Big Bad Weapons

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 5, 2009

Sometimes you choose a weapon because it looks cool. Other times you choose a weapon that’s practical. And sometimes you choose a weapon that’s cheap. But most often you choose a weapon because it deals the most damage.

Two weeks ago we looked at building a 1st level character capable of dealing more damage than any other character. As part of the preparation for writing that article, I looked at a lot of weapons. It seemed wrong to just let all that number crunching go to waste, so presented here are the details about axes, hammers and spears.

If you’re going to choose an axe or a hammer and you’re playing a Dwarf, then you should seriously consider taking the Dwarven Weapon Training feat. This gives you proficiency with all axes and hammers and a +2 feat bonus to damage rolls.

If you’re going to choose a spear and you’re playing an Eladrin, then you should seriously consider taking the Eladrin Soldier feat. This gives you proficiency with all spears and a +2 feat bonus to damage rolls.


One-handed Axes: The frontrunners

  • Khopesh, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d8 (brutal 1)
  • Battle Axe, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d10
  • War Axe, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d12
  • Hand Axe, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d6 (heavy thrown)

Two-handed Axes: The frontrunners

  • Double Axe, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d10 / 1d10 (defensive +1 AC)
  • Urgrosh, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d12 (axe) / 1d8 (spear) (defensive +1 AC)
  • Great Axe, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d12, high crit
  • Halberd, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d10 (reach)
  • Execution Axe, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d12 (brutal 2), high crit

The best choices are War Axe (one-handed) or Execution Axe (two-handed). The War Axe does more damage than the Battle Axe, otherwise they are identical. The Khopesh makes the short-list because it has the brutal property, but I’d still give the edge to the War Axe. I’ll trade much higher maximum damage (d12) for the ability to reroll a 1 on a d8 any day.

The Execution Axe is your absolute best two-handed axe. It provides the same +2 proficiency bonus as all the other axes, it does 1d12 damage just like the Great Axe, it’s got the high crit property and it also lets you re-roll a 1 or a 2 on damage thanks to its brutal property. The other choices just can’t compete with that kind of raw power.

You should also take a Hand Axe or two rather than an ordinary bow since the Hand Axe is heavy thrown which will allow you to use Str instead of Dex. And if you’ve got the Dwarven Weapon Training feat then you also get to add an additional +2 to damage. If your opponent is too far for you to hit it with a Hand Axe, then let a striker take care of it.


One-handed Hammers: The frontrunners

  • War Hammer +2 proficiency bonus, 1d10
  • Craighammer, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d10 (brutal 2)
  • Throwing Hammer +2 proficiency bonus, 1d6 (heavy thrown)

Two-handed Hammers: The frontrunners

  • Maul +2 proficiency bonus, 2d6
  • Mordenkrad +2 proficiency bonus, 2d6 (brutal 1)

No contest, the best choices are Craighammer (one-handed) or Mordenkrad (two-handed). They’re the same in every way to the War Hammer and Maul respectively, except that my choices have the brutal property. Hey, if you want to keep the 1 you just rolled, that’s fine. I’d rather reroll it.

And as was the case with the axes, you should also take a Throwing Hammer or two in stead of a bow. The Throwing Hammer is heavy thrown which means you use your Str instead of your Dex. And as with the axes, if you’ve got the Dwarven Weapon Training feat you get to add an additional +2 to damage. Anything beyond your throwing arm isn’t your problem.


One-handed Spears: The frontrunners

  • Spear, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d8
  • Javelin, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d6 (heavy thrown)
  • Trident, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d8 (heavy thrown)
  • Tratnyr, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d8 (heavy thrown)

Two-handed Spears: The frontrunners

  • Greatspear, +3 proficiency bonus, 1d10 (reach)
  • Long Spear, +2 proficiency bonus, 1d10 (reach)

Compared to axes and hammers, there’s a lot less choice when it comes to spears. Your only one-handed melee option is the regular Spear. As far as two-handed melee options go, the Greatspear and the Long Spear are identical in all respects except for proficiency bonus. That gives the Greatspear the edge. A difference of +1 on attack scores can make all the difference especially at low levels.

I’d once again suggest taking a spear with the heavy thrown property in order to maximize Str bonuses and get that additional +2 bonus to damage if you’ve taken the Eladrin Soldier feat. The Javelin, Trident and Tratynr all have the same proficiency bonus and damage, so any of these three are good choices.

There you have it, axes, hammers and spears reviewed and analyzed for the maximum benefit of your character. The most significant hurdle with some of the choices I’ve recommended is that you need to select a special feat to get the most benefit out of the weapon. And therein lays the trade-off: If you want to deal a whole lot of damage, then you’ll most likely need to take a feat or two to have the most options. But if you’re all about dishing out the hurt,then I don’t think you’ll have any problems spending a feat on weapon training.

