Poll: Weapon Skills

There was a fair amount of discussion over the list of weapon skills that I proposed for HD&D. There were a number of different approaches highlighted, and these resulted in varying types of weapons clumped in broader or narrower groups.

In this post, I will announce a definitive list of weapon skills and then invite you to vote on whether we adopt it or not. The revised list includes many of your suggestions, but I am guided by the following philosophy:

The game must still feel like D&D. In earlier editions all fighters shared the same base attack bonus, but could then choose to specialise in specific weapons. I want to keep that. The weapon skill becomes the broad base that any character can spend skill points to achieve. Additional specialisation comes through feats and talents.

As an extension of the first point, I have decided against replacing weapon skills with fighting style skills. James made a proposal that the style of how the weapon was used in combat is the more relevent skill, not the weapon itself. For example, hammers, axes, picks, clubs and maces all use the same “smash-him-over-the-head” technique. There’s much to recommend this idea, but it would make us rethink our entire approach to the D&D combat system. It would also make the weapons skills very broad. In the end, I decided that I didn’t really want to do that.

I wanted to limit the number of weapon skills. Depsite the number of skills in HD&D, I didn’t want weapon skills to dominate. I wanted to keep the number of weapon skills down to about the number of knowledge skills (twelve). However, it became a apparent that this could not be the case. I have come to agree with Marc, that a larger (and therefore more narrowly focused) list to begin with will help focus specialisation. I now also think that the feat Weapon Specialisation could safely apply to all the weapons covered by a skill, and not just one weapon. There will still be feats and talents that improve upon your character’s skill in one type of weapon, however.

I want to protect the traditional weapon roles of the classes. Wizards have normally been able to use a staff. I don’t want to create weapon groups so broad that wizards also suddenly find themselves proficient with all polearms. The same goes for Picks and Hammers. Yes, they may seem the same but Picks are traditionally gnomish weapons and Hammers are dwarven. A little distinction (even artificial) helps to distinguish between the races. This is good in the context of a roleplaying game.

Thematically similar but mechanically dissimilar weapons cannot be grouped together into a single skill. It doesn’t work in the context of a learned skill set. So good bye to mariner weapons, druid weapons, monk weapons and mounted combat as skills. Characters who want weapons from those areas will have to choose the skills separately.

I don’t want characters to need two different skills to use the same weapon. What this basically means is that I’m ruling out Thrown Weapons as a skill. If you have the Hammer skill, then you can wield a warhammer in melee and hurl a throwing hammer with equal proficiency. A contentious decision perhaps, but one I think is for the best when it comes to creating thematic characters.

Seventhly (and finally!)
Once I realised that I would have to expand the weapon list beyond twelve, I became determined that some weapons would appear under more than one heading. A single weapon in multiple categories goes a little way to broaden choice for martial characters. At the moment, this applies mainly to polearms but as I look more deeply into the weapons available in the game I will expand this principle.

Weapon Skils

So without further ado, this is the full list of weapon skills in the HD&D. I have highlighted a few examples of the type of weapons included in each group, but this is not a definitive list.

Hand-axe, battleaxe, greataxe dwarven waraxe, halberd

Blades (Short)
Dagger, knife, dirk, punching dagger, claw bracer, panther claw, stump knife, dart

Blades (Light)
Short sword, cutlass, sabre, rapier

Blades (Heavy)
Longsword, bastard sword, greatsword, glaive

Longbow, shortbow, composite versions of each

Chains, spiked chains, nunchaku

Light and heavy crossbows, repeating crossbows, hand crossbows

Light flail, heavy flail, dire flail

Throwing hammer, warhammer, craghammer, maul

Heavy, light, jousting

Maces & Clubs
Club, light mace, heavy mace, greatclub, sap, warmace

Nets, bolas

Light pick, heavy pick

Glaive, guisarme, halberd, ranseur, pike, longspear

Shield (as a weapon)
Buckler, light shield, heavy shield, tower shield

Sling, catapult, staff-sling

Spear, halfspear, javelin, longspear

Quarterstaff, bo, shepherd’s crook

Punch, kick, headbutt, gauntlets

Whip, scourge, whip-dagger

Which gives us twenty weapon skills. Far more than I intended. If the current poll continues its established trend then we’ll be adding “Supernatural Attack” to that list for certain characters.

