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I'm not talking about magical enchantments, but an action that a character can perform in combat. For instance, rapiers and shortswords deal piercing damage, but they are still edged weapons, and should allow for some cutting. Is there a rule regarding that?

For instance, taking a -4 attack roll penalty for using a rapier as if it was a cutting sword, which would result in using a weapon the character isn't proficient with, in an attempt to damage a zombie (which has damage reduction of 5/slashing).

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There is no existing way to do it in the rules.

There might be ways that exist but if they do they are so obscure (splatbook feats from 3e for unarmed-strike only) that you might as well just houserule.

-4 is a good basis, because that is the same penalty as using an improvised weapon.

Change Weapon Damage, (Houserule)

By taking a -4 to hit, you may do a different damage type with a weapon than it normally does. Cutting with the blade of a rapier, bashing with the hilt of a longsword, you may change your damage type to one of; bludgeoning, slashing, or piercing for that one attack. You may change weapon damage types on any attack, even one which is part of a Full Attack action, or a Charge.

Class features or feats that specify a damage type ('a slashing weapon' etc) will not function if you use 'Change Weapon Damage' to change the damage type to a different one than the one mentioned in the class feature or feat.

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    \$\begingroup\$ any type with any weapon? How would one do slashing damage with a club? \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jun 7 '15 at 21:39
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Without Magic or Improvisation, No.

If you would like swords with fencing appeal, without the longsword moniker, then use a cutlass or a saber (Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting):

Table 3-5: Weapons

  • Cutlass: The cutlass is a short, heavy, slightly curved blade useful for both stabbing and slashing. It is popular with man)- sailors. Its heavy basket hilt gives the wiclder a +2 circumstance bonus on any checks to resist being disarmed.
  • Saber: A weapon of the Tuigan and the Nars, the saber is a long, heavy sword specialized for the long cuts'used in mounted combat. You gain a +1 circumstance bonus on your attack rolls when you use a saber while mounted.

Your DM can very easily make a ruling, within the rules.

Page 6 of the Dungeon Master's Guide:

Often a situation will arise that isn't explicitly covered by the rules. In such a situation, you need to provide guidance as to how it should be resolved. When you come upon a situation that the rules doesn't seem to cover, consider the following courses of action.

  • If you have to make something up, stick with it for the rest of the campaign. (This is called a house rule.) Consistency keeps players satisfied and gives them the feeling that they adventure in a stable, predictable universe and not in some random, nonsensical place subject only to the DM’s whims.
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  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean exactly by improvisation? \$\endgroup\$ – Ariane Jun 7 '15 at 4:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Improvised Weapon: Attacking someone with the Pommel of a Sword, for example. Attacking someone with the shaft of a spear, for another example. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruut Jun 7 '15 at 6:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ The cutlass deals only slashing damage as per Stormwrack, and the Arms and Equipment Guide recommends using the scimitar statistics for a saber, but I can't otherwise locate actual saber statistics outside the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, which is cool. An extra 5 gp to double the longsword's versatility? That's a deal. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 7 '15 at 13:56
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Here is one option, but requires a feat and probably a magical weapon property

So there is a feat, Versatile Unarmed Strike, which allows you to switch the damage type (Bludgeoning, Piercing, or Slashing) of your unarmed strikes as a swift action. There is no penalty associated with this, it’s just something you have to set up with the swift action. The change lasts until you spend another swift action to change it to something else.

The aptitude magic weapon property from Tome of Battle is one of a very few glaring problems in an otherwise exemplary book: it allows the weapon to be used with feats that are normally restricted to other weapons. It is likely that the intent was for things like Weapon Focus and Improved Critical, where you could have chosen any weapon, to apply to the aptitude weapon even if it wasn’t the type of weapon you actually chose. But the rules for it do not actually describe this; they just say any feat that normally works only with certain weapons, also works with the aptitude weapon.

So an aptitude weapon is eligible to have its damage type changed by Versatile Unarmed Strike.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I reached this same conclusion, but isn't this, like, the opposite of what the querent wants? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Jun 7 '15 at 16:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan probably, but not explicitly, and this answer is offered primarily for completeness's sake. I do recommend just going the improvised weapon route. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jun 7 '15 at 17:13

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