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1 Joshua June 5, 2009 at 9:12 am

This kind of thing is why I favor the “every weapon does 1d6” end of the spectrum.

Joshua’s last blog post..Hand-waving Dungeon Travel

2 Ameron June 5, 2009 at 10:27 am

Considering how much time I spent (wasted) to find just the right weapon for my PCs I can see a lot of value in just saying all weapons do 1d6 as you’ve suggested. Suddenly my reason for choosing a weapon will be for the cool factor and not because taking A over B gives me +1 to attack or 1d10 damage over 1d6 damage. But I have to admit that finding that perfect combination of weapon, feat, class and racial power can be very satisfying.

3 The Last Rogue June 5, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Thanks for doing the work and laying it all out. I really enjoyed the article with the damage output; I’d be eager to see one done with arcane or divine power source.

The Last Rogue’s last blog post..Sort of Like Heroes #4 – A Tough Question

4 JesterOC June 5, 2009 at 2:32 pm

A note about the executioner’s axe. And dwarven weapon training. Non dwarves are required to get the superior weapon feat for that axe. However Dwarven Weapon Training feat gives you access to ALL axes including superior ones. So while both dwarves and humans need a single feat to use it, the dwarves feat also gives them +2 on damage. No axe wielding dwarf should be without Dwarven Weapon Training.

JesterOC’s last blog post..Standardized improvisation

5 Shades June 5, 2009 at 3:39 pm

@Ameron & Joshua

You’re missing the point.

The game is designed to appease multiple types of players. The different combinations satisfy number crunchers, the different appearances satisfy the rpger’s, and the different abilities (Brutal, off-hand, defensive, etc.) satisfy people who like trying out different and neat combinations.

By fiat declaring all weapons just deal 1d6 breaks the balance and variety of the game. Moreover it’s heavy handed, dictatorial, and not at all creative.

6 The Grumpy Young Man June 5, 2009 at 5:02 pm

long time reader first time poster here. i’m dm’ing a session this weekend and plan on giving this to one of my new players…he likes using max damaging weapons. good read.

The Grumpy Young Man’s last blog post..e3 is pretty much over now, here are my thoughts…

7 Chase Dagger June 7, 2009 at 10:59 am

Great Article Ameron.
Malcolm Gladwell talks about how “too many” options can affect a person’s choice, he’s a very interesting writer and speaker.
I like all the different variations, different weapons need to function differently.
I feel the choices WOTC give us reflect the other decisions we make in real life everyday.
We are always looking for the sweet spot in a grouping of items or services.

8 Ameron June 8, 2009 at 2:40 pm

@The Last Rogue
After the release of the Divine Power I’ll have a lot to say on weapon and power selection for divine characters. I’m not a big fan of arcane classes, so I’ll see if Wimwick or Suddry has any interest in looking at that side of things. Thanks for the suggestion.

I agree that it requires more feats for non-dwarves to arm themselves with an Execution Axe and be really lethal with it. But if your PC’s primary objective is to just dish out damage, then taking the weapon proficiency, weapon focus and weapon expertise feats probably won’t seem like too much of a hardship. Especially for Humans who get two feats at 1st level.

I’m not saying I agree that all weapons should deal the exact amount of damage; I’m just saying that I can see where Joshua is coming from with his comment. I like that every weapon has its own differences making each one unique. I’ve played a few characters where the only real difference between them was their weapon selection. A unique weapon choice can easily become a signature for your character.

@The Grumpy Young Man
Thanks for visiting Dungeon’s Master. I’m glad you enjoyed this article. I may do a similar analysis on Light and Heavy Blades in the near future, so keep your eyes out for it.

@Chase Dagger
The abundance of choices is one of the things I like most about D&D.

9 mike June 10, 2009 at 10:52 pm

I think as other books come out for 4e we will see new weapons, and new feats and abilities that bring everything up to par. i think the Khopesh has a lot of potential.

One thing your not looking at though is feet and magical abilities you can use with other weapons, that might make it worth it to take.

A chart of weapons & which one got the ‘edge’ in each section would have been cool. Love Deadliest Warrior 🙂
[rq=1355,0,blog][/rq]Skill Challenge: Pub Fight

10 Ameron June 11, 2009 at 8:19 am

I agree. New books should introduce new weapons and that will give us even more choices. I intentianally decided not to take feats and magic into account for this article. This is intended to be a guide for low-level characters. But doing a follow-up for paragon tier with magic, feats and powers may be an interesting post.

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