I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Slashing/Piercing/Bludgeoning... Hacking!

Fun story: while writing this post, I realized I fixed 80% of the issues I have with 5e weapons with a single sentence:

"If you score a critical hit, you also add the weapon's weight to the damage (maximum 10)".


From the long list of issues with D&D 5e weapons, one thing that bothers me is that there is not enough differentiation between slashing, piercing, and bludgeoning weapons.

There are a (very) few monsters that are susceptible (or vulnerable) to one type or another, slashing can cut nets, and bludgeoning can destroy objects, maybe.

Adding more detail without adding complexity is hard. We'll try to do it anyway, and - here is the challenge - WITHOUT changing anything about the weapon list!

I want to avoid creating new mechanics, as a general rule, so I'll pile my ideas on an existing mechanic: critical hits.

(Random digression: I've considered using margin of success, like I did in Dark Fantasy Basic. Apparently, Pathfinder 2 will do the same. Dragon Heresy has something similar. "Margin of success 10" is something I had recommended for 5e in general, and "AC plus 10" is REALLY easy to calculate. But since margin of success isn't a thing in D&D combat - although there are some ideas in the DMG - I will not add it to the game... for now. Read on.)

WotC people, hear me out: the mace should be a decent (and versatile!) weapon.
Now, while critical hits already have their rules, there space for adding more stuff - including more damage - to them. The best parts of critical hits - divine smite, Brutal Critical, backstabbing - will not be affected.

Also, I do not see how making crits more powerful would cause imbalance. Barbarians get most of their damage from brutal critical anyway. Champion fighters can certainly use the boost. Most other classes won't be too affected.

So, in addition to the normal effects of a critical hit, when you attack with a weapon, you can also choose one of:

* Crush! Add the weapon's weight to damage (maximum 10).
* Bleed! Add half the difference between your attack roll and the target's AC to damage - weapon must be slashing
Impale! Add the difference between your attack roll and the target's AC instead of one of the weapon's damage dice to damage - weapon must be piercing.

(The wording is clunky, but you got it, right? If you beat the enemy's AC by 11, you can deal 11+Str damage instead of 1d6+Str, for example. You can roll the d6 before choosing).

You'll notice that the bludgeoning weapons get nothing... until you realize they are the heaviest weapons in the game. Except for the pike, but that's why the limit is 10 - and the pike automatically gets a much needed upgrade.

Crush your enemies!
What is the point?

This simple fix has a number of interesting effects:

- It makes slashing and piercing weapons better against light armor, and heavy weapons perfect against heavy armor. Yes!
- Barbarians and champions will favor heavy weapons. Nice!
- It automatically redeems the greatclub and the maul. Mace is still a problem...
- It favors "weak" weapons such as the pike, the trident, and the morningstar.
- It makes crossbows devastating (although I might rule that the weight of the projectile/ammunition is 0, giving a nice bonus to thrown weapons - they need it).

Enough with the talk, just give me a random table already!

You see, the point of this exercise is not turn 5e into rolemaster, but actually carefully balance the different aspects of...


Okay, okay.... Here you go.

Critical Hits
When you score a critical hit, roll 1d6 (in addition to usual crit rules):

1. Crush. Add the weapon's weight to damage. For example, if you are attacking with a 4-pound mace, add 4 to damage.
2. Force. Double your relevant ability modifier when calculating damage. For example, instead of causing 1d6+3 damage, you deal 1d6+6.
3. Bleed. If you're using a slashing or piercing weapon against a creature that has a circulatory system or something similar, you can choose to add half your margin of success to damage. If you don't (or can't), use entry 1, instead.
4. Pierce. If you're using a piercing weapon against a creature that has internal organs or something similar, you can choose to pick one damage dice you rolled and replace it with a a bonus equal to your margin of success. If you don't (or can't), use entry 2, instead.
5. Break. If you're using a bludgeoning weapon against a creature that has bones or is made of hard or brittle material, you can choose to pick one damage dice you rolled and replace it with the maximum number you could roll with it. If you don't (or can't), use entry 1, instead.
6. Kill. Choose any two options above and combine them.

Hacking weapons: an addendum

When I stated writing this, I wanted to make axes and similar weapons (maybe morningstars too) some kind o hybrid weapon: part crushing, part slashing. A battleaxe doesn't work like longsword, for example; it is more "chopping" than slashing, better against wood and heavy armor, worse against nets and spiderweb. I considered calling it "hacking" damage. But the "weight" thing solved the issue - now you have a good reason to use a greataxe against someone in heavy armor.


  1. Interesting take. Would this apply to improvised weapons, the heavier the better?

    1. I hadn't thought of that, TBH... but it sounds like a good idea.

  2. Great idea, I love the way it makes certain weapon types better against certain armors. But how would you reason it for natural armor? Surely people don't hunt dragons with mauls and clubs?

    1. I admit that this raises some issues, but I wouldn't mind it, to be honest. Greatclubs will still be worse than martial weapons, and the maul seems like a decent weapon against a dragon... The pike is even better!