- Jun 2005 -
19235 Posts

A New Division of Weapons

My most current blog series is Long Division, a theoretical reorganization of power sources, classes, archetypes, and subclasses.  In my previous articles on the topic, I suggested new division of magic, martial, gish, and spellcasting.  In this article, I discuss an organization for weapons.

Weapons are the "implements" for the martial power source and for gish classes.  It is the tool they use for manifesting their martial training and bringing pain to their enemies.  Treating weapons as implements will be important when we contemplate the classification of shields.

A History of Weapons

Weapons may have the strangest journey of all the elements I've described to date.  In Original D&D you didn't have a lot of choices for weapons.  You had the club, mace, flail, sword, dagger, quarterstaff, bow, and crossbow.  (Did you have a crossbow even?  I don't remember now.)  They basically all did the same thing with different polyhedrals.

The Dungeon Caddy

In AD&D, weapons exploded!  Not literally; it was an explosion of options.  Gygax really let his inner medievalist run rampant in AD&D.  In fact, Gygax' obsession with pole arms was so infamous, it spawned a Pole Arm Quiz this past April Fools.  AD&D took the attitude that every weapon should be detailed, every weapon should be mechanically unique, and you reward players for ferreting out the best weapons. 

Because each weapon had to be unique, weapons were given all sorts of traits and powers.  Some pole arms gave you a bonus to disarming, others to tripping.  Some did 1d8+1 damage.  Some did 2d4 damage.  Some were slashing weapons.  Some were piercing weapons.  Some were blunt.  Some were wooden.  Some were metal.  Some were silver.  Some were cold iron.  And if you were going up against someone wearing armor you might get a bonus or penalty depending on the type of armor he was wearing. The result was the quiver of weapons, where you felt the need to have a weapon of every type (and a back-up in case of rust monsters) so you could switch in and out depending on who you fought. 

I always imagined fighters walking around with a caddy...

Fighter: What is that?  A rust monster?  Hand me my three wood.
Caddy: No sir.  I believe that is a rust monster zombie.  You need something slashing.  Maybe a five iron?
Fighter: Rust monster zombie?  Do they only eat iron brains?  Hand me my wedge.  I'm going to have to hit this one out of the bunker.

A World of Weapons

Successive editions reduced the number of weapons available, at least initially.  However, introducing exotic weapons became a favorite way to add flavor to a region or race.  Gnolls became identified with the three-headed flail, and minotaurs with the executioner's axe.  Elves got longbows and long swords (almost always an optimal choice), and drow somehow got mixed up with the scimitar and the hand crossbow.  Halflings were linked to the sling.  It was weird, but it was just too damn easy to fill page requirements by adding yet another regional item.


By the time 4th edition rolled around, the number of weapons was drastically reduced and the various qualities were as well.  Monsters were not affected differently by different weapon types.  There was no need to carry that morning star simply because it did blunt and piercing damage.  Thousands of dungeon caddies were put out of work.

Weapons were distinguished mainly by damage and a handful or weapon properties with weird names: small, stout, versatile, brutal, off-hand, defensive, thrown, high crit, and load.

A Reason for Weapons

So what's the benefit of distinguishing weapons?  Well, I see a few:

Polyhedrals: Without randomness for hp, damage is pretty much the only reason to use polyhedrals.  We use d20 for everything else except monster power recharging and the random element of the chaos sorcerer.  And people love their polyhedrals!  They're pretty.  I don't want to live in a world in which D&D players only have to buy a sleeve of icosahedrons and borrow some cubes from a MonopolyTM set in order to play.  Save Our Pythagorean Solids!

Identity: A warrior's identity is often based on his weapon.  Drizz't has his scimitars and Grey Mouser his dagger.  Conan has the great sword, Gimli his axe and Legolas his bow.  With feats, a character can give his character a weapon-based identity that encourages him to use a specific weapon, without sacrificing his utiility if he happens to temporarily lose it.

