In response to Beedo’s question about using weapon specialization in D&D, I said I don’t like using weapon specialization in D&D because I find it useful, but boring.
“Useful and boring”… well, it’s useful, but it’s still boring, and I don’t want boring in my game. As much as I like abstraction (and yes, I do like abstraction, it mostly makes my life much easier), when someone spends the time and effort to focus his training and skill development in a certain area I want it to be different than when he does it in a different area.
I’m reasonably okay with the Skill Focus feat just giving a +3 bonus to skill checks with the focused skill. While this is a generic benefit, the skills themselves can be used for different things.
Weapons, not so much. Ultimately they all amount to “make it die”. Weapon Specialization as presented in the rules can make the target die faster (+2 hit points of damage per successful attack, usually) but you still do pretty much the same thing with the weapon.
In August 2010 I talked about revised weapon guidelines and working toward combat styles rather than proficiency and specialization. The rules there are fairly generic (‘simple proficiency’ lets you treat most weapons about the same, ‘martial proficiency’ lets you start taking advantages of the differences between weapons, the combat style — declared generically — let you customize the use of the relevant weapons). I consider that post more of a ‘toolkit’ than a solution, though.
FantasyCraft Combat Feats
FantasyCraft, however, actually implements weapon (group)-specific combat styles and can be adopted as a replacement for Weapon Focus and Weapon Specialization to cause significant changes in usage based on character combat skill focus.
That is to say, the feats provided in FantasyCraft let focused axe-wielders do different things with their weapons than focused spear-wielders.
I’m going to include some of the FantasyCraft feats below. To a certain extent they may depend on rules and assumptions specific to FantasyCraft. I won’t try to explain the specifics here, since I’m primarily using them to illustrate the differences in what you can do with the weapons when sufficiently focused by feat selection. What precisely the ‘hurl’ and ‘guard’ weapon properties do isn’t particular important, the names should give enough of an idea.
I’ve only included three such feat sets, there are also sets for flails, greatswords, bows, spears, and so on. Cleave and shield use also have similar feat sets.
To use these feats you must be proficient with axes.
The bite of your axe isn’t limited to the reach of your arm.
Prerequisites: Edged forte [treat as ‘weapon proficiency with axes’]
Benefit: When you wield an axe it gains hurl and you gain a stance.
Punish the Defiant (Stance): Opponents who haven’t moved since your Initiative Count last round are denied their Dexterity bonus to Defense against your melee attacks.
First the shield, then the squishy thing behind it!
Prerequisites: Axe Basics
Benefit: When you wield a 1-handed axe it gains bleed and when you wield a 2-handed axe its gains guard +2. Also, you gain a trick.
Sundering Chop (Axe Attack Trick): Your attack also inflicts the same damage on 1 piece of gear on the target’s person (your choice).
Mortal man or mighty oak — your sweeping blade cuts them all down with ease.
Prerequisites: Axe Mastery
Benefit: Your Strength score rises by 1 and you gain a trick.
Cleave in Twain (Axe Attack Trick): If your target is a standard character with a lower Strength score than yours, he immediately fails his Damage save (damage isn’t rolled). You may use this trick once per round.
To use these feats you must be proficiency with clubs.
You definitely bring the beat down.
Prerequisites: Blunt forte
Benefit: Each of your club attacks may inflict your choice of lethal or subdual damage instead of the weapon’s normal damage (no penalty or damage decrease occurs). Also, you gain a stance.
Driving Stance (Stance): Each time you hit an adjacent opponent with a melee attack, they’re pushed 5 ft. away from you (assuming there’s an empty square behind them). If they’re pushed, you may move into the square they previously occupied.
One look at you and people start to recall urgent appointments elsewhere.
Prerequisites: Club Basics
Benefit: When holding a readied club you gain a +4 gear bonus with Intimidate checks. Also, you gain a trick.
Brained (Club Attack Trick): This trick may only be used when inflicting subdual damage. If the target fails his save against subdual damage, he instead fails 2 saves.
You’re like an earthquake — a thunderous, explosive, unstoppable force of nature.
Prerequisites: Club Mastery
Benefit: When you wield a 1-handed club it gains lure and when you wield a 2-handed club its Reach increases by 1. Also, you gain a trick.
Earth Shaker (Club Trip Trick): You may Trip as a full action, targeting all opponents within 10 ft. You roll only once while each opponent rolls to resist separately.
To use these feats you must be proficient with fencing weapons.
Your swift movements offer no respite.
Prerequisites: Edged forte
Benefit: Once per round, you may make a free attack with a fencing blade against an adjacent flat-footed character. You infict only 1/2 normal damage with this attack (rounded up). Also, you gain a stance.
Work the Line (Stance): Each time an adjacent opponent attacks you and misses, you may move 5 ft. and draw the opponent into the square you previously occupied. Also, each time an adjacent opponent moves away from you, you may immediately move into the square he just left.
Your attackers pay in blood — and tears.
Prerequisites: Fencing Basics
Benefit: Each of your fencing blade attacks may inflict your choice of lethal or stress damage instead of the weapon’s normal damage (no penalty or damage decrease occurs). Also, you gain a trick.
En Garde! (Fencing Blade Total Defense Trick): Each opponent who moves into a square adjacent to you must make a Reflex save (DC 10 + your Dex modifier + the number of Melee Combat feats you have) or be automatically hit by your fencing blade.
You play with your foes like a cat… until you get bored. Then you do that other thing cats do.
Prerequisites: Fencing Mastery
Benefit: Your Dexterity score rises by 1 and you gain a trick.
Touche! (Fencing Blade Attack Trick): If your target is a standard character with a lower Dexterity score than yours, he immediately fails his Damage save (damage isn’t rolled). You may use this trick once per round.
I’m not entirely satisfied with all of the effects of these feats, but I do like that the benefits of focusing on different weapons is useful and distinctive. Rather that just measuring base damage and critical threat ranges and multipliers, you can actually look at what you can do with the weapons that someone not as trained in the weapons can.
Gain a +1 attack bonus and +2 to damage, or be able to shift your position and draw your opponent into the previous one (mobility in a fight!) and do damage to anyone who moves too close? How is this a puzzle?
Weapon specialization like this, I can be interested in. Combine it with other feats that interact well with the combat style feats (such as Cleave and the Axe fighting, say) and you can probably gain some more synergy and a more distinctive combat style.
As much as I hate ‘differently-adjective‘ euphemisms, here that construct is appropriate. ‘Differently useful’, when things are used differently in real life and should be in-setting, is much more interesting and I think makes for better play than a generic bonus that applies equally to all weapon types.