Vote Now

I’m not looking for feedback on the type of weapons contained within each group at the moment. That can come later. What I’m looking for is a decision on whether these twenty weapon groups are right for HD&D. A simple yes or no from the poll below.

If you vote no (or even if you vote yes) please leave you comments and tell me why. This isn’t necessarily the definitive list, but it’s time to put Weapon Skills to one side for the time being and move onto something else.


18 thoughts on “Poll: Weapon Skills

  1. ok how about a tier base…

    you can keep the list as such but make it hierarchical…i.e. if you are proficient with heavy blades, then you are automatically proficient with light and short

    that way an amazon can use a polearm and be still proficient with quarterstaff but a wizard will only be proficient with quarterstaff…

    sorry about the amazon, i couldn’t think of who else would want to use a polearm.

  2. Neil says this:

    I haven’t voted yet but I was wondering why the rice flail (nunchaku) was under chain rather than flail? Also, why are swords divided into three broad categories: short, light and heavy, but axes aren’t? Cross-bows use the same sort of skill as other bows so I don’t understand the need to have separate skills for these. I’m not sure why picks are different either…

    I don’t agree with you about thrown weapons, it is a different skill! I do however acquiesce to your point about Str and Dex, though I don’t agree!

    I see your point about mounted weapons, and of course lances are only mounted, but using a weapon from horseback is very different from using it normally.

  3. Neil, you can attribute the placement of the nunchaku to my lack of understanding about what it is or what it does. Despite my general obsessively spoddy nature, I know very little about Japan, Samurai or Ninja. If you think it should be a flail, then that’s good enough for me.

    The argument for short vs light blades is that you fight with smaller blades (like daggers) completely differently than (e.g.) a rapier. It’s a very different type of fighting. I think that it’s different enough for it to merit a separate skill. Plus, it means that wizards can be proficient in the dagger without automatically knowing how to use a cavalry sabre.

    Crossbows and bows are certainly related. You might be able to fire a longbow with your Crossbow skill -5, but they’re not the same. The bow requires strength to pull back the string, the crossbow is just point and click. If there was room for pistols and rifles in HD&D, I would lump crossbows and pistols together before bows and crossbows.

    Yes. Thrown weapons are different. I accept that. But I also think that the skil of throwing a hammer is differnt from throwing a dagger is different from throwing a javelin. Are we really going to go down that road? Having one “Thrown Weapons” skill for all weapons doesn’t make any more sense than not having a Thrown Weapons skill at all. How precise can we afford to be?

  4. INdran and I had a gtalk conversation following his comment above. For completeness, and to keep all the comments together – I include it here. Indran’s comments are in itallics.

    INdran: i think the list is too big and i would go with tier base system.

    Me: The point is though that it’s a completely different skill to use (e.g.) a greatsword as it is to use a dagger. So saying someone who can use a greatsword is automatically proficient with daggers, doesn’t really scan.

    INdran: but u tend to think in DnD…someone who knows how to use a greatsword started by learning how to use a dagger first level fighter knows how to use heavy weapon and he is proficient with medium and light all because he had the necessary training to get him there.

    Me: Ah, you can’t give the fighter an advantage just because he’s a fighter!

    INdran: but ur giving a wizard an advantage will all that spells…it’s a thing on its own class

    Me: But the spellcasting comes out of the talent system. It’s not something extra the wizard gets on top. If I fighter starts with an extra three weapon skills (or something similar) then what’s to stop everyone being a fighter at first level and then multiclassing?

    INdran: hmmm… my argument is logical…but it’s not logical for the system.

    Me: Arguably, you learn weapons in different ways. A knife fighter has a completely different fighting style to someone who uses a rapier. Now the skills might be related (a knife fighter with no skill in light blades could use the rapier with a penalty to hit) but they’re not extensions of the same skill. At least, I don’t think so.

    INdran: but i find it odd for a fighter that can use a greatsword but cant use a dagger it doesnt make sense .

    Me: I’m not sure that it doesn’t make sense.

