Due to the nature of DnD core its tropes and builds, weapon types rarely count. Enchantments, especially at higher levels, are what count. Your weapon damage die and type rarely count, and the game does not really favor wielding different types of weapons.

Personally, I dislike that. Holding a greatsword, a greatclub, a kukri or a spiked chain should make a difference. While these weapons have some innate bonuses to match their uniqueness, they are pretty limited and rarely worth the effort required to be able to use them (mostly talking about spiked chain and other exotic weapons).

Also the game's build strategy does not help with this problem, as most martial classes rely on mastering a weapon and dismissing the use of all others.

Tome of Battle fixed that to some extent, but the problem still remains. Wielding a greatclub instead of a greatspear should have some difference, since one is more likely to impale and the other to stun/knockback foes you hit. A greatsword is likely to damage and wound foes that will bleed, and a greataxe may chop a limb or cast bleeding wounds. There are advantages and disadvantages weapons hold that are not portrayed by the damage type. When I play with a martial character, i want to feel an impact from my weapon choice, or the need of different weapons for different challenges (this is partially done by DR/type_of_damage). A spear for example, in the right hands, could impale people, a greatclub could stun or push people back by its might and momentum, a greataxe may chop limbs (too much of a mech change i know) and a katana could deal bleeding injuries. I want a mechanic that will make me feel that my weapon of choive matters, that it actually gives me an advantage or a disadvantage, not that it deals 1d10 damage.

Are there any rules - homebrew or official in nature - that would tactically favor the use of different weapon types, and give a more realistic approach to weapons?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that any way to make weapon choice more important or more interesting including either official rules or every possible homebrew idea is extremely broad and (due to its unbounded nature) very opinion-based. The answers appear to be strong evidence in support of that evaluation. I've voted to close this, accordingly. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 3, 2014 at 18:06

13 Answers 13


I'd like to modify Kyle Willie's first idea of Weapon Scaling a little; it seems to me to be precisely the solution you are looking for.

At low levels, weapon selection can make a big difference. D6 damage vs D8 damage doesn't matter much if you are adding huge Strength and Feat bonuses, but does before those get applied. So scaling the differences between weapons to keep up with this seems to be exactly what is needed to encourage either the careful selection of a weapon to specialise in, or to keep yourself a generalist and free to pick the right weapon for the job.

My modification to Kyle's idea is to not introduce leveled weapons, but to say that as characters level up they automatically get to scale up their weapons – they don't need to actually switch to new gear. I think this might be best tied to BAB, something like every +5 BAB unlocks a new benefit.

Here's a possible example, for the Greatsword:

  • +0 BAB: 2D6 Dam., 19-20 x2 Crit.
  • +5 BAB: 2D8 Dam., 19-20 x2 Crit.
  • +10 BAB: 2D8 Dam., 19-20 x2 Crit., Sunder.
  • +15 BAB: 2D8 Dam., 19-20 x2 Crit., Sunder, Blocking.
  • +20 BAB: 3D6 Dam., 19-20 x2 Crit., Sunder, Blocking.

Keeping high-damage weapons gaining extra damage, high crit. weapons gaining extra crit. range or multipliers, and exotic weapons gaining more or better exotic abilities will mean they keep their character, even when character abilities and feats start to stack up.


Before you go off making far-reaching mechanical changes, maybe you should talk it over with your players. Remember, just because you prefer the swiss-army-armory type of fighter doesn't mean your players do. Maybe they like the single-focus specialist?

If you do want to tweak things from your end, try going for more subtle approaches:

  • Limit availability. I don't know how common magic and magic items are in your campaign, but if +5 weapons aren't purchased off-the-rack, you're the one with the final say over what they use. At the end of a long quest, drop them an interesting and unique +4 STR-enhancing coolness-factor-inducing warhammer.

  • Fine-tune challenges. Drop in some slash- and pierce-resistant earth elementals and watch the characters scramble for an improvised club. After the first encounter, they might go back and get themselves a nice flail. Off to the barrow downs to take down a wraith infestation? Oh, it seems they require a weapon blessed by a specific deity to be harmed. Now start mixing those two up.

  • Invent usage-specific magic items. This is sort of a cross between the last two. Boring +x items are passé. Introduce items with more unique powers, maybe as an alternative to putting those powers on magical rings and boots. Picking a fight with a fire demon? The Dwarven Forge Axe is a must-have in your hands to protect you from its firey aura. Swamps got you down? The Wanderer's Staff will keep you walking on water.

