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Classical Play: Uniform Weapon Damage

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?

30 Comments (Open | Close)

30 Comments To "Classical Play: Uniform Weapon Damage"

#1 Comment By Razjah On March 28, 2013 @ 2:39 am

I have considered going uniform, but haven’t committed fully to it. I did run a skypirates game where there were only a few types of weapon categories. It basically fell into rifle, pistol, blunderbuss, and melee weapon (sword and clubs being most common). Daggers did less damage for concealment and rapiers could parry other swords better for less damage.

However, with the current rules for 3.5/pathfinder the critical hit ranges, critical feats, and some other stuff make cutting down the weapons harder because it can really mess with character options and possibly game balance.

#2 Comment By Nex On March 28, 2013 @ 3:17 am

Group Initiative?
Uniform Weapon Damage?
Why not skip combat completly, and assume the PCs win?

1. Quicker Initiative: There just isn’t any.
2. Simpler and faster Combat: There just isn’t any.
3. Protecting Softer PCs: They don’t get hurt.
4. Speed of Play: In some systems combat can take much time.
5. Quicker Preperation: You don’t have to design enemies and think of reasons why they fight againts the PCs.

Or maybe if you want to keep trusting to chance, you could flip a coin. Heads: the PCs win. tails: the PCs die. This also has all of the mentioned advantages.

And for the 40% of people how didn’t get it: This is a hint of sarcasm.

#3 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On March 28, 2013 @ 6:12 am

Sarcasm noted 🙂

Still, I’d offer a few points in GI and UWD’s defense.

1. This series is called “Classical Play” for a reason; it’s how some RPGs were played in the early days and several retro-clones play that way now.

2. I’ve seen GMs running rules-heavy combats make the assumption that PCs should win and bend the rules as necessary to make that happen. If that’s the case, then why bother with the pretense of rules?

3. I’d enjoy some RPGs a lot more if I could play through more than two combats a session.

4. Group Initiative does more than simplify combat; it has a very different dynamic; one roll of a die and your side may be able to act twice before the bad guys.

5. UWD puts the emphasis on ability and skill rather than the intrinsic value of the weapon itself.

6. Classical play often assumed large gaming groups. These rules make a bit more sense in that context, although they can work for smaller groups as well.

#4 Comment By Nex On March 28, 2013 @ 7:46 am

I enjoy reading this “Classical Play” articles, so thank you for starting the series, and please continue writing it. It’s interessting to see, how RPGs startet, because I startet gaming in 1995 and GMing in 1996. Therefore I never encountered the early RPGs.
But I think that rules evolved for a reason, and the reason is, that people wanted that different characters would feel different. At least this would be my wish as a player.

I prefer systems with in-depth but consistent rules, so you don’t have to learn a million exceptions.

What do you exactly mean with a large gaming group? More then six players and a GM?

#5 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On March 28, 2013 @ 8:03 am

I’m glad that you’re enjoying them!

Full disclosure: I consider myself a “second generation gamer” (some might say “third” as I got my start in 1982), which was something of a transitional phase.

I agree with you that rules evolve, but not necessarily for the better or worse. It depends on a multitude of factors.

As to your final question, the original D&D rules called for at least one GM and 4-50 players, with one GM for every 20 players being ideal (and yes, this implies that you can have GM teams running games!).

I’ve only experienced one large game, outside of a LARP, that had 1 GM and about 20 players. It was a bit confusing and didn’t go over well.

#6 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On March 29, 2013 @ 12:42 pm

To be an argumentative prat: In THIS case, rules evolved for an economic reason. Original DnD rules used only the d20 and d6 and the boxed set came with one of each. Gygax and co were buying d20s from an educational tool provider. No one else knew where to get them, but he couldn’t buy JUST a d20 and d6, they came with all the regular platonic solids (d4, d8, d12) which they just fished out of the bag and tossed into a pile along with the slip of paper with the manufacturer’s name and address on it, keeping them the sole provider of D20s. When product started to move too quickly, it was easier to simply add rules into the game to include the d4, d8 and d12 then remove them from the bag anymore, and thus DnD as we know it was born!

#7 Comment By Piikki On March 28, 2013 @ 4:00 am

At the moment I use almost uniform damage system with my Feng Shui campaign. All pistols do same damage (and SMGs, but they can shoot bursts), all rifles do same damage and melee damage is done as mentioned above (varying according to other advantages of weapons). Feng Shui is a game of style, so I tought there is no reason to limit players effectiviness if they want to choose .38 special as their signature weapon. One players still has her trusty Desert eagles and she makes up the damage by narrating huge holes that they make to mooks.

