Weapons Revisited

Update: I recommend using the slightly simpler approach to this same basic idea described in the Weapons Quick Reference post.

Image by Piranesi (source)
Image by Piranesi (source)

I started work compiling various blog posts into a Vaults of Pahvelorn Player’s Guide, and the very first thing I decided to look at was my old weapon properties post. This is one of those topics that I think would really benefit from the accessibility of being included in a player’s document, because despite being designed mostly as bonuses, in play we still often forget many of the weapon features. One of my ongoing personal design goals is to make weapon choice just as interesting as spell choice, without relying primarily on variable damage dice (which promotes an overly numerical approach that I find lacks interesting trade-offs).

Of course, rather than just copying the old rules into the document and moving on, I immediately start to significantly revise them. Since I wrote the original version, I have been exposed to Apocalypse World and Dungeon World, which both take approaches to weaponry that have influenced me substantially. I think weapon tags are a wonderfully efficient way to remember the various features, and while yes you need to read the definitions once, it seems like once you know that dangerous-1 means backfire on a natural roll of 1, you are unlikely to ever need to look that up again. I think this version below is much improved over the original, and many of the rules have also been simplified (for example, riposte just automatically deals damage to attackers that miss and roll poorly rather than requiring another attack roll).

Weapon damage is 1d6 by default. Some weapons have additional benefits, as described below.

Axemelee, damage: re-roll 1, shield-smasher
Daggermelee, quickdraw, throwable, range-2, concealable, grapple
Macemelee, penetrating-2
Swordmelee, quickdraw, riposte
Two-handed swordmelee, two-handed, damage: 2d6 take highest
Pole armmelee, two-handed, interposing, damage: 2d6 take highest, reach, awkward-2
Quarterstaffmelee, two-handed, parry (melee)
Spearmelee, throwable, range-3, interposing, reach
Javelinmelee, throwable, range-5
Shieldarmor-1, parry (missile), damage: 1d3
Bowmissile, two-handed, range-7, reload-0
Crossbowmissile, two-handed, penetrating-2, range-6, reload-1
Slingconcealable, missile, insignificant, missile, range-4, reload-0, versatile ammo
Oilbombdangerous-1, flaming, immolating, penetrating-2, range-1, reload-1, unreliable-3
Powderbombarea, damage: 2d6 take highest, dangerous-1, flaming, range-1, unreliable-3
Areano attack roll, all enemies in area of effect take damage, save for half
Armor-N+N armor class
Awkward-N-N attack if not used at reach
Concealableeasy to hide in standard clothing (will not be noticed without a search)
Damagedamage inflicted is modified as stated
Dangerous-Nbackfires (damages wielder) on natural rolls of N or less
Flamingdeals fire damage and flammable targets must save or be lit up
Grapplefuture attacks auto-hit if a dexterity/strength contest is won
Immolatingsave or ignite, continuing damage, additional save per round
Insignificantdoes not count as an item for encumbrance purposes
Interposingmelee enemies must save to attack wielder, and on failure take damage
Meleemay only be used when engaged in melee (essentially, range-0)
Missilerequires ammunition
Parry (type)save to deflect one attack per round that hits (limited to type, if given)
Penetrating-N+N attack versus targets with armor
Range-Nweapons of higher range afford a free attack round as enemy closes
Reload-Ntakes N rounds to reload (reload-0 fires every round)
Ripostedeal damage if enemy misses and rolls 5 or less
Shield-smasherdefender with shield must save or have their shield destroyed
Two-handedrequires both hands to use effectively
Quickdrawmay ready and attack in the same round
Unreliable-Ndoes not function on rolls of N or less (overridden by dangerous)
Versatile ammomay use any small hard object (coin, rock) as ammo

Further Notes

  • “Mace” includes warhammer and military pick.
  • Wielding two weapons (where one is not a shield) grants +1 to the attack roll (credit to Philotomy).
  • A flask of oil may be used to coat a weapon and then ignited to give a metal weapon the flaming property (likewise, arrows). This is a reload-1 type operation. On attack rolls of 5 or less, the fire goes out. Such flaming weapons will also go out after one exploration turn (or after combat).
  • Target of a grapple may spend an action to attempt to free themselves (this is another dexterity/strength contest).
  • Ranges: bomb < dagger < spear < sling < javelin < crossbow < bow
  • Ranges are not measures, but are only used in relative comparisons.
  • Shooting or throwing into melee: determine target randomly.
  • Crushing/bludgeoning damage is sometimes important (skeletons, living statues, and so forth), but I decided that this is probably clear enough contextually, and thus doesn’t require a property (Google Plus discussion). I may change my mind on this, though.
  • A strength/dexterity contest means: both contestants roll either a strength or dexterity check (their choice). This is a less than or equal to d20 check, and the one that makes it by the most wins the contest (ties go to the defender).
  • I kind of want to add a great axe and maul (two-handed varieties of the axe and mace), but that would probably necessitate giving the two-handed sword an added benefit, and I haven’t been able to think of anything that I like.

