Weapon choice

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Version 0.29: This article is up to date for the latest stable release of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.

Crawl presents the player and character with a potentially bewildering array of weapon choices. However, when all the dust clears and the parade of short swords, demon whips, and clubs has passed by, weapons have six main properties:

  • Damage: How much damage, on average, the weapon does per strike.
  • Accuracy: How likely the weapon is to actually hit.
  • Speed: How long you must wait after attacking before you can act again.
  • Handedness: Whether the weapon requires one or two hands to use.
  • Skill: How fast your species can learn to use the weapon.
  • Special: Some weapon types have unique traits that distinguish them from the others.

A player simply wants to pick the weapon that has a combination that deals the most damage in the shortest amount of time, to the largest set of monsters, without too much investment, on average.

Properties

Each of these properties is briefly described below:

Damage

The approximate formula for a weapon's damage is as follows:

   Damage = 1d(base damage × stat bonus) × skill bonus + (to-damage enchantment + slaying)

As of trunk (0.29), you can see the calculated damage rating ingame by viewing the weapon in the inventory, though it does not calculate damage from brands.

When you examine a weapon, the damage number it gives you is the base damage. Strength or Dexterity, depending on weapon, increase damage by 2.5% per point. The flat Slaying bonus comes from rings of slaying and some artefacts, and stacks with the enchantment on your weapon. The skill bonus multiplier is based on your Fighting and Weapon skill; when both are maxed out it averages around a 2× multiplier (though this amount is rather variable).

Finally, your weapon's brand adjusts your damage even further; see the appropriate Brand page for details.

Speed

A weapon's speed, or more accurately its attack delay, is as follows:

   Delay = base delay − weapon skill/2

A weapon's base delay is given in the form of decaAuts (1.1, 1.5, etc). The game tracks most actions in terms of auts. When unaffected by Haste, Slow, or similar effects, an unmodified, unskilled, unarmed attack takes 10 auts - the same time it takes for most monsters and most species to take most actions. Wielding a weapon will multiply this by the base delay % given in the weapon's description. A short sword, for example, has a base delay of 1.1 (11 aut), meaning an attack with a short sword and no Short Blades skill will take slightly longer than throwing a punch or walking a tile.

Fortunately, you can reduce the time it takes to make attacks by training the skill appropriate to the weapon you wield. Every 2 skill you gain reduces the delay by 0.1 deca aut, down to the weapon's minimum delay. Most weapons' mindelay is either 0.7, or its base delay divided by two, whichever is smaller. Weapons will also display their mindelay when examined.

There's a few exceptions to the rule. Rapiers have a mindelay of 0.5 to match other Short Blades, a few Ranged Weapons (longbows and crossbows) have custom mindelays, and a few unrand artefacts have custom delays. The Speed brand and status effects such as Haste can make attacks even faster, but never below a minimum of 0.2.

Damage over Time

Damage over time is simply Damage / Delay (in decaAut). Maximizing DoT is generally better for damage, though it doesn't take into account AC (punishing faster attacks), certain brands, accuracy, or other factors.

Accuracy

Accuracy is one of the more complex attributes of a weapon, being affected by the base type, weapon skill, Slaying bonuses, and dexterity. It is important to choose accurate weapons in the very early game. Later on, accuracy becomes a secondary consideration - both reasonable accuracy and sane weapon delay come from having good weapon skill.

Handedness

There are two categories of weapons: one-handed or two-handed. The difference is simple; one-handed weapons can be used along with a shield, while two-handed weapons can't.

While shields do provide significant amounts of defense, they take quite a bit of skill to train, and most of the most powerful melee and ranged weapons are two-handed. Shields also come with a (minor) EV penalty, which slightly bolsters a two-handers' defense in comparison. Ultimately, your species' size and aptitudes should be taken into account.

Kobolds' and Spriggans' small size requires both hands for certain medium-size weapons, while many of the largest weapons are just impossible for them to wield. Ogres and Trolls, meanwhile, can use any weapon the wish, even the ultra-large giant club and giant spiked club. Formicids' extra arms allow them to wield any two-handed weapon with a shield, but they lack the size necessary to use Ogre-sized weapons.

Skill

Each species has an aptitude for each of the skills in Crawl; taking advantage of the skills you're good at will allow you to become powerful faster, greatly increasing your chance of survival. Unless you're intentionally trying to challenge yourself, you should usually try to wield weapons suited for your species.

