Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Variable Weapon Damage using Holmes & Cook

As I've written before, when it comes to d6 vs. variable weapon damage, I am not a partisan. Yes, in practice I use d6 damage; however, I am not 100% convinced I like it. Enter yesterday's post about creating an amalgam of the Holmes Basic edition and the Cook Expert edition. When the comments discussion turned to d6 vs. variable weapon damage, I pointed out Holmes has daggers able to attack twice per round. Then several good people pointed me in the direction of some sites that discuss Holmes and why daggers ought not be able to do so.

While all very good and fantastically interesting, my thought experiment is about combining Holmes with Cook, and the rule about daggers attacking twice per round (obviously making it an "uberweapon" with d6 damage) got me thinking about a way to combine Holmes and Cook to scratch an itch about weapon damage. What follows is a variable damage weapon table that also gives players a tactical element to weapon choice:

Small Weapons

These weapons are small and/or swift. While they do only d4 damage, they allow a character to have two attacks per round.
  • Dagger
  • Staff*

Thrown Weapons

These versatile weapons only do d6 damage but may be used both as a thrown weapon and as an HTH weapon.
  • Hand Axe
  • Spear
  • Club

Penetrating Weapons

These weapons are good at getting through armor. Though they only do d6 damage, they are at a +1 to hit in HTH.
  • Lance
  • Mace
  • Short Sword
  • War Hammer

Standard Weapons

These are standard HTH weapons. They do d8 damage.
  • Flail
  • Morning Star
  • Sword

Heavy Weapons

While these weapons do d10 damage, they are slow. Therefore, characters who use them always lose initiative.
  • Battle Axe*
  • Pole arm*
  • Two-Handed Sword*

Missile Weapons*

  • Bows do d6 damage but are +1 to hit.
  • Crossbows do d10 damage but lose initiative when they need to be reloaded.
  • Slings do d8 damage.

* = two-handed weapon

Any thoughts?


  1. Only that I can't see slings doing that much damage...they're just too damn hard to use effectively and have 0 penetration. For me, I'd go:

    Short Bow D6
    Long/Crossbow D8 (crossbows go last unless already loaded)
    Slings D4

    And all missile weapons (at least in B/X) receive a +1 to hit at short range already reflecting damage penetration.

    David got REAL lucky. If you want to model the classic Shepherd/Goliath fight you could use magic (like the clerical spell "striking") for bonus damage OR rule that missile weapons have "exploding dice" (roll the max # on the dice roll and get to add another dice roll). With a D4, slings have a 25% of getting that extra D4.
    : )

  2. @JB
    Yeah, I'm not that certain about the Sling thing either, but the point of the exercise is to emulate universal d6 damage (all weapons are the same) by giving everything a tactical advantage if the damage falls below d8 damage and a tactical disadvantage when it goes over d8 damage.

    Thus, Slings, Bows and Crossbows would all do the dame damage, but Bows get the +1 to hit and Crossbows do more damage. I considered making Slings like daggers (d4 damage two attacks per round) but I couldn't justify saying Slings had a higher rate of fire than bows.

    Though your suggestions make sense, what they do in practice is channel everybody to use bows (why go with a sling or a crossbow?). This is why I don't normally use variable damage — it punishes creativity. My goal with this table is to allow players to have variable damage, but not be punished for wanting to use something other than a sword and a bow.

  3. Actually glad to see the sling get some muscle. They were deadly and could be fired effectively with less practice than required of a longbow. They were also cheap to make and ammo was plentiful. Finally, they had a greater range than most bows and could be reloaded quickly.

    In terms of combat utility, slingers were absolutely on par with archers, but the sling itself was considered low-status because it was cheap to make and therefore popular with low-resource fighters (like shepherds and the Israelites in the time of Judges). I'm wondering how much of this bias was transferred to the sling's traditionally crap stats as shown in D&D.

  4. I prefer JB's class based damage, though he has moved back to universal d6 damage.
    Class based damage keeps fighters as the main fighters and rewards weapon creativity and variety.

    My take on class based damage iis in my DM screen which can be downloaded from here.

