“This … showcases one of the problems I have with D&D. … the fact that the martial melee weapon category includes just about every type of weapon ever created … there are vastly different techniques in using a greatsword vs using a whip vs a warhammer vs a glaive vs a meteor hammer.”
These are the (redacted) words of a regular reader of Hipsters & Dragons on my previous post, and ones that had me question something I’d long ago accepted as part of the game. The idea that anyone proficient in martial weapons can pick up any weapon, from any culture, and swing it like they are Austin Powers in the 60s.
This jarred with me when I first got my hands on a 5th edition Player’s Handbook back in 2015, as it’s clearly nonsensical, and – now that it’s been brought back to my attention – it jars with me in 2022 too. At a stretch, I could perhaps imagine that the average fighter gets a well-rounded education in weaponry in some kind of military training school (although I am not sure that even Spartans got much further than training in bow, sword and spear). But how does a forest-roaming ranger learn how to use halberd, pike and flail while out in the woods? And when was the last time you heard of a barbarian, from either history or fiction, wielding a rapier or crossbow (while simultaneously mastering over 20 other specialist weapons)?
I think the reason I never revisited this little 5e disconnect is likely because it virtually never comes up in game. Rangers never use anything but their longbow and longswords anyway. The barbarian grabs their greataxe, and when the DM feels the time is right, a magical greataxe fortuitously appears in a tomb the PCs clear out.
There aren’t any rules in 5e for weapons breaking and few DMs consider (or enforce) realistic weapon loss in the case of players falling into a raging river or tumbling half way down a cliff: in practice, players very rarely have to loot a bandit’s corpse to grab a scimitar, or pick up a warhammer lying around an abandoned mine to fend off a cluster of grimlocks.
In other words, the fact that certain characters are unrealistically proficient in the scimitar or warhammer doesn’t come into play, because their favourite weapon is always strapped to their belt (- even at the most prestigious social occasions, which PCs like to attend in full plate armour, bearing polearms).
So what’s the problem? Well, PCs should lose their primary weapons on occasion! Or be forced to carry something more discrete than a glaive to fancy-dress gala. And, as the original poster pointed out, if a DM is using more realistic loot (i.e. random loot, instead of tailored-for-character-preferences loot), players shouldn’t necessarily be automatically proficient with the +3 warhammer in the dragon’s horde. They may have to get lucky to find a magic weapon perfect for them, or else train with a weapon they are unfamiliar with.
In short, I believe martial characters should have to choose a number of martial weapons with which they are proficient, and I would propose the following:
Fighters can choose a number of martial weapon proficiencies equal to 4 + their proficiency bonus at 1st level, gaining a new proficiency whenever their proficiency bonus increases.
At second level fighters gain a new ability, Jack of All Blades, which allows them to add half their proficiency bonus, rounded down, to any weapon attack roll that doesn’t already include their proficiency bonus.
Other Martial Classes
Barbarians, paladins and rangers can choose 4 martial weapon proficiencies at 1st level.
All Martial Classes
When a fighter, barbarian, paladin or ranger gains a new level, they may switch out an existing martial weapon proficiency for a new weapon, provided they have practiced with the new weapon for at least one month.
This feels better to me, and also might encourage DMs to create a few more situations where weapon proficiency might matter. Additionally, players get to make another set of meaningful choices about their characters. The existing ‘proficient in martial weapons’ 5th edition ruling is, apart from anything else, criminally bland.
Disagree? That’s what the comments section is for…
Turns out, after reading your comments, those thoughts weren’t so final…
POST UPDATE: Competencies vs. Proficiencies
There’s always some good food for thought in the H&D comments section, and while I might need to digest some of those ideas some more, one thing that I feel convinced about already is that it’s not just Martial Weapons proficiency that is too catch-all and generic: Simple Weapon proficiency is also rather bland and convenient. While I definitely think that martial characters should get all simple weapon proficiencies for free, it feels weird that a wizard is proficient in five weapons, at least three of which I would consider quite tricky to master.
I think I’m going to change my approach slightly here (to what I’d already written) for my own set of House Rules, and create a new mechanic called Competencies. Being Competent in a weapon allows you to add half your proficiency bonus, rounded down, to attack rolls.
To keep this simple, you are Competent in all weapons that the Player’s Handbook says you’re Proficient in. But you are only Proficient in a smaller number, that you choose from within your Competencies, as stated below:
Artificer – choose 3 weapons from your competencies that you are proficient in. (Battle Smiths you can treat like Rangers). You gain a new weapon proficiency when you gain an Extra attack.
Barbarian – you are proficient in all simple weapons, plus 3 martial weapons. You gain a new weapon proficiency when you gain an Extra attack.
Bard – choose 3 weapons from your competencies that you are proficient in. (College of Blades you can treat like Rangers).
Cleric – choose 2 weapons from your competencies that you are proficient in. (Tempest and War Clerics you can treat like Paladins)
Druid – choose 2 weapons from your competencies that you are proficient in.
Fighter – you are proficient in all simple weapons, plus 4 martial weapons. You gain a new weapon proficiency whenever you gain an Extra attack.
Monk – you are proficient in all simple weapons, plus 1 martial weapon (I’m not actually quite sure what the ramifications are of giving a monk a choice of martial weapon [instead of just short swords as per RAW]… but I feel like as a pure martial class this is reasonable, and that a fantasy monk wouldn’t necessarily conform to our Shaolin stereotypes). You gain a new weapon proficiency when you gain an Extra attack.
Paladin – you are proficient in all simple weapons, plus 3 martial weapons. You gain a new weapon proficiency when you gain an Extra attack.
Ranger – you are proficient in all simple weapons, plus 3 martial weapons. You gain a new weapon proficiency when you gain an Extra attack.
Rogue – choose 4 weapons from your competencies that you are proficient in.
Sorcerer – choose 1 weapon from your competencies that you are Proficient in.
Warlock – choose 2 weapons from your competencies that you are Proficient in. (Hexblades you can treat like Paladins).
Wizard – choose 1 weapon from your competencies that you are Proficient in.
So there you go. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s weird how 5e cheapened weapon proficiency, and I personally enjoy these types of decisions and the chance to personalise my character a bit more.
I would retain my earlier rule that a character that trains with a new weapon may change up a proficiency when they level up.