Weapon choice

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Version 0.21: This article may not be up to date for the latest stable release of Crawl.

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, 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 × strength bonus) × skill bonus + (to-damage enchantment + slaying)

When you examine a weapon, the damage number it gives you is the base damage. The strength bonus multiplier is rarely much higher than 1×, except for very strong characters wielding very large weapons. 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 a percentage (110%, 150%, etc.); however, the game tracks most actions in terms of auts. When unaffected by Haste, Slow, or similar effects, an unmodified, 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 110%; 10 auts × 110% = 11 auts, meaning an attack with a short sword and no Short Blades skill will take slightly longer than throwing a punch.

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 10, down to the weapon's minimum delay (which is the base delay divided by 2, rounded down, but with a maximum of 70%). Rapiers are a special case with a min delay of 50%, and the Haste status effect and Speed brand can both reduce it further than normal, but never below a minimum of 20%.

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 early game; at that point, however, the best way to do so is by choosing an accurate weapon type. Later on, the only time you'll find weapons being very inaccurate is if you're also unskilled with it, as a large part of accuracy comes from the corresponding weapon skill. Thus, accuracy becomes a secondary consideration - reasonable accuracy comes with sane weapon delay.

Handedness

There are two categories of weapons here: 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. The only exception to this rule is Formicids, who can wield a two-handed weapon and a shield.

While shields do provide significant amounts of defense, some of the most powerful melee and ranged weapons are two-handed. You should probably make the choice based on your species' aptitudes.

Note that the handedness of a weapon varies with the size of your character: some weapons that are one-handed for normal and larger sized creatures will be two-handed for small or little ones. This also determines which kinds of shields are appropriately sized for you and how much skill is required to effectively wear them. See the Size article for further details.

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:

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 advantages of certain useful brands for specific obstacles, like a weapon of venom for fighting insects, or 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 even if you are not using a weapon perfectly suited for dealing with them.

Special

Most 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 and can riposte.
  • Axes: Moderate damage, but cleaving makes axes excellent for crowd control.
  • Maces & Flails: These do moderate-to-high damage, and offer large species the most powerful two-handed weapons in the game. Also safe to use on hydras.
  • Polearms: Although they only deal moderate damage, these weapons all have an innate reaching attack.
  • Staves: These weapons are most distinguished by the magical staves they give you access to, but their mundane options aren't too bad either - low-to-moderate in damage, but very well-balanced.

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 doing so is particularly worthwhile largely depends on your character.

Unarmed attacks are on par with many Short Blades in terms of speed and generally do more damage (a great deal more at high skill levels). Additionally, unarmed combat combos well with many Transmutations, which are designed to give bonuses to unarmed combat, and several mutations are geared towards aiding unarmed strikes.

There are distinct disadvantages, however; fighting weaponless gives up any potential benefits from having a weapon (such as brands, enchantment bonuses, and anything extra that comes with any artefact weaponry you might find). Unarmed combat is also very skill-dependent, meaning it takes considerably more skill to bring your attack power up to par with other weapons. Additionally, unarmed combat is penalized more by wearing heavy armour and shields than any other form of melee combat, so those who want to get the most out of their punches may wish to wear little in the way of defense. While Transmuters probably won't care (as they can't use most equipment while transformed), others might sacrifice much of their defenses.

Ultimately, the decision to forgo a weapon depends on personal preference. While some characters are better suited for unarmed combat (Transmuters and races with beneficial mutations like trolls), any character may make effective use of unarmed combat with sufficient skill investment. See the Unarmed combat page for more details.

Combining these: Small or Large Weapons?

The number that any player wants to maximize is the weapon's damage divided by its delay. Choosing a weapon should seem to be a matter of picking the weapon for which this number is largest. However, one should consider whether to use a fast (min delay 3-5), medium speed (min delay 6), or slow (min delay 7) weapon before choosing a weapon:

Fast Weapons

Short blades, whips, and demon whips/sacred scourges are the only weapons that normally fall into this category. However, any weapon can have a min delay of 4 or less if it has a speed brand. These are not normally generated on anything other than short blades and staves, but do occur on artefact weapons of other types from time to time. The chief advantage of faster weapons is that they benefit more from slaying bonuses and enchantment: this flat extra damage is applied each time you land a hit, regardless of how hard you hit. Additionally, several weapon brands (electrocution, pain, and distortion) apply an amount of extra damage that is not affected by the weapon itself: these flat brands are far more beneficial on small weapons. Unfortunately, most such brands can be resisted.

