Monday, October 10, 2011

Should All Weapons Do 1d6 Damage?

For the fun of it I thought I’d dissect the arguments for the OD&D pre-Greyhawk/Holmes Basic/S&W Whitebox convention that all weapons should do 1d6 damage.  For each argument, I’ll make the positive claim and then offer a critique in the next post.  We’ll see where we end up.
  1. Should all weapons do 1d6 damage?  Why not?  Combat is abstract.
  2. In a certain sense all weapons do the same damage in the end.  Being fatally stabbed by a dagger is just as bad as being fatally stabbed by a two-handed sword.
  3. It’s simpler.
  4. Rolling different kinds of dice (as well as different numbers of dice) for each weapon distracts from the “ballet of combat”.  Having all weapons do 1d6 focuses attention on the combat not on the dice.
  5. Having some weapons do more than 1d6 damage introduces an annoying sort of inflation into the game.  If, for example, the damage done by a two-handed sword is increased from 1d6 in Men & Magic to 3d6 damage in Greyhawk (at least against large creatures), then to be fair (or rather, in the interests of realism or consistency), many of those large creatures must have their damage increased as well.
  6. Having all weapons do 1d6 damage introduces more diversity in the choice of weapons.  From the point of view of fantasy role-playing, this is a good thing.  If weapons do different amounts of damage, players will gravitate to only a few of them--those that do the most damage.  That’s a bad thing.
  7. Having all weapons do 1d6 damage allows you to come up with other reasons (more fun and more realistic) to choose some weapons over others—some weapons you can charge with, others might be better at piercing armor, etc.  This is healthy.
  8. It’s a feature of the original game.  How could Gygax and Holmes have been wrong?
Am I leaving any out?


  1. The crux of this—at least for me—comes down to two things: Price and damage. With variable damage, the cheapest weapon with the highest damage gets chosen. With straight d6 damage (or class based damage) the cheapest weapon gets chosen. I’m not particularly happy with either situation.

    There are some other things. Encumbrance, though I have seldom seen that be a factor in the weapon chosen. (Though I have seen it once or twice.) Then you have special rules. The “daggers strike twice in a round” or “two-handed weapons auto-lose initiative” or two-weapon fighting rules. (Rules that, IMHO, usually are ill-conceived, but that’s another topic in itself.)

    The two big wildcards are role-playing and DM rulings. Many players will go with the sub-optimal weapon for role-playing reasons. A DM can make rulings to make the choice of weapon matter. I’ve tended to rely on those two things, but I can’t say that I’ve been completely happy having to rely on them.

    Oh...there is one more wildcard: Magic weapons. At some point, in most campaigns, the PCs are no longer buying weapons. They’re using magic weapons they found. At that point, I think, this issue becomes much less important. Straight d6 or variable damage by weapon or variable damage by class all work fine once the price issue goes away.

  2. #7 is my favorite reason, most easily brought into play during natural 1's and 20's. weapon fell out of reach, can't be grabbed (too small), easily grab another from belt and not lose turn (*dagger), etc. but there's all the other things like charging, use with or against shields, from behind others, doubling as tools of some kind, durability.. i'm sure someone's made a list in the OSR somewhere.

  3. #6 is the main reason I like d6 damage. Of course, it does limit the use of all those cool shaped dice I have...

  4. I still like my idea that all weapons do damage based on your class, with no class restrictions on the type of weapon you wield. You want to be a sword-wielding Wizard? Go ahead, but you'll still be doing 1d4 damage due to your lack of training. Addresses points 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7, as well as Robert Fisher's comment above.

  5. I moved to d6 for all hit dice and weapons when I started teaching my kids basic at about age 5 (reason #3) and to my surprise I never really looked back. One other consideration for me was cost. Drawers and cabinets in my house produce six-siders via spontaneous generation vs having to go purchase a 6 or 7 dice set when a d8 goes missing.

  6. I like weapons dealing one dice of damage, and believe the reasons have mostly to do with #2 and #9, that last one being:
    #9 Most likely, since the rules evolved somewhat from Chainmail, differences in weapons appeared on the "to-hit" rules (i.e. Man-to-Man combat table) and "weapon class".