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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Improvised, Non-Lethal, and Nuisance Weapons

Comments on the post about throwing crossbow bolts are getting heating, which I suppose is to be expected. It touches on a deep divide between two interpretations of the rules:
  • Damage Rolls are an abstraction of how lucky or skillful your attacks were in a given round;
  • Damage Rolls are a representation of actual physical damage done by a weapon.
I and those fully embracing the "all weapons do 1d6 damage" principle belong to the first camp, so we're likely to just say "yes" when a player says "I throw crossbow bolts at my enemies." Others belong to the other camp and prefer adjusting damage rolls based on mass, sharpness, or perceived effectiveness. There are in-betweeners, like those embracing class-based damage. There's no authoritative interpretation, because Gygax went with the first interpretation in the LBBs, but quickly switched to the second, which he elaborated in Supplement I and AD&D.

I prefer differentiating weapons based on what they can do rather than on some damage rating, so if I'm going to distinguish between a crossbow bolt fired from a crossbow, a bolt thrown by hand, an arrowhead, and a bowstring (all examples cited in the previous post,) I'm more likely to roll a d6 for each and just interpret the damage differently. Here's a quick system, rewritten from earlier posts on punching and kicking and using sporks or throwing kittens.

  1. Standard weapons do 1d6 damage; giants do more damage when using weapons designed for them, but otherwise size only affects reach.
  2. Some weapons can be used for unusual actions in addition to or instead of their normal attack (for example, disarming someone using a flail.) Roll the d6 as you would for damage, but on a 5+, the unusual action works. This roll can be modified: knocking someone down with your shield might get a bonus or penalty for Strength, for example.
  3. An improvised weapon of substantial size mostly works as a regular weapon, but there may be improvised limits imposed by the form (can't throw it as far as a dagger, weapon has a chance of breaking, etc.)
  4. In keeping with #3, if you judge a weapon to be undersized for the job, you could reduce damage (halve it, or only allow 1 point except on 5+ and then halve it, or only 1 point on a 5+.)
  5. Non-lethal weapons do full non-lethal damage, tracked separately, plus reduced normal damage as in #4. If ordinary + non-lethal damage is more than hit points, opponent is unconscious.
  6. Nuisance weapons do reduced non-lethal damage. If they are sharp, they will do 1 point of real damage on 5+. They may also have unusual actions, as per #2.

So: a bolt fired from a crossbow is a standard weapon; a bolt used as a dagger is an improvised weapon (can't pull bolt out on 5+;) a bolt thrown by hand has reduced range and perhaps reduced damage; a punch is non-lethal; a bowstring is a nuisance weapon (trips and does 1 point non-lethal damage on 5+;) thrown arrowheads are also a nuisance weapon (no damage except on 5+.)


  1. Yeah d6 everything. Hvy crossbows, roll 2d6 but you just take the highest of the two rolls.

    I use/allow no mods to damage, not magic, not Str. Keeping in range 1-6 keeps power creep at bay and focuses people on other aspects of game besides optimizing damage output.

    And that's how less than ideal weapons work, modify to hit chances. Done.

  2. @Norman: I forgot to mention modifying the attack roll instead of the damage roll as an option. I previously posted about setting things like aiming for the eyes to AC 0; that would probably make sense for petty or nuisance weapons as well (throwing a crossbow bolt would normally do no damage because it won't be an effective "hit", but would just bounce off armor or even clothing... but there's a freak chance you'd hit someone in the eye or throat.)