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Does a Great Axe do 2.5x the Damage of a Dagger?

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
When you make a judgment on how lethal a weapon is, and then express that judgment in terms of dice, something interesting happens: you can compare how lethal a weapon is in terms of how lethal another weapon is.

In the titular example, chopping someone with a great axe is just as damaging to the human body (psyche?) as stabbing that someone 2.5 times with a dagger. (These particular numbers are based on my system of tiny weapons using a d4, and two-handed weapons using a d10).

According to the Gallagher test, a watermelon agrees with the above findings. But is it fair to treat humans and watermelons the same? What about a steel-backed dire turtle?

In my games, the 2.5x difference only applies in combat (mode), and relies on the logic that says a machine gun will kill someone much faster than a pistol will. It's a sort of life-expectancy statement, but it's also a nod toward Damage-as-Meat; just ask the watermelon.

How many dagger stabs equal a great axe chop in your game? Do you treat humans and watermelons the same?
 

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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
In the titular example, chopping someone with a great axe is just as damaging to the human body (psyche?) as stabbing that someone 2.5 times with a dagger. (These particular numbers are based on my system of tiny weapons using a d4, and two-handed weapons using a d10).

A d4 of damage comes up, on average, as 2.5 points.

A d10 of damage comes up, on average, as 5.5 points.

So, the axe is 2.2 times as much, not 2.5.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
So, the axe is 2.2 times as much, not 2.5.
And a Final Fantasy 4 Mithril Knife does +20, while a Dwarf Axe does +64.

So, the axe is 3.2 times as much, not 2.2.

On Fire GIF
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
I think the system is devised to embrace the idea of tradeoffs. If you have two people going into a straight up fight in an open area and offer them both a sword or a dagger, anyone choosing the dagger is a fool. It's not really because a sword is more lethal than the dagger. Giving it more damage though makes you choose the sword which is what they want in terms of incentives. It makes you make the same decision people who fight with those things would make.

Now, this concept applies to humans and most humanoids, I'd say even Ogres. What it doesn't apply to though is heavily armored dragons. In such a situation, the odds you will kill a dragon with a sword is vanishingly small but with a dagger it's all but impossible. So in that case a Dragon is a watermelon in a sense a humanoid is not.
 

aco175

Legend
Is there an argument about what HP is here? There is another thread of what HP means and represents, so maybe depending on how one looks at it, may mean that it is ok to deal 2.whatever more damage. If it is actual just cutting meat, than the axe should be more.

I never thought about a giant axe vs. a dagger, but do remember speed factor and how a dagger is so much faster to use than a giant axe. Not sure if that factors into the amount of damage either.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think the system is devised to embrace the idea of tradeoffs. If you have two people going into a straight up fight in an open area and offer them both a sword or a dagger, anyone choosing the dagger is a fool. It's not really because a sword is more lethal than the dagger. Giving it more damage though makes you choose the sword which is what they want in terms of incentives. It makes you make the same decision people who fight with those things would make.

There's a good point here - especially because there's games that don't do this. I played a session of Fate Accelerated tonight, and that game does not have a concept of normal weapons having different damage they do. The weapon enables action in this game, but does not alter the result after that.

So, if I have a rifle, I can attack at long distances. If I have a pistol, I can attack at medium ranges. If I have a sword, I can melee. The weapon allows me to try an action in various situations, but does not alter the die roll beyond that. In such a situation, if my character is good with a sword, then he is most enabled by swords. If another character is good with daggers, then they are most enabled by daggers. And, in a fight between them, there's not going to be a clear advantage to one over the other, mechanically.
 

Shroompunk Warlord

Archdruid of the Warp Zones
You know, normally, this is the unrealistic assumption that everyone makes... that causes their "realistic" house rules to fall apart.

Realistically, there are a handful of important vital organs and/or blood vessels that piercing/slashing/crushing is almost immediately fatal with... practically the entirety of other physical trauma only serving the purpose of degrading the victim's endurance and morale and making them more vulnerable for one of the former kill shots.

The battle axe isn't more likely to score a kill shot than the dagger, and it really isn't better at wearing down the victim's fighting spirit. It's longer than the dagger, giving it more reach, and it's heavier so it's more effective against shields and armor. It's got a hook on the business end that makes it easier to drag an victim's shield or even their weapon out of a defensive position. Compared to a sword, even a "short sword", it's not very useful for deflecting the victim's own pitiful attacks.

D&D doesn't model any of those things.

So a battle axe is a one-handed weapon, and it's not convenient to carry or hide, you can't throw it and you can't use it to sneak attack. So it does more damage than weapons that can do those things. In 3.X, the difference between an axe and a sword was that axes were less likely to deliver bigger critical htis, while swords were more likely to deliver smaller critical hits.

