Monday, January 11, 2010

I dunno about you, but my great axe deals d10 damage!

It seems like this post has stirred some discussion over the topic of weapon damage in D&D.

Here are some loose thoughts explaining why I like different types of dice for rolling weapon's damage (or why I oppose the idea of all weapons dealing d6 damage).

I believe that different damage dice are useful because, at least in my opinion, D&D has no other way of showing the advantage of wielding one weapon over another (somehow I never cared for weapon speed tables and etc.).

Let us imagine a fight in which one of the warriors is armed with a dagger and the other one with a long sword. The advantage of the second combatant is obvious and that's where different damage dice come handy. It's simple, one of them takes more damage since he's wielding an inferior weapon, which puts him into disadvantage. If they both were wielding daggers, the fight would have been even and they'd just slowly stab each other to death. In the first example, the dagger wielder dies faster because his opponent's weapon allows for better in combat performance, than his own weapon.

Some might say, the example with the sword vs. dagger works good, because it's obvious which one of them is inferior. But what about weapons that are completely different? Like say a sword vs. an axe?

It's true that the sword is a faster and a more useful weapon (in combat, not in every day life!). However in this case, the difference is simply in damage. An axe is a crude weapon that deals a lot of damage. A sword wielder might deliver several lighter slashes, but when the axe armored barbarian lands a blow - he hacks. It's much easier to hack some one's arm off with an axe than with a sword.

So this is my small rationalization of weapon damage. Even though I don't think my interpretation was the original reason for introducing varying weapon damage, it works fine for me.

Most of all it's fun!

I'd rather see those 10 and 8 sided polyhedrons roll as players hack their way through enemies, than count weapon speed and what not.


  1. I suppose it comes down to how you abstract combat. The more you abstract, the more "the one die fits all" aproach works. You can argue that in the same amount of time the sword wielder is delivering lesser but more frequent hits. The axe man, with his cumbersome but hefty weapon, is scoring few solid hits but when he does they count. This arguement assumes that the net result of damage a given period of combat time will about even out.

    I prefer more variation from a fun and games stand point. I think, as you pointed out, it gives more reason for one weapon over another and adds another level of character detail.

    Also, it seems odd that in a setting where type of armor makes a difference that type of weapon doesn't count for anything.

  2. – of course other factors would influence weapon usage such as the space in which the combat occurs; however, old school dungeons are typically spacious (10 foot by 10 foot corridors!)

    In a cramped situation, the game master could rule that the advantage of the more lethal weapon (axe, halberd, spear) is compromised either through damage reduction or a to hit penalty which can be overcome by skill.

    Now axes and claymores inflict horrific wounds; however, upon battlefields or in close quarters this advantage is not fully obtainable.

    From Vegetius:
    “They were taught not to cut, but to thrust with their swords. For the Romans not only made jest of those who fought with the edge of their weapons, but also found them an easy conquest, a stroke with the edge, though made with ever so much force, seldom kills, as the vital parts of the body are protected by the bones and the armor. On the contrary, a stab, though it penetrates but two inches, is generally fatal.”

    IN conclusion, an experienced fighter depends upon his STRENGTH to keep his opponents at the appropriate distance in order to most effectively deploy the tools of the trade.

  3. Clovis, I agree. I took that into account, but I believe any DM can judge on his own, when to apply negative attack roll modifiers coming from not enough space, being prone, or whatever else.

    I don't think that I need a new table for that. Why? Because I trust my intuitions (and so should my players) and I want fights to be as dynamic as possible.

    As to Romans, indeed their use of the gladius short sword was impressive, however they used it mostly because the troops were trained to fight in close formations, where there was no space for swinging.

    A roman soldier out of formation was deprived of his main advantage and would become an easy target for Germanic barbarians wielding longswords.

    Also note, that at some point Romans introduced a kind of longsword, that was used by their cavalry, to provide enough reach.

  4. Inspired by your post, I've also addressed this issue in my blog. Rather than take a specific stance, I mostly just addressed the strengths and weaknesses of the two different systems. Here's a link:

  5. Heck, you could even go this route:

    small weapons do 1d6
    medium (one-handed) do 2d6
    large (2-handed) 3d6

    voila. :)

  6. @ Heobizkit - you could do that, but you would also have to modify the hit points and I'm not so keen on that.