No matter how story-driven your game is. No matter how many sessions you go without “rolling for initiative,” roleplaying games eventually find themselves in one fracas or another. And for good reason. Heroes are creatures of action. Sure, you may be playing the slickest bard who would go out of his way in the attempts to seduce the Tarrasque just for shits and giggles, but eventually, that behemoth is going to try and swat the living fuck out of you.
And you better have the right tools for the job.
Weapons, especially for the more martially inclined heroes, have always been the linchpin of fantasy roleplaying games. And aside from alignment, they have also been at the forefront of hypothetical arguments around the game table, as snarling geeks who have never picked up a sword or seen some shoot a crossbow become armchair experts based on this or that supposed knowledge.
You see, despite our current predicament, we are fortunate. We are of a few generations that have not been forced to march into harm’s way with a weapon in hand. We get to play at such things in the form of games. But even then, our imaginations are much more benign and empowering than the activities of war and combat. At the end of the day, other than you stick the pointy end at your enemy, none of us has firsthand knowledge about how these weapons were actually used. Instead, our ideas of these weapons and their use are highly influenced by cool-looking special effects from various movies and shows.
When I created the mundane weapons list for Delve Proto, I wanted to start out with the weapon’s basics. That is, my best guess at how the weapon was actually used in combat, often helped out by research both academic and practical. If you don’t know, many folks try out various weapons and armor mixes on YouTube and share their strange little experiences. It’s a geeky rabbit hole that’s worth going down if you are just that sort of geek. Here’s a quick preview—no one agrees. Someone does experiments, someone comes up with problems with the investigation. But it’s still a fun little ride, especially if you’re interested in creating the basis for weapons and armor in your game.
All of this changed how I looked at some weapons and how they were presented in the various editions of D&D and other fantasy roleplaying games. There is this old joke that the strength of your weapons list is tied to how many variations of polearms it presents. AD&D, through both the Dungeon Master’s Adventure Log and later, Unearthed Arcana, gave a wealth of different types of polearms based on the early modern period, and those supplements finally game form to things like bec de corbin, fauchard, and guisarme that were given distinct numerical differences in the AD&D Player’s Handbook. It’s neat miscellanea, but the more you dig into it, polearms, in general, seem to belong sticks with various pointy, slashy, and hooking bits, rarely standardized, and used primarily as crowd control and dismounting tools by large groups of soldiers and angry peasants. Most of them were little more than farming implements that were fused together and put on long sticks. In Delve, there are polearms, which encompass these many morphologies, and they can be used to hack, slash, or skewer your opponents at a distance and reposition them and dismount riders.
That’s not the only trimming I did. And some might seem odd at first. For instance, shields are on the weapon’s list. They have the Defensive element, which means they increase your armor by wielding them, and they are the best Defensive weapon in the game. But some editions of D&D force you to follow feat chains or gain special training just to beat the shit out of your opponent with the shield, and that’s just silly. Pounding at someone’s defenses in close combat was absolutely a valid way of getting the job done. Also, there are just two types of shields—normal shields and bucklers. And you don’t strap bucklers to your wrist to have your hand free because that’s not the way they worked. Only in D&D/Pathfinder has that ever been a thing. There are also no steel shields—it would be way too heavy to use well.
But, Stephen, it’s a fantasy game. Why can’t I have outrageous stuff? Well, you can. But my main goal in creating the core weapon list was to start out with reasonably realistic and game serving abilities. From that base, things can get crazy. Of course, the weapons in the Gear chapter are all mundane, giving the baseline of what a trained (or untrained) hero can accomplish with the weapon.
Other than the tactics of play, there are two ways to increase a weapon’s potency. The first is advanced training. If you want to become better than normal with a weapon of your choice, the first trick is specializing in that weapon. This grants a +1 talent bonus to your Attack resolutions when using that weapon and increases your crit range by 1. It’s a simple gateway, but different weapons have different paths for more significant effects from there on out.