  5. @TJP
    I do appreciate your take; however, if I am not a Thief why would I ever want to use a small weapon? There doesn't seem to be any advantage at all. Using your table, I would be punished for wanting to make a gladiator-type knife fighter (on average, I'm doing less damage every round than your joe-average sword-wielder). Using universal d6 damage, I am free to do so without being punished. Using the table above, I get the tactical advantage of two attacks per round and the fun of rolling those cool-shaped dice.

  6. I think it is a nice way of providing flavour and functionality. I would just add these clarifications:

    * Daggers can be used in melee or thrown.

    * Heavy Weapons don't lose Initiative if the wielder has Surprised the other party.

  7. @Timeshadows
    Good suggestions, thanks! Although, I'm tempted to say daggers, when thrown, do d6 damage and only get one attack per round (to square it with other thrown weapons).

  8. This is great stuff, and I may have to gleefully pilfer it with little-to-no modification for my home games. I was trying to work out a similar system of "d6 damage with tactical wrinkles" but your system put far more wrinkles in with even less confusion than my aborted draft.

    Many thanks in advance!

  9. Being a long time variable weapons damage guy, who grew up on BECMI, I have recently went to the S&W:WB 1d6 mindset and don't see myself looking back.

    I don't say that to ruffle the topic, but rather to give you a framework from where my thoughts come from.

    All through reading the post and the responses, I caught myself saying, "yep", "makes sense", "good idea", to myself. The only thing that caught my eye (slings) had already been addressed.

    So I came back after thinking, and this is what I thought: I changed from "variable weapon damage" because I didn't see it as "damage" any longer. As a kid, then young adult, I always saw a damaging hit as blood drawn. If you look at weapons damage that way, then sure a dagger might be 1d4 and a giant axe 1d10, but since someone can be killed as easily with a pen vs a chainsaw, it just isn't there for me any more.

    I like the 1d6 weapon 'damage' idea for the same reasons mentioned by others, but to keep on point of the post and it's variable weapon damage theme, I would would give a swift dagger 1d10 and a slow axe 1d4. It isn't, again to me, the amount of blood it draws, but how much it takes out of, or weakens, the defender to defend their self. To dodge that axe in 3 seconds, assuming I am trying to counter and my opponent doing the same, then I must move (duck, side-step, etc.) maybe once? To do the same to a skilled dagger/knife fighter I would to have to practically be dancing; dodging, parries, blocks on multiple occasions. Much more exhausting I would think. But, most knife victims are stabbed multiple times...

    I am not saying 1d6 is better than variable weapons damage. It bowls down to, for me, what you want to visualize/portray. On my blog I asked whether people saw 'damage' as physical wounds or a depleting of a 'stamina' resource. 10:11 (yes not many ppl follow my ramblings) saw it as not physical damage but stamina for the most part. So, why must we make larger weapons do more 'damage'? In my mind, I'd rather go against a guy swinging a large slow axe now and then and hope I can block it than suffer a death of a thousands cuts of a skilled knifeman... **Epiphany!**

    I had been considering having 'Hit Points' be Stamina and 'Physical Wounds' (at zero hit points) go against the Strength Attribute. Now I am thinking a dagger would be 1d10:1 and a 2-handed sword might be 1d4:3, where the first is how fast it wears (Stamina) your opponent down and the second being an amount of physical damage to the body (Strength). Play-test time!

    I don't know if I have expressed what I am thinking well enough to convey my thoughts, but I hope I did. At the very least, thank you all for getting me thinking about something that I am rather excited about!


  10. @TB

    I am right there with I have said on several occasions, in practice, I use universal d6 damage; however, I don't necessarily do it to specifically simulate anything (stamina/physical damage). I do it because I enjoy giving my players the creative option of using any weapon they want to without punishing them for said creativity with crappy damage.

    BUT...I miss the aesthetic of rolling all those cool shaped dice. This table is an attempt to keep something close to d6 universal damage AND be able to roll all those cool dice.

    The reason daggers seemingly do less damage (in this system, they actually have a slightly higher average than a sword if you can hit both times during the round) is that I need to balance out variable damage so that no one weapon is worse than any other, Conceptually, I can't justify a dagger doing d10 damage because a knife fighter obviously is going to be faster than a T-H Sword fighter.