Cross-training

One aspect of weapon choice is that training in most weapon types makes it easier to use certain other weapon types. Training in one type grants a bonus equal to 40% of your skill experience in the second type. Cross-training skills are linked as follows:

(Axes and Staves don't crosstrain each other, neither do Maces & Flails and Polearms)

While it's impractical to rely on cross-training alone for general use of a weapon, finding a particularly good weapon of a type you have cross-trained for (for example, an artefact rapier when you are training Long Blades) will enable you to use that weapon with some proficiency should the situation call for it. This will let you more easily take advantage of certain brands for certain obstacles, like a flaming edged weapon when fighting a hydra. Whether or not this is advantageous depends largely on your playstyle -- it is perfectly possible to defeat most threats with a plain weapon.

Special

Most melee weapon types have certain traits that distinguish them from the others:

  • Short Blades: Although they do low damage, they attack extremely fast and give a large bonus to stabbing.
  • Long Blades: Deal moderate-to-high damage, a good option for former Short Blades users.
  • Axes: Moderate damage, but cleaving makes Axes excellent for crowd control.
  • Maces & Flails: Moderate-to-high blunt damage, common, and giant spiked clubs offer immense damage to large species.
  • Polearms: Although they only deal moderate damage, these weapons can attack from afar thanks to their innate reaching.
  • Staves: Mundane staves deal moderate damage, but take very low skill to master. Magical staves are best for casters looking to enhance their spells, but can make passable backup weapons in a pinch.

Unarmed Combat: A Special Case

Of course, you don't have to wield a weapon to kill foes; it's perfectly feasible to beat things to death with your fists. Whether or not it's worthwhile largely depends on your build.

Unarmed strikes start with roughly the same speed as Short Blades, but are a great deal stronger at high skill levels. Also, many transformations (like Spider Form or Blade Hands) and several mutations (such as a Troll's Claws) are geared towards aiding unarmed strikes.

However, fighting weaponless gives up any potential benefits from having a weapon, such as brands and anything extra that comes with any artefact weaponry you might find. In addition, Unarmed Combat relies heavily on skill. For as long as you can train it, the Unarmed Combat skill will increase damage and reduce delay, but such heavy skill investment can be difficult to manage, even for species proficient with their bare hands. Many later Transmutations spells will give +damage and a brand, though this also requires training the magic school (and any other quirks that forms provide).

See the Unarmed Combat page for more details.

Combining these: Small or Large Weapons?

In the simplest terms, every player wants to maximize their weapon's damage divided by delay. However, considerations from every which way have to be made. The first such consideration is the weapon's speed.

Fast Weapons

Some early weapons (spears, whips), Short Blades, and demon whips (sacred scourges) are the only weapons that have a mindelay of 0.5 (or less). The speed brand also reduces attack delay, though it is rather rare outside of the aforementioned Short Blades.

Their chief advantage is that fast strikes are boosted more by flat bonuses. Enchantment, slaying bonuses, and certain brands (electrocution, pain, and distortion) apply extra damage, regardless of how much the weapon itself deals. Unfortunately, they are also affected by a flat penalty - i.e, high AC. As enemies get tougher and stabing becomes less reliable, fast weapons become relatively weaker.

On the plus side, fast weapons are accurate and already start with a low base delay. And with a good (or even decent) brand, a demon whip or quick blade is easily good enough to finish a 3-rune game with.

Big Weapons

"Strong but slow" weapons are as powerful as their size suggests. Sharing a mindelay of 7, big weapons like executioner's axes, bardiches, triple swords, and, if you can wield them, giant spiked clubs, are obviously attractive. Vorpal, Freezing, and Flaming are universally good brands, and these high base damage weapons benefit the most. Holy wrath, amazing in the extended game, falls under the same category. Overall, their high damage is excellent for punching through monsters' armour.

However, the biggest weapons require massive skill investment, taking anywhere from 22-24 skill to reach mindelay. They are also all two-handed and prevent use of a shield, which significantly impacts your overall defense - though, at least you don't need to invest in the Shields skill. And, with the exception of giant clubs, the strongest weapons are all quite rare; it might be best to bide your time with a battleaxe, dire flail, or one-handed weapon as you train up your skill, anyway.

