In the original D&D (and in Holmes), all weapons did 1D6 and that's that. There's an attractive reductionism there, in that Short & Sweet are the first two goals of my game. I feel that D&D's general tendency towards a hundred swords and polearms with damages of 1D4+1 and 1D6+1 and 2D4 and 1D8 and the like is really just mostly cruft, offering very little in the way of meaningful options while bloating things terribly. You could differentiate these with weapon speeds and weapon vs. armour type tables, but then that's adding more cruft to make the other cruft distinctive, and overall I feel the end result would be worse instead of better. I can see how some would like it, but it's not for me. At the same time, "1D6 for all and you'll like it" is a bit too Henry Ford, methinks. Let's try and find a middle ground, erring towards the Basic approach.
|"As long as it's black..."|
So What Do I Want?I'd like some distinction between broad classes of weapons, without requiring the GM to be involved or charts to be accessed. The big distinction for me is wielding a giant asskicking weapon versus single weapon and shield. Any set of weapon (and combat) rules has to be able to support both of these styles, because both happen all the time in fiction and they're reasonable fighting styles that players and GMs alike will expect to be able to do. Both also need to not just be accessible, but desirable: that is, a system that allows you to do something but makes one choice so much obviously better than the other is really offering a false choice.
So, let's try standard and large weapons. Standard weapons have an automatic advantage in that you can use a shield with them. Large weapons need to be able to dish out enough extra damage to make giving up an AC bonus worthwhile.
If standard is 1D6, then large being 1D10 (what a two-handed sword does in Moldvay and 1st ed AD&D) seems a reasonable spread. I think I want to add a third category though: small weapons, because the idea of throwing knives or darts dealing as much as a sword strike seems off. Three tends to be a magical number when it comes to categorization; that many somethings are rapidly grasped. I know Mentzer Basic went with four categories (D4, D6, D8, and D10), but while it doesn't hurt, I don't think the D8 is really needed. 1D4 for small weapons, then. So:
Small: 1D4 (+ shield)
Medium: 1D6 (+ shield)
Breaking it down by size categories like this also makes it easy to ensure weapon sizes interact with wielder sizes. For example, I think I'd rule that a weapon one size larger than the wielder must be a two-handed weapon.
Okay, now to tweak. We can look at more than just damage here: there's other ways to play around with weapons. I think I'd like to raise medium weapons a touch, to better separate them out from the little guys. 1D6+1 would accomplish that, and give us a nice 4-7-10 spread: three points of maximum damage potential separating each weapon category.
I also like the idea of modelling that "big weapons hurt but are slow" feel. Moldvay/Mentzer's "automatically goes last" is much too far for my liking, as is Holmes' "can only attack once every other round". However, a -1 to initiative when wielding one in melee seems like a simple addition that also gets us an expected result.
Small: 1D4 (+ shield)
Medium: 1D6+1 (+ shield)
Large: 1D10 (-1 initiative)
ArmourThis is another one of those cases where I feel a lot of later editions added more than was needed. You wind up with this bizarro listing of various armour types, many of which never existed at the same time. I like the Moldvay and Mentzer methods of just giving three types (there's that magic number again), which some of the clones also follow. So how about this?
Armour consists of a wide variety of materials and construction methods, depending on how advanced its builders are and what resources they have access to. Many adventurers wear a mishmash of armour pieces, such as a strong breastplate alongside light or even non-existent protection elsewhere. Rather than trying to codify all the possible material, piece, and technology combinations, armour has been abstracted.
I'm using ascending AC because I can't imagine a single reason for voluntarily going the other way that isn't rooted in a desire for back-compatibility, emulation, or nostalgia; I'm willing to do any conversion work with material I own, as it's reasonably straightforward, so that's not an issue. That gives us AC bonuses of +3 (light armour), +5 (medium), and +7 (heavy). A shield would presumably add +1 here. However, a common complaint (one I share) is how little value a shield has in D&D. Shields are life savers. We could introduce three different shield types, which I've also seen in some games (typically buckler, standard, and tower), but that just doesn't appeal to me. Let's just bump a one-size-fits-all shield to +2 AC.
But, making a shield better makes small and medium weapon choices indirectly better, because we're assuming that wielders of those weapons are also using a shield (a safe assumption, I think), while large wielders cannot. I'm starting to feel the large weapons are falling behind. Thinking about it more, I think I'd prefer a bit more guaranteed damage for the big guns anyways. 1D8+2 gets us the same max damage, but avoids 1 pt flesh wounds. That's better than any standard D&D weapon, but only by a touch. It also gives a nice minimum damage threshold progression of 1-2-3.
So, with all the above taken into account, here's what our final basic combat equipment list looks like:
Small Weapons: 1D4 (w/ +2 AC shield)
Medium Weapons: 1D6+1 (w/ +2 AC shield)
Large Weapons: 1D8+2 (-1 initiative)
(1-2-3 minimum, 4-7-10 maximum)
Light Armour: +3 AC
Medium Armour: +5 AC
Heavy Armour: +7 AC
Shield: +2 AC
I'm also thinking of differentiating these weapons based on further choices the warrior can make, or that can be made in combat in general, so this isn't really the final say here. But I think it's a decent start, allowing someone to pick weapons they think are cool and not worry if they're mechanically sub-optimal, while keeping things generally simple. I feel it's a sweet spot of simplicity versus complexity; I'm curious if others agree.