Thursday, April 24, 2014

Simple Weapon Quality

Update 4/26/14: I failed at reading comprehension.  Read this post as praise for Brendan's cool rule.

Weapons in old school D&D barely exist.  You chose them at character creation (whichever does most damage, probably) and then forget about them unless you encounter a rust monster or drop your weapon on a critical miss.  That's a bummer because there is a lot more richness in the source materials: weapons forged by masters, weapons forged of rare materials, ceremonial weapons, crude weapons, weapons that break, worn weapons, rusty weapons, dull weapons.  When was the last time your players honed a blade in game or visited a blacksmith to have a weapon made?

Necropraxis has a great house rule to get at this.  Go here and follow all his links to read the cool conversation about weapon wear.  While having a system of wear allows weapons to become part of the resource management of adventure gaming, I'm most interested in how this could make weapons more tangible.  So, I would probably simplify the wear aspect even a bit more.  Here's my go at rewording of it:
All weapons have a quality from 1-20.  If you roll under the quality of your weapon when you attack you "notch" it.  Notched weapons are -1.   If a weapon is notched again, it breaks.  You can hone out a notch in camp.
So, you basically have two pieces of bookkeeping (quality # and notched or not) and one thing to keep in mind as you play (did I roll under?).  I think that would be worth it.

To keep things simple I would consider a weapon that has had a notch honed out of the same quality as a brand new weapon.  In other words, I don't want to have to track how many times a weapon has been notched.  I would probably allow a blacksmith to fix a broken weapon at half original cost, but wouldn't reduce the quality because it was repaired.  I would probably not have criticals affect notching, otherwise, if a critical miss is always a notch than a #1 and #2 weapon are identical.  The same if a critical hit never notches, a #20 and #19 would be identical.

Cool Side Effects
One thing I've been trying to do in my game is make the campsite a tangible place too.  For example, music and freshly cooked food each give +1 to hit point recovery rate.  Having weapon honing be important, would give players another thing to do in camp and another reason besides recharging the magic user to want to stop and camp.

This rule would also make carrying weapon spares an interesting proposition, making encumbrance matter for more than just how much gold you can carry out of a dungeon.  And weapons found in a dungeon could become important if you don't want to risk breaking your already notched, but high quality sword.

Why No Armor?
You'll notice I've left out armor.  Armor presents a different challenge for me.  First, notching would depend on monster attack rolls so, I would have to worry not just about player AC but player armor quality as well and I've got enough to worry about in the heat of combat.  Second, if armor is found in the dungeon, it's not like your going to stop, strip off your old armor and put on the new the way you might immediately start using an axe you find in a crypt.  I think maybe a piecemeal armor system might be a possible solution, but armor is less a concern for me right now.

I'm excited to try this in play.


  1. Thanks for posting this. I've been staring at the necropraxis stuff, considering adding it into my game, but this seems like it would work for my group better. Consider the idea stolen.

    For armor, perhaps it could notch based on saving throws? That'd keep the record keeping in the player's hands. Probably only saves that involved physical damage.

  2. My problem with this rule is the same as my problem with critical misses in any system that grants a character multiple attack rolls in the same round (every edition of D&D I have ever played). Additional attacks are expressions of high skill, but they also represent more chances to fail catastrophically. It's especially irritating at the break point between one attack and two, such as going from 5th level to 6th as a fighter in 3.x. Your chance to fail suddenly jumps, even though you're supposedly getting better.

    I'm not actually a hardline simulationist, but this drives me batty. Maybe you find it realistic that the most skilled fighters are "harder on their weapons" and ruin them more often, but I have a hard time believing players would enjoy that dynamic.

    I do like the general principle of making life in camp a more interesting area of gameplay.

    1. @Brandes

      This is a good point. I will note that I don't use multiple attacks in any game that I run. If I did, I might add the rule that only the first attack counts for purposes of wear (there, sorted).

