Friday, December 12, 2008

Pick Four

In AD&D your starting 1st level fighter is allowed four weapon proficiencies. That is to say, a Veteran knows how to properly wield 4 different implements of death and any others they employ will be at a penalty to-hit. My crew back in the day spent a lot of time discussing what four weapons would be ideal, at least back before Unearthed Arcana gummed the system up by allowing you to spend extra slots to specialize in a particular weapon.

Pretty much everyone agreed that the long sword was an ideal first pick. Its damage output was excellent, especially versus large monsters. Another big issue was the breakdown of random magic weapons in the Dungeon Masters Guide, where 70% of all enchanted blades encountered are long swords. No one wanted to be swinging a magic sword with a non-proficiency penalty. Finally, it was a one-handed weapon, which allowed you to use a shield in melee. A lot of people over the years have harped on the measly 5% bonus to defense a shield gives you. While I don’t disagree, a 1st level character with a single hit die needs all the help they can get surviving combats.

Another way to survive combats is to kill the monsters before they can lay their claws on you. We favored the shortbow in the 1st edition era, as the mighty two attacks per round plus the compact size seemed like an awesome combo. My buddy Eric and I were in a minority who thought the slower and less potent crossbows had their place in the game. The two of us assumed that you could keep a crossbow cocked indefinitely and would run around dungeons making SWAT-style sweeps of rooms. I was really disappointed when I first read (in Dragon maybe?) that medieval crossbow strings didn’t work like that. Later when second edition came out sheaf arrows with their d8 damage made crossbows even more obsolete. I responded by continuing to favor crossbowmen. Sometimes I’m ornery that way.

I always maintained that one of the weapons a fighter selected should be a hold-out weapon, usually a dagger. It doesn’t do much damage, but it’s lightweight, can be concealed, and is your only hope if you’re swallowed by a purple worm or enveloped by a lurker below. Sometimes I would choose a club instead, figuring in desperate situations I could pick up any handy legbone or hunk of wood. The club also had two other advantages. A blunt weapon works against monsters like skeletons that are resistant to edges and points. And wooden weapons are great for fighting rust monsters or critters that conduct electricity.

Sometimes I would put together a package of weapon proficiencies based upon a theme. For knightly types I would go with longsword, dagger, and lance. The PHB charts had multiple lances which suggested separate proficiencies, but I often I would just write down ‘lance’ and hope the DM would go along with it. For the fourth weapon the wussboy option would be a missile weapon as per above, while the hardcore stupid knight option would be another melee weapon. Maybe a morningstar or two-handed sword like the Arthurian knights described in the Deities & Demi-Gods. The two-hander was considered a good choice by all because of the monstrous damage output and the eternally springing hope of finding a magic two-handed sword. To this day I fancy the morningstar for its sheer, unadulterated brutality.

The Robin Hood package consisted of long bow, long sword, dagger, and quarterstaff. I generated many a half-elf fighter/something-or-other with that set-up, especially if one of the dude’s classes was magic-user. I didn’t want to find a sweet magic staff and not be able to clubber baddies with it.

Another package of weapons I used more than once was designed around maximizing melee options just for variety’s sake. The components were bastard sword, hand axe, and dagger, with probably a shortbow as the fourth option. If you carried a sword, 2 axes, 2 daggers, and a shield dig all the fighting options:

Sword & Shield
Sword in 2 hands
Sword & Axe
Sword & Dagger
2 Axes
Axe & Shield
Axe & Dagger
2 Daggers
Dagger & Shield

I ran more than one character where I started each combat by rolling a die to pick my weapon load. Usually I would go with a d6 chart with the first six combos listed above. Dagger and shield is just too whimpy.

For serious dungeoneering with lots of pits and traps I would often pick a spear, to serve double duty as a 10’ pole. A ranseur or spetum are also good choices for this kind of work. You can’t throw them, but their higher damage and ability to disarm foes if you hit Ac 8 is pretty sweet. If you’ve got the kind of DM who rigorously enforces the non-proficiency penalties then taking ‘grenade-like missile’ might be a good option. I’d hate to waste perfectly good flaming oil or holy water because the non-prof penalty cruddied up the to-hit roll. And while I’ve never played a character who was proficient with siege weapons, the idea of hauling a ballista into a dungeon amuses me to no end.


