Towards More Cinematic Gaming: Part 3 - The Sword vs. the Sledgehammer
#1: Two level 3 fighters square off: One is carrying a longsword the other a warhammer. Both are completely unarmored and equally specialized in their weapon. Who wins? the longsword, it does 1d8!
#2: OK now the same but a shortsword vs a two handed warhammer, both remain unarmored. Who wins?
Definitely the great hammer! it does 2d4 and gets strength and a half!
#3: Now the swordsman is wearing full plate armor, the great hammer remains unarmored. Oooh tough one. but full plate is awesome so that makes up for the less damage! The swordsman should win!
#4: This time they both have tower shields and chainmail. One has a bastard sword and the other traded his greathammer for a shortsword. Well bastard sword is better so it woudl win.
FYI this is one of the issues that bother me most about D&D. Please ignore any rhetoric I leak out. Lets go through the examples.
#1: Maybe. Probably come downs to luck.
#2: Wrong. The shortsword is a much faster weapon, and the large hammer heavyer and easyer to dodge. Since they are unarmored, they are less vulnerable to the slow sledgehammer and more vulnerable to the laceration/penetration of the short sword.
#3: Wrong. In fact the heavy plate armor makes them more vulnerable to the sledgehammer since it makes you much slower. Hammers do all their damage as concussive crush injuries which plate armor is woefully too thin to stop. All the heavy armor has done has made him easyer to hit, and have a harder time attacking, while doing little to protect him from the hammer.
#4: Wrong. The shortsword of the gladius makes a thrust the only effective maneuver; but doign so penetrates chainmail. Swinging a large sword is slower; chainmail and shield are ideally suited to stopping a slashing attack.
So why is it that the longsword is so popular in D&D? Same reason it was with the Gauls and with nobles. Swinging a big sword looks cool and makes you feel powerful. In fact it was a fairly uncommon weapon in medievil history not only becasue of the cost, but becasue it penetrates armor poorly.
What does D&D do to balance armor penetration, speed, and damage of a weapon? Incomprehensibly very little. Why is it important? Doing so brings more diversity, choices, and cinematic outcomes into combat that are built into the rules and not the whim of the GM. From a player perspective that ususal equals more fun.
Fortunately there are some very easy solutions that dont slow combat down significantly. For the life of me I cant figure out why one of them was not implemented into D&D4E. These are just a few I have used in my games; please share with me what you have used in yours. Warning: this gets very house-rule-heavy:
Method #1 (easy, fast): You get wider critical hit range when your opponents armor is vulnerable to your weapon type. Similary, you cannot get a critical when your opponents armor specifically protects against your weapon type. No need to think it out ahead of time; but if a player rolls high, say 16 - 19, then the GM can consult a similar chart:
- Unarmored: WEAK vs: slashing and piercing. STRONG vs: very heavy or slow weapons.
- Chainmail: WEAK vs: blunt and piercing (historically true, despite hopes to the contrary). STRONG vs: slashing.
- Plate: WEAK vs: blunt, grappling, and pole-arms (they cant dodge well, and a polearm generates such mechanical energy no armor can adequately stop it). STRONG vs: slashing and piercing.
- Shields: WEAK vs: grappling. STRONG vs: slashing against a single opponent.
- Tower Shield: WEAK vs: grappling, STRONG vs: everything on a given facing.
Method #2 (a lot more 'real' but a bit slower): Armor is damage reduction. ie instead of chainmail being AC 4, it is DR4. Specific weapons have individual Damage Penetration values, ---> Those that dont can make called shots, critical hit, or grapple to bypass armor.
Some theoretical examples:
- A warhammer would be d4, but have 8 points of damage penetration (DP), (thus it exactly negates plate armor.)
- A shortsword would be d6 with DP 3 if the player is trained/specialized in its use.
- A longsword would be d10 but without damage penetration.
- A player using a Shield can opt to force a single opponent to re-roll an attack, or give a bonus to parry.
* dont forget your strength bonus and specialization bonuses
- a typical firearm has some degree of damage penetration
- a shotgun would be high damage without any damage pentration
- a sniper rifle would afford the user free called shots after a full round of aiming.
Although rules such as these seem onerous, they arnt much more data than is already lisrted in the extensive item charts in D&D4E. Since it all can be charted, it is just a matter for the DM to keep track of them.
Method 2 can be carefully balanced to any probability of outcome, but would require quite a bit of DM time to go through all the weapons, armor, and monsters. Method 1 is a lot more usable right away, however, so I would recommend that method first.
Of course there is also Method #3: Your Method. Please share with us!
- Tom W
Qualification: you'll have to trust me that my occupation gives me a lot of experience with injuries.