Remember when all weapons did 1d6 damage?
If you do, then you go back to the earliest editions of Dungeons & Dragons, where damage was exactly that. It didn’t matter whether you held a dagger or a two-handed sword; if you hit your opponent you did 1d6 damage.
In the rules I cut my teeth on (Moldvay Basic), variable weapon damage was simply an option. Back then the variable damage rules made sense to me- of course a pole arm does more damage than a dagger!, but upon reflection I find myself wondering if I shouldn’t have at least tried the “1d6 fits all” (or uniform) system and see how that would have played? At high levels, variable weapon damage is rarely a factor as ever-increasing damage bonuses make the 2 point difference between 1d4 and 1d6 almost negligible.
As a narrative tool, uniform weapon damage means that each character can use a weapon of choice without being penalized for it. I can’t tell you how often in film or television that I’ve seen a hero armed with two daggers take on a warrior with a long sword and not only hold her own but win with a single thrust.
Here are some points in support of uniform weapon damage.
1. It keeps combat simple and fast-moving. Rather than sort through dice piles looking for that d8, using the same die (or static number) ensures that everyone knows what they are rolling. This keeps combat moving more quickly.
2. You don’t punish the weak and the strong probably don’t need the advantage. If your lowly wizard can barely hit once every four rounds, do you really need to penalize her further by limiting her to a weapon that does less damage than an average sword, especially when her warrior opponents are hitting 2-3 times as often and with bonuses to damage?
3. Is the variability worth the effort? As referenced above, variable weapon damage often becomes negligible when the bonuses start providing the bulk of the damage dealt.
4. It lowers the complexity for campaigns where combat is rare and often unexpected. You’re running a murder mystery – a gun is a gun as far as damage is concerned and stab wounds are just as lethal. You don’t have to stop the game and leaf through the rulebook just because you can’t remember if the glaive the PC just grabbed off the wall does more damage than a spear.
5. Players can equip their characters to suit their image, rather than what does the most damage. Would you rather play a barbarian staff fighter or circus knife fighter instead of a swordswoman? Why let the rules push you there?
6. Variability can still be built into uniform weapon damage. It’s easy enough to rule that weapons that provide an additional advantage (a dagger’s concealability) get -1 damage and weapons that impose a penalty (two-handed weapons don’t allow you to use a shield) get +1 damage. Or if you prefer changing die types then weapons with additional advantages drops the die type by one and weapons that impose a penalty increase the die type by one.
So how about you? Have you ever played with uniform weapon damage? How did it work out? Have you ever considered going with uniform weapon damage (or at least a more simplified variable system)? Are there negatives that outweigh the benefits?