A lot of emphasis in Pathfinder is placed upon magical weapons and their properties. Since acquiring such weapons is one of the primary goals of adventurers, this is good and proper. But put magic aside for a moment. Magic can do anything, and it doesn’t really matter (save, perhaps, thematically) what type of weapon serves as a vessel for which magical effect. When we take the magic away, what are the fundamental differences between weapons? Why would a level 1 adventurer choose a spear over a trident, or a scimitar over a falchion?
As it stands, mundane weapons all have a few simple attributes:
- Price, which may or may not matter. Personally I’ve been much happier since I started enforcing starting gold more strictly. But for many years I allowed players to select any mundane equipment they wanted, and I do see the appeal of that method.
- Damage, separated into Small and Medium, to reflect the various sizes of player races.
- Critical range, and multiplier.
- Range, for projectile weapons, or weapons which can be thrown.
- Weight, which nobody I’ve ever met, not even the grognardiest of grognards really seem to care about. Encumbrance is important. The difference between 11lb and 12lb isn’t.
- Damage type, which can be bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing damage. Sometimes a combination of two is used.
- Hands Needed, which can be Two, One, or ‘light.’ (One handed weapons can be used with two hands optionally, while light weapons cannot.)
- Complexity Category, which Pathfinder uses to help determine proficiency. The categories are Simple, Martial, and Exotic.
- Some weapons have special properties, such as being ‘reach’ or ‘brace’ weapons. Other weapons are easier to use with certain combat maneuvers, such as tripping or disarming.
It’s not exactly a comprehensive representation of the differences between various weapons, but aside from overly precise weapon weight, it works well. After all, Pathfinder is a game, and everything needs to be simplified to help the game run smoothly. Excessive realism has a way of making a game tedious. None the less, I wonder if mundane weapons could be made more varied and interesting.
Below is a list I’ve compiled of weapon mechanics. Some are ready to be implemented, while others would need their mechanics refined. Individually, I think each could be included in a game without making in overly complex. Collectively, however, they would probably be too much. I’d like to hear more ideas in the comments if you have any. I’m particularly curious to know if other games have mechanics I didn’t think of.
Two-Handed Damage: In Pathfinder, a weapon wielded in your off hand gains half of your strength modifier to its damage, one in your main hand gains your full strength modifier, and one in both hands gains 150% of your strength modifier as damage. Calculating the strength bonus with decimal places is both unnecessarily complicated, and insufficient to influence the player’s decision. Make it simple: Offhand weapons get no strength bonus, main hand weapons get full strength bonus, and two handed weapons get double strength bonus.
Throwability: Pathfinder’s throwing weapon status is binary. Either a weapon is meant for throwing, or it is not. It could be fun if there were three options. A dagger or javelin can be thrown with no penalties. A rapier or a scythe would take a full -6 penalty on any thrown attack roll. Some weapons, like a spear, battleaxe, or longsword would take only a -3 penalty to throwing them. They’re not designed to be thrown, but they’re similar enough to weapons which are that it’s a feasible tactic. Weapons like whips and flails should be un-throwable.
Finesse and Cleave Weapons: Credit for this idea must be given to D&D 5th Edition, and to Jack. He shared the idea in the comments for my post on the Wide Swing Dilemma, and it is largely his creation. He’s got a nifty blog where I’ve got a whole tag all to myself.
In Pathfinder, Finesse is a feat which allows characters to use their dexterity instead of their strength to modify an attack roll when using light weapons. Cleave is a feat which allows a player to attack multiple enemies in a single turn. The idea here is to remove both feats, and instead make them an intrinsic property of certain weapons. A rapier or dagger, for example, would always have its attack rolls modified by dexterity rather than strength. Likewise, a two handed waraxe would always enable a character to take a swing at 2 or 3 enemies at a time, so long as all of them could be hit with a single arcing swing.
Speed: Each weapon would have a speed number associated with it. That number would be the amount of iterative attacks it was possible to make with that weapon on a given turn. A two handed war hammer, for example, might have a speed of 2 or 3 at most. While a dagger might have a speed of 10. Note that these iterative attacks are not entitlements, they are maximums. A character would need to work hard and level up before they were able to make multiple attacks during a single round, but a two handed war hammer would never be able to make more than 3 attacks, no matter how high level the character became.
