Revising Weapons

Tetsubo and I have spent some time in the last couple of years discussing weapon design and rules in D&D 3.5. I have come to the conclusion that the existing rules do not work the way I’d like.

These rules are adapted from the Weapon Group rules presented in Unearthed Arcana, and online at

Weapon Rules


Someone who is inadequately trained with a particular weapon should be less effective with that weapon than someone who is adequately trained. D&D 3.5 implements this using a -4 attack penalty when using a weapon the wielder is not proficient with. This does make the wielder less effective, in that anything that depends on the attack roll (including the initial attack, critical confirmation, and some special abilities) will be less likely to work. However, once the weapon does hit, the effects are much the same.

I would rather see someone inadequately trained with his weapon be less effective even when he is successful — he may be just as likely to his his opponent, but will do less damage or be unable to take advantage of the special features of his weapon.

From what I have seen, many weapons are more or less the same in semi-trained hands, it is only when you get to skilled wielders that the differences between weapons matter.

Proficiency Rules

Almost anyone who has a ‘vigorous life’ (which includes soldiers and almost all adventures) should be expected to have at least a passing familiarity with weapons. Anyone who trains beyond that will certainly pick up the principles of weapon use.

As a result, I will be adding the ‘Basic Weapon Use’ basic ability. This can be taken by any character and will allow him to use all weapons proficiently (that is, without attack penalty). However, most weapons can be used rather more effectively.

Martial Weapon Use is more specific, and applies to a group of related weapons (axes, spears, and so on). This is roughly equivalent to the weapon group proficiencies from ”Unearthed Arcana” and fills the same role as martial weapon proficiencies in 3.5 RAW.

Expert Weapon Use applies to a single weapon and allows the wielder to use the weapon in unusually advanced ways. This replaces the exotic weapon proficiency feats. These feats are very much different from the Exotic Weapon Proficiency feat presented in ”Unearthed Arcana”.

With regard to the tiered advancement rules I’ve been working on, Basic Weapon Use and Martial Weapon Use are both basic abilities and available to all characters. A chararacter must know Basic Weapon Use before moving on to Martial Weapon Use. Expert Weapon Use is an expert ability (available only to characters with BAB +1 or better) and is in addition to Martial Weapon Use; it does not supersede Martial Weapon Use because it applies to only a single weapon, not the group as a whole.

Other Weapon Feats

Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization work on weapon groups, not specific weapons. The Weapon Focus feats supersede Martial Weapon Use (Weapon Focus with axes replaces Martial Weapon Use with axes). Weapon Specialization depends on Weapon Focus and does not supersede it.


  •  A soldier (0-level character) has completed his training. He has Basic Weapon Use, Armor Use, Shield Use, and Martial Weapon Use with spears and heavy swords (and one basic ability left over). He is much as a RAW Warrior 1 character. He uses these weapons as described in the RAW, and is is better with spears — RAW they are simple weapons, but he is better with them because he has trained further).
  • A more experienced veteran (equivalent to a RAW Fighter 3) has Weapon Focus with heavy swords (superseding Martial Weapon Use; he uses the basic ability pick up Martial Weapon Use and learn something about axes), Exotic Weapon Use (Bastard Sword), Martial Training twice (total BAB +3), and an unused expert ability.

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