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D&D 5E Philosophy of Greataxe vs. Greatsword

Fauchard1520

Explorer
Philosophy the first:

Look, it’s a straightforward optimization question. In 5e D&D a greatsword swings with 2d6 for an average of 7 damage. A greataxe has that impressive 1d12 damage die, but that’s only 6.5 average damage. Over the life of a campaign, you’re just straight up dealing more damage with a greatsword. That advantage is compounded by the great weapon fighting style, allowing for more frequent damage bumps from more frequent re-rolls. I mean sure, you get a uniform distribution with the greataxe, meaning that you can occasionally swing for crazy damage compared to the more reliable bell curve distribution on the greatsword. But you’re also increasing your chances of lower-than-average damage, and that means you run the risk of under-performing when you really need to put a baddy down. So unless you’ve got some special mojo going (half-orc barbarians with savage attacks and brutal critical are the most common use case) you’re always better off going for the greatsword.

Philosophy the second:

Me like smash. Me choose greataxe!

Your choice of weapon says a lot about who you are as a gamer. Are you trying to fit a badass mental image or are you trying to solve an interesting maths question? Of course, I’m willing to bet that there are other thought processes than the philosophies listed above. So how about it, guys? When it comes time to choose your weapon, how do you make your decision?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
 

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ECMO3

Hero
Philosophy the first:

Look, it’s a straightforward optimization question. In 5e D&D a greatsword swings with 2d6 for an average of 7 damage. A greataxe has that impressive 1d12 damage die, but that’s only 6.5 average damage. Over the life of a campaign, you’re just straight up dealing more damage with a greatsword. That advantage is compounded by the great weapon fighting style, allowing for more frequent damage bumps from more frequent re-rolls. I mean sure, you get a uniform distribution with the greataxe, meaning that you can occasionally swing for crazy damage compared to the more reliable bell curve distribution on the greatsword. But you’re also increasing your chances of lower-than-average damage, and that means you run the risk of under-performing when you really need to put a baddy down. So unless you’ve got some special mojo going (half-orc barbarians with savage attacks and brutal critical are the most common use case) you’re always better off going for the greatsword.

Philosophy the second:

Me like smash. Me choose greataxe!

Your choice of weapon says a lot about who you are as a gamer. Are you trying to fit a badass mental image or are you trying to solve an interesting maths question? Of course, I’m willing to bet that there are other thought processes than the philosophies listed above. So how about it, guys? When it comes time to choose your weapon, how do you make your decision?

(Comic for illustrative purposes.)
Aside from thematic purposes (which are broader than you alluded to) there are two other obvious reasons, first is cost and second that you found a magic or silver great axe.

To be honest though if you really want to be picky, there is no reason to use a greatsword either when a maul is available, does the same damage and is a lot cheaper to buy.
 

Horwath

Hero
They needed a d12 two-handed weapon, also it was d12 in 3rd edition and 4th edition.

as for flavor, you can always say;
I have a big sword/axe/hammer/spear, it's martial, two-handed, heavy, costs 50GP and it deals 2d6 of slashing or piercing or bludgeoning damage.
 



As a DM I will typically allow players to change the flavor of their weapons if the mechanical impact of that change is minimal or zero.

In the case of great sword vs great axe: Both deal slashing damage and cost around the same. So, if a player tells me that her character wants to buy a greatsword, but instead have it reforged and turn the pointy end into a comfortable handhold, and the add a sharp edge to the blunt end - effectively turning it into an axe - and then do 2d6 damage with that axe, then I would never object. Especially not if they are willing to spend a little gold on that.
 


The weapons table is one of my biggest gripes about 5E, even though it doesn't really have that much an impact on the game overall. In general, I feel that axes are a lower level of technology than swords would be, which is why it's generally associated with barbaric creatures. Dwarves are an interesting exception to this, for unknown in game reasons. I feel the cost should reflect this, since better technological weapons would be harder to come by.
 

Horwath

Hero
The weapons table is one of my biggest gripes about 5E, even though it doesn't really have that much an impact on the game overall. In general, I feel that axes are a lower level of technology than swords would be, which is why it's generally associated with barbaric creatures. Dwarves are an interesting exception to this, for unknown in game reasons. I feel the cost should reflect this, since better technological weapons would be harder to come by.
one solution to this would be that you make base damage equal, then for difference in cost you give axes slashing damage and swords slashing&piercing, in most cases it won't matter, but those few resistance moments would make it worth is.

So "primitive" warrior might have an axe plus spear, while some city dwelling noble could get away with carrying only a sword and have the versatility.

Or make a version of pollaxe, with all 3 damage types and reach and you're good to go.
 

