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I created a new weapon for the barbarian of the party I am DMing. They are in the 2nd tier of playing, they are all at level 7, in a couple of session they will level up. I would like to give the barbarian a ranged weapon thematically close to her fighting style but also related to some past events linked to the main plot, events that the party still does not know.

The reason why I created this weapon is because she desired to have a good ranged weapon in case she cannot reach immediately, i.e. in the first round of combat, the heat of the battle (and sometimes it happened). She uses two handaxes in melee combat and tried to use javelins for ranged attacks, but we felt that this kind of weapon does not fit with the character. I hence came up with the following item:

Handaxe of the storm

Weapon (handaxe), uncommon, requires attunement

The blade of this axe is finely decorated with images of storms and lightning. As a bonus action you can spend one charge and make a ranged weapon attack, throwing the axe: on a hit, the target takes 1d6+1 slashing damage, and suddenly within a thunderous boom dozens of replicas of this axe appear in a cone of 15 ft. The point of origin is chosen by the attacker. Each creature, except the target, in this cone must succeed a DEX saving throw (DC 13) or take 1d6 slashing damages. The replicas then disappear.

The item has 3 charges, that restore each day at dawn.

When used for a ranged attack, this axe counts as a magic weapon, whilst when it is used for melee attacks counts as a mundane weapon.

The range is the one of a normal handaxe (20/60 ft).

Once in possession of this weapon, she will have 3 handaxes: this one, a mundane one and a magical one (+1 to attack rolls and damage). My idea is hence that she can throw this one and draw the other non-magical one and then enter in melee combat. The images on the blade are linked to the plot events mentioned at the beginning.

Down below I provide some explanation of the characteristics of this weapon.

  • Cost: it takes one bonus action because I wanted to allow her to have the opportunity to do something different in the rest of her turn. It felt that activating the item on an attack (hence taking the Attack action) was too demanding.

  • Damage: I decided to not increase drastically the damage for the ranged attack, since I think that allowing it to hit several creatures with one ranged attack is good enough for a fighter with no magic abilities (see the inspiration for this weapon in the last point of this list).

  • AoE activates only on a hit: at the beginning I designed it so that the replicas appear automatically, and all the creatures in the area must succeed on the saving throw. I modify it in the current version for to account for the ability of the character to hit.

  • The weapon is magical only for ranged attack: the character already has a magic weapon, hence I did not want to allow two magic weapons at this tier.

  • Spell-like effect: this weapon takes inspiration from the Conjure Volley spell, but I decided to heavily underpower it. I decided to lowering both the AoE and the damage since this class is dealing a lot of damage: indeed, under the current design, she can throw this axe then reach the enemies and still make two attacks with her action, provided she has enough movement left.

Down below I list all the doubts that I have, seeking for advice from the RPG.SE collective wisdom and to check if there are any issues that I do not see.

  • Cost: using this item costs a Bonus Action, in this way she has to decide to use it or enter in rage in her turn. This decision requires a little bit if strategy and it will depend on each battle. Is it a good design or is it better to activate the main property of this item with an attack coming from an Attack Action?

  • AoE, damage, DC: are the cone area and the damage dealt suitable for this kind of weapon? I did not want to create a weapon that works like a spell, nor that unbalances in the party increasing too much the damage dealt by the barbarian. This is the reason why I set a low DC.

  • Charges: is it ok to limit the usage of charges? Is 3 a suitable number? Take into account that I do not plan to make more than 4-5 encounters between long rests.

  • Power up: due to plot reasons, I plan to power up this weapon, giving the returning property (Mjolnir anyone?). But this will be in the future, around 3-4 levels ahead.

The above are my main concerns: maybe there are others that I do not see.


The rest of the party (with their relevant magic items) is the following.


