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 26, 2018

5e D&D melee weapons: one-by-one analysis... and FIX!

[UPDATE 10/12/19: blogger keeps destroying my tables - specially when I'm using Chrome... So I substituted tables for images. Click to enlarge. I also update and srtremalined all ideas presented here into a book - see below!]

People seem to like this post, so I'll try something similar that has been going in my mind lately... In this post I'll analyse every single weapon from the 5e list.

I also wrote a detailed analysis of each weapon property, and a perspective on weapon damage. Might be worth checking those ones out first.

Anyway, here is the table for easy reference (source):

(Martial) Melee Weapons
10 gp
1d8 slashing
4 lb.
versatile (1d10)
10 gp
1d8 bludgeoning
2 lb.
20 gp
1d10 slashing
6 lb.
30 gp
1d12 slashing
7 lb.
50 gp
2d6 slashing
6 lb.
20 gp
1d10 slashing
6 lb.
10 gp
1d12 piercing
6 lb.
15 gp
1d8 slashing
3 lb.
versatile (1d10)
10 gp
2d6 bludgeoning
10 lb.
15 gp
1d8 piercing
4 lb.
5 gp
1d10 piercing
18 lb.
25 gp
1d8 piercing
2 lb.
25 gp
1d6 slashing
3 lb.
10 gp
1d6 piercing
2 lb.
5 gp
1d6 piercing
4 lb.
thrownversatile (1d8)
War pick
5 gp
1d8 piercing
2 lb.
15 gp
1d8 bludgeoning
2 lb.
versatile (1d10)
2 gp
1d4 slashing
3 lb.

As a general rule, simple weapons deal 1d6 damage, and have one or two positive properties.

Club - This is just a very simple, cheap weapon, not much better than an improvised one. Fair enough. Use this if you have no money or no options.

Dagger - 1d4 damage, three good properties. Nice weapon for multiple occasions.

Greatclub - This weapon is useless when compared to the quarterstaff.

It has a single negative property, deals 1d8 damage, and is significantly heavier than a quarterstaff, which is equal or better in every aspect. There is no class, feat, or special rule that can make this weapon useful. Which is a pity, since the weapon looks kinda cool for cavemen-type barbarians (and Bobby, the Barbarian!). This weapon would be fine if we had a costlier two-handed simple weapon with 1d10 damage... Or just change the damage to 1d10 and be done with it.

Handaxe - 1d6 damage, two good properties. Good, as expected.

Javelin - 1d6 damage, one good property, plus increased range. Also good.

Light hammer - same deal.

Mace - This is the worst offender IMO.

1d6 damage, NO properties. Having an useless weapon might not be a big deal. But having an useless mace, the most iconic weapon for clerics, including Aleena the cleric - arguably the most memorable in D&D history - is adding insult to injury. I can only assume this is a mistake by the designers, or a typo. Making the mace versatile fixes some of those issues. It would become a worse, more expensive version of the spear, but close enough that I wouldn't care that much.

Quarterstaff - This is a bit ridiculous.

 It manages to be better or equal to BOTH the mace and the greatclub, two weapons that have no function in the game RAW. It is 25 times cheaper than the mace, for example. If you want to show that weapon prices do not matter, please don't include useless text in the game. Also, there is no reason for the wizard's iconic weapon to be better than the cleric's one.
But that's not the worse part. Making the quarterstaff versatile allows you to use it with a shield, or even one quarterstaff in each hand if you have the right feats - which I personally find ludicrous.
This is probably a mistake, which is illustrated by the PHB errata: "Two-Handed (p. 147).This property is relevant only when you attack with the weapon, not when you simply hold it.". So, this weapon was probably meant to be two-handed, but before the errata it would make it useless for wizards - they often need a hand to cast spells.
This should be a cheap, light, two-handed weapon, 1d8 damage, mostly intended for wizards and monks. Or even a double weapon.

Sickle - this weapon isn't bad, but could be better. Small, 1d4, slashing, light... In short, good enough. I don't remember many characters that go around fighting with a sickle, but it is in D&D's history (through the druid). The designers probably wanted to portray this weapon as a suboptimal farming implement. Fair enough. But we should have a small, finesse, slashing weapon too, because this is a very common trope.

Spear - very good for a simple weapon, not good enough for all spears. This weapon is good as written, but we should have some "military" versions of the spears as martial weapons. A heavy spear, a long spear (not a pike!), a finesse spear... Well, there ARE a couple of "spear-like" weapons in the martial list - the trident and the pike - but unfortunately they are really, really bad.

Martial Weapons

As a general rule, simple weapons deal 1d8 damage, and have one positive property (often versatile 1d10, which isn't a great property). If they are heavy/two-handed (all heavy melee weapons are two-handed), they deal 1d10 to 1d12 (or 2d6) damage.

