B/X vs. Labyrinth Lord: Weapons

More and more I discover little oddities in Labyrinth Lord that differ from B/X D&D in a troubling way.  I’m getting down to minor details now, but they still rub me the wrong way enough that I’m contemplating switching to just straight B/X with a list of house rules rather than continue trying to support LL.  My latest qualm: the weapon list.  Here’s a quick comparison I wrote with the changes highlighted:

Labyrinth Lord Damage BX BX Damage (if different)
Axe, battle* d8 Battle Axe*
Axe, hand d6 Hand Axe
Club d4 Club
Crossbow, heavy d8
Crossbow, light d6 Crossbow
Dagger d4 Dagger
Dagger, silver d4 Silver dagger
Dart d4
Flail d6
Flail, heavy* d8
Hammer, light d4
Hammer, war* d6 War Hammer
Javelin d6 Javelin d4
Lance d6 Lance
Longbow d8 Long Bow d6
Mace d6 Mace
Morningstar* d6
Pick, heavy* d8
Pick, light d6
Pole Arm* d10 Pole Arm*
Quarterstaff* d6 Staff* d4
Scimitar d8
Shortbow d6 Short Bow
Sling d4 Sling
Spear d6 Spear
Sword, long d8 Sword (normal)
Sword, bastard** d8/2d4
Sword, short d6 Short Sword
Sword, two-handed d10 Two-handed Sword*
Trident d6

* = Two Handed

Most of the weapons that Labyrinth Lord adds I could do without.  Really, when is the last time you saw a player character running around with a trident or a heavy pick?  Why on earth differentiate between heavy and light pick at all?  And since when is a war hammer two handed?  I don’t mind the addition of flail and morningstar, but I also don’t mind just saying that they’re the same as a mace and leave it at that.  I suppose the heavy flail does add a two-handed cleric option that deals d8 damage.  I also kind of like the simplicity of three kind of swords: normal, short, and two-handed.  Do I really need a bastard sword and a scimitar?

I understand the addition of the dart and quarterstaff (though granted the Expert rules add Staff, at least they have the sense to drop it to a d4 damage) — to give some more options to magic-users.  Not that the text ever says as much, we’re left to interpret that from the statement that they can “only use light weapons such as a dagger”.  I kind of prefer the heavier restriction of daggers only.  I imagine magic-users get no training with weapons at all, thus grab for the most simple and primal weapon – a knife.  I don’t mind the image of the old greybeard wizard leaning on his magic staff, nor even using the staff to call for magical powers, but when he starts whirling it about like a ninja to crack skulls is where you start to lose me.

Anyway, this is all minor quibbles to be sure, but it’s yet another area in the text that I want to revert to pure B/X, as I already did for armor, XP progression, and spells.  I’m really starting to wonder: is it worth retaining the LL link at all?


11 thoughts on “B/X vs. Labyrinth Lord: Weapons

  1. The equipment section is definitely one place where LL seems to overindulge with no purpose. If anything, I’d prefer having a shorter weapon list than BX.

    I agree that wazard staffs shouldn’t be for bonking bad guys. On the other hand, I really hate it when any weapon does d4 damage. The standard d4 is hard to roll and I sometimes prefer the OD&D/Holmes approach where any weapon can potentially kill any normal man or orc with a single blow.

  2. Player characters that might fight underwater would choose a trident. Gnomes and dwarves might use mining tools as their primary weapons. And NPCs, bandits, nomads, and whatnot can get a little dull when they are always armed with short swords or spears. You note you like having 3 kinds of swords; I like having 3 kinds of axes available for players that want to play a character with a great axe or that uses only axes, or whatever.

    As to your larger point, it’s a good one. Meaning no criticism to LL, it’s important for DMs to realize that those rules differ in many small ways. As you say, spell progression, undead turning, and various others are slightly different. And that’s fine, as long as the DM realizes that and decides whether those pieces are better or worse for the game to be run. Like you, I find it easier to start from B/X and vary what I want. Partially because that’s the system I know best, but also because I like the way the default rules work in most cases.

