Saturday 11 September 2010

Damage by class

I've seen a few people discussing this topic, on various blogs and forums: the idea of weapon damage in D&D being determined not by the weapon itself, but by the class of the character wielding it. The most commonly propsed system is that characters do damage based on their hit die (d4 for magic users, d6 for thieves, d8 for clerics and d10 for fighters - using the AD&D class hit dice).

It's an idea that I find very appealing. 1. It's simple, super simple. 2. It (potentially) does away with that old D&D stickler - "why can't my wizard / cleric use a sword?".

So with damage by class a wizard can use a sword - he just won't do much damage with it. This makes sense to me. Of course, anyone can pick up and use (almost) any weapon, but without proper training (like, say, being a fighter) they're not going to be able to use it at full effectiveness.

At the low end of the damage spectrum it seems to make sense. However I've wondered if it makes sense at the other end (fighters). Is a trained warrior really as effective in combat with a dagger as with a longsword? I don't claim any knowledge of such things, but I presume not, otherwise the longsword would probably never have been invented.

So, what I've been thinking is that a mixture of the two systems would probably work - damage by class and by weapon. This sounds like it's going to be complicated and involve tables, but it doesn't! All you need to do is say that any character can use any weapon, and all weapons do the damage listed as normal - BUT up to a maximum of the character's hit die. So a wizard wielding a dagger, a club, a sword - any weapon at all - will do d4 damage. But a fighter wielding a dagger will be a far less formidable opponent than a fighter wielding a 2-handed sword.

(By the way, I'm sure this idea is subconsciously inspired by Savage Worlds, where damage is by weapon but limited by a character's Strength.)

The only trouble I can see with this (or other damage by class systems) is that it takes away one of the fighter's big advantages - having no weapon restrictions. Of course the fighter has also just gained a new big advantage - being the only class capable of dealing maximum damage with big weapons. I'm not sure if this balances out though.

I'd say probably clerics would be the big winners here, going from being able to use a very limited selection of weapons, almost all of which do d6 damage, to being able to use any weapon, many of which deal up to d8 damage. In that respect I'd consider reducing clerics' maximum damage to d6, that seems more balanced.

I'm interested to hear anyone's thoughts on this matter!


  1. I've used class-based damage before, and it has a few problems. The main one is balancing out the various ranged weapons, with their differing rates of fire. But also, when you make a character's choice of weapon mostly meaningless, which is something I'd thought would be a liberating improvement, it actually detracts from the game. At any rate, the different character classes already do deal different damage in the long run by virtue of their to-hit chances.

  2. "At any rate, the different character classes already do deal different damage in the long run by virtue of their to-hit chances." - That's a very good point :)

    I guess my interest in a system that limits damage by class is mostly out of a desire to remove the restrictions on who can use what weapons, without completely unbalancing the game.

    Another very simple option might be to just say that any character can use any weapon, but ones not on their normal class list only do d4 damage.

  3. In OD&D, weapon choice was irrelevant - everything did 1 to 6 points of damage. In most variations on early D&D, all characters have the same chance to hit at level 1 and mostly levels 1 to 3 so I don't think it's fair to say that the chance of hitting thins out the damage result significantly.

    Damage by class is a step up and a good one that makes thematic sense.

    The fighter retains his advantage - due to his larger die type.

    The only issue this system has is when your characters start to uncover magic weapons. When this happens, I think the referee really needs to apply the class/weapon restrictions - something along the lines of: 'that +1 sword is only a +1 sword in the hands of a fighter, to everyone else it's a weapon that deals class damage and has no plus.'

    My 2 cents.

  4. Also good points!

    I really like your idea about allowing any character to use any weapon, but limiting use of weapons' magical "pluses" & abilities by the traditional class-based weapon lists. That was one thing I was concerned about with the whole idea of damage by class and removing weapon limitations - that suddenly any character can use that sword +3, which was previously the preserve of fighters and thieves only.

    I think it also has a nice mythological feel to it - that the powers of a magical weapon can only be activated and controlled by a great champion. (Just like only a great wizard can wield the powers of a wand or staff.)

    For clerics I think I'd allow them to choose 2 or 3 weapons associated with their deity, which they would be able to use magical versions of.

  5. The Lamentations of the Flame Princess rpg -- it's based on D&D -- has an elegant solution. Any class can use any weapon, but only the fighter's hit chance increases with level. So a cleric or mage can use a broadsword, but they won't be any more proficient with it at 10th level than they were at 1st.

    I like it because it gives the fighter some niche protection without lumbering him with special rules.

  6. That's also a nice solution, though probably not one which I'd integrate into normal D&D / Labyrinth Lord... I think that'd be pretty much the nail in the coffin for the Cleric class!

  7. I disagree. I think it does reduce the cleric's effectiveness in some ways, but mainly in that he overshadows the fighter somewhat and now does not do so.

    In other ways it frees up the character, notably in removing the absurd blunt weapons clause.

  8. I guess it depends on how you see the Cleric class. I've always thought, if one were to adjust the class balance somehow, that among the four core human classes they're definitely not the ones that need to be made weaker. I don't know, they've just never seemed very popular, which, thinking about it, actually might not just be due to their "game mechanical" features.

    (But I must add that I've not played Basic D&D for a very long time, so this is all talking theoretically.)

    You're right though, I can see it creating an interesting new "take" on the role of the classes, which might work in some campaigns. I'd just fear that, with their fighting skill reduced, Clerics might be relegated to "just healers". (Always a Cleric's secret fear anyway: "They only hang around with me cos I can cure light wounds, sob".)

  9. I think you're right. I've always seen the cleric as overpowered -- essentially a multiclass fighter mage, only with access to plate armour -- so something that lessens the impact of the class is fine by me.

    I'm still undecided on denying the class a spell at first level though. On one hand I like it, but on the other I wonder if it cripples the class too much.


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