Medium Weapons

They might be weaker with the same 0.7 delay as the largest weapons, but weapons like the broad axe, eveningstar, and double sword are respectable in their own right. They have the highest damage potential of any weapon that can be used one-handed, letting you combine middle-of-the-road offense with solid defense. They also require far less skill to reach a tolerable delay than the large weapons. There's also lajatangs -- while they require both hands to use, they are stronger and take even less skill than other medium weapons.

While weaker one-handers like morningstars and scimitars are fairly plentiful throughout the dungeon, the best medium-sized weapons aren't. Of the strongest medium weapons, broad axes are the most common. You're fairly likely to find at least one enemy throughout the Orcish Mines or the Vaults that carries one. The rest are far more elusive -- you might find one in certain vaults likely to contain rare weapons or on a unique monster, but it's not guaranteed.

Perhaps the other demon weapons (demon blade, demon trident, and their holy versions) 'truly' belong in the medium category. With a mindelay of 0.6, these act like a blend of fast and medium, benefiting from flat brands while having great base damage. And like a demon whip, they easily compete with other end-game weapons. They're still unlikely to be found on the floor, though.

Weapon Availability and You

Searching for the perfect weapon can take a while unless you worship one of the weapon-gifting gods (Trog or Okawaru). God gifts, along with scrolls of acquirement, favor weaponry that you have skill investment in. The latter also tends to create items that you haven't seen yet. Finally, the Hall of Blades will always spawn 'rare' weapons, though uninfluenced by your skill decisions.

Otherwise, it's simply unrealistic to expect to find the perfect weapon type for your character. A few key aspects are also important when you determine what weapon you should be using right now.

  • Delay: Having a delay below 1.0 deca-aut prevents regular speed monsters (i.e. most of them) from hitting you twice per swing.
  • Damage: Maximize damage over time. At first, a highly-enchanted or branded weapon will deal more damage than a mundane one -- even if its a measly whip. However, base damage becomes more important as you gain skill.
  • Skill: While you can't predict when a good weapon will drop, you can predict which weapon schools will be good. Most often, you should aim to use whatever type of weapon your species has a good (positive) aptitude for. But if you find a particularly strong weapon that you have a reasonable (at least -1) aptitude for, feel free to switch.
    • Once you've invested enough in a weapon skill, you should generally stick with that weapon type. even if you find an absolutely amazing weapon of a different school. Short of finding something like Wyrmbane, reaching 14-ish skill is definitely enough to decide your weapon skill of choice for the rest of your run.
      • Though a weapon in a crosstrained skill is easier to swap to; you can still consider them even with a fairly high original skill, assuming it has good enough properties (brand, enchantment, artefact properties).
    • Base type matters with your initial skilling -- you shouldn't expect to use a +9 artefact spear for very long, even if you are training in Polearms. But finding a +4 demon trident of freezing early on is 100% a reason to train that weapon school. However, if your species is proficient in polearms, the spear certainly isn't a bad reason to start!
    • Gnolls, with their unique method of learning, might want to refer to their article for weapon choice.
  • Shields: If you don't have a shield, two-handed weapons (the smaller ones, at least) lose their main disadvantage. Meanwhile, swapping to a two-hander is a waste if you have already invested skill to wear a kite shield.

Ultimately, don't be afraid to settle for a "weaker" weapon like a war axe, scimitar, or trident during most of the early-mid game. Your immediate survival is more important.

Weapon Schools: Advantages and Disadvantages

Short Blades

Highest aptitudes: +3 (Kobold), +2 (Merfolk)

Short Blades are best for stabbers, whether you find opportunities from natural stealth or a variety of Hexes. Their accuracy and extremely small skill requirements make them good choices in the early dungeon, especially if you get a brand like venom or electrocution. As stabbing gets harder to pull off, skill in Short Blades transitions well into Long Blades. Quick blades are excellent for regular combat purposes, while daggers deal the most damage from a stab. Many small and/or stealthy species already have good aptitudes with Short Blades.

Short Blades use dexterity for their damage.

Advantages

  • Early Short Blades often come with strong brands.
  • Fastest, most accurate weapons in the game.
    • Little/no skill to get to 1.0 delay.
    • Stacks well with slaying, might, and brands like pain.
  • Receives a large bonus to stabbing (Daggers are boosted more).
  • All one-handed.
  • Crosstrains with Long Blades, which also Dex scale and are better against AC.

