I have seen a few discussion threads about homebrew weapons, often with a homebrewer asking whether their new weapon is balanced or appropriate. I also saw yesterday a thread where a GM was asking for inspiration to make a wider selection of weapons than a narrow range that their group seemed to have settled into.
So here I present some guidelines for devising weapon stats. I have developed them by reverse-engineering the weapons in the 5e Player’s Handbook (PHB). If you follow these, I suggest that you can make homebrew weapons with any name and appearance you want, while retaining play balance. (I make no guarantees about historical accuracy, realism or practicality, but these things are a bit out the window even with the official 5e equipment lists so I won’t worry about them if you don’t.)
First, decide where your weapon falls on the handiness scale. This goes:
Light – basic – (versatile) – two-handed – heavy.
No weapon can have more than one of the properties on this scale.
‘Basic’ is not a property in the game, but is a designation I’m using to cover all weapons with none of the other properties in the usability scale.
Versatile is a property that enables a weapon that is basic when used in one hand to be used two-handed to attack if you have both hands available for it.
All heavy weapons also have the two-handed property.
Weapon damage is determined by melee/ranged and handiness categories, with a few other modifiers that I will note below.
|Handiness||Light||Basic||Two-handed||Heavy (and so also two-handed)|
|Handiness||Light||Basic||Two-handed (including heavy)|
Martial weapons do damage one die size greater (the step above d10 can be 2d6 or d12 depending on whether you think reliable damage or spectacular enhanced criticals are more in keeping with the weapon).
Weapons with the reach property do damage one die size lower.
Weapons with the loading property do damage one die size greater.
The properties thrown, ammunition and finesse do not affect damage.
Assign any one damage type out of bludgeoning, piercing and slashing to your weapon that you wish, as appropriate to the weapon’s physical description.
(Note that, for the tactical interest of the wielder, the two-handed category is inferior to the versatile category, which offers the damage of two-handed with the option of one-handed use. If a GM allows players to devise their own weapons within these guidelines, or creates new versatile weapons and makes them available, then two-handed weapons may not see much use. Indeed in the PHB there is already only one melee weapon that has the two-handed property without the heavy property. The basic category similarly only has possible reduced weight and cost on its side in comparison to the versatile category; non-finesse basic weapons may also fall out of favour with adventurers if you allow versatile versions to take over.)
Choosing and combining properties
Choose properties that suit the weapon you’re designing. Observe the following points when combining properties.
The thrown property allows a weapon to be used to make ranged attacks, but most thrown weapons can be used to make melee attacks as well and are therefore classified as melee weapons. If you choose to make a thrown weapon a ranged weapon it counts as an improvised weapon if used to make a melee attack, doing d4 damage, gaining no proficiency bonus to attack and losing its normal properties. As a ranged weapon it also uses a lower base damage die.
The thrown property cannot apply to two-handed weapons (including heavy weapons), whether ranged or melee. It can apply to versatile melee weapons, but such weapons cannot gain their higher two-handed damage die when used to make a ranged attack.
Ranged weapons other than the few thrown ones have the ammunition property (and only ranged weapons can have the ammunition property). Weapons with the ammunition property cannot have the finesse property.
The loading property can only be applied to weapons with the ammunition property (and therefore can only be applied to ranged weapons).
For two-handed ranged weapons, simple weapons may not have the heavy property; martial weapons must have the heavy property. (This helps to ensure that high damage and long range go together, and that the martial weapons are more effective all-round than the simple weapons.)
The finesse property cannot be combined with the versatile, two-handed, heavy, reach or ammunition properties. It mainly applies to melee weapons, but if applied to a thrown ranged weapon (as it is to the dart in the PHB), it has the effect of making it possible to use Strength to modify ranged attack and damage rolls with the thrown weapon.
If your weapon is a ranged weapon, or a melee weapon with the thrown property, you will need to give it a range.
For thrown weapons, the range is 20/60ft.
For ammunition weapons, give range according to this table
Cost and weight
Simple melee weapons cost between 1sp and 5gp, with the cheapest weapons being all-wood and the more expensive ones having more metal. Martial melee weapons are more expensive, costing 5-50gp; again, wooden-hafted weapons with small metal heads are relatively cheap and large all-metal weapons the most expensive.
Melee weapon weight guides are: Light 1-2lbs, Basic 2-3lbs, Versatile 3-4lbs, Two-handed 4-6lbs, Heavy 6+lbs.
Thrown ranged weapons have similar prices to melee weapons, possibly cheaper since they are more likely to get lost.
Weapons with the ammunition property generally cost about 25 gp for simple weapons and 50-75 gp for martial.
Exceptions, special cases and possible house rules
These are the exceptions and special cases I have found in the PHB while working out these guidelines.
