Thursday, May 30, 2019

Uncommon Weapons in a Common Weapons Campaign

In my experience, when it comes to gaming and weapons, players generally eyeball the unusual weapons. The strange, unique, and odd draw the eye and get the pick.

I was prompted to think about this from an email from a fellow GURPS GM asking about a related subject.

In a game like GURPS DF, with a large amount of points to spend, high skills to start, and access to extra money with some of the point budget, it's tempting to go for something unusual. The two-longsword fighter. The all-long-knives-guys. The katar and reverse-grip sword guy. The hammer-backed-pick-guy. The morningstar guy. The katana-and-sai-guy. Whatever.

One problem with that in my own games is randomized treasure. You might pick a trident, or a light horse cutter, or twin katars, but there isn't any guarantee that I've put magical ones out there. If I'm generating randomly, the tables in supplements like DF8 are skewed towards the more common weapons. The odder your weapon of choice is, the less likely there is a newer, fancier, more magical version just sitting out there. And the higher the odds that if there is one, it's the only one.

My own tendency is something boring but effective. It's probably a combination of my own personal tendencies (much of what I use is boring but effective, from exercises to vehicles - not all, but enough.) I know it's tough to replace the odd and unusual. And my games match. You could go an entire campaign - Takashi Harada can attest to this - without finding better katana and wakizashi than you started with. You'll find orcs with broadsword galore in my DF game, but orcs with horse cutters, jian, smallswords, kukri, etc. not at all.

If I was placing weapons in a story game, I'd possibly be more generous in this respect. But only possibly. I think my own tendencies and the style of my games - generally a slog through pseudo-medieval Europe with a lot of AD&D nostalgia - pushes people away from the unique and unusual and more to the utilitarian and common.

How about your games?


  1. My players typically don't skew all that weird when it comes to weapons -- most of them aren't all that focused on tactical minutia like the relative merits of exotic arms, and they may also have a basic sense of the rarity of upgrades in treasures, as you mention.

    I *have* included some oddities in treasures, though -- mostly just to make something they're likely to sell anyway a little more entertaining. If it's not *too* exotic, and defaults to something that they have a leg up in anyway, maybe it'll capture their imagination and they'll invest a couple points in it.

    Most notably I included a balisong in a treasure that had ivory handles carved to resemble a cocoon, and that opened to reveal butterfly images etched in a diffraction grating, so that their wings appear to flap as one angles the blade. Nobody's bothered to spend points on Fast Draw Balisong, but it was too beautiful and flashy to not keep.

  2. To my players, an extra heavy meteoric mace was too much trouble to keep and use. Swords are the ultimate in weapon technology for them.

  3. I am using a published mega-dungeon meant for Pathfinder (itself an adaptation from AD&D I think, Rappan Athuk). So treasure skews towards Pathfinder/D&D weapons. Longswords abound (which makes the Holy Warrior happy, he did, in fact, pick longsword).

    That said, I put the occasional bespoke item meant as a direct upgrade in, usually when I generate rumors of where the party should go. As a quest reward, that seems legit.

    But yeah, a lot of upgrades come from spending extra to speed up enchanting a la Caverntown (which I snuck into Rappan Athuk cause I like it so much).

  4. 1 handed reach 1,2 swing cut fast draw compatible with no ready action to change reach makes the katana the most popular sword seen

  5. Seed locations with specific cool treasures but then fill out the remainder with random rolls.

    Here’s a cool trick: let your players roll on the treasure tables when they find a hoard. It’s like a casino mini game.

    1. That sounds fun, but I couldn't do it in practice. Divination-type magic - specifically Seek Earth, Seeker, and the various Divination spells - require the GM to know what's in a hoard well before the PCs discover it.

  6. I have a couple players who always grab the exotics; one carries an estoc for the swing/crush-thrust/ impale, but an acolyte spotted that exotic weapon that looks like a bigger, badder batleh and picked it because it uses staff skill.
    Not much hope of either of them finding a magical version.


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