I'm building a unique weapon that can be looted off a boss creature in a very early portion of my campaign (expected for characters level 3-5), and I want to ensure that I can fairly hand it out to players without worrying about it being overpowered.

The Onyx Spear

Weapon (glaive), uncommon (unique), 8 lbs.
1d10 piercing damage; Properties: Two-Handed, Reach, Thrown (60/∞), Special

This weapon gains +2 to all of its damage rolls.

The shaft of this weapon is composed of two rods in the shape of a double-helix composed of a material that resembles wrought iron. These two rods never touch each other, but they cannot be moved closer together or pulled further apart from each other, even if this weapon's magical properties are suspended. On one end of the shaft, each of the rods are joined to blades that have the physical appearance of being carved from Obsidian, shaped like curling flames.

Special. The weight of this weapon is strange and uncomfortable, as is its momentum and inertia. Characters cannot receive their proficiency bonus on attack rolls with this weapon, even if they have proficiency with this type of weapon. Any character that makes an attack roll with this weapon may roll 1d4-1 and add this value to their attack roll.

If this weapon is permitted to free-fall, it can not fall faster than 5 feet per round. So long as a part of this weapon is touching a floor or wall, it will not tip over as a result of gravity. If this weapon is thrown, it will not stop moving in that direction until it strikes an object, whereupon it will immediately stop without imparting momentum or damage. If this weapon has not touched an object, creature, or environment in more than an hour, all magical properties of the weapon are suspended until it does.

The first time any creature touches this weapon, they need to make a Wisdom saving throw (DC 15). On a failure, they are shocked by the weapon, taking 1d4 lightning damage and dropping the weapon. On a success, they hear unintelligible whispering in their head. This saving throw is only made once per creature, regardless of success or failure.

Two-Handed. This weapon requires two hands to use. This property is relevant only when you attack with the weapon, not when you simply hold it.

Reach. This weapon adds 5 feet to your reach when you attack with it. This property also determines your reach for opportunity attacks with a reach weapon.

Thrown. This weapon can be thrown, using its attack roll. If this weapon strikes a target after being thrown, and the attack was not a critical hit, this weapon will deal no damage. If the attack was a critical hit, this weapon will deal damage as though it was a non-critical melee strike. For one minute after being thrown, the first creature that attempts to grab this weapon, other than the creature that threw this weapon, will take 1d6 lightning damage as they grab it.

The design considerations for this weapon are centered around the weapon feeling weird. Like there's something alien or otherworldly about its physical behavior, up to and including its physical design. It's part of a series of weapons that have similar, "strange" properties to them. The intention with this weapon (and the other weapons in the series) is not to necessarily create a weapon that's competitive with other magical items the party might acquire, just that their properties be weird and esoteric. So the weapon being underpowered is, as far as I'm concerned, perfectly acceptable.

I have a few principle concerns with how the weapon is balanced:

  • Unlike other 1d10 weapons, it does not have the Heavy property, meaning it can be used by Small characters without penalties. Does this have serious balance ramifications?

  • The +2 damage bonus is pretty substantial. This is intended to be counter-balanced by the 1d4-1 to attack rolls replacing their proficiency bonus, which on average results in a lower attack roll than simply applying proficiency. Is this enough to adequately balance the damage output?

  • It's not obvious to me that the other properties have exploitable features; are there concerns I should have for some of the more esoteric properties of the weapon?

I also welcome feedback on the general grammar/structure of the statblock.

  • What world are you playing in? Is it high/medium/low magic? – NautArch Sep 14 at 20:08
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    @KorvinStarmast The rarity category was intended to reflect the fact that the weapon is one-of-a-kind, not its relative power level. I can make it Uncommon if there's too many mechanical implications to the rarity, but it felt weird to describe a weapon that there's literally only one-of as "uncommon". – Xirema Sep 14 at 20:09
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    @KorvinStarmast I've changed the rarity to Uncommon (Unique) to emphasize the intended power level of the item while still calling attention to its status as a unique item. – Xirema Sep 14 at 20:15
  • Looking forward to the answers, other comments deleted. – KorvinStarmast Sep 14 at 20:16
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    @asgallant The Reach property isn't supposed to be magical, from my understanding. It's just a slightly odd way of writing the Reach properties onto the weapon. I think it's just supposed to have a standard 10" reach, same as any reach weapon. From Xirema's comments, the only odd weapon trait that's different is the fact that it doesn't have the Heavy aspect. Besides the fact that it'd look odd for a gnome to try to throw this thing with two hands, I don't see any issues with the traits. I suppose this would allow small characters to now use a polearm, but what's wrong with that? – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 14 at 23:05

It's fine, but its awkwardness gets in the way.