Disadvantages

  • Very poor damage output against high AC.
  • Low damage overall without stabs or the particularly rare quick blade.

Long Blades

Highest aptitudes: +2 (Barachi, Minotaur)

Long Blades are decent weapons on their own, though their most notable feature is their crosstraining with Short Blades. Their best one-handers (scimitar, demon blade, double sword) deal respectable damage at a good delay, and a well-branded great sword or triple sword isn't shabby, either.

Long Blades use dexterity for their damage.

Advantages

  • Somewhat common in the Dungeon -- many monsters wield them.
  • Crosstrains with Short Blades, which also scale with dex and can provide highly-damaging stabs.
  • Marginally more accurate than Maces & Flails, with the same damage.

Disadvantages

  • Cuts off hydra heads if they don't have the flaming brand.
  • Double swords and triple swords are quite rare.

Maces & Flails

Highest aptitudes: +2 (Minotaur), +1 (Barachi, Hill Orc, Tengu)

Maces & Flails are perhaps the blandest melee weapons, but they deal respectable damage and are fairly common. Trolls and Ogres may delight in the giant spiked club, often wielded by the common enemy ogre, and sporting the highest base damage in the game. Regular sized species prefer the eveningstar, the most powerful one-hander, and easier to find than double swords. Plain whips are extremely common and very low-skill options, while dire flails are a two-hander with great specs.

Maces & Flails use Strength for their damage.

Advantages

  • Fairly common.
  • Great fast (whips / demon whips) and slow (dire flail / eveningstar) options.
  • Does not chop hydra heads.
  • Crosstrains with Axes and Staves.

Disadvantages

  • No cleaving or other special abilities.
  • Comparatively weak two-handers for regular size species.

Axes

Highest aptitudes: +3 (Hill Orc), +2 (Minotaur)

Axes cleave, hitting every target around them for 70% damage. While risky, Axes can make any crowded situation that much easier, so are extremely useful for speedruns and regular games alike. Pick the biggest axe you can; whenever it'd be a broad axe + shield or executioner's axe. Battleaxes are a decent, oft-dropped 2-handed choice for those who haven't found either, and war axes are passable for those who haven't found (or trained for) any of the three.

Axes use Strength for their damage.

Advantages

  • All Axes can cleave to hit multiple opponents.
  • Crosstrains with Polearms and Maces & Flails.

Disadvantages

  • Somewhat weaker and slower compared to single-target weapons.
  • Actually taking advantage of cleaving is often risky.
  • Cuts off hydra heads.

Polearms

Highest aptitudes: +4 (Merfolk), +2 (Minotaur)

Polearms have inherent reaching, meaning they can attack from 2 tiles away. This matters most in the initial stages of the game, where an extra attack can make all the difference, especially since the school's early options (spears and tridents) are common, high-accuracy, and low-skill. Demon tridents are an overall great pick, being one-handed, fast, high-damage, and often wielded by the merfolk dwelling the Shoals. Two-handed Polearms, namely glaives and bardiches, are damaging, but require much higher skill investment.

Polearms use Strength for their damage.

Advantages

  • Reaching is a strong perk for many stages of the game.
  • Synergy with Summonings, god-granted allies (Beogh, Yredelemnul, etc), and spells like Conjure Flame.
  • Crosstrains with Axes and Maces & Flails.

Disadvantages

  • Lower base damage than most other weapon types.
  • Small species have no good one-handed options.
  • Few species have great aptitudes with them (Merfolk are the most notable exception).

Physical Staves

Highest aptitudes: +2 (Minotaurs)

There are two physical Staves in the game -- quarterstaves and lajatangs. Both staves take little skill to master and deal great damage for said investment. They are also one of the few non-artefact weapons that can come with the speed brand. While not very common, Gladiators may start with a quarterstaff. Hybrid characters, especially those who are lucky or worship Trog/Okawaru, may enjoy Staves the most.

All staves use Strength for their damage.

Advantages

  • Low skill requirements.
  • High power relative to skill investment.
  • Crosstrains with Polearms and Maces & Flails.

Disadvantages

  • Two-handed.
  • Rather weak, overall.
    • Lajatangs are barely stronger than the largest one-handed weapons.
    • Quarterstaves are outdamaged by even common weapons like war axes (once they hit mindelay).
  • Somewhat rare.