    INdran: perhaps tier based weapon choosing could be a talent?

    Me: You don’t have to know how to use a dagger in order to wield a greatsword, any more than you need to know how to use a quarterstaff or a crossbow to wield a greatsword.

    INdran: something in the lines of you are so adept with weapons, you can use weapons of similar characteristics

    Me: Well, the weapon groups should be broad enough that they include all the weapons with similar characteristics. The trouble with putting a talent in like that is that it lets a fighter cheat and not spend all the skill points on weapons that he should be. It sounds a bit too good – in the context of what I have already written.

    INdran: INdran: ok if Bane lost his great axe, i would like to think he can pick a warhammer and not be penalised. its not fair to the warrior class because their class is all about attack mostly the same rule does not apply to spellcasters. the spellcasters will always have their spells… they already have versatility that warriors dont.

    Me: I think that there should be penalties for fighting with weapons you are not skilled in. Fighters are likely to have maxed out their skills in a number of different weapons. Bane in HD&D is likely to have maximum ranks in Axes, Hammers and Heavy Blades as well as a few others too. Wizards in the same system may only have Staffs or Short Blades as class skills, and may not have even bothered to max them out. That’s the difference. Yes, spells make wizards far more versatile… but that’s the nature of spellcasters. If they don’t have that versatility then they become crap. Just like they are now in 4e.

  5. Looks good, aside from the bit about blades. I would catagorise Long & Short Swords in a different category to bastard & great swords as the latter are two handed weapons. I would not put a short sword in with a rapier as the style of fighting with the two weapons is totally different … welcome to the minefield!

  6. Yes, it is a minefield isn’t it? I think the best we can do is tread a middle ground that isn’t too offensive to anyone – although it’s unlikely to be something that everyone can agree with.

    I take your point about swords. Marc’s original list have a fourth weapon group (great blades) that included things like the greatsword, fullblade, claymore and two-handed bastard sword. In the end I think that’s a step too far. I don’t want to be in a situation where a character using a bastard sword (or any other versatile) weapon uses a different skill when they switch from one hand to two hand use. Even if the ranks were the same, all their feats they’ve invested in fighting with the bastard sword(like Skill Focus) suddenly wouldn’t apply. So they either only ever use the weapon one way – defeating the purpose of its versatility, or take all the feats that augment their skill twice. Which is unfair.

    Admittedly this isn’t realistic, but hopefully it makes for a situation that’s more playable for fighters.

  7. Neil says:

    Fair enough about the nunchaku

    I agree that daggers are different from swords but why have light, short and heavy swords when you don’t make that distinction with the axes? A great axe is surely a heavy axe whereas a hatchet is a short axe, for example. Either have short and heavy for both or not at all! Jack is of course right that a rapier is very different and personally I think it is at least as different as a sword is to an axe and therefore should have its own category.

    Cross-bows are NOT point and click! Where do you think they get the energy to fling the bolt from? Magic?! You must pull back the string just as you do with a normal bow. Admittedly hand cross bows are so pathetic that you can do this with one hand, but “proper” cross bows, equivalent to normal self bows for example, and beyond, require a great deal of strength to wind the string back, in fact the larger, long bow equivalent, ones required a stirrup affair so that the person could pull the string back with both hands and use their whole body while keeping the cross bow steady with their feet! Later on a winch mechanism was employed for some of the heavier cross bows, I think it was called a windlass. My point of grouping both types of bow together was because the actual act of firing either is very similar, site, steady, adjust for wind and fire. Yes, in the real world they are different but in this simplified one I don’t think they warrant separate skills.

    Throwing a weapon, or indeed anything, requires a particular skill, yes throwing a hammer is a bit different from throwing a dagger but fundamentally they are the same. Swinging a dagger in melee however is very different from throwing it, hence my belief that you must have a thrown weapon skill.

    I understand it is difficult and that it is a fine balancing act but there seems to be some inconsistencies.

  8. The main reason that I have introduced the “short blade” group is so that there can be character classes who know how to use the dagger, but don’t know how to use the short sword. It’s an arbitrary decision, and one that’s been made purely with the mechanics in mind.

