Sunday, June 3, 2012

Weapons, armor, and fighting-men

Fighters have always been the "simple" class in D&D. I don't want to argue that simple classes are bad: after playing different RPGs with different people, its pretty clear to me that some people would do better with a "simple" class while others prefer more options that a complex class offers. This doesn't mean that a fighter should only be simple, however. I think the D&D Next authors know this.

Why, however, do weapons and armor get just a few pages allocated in the rules when spells get significantly more? Though I can't find a reference anywhere, I think I read somewhere that the D&D sorcerer was developed as a second Arcane class because such a large portion of the third edition players handbook was devoted to arcane spells (i.e. the wizard). Similarly, why is such a small portion devoted to martial characters fighting implements?

The D&D Next system of equipment is quite preliminary. So far, I like the return of the three weapon damage types. I think this will help go a long way to eliminating the weapon-specialization problem in 4e and, to a lesser extent, other versions of the game. If your beloved longsword is less effective against skeletons than a simple mace, you're bound to switch unless you absolutely can't use a mace. So this gives fighting-men everywhere an incentive to carry around a couple weapons.

Once you're carrying around a few weapons, being disarmed or having weapons break is much less of a hindrance. That's something that sort of rubbed me the wrong way in 4e. Even when playing Dark Sun, I don't know that I ever broke a PC's weapon or disarmed one during a combat. I didn't feel like it would be fair, with all the specialization feats and people's inability to use anything that isn't their iconic weapon.

I'd like to see armor as damage reduction return in some way. Another problem with the math balance in 4e is that your Wizard or rogue might have the same AC as the Paladin in plate armor, but the Paladin takes movement/skill check penalties for wearing armor while the lightly-armored classes don't. Armor as DR, or another mechanic, might help with this. Armor as a small pool of temporary HP each combat?  Maybe it would just be impossible for a lightly-armored character to have an AC as high as those wearing armor? The math should be doable, as it stands the old 3.5 option eventually became rather useless at higher level.

I'm not quite sure that an old-style weapon vs armor table would be the most appropriate, but if warriors are going to be learning some maneuvers (via feats, or a 4e/Tome of Battle style maneuver system), maybe that's a place where this type of system could live. A feat could give piercing or two-handed bludgeoning weapons advantage against foes in heavy armor, or the like. I don't think a system as baroque as the old psionic attack vs defense types is warranted, but a complex and tactical warrior class in D&D might be a master of many weapons, switching between weapons and armor as the situation warrants.

There's bound to be some other ways to make different weapon types unique. Why druids and shamen were never able to use the sickle as an implement in 4e, I'll never know. Perhaps monks will have a feat or class feature allowing them to use simple weapons with their wisdom bonus. I'm not opposed to a staff-wielding fighter being effective. He should simply play quite differently than a mace-wielding fighter. Perhaps divine characters might also gain access to different weapon features if the weapon is their deity's favored weapon?

The inclusion of weapon damage types, as well as something like armor as damage reduction will go a long ways towards giving fighters that optional complexity that they deserve. Adding in weapon-specific maneuvers and trainings will only make it better. Fighters could still specialize in one weapon, or light-armor wearers could have a decent AC, but classes trained in weapons and armor would still retain a distinct advantage for using the implements of war.

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