Sunday, June 26, 2011

B/X Weapons & Shields

Ugh. I hate it when I contradict myself. Like when I say there shouldn't be a barbarian class in D&D when I'd previously posted a B/X version (and forgotten about it). Or when I write that characters are presumed to be using their weapons (even two-handed weapons) to the best of their ability, and then do something stupid like write all two-handed weapons were developed to penetrate armor so should receive an extra +1 to hit.

Sure, I'm allowed to change my mind (just like anyone)...BUT, when I reconsider my second stab at the same topic and realize that I was pretty much "right the first time"...well, I feel dumb issuing "retractions."

Ah, help for it. I certainly continue to stand by my post on shields (and why they're modeled just fine in B/X); you won't find me suddenly changing my tune and saying "the shield rules in B/X are broken." No they ain't...not in my book, anyway. And I'm not going to worry about upkeep, repair, and broken weapons/equipment anymore than I'm going to worry about when characters need to answer the call of nature; they're professional adventurers, dammit, they're caring for their gear!

Having said that, I realize I've been skirting, sidestepping, and just plain ignoring the most glaring problem with my whole "all weapons do D6 damage" thang. And that's this:
"JB...if all weapons do D6 damage in B/X then what the hell's the point of purchasing different weapons at all? For a 1st level character, why aren't we just buying the cheapest weapon available (like clubs or daggers; the latter of which can be thrown). For that matter, didn't our primitive ancestors invent different weapons for different reasons?"
Of course they did...and why the hell aren't we honoring that?

OR (to put it another way), Moldvay/Cook/Marsh gave us a list of different weapons. They didn't just say:

"Hand Weapon - 10gp"

No, they provided us with a list of different weapons, even as did Holmes, even as did Gygax and Arneson...each weapon with its own individual weight and cost, despite the rules' basic premise that all weapons do D6 damage.

So fine...I will give you all reasons for buying/wielding different weapons.

Here are the caveats:
1. Combat must remain quick and simple
2. Damage remains D6 (or D8 for heavy weapons); my thoughts on that hasn't changed.
3. This shit has to be easy, so that I can remember it without consulting any damn tables (no weapon vs. AC minutia).

All right; everyone got the ground rules? Here's how I'd run it in my game:

OH, WAIT...before we begin, there's one item that needs to be added to the equipment list. The two-handed FLAIL, while mentioned in the Cook/Marsh Expert set, was left out of B/X despite being present in both OD&D and Holmes. No idea why. Here's our stats for including it (and I would use the exact same for a war maul as well):

Flail (two-handed), Cost: 8gp, Encumbrance: 100cns

Great...NOW we can begin:


All weapons listed as one-handed weapons do D6 damage on a successful attack roll.


Always strike last, regardless of initiative roll and do D8 damage to corporeal (physical) opponents; against spirits, elementals, or other creatures lacking a physical body, they only do D6 damage.

A character with a strength of 13+ may use a two-handed weapon with one hand. It still strikes last, but does only D6 damage.


A character with 13+ dexterity or a fighter of 3rd level (swordsman) or higher may use a one-handed weapon (only) in his or her off-hand. If the character fights defensively, the off-hand weapon provides a +1 bonus to AC just as a shield; if the character fights offensively he may roll D6 damage TWICE on a successful attack roll and pick the higher of the two dice. A character may only fight offensively or defensively in a round, not both.


The following special bonuses apply to specific weapon types. These special bonuses ONLY APPLY AGAINST OPPONENTS OF EQUAL OR LESSER HIT DICE/LEVEL; NONE OF THESE AFFECT MONSTERS OF HIT DICE 15+. For example, NONE of these weapons do anything special against an ogre unless the character is at least 4th level because an ogre has 4+1 hit dice (the +1 bonus is dropped for determining the hit dice of a monster). IN ADDITION, unless otherwise noted, none of these special bonuses work against the undead or incorporeal creatures (like spirits, elementals, or slimes) or ANY monster that requires a magical weapon to hit. Other restrictions may apply (and will be listed):

AXE WEAPONS (hand axe, battle axe)

+1 attack bonus against opponents with an AC of 7 or better. This bonus applies to skeletons and zombies.

