290 Weapon Damage

In D&D 5e, what does a shortbow, spear, javelin, trident and hand crossbow all have in common?

We’re talking about it in episode 290.



I agree with Sean. Bookkeeping all that weapon stuff is total wankery.

When you have a player that knows they need 8 feet to use their whip every time they want to make a melee attack, you as the GM have to know the answer to the question “do I have enough space” every single time that player wants to make a melee attack. Hard pass on that wankery.

What I want as a GM is the ability to throw a wrench into a player’s plans when it would add to the tension. Dungeon World calls this idea show a downside to their race, class, or equipment. Maybe the party is in a super-tight hallway and the paladin’s two handed greataxe is a big disadvantage vs. the rogue’s daggers. If the system supports it, then I can use that to ratchet up the tension, like this:

5e: Until you get out of this hallway, you have disadvantage on attacks with your axe. It’s just too constricted in here and you can’t get a good swing.
Fate: This is a super tight hallway (aspect), so I’m going to spend a Fate point as a GM to penalize the paladin’s attack.
Cypher: This is going to be a really hard place for you to use your axe until you get out of the hallway (intrusion), so you’re going to have to figure something else out. If you still ty to use it, the difficulty will be two steps harder.
Dungeon World: Player rolls a 6-, and it turns out that they didn’t have enough room to swing that axe and it got stuck in the tunnel wall. How are they going to get it out?

This forces the players to adapt temporarily or suffer the consequences, but worrying about that all the time is not something I would think of as fun. The key word in all of this is temporarily changing the game. I actually think that realizing your character is suboptimal for a task is one of the most fun parts of RPGs because it makes you think outside the box. There’s also this potential for a big feeling of release when you get out of the hallway into a big room full of kobolds and you have all your toys back again.

Really good episode to listen to on an isolated quarantine walk.

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There are a number of ways to go with making different weapons matter, beyond just determining different damage types.

While sometimes it’s only narrative, PBTA games often have “tags” for weapons that essentially imply when you can and can’t use them, and what the consequences for using them are. For example, “loud” weapons are going to alert any guards if you use them, “messy” weapons will mean you need to spend time cleaning up if you don’t want to leave evidence.

Some tags have more directly mechanical effects, like some games which have a “dangerous” tag for weapons, meaning if you get a 6-, not only do you get the usual hard move for failure, but the weapon also harms someone in range that you didn’t intend to harm.

Several Fate variants will have you assign aspects to weapons, so that if none of your regular aspects make sense to tag, the weapon’s aspect may be something logical to tag so you can spend a Fate point on a roll.

FFG’s Genesys (Star Wars, etc.) and Modiphius’ 2d20 system often have a regular damage rating, but also various traits that can be triggered by spending the currencies in that game (advantage, etc.) to trigger special effects. For example, “Knockdown” might let you spend extra meta-currency to knock an opponent to the ground, so you either get a bonus to hit them, or they have to spend part of their round standing up.

In 13th Age, weapon damage is conditional to the character class. In other words, the damage done by a barbarian using a two-handed weapon is higher than anyone else using a two-handed weapon, and a rogue using a small weapon does more damage than most other classes using small weapons. It doesn’t matter how you describe the weapon . . . a rogue with a dagger or a katar does the same damage, and a barbarian with a maul or a greatsword does the same damage.

In the Wayfarer’s Guide to Eberron, there was a sidebar on Environmental Elements that sadly didn’t get added to Eberron Rising from the Last War. Essentially, it said you can assign environmental descriptions to an area, and if they were cited by a player or the DM and relevant to what was being done, they might add advantage or disadvantage to a roll.

In this case, of the DM said a location has “low ceilings” even if a tactical map is showing a 10-foot wide passage, the DM could say that any two-handed slashing or bludgeoning weapon has disadvantage on attack rolls. I honestly thing a situational descriptor like this is more likely to be remembered, and more functional than having rules buried in a rulebook about the space needed to use a weapon.

I’ve said this before, but I don’t think having more granularity to rules actually makes for a more realistic experience. Since you touched on it in the show, I don’t think tracking 250 days of rations, day by day, is actually more realistic, it’s just more bookkeeping. Rations, even long term dry rations, don’t last that long.

It makes more sense to have regular checks for characters getting enough food and supplies from hunting and foraging, and saving “rations” as something you need to have to take a long rest in a dungeon setting. But the whole exploration side of D&D actually needs to be mechanized in a way that makes long-distance travel meaningful, rather than saying that you roll for encounters and weather every day and check off day by day uses of rations, because that’s not really “rules,” that’s accounting.

Rules would be something like group skill checks to forage, look out for bad weather, and scout the path, with penalties being levels of fatigue and days added to the trip.

Adventures in Middle-earth has a good system for this, but it requires you to rework how you use long rests (you can’t long rest while journeying), and focuses on a kind of awe and wonder of nature in its resolution, and for a lot of games, you just want the weight of a long march and the tension of survival, not awe and wonder.

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Haven’t listened to the episode yet, but this probably will make some people groan. :wink:

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This was a pretty great episode, guys. Good pick, Sean! Or should I thank Hobbes?

I’ll have to look up Hobbes’s show, if he spoke about this recently. But here are some thoughts, possibly engendered by hearing Hobbes talking about this some other time, possibly from OSR articles from Smoldering Wizard or somebody.

In original, WhiteBox D&D, all weapons did 1d6 damage. That’s right. A dagger did the same damage as a longsword. Realistic? Probably—I have heard someone argue, pretty convincingly, that a knife cut is a knife cut; its efficacy is all in how a weapon is used. And it was this episode that caused a Eureka in me, a pretty exciting one: what if that is what should be done? All weapons do the same damage—maybe—because tell me how you’re using it.

I think different weapon damages is definitely preferred by players, but I would love to game in a narrative/descriptive manner with d6 damages.

(Incidentally, in Original, all hit dice were d6, too.)

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