Battleaxe - As expected.

Flail - As expected. Lighter than the battleaxe, but not versatile. I am not sure this is a real weapon, but I like how it looks...

Glaive - As expected. The fact that there is an identical weapon called halberd bothers me. I can only assume this is made for nostalgia's sake. 5e really like weapons that have no clear mechanical function.

Greataxe -  As expected - see greatsword.

Greatsword - The greatsword is better than the greataxe the vast majority of the time, ESPECIALLY if you have the GWF style; the greataxe might be marginally better for barbarians. It is also a bit more expensive. Fair enough, I guess, although I, personally, would like to see some reason for non-barbarians to use the greataxe.

Halberd - see glaive.

Lance - a special weapon, only useful if you're mounted.

Longsword - As expected, more expensive and a bit lighter than the battleaxe.

Maul - a cheaper, heavier version of the greatsword. I have a difficult time understating why this shouldn't be a cheaper, heavier version of the greataxe. Barbarians with mauls look cool.

Morningstar - Sigh. Someone at WotC hates maces.

So, this is a spiked mace. Also, a heavier, more expensive version of the war pick. Not a single reason to use it. Why is a mace a simple weapon and the spiked mace a martial one? Also, piercing damage? I would think most of the damage would be bludgeoning. So, the morningstar is bad against skeletons. Go figure.

Pike - well... 

Nothing terrible about this weapon - but there is not much use for this extremely heavy weapon, either. Also, why is this so heavy if it has the same reach as a halberd? Yeah, real pikes should have a longer reach, with the same "caveat" as the lance ("You have disadvantage when you use a lance to attack a target within 5 feet of you."). They should also be treated as a "formation" weapon, not something you carry around in a dungeon.

Call it "half pike" or something equivalent to a heavy spear and you're done.

Rapier - Good. Too good, maybe. 

Why did they make this the only 1d8 finesse weapon I cannot understand. They basic encouraged all Dexterity builds to pick it unless they dual-wield. It is the ideal weapon for them to use with a shield, which looks a bit off. But I'm not overly concerned with it.

Scimitar - as expected - 1d6, two proprieties. It is a light weapon. It weights 3 pounds. The rapier weights two pounds. It is not a light weapon. But that's okay because "light" means "small" in 5e. VERY easy to understand.

Shortsword - 1d6, two proprieties, fine.

Trident - Useless. Identical to spear, heavier, and five times more expensive. Some argue that WotC put this in there to show some weapons are useless. Well, we should have figured that by now anyway. So, the trident isn't mean to be a "real" weapon, only something that gladiator's used for show. If that's the case, it didn't deserve a separate entry. In any case it is surely nice that the designers pay this homage to realism before they describe 200 spells... Now I can sleep peacefully because I know they care.

War pick - as expected; no proprieties, but light and cheap. See morningstar.

Warhammer - as expected.

Whip - a special weapon. Little damage (1d4), but the only one-handed weapon with reach. Could be 1d6, I guess, but good enough. The low damage must be another homage to realism, I guess, since the whip doesn't seem like a real weapon to me.

Versatile spiked club/mace. Why not?

But... weight and price do not matter!

If they don't they should have been kept out of the book, there is enough useless data as it is. But, really, you can ignore price all you want, I agree - it doesn't really matter for PCs. But there is a whole world out there where prices should make SOME sense, at least WITHIN ordinary weapon lists (balancing it with magic weapons is hard, I know). Weight is hard to ignore, specially for weapons such as the greatclub and pike. If you're using the encumbrance variant, you cannot wear plate and carry a pike if you have Strength 15, for example.

What about the ranged weapons?

Honestly? They are mostly good as they are. Balanced, well thought out... People who insist that weapon's needn't be balanced must really dislike these ones.

But how can we fix it?

Glad you asked! I'm writing a whole "Manual of Arms" for 5e. If that sounds like a good idea, stay tuned. If you just want a better table... Here you go.

Yes, I do realize that I made a light spear without the light property, and a heavy spear without the heavy property. As I've said before, the "light" and "heavy" property mean "small" and "bulky" and have nothing to do with weight. In any case, "agile spear" and "military spear" might work too.

I'm certainly not the first one to rework this list and I probably got many ideas form other people.

I've seem some suggest 1d4 bludgeoning/1d4 piercing for the morning star. I love this idea, although it might be a bit too fiddly. I would even dare to make the morning start identical to the mace, PLUS 1 extra point of piercing damage. Again, probably too fiddly. The 3e solution seems decent: "Some weapons deal damage of multiple types. If a weapon is of two types, the damage it deals is not half one type and half another; all of it is both types. Therefore, a creature would have to be immune to both types of damage to ignore any of the damage from such a weapon."