SWORD WEAPONS (short, normal, two-handed, and daggers)

On a maximum damage roll (6, or 8 for two-handed swords), the weapon has slashed open a bleeding wound. The target will take an additional 1 hit point of damage every round until he spends a round binding his wound OR is magically healed. Has no effect on plants, constructs, or creatures that regenerate.

BLUNT WEAPONS (club, mace, hammer, flail/maul, staff)

On a maximum damage roll (6, or 8 for two-handed weapons), the weapon has a chance of rendering an opponent unconscious. The target rolls a save versus death ray, failure indicates he has been knocked senseless for D4 turns. This bonus has no effect on plants or constructs, or creatures with more than one head; clubs and staves have no effect on opponents with an AC of 5 (chainmail) or better.

POLE WEAPONS (spears, pole arms)

Wielder automatically gains initiative against any opponent not also armed with a pole weapon. As long as the opponent fails to hit with an attack, the wielder retains control of initiative every round; once an opponent scores a hit, initiative becomes normal (with spear-wielders rolling and pole-arm wielders always striking last). This ability will function against corporeal undead (like skeletons, zombies, and ghouls).

LARGE SHIELDS (*optional rule*)

A large shield is larger and heavier than the standard shield sold to adventurers and can protect more of the body at a cost to maneuverability. Only a character with a strength of 13+ can effectively use such an item in melee (at a +1 AC bonus); all others receive NO BONUS in melee. Against missile attacks the shield provides a +2 bonus to AC, and when used in formation with other large shield bearers it can provide an additional cover bonus (see page B26) of +1 to AC, or possibly more with other cover (thick woods, battlements, etc.). A large shield costs 15gp and has encumbrance of 200cns.

[hmm...does that count as changing my mind on shields?]

To My Players: I will be putting these rules into play effective immediately.


  1. I'd be interested in hearing how these rules play out in the game, and whether they meet your criteria. As rules go, they're not bad. Might have to give them a play test myself.

  2. So, since Bows and Crossbows require 2Hands, they now do d8, correct? :D


  3. @ TS: Nope, this only applies to melee weapons.

    Though in the past I've considered giving longbows and crossbows a +1 attack bonus, I think this already somewhat modeled by the "short range" (+1) category. Still, I'd be willing to consider it.
    : )

  4. I think this is pretty cool. The one thing I'd change is the bleeding from swords. I've tried that sort of thing--it's a lot to keep track of.

    I had not thought of a knockout from max damage with a blunt object. That's my favorite on the list.

  5. The argument for D6 damage makes sense to me when describing people who are specialists with particular weapons (a knife fighter knows the ins and outs of how to fight a guy with a sword, for example, and can kill you just as dead). For me, the argument breaks down when characters AREN'T specialists in those fighting styles...a magic user hucking a dagger, or a dwarf switching to his +1 dagger because it does more damage than his axe. It almost seems like damage would be by CLASS, or else require a proficiency system of some sort. Mind you, that's just based on the way the system gets explained.

  6. Iron Goat: Yeah, I switched to class-based damage a while ago, and each weapon has some ability associated with it, like axes have a chance to stun on 19, flails ignore shields, two handed weapons have a chance to cause a knockdown, etc. I like these new rules by BR, although fighting defensively with an offhand weapon and gaining the same bonus as using a shield doesn't work for me. I just give dual wielders full damage from both weapons on a natural 20.

  7. JB, normally I agree with a lot of what you come up with for BX on this blog. In this one case however, I think you missed the boat completely.

    You just came up with a list of individual rules for each class of weapons. How is that any simpler than a small chart of variable weapon damage (already included in the Marsh/Cook expert book) which you can consult once, write down on a character sheet and then use from then on without thought?

    I actually like some of these rules quite a bit, especially the two weapons at the same time rule, but I'm not sure that they model reality any better than the variable damage system. It almost seems like you are trying too hard to adhere to the d6 damage system out of a stubborn desire not to retract earlier posts about the joys of d6 damage.

