Damage by Hit Die

In a previous post about fighters & weapons (and probably a few other places), I mentioned that I’m planning to have weapon damage by class, rather than by weapon. I think this deserves a dedicated post even though it has been much discussed in other places.

Here is how it works. There are no weapon restrictions. Any class can use any weapon. Characters use their hit die for weapon damage. If wielding two weapons or a weapon with both hands, 2DTH is used. That’s it. Modified for situational factors by ruling (though that should go without saying). Missile weapons too, though range is by weapon.

You might be wondering, if all weapons inflict hit die damage, why should I prefer one weapon over another? Why not just write “two melee weapons and a missile weapon with 20 shots” on my character sheet and be done with it? For one thing, weapons can be used outside of combat as well. For example, a quarterstaff might be used to span a hole and secure a rope. A dagger might be hammered into a wooden timber and used as a foothold (try doing that with a battle axe). A dagger is easy to conceal, a two-handed sword is not. Bulky weapons are extra-encumbering. Some longer weapons can attack from the rear ranks (such as spears & pole arms). Some weapons can be thrown. Some weapons may grant automatic initiative in a one on one fight (this would depend on the circumstances). And so forth.

As I said in the post on fighters, this incentivizes smaller (for encumbrance purposes) and cheaper weapons, which seems to make sense. Why spend extra money and backpack space on a military weapon if you are not trained to use it?

I think this system follows the spirit of OD&D, where all weapons do 1d6 damage. It makes weapon choice more about a trade-off calculation than about mechanical optimization. The question becomes: should I carry a weapon & torch, weapon & shield, two-handed weapon, or pair of weapons?

This scheme is very similar to one presented in this Grognardia comment. Akratic Wizardry also has a similar system, though it uses a base damage die for medium weapons based on class and allows you to go up or down a die for small and large weapons, respectively. For example, if the base damage die is d6, then down a step would be d4 and up a step would be d8). This breaks down if the base die is d4 though (if you want to stick with the common polyhedral dice), and Akrasia also adds in some special cases (such as the ability of magic-users to do d6 damage with a quarterstaff despite the fact that it is categorized as a medium weapon).

Akrasia also mentions that dispensing with class-based weapon restrictions potentially weakens the fighter (relatively speaking), as then all classes are able to use magic swords (though with a smaller damage die). However, I follow the OD&D practice of capping bonuses at +1, and further only allow this bonus to be active when wielded by a fighter. Other classes still gain the benefit of the weapon being magical for purposes of being able to damage monsters that can only be harmed by magic weapons.

For more reading, there are Dragonsfoot discussions of similar ideas here and here. And at The City of Iron here. Most of these systems use lots of different types of dice rather than just using the hit die, which seems too complicated to me. There is one interesting variation that I might try out at some point, which is to have more variety in missile damage as suggested here, and maybe distinguish between thrown weapons and other missile weapons.

10 thoughts on “Damage by Hit Die

  1. Beedo

    I’ve been using weapon-by-class for 5 months or so, and it’s been very popular with the players – magic users do d4, clerics/thieves/halflings d6, dwarves/elves d8, fighters d10. (I would have preferred fighters as d8 as well, but the d10 has folks fawning to be plain BX fighters). And then I bump a die size for two-handed (a halfling using a longsword 2-handed shifts from d6 to d8).

    My experience is that the best weapons still end up in the hands of the fighters; even though a magic user could swing a mace +3, he’d much rather watch the dwarf or fighter try to swat the spectre in melee than risk himself.

  2. Brendan

    Hey Beedo, thanks for stopping by. Have you run into any problems using class based damage? Has your system evolved at all once you started to use it, and if so, how?

  3. Beedo

    My only gripe with how we did weapon-by-class was being too generous with the fighters when we first discussed it – they were used to 4E fighters mostly doing d10 damage, and big weapons doing d12, so the fighters do d10, d12 when using 2-handed weapons. I recognize that I tend to be conservative.

    I like how it’s worked. The group is a lot more flexible with parsing out their weapons; you see clerics with magic swords, and fighters with magic maces, because they need that +3 to hit.

    It absolutely makes all of the non-fighter classes feel ‘cooler’ when the magic user is wielding a spear, or the cleric is swinging a battle axe; the down side is watching the fighters dish out d10’s with daggers, or shortbows.

  4. Restless

    Two ideas:

    * Some weapons only function as magical in some hands; fighters can only use magic swords, some magic daggers only work for magic-users, etc.

    * Some weapons will only do a certain amount of damage max; the fighter can roll d10 for their damage but it’s rated at only up to 4 points of damage, or a shortbow up to 6, so the extra damage is wasted. Then you might get some of the min/maxing back, though.

  5. Brendan


    Yeah, I’m definitely going to keep fighters at d8 HD. I think I have enough other goodies (like the weapon vs. AC bonuses) for fighters to keep them attractive to those players who care primarily about combat power.


    Not a bad idea for magic weapons. I try to keep my magic items relatively unique (and usually with a limited number of uses, so that I don’t mind introducing powerful effects), so when one is found, all bets are off. I like making some have special powers associated with specific classes, though I think I’m going to keep the attack and damage bonuses mostly for fighters (with the exception, maybe, of daggers, as I like the idea of daggers being a bit more versatile). I want this to remain more mysterious though; nothing like “oh it’s a magic dagger, we should definitely give that to the magic-user”.

    The second idea I think might be a bit complicated in practice, especially if I’m trying to build player buy-in. It’s hard to beat the simplicity of “roll your hit die” (a mechanic I’m building in to several other subsystems, including starting equipment).

  6. Brendan


    What systems are you thinking of that don’t differentiate hit dice by class?

    1974 D&D is the only one I can think of in the D&D ecosystem. Or am I missing something?


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