Simplifying SwordsSwords are an enduring part of the fantasy genre. No other weapon is as enshrined in myth and legend. Found a magical weapon in the dungeon? Odds are it is a sword. There are (I believe) over thirty swords in the Pathfinder SRD alone! These range from light to two-handed, include piercing and slashing weapons, and have a variety of special qualities. I want to take that variety and versatility and transfer it from the weapons chart to the fighter class. Instead of having thirty swords, I want there to be thirty different ways to use a sword. And while most character classes will be able to use a few, Versatile Fighter will have access to all of them.
As an aside, the monk is coming up soon, and one of the conceits of the monk class is that there are "monk weapons." We can talk a bit about why that is, and the flavor reasons that one might have to keep a particular culture's weapons tied together as a group. But in practical terms, monk weapons are a list of weapons that can be used with flurry of blows, the primary special attack granted to monks. Flurry of blows is a way to use a weapon: a series of multiple, fast strikes. The benefits of flurry of blows are huge, especially at higher levels. To preserve game balance, this is offset by a few limitations. Flurry of blows can only work with the sort of weapons that a monk uses, which are defined as being substantially less powerful than average weapons. Monk weapons cap out at 1d6 damage. The most powerful monk weapon is probably the quarterstaff (just as Donatello is the best Ninja Turtle). They certainly don't include any of the thirty swords mentioned above. But they are an example of how a character's class abilities can relate to a weapon and can "unlock" special uses of that weapon.
The Slashing SwordsFirst let's address the classic fantasy sword. It's long and pointy, but you don't generally stab with it. Instead, you slash, with the sword either in a single hand or in both your hands (if you are really serious). If you use one hand, you might have the other hand free (like a pirate) or you might have a shield in it (the classic sword-and-board knight). You might even have a second weapon, often a light piercing weapon, but sometimes a second slashing sword! In original D&D, the classic slashing sword was the longsword. Better than a short sword because it did more damage, and better than a two-handed sword because there was no Strength x1.5 bonus and shields were more useful. In Second Edition, the best sword was the bastard sword, because it could be used either as a single-hand or double-handed weapon (versatility!) In Third Edition, there was a concentrated effort to make all swords (and other weapons) equally cool. This was an awesome thing and much appreciated. However, since that time, things got a bit out of hand...
Here are some of the different sorts of slashing swords that Pathfinder offers:
- Dogslicer: This is an NPC weapon. Its special quality is that it is fragile. There's not a lot of reason to use this sword, it's essentially a slightly lighter machete that breaks when you roll a one.
- Gladius: Like a short sword, but you can use it for piercing or slashing. This is also a "gladiator weapon." Like the monk weapons, gladiator weapons can be used to access special abilities, in this case combat performance abilities. Superior to the short sword in almost every way (1 pound heavier, 5 gp more expensive).
- Machete: Identical to the short sword, but slashing, not piercing. Oddly, there is no mention of the usefulness of the machete at hacking through jungle undergrowth. The gladius is superior to this weapon as well.
- Cutlass: A pirate weapon! Like a machete, but has a better crit range (18-20).
- Longsword: The classic single-handed slashing sword. The benefit here is that it does 1d8 damage, as compared to most of the other single-handed swords that do only 1d6. Also, you are much more likely to find a magical longsword in the dungeon than you are to find a magical cutlass.
- Scimitar: Identical in every way to the cutlass. Except used in more Middle Eastern style settings as opposed to pirate settings, I guess?
- Falchion: An under-appreciated weapon, probably because it uses 2d4 for damage, and folks tend to like rolling larger dice. This is the first of the two-handed weapons and has an excellent crit range.
- Greatsword: What used to be called the two-handed sword, the greatsword is the go-to for maximum damage (2d6 + Strength bonus x 1.5)!
- Falcata: This is an ancient Carthaginian weapon that has been made an exotic weapon in Pathfinder. It is identical to a longsword, except that it has a crit range of 19-20/x3.
- Khopesh: Another exotic version of the longsword, this one allows you to make trip attacks with it. Trip weapons are another category of weapon that unlock certain special abilities.