So far at least I have loved the system. Players have variety of diffrent weapons instead of just .50 Desert eagles and it is easy for me to remember bad guys damage values. I recommend to try this if you are playing style heavy game, or if your group is not too interested in tactical side of combat that many rules offer.

#8 Comment By bachman75 On March 28, 2013 @ 6:03 am

I’m very interested in the way that Carcosa (OSR) does weapon damage. All melee weapons do 1 die of damage. Each round you roll all 7 polyhedral dice and compare the d20 to a table in the book to see which die type your weapon uses that round. Seems like it could make d20 combat feel more like Savage Worlds with it’s exploding dice.

#9 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On March 28, 2013 @ 6:19 am

I’m definitely going to need to check that one out – it sounds unique to say the least!

#10 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 28, 2013 @ 9:19 am

I want to try the OD&D approach, though likely using Moldvay without the optional rule instead of actual white box D&D. The rationale makes just as much sense to me, abstraction-wise, as many of D&D’s other classic abstractions that work just fine in play. I expect I’ll enjoy 1d6 weapon damage.

But! And it’s a big but: Rolling weird dice is fun. Rolling d6s all the time is fun too, but I wonder if I’d miss using the full set of polyhedrals.

#11 Comment By Norcross On March 28, 2013 @ 9:29 am

I wold prefer combat to be determined the same way every other skill in the entire game is. For D&D clones this would be difficult, since even after all these decades they are still basically miniatures war games with skills tacked on. But for other systems, why should a 30-second (in-game) sword fight take 100x as long as an hours-long (in-game) attempt to hack a computer system? I would prefer combat to be handled as an opposed skill check – with modifiers for better position, surprise, or better weapons – and the winner wins. A loss doesn’t necessarily mean death, maybe life-threatening injuries only happen on a critical failure, but unless it is truly epic resolve the combat and get on with the story.

I can’t count how many times I’ve been in games where hours of critical in-game effort passed by in minutes of play time and a handful of dice rolls, while then taking out a couple of mook guards took half an hour.

#12 Comment By Roxysteve On March 28, 2013 @ 2:57 pm

I understand you are just using an illustration but the answer to your own question is obvious: because combat is thrilling and people want it to go on, and hacking a computer is boring and people want it to be over.

I’ve been doing computers for a living for longer than some here have been breathing and I learned early in my career that my idea of fun at the computer is not a spectator sport and 99% of the onlookers would not only not understand my joy at a clever solution, they would want to strangle me for attempting to explain it to them in the first place.

But everyone understands the joy of belting a quarrelsome git with a sword, or shooting an Enemy of Society before he/she/it can shoot you. I was born in nineteen fifty mumble, have never ridden a horse or so much as handled a real six gun, but I take to a showdown at high-noon in a game of ACW-era Deadlands:Reloaded like a kid takes candy from a bowl – gleefully and with both hands.

#13 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On March 28, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

That’s not necessarily true – I know several gamers that would love to be rid of combat with a single dice roll – heck I married one of them!

#14 Comment By Roxysteve On March 29, 2013 @ 9:24 am

Yes, but those players are really looking for a completely different *style* of game. Find out what part of the RPG experience they are interested in themselves and ask if they’d like that pared down to “it works/it fails”.

#15 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On March 29, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

I’d argue that it has less to do with one activity being more fun or easier to relate to than the other, and more to do with not having a “HP” scale for hacking. If you want to have battles of attrition, like combat you need a sliding scale on which to take damage. If you don’t have it it’s far easier to just have one-off roles. Some modern games (shadowrun and myriad come to mind) DO have multiple HP scales for different kinds of stuff and thus have extended hacking contests.

#16 Comment By Roxysteve On March 28, 2013 @ 2:36 pm

Speaking as someone who played a lot of Whitebox D&D let me just point out that the “standard” way of damaging things lasted for about as long as it took to put out “Greyhawk”, “Blackmoor”, “Eldritch Wizardry” and “Gods, Demigods and Heroes”.

Also: Yes there was a D6 damage for everything phase, but it came with no bonuses from anything. Wherever that idea is from it ain’t original D&D as I remember it.