To return to my original paragraph - off-play changes should be made by the party as a whole, if you all share a common goal. In-game changes are yours to make, subtly or bluntly as you wish.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for reminding us that a change to improve one style of play can have an effect on another \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1, 2012 at 12:25

I don't think the problem lies as much in the rules as it does in the mindset of players. Granted, this mindset is reinforced by enhancement bonuses - like you said, it's expensive to get multiple powerful magic weapons, rather than focusing all your energy into one. This could be changed by having a 'morphing' weapon, or using inherent bonuses over enhancement bonuses, as you suggested. Alternatively, suggest that fighters looking to be more diverse not focus so heavily on upgrading their weapon, but rather on themselves. Belts of strength over enhancement bonuses, magic oils for temporary weapon enhancement, etc. But again, fighters have the mindset that they need to dump all their money into one main weapon.

Beyond this, however, I think your premise is wrong. Real combat involves picking a weapon and training with it. Fighters know how to use almost all weapons, (every soldier should know how to shoot a gun and use a knife,) but eventually they diversify to specific weapons. This is where proficiency comes in. Every fighter can use martial weapons effectively, without penalty, and with their full potential (BaB), but specific training is just that - specific. Certain weapons have certain benefits and certain drawbacks. Spiked chains have reach and grapple, hammers can be thrown, each weapon does different damage types, with different criticals, etc.

It's conceivable that fighters don't train in a single weapon, but rather a weapon category. This is how Pathfinder did it, and you can read their overhaul of the fighter class on the d20pfsrd. The fighter has what are basically "favored weapons" which work much like a ranger's favored enemy. At each step, the bonus for that category increases by +1, and they gain another favored weapon category. This means that they still have some specialization, but can diversify their second and third categories to be more useful in non-ideal situations.

Fighters have been taught to focus on a single weapon, but this makes them vulnerable to other situations. Most fine-tuned fighters deal the most damage in the party when "in their element", but sit around feeling useless when they're not. A fighter focused on a reach weapon is great until the enemy's in their face, and a fighter focused on duel-wielding is great until the enemy can't be reached.

It all comes down to this: as a DM, reward diversification. Let fighters be "in their element" some of the time, but make their gaping flaws painfully obvious at others. Grapple the fighter who only carries two-handed weapons, and attack from the sky the fighter who put so much work into maxing his sword's damage that he didn't even grab a ranged weapon. Send creatures with bludgeoning resistance against the barbarian who only carries a hammer, and creatures immune to criticals against the fighter who decided a maxed-out critical scythe was the only weapon he ever needed. Eventually, your players will get it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out that weapon type does matter quite a lot under certian circumstances. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Mar 1, 2012 at 4:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanRasmussen Teaching specific weapons to soldiers is true, but only to a degree. As an intel officer in the Army, I received regular training with M-16s, M-4s, and Bayonettes and I was exposed to several more during my intial training period. Greek hopelites carried both a sword and a spear and often used both in the same battle. Samurai (depending on the period) were expected to train with Katana, Yari (spear), and Yumi, and many trained in yet more weapons as well, all for different situations. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1, 2012 at 18:29

Well there already is some differences with all the weapons: base damage, slashing/piercing/bludgeoning, crit range and crit multiplier, one-handed or two-handed. And then there's the additional features that some weapons get like reach, tripping, subdual, disarm.

But I get what you're saying. At higher levels of play, these things are mostly inconsequential.

If you wanted to add more meaningfulness to your choice of weapons, I've seen DM houserules that assign a "weight" mod to all the basic weapons. It stacked onto armor check penalty and reduced their init bonus.

If you want to have more drastic houserules, you could say all bludgeoning weapons deal a fort save vs stun with a DC of the damage they deal. Slashing weapons double their base damage but all metal or metal-like armor gains DR against it. And piercing naturally overcomes DR. But that's... you know... back of a napkin game design.


My houserule would be a little bit of a setting destroyer, but if I were to run a high-level D&D/Pathfinder/et cetera campaign I'd do the following:

1. Make Weapons Scale

I recognize that this could turn my games fairly quickly into a certain JRPG, but I'm not against higher-level weapons being larger; a level 5 greatsword is a standard size greatsword, while a level 20 one may be so long that it's impossible to carry normally and abuses the willing suspension of disbelief. In a modern setting, this would mean that a pistol starts out as a .22 and winds up a .500 Magnum revolver.

