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When playing RAW, the only simple melee weapon with the finesse property is the dagger (PHB page 149). Most other thrown weapons of this type (hand axe, javelin, and spear) all do 1d6 damage with a secondary property thrown in -- hand axe is light, javelin has extended range, and spear is versatile. This makes the light hammer -- 1d4, light, thrown -- inferior to these other thrown weapons in damage, and short of the dagger in its lack of finesse. As written, I can't see why anyone would choose it. Is this broken?

People elsewhere have discussed increasing light hammer damage to 1d6 as a possible homebrew fix. The typical objection I've seen is its potential for use against monsters vulnerable to bludgeoning attacks (e.g. skeletons). I am willing to concede this argument, though to me, the RAW light hammer still feels imbalanced vs. hand axe -- most of the time, damage type just doesn't matter.

The historically-appropriate change might be some kind of attack/damage bonus when hammers are used against solid armor types (breastplate, half plate, or full plate), but for this change to be meaningful you'd have to do the same for mace, war hammer, and maul -- and none of those weapons need it.

My thought: could we instead assign it an additional weapon property to compensate for the lesser damage (perhaps as a race feature, if not for everyone)?

For characters of dwarven (and perhaps forest gnome?) ancestry, for example, it seems more race-appropriate to use light hammers in place of daggers, and if they were a finesse weapon, dexterity-based characters might do so. Is there anything specific to bludgeoning damage that would make this a bad idea? Dwarven rogues would thank you if it were done.

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Not all weapons are equally powerful and they don't need to be

The light hammer is not the only weapon that you would never use from a perspective of power.

The sickle is equally bad as the light hammer. Similarly, there is really no reason to specifically use a trident. It is the same as a spear but needs martial weapons proficiency.

When you start to consider that every weapon should have their advantages, you have even more work.

Then again, I don't see why it is absolutely necessary to only have weapons that have a use for the optimizer.

Finesse seems very non-thematic on a hammer

While adding finesse to the light hammer won't have many mechanical consequences, it means that Dex based characters now have a finesse bludgeoning weapon against skeletons. It is true that this probably won't come up that often and you said you don't find this important but it is a fact. It won't break your game.

On the other hand, as stated above, I don't think there is a problem to be fixed. And adding finesse to a hammer seems very non-thematic.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Juggling hammers is one thing. Fighting with them requires force. \$\endgroup\$ – Anagkai Jul 18 at 16:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Finesse" and "blunt instrument" don't go together. \$\endgroup\$ – Greenstone Walker Jul 19 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 what does "PAM" mean ? \$\endgroup\$ – breversa Jul 20 at 7:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @breversa I think it is the feat polearm master. \$\endgroup\$ – Anagkai Jul 20 at 7:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ The concept behind the finesse property, to me, seems to encapsulate the idea of a weapon only needing to hit the target with enough force to overcome its skin/armor/padding. (almost none if you consider a super sharp needle against skin) - you could slowly reach deadly damage with a sharp dagger moving towards a throat or heart, but you cannot slowly push a hammer against someone to cause harm unless you are just outright crushing them with your arm strength against a wall or something. (to back up hammers not being finesse) \$\endgroup\$ – DoubleDouble Jul 21 at 21:02
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The light hammer is supposed to suck.

It has the following properties:

  • Simple one-handed weapon.
  • 1d4 bludgeoning.
  • Throwable (range 20/60).

This is suspiciously similar to the properties of an improvised weapon:

An object that bears no resemblance to a weapon deals 1d4 damage (the DM assigns a damage type appropriate to the object). If a character uses a ranged weapon to make a melee attack, or throws a melee weapon that does not have the thrown property, it also deals 1d4 damage. An improvised thrown weapon has a normal range of 20 feet and a long range of 60 feet.

From this I deduce that the light hammer is a construction tool, not a real weapon. It deals improvised weapon damage and has the improvised weapon throwing range. Note that the only NPCs who have "light hammer" on their statblocks are the Pirate Bosun (Saltmarsh) and the Scorchbringer Guard (Ravnica)--folks who do mechanical repairs. Soldiers do not carry this.

(This should not be confused with a warhammer, which is very much a soldier's weapon--it's labeled in the PHB as a "war pick", a martial weapon, 1d8 piercing damage. This illustration at least (which I believe is from 4e) clearly shows a warhammer.)