  3. Thanks for the comments.

    @George: That might work for armor, but there aren't a lot of saves going on in my game recently, so maybe not worth the extra complexity.

    @Brandes: My thinking about the game is always skewed toward the early levels, just because that's where I have the most experience (I tend to introduce a lot of newbies to the game). So, yeah if a fighter is getting multiple attacks they would be more likely to notch their weapon. Which, like you mention, actually makes sense because they are using the weapon more.

    But one way you might avoid this becoming a penalty that increases with level is give it a one notch per battle limit. One downside of that would be no weapon would go from "healthy" to broken in a single battle. But that might not be much of a loss, weapons can still break if you go into combat with a notched weapon.

    Another possible approach is to include interactions with this rule as bonuses fighters get or can choose when they level up. It would take a bit more bookkeeping, but I guess all feats essentially do. So, you could have "1 less notch per combat", "all weapons act as quality +2 in your hands now" or even "you can choose to notch your enemy's weapon if you take -2 to damage on that hit" etc.

    1. Giving fighters a deeper sense of connection to their weapons by making their weapons something that could be damaged and destroyed (and therefore something that needs care) is interesting in itself.

      I much prefer the idea of giving fighters advancement options for more ways to engage with this rules element, rather than (as many designers might reflexively but unwisely do) make them advance to a state of immunity to having their weapons damaged. (E.g., the D&D Next designers showed off how good rangers are at wilderness exploration by making them totally supersede the wilderness-exploration rules.)

      Thinking back to a long-ago D&D With Pornstars post, would you consider letting players (or maybe just fighters) assign different natural roll results to be their "Notch" results? The benefit of this is that low rolls don't have to be "bad luck with a side of punishment." The drawback is that players have to remember that other die results trigger something unusual happening.

      Oh, and I'm reminded of how Dark Sun 4e handled a similar idea. Their didn't have Notching going for it (little pun there, sorry), which I think is a really interesting addition. What they did, though, was that if you rolled a 1, you could either let the result stand and miss the attack, or you could reroll (possibly turning a miss into a hit), but your weapon was definitely broken, unless it is metal (this is Athas, after all), in which case it breaks if the reroll is a natural 5 or lower. I'm not saying this is at all better than the concepts you've laid out, but I thought it might be of interest as a point of comparison.

  4. Interesting point @Brandes . Didn't think of it because my game has very rare multiple actions.

    Maybe you could only apply the check to the last attack you make each round. Or create simple rules for fighting with a broken weapon. I rather like the image of a fighter continuing to wail away with a shattered sword.

    1. Like Aragorn in Fellowship of the Ring, or Conan in various stories.

      Fighting with a broken weapon is a staple of the source fiction, after all.

  5. I'd really like to hear more about your campfire bonuses and house rules. What other ways have you made campsites more tangible and less of a momentary pause with fluff.

    I appreciate the very visceral feel it gives to weapon usage and could easily imagine a fighter doting over his favorite blade that got "wounded in the line of duty". How would you keep it from becoming just another dice to roll when attacking, or do your games not involve as much combat as a typical "modern" D&D game?

  6. In practice the Necropraxis notch rules have worked better for weapons than for armor, for pretty much the reasons that you put forward here.

  7. In regards to armor, I've used a rule similar to the 'Shields shall be Splintered' and allowed the player to let the armor take the damage. Reduce the effective AC by one.

  8. Great comments, folks.

    @Brandes: Yeah, I can understand players being rewarded for advancement by eliminating annoyances, but it would be better to give them more choices (and try to make sure most rules and systems aren't annoying in the first place). Zak's lucky number mechanic is a cool, simple mechanic but I'm more interested in it as a curse effect or special weapon power unique to a particular player. I would like weapon quality to be more standard. That Dark Sun rule is fascinating, it's like the exact opposite of shields shall be splintered. Except I don't see it being very useful, because if I'm desperate enough in a battle to need to make a hit, I'm probably desperate enough to need a weapon in my hand. It seems like it would be a very rare situation where a player would take the broken weapon option. What if it were more like " for any hit you can sacrifice your weapon to make it a critical hit" at least that might be more likely to put you opponent down.