    Regarding Bows and Crossbows…

    As far as I am aware there has never been a roleplaying game published that consider bows and crossbows to be the same. Not D&D, not Runequest, not GURPS, not Rolemaster… none of them. No, I don’t understand the differences between the bow and the crossbow having fired neither, but I’m going to use precedence to make my decision.

    Yes, crossbows require strength but it’s applied differently. You need strength to arm a crossbow, but you need strength to aim a bow. Lining up a target, pulling back the string, and holding the tension on the string while you wait for the right moment to loose the arrow is different from putting the butt of a crossbow against your shoulder and pulling the trigger.

    Yes, throwing a weapon is different to using it in melee. What we are saying that is that when you learn the skill to wield a particular weapon in melee, you are also learning how to throw it (assuming it can be thrown). And that you are always equally good at both. Two different things, same skill. To have the act of throwing (javelin vs dagger vs hammer) as one skill just seems too broad.

    For example: you have a knife fighter who wants to throw daggers. He takes the thrown weapon skill, so now he can lob javelins and warhammers and axes with equal ease? It doesn’t really work does it?

  9. Neil says:

    Surely the obvious thing to do would be to say the character must have the weapon skill AND the thrown weapon skill to throw the weapon? Not a thrown weapon skill per weapon but also doesn’t have the disadvantage you pointed out.

    You say the reason for introducing short blade is for dagger users but surely these are under the category light blade? I still maintain that if you have light, short and heavy for swords you need the same for axes. Maybe you can get away with just having short/light and heavy but you must have one of them. What about throwing axes? 2-handed axes as compared to 1-handed axes? At the moment it is not in the fighter’s interest to pick 3 blade skills when he can have all of the axe equivalents for 1 skill!

    Now onto the magic…

  10. Surely if it was obvious I would have already thought of it?

    You idea would certainly work, and there is precedence for it in the system. You could have a throw skill, and if you want to throw a weapon (assuming the weapon can be thrown) then you use your ranks in the weapon skill or your ranks in the Throw skill – whichever is less.

    But it’s still the 21st skill on the list. Do we need another skill?

    If you put the Throwing Axe to one side (which is part of the whole thrown weapons discussion and not the short/light/heavy blades discussion), then I don’t really see any Short or Light axes.

    Heavy Blades includes one handed swords (like longswords) and two-handed swords (like greatswords). Hand axes are big and heavy and work like longswords. Greataxes and battleaxes are two-handed weapons that work like greatswords. To my mind Weapon Group (Axes) and Weapon Group (Heavy Blades) cover similar territory and have similar utility.

    Strong fighters will have a choice between wielding an axe, a hammer or a heavy blade. They all fill the same role. Dextrous fighters will eschew the axe (as well they should) in favour of the light blade.

    The light blade category are for lighter one-handed swords. Things like the sabre, the rapier, the short sword. Those weapons are intrinsically different to the dagger, the knife, the dirk, the dart and so on. Well, maybe not intrinsically different, but different enough to merit the distinction. Rather than calling the group Short Blades, perhaps I would be better off calling it Knives.

    • Neil says:

      I don’t understand why you are making the distinction between short swords and long swords but not hand axes and battle axes. I don’t understand your categories at all they seem arbitrary. I agree that a rapier should be different but a sabre is almost the same as any other slashing sword (and isn’t particularly light) such as the scimitar and long sword. Your categories are confusing, I assumed that light blades meant daggers and knives etc, short blades meant short swords and err can’t think of anything else and heavy was everything else. Why are you determined to have separate skills for something that doesn’t really need it and yet resist the idea of having a thrown weapon skill which is far far more different?

      I’m not having a go, I’m just genuinely confused as to how you are making these distinctions.

      • Okay, this is my understanding of the categories. I’ve renamed Short Blades as Knives to avoid further confusion. I guess we could rename Light Blades and Heavy Blades as Light Swords and Heavy Swords, but we’ll keep those names for the time being.

        Knives (Dex): Small one-handed bladed weapons no more than a few inches long. Used for close quarters fighting. You can manipulate knives in situations where there is normally no room to draw a sword – e.g. when crawling through a narrow space, if you have been swallowed by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Example weapons would be the dagger, knife, dirk, dart, kama, stump knife, claw gauntlet. These are classified as off-hand weapons.

