Tuesday, February 7, 2012

AD&D Question - Weapon Specialization

We've recently converted our D&D campaign to 1st Edition AD&D, and one of the questions is whether we should use Weapon Specialization.  Specialization was published in Unearthed Arcana, and is presented as an optional rule in OSRIC.  It was certainly carried over into 2E and beyond through feats.

Specialization beefs up the fighter quite a bit, if you think they need a patch; +1 to hit, +2 damage, and extra attacks.

Without specialization, fighters are free to pick up most weapons and use them equally well (unless you're using proficiency slots, which limits the pool a bit).  Once specialization is introduced, the fighters tend to use only their specialized weapon for the rest of the game (reducing overall choice).  Most everyone picks longsword.

Previously, we were using a "weapon-by-class" house rule that gave the fighters equal damage regardless of weapon, and that was pretty awesome, fighters ended up using all sorts of weapons and were much more opportunistic.  But all house rules have been repealed since we've converted to AD&D to level set again.  One of my goals with this AD&D experiment is to try and play as By-the-Book as possible*.  Allowing weapon specialization would probably be the first house rule.

Let me know how you feel about 1st edition's Weapon Specialization.  It seems like a good time for a new poll, too.

*So far, we've only had two problems to discuss.  In Labyrinth Lord and the Advanced Edition Companion, alignment restrictions on the paladin's companions are looser, and so a druid henchman was introduced by one of the other players.  An AD&D paladin, by-the-book , won't support a Neutral NPC in the party long term.  Our house rule will be that as long as the party's quests are supporting Law and Good, the paladin will accept the presence of the druid as a contributor on those quests.

The other one is the awesome BX Staff of Healing, which doesn't exist in AD&D.  We're using it "as is".  The AD&D Staff of Curing is significantly different.


  1. I'm running an OSRIC/1E game right now. I'm thinking that I probably will not use it. I'm not vehemently opposed to weapon specialization, but as you mentioned, it free fighters up to use whatever weapon they choose. But, that is just me and I'm trying to keep it light. My OSRIC Campaign is actually playing more like a LL AEC game than a 1e game.

  2. It all depends on the campaign's maximum level, IMHO.

    In a low level campaign you can play with or without it, but if you go beyond 9th/10th level it makes your Fighter slightly more useful than just an HP punchbag.

  3. The last AD&D game I ran was decades ago, but we used weapon specialization. It wasn't unbalancing within the game, but if only because everyone used it - the ranger/druid used it (which may not have been allowed because he was multi-class, but I can't remember), the fighter used it, the cavalier-based paladin got something similar, and the non-mages didn't bother. So did any important NPC fighters. We played some overlapping parties in that campaign, and the highest level folks hit 10-12th level IIRC, so we played for a while.

    The problem was that it became a required buy-in for effectiveness in the game. Either you had it, and had significantly better odds of attack and more damage, or you didn't, and you sucked. No one chose to suck. There was no downside - it's not like having four weapon proficiencies really helped, because players rarely used even a second weapon in most fights nevermind four of them. And with the extra to hit and damage, higher level monsters were easier to kill and thus XP and gold was easier to come by. Sure, if you double-specialized in broadsword (like the fighter did in my game) and found a magic axe, it wasn't so useful to you. So you just didn't use it, or sold it, and waited for a magic sword. You'd hold onto one +3 or better weapon just in case you run into something you need it to damage - otherwise, just rely on your buddies.

    If I did it again, I'd at best use a very toned down version of the rules, if at all. The problem is just escalation - an 88 hp huge ancient red dragon is scary when your best fighter does 1d8+3 damage once or twice a turn, but not so much when your 1st level fighter double-specializes in sword and does damage in the teens.

    1. Oh and I ignored it at the time, but Len Lakofka did an analysis of the effects of weapon specialization in Dragon #104, called "Specialization and Game Balance." Worth a read before you let your players take it.

  4. Yeah, I'm thinking that I wouldn't allow it, along with most of the other stuff in UA -- as mentioned already, it leads to mono-weapon fighters, specifically with swords dominating. I try and keep magic weapons to a minimum and have most of them have unique effects and while I imagine that this could lead to some very hard decisions, my gut feeling is that specialization would win out unless the non-specialized weapons was overpowered.

