D&D Weapon Update
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! A little more than a year ago we talked about changes to weapon proficiency, and while those ideas are still simmering, we have our first D&D weapon update ready for you to try out at your game.
This post lays out the first part of our update to weapons, including new weapons for you to use in your games, and then an overarching adjustment to D&D weapons: special strikes.
I. New Weapons
You can find a copy of the weapon updates on our site here. To start off, the game has a good weapon list on the whole: there are a few gaps in the inventory, but on the whole it's a good weapon set. The issue, though, is the lack of scaling over time in the list of weapons: if you are a rogue you might advance from a knife or shortsword to a rapier, but once you reach that (which can be very early), you're pretty much done until you get a rare weapon.
More than that, some weapon options are just objectively worse than others. Why would anyone use a dart when it does the same damage type as a shortbow but with shorter range and lower damage? There is no reason beyond, "well, I feel like using a throwing weapon," but from a build perspective there's no competitive reason to do that. And if you do take darts, there's no "upgraded dart" option: it's a tech tree of one.
So in light of this, some of our new weapons are designed to provide that "second tier" for weapons - a place to advance from your starting gear as you level up as a character.
The bigger issue with weapons in D&D, though, is that they just aren't as cool as spells, even once you factor in magic items (which you are not guaranteed to have, and definitely don't get as early as 1st level). So to make martial characters feel more cool and have more options in combat, we also developed a new mechanic: special strikes.
II. Special Strikes
The concept of a weapon doing a special strike is taken from games like the Middle Earth Strategy Battle Game among others, where a weapon gives you the option to do something unique with it for thematic reasons. This provides unique options based on the weapon choice, and incentivizes you to take a weapon that might not do as much damage to gain a special strike ability.
Consider, for example, the differences between a club and a mace. In D&D there is basically no reason to take a club over a mace unless you have the Shillelagh spell, as it specifies a club or staff as the target weapon. Both do bludgeoning damage, both are simple weapons, but one of them does more damage. I suppose you can use two clubs at once thanks to the Light property, but you're giving up a shield and reducing your damage to d4s to get this bonus, and at that point you might as well just take two handaxes and get d6s for damage instead. So what would give you a reason to take a club (or greatclub for that matter) over a mace?
Gaining access to Stunning Strike, which gives you a chance to stun the target in addition to the damage you dealt. Suddenly a chance at a stun + lower damage is a decent trade.
Similarly, one might consider taking a mace (which only does d6s for damage) over a war hammer because of your ability to Batter an opponent's arm or body, reducing their ability to evade attacks (reducing their Armor Class by 2 for a short period of time).
Special strikes tied to types of weapons gives you a good reason to look at lower damage/more restricting weapons because of the other battlefield options it gives you. Martial characters can help their allies without giving up their attacks, because their attacks help allies (and themselves).
Could all of this be done with a combat maneuver? Some of them could be I'm sure, and perhaps that's worth looking at when we release our update to the fighter class (and add more options to the Battle Master subclass). But for now, we feel like an added boon from a weapon instead of a class ability is better for the game overall, as it makes for far more interesting combats regardless of whether you play a figher.
What is more, it increases the value of the Strength stat. Currently in D&D there is not a lot of reason to have high Strength unless you plan to use a two-handed weapon and even then it has diminishing returns. High Dexterity characters can use ranged weapons, go earlier in the initiative order on average, and have equal if not higher defense, and their damage is more or less the same as most Strength-based warriors.
But this system increases the number of Strength saving throws people make, thus rewarding high Strength characters both in how successful they are in pulling off a strike and resisting strikes made against them. This adds value to the Strength stat without penalizing Dexterity-characters in what they already do.
III. The Boring Stuff
We also took 5 minutes to update the list of items that are assigned by packs and backgrounds, explaining what they do, bonuses you gain from them, and where appropriate their costs (as some don't have a cost). Inasmuch as stats are present in the Player's Handbook we have not included those items here for the sake of brevity.
It's nothing flashy, probably won't change much about your game, but hey, if a player asks you what an alms box does, this can be a starting point for you.
Our plan for the next version of the weapon update is stats for improvised weapons, kobold traps, more types of hunting traps, and the like, so keep watching this space!
Until next time,