Friday, March 4, 2011

Making Weapons Matter

Design Goal: Devise a system to differentiate weapons and create additional tactical decisions for combat and characters that rely on melee combat.

Most D&D weapons suck. There are a few clear winners when it comes to choosing weapons and a lot of chaff. Going for a two handed weapon? Greatsword, check. One handed and shield? Bastard sword, check. Cleric restrictions on weapons? Morningstar, check. Take a look at the AD&D weapon list and then count how many weapons there that see almost no use at the game table.

For the EMP game, every weapon will have some functional difference from every other weapon and any weapon which cannot be differentiated from another will be removed. First up, weapon size.

Weapon Size is the amount of room needed to wield a weapon. This will be expressed as three different values; 3' 5' and 7'. This value also determines a weapon wielder's frontage. Obviously, a 10 foot wide corridor could accommodate three 3' weapons, two 5' weapons, one 3' and one 7' weapon, etc. Weapon size quickly determines the amount of hands needed to wield a weapon, whether it may be dual wielded, and if small races may use them.

In general, 3' weapons are thrusting weapons and could be as small as a dagger or as large as a spear. Either way, they can be used in tight quarters. Excluding 3' spears and polearms, they are wielded in one hand and are often light for throwing or dual wielding.

5' weapons are typically weapons applied in a slashing motion, from long swords to clubs. They are also one handed. They would be the main weapon when dual wielding.

7' weapons require a large arc in order to wield properly as well as two hands. Examples would include greatswords and halberds.

Some weapons can be wielded in different sizes, so to speak. A longsword could be used as a 3' weapon by employing its stabbing end, a 5' weapon in a one handed slashing fashion, and even a 7' weapon for a relatively awkward two handed swing. Weapons with multiple sizes are more versatile.

Weapon characteristics define a weapon's qualities beyond damage and size. Each entry offers modifiers on how a weapon is used. Here is a quick list and is by no means exhaustive.

Pike. Grants +2 on morale checks when resolving charges.

Long. Ill-suited for melee combat; this weapon may only strike in the first round of a melee. Does not apply when wielding from back ranks. 

Catches Riders. When used to dismount a rider, automatically succeeds on a successful to-hit (defender may not choose to take damage instead).

Armor Penetration. Whether through precision, penetrating power, or blunt force trauma, this weapon grants a +1 to hit foes in medium armor and +2 against heavy armor.

Reach. Reach, followed by a number, is the rank that a weapon may hit from.

Light. Balanced for throwing and may be dual wielded in the off hand.

Price also differentiates weapons. There is something to be said for a simple weapon with few perks that is cheap and readily available.

Weapon quality is intrinsic to every weapon. Every weapon comes in a common, good, and masterwork quality. Quality alters the price of a weapon and is also a limiting factor for availability. For example, a blacksmith on an out of the way manor farm or homestead might be able to only produce a good weapon, whereas a weaponmaker in a town could produce a masterwork weapon. Common weapons are a way to save money to equip auxiliaries and hirelings and also represent makeshift weapons.

Common weapons break on any attack roll of "1" or when maximum damage is rolled. Good weapons break on an attack roll of "1". Masterwork weapons only break on an attack roll of "1" AND a 1 is thrown on a D6.

I an still working through a comprehensive weapon list, but this post covers the basics. Let's look at a few examples.

Longsword, Size 3'/5'/7', Damage 1d6/1d8/2d4. No special traits. The longsword's utility is in its versatility. It can be used in tight quarters, for sword and board, or even 2 handed in desperation for a higher average damage. Look at some sword variants as a good example of differentiation:

Bastardsword, Size 5'/7', Damage 1d8/2d4+1. No special traits. This weapon is somewhat less versatile, but more potent when wielded with 2 hands.

Greatsword, Size 7', Damage 2d6. No special traits. Low versatility (precludes the use of a shield and cannot be used in tight quarters or formations) but high damage output.

Shortsword, Size 3', Damage 1d6. Armor Penetration. Lower damage output, but more effective at overcoming hard to hit opponents.

How about some polearms?

Halberd, Size 7', Damage 1d8. Catches Riders, Pike. The halberd is effective against mounted opponents but it short enough (6 or 7 foot long) to still be effectively wielded in melee.

Pike, Size 3', Damage 1d8. Pike, Long, Reach 4th. The ultimate weapon for massed infantry but highly ineffective in melee combat. It's Pike and Reach abilities are ideal for pike squares who can face down cavalry and present a wall of pikes to enemy formations. However, it is nearly useless in man-to-man combat; one common tactic to defeat pike squares would be to engage them in rough terrain (either natural or man made obstacles) to break the cohesion of a pike square and enable swordsmen to engage in melee. Pike squares evolved into tercios that incorporated melee troops and musketeers into a combined arms formation.

Poleaxe, Size 7', Damage 1d8. Pike, Armor Penetration. Poleaxe is kind of a misnomer, they typically had hammer heads. The primary blunt head was utilized to injure opponents in heavy armor. This weapon also had a pike head and a cutting surface opposite the hammer head for a weapon that could be wielded against melee opponents.

Briefly comparing swords and polearms; swords are superior as melee weapons. They do better damage when wielded as 7' weapons and can also be used as a 3' or 5' weapon and incorporate a shield. Polearms are the clear choice when facing mounted opponents. The pike is a highly specialized weapon whereas the halberd is a good compromise against mounted and melee foes similar to the poleaxe which is more effective against heavily armored foes either on foot or on horseback.

So there is room for fighters to train in both and employ both, especially if they have knowledge of their foe before a fight starts. As I work through the variety of weapons, I hope to be able to have a 'mini game' in place to make combat more involved especially for Fighter classes who can take advantage of the system with their large number of proficiencies.

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