I should have included this in my weapon damage by hit die post, but I didn’t think of it then. Check out this simple table of correspondences:
- Fighter hit die: d8
Iconic weapon: long sword (d8 damage)
- Cleric hit die: d6
Iconic weapon: mace (d6 damage)
- Magic-user hit die: d4
Iconic weapon: dagger (d4 damage)
That is, characters playing to type in B/X D&D naturally do hit die damage. The relationship breaks down slightly when ranged weapons are considered. Long bows inflict d8 damage and slings inflict d4 damage, fitting the pattern, but what ranged weapons do clerics use? If it’s a crossbow with a wooden stake, we are in business. In any case, the point here is not that this is an iron-clad rule, merely that it is a tendency.
The thief/rogue actually fits this pattern relatively well too, with dagger/short sword, and d4/d6, respectively. This also reflects the change from the thief (sneaky, bad at combat) to the rogue (stealthy, striker).
The main benefit of damage by hit die is to reduce a rather complicated table reference (the weapon damage chart) to an easily memorable rule. This is similar to what Talysman is trying to do (*) with his Liber Zero clone project. Note that this is not a core mechanic, which may have only one kind of resolution mechanism, but may also have a huge number of very specific rules for modifying the target number based on circumstances. Easily memorable elements may use several different resolution mechanisms, but they must not rely on a large corpus of external rules to function.
(*) – In his own words:
one of my personal goals with Liber Zero (quickly becoming the central goal of LZ) is to strip the game down to easily-memorizable elements so that the game can be played without reference to books
See here for more details.
For iconic melee weapons, you could put slings (or staff-slings) at d6 and darts at d4. Closer to AD&D than B/X, but preserves the non-edged cleric weapon (although this kind of system may abandon that anyway).
For melee weapons, your d8/d6/d4 system also has a symmetry with long/medium/short weapons.
That quote from Talysman also jumped out to me. It’s an admirable goal.
I was going to suggest d6 slings for clerics, too – David totally got a crit against Goliath. Or simply use class-based damage, but this is a charming correspondence.
Alternatively, allow mages and clerics n magic zaps/holy thunderbolts per day (equal to their int or wis?), worth d4 and d6 respectively? It’s mechanically almost identical to allowing them missile weapons, but makes both classes more supernatural.
Yeah, the length is a nice correspondence too. It shows the kind of simplicity that was lost with the shift to AD&D.
I’m leaning towards class-based damage right now. I just think it is interesting how if you ignore a few outliers, most of the classes were doing class-based damage in practice most of the time. Some of those outliers are questionable anyways; I’ve never seen the quarterstaff as a very appropriate magic-user weapon, for example. They are really more of a street brawler weapon (think of Little John). But somehow the magic staff thing led to magic-users having staffs allowed as weapons (though, I would add, not in Holmes).
I’m not sure how I feel about magic zaps. It’s true that it doesn’t break the game (this is basically the warlock’s eldritch blast from 3E). But I feel like it somehow detracts from the importance of prepared spells, and also makes magic missile somewhat redundant (though I suppose magic missile could still be special if it always hits and the other blast power doesn’t). It also works against a concern for resource management in players, which I think it quite important to the experience of low-level D&D play. I know many people dislike low-level play, but personally I adore it, both as a referee and player.
The cleric and wizard characters in my current 4E hack game have, respectively, the lance of faith and cloud of daggers at-will powers, which are more or less the same thing as the eldritch blast. Functionally, they are not much different than a ranged weapon, but still seem somehow bland, if that makes sense.