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As I have talked about here in a bit more detail, I have always had an issue wrapping my head around certain core (and simple) concepts within D&D 5e. In this particular case, the issue pertains to picking the right weapon for a build, beyond the simpler "longsword and a battle axe are the same things with different flavour" answers, such as why one would pick a mace over a greatclub as they both do the same amount and type of damage. I've tried asking the community in a few different ways getting either very specific answers pertaining to the weapons I've exampled, all the way to having my questions closed for being too vague, opinion-based, or confusing.

I've recently compiled all my data into an easy, clear, and concise form answering my concerns, and I wanted to share it with the community as a free resource for anyone who's been having/will come here having the same issue. However, Thomas Markov wisely pointed out that even the best answer can have issues if it doesn't proceed with a clear and concise question, which he suggested I workshop both first (and here I am).

QUESTION:

What are the basic aspects to look for when deciding on your character's initial weapon? >Aside from the flavouring, such as between the 1d8 slashing damage of a longsword and battle axe, what other factors would come into consideration when choosing from among the weapons you're proficient in?

ANSWER:

There are quite a bit of factors to consider, such as any class and subclass bonuses you might get by favouring a certain kind of weapon, but I find a great place to start is by considering what kind of character you want to play and what modifiers are available to you during character creation.

Where you want to position your character in battle becomes rather important, as it will heavily determine what kinds of options are available to you; Frontline fighters tend to gravitate towards the bulkier weapons as they focus on taking a hit and dishing it right back, whereas midline fighters often focus on fineness and one-handed weapons as it keeps them more versatile and utilitarian, back-line fighters focus on ranged attacks and taking that perfect shot, while spellcasters focus on staves as they double as a spellcasting focus.

From there, you can gather all the ways to add a modifier to your roll. While there are class features like Sneak Attack or Hex Warrior that might limit/alter your choices (but often comes at a bonus to damage), I find that there are 3 major categories of basic modifiers that you'll be dealing with going up from level 1 to level 4:

  • Proficiency and Ability Scores: From among the weapons you are proficient in, each one will be influenced by either your Strength modifier or Dex modifier for Fineness and Ranged weapons. For example, a level 1 fighter with 16 Strength and 15 Dexterity can add a +5 to their longsword attack rolls and +4 to their longbow attack rolls. Note, proficiency only applies to attack rolls and not damage rolls. However, there are a few ways that a character might base their attacks on a different ability score, which Groody the Hobgoblin and User2754 have kindly listed, however they would be subjected to the same application of proficiency + ability mod.

  • Feats and Fighting Styles: While maintaining a theme (such as polearms, ranged, or bludgeoning) here can make for a rather powerful build, this too can add quite the outlier to your choices and each deserves their own consideration. For instance, a fighter might choose to compliment their Halbert with Great Weapon Fighting and Great Weapon Master to become a heavy hitter, while a ranger might opt to accent their druidic staff with Dueling, and Polearm Master for better area control.

  • Magic Weapons: While it won't be likely that a DM will grant you a +1 sword from the start, it is important to remember that +1, +2, and +3 weapons of all kinds exist in D&D, and even the most basic of models are considered magical and add the modifiers on top of all those you gain with their non-magical copies.

There are also weapons that break the rolls between two dice. While it won't affect the max damage between, say, a greataxe and a greatsword, it does affect the probabilities you might wish to achieve: single dice have a higher chance to roll max damage, but the double dice roll average damage more frequently.

As a final bit of help, below you'll find a chart listing all the weapons available, what dice they use, and the average damage you can expect to gain from them with modifiers up to a +10. You can use it to compare different combinations of weapons and modifiers available to you to get a better understanding of what you can expect and maybe discover new combinations that will work better for you.

