combined weapons

As a DM, I want to throw in cool magic weapons that people can actually use. On the other hand, I don’t want a formalized 4e-style wishlist. The big selection of D&D weapons actually makes my life difficult. If I want to include a magic sword, do I need to pay attention to who in the party uses a short sword, longsword, bastard sword, and greatsword?

As I was designing an adventure recently, I thought, “maybe I’ll describe this magic sword as an extra-long longsword, so it can be used as either a longsword or a greatsword, player’s choice.” (beat) “Hey, that’s what a bastard sword is supposed to be!”

The 1e bastard sword is kind of like that. It comes with a note: “Treat as a long sword if used one-handed.” Used two-handed, though, it’s its own thing. In later editions, the bastard sword is all over the map: for instance, in 3e, it has one set of stats one-handed or two-handed, but it requires a feat to use it one-handed.

As a DM, here’s how I wish the bastard sword worked: “The wielder can treat it either like a longsword or greatsword.”

What if this combination-weapon approach were expanded?

For one thing, the fifty polearms in D&D are basically different combinations and permutations of spears, axes, picks, hammers, and hooks. The very existence of the glaive, the glaive-guisarme, and the guisarme imply that there’s a use for a “combination-weapon” category.

Here are some weapons that could be turned into combination things:

Battleaxe: A battleaxe can be used either as a hand axe or a greataxe.
Bastard sword: A bastard sword can be used as either a longsword or a greatsword.
Glaive: A glaive can be used as either a greatsword or a spear.
Halberd: A halberd can be used as either a spear, battleaxe, or hook.
Morning Star: A morning star can be used either as a flail or a mace.
Rapier: A rapier can be used either as a shortsword or as a longsword.
Spiked Chain: A spiked chain can be used either as a whip or as bondage gear.

By reducing the number of unique weapons, you’re taking away the need to come up with a million slightly-different dice expressions to justify each weapon. You’re also replacing various solutions for “weapon groups”, where special rules are needed to give people proficiency with a large number of similar weapons. With my rule, a guy with longsword specialization can always use whatever rapier, longsword, or bastard sword he picks up (although only as a longsword).

Side note: You know what I’ve under-appreciated about 4e? How few weapons there are. 33 weapons in the 4e Players Handbook, as opposed to 50 in the 1e PHB, 63 in the 2e PHB, and 72 in the 3e PHB.

8 Responses to “combined weapons”

  1. Mike Monaco says:

    “Here are some weapons that could be turned into combination things:”
    I’d mostly agree until we get to the morningstar, unless your point is that the word is applied to both kind of weapon.

    I’ve tended to simply by classifying weapons as light, heavy, and great (d6/d8/d10). Heavy weapons used two-handed could just count as great. So maybe we call weapons light or heavy and clarify that light weapons do d6 and heavy weapons do d8 in one hand, d10 in two. Your weapon list is reduced to:
    daggers (throwable)
    light axe (throwable)
    heavy axe
    light sword
    heavy sword
    light mace (incl. clubs, hammers; throwable)
    heavy mace
    light flail (incl. chains/whips)
    heavy flail
    light polearm (throwable; incl. spears and javelins)
    heavy polearms

    I have lots of figures carrying polearms and shields (mostly Games Workshop stuff) so I’m ok with a halberd in one hand.
    So that’s 11 weapons + however granular you want missile weapons. I’d go sling, bow, and xbow and have light and heavy versions of them too. A heavy sling being a staff-sling and a heavy bow being composite or long. Light missile weapons would break with convention, needing two hands!

  2. Pandora says:

    You’ve now got me wondering about shortswords and daggers, given that they are both light thrusting weapons for very close combat.

  3. Michael (Gronan) Mornard says:

    How about OD&D, where there is a “Sword” and a “Two Handed Sword.”

    The phrase “Excessive granularity” comes to mind.

  4. Charles says:

    Man, that’s still pretty complicated… I think you can reasonably collapse weapon choices down to the following four categories:
    Daggers, knives, etc. (small weapons)
    Swords, spears, staves, etc (balanced medium weapons)
    Axes, maces, warhammers, etc. (unbalanced medium weapons)
    Halberds, poleaxes, etc. (complex pole weapons)

    From what I can see, every weapon fits neatly into one of these categories. This system has the benefit of being infinitely expandable. Any new weapon will fit into one of these categories, and therefore you already have the stats for it ready!

    These categories match what I’ve seen from studying medieval combat, too – there are strong similarities in fighting style within each of the categories.

    The vast array of weapons available (each with its own stats) has always baffled me, considering how abstract the D&D combat system is.

    I’ve written more about this here (although much of it is specific to my work-in-progress system):

    I would also say that a “longsword” is what most D&D’ers think of as a bastard sword – a straight sword used for thrusting and cutting, usable in one or two hands. An arming sword (modern term, would have been called a short sword back in the day) is what people think of as a longsword.

  5. paul paul says:

    Yeah, in my perfect version of D&D, there’d be about 3 types of armor and maybe around 10 types of weapons. If a system doesn’t have a weapon called simply a “sword”, it is too complicated.

  6. Rhenium says:

    Related to this is the change in damage versus opponents of different sizes. I remember seeing a mention regarding this in “Playing at the world”, but can’t remember the justification. It didn’t see too logical and added more complication.

  7. Mike Monaco says:

    The story I’ve seen *somewhere* about weapon damage by opponent size is that one of EGG’s players wrote it up and argued strenuously for it and EGG gave in out of exhaustion. :) The logic was always a little sketchy, but it seems to me that blunt weapons did less vs large and cutting did more, and impaling weapons usually did more vs large but not always. The game logic of it was to make fighters better vs. monsters, which do to some extent get bigger at higher levels.

    Honestly I’d go with all weapons do d6, two-handers get the better of 2 d6s (or a d8 or d10), and leave it at that, but what a DM wants and what players want is very different in this department. My players would say: “You mean there is no reason to pick weapon A over B? Then I guess I’ll just carry a dagger, you can throw them too.”

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