Let’s take a look at an iconic but relatively simple weapon to show you how that works.
Growing up, I was obsessed with the stories of Robin Hood. The quarterstaff was an interesting weapon historically. It was simple and versatile. It was not only an effective weapon in its own right but an excellent and cheap method weapon to teach students the basic principles of melee weapons. The training one received in the staff could transform into the forms used with the sword, spear, or just about any other long weapon. In Delve, the staff has the following basic statistics.
The staff is a basic weapon, meaning that most classes have trained with such a weapon. Even the wizards that start with the shallowest of martial training knows how to use the staff. It deals 1d6 + Might damage, which is no shock, but it, like many weapons, has a number of elements. Its elements are Slam, Reach 2, and Versatile. Slam is a damage type. Slam damage is really good at bashing things apart, especially if they are somewhat fragile. Skeletons, for example, have resistance to most types of weapon damage. Arrows and spears are not great against their strange jerking clinks of bone mass held together by necrotic energies, but they are vulnerable to a hearty slam. It also has Reach 2, which means that you can Strike something not just next to you, but two squares from you. Lastly, it’s Versatile, meaning that you can wield it with one hand or two, and if you do so with two hands, its damage increases a die step, so it’s 1d6 + Might damage becomes 1d8 + Might damage. Overall, not a bad weapon, and then when you increase its power with Weapon Specialization, it becomes incrementally better. What are the next steps in staff training? Let’s take a look:
The next step in a staff’s training has nothing to do with accuracy or your numbers at all. Instead, it increases the elements of that weapon while in your hand, granting you greater possibilities with the weapon. You gain Defensive 1 and Lunge. Defensive 1 increases your Armor by 1. While it’s not as protective as the shield, your skill with the staff allows you to knock away blows. Lunge will enable you to Attack beyond your already formidable reach, but at a price. You can Strike three squares away, but you suffer a -2 penalty with such blows, and your Crit range is decreased by 1. You’ll notice that this talent is a General 3 talent. This means it’s on the list that any Hero can take when they are level 2. It’s also on the Warrior talent list, but it shows up there at level 1, so members of that class can take it early.
Staff Mastery increases both your power and flexibility. It grants you not only an increase in accuracy and your ability to crit, but it also reduces your fumble chance. When using a staff, you have Defensive 2, which grants you as much protection as a nonmagical shield, and you gain the Trip element, which allows you a chance to Trip on a crit or to use the Trip talent with this weapon and its extended reach. This talent is a warrior talent only, which means this near-pinnacle of staff training is something only members of that class (or another class that has it on their talent list) can learn. So while a wizard can specialize in staves, they’ll have to multiclass to gain greater mastery with that weapon.
Other weapons feature similar training, increasing both the potency of the weapon and expanding how you can use the weapon.
Of course, the other way to increase your weapon’s power is to pick up a magic weapon, but we will save that for another time.
In the meantime, I’ve released the current draft of Chapter 5: Gear on the Delve Patreon. It’s available to all Delver backers on that site. Not only does it detail the basic weapons for the game, but it also features armor, equipment, basic mounts, common poisons (and their antidotes), along with hirelings. Not only is it a starting place for equipping a Delve Hero, but it’s also a guide for what can be purchased in a large settlement.
About a month or so again, my friends Mike Azzolino and Mark Ludlow approached me about a streaming game venture they were starting. It’s called Azmyth Busters, and each week it’s going to feature a session of actual gameplay. The first campaign is Pathfinder 2nd Edition, a game near and dear to my heart for obvious reasons. I’m going to be a player in this campaign, playing the role of Theron Glittermine, a dwarven investigator, as we play through Fall of Plaguestone. You can check out the player interviews here, and come Monday, you’ll see the release of our Session Zero. I hope you check it out. The group is fun, and I think the game will both illuminate and entertain.
At some point in the future, I’m hoping to run some sessions of Delve on Azmyth Busters, so stay tuned.