    Variable damage system:

    Dagger (d4) can kill a normal man with one hit....

    However, a two handed sword (1d10) would have a much better chance to kill a normal man in one shot.

    If I was facing an opponent with a knife, and I have a two handed sword, I would feel pretty confident about my odds of winning unless he was a much more experienced fighter (more HP and higher chance of hitting! - aka a 10th level fighter with a knife vs. a 1st level fighter with the two handed sword, bet on the 10th level fighter).

    Anyway, I personally like some of the options you laid out above, but I don't think they fit with your philosophy. I may use a couple of these ideas along with the variable weapon damage option from X25.

    BTW: I also love axes so I gave them 2d4 on my modified BX variable weapon chart for my home rules.

  8. @ Rich: See, I don't agree with you...I think it all comes down to experience, and possibly circumstance.

    If we're fighting in a narrow dungeon corridor, the knife fighter needs much less room to maneuver, and the two-hander will be at a decided disadvantage. Even in the open, a knife fighter can strike multiple times for every one wind-up and swing of a claymore...and if the knife fighter can get corps-a-corps ("body to body") with the two-hander, the claymore fighter will be at a decided disadvantage.

    All of which is represented by the D20 attack roll. If the knife fighter misses and the two-hander hits for max damage, the swordsman was able to get off a brutal slash (or pounding with the hilt, if the knife-fighter has enough hit points to withstand the blow) while the dagger man is trying to get in close. If the two-hander misses, the knifer twirled inside his guard (or under it for short classes), and gouged him in the side or belly...or plunged knife into jugular in the case of a death blow.

    @ Imago: The off-hand weapon for defense is used the same as the buckler/targe shield. The difference is the shield is easier for the average Joe to use (hence the need for a high DEX or level). The advantage of the shield at later stages of the game becomes evident when magical shields are found. Without enchantment, though, the higher ability of shield-use is represented by more hit points at greater levels.

    @ IG (Heron): Yes, I still consider class-based damage to be a valid way to model combat, but it's pretty fanciful (as in fantasy/heroic), which isn't my current cup-o-tea. Plus the D6 for everything is a lot easier/simpler!

    B/X doesn't model skills or proficiencies, and I personally like feels more "Howardian" to me (Conan would use axes, war maces, swords, or "long knives" all with equal skill...usually it was simply a matter of what was handy at the time). I figure characters are "skilled" with whichever weapons they choose to use, hence their reason for the purchase of said weapon. I understand why you're coming from the place you are, seeing as how your axe wielding dwarf has a dagger +1 which does more damage than any of your axes. And yet, you've still found it useful to keep an axe always in hand (given the ability to throw it), and save your dagger for when you really need it (like against the gargoyle). Hopefully the above rule will make it easier to stick with that choice without regret.

    For me, it comes down to a role-playing decision; your CHARACTER may simply prefer one kind of weapon over another and I suspect your fighting style shows that (like throwing axes before closing to melee). If you feel like you're wasting a "perfectly good magic weapon" you can always give it to another party member. Or you can just keep it stashed in reserve for when you really need it (as Stanley the thief seems to be doing with that mace +1).

    @ Kaprou: If you don't want to track the bleeding thing, have opponents withdraw from combat to bind their wound as soon as it occurs. In this way, it's kind of like the "bleeding ability" causes the opponent to simply "lose a round" of fighting to recover. Less stuff to track and the PC still gets his advantage.
    ; )

  9. Thanks, JB. I prefer to give a bonus for heavier shields and have something in place very close to your proposed option.

    I use class based damage instead of variable damage and have no problem resolving conflicts. It may not be as stripped down as d6/d8 for everything, but it's still simple enough a little kid could track it. Yeah, it's something to account for, but it definitely isn't tricky.

  10. Hm... does the 1 hp bleed a round count per hit, or representing cuts generally? (Would a person hit with a sword 3 times bleed 3 hit points a round?)

    Less worried about NPCs. More worried about making sure PCs remember to track it when swords hit THEM.