Weapon Dice +0 +1 +2 +3 +4 +5 +6 +7 +8 +9 +10
Blowgun, Fists 1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Club, Dagger, Dart, Hooked Shortspear, Light Hammer, Sickle, Sling, Whip 1d4 2.5 3.5 4.5 5.5 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 11 12 12.5
Double-Bladed Scimitar 2d4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15
Hand Crossbow, Handaxe, Hoopak, Javelin, Mace, Quarterstaff (single), Scimitar, Shortbow, Shortsword, Spear (single), Trident (single) 1d6 3.5 4.5 5.5 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 11 12 13 13.5
Greatsword, Maul, Oversized Longbow 2d6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Battleaxe (single), Flail, Greatclub, Light Crossbow, Longbow, Longsword (single), Morningstar, Quarterstaff (Dual), Rapier, Spear (dual), Trident (dual), War Pick, Warhammer (single), Yklwa 1d8 4.5 5.5 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 11 12 13 14 14.5
None 2d8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19
Battleaxe (dual), Glaive, Halberd, Heavy Crossbow, Longsword (dual), Pike, Warhammer (dual) 1d10 5.5 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 11 12 13 14 15 15.5
None 2d10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21
Greataxe, Lance 1d12 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 11 12 13 14 15 16 16.5
None 2d12 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 21.9
Great Weapon Master
Double-Bladed Scimitar 2d4 6 6.7 7.7 8.7 9.7 11 12 13 14 15 15.7
Greatclub, Morningstar, Quarterstaff (Dual), Spear (dual), Trident (dual) 1d8 5.5 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 11 12 13 14 15 15.5
Battleaxe (dual), Glaive, Halberd, Longsword (dual), Pike, Warhammer (dual) 1d10 6.5 7.5 8.5 9.5 11 12 13 14 15 16 16.5
Greataxe 1d12 7.5 8.5 9.5 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 17.5

ALTERNATIVE If the question I posed seems off, then would there be a feasible way to share this chart?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Honestly, I’m not sure this can be a general question. There are too many variables that could impact weapon choice, including proficiency being the big one. There are synergies specific to builds that can’t be ignored and that will ultimately impact your min max decision. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 21, 2023 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch, I'd discuss those in the first section of the answer, however, I found that there are only a few variables being: Proficiency and Ability Score modifiers (which often will be the same with your build), Feats and Fighting Styles, and Magical Weapons. That said, the chart can be used to consider those combinations, such as using a Shillelagh'd club with +2 Dueling Fighting and +3 Wisdom would build up to 12 (1d8+7) build at level 1 vs a Greataxe with +3 Strength which is 12 (2d6+5) at the same level. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 21, 2023 at 16:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ There many more, including ability to use class abilities with certain weapon types or not. Way too many variables. Narrowing to the build you want would be better. Or maybe this is an x-y problem and you think this tool will help when there’s another path by asking your root question. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 21, 2023 at 16:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ The hooked shortspear is from Out Of The Abyss. I used to see it as a weapon choice \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 21, 2023 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think workshop questions work best when you present the question and/or answer exactly as you actually intend to post it on the main site, rather than approximations or generalities. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 21, 2023 at 16:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ And what’s beginning level? Level 1? Tier 1? \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 21, 2023 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ You need to start with what prompted you to create that table and what question you were trying to answer for yourself. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 21, 2023 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Finally, your table doesn’t match your new question, either. What considerations should you have when picking a weapon isn’t that tablw. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 21, 2023 at 18:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Will review the question, though what prompted me was, as I said, attempting to understand the core/fundimentals of making a good weapon choice; how powerful are modifiers, 2d6 vs 1d12, 1vs2 handed weapon, crossbow vs longbow, fighting styles... Without understanding all these aspects of the fundamental core, then adding things like class abilities to it, I was left feeling like I needed a degree in astrophysics just to build a decent character but instead was plopped into the room and told "just have fun." A me problem, I know, but one I'd like to help others avoid. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 22, 2023 at 11:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB The problem there is you just put in several questions. You've got 1)What weapon is most optimal, 2)What fighting styles are most optimal (**For what, though?), 3) what abilities are most optimal with X. You had stated in comments earlier that your core question was "What aspects need to be considered when optimizing weapon choice", but then you've got the table which doesn't seem to match that. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 22, 2023 at 12:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alright--now that I know the edition, I've read the whole post. And I'm seriously stumped by that table: what's going on with all the 1dX lines? Why is (Y.5 + modifier) sometimes an integer? \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60 Mod
    Jan 22, 2023 at 13:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 Focusing on the answer (the table) at this point, is a bit of a red herring. Working the question is the primary need here ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 22, 2023 at 13:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 What I did was to generate calculation tables for each roll on a spread sheet then average out the answers with something like =AVERAGE(first_block:last_block). I made a table for each cell calculated. I did notice the averages alter, but even double checking my work, I cannot figure out why. Interestingly though, it seems to maintain that pattern just shifting 1 forward. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 22, 2023 at 15:46

2 Answers 2

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The question is unclear and too broad

The issue with the question as it is currently presented is that you began with it on the stack as "I made this helpful table, how do I share it?" That isn't a great way to start a question, but it doesn't mean it isn't salvageable.

