This post is part of a series describing the rule changes I've made for my current fantasy role-playing campaign. "Kenton's Dungeons & Dragons," or "KD&D," is a full-fledged variant of the 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game initially released in 1977. Feel free to use some or all of these rule changes for your own D&D gaming, no matter what edition you play.
After many years of role-playing retirement, I started, in 2020, running a 1st Edition AD&D campaign at the request of my neighbors and family. Coming back to the game, I’ve realized that, while it’s still my favorite, the mechanics of it can be clunky and difficult, and that some parts are lame.
To make what I consider to be improvements to the core rules, I’ve borrowed ideas from issues of Dragon magazine and later D&D editions, as well as come up with a few of my own. My operating motto for re-tooling the game is to make it, “Simpler & Better.”
Thus far in this series, I’ve talked about:
- Going back to AD&D instead of using the current, 5th Edition D&D;
- “Simpler & Better” character races;
- “Simpler & Better” character classes;
- The basics of making combat “simpler and better;” and,
- An in-depth look at “simpler and better” combat.
As a follow-up to the previous post, let’s talk weapons. I’m happy with almost all of the weapons and their characteristics—speed factor, damage, etc.—listed in the Players Handbook (PHB) and the Unearthed Arcana (UA) books. There are a few, however, that I feel need to be adjusted.
Much of what follows is drawn from the Second Edition Player’s Option: Combat and Tactics book (POCT). I wasn’t (and am still not) a fan of Second Edition, but this sourcebook was excellent (you can purchase a PDF of it here).
Here are the weapons I changed for my campaign:
Crossbows. I always thought that the PHB didn’t do right by crossbows, and the POCT agrees with me. According to the latter book, crossbows have an armor penetration ability, good against magical and non-magical armor. I decided to make it only applicable to non-magical armor.
Accordingly, heavy and light crossbows reduce the Armor Class of an opponent wearing non-magical armor by 5 points at short range, or by 2 points at medium or long range.
Thus, someone with plate mail and shield (normally AC 2) is treated as being AC 7 when shot at close range with a crossbow. Note that this only applies to human-types wearing physical armor, not to monsters with natural body armor, or those who have some sort of magical protection that’s not armor (such as Bracers of Defense).
POCT also increases the damage that these weapons do. Light crossbows do 2-7 (d6+1) hit points vs. Small/Medium opponents, 2-9 (d8+1) vs. Large, up from a puny 1-4 for either. Heavy crossbows do 2-9 vs. S/M, 2-11 (d10+1) vs. Large.
A feature I added was that crossbows can be kept cocked and ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, assuming that each has a simple safety mechanism on them to prevent misfires. Accordingly, much like a bow with arrow nocked and drawn, a readied and aimed crossbow can be fired at the beginning of the first round of combat, before other weapons or used or spells cast, as per the 1e Dungeon Masters Guide DMG).
Sheaf arrows. While I was looking at crossbows, I also thought that regular bows could use something to make them a bit more interesting. Enter sheaf arrows from the POCT.
Sheaf arrows do 1-8 points of damage per hit, instead of the 1-6 that standard arrows do. Because they are assumed to have heavier arrowheads, sheaf arrows don’t go as far, with a 2″ penalty at short range, or a 4″ penalty at medium and long ranges. Thus, a long bow with a regular arrow has a short range of up to 7″, but one with a sheaf arrow has a short range of 5″.
The player-characters in my campaign (especially the half-elven assassin) are big fans of sheaf arrows, but I’ve ruled that they’re more expensive. Sheaf arrows cost 5 gold pieces for a dozen, as opposed to 1 gp for regular arrows.
Polearms. There are a bewildering number of polearms listed in the PHB (and described in detail in the UA), but I can’t remember the last time a player-character used one—not even a spear. Which is a shame, because some of them are kickass.
For example, halberds do a most-manly 1-10 vs. Small/Medium opponents, 2-12 vs. Large. Lances do double damage against opponents when used by someone on a charging mount. Ranseurs can disarm opponents if the wielder rolls a hit against Armor Class 8. And spears can do double damage against a foe when set to receive their charge.
All of which is very good, but to make polearms even better, I ruled that, because of their very long reach, polearms will strike before other melee weapons in the first round of combat. After that, normal initiative rules (including weapon speed factors), discussed in the previous blog post, apply.
If two opponents are facing off with polearms, they would roll initiative as usual, but they would still go before combatants with other weapons.
Gunning for the PCs
To make them more interesting, I emphasize, in my campaign, the differences among the numerous and various humanoid enemies that player-characters encounter. For example, kobolds (as you might expect), are cowardly, but set many traps and ambushes. Hobgoblins are intelligent and disciplined, so they use military tactics. And orcs? Orcs use guns.
Why guns? Because there’s a line in the book version of The Hobbit (if I recall correctly, although it might have referred to them as “goblins”) about how they’re fond of explosions.
Orc guns are flintlock weapons, possessed only by leaders and elite guards. The powder these weapons require is difficult to manufacture, can only be created in small quantities, and only a few orc alchemists know the secret formula—and they’re certainly not telling!
The rules in POCT make firearms extremely powerful. For examples, muskets have about twice the range of bows, ignore physical armor, do d12 hit points, and have open-ended damage (25% chance per hit that a second d12 is rolled for damage; if a second d12 is rolled, then there’s a 25% chance for rolling a third d12 for damage; then there’s a 25% chance for rolling a fourth d12, etc.).
Maybe those rules are realistic, but no DM wants his player-characters to get their hands on weapons like that (and rest assured, once they know about them, they will). So, I toned firearms waaaay down:
- Orc pistol
- Range: 2″ (short); 4″ (medium); 6″ (long)
- Speed Factor: 7
- Rate of Fire: once per two rounds
- Damage: 1-6 points
- Orc musket
- Range: 6″ (short); 12″ (medium); 18″ (long)
- Speed Factor: 9
- Rate of Fire: once per two rounds
- Damage: 1-8 points
Similar to crossbows, at short range, orc firearms ignore physical non-magical armor and/or shields (Dexterity bonuses/ penalties still apply). At medium range, these weapons reduce AC by 5, and by 2 at long range. Again, this doesn’t apply to monsters with natural body armor, or non-magical defenses like Bracers. Unlike crossbows or modern firearms, orc flintlock weapons cannot be kept cocked and ready to fire at a moment’s notice.
In my campaign, poisons are available (usually from an apothecary) to either to put in another’s food or drink, or to coat weapon blades. I’ve moved away from the old “save-or-die” model of poison in AD&D: one commonly available variety—often used by the assassin PC in our gaming group—requires the victim to save or take 1-6 points each round for 1-6 rounds, in addition to any damage suffered from the weapon hit (each dose of this poison costs 10 gp).
I’ve ruled that only assassins can use poison, as they’ve had special training, but doing so is risky. Each time an assassin wishes to use poison, they must make a successful Dexterity check, rolling a d20 and comparing it to their score.
If they roll equal to or under, they’re fine: if not, they’ve accidentally poisoned themselves, and must make saving throws and possibly take damage as they had intended for their would-be victim (antidotes are available for the same price as the corresponding poison, and will stop the loss of hit points immediately after consuming them).
Assassins are also assumed to be trained to quickly poison a weapon in a fight, usually by dipping the tip or point into a special vial kept close for such a purpose. In combat, the assassin may poison their weapon with a single dose, at a penalty of 1 on their initiative. They also have to pass a Dexterity check as described above.
Fighting With Two Weapons
In place of the rules in the DMG for fighting with two weapons, I use an article from Dragon Magazine #68:
That’s All for Now….
Next time out, I’ll tackle a subject related to combat: healing. See you then!
When I’m not playing or blogging about 40K, I’m writing killer SF/F for young adults, and adults who are still young. In This Wasted Land, my latest novel, 17-year old Alyx finds out that witches are real when one abducts her boyfriend, Sam. Alyx won’t stop searching until she gets him back–unless the witch kills her first.
I’m also the author of Lost Dogs, the story of the end of the world as seen, heard–and smelled–by a dog. My first novel was Dragontamer’s Daughters, like Little House on the Prairie…with dragons. With Jungle Guide Patrick Eibel, I created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature.