Sunday, July 13, 2014

Terrible Weapons

For a very long time I've thought that there was a problem with equipment in D&D. Essentially, a fighter starts with a perfectly decent weapon at the beginning of first level and very soon afterwards acquires the best armour available in the mundane world. By second-level there is not much that interests the fighter on the standard equipment list save more of the same.

I love the idea of having a more comprehensive weaponry-based reward mechanic and also of doing things to generally makes the setting more grubby and/or silly. To do this I am adopting a series of different options which may see initially complicated but will all make sense eventually; bumping up prices on the list, offering more varied gear, having a continuity of options stretching out through the levels and the price ranges and using the "fluff is crunch" principle -that I got from the very clever Roger the GS here, initially, I think.

Price Range: The vanilla price range for weapons is tiny and you can afford whatever you want early on. Using a copper standard it is not incongruous to have poor-quality make-shift weapons available for a handfull of coppers and beautifully made pieces by master artisans available for hundreds or thousands. Justifying this mechanically requires some chicanery but it ain't hard.

Varied Gear: History presents us with a vast range of different tools for inflicting injury. As well as this there is imagination and ingenuity (which I refuse to utilise unless I have exhausted other options). To reflect this variation I offer a series of descriptors with very simple mechanical advantages to apply to weapons. e.g.;

shoddy: breaks on a roll of 1*

hefty: always strikes last unless wielder has a STR of 13 or more

unwieldy: always strikes last regardless

short: always stikes last unless the combatants are grappling in which case always strikes first

long: always  strikes first unless the combatants are grappling in which case is cannot strike

armour-piercing: +1 to hit against medium and heavy armour

articulated: ignores small shields, always hit self on roll of 1

In addition to this kind of thing there will be special stuff like; Many-Tasseled Partizan of Majordomo Braglantore: +1 to morale of nearby Lawful troops, -7 reaction penalty with Castigated Testudines. The Fluff is Crunch principle can be invoked to create advantages/disadvantages as well (and see below). Using such descriptors you can produce a 1 groat weapon that is shoddy, hefty, unwieldy and short and a 10,000 groat weapon that is something tales are told of, all without resorting to sorcery.

Continuity of Options (trickle feeding the goodness): This is important. There is a continuity of options in D&D but the amount of choice/player agency that goes into the processes is insufficient. Magic Weapons are usually the only option after first-level and they are hidden in holes. I don't have anything about magic weapons, I am writing an adventure in which there is a magic weapon but is it overdone ? (Yes) My solution is to have equipment lists beyond first-level - equipment lists are, after all, a reward mechanic. Your bloodstained gold does off you the prospect of advancement but in the short term should also offer you the possibility of more satisfactory tooling up for havoc.

So at the beginning you'll have a few options from the Rabble List, with Kavel-Mells and Dunnuks and Sluff-Spades and everything will be terrible and break constantly so you'll be especially excited about getting enough purloined copper to afford a proper Pigsticker from the Auxiliary List and will trek across dangerous territory to buy something that doesnae always break. After this come the Elite, Splendiferous and Ludicrous lists etc.

Fluff is Crunch: a gavelock may well be heavy and unwieldy but it is still an iron crowbar which could be used for leverage and breaking stuff, a draige is attached to a big piece o' chain which has many purposes, a clotting beetle used for breaking sods in the field could be argued to convey some advantage against the Sinister Sod of Metheglin Meugle. I like that most of the things in the equipment table have no mechanical description but are merely plot tokens to be negotiated with the GM on a case-by-case basis.

The Rabble List

1. Yowing Knife: the tool with which slates are trimmed - d4, shoddy, unwieldy. 5 groats
2. Cruke: shepherd's crook - d4, long, shoddy, 3 groats
3. Clotting beetle: a long handled hammer for breaking clods in the field - d6, hefty, shoddy, 10 groats
4. Maddock-hoe: a digging tool, a mattock - d6, hefty, unwieldy, 7 groats
5. Barnet: a cart whip - d2, articulated, long, 12 groats
6. Threshal: threshing flail - d6, articulated, unwieldy, 10 groats
7. Brummock: short curved knife for hedging - d4, short, shoddy, 4 groats
8. Fourgeon: wooden fork - d4, shoddy, 5 groats
9. Hod: spatulate trowel for wrangling mortar- d4, short, shoddy, 5 groats
10. Snathing Axe: small axe for snathing - d6, short, shoddy, 8 groats
11. Huggie-staff: staff with iron hook for fish, d6, long, unwieldy, 7 groats
12. Kent: spiked staff used by shepherds for leaping ditches - d4, long, shoddy, 1 groat
13. Muckrake: for raking muck - d6, shoddy, unwieldy,  6 groats
14. Battledore: a flat wooden paddle instrument used as a mangle substitute - d4, shoddy, 3 groats
15. Kavel-Mell: sledge-hammer for breaking stones - d8, heftyunwieldy, 15 groats
16. Sluff Spade: wooden spade with metal-reinforced blade - d6, hefty, shoddy, unwieldy, 5 groats
17. Hack-hook: curved hook with a long handle for hedging: - d8, long, shoddy, 12 groats
18. Cluncheon: a cudgel - d4
19. Flesh-axe: cleaver, d6, short, shoddy, 8 groats
20. Tendle Knife: a knife for cutting firewood or turf like a billhook - d4, shoddy, groats
21. Oxter-staff: a wooden crutch - d4, shoddy, 2 groats
22. Drowning Knife: large blade on a pole for cutting ditches - d8, unwieldy, shoddy, 20 groats
23. Meathook: a meathook - d4, short, 3 groats
24. Klot: A hoe used to scrape up mud - d6, unwieldy, shoddy, 7 groats
25. Beaming Knife: tanner's knife - d3, short, 4 groats
26. Prong Spade. digging fork with three thick prongs - d6, unwieldy, shoddy, 10 groats
27. Draige: iron hook on a chain for pulling down burning thatch - d6, articulated, unwieldy, 12 groats
28. Dunnuk: dung fork - d6, unwieldy, shoddy, 15 groats
29. Clip-shires: iron shears - d3, short, shoddy, 12 groats
30. Gleavie: barbed eel spear - d6, shoddy, 13 groats
31. Gavelock: iron crowbar - d6 hefty, unwieldy, 15 groats
32. Mash-mungle: an instrument used in brewing to stir the malt - d4, shoddy, 1 groats
33. Lang-saw: a saw - d4, shoddy, unwieldy, 18 groats
34. Grafe-hook: sickle - d4, short, shoddy, 5 groats
35. Broacher: A very large, sharp-pointed knife - d6, shoddy, 10 groats
36. Brand: a flaming torch - d4, on fire, 1 groat