Basically, as players level up, each weapon gains certain bonuses. I'd assign this bonus to either Critical Range, Critical Multiplier, Damage, or a new "Accuracy" modifier to improve accuracy, so for instance improving a battleaxe would improve damage, while improving a rapier would improve its accuracy or critical range. Keening would still work off the weapon's base critical range. In addition, certain modifiers could be added to the weapon (reach gained, reach penalty lost, monk friendliness/unfriendliness, armor piercing, trip and disarm bonuses, the like) to further differentiate the gear on a per-item basis-a martial weapon like a sword or axe may not gain many of these, a simple weapon would typically never gain any new abilities, and an exotic weapon could shift violently (per its design, of course) as it is improved for higher-level fighters.

This would sort of require a scale-back in how traditional D&D characters gain their abilities; BAB would be deprecated to allow more accurate weapons to shine, and there would probably be much quicker combat. This isn't necessarily all bad in my opinion, since spellcasters are basically quadratic and warriors are linear per the current rules.

Naturally, you would have to explain how higher level weapons are different from lower level ones; craftsmanship can explain some of these, and materials go a way towards doing this exact thing in original D&D, but I'd still like to see more variation. This, however, does lead to a bit of disconnect with most settings.

2. Transferable Enchantments

Enchantments would be applied via a seal or similar mechanism; maybe akin to sockets in Diablo and its kin but reusable. This would enable a large versatility in both enchantments and weapons without requiring a super duper overhaul of the current system; it doesn't make individual weapons more diverse but does encourage a larger arsenal for more interesting combat when used in conjunction with my first suggestion.

Naturally, some of these enchantments would vary; there could even be one-use seals that could power a weapon or arrow or throwing weapon once then stop, allowing for interesting dynamics in play.

The problem with transferable enchantments is that it almost certainly requires a setting modification, or a new class or the like devoted exclusively to creating/moving these (basically, if everyone can transfer enchantments, it's not setting true anymore).

3. Usage Diversification and Specific Training

I'd almost say that something like the Weaponmaster class or the like could be used to add an edge (ha) to close quarters combat by allowing people to gain bonuses using specific weapons and use certain maneuvers in combat. I've seen games that build separate combat maneuver trees for different weapons/fighting styles, and I'd say that you could even make proficiencies come with the ability to choose a fighting style/weapon focuses (think like martial arts in Shadowrun 3rd Edition; you get some maneuvers and the like, and some are locked to certain weapons) and bonuses on using weapons for certain things (reach attacks, disarms, trips, etc.).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm really not a fan of your first idea... It doesn't seem to fix the problem at hand either; it just sounds like a whole new way for characters to focus entirely on a single weapon. I like the idea of a class focused on transferring enhancements, though. You'd have to make sure it couldn't be abused (maybe it's temporary only for weapons they wield or something.) \$\endgroup\$
    – dlras2
    Mar 1, 2012 at 5:24

I do not think you can do this without house rules, but I will say that reality supports you. In historical combat, well off warriors often carried multiple weapons for different uses.

During the Heian period in Japan, Samurai often brought both a yari (like a spear) and a katana to battle, and would use the yari when fighting cavalry or fighting on an open field, and then switch to the katana in close quarters. Similarly the Spartans normally brought both spear and sword.

And, if both combatants are without armor, the one using a rapier will have an advantage in speed over the man with the great sword. But if both are armored, a rapier is difficult to use and the great sword comes to the fore.

So, I agree that weapon type should matter. But actually making that happen tends to make the rules complicated fast, and I have not seen any official D&D rules that would really help with this.


Ok, so here's the idea: the moment you create / purchase / find a weapon, you select just one aspect applicable to it. Different characters can choose different aspects for the same weapon, but each one can't ever change the aspect selected for a particular weapon. I'm not going to add a full list of weapons applicable to each aspect, just use common sense and you'll be fine. You don't select any of these for unarmed strike, btw.

Speedy weapon (like Rapier or Repeating Crossbow): You gain Rapid Strike, as the feat, except that the penalty is -4 instead of -2 and you don't need to have Weapon Finesse with this weapon.