    BTW I'd be curious to hear how your play test goes...

  11. I will most assuredly apprise you of my play test results.

    But I have a question, when you say, "Conceptually, I can't justify a dagger doing d10 damage because a knife fighter obviously is going to be faster than a T-H Sword fighter." what do you mean by 'damage'?

    It is a sticking point for me, and where I think we may not be on the same sheet. The Dagger wielding guy is not really doing 1d10 'damage'. Nor would the T-H Swordman be doing 1d4 'damage'. When I say 'damage' in the context of conventional HPs, I am referring to exhausting the opponent, keeping them off their feet, forcing them out of advantageous positioning, and overall reducing their opponent's stamina. No physical blow has been landed in my book to this point (and can not, without a critical hit, which goes straight to attribute damage), except maybe a bruise or armor glancing blow (something easily recovered after a few minutes to catch their breath after the fight), in the whittling down of HPs. Removing HPs, for me, is maneuvering, pressing, and exhausting the opponent to where you can no longer successfully defend themselves, then that actual physical killing blow will hit.

    I wish I could explain that better. If you don't get it, perhaps I should do an example exchange.

    Anyway, as I have been thinking about the 1d10/1d4 or 1d10/3 vs the 1d4/1d10 or 1d4/1 variable weapon system I got to thinking of how one could kill with a pen, assuming one was trained and skilled enough to do it, and how to replicate this. Perhaps adding the character's level (a representation of their skill and training) to the random or fixed Attribute damage would work. Makes a skilled man with a pen very dangerous.

    Perhaps I am derailing your post? Not intentional for sure, so I will leave that train on its own track.

    I too shifted to d6 because all I ever saw were long swords with shields or battle axes, though what the player had in mind to begin with was something totally different. I do miss rolling some of the different dice as much now.

    Now that I get your intent, I too would want to see how your variable weapons model pans out. I would still suspect that people will want to gravitate to the 'Standard Weapons' of Sword, Flail, or Morning Star for 1d8 or 2d4 'Small Weapons' (granted it takes multiple successful hits for 2d4, but at higher levels...)

    Play testing should pan it out for you, but I see people gaming it. "Hmmm I need a 17 to hit, Sword it is." or "I can hit with a 12, Ill go for hitting him twice with daggers."

    Yes, please let me know how it comes out in the wash.


    At the very least my mind is aglow with transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention!

  12. @TB
    I totally understand where you are coming from. The idea that smaller/faster weapons wear you out faster than big weapons (and if I slip up and get hit just once by that maul it'll end me) totally makes sense to me...which is why universal d6 damage works.

    In terms of T-H Sword vs. Dagger, I was coming at it from the context of my post, not in general. In order to have a dagger do 1d10 damage — in accordance with the table above — the knife fighter would always lose initiative. That does not work conceptually, whereas having the T-H Sword wielder always lose initiative does.

    Play testing should pan it out for you, but I see people gaming it. "Hmmm I need a 17 to hit, Sword it is." or "I can hit with a 12, Ill go for hitting him twice with daggers."

    Frankly, I'd love it if my players began to think this way. It means they are thinking tactically and choosing appropriate weapons for appropriate situations — and being rewarded for it. It also leaves enough room for those who choose another option to do so without being at a major disadvantage.

  13. In terms of T-H Sword vs. Dagger, I was coming at it from the context of my post, not in general.

    I was coming at it from a general context, and why I thought I might be derailing your post, which I love by the way. (The post, not the idea of derailing it) Though I might not use it as written, anything that gets my brain squealing like a rat in an exercise wheel is awesome in my book.

    If you like that style of tactical thinking, have you checked out 'Old School Hack'?

    Thanks again by the way! Awesome post!


  14. Thats nearly perfect actually.

    One caveat though, the dagger and other small weapons are still favored over the sword. 2 attacks at 1d4 is mathematically more effective than 1 at 1d8.

    Other than that it is balanced, fair and looks like it would work very well.