Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Weapon Specialization Poll and More Fighter Ideas

Back when we started our AD&D experiment a month or so ago, I asked the readers whether they use Weapon Specialization or not in their AD&D games.  Here's what said about it:


Yes; Love it - (30%). No; Unearthed Arcana was the devil - (50%). What? - (18%).

I'm not a big fan of 1E's Unearthed Arcana, where weapon specialization appeared, so maybe those 18% of folks that said "What?" have the right of it, never having cracked open a copy of UA (along with the 50% of UA haters, where I tend to sit).  So far we are soldiering on without specialization; however, I don't mind beefing up fighters and have the impression (still to be tested) that they get left behind at higher levels compared to the other classes, and we intend to run this game through to high levels.  But I don't like what specialization does to limit weapon use .  If we were to implement that particular rule option, I would let someone specialize in a coarse-grained class of weapons, like all bow weapons, all two-handed weapons, or all one-handed weapons.

One of the commenters (Peter) mentioned that Dragon 104 had a good analysis of specialization, and it was a good read.  Len Lakofka's column runs the numbers and shows how a 2nd level fighter with specialization takes out a 4th level fighter without specialization, and has a good shot at besting a 5th level fighter without specialization, too.  That's a big jump in power - like gaining 2-3 levels by specializing.  If you consider the fighter is similar in base line power to a monster of the same level, that means your 2nd level specialized fighter is nearly a match for an ogre.

I don't think the door is totally closed for us, though.  Specialization was in base AD&D 2E, and one of the clones I like (ACKS) beefs up the fighter by giving all fighters a "cleave" ability - basically a free attack anytime you down a foe.  The nice thing about the ACKS cleave is that it applies equally to monsters; if a monster downs a PC, it gets to cleave too.  I also appreciate the LOTFP approach, where the fighter is the expert on to-hit rolls and is the only class that advances in fighting ability.  The point is, newer designs (post-AD&D and classic) have all done something to give the fighter a stronger combat presence.

Prior to our AD&D conversion, we were using "weapon by class", where magic users did a d4, all other classes a d6, fighters and dwarves did a d8 for damage or d10 for 2-handed.  That did a good job of giving the fighters a decent niche without major rules surgery.  But with the move to AD&D we're back using the quirky "damage by weapon type" along with S-M/L damage dice - that's too big a part of the 1E experience to omit!  If we don't do a form of coarse-grained specialization, the next easiest thing would be to reimplement cleave for fighters and monsters.


  1. Funny.
    here where I talk about my new rule set, I do both!

    Fighters are the only ones who increase in attack bonus, and they get a free cleave and weapon specialization.

  2. I don't like weapons specialization because it is optimization par excellence. And, as you say, it decreases weapon diversity (a weapon category system might mitigate this, but it also might dilute the concept which I suspect players are going for). I don't even like variable weapon damage, for the same reason. If you were putting it up to a vote, I would strongly favor the cleave ability over weapon specialization.

  3. I think that weapon specialization became necessary (or at least was perceived to be so) as the game moved away from the classic endgame. In that, the fighting man becomes more powerful by virtue of his typically larger loyal fighting force (actually, in 1E the cleric rivals or exceeds it, which is yet another way that clerics are the most hideously overpowered class in the game). When that was removed, one of the most important abilities of the high level fighting man was removed with it.

    It didn't help that there wasn't an official set of mass combat rules for AD&D until Battlesystem arrived in 1985, and then when it finally arrived it was poorly marketed. Lacking that, few DMs who didn't start as wargamers had any real idea how to handle those large fighting forces, and so they were pretty much ignored.

  4. You could make intelligent swords more important. 25% of all magic swords are intelligent. This gives Fighters a bunch of spell-like abilities to use on a regular basis and potentially some powerful Special Purpose abilities on some of them.

