Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Taxonomy of Magical Weapons



5e has bounded accuracy as a massive mechanic, which has the effect of limiting magical weapon bonuses a lot more than previous editions. If PC's can't hit the monster more easily

SIDENOTE: increasing AC with increasing CR means largely that 20th+ level PC's have roughly the same chance of hitting a 30 CR monster as 3rd level PC's have of hitting a 5 CR monster without a ridiculous amount of buffs and modifiyan. I think. END SIDENOTE

 then they have to murderize it more easily. Ergo, PC have to do more damage to stay competitive, instead of just increasing every bonus (and monster AC) to ridiculous levels.  What this means to me is that magical weapons that serve the purpose of increased usability do so through damage. Since any given magic weapon with its +1 or +2 bonus won't massively increase the amount of times one hits the tarrasque, it has to have some sort of bonus that makes it worth using. Moar damage. Slap a +1 on a sword, give it the ability to deal +2d6 fire damage on a hit, done. Flametongue. Add ribbons (sheds light in x radius) to give thematic flavor, and you have a classic weapon. 


Nothing is wrong with the above sword. It does everything: better hitting, better damage, and the added bonus of a magic torch because your sword a fire. 

The problem, for me, is when moar damage gets extrapolated to the majority of magic weapons. Most are +1, most just deal extra damage, the vast majority of the magic weapon's I've played with don't even have a ribbon to make them thematically appealing. WOTC has a handy table in the DMG to help you personalize magic weapons. I wish the table wasn't optional.  (cue rant)

I want to see people treat their swords and weapons with as much respect as they would treat whatever they respect. I want the weapon to be an immersive part of the world they inhabit, rather than just a small note to the side of their character sheet "+1 to hit". I want players to be reminded of what they carry into battle with them, instead of just taking it for granted. 

Soldiers spend time caring for their weapons. Clean the gun, polish the sword, sharpen the axe, whatever. This is tedious and time spent not killing stuff, but I think that reinforcing the individuality of each weapon and the importance of it will help PC's to step even more into character. A weapon is a tool, but an intensely personal (and often signature) tool.  (end rant)


For me, there are five categories of magic weapon: Elemental, Scavenged, Cultural, Archetypal, and Purposeful.

Elemental refers to weapons that largely focus on a specific damage type. When I say "damage type" here, I'm grouping together all the disparate damage types in the 5e PHB, not just the literal elemental types.

Scavenged refers to a weapon that is constructed from/using parts of a (typically magical) creature that may or may not rely on the creature's powers to give the weapon its effects. Dragon scale armor, for instance.

Cultural is a weapon closely associated with a particular culture, creed, race, or ethnicity. The easiest example is the preferred weapon of a god.

Archetypal is essentially a specific weapon concept. The Inclined Plane, The Hammer, etc. The Wizard Staff. The Throwing Hammer. Also includes stuff like the Vorpal Sword.

Purposeful stuff is typically niche, and created specifically to meet a need. (Goggles of Night to grant darkvision.)

Example classification: Hammer of Thunderbolts (5e): Cultural, Elemental, Purposeful, warhammer


What this hammer do? Well, for starters, it has +1 to hit and damage. Not gamebreaking here. It is also closely associated with dwarves and made specifically to kill giants. It works even better with other magic items to kill giants. I suppose I could subclassify Purposeful into stuff like Bane or Part of a Set, and maybe I will, but the point of this system is elegance.

Example classification: Hammer of Thunderbolts (5e): Cultural (dwarf), Elemental (thunder), Purposeful (bane: giant)

Progress is being made. Let's try this with another weapon.

Oathbow (5e): Cultural (elf), Purposeful (bane: any), longbow

Swift death to my enemy as is my OCD nerdrage edgelord wont

The oathbow is a funny weapon: it grants extra damage, but only if you use the oathbow, otherwise you have disadvantage on attacks with all other weapons. Great for assassins if they pick up the Sharpshooter feat. 

Point is, all my above classifications are so broad that they can be broken down into more categories. Let's explore them.

Cultural: Elf, dwarf, human, halfling, tiefling, half-orc, gnome, dragonborn, etc. When was the last time you saw a weapon associated with a halfling or tiefling? We need better racial represention in the magic weapons of D&D! Also any god. Pelor, Asmodeus, Bane, Auril, Cthulhu, etc. And nations/ethnicities, although those could be a subcategory of race. For example, a duelling rapier created specifically to be better at killing members of one specific noble family could read: 

Rose (Xe): Cultural (human: Velus: Tersh: Therxish), Purposeful (bane: human: Velus: Tersh: Seshlish), rapier

When used against someone who bears the name of the Seshlish karn, this weapon gains the properties of a weapon of sharpness

A rather convoluted example, but you get my point. A weapon created/commissioned by the Therxish kund to slay members of the Seshlish kund. Using this system, it is possible to key weapons to a single craftsperson.  

Elemental: Psychic, necrotic, radiant, fire, thunder, poison, etc. I group fiendish and angelic in this category as well. Those two aren't really cultural so much as fundamental forces, more elemental in nature. 

Brushes Against (5e): Cultural (dragonborn), Elemental (lightning), longsword

When using this longsword, if your melee attack roll after modifiers is one less than the number needed to hit, the target takes 2d8 lightning damage.

Archetypal is interesting, and probably the best way to describe a certain type of weapon. The rapier, the maul, the bastard sword/longsword (whatever the fuck is meant by those two). Used for a weapon that captures the zeitgeist of its weaponkind. 

Mace (5e): Archetypal (mace), Purposeful (better mace), mace (duh)

The Mace deals an extra 2d6 of bludgeoning damage.

When using the Mace, you crit on a roll of 19 or 20. When you crit, you may choose whether to knock the target prone or knock them backwards 15 feet. If you knock them prone, you may make one extra attack against them as a bonus action. If you knock them backwards 15 feet, you may make an opportunity attack with advantage against them.  

Scavenged essentially tells you if the weapon has components so magically potent that they shape its being. Arrows of x slaying are a fantastic example, as are potions of giant strength. 

Purposeful stuff fills a need. Dust of dryness, mariner's armor, cubic gate - all of these fulfill a need or want. It's hard to break the purposes down simply, but I'll try. This is the most subjective and finicky classification.

Trench Tongue (5e): Purposeful (prevents liquid-based penalties), light crossbow

This light crossbow, stained by water and covered in blackish patches of rot, always smells vaguely like stale beer. Its wielder takes no penalties from dehydration and automatically succeeds on saving throws against ingesting harmful liquids or poisons contained within otherwise normal liquids. 

In addition, once a day, the wielder may choose, as an action, to make one attack against a creature within range with a +1 bonus to hit. On a hit, the creature, if it contains water, must make a Con save or take 2d8 extra necrotic damage. 

The stuff in the DMG typically has a much clearer purpose than some homebrew things I'm making up here. 

I do like Trench Tongue, though. 

Ideally, you should be able to scan the top line and know what a thing does quickly. Rarity is a whole nother bunch of relative dookie I don't want to discuss. You decide how rare a thing is. 

The sad part of rarity is that there is typically only one of each thing in a given adventure. Sure, there are supposed to be a lot "more" of these +1 weapons, but in reality, only two or three will actually be in use, making any magic item super rare.

Ideally, using these classifications, one should be able to compartmentalize any weapon much more easily