I'm currently running my first D&D 5e campaign. Everybody at the table is new to the game as well, so nobody can really answer the question. While preparing for the game I was reading through the weapons section and came across the list of weapons in the PHB which state the damage for each weapon. A question came to my mind:

Let's say I have a barbarian in my group wielding a greateaxe with 1d12 + Str mod damage when starting the campaign. During the campaign he (or she) come across an old and legendary forge and a smith who offers to strengthen the greataxe due to the enormous deeds the group has done. The smith takes the greataxe and imbues it with obsidian shards (or whatever): does the weapon then get better stats?

As far as I understand it would probably be up to me (the DM) to decide on that, so I could simply rule that because of the treatment the weapon got when it was created it deals 2d8 + Str mod damage from that point on.

If I rule this way, how can I be sure that the weapon doesn't get overpowered in comparison to the weapons enemies have?. Same thing holds for looted items.

Let's again say we have the barbarian with his 1d12 greataxe but he finds another, way more beautifully built one than his own. The weapon looks as if the metal was really well crafted (etc. etc.) so the weapon is really a better crafted version of the greataxe that he has.

According to the rules this would still be a 1d12 weapon, but for me that would have some strange taste to it. They could start asking themselves, why they should loot any found weapon if it doesn't benefit them at all.

I know that they could have magical effects to them (as stated in the Magical Item sections in the DMG) but that's not the situation I'm talking about. I'm talking about the same (or equal, I mean a really well crafted sword could still be better than a badly crafted greataxe) weapon (non-magical), just a way "cooler" one.


There are no explicit rules, currently, for just improving weapons. But that would be within your purview as a DM and could be a nice way of rewarding characters instead of discovering loot.

However. Doubling damage dice of a weapon is a massive jump in damage output and would have big implications on balancing encounters, not to mention balancing that character with the other characters (if its only one char that gets this).

You would be far better perusing the DMG and looking at the kind of magic weapons you get there and taking that as inspiration for effects that a master (perhaps magical) blacksmith could add to a weapon. If you don't want to go the explicit magic route then a small bonus to damage (e.g. +1 or perhaps, at higher levels +2) is about as far as I would suggest going.

Other minor effects that would be suitable, especially if the blacksmith was encountered as part of a quest, would be giving the weapon some kind of advantage against particular foes - e.g. 'silvering' a weapon so that it can bypass werewolf defences etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You might also note that, to make it more useful at high levels, it could be modified to be "treated as a magic weapon for the purpose of overcoming Resistances and Immunities." This allows the character to still deal full damage to most of the creatures they will see at high levels while not being incredibly overpowered. Maybe the Master Blacksmith built some sort of resistance/magic-dissipating circuit into the weapon? \$\endgroup\$ – SeraphsWrath Jun 20 '18 at 12:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ he's not doubling the damage, it is going from 1d12 to 2d8; average damage increase is +2.5 it is comparable to a vorpal greatsword. \$\endgroup\$ – ravery Jun 20 '18 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for mentioning silvering. Making the weapon adamantine could also be an option \$\endgroup\$ – Falconer Feb 12 at 23:37

Improving weapons is certainly a thing.

There's a lot of precedent in D&D for this, from enhancing weapons to finding legendary lost swords with fantastic properties.

But you should worry about "bounded accuracy."

There's a design principle in 5e (whose documentation is nigh-impossible to find) called "bounded accuracy" which, briefly summarized, says "don't let the numbers get too big."

How big is too big? For your case--a new GM with new players--the easiest thing is to take a survey of the existing ways to get more damage out of a weapon and use that to calibrate. For a few examples:

  • A rogue's signature combat mechanic is to add xd6 to their damage, once per turn. So your enhancement shouldn't get nearly that large, as it'd step on another class's toes way too much. (Another way of thinking about it: whatever cost your character pays for this enhancement, it's nowhere near the "cost" of having chosen a different class.)
  • A paladin gets to slap extra d8s of damage on to attacks, at the cost of a spell slot. That's a pretty high cost, given that class doesn't get many slots.
  • Magic weapon requires a second-level spell slot, concentration, only lasts an hour, and only gives a +1 to damage and hits. (Now I'd argue that most of that benefit comes from the hit, so there's a bit of muddying-of-going on here, but I think it's still worth looking at.)
  • Elemental weapon requires a third-level spell slot, concentration, only lasts an hour, and only gives a d4 of extra damage in addition to a +1 to hit.
  • A +1 weapon is uncommon, a +2 weapon is rare, and a +3 weapon is very rare. (Though again I'll stress, I believe most of that value comes in the hit-bonus.)

Hopefully you can see from the above that adding a d8 to a weapon's damage is a Big Deal. I'll go so far as to say going from 1d12 to 2d8, functionally adding 2.625 to a weapon's base damage is kind of a lot. (That's got crits baked into the differential, btw.)