Magical staves

Highest aptitudes: +2 (Minotaurs)

Magical staves' primary purpose is to boost the spellpower of whatever school they are specialized in. However, that doesn't mean you can't use them as bludgeoning tools! With 12 Staves skill, some Evocations, and the school of their choice, a magic staff can be used as an effective MP-saving weapon. The spellpower boost alone may convince a staff-finder to invest in a different school of spells; the actual item is just a nice bonus. A staff of conjuration in particular provides irresistible damage, in addition to buffing a very wide and versatile spell school.

Advantages

  • Boosts spellpower, in addition to melee.
  • Most magical staves come with a resistance.
  • Surprising damage if you have a lot of skill in the magic school.

Disadvantages

  • Fairly weak base type.
  • Unable to be enchanted or branded.
  • Most magical staves deal elemental damage, and are subject to enemy resistances.
  • Investing a lot in three skills (Magic, Staves, and Evocations) in addition to defensive skills and everything else is often a tough ask.

Ranged Weapons

Main Article: Ranged Weapons

Ranged weapons work quite differently from other weapons. Obviously, they can fire from an entire screen's distance, instead of being limited to melee. They are slowed down by armour encumbrance, so heavy armoured characters are hindered (at least without a lot of strength).

Judging Artefacts

Artefacts may look slick, have a cool name, and a bunch of perks. But when are they good?

  • Firstly, look at their enchantment, brand, and base type. A artefact +6 trident of freezing is still a +6 trident of freezing, except you can't even enchant it. Whenever this is good is largely gamestate dependent: a novice merfolk stuck with a spear might gladly take it, but its all but useless in combat compared to demon trident wielders.
    • As mentioned above, if you've trained another weapon skill and don't even have cross-training in that weapon, don't consider it. The exception is when you don't have many skills in the first place. Many artefacts, simply due to their high enchantment, will carry through the early game. Whenever you use their properties untrained or decide to use 'em as a jumping point, is mostly up to you.
  • Some properties are dangerous to wield, namely *Slow and *Rage. It's certainly still possible to use weapons with them, though you'll have to remain aware of their risks. Other negative properties like *Drain and *Corrode are much more tolerable in comparison.
  • Stat modifiers aren't the biggest deal in the world, though -5 Strength obviously won't help with damage, while +3 Int provides benefit even if you never actually hit your foes. Certain characters might have to beware of stat zero, however.
  • It might be worth keeping a weapon around if it provides some needed resistances, even if you only wield it when running away.

History

  • 0.29 Short/Long Blades and Ranged Weapons scale with Dex. Ranged weapons rework.
  • 0.28 removed Long Blades' riposte. The XP costs for high-level skills were reduced, and the base delay of the biggest weapons in the game was also lowered.
  • 0.27 greatly increased the penalty for wearing shields, indirectly affecting all one-handed weapons.
  • 0.24 reworked throwing. Tomahawks as well as blowguns/needles were replaced with boomerangs and darts. Javelins now had innate penetration.
  • 0.19 added riposte for Long Blades.
  • 0.15 introduced several new ranged weapons: greatslings, hand crossbows, arbalests, and triple crossbows.
  • 0.12 introduced cleaving for Axes. Prior to 0.12, there were two additional forms of handedness: hand-and-a-half weapons and double weapons. These each received further penalties when wielded with a shield, but were otherwise one-handed weapons.
  • 0.10 introduced innate reaching for Polearms.
Strategy Guides
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Beginner CharactersGod ChoiceWeapon ChoiceSpecialization

Community Guides Character guides
Weapons
Axes BattleaxeBroad axeExecutioner's axeHand axeWar axe
Maces & Flails ClubDemon whipDire flailEveningstarFlailGiant clubGiant spiked clubGreat maceMace (Hammer) • MorningstarSacred scourgeWhip
Long Blades Demon bladeDouble swordEudemon bladeFalchionGreat swordLong swordScimitarTriple sword
Polearms BardicheDemon tridentGlaiveHalberd (Scythe) • SpearTridentTrishula
Ranged Weapons ArbalestHand crossbowLongbowShortbowSlingTriple crossbow
Short Blades DaggerQuick bladeRapierShort sword
Staves LajatangMagical staffQuarterstaff
Throwing BoomerangDartJavelinLarge rockStoneThrowing net