Friday, November 19, 2010

Non-Variable Weapon Damage in Ara?

I have always played D&D with variable weapon damage, having moved quite rapidly from Holmes (which does feature non-variable damage) to AD&D (with variable damage) in the olden days.  Yet of all the characteristics of OD&D that differ from my personal habits and traditions, it is perhaps the concept of non-variable weapon damage that intrigues me the most.  It may be awhile before I would make this switch in my own campaign, particularly since I've got a couple players in my group who are brand-spanking-new to the hobby, and I don't want to confuse them at this early stage of their learning curves by switching gears.  Yet I remain intrigued.  In this I am indebted to a recent post by Al at Beyond the Black Gate for re-raising this issue, and I should refer my own readers (as Al does) to a superb and comprehensive post by JB that explains the logic and philosophy behind non-variable damage quite brilliantly.  If I were going to adopt non-variable weapon damage as my own campaign standard sometime in the future, I would probably go with a close approximation of JB's system, which Jim Pacek encapsulates nicely in his comment on Al's blog:

I'm using d6 for all weapons but daggers/darts -- they do d4. Two-handed weapons do d6+2 in trade for the lack of shield. (Shields add +1 to AC -and- I use the "Shields will be Splintered" rule too). Fighting with two weapons is best of 2d6. This all seems to be working for my group.

Hmm. Thought-provoking.


  1. Hmm, grumble grumble. I didn't ever pick up on B/X having variable weapon damage as optional when I played it back in the day. I think I've only taken it on board in reading Lab Lord and posts like JBs. JB makes a good case for why, essentially, d6 damage doesn't have to suck, and the two-handed problem (not having a shield) is a clear factor that has to be dealt with. The other thing he doesn't go out of his way to mention is that for the restricted classes the effect is to have Magic-users not limited to a d4 dagger, so they're not as weak in combat at low levels; and, for clerics, what's the point of having a prohibition against edged weapons? Playing with d6 damage, the cleric gets a mace, it may as well be a spear, a crossbow, a bastard sword, a radial saw blade a la Commando, or whatever. So what? not much of a restriction. Presumably an added penalty is that if a magic sword, spear, +2 broken wine bottle, is found the cleric can't get that as a weapon. The cleric with variable weapon damage (with LL equipment lists anyway) that wants to smash the hell out of things as part of her holy mandate is choosing between a one handed mace (d6) plus a shield with +1 AC (and shattering), or a two-handed heavy flail (d8) with no shield (perhaps the two-weapon attack mechanics of best of 2d6 is an option ... this sounds skillish to me. Who teaches you to fight with two maces?).

    An important part of JB's B/X universe is mentioned in the comments, in response to Erin:

    "I no longer use weapon restrictions in B/X. I'm a fan of sword-wielding sorcerers (a la Elric) and consider clerics to be the archetypal paladins of B/X. Strangely, all my players continue to abide by standard weapon restrictions anyway...weird."

    I for one have been working up Innominus as a cleric assuming these 'as written' class restrictions. To me is it more holy to bludgeon people to a pulp rather than cut them into little pieces? No, but I'm willing to go along with the rule ... and the consequence that with variable damage she can't get a d10 or d12 sword.

    So for me the preliminary argument that d6 damage is B/X 'as written' and therefore should be a default isn't compelling, when JB has house-ruled the classes so that the real impact of variable damage is already mitigated (no class restrictions). In his system the class- and level-dependent 'to hit' tables serve comprehensively to separate the fighting effectiveness of the various PCs. And so, perhaps d6 weapon damage works out with that (almost unmentioned) modification of the system.

    Does this mean if you switch to straight d6 then you'll have to abandon class restrictions to make it work out? Unclear. We're already using multi-class rules (with Hazel), so there's already a fighter-MU with a big sword. Of course this is because we're using LL and the AEC ... so is there a straight conversion to traditional B/X d6 damage with this hybrid rules set?


  2. Great points, and it may be that non-variable damage works better in a true OD&D format (i.e., following the LBBs) than it does in B/X or LL as written. As I say, I am not planning to instigate this change in our current campaign -- perhaps it will have to wait until we finally break out and play that Swords & Wizardry White Box I've got on my shelf upstairs. . .