The only effect of the light hammer appearing in the weapon table is to make simple weapon proficiency apply to it, so that when someone picks up a carpenter's hammer or a tent peg mallet as a weapon, they can say "it's similar to a light hammer" and be proficient.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A war pick is not a war hammer -- the latter is flat on one side -- see forgottenrealms.fandom.com/wiki/Warhammer for an example. That said, it does feel to me like light hammer was intended as a "throwing club" rather than an equal partner to the mace or throwing axe for damage. \$\endgroup\$ – papidave Jul 20 at 0:09
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Ignoring price, the Player's Handbook has a lot of sub-optimal weapons; they don't need to be fixed

Examples:

The Dagger is better than every single 1d4 weapon (Club, Light Hammer, Sickle)

The Light Hammer is better than the Club and the Sickle

Every single 1d6 weapon (Handaxe, Javelin, Quarterstaff, Spear) is better than the Mace

The Spear is better than the Quarterstaff

The Battleaxe, Longsword, Warhammer, and Rapier are better than the Flail, Morningstar, and War Pick


A "bad" weapon doesn't need to be fixed

A lot of these sub-optimal weapons are still cool or useful for character concepts; they just aren't perfectly optimized choices, which aren't things everybody needs to be making at most tables. If you're at a table that requires optimal weapon choices, then a lot of weapons are going to be flat out unusable.


Fixing "bad" weapons takes a lot of work

Fixing these (making each weapon have some reason to use it over the others in the same Simple/Martial grouping) requires significant overhaul and changes to the entire weapons system. I have experience with helping build a system for fifth edition D&D that does exactly this and the system is a lot more complicated than what the PHB uses.


Do what you want and test things out

At the end of the day, a bump in your damage die isn't going to do a whole lot. You're gaining less than 1 additional damage on average (you aren't guaranteed to hit) which isn't very much, it's actually the least amount of extra damage possible at all.

If you're thinking about adding damage or some property to a weapon, I'll always recommend testing it out and seeing how it goes. In this case, I don't believe anything urgently needs fixing (if it does, then lots of other things do too). I would probably recommend increasing the damage die to make it more similar to a Spear, if I had to recommend some sort of change.


Damage type is mostly meaningless

From all the books, the only monsters that are immune to one of bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing and not the others are the Black Pudding, Elder Black Pudding, Intelligent Black Pudding, Reduced-Threat Black Pudding, Ochre Jelly, Huge Ochre Jelly, Sentient Ochre Jelly, and Reduced-Threat Oche Jelly (they are all immune to slashing).

From all the books, the only monsters that resist one of bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing and not the others are the Geist and Topi (resist bludgeoning); the Animated Tile Chimera, Awakened Shrub, Xorn, Big Xorn, Flameskull, Thorny, Vegepygmy, and Vegepygmy Chief (resist piercing); and the Warlock of the Fiend (resists slashing).

From all the books, the only monsters that are vulnerable to one of bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing and not the others are the Skeleton, Skeletal Giant Owl, Skeleton Key, Skeletal Alchemist, Warhorse Skeleton, Blazing Skeleton, Minotaur Skeleton, Ogre Skeleton, Skeletal Polar Bear, Skeletal Swarm, Skeletal Owlbear, Skeletal Two-Headed Owlbear, Thunderbeast Skeleton, Giant Shark Skeleton, Skeletal Juggernaut, Giant Skeleton, Ice Mephit, and Stone Cursed (vulnerable to bludgeoning); and the Mordakhesh, Rakshasa, and Zakya Rakshasa (vulnerable to slashing from a magic weapon wielded by a Good creature).

Unless your campaign is absolutely full of Skeletons or Ochre Jellies and Black Puddings, the difference between bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage is almost always meaningless. There are 2020 or so monsters, and only about 40 of them are going to make a difference between damage types even exist.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The difference between Slashing and Bludgeoning isn't most relevant when considering Skeletons, but rather when considering the Black Pudding and Ochre Jelly, btw. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 18 at 16:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, although arguably one of them is among the ten most memorable and frequent creatures in the history of D&D, so there is that to consider. :P I would argue something that is better against Goblins is a better thing than something good against a Warhorse, giving how frequently one expects to fight one or the other, albeit obviously dependent on the campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 18 at 16:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HellSaint Hopefully edited in something to account for more stuff \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jul 18 at 17:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ This was quite enlightening -- not so much because it makes me feel better about the state of the light hammer, but because it points out how most of the underpowered weapons are designed for bludgeoning. Club, light hammer, mace, staff, flail -- each one falls behind its piercing/slashing equivalents. It's almost as if it was intentional. \$\endgroup\$ – papidave Jul 19 at 23:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @EdBeaty It's from Tomb of Annihilation, they're used to open doors and have literal keys for heads. \$\endgroup\$ – Feathercrown Jul 21 at 16:48
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As requested, this is my experience actually fighting with a war hammer and a pike both on and off horseback in real life.