Is any of that realistic? No. Does it satisfy the need for deeper tactical decisions in weapon choice? Yes.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
. . . It's not really because a sword is more lethal than the dagger. Giving it more damage though makes you choose the sword which is what they want in terms of incentives. It makes you make the same decision people who fight with those things would make.

. . . Is any of that realistic? No. Does it satisfy the need for deeper tactical decisions in weapon choice? Yes.
Nice points. "No, a great axe doesn't do 2.5x more damage than a dagger, but it's more interesting/different than a dagger." Kind of weird to want to incentivize sword usage (or great axe) over a dagger, but the most popular RPGs can't be wrong. Can they?

It looks like D&D 5e puts a dagger at d4 (avg. 2.5) damage and a great axe at d12 (avg. 6.5), or 1:2.6. Does WotC want you to use a great axe 2.6 more times than it wants you to use a dagger, or is it just using dice to suggest that bigger is better?

@Emerikol - I think your argument breaks down, for D&D at least, because someone fighting against a sword might not want a dagger, but the damage dice suggest that a maul or great axe would be a better choice. I'll take the sword over the maul!
 

Shroompunk Warlord

Archdruid of the Warp Zones
@Emerikol - I think your argument breaks down, for D&D at least, because someone fighting against a sword might not want a dagger, but the damage dice suggest that a maul or great axe would be a better choice. I'll take the sword over the maul!

I am pretty good with either a stick or a knife. (I'm not much with a sword.) If my enemy is unarmed, I want to use the knife. If my enemy has a weapon of their own, I want to use the stick.

If I have a shield, I'd prefer to use an axe-- I'm actually pretty good with an axe-- but if I don't have a shield, I'd prefer a sword.
 


TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
IMO, the energy is more in an axe (kinetic energy = half mass times velocity squared) so it's damage potential should be higher. If that is 2.5 higher, unknown.
I agree with this.

But it depends on context. In an artificial context where you'd have a poor test subject that would stand still and give you one calculated strike with either a dagger or a battle axe, I don't think that the battle axe (even though it has more kinetic energy and is much more destructive) would necessary be more lethal. Without being hindered, it's unlikely that a stab from a dagger wouldn't be fatal.

But in the context of two people fighting, dodging and exchanging blows; if I had to bet money as to which weapon landing a hit would be deadlier, I would 100% put it on the battle axe. There is, in my mind, much more chances that a blow from the axe will be fatal.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
I agree with this.

But it depends on context. In an artificial context where you'd have a poor test subject that would stand still and give you one calculated strike with either a dagger or a battle axe, I don't think that the battle axe (even though it has more kinetic energy and is much more destructive) would necessary be more lethal. Without being hindered, it's unlikely that a stab from a dagger wouldn't be fatal.

But in the context of two people fighting, dodging and exchanging blows; if I had to bet money as to which weapon landing a hit would be deadlier, I would 100% put it on the battle axe. There is, in my mind, much more chances that a blow from the axe will be fatal.
I agree, context is key, if the situation is like a hallway or other constrained space where someone can't fully swing an axe, the dagger would do better.
 

Shroompunk Warlord

Archdruid of the Warp Zones
Yeah. The greataxe and the dagger are both absolutely the better weapon in different circumstances that, mostly, D&D just doesn't model or... adventurers would be able to pick their battles for in a way that soldiers wouldn't.

Worth noting that in D&D the base damage die of the greataxe is 2.5 greater than the dagger, but that only means that the greataxe does 2.5 times as much damage as the dagger if both combatants are using nonmagical weapons with STR 10-11 and no class/feat support. Sneak Attack +3d6 versus the Great Weapon Master feat makes a hell of a difference in which weapon's better... and really it should, probably even more than it actually does.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
@Emerikol - I think your argument breaks down, for D&D at least, because someone fighting against a sword might not want a dagger, but the damage dice suggest that a maul or great axe would be a better choice. I'll take the sword over the maul!
Well for one they aren't perfect. In reality, a variety of factors would affect weapon choice. Things like price or availability. The amount of training required to use the weapon. All these things are ignored by D&D. Everyone fights with the same skill with whatever weapon they choose. That doesn't negate the fact that them varying the stats on weapons is an attempt to foster usage of particular weapons. Damage is of course just one stat.
 

Voadam

Legend
OD&D and Basic D&D had all weapons do 1d6 with optional rules for variable weapon damage. It can be done multiple ways.

In most D&D the weapons probably have other modifiers to damage as well so a 16 strength person with a +3 bonus to damage changes the math for how different the two are in inflicting damage.
 

I think the system is devised to embrace the idea of tradeoffs. If you have two people going into a straight up fight in an open area and offer them both a sword or a dagger, anyone choosing the dagger is a fool. It's not really because a sword is more lethal than the dagger. Giving it more damage though makes you choose the sword which is what they want in terms of incentives. It makes you make the same decision people who fight with those things would make.

