26 September 2017

House Rules - Tweaking the Class Weapon and Armor Restrictions

Especially with the advent of later editions of the D&D game, as well as the influence of video games, recent fantasy films and other factors, many players will wish to play Cleric, Magic User or Thief characters that break the standard Classic D&D model of those archetypes. Sword wielding Clerics, Magic Users adventuring in armor and other odd combinations are likely requests from players creating new PCs for a campaign. The first reaction from many a DM, including me, is to say no and demand everyone play by the rules as written, however, I've slowly come to the conclusion that the players should be able to create the character they want, within reason, and the rules can be slightly tweaked to allow these weird PCs.

Fighters, Dwarves and Halflings are allowed (almost) any weapons and armor. The only exception to the rule is the use of very large weapons by halfling PCs. This should just be a matter of common sense, I won't waste time combing through the weapon lists in detail, but suffice to say that from the Basic rulebook weapon list, the Battle Axe, Long Bow, Two Handed Sword, and Pole Arm should be barred to Halflings. At the DM's discretion, a very strong (Str 16+) Halfling PC in a life or death desperate situation could possibly wield one of these once in a while using an "untrained" penalty (explained below) of -1 to hit and -1 to damage. I recommend discussing this possibility in advance with the DM and other players, to avoid arguments within the game.

Thieves are well rounded combatants, skilled in the use of many weapons and armor types. The restrictions placed upon the class tend to reflect a preference for light, quiet weapons and quiet, nonrestrictive armors that do not hinder any of the class abilities. In the event that the player wishes his thief to wield a weapon not normally allowed to the class, I impose an "untrained" penalty of -2 to hit and -2 to damage. STR bonus or penalty to damage is still applied in addition to these modifiers.
In the unlikely event that a thief character wishes to don heavy armor, I would allow it, but with some dire consequences. First, the character operates with a -4 penalty to DEX, and is unable to use any of his thief abilities while wearing any outlawed armor.

Clerics are the least restrictive class in combat, outside of the Fighter group. With a choice of any armor type, the only request you're likely to encounter is the use of a barred weapon.
In a campaign that uses a specific Mythos or Pantheon of gods, each with a detailed portfolio, mythology and iconic weapon used by that deity, I allow the cleric a choice, to be made at character generation and unable to be changed later without 1d6 months of "offstage" training time and the loss of one level of experience. The PC may either use the normal cleric selection of any blunt weapon, or forgo those weapons and be trained in only the specific weapon of his deity.
For Example: Artemy, a Cleric of the god Ares, might decide to forgo the use of the normal selection of blunt cleric weapons, allowing him to train in the use of the Gladius (short sword), the favored weapon of that god.
In the event of a god like Ares or Athena, where two or more weapons (short sword and/or spear, in these cases) might be considered iconic, the cleric must still choose only one of those weapons to be trained in. A Cleric who uses a weapon forbidden to him suffers the same untrained penalties a thief does; -2 "to hit" and damage, and must additionally make a successful WIS ability check each time the forbidden weapon is used or face the wrath of his god and lose all spellcasting and undead turning ability for 24 hours. Desperate, life or death situations may warrant a modifier to the WIS check, at the DM's discretion, and repeated willful violations may invoke harsher punishments, again, at the DM's discretion after a proper omen or warning is given by the cleric's god.

Magic Users suffer the harshest restrictions on the weapons and armor they may use, as well as the toughest penalties when violating those restrictions.
In the event that a magic user wishes to don armor, I would allow it, but with some dire consequences. First, the character operates with a -2 penalty to DEX, and is unable to cast any spells while wearing any armor.

are somewhat trained to use magic while wearing armor and do not suffer a DEX penalty for wearing armor, but each time they cast a spell while armored, they must make an INT ability check to successfully complete their spell. A failed check means the spell is interrupted and lost from memory.

When attempting to use a weapon barred to their class, Magic Users suffer the usual untrained penalty of -3 to hit and -3 to damage, coupled with their likely penalty to damage from a low str score, if applicable.

The other thing to keep in mind when characters, such as Magic Users or Thieves, with low STR scores attempt to equip bulky armor and heavy weapons is the impact on encumbrance. Even in campaigns where carrying capacity is handwaved, I suggest a DM use common sense and not allow situations where a STR 6 Magic User is toting around (though perhaps not actually wearing...) a suit of plate armor and a couple long swords, in addition to his spellbooks and other adventuring gear.

Any thoughts? Feedback is welcome!


  1. I find this issue interesting mostly because it allows for setting building - both the explanations of why X class can't wield Y weapon and designing setting specific weapon tables.

    It's also one of the issues that becomes significantly more of an 'issue' once you introduce variable weapon damage and HD. In OD&D with D6 damage for all weapons, the question of what weapon a wizard or fighter can use is less important because it only really impacts weapon effect on armor (which is generally not used against non-humanoid enemies anyway). Letting a wizard use a sword is not much of an issue in this case because it's mostly aesthetic. One of the other interesting artifacts of OD&D is that only fighters could get the bonuses from wielding magical swords. I have no idea where to go with that one.