In conclusion: is this a suitable weapon for a 2nd tier Barbarian?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, the more details we have, the better. You've done a great job describing the problem from the player's perspective, but I'm now interested in seeing what the other players can do (especially melee vs ranged for each) to see what the balance across party looks like. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Apr 11, 2022 at 15:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage The idea behind having more details is that as written, we can say "it's probably okay/too good/too bad", but with more details, we can add more details to an answer about potential issues related to those details, which may make for a better/more helpful answer. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 11, 2022 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I added the information that I think are more relevant: if the community need more, I will add them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Apr 11, 2022 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage I made some minor clarity edits. If you don't like them, please feel free to roll them back. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 5 at 20:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jack they're perfect, thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    May 5 at 21:17

2 Answers 2

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It's on the weaker side

This item is most similar to the published Javelin of Lightning (Uncommon) , which has a similar area of effect thrown attack. Let's examine their key differences:

  • The Javelin is always a magic weapon, regardless of how it is used.
  • The Javelin's special attack damage is significantly higher at 4d6 with the same DC (DC13) and it deals half damage on a successful save.
  • The Javelin's special attack's range is significantly larger with a 120ft line.
  • The Javelin's special attack always activates, regardless of whether it hits.
  • The target of the Javelin's special attack also suffers bonus damage (4d6) if they are hit.
  • The Javelin's special attack can be used only once per day.
  • The Javelin's special attack is activated at no cost (it can be applied to any ranged attack made with the Javelin).
  • The Javelin does not (!!) require attunement.

As you can see, the Handaxe of the Storm is weaker in almost every conceivable way. The sole exceptions to this are number of uses and the fact that the handaxe can be used for a third bonus action attack without requiring Two Weapon Fighting.

As such, there is significant room for buffing up this weapon. As is, I'd be concerned about your Barbarian feeling disappointed or frustrated with both their item allotment and attunement slots being occupied by such a weak weapon and I'd expect them to ditch it for another +1 weapon at the first opportunity.

My suggestions

Action Economy

The fact that this weapon requires a bonus action to use is rather unusual and functionally only serves to complicate its usage. Consider the fact that, as a weapon with the light tag, your Barbarian is already able to attack with their bonus action, throwing their weapon or otherwise, by using Two Weapon Fighting (assuming they use it in tandem with their other +1 handaxe).

As such, it should be activated at no cost using a command word, same as the Javelin of Lightning. They can still use it in the same way thanks to TWF, but they also have the flexibility to use it via the normal Attack action on turns where they activate Rage.

To magic or not to magic?

Similarly, it should always count as a magic weapon, because your player will figure out that there's almost no functional difference. As is, your player should be attacking twice with their +1 handaxe and once by throwing the Handaxe of the Storm, using their bonus action for the third attack (using either Two Weapon Fighting or the special attack) for wholly magic damage on every attack.

The only thing that's added by making it magic only on thrown attacks is the annoyance of dealing with disadvantage if there's an enemy nearby, which they can negate with Reckless Attack.

As is, requiring attunement for a mundane weapon is simply too high a cost to pay.

Damage, Area of Effect

This is the place where you have the most room to play with. As is, the fact that it can be used 3 times per day makes up for the lower damage and reduced area of effect. As it stands, this 3*1d6+1 sums out to just half a point damage less than 4d6 so this seems to be well in line for the Uncommon tier of items, ignoring the other differences in damage (half-damage on save, range, bonus on initial target, etc.).

The only things I'd change would making the initial target eligible for bonus damage and making it deal half damage on a failed save. Additionally, I'd recommend either making the special effect always activate or increase its damage to compensate.

Final Thoughts

It's a neat concept and any player would be happy to see their DM creating a special weapon for them like this. I would just focus on cleaning up the stats and verbiage to better fit with the precedents set in the DMG (with the Javelin of Lightning) and you'll have a cool item and a happy player.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I didn't notice the attunement! Good call on that :) I think you are minimizing the 1/day limitation of the Javelin - or do you suggest disposing of that (wink wink nudge nudge)? I also gave a modified Javelin to another PC, it's a very cool starting concept item. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Apr 12, 2022 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NauthArch I added a little snippet to the damage calculation for this item. In fact, with 3 uses it sums out to almost exactly the same damage as the Javelin of Lightning so I see them as nearly equivalent in that regard (though with the JoL being stronger due to half-damage on save, longer range, bonus damage on initial target, etc.). The weaknesses for this item have less to do with the shared characteristics with JoL (i.e. the AOE attack) and more to do with all of the hoops the user has to jump through to access them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Apr 13, 2022 at 0:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ That said, I do agree that Javelin of Lightning is one of the better designed items in the game--it's a fun way to give martial characters access to a cool once-per-day ability. \$\endgroup\$
    – Andrendire
    Apr 13, 2022 at 0:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your analysis! The more I think about attunement and BA cost, the more I agree with you and @NautArch: it is better to allow the usage with a normal attack ( as part as an Attack Action or the one provided by TWF) and attunement is not necessary at this stage, I may add it when I'll power it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Apr 13, 2022 at 12:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ After a lot of sessions, where the barbarian used the item not so many times (maybe 6?) actually, I found that your analysis is correct: as it is created, this item is really weak and I need to buff it to make it more useful. Thanks for all the suggestions! \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 13, 2023 at 20:11
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Solving problems with magic items