Minigiant

Legend
Supporter
I suggested in a playtest survey to give fighters the ability to reroll a single damage dice Intelligence modifiers times per rest. Woulda made great axe warriors more common.
 


that would give 0,1 damage on average more to greataxe over greatsword few times per day. hardly worth writing on a character sheet.
It's a significant boost to the axe wielders, and of little benefit to the swordwielders. The idea is to even them out, not make the axe flat better.
 


My personal idea for weapons in general is to copy Baldur's Gate 3's weapon ability concept. Basically, if you're wielding a weapon and are proficient in it you can use a special ability once per day.

I'm sure of how I'm actually going to implement the idea, though, as many of the abilities in Baldur's Gate 3 inflict new status conditions.

One idea I've had was to look at how weapons and the Battle Master Fighter maneuvers have been ranked and assign stronger maneuvers to weaker weapons and weaker maneuvers to stronger weapons.

However, in my initial brainstorming I just gave both Greatswords and Greataxes Sweeping Attack (while giving the subpar Trident Grappling Strike), so that wouldn't really help here unless I gave Greataxes and Greatswords different abilities. Or maybe I could give some multiple maneuvers based on what's appropriate...
 

My great weapon master paladin uses a greatsword (except for when he used a glaive for a while because it was the only magic weapon in the party and we needed to hit some weird spectral thing from a Kobold Press monster book...). Mostly it's a background thing. He's got this long-running inner conflict about how he's got a very deep bloodthirsty streak that his paladin's vows keep in check, and in that light, a 'knightly' sword fits him better than greataxes which he sees as the mark of a savage (however tempting that might be...)

Personally, the 0.5hp average difference isn't something i ever really noticed, but the more reliable damage certainly is. Even when i was using the glaive, it was amazingly disheartening to roll a 1 or 2 on the damage die, even though logically you know that over the long run, you should average just as many 9s and 10s.

(And why do mauls never enter into this comparison, may I ask? Discrimination against blunt weapons!)

Having said all that, the weapon table really does need an overhaul. Though rapiers are a much bigger priority than great weapons in that department, imho.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Heavens to Murgatroid, a whole extra 0.5 damage! Greatswords are broken, broken I tell you!

Good grief. The swords will likely average more towards the median value, the axe will be more random. The impact of the difference is going to be incredibly minimal.

Now if you really want to gripe about broken weapons, take a look at the longbow that traditionally had draw weights up to 150 pounds or more and explain to me why it's dex based weapon. :p
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
Heavens to Murgatroid, a whole extra 0.5 damage! Greatswords are broken, broken I tell you!

Good grief. The swords will likely average more towards the median value, the axe will be more random. The impact of the difference is going to be incredibly minimal.

Now if you really want to gripe about broken weapons, take a look at the longbow that traditionally had draw weights up to 150 pounds or more and explain to me why it's dex based weapon. :p
To make the math a little easier let's compare a d12 to a d13 weapon. That's the same 0.5 damage difference. Both are linear so the math behind both is alot easier.

After 2 hits the d12 weapon will do 13+(10 mod) = 23 average damage and the d13 weapon will do 14 + (10 mod) = 24 average damage. Now consider an enemy with 35 hp. The d12 weapon (assuming the previous hits were average damage) will only have a 50% chance of killing the enemy on the next hit. The d13 weapon will have a 61.5% chance of doing the same.

Looking at it through this lens sure makes .5 average damage sound alot more important.

*Also, randomness is usually not in the PC's favor as they tend to be expected to win.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Heavens to Murgatroid, a whole extra 0.5 damage! Greatswords are broken, broken I tell you!
To be fair, with GWF style, the difference is actually a whole point. (8.33 v 7.33).

Is it a huge deal? No. It's just an annoying proud nail in a very visible chart. Trident being martial is much more annoying to me, personally, when it's literally identical to a spear.
 
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Norton

Explorer
I let my players go to the Smithy and add damage to their weapons with adamantine edges and such. Evens things up and they love doing it. Say 350 gold to change the d12 to 2d6. They'll think it's expensive and they should.
 

Horwath

Hero
To be fair, with GWF style, the difference is actually a whole point. (8.33 v 7.33).

Is it a huge deal. No. It's just an annoying proud nail in a very visible chart. Trident being martial is much more annoying to me, personally, when it's literally identical to a spear.
the whole table is a mess,

properties were handed out to some weapons not bothering taking anything in return, read damage die less, non universal thrown weapon range, treating versatile as an actual useful property.

I would say that 2d6 for martial 2Handed, Heavy weapon without any properties is too little, 2d8 would be better as we do not have one and a half STR mod as in 3E.
 

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