Weapon Mastery in Classic D&D
I know, I know. I keep banging on about how the D&D Rules Cyclopedia is the greatest edition of D&D the world has ever known yadda yadda, but there is a reason for this.
It is, and also much of what this veritable tome offers can be used in any other edition of D&D, including the Next edition currently in playtest.
Ok, that’s two reasons.
The Weapon Mastery rules are a case in point. What they offer is a way to make your hero stand out based on his (or her) weapon selection and skill with that chosen implement. Using these rules, a dude with a Mace isn’t just a dude with a Mace – it affects his whole fighting style, and that is a Very Good Thing indeed. Your choice of weapon is a relevent and important decision.
There is a problem though. The Weapon Mastery rules are just a little obtuse, to say the least. The whole system resolves around this two-page spread.
Intimidating at it might look, breaking it down isn’t that hard. Each part of the chart refers to a single type of weapon (Mace, Sword, Whip, etc) and describe what traits that weapon possesses in the hands of someone with sufficient skill.
Here’s the entry for the Warhammer.
The six levels of skill are Unskilled, Basic (BS), Skilled (SK), Expert (EX), Master (MS) and Grand Master (GM). Unskilled (ie, non-proficient) wielders do half damage on a hit, and if it’s a missile weapon they also take a -1 to hit too. A fool with a bow might still kill you, but it would take a very lucky shot indeed.
Basic level of skill conveys all that we know about weapons from any other edition of D&D; they do damage, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a sword, bow or lance. The only difference is the size (and possibly number) of dice being rolled. At 1st level, Fighters can choose four weapons to take to Basic level, and any other class can take two.
You heard it right. Fighters are not proficient in all weapons right from the start, but have to chose their proficiencies, and that could perhaps be based around cultural or societal tropes. Fighters don’t automatically get access to weapons they have next to no chance of ever having seen before (a chivalric Knight wielding a kukri? Really?), but instead have to put some thought into their weapon selection.
In our games, we allow non-Fighters to take any weapon regardless of class, provided they can justify it. It’s cool to play a Magic-User wielding a Sword. Just ask Gandalf. This opened up more room for character backstory (the Thief with Lance skill is a Knight fallen from honour, etc), and that’s something quite important to us. It also means Clerics can wield weapons applicable to their god, rather than being stuck with a blasted mace all the time.
Anyhow. Back to the Warhammer.
The first column lists basic information about the weapon [P=H] says that this weapon is most effective in Hand-to-Hand combat against someone else with a melee weapon. The alternative is [P=M] for weapons best used against monsters (ie, not using a melee weapon). Some weapons are effective against anything (a Staff, for example), and they are marked [P=A].
Below that, the icons denote that the Warhammer is a one-handed weapon, can be used with a shield, is rarely thrown, and is medium in size. The rest of the table shows what the Warhammer is capable of at each level of Mastery.
In the hands of a Basic user, the Warhammer does 1d6 damage, just as you’d expect. A Skilled user does more damage (1d6+2) and they also gain a -2AC bonus (this is Classic D&D, remember. Descending Armour Class) against the first two attacks by monsters each round. As they’re Skilled, they also gain an attack bonus too – +2 versus weapon-wielding foes, or +1 versus monsters (ie, using natural weaponry such as bite and claw).
So here we have a weapon that’s best used against fellow weapon-users, but is also pretty effective at stopping monsters from getting close enough to hit you. Picture a doughty warrior swinging his Warhammer to prevent the Dire Bear from getting close enough to claw him, and you’re there. Pretty bad-ass, right?
At Expert level, our Warhammer wielder gains a few extra tricks (along with another bonus to hit). He can throw the Warhammer (I am Thor!) and as it’s an unusual tactic, may get surprise from the attack. He does more damage (1d8+2), and is more proficient at blocking monster attacks (-3AC/3).
At Masters and Grand Mastery levels, the bonuses rise further, and our Warhammer wielding warrior becomes even more proficient at throwing his Warhammer and blocking monster attacks. The damage he does also increases, but how much he deals depends on whether the foe is a monster or a weapon-wielder. Against weapon-wielding foes, at Master level he deals 1d8+5 against armed opponents, or 1d6+4 against unarmed monsters. When faced with a swinging blade, the Warhammer wielder knows how to duck and strike the most vulnerable areas, and benefits from his years of training.
Let’s compare it with the Normal Sword (in post-Classic D&D terms, the Longsword).
Unlike the Warhammer (which has its uses stopping monsters from attacking you), the Sword is a weapon almost entirely focused on fighting other weapon wielders. Historically, that’s accurate. A trained Sword user becomes fearsome indeed. He can disarm his foe, deflect thrown or missile weapons, gains a bonus to Armour Class against weapon-wielding foes, and (like the Warhammer) even throw his Sword at foes if he wants to mimic scenes from a movie.
Other weapons gain similarly iconic traits and special abilities such as entangle (the Whip), a second attack (using a Shield), charge (Lance), hook & disarm (Halberd), etc. It all serves to make your choice of weapon something which goes far beyond picking the one which does the most damage for the price.
Oh, and all weapons have a property called, rather ominously, “the Despair effect”. If the PC deals maximum possible damage, deflects all ranged attacks or disarms two foes in a single round, the opponent rolls Morale and may either run away or surrender at the display of such total awesomeness.
Not bad for a piddly little edition of D&D from yesteryear, eh?
So how do you implement this in D&D Next?
That’s easy. Exactly as written.
This is one of the strengths of D&D Next. You can pull rules and concepts from any other edition of the game, and drop them into place with the minimum of fuss. The baseline core rules from the playtest provide a foundation on which you can build exactly the game you want to play. I’m sure modules will be released which allow you to make parts of the game more (or less) like Classic D&D, AD&D, Third Edition or 4e, but in the meantime it is not difficult to do the work yourself.
All we need now is for Wizards of The Coast to release the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as a special edition. Pretty please?
Till next time!