Saturday, May 25, 2019

OSR Weapon Damage

The topic of weapon damage comes up from time-to-time in OSR discussions. I think this is because we want that beefy fighter to be so very deadly with big-ass swords and we want that wee dagger to be more lethal than it is.

A lot of folks are in favor of straight 1d6 damage per weapon, as it was in OD&D. I hate that idea, but I get it. It means that the dagger is a better choice than it normally is and it allows players to be creative with their weapon choices since there's no mechanical penalty for those choices. But it also means - since all things really are even - weapon choice is virtually meaningless in terms of mechanics. Your skull-tipped mace and my super sharp scimitar both act identically in combat. I dislike this immensely.

Caveat: (Important caveat, no less) A good DM and player rapport will cause the nature of a PC's weapon to enhance play. My choice of a scimitar vs. your skull mace may mean that the Arabic-inspired setting has more respect/acceptance of my PC vs. yours. Perhaps your wicked weapon invites trouble everywhere you go while I can pass through markets and tea houses without excess trouble. Or let's say you choose a straight arming sword while I choose a staff tipped with 3 chains securing large iron hooks. A good DM would allow me to hook-and-pull targets on a good hit roll, but may also hit me with penalties when fighting in tight spaces. Meanwhile, your simple sword presents no particular advantages or penalties.

So yeah. Straight 1d6 can work as long as the group really embraces the narrative elements of weapon choice. I still don't love it, but I'm open to it.

Another idea is damage by class. My ideas below are in this vein, but I'm not a huge fan of the versions of this idea I have seen before because they never seem to leave the existing variable damage as-is for the "middle classes" such as Thief and Cleric. Versions I can remember seeing will apply something like a small-medium-large weapon category scheme and a die step for each based on class. I think this is perfectly logical but also kind of bland. To me, it robs weapons of their character.

Some people even go as far as limiting the Strength modifier in combat to only fighter types. I get that too, but I hate it.

I'm a B/X guy through-and-through because of the versatility of basic rules such as variable weapon damage (an optional rule but let's be honest... almost everyone uses it) and the universal ability modifiers. It means I can play a B/X Magic-User who has an 18 Strength and I can be potentially a better fighter than the party's actual Fighter - at least at very low levels. This bugs a lot of people because of class niches and what-not. I get that too. But I don't care. It lends greater diversity to characters in a game with precious few built-in bells-and-whistles.

Think of that B/X Thief who got lucky with a high Str, Dex, and Con. Give that guy a two-handed sword and you got yourself a bona fide sword-and-sorcery hero.

So yeah. Ideas. There are others too.

Here's a couple of ideas I had that I might drop into my next B/X game (maybe not both). These might have already been dreamed up by some other game nerd so please post a link if you have seen either of them before. That would be awesome. I certainly have not read all the reams of blog posts out there in the OSR-o-sphere.


Your character's class determines the die step used for weapon damage.

Cleric Normal
Dwarf 1 die step higher
Elf Normal
Fighter 1 die step higher
Halfling Normal
Magic-User 1 die step lower (min. 1d4)
Thief Normal

For general use, not necessarily specific to B/X, it would be like this:

Wizard types = 1 die step lower
Rogue/Cleric types = no adjustment
Fighter types = 1 die step higher

Race would probably be irrelevant since race in 1e or Advanced style games confers somewhat less advantage/disadvantage (or should) than in B/X where the class and race are the same.


Some classes get damage bonuses as they level up.

Cleric +1 per 2 levels
Dwarf +1 per level
Elf +1 per 2 levels
Fighter +1 per level
Halfling +1 per 2 levels
Magic-User +1 per 5 levels
Thief +1 per 2 levels

So Idea #1 I really dig because it doesn't mess with the existing damage values for weapons nor does it require new categories to be graphed on. You just have to go a die step up or down depending on class. It makes the dagger more serious for warriors and the sword less effective for wizards.

(I do allow wizards to use any weapon because it's fantasy. The downside is their to hit rolls suck and maybe I make them spend a round drawing or sheathing because of lack of expertise.)

Idea #2 seems like it would also go a long way toward addressing a big problem. Why is it that my level 1 fighter deals exactly the same damage as my level 9 fighter with the same weapon? It just doesn't FEEL right. It's heroic fantasy... I want to FEEL like I'm just god damn better at this shit than I used to be. So a fat +9 to damage with that dagger I picked up on the battlefield would do the trick. I dunno... I'm sure there are downsides but not sure the downsides outweigh the asskickery.



    1. Cool doc! I'd use that rule under the right conditions. I'm not a huge fan of weapon damage by size class simply because it requires adding a size class to the original weapons list. I'm more interested in rules that don't require changing the weapon list by adding elements. But still...very cool!

  2. Good write up. My solution to PCs doing more damage as they leveled was to improve how often a class scores a critical hit, with fighters getting a 19-20 crit right out of the gate and by 13-15 levels they are scoring a crit on a 16 or higher. Some classes never improve this way, some improve moderately. I was generous with the Fighter so they would stand out against other melee types. Been a while since I tinkered with these classes, so I'd probably change some things now. Some class designs are on the sidebar of my blog.

    1. I am a fan of expanding the "threat range" of crits, like they do in DCC. Nice art on your blog, is that yours?

    2. Thanks, all of the art is mine. Big fan of Black Pudding btw.

  3. Weapon Specialization was an attempt to have higher le el characters capable of infliciting more damage per hit but it kicked in far too early. The Weapon Mastery rules of BECMI defintely expanded on the amount of damage a character could influct at higher level but had a whole lot of picky differences between weapons.
    In one of my longest running AD&D camapigns I used a flat damage bonus of 1/2 level for fighters with profficient weapons and level for those with weapon specilization.
    I'be played with variants like dwarves adding twice level vs giants, eleves doing so but only with bows.


    Technically the improved hit chance of levelling up does increase weapon damage by increasing the chance of doing any damage at all.

  4. This isn't b/x Friendly, but these are the rules I run (flat d6 damage, and mostly guns because I run post-apoc, but could be tailored to fantasy):
    "Weapons, choose a size and a trait, note that unless otherwise noted all guns have a 10-round clip:
    Big, anything that would be useless or harmful to operate using one hand, d6+1. Takes up 2 encumbrance slots
    Regular: No modifier d6, viable with one or two hands, just a standard killing implement.
    Little: d6-1 but can be hidden from a pat-down search and readied without drawing people’s attention, +1 to initiative

    Scattershot: a gun that hits a 3-tile cone instead of a single target
    Semi-Auto: use momentum to simulate automatic fire, double your number of attacks but you must then reload.
    Big Iron: You’ve only got 6 shots but an extra +1 to attack and damage.
    Banana/Drum/Extendo clip: 30 rounds
    Menacing/messy: All kills invoke a morale check for remaining enemies
    Improvised: Anyone can fix it anywhere
    Impressive: +1 Morale for hirelings
    Sniper: +3 to hit, fires once per 2 rounds
    Make it up: Pitch it to me, I’ll say yay/nay
    Example weapons:

    TEXAS RED: Regular, Big Iron. A hefty revolver

    NEGAN: Regular, Messy. A Baseball bat covered in barbed wire

    El Jefe: Big, Scattershot. Just a big fuck-off shotgun

    The Admiral: Regular, Impressive. A old navy officer’s sabre

    Kirk’s Jerky Meat Herk: Big, Improvised. A meat-hook at the end of a 10-foot pole"

    1. Yeah I dig that! Nice and simple and elegant. I tend to prefer more particular weapon rules where the weapons are defined in the setting and each has an established mechanical effect, but this is really good for less specific weapon classifications.