It does mean that a question needs to be more than just a vehicle for sharing work performed.

The question itself

As I said in a comment, the first thing you really need to do is step back and think back to before you made the table. What problem were you really trying to solve for yourself and why does the table help solve that particular problem (including verifying that it, in fact, does solve the problem.)

The broadness

If you are able to narrow down your question, then you can look at the table to see if it still fully applies.

You have currently clarified your question to be

What are the basic aspects to look for when deciding on your character's initial weapon?

However, you haven't defined when "initial" begins. What level is this character at? But this is just the start of unclear constraints. I don't see a path where a single question can ask what all the possible combinations are for optimal choices at level X for every race/class/Ability score/etc. There's just too many permutations.

The table doesn't match your question

If you are really are just asking about the aspects for considerations when choosing an optimal weapon, then the table doesn't answer that. It doesn't give an analysis of considerations or reasons why to pick one weapon over another due to whatever build design is currently being looked at.

Begin at the beginning

Go back to what really generated your desire to ask this question. What are you really to solve? And then think about what an answer to that might look like.

Even if you remove soft rp considerations, there are still mechanical decisions to be made that will define optimal for a build. Without those constraints, then this remains too broad.

And honestly, it does sound like you may be interested in the question you are posing - it's just that your table doesn't answer that question, and that's okay. You may not be able to use your table as a self-answer, but you absolutely could get an answer to help clarify what to consider when picking for optimal damage only.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I realize that my question is broad and am thankful for all your help so far... I guess the main issue is that I haven't been able to wrap my head around the whole concept of the D&D mechanics. For example, it took me a year to figure out how magic works, and I've struggled with the same confusion when it comes to picking gear with your class. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 22, 2023 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I get "leather is for stealth, scale is for defence" for armour or "are you building a dex or strength build" for weapons... but not why, given the same race, class, and background, someone might optimize their character with a mace with Duelling while the other would choose a polearm with Defense fighting. Where the table helped was to understand that they average out the same amount of damage right out of the gate... Adding player levels to the mix is kind of advanced at this stage, if that makes more sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 22, 2023 at 16:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB I know you had said that focusing on your examples often led to not your intention, but I do need to say that in your examples you are comparing specific build cases and not understanding the difference. I'm using that to explain that in order to understand why, you have to know the specifics of the build - which is why there isn't a pre-metric for determining what will be optimal. It is those other aspects of the build that will be major factors in picking your weapon. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 22, 2023 at 22:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you should consider asking your question that I quoted above, but I also don't think your answer is appropriate to post along with it. Doing so should help you get started in understanding the multi-variable process that character creation is all about. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jan 22, 2023 at 22:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Will do just that then. Thanks. I admit that I might not be seeing the big picture quite yet, but I still find that your help has been quite productive and helpful. I will take a step back and ask just the question on the main site. \$\endgroup\$
    – Victor B
    Jan 23, 2023 at 7:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @VictorB If you ask the question just as written in your post here, it will likely be closed for “needs details” or “needs focus”, because as NautArch said in his answer here, it is too broad and unclear. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2023 at 9:56
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I would definetely add a paragraph about the fact that these tables contain the "everything else being equal" data. I say this because I have not played at a table where that happens to be the case for at least a decade. Others do. Both is great. Both is roleplaying.

Soft/Meta considerations may be the campaign constraints you play in, the loot you expect to get, roleplaying considerations and other things I problably have never thought about.

For example, if for your character, a nimble elven rapier were the best weapon dictated by the numbers:

  • the fact that you are playing a book adventure about robbing the tomb of a dwarven hammersmith probably means there will be no magical rapiers. More like the default vanilla magical longswords, more likely a warhammer of sorts.

  • the fact that you are playing a dwarf and your whole clan will laugh about you and not take your seriously with an elven rapier might be a problem for your character

  • if you are using optional rules, the fact that you don't have a different damage type from the archers might be a problem.

  • if your campaign world is full of evil oppressive regimes that do not tolerate fighters, carrying more than a simple weapon might make you a target more than a bigger damage dice might be worth.

Am I saying that those considerations have to come into play?

No. Many people just play very simple vanilla games, where optimization is a trivial math problem, no roleplaying involved at all. And it is perfectly fine to play that way and it would really help to have tables for that.

All I'm saying is, add a little text explaining that those calculations are not the absolute truth, just the mathematics for the time when all else is being equal.

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