You need a basic amount of strength to wield the weapon. However, in combat it's mostly an agility weapon. Precision on hits is far more important than brute strength, and the reason the weapons are effective is because you can focus a lot of force in a precise area.

I understand that D&D is not a perfect real world translation. But if you are looking for a reason to make warhammers Finesse weapons, let me assure you that they are. Or at least can be. Its not like the movies at all.

Having said that I have never fought with a Maul or axes they are outside my experience.

Also worth noting, a rapier weighs about the same as a arming sword (d&d long sword). and warhammers are only slightly heavier than those.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells I imagine the light hammer as being similar to Thor's hammer (from Marvel comics or movies) for example. A small, throw-able hammer. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 18 at 20:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I was not looking to make the war hammer into a finesse weapon (it's already balanced vs. the longsword and battle axe), it's nice to think about. Perhaps we just need a +1 war hammer of HEMA, with finesse. I'll use it with my +1 gambeson of HEMA (AC 12, no disadvantage). ;-) \$\endgroup\$ – papidave Jul 20 at 0:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SamLacrumb wouldn’t any weapon require agility more than strength (even swords, axes, spears, etc.) ? Or put it in another way : is there any weapon that would benefit more from strength than agility ? I doubt it. From my understanding, strength vs agilily-based weapon is a game-balance mechanic, not a real life-based one. IMO, it makes sense to give finesse to weapons that benefit vastly(/exclusively) from more agility, and leave strength to the rest. \$\endgroup\$ – breversa Jul 20 at 8:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ I also remember from a Kingdom Come: Deliverance HEMA video that it’s actually the two-handed weapons that benefit from more agility, and one-handed weapons that benefit from more strength. :-) They didn’t implement it like this in-game, probably for (game-)intuitiveness reasons. \$\endgroup\$ – breversa Jul 20 at 8:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're talking about warhammers, but he asked about light hammers. Other posts have said they're not the same thing, and in DDO at least, they're different weapons. Under no circumstance would I call Thor's hammer "Light" -- I probably couldn't lift one that size, let alone fight with it. A light hammer is probably what I use to drive nails with. Aren't your warhammers heftier than that? \$\endgroup\$ – Shawn V. Wilson Jul 20 at 17:27
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Not an imbalancing idea, but a... strange idea

Hammers are about hammering stuff with your strength. Their damage is Bludgeoning for a reason. If you consider other weapons, Finesse is never given to Bludgeoning damage-type weapons, simply because Bludgeoning and Finesse are pretty much on the opposite end of how the character handles the weapon.

There is absolutely no reason, however, that this will be broken. I strongly doubt that even giving it 1d6 damage would make it broken in any way. Bludgeoning is, indeed, overall a better damaging option. Monsters don't have immunity to bludgeoning, and some have vulnerability, while Slashing has its problems against that damned Black Pudding. However, do people stop using Greatswords just because Maul is possibly overall better? I doubt it. My current Paladin uses a Greatsword. And I made that choice knowing the dungeon I was going to play has skeletons and black puddings.

You contradict yourself

As written, I can't see why anyone would choose it.

For characters of dwarven ancestry, for example, it seems more race-appropriate to use light hammers

There you go: that is the reason a character may choose a Light Hammer over a Handaxe or a Javelin: thematic reasons. Not every character has to use the optimal choice of weapon to deal damage. Otherwise, only Barbarians would pick Greataxes, if anyone.

Lots of bad weapons

And let us be fair: there are a bunch of bad weapons around there, including weapons strictly worse than others, and even worse than the Light Hammer. The Club is a Light Hammer without Thrown property. The Sickle is a Club with Slashing damage, which as we just stated, is overall worse. The Mace is a worse, more expensive Quarterstaff. The Morningstar is literally a War Pick, at three times the cost and twice the weight.

Most of these weapons are there to allow thematic choices, not optimal choices.

If you really want to change it

I would go with the 1d6 idea rather than the Finesse idea. I mean, it's not like the Dwarven Rogue is an optimal class-race choice either way, so I'm assuming that if you care about optimization of your weapons, that's not the actual use-case.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually I have trained with hammers, and its almost all agility. You need the strength to maneuver the weapon. but all of the strikes are agility based because of the odd angles on the hammer. So using it as a finesse weapon is not too far off. Especially off horseback. \$\endgroup\$ – Sam Lacrumb Jul 18 at 16:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SamLacrumb I have a very hard time imagining how being more agile means you deal more damage, rather than depending on how strongly you hit something, in this case. But if you can build up on that, I think it would provide a great answer that provides a different point of view compared to the other answers so far. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 18 at 16:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't write it as an answer because real world fighting rarely applies to D&D. It's also difficult to explain if you haven't tried it. But try taking a wooden spoon and hit yourself in the stomach with it. then try just barely tapping your collar bone with it. The precise attack on the collar bone will hurt way more and potentially cause more damage. And the maneuvers to achieve a precise strike like that require agility and aim. more than strength. \$\endgroup\$ – Sam Lacrumb Jul 18 at 17:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SamLacrumb This Q&A strongly disagrees with your first premise :P even if real world fighting doesn't generally apply to D&D, having a real world experience to base your ruling is certainly valuable and our community appreciates it. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jul 18 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like there could very easily be some word definition confusion going on between D&D's Dexterity and the common definition of dexterity, let alone stretching dexterity into agility (not a D&D term/stat). One thing that may point out this fact is that Strength is what determines whether you can hit the target you are aiming for with a hammer, even if your Dexterity is only 1... What is being described in the real world is simply an aspect of Strength in D&D, as weird as it may sound. That has been the case for many of D&D core ability stats that are still around. \$\endgroup\$ – DoubleDouble Jul 21 at 21:23
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I wanted to go a bit of a different direction with my answer and say that the light hammer does have some special considerations, even if it doesn't technically have a second property to describe them.

Of the comparable items you list, only the hand-axe could be thought of as a tool, and for that it would most likely be used for chopping wood or cutting ropes.

The light hammer is primarily a tool. Carry around a bunch of nails and you can wreak all kinds of havoc. Nail doors shut. Pry a loose floorboard up and hide under it. Destabilize wooden constructions (possibly catapults? or mine-shaft support beams?) Hang a picture to hide a secret on the wall. Pretend you're a doctor and test someone's knee reflexes but actually crush their knee cap... the opportunities are endless!

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"Broken", at least as I have typically heard it, generally is used for things that are overpowered so that they crowd out the strategy space and there are no downsides or balancing counters. I would edit your title to just asking whether light hammers are underpowered.

My initial assumption would be that hammers are a strength weapon, and that bludgeoning weapons should not have finesse, but I don't have @Sam Lacrumb's experience in actually using one. I would also assume (without experience) that using a hammer as a finesse weapon to attack vulnerable areas like the collar bone would largely be offset by armor specifically protecting those areas. Thus one thing you might consider is giving the light hammer the finesse property but only when used against natural or light armor, not medium or heavy. This would give it a substantial improvement to its current status without becoming better in every situation.

Another conditional possibility that would add race flavor and verisimilitude considering the physics of wielding one overhand would be to not add finesse, but to bump the damage to a d6 when used against opponents of a smaller size class, or the same size class when mounted (thus dwarves would get a d6 against Small opponents (goblins) on the ground, and against Medium opponents when using them while mounted on mules or ponies). And / or bump their damage to a d6 and their range to 30/90 when used mounted so long as they were thrown in the direction of the mount's movement and the mount had moved for at least half its speed before the attack, to simulate adding the momentum of the mount's movement to the attack.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Much of this seems speculative, and giving a specific weapon bonuses against specific armor types or increased range when thrown from a running start is awfully fiddly design. (I expect a lot of "Oh wait, my attack last turn should have had another +1, does that make it hit?") \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jul 19 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ I completely agree. But it is my best original response to the OP's problem, "could we instead assign it an additional weapon property to compensate for the lesser damage (perhaps as a race feature, if not for everyone)?" \$\endgroup\$ – Kirt Jul 19 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm pretty sure you should tie it to the user, i.e. in a way that always works for a specific character. That way it gets noted in the character sheet and the player will get used to it. Like you will get used to changing modifiers after an ASI. \$\endgroup\$ – Anagkai Jul 20 at 12:39

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