Weapon Mastery is a glorious system of combat that gives more power to the Fighter while not leaving behind the other classes. Every weapon has it’s own unique qualities, making weapon choice more than just picking the one that does more damage. The humble staff becomes an amazing defensive weapon, while Fighters will carry and use multiple weapons as each has advantages and disadvantages in different situations. However, Weapon Mastery does cause one tiny little issue; it totally breaks the system. So how can we use what’s good without breaking the balance of power?
So what’s the Problem?
Weapon Mastery can allow a thief to do 64HP damage on a single backstab with the humble non-magical dagger. On the high end a fighter with 18 Strength (or Gauntlets of Ogre Power) can strike with a Voulge for 70HP damage with each attack, while being able to attack up to four times per round for a net damage output of 280HP in one round, and that’s without many potential bonuses such as Girdle of Giant Strength or magical bonuses on his weapon. We’re talking about being able to kill multiple huge dragons in a single round!
Then if we include other effects, many weapons allow blows to be reflected so you could technically have a little halfling parrying aside the blows of the Ruler of all Dragons. Or perhaps the archer might just stun the dragon with a single arrow shot, stopping it from attacking at all. Needless to say, this silliness needs a bit of a rethink.
Weapon Mastery should never be thrown out though, as it serves many excellent roles in the game. Just a few of those things are:
- Excellent money sink as weapon mastery when done by the book rules is really really expensive.
- Roleplaying opportunities abound as characters try to seek out rare weapon masters and beg them for training. Adventure hooks therefore abound.
- Each weapon gains a unique identity. For example, a dwarf with an axe kills monsters better than one with a sword, yet the sword is better when facing weapon using foes. The dagger which is almost never taken from people even in urban cities becomes the backup weapon it should always have been.
- Greater group dynamics as each character will seek out how to work with the party to get the most from their skills.
- Fighters will master more weapons than other classes with the same XP, making the fighter a more versatile combatant.
Managing the Power Creep
So how do we keep what’s good, while mitigating the bad? There are five main components to each mastery; Primary/secondary targets, Bonus to hit, damage output, defense bonus and special effects. Let’s tackle each in turn.
Primary/ Secondary targets will be one of three types, weapon users, monsters/missile or all, which means there is no secondary target. What this means is that the other four elements are all effected by the type of target being attacked. If the target fits into the primary category (or all) then you do more damage, get more defence and more bonuses to hit. My recommendation on this is to leave it alone as is and be sure to apply the adjustments to the game. This limits the overall effect of the other elements.
Bonus to hit grants +2 to hit for Skilled Mastery +2 for each level after up to the max of +8. Halve these values for the Secondary target type. I really really love that skill should be a greater determinator than the degree of magic on a weapon. It also makes weapons like the spear and staff really versatile weapons. However, once you combine these bonuses with the Fighter Combat Options, you end up with a serious power instability. Even at low levels, a +2 to hit for being Skilled is a massive advantage. My suggestion is that the Primary target type grants half the bonus, +1 to +4, while the weapon user gain no bonus to hit against secondary targets.
Damage output just needs a little bit of basic logic. The increase to damage done comes from a greater degree of technique which allows the wielder to strike at more vulnerable points. Remember, according to Pg 7 of the Rules Cyclopedia, “Your character’s hit point score represents his ability to survive injury. Ergo, a weapon master strikes more injurious blows. Therefore, any creature lacking in the usual anatomy cannot be injured to a greater extent than any normal blow. This will include all fungi, moulds, jellies, constructs, and even most undead. In addition, can you really hurt a dragon more using good technique? It can be argued that you can, so launching a sling into a dragon’s eye should have the capacity to stun. However, I’ve found that even if it’s only for rule balance, ruling that all large creatures only take base weapon damage like always helps keep the big scary monsters actually scary. A party shouldn’t be killing an entire flight of dragons in one round.
The Defence bonus is actually just fine right where it is. Just be sure to track how many attacks the AC bonus can be applied before it runs out.
Special Effects need to have the same logic applied as was applied to damage. Do you really thing a normal human could possibly deflect away a dragon’s Crush attack with a short sword? Large creature shouldn’t be impacted by Special Effects, yet it would be fair to allow those effects to be applied by smaller undead and other creature with no discernible vulnerable points. Basic logic should also apply here, in that it’s fine to deflect the touch of a spectre, but only if yo u have a magical blade because otherwise the spectre’s hand will pass right through your blade.
One last option with regard to large targets, it might be fair to apply special effects and damage up to the same HD limits listed for Dismay. This means full mastery effects are used up to the following Mastery Caps:
- Basic Mastery – No change on Large class opponents
- Skilled Mastery – Large monsters up to 4HD
- Expert Mastery – Large monsters up to 8HD
- Master Mastery – Large monsters up to 12HD
- Grand Master – Large monsters up to 16HD
Weapon Mastery is a brilliant system and one of the things which makes Classic D&D such an awesome system. However, to give it the advantages it has while still keeping a balanced game, make the following changes:
- Do use Primary and Secondary target types
- Half the to-hit bonus for the Primary types, while giving zero bonus to-hit for secondary types.
- Keep Defence bonuses as is.
- Increased damage only applies to Small and Medium targets which have determinable and vulnerable anatomy.
- Special Effects cannot be applied to Large targets.