And as someone has pointed out, the reason we don’t do it that way any more is that people didn’t want to do it that way almost from the get-go. Original D&D was a port of a tabletop system called “Chainmail” for much of its core, with an expanded magic list and bolt-ons to make it “work” for small parties. Once the initial rush of Something New had worn off, the rules began to change so that stuff you wanted to do a lot produced repeatable results rather than whatever the GM could remember from the last time.

There are game systems out there that use a stripped down format, and some of them do what they were built for well. My personal experience shows they aren’t particularly satisfying from a combat angle though.

If the damage dice are truly being swamped by the awesome bonuses and it bugs you, why bother with them at all? Why not roll to hit and compare attack factors with defense factors to arrive at damage dealt? Works well for SPI and Avalon Hill, no reason it shouldn’t work in an RPG. Make the uncertainty the getting a hit part. You can increase or reduce the damage based on crits too, but that works “better” if you base the roll on multiple dice a-la GURPS so you can get a proper curve on which to construct the crit window which is statistically sound.

“Roll three dice. Wow, two fives and a six. You needed an eight to hit, you got double that which adds 1 to your attack factor. Your sword gives you six, plus one for your strength plus one for your awesome roll for eight. The target has leather armor giving five, plus one for dexterity. You beat him by two, so you deal weapon damage plus 1.”

You should be aware though that dice rolling is perceived to be fun, and if you stop the players doing it for some things they will have nothing to do during “the GM’s turn”. This will almost certainly pay a negative dividend.

Interesting article. Interesting comments. Thanks everyone.

#17 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On March 28, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

Just to be pedantic, uniform weapon damage was “standard” for D&D (without the “A”) until at least 1983 (my Mentzer copy is somewhere beneath my parents’ house, so I can’t confirm or deny that one). I’m not sure about Holmes, but Moldvay had ability score bonuses and penalties.

Having said that, I agree with you that it had unofficially gone the way of the dodo by then. Certainly no group I played with used it.

#18 Comment By Alaemon On March 29, 2013 @ 9:43 am

I find the uniformed damage approach interesting, especially since I’m a huge fan of In Nomine, which is probably the simplest system around I know (although, as many of you know, it has it’s flaws especially in combat). Combat is fast, but not that balanced, wich is okay for this system since combat is not it’s first priority.

But with D&D, there’s another thing that bothers me more than the damage roll (and I guess I’m not gonna make any friends with my next point): It’s the d20 in itself. All the numbers have the same chance of being rolled, so even a level 1 character has the chance of scoring a critical against a level 20 character. This can be amusing, but I also had one game session where a character (back in AD&D, I must add) killed himself (a Psyonic, btw) by rolling two consecutive critical failures right at the beginning of the session, so for him, that night was pretty much ruined and all the work done in the hours before was in vain. This can ruin an entire game session, and it has for me and others on several occasions.

Also, many other systems use more than one dice to determine the outcome, like GURPS, Shadowrun, etc. Although, especially in Shadowrun, this can come down to an avelanche of dices thrown onto the table, it still ensures that, statistically, lower level characters don’t just kill higher-level characters just by a lucky roll and vice versa.

This also has a huge advantage for the GM, since you can easier determine if an encounter is fair and balanced for the characters, where in D&D, sometimes you just die because of bad luck (don’t you just hate it when you’re almost down to zero, and then this little goblin f%/*er with almost no combat experience lands this one lucky blow?).

Here’s my (not perfect, but hey!) approach for that: Just use 2d10 (with a critical failure resulting if you roll a 2). Ensures that the numbers are spread out more around 10 statistically, it’s not that hard to roll compared with Shadowrun, and makes sure that better characters are really better off in combat (plus, there are far less criticals, something I personally loathe anyway… why do I suddenly do double damage going up from a 19 to a 20 when I have the absolute same chance of rolling these numbers, namely 5%? Makes no sense to me).

#19 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On March 29, 2013 @ 9:50 am

You might want to take a look at this:


#20 Comment By Alaemon On March 29, 2013 @ 10:02 am

Man, you just made my day! Especially since I had to study the Bell curve for my university lectures, so I guess it all comes together at the end. Thank you very much for the info, I’ll dive right into it!

#21 Comment By Alaemon On March 29, 2013 @ 10:34 am

Wow, great input, thanks. Just the type of tool I was looking for (although I still might be going with the 2d10, which allows for a slightly bigger spread around the mean number).