Immersion: In a world of interchangeable weapons, let's face it, everyone carries a sword, which is the default medieval weapon in our subconsciousness.  When was the last time your DM described someone wielding a ranseur?  Back in AD&D, the DM would say things like, "The guard on the left has a glaive and the one on the right has a halberd" and that meant something.  (Usually, it meant avoid the guy with the halberd.)  Now, I think the level of minutia in AD&D was overdone, but there's a place for encouraging DMs to add these elements to their game.

A New Division

Hands: What I suggest is to relate the game to the combat styles I identified for the martial classes back in a New Division of Martial.  Those styles were: Ranged, Shield and Arms, Two-handed, Two-weapon, and Versatile.  (Ally doesn't count.)  These styled are translated into weapon sizes, which I measure by "hands".  Small weapons appropriate for off-hand or two-handed use are "Half-Handed".  Weapons that can be wielded with a shield or half-handed weapon  are "Handed".  Weapons that can be wielded single or double-handed (what we know call "Versatile") are "Hand-and-a-Half", and two-handed weapons are called "Two-Handed".  Finally, weapons larger than that (pole arms) are still called "reach" weapons.  The smallest weapons would inflict d4 with the size of the die increasing by one with the size of the weapon.  Pole arms thus inflict d12 damage.  Thus, larger weapons are both more damaging and more swingy, in the literal and die-related sense.  In addition, there would be a category for "thrown" weapons, which would inflict a basic d6 or d8, depending on whether it is thrown by hand (and is this a handed weapon) or launched with a launcher like an atlatl or sling (which would be treated like a hand-and-a-half weapon).

Families: In addition, to allow variety by class, I identify several weapon families, based on the type of damage they do.  I've identified 10 weapon families: Axe, Blade, Bow, Crossbow, Flail, Hammer, Mace, Spear, Shield, and Unarmed.  I've selected a representative weapon for each combination of Hand and Family and placed it into the following grid (click on the image for a larger view):

If you don't see a weapon, that's probably because it it subsumed into a category.  The tomahawk, for instance, is a throwing axe, so it would fall under "Francisca" (a European medieval throwing axe).  Each family of weapons also has a quality, like "unbalancing" or "basic".  I haven't defined these qualities, as that would be very dependent on the underlying mechanics of the game.  Suffice to say that the intent is that each family of weapons feel similar to one another and different from other weapons of its size in other families.

The goal is to make weapon choice easy, meaningful, and yet discourage the weapon caddy.  The weapons are varied enough that you get a good variety, but without the minutia of memorizing the traits of a bec corbin.  Most people would choose one melee weapon and either a thrown weapon, bow, or crossbow.

Mounted Weapons

One last modification I might consider is to allow for "mounted weapons" in each category.  These would be pole arms built specifically for mounted combat (like lances) and may give benefits to mounted combatants and be unweildable otherwise.  That would all depend on how robust mounted combat rules would be in a new edition.

Improvised Weapons

Improvised weapons are like any other weapon.  How many hands does it take to wield it?  What sort of damage does it do?  If you stab, it's in the spear family.  It you slice and it's head is more than three times as big as the haft, it's in the axe family; otherwise, it's in the blade family.  If it has a hinge or is flexible, it's in the flail family.  If it's blunt and it's head is more than three times the shaft's diameter, it's in the hammer family; otherwise, it's in the mace family.  If it's broader than it is thick, it's in the shield family.  If you wrap it around your hand, it's in the unarmed family.  If you can shoot it from a bow or crossbow (and that would be odd for an improvised weapon) it's in the bow or crossbow families.  An improvised weapon is not built for combat and it will break.  Breakage rules would depend on underlying mechanics.  It is feasible to have additional penalties to attack or damage. 

Culture Shock

I'm going to elaborate on a few of the oddities in the chart, mostly dealing with shields and unarmed combat.


