On February 2, Evil_Reverend, the screen name for Robert Schwalb, one of the developers for the next iteration of D&D, wrote a blog on the D&D Next Group called "Weapon Damage Types", where it was suggested that the game would bring back the three weapon damage types: bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing, such that some creature might be resistant or vulnerable to one or more types of weapons. At the time of this article, more than half of the people who responded to the poll at the end of that article thought this was a good idea. So I have a feeling that weapon type damage will see a return.
Last September, I wrote an article called "A New Division of Weapons", in which I describe some of the issues I've had with similar weapon categorizations. Specifically, I gave the example of the Dungeon Caddy, which I'll reproduce here for convenience:
|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.
Accepting that weapon types will make a return, however, I have given consideration as to how this can be accomplished with the following parameters:
1. Challenging: Weapon type-resistance must offer some challenge to the party
2. Caddy-less: Weapon type-resistance need not require weapon0users to have a dungeon caddy
3. Cognizable: Weapon type-resistance should make sense.
Here's what I've devised:
Secondary Damage Types
What if each weapon imposed a default type of damage? And what if each family of weapons also had available to it a secondary type of damage, which could be inflicted by using the weapon in a nontraditional manner (possibly requiring the purchase of attachments or a more advanced form of the weapon)? This secondary damage would be available but at a minor penalty. Perhaps, for example, a small penalty to hit, or the inability to use any associated powers of the weapon.
This would allow a weapon-user to inflict two types of damage with his favored weapon. Damage types would still be challenging, but the weapon-user would only need one back-up weapon for the one damage type that could not be inflict with the primary weapon.
So, for example, is a longsword can inflict slashing damage primarily, and piercing damage secondarily, swordsman would only need a back-up bludgeoning weapon to cover all three types. The sword-n-board melee build isn't simply cliche; now it has real tactical sense. The sword-n-board fighter is built for versatility, being able to inflict any damage type without having to stow and draw a different weapon.
Bludgeoning, however, offers a unique problem in the trip of damages. In theory, any weapon with a handle should be able to inflict bludgeoning damage. Cocking someone on the head with the hilt of your sword or the butt of your crossbow is pretty standard fare in the fantasy medium. Wouldn't the aforementioned longsword be able to create slashing damage, secondary piercing damage, and tertiary bludgeoning damage? Why would we give a creature resistance to anything but bludgeoning if any weapon could inflict such damage, thus getting around resistance to piercing or slashing?
The answer I propose is that using the handle of a weapon to impose bludgeoning damage is the equivalent of an unarmed attack. Everyone has the ability to punch, and punching is going to inflict bludgeoning damage. Unless you are of a class built for lethal unarmed attacks (like a monk, or a fighter with some sort of pugilist or wrestler build), unarmed attacks should be fairly ineffective. We don't know what the designers have in mind for unarmed combat in the next edition, but I believe that however it works, improvised weapons should be incorporated into those unarmed attack rules.
I mentioned using a shield bash as a bludgeoning attack. This follows my earlier suggestion that shields should be considered a type of weapon. Shields, I propose, would have no "primary" damage type. Rather a "shield bash" would use the rules for secondary damage types. The shield's defensive bonus replaces any primary damage type. Adding spikes or razors to your shield may allow you also inflict piercing or slashing damage instead of bludgeoning damage. This allows shields to serve as a back-up "weapon" regardless of the damage type your primary weapon cannot inflict. Feats and other talents might allow someone to become primarily proficient as a shield basher.
Archery generally inflicts only piercing damage. Slings generally only inflict bludgeoning damage. However, depending on the tenor of the campaign, one might allow for trick arrows, quarrels, or bullets that allow for different types of damage. A "punching arrow" might inflict bludgeoning damage, a "razor quarrel" might inflict slashing, and a "spiked bullet" might inflict piercing. This allows ranged attackers a variety of damage types and not be rendered less useful against characters resistant to piercing. I have less concerns about a dungeon caddy for ranged characters; after all, a quiver is already the medieval version of a golf bag.
In the prior article, I also suggested dividing weapons into "weapon families". This works well with the scheme I propose above, as each weapon family can have its own designated primary and secondary damage type. The proliferation fo weapon families can ensure that every combination of primary and secondary damage is represented. I illustrate this in the following diagram. Please note that the damage type closest to the weapon family is the primary damage type for that family and the further one the secondary damage type. Thus, blades are slashing and then piercing, while axes are slashing and then bludgeoning.
Now, the damage types are merely defaults. A rapier may be placed in the blade family, but be piercing first, and slashing second. Some exotic weapons may only have one damage type, or may require special modifications to inflict a second damage type.
I also proposed in the prior article, that weapon length determine the damage die of the weapon. I measured length in terms of "hands". I still think this would be a good way to establish a good variety of weapons for each weapon family. In my prior article, I did not have "picks", having merged it with hammers because I had not intended to bring back weapon types. With damage types restored, I am bringing back picks, but eliminating flails. The flail family is now merged with the mace family by default, though specific weapons may given unique properties. The whip, for instance, may only inflict slashing damage, but could give bonuses to trip attacks. Following is the chart of weapon families and types:
I think this sort of categorization of weapons can give players and designers a solid framework for making diverse weapons that are useful and allow for challenging encounters against a variety of creatures with variable damage resistances.