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

Sunday, April 21, 2024

A new terminology for D&D weapons (and using WEIGHT for speed, length, and armor)

Same subject, different take. 

I thank to Roy Fizzbin for the comment in that post, which inspired the bit about weapon weight.

The problem

Weapon terminology is confusing, both in D&D and in history.

In AD&D, a footman's mace is apparently longer than a horseman's, while history (and common sense) would say the opposite; you need longer weapons to fight on horseback.

You might assume you need 2h to use footman's (since it deals more damage), but that is unclear too.

Is a battle axe in D&D two-handed? Probably, but we can't tell. In B/X, if the battle-axe is two-handed it would make it strictly worse than the (one-handed) sword. No one would ever carry an axe (not even dwarves) - except that it is a bit less expensive and lighter.

Why is the one-handed sword heavier than a 2H-axe? Again, history and common sense would say otherwise.

I tried learning historically accurate names for weapons, but that is hard too. Distinguishing a "sword" from a "large sword" is much easier than defining what a broadsword actually means.

One thing I learned from historical swords is that D&D weights, if converted to pounds, are exaggerated, especially for swords, especially 2H-swords when compared to heavy axes and long polearms.

The solution

Here's my terminology for medieval weapons; the first time I used something similar was in Dark Fantasy Basic, but of course I can't be the first to think about this.

Tiny weapons (T): 1d4 damage. 1 pound. Basically, daggers and knives.

Small weapons (S): 1d6 damage. Weight 2-3 pounds. They always include an adjective indicating its diminished size/mass: short sword, hand axe, light spear, light mace, smallsword, etc.

Medium weapons (M). 1d8 damage. One-handed weapons, weighting 3-5 pounds. No adjectives needed: sword, mace, axe.

Large weapons (L). 1d8 damage - thus very similar to medium weapons, but add 1 or 2 pounds, and +1 damage if held with both hands. They always include an adjective indicating its increased size/mass: long sword, broad sword, heavy spear, long spear, battle axe, heavy mace.

Great weapons (G). 1d10 damage, weighting 6-10 pounds. Greatsword, great axe, great mace, great spear, etc., plus all polearms.

Cheap wooden weapons: clubs, staves, etc. Any size from S to L., but reduce damage by one step. A greatclub deals 1d8 damage, for example.

Another possible uses of weapon weight

Weight is a good indicator of size, speed, effectiveness against armor and large opponents, even if not perfect.

The fact that 1-10 pounds is a reasonable range for weapon weights is perfect for our decimal-oriented minds (there are heavier weapons, specially long polearms, probably more suitable for war than small duels).

For example, we might use weight as a speed factor, giving a -4 penalty if you want to attack twice with your 4-pound sword. When fighting someone with a 3-pound sword, we already know which weapon is longer, etc.

We could even allow the player to choose a weapon's weight (within reason), knowing that heavy weapons have pros and cons (AD&D hints at this whit spears).

To find a weapon's weight, use the order: spear, sword, axe, mace. Length is the opposite. This means a large sword weight 3-5 pounds, and a greatsword weights 6-7. A greatmace weights 10 pounds.

I'm tempted to use the same reasoning for defeating armor and large opponents; heavy weapons are better at both. 

There is still room for more detail; a mace is better against armor, and a sword against large foes, if the weight is the same. But a heavy mace is better than a light mace in BOTH situations. Likewise, a 5-pound spear probably has more reach than a 10-pound mace.

The problem is that the exceptions start to be so numerous that we start to wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just use extensive tables such as the ones found in AD&D.

Anyway, I've considered that possibility too; here is what I've got so far.

One day I might write a PDF about that... I certainly spent enough time thinking bout it. I could probably write 100 weapons in this format.

I'd love to hear some feedback on the table - or these ideas in general!


  1. I really like the simplicity of linking weapon size, weight, and damage, and the way the weights, lengths, and speed factors are on a 1-to-10 scale.

    Making the costs of the medium and large weapons just 2x and 4x the small version is a good idea too.

    It's difficult to add complexity to B/X weapons and combat without turning the game into AD&D or something equally complex. That's why I tried to add only one new "weapon rating" number last post, but it's hard to get a single number that accomplishes everything. It works well at the extremes, like with my examples of a dagger vs. a polearm, but it's hard to distinguish all the midsized weapons from each other that way. My ratings were on a nice 1-to-5 scale, but when I calculated ratings for every weapon in B/X-OSE, more than half of them were 2s, and only one was a 4. (In that case, it'd be simpler to just add special features to a few outlier weapons than to give everything a new rating.)