Space To Use: A two handed axe is not the best weapon to have in a 3ft wide cavern. You can make some use of it, but it would be at an extreme penalty. I suggest three types of weapons. First, those which require only personal space. These would work anywhere that a character could fit comfortably, and would include weapons like a dagger, blowgun, or rapier. Weapons with a 10ft space to use would require an area at least 10ft wide to use comfortably, and in smaller spaces they would take a -4 penalty to attack rolls. This would include any weapon like a longsword or axe, which requires a wide swing. Finally there would be 15ft or larger weapons. These would mostly be weapons with reach, such as a whip, spiked chain, or trident. They would take a -4 penalty in spaces less than 15ft wide. In some spaces they might be impossible to use. A whip, for example, is completely useless if you don’t have room to swing it. And a 7ft long trident isn’t much use when you’re attacked from behind in a corridor 5ft square.
Both Speed and Space to Use are included in AD&D 1st edition. I am not very familiar with the relevant rules, however, so the above are concocted from my own suppositions on how such rules might work in a game.
Strength/Dexterity To Use: Composite bows already do something similar to this. Each composite bow has a strength rating, and a character must be at least that strong in order to be proficient in the weapon. This would apply the same concept to other weapons. Using a rapier or whip proficiently, for example, would require a dexterity of no less than 14. While a two handed warhammer would require a similar amount of strength. A character without a sufficient ability score could still used the weapon, but they would never be able to become proficient in it.
Training Time: This would replace Pathfinder’s weapon proficiency system. Each weapon would have a pair of training numbers indicating how long it takes to become proficient in the weapon. A dagger, for example, would be 2/4. If a character wishes to become proficient with a dagger, they simply need to take it with them into battle. The character is considered non proficient with the weapon, and all attack rolls are made with a -4 penalty. Anytime the character gains at least 2 experience* from a battle where they successfully dealt damage using the dagger, they put a tally mark next to the weapon. Once they have a number of tally marks equaling the first number (in this case, 2) their attack penalty is reduced to -2. Once they have a number of tally marks equal to the second number, they are considered proficient with the weapon and no longer take any penalties associated with using it.
Each class starts out already being proficient with a number of weapons. For fighters, all training times are reduced by half (rounding up).
*This is in reference to the Simple XP System I use.
Weapon Vs. Armor Type: This is another 1st edition rule which I know very little about. I like the concept, and would be interested in seeing it in play, however I have no real original ideas on how to implement it (yet). Instead, I would direct you to a post over at Delta’s D&D Hotspot which proposes pretty much what I think I would come up with. (I seem to have a tendency to reduce everything to 3 groups).
Hold at Range: A few weapons, like a spear or a trident, naturally lend themselves to keeping someone at range. At the end of each turn while using such a weapon, the player may indicate that they would like to keep a foe they just attacked at bay. When the character does this, they gain a -2 Dexterity penalty to AC against all other enemies. If their designated enemy attempts to move closer, then the character gets an automatic attack of opportunity against their foe. If the attack succeeds, then the foe’s movement is halted and they cannot move any more on that turn.
Parry Bonus to AC: I’m not 100% convinced that this is a good idea. To some degree, the parry is already included in a character’s AC as part of their dexterity. However, some weapons lend themselves better to defense than others do. Neither a very short weapon, like a dagger, nor a very long weapon, like a scythe, would be well suited to aiding in defense. This, I think, has the potential to be the mid-sized weapon’s biggest advantage vs. smaller faster weapons, and larger harder-hitting weapons.
Weapon Damage and Repair: This is hardly a new idea, which never seems to survive long because tracking weapon damage is too much hassle. I’m not sure how that problem could be resolved, but I would very much enjoy seeing this element in a game if it were possible. It would be particularly interesting when combined with my new crafting system. (Which, I swear, I’m going to post eventually).
Alternate Attack Surfaces: The party encounters a band of skeletons. This is unfortunate, because they’ve all come equipped with spears and tridents. Since they only have piercing weapons it will be difficult to kill the skeletons, who have DR 5/Bludgeoning. Then the bard has a wacky idea: what if they turn their weapons around and hit the skeletons with the shaft instead of the points? Many weapons seem as though they would be simple to use in other ways, to achieve a different type of damage. It’s pretty difficult to use a weapon when you’re striking with the flat of the blade or the pommel, so I could understand if many weapons did not have alternate damage types. But what could be simpler than using a spear as a quarterstaff, or a scythe as a piecing weapon?