Reach weapon (like Spear or Glaive): You can overextend your reach by 5' taking a -4 penalty. Additionally, you can attack any square adjacent to you at a -2 penalty if your weapon can't normally do so (you still provoke an Atack of Opportunity when attacking while in a threatened square if you did normally).

Big surface weapon (like Greatsword or Greataxe): You are treated as having a small metal shield when attacked. Additionaly, this bonus stacks with other AC (shield) bonuses.

Blunt weapon: On a successful critical hit, a foe damaged by this weapon must make a Fortitude saving throw (DC 14 + 1/2 your character level), in addition to dealing damage normally. A defender who fails this saving throw is stunned for 1 round. Ranged weapons bestow this to their ammunition.

Slashing weapon: On a successful critical hit, a foe damaged by this weapon must make a Fortitude saving throw (DC 14 + 1/2 your character level), in addition to dealing damage normally. A defender who fails this saving throw takes 1 point of Consitution damage from blood loss; this damage is healed automatically in an hour. Ranged weapons bestow this to their ammunition.

Piercing melee weapon: As a standard action, you can choose to impale your weapon on your enemy; you let go of your weapon and the enemy must make a Fort save (DC 12 + 1/2 your character level) or be impaled. An impaled enemy can only take partial actions and move at 1/2 their normal speed. Should the foe or one of his allies choose to remove the weapon from his wound, he must make a Heal check (DC 15) or cause the enemy to take 1 point of Consitution damage from blood loss.

Piercing ranged weapon:

Attached weapon (like Spiked Gauntlet or Wrist Claw):

This is a work in progress, I'll come back later and finish it.

EDIT: I know I said I would come back to add to it, but I haven't been very inspired lately. I thought about ranged weapons being able to aim at legs (reduces land speed) or hands (reduces enemy attack) and attached weapons giving bonuses/advantages in a grapple and/or rending, but I'm not sure if that's any good nor how to translate it to balanced mechanics.


You could have an enchantment on your weapon of choice that allows you to transform it into another weapon you are proficient with. Ask your DM if you could find or enchant your weapon with a property like this. Because, like you said, weapon type doesn't have a huge influence on things it would probably only count as a +1 or lower enchantment and could easily be added to your weapon without greatly affecting its other stats.

That only solves the magic issue. But if you don't take any of the weapon specific feats but instead take feats that enhance all of your fighting skills you won't be tied to a weapon due to feat tax, but also you could potentially get a lot more versatility because you can easily afford feats that over maneuvers (improved trip, improved sunder).


Best way, in my experience, is to sharply limit enchantments. There are several ways, however, to make damages more important.

  1. Drastic: No magic at all.
    Weapon choices suddenly matter a WHOLE lot more, as that's the only way damage gets done at all.
  2. Severe: No weapon enchantments at all.
    Mild improvement in weapons mattering
  3. Moderate: No damage bonuses from permanent enchantments.
    Still allows bonuses to hit, doesn't throw off game balance much, still allows weapons for using the bonus to determine what you can hit for DR purposes.
  4. Severe: Double Damages before criticals; criticals double/triple this
    Makes the difference much higher. A 1d4 weapon is now 2d4, and still trivial to a high level character. a 2d10 weapon is now 4d10... which is a significant chunk even for a high (15-20th) level fighter (who will probably average 110-250 HP), and a crit on that at x3 is a serious chunk.
  5. mild: Reduce all HD sizes one step d12->D10->d8->d6->d4->d3->d2
    This reduces the HPT considerably for high level fighters (Lv 15-20 Ftr range 98-216)
  6. severe: halve hit point totals (figure normally, then halve)
    almost the same as doubling weapon damages
  7. moderate: Increase Weapon Damages 1 die type
    done across the board, increases weapon damage notably. Use the rules in the DMG for so doing.
  8. moderate: Cap hit dice at lower than 20 with no bonus above 10th level
    Capping at 10 HD instead of 20 will cut high level fighter HP severely... (Lv 15-20 becomes 75-125)
  9. Mild: roll all HD but total only the best 10 hit dice and full con bonus
    Level 15-20 is likely to be 105-175.


Because the higher the ratio between weapon damage from weapon to target hit points, the more weapon damage matters.