    With B/X style variation in damage and D8 HD for monsters, armor and weapon use become far more important, both because single hits are far more likely to instantly kill MUs and thieves and because D6 damage is much less effective. The power curve in combat has shifted significantly especially with CON bonuses of up to +3 HP per level.

    If one wants to maintain the variable weapon damage, HD and high bonuses of later edition D&D while making weapon restrictions seem less arbitrary there's plenty of fixes. Your trained/untrained penalty system works well, but still may make players who really want to play a wizard with a sword pout.

    I like the "damage by class" means of adjusting this where a wizard can wield anything, but will still only do 1d4 damage, a cleric or thief 1D6 and a fighter d8 (or maybe one die more with a 2hd weapon). That and I'd impose a penalty for using 2hd weapons on thieves and MUs that is acting last each round. With armor I just say that if you aren't trained in using it and want to wear it (e.g. wizard in plate) you have the lowest AC for the broad armor type 8 for light, 6 for medium, 4 for heavy - and act last in every round of combat.

    Alternatively one could add weapons like smallswords and great hammers to flesh out the tables (back in the 1980's I was always frustrated that the sword was the only 1 handed D8 weapon - I wanted a fighter with an axe).

  2. One of the things I never liked when making the move from B/X to AD&D was the restrictiveness of proficiencies. Starting from a point that the equal chance to hit among first level characters represents equivalent combat experience and fighting training, I assume that anyone can use any weapon or use any armor, but view the restrictions as practical limits (some of the rationale below comes from my much more recent fling with ACKS):

    Small characters can't effectively use weapons designated as two-handed weapons.

    Thief abilities can only be used with leather or no armor.

    Magic-user spells can't be cast while wearing armor, encumbered, or carrying a weapon other than a dagger, unless the spell-caster is an elf, who are more attuned to magic by nature and so don't need to keep themselves symbolically pure to cast magic. Daggers are excepted because their ritual significance makes them symbolically non-disruptive.

    Divine power is carried in the blood, so directly spilling blood with a weapon wielded by a cleric is a sacrilege that requires atonement, preventing turning undead or use of clerical spells until the character makes amends. This is true even of chaotic cultists, as all divinities depend on the divine power channeled by their devotees, though a cultist can use a dagger under the controlled circumstances of ritual sacrifice.

    I used to play with gods that had symbolic associations with particular weapons before I decided to get vague about religion, inspired by this post by Joseph Maola, http://udan-adan.blogspot.com/2017/02/religions-of-great-road.html, and it does make sense that clerics would want to imitate their patron, but in my campaign I think I'd rule that such a weapon is a holy symbol and say that a cleric can use a spear to turn or command undead, but stabbing a guy with your holy symbol is offensive to the god it symbolizes, so you'd better also have a warhammer.

    Since there aren't penalties other than limitations except for clerics, a mage could certainly tote around a set of armor and real weapons, though these would have to be in a pack that the caster sets down before casting, so as not to be encumbered or carrying a disruptive implement. Since suiting up in armor isn't something you can do in the thick of the action, the main benefit is you can take a round to arm yourself with better than just the dagger if you've just used your last spell.

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    2. Thanks for the feedback.

      Re: spilling blood being a sacrilege, in the general sense of the cleric as written, I agree, although it could be argued that bashing someone with a mace will create just as much blood and mess as using a sword.

      For this though, I allow the tradeoff of all the cleric's usual blunt weapons allowed for the one single type of weapon closely associated with a specific god.

      It makes little sense to me that a god of archery wouldn't have priests that use bows, or that the god of swords like Greyhawk's kelanen, wouldn't allow sword bearing priests. The usual mace and club clerics are still allowed for those gods, but I give the player an option.

    3. It's true - I'm sure I've even smashed my own finger with a hammer in such a way to draw some blood. The rationalization feels thin even to me, considering half the value of a warhammer lies in the spiky side.

      I think I'm dressing the RAW restriction in some fictional justification to avoid dealing with diety-specific exceptions in part because I do think you've come up with about the only tradeoff that doesn't amount to a cheap gimme that works around a restriction that is part of the game, but I'm afraid it would be rather a bad trade for the player, and since not every source of divine power maps well to a martial weapon, that could set up a case where adherents of divinities closely associated with battle are at a disadvantage in combat versus ones who aren't.

      The adherent of the saint with a spear is making a bit bigger sacrifice in my case, though, since I am using weapon versus armor types (I adapted AD&D's values to the B/X weapon list, plus morningstar and flail because they are awesome).

  3. I have some warm fuzzies for OD&D style all weapons do d6 damage, but I've gotten used to the later variable weapons and don't play the original rules that way. Like you guys said, it kind of hinges on weapon type vs armor type to make the original system make sense, and that's a degree of complexity I leave out.


Thanks for your comments!