When the D&D Master Rules was released, it included a new Weapon Mastery rules system that was… well… somewhat crazy. In a game where a level the average level 11 fighter has around 50 hit points (we can even go as high as 65 for exceptional constitution), having a skill that grants that same fighter +8 to hit and dealing 1d12+10 damage (plus bonuses for Strength and magic – so averaging probably around 22 damage per hit) means that the fights should be over in 3 combat rounds.
While I appreciate that it means that high level combat now runs about as quickly as low-level combat, it also meant that the game itself fell rapidly into the issue of escalating damage output like the 3rd and 4th editions of the game.
But there are a lot of elements that I loved from those rules. I remember the first time a character got hit by a heavy crossbow and failed his save against the stunning effect. The character wasn’t slain by the shot, but instead lay on the floor winded and terrified. It also introduces parrying (deflecting) and several other cool abilities for people skilled in specific weapons.
So, how to keep that and not bring in the escalation of the mastery rules?
Ditch the Weapon Mastery rules completely, but keep a copy of the tables (or make your own). Instead of weapons dealing damage using the “Basic” mastery level, have everyone using a weapon for which they have the class ability to use it operate with the “Skilled “level of mastery, and use weapons outside their class training with the “Basic” mastery. But also forget about the bonus to hit for Skilled mastery – we’re just in it for the damage bonus and the cool special abilities.
As a side effect of this, combat will be more dangerous, especially against creatures armed with weapons. My recommendation is to formally adopt the “max hit points at level 1″ rule that many groups already have in their house rules. In my experience that makes up the difference in most cases.
I’ll be putting together my list of weapons at Basic and Skilled mastery in a document and hopefully posting the PDF to the blog shortly.