Handaxe – this is a simple light weapon and should by my guidelines do only d4 damage but it officially does d6. It by no means breaks the game, especially since the warrior classes including rogue all have proficiency in at least short sword anyway; if there’s a spellcaster build using two-weapon fighting but no Dual Wielder feat, I don’t think d6 rather than d4 damage is making that much difference. However, if you like the logic of these guidelines and want to stick to them, there are three ways you could fix it. Personally, I’m tempted to do all three in different weapons. Light Axe, reduce damage to d4 (and weight to 1lb, and price to maybe 2gp), keep light property and simple category. Axe, keep d6 damage and simple category but delete light property (and reduce price to maybe 3gp). Handaxe, keep the d6 damage and the light property (and the PHB weight and price) but make it a martial weapon. Leave the thrown property on whichever ones you think it makes sense for.
Trident – this officially performs exactly as a spear (versatile d6/d8 damage, thrown) but it is more expensive and heavier so there seems no reason to choose it. Being a martial weapon my guidelines would suggest it should be versatile d8/d10 damage, and I would suggest you house rule this if you want PCs choosing the trident.
Javelin – this has greater range (30/120) than the usual for a thrown weapon (20/60). A quick lookup suggests an effective range of 50-70ft (could be 20/60 like ordinary thrown weapons) or a maximum range of 100ft (could be 25/100 or maybe 30/90). But there are more sources I haven’t gone into so I’m not sure what range I will settle on. I don’t think it’s a game-breaker in any case.
Longbow – this also has exceptional range (150/600 compared to the guideline 100/400). I guess this balances it against the heavy crossbow’s higher damage, so I’m not proposing to house rule it away.
Whip – this breaks the principle I wrote into the guidelines that finesse and reach are incompatible, with implications including that a whip-proficient rogue can get sneak attack damage in melee from 10ft away. It also does only d4 damage, whereas as a basic martial weapon my guidelines suggest it should do d8. I think from a play balance perspective these kind of cancel out, especially since a rogue needs to multiclass or use a feat to get proficiency with it. I don’t find combat whip use very realistic but it is kind of cool so I think I’ll leave this as is when running 5e.
Lance – this is of a size and damage to have the heavy and two-handed properties but it is usable one-handed when mounted, which I guess is why it officially doesn’t have them. Actually, even with those properties as a reach weapon it ought to do d10 damage like a pike or halberd but officially does d12. I suppose its disadvantage against adjacent targets justifies its higher damage, balance-wise.
I’m not comfortable that it lacks the heavy property though. It seems wrong to me that something with the same reach and weight as a glaive or halberd (and more damage) is usable by Small characters. I’m inclined to house rule that a lance has the heavy and two-handed properties, but with the special rule that you can use it one-handed while mounted. And retain the disadvantage within 5ft to justify the larger damage die.
Pike – while I’m at it, the pike is historically longer than the lance and way longer than any of the other weapons so I’m inclined to give it the same disadvantage while adjacent rule as the lance, compensated perhaps by 15ft reach not just 10ft. And I’d want to enforce issues trying to take it into confined spaces, woods, etc.
Greatclub and two-handed weapons generally – the greatclub officially weighs a whopping 10lbs, more than most of the martial heavy weapons, but it is not officially heavy (and does two steps less damage than the maul, greatsword or greataxe). For consistency I’m inclined to split it into a two-handed club (doing d8 damage and weighing less, maybe 5 or 6lbs) and a greatclub, weighing maybe 8 to 10lbs and with the heavy property, putting damage up to d10. (As with the handaxe, I don’t think making a d10 weapon available to classes with proficiency in only simple weapons is going to break anything, because they generally don’t have the other skills and stats to be super effective with melee weapons – but I may be proved wrong by a specialist build I haven’t heard of.)
While looking at this, I noticed that there aren’t any martial weapons that are two-handed but not heavy. You could squeeze into the weapon lists a two-handed sword, two-handed axe and two-handed hammer that don’t have the heavy property and do d10 damage. Weighing maybe 5lbs and a bit cheaper than their great- equivalents. I don’t suppose they’ll be popular when the longsword and battleaxe can perform the same weighing just 3-4 lb, but you could use them for NPCs to look a bit more intimidating.
Mace, morningstar – in the PHB these weigh 4lbs, which I have said is too heavy for a basic weapon. I think at that weight it would be justified to give them the versatile property and a higher two-handed damage option. Or you could keep them basic one-handed weapons and reduce the weight to 2 or 3lbs, which I think is more typical of one-handed historical maces. You could even split them into two versions, if you come up with names to distinguish them.
Blowgun, net – these do a token 1 damage and no damage respectively and have special rules. I think I’ll just leave them outside this system altogether.
OK, I know I said I wasn’t concerned with historical accuracy but I got sucked into looking a couple of things up. I might as well record the sources
http://soa.org.uk/sm/index.php?PHPSESSID=ra67rrlcgjnfb9dlj3u12ol2eo&topic=3904.0 (I didn’t read much of this one or the papers linked so maybe come back to it)
What do you think? Have you homebrewed weapons? Do you find these guidelines helpful? Let us know in the comments.