Total, the strength of this weapon is effectively:

  • No proficiency to hit, but instead get a "+2 to hit", which makes its accuracy worse when your proficiency bonus is +3, unless you're not proficient in martial weapons (in which case you wouldn't get proficiency to hit anyway, and thus makes this a +2 weapon).
  • +2 damage
  • Can deal 1d4 lightning damage, once per enemy (and once to yourself). Assuming average damage (2.5) and it zaps 40% of the time (generous) that's 1 bonus damage.
  • Otherwise a fairly normal Glaive (in terms of power).

So, is it balanced? I guess? I wouldn't use it once my proficiency is +4, as my +2 to hit difference is too valuable compared to the +2 damage this spear provides.

I would never throw the thing for 1d4 damage that's nullified on a save. If I happened to roll a crit fail, depending on how you'd rule it, it could just fly off into the horizon, never to be seen again.

So in the end, it's just a fancy/weird glaive, but I'd rather just use a normal glaive for consistency, to be honest.

The main issue isn't the balance, though. It's the rule keeping.

At this point, with this weapon, you have to remind yourself that:

  • You can't apply your Proficiency bonus
  • You have to remember to roll 1d4-1 to hit every time you attack with it.
  • It has a +2 to damage, separate from its to-hit "bonus"
  • It deals 1d4 lightning damage on contact, with a wisdom 15 save, but only the first time it touches a creature.
  • I have to keep track of which creatures I've already struck specifically with this weapon (would be confusing if an ally picked it up and started using it after I threw it)
  • I have to remember that it has a throwing range, but it only deals damage on a crit, and only deals normal damage on that crit+1d4. And if I happen to miss, it just keeps going.

And...for what? Roughly +3 damage and roughly -1 to hit.

I'm all for complicated things that are worth the work and revolve around individual decisions to make (like the Battlemaster), but this overcomplicates a number of things for some extremely underwhelming benefits. That may be intentional, but your players will use it once or twice, and then get frustrated when they find this information out first-hand that it's not good as a weapon. You could simplify it while still keeping it weird, or you could turn some of these complications into tactical uses, but as of right now, it's mostly just a fancy paperweight.

  • Actually, there is not a +2 to hit, but rather a +2 to damage. – qazwsx Sep 14 at 20:24
  • Also, it does 1d6 per turn to a creature for 1 minute, the 1d4 is for you when you try to weild it for the first time. – qazwsx Sep 14 at 20:26
  • @qazwsx +2 is based off of the 1d4-1 to hit that replaces the proficiency bonus. 1d4 is a 2.5, -1 makes it a 1.5, I rounded up for simplicity's sake. – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 14 at 20:26
  • @qazwsx "For one minute after being thrown, the first creature that attempts to grab this weapon, other than the creature that threw this weapon, will take 1d6 lightning damage". I read that as, "After throwing this weapon, it's charged, and the first creature that's not you that grabs it will take 1d6 damage". – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 14 at 20:28
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    And complicated + weak don't go well together. It'll just frustrate players. – Daniel Zastoupil Sep 14 at 20:44

Damage: The weapon's damage range is 3-12, an average of 7.5. This is slightly better than any base weapon damage (e.g. greatsword 2-12 average 7), making its damage equivalent to a magic weapon.

Attack bonus: The character's proficiency bonus is effectively replaced with a bonus of 1d4-1 or a range of 0-3, average 1.5. This means that on average, a low-level character with +2 proficiency loses only half a point of attack. This is a highly unusual feature. The peculiarities here are:

  • This weapon is unusually good in the hands of someone not normally proficient with these weapons anyway.
  • It becomes weaker as you level up and proficiency bonus increases, so it's much better at low level.
  • It slows combat because now you must roll 1d20 and 1d4 to make the attack.