You want to reward your players and add flavor to your game: that's great. I strongly suggest you find ways to limit it. A d8 to the weapon's damage, but only once per day and as a concentration-requiring effect, for instance. Or consumable charges on the weapon are a typical way to do this.

(The other nice thing there is that it gives your player ways to be tactical in their choices. If their weapon deals more damage then that's it, all said-and-done. But if they can choose to deal a little more damage, that's where the fun starts!)

The basic premise behind the bounded accuracy system is simple: we make no assumptions on the DM’s side of the game that the player’s attack and spell accuracy, or their defenses, increase as a result of gaining levels. Instead, we represent the difference in characters of various levels primarily through their hit points, the amount of damage they deal, and the various new abilities they have gained. Characters can fight tougher monsters not because they can finally hit them, but because their damage is sufficient to take a significant chunk out of the monster’s hit points; likewise, the character can now stand up to a few hits from that monster without being killed easily, thanks to the character’s increased hit points. Furthermore, gaining levels grants the characters new capabilities, which go much farther toward making your character feel different than simple numerical increases." Rodney Thompson, Legends and Lore, quoted in "Under the Hood--Bounded Accuracy" at roleplayeschronicle.com. Wizards.com has apparently lost many recent L&L articles, and any references to them seem to be broken links.

Notice what happens if you double your players' ability to dish out damage before their toughness doubles: you can't throw higher-level monsters at them because they don't have the toughness to stand with those foes, but their damage output makes level-appropriate monsters a cake-walk =(

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The other answers give some good advice on the face-value question of better weapons, but I'd like to frame challenge a little bit:

D&D is not a video game, adjust your (and your players') expectations accordingly.

Many video game RPGs feature, as a core game loop, a continuous collecting of every piece of equipment "dropped" by enemies, often better than what you already have, allowing for continuous equipment progression.

For various reasons (simplifying the math, verisimilitude, entirely different focus), D&D does not feature such a progression. Progression, instead of being linked to watching a set of numbers improve, is linked to player or character motivation. Examples:

  • Your player wants to be a ruler!
    • Maybe the king grants him an estate in thanks for something, or maybe the party recruits a bandit clan to take over a border fort.
  • Your player wants revenge on those who killed her family!
    • Maybe the next group of goblins you fight has a particular, familiar insignia, and now your player wants to capture one for interrogation.
  • Your player wants to be the greatest warrior ever known!
    • Alright, in this case better weapons might be appropriate, but they're still not the only way. Work with your player to figure out their motivation more specifically.
  • Your player wants to be famous as the greatest warrior ever known!
    • Have him overhear rumors of a fearsome warrior, only to realize it's himself. Throw him a parade. Give him a chance to publicly duel the previous greatest warrior ever known. Give him weapons that, while not mechanically any different, have some symbolic meaning or are visibly extra fancy.

Overall, progression in tabletop RPGs tends to be slower, but more meaningful than in computer RPGs - thus why the level cap is 20 rather than somewhere in the 50-100 range, and why the best magic items in the DMG still don't grant bonuses more than +3.

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While the other excellent answers give general guideline. I'd like to address your specific case. It is best to compare to a similar weapon that already exists.

Adding obsidian to the blade of a Great Axe makes an increase to sharpness. Thus a comparable weapon is:

Vorpal Greatsword:

You gain a +3 bonus to attack and damage rolls made with this Magic Weapon. In addition, the weapon ignores Resistance to slashing damage. When you attack a creature that has at least one head with this weapon and roll a 20 on the attack roll, you cut off one of the creature's heads. (roll20 compendium)

The damage of the Vorpal Greatsword is 5-15 avg 10. The damage of 2d8 is 2-16 avg 9. So damage is comparable, but your Great Axe does not have the +3 to hit. So, I'd estimate that your improvement is similar to a +2 magic weapon. If the campaign level is giving +2 magic weapons or typical monster HP is 35+, then your improvement shouldn't be overpowering.

If +2 is too high for your current level, an alternate improvement could be:

Vicious Greataxe
When you roll a 20 with this Magic Weapon, the target takes an extra 2d6 slashing damage. (roll20 compendium)

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I would not markedly change weapon damage. The reason is that to keep the game exciting there must be danger. If the barb is too powerful, he'll slay normal amounts of foes without issue. To keep it challenging, you'll have to add more foes. Now the game is just a little slower and not obviously improved.

If you want to increase the damage (or some other capability), do it with charged items. For example, the blacksmith in your example might add the ability to cause more damage, or attack first, or hit easier, a limited number of times a day. So, the Obsidian Axe might be +4 to hit or +2d6 damage, but only once a day.