* It should perhaps be noted that I am aware stuff didn't break so frequently in real life but I am concerned with genre emulation here. It is, after all, the Dung Ages.

It occurs to me that I'd like to use a perverse version of the Chekhov's Gun principle to incorporate procedural world-building into the initial character creation phase (more on this another time maybe) such that purchasing a sluff spade precipitates events into reality such that you might have to save a peasant family from the aftermath of a bonnacon's fecal onslaught or purchasing a battledore generates a spectral Washer-at-the-Ford who needs help with laundering the clothes of those she loved and slew. Such fairytale nonsense appeals to me but these "weapons" are so useful they probably don't need such stuff.

Edit: My old post on using a copper standard is of relevance here.


  1. I love this. I envision an entire DCC occupation list, as well as a whole slew of hilarious and gory fumbles.

    1. I have to admit I haven't seen DCC yet but I love the WFRP careers and would like to do an overlay over the existing class structure but fear it would jeopardize my beloved simplicity. The one thing I considered is the funnel, but 1st level is terrible enough, I think.

  2. Very erudite and I can't wait to see the improved lists!

  3. Did you draw those weapons yourself?

  4. I said, did you draw those weapons yourself?

  5. For me sometimes it is necessary.

    In that case the combination of the Dragon Warriors/Warhammer Fantasy RP art with the details of your list is remarkable. I have tended to wing what you are documenting and since AD&D is so exciting at levels 1-3 giving players something to examine like this is great. I follow more an evolution of efficacy than a continuity of options principle because I have no magic items but artifacts and these reveal their powers unexpectedly but with time.

  6. How do long and unwieldy interact (e.g. the Huggie-staff)?

    1. I think they cancel one another out so no initiative advantage but useless at close quarters.

    2. Probably how I'd have ruled if I didn't have you to ask, so I'm going to say that I think I get it.

  7. Sweet variety of low-end weapons. A great starting point for a penny-pinching money grubbing campaign where characters are motivated by coin found in insanely dangerous places.
    What do you consider appropriate starting funds relative to the weapons above?

    1. As normal but in copper groats. See my post of three years ago " The Copper Standard" (on phone so can't link)


  8. I love this! Could I use it for a DCC RPG game with credit?

    1. Of course, sorry I didn't reply earlier (I hope you've gone ahead with it anyway).

  9. I started my curent campaign using these weapons as the options for starting characters and geared some other equiment to be of the same caliber. The current ambitons of the PCs are to get some decent weapons and a good pair of shoes. The low caliber of weapons has caused them to show restraint and think instead of fighting, choosing caution over conflict has also managed to get them far deeper into the dungeon than I had expected. Equipment choices and finances can have a serious impact on play.

  10. I started my curent campaign using these weapons as the options for starting characters and geared some other equiment to be of the same caliber. The current ambitons of the PCs are to get some decent weapons and a good pair of shoes. The low caliber of weapons has caused them to show restraint and think instead of fighting, choosing caution over conflict has also managed to get them far deeper into the dungeon than I had expected. Equipment choices and finances can have a serious impact on play.

    1. Wow, that's great. I have heard people tend to have trouble downgrading expectations but it sounds like you are doing OK with that. How are you going with armour? A cloak wrapped around the arm has been utilised historically for fending off blows, there was a type of Russian helmet made of papier mache and there are records of people stuffing padding in conventional hats to offer a bit of protection. I recall also that those ridiculous British bearskin hats were designed to offer some protection from blows (as well as providing a psychological advantage by making your army look more imposing). I intend to write up some of this stuff one day.

  11. I haven't been as creative with the armor but at the low end there are Buff Cottes, Padded Jacks, Wicker Shields, and wooden bucklers. Only one of the fighters manged to afford a helmet. Cheap armor is in the 10-50 groat range ith the good stuff like Demi-Plate and Grand Plate unning 1000 to 8000 groats. Winning other warriors suits of armor in tournaments and othe fights will be a real prize.

  12. I really loved reading your thoughts, obviously you know what are you talking about! Your site is so easy to use too, I’ve bookmark it in my folder
    doomsday preppers survival tool