  5. For my AD&D campaign that started in December -http://smonsyggsburgh.blogspot.com/ - no Weapon Spec or 1 attack/level vs 0th levellers. Instead Fighters & their subclasses get +1 damage/level with proficient weapons. The full rule is as follows:

    "Fighter/Ranger/Paladin attacks, page 25, Replace "1 attack per level vs 0-level foes" with "+1 damage per level when using weapons with which the Fighter/Paladin/Ranger is proficient, vs all foes". This caps out at 10th level with a maximum +10 damage per attack. As per page 37, Fighters begin proficient with 4 weapons, Rangers and Paladins with 3.

    1-handed weapons add +1 damage per level, to a maximum +10.
    2-handed weapons (Two-handed Sword, Bardiche et al) add +1.5 damage per level, rounded down, to a maximum +15.
    Off-hand weapons used for a second attack (dagger, hand axe) add only +0.5 damage per level, rounded down, to a maximum +5.
    Missile weapons - normally +1 dmg/level for everything, except darts; due to their lightness & high fire rate I'll treat them as per off-hand weapon so +0.5/level. Also if you attack with a 1-hand main weapon and also throw dagger or hand axe from off hand, which I allow, the off-hand missile is +0.5/level. "

  6. I'd leave out Weapon Spec in favor of leaving Fighter as written in PHB. If you want to include Fighter feats, make them special abilities on Ego Swords (and remember that 1 in 4 magic swords are intelligent). That is, "this sword lets you do a Whirlwind attack" or "if you kill an enemy you get a free attack like Cleave" etc. This also lets you customize special abilities to weapon, for example allowing Cleave only on Broadswords and Two-Handed Swords, Whirlwind only on Scimitars, etc.

    Someone around here had the idea to have Ego swords in the hands of non-Fighters (counting Paladin and Ranger as a Fighter) use double Ego, making the sword less likely to behave. I'd go farther and, while the game doesn't specifically lay it out this way, if you can't use the weapon on your class weapon list then you can't activate any of its magic powers either. So since an M-U can't use a Shortsword, he couldn't use wishes from a Luck Blade.

    This brings up a second point: I'm doing the same 1E by the book thing, but I find it incredibly hard to not add my own monsters and magic items. So instead of depriving everyone, I make special use of them. New monsters occur infrequently and only in a given area. New magic items are held by strong monsters who use them. You really need to do it that way if your group has played D&D much otherwise they might find things predictable.

  7. Side note: if you use weapon speed and weapon length and weapon space requirement, not everyone will use a longsword.

    With weapon speed, a dagger could attack twice against a longsword, and even more against a really slow weapon like a Two-Handed Sword. It also will almost always get to stab a spellcaster before he gets his spell of.

    With weapon length, spears are pretty cool. You can attack from the second rank, get double damage against anyone charging (and if you want to move up and attack from farther than 10' away in the same round you need to charge), you can throw it, use it to prod and reach for things. Longer weapons also get to attack first in the first engagement of any combat.

    With weapon space requirement, you can pack a lot of spearmen into a corridor to fight monsters. Daggers work well here too. Longswords are okay, but two-handed swords not so much.

    That said, swords are desirable because they have multiple damage types (pierce and slash, usually) and higher damage than similar weapons of the same size. Magic swords are more common on the random tables, and they can be intelligent.

    That said, swords generally only offer +1 damage average over other weapons. Even if you don't use all the above, I still might go with Spear just for the utility in a dungeon. It's harder to go with really small weapons other than for concealability's sake (imagine a Thief with Dagger and Sling vs. a Fighter with Shortbow and Longsword. The Thief can PALM his weapons, but that Fighter sure looks like an armed dude).

  8. Thanks for all the insightful comments; I'm definitely off to find Dragon #104 and see Lakofka's critique as well.

    @1d30: Yes, I agree that weapon lengths and speed add some interesting wrinkles; we had a situation last game report where the front line fighters got skewered by a rank of pole arms. But the 1d12 vs large creatures for the longsword is hard to beat!

    1. If you can't find #104, contact me and I'll see if I can't find my tattered copy somewhere for you.

  9. The only materials from UA worth using were: new weapons, new spells and magic items (and not all of those), and the repaired unarmed combat rules (keep in mind that System I was the actual rule that Gygax used in his games). And maybe the Thief-Acrobat.

    Fighters get enough of a bonus in the extra attacks and "mook rule" on page 25 of the PHB.