The nice thing about items with charges or usages/day is that it is far less likely for them to unbalance the campaign. These items also add a strategic decision to the game: "Do I use it now, or wait?" This would make the weapon comparable to the various wands that spellcasters use, and that recharge each day at dawn.

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As a general rule, a battleaxe does 1d12 damage.

The way to get a "better battleaxe" in 5e is the magic item system.

There is advice in the DMG about magic items. The basic idea is that they are optional, and shouldn't be too common. Too many powerful magic items makes a character a christmas tree; powerful from items, not from the character. Previous editions of D&D had this, and it proved problematic.

That being said, a legendary forge and blacksmith and rare ingredients (and possibly a quest) is a great way to introduce a magic item. Instead of it being "oh, that axe I found", it now has a backstory.

Obsidian is associated with flame. A very strong (rare, requires attunement) weapon that is flame based in 5e is "Flame Tongue" (normally sword only, but you can homebrew). It is considered very powerful.

By saying the command word (bonus action), the weapon bursts into flame. It emits 40/80 feet of light and deals +2d6 fire damage until you say the command word again (bonus action), drop the weapon, or put it away.

Other ways to make a weapon improved are giving it a +1 to hit and damage. Legendary weapons can have up to a +3 to hit and damage.

I will repeat: Flame Tongue is an insanely powerful enchantment. Whomever has it may outdamage the rest of the group by a significant margin. There are balance concerns here.

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All the answers make great points and cause me to think about my own campaign. However, I will try to keep my answer short and to the point.

  1. There are no specific rules to answer your particular question in 5e.
  2. It is your campaign and you can do exactly what you are thinking about if you desire. However, there could be some unintended consequences as some have pointed out.
  3. I have seen where masterwork or enhanced weapons have simply had a +1 or +2 added to their damage rolls. However, they were expensive, not common, and not considered as a magic weapon in regards to doing damage to creatures that are only affected by magical means.

For example, an everyday Long Sword has 1d8 Slashing Dmg / 1d10 Versatile Dmg. But a masterwork or enhanced Long Sword would be a 1d8+1 or +2 Sashing Dmg / 1d10 +1 or +2 Versatile depending on what you preferred but still could not do damage to a creature that is only affected by magical weapons since the enhancement to damage is based on craftsmanship and not magic.

I did find a great article in "Loot the Booty Blog" regarding enhanced weapons for 5e. You have to get through his reasoning and how masterwork weapons worked in 3.5e and 4e but his idea for masterwork weapons for 5e (see the section under "The Right Way" at the end of the article) is a pretty good idea to implement I believe for both masterwork weapons and armor. I will be working some or all of his idea into my 5e campaign.

Hope that helps.

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Absolutly yes, but the others make a good point about balancing and not making the enhancement overpowered. Consider things that would add specific effects that make sense in-universe. Things like "player has their weapon head plated in silver" so their existing weapon's stats unchanged EXCEPT that it now functions as a Silvered Weapon (depending on bow you play, it can harm things that are resistant/immune to non-magical weapons, and will deal additional damage to enemies with a silver weakness, like werewolves).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your statement about Silvering is a really good point - but that's very different than damage die increases OP is asking about. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 7 '19 at 15:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ NautArch The post seems to originally be about whether a weapon can "get better" - the part about damage die is just a proposed mechanism for allowing weapons to get better. If the question is specifically about damage die and not just improving weapons, then the question itself should be clarified. \$\endgroup\$ – Raj Mar 7 '19 at 15:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. I sort of agree with NautArch here in that silvering a weapon is hardly an improvement - it only has any effect at all if your weapon is nonmagical and you're fighting something like a werewolf whose resistance is canceled by magical or silvered weapons. In addition, you should cite/quote the relevant rules to support your point (there are rules for silvering weapons). \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 7 '19 at 18:41

For RAW, the only way to explicitly improve an existing weapon is to coat it with either:

  1. Silver

    Some monsters that have immunity or resistance to nonmagical weapons are susceptible to silver weapons, so cautious adventurers invest extra coin to plate their weapons with silver. You can silver a single weapon or ten pieces of ammunition for 100 gp. This cost represents not only the price of the silver, but the time and expertise needed to add silver to the weapon without making it less effective.

  2. Adamantine. From Xanathar's Guide to Everything (page 78):

    Adamantine is an ultrahard metal found in meteorites and extraordinary mineral veins. In addition to being used to craft adamantine armor, the metal is also used for weapons. Melee weapons and ammunition made of or coated with adamantine are unusually effective when used to break objects. Whenever an adamantine weapon or piece of ammunition hits an object, the hit is a critical hit.

    The adamantine version of a melee weapon or of ten pieces of ammunition costs 500 gp more than the normal version, whether the weapon or ammunition is made of the metal or coated with it.

Any other options would be completely up to the individual DM's discretion.

As to why there are so few RAW options to improve weapons, I believe that the answer is bounded accuracy.

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