The downside to smaller weapons is that they have poor performance against high-AC targets, many of which appear in the later game. A monster's AC reduction is simply applied more often. Brands can help with this to some degree, as their damage will bypass AC, but a small, fast weapon is always going to suffer somewhat against armoured monsters. This can be overcome reasonably well with slaying and enchantment bonuses, but it remains a disadvantage.

Strong Weapons

The best definition of a "strong but slow" weapon is one with a min delay of 7, the max. Within this category, one should obviously strive for the strongest weapon one has skill for. The best are executioner's axes, bardiches, triple swords, and (if you can wield them) giant spiked clubs. Lajatangs are also a worthy choice if you're a staff user, although considerably less powerful than the others. These weapons benefit the most from brands such as freezing, flaming, draining, and holy wrath, whose extra damage is proportional to the weapon's base damage. Their high damage is excellent for punching through monsters' armour.

While their higher minimum delay is somewhat of a downside, it is not a huge one. However, these weapons have two considerable downsides. The first is that the worthwhile ones all require huge skill investments (levels 18-26), making them more difficult to use for hybrid characters. Lajatangs are something of an exception, but they also do less damage. Secondly, not having a shield is a sacrifice - how much of one depends on your style and character type, but it is always a sacrifice. It leads to one advantage, however, in that you don't have to put XP into the Shields skill, and because weapon skill provides a multiplier effect on base damage, those many skill levels increase your damage much more than they would for lighter weapons. There are a few one-handed delay 7 weapon of note: eveningstars, double swords, and broad axes. Eveningstars and double swords are certainly adequate weapons, especially against very high AC opponents, but some players may prefer the significantly faster sacred scourges/demon whips and eudemon blades/demon blades for the increased speed. Broad axes, meanwhile, make up for their slightly lower base damage with their ability to cleave.

Weapon Schools: Advantages and Disadvantages

Short Blades

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

Advantages

  • Easy to find good ones early on.
  • Fastest weapons in the game, particularly quick blades. They perform excellently with slaying bonuses or going berserk.
  • Lots of races have good or better aptitudes.
  • All one-handed.
  • Crosstrains with Long Blades.
  • Very good for stabbing, especially daggers.

Disadvantages

  • Dismal base damage, giving them less benefit from combat multipliers (strength, fighting skill, weapon skill).
  • Poor performance against armoured targets.
  • Benefit little from proportional brands.
  • Quick blades, by far the best, are quite rare even later on.

Long Blades

Highest aptitudes: +2 (Barachi, Minotaur)

Advantages

  • Fairly common in the mid- and late-game; demon blades are easily found.
  • Can crosstrain from short blades, which many players will have from the early game.
  • Races strong with them are usually good for hybrid builds.
  • Triple swords are one of the strongest weapons most characters can wield.
  • All long blades have the riposte ability, benefiting characters with high evasion.

Disadvantages

  • Fairly rare before D:10 or so.
  • All cut off hydra heads.
  • Double and triple swords are extremely rare.

Maces and Flails

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

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • The only races able to wield giant-sized clubs have bad aptitudes for them (Ogre, Troll).
  • No cleaving or other special abilities.

Best Choices

  • Demon whips and sacred scourges have a superb min delay and good damage output and are considered one of the best one handed weapons in the game.
  • Eveningstars are also very good weapons but are very rare. They will outdamage demon whips against heavily armoured opponents.

Axes

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

Advantages

  • All axes can cleave to hit multiple opponents.
  • Battleaxes are quite good two-handed weapons and are fairly common.

Disadvantages

  • Executioner's axes are rare, only found through Okawaru/Trog, acquirement, