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The Exotic Weapon Master (Complete Warrior, p. 30) has, as one of its optional class abilities, the Weapon Stunt Uncanny Blow.

Uncanny Blow gives a benefit to the Exotic Weapon Master "[w]hen wielding a one-handed exotic melee weapon in two hands[.]"

To trigger this benefit, must a creature wield a one-handed exotic weapon that does not offer a two-handed martial option?

Would an Exotic Weapon Master without Exotic Weapon Proficiency: bastard sword still be able to benefit from this weapon stunt? The weapon stunts themselves only require Weapon Focus - and since the Bastard Sword is also a two-handed martial weapon, a character proficient with martial weapons could presumably take Weapon Focus in the bastard sword, always intending to use it in two hands. That character still has Exotic Weapon Proficiency with the Spiked Chain, and so the character does fulfill all the requirements for the class and the stunts. (Don't ask why such a character refuses to use the strictly superior greatsword - he'll go on and on about how "exciting" and "badass" such a weapon is, all in character.)

But, if the character always plans on using it as a martial weapon in two hands, then it is never being used as an exotic weapon (ignoring that putting two hands on such a one-handed exotic might make it non-exotic anyway) . . . So can the Exotic Weapon Master ever benefit from Uncanny Blow with a bastard sword?

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Outside of Complete Scoundrel (14) and Sharn: City of Towers (168), the prestige class exotic weapon master is unmentioned beyond its original appearance in Masters of the Wild (53–4) then its revised appearance in Complete Warrior (30–1). Neither Scoundrel nor Sharn offers anymore insight than Warrior into how to use the exotic weapon master prestige class's extraordinary ability exotic weapon stunt (uncanny blow). That means you're stuck reading the special ability and making a choice.

What uncanny blow says…

The extraordinary ability exotic weapon stunt (uncanny blow) says

When wielding a one-handed exotic melee weapon in two hands, the character can focus the power of his attack so that he deals extra damage equal to his Strength bonus ×2 instead of his Strength bonus ×1-1/2. If he has the Power Attack feat, he treats the weapon as two-handed for purposes of determining his bonus on damage rolls. (31)

(If that last sentence strikes you as a largely unnecessary reminder, it should. This reader suspects that the precise wording of the 3.5 revision's of the feat Power Attack (PH 98) was still being decided when Complete Warrior was published, Warrior appearing on shelves only 5 months after the revised Player's Handbook.)

Anyway, the Player's Handbook description of the bastard sword, in part, says, "A bastard sword… is an exotic weapon. A character can use a bastard sword two-handed as a martial weapon" (121). And the bastard sword appears on Table 7–5: Weapons under the heading Exotic Weapons under the subheading One-handed Weapons (117). For this reader, that's enough: the bastard sword is always a one-handed exotic weapon that can—it just so happens and if the wielder so chooses—also be used as a martial weapon if the wielder employs it two-handed.

Thus this GM would rule—perhaps even a little reluctantly, depending on the optimization level of the campaign and the possible outcome of such a ruling—that a creature that's proficient with all martial weapons, that enters the prestige class exotic weapon master, and that picks the special ability exotic weapon stunt (uncanny blow) can use that special ability with a bastard sword that the creature wields in two hands, despite the creature not possessing the feat Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bastard sword) (PH 94) yet possessing the feat Weapon Focus (bastard sword) (PH 102) (perhaps through a workaround like the swordsage's extraordinary ability discipline focus (Weapon Focus (Diamond Mind)) (Tome of Battle 16).

…Then there's some Sage Advice

The Dragon #316 Wizards Workshop column "Sage Advice: Equipment and Combat Official Answers" (100–4) includes two exchanges relevant to the extraordinary ability exotic weapon stunt (uncanny blow).

Question

So when is a weapon “two-handed?”…

Answer

Table 7–5 in the Player's Handbook lists weapons as light, one-handed, or two-handed strictly as a matter of convenience. These size categories [i.e. the effort required for a creature to wield the weapon] are always relative to the wielder’s size….

When the combat rules speak of “two-handed” weapons, they’re referring to how the weapon is being used. A Medium character using a Medium longsword in two hands is using a “two-handed” weapon. The same character using a Medium lance in one hand while mounted is using a one-handed weapon. (101–2)

So, according to this advice, a creature that's wielding a bastard sword in two hands is using that bastard sword as a two-handed weapon. That means the special ability exotic weapon stunt (uncanny blow) can apply to the bastard sword, and we're good to go, right? Not so fast. The very next question is this one:

Question

Exactly when is a weapon light, one-handed, and two-handed?…

Answer

The bastard sword, lance, and dwarven waraxe are all two-handed weapons that can be used in one hand under the correct circumstances (the bastard sword and dwarven waraxe are shown on Table 7–5 as one-handed exotic weapons, but they’re really two-handed weapons). Treat all three of these weapons as two-handed weapons when determining who can use them and how. For example, a Small character cannot use a lance or bastard sword made for a Medium creature, even when mounted (in the case of a lance) or when the Small character has the Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bastard sword) feat. (57)

(Emphasis in answers mine. The Sage at the time is Monster Manual primary author and co-designer Skip Williams.) So, in sum, the advice tells the reader that Table 7–5: Weapons lists the bastard sword and dwarven waraxe as one-handed weapons only for convenience and that outside of combat, those weapons are totally two-handed weapons, even though in combat those weapons can be considered either one-handed or two-handed weapons depending on how they're used.

So an argument can be made either way. On one hand, the description of the stunt uncanny blow could be describing how a creature must be using the exotic weapon in combat, so the stunt totally falls under the first ruling, making using the stunt with a bastard sword that's used two-handed legit. On the other hand, the description of the stunt could be describing in the abstract the kind of weapon that the creature must wield to experience the stunt's bonuses, and that description is independent of the weapon's wielder, in which case the stunt's not legit for use with the bastard sword or dwarven waraxe because, technically, no matter how they're used those weapons are always two-handed weapons.

This reader tends to favor the former rather than the latter: the universe is hard enough on the mundane warrior without—as it seems to this reader—double-secret rules prohibiting players from their PCs being ever-so-slightly improved and more versatile axeman or swordsman.


Note: These Sage Advice exchanges are repeated nearly verbatim by the Main FAQ on pages 48 and 57, respectively. Issues with the FAQ can be viewed in answer to this question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm accepting this answer due its thoroughness, though Skip Williams' comments on the nature of the bastard sword and dwarven waraxe seem a bit cursory. I'm not one to argue with a leading designer from that era, but his answer there reminds me somewhat of whoever the Sage was that tried to answer which conditions and effects Freedom of Movement would be a solution for. Sometimes I think the Sage has a great answer, and sometimes I think I wished I knew more about why they think an exotic weapon isn't exotic, or why dividing all effects in the game into two categories is "acceptable." \$\endgroup\$ – NFeutz Oct 26 '17 at 21:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NFeutz I think you should feel free to argue with him; Skip’s answers in those columns leave a lot to be desired, and his claims in the first answer certainly seem to contradict all the feats and things that go out of their way to say “or a one-handed weapon wielded in two hands” e.g. Power Attack. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 26 '17 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NFeutz KRyan is correct—please argue. Like I said, I think the campaigns are probably generally better if the DM ignores the second ruling, but the conscientious DM should be aware that such a ruling exists if for no other reason so that he can say he's aware of it and dismissed it. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Oct 26 '17 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan - Fair enough. Skip seems to ignore a great deal of 3.0/3.5 gaming material to suggest that a weapon's status is modular and variable, yet the game itself seems to extend the idea that the weapons do not have variable statuses, but rather variable uses. While such a distinction is more than little meticulous, it seems to hold up better under the examination of the body of material. Weapon equivalencies, size issues, handedness, and feats all seem more dependent on the way the weapon is used than on the specific caliber of the weapon. \$\endgroup\$ – NFeutz Oct 26 '17 at 23:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan - Such a dismissive "bastard swords are actually just martial weapons with a secret" ruling feels less exacting than saying "bastard swords are exotic weapons with a variable usage point that makes them martial," though, of course, the distinction is at least partly based on opinion and preference. \$\endgroup\$ – NFeutz Oct 26 '17 at 23:57
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A character can use a bastard sword two-handed as a martial weapon.

(emphasis mine)

So this is optional: you can choose to continue to treat a bastard sword as an exotic weapon even while you use two hands on it. Doing so means you take a −4 penalty to attacks unless you have Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bastard sword), but you can do that (but seriously, don’t; it is never worth it). So that is at least one way you can use a bastard sword to get uncanny blow.

Is that the only way to use uncanny blow with a bastard sword? That comes down to a semantic argument about whether or not things like category and handedness are fixed properties of the weapon, or can change based on circumstance. The rules do not define one way or the other which it is.

So from one perspective, the bastard sword is a one-handed exotic weapon, period. That’s where it is found in the weapons table, its description even explicitly says “it is an exotic weapon,” and that’s the end of the discussion: this point of view sees these attributes as fixed properties of the weapon itself, that remain fixed regardless of how you use it. From this view, someone without Exotic Weapon Proficiency (bastard sword) and using one in two hands is wielding a one-handed exotic weapon in two hands and thus qualifies for uncanny blow. The fact that this usage also qualifies for that weapon’s special rule that allows it to be “used as a martial weapon” doesn’t change what it is and is therefore irrelevant.

The opposite perspective is that the bastard sword can be a one-handed exotic weapon or a two-handed martial weapon. You can use the one-handed exotic weapon in two hands, as described above, but then you take the non-proficiency penalty if you lack the exotic proficiency. If you use it in two hands “as a martial weapon,” then you are using a two-handed martial weapon, not a one-handed exotic weapon, and therefore you do not qualify for uncanny blow.

Ultimately, the rules don’t really dictate which one is correct. I tend to find the former the more honest rules-as-written interpretation, since the rules-as-written seem to make a distinction between what the weapon is (an exotic weapon) and what it is used as (a martial weapon), but I am much less certain that this was the intent.

But regardless, this concept, of taking Weapon Focus in two different weapons, and focusing on a bastard sword here with uncanny blow, is an extraordinarily sub-optimal choice. This character needs all the help he can get.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ As an aside, coming from someone who studies historic swordfighting, I find this rather disappointing. A real-life bastard sword is most effective in two-hands, but also benefits from the versatility of using it multiple other ways as the situation calls for it (one-handed with a shield, for blunt pommel strikes, for half-sword precision strikes, etc). Seems like in D&D, it's relegated to "the only good choice is to use it as the biggest one-handed weapon to bash things, and never do anything else. Ever." Lame. \$\endgroup\$ – Southpaw Hare Oct 25 '17 at 20:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SouthpawHare To be perfectly honest, it’s not even that. In 3.5e, the bastard sword is, mechanically-speaking, a garbage weapon with no real reason to use it—unless we include katanas, which the game rules consider to be bastard swords by a different name, in which case the iaijutsu master kinda-sorta justifies using one. But even then not really. And nothing in the game ever rewards people for having different set-ups for different situations. Specializing is just rewarded far too heavily. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 25 '17 at 20:31
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Let us take a look at this with two key elements.

First off, you can not take Exotic Weapon Master without first taking a Exotic Weapon feat and Having Weapon focus with that weapon (as well as 3 ranks of craft weapon). There is no way to get Uncanny Blow on a character who just has Martial Weapon Proficiency who has just been using a Bastard Sword two handed for fun/flavor.

Second the Players Handbook clearly stats that you /CAN NOT/ use a Bastard Sword or Dwarven Waraxe one handed unless you have the Exotic Weapon Feat. Dwarves get a special Racial bonus to get around this problem, effectively giving them Exotic Weapon Proficiency with the Dwarven Waraxe as per Exotic Weapon Master.

To me it is rather clear with the hand and a half weapons listed... if you decide to use it with two hands, you get double your Strength modifier for damage. If you use it one handed, you are considered as if welding the weapon in two hands for Power Attack, Strength bonus damage (x1.5 Str), Sunder, Disarm, etc. The Trick gives your character options and improves the damage output from Sword and Board and Two Weapon types.

Let us crunch some numbers... A guy with a +10 strength modifier normally would get +15 Damage using a weapon in two hands, vs getting +20 damage using Uncanny Blow. A d10 weapon is 5.5 average while a 2d6 weapon averages 7 damage. Your net gain is 3.5 damage to take a level and spend some feats you normally would not spend. Maybe a Fighter can make it worth it, but a Barbarian might not be able to take a dead feat like Exotic Weapon Proficiency.

If you also consider that a sword and board and two weapon fighter need to take additional feats like Power Attack and Over-Sized Off-Hand Weapon to make Uncanny Blow /work/ for them, feats that are sub-optimal till they actually get Uncanny Blow, you can further see the balance of this Trick.

For example, a Ranger has to take four feats to make this work. This is a huge investment for a class that gets 7 feats in 20 levels. On top of that, this is a class that inherently gets a penalty to hit with Two Weapon Fighting. Now you add to that penalty to hit when using Power Attack. I really do not mind that they now get 2 for 1 Power Attack and effectively get x1.5 Strength and x1 Strength for main hand and off hand (from x1 and x.5 strength modification).

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