Weapon Rules & Complexity


So, I’m going to stew on the ramifications of changing the core attack mechanic away from a hit-damage combo to a one-roll mechanic.

In the meantime, I’m going to talk a little bit about what attacking with different weapons should feel like. You could get real specific with different weapons.  Longswords outreach short swords, spears can attack from a rank back, flails can bypass shields, etc.  You could even go to different attack patterns/maneuvers with each weapon, and allow any class to progress through the ranks of each weapon.

I do want fighting with different weapons to feel different.  I know some people dislike different weapon rules, and that they can get in the way of the game a little bit.  If every different weapon has different rules, you end up with a whole slew of different rules to memorize that can slow down combat, and you risk making some weapon choices clearly inferior or superior to others, which as I’ve talked about at length before actually tends to reduce the field of options rather than increase them.

I see four options here:

1. No weapon rules, or very simple ones.  Maybe something like Light, Medium, and Heavy weapons.

2. A single basic rules for classes of weapons: Swords, Spears, Maces, Axes, etc.

3. A set of rules for each weapon, with different attacks available as you increase in skill with the weapon.  This might be rated on a 5 scale, where you might have 0/5 through 5/5 skill training with a particular weapon.

4. Classes that have class powers based off using a specific weapon, which otherwise might not have any real differences.

A lot of modern RPGs (computer-based) have skill trees that take a method of fighting and allow the player to select from different branches of skill with the weapons.  This is very similar to either option 3 or option 4, and is a nice way to differentiate the weapons and/or classes.  It also adds a lot of complication to a game that may or may not really add to the enjoyment of sitting at the table and playing it.  Traditional D&D tends to use option 2, with occasionally a little sprinkling of option 4 with prestige classes.  Old school D&D and some of the OSR games tend to use option similar to option 1.

A very complicated system can be rewarding and allow for some different experiences.  A simple system takes some of that complexity out of the rules, keeping up the pace of the game and getting out of the way of the exploration and developing story.  Do you think a complex weapon system is worth the return?  Which option do you prefer?

Image from Aikurisu on DeviantArt.


3 thoughts on “Weapon Rules & Complexity

  1. wylliamjudd

    I find that the key to giving different weapon types different abilities, is to put the complexity in the hands of the player. If the players forget about the properties of their weapons, that’s on them (and they usually don’t forget when its something special they can do, rather than a complicated rule). I also think that making different weapons play differently requires careful balance, just like classes do – but that’s not a reason not to do it. I would personally prefer to see one special feature of any given weapon, although it could be cool to gain access to more features of your weapon as you gain skill with that weapon. There will probably be a bit of a learning curve for the player in terms of using a weapon’s special properties, so I would be careful to spread multiple weapon abilities out.

  2. Brian

    I like the idea of certain weapons having unique qualities but requiring at least a little bit of training to use that quality effectively, then scaling your effectiveness as your training increases.

  3. Andy

    Agree with Brian. I think weapons should have some character in a dark themed GoT style game. Every heavy weapon shouldn’t just do d8 damage and that be the end. I think that’s missing a big opportunity for a “dark theme” type of game, especially one that has lower magic and power. Plus you are going to have so much interesting weapon themed mechanics based on condition (or were at one time). I always really liked that.

    My idea on preventing mass overkill on weapons would be to limit weapons to 10-20 “weapon groups” in which every weapon in the group is mechanically the same. Maybe there are 100 different types of short blades you can find to add theme and character to the game (short sword, dagger, rapier, starknife, pirate sword, etc) but for mechanics they are all treated as “short blades.” Short blades all do the same damage, weigh the same, etc and all have the unique quality that they increase your attack speed (or your initiative, or something). If you have proficiency in short blades then you can figure any of them out.


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