I "fixed" some weapons by giving them the versatile property. This is not a great property, but it makes plenty sense for these weapons (versatile weapons tend to be heavier), and keeps them on par with the others.

I DO have an even simpler solution, but it includes introducing new mechanics. I'll leave it to the next post.

Wait, do I even NEED a list of weapons?

Not really, but I like it. Anyway, if you don't:

Simple weapon: 1d6 damage (choose bl/sl/pi), 2 gp, 2 lb., and choose one or two properties (you can choose 3 if you change the damage to 1d4).

Martial weapon: 1d8 damage (choose bl/sl/pi), 20 gp, 2 lb., and choose one property (you can choose two if you change the damage to 1d6):

* Versatile, double weight and cost, cannot be combined with finesse or light.
* Finesse.
* Light.
* Thrown.
* Cheap: the cost is converted to sp instead of gp if the weapon is simple, or halved if the weapon is martial.
* Two-handed (triple weight and cost, cannot pick other properties). Bump the damage by two steps (1d6 to 1d10, 1d8 to 1d12 etc.) You can swap 1d12 for 2d6 if desired. Martial weapons that are two handed also gain the heavy property.
* Reach + two-handed + heavy + 1d10 damage (must be martial, triple weight and cost, cannot be combined with other properties).

Adjusting cost and weight:
* If your weapon deals 1d6 damage or more, you can cut the cost in half by adding 50% weight.
* If your weapon deals 1d4 damage, you can halve the weight by doubling the cost.

Final note

If you find any of this useful, or if you'd like to see  a "Manual of Arms" for 5e, let me know in the comments. I think I've been focusing on 5e weapons too much lately, so I might change subjects soon.


UPDATE [10/12/2019]: I finally updated and organized this post (and more!) into a small book - my 5e Manual of Arms: Weapons! If you liked this post, you'll certainly like my book.

Try my 5e Manual of Arms: Weapons or any of my booksIf you prefer comic books, check The Displaced series. Many titles are free!

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hi again,

    I know this is another older post, but it makes fun commute reading.

    I am not sure how far along you are on your Manual of Arms, but if you would be interested, I could write up some ideas of mine and use the email function through this site to send you a pdf file. It won't be a right away thing, but it may be more useful than an extended series of posts. Otherwise, I can compile and post things in the comment section if you want.

    1. I'm glad you're enjoying it! Well, TBH I got interested in other projects, so left the Manual of Arms half-finished for now. Hope I can release it in 2019.
      About your ideas, I think it would be more useful to post it in the comments, so other people might also see and comment.

    2. Sounds good. I won't be able to do the write up until mid-December, and will mostly be re-fining your own works. If there happens to be a recent "Arms and Armor" around that time, I'll drop it in there.

  3. Hello,

    I'd love to see your Manual of Arms.

    I'd also be curious to see a few more examples of your variety of spears.

    1. I know that's dangerous to connect real life weapons to D&D.

    2. Thanks for the interest! Well, there is basically that: finesse spear, long spear, and heavy spear. The simple spear and throwing spear are already there. Maybe the only thing that's missing is a spear thrower.

  4. For the most part I love this, but I notice a slight potential issue with this new weapon table that I've struggled with myself: A 1d8 versatile spear is just a slightly better longsword. I decided personally that the spear's exclusion for martial weapons actually does make sense, in the time period D&D is roughly emulating (roughly), spears were great for large-scale warfare, but in a dueling situation, not so much, short-ish (let's say 10ft.) pikes on the other hand were actually favored by at least one duelist at the time as very useful weapons.

    Alternatively, I suppose you aren't going to see too many magic spears.

    1. Correction: not short pikes, acually more like 18ft were the ones George Silver preferred apparently

    2. And while that was only in open terrain, usually the only class taking a pike would be a fighter who'd take two martial weapons in this situation, and you can certainly houserule that they can't use it effectively in closed spaces.

    3. Yeah, some good points. Let us see:

      "A 1d8 versatile spear is just a slightly better longsword."

      Well, yes but not quite; in this version it is a heavier, cheaper, piercing version of the longsword.

      About pike... the problem is that they have the same reach as halberds, but weight three times as much. This doesn't make sense at all, IMO. Other than that, the pike is a fine weapon.

  5. Hey! I was looking for the stats on a falchion and came across this post.

    Please do a Manual of Arms

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yeah, the Manual turned out to be a bit harder than I expect, but I'll publish something about that soon! In the meantime, let me try this one for you:
      *Falchion* 5 gp 1d8 slashing — 2 lb.


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