As a little tipp for other GM’s or players as well (since I’m neither a player nor a GM right now, still trying to get back into the game after a decade of absence from it): Get into statistics, at least a bit! I know, it’s soo boring, but I can tell you: I really regret some of the mistakes I made when designing my own systems back in the days. Now, after having to attend dozens of statistics-courses for my studies, it helped my to understand how to create a balanced system.

Right now I’m working (again… aw!) on a new system, and I want to keep it as simple as possible. I try the 3d6 approach (so again, thank you Walt for the input here! Great help!… can I call you Walt, btw?), with the damage determined by that roll against the roll of the defender (3d6 against 3d6, damage is the difference between the rolls plus weapon and strenght modifier, minus armor, etc.). So there is no damage roll, just one skill roll plus/minus modifiers against the defender.

Also, I keep the attributes down to four: Strenght, Intelligence, Dexterity and Perception (since I think Wisdom and Charisma should be attributes defined by the player through roleplaying, not by numbers, so I just want the attributes that players cannot change through roleplaying. Also, Constitution and Strength are combined).

Strengt: Large Weapons, Hitpoints, some Skills, etc.
Dexterity: Small/Medium/Ranged Weapons, Dodge, some Skills, etc.
Intelligence: Spells (although some would be Perception-based), some Skills
Perception: Evade Magic, some Skills and of course, Perception-roles and some spells

Tell me what you think, all input is welcome and I gladly share the “system” (if you want to call it, it’s not finished) with you (although, at this point, you could only call it a “System of a Down”:). Far from finished!

#22 Comment By Airk On April 11, 2013 @ 1:54 pm

At risk of derailing this completely, you need to think seriously about your choices of ability scores, because I don’t find your rationale convincing.

Why is it okay if a player wants to play a character that is smarter than they are (High Int stat – Something they can’t do by roleplaying) but NOT a character who is better at talking to people than they are (High Charisma stat – Also something they can’t do by roleplaying.)?

To return to the discussion at hand, I don’t really feel that this rule suggestion has value; As a timesaver, it’s a complete failure – it takes no longer to roll a D6 than a D4 or a D10. If it were the ONLY die on the table (which it won’t be, because you’ll still be rolling at least D20s) then there might be some case for “Well, it’ll take less time to find the right die” but really? your game sessions are held up by people fishing through their dice bags? You might shave 5 minutes off a 4 hour session like this, but who cares? For “not punishing the weak”, sure, but why is your wizard stabbing things with his dagger anyway? Either the player has failed at building an interesting character, or things have gone way off track. Both of those problems have better solutions. Allowing characters to choose a weapon to fit their image is all well and good, but “crunchy” combat RPGs provide for this already, because there are “crunch” benefits to picking most weapons, and non-crunchy systems often don’t even USE a damage roll, so you’re not solving much of a problem here either.

So as a “part of roleplaying history” story, this article was interesting, as a “rule you might seriously consider” article, it was not.

#23 Comment By Toldain On March 29, 2013 @ 11:04 am

I can appreciate the desire to run through combats with mooks a bit faster, but in normal D&D, this shouldn’t be taking half an hour. If it is, it’s because of something the players and/or DM are doing, or insisting on doing. If they aren’t having fun doing it, then they need to take a step back and ask themselves what would be fun?

My play group has buzzed through 7 combats in a session using the standard 3.5 rules, so I think slow play is not inherent to the system.

#24 Comment By Deimos Dit le Padré On March 29, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

In my opinion, all forged weapons should do approximately the same damage (baring a few exceptions).
Weapons have evolved through years of bloodshed, and the designs we find commonly throughout history have survived because they accomplished their singular purpose.

Some weapons (and armors) are better suited against certain enemies (chainmail is great vs arrows and spears, spiked maces crush plated armor, curved swords are better then straight blades from horse back etc…) but in the end, a dagger in the eye is just as deadly as a giant anime-style sword +5 of killing things, in the eye. (one of them may involve a lengthy animation with sparkles)
Personally I prefer systems like Riddle of Steel or Warhammer Fantasy 2nd edition (or the very obscure French game LĂ©gendes) where most weapons are equal BUT they have special features. A spear allows for fighting from a distance, a great-sword will cleave through armor etc.

Simple, brutal, and spectacular.