    I like a house rule I found on the blags recently: double the Ego for swords for anyone but Fighter classes (Fighter / Ranger / Paladin) and POSSIBLY semi-Fighter classes (Cavalier / Unearthed Arcana Paladin / Barbarian) and restrict anyone who can't use swords from using the intelligent ones' powers (M-U / Cleric / Illusionist / Monk).

    This means you have three categories of Ego Sword users: can use at normal Ego (Fighters), can use but the Ego might be outrageous (Thief (One-Handed) / Assassin / Druid (Scimitar)), or can't use Ego swords at all (M-U etc).

    I'd also prohibit 100% any chance of a non-sword ego item since the entire point was to throw Fighting-Men a bone.

    You should also assume that Thief and M-U PCs will just have terrible ACs. Tossing in magic leather armor isn't much help, and typically if an M-U has a good AC it's because he got nice Bracers and Ring / Cloak of Protection. These are some expensive magic items! An M-U should rely on the Armor spell (AC 6) for some time before getting anything better! This will help make it clear that the Fighter and Cleric should be in the front.

    As for the Cleric, you need a hand free to cast any spell with a Somatic or Material component. That means you need to take a round to exchange weapon for something else (empty hand, or material components), then spend a round casting, then if you want to attack you need to spend a round drawing weapon. Keep tabs on this! The Cleric needs to either walk around the dungeon with no weapon or else no shield so he can cast spells during combat. This again makes it clear why a Fighter is nice to have in the front.

    At higher level, say 7th, the Fighter will come into his own regarding THAC0. At that time he will also get an extra attack every other round, which is very nice. He also clears the room of sub-1HD monsters which is nice when it happens. The Cleric and Thief will have a hard time hitting monsters with good AC at these levels.

    Fighter levels up a little earlier than other Fighter type classes, and will actually pull ahead past Name level because the other two need 350k to level up while the Fighter needs only 250k.


    Besides that, I'd suggest using Shields Shall Be Splintered for Fighters only and change Fighter HP to d6+4 per level.

    I also ignore weapon proficiency. You can use any weapons allowed by class. If you want specialization for Fighters, give a +1 to hit and damage if you specialize, which costs 1 slot. You get 4 slots +1 per level divisible by 3. Nobody else needs to worry about weapon proficiency because they can't specialize. This also makes it so the Fighter gets to specialize in a bunch of weapons and the difference isn't so great that he would rather use a non-magical specialized weapon than a magical non-specialized one.

  5. You could always just nerf specialization a bit. Even a +1 to hit and +1 damage per extra proficiency slot expended on a weapon is a pretty big jump at low levels (like a 1-level jump), and it's a nice little edge at higher levels, too.

  6. I was going to suggest the elegant damage = hit dice but it seems you already ruled that out.

    In the past I had given Fighters an ability that allowed them to attack as many hit dice as they had. Thus a 5th level fighter could attack a 3HD and 2HD creature, or five 1HD creatures. It's a bit cumbersome and also reveals to the players the monsters hitdice so YMMV.

    If you'd like to use weapon specialization and avoid the decreased diversity then why not try out specialization styles. The categories would be Two-hander, Sword & Board, and Dueling/Swashbuckling (one-handed and a free hand). Rather than having the specialization styles provide a flat modifier which, as you noted, allows a lower level specialized character to exceed a higher level unspecialized one in combat, it could instead provide probability manipulation. Also, since none of the styles are weapon specific players won't be adverse to picking up a new weapon in the treasure pile.

    Two-hander Style would allow you to reroll damage and take the higher result. Since some weapons are 1d8 while others are 2d4 it would be best to reroll the dice rather than say reroll 1's (which favors 2d4 much more).

    Dueling would increase your likelihood to critically hit (19-20) or perhaps you can attempt an immediate combat maneuver on a critical hit such as disarming them or kicking them off a precarious ledge.

    Sword and Board traditionally gave an increased bonus vs missile weapons so you could have it force a ranged attacker to roll twice and take the lower result for their attack.

    1. Interesting; I like this style specialization more than single weapon specialization.