My concern here is that it's falling into a common weapon design pattern of "too powerful in effect, but balanced by a drawback", which usually results in either an unusable item or players attempting to subvert its penalties. In this case, it's not terrible, but it is awkward. Its damage value may exceed the norms for an Uncommon weapon.

Range: Infinity maximum range is highly peculiar, though not necessarily overpowered. You have disadvantage on long range attacks, you make the weapon hard to recover if you throw it too far, and visibility or dungeon room size often limit how far you can see anyway. However, dealing damage only on a critical hit is so weak that nobody would really do this, so it's functionally useless as a thrown weapon.

Special: The lightning effect when picked up could be simplified. Perhaps anyone who picks it up simply takes 1d4 lightning damage unless they are attuned to the weapon.

Phrasing: I'm of the opinion that conveying the same information in fewer words is generally a good thing. You could simply say that the weapon falls at 5 feet per round unless held or thrown. (You could leave that ability out entirely, since it has little practical effect.) The Reach section is unnecessary since that term is defined in the rules and opportunity attacks already account for reach as you describe. Likewise you can omit the Two-Handed section, as all glaives are two handed. If you keep the Thrown ability, it should be named something else since someone could gloss over that section mistaking it for a description of the standard Thrown weapon rules.

Shall I compare thee to a Longsword +1?

Imagine a Longsword +1 that had to be used two-handed. We have 1d10+1 damage, twohanded, no heavy, no finesse. Perfectly balanced. Now imagine that we add an additional +1 damage, but also -2 to hit (stacking with the +1 from before, for net -1). Great Weapon Master trades -1 to hit for +2 damage, so what we have now is actually something underpowered. Given a proficiency bonus of +2 or +3 (for level 3-5), we have 1d10+2 damage, +1.5 to hit (ignoring Str mods).

Ignoring the thrown part of the Spear, we have a weapon that does 1d10+2 damage, with +1.5 (expected value of 1d4-1) to hit (ignoring Str mods), twohanded, no heavy, no finesse, reach. We are increasing a slightly underpowered weapon by +1 to hit (below level 5) and 5ft reach. Seems balanced to me.

As for the Throwing part...

The gravity interactions of the spear are mostly flavour, including that they effectively remove the ability to throw the spear for damage. While you could have some fun moments when you crit or that almost dead kobold tries to pick up the spear and gets shocked to death, they don't really do much mechanically.

It's balanced

It is a slight improvement on an underpowered item. Both Longswords and Warhammers can have 1d10 damage and don't have the Heavy property, so that is not a concern. It is roughly equivalent to a +1 weapon (uncommon rarity). Add to that the fact that it is a unique artifact and it is balanced. You could possibly make the +2 to damage require attunement if you are still worried.

This is not only not overpowered, but not much better than a normal weapon.
First, its thrown property is practically useless. Only doing damage on a critical hit means that 95% of the time, you would just be throwing your weapon away. Making your enemy receive 1d6 lightning damage is of negligible value if you have to throw your weapon away, and isn't much damage compared to even a crossbow. A level 5 character with a str of 16 and a +3 proficiency would normally get +6 to hit, but this weapon would average +6.5 to hit. A normal +1 weapon would be better.

You'll regret the infinite throwing range when your characters try to throw it to the moon :)

I recommend allowing proficiency bonus, but only after attunement, and reducing the throwing range.

  • Technically, because of the 1 hour limitation before the spear loses its magical properties, the spear would fall back to Faerun before even breaking out of the atmosphere. I could consider just posting an explicit "5 miles" outer range though. – Xirema Sep 14 at 20:24

Other answers have focussed on the combat mechanics, but there's more to this weapon.

First, it's basically a weak flying broom. Hop onto it, jump down from ... well, anywhere. It will carry you down comfortably without accelerating due to the maximum falling speed.

And second, if it flies for an hour straight, that's a perfect way to send messages around. Put it in a ballista, attach a message, shoot it at the next towns wall.

And I suppose the not tipping over makes it possible to build a little tree house on this thing? That'd be fun.

  • In a pinch, it would be a fantastic way to secure a mast to a vessel normally unable to support one, or to extend a structure spanning a chasm. – HonoredMule Sep 15 at 20:37

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