    If we're going to add more complexity to the weapons, they need be distinct enough from each other that it's worth the trouble. Your suggestions here definitely do that (no weapon has all the same stats as another), but I think it's more complex than I would want to use at the table.

    I'm still thinking about combining weapon weight, speed, and length (and maybe damage too) into a single number--which I'm thinking of calling "heft"--and then having the various combat maneuvers use that value in different ways: it might be the penalty or bonus, or you might compare it to the foe's AC, or do some other simple calculation with it to determine success or the effect. But I might just be creating a new combat system that way ...

    1. Yes, that might require an entire new combat system... Still, I'd want it to be simple and roughly compatible with D&D.

      Maybe use weight with a factor.

      E.g., (abstract) length = weight (W) for swords, but W/2 for maces and Wx2 for spears, and so on.

      Could weight be used to ignore armor? Maybe if you roll over 10 in the d20 but lower than 10+W, armor is ignored. It could create some weird results, not sure.

      Another approach is just adding a bunch of stats to each weapon and let then fade into the background unless you roll a natural 20 (or 19-20 for fighters). So a mace has +3 damage but a sword has +1, +5 against AC 15 or less, etc.

      I dunno; it seems that the more detail you add, the harder it becomes to use at the table.

  2. Well, you asked for comments... :-) I just came off spending a week or so re-reading Gary Gygax's Q&A threads on Dragonsfoot. At least in the last couple of years of his life, his concept appears to have been "this is a game, not a combat simulation. It's abstracted and just supposed to be fun." That was his usual reaction when folks posted finagling questions about specific rules. Granted, that's one man's preference, although he *is* the guy who "wrote the book." I think I've come to that conclusion as well, gradually, over the years. Tidbits don't bother me when I remind myself that it's just a game, roll dice and move your token, sip a beer and crack a joke with your friends. So for me, your exercise is interesting, but what does it ultimately accomplish in terms of playing a game? Will your players enjoy it more than following RAW? You could certainly playtest it and get feedback, then decide whether it stays or goes. And I applaud that. Now here's my thinking. We want there to be a reason to choose any particular weapon. Damage, length, space required, one or two handed, cost, availability, cultural and tech-level relevance, and weight (for Encumbrance purposes). One element often left out is AD&D's Weapon vs Armor Class adjustments. Whether subject to quibbling over the details or not, that aspect combined with all the others I just mentioned make for very, very interesting player choices when equipping a character. Who will my primary opponents be, who secondary? I'll need a weapon good against chainmail, one against regular animals (no adjustment unless you want to go with the AC10 adjustment or something), maybe one against plate if I'm moving in those circles. For me, making weapon choice interesting is a worthy game goal. But the bucket of adjustments utilized in order to achieve that isn't as important because it's just a *game*. Might as well be "if you land on a blue square you get +1, if you land on a green square you get -1." Interesting but not burdensome. If this concept you've developed feels good to you, then put it on the table and see how it goes. Now I need another beer...

    1. Yes, good points.

      "Will your players enjoy it more?" Not sure. I think I write this stuff because I enjoy weapon details.

      "Interesting but not burdensome" is definitely what I'm looking for! But I think making something very simple turns out to be a complex task...


  3. Not that it matters much in game terms, but I think your weights are still a bit too high.

    My longsword weighs 1.5kg/3.3lbs and it's a good representative of the historical weights. 3lbs to 4lbs was pretty typical.

    Great swords (spadoni, montanti, claymores, zweihänders) were typically between 4lbs and 6lbs. The monstrous 10lbs ones were ceremonial, only used in processions.

    Most one-handed swords (sideswords, arming swords, rapiers, falchions, messers) were typically between 2lbs and 3.5lbs. My training sidesword and rapier are both under 1.1kg/2.4lbs; they are on the lighter side but still well within the historical range.

    Smallswords weighted between 1lb and 1.5lbs.

    1. Yes, I think you're right; notice my short, long, and great swords weight 2, 3, and 7 pounds, which is a bit higher than you suggest but a lot lower than AD&D.

      If this includes a scabbard (0.5 to 1 pound), I think we are not far off!