Note: This is a part of my 5E Mystara conversion series of articles looking at what I have done to bring the original setting of Mystara to my D&D 5th Edition tabletop.
One of the rule mechanics I loved from the older edition of Dungeons and Dragons now known as BECMI (stands for Basic Expert Companion Master and Immortal rules – Also found in the Rules Cyclopedia) is the weapon mastery. What this mechanic does in increase the damage and capabilities of using weapons as characters advance in levels. They grant six levels of proficiency with an item.
Non-Proficient -> Proficient -> Skilled -> Expert -> Master -> Grand Master
A Grand Master with a weapon is truly amazing in comparison to a unskilled minion using the same weapon. In the current 5th Edition rules, the only difference between the two is your chance to hit your opponent.
Example Weapon Mastery – The Battleaxe
The original version of weapon master had only five levels of mastery merging Non-Proficient and Proficient as Basic Skill. What I did was take the concepts of damage increase, defensive and special effects and bring them over into a new version of the weapon mastery laid out in a different style that was easier for me to read.
Column 1 - Weapon: This is the name of the weapon Non-Proficiency: This is the cost, weight, base damage and abilities a wielder who is not skilled in the weapon can use. Proficient: This is the damage and abilities available with proficiency. I have introduced changes where some aspects of the weapon can't be used without proficiency. Skilled, Expert, Master and Grand Master: Each further upgrade of the weapon provides more damage or abilities.
The table is a basic breakdown of how the weapon works. I have also included a detailed breakdown per level of proficiency as well. This details how all the abilities work.
Here we see the following mechanics:
- Versatile – Shown as Hit (1 Hand) or Hit (2 Hand) depending on how you are wielding it. This is one of the changes to non-proficiency that you have to be trained to use.
- Crit: Delay – A special critical hit option that on this weapon is only usable when in melee and not when you throw it.
- Crit: Stun– A special critical hit option that on this weapon is only usable when in melee and not when you throw it. This is an upgraded version of the Delay effect.
- (B) AC (+#/#) – This is a special bonus action you can use on your turn that increases your armour class (ability to avoid bring hit) by the number next to the plus sign, for the next attacks up to the number after the slash.
So a character who is skilled with the Battleaxe need only record the skilled section of the weapon on their character sheet.
How can I get Weapon Mastery
In my campaign I have characters starting out with Proficiency in weapons as indicated in their class. This is a good baseline for characters and provides the basics to the campaign.
If you’re a fighter you gain 4 proficiency points. A barbarian, paladin or ranger gains 2 proficiency points. All characters gain an extra proficiency point for every three levels they gain. Each proficiency point can be used to upgrade your knowledge with one weapon. There are currently 58 weapons detailed for my players to use.
A character can only advance the proficiency with a weapon if they are in the correct Heroic Tier of play. Tier 1 (Levels 1 to 4) can increase to skilled, Tier 2 (Levels 5 to 10), to expert, Tier 3 (Levels 11 to 16) to Master and Tier 4 (Levels 17 to 20) to Grand Master.
What other elements use Weapon Mastery
So the elements that I have working Weapon Mastery into are Downtime, Secret Crafts, a Feat, and a Fighter Archetype. I use Downtime and Secret Craft mechanics in my game world that are designed to be roleplaying elements, though they are still a work in progress. Players are expected to work with my as the dungeon master to detail their downtime in relation to the teacher.
The Secret Craft option is to limit proficiency of skilled and above to members of the Secret Craft and the downtime mechanic makes the use of the proficiency points which also have a time and cost constraint. From the perspective of Weapons Mastery it is a discoverable aspect of the game so finding a teacher who is willing to teach you can be a journey in itself.
The feat is based on the Weapon Master feat in the players handbook but goes in a different direction and is now only available to members of the Secret Craft. The fighter archetype is also linked to the Secret Craft but is also available as a base archetype in my world for fighters. It focuses on improving your abilities with Weapon Mastery and you truly become a Weapon Master that it is named after.
After a year of using Weapon Mastery in my games I am happy with how this updated version turned out. It might need a few tweaks and changes over time to help make weapons more unique (otherwise why have two weapons with the same stats?) and I have chosen to take the fully compiled list off my website so it is now a discoverable element of the game. Not all rules known upfront can introduce surprise back into the adventure.