Making Weapons Stand Out

Posted by Labyrinthian in , ,


Of the reward that characters receive during the course of their adventuring days few save a level can compare with getting their hands on a great new weapon.   Yet the weapon is only as great as it is special.  A fighter wielding a battle axe won't be impressed by simply giving him another.  Unless his first one breaks what would be the point?  But if the second axe were special in some way then that would be a different story.

There are many ways for a weapon to be special.  Let's examine some of the more common ones...

1. Magic - A Magical weapon is the most common way to present a character with a special weapon.  Now as I have said in the past I am wary of over saturation of magic in games and that includes magic weapons.  I've been in a game where, upon receiving a +3 longsword, we simply threw in our packs and earmarked it for sale when the adventure was over.  This is an atrocity... don't let it happen to you or your players.  Magic weapons should be the MOST special and the MOST rare of all weapons in your game.  Consider wisely before giving them out. 

2. Superior Craftsmanship - Famously known as "Masterwork" in D&D 3rd edition.  Superior Craftsmanship allows you to award the player with a weapon that is more effective than most but still not magical.  Mechanically it may function similar to a magical weapon (a +1 to hit but not to damage in D&D3) but it lacks many of the properties of magical weapons.  The new addition of Hackmaster goes a bit further with this and says that all weapons up to a certain point (+5 I think) are not magical but merely of Superior Craftsmanship.  They save magical weapons for the upper echelon and allow for varying levels of superior craftsmanship rather than just using a binary system.

3. Exceptional Materials - Adamantine, Mithril, and other exceptional materials can be used to make weapons special.  Weapons forged of these materials have special properties.  In D&D Mithril weapons are very light weight and Adamantine weapons are exceptional when trying to break objects.  Perhaps my favorite example of an exceptional material in fantasy literature is Valyrian steel from GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire.  Weapons forged of it are prized for their speed and their keen edges.

4. Adorned - These weapons do not function better, but rather are decorated in some type of fashion.  Bejewled hilts, scabbards, an elaborate inlay on the handle, all make these weapons look superior to their peers even if they are not in combat.  With Adorned weapons the more detail you put into the description the more special they will be to the player that you give them too.

These may be the most common ways to make weapons stand out but they aren't the only way.  Let's look at the most popular weapon in a typical RPG, the sword.  Take a look at this site.  There are so many different types of sword from history that you have plenty of source material when describing a blade found by one of your players. That one site alone describes over a dozen categories of blades and how they are different from one another.  Does the sword found by your group's fighter have a fuller?  Does it come to its point rapidly at the end of the blade or graduley?    Is the handle long enough to accomidate two hand use or is it too short allowing only one hand?

Let's look at the anatomy of a sword and scabbard for a second.  This picture below breaks down the various parts that make up a sword.  All of these parts can be made special in some way.  Maybe the pommel isn't made of simple steel but rather is a gem, that would be an adorned weapon.  Further perhaps the maker of the sword sacrificed something in order to make the sword look special.  Pommel's are counter weights that are designed to keep the sword in balance.  Perhaps because he chose to use a gem rather than something more heavy the weapon is out of balance which leads to a penalty to hit.  Why would a player choose to use a sword that worked less effectively?  Well it may hurt him in combat but out of it perhaps it helps.  People know the character by the unique blade he carried with the blood red ruby pommel.  It is his calling card and furthermore people think twice before messing with someone with so decadent a blade.  Perhaps rumors abound that the sword is magical.  There can be many reasons. 

Nearly every part of the sword can be broken down and made special in this way.  On the other end of the spectrum mechanical let's say you wanted to make a sword that wasn't magical but still held some benefit to the PC who wielded it.  Perhaps that player finds a sword with a very intricate cross guard that encompasses the wielders hand.  In fact, not only does that cross guard protect his hand but it also wraps around his hand in such as way that it makes him much more difficult to disarm (+2 bonus).

There are many ways to make weapons special.  Rather than simply giving out magical  weapons consider some of the alternatives.  Remember that players value special weapons, ones that for one reason or another are a cut above the others.  Put plenty of detail into your description of them and your players will value them that much more. 

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 05, 2009 at Saturday, December 05, 2009 and is filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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