  3. I think armor is a bigger offender than weapons, and the expanded spell list is the worst of all. As for weapon damage, I’ll just point out that in B/X variable damage by weapon type is explicitly an optional rule, by the core rule all weapons do d6.

    Also I think it’s important to point out that I don’t mean to bad-mouth Proctor’s work here, which I think is excellent and invaluable to the resurgence of our niche of this hobby. However, I think I am just recognizing that it is different from the original B/X it tries to emulate, and that the more I play the more I realize that it’s the original I want to play, not the reproduction.

  4. @barrataria – Totally agree about the desire on the player’s end to have a weapon that matches the correct mood. I guess though I’d just rather rule that on the fly. You want a morningstar? Cool, you got one, it’s stats are the same as a mace. Move on. I don’t see a need to clutter up the equipment list with every kind of weapon you could think of at the time. It’ll never be complete, and ultimately you’re just going to open the door for players asking questions like “Why would I ever use weapon X, when weapon Y is clearly better in every way?”

  5. B/X books are still pretty cheap on eBay and the like. I don’t really see any purpose to playing LL, if what you really want is B/X. I thought retroclones were supposed to mainly be an excuse to produce and sell supplements and modules for the original TSR games legally anyhow… but now people are just playing them as-is.

    And I have always had a problem with people assuming magic-users should be able to use quarterstaves. Makes me think most people have no idea what a quarterstaff really is or how it is used. It’s a deadly weapon and would require some serious martial skills to use effectively (other than swinging it like one would any stick or club). I assume people are confusing quarterstaves with plain old walking sticks or a wizard’s magical staff (those are magic items, folks, not common weapons.)

    And darts, I just find those silly. I know there was a medieval weapon, but have you seen them? They are huge, like lawn darts. I don’t see a magic-user hurling those things in combat either, and it sure as heck doesn’t strike me as a cool image for a character, at least.

    Wizards would be using daggers in rituals and the like, so it makes sense for them to have one tucked in their belt or what have you, and to use it should they get involved in melee without spells to use instead. Simple, and makes sense thematically.

  6. I would venture to guess it has everything to do with using the OGL … these are the SRD values for weapon damage.
    That’s almost certainly the case. All of the clones diverge from their source material in various ways because of the need to clearly derive their content from the SRD. For most purposes, the divergences are small enough in games like LL or OSRIC that most people don’t even notice, let alone care.

  7. The thing that really jumps out and pains me is the increased Longbow damage (that from 3E/SRD). The Javelin & Staff stuff originated in AD&D 1E (and I think Moldvay possibly had better ideas about them, excepting what a pain d4’s are, like Jeff says). Interestingly, it seems like when B/X says “polearm” it really presumes “halberd” stats (which were separate things in Sup-I Greyhawk). Otherwise, I agree with the comments above by JJJ (Jeff, Jack, James).

    Did you see how many people are in favor of class-based damage on James’ blog today? That nearly took my breath away.

  8. I like the shorten weapon list but with the same note as the adventuring gear has that should the players wish to purchase items not provided in the list the DM determines if its okay. If my fighter wants to use a trident than to me it’s just a flavored pole arm. A Zweihänder or Claymore is just a flavor the two-handed sword.

  9. James Maliszewski wrote:

    That’s almost certainly the case. All of the clones diverge from their source material in various ways because of the need to clearly derive their content from the SRD. For most purposes, the divergences are small enough in games like LL or OSRIC that most people don’t even notice, let alone care.

    You know, I was just wondering about the Labyrinth Lord armor list too. This makes a lot of sense. Thanks for that comment, it makes a whole host of design decisions in LL more understandable.

    I am sympathetic to class-based damage, but I do think weapon choice should matter, at least to fighters.

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