        Light Blades (Dex): One-handed swords that are either too light or too short to be used with two hands. Examples include the short sword, gladius, epee, rapier, cutlass, sabre. Light weapons rely more on quick strikes than brute force, hence the reliance on the Dex instead of the Str ability score. Light blades can be used as off-hand weapons in Two-Weapon Fighting.

        Heavy Blades (Str): These are heavy swords that rely more on strength than dexterity. You use them to repeatedly smash the living daylights out of your opponents. Many heavy blades are either two-handed weapons, or versatile weapons that can be used in one or two hands. This category includes things like the longsword, broadsword, fullblade, claymore, bastard and so on. You can’t use a heavy blade as an off-hand weapon.

        Axes (Str): All axes are heavy weapons in much the same that heavy blades are. You use raw power (Strength) to chop at your opponent. There is no subtlety with an axe. There is no axe-equivalent of a rapier. Some axes might be bigger than others, but you use them all in the same way. Some axes are one-handed, and some are two-handed but all of them use the same skill. No axes are as small as Knives. Some axes might be small enough to use as off-hand weapons, though.

        Now… I’m not 100% sure that I’ve got the right weapons in the right categories. I don’t really know if a sabre is Light or Heavy under the rules I’ve outline above. I’m making a guess. But, weapons aside, I think that the categories (i.e. the weapon skills) are reasonable.

        You may now disagree :)

  11. Neil says:

    Hmmm, well if you are saying that sabres and cutlasses are used diferently I disagree. A rapier is very different though. A fencing sabre is all but useless in a real fight and a real sabre would probably be considered a heavy weapon in your categories. An Epee, as far as I know, is a fencing weapon only and is very very similar to a rapier. A Gladius is just a type of short sword (Roman). I fail to see how a short sword is any less dangerous than a hatchet, though I suppose you could say that they tend to be used in a stabbing motion more than a slashing one. This goes back to Jame’s point of using the types of damage a weapon does as the broad categories. In your knowledge skills you have the mechanic of specialisation which subtracts 5 from the broader group but plus 5 to the specialisation. Why not have that in the weapon groups? Broad groups based on type of damage or 1-handed and 2-handed weapons, projectile weapons etc. then specialise in knife, long sword hatchet, glaive etc. Means a decent fighter can still pick up any old weapon and be reasonable with it whilst keeping the fact that other classes probably would do more harm than good if they attempted it.

    From your categories I would say knives is fair enough but the so called light weapons either aren’t or are basically bigger knives (short sword). The rapier is a definite exception in that it is a weapon which requires finesse, but it is used to stab just like a short sword, it can’t really do much else. Short swords were basically used as either parrying tools (wakizashi) or heavy stabbing weapons (Gladius). As the latter they most definitely relied on str not Dex to do damage and, in the case of HD&D, to hit, there was no finesse involved.

    I think you can legitimately say that 1-handed weapons require a different skill to 2-handed since the latter have long recovery times making timing all important. 2-handed swords are basically used in the same way as a 2-handed axe, mace or hammer but the damage is more focused than a hammer, acts over a greater area than an axe and the balance is different from all three. Great swords are basically sharpened iron bars and were used more to bludgeon than anything else.

  12. On the whole, I don’t think I want to distinguish between broad and narrow weapon groups in the same way I have done for knowledge skills. To be honest, those rules are mainly for NPC sages.

    If a PC has a ridiculously specialised knowledge skill, then the chances are that it’s barely ever going to come up in the game. If it ever does, the stonking bonus (+5, +10, +15) isn’t particularly destabilising because I know – and the other players know – that the skill can only be used in very special situations.

    However, a highly specialised fighter with skilled in the obscure Elysium Trilling Rapier can use that skill as often as he likes and in all situaitons (as long as he has an Elysium Trilling Rapier, of course). Suddenly the game implodes because Doug the Elysium Trilling Rapier specialist has +10 to hit over and above any other party member.

