Weapons Break


Something Pathfinder (or most fantasy RPGs, including D&D) doesn’t touch on is the frequency with which Medieval weapons broke.  My research indicates weapons, especially swords, broke frequently, primarily due to the poor quality steel most blacksmiths had to work with during the Medieval period.  But even weapons made of high quality steel could still break with ‘robust’ use.

It bothers me that, barring unusual circumstances, RPG characters can often use the exact same weapon purchased at creation all through their adventuring careers, when history suggests it was actually fairly rare for a weapon to be used so long, let alone be passed on to one’s heirs.


To reflect this, I am considering using the following rules next time I run a game:

  • Standard weapons break on a natural attack roll of 1 or 2.
  • Masterwork weapons break on a natural attack roll of 1.
  • Magic weapons have a percentage chance of breaking on a natural attack roll of 1:
    • +1 weapons have a 5% chance of breaking
    • +2 weapons have a 4% chance of breaking
    • +3 weapons have a 3% chance of breaking
    • And so on

The purpose of these rules is to further complicate the logistics side of the game, to encourage players to carry multiple weapons (for backup), hopefully discourage the tendency of Pathfinder characters to hyper-specialize in a single weapon, thus injecting a touch more verisimilitude in the game.

If these rules seem unduly harsh to you, you may consider having normal weapons break on a natural 1, masterwork weapons having a 50% chance of breaking on a natural 1, and magic weapons break only under extraordinary circumstances.



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9 Responses to “Weapons Break”

  1. Randy Andrews Says:

    Maybe I should customize those fumble tables a bit in DCC. Or maybe there is one where the weapon breaks already?

    • EdOWar Says:

      Yes, the DCC fumble table has two entries (out of 17) that deal with broken or damaged weapons. However, the chart specifically excludes magical weapons from breaking.

  2. Tiorn Says:

    I would do a critical fumble table with an assigned percentage for breaking a weapon. There are too many other cool things that could happen with a fumble, so a random table seems to be the best fit. D&D and Pathfinder have always seemed to have some kind of system in place for handling damage to weapons. Pathfinder has hardness (as damage reduction) and a small amount of hit points assigned to weapon types. But honestly, that seems like too much extra paperwork to keep track of. So, I think I would just modify an existing crit fumble chart with a weapon breaking entry, tied to something like a DEX save (maybe against 10, so its a 50/50 chance starting off) as a reaction attempt to save the weapon. Maybe a straight up DEX save for mundane weapons. For masterwork and magical weapons, borrow from 5e and allow advantage on a DEX save, with the pluses from magical weapons granted an additional bonus to the save attempt.

    You’d have something like…

    mundane = d20+DEX vs 10
    masterwork = advantage d20+DEX vs 10
    magical +1 = advantage d20+DEX+1 vs 10
    magical +2 = advantage d20+DEX+2 vs 10
    and so on

    Maybe DEX isn’t the best choice, but it seems to make the most sense to me.

    Nest that into a crit fumble chart along with other entries and it should be pretty fun. Simple stuff like dropped/throw weapon, trip & fall, provoke attack of opportunity, regular hit self/ally, crit hit self/ally, etc.

    The last game I ran, I used crit hit/fumble charts. Provoke attack of opportunity was automatic for all fumbles, but it could be just that alone. I don’t even know where I found the charts. I downloaded it from somewhere and the only ‘name’ on it is “The Bash’em and Smash’em Tables”. lol

    • Tiorn Says:

      Just had another thought on this… instead of how I have it above, go with something like:

      mundane = disadvantage d20+DEX vs 10
      masterwork = normal d20+DEX vs 10
      magical = advantage d20+DEX+(weapon.bonus) vs 10

      This way, mundane weapons break fairly often. Masterwork weapons have a decent survival rate. While magical weapons rarely break, but it certainly isn’t impossible either.

      I could enjoy having a break system like that nested in a crit fumble table, especially since I would probably carry over the attack of opportunity with it as well.

  3. EdOWar Says:

    Nesting weapon breakage within a critical fumble table is definitely another option. One downside is that doing so will dramatically limit the number of times weapon break, as it will be just one (or a few) possibilities in a long list of potential fumbles.

    If you want both relatively frequent weapon breakage (as I’m aiming for with this rule), and use a critical fumble chart, then maybe do something like the following: on a natural 1, roll on the fumble chart, which includes the chance of a weapon breaking. On a natural roll of 2, normal weapons break, and masterwork weapons have a chance of breaking. Assume magic weapons only break if you roll such an event on the fumbles chart.

    Tiorn, I also like your breakdown for weapon saves. DEX works as well as anything for Pathfinder or 5E, though when playing DCC I would substitute Luck instead.

    • Tiorn Says:

      You could kill tying it to any ability. Just a straight up d20 save like I outlined in my previous comment. Whatever works. But yeah, Luck sounds best for that system.

      all vs 10 (or even 15, if you want)
      mundane = disadvantage d20
      masterwork = normal d20
      magical = advantage d20 + weapon bonus

      Usually, on most crit hit/fumble charts I’ve seen, there’s a wide percentile range assigned to one or a few options. You could easily assign the broken weapon section to a 20-30% chance or even higher. Just the first three lines of the crit fail table I’m looking at is like this…

      01-20** Your wild swing gives your opponents an attack of opportunity.
      21-40 Your poor grip causes you to drop your weapon.
      41-60 You trip and fall horribly. 1d6 Sub Dmg., Prone.

      (** denotes that the result applies to all the other results as well)

      There are even some weapon breakage lines…

      61-64 You damage your weapon. Weapon takes 1d4 HPs Dmg.
      71-74 You damage your weapon. Weapon takes 2d4 HPs Dmg.
      81-84 You damage your weapon. Weapon takes 3d4 HPs Dmg.
      89-90 You throw and damage your weapon. 3d20 ft. away, 4d4 HPs Dmg.
      94-96 You break your weapon.
      100 You critically injured yourself as you throw and break your weapon.

      Most weapons only have 5 or 10 HPs with hardness 10 (damage reduction) by Pathfinder rules. A note on the chart states that the weapon hardness is completely ignored!

      • EdOWar Says:

        Yes, I see where you’re going with this chart. One can easily adjust a fumble chart to taste with regards to how often weapons break. And to what degree, as well.

        Ultimately, the approach used depends on the flavor of campaign one is running. In a heroic fantasy game, I’d probably eschew fumbles and weapon breakage altogether, except under extraordinary (or dramatic) circumstances. In a gritty Torchbearer type game, I’d want weapons and equipment to break all the time.


  4. Anonymous Says:

    Since magical weapons are enchanted, I’d say they can be sundered – but not broken with a critical fail. Enchantment has to count for something. Breaking your magical weapon on a missed cut that hits a marble column seems a little lackluster for a magical weapon.

  5. EdOWar Says:

    Fair enough, though a 5% chance to break after rolling a natural 1 is about a 0.25% overall chance of breaking, on average. But, as always, you should do what you feel is best for your campaign. Thanks for commenting.

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