- Rhoka: I'm going to let the SRD speak for itself on this one: "This sword is used almost exclusively by the urdefhan, life-hating quasi-daemonic underground dwelling creatures. The sword is the size of a longsword but consists of two serrated blades placed side by side, each ending in a cruel hook." It's certainly... evocative! But seriously, this is a crazy-ass fantasy sword, and that is perfectly fine. It's a longsword with a slightly broader crit range.
- Sawtoothed Sabre: So it's a longsword, and you can use it as a martial weapon. But if you take Exotic Weapon proficiency with it, you can treat it as a light weapon for purposes of two-weapon fighting.
- Dueling Sword: Same as above, but this time taking Exotic Weapon lets you use Weapon Finesse with it.
- Bastard Sword: The darling of Second Edition, taking Exotic Weapon lets you use it as a single-handed weapon (making it the highest damage weapon of that type in the game at 1d10 damage).
- Elven Curved Blade: Leave it to elves to get the best swords! This two-handed sword has good damage and an excellent crit threat. Because elves in Pathfinder get this as a martial weapon, it's a no-brainer for an elven fighter type.
- Flambard: Sort of a wavy-looking bastard sword. Gives you +4 sunder vs. wood.
- Two-Bladed Sword: The Darth Maul lightsaber of D&D. Essentially this gives you the option to switch from two-handed fighting (for easier to hit, but higher hp bosses) to two-weapon fighting (for harder to hit, or multiple mooks).
From Seventeen Slashing Swords Down to ThreeHaving a unique weapon is cool! And for flavor purposes, I think that you should be as descriptive in your unique weapon as possible. Where does it come from? What was it originally used for? What material is it made of? What sort of smithing process was used? How is it sharpened? What inscriptions, tassals, notches, and other details have been added to what is, essentially, a long hunk of sharp steel?
However, for game purposes, there is simply no need for seventeen slashing swords, each with their own particular set of statistics on the chart. So let's eliminate some of them. Right off the bat, we can get rid of the dogslicer (it's a machete with the fragile quality, and no PC is going to use it.) We can combine the gladius and the machete into a single light melee weapon. The scimitar and cutlass are going to end up here as well. Let's call this one a saber for now. The longsword and all its exotic variants can be rolled up together into just a longsword. And as much as I like the falchion, we can combine it with the greatsword for our two-handed option. I'll talk more about weapons with other weapons stuck onto them when I discuss polearms in a much later post. But I'd like to put aside the two-bladed sword until then.
I can completely understand if having only a saber, a longsword, and a greatsword is, well, kind of vanilla. However, that basic nature is only so long as the weapon is being held by a non-expert. Once the fighter takes up a sword, all of a sudden, its full potential and versatility comes to light!
Here's what a longsword would look like for a non-fighter character:
- martial weapon, slashing, one-handed, 1d8 damage, 19-20/x2 crit
- [natural style] martial weapon, slashing, one-handed, 1d8 damage, 19-20/x2 crit
- Other styles available: barbarian fighting (treat weapon as one category heavier), Carthaginian (increases critical multiplier), fencing (treat weapon as a piercing), finesse fighting (use Dex bonus to hit), pirate fighting (treat weapon as one category lighter), sunder attack (allows sunder without AOO), trip attack (allows trip without AOO), vicious attack (broader crit range).
Combat StylesIn the Versatile Fighter component, you would have the opportunity to choose which styles of combat you were proficient in. You would then be able to use the abilities granted by these styles with any weapon you pick up, so long as they were listed in the description. Styles would probably be written up without reference to a particular campaign world, but the GM could then define them by saying, for example: in my campaign the "desperate attack style" is called "Carthaginian," named after the warriors of Carthage who fought against the Roman conquerors and lost their empire. The style write up might look like this:
- The Carthaginian fighting style is marked by attacks of desperation. The fighter relies on luck and the blessings of the gods to strike a blow at an opponent's weakest spot. If they succeed, the damage they inflict is greatly increased. Raises a critical hit damage bonus by one category (from x2 to x3, or from x3 to x4). The Carthaginian style can be used with any non-reach melee weapon.
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