Weapon Design (4e Guideline)
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If designing a weapon from scratch, start with one of these baseline for a Simple weapon:
- One-handed melee, +2 proficiency, 1d8 damage
- Two-handed melee, +2 proficiency, 1d10 or 2d4 damage
Changing Damage, Adding Features
1d4 ↔ 1d6 ↔ 1d8 ↔ 1d10 or 2d4 ↔ 1d12 or 2d6
You can increase or decrease your weapon's damage along this scale.
For each of the following properties you add, you decrease damage one step:
- Increase proficiency to +3
- High crit
- Heavy thrown
- Off-hand, or Light thrown and Off-hand
Brutal weapons with a damage die of d4, d6 or d8 are Brutal 1. Damage die of d10 or d12 are Brutal 2.
Each step you increase damage by increases the weapon category
- from Simple to Military to Superior.
- Versatile - you can add this to any one-handed weapon that is not off-hand
- Small - you can add this as appropriate. They tend to be "slender" weapons: pikes, picks, lance; or lighter versions of weapons: short spear, light mace.
A ranged weapon decreases the damage by one step, or by two if it is Small.
Ranges are limited by weapon category.
- Simple: 15/30
- Military: 20/40
- Superior: 25/50
Extending beyond this limit reduces the damage by one step.
Ammunition and Load do not change damage die, but anything better than normal can be balanced by reducing range or giving some minor drawback. Anything worse than normal can be balanced by providing a minor bonus. Examples of minor drawbacks and bonuses will be given below.
- Always give the secondary end the Off-hand property.
- If the primary end is based on a versatile or two-handed weapon, give the primary end the Stout property.
- If the primary end is based on a two-handed weapon, the secondary end is a "sub-simple" weapon (a simple weapon with damage die or proficiency lowered by one step)
- If the secondary end is based on a off-hand weapon, give the secondary end the Defensive property.
Support with Feats
If your weapon has interesting features, you don't have to cram them all into the basic statblock. Let the player unlock them using feats.
For example, the Elven Thinblade is similar to a rapier – but once the wielder has the Thinblade Accuracy feat it has a unique flavor. This is preferable to adding an "if you are an elf..." property to the weapon itself.
If you want to add a complex feature to a weapon and decreasing the damage die is not appropriate, consider multiclass training. This allows a character to unlock advanced fighting styles by taking a multiclass feat. Three examples of this are given in Dragon #368 for the bola, whip and net.
- The first feat has prerequisites: usually 13 in an ability score (Strength, Dexterity, Wisdom are likely) and "any martial class". It provides a benefit related to hitting an enemy with the weapon.
- The Novice multiclass feat is available at 4th level and swaps a 3rd level encounter attack power with one related to the weapon.
- The Expert multiclass feat is available at 8th level and swaps a 6th level encounter attack power with one related to the weapon.
- The Specialist multiclass feat is available at 10th level and swaps 10th level utility power with one related to the weapon.
Things Not to Do
- Do not balance increased damage or additional features by increasing the gold piece cost of the weapon. Firstly, it won't take long for a character to save up the money for the item, they pay once, now they permanently have an overpowered weapon. Secondly, a character starting at a higher level begins with any mundane equipment they require irrelevant of gold piece cost.
- Do not add magical effects. Magical weapons are created by adding an enchantment to a mundane weapon.
- Trip, Disarm, Dismount
If your weapon is designed to drip, disarm or dismount, consider Tripping and Disarming (4e Variant Rule). Adding the Tripping, Disarming or Dismounting properties to your weapon does not change its category, so add where appropriate.
Minor Drawbacks, Minor Bonuses
This system came about during my overhaul of 4e firearms. Blackpowder weapons take two minor actions to reload, which is not enough of a penalty to change the weapon's category: it's a "minor drawback". To balance it, I introduced lesser versions of existing properties as "minor bonuses."
- Load Two Minor
Muzzle-loaded blackpowder weapons take longer to reload than bows or crossbows, since both powder and shot or ball must be loaded.
It takes two minor actions to load this weapon.
- Cartridge Jams
Firearms that use cartridges are faster to reload, and the bullet is often rifled providing better accuracy and range. However, in the D&D world, this technology is in its infancy.
If you roll a 1 on an attack roll with this weapon the cartridge jams in the breech. The ammunition is wasted and a standard action must be spent to clear the jam before the weapon can be used again.
- Point-Blank Brutal
Firearms that fire shot are deadlier at short range, before the pellets spread out.
This property works the same way as Brutal, except it only applies at Normal range, not Long range. As with Brutal, the value is 1 with damage die of d4, d6 or d8; the value is 2 with damage die of d10 or d12.
- Powder Crit
This is a lesser version of High Crit, and applies to firearms that shoot bullets or ball.
When you score a critical hit with this weapon, you deal extra damage. For weapons with damage die of d4, d6 or d8, the extra damage is 1 per tier. With damage die d10 or d12, the extra damage is 2 per tier.