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, November 18, 2017

Why 5e D&D NEEDS better weapons... and Miyamoto Musashi

A small list of things I'd like to see in D&D 5e:

- More weapons. Just compare the weapons in 5e to the number of spells we have. The weapon list is ridiculously small. And the list of spells is growing a LOT faster.

- Better weapons and armor. Half of the weapon list is useless (mace, trident, scimitar, sickle, etc). Same goes for armor once you get enough money.

- More effective two-weapon styles. There is no Niten Ichi-ryū - or anything similar - in 5e. There is no point in using a lighter weapon in one of your hands. There is not any way to create a cahrachter that would be better using such style - not even the samurai or swashbuckler. Miyamoto Musashi is right out.

- A swashbuckler... with a buckler. Or cloak. Or at least an useful main-gauche! Not this "dual wielding rapiers" nonsense you have barely ever seen if a book, movie or real life.

- A finesse spearman. Like Oberyn Martell. Or this. Yeah, 5e has monks, I know, but I don't want ki - just a Dexterity fighter that is better with a spear.

A katana. Not really, just messing with you. I could use a few more weapons but about  30 diverse, reasonable weapons would do.

- Better polearms! We might avoid Gygaxian levels of detail, but to make IDENTICAL polearms is a waste of space. Polearms were used as peasant weapons, so its doubtful if they should be martial weapons - or if martial weapons have any function at all. The spear should probably be included in the Polearm Master feat.

- More differentiation between bludgeoning, slashing and piercing. They do next to nothing as written.

- A warlord. But I digress.

- A reason to have both Strength and Dexterity. I've talked about this before, and will do that again. It seems to me that being very strong or very weak should affect using a longbow. But we will get to that eventually.

For now, a better weapon list will do.

I've been discussing the issue over the internet. I realize that not everybody cares. I understand that somr people prefer more archetypes, spells and races. I like melee weapons. That is all.

The problem of 5e's list is not only being unrealistic, unbalanced, unintuitive, or or too complicated; is being all those thing for no reason at all.

Take the quarterstaff: there is no "realistic" reason for it to be wielded one hand with the same damage as a mace. It doesn't make the quarterstaff "balanced" with the mace. It doesn't even make he game simpler or faster.

It is just... random.

I can accept realistic, like GURPS.

I can accept "balanced". like 4e (I guess).

I can accept "simple", like 13A.

Any of those, or a mix, would be fine.

I just don't particularly like this system that is none of the above.

And, make no mistake - I LOVE 5E.

The classes are great, the (bazillions of) spells are good and balanced enough, backgrounds are awesome, inspiration is on point, the skill list is fine, etc.

But I've got to admit - they really dropped the ball with the weapons and armor, and made no effort to pick it back.

Enough complaining. Time to try to make this work.

UPDATE (14/10/2019): I released a book (5e Manual of Arms: Weapons) that deals with weapons in 5e. Check it out below!

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  1. Here's a blast from the past starting point suggestion: http://rolesrules.blogspot.com/2010/05/weapons-traits-not-systems.html

    1. Interesting stuff, will check! Thank you!

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. But didn't Musashi allegedly use two longswords at times? :p AFAIK, off-hand weapons have historically mainly been used defensively, which is quite far from the pure damage boost of 5e.

    DEX vs. STR bugs me too.

    Bad/uninteresting weapon effects annoy me quite a bit. I've probably spent a little too much time on fixing weapons for my game, but with combat being such an integral part of D&D I can't just let it be...

    1. Yeah, same here.

      AFAIK Niten Ichi-ryū uses katana + wakizashi, the second being a short sword of sorts, so what bothers me is one longsword in each hand.

      I do agree the off-hand weapons are used defensively in reality, but the dual wielder feat takes care of that.

      So the two changes I am trying to make are:

      - Make longsword + shortsword or main-gauche more optimal.
      - Make TWF as a whole more viable.

    2. Oh, I was referring to some passage in the Book of Five Rings where Musashi writes about training/fighting with two longswords (I think it's in there). :p

      If you want to force the use of smaller weapons in the off-hand you could do something like a DEX requirment of 8+[damage die] for dual wielding (meaning you need DEX 16 for an off-hand 1d8 longsword). That might be a bit crude though....

      I think, at least in the context of D&D, that the strength of two weapon fighting should be adaptability, as the defensive niche is filled with shields and the offensive one with two-handed weapons. Something like either get +1 AC or advantage on the main weapon's damage with the bonus action..? Making a smaller weapon more optimal within the 5e weapon framework seems hard (unless you use hefty encumbrance I guess).

    3. Oh I didn't remember that!

      I like your idea, and I'm a bit inclined to use Dex/Str to allow for other weapon combinations, but I am afraid it might be too fiddly.

      One thing I've seem is giving an AC bonus with a reaction, might work well for several weapons.

  3. I think part of the reason behind why we have so few weapons is because they lack a real way to differentiate them.

    1e and 2e had differences built not only on damage type, and who could use a weapon, but on things like weight and weapon speed. Given the way that initiative used to work, this meant your weapon choices were pretty important. But, nobody really did the 'by round' initiative stuff the way 2e wanted it run.

    Its the same mechanic that incentivized using lower level spells because they were faster.

    3e introduced simple, martial and exotic, with martial weapons doing more damage, and exotics 'breaking rules.' Pathfinder just made exotic weapons weirder, in the hopes of breaking the 'exotic is better' mindset from 3.5.

    4e and 5e seem to almost be moving to an ideal of weapons becoming 'abstract.' I'm half surprised 4e didn't have a situation where we just had 'fighter melee damage' or 'wizard melee damage' which was the same regardless of whether you had a dagger, staff or battleaxe.

    1. Well, I usually don't mind simplicity, but 5e is not a simple game, and I like melee weapons, so I'd like to see more detail here. Compare it to spells, for example.

      But yeah, 5e doesn't give many ways to differentiate weapons; adding a few traits is inevitable I think.

    2. I think it might be some sort of worry about 'Why don't you use a longsword' like from 2e. When they add traits and specs, you approach the concept of the 'ideal weapon,' and I imagine their primary fear is that they don't want to make a guy who wants his fighter using spears to feel 'less effective' or something.

      Like you note, paradoxically, this means that it makes their weapon choices kind of meaningless and makes some weapons stuff you'd never bother touching.