Thanks to Robert G. on Google Plus for suggesting the property name interposing.

For ease of future reference: G+ threads on flaming oil: here and here (and Philotomy).

13 thoughts on “Weapons Revisited

  1. Charles

    Regarding two-handed swords having an added benefit, two-handed swords (i.e. the longsword) developed to defeat armour. Holding a longsword like a spear (with one hand on the blade) gives you an incredibly powerful thrust useful against armour and very secure cover (i.e. parry).

    Just a thought.

    1. Brendan Post author


      I like it. Maybe the two-handed sword could have several modes, all of which would still require two hands, such as a “swing hard” mode (that activates the extra damage) or an armor penetrating mode (that grants penetrating-2). The player would just have to pick a mode prior to every attack. There’s still a trade-off in comparison to a mace, as maces allow the simultaneous use of a shield.

    1. Charles

      To be fair, there is no evidence that the military flails so beloved of fantasy enthusiasts ever existed as weapons of war. Certainly peasants used farming flails in times of need, but the ol’ “spiky ball on a chain with a handle” is a pure invention.

      1. Frotz

        I don’t think that’s true, actually. At the Met there are a few examples of ‘flails’ in the arms and armor section; handles, chains, and heads with spikes and without. Whether they were ever popular or even particularly functional (like so many variants of the poleaxe designed during the armor/arms race of the medieval period) is open for debate, of course.

        Regardless, I was simply pointing to an omission from the OD&D rules, and commenting on the efficacy of the flail according to the Chainmail man-to-man rules.

      2. Brendan Post author

        The omission of flail is mostly because I haven’t been able to find any kind of consensus about what they are supposed to be good at and don’t have a strong opinion myself. Anti-shield? Good at disarming? Good mounted? Good against mounted targets? I’ve read arguments for all of those.

        I kind of like flails aesthetically though, but as is I figure it’s probably easiest to treat them mechanically as a mace variant (or club if the specific item is really a repurposed agricultural implement). Alternatively, +2 to disarming seems reasonable too (maybe?).

  2. Ynas Midgard

    I like the idea very much but i have to got through it one more time.
    By the way, WFRP 2nd ed used weapon properties (I have no idea whether 1st ed did so).

    1. Brendan Post author


      Thanks for reminding me about that. Thats definitely a similar system in many ways, though keyed to the percentile system that WFRP uses.

  3. Ynas Midgard

    A few things observed:
    – bow and crossbow should be two-handed
    – is pole arm not two-handed by design?
    – pole arm (as is) is still worse than spear; the latter has no drawbacks, while pole arm is only better in terms of damage but even that is “balanced” by being awkward
    – riposte seems incredibly powerful (maybe interposing is about the same level)

    1. Brendan Post author


      Absolutely correct regarding the two-handed weapons. That was an oversight; thanks for pointing it out. Corrected now.

      I kind of feel like spears should be more versatile (pole-arms are really pretty specialized weapons, and the extra damage/awkward does at least make it a not obvious trade-off mechanically).

      You might be right regarding riposte and interposing, but they haven’t seen much play yet so I can’t be sure. I’ll report back after I have some play experience.

  4. Alec Semicognito

    Hi Brendan, I came looking for your original weapon properties post from Untimately, but it looks like that content is gone. Do you still have it anywhere, and are you willing to re-share? I remember really liking those weapon properties.

    1. Brendan Post author

      Hi Alec,

      I migrated all the Untimately posts a while back, but never got around to updating all the internal links.

      I think the post you are looking for is now at:


      I updated this post to reflect current reality, but many other posts probably still use the old URLs.

      I don’t think I will have time in the foreseeable future to fix this everywhere, but you can always use Google to find the new Necropraxis URL with a query like:

      site:necropraxis.com weapons parrying draft

      Derive the query text from the original URL:



Leave a Reply