (hand axe, battle axe, halberd): Chopping weapons can sometimes cleave through heavy armor. They get a +1 to hit opponents wearing chain or plate.
  • Clubs (mace, flail, morning star): Bludgeons can deliver shocks directly through plate without penetrating the armor. They get a +2 to hit opponents in plate mail.
Now, we could certainly go further and provide specific modifiers or exceptions to each individual weapon in a class (some will already be obvious; notice that the first item in each class is usually throwable, the last item is usually two-handed, and so forth). However, this is the point that I think the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages of such a system, before the DM has to either memorize or look up a dozen different rulings for all the various weapon types. So I'll stop here with a nice amount of mechanical flavor for each of the different available weapon choices.


  1. i like these ideas would be similarly inclined to differentiate damage between weapon types.

    If I were playing with these, I think I'd probably change the spear's 'drawback' into an initiative penalty/automatic loss on subsequent combat rounds rather than the free attack.

    And make the rolls with sharp-edged dice!

  2. Delta -- I've developed a slightly more elaborate system for C&C. Check it out on my blog:

    Basically the simple idea is that weapons are split into three broad categories: Piercing, Slashing, Bludgeoning.

    Each category typically has 1 "basic" family (usable by anyome), 1 "simple" family (usable by most), and 2 "martial" families (usable by dedicated warriors).

    For example, the bludgeoning category:

    Clubs & Staves (basic) --> Maces (simple) --> Hammers or Flails (martial)

    This is good because it gives fighter types more meaningful choices for weapons. Clerics already get to select spells, so by giving fighters those martial options it gives them choices too.

    I like you erred on the side of "fun" and game balance rather than realism.

    I built these tables some time ago and my thoughts on design have changed since then (like you, I think small bonuses to hit are just obnoxious at this point and would prefer a more elegant mechanic, like rolling twice for damage and taking the better roll or something) but have not put the time into it to see if those methods are statistically equivalent across the board like I have with these tables.

  3. Looks good to me; I think the only change I might make is to shift the sling up to 1d6 damage (assuming sling bullets).

  4. nearly 3 years later but I felt compelled to comment!

    I love the club and axe entries.

    I think the spear could use some slight tweaking, but is on the nose conceptually.

    I'd submit that due to their small size daggers are: concealable, (often throwable, but the proper throwing knife is another weapon entirely) and easy to slip into helmet visors, joints of armor, through gorgets etc. I'd grant daggers double damage on a critical hit (this has the nice effect of encouraging thief dagger use even in direct combat, but the possible downside of producing knife murdering wizards).

    The sword is indeed quick to draw and usable in concealed places, but I always thought the main difference between a sword and other hand weapons is its balance. Axes and maces and all other non-sword melee weapons have the weight concentrated at one end for a more powerful blow and more armor penetration. The sword, while poor against chain and downright crappy against plate, is a well balanced weapon and can quickly move from offense back to defense. I'd give sword-wielders +1 AC to represent the sword's balance increasing the ease of parrying, riposting and the like.

    You could also go with +1 damage or some sort of bleeding effect vs. unarmored foes, to play up the sword's decreased efficiency vs heavily armored targets.

  5. valiance -- Thanks for the comment! I think all those ideas are definitely in the ballpark for things we could use.

    In the particular case of swords being less-useful against heavy armor, I do tend to prefer taking that as the baseline, and giving extra bonuses to the axes & bludgeons (so that swords are just weaker on a relative standing).