Designing Weapons

Posted on July 7, 2012 by

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In my opinion, one of the greatest tragedies of 4th edition is what they have done to our weapons.  Sure, there are no less than four books full of magical armaments, but not a single one of them holds a candle to even the most basic of 3rd edition weapons.  4th edition presents us with what is essentially a menu of different damage dealing devices, but you are not allowed to order off the menu.

In 3rd edition and 3.5, however, it was a lot more like going to a create-your-own-sandwich shop.  The books were filled with an array of modifiers that you could slap on weapons until you ended up with the one that you wanted.  Every bonus had a modifier, so you could either give yourself a +2 sword, or a +1 fiery (a +1 equivalent) sword.  Other modifiers like keen, freezing burst, even vorpal helped to round out the potential weapons on the table.  You could even add daily spell-casts as a standard modifier, and all of this was if the DM didn’t feel like adding some creative custom abilities of their own design.

Of course, nowadays most Storytellers are not only content to take items right out of the book, they’ll usually just let the player decide.  That’s a post for another day though.

On the other hand, I believe that a character’s weapon is the most important piece of equipment that he carries.  Does anyone remember Drizzt Do’Urden’s armor?  King Arthur’s magical boots?  Hercules’ shield?  Not only should the character’s weapon be something special and legendary in its own right, but it should change the way that character is played.

First of all, that means getting rid of weapons that are defined by daily item powers.  Passive abilities, at-will powers, and encounter powers are all good, and a mix between them is even better.  As a DM, this is a tool that we can use to make characters feel different, unique.

Our campaign features a character named Aziman, an amnesiac shipwreck victim brought back to like through the powers of the magical Blood Tree and taught a very rare form of sword dancing.  The character wields lash-blades like the one pictured above, and has a sort of blood theme going.

Now, this sin’t the kind of weapon that you just find lying around.  A sword like this needs to be extremely rare and custom-made for someone that uses a very specific fighting style.  Because of the character’s blood-dance, I’ve chosen to theme his weapons around blood, making him deal more damage when he is below half health.  They also have encounter powers that are very dangerous for the wielder to use, creating a high-risk/high-reward playstyle.

Rhyme and Reason, Dual Lashblades +3
Masterfully crafted by the bloodsmith Eiron, these blades have been elegantly made from stained glassteel and enchanted to keep from ever breaking, permanently that is. The material of these blades shatters at its wielder’s command.
+3 damage while bloodied
Your daily powers and critical hits add ongoing 5 damage
Encounter (minor): Your next attack deals its damage to your target and each enemy adjacent to them, but your attacks deal 10 less damage until the end of your next turn.

The next example I’d like to use is Celindara, a new character to the game, and the crew’s new resident horrible demigoddess trapped in a mortal body.  The very embodiment of the seas and their wrath, she needs to really feel like an unimaginable force trapped in a mortal body.  She’s also a defender, so I’d like to give her a weapon that will make her feel a lot more capable of her chosen role.

I’m going to start with an encounter power that will punish people for attacking the wielder.  This will give her a satisfying reward just for doing the job that her class was designed for.  A daily item power that allows her to second wind as a minor action is simply icing on the cake, making her even better at surviving whatever the game throws her way.

Deepsoul Trident, Greatspear +3
While this trident is simply made and seems unremarkable, touching it gives you the strange sensation that something sinister lurks within.
Encounter (reaction): When an enemy misses you with a melee attack, you may knock that enemy prone and slide it 1 square, dealing 8 damage and marking that foe.
Daily (minor): You spend your second wind.  Any bonuses to your defenses that you would normally gain may also be given to an adjacent ally.

Finally, I’m going to need a weapon for Decosta, the ship’s resident sniper.  Now he’s a difficult character to create items for, because the crossbow he found in our second game was good enough that he never stopped using it.  It’s such a perfect sniper weapon that I have no desire to make him a better one, and that’s fine.  Instead, I’m going to give him a weapon that will present him with other options in combat.

As our game takes place right at the dawn of gunpowder, Decosta’s player has been chomping at the bit to get his hands on a black powder weapon.  The time has come to grant his wish with the exact opposite of a long-range crossbow, the Blunderbuss.

Scattershot, Enchanted Blunderbuss +3 (Heavy Crossbow)
This Blunderbuss is covered in runes, enchantments being very rare on gunpowder weapons.  On closer inspection it appears that the magics have little to do with making it more dangerous, and much to do with keeping it from blowing apart each time its fired.
This weapon may not be used to make standard attacks.
Encounter (standard): Make a basic attack against each target in a close blast 3.  Damage dice that deal maximum damage are rolled again.  After making this attack, the wielder is pushed back 1 square.
At-Will (move): You regain the use of this weapon’s encounter power.

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Posted in: Game Talk