OSR Melee Weapon Damage House Rules

If you look at old versions of D&D (OD&D, B/X, BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia, 1e, 2e) they have lists of weapons with varying damage (or not – varying damage is optional rule in some versions). Newly written OSR games as well as newer versions of D&D have their own tables – and bring some innovation as well.

If you start looking into these tables there are inconsistensies, making some choices objectively inferior to others (examples below). I don’t like that. I prefer when there are both pros and cons – risk and reward – in a choice.

Proposed House Rules

Different classes have different capability to do damage, but to reach that potential a proper weapon is required.

1d41H Basic weaponsAllDagger
1d62H Basic weaponsAll but RogueStaff
1d61H Standard weaponsAll but WizardWarhammer
1d82H Standard weaponsAll but Wizard, RogueSpear
1d81H Martial WeaponFighter, Elf, Dwarf, RogueLong Sword
1d102H Martial WeaponFighter, Elf, Dwarf2H Sword

Basic weapons are mundane everyday items (dagger, staff, club).
Martial weapons are rather large AND use blades for extra effect.

Compared to BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia it really changes very little in most cases.

Extra Features

To make weapons different each weapon can have an extra features reflecting its nature. Typically:

  1. Weapons can be versatile (used in 1 or 2 hands) OR they have an extra feature
  2. Non-martial weapons can have extra features (to compensate for lower damge)
Bastard SwordM12
Battle AxeM12
DaggerB11d10 damage when used for sneak attack or at DMs descretion at intimate range
FalchionM11d6+1 damage (slightly better than 1d8)
Great AxeM21d12 damage, disadvantage to initiative
Hand AxeS1Can be thrown
Long SwordM1+1 damage when rolling 1.
Pole WeaponM2Can be used from behind ally.
Advantage to initiative 1st round.
RapierM1May choose to roll initiative with advantage, for 1d6 damage
Short SwordS11d8 damage when used for sneak attack or at DMS descretion at intimate range
SpearS12Advantage to initiative.
Can be thrown.
StaffB12Advantage to initiative when 2H
Two Handed SwordM2+1 damage when rolling 1

Above list is just an example. Any weapon IS a basic, standard or martial weapon.

Practical Use

These rules set the wielder in focus, not the weapon:

  1. Can the character use the weapon at all
  2. Does it match the characters potential (a martial weapon for a fighter)
  3. Is it 1H, 2H or choice
  4. Are there any extre features

The features could depend on the wielder. A dwarf may use it as a throwable 1H hand axe, but a halfling may use it as a 1-2H axe.

Weapon Quality and Damage

Some weapons are inferior or superior.

  • Inferior: -1 damage on best two rolls (5,6 on 1d6)
  • Low quality: -1 damage on best roll (8 on 1d8)
  • Standard quality
  • High quality: +1 damage on natural 1. (10x price)
  • Superior quality: +1 damage on natural 1,2. (100x price)

This should be compared to magic weapons doing +1 always. Bad quality could reflect bad maintenance and condition.


Shields give +1 Armor Class (some new OSR games may be different). I employ the house rule that a shield can be sacrificed to save the wielder from a blow that would otherwise be deadly.

Two Weapons

I employ the house rule that anyone fighting with two weapons gets advantage on initiative. If the two dice show same result, the attack is made with the 2nd weapon (only). If the second weapon is not smaller than the first, that attack is made with -2.

After playing a bit of 5th edition, I think multiple attacks is an annoyance and a mistake. Then there is always the question whether you can actually effectively use two weapons at the same time, and whether you can use your off-hand effectively. My proposed rule can be thought of as “it does not hurt to hold a weapon in your off-hand, occationally it can be your best option”.


The standard BECMI / Rules Cyclopedia rules state that the wielder of a 2H weapon loses initiative. I see two problems with that:

  1. There is already a penalty of using a 2H weapon: no shield
  2. I think of 2H weapons as fast (staff, spear) or long reach (pole arms), which should be rather good to initiative

I am experimenting with using advantage/disadvantage (roll 2 dice, use the best/worst) for initiative. If you find that offensively 5th edition, you can of course use +2/-2 instead.


The following paragraphs are just background and reasoning behind the house rules proposed above.

Expected Damage

If you do 1d8 damage and want to do better, what do you prefer? Table shows hits required to kill an enemy with 4, 10 or 11 HP.


Why is 1d4+3 better than 1d10? Why is 1d6+2 better than 1d8+1? This is a bit counter intuitive. They all do 5.5 HP damage, on average (except 1d8 doing 4.5). The reason is that an opponent with 4HP is always killed in one hit with 1d4+3, but survives 3/10 with 1d10. And after a few blows, any enemy may end up with 4 remaining HP.

An abstract system

It is important to recognise that D&D in general, OSR in particular, has an abstract and simplified set of rules. Not everything is in the system. A perfect simulator would need to consider:

  • Manufacturing cost
  • Durability
  • Need for maintenance
  • Cost of maintenance
  • Efficiency against different armors, and perhaps enemies
  • Speed and range
  • Training required
  • Strength required

At some point you get to the point where you reason that a more experienced fighter will beat anyone even if he is armed with only a broken chair and a handful of sand. Perhaps 1d6 for all weapons is not so bad after all?


Here are a few strange things

  • A Bastard sword can be used in one or two hands, for 1d6+1 or 1d8+1 damage respectively. That means it is a better 1H weapon than the 1d8 longsword AND a better 2H weapon than the 1d10 2H-sword. It is just better.
  • In BECMI a dwarf can use a 2H Broad Axe for 1d8 damage. Or a 1H Long Sword for 1d8 damage. There is no advantage using an axe (initiative is lost and a shield can not be used).
  • A hand axe is cheaper than a short sword, but can also be used as a thrown weapon.
  • Spears are generally underestimated
  1. D&D Classic: House Rules | TechFindings - pingback on 2020/09/18 at 19:32

Leave a Comment

NOTE - You can use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks: