Weapon & Armor Strengths

Weapons table from the Ready Ref Sheets

I have written previously about redesigning the weapon versus AC modifiers as bonuses, and then making access to that table a fighter benefit. Basically, the idea was to reformulate the table as only bonuses, and then give that table to the players of fighter characters. As it would always be a good thing to use the table, players would be incentivized to pay attention to that sort of thing, and probably also be incentivized to carry more than one kind of weapon (so that they would be able to have advantages against different kinds of enemies).

Redoing the weapon versus armor class table is hard though, so I never managed to bring that idea to fruition. But what if we don’t change the numbers at all, but rather only read the parts of it that are advantageous to the player? We can still keep the negative numbers, but rather than weapon penalties against certain kinds of armor (players are not going to try very hard to remember that), instead consider the negative numbers as armor strength against particular weapons. So, for example, if you are wearing plate armor, you can impose a -3 attack penalty against someone attacking you with a dagger. I think this table is identical to the one in Supplement I: Greyhawk, other than the omission of the military pick.

(Aside: I believe that second column, the one that goes 1, 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc is supposed to indicate weapon length. This could be used to determine space required or initiative. But that is a topic for another post.)

So here is a version of the data in the above table, displayed as benefits and by diegetic armor type rather than AC number. Players obviously only need to pay attention to the weapons they have. Unless otherwise noted, all penalties and bonuses are 1.


  • dagger: unarmored (+2), shield
  • hand axe: unarmored, shield
  • mace: plate
  • hammer: chain, plate
  • battle axe: chain, chain & shield
  • morning star: unarmored (+2), shield (+2), leather, leather & shield, chain (+2), chain & shield
  • flail: unarmored, shield, leather, leather & shield, chain (+2), chain & shield, plate (+2), plate & shield (+2)
  • pole arm: unarmored (+2), shield (+2), leather (+2), leather & shield, chain
  • halberd: leather & shield, chain (+2), chain & shield, plate
  • two-handed sword: unarmored (+2), shield (+2), leather (+2), leather & shield (+2), chain (+3), chain & shield (+3), plate (+2), plate & shield
  • mounted lance: unarmored (+3), shield (+3), leather (+3), leather & shield (+3), chain (+2), chain & shield
As an example, the way to read the first weapon entry above is that daggers are very good against unarmored combattants (a +2 bonus to attack) and good against leather armor (a +1 bonus to attack). You will note that there is no entry for swords. That’s because according the Ready Ref Sheets, swords aren’t good against anything. Same goes for spears and pikes.
I’m not sure I really like these numbers, so I might tweak them, but for this exercise I’m leaving them as is. It looks like morning stars, flails, and two-handed swords are the standout champions, probably too much so.


  • chain: hand axe, spear
  • chain & shield: hand axe, spear, dagger
  • plate: dagger (-3), hand axe (-2), sword, spear
  • plate & shield: dagger (-3), hand axe (-3), sword (-2), spear (-2), pole arm, pike
The way to read the first armor entry above is that chain armor is good against hand axes and spears, so if you are wearing chain you can force opponents wielding those weapons to take a -1 to their attack roll.
I find the presentation of those lists above far more approachable than the rather complex matrices that have shown up in various early books. Those just look like a mess of plusses and minuses. Using this format, a fighter with a hand axe just needs to look out for lightly armored targets and remember to apply their bonus.

13 thoughts on “Weapon & Armor Strengths

  1. Robert Fisher

    Yeah, that first row of numbers is “weapon class” in Chainmail. Which is roughly equivalent to length. Last time I looked at it, I decided that the numbers in the table would need some tweaking if you weren’t using the weapon class rules too.

    1. Brendan

      Interesting. Must go back and re-read that section in Chainmail. I’ve been having some thoughts about weapon length also (as you probably remember from the “keeping at bay” post not too long ago).

  2. Roger the GS

    I boiled it down further, to “armor piercing weapons get +1 for every 3 points of AC above 10/below 9” – but even then I found it hard to remember that rule as a GM.

    1. Brendan

      Yeah, I hear you. Part of this design is an expectation that the referee would not be using it for NPCs. I really just expect it to be a tool for making fighter weapon choices more interesting for players.