Shield as Weapon.  Bear with me.  Since I am advocating that guardian be made a full class, and it distinguishes itself on shield use, I think shields deserve status as a weapon (or, more precisely, as a martial implement).  The way a shield would work is not to increase one's AC -- I would leave that strictly to armor -- but allow a shield-bearer (or anybody wielding a second weapon) to use the shield or smaller or their two weapons to offset damage done to them equal to the damage of the shield. (The shield could also be used to shield bash as a weapon of that die value).  The "hand-and-a-half shield" could be used to offset damage inflicted on the shield bearer or on an adjacent ally.  That would be the property of the shield family -- to offset damage. 

Two-Handed Shield?!  Weird, right?  What a Great Shield and Tower Shield are, essentially, is a defensive siege weapon.  These shields would give you (Great) or you and an ally (Tower) cover until you get within, say 10 squares of combat.  Then you either discard it to pull out your regular weapons, or it serves like any other shield for offsetting damage and shield bashing.  I can imagine guardians being able to pull off some fun stunts in the initial round when carrying a great shield or tower shield.  This might get useful once you can get your hands (no pun intended) on some gloves of storing

Unarmed Combat

Handed Weapon.  Okay, the fist is a one-handed weapon.  Ha, ha.  Cute pun.  But why would anybody wield a half-handed weapon when they were born with two one-handed weapons?  Unarmed combat comes with the nonlethal quality.  Unless you are specially trained, which requires you to be a mystic or some sort of brawler build, using the fist should always have a drawback that offsets the extra +1 damage you get for using a fist rather than a small weapon.  That said, the benefit of the unarmed weapon (including the cestus and gauntlet) is that you can carry a weapon in the hand that also can be used unarmed.

Ranged Combat

Shields and bows.  I actually think reducing the effective range of ranged weapons is necessary in D&D.  You want people to get near each other for combat.  Reducing ranged weapon effectiveness to about 10 squares is useful to ensure that everyone is engaged in combat at the same time.  In return, I've upped ranged weapon damage on the grounds that they are two-handed weapons.  (Except the hand crossbow, which is a hand-and-a-half weapon.)

Crossbows. I'd eliminate load times.  I think they overcomplicate crossbows.  Rather, bows, like blades, can be keen (whether that meets higher crit values or something else would be for a consideration of the ultimate underlying mechanics).  Crossbows, like axes, would be brutal (again, whatever that ultimately means).  Load times make crossbowmen feel like henchmen.  While the archer is shooting off multiple arrows, the crossbowman is taking a standard action to turn a crank.  We're heroes dammit!  Make the crossbow fearsome again, not the miserable backup weapon of the magicless wizard (a la 3rd edition).

Missing Weapons.

Exotic weapons are gone.  I hate them.  One man's nunchaku is another man's length of chain with handles.  Well, not gone.  They just aren't exotic.  Every weapon is going to fit into one of these families and requires a half to two hands (with or without reach).  If you can wield a glaive you can wield a naginata.  At most, exotic weapons should be flavorful.  So if you want to describe the oni as wielding a "yari" instead of a pike, be my guest.  A DM can even rule that only people from a certain region can describe their pikes as yari.  Go wild with it.

Pick it.  Along with exotic weapons, picks have been folded into the hammer family.  Picks are basically hammers with a spike on the back.  It's still a hammer.  Similarly, tridents are folded into spears, and scythes are folded into axes.  Those are the European version of exotic weapons.

Throwing shield. Someone mentioned the throwing shield and I did think of adding it to the table, but my inner historian would let me do it.  There's just so many things wrong with the idea.  I don't care about Captain America, making a shield to be thrown just irks me.  I know, I know.  If this ever gets implemented, I'll suck it up and include a throwing shield. 

In the next and final article of the series, I discuss a New Division of Implements!

Read all the articles in the Long Division Series:
A New Division of Magic
A New Division of Martial 
A New Division of Gish
A New Division of Spellcasters
A New Division of Weapons
A New Division of Implements

See more at Unearthed Wrecana!

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