This article was first broadcast in Episode Twenty-Eight on 13th June 2018.
Lennon: Hey guys, can you help me out with something? I’ve been trying to make some locations in my game a little more exotic, and it got me thinking. I can flavor the buildings, sights, sounds and smells, even the names and local customs, but everyone still has shortswords, longbows and all those mundane types of weaponry. It reminded me of when we went to Ixalan.
Ryu: Because your party’s wizard almost got them all killed?
Ostron: Okay look-
Lennon: Hey, hey, we’re talking about my problem here. Remember those blades the merfolk carried? They looked like pure water forged into a weapon. Well that then got me thinking back to our world, and there’s a lot of weaponry out there not represented in 5th edition. Do you fancy helping me make some more truly exotic weapons?
Ostron: Sure. You’re right of course…
5th Edition D&D doesn’t currently have any of what used to be called “Exotic weapons” in previous editions. Usually the weapons were either mundane items that required special training (many martial arts weapons like the Kama and Nunchucks fell into this category), or they were weapons created specifically by one of the D&D races.
Homebrew efforts and some official rulesets have seen many other weapons from real life given rules for D&D, but in reality most of them don’t differ very much from ones that already exist. Many people love to hail the virtues of the Japanese katana, but when you boil it down it’s still a longsword; there wasn’t anything mechanically different about how it was used in real life.
However, history *has* thrown up a number of truly odd weapons that could provide some variety for players, either as items to use or as armaments for enemies in exotic locales. We’ll briefly cover a few of them here and provide possible rules for implementing them in-game. Note that all of these are homebrew stats and have not been extensively playtested or officially approved. Use at your own risk.
Since we already mentioned Japan, let’s talk about the Odachi. Odachi were the Japanese equivalent of a greatsword; their blades were easily six feet long and curved like most Japanese bladed weapons. But unlike most European greatswords, these were sharpened for the whole length of the blade. The only option was for the wielder to hold it at the handle, so they needed to be strong, but they could hit targets much farther away, such as cavalry. We’d make this a two handed heavy weapon with a STR 16 requirement that has reach and does 2d6 slashing damage on a hit.
Now we’re going just a little bit farther west and stopping in China. As you may or may not know, the Chinese were the first people to discover or invent gunpowder. Prior to figuring out how to launch things with it, they just stuck it on the end of their arrows and made them explode. In-game, we’d suggest making exploding arrows special ammunition that imparts an extra 2d6 force damage on a hit.
Now we’re going to visit the Aztecs and talk about obsidian. Obsidian is volcanic glass, and it is just as sharp as our normal glass when it breaks. The Aztecs shaped it and lined clubs with it. When the Spanish cavalry showed up, stories came back about the Aztecs using these clubs (Called maquahuitl [mak-ah-WHEE-tl]) to decapitate horses with one swing. Obsidian is sharp.
Translating to D&D, we’d make this a melee weapon that does 1d10 slashing damage and critically hits on 19 or 20.
Across the Atlantic in Africa, the Mangbetu people of the Congo region used a weapon called the mambele [mam-BAY-lay]. This weapon is probably what would happen if you told a Beholder to make a knife. We’ll put a picture of it in the show notes because it looks like someone melted a sickle, a dagger, and the head of a pike together, sharpened all of it, and gave it to people to fight. Meant to be used either in melee or as a thrown weapon, we’d make it a one-handed heavy weapon that does 1d8 slashing and piercing damage but can also be thrown with a range of 30/60.
Heading back to Asia, the Chinese also had a non-explosive weapon of note. The Zhua is a polearm; at the end of a 6 foot pole they had a set of two iron claws. The idea was to thrust this in the enemy’s face to bludgeon them with it, then as you pull it back you hook their shield and rip it out of their hands. If the hooks happen to catch on their flesh instead…happy accident?
Our suggestion for this weapon is a bit complicated. We’re making it a two-handed reach weapon that does 1d6 bludgeoning and piercing damage on a hit. If the target is holding a shield, after a successful hit, they have to succeed on an opposed grapple check or they lose their shield.
Finally, heading south to medieval India gives us the Urumi. This weapon is crazy. It consists of a handle and then basically any number of four to six foot long flexible sword blades. When it’s being used, the sword blades act like whips, and they have to be controlled the same way. If the user isn’t careful, the blades snap back and hit them just as badly as they’d hit an enemy. However, because there are so many blades moving so fast, a proficient user can engage multiple enemies at once.
This one has the most complex rules. It’s a one-handed reach and finesse weapon that does 1d6 slashing damage. The user never adds their proficiency bonus to the attack roll; instead they can automatically make an extra attack with the weapon whenever they use their Action to attack. Also, enemies cannot use the Help action to grant advantage to an ally attacking the wielder. If the wielder rolls a critical failure on an attack made with the weapon, the attack hits the wielder instead.
In most editions of D&D that had exotic weapons, you were required to be specifically trained in the weapon before you could be proficient with it; they didn’t fit into any other class like “martial” or “simple” weapons. If you’re a DM and you or your players want to use the weapons, it might be appropriate for some of the weapons to have that restriction (such as the Urumi), while others (like the exploding arrows) you might think are easy enough to just pick up and use.
Lennon: Thanks guys! Perfect! Now… how many of these could an Oblex wield…
Ryu: I’ll grab the hat!