    1. Brendan

      I agree; some of them don’t make sense to me either. For example, I would expect spears to get a bonus against chain armor, not a penalty. Also, the shield interactions seem strange to me.

      I don’t think that bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing works well for armor vulnerabilities though. For example, stilettos and military picks are both piercing weapons, but only one of them is good against plate armor.

    2. Gibbering Mouther

      One could argue a stiletto would be better vs. Plate than leather actually, given that it has a point you could work into a crack, while a leather armored fellow is likely more mobile and has fewer gaps in his armor due to its weight. That’s moot though, I think weapon by class is easy to remember and less clumsy. A few special weapons could exist of course with no bonuses or multiple bonuses.

      Example: I might not give a “dagger” any bonuses as a solution, especially if I was using 1D6 damage rules, while I’d give a trained longsword wielder all three bonuses and a heavy crossbow X2 piercing.

    3. Robert Fisher

      FWIW, in the Chainmail man-to-man rules, working a dagger into the cracks of plate mail is covered by a note that, if the target is prone, the dagger does better against plate mail.

  3. Hedgehobbit

    If you’re playing OD&D, put a separate line on the character sheet for each weapon with the to-hit numbers with the armor adjustments already included. That way they players don’t have to remember or add numbers.

    I did some calculations in a spreadsheet comparing the Chainmail to hit numbers with using the Weapon-vs-AC modifiers with both d6 damage and the Greyhawk weapon damage. Despite what it says in Greyhawk these modifiers seem to work better when all weapons do d6 damage (hence the large bonuses given to two-handed swords).

    Finally, those number by the weapon are kinda used in Judges Guild’s initiative system that’s on page 17 (which says it’s page J-5).

  4. Matthew James Stanham

    Always the same issue with this stuff, which is that people do not agree on the specifics of interaction between weapons and armour. For a game you may want picks to be plus one versus plate and minus one versus leather, but that sort of symmetry has more to do with game balance than emulation of weapon properties. These are not the only reasons I am not inclined to use a weapon type versus armour class table, though. Not sure if you are familiar with the two threads on Dragonsfoot, Brendan, if not I can link you to them.

    1. Brendan

      Yeah, those are good threads. I think there are links to them in the first Fighters & Weapons post I did (also linked above).

      I am less concerned with the specific modifier numbers in this post, and more concerned about the logistics of using the system (whatever the bonuses and penalties are). Even if the numbers were perfect, I don’t think that practically speaking people would use the traditional matrix system because it is too cumbersome. That’s why I think limiting weapon versus AC to fighters, and using “power gaming” incentives will help.

      So, to reiterate, my goals are:

      1. Reflect to some degree the arms race of military technology (this need not be 100% historically accurate, just good enough to pass the smell test).

      2. Improve the feeling of the fighter as the “weapons class” without using weapons specialization (which I loathe because it incentivizes doing the same thing over and over) or approaches which require system mastery (like feats and powers).

    2. Matthew James Stanham

      Going to address these points backwards:

      2. Not knowing your current rules for fighters, I will quickly outline mine:

      THAC0: 20, 1:1 Level Advancement [i.e. Level 10 = THAC0 11]
      Combat Bonus: Blanket +1 to hit and +1 damage.
      Attack Rate: +0.5 at levels 7 and 13.
      Proficiency: A minus 2 penalty when using weapons he is unfamiliar with

      I find that pretty much covers the fighter as the “weapons” class, he definitely fulfils the role he is named for.

      1. I am not even convinced there was an arms race as we might imagine it in the ancient and medieval world. All that really happened is that armour got more prevalent in the high middle ages and rather better in the late, but this seems to have mainly led to the adoption of two-handed weapons, and more powerful ranged weapons. This is reflected in the AD&D Weapon Type versus Armour Class tables, where two-handed weapons usually get an average of +1 or +2 to hit overall. In a game with as abstract a combat system as D&D that just about passes the smell test for me, and avoids having to think about the relative ability of hammers, flails, maces, axes, picks and swords to overcome armour (which can be argued for in various ways).


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