Sensing undead in the passage ahead, Sir Richard yanks his longsword from his scabbard and, shield raised, charges into the Corridor of Bones. Casting about for the enemy he knows lurks somewhere in these foul tunnels beneath the Temple of Elemental Evil, he gasps when he sees nearly a dozen skeletons spring up from a bone pile—the undead remnants of those temple hordes vanquished by law and good an age ago.
How Glen, Sir Richard’s player, handles this situation largely depends on the edition of D&D he’s playing. In a 1st or 2nd edition game, Glen might draw his footman’s mace, knowing his longsword will deal only half damage to these foes. In a 3.5 game, Glen might switch to his heavy mace, but he might stay with his sword if he knows he can reliably deal more than 5 damage on a swing since skeletons have damage reduction 5/bludgeoning—especially if he has invested in a powerful magic weapon. Finally, in a 4th edition game, Glen doesn’t worry about the kind of weapon he’s wielding because untyped damage is all the same.
The takeaway from how Glen reacts is that the game has handled weapon damage in different ways over its long life. In the early editions, tables reflected how weapons fared against armor types and if a monster had a special resistance to the damage, the information lived in the monster’s description. Later, to unify the tech, weapons dealt damage of a particular type (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing), and the most recent incarnation treated all weapon damage as being effectively the same.
Should weapon damage matter?
One could argue that adding more damage types to the game in pursuit of better simulation only muddies the rules. Stating something is weapon damage should be sufficient. On the other hand, breaking down physical damage into the big three gives designers and DMs more tools for customizing monsters, spells, and other effects.
What do you think?