    As I said in the preamble, I don’t want one weapon requiring two skills. I’m on the verge of seeing your point on thrown weapons, but I don’t want a fighter to chose between two different skills in the bastard sword depending on whether he is using it in one or two hands. It’s too confusing, and in practice the character would just max out both skills anyway.

    Assuming I’ve made the point that we need Knives as a distinct skill (a dangerous assumption, but I’m going to run with it) I think there is a definite case for Heavy and Light blades.

    Basically, this provides a bunch of weapons for the muscle bound fighter and a bunch weapons for the quick rogue. It easier differentiates between the weapons you can use when Two-Weapon fighting and those you cannot.

    None of these reasons have anything to do with how the weapons are actually used, it’s all to do with making their use work in the context of a class-based roleplaying game. We don’t have to be historically accurate, nor do we have to base the weapon groups on real world physics or techniques. All we need to do is find something reasonable enough that it isn’t ridiculous, and that also works in the context of the game.

    I’ll read through the links you sent me, and do my best to understand how the various weapons worked. That will certainly help me decide which weapon group(s) to place specific weapons in. It could be that short sword should be in the heavy blades group intead of light blades (or perhaps it could be in both depending on how you fight with it).

    But for the sake of play, for the sake of making the fighter, the paladin, the ranger and the rogue appreciably different in their skill set and in the weapons they use, I think we need to draw lines where we wouldn’t necessarily drawn lines in the real world.

    That said the poll is tied at 50/50, so I’m not riding on a wave of popular support here!

  13. Neil says:

    Fair enough. The links are interesting and may help but you’re right, it is a game and that must come first.

    I would say that you don’t have to have such a stonking great bonus, perhaps a -2 for the broad groupings, no mod when using a tighter group, such as “swords” and a +2 when using a particular weapon such as the Elysium Trilling Rapier?

    Looking at those links, only the zwei-hander is really the sort of 2-handed sword I was thinking of (I had no idea that a Great sword was only a broad sword). I also didn’t realise that a long sword is a big 2-handed weapon, I always thought it was a 1-hander which could be used, at a push, with 2 if desired.

    I only really have a problem with the lack of a thrown weapon group and the fact you don’t distinguish between different axes. The cross-bow/bow thing is also wrong in my opinion but you’re right that every game has this distinction. I also think that if you don’t have mounted combat:melee and mounted combat:ranged skills then you should say that when trying to fight from a mount the skill is the worst of your weapon and ride skills.

  14. I think I’ll include Throw in the final skill list that I’ll publish in a few weeks. I see the advantage of having a skill that you can use in the raw to pick up and throw a chair during a bar fight, but one that also combines with weapon skills.

    I like your idea regarding Mounted Combat and the Ride skill as well. That will be included in the first draft.

    I think that in order to be consistant we would have to keep the bonuses derrived from skill specialisation the same for weapons and non-weapons. I think I’ll leave things the way they are for at least this draft. We can revisit it later if the finished skill system is unworkable or simply too choked full of skills (which it might be).

    And for those of you wondering, Neil directed me to a number of posts at Wikipedia. While the contents of the Wiki should always be viewed with suspicion bordering on derision, they do make for interesting reading.





  15. It looks fine to me. As long as it doesn’t become too complicated, I’m happy to go with whatever the weapons experts amongst us decide is best. I think you’re right to retain the traditional D&D elements in weapon groups, even if it’s not necessarily realistic. Wizards, Rogues etc need to have access to traditionally Wizardy and Roguey weapons.

    I know why you’ve put cutlasses in light blades, by the way. It’s only because you want Mariners to have access to light blades and be able to use a cutlass. They’re clearly heavy. Of course, if we ditched Mariners and just had multi-class Fighter/Rogues with profession sailor, it wouldn’t be a problem…

  16. My gut is telling me that there are too many of weapon skills on the list. However, as every discussion seems to add more skills and not less I’ve decided to quite while I’m ahead. Aside from adding Throw, as per Neil’s suggestion.

    Yes, the trick is dividing up the skills to give different classes their own identity. I’m currenty working on Fighter Talents, and it’s surprised me how much overlap there needs to be between classes we consider to be core (Fighter, Paladin, Ranger and Rogue).

    And all mariners wield special light cutlasses that float in water.

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