There was a mechanic I loved from 2nd edition that concerned ‘Weapon Quality’ and it was introduced in the Complete Fighter’s Handbook, a wonderful splat book that had rules for every martial aspect of the game from weapon specialisation and combat maneuvers (possibly giving rise to 5e’s Battle Master maneuvers) to warrior ‘kits’ that look a bit like 5th edition’s ‘archetypes’.
The handbook’s section on Weapon Quality introduced the idea that, as well as the ‘average’ weapons whose stats and prices you could find in the Player’s Handbook, the world of Dungeons & Dragons was real enough that you could also purchase ‘exceptional’ ‘fine’ or even ‘poor’ quality weapons, and that their differences in craftsmanship was enough to warrant mechanical differences in your attack bonuses.
As you can see from the table below, exceptional weapons granted a +1 attack bonus to both to hit and damage rolls, fine weapons granted a +1 attack bonus to either your to hit or damage roll, and poor weapons lumbered you with a -1 modifier to both rolls.
I still love the concept. Firstly, because of the countless films and stories that feature legendary weapon smiths (like Kill Bill’s Hattori Hanzō), important family heirlooms (D’Artagnan’s rapier, handed down from his father), and especially-forged gifts (Arya Stark’s Needle, a present from Jon Snow) that cry out to me for nonmagical weapon bonuses to be a thing. And, secondly, because superior weapons give players some agency and a way to spend the countless hordes of treasure they tend to amass, which otherwise often serve no purpose at all. Whereas you can never be sure of stumbling upon a magical sword, glaive or axe, DMs that allow exceptional weapons by extension give players the great satisfaction of being able to buy one that is worthy of their abilities, and get rid some of those pesky piles of gold pieces in the process.
Within the scope of my latest Dungeons & Dragons adventure (which is in the final stages now… available in February 2021 I hope!) I reintroduce the concept of fine and exceptional weapons, but remixing them slightly. A playtester friend of mine pointed out that if it was possible to forge +1 nonmagical weapons then every magical weapon would use such an arm as a starting point. I don’t 100% agree with that, as such master craftsmanship might be incredibly rare (how many Hanzo swords are there out there?), and besides a wizard (I’m assuming its wizards who make them!?) crafting a magic weapon probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a +1 nonmagical weapon and a flashy/beautiful, but rather poorly functioning arm. They might see a pretty hilt and go ‘ooh, that’ll do’. Weapons don’t come with their bonuses printed on the hilt, and only an expert picking up such a blade and practicing with it might see that such a weapon would give them an advantage on combat.
But, anyhow, my friend’s comments weren’t ignored, and I’m going to flesh out these ideas a little differently that I would have otherwise, separating the fine quality of 2e into two distinct properties and making exceptional arms truly rare.
Weapon Quality Properties for 5e
I’ve come up with five positive properties for ‘well-crafted’ weapons that are based on the quality of the materials used and the skill of the crafter (plus two negative ones for those times you have to loot a goblin’s corpse for a blade). They are:
Balanced. A balanced weapon offers its wielder superior poise on the battlefield. When you roll a 1 on an attack roll with a balanced weapon you may reroll the attack. Once you’ve used this property’s feature, you must complete a short rest before you can use it again. Where available, balanced weapons cost 5 times as much as their standard equivalent.
Graceful. A graceful weapon is expertly forged to be lighter than usual, without compromising its strength. When you select the Attack action using this weapon you may add +1 to your initiative score during that round. Where available, graceful weapons cost 3 times as much as their standard equivalent, and weigh 25% less.
Keen. A keen weapon is typically forged from harder material than usual, and delivers a bite beyond the norm. Attacks made with this weapon gain a +1 modifier to damage rolls. Where available, keen weapons cost 5 times as much as their standard equivalent.
Superior. A superior weapon is the result of the best materials and craftsmanship, offering a combination of great handling and an edge at slicing or smashing through armour. Attacks made with this weapon gain a +1 modifier to hit. Where available, superior weapons cost 10 times as much as their standard equivalent.
Exceptional. Exceptional weapons are as rare as they are coveted, the craftsmanship of the world’s finest smiths working with only the best materials. Exceptional weapons offer a +1 modifier to both attack and damage rolls. Where available, exceptional weapons cost 25 times as much as their standard equivalent.
Note, my intention is that some of these properties could be combined in the same weapon, however in this case their price would be subject to the multiplier of both properties, divided by two (eg. a balanced, graceful rapier would cost 7.5 times as much as a normal one = 187.5 gold pieces). However, no non-magical weapon can ever achieve more than a +1 / +1, so you couldn’t combine exceptional property with the superior or keen one.
Those are the positive qualities, but of course it’s also possible find inferior weapons, which in a bind, might still be better than nothing.
Poor. Poor weapons are either made out of inferior material, badly made or are average weapons that have not been looked after properly. Attacks made with poor weapons suffer a -1 modifier to their attack rolls. Where sold, poor weapons cost half as much as their standard equivalent.
Worthless. Worthless weapons are rusted, broken, or otherwise compromised, and count as improvised weapons. The DM decides if you add your proficiency bonus to attacks with worthless weapons.
Availability of Well-Crafted Weapons
Being able to get your hands on a well-crafted weapon depends on so many factors, that my attempts to make a table for this have driven me to distraction, and been abandoned. I would argue that a good smithy in a town or city would have a few well crafted blades in stock (swords mostly, to sell to knights and nobles) and that a player in the market for a superior blade might get to see a small selection of higher end merchandise. The buyer might need to succeed on a skills check to ascertain whether the blade will actually benefit them, or if the smithy has overestimated their skills (or is taking the buyer for a ride).
Similarly, a good smithy might be able to take an order to forge a well-crafted weapon. You can use the old 2e table I’ve shown above as a starting point for the time it might take, while success might not be guaranteed. I would maybe set the DCs for crafting a weapon as 5 for average weapon, 10 for a graceful weapon, 15 for a balanced or keen weapon, 20 for a superior one and 25 for an exceptional one. In some cases failure might still lead to a great weapon (failing to make an exceptional one, could lead to a crafting a superior one), while succeeding by 5 might allow the crafter to add another property to the weapon.
More Weapons Posts
I love weapons! Here’s what happened when I tried to make EVERY weapon in 5th edition unique.
And here’s what happened when I created 9 new weapon feats for your game.
And here’s what happened when I created 14 new Battle Master manoeuvres, inspired by action movies like Kill Bill and Indiana Jones.
Plus, I also like magic weapons… and I wrote a Platinum best selling book about them. Pick yourself up a copy by clicking the photo below and help support the blog at the same time!