A stock vs +5 dagger has gone from an average of 2.5+StrBn to 7.5+StrBn; a d10 longsword goes from 5.5+StrBn to 10.5+StrBn - But...

up the damage a die type, and it's Dagger 3.5+StrBn to 8.5+StrBn vs 6.5+StrBn to 11.5+StrBn.
Double the damage, and dagger is 5+StrBn to 10+StrBn, vs 11+StrBn to 16+StrBn.
Either makes low levels more dangerous.

Couple either of those to capping and reducing HD... and you're back to big swords being able to kill mid-level fighters in a whack, and high level wizards with one lucky shot.

  • d10 landmarks 5.5+2 and 8.5+4
  • d8 landmarks 4.5+2 and 6.8+4 (equivalent shift as on d10)

or.... you could just accept that DnD isn't the kind of game where weapon types matter much. After all, you have players with ever-increasing hit points that bear no resemblance to real-world damage. Armour that has little to do with the type of combat you're facing. The original (or 2nd ed) DnD justified this by saying it was all about heroic combat, the kind where the Greek hero marches into battle and kills all the NPCs with just a few scratches to show for it.

So, as you're in the kind of world where a hero can kill a thousand kobolds with barely a bruise, why would it matter which weapon he chooses to use? A hero with a club is just as effective a hero as one with a shining sword. In fact, you get to the point where the hero with a chair leg is just as good a combatant - he's a f***ing hero after all. (if you want an example, think of the Bourne films where the hero beats up the other guy with a rolled up magazine. If I tried it, I'd get a paper cut, but he's a hero where it doesn't matter what he uses)

So, don't worry about it too much. If you want realism, go for Runequest. If you want heroic fantasy, stick with DnD and understand a hero will be effective with any weaponry.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I find that "Don't do that" is almost never an acceptable answer to "How do I do X?". It's just not constructive at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yandros
    Mar 21, 2012 at 2:04

While not exactly what I think you're looking for, I think it worthwhile to bring up the weapon style feats from Complete Warrior. These were martial feats that granted high-flavor rider effects to a character wielding the appropriate weapons; these effects offered type-specific tactical advantages. e.g. the crescent moon feat that allows a free disarm when fighting with sword and dagger.

Now, these don't entirely meet your criteria: they're still focused around a highly specific weapon (or in the case of most of these, a specific, often unusual, combo of weapons), and each of these require significant feat prerequisites, making them out of reach for pretty much anyone except higher-level martially-focused characters.

However, it can serve as a useful model to consider. This is how WotC solved the "differentiate weapons both tactically and in flavor" issue. Perhaps you can take this concept and come up with a different execution more suited to your specific desires.


One of the major reasons that many characters focus on a single weapon is that you can only ever wield a single item at the same time. If you have Weapon Focus on 5 different weapons, that means you have 5 feats of which only 1 is used at a time.

If you have 5 +1 weapons, you're only using one at a time; the rest of that money is wasted.

Once you do specialise, it does pretty much start mattering. Two-handed weapons give you low defense, high damage and favor options like power attack, reach weapons favor area control and attacks of opportunity, a light weapon and a shield give you a more defensive build, etc.

The problem is that you really emphasise on these things means investing Feats, skills, maybe some class levels, money, etc. And you can never use diverse options at once.

So maybe a fix to make a choice of weapon matter more is by reducing the penalty for this diversification. Give a Fighter 3 Feats whenever he normally would get one with the restriction that only 1 of the 3 is allowed to be used at the same time. This creates the option to have Cleave and Dodge and Combat Expertise, but you can use only one set at a time.

That means that for each set of Feats, the Fighter can find a weapon (and/or shield) that is best suited for that style and that he can switch to whichever style is most useful during a given battle.

(And if, at this point, your players still don't bring multiple weapons, than they probably just don't care about the whole diversification thing the way you do.)


You can literally break all their weapons, normal, masterwork, or otherwise. Not to mention as a DM you can do pretty much anything you want.

Don't take that the wrong way, what I'm saying is give character classes to creatures, especially if you're party is in an area where there are races that are typically PC races.
Your pt enters a tavern with a magical item and they encounter a forsaker, maybe an evil one or maybe one that's also a frenzied berserker whom is triggered by magical items.

Maybe throw them up against any creature that can disarm? or sunder, or like i said previously npc's that have sunder and break their items. Rust monsters...

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this really answers the question. The question is "How do I make different weapons feel different in the game?" and your answer is about breaking weapons. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 2, 2014 at 22:51

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