17 June 2009

Class-Based Weapon Damage

It always has seemed strange to me that in most ‘old school’ fantasy role-playing games (including, of course, Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord) magic-users cannot wield a sword, even to defend themselves. Stranger still, in my opinion, is the prohibition on edged weapons for clerics. This restriction, while perhaps appropriate for priests whose religion resembles that of Medieval Christianity, makes absolutely no sense for the followers of deities such as Athena, Crom, Odin, or Ra.

With this optional system, characters of any class can use any weapon. However, because of different levels of training, the amount of damage a character can do with a given weapon varies depending on his/her class. Moreover, magic-users suffer a -1 penalty to hit when using large weapons.

Weapon Damage Chart*

Small Weapons/ Medium Weapons/ Large Weapons
Fighters 1d6 / 1d8 / 1d10
Clerics 1d4 / 1d6 / 1d8
Magic-users 1d4 / 1d4**/ 1d6***

Small Weapons: clubs, daggers, darts, light maces, short swords, slings
Medium Weapons: bows, broadswords, crossbows, flails, hand axes, javelins, heavy maces, spears, war hammers, quarterstaffs (two-handed), long swords
Large Weapons: battleaxes (two-handed), great swords (two-handed), halberds (two-handed), lances (mounted only)

* This weapon damage chart is meant to replace the weapon damage chart included in the Swords & Wizardry Core Rules.
** Magic-users do 1d6 when wielding quarterstaffs with two hands (so the quarterstaff remains the best melee weapon for pointy-headed spell-slingers).
*** Magic-users have a -1 penalty to hit when using large weapons.

Note on Magical Weapons

One implication of this optional system is that non-fighters will now be able to wield magical weapons (swords, bows, and so forth) previously restricted to fighters. This optional system therefore takes away one of the main advantages of fighters vis-à-vis non-fighters. There are at least three ways for Game Masters do deal with this potential problem. First, Game Masters may simply restrict certain magical weapons to fighters (such a restriction would presumably be part of the enchantment). Second, the Game Master may weaken the benefits conferred by magical weapons on non-fighters. For instance, the Game Master may decree that non-fighters wielding certain weapons (namely, those previously restricted to fighters) receive only half the normal attack and damage bonuses (rounded up) from such weapons. So, for example, a cleric or magic-user wielding a +3 broadsword would receive a bonus of only +2. Finally, if the Game Master is also using the optional system of ‘fighting styles’ for fighters included in this issue of Knockspell, then he or she may decide that fighters have an adequate number of new advantages – namely, the advantages gained by the fighting styles as well as the greater damage inflicted by fighter characters with all weapons, magical or not – that the ability of non-fighters to use any magical weapon is not a serious concern.

(First published in Knockspell #1)

Additional Notes

a. Obviously, in addition to S&W, this system could also be used with any pre-3e version of D&D (OD&D, Basic D&D, 1e AD&D, 2e AD&D, and RC D&D), and their respective retro-clones (Labyrinth Lord, BFRP, OSRIC).

b. If using the 'standard' thief (i.e., the version of the class found in OD&D, Basic D&D, 1e AD&D, etc.), thieves should use the 'cleric' chart.

c. If using the version of the thief that I presented in Knockspell #2 (which treats the thief as a 'sub-class' of the fighter), thief characters should use the 'fighter' chart, except that they only do 1d8 damage with 'large' weapons.


  1. This looks very intriguing. At seems likely an elegantly simple solution to the problem. I'm wondering, have you encountered any difficulties in actual play?

  2. Thanks for your comment, Ironbeard! I've been using these rules for some time now, and have yet to encounter any problems with them. Both myself and my players quite like them. They work like a charm in practice.

    I should mention that I use them in conjunction with my 'fighting styles for fighters' house rule. I'll post that soon.

  3. One possibility is that non-fighters can use enchanted weapons to their full enhancement, but because of their lack of training, and because of the unusual properties of the magic weapons, it takes them a long time to get the full bonus. Moreover, while they're learning how to use the magic weapons up to their potential, they risk the possibility of accidentally injuring themselves (think about the difficulty of using a real flail without hitting yourself a lot of times!). So, one could say that for the first level where they're trying out their magical weapon, whenever they miss an opponent there's an X% chance that they do damage to themselves. After using that weapon for a level, though, they can use it normally.

  4. Interesting idea, Bobcat, but a bit too 'fiddly' for my tastes. In practice, I've found that the advantages that fighters get from my 'fighting styles' house rule keeps things balanced.

  5. Out of curiosity: where did you first encounter this idea? I was introduced to it by Tetsujin28 on rpg.net some years ago, although he claimed no credit for it (if you'll forgive some Gaelic maudliness, I really miss him even though I never met him in the flesh).

  6. I vaguely recall the idea being presented in an old issue of Dragon magazine (although it may have been White Dwarf), sometime in the early 1980s.

    I too remember some discussion of the idea at rpg.net. Those discussions probably reminded me of it more recently. I certainly would never claim that the idea is something that I came up with on my own!

    And yeah, I too miss Tetsujin28. I almost met him while living in the Bay area (we had exchanged some PMs concerning Runequest during the spring of 2005 at rpg.net). Unfortunately, I had too leave for Dublin before we could arrange anything.

  7. I thought of using this kind of rule in 3E (and then searched from google for hints and found your page). I'm considering d8-d10-d12 for fighters, d6-d8-d10 for rogues/clerics and d4-d6-d8 for wizards. Weapon proficiencies aren't used, but you can increase your damage class with feat(s).

  8. My games have always been more Howard than Tolkien, so...

    Clerics are rare (you need a WIS of 13+ in addition to other ability minimums depending on the deity worshipped) and have always had specialized armor/weapon/spell strictures.

    Magic is powerful and dangerous, and its practitioners have no time (or desire) for weapons training - in fact, any self-respecting mage has a strong disdain for mundane weaponry, preferring to use magic in its stead.

    Thieves prefer to keep to the shadows and prize stealth and mobility above all else, so no thief worth his salt would ever run around with a polearm or a 2H sword.

    As with most things, I prefer to keep it simple -- any character using a weapon not allowed to their chosen class suffers a -2 attack penalty, a -2 damage penalty, and grants their opponent a +2 attack bonus. This still allows any class to use any weapon in a pinch while still accounting for their lack of training.

    If you have a character that REALLY wants to use a weapon not normally allowed to his class you can always tell him he can use it if he earns an additional 500-1000XP before advancing to the next level...


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).