Sunday, September 20, 2009

Magic Weapons In D&D

Lately, I have been rethinking the mechanics behind magic weapons in Dungeons and Dragons.

Take the ubiquitous Sword +1. Certain monsters can only be wounded by magic swords, so having a magic sword, even of the +1 variety, is important once you get past first level.

But the extra damage that accompanies the Sword +1 is relatively insignificant. Particularly if you are using the variable weapon damage rules.

For example, your typical d6 shortsword will have a boost of 16% if it is of the magical +1 variety. But you can get the same average damage from a d8 longsword.

Even with a +2 or +3 weapon, the additional damage only makes a minor difference, once you start facing monsters with 6, 8, 10 or more hit dice. At that level, the magic user is taking out those monsters long before the fighter even begins making a dent in its armor.

Of course, that is part of the implicit design of 0e: magic users start out as "glass cannons" but ultimately surpass the fighters (if they can survive long enough to obtain those high-level spells).

One of the criticisms, though, of 0e is that the combats become slogfests, and that the game becomes unbalanced between the fighting and magic-using classes, at higher levels.

I played 3e, a couple of times before I lost interest in that version of D&D. I understood that late in 3.5's life, attempts were made to balance out the fighting and magic-using classes, by "powering up" the magic swords available to the fighters.

I wonder whether it would be valuable to mine that particular vein? Thoughts?


Mythic Design said...

It’s been my experience in 3.5, that if built properly, a well-developed high-level fighter or rogue can hold their own with a high-level spell slinger. It’s all about feat utilization, choosing the right weapons (magical or otherwise), fluid use of strategic combat (flanking, back-stabbing, side-by-side, cover, defending, etc), and focusing on critical sustainability. I think the more traditional problem with the 3.5 system is that player’s tend to try to build (and play) the “classic” fighter instead of broadening the horizon and utilizing the advantages imbued the square classes.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

As someone who cheered from the sidelines for the last several years, I am not up to speed on how the game evolved, late in 3.5's life.

It would be interesting to try to apply some of those 3.5 lessons to earlier versions of D&D.

I have been toying with the idea of introducing 4e "powers" to my OS game, just to see how it would affect play-style.

I also wonder if ramping up damage inflicted by magic swords in 0e would balance out the power weilded by the magic users, at the higher levels.

Mythic Design, Inc. said...

The only issue, as a 3.5 game master that I have with the idea of just boosting the power associated with magic weapons is that it feels “unearned” by the character. Not to mention: too easily transferable.

I’m thinking more along the lines of magical weapons that progress with the character, the weapon’s bonus determined by the level of the wielder, and also requiring the use of skill points or experience to master (activate) certain more powerful abilities.

Here are a few simple examples:

Dynamic Enchantment Bonus: CL/3 [rounded up]
(this would result in a +1 weapon for levels 1-3, +2 for levels 4-6, +3 for levels 7-9, +4 for levels 10-12, +5 for levels 13-15, +6 for levels 16-18, +7 for levels 18-21, etc.)

Skill-based Enchantment Bonus: +1 per (existing bonus) skill points used in learning to master the weapon.
(this would result in requiring a total of 1 skill points for +1, 3 for +2, 6 for +3, 10 for +4, 15 for +5, 21 for +6, 28 for +7, 36 for +8, etc.) The ranks would be considered class, and of course limited to the character’s current max skill ranks.

Weapon-specific Feats: In place of taking a feat, the character may instead take the weapon enhancement feat, and learn how to more accurately strike with this weapon.
(This would result in +1 to critical range for each weapon-specific feat taken (up to +5).

Of course, the combinations are endless, and each weapon could be honed. But at least, in this way, the “abilities” granted are associated with a character and not the item.

Otherwise, it would seem a bit unfair for a fighter to be able to pass off his “new found power” to another character in a single action.

Mythic Design said...

I expanded on this a bit here:

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Love those ideas. I will blog some more in the future regarding magic weapons.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!