First off, I am a HUGE fan of creating custom magic items for characters that solve an in-game need and give the player some fun toys that really are just for them.

I've been doing this recently, and I'm pretty sure my players like it and have liked their items. However, my process for creating these is a bit different than for general item creation and I think it'd be helpful for me to walk it through.

I think this is pretty close, but some changes could happen to improve and resolve the problems the player is feeling.

What does the player want? What does the character need?

These are always my starting points. And I think you've done the same. You've identified the issue as the Barbarian feels inadequate during early stage battles when they are distant and are looking for a solution that isn't chuck a javelin (as that doesn't fit with the character design.)

Great start here!

The item itself

I love keeping the hand-axe as a theme - but keeping it doesn't really solve the problem of distance. You're still limited by the distance of a thrown hand-axe, so I'm not sure that solves that particular problem. Given that it's magical, I'd up the range to javelin range and make it only work when thrown. That way, you avoid the melee use completely.

As Adrendire points out, there isn't a real need for attunement here. It's not incredibly powerful..at least not yet. If it grows in power, you can always add that later.

The decision to not give it a +1 I also like. Leaning more towards flavor and fun for a concept is something I prefer over straight mechanical increases.

Action economy

I don't think a bonus action makes sense here. This is actively replacing their primary action so they can get a head start on combat when they previously couldn't reach there in one round. The problem is that it uses up their bonus action for raging - which may be an issue. I'd suggest changing this to an action, and you can expend a charge to use it and start your rage.

Area effect

This is minimal and I love it. An extra d6 of slashing is really not much, but it gives the player something to feel good about. I'd probably simplify it and say any creature within 5' takes 1d6 damage (or have them do a dex save, but save the template and just go with distance.) But if you really want the cone for 'depth', then go for it. Not a big deal.

Charges

3 seems decent here, they can't use it all the time, but when they do, they can combine a ranged attack with their rage - a neat combo that solves some of these issues.

Talking to your players

I'm not sure if this really needs to be said, but I'm gonna say it anyway. It's important for the table to note that these customized items are specifically for that player. They aren't for trading or re-use with another concept later. The balancing done is more at the character level rather than table, so another character using them can vastly change the reasonableness of any item designed for someone specifically.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your analysis! You're right, increasing the range should work, indeed. My biggest doubt was about the action economy: do you suggest using the item costs an entire Action (Use a Magic Item) or just as attack as part of the Attack Action (hence combining with the Extra Attack feature)? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Apr 12, 2022 at 12:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ My table has very reasonable players (I am lucky!) and they are aware that I create some items particularly tailored for each of them: for example, the rogue's shortsword has some property linked to his family blood. Anyway, I agree with you, repetita juvant: "talking to your players" is the first and most important thing to do at a DnD (but not only DnD) table! \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Apr 12, 2022 at 12:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Eddymage I'm not sure the Attack vs Use Item makes a massive difference for the use-case. I'd probably leave it as an attack and give them the option for Extra Attack. In most cases, though, it seems like they'll not take the extra attack as they are out of range. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Apr 12, 2022 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Several months later, I reached the conclusion that this item is quite weak: the barbarian liked it a lot, but they used it few times because they both manage to be on melee asap and because it is not so powerful. Thank for all your suggestion, I will try to use them to improve it! \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    Feb 13, 2023 at 20:13

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