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I'm building a fantasy world for D&D 5th edition, in which different races have different crafting abilities - the human kingdom has a monopoly on the creation of magic items, but they're trading with the dwarfs who have superior craftsmanship.

How can I represent the superior craftsmanship of, say, a dwarven-made sword versus a human-made sword?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Nice question but it might be helpful to be more explicit and narrow it down, i.e. asking for examples of such weapons/armour present in the existing rule books and official campaign settings. \$\endgroup\$ – Senmurv Aug 1 at 15:57
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If you're really interested in making this an important part of campaign flavor, you might want to take a page from 4E Darksun and the "Reckless breakage" option:

Reckless Breakage: When you roll a natural 1 on an attack roll, your weapon has a chance to break. You can accept the result, automatically missing the attack as usual, but keeping your weapon intact. Alternatively, you can reroll. Regardless of the reroll result, a nonmetal weapon breaks once the attack is complete. A metal weapon breaks only if you roll a natural 5 or lower on the reroll. This rule gives you a say in whether a weapon breaks. You can play it safe and [accept] the errant attack, or you can attempt to avoid a miss by risking your weapon.

For your world, substitute "human-made" for "nonmetal" and "dwarven" for "metal". I really enjoyed this in Darksun, since the breaking is the player's choice — it gives a bit of fun to what is normally an "aw crap, wasted turn" roll. And it doesn't make the default a penalty, since no one has to reroll — it's just an added option.

You could vary the "natural 5" to give different levels of dwarven quality, or even make it so dwarven weapons never break in this case.

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All the things which in real life denote "superior craftsmanship" are not really made into mechanics, in 5E, outside of describing the weapon as "better made".

That said, you have some options:

Saves and Breakage

It's pretty rare that objects have to make saving throws in D&D in general, but sometimes stuff like acid, intense heat, or rust monsters make it a good time to make those rolls, in which case, giving advantage dice is a good call. Because this happens relatively rarely in D&D games, though (usually once every few sessions at best), it makes it hard to see superior craftsmanship as worth the money.

Fiction of wear and tear

D&D doesn't have rules for the care of weapons. Historically, you spend some time sharpening and oiling and paying attention to what's going on with your weapons after each battle. Edges wear down, get nicked, and eventually the blade degrades and cracks or breaks entirely.

D&D handwaves this, so you would basically be putting this into description - "You quickly find out this blade takes a third of the time to sharpen, and it barely catches any nicks from battle. You basically have an extra 20 minutes of time - maybe you wanna collect firewood? Sew up some clothes?"

Social Power

Nice weapons indicate having money and status. Get Advantage when trying to pull rank in a military or valor context. Present yourself as higher class than someone else and so on.

Limited bonuses

Throughout most of D&D's history, a +1 to a weapon meant it was magical. That meant that pretty much everything from the crappy sword quickly hammered out to meet a quick raising of a peasant army to the finest Damascus steel weapon usually were at the same level. Or, by 3rd edition, that was an entire +1 difference.

Assuming we're going to stay within those boundaries, you can say these weapons offer a bonus a limited number of times - such as 3 times a day you can get a +1 to your rolls. This makes them clearly better than normal weapons, but not better than magical weapons. On the other hand, this is also clearly inconsistent in terms of fiction ("I'll buy 3 swords and when one runs out of bonuses, I'll switch to the next one, and so on!")

You could do something more complicated like "This weapon gives a +1 whenever you roll an odd number on attack" or "You can reroll 1's on the damage dice" or something like that as well.

Mostly what it boils down to is looking at either character abilities or magical weapon effects but making it LESS powerful as one option to including some difference.

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They did away with Masterwork items in 5e.

So we are into house rule territory. In which you could import the old Masterwork effect: +1 to hit but not to damage (compared to a magic +1, which does both). Or you could just fluff it and say - sword looks particular well, compare to other works of swords. Fluff also means it doesn't carry any mechanical additions.

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Give the weapon bonuses or advantage on things other than To Hit and Damage.

For example, this weapon has a very well-made grip. You have advantage on checks to resist disarming.

For example, this weapon has hooks that aid in climbing. You have advantage on climbing rolls (including climbing on to larger creatures).

For example, this weapon is covered in ugly hooks and spikes. It gives you +1 on Intimidate checks.

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The only way I see to do that RAW is by treating these Dwarven weapons as magical. Possible minor properties such as Gleaming and Unbreakable might make thematic sense in this instance.

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One option used by the Scarred Lands setting (a third party 3.0/3.5 setting by Swords and Sorcery) was to limit what /kinds/ of items were available. So, for instance, perhaps the Dwarven Smiths are the only ones with the secret of making half plate and full plate armor. Perhaps also the only ones capable of making primarily metal two handed weapons (a spear or a maul might be available to everyone, but a greatsword is a higher technology production, as is a rapier). This implies a lower technology base for your humans than traditional D&D, but may be workable .

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you could, perhaps give human weapons a debuff, ie: slashing & peircing weapons get -1 on damage rolls if not sharpened after 3 battles, and blunt weapons need tempering and reinforcement after 6 battles or they get a -1 on attack rolls. then if theyre not kept sharp or strong, there is a chance they will break, equal to a natural 1 (+1 per dulling debuff). dwarven weapons could have 6 battles before sharpening, and 9 battles berfore tempering.

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If you're up for it, there are rules about objects and their hit points. (In the PHB, they mention such for boats; in the Hoard of Dragons, they have a couple of doors with HP...)

For example, you could say a door has 50 hp and to break it you need an ax and hit it until you generate 50 hp of damage. Not too important if you are not in a combat situation, otherwise the time it takes to break the door can be quite important. There are also Animated Objects in the MM and one of them is a sword. That gives you an idea of what can be done.

Using a similar concept, you could give the player weapons a set of hp and each time they use them it damages the weapons in some way. Magic melding could then be used to fix those weapons and restore their hp.

To make it even more realistic you could calculate whether you:

  • Completely miss the target, I would suggest something like 10 + dex mod. if you hit roll is below that amount, you just completely missed and your weapon takes no damage (although on a 1 you could say that it hits the ground and takes 1d4 damage...)

  • Hit the armor if you do 10 + dex mod. and not enough to do damage, in this case the armor or shield stopped the weapon so the weapon takes more damage. Maybe you could say it is 2 hp. (and this makes you think the armor should also have its own hp!)

  • You hit the creature (roll AC or more) then you have little damage to your weapon, so here it could be 1 hp.

You could vary these damages depending on the material the target is built with. If the target is a stone golem, maybe you get 1d8 hp to your weapon instead of just 1. If it is a flesh golem, no such increase. Some other creates like a gelatinous cube could deal even more damages because of the acid they spout out.

Finally, you would assign something like 100 hp for regular (human) weapons and 250 hp for better crafted (dwarf) weapons.

Note that magical items do not take such damages. They cannot break either.

Once a weapon reaches 0 hp, it breaks, or at least does not deal any more damages. (you could go even further and say that a weapon at 50% of its hp, the weapon damages are reduced... maybe 50% damage or a -1)

Note that if that applies to your players weapons, you probably have similar rules for your monsters.

Of course, all that said, it is a lot more to keep track of and it may not add much to your game in general...

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