    @George,Lord Gwydion: You could make fighting with a broken weapon -2. That would be an extra thing to remember, but could be cool.

    @AnarchyDice: I should make a post on it to bring everything together. The idea of having music in a camp comes from this cool post:

    I just amended it to also take affect if the players buy and play their own instrument (It still costs some money and takes up encumbrance space).
    I don't remember about the fresh food, it may just have been an extrapolation of the music idea but meant to make hunting and foraging more attractive. I have very simple hunting and foraging rules derived from these:
    and that makes the land more of a thing because some places are more lush than others.

    Here is a post where I was trying to think up abilities to give to fighters, most of them related to the campsite:

    And recently I've been thinking a cool cleric ability would be to make a campfire a hearth similar to the one mentioned here:

    Also, this houserule isn't an extra roll, it is based on your normal attack role. So if you miss bad enough, you might also damage your weapon.

    @Eric: interesting, thanks

    @Michael: It sounds simple enough, but I'm afraid it would make my typical party of four in plate mail near impervious to harm. Maybe allow them to do this once per battle, or even once per session?

  9. To clarify, the difference between between this proposal and the system that I posted is terminology, the exclusion of armor, and the ability to hone out a notch in camp? Is that correct? Other than that, it looks the same to me, but I could be missing something.

    I like the idea of working some part of this into camp rules, but I think I would want to differentiate repairs in camp somehow from repairs at a proper blacksmith. Maybe only fighters can do repairs in camp, and only one item per evening?

    I agree with Eric's observation about wear to armor. As a referee, I have usually forgotten about it. But if I did remember, I think it would work fine. (Even just remembering on monster 20s would be enough to make a difference.) I think it's probably just a matter of getting used to it, and one good thing is that there is no additional house rule load on players.

    As an aside, the weapon/armor problem goes away when using the monological combat system I have been mulling over. When the player makes a bad offensive combat roll, the weapon is damaged. When a player make a bad defensive combat roll, the armor instead takes the hit.

  10. Ugh, my bad, I misunderstood and thought you were still using 5 weapon quality categories and rolling under the number would lower that weapon's quality category by one. But Looking back at your post now, I see that when you say "drops a category" you are referring to sound, damaged and ruined. And was what I thought I was revising--just making it a simple 1-20 that corresponds with the to hit roll--was the revision you were talking about and had already decided on. Sorry, didn't intend to claim your thunder.

    So, yeah, the only real difference is allowing for players to hone the weapon in camp. I wouldn't let a player repair a broken weapon, that would take a blacksmith with a forge. I consider what they are doing in camp basic sharpening of blades and tightening hafts etc.

    Thanks for sharing your great idea.

    1. @Telecanter

      Hey, no worries. The prose of my original rule could be charitably called "tortured," so the fault is almost certainly mine for not writing more clearly.

      As you noted, this sort of back and forth refinement and mutation is one of the best things about these slow burn blog conversations.

      I would be interested in seeing a more systematized version of your camp rules as well, as that is something I have been thinking about recently. You might also be interested in seeing how Dungeon World does camp:

  11. Wow.. I'll try it. Simple and effective. For armor I created a quick damage rule that is working really good: If a monster hit a player with a critical, the armor get a -1 that can be recovered in any blacksmith.

  12. Thank you, I'll make a post on campsites, though my rules are pretty much in the comment above.

    @Thiago: I think enemy crits might be the perfect time to damage armor: not too common, and meant to suck for players already. Then armor quality wouldn't even need to be a consideration.

  13. @Telecanter
    I put together a collection of my own house rules, and I was wondering what you think of my take on a simple camping system.