Alternate Weapon Breakage Variants

by Mike Shea on 8 August 2011

In practice, Dark Sun's weapon breakage rules don't really work that well. While the concept helps define the world of Athas, it's a mess when used in practice. I won't spend a lot of time talking about the situation. Instead, go read Robert Schwalb's excellent discussion of the problem.

To summarize, there are two variants of weapon breakage rules in the Dark Sun Campaign Setting. In Fumbling Break, rolling a natural 1 on your attack roll results in the weapon breaking. With Reckless Breakage you can either choose to miss on a 1 or roll again but your weapon breaks. The problem is, broken weapons are an extra complication we don't really want. With either of these options you end up with PCs who carry bags and bags of extra weapons or come up with crazy ways to turn a dead stick into a wand just so their character doesn't suck.

Today I propose two new variants to weapon breakage that keep the flavor without adversely affecting the mechanics of the game. Both of these require a bit of abstraction from the story. In both these variants, the actual item carried by the PC doesn't change. We presume our heroes have found or carry a weapon comparable to the one they had. With something like a crossbow, they managed to repair it. With something like a bone sword, they found or carried another. The flavor of these options is what determines how the weapon broke and how the PC managed to fix it. The mechanics simply spell out the detrements and potential advantages.

There are a few things we want to keep in mind when we build our new weapon breakage rules:

  1. It should still be detremental to the PC. They did roll a 1, after all.
  2. It should have the potential to be very cool and cinematic. Sometimes failure turns into success.
  3. It shouldn't become a mechanical burden.
  4. The mechanics can be abstracted from the flavor.

Alternative Weapon Breakage, Normal Variant

Weapon Breakage (at will)

Your weapon shatters upon your foe's armor.

No Action
Trigger You roll a 1 on an attack roll.
Effect: You may reroll the current attack roll with a +2 bonus to attack. After that attack, you have -4 to your attack rolls until the end of your next turn.

With this power, a PC's weapon or implement could potentially break or overcharge or become damaged by the failed attack. The -4 to attack rolls represents the character's struggle to get a weapon or implement working again or replaced. The bonus to damage builds in a cinematic moment of potential success even though the weapon fails.

This way a player doesn't have to keep track of the fifteen bone greatswords his or her PC carries around but still recognizes that there is a penalty for rolling a 1.

The only hard sell with this effect is the abstraction from the weapon itself, but that can be explained simply with flavor. Maybe your thief carries another dagger or steals one from a fallen enemy. Maybe your warlock's wand misfired but came back under control. Note that these effects work best side-by-side with the Fixed Enhancement Bonuses in the Dark Sun campaign book. If your PCs have a bunch of unique magical weapons, it becomes more difficult to explain how and why they failed.

Alternative Weapon Breakage, Extreme Edition

What we have next is the more extreme version. If you're looking for your game to get a bit more dangerous and a bit more swingy, this is the variant for you.

Weapon Breakage Extreme Edition (at will)

Your weapon shatters upon your foe's armor.

No Action
Trigger You roll a 1 on an attack roll.
Effect: You may reroll the current attack roll with a +2 bonus to attack. If it hits, this attack automatically critically hits. After that attack, you have -4 to your attack rolls, -4 to defenses, and are vulnerable 5 per tier to all damage until the end of your next turn.

Now we're cooking with gas. In this variant, the potential for explosive shifts in combat are high. A PC gains a potentially catastrophic hit on his or her enemy but at the price of radically reduced defenses and vulnerability to damage next turn. This variant represents the slow motion smashing of a bone sword against a foe's helmet, crushing his skull, and the attacker falling back, weakened, and with just the stub of a weapon left in his hands. This variant is only for the heartiest of groups.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips and Running Epic Tier D&D Games. You might also use these links to purchase the Dark Sun Campaign Setting or Dark Sun Creature Catalog. Looking for awesome miniatures? Take a look at D&D Miniatures from Troll and Toad, an official Sly Flourish sponsor.

Send feedback to @slyflourish on Twitter or email mike@mikeshea.net.