  1. Longsword, dagger, spear, club.

    I've been thinking about the shield recently. Yes there's the old saw that the shield protects you against 5% of attacks, but more than 5% of hits.

    If someone needs to roll 19-20 to hit fighter A, but 20 to hit fighter B because of his shield, then over time when A has taken 20 hits, B will only have taken 10. Fighter A might grumble about characterizing the shield as only 5% protection.

    I'm not saying seen this way, the shield makes perfect sense, but it's something to think about I guess.

  2. Longsword, dagger, longbow, mace.

    Mace fills the qualification against those skeletons and such, plus you can always grab the +1 mace when the Cleric drops...and either defend him or avenge him, as the case may be.

  3. As time went on I got sick of the longsword and started to create fighters with more esoteric choices. This got worse when the 2nd edition Fighter's handbook came out, which allowed me to create guys with lasso specialisations or the Khopesh proficiency. I even had a fighter who carried round a mancatcher at one stage.

  4. What I always wanted to do was:

    Bastard sword, longbow, hand axe, dagger
    . With no shield.

    What I usually did, however, was:

    Long sword, longbow, spear, dagger
    . With a shield.

    I'd always carry a hand axe, however. They are just too damn useful, even without using them as a weapon.


    Having said all that, my cavaliers preferred Weapon of Choice was always a two-handed sword. No shield for those nutbars!!

  5. Yep: bow, spear, sword, dagger.

  6. Blowgun, Lasso, Jo Stick, Military Pick (footman's).

    OK. Maybe not.

  7. Anonymous6:32 PM

    I liked how certain monsters had trademark weapons, usually a type the party fighters wouldn't select.
    "The bugbears advance with morningstars and lucern hammers!"

  8. I definitely remember the gumming-up that Unearthed Arcana did. We began to call it "The Age of Darts and Slingstones" :)

    In real terms, just gimme a spear proficiency. I mean, just look at this baby:

    (1) Effective two-hand use
    (2) Effective one-hand-and-shield use
    (3) Effective thrown weapon
    (4) Alternate use, quarterstaff style
    (5) Useful as a pole or walking staff, dungeon prod, etc.
    (6) If you're really good, you can catch fish with it.
    (7) Super inexpensive and low-tech to make 'em, you can stock up and replace them even in remote locations if yours is destroyed or stolen. You don't even need metal or stone to make an effective spear; fire-hardened wood does the trick in a pinch.
    (8) Overt phallic symbolism for that check-me-out Disco vibe that all the tavern wenches swoon for.

    But in AD&D, my usuals were Longsword, Bastard Sword, Dagger and then either some kind of axe or some kind of bow.

  9. In my 1st ed. AD&D days, I often favored the disarming polearms, the spetum and the ranseur.

  10. I use a random generator of my own making for deciding on NPC weapons and it gives good variety across the board, here are a few results...

    Weapon: Longsword held
    Ranged Weapon: None
    Secondary Weapon: Dagger in a scabbard

    Weapon: Mace slung in belt
    Ranged Weapon: None
    Secondary Weapon: Shield

    Weapon: Trident held
    Ranged Weapon: None
    Secondary Weapon: Shortsword carried in a Baldric

    Weapon: None
    Ranged Weapon: None
    Secondary Weapon: Shortsword concealed in boot

  11. I usually went with sword, blunt weapon, bow, dagger. The bow can be replaced with a spear for character who don't like to fight from a distance.

    Shield are only +1 AC, which is weak. But at higher levels, it becomes +2 to +6 if you have a magical shield.

  12. Anonymous8:01 AM



  13. Anonymous10:07 AM

    I can't believe you're not giving the bastard sword more love! 1d8 or 2d4 depending on whether you use it one- or two- handed, plus that awesome 2-16 damage vs Larger than Man-sized. The bastard sword was the go-to weapon for monster-killers in my old games.