I am a first time player, and my character is a rock gnome druid. I wanted a weapon loosely based on the hûthvír of the Inheritance Cycle. I asked the DM for permission to make it, and I was told I could if it was balanced. I haven't showed the DM what I came up with yet.

This is what I have:

There are five pieces: wooden bar base, roughly the thickness of a quarterstaff, two long daggers, and two special sheaths that have the same materials and circumference as the base.

The pieces screw together, and to reconfigure costs an action and, depending on the reconfiguration, possibly a minor action.

The pieces can be organized in any configuration, but these are the main ones. Pay special attention to configuration 2, it is the reason for this weapon's being:

  1. Quarterstaff: 1d6 bludgeoning; Versatile (1d8); 4 lbs.

  2. Staff-sword: 2d4 bludgeoning, slashing or 1d8 piercing; Finesse Versatile (2d6 or 1d12); 3 lbs.

    If something is being held in the other hand or the user is wearing a shield, there is a −2 for all attacks. If a player chooses, they can wield it defensively two handed, in which case the attack is the same as wielding it single-handed, but they will not provoke opportunity attacks, and their armor class is raised by 1.

  3. Dagger: 1d4 piercing; finesse, light, thrown (range 20/60); 1 lbs.

  4. Javelin (base+1 dagger): 1d6 piercing; Thrown (range 30/120); 2 lbs.

  5. Spear (base+2 daggers, 1 sheathed): 1d6 piercing; Thrown (range 20/60), versatile (1d8)

  6. Hidden-dagger-staff (base attached to sheath with dagger sheathed inward for easy unsheathing):

    This looks like a walking stick, then you take out the hidden dagger — now you're holding a dagger and a walking stick.

    • Dagger: see dagger stats
    • Staff (like a light club): 1d4 bludgeoning; Light; 1.5 lbs. without dagger, 2.5 lbs. with

My character is a sage-researcher rock gnome, so storyline-wise he should be able to have made this himself. It is my character's only weapon, and because all pieces are custom made, it costs extra and takes time to replace them, which should help with balance.

I would like to know if this is a fair substitute for the druid's two starter weapons, or if it is unfair.

  • 5
    With the caveat of "compared to the druid's two starting weapons," this is now (slam dunk) answerable. – mxyzplk Sep 16 '16 at 0:56
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    Questions looking for discussion about designs don't work here, as discussion is off-topic. If you really do want feedback and collaborative design, your question might be better suited to a chat room or a traditional forum, as you'll get more helpful feedback on a site intended for open-ended discussion. – SevenSidedDie Sep 16 '16 at 2:02
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    Here's a chat room for this question. (Although, it requires 20 rep to talk in chat.) – SevenSidedDie Sep 16 '16 at 2:05
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    Isn't "minor action" a 4E term? This is tagged 5E. – T.J.L. Sep 16 '16 at 3:08
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    @T.J.L. yes, but there's that weird unnamed 5e mechanic where you can simply interact with an object "for free," but doing so twice would use your action.... I can forgive someone having to make up a term for it. (The sidebar on p.190) – nitsua60 Sep 16 '16 at 11:38
up vote 62 down vote accepted

This is not balanced.

Okay, I don't usually do "is this balanced" questions, because I don't really know what 'balanced' is. But, to paraphrase Potter Stewart, "I know it when I see it, and this ain't it."

You've obviously tried to balance it, and that's laudable. And there may be room to make this concept balanced. But it's not there yet.

  1. First-off, let's note that it's piecewise-equal to each of the weapons it's based off of. That is, in "dagger mode" it's as good as normal daggers, in "spear mode" it's as good as a normal spear, &c. for quarterstaff and javelin and the club-and-dagger variant.1 This hits configurations 1 and 3-6.

    Then we get to configuration 2: I don't know what-exactly this is, but it does the damage of either a Greataxe or Greatsword while being half the weight of each and bearing the keywords Finesse and (!) Versatile, rather than the Heavy and Two-handed of the Great weapons. That extra ! is in there because it'd be the only Finesse and Versatile weapon other than sun blade, a rare.2

    [Thanks to SirTechSpec] Configuration #2 also gets into murky water with your druid's weapon proficiencies; a druid's got scimitars but not other swords, and this configuration looks a lot more like a sword or even a polearm than it does a scimitar.

    [Thanks to Eric] Another easily-overlooked problem is that your gnome is not capable of handling heavy weapons; you've created a non-heavy weapon that does the same damage as heavy weapons, so you've undercut this bit of racial balancing that the designers built in.

    So you've got something that's equal to existing weapons in five configurations, and is superior in all ways to two other existing ones in the sixth. At it's core, this design is unbalanced.

  2. I see you tried to balance it through the action economy. Unfortunately, you didn't. Compare your tinkerer using this to someone carrying the five comparable weapons. (I'm ignoring configuration 2.) Your gnome has to spend an action (or less) to switch weapons.

    But our comparison-character would have to burn an action to achieve the same thing: stowing one weapon might be one of the "free" actions tabulated on PHB190, but "Use an Object" (PHB193) would come into play when drawing the second.

  3. Weight: your whole thing weighs in at 4lb., I believe? Someone carrying all the implied weapons weighs in at 12lb. (I called your staff-sword a longsword, for weight purposes.)

  4. I suppose some might argue that you can be disarmed of five weapons at once, which is the one drawback I can see of the whole design. But I think it's a hard row to hoe, calling that drawback equal to shedding 8lb. and gaining a Versatile, Finesse, one-handed, non-heavy Great[sword|axe].

There's another important way in which this isn't balanced.

All of the above addresses "in-game" balance: how will this character's capabilities compare to those of other characters. But I'd actually be more concerned about "table-balance." You've chosen to play a gnome, which has as one of its bits that you can design a little trinket, which probably doesn't come into play very often. But you're trying to bring that to an item that you're like to use during every round of combat.

To the extent that I can see combats at your table including any time spent on your character swapping configurations or you [the player] discussing with your table-mates which configuration would be best in this fight, you're unbalancing the table. You're creating a "weapon-picking" game that only you get to play, and it comes at the expense of your mates.

Wizards, particularly, and spellcasters, generally, also have to juggle this: they've often got many more options than martial characters. But their classes are build with forty years' experience balancing this. You're proposing a character have unique equipment with all this complexity, but no drawback. It's jut not really "playing nice" with your table.


1 - And I have to note here, I really like that bit distinguishing the javelin-mode and the spear-mode. You've done some nice fantasy-tinkerer-engineering here. Let nothing I say above detract from the interesting ideas and obvious thought you've put into this!

2 - a wise (mini)man once told me that options=power. Versatile + finesse is giving lots of options, compared to other weapons.

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    +1 Good answer... I feel like the item would be balanced as a [minor?] magic item, á là the Morphing special ability of 3.5's MIC. I just don't feel that that's answer enough on its own, and your analysis is great. – Chemus Sep 16 '16 at 4:45

@nitsua60 pretty much nails this answer.

As written this is basically a magic item. Possibly an Uncommon, but probably a Rare one.

When it comes to home brewed content, weapons are probably the most challenging piece of design real estate. It is very difficult to create a new weapon that is balanced and useful.

Outside of Spear/Trident and Glaive/Halberd, every weapon on the list fills a distinct and unique role. There are lots of little trade-offs built in.

In your case, you've made a weapon that is just a better version of lots of other things along with being a few completely new combinations that changes the game in unexpected ways.

If you're going to make a weapon that does multiple things it has to be at least trade off with existing weapons and be inferior on one or more dimensions.

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