  11. Fighter balance issue idea #724362935628346.

    Why not only allow fighters variable weapon damage. Superior training allows to seek to soft spots, find the chinks in the armor, find the holes in the defense AND exploit them! Fighters just do it better.

    Raggi grants only fighters an attack bonus over +1. Neat idea

  12. @ Anathematician: Well, the whole point was to give PCs a reason to purchase different weapons besides personal style; saving weapon options (or using variable weapon damage...which I'm not a fan of, by the way) for fighters just means fighters are the only ones with the incentive to purchase something other than a club.

    @ Kaprou: It represents slashing open an artery or piercing some organ causing internal bleeding (yes, yes..."so how does one bandage a bleeding organ?" Who knows...). I would rule that EACH un-bandaged "bleeder" causes 1 hp loss from the character; however, it only takes a single round to bandage ALL wounds and stop the bleeding (just how long do you want to wait...?).

    As a DM, I'm used to keeping track of initiative and character actions and it's a simple note to out a check mark (or multiple check marks) by a PC's name and then call out "okay, bleed for more damage" at the beginning of each round.

    I haven't talked about how this affects weapon using humanoids/opponents yet. That's a separate post.
    ; )

  13. Your ideas are neat. But way, way too complicated for my game.

    I just use a very simple damage by class chart with 3 columns. Small / 1 Hand / 2 Handed.

    As far as "Why don't they just choose the cheapest?" I figure that the only time that the cost of the weapon matters is at character generation, and at that point, if they want to use a 2H club, hey, more power too them. It's their character, have fun with whatever you want.

    In my game for starting characters I had a cleric start with a war hammer (now wielding a war hammer +2 at 6th level), a cleric started with a mace (now wielding a mace +1 at 5th level), a fighter wielding a military fork (now wielding spear +1 and shield), a dwarf with an axe and shield (went to a sword +1, +3 vs casters before dying), and a thief using a short sword and dagger.

    The fact that the clerics are using blunt weapons makes me laugh; I put no restrictions on them. However, they know that if they choose a 1H weapon, they'll do 1-6 or if they choose a 2H weapon, they'll do 1-8. Fighters are 1-8 and 1-10 for 1H/2H respectively. Thieves know that they'll do 1-6 with a dagger, a short sword, a long sword or a 2H pole arm.

    It's not complicated at all, adds enough variety so they have a choice, gives them flexibility in choosing magic weapons they can find, and lets them personalize their character without feeling gimped by a variable weapon chart that penalizes their image of what they think their character should be.

    But that's just me. I stole most of my ideas about it from you, if it's any consolation. I personally don't think I would never use anything you wrote in this post. It seems like a lot when trying to do something simple.

  14. Gregory, that is almost exactly what I'm doing, except on a natural 19 all weapons have a chance to penetrate armor, stun, delay, etc, depending upon whether it's blunt, edged or piercing. I also bump damage dice up one step for Fighting Men at 15th level.

    Anyway, I ran 1 and 2e for years and this is way faster. As you said, three columns.

  15. JB, I like how for you fast-easy-simple means weapon rules that include a special exception for purple worms.

  16. Interested to see how your playtest goes. I've been following your blog for a while now, and I've really liked the direction you've taken B/X...until this post. Seems a bit too munchkin for a system that's as simple and straightforward as B/X. I bet the players will like it...until they start getting knocked out by opponent's maces or bleeding out from goblin shortswords. B/X is deadly enough without the bonuses, I think.

  17. Great post JD.
    I've been playtesting some similar rules with great success for a while, and I decided to share them here :)

    Any kind of feedback is totally appreciated.

  18. "Seems a bit too munchkin for a system that's as simple and straightforward as B/X."

    'Munchkin? No, Butch, this is far, far from munchkin.' -- Marcellus Wallace.

    'I do not think it means what you think it means.' --Inigo Montoya.

  19. @ Fumers (Luke): Actually, I didn't want ANY of these to work against purple worms or creatures of 15+ hit dice. In fact I'll probably edit the post to say this outright (T-Rex's are too big to be brained no a warhammer).
    ; )