#25 Comment By randite On March 30, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

With the level of abstraction already present in OD&D, I see nothing wrong with uniform weapon damage. It has the interesting benefit of making combat about the man holding the weapon rather than the weapon. I think that the idea jives well an important facet of OSR/OD&D style gaming, Critical Thinking.
Many play these types of games with a heavy focus on player and/or character critical thinking. If you want to disarm a trap, you’ll have to carefully investigate the trap and figure out how to disarm it. (You’d better bring some rope and a 10 ft pole.) Some groups want you to try to think as your character while doing this. Other groups don’t care so much about that.
If all the weapons do the same damage, your clever tactics and well balanced party become all the more important. (Put the Halflings and Gnomes up front so the archers, mages, and fighters with pole-arms can attack over them.)Your brain is more important than THAC0, bonuses to hit from class/stats, etc.

As a side note: I prefer game systems with broad groups of weapons doing the same amount of damage. I also want the possibility of essentially any weapon to be a one hit kill. I likes it gritty.

#26 Comment By Alaemon On March 30, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

I think you said the most imporant thing here: It’s about the character holding the weapon, not the weapon itself. I think that also adds to the motion that players want to improve their skills and characters instead of just looking for the best weapon you can find that does the most damage. One Player I knew took the cake for that: He had a poleaxe with two heads, one on each side, both magical. One could hit elementals, ghosts, you name it, the other did additional damage and could stun (don’t ask me how he got this thing!). Anyway: In any round, the least amount of damage he did, was 55, and could go up to probably 100… and my character had exactly 55 HP… with a shitty armor class…

#27 Comment By Rickard Elimää On April 15, 2013 @ 11:05 am

Why have weapon damage in the first place? Why not make a system where the skill roll also determines the damage, and outside combat the success of the action?

It seems weird that not more systems take the skill of the person holding the weapon into account when it comes to resolving damage. From a more strategic game design view, it’s weird that a weapon can do 1 or up to six times(!) the damage. If we look outside RPGs, most strategic systems have fixed damage because the more deterministic the rule system, the more strategy it brings to the user; given of course, that the user is also given options.

Every die you roll, you take away some of the user’s ability to affect the outcome. Sure, the moment of suspense while the plastics are rolling are exciting but after twenty years of playing these kinds of systems, you got to question yourself: is it really that fun?

#28 Comment By bachman75 On April 15, 2013 @ 11:53 am

[2] is a good fantasy system that doesn’t list damage for weapons. It’s entirely determined by the skill of the user.

#29 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On April 15, 2013 @ 11:57 am

I think that more systems DO take into account the skill of the wielder than don’t. If you look at the average damage per attack, instead of the average damage per successful attack, it’s apparent skill makes a big difference. Compare Rachael the ranger (hits on 6+ for 1d6 dam) to Monte the mage (hits on 11+ for 1d6 dam). Both do an average of 3.5 dam per successful attack, but Rachael hits more often because of her higher skill. Thus she does an average of 2.625 dam per attack, while Monte does only 1.75 dam per attack, a difference due solely to Rachael’s superior skill.

Rachael will always average 50% more damage than Monte as a function of her superior skill, all other variables held equal (ie: they’re using the same weapon damage, they have the same crit rate, etc…)

#30 Comment By Lugh On April 23, 2013 @ 10:56 am

One “middle ground” option that I really like is the new Gamma World. Weapons are defined in very rough categories. This is partly to streamline the system, but mostly to enable characters to have wacky themed weapons without having to balance stats. E.g., one character can use a stop sign, another an elaborately carved dragon bone club, another a double-bladed light saber, and another a mummified corpse of a dog, and they all have the same stats.

Weapons are split along three simple axes: Ranged/Melee (with a sub-category for Guns); One-handed/Two-handed; Light/Heavy. I don’t recall the exact values, but I’ll make them up.

Ranged weapons deal slightly less damage than Melee weapons, but have the advantage of, well, range. Guns work like Ranged weapons, do the same damage as Melee, but run out of ammunition if fired more than once in a fight.

One-handed weapons deal slightly less damage than Two-handed weapons, but have the advantage that you can hold something else (light source, shield, etc.) in the other hand.

Light weapons deal less damage than Heavy weapons. Light weapons use Dex as an attack modifier, while Heavy weapons use Strength.

So, a one-handed, light, ranged weapon (e.g., thrown dagger) might deal a 1d4. If it’s heavy (e.g., shotput), it deals 1d6. If it’s heavy and melee (e.g., claw hammer), it deals 1d8. If it’s two-handed, change it to 2dX (so a sledge hammer would go to 2d8).

It’s elegant, simple, and lends itself very strongly to the re-skinning ethos that is all through Gamma World. Descriptive text and mechanics are only as linked as your suspension of disbelief requires them to be.