Now, this concept applies to humans and most humanoids, I'd say even Ogres. What it doesn't apply to though is heavily armored dragons. In such a situation, the odds you will kill a dragon with a sword is vanishingly small but with a dagger it's all but impossible. So in that case a Dragon is a watermelon in a sense a humanoid is not.

Depending on the system, there can be other tradeoffs as well.

A dagger is much easier to smuggle under clothing than a sword. A rapier might have a parry bonus from being a fencing weapon. Different types of damage may have wounding modifiers.
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
Depending on the system, there can be other tradeoffs as well.

A dagger is much easier to smuggle under clothing than a sword. A rapier might have a parry bonus from being a fencing weapon. Different types of damage may have wounding modifiers.
I think that is what game designers these days do. They create a variety of options that incentivize whatever they want incentivized. Often it is a quasi-realistic (now that is a term) idea of the sort of weapons they think adventurers would use.
 

When you make a judgment on how lethal a weapon is, and then express that judgment in terms of dice, something interesting happens: you can compare how lethal a weapon is in terms of how lethal another weapon is.

In the titular example, chopping someone with a great axe is just as damaging to the human body (psyche?) as stabbing that someone 2.5 times with a dagger. (These particular numbers are based on my system of tiny weapons using a d4, and two-handed weapons using a d10).

According to the Gallagher test, a watermelon agrees with the above findings. But is it fair to treat humans and watermelons the same? What about a steel-backed dire turtle?

In my games, the 2.5x difference only applies in combat (mode), and relies on the logic that says a machine gun will kill someone much faster than a pistol will. It's a sort of life-expectancy statement, but it's also a nod toward Damage-as-Meat; just ask the watermelon.

How many dagger stabs equal a great axe chop in your game? Do you treat humans and watermelons the same?
It's worth noting that there is a real world comparison metric, it's most well known for firearms. Actually, two - one shot stops and one shot kills.
The UK police had a database, referenced in a 1990's FBI dataset release (on dead tree - I checked it out via ILL for a paper in college), of various knives for one slash and one stab kills by type of melee weapon used in violent crimes, and compared it to one shot kills. I don't know if it's available to the public, or currently maintained, but it's the best real world starting point.

In all irony, after deep-diving into the metrics of weapon lethality, I think the best answer is, "a die, the size of which is based upon skill with the weapon, not the weapon itself" unless you're going to use armor as a damage reduction.

Given my current games in progress — Talisman Adventures and Pendragon — talisman damage is strongly affected by attributes, and Pendragon is almost entirely by attributes. (
Pendragon: PC Damage = ((Str + Size)/10)d6, rounding the number of dice normally; size is 2d6+6, Str 3d6. HP are Size+Con, 0=dead. Note that the game only uses d6's, d3's, and d20's, with D3's being used for healing and for some falls and degradation, not weapon damage.
Talisman, most are 1d6+Str, and Str starts are 2,3 or 4 for PCs, but can hit 10, and NPCs can range from 0 to 10+; A few small weapons do 1d3+Str, and a few large do 2d6+Str. Monsters can get even bigger damages. PC Life Points at first level run 10 to 21, and at 10th from 19 to 43. The game doesn't list levels above 10th, but progression is obvious, so it could o further. Note that the game only uses d6's and d3's.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
OD&D and Basic D&D had all weapons do 1d6 with optional rules for variable weapon damage. It can be done multiple ways.

In all irony, after deep-diving into the metrics of weapon lethality, I think the best answer is, "a die, the size of which is based upon skill with the weapon, not the weapon itself" unless you're going to use armor as a damage reduction.
I actually like a d8 to be the default weapon damage, but then I assume that five die-types are available for differentiation (4, 6, 8, 10, 12).

It's confusing, in D&D terms, that a hit and damage are different things. Because if you swing and miss (or your opponent parries your attack) you've clearly done no damage, or the worst possible hit. If you chop your opponent in half, you've done 100% damage, or the best possible hit. There are miles of gray area in-between. So another answer to the post question is, "that depends on which weapon hits," or from aramis, "that depends on which user has more skill."

My parting answer (for now) is:

The great axe does 2.5x the dagger's damage if skill, armor, and mobility aren't really factors in the measurement. So, you're basically just dropping a blade on a watermelon.

So what if you have opponents of equal skill fighting each other...?
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
The great axe does 2.5x the dagger's damage if skill, armor, and mobility aren't really factors in the measurement. So, you're basically just dropping a blade on a watermelon.

So what if you have opponents of equal skill fighting each other...?
I don't totally buy this but your point does call for a wider range of amplified critical damage based upon skill. If I have a sword and you have a dagger, and we are equal in skill then the sword is favored. And as you begin to separate in skill it isn't instantaneous that the dagger passes the sword. I would think a 10% better warrior (whatever that is) would not win with a dagger but perhaps a 25% or 50% better warrior would.
 

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