I’ve been thinking about weapons in RPGs lately.
At a fundamental level, how your game treats weapons says something about what’s important to the game. Some games have flat damage numbers so that all weapons do, say, d6 damage; in this system being armed or unarmed is more important than whether you have an axe or a sword. Other games have flat numbers based on class, so that a Fighter will do d12 damage and a Wizard does d4 damage regardless of what weapons they’re wielding; here it’s more important what role your character is playing as opposed to how you decide to fill that roll.
It’s also worth noting that where your game puts detail tends to be where your players will expect focus. This isn’t always true, especially if you have a regular group and everyone understands the intentions of the game and the group, but if you pick up random players for a game with a lot of nuance to the combat system don’t be surprised when they expect a lot of combat.
For my part, I like a system that differentiates between weapons and between wielders – that is, i want to see a system where there’s a meaningful difference between an Axe and a Sword, and a meaningful difference between someone who’s trained to use the weapon and someone who’s not. Dungeons and Dragons does the former pretty well. Almost too well, actually, when you consider that there are dozens upon dozens of different weapons with different properties (and feats!)… it actually gets to be a bit more complicated for my tastes.
Others have discussed what number is the right number to have meaningful selection without too much complexity, and I’m going to randomly pick 16 for my Fantasy games: dagger, staff, short sword, longsword, 1-handed axe, 1-handed hammer, 2-handed axe, 2-handed hammer, 2-handed sword, halberd/spear, whip, sling, crossbow, short bow, longbow, heavy crossbow. These are the weapons that came to mind off the top of my head, and I think that any weapon I’ve missed can be caste as one of these without losing a whole lot (the one exception being the spiked chain, I think…). Weapons can be differentiated by damage, critical multiplier, range, attack speed (ranged weapons need to be reloaded, maybe a dagger can attack as a Move action), how they fare against armor and resistances, and possibly bonuses they offer to the wielder (maybe to-hit bonuses, armor bonuses, etc).
The second piece is differentiating a trained wielder from an untrained wielder. Originally D&D simply said certain classes *couldn’t* use certain weapons. I think a wise DM would read that as “certain classes can’t use certain weapons effectively, as weapons” because any slouch can swing a hunk of metal, but that doesn’t mean the results are going to be mechanically relevant. Later there was a penalty to hit for being non-proficient, and then a bonus to hit for being proficient, and that’s about the extent of it – training with a weapon affects how accurate your attacks are, and that’s it. If I had to do it on my own, I would probably make a trained wielder actually be more effective with the weapon, taking advantage of what the weapon allows, rather than an across-the-board bonus or penalty to accuracy. That adds a bit of complexity, I guess, but again it makes weapons meaningful: being proficient with a dagger is different from being proficient with a two-handed axe, and they lend themselves to different styles.
Under the cut I try my hand at a first draft of my 16 weapons. What do you think about weapons, proficiency, and the complexity of making this stuff matter?