D&D Next: Additional At-Will Weapon Attack

So I have been thinking about how I would rebuild the long-neglected sorcerer for the current D&D Next environment. Though this is not currently well-supported in D&D Next, one of the best design lessons of 4e is that characters should have two clear at-will options that are constantly available. (Actually, they should have three, at least one of which is ranged and at least one of which is melee.) This presents the question of what else to give weapon-wielding classes like fighters and sorcerers. I start with the assumption that I want to stay in that same theme of an attack driven by the same weapon in hand. Also, my campaign uses the Give Ground rule that I created some months ago, and some of the things that I like about the idea I’m going to discuss specifically come from interaction with the Give Ground rule.

The existing at-will weapon attack is the point from which I’m creating a variation. The 4e power format helps with its clarity here:

Weapon Attack
Standard Action, Melee, weapon’s base reach
Target: One creature
Attack: Attribute + Class bonus + Magic vs. AC
Hit: 1[W] + Attribute + Magic

Now, 4e released a huge number of at-will attacks over its lifespan, certainly, so there are any number of conceivable variations. I’d like to keep things pretty simple, though, because the core design aesthetic of D&D Next is that simplicity – one step of change or development from any given ability, which as often as possible is coded into the die roll itself rather than math following the die roll (cf. advantage/disadvantage, skill training mechanics, weapon mastery).

I’ve also been interested to see how the game currently handles Two-Weapon Fighting, a much saner and cleaner rule than seen in earlier packets: the character makes one attack with each weapon, but applies the attribute bonus to damage only to the main-hand attack. This gives the two-weapon fighter a very small damage advantage over the course of a round, as compared to the d12 of a greatsword, but there are enough other good and bad sides to this that we can pretty well call it a wash. Frankly, I’m impressed that they managed this.

What I’m suggesting, then, is an at-will attack that reflects a sweeping two-target attack. The targets have to be adjacent to each other and to the attacker (grid rules) or “close enough that this makes sense” (theater of the mind rules). Instead of getting the full damage die to each attack, though, the damage steps down by one die size for one-handed weapons and two die sizes for two-handed weapons: d12, d10, d8, d6, d4, d3.

Sweeping Attack
Standard Action, Melee, weapon’s base reach
Target: Two creatures adjacent to one another and within your reach
Attack: Attribute + Class bonus + Magic vs. AC to each target
Hit: 1[W-1 or W-2] + Magic; apply Attribute bonus only once

Some Mathy Stuff Follows

The reason that one-handed and two-handed weapons step down in die size differently is that I looked at what the math was doing and felt like the shift from (d8 + Attr) to (2d4 + Attr), where the latter has to roll twice to do full damage, is a bit worse off all the way around than (d12 + Attr) down to (2d8 + Attr). This is even more true in the context of the Give Ground rule, where we’re talking (2d4 + Attr – 2d6); changing that initial 2d4 to 2d6 means damage is sometimes just going to be a wash. At the same time, I kind of like that – what I see happening is the character kind of swinging wildly to fend off multiple attackers. In game terms the character “hits,” but the targets both Give Ground to negate the damage. When the attacker opts against following them into the next square, the attacker has functionally bought five feet of space between them, which might have been his goal in the first place. Giving characters an increased interest in maneuvering so that two enemies are adjacent is also a positive to me.

Interaction with Other Rules

The damage dice of a Sweeping Attack are increased by Deadly Strike, just based on what the math should be doing; the Deadly Strike dice follow the weapon’s base die in being stepped down. Weapon Mastery applies to only one weapon. Divine Favor, as a cleric-only pseudo-Deadly Strike, should apply to each attack, but possibly the damage die should get stepped down so that it can’t be greater in size than the die you’re otherwise rolling. I don’t know for sure. The fighter’s Deep Wound ability applies to only one target, as does the rogue’s Sneak Attack. This ability meshes rather well with the fighter’s Wide Arc ability, allowing them to either draw in a third target or just get a better damage output against two targets. I’m not so sure about its interaction with Whirlwind Attack, but I suspect that Whirlwind Attack outright replaces Sweeping Attack as a useful option. Though given that Whirlwind Attack stops the use of Deadly Strike, that might or might not be true.

This does some kind of interesting things with double weapons and two-weapon fighting – they explicitly don’t have the restriction on two adjacent targets. Their damage values tend to reflect two steps down from a weapon of comparable size and complexity – the quarterstaff, for example, is a d4/d4 simple double weapon, while the spear is a d8 simple weapon when used two-handed. If you wanted to use yari-style spear fighting as shown in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, where the character whips the spear back and forth to strike multiple targets, stepping the d8 down to d4 sounds pretty fair. Versatile weapons see the same effect – the versatile property gives them one die size step up when wielding the weapon in both hands, but they both step down to the same size when used to make a Sweeping Attack. (That may or may not be a benefit, but it’s certainly the effect.)

My Simulationist Moment

Kainenchen is rolling her eyes right now.) In addition to the simulation mentioned above, I feel like the implicit connection between die size and weapon size is upheld rather cleanly here. The largest weapons should nominally be the best at the large, sweeping attacks, I would suppose, and correspondingly they keep the largest portion of their effectiveness when using this attack. The lance and possibly the pike are the only weapons where I don’t feel like the option matches the weapon well – but let’s keep in mind that the lance-wielder doesn’t expect to have two targets available to strike, while the pike-wielder might very well have a second target in reach and adjacent to the original target. So that could still work, but in general this rule is not particularly kind to reach weapons. I love the image of the urgrosh wielder making a sweeping attack with the d10 end of the weapon (stepping down to d6/d6) and a regular attack with the d4 end of the weapon.

The lingering drawback is that Sweeping Attack is pretty unappealing for Small characters, as they cannot use weapons with the Heavy descriptor. Ideally, I’d eventually come up with an alternate at-will to appeal to these characters. In practice, I’ll never get around to this because Aurikesh doesn’t have any Small PC races. The major effect that this has on Aurikesh races is that veytikka claws are d6 weapons, and thus step down to d4s; this is not the worst thing in the world, but there are going to be times when one of the party’s veytikka fighters wants to attack four targets (two with each claw) and the game will slow down a bit. If that becomes a problem, I’d look for an additional restriction, but I’m hoping that everything continues to resolve speedily so that they can be the claw-frenzying badasses that they want to be.

Comparable Tools for Other Classes

Wielding a greatsword is certainly a kind of baseline assumption for sorcerers, so they fit well with this concept. I’d add to that the possibility of a low-end spell (we’ll lift from 4e and call it greenflame blade) that they cast as a swift action right before making a Sweeping Attack. Maybe the spell manifests an additional, fiery echo of their greatsword, dealing additional fire damage if their Sweeping Attack lands? I like the visual, anyway!

Outlanders definitely need a new at-will option, because while the two outlanders in the party seem to have a pretty good time with their gunslinging, they don’t have an interesting choice to make when it comes to “I want to attack, but I don’t want to use my Arcane Gift.” So regardless of how egregiously incorrect it may be for how flintlocks could actually work, something that worked more like shot and did damage in a cone and/or pushed targets back would be good. If you have other ideas, I want to hear them – creating a unique at-will for each Outlander Tradition is certainly not beyond the pale.

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