Kobold Press

Weapons and Armor: A +2 What, Sir? (Part 1 of 2)

Plus Two What?A fighter walks into a shop. “Gimme a +2 sword.”

The shopkeeper nods. “Two swords coming right up.”

“Not two swords,” the fighter says. “One sword. +2.”

“Three swords, sir?” the shopkeeper asks.

“I want a +2 sword,” the fighter repeats, slowly and deliberately. “Just one sword, but +2.”

Clutching his patience, the shopkeeper raises an eyebrow. “+2 what, sir?”

In chess, saying a piece is killed or captured and then removing it from the board serves its purpose. In a roleplaying game, evocative language separates a rule that stumbles from one that strides. A carefully chosen key word creates the immersion that is so important in a fantasy setting. More than just an exciting explanation of the power the characters wield, key words illustrate what the characters experience. Dealing 1d6 damage per level to all creatures in a 20-ft. radius is a dull spell until it is called fireball and described as an explosion erupting on a medieval battlefield, scorching the horde of incoming orcs. This language illustrates a scene that is far more interesting than what is really happening: a series of d6s are rolled and the result is compared to a stat block to determine who lives and who dies.

Despite the extensive examples of great descriptive words in the world’s oldest fantasy RPG and its offshoots, some of the baseline magic items are bleached by some of the blandest keywords in the game. +1 sword. +2 shield. +3 armor. Sure, math is involved when you’re determining whether your character hits, but to a character trying to drive her weapon through the plated hide of a dragon bearing down on her, a +1 here and a +5 there are absolutely meaningless when it comes to evoking a memorable, shared story.

The following keywords are designed to substitute the numeric bonuses applied to armor, shields, and bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing weapons. Using these keywords breaks away a layer of metagame language and makes a world of difference to the player characters (and their players). Now the fighter can walk into the weapon shop and ask for a sword of carving, confident that the shopkeeper will know exactly what he is looking for. (This is the first part of a two-part series, so check back for more soon!)

Armor and Shields
“My shield is to me an outer wall, like the gate to a fortress. My armor is that fortress.”
—Bennetia of Sentay

Many warriors compare their armor to a transportable castle. They use metaphors about laying down mortar to mean suiting up or refortifying to mean armor shopping. Likewise, terms normally used to describe fortresses and their construction can be applied to the protective properties of cornerstone magic armor and shields.

You can apply the following magic special abilities to armor and shields. They are presented in order of enhancement bonus provided, not alphabetically. Although magic armor and magic shields both provide enhancement bonuses to Armor Class, the enhancement bonus of the armor a character wears stacks with the enhancement bonus of one shield the character wields.

Safeguarding: Armor or a shield of safeguarding provides the wearer with a +1 enhancement bonus to Armor Class.

Bastion: A bastion shield or suit of armor gives the wearer a +2 enhancement bonus to Armor Class.

Bulwark: A bulwark shield or suit of armor provides the wearer with a +3 enhancement bonus to Armor Class.

Rampart: A rampart shield or suit of armor provides the wearer with a +4 enhancement bonus to Armor Class.

Aegis: An aegis shield or suit of armor gives the wearer a +5 enhancement bonus to Armor Class.

Bludgeoning Weapons
“Smash!”
— A mountain man known only as the Barbarian.

Although wizards often carry quarterstaffs and many clerics favor the mace, bludgeoning weapons are predominantly the tool of choice of savage humanoids, dimwitted giants, and brutish warriors. As the simplest type of weapon to craft—if they are crafted at all and not just a thick branch or chunk of statue found lying around—bludgeoning weapons also have the most simply named magical properties. Only the most powerfully enchanted bludgeoning weapons, likely wielded by a higher class of adventurer, are given a more complex name.

Thumping: A thumping weapon provides a +1 enhancement bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls.

Whacking: A whacking weapon provides a +2 enhancement bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls.

Pounding: A pounding weapon provides a +3 enhancement bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls.

Smashing: A smashing weapon provides a +4 enhancement bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls.

Ruination: A weapon of ruination provides a +5 enhancement bonus to attack rolls and damage rolls.

Watch for more to come within the next several days!

24 Replies to "Weapons and Armor: A +2 What, Sir? (Part 1 of 2)"

Sciborg2

November 29, 2011 at 7:02pm

Great idea for preserving verisimilitude.

-Sci

Jason Leonard

November 29, 2011 at 8:05pm

This is, indeed, a brilliant idea. Now that you’ve drawn my attention to it, I look back on some of my DM’s and realize that the ones that tell a really good story do just this. They don’t hand out a shield with a bonus and tell you to write it down, they hand out a shield with a cool name and then tell you what bonus it gives. Props

rich pett

November 30, 2011 at 1:45am

Nice:)

Einherjar

November 30, 2011 at 1:53am

Cool! (Even though you have totally stolen my thunder with “bastion”. I have a fixed buckler/gauntlet/greave one-piece item called this in my home brew and was about to pitch it for new gear in Journeys to the West. Sometimes parallel design is sooo frustrating… Oh well, I’ll wait for another name to come to me.)
I particularly liked the intro comedy, had me laughing! That’s a big plus one from me… No, just me. No-one else. “+1″. It’s…. Never mind. Keep up the good work!

Jeff Dougan

November 30, 2011 at 9:48am

I like where these are going, but don’t forget that 4E, if you want them used in that system, goes to +6.

Nic Quimby

November 30, 2011 at 10:24am

Ha! This was one of the first things I did when I started DMing back in highschool. Mine was uniform for all weapons: “Stinger”, “Biter”, “Beater”, “Thrasher”, and “Striker”. Some of the players caught on and some never really did.

I really like how you talk about armor, and heartily welcome any more fantasy lexicon articles that may come our way. Cool topic bro.

Jaye

November 30, 2011 at 10:26am

Excellent article! I love it when the language of the setting overrides rulespeak!!

Wolfgang

November 30, 2011 at 11:01am

I’d suggest Fortress and Apocalyptic for +6. Or just go with Vorpal. :)

Sean Holland

November 30, 2011 at 11:47am

Excellent. Loved the Pythonesque opening.

Alzrius

November 30, 2011 at 4:40pm

This is indeed an excellent approach to one of the worst problems of meta-game terminology creeping its way in-game.

That said, I do wonder about the fact that you’re splitting up the weapon enhancement bonuses between bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing weapons. Are there no five verbs that could be used for all three categories of weapons?

Cursed Lich

November 30, 2011 at 5:59pm

May I translate your awesome article and publish at the RPG website I participate?

rorschachhamster

December 1, 2011 at 8:29am

There is this awesome scene in one of Steven Brusts Vlad Taltos’ novels, where he buys just a cheap, over the counter magical dagger…

Wolfgang

December 1, 2011 at 6:26pm

Cursed Lich, send me email about translation at my first name at the magazine name.

We already have agreements with several sites for translation.

Charles Carrier

December 2, 2011 at 9:57am

I believe Mel Brooks provided terminology for +6 weapons: “They’ve gone to plaid!”

Phatboi

December 2, 2011 at 4:26pm

While I understand the motivation, I think this avoids the underlying reality. The creator of the item knows exactly how many pluses it has because that affected how much it cost to make it. This is true for all the items that work on +1 increment.

Forcing players to learn a set of labels for +1 through +5 is creating more problems and more confusion and in the end, that’s exactly how players will relate to the items.

D&D would be better off to just acknowledge this problem head on and decree that people in D&D speak about +1 this and +2 that. It’s fantasy..it’s not reality. It’s as plausible as “magic.”

Even if you keep this system, the word choice isn’t necessarily appropriate for different settings. People in the Far East aren’t going to use the same words as Githyanki casters. Who’s policing the all realities to make sure everyone uses the same naming convention???

It’s a +1 sword. How is that not the language of fantasy worlds???

Jem

December 4, 2011 at 4:02am

Phatboi: Of course the player will know. The character, however, has no particular knowledge of the game units that describe their equipment. To them, there are considerably more shades than the stripped-down simulation of their world that we play with.

A medium dagger does 1d6 damage +Str bonus. Do you really think that people in the game world notice that any given staff wielder only does six types of wounds with their basic weapon? There is a big continuum of damage types and wound sizes they can do. It’s simply that we approximate them with six categories. It would be more complicated to simulate the world more precisely.

A wizard enchanting a quarterstaff to hit harder is going to, say, give it the ability to magically create and transfer an extra 400 foot-pounds of momentum upon impact above a given threshold. (That’s about the momentum of a solid punch.) What that translates to in the game world is going to vary, and will average about +1. The last thing you want to do as a player is calculate the ballistic effect of an extra 400 foot-pounds on the human-sized flesh and bone of the orc you just hit, wearing lamellar badly-forged bronze armor with 2mm thick plates.

Jem

December 4, 2011 at 4:03am

Err. Medium staff, etc.

Matthew Stinson

December 4, 2011 at 7:20am

Don’t know how I feel about handing out a whacking-staff, but okay ;)
No, this is a great idea, been calling +1 items Masterpiece items for a while now.

Phatboi

December 4, 2011 at 11:26am

Jem, I left out a good portion of my rationale. In many cases, magic in D&D operates on discreet levels e.g. first level spells, Mage Armor duration is always hour increments, cost to produce a +1 item is always the plus squared x 1000, etc. IMHO, it is far more immersion breaking to act like these truths of D&D would have no impact on the people the create, buy, and sell these items. So “+1″ isn’t describing the bonus to “to hit and damage” which I agree has no meaning to the charcter, but describes the magic enhancement i.e. level of magic enchantment that was used to create the item. To answer the question…”+2 levels of magic power that were put in the sword and that determined the cost you paid for the item, shopkeep.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think characters would talk about armor or weapons based on the weapons stats. But but a weapon having three levels of enchantment or five levels of enchantment is not only knowable, but knowable with perfect information (Identify spell) and unavoidably knowable by the creator.

And finally, imposing upwards of twenty different labels to describe +1 through +5 items isn’t immersion bang-for-the-buck…but that’s just my personal opinion.

Tim

December 5, 2011 at 8:40am

One recommendation I’ve seen is to keep the numbers, but make it sound just a LITTLE more mystical. Rather than a first level Spell, it’s a Spell of the First Circle. Sure, mages should know their discrete magical power, but there may be better ways to phrase it. For weapons and armor, I think I ended up settling up Minor, Lesser, Moderate, Major, Greater, or something along those lines. I think this system is a bit more fun, though.

TimsterMon

December 5, 2011 at 6:53pm

Love it. My only potential concern is when other magical weapon attributes are already taken that could seem better in this naming schema, or that might confuse the weapon’s actual attributes.

Ryan Costello, Jr

December 8, 2011 at 7:14am

Thanks for so much feedback, everyone. My aim was just to have a bit of fun at the expense of a metagame pet peeve of mine, and it’s been fun seeing how varied other people’s opinions are on the subject. Phatboi, I particularly think that replacing + with level is internally consistent with how characters categorized magical things by power, and is a good compromise between the original rules and my suggested alternative.

Phatboi

December 8, 2011 at 9:52am

Ryan,

Thank you for such a diplomatic response. In theory, I love your suggestions. Undoubtedly some people’s games will be improved by your article. To that I tip my hat.

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