Equipment in Classic D&D

This is part of my ongoing series dissecting early Dungeons & Dragons, and building the retroclone Dungeon Raiders out of it.

'060808armory2' by dan4th on Flickr
'060808armory2' by dan4th on Flickr

In original D&D, all weapons deal 1d6 damage. So how are weapons differentiated?

On the one hand, they aren’t. Of course, some weapons can deal an extra +1 or +2 damage, or provide a +1 or +2 bonus on the attack roll. And some weapons can be used at range.

In early D&D-style systems, though, even a small numerical bonus makes a big difference in gameplay. Since we’re focusing on lower levels of play, an extra +2 damage against a monster with 10 Hit Points will take it down quickly.

Okay. Should the bonus apply to the attack roll, the damage roll, or both?

There are many ways one can take this, of course. Personally, I want to keep each mechanic simple. The more elements you throw into a mechanic, the harder it is to use. So, we’ll keep attack rolls simple: a weapon with a bonus adds the bonus to damage.

How about typed damage? Typed damage does not exist in Original D&D or first edition, but here’s another place where I think we can safely borrow from modern game design.

The DM can have weapons with typed damage. The weapon deals an extra +2 damage when in the same natural environment as the damage type. So, a Staff of Flame will deal an extra +2 damage when used in a volcanic area, and a Frost Dagger will deal an extra +2 damage when in an icy cavern. This creates a simple rule of sympathy, which applies to both monsters and environment.

So, let’s define a few damage types, and their sympathetic environments:

  • Fire (heat)
  • Ice (cold)
  • Force (mountain-taps)
  • Lightning (swamps)
  • Death (graveyard and crypts)

Of course, some weapons are ranged. Ranges are listed in game-world distances.

Should we require players to keep track of ammunition? For simplicity’s sake, I’m punting that decision. I won’t specifically address it in the rules. If a DM wants to enforce it, okay, but it won’t be a system requirement.

What about armor? Well, armor has no range and no attack roll, and classic D&D has no defense roll. So, armor can only absorb damage, as described in the attack rule in the the combat article. A reasonable pratical maximum for armor is +3.

So, players can come across all sorts of weapons, to which the GM can freely add a +1 and/or a damage type as the situation and characters’ needs warrant.

  • Axe
  • Club
  • Crossbow (range 100 feet)
  • Bow (range 100 feet)
  • Dagger
  • Mace
  • Sling (range 50 feet)
  • Spear (range 30 feet if thrown)
  • Sword

In the next article, I’ll tackle monsters and other foes. Stay tuned!

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