Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Weapon breakage, shields sundering and armor survival

As much as I am enjoying blogging about ability scores, I have a KotB campaign to run and the first session, Feb 5th, is only a month away.

So a momentary pause as I collect some house rules into one place. Now these aren’t original, though I have tweaked them to my liking, and I have linked to the inspired creators original blog posting where I can.

Weapon Breakage
Alexis at Tao of D&D has some excellent ideas about weapon breakage. Then he rants against one of his commentators, and undo’s some of my admiration, not that Alexis would care what I think.

His motivation in his post was to save the battle axe. I don’t feel the same need as I have already done, in my opinion, much to redeem the battle axe for my campaign; class-based weapon damage and axes equally good against both metal and non-metal armor compared to swords.

Alexis applies a weapon breakage rule on a natural roll of 1, what others house rule as a critical fumble (as did Alexis initially) and I proposed would lead to a minus 1 on initiative for the WHOLE PARTY in the next round.

I am now abandoning the initiative penalty, though possibly may reintroduce it in the future in addition to the below proposal. Because there is something very attractive about weapon breakage. It adds drama, it is realistic as weapons certainly do break, it allows for differing qualities of weapons to have different break points, it encourages new weapon experimentation when a weapon breaks and it removes magic weapons from the party’s arsenal and keeps them acquisitive and hungry for more.

Yes you heard it – it removes magic weapons. As a DM, you have to like that.

The devil as always is in the detail.

Alexis proposed a system where breakage occurred on:
1in 6 - ordinary, crummy weapon
1in 8 - 'hard-forged' weapon
1 in 12 - 'blessed' weapon, one that had been hard-forged and both lucky and loved in its construction
1 in 20 - 'mastercrafted' weapon would be the kind made by an artist or a magic weapon

All great stuff but I wonder what happened to 1 in 10, I think Alexis wanted to step up quickly from ‘hard-forged’ to ‘blessed’.

I have been thinking about magic weapons and non-magical weapons of quality weapons for my campaign. I want to keep magical weapons, magical. I discuss my campaign ideas much further below.

What I really like about Alexis’s weapon breakage system is it makes weapons special even when they aren’t magical.

What I am planning to use:

On a natural roll of 1 on a d20 ‘to hit’ roll a 2nd dice must be rolled to see if the weapon breaks, using the following table.

Weapon Quality
1 in 6
Cheap, poor
Less than full cost
1 in 8
Full cost (ordinary long sword 15gp)
1 in 10
Well made / quality
x3-x10 cost (well made long sword 45-150gp)
1 in 12
Superb / masterful
x100 cost (masterful long sword 1500gp)
1 in 20
Magical, elven or dwarven make
>x100 cost (magical long sword 2000gp as per DMG). Most magical weapons prior to enchantment will be as a base a masterful weapon.
1 in 20 twice in a row and so forth
If higher categories are desired (eg per additional + of the magic item)
Perhaps the magic weapon losing +1 each time it ‘breaks’ whereupon if it breaks again when non-magical it is broken for good, unless reforged / remade.

Missile weapons:
Bows – 1 in 6 breakage is of the string, 6 turns to repair if spares carried (total destruction see below)
XBow – 1 in 6 breakage is of the mechanism, need weapon maker to repair (total destruction see below)
Sling, other natural product – as per above table and the item is irreparable

Now detractors might think, how can a well-made weapon break every 200 swings (1 in 20 then 1 in 10= 1 in 200).
Combat is abstract so we are not counting swings and I assume the swings occur even more often in weapons practice. What we are looking at is the chance for the weapon to fail when it’s needed the most.

It may not be totally realistic but it looks like damn good fun for players and DM alike.

Shield Sundering
Trollsymth has a legendary post about shields sundering / splintering and I urge you to click on the link if you haven’t read it.

My take is this:
As a desperate last-ditch defence to avoid a likely mortal wound, shields, and only shields, may be sundered.

BEFORE damage is rolled but after a successful hit a character armed with a shield may elect to sacrifice the shield to avoid the damage. No damage is rolled for or applied and the shield is considered destroyed (sundered) and must be immediately discarded. Likewise against a breath attack or some other damage causing spell that may be minimized by a saving throw, BEFORE the saving throw is made, the shield can be sundered and the character automatically makes their save.

Magic shields (but not shields of quality or superb, which are both still normal shields) will lose +1 for each time they are sundered and are destroyed once they are sundered a final time as a normal shield.

Cursed shields cannot be sundered; instead if sundering is attempted, the character will take maximum damage from the attack or automatically fail the saving throw, whichever is more appropriate, reflecting the curse having it’s full effect.

Armor and missile weapon survival (bows and crossbows only)
When a character or NPC/monster is killed OR reduced to zero or below hit points the armor and any bows or crossbows plus any other potentially fragile items must make a save vs magic wands using the owners Hit Dice/Level, or be destroyed / rendered useless. Magic armor or bows/crossbows (but not items of quality or superb, which are both normal items) will get their bonus applied to the save but lose +1 for each time they fail their save and are destroyed once they fail a final time as a normal item.

This method means that dead heroes (better saves) are more likely found with armor intact and follows DMG rules for item saves more closely (see DMG page 80) but doesn't use the DMG complicated table. It can also be applied when the party wants to know if they can use the dead orc's or companion's armor.

That’s enough about rules, let’s talk KotB in my campaign world.
Magic items are going to look like this:
Most +1 magic items found in B2:KotB module are instead going to be items of quality and not magical. They cost a minimum of 3x more than a regular item. I may on some special items give them a +1 ‘to hit’ bonus but not also +1 to damage and therefore they cannot damage magic creatures requiring a +1 magic weapon or better to hit. They simply have no effect on these creatures. Quality weapons and also quality shields and armor are as heavy as the normal variety. Hopefully this framework allows me more freedom in the creation of items I give to the party without resorting to powerful magic so early in the campaign. A weapon that breaks less, is worth more gold and perhaps has a +1 'to hit' bonus is pretty special for 1st or 2nd level.

Elven crafted magic Items
The majority of magic items are of elven make, but are still very rare.  They can be +1 or better and can damage magic creatures, providing they are powerful enough, as stated in the monster description.

Dwarven forged magic items are made by dwarves for dwarves but can be used by other specifies if their size allows. Very very rarely dwarves have made items suitable for use by other species.

Magic-User enchanted magic items – can be of any power and after elven magic items are the next most common.

Clerical magic items or sacred items are of two types. (you will need to look at this post to understand this section)
For similar time and costs a high level cleric may make an item that will be blessed by Law or a Chaotic Minion to imbue the item with magical strength. Normally the item will contain, somewhere in its construction, a relic of a famous martyr or minion and the gaining of such a relic will usually involve a difficult quest.

Incredibly rarely Law may bless an item on the battlefield for use by a Lawful Character creating either a temporary magic item for that battle or even more miraculously a permanent one. Chaos just does not care for its’ minions in the same way Law does. The blessed item will never be one that is already magical but if this miracle occurs it will be on a mundane weapon or item picked up on the battlefield by a beleaguered martyr. For example having been disarmed the martyr breaks off a tree branch to use as a club or else picks up a fallen soldiers normal spear, and miraculously finds the weapon blessed. A guide for the chance of this miracle occurring can be that when death appears certain for a Lawful cleric (other Lawful characters are at half chance) there is a base 1% chance per level of this miracle occurring, modified by the DM for the circumstances. The chance of the item being permanently magical should be the same percentage chance rolled again. For a lawful character less than 10th level the item will be +1, 10-19th level +2, 21st level and above +3; the item may have other special abilities at DM discretion.

That’s it for the moment. A final note.

I have found some interesting articles on grip strength and norms in children and all adult ages – quite relevant for my research on ability scores and strength. I can not find norm references for the military press, remembering (thanks to Spawn of Endra for reminding me) that DMG says strength 3 is the ability to military press 30 pounds, 18 strength 180 pounds. If anyone can find some norm referenced tables for children and adults of different ages for the military press, I would be very grateful.

Thanks for reading


  1. Wow, your KotB campaign world has a lot of great detail! Very intricate stuff, and very interesting.

    With respect to your question about Alexis -- "but I wonder what happened to 1 in 10" -- I would guess he's disdainful of the d10 not being a Platonic solid. Or something like that.

    We do use Trollsmyth's "Shields shall be Splintered" rule in Carter's Ara campaign, and it has saved several PCs. Your variation of having to declare shield splintering before damage is known may be a good one. As play has progressed (in Stonehell) and PCs have lost shields to otherwise killing blows, the party started collecting any shield and putting it in their Bag of Holding just to keep them on hand. We declared shield-splintering after the damage was known, so the PCs always knew they had that buffer to work with, and therefore we were slightly more aggressive in combat than usual. So if you wanted to encourage aggression, this will do it. If not, your approach may be better.

    What it takes away from the PCs is two-handed weaponry, and if you are using variable damage in a B/X game or Lab Lord, and if you're a cleric (let's say), you're stuck at 1d6 or less damage. The only 1d8 weapon you have is a Heavy Flail, and you forgo the AC bonus of a shield and the splintering to use it. This is how Innominus was killed by a Neo-Otyugh recently, trying to inflict maximum damage with a +2 heavy flail, but losing the shield splintering backstop.

    Also, having the shield soak a single blow is more important at lower levels when PCs have fewer hit points, and can be killed by a single blow. Partly, Innominus was using the 2-handed flail to attack because with 25HP at L5, it seemed safe. Carter got in one unusual critical hit of 11HP x 2 for 22 HP that was curtains for Innominus. I'm not advocating either way, but these are a few of nuances of that mechanic we've run into that you can consider.

    Jolly good!

  2. Of course I care. I wouldn't have read this otherwise, would I?