Saturday, January 10, 2015

Two-handed weapons and optional speed factor

In the DMG there is an optional initiative rule called speed factor. It lists a bunch of modifiers for different weapon types and situations that affect your initiative roll. There's more to it than that, but that's not important for my purpose here. Anyway, the table lists a -2 penalty for two-handed melee weapons. That's completely wrong.

Now, I'm not an expert in medieval weaponry. I have, however, been taking medieval combat classes for a little while. I guess I can really only comment on the sword, as the class hasn't included things like axes or spears, but it has been clearly demonstrated by the instructor that the longsword is noticeably faster when used with two hands rather than just one. Now, I'm not talking some giant monster two-handed sword that you couldn't possibly use one-handed. Though looking at that table, it also gives a penalty for a heavy weapon, so if I were to use speed factor, I would consider just ditching the two-hander penalty and only apply the heavy weapon penalty.

It basically has to do with greater control of the sword. To really hit someone hard with a one-handed weapon, you pretty much have to get some momentum behind it. When you have two hands on the hilt, it takes a lot less motion to get power behind the hit. Does this apply for the other versatile weapons besides the longsword? I'm not sure, as I haven't worked with an axe or spear. Honestly, I would assume so if I was using speed factor and I'd just dump that two-handed penalty altogether.

Just my .02.


  1. Oh boy, you just opened a can of worms for me. Pardon me while I indulge in a lot of thoughts, some of them not complete.

    First, OMG, did they really resurrect the old Speed Factor system from 1st Ed? Apparently. It was never finished as ALL of the playtesters disliked it.

    Next, on to the -2 penalty. Your comments are accurate with one small, ridiculous exception, how D&D scales their weapons. Weapons in D&D have always been WAY too heavy. Working from memory, D&D one handed weapons tend to weigh 3-8 pounds, while the real historical weapons topped out at 5 pounds (and those were rare) because of the very rational fear of becoming exhausted on the battlefield.

    On non-sword melee weapons: They basically fall into three classes:
    Axe/Mace - Puts all of the weight at the end of the weapon, very effective for damaging people, not so good for parrying for the same reason. But a swordsman has a great deal to fear from an axe wielder with a shield.

    Spears - Spears are the medieval equivalent of the AK-47, they don't get the same respect from warfare buffs as other weapons but they have killed more people in medieval history than any other weapon. The primary reason for this is that they are easy to make and teach to use. The other reason is that if they have reach, a well-trained spearman (especially if working with other spearmen) can keep an opponent at bay while poking him full of holes. Pikes, the ultimate expression of the spear, were so effective that the Europeans developed a r6-1/2 foot sword two-handed sword solely to sweep the pike points away so other people could attack the pike-wielders. It wasn't terribly effective because it was too heavy and long but it caught the imagination of the D&D artists and became the norm for the genre.

    The disadvantage of spears is that once your opponent gets past your point you're in big trouble until you can back up and get your spear point between you and your opponent again.

    Flail - Developed primarily to deal with increasingly effective shields, but they have other uses as well. The weapon has a big fear factor (especially if you are lightly armored) but is unwieldy and an excellent way to die in combat against coordinated opponents. I have always thought that games should have a -2 penalty for using them but they are not popular enough with the players to make it worth suggesting.

  2. This version of speed factor isn't exactly like the old 1st edition version where each weapon had its own modifier. It breaks things down to broad categories: light weapons are +2, heavy are -2, two-handed melee weapons are -2, etc. It's an optional rule in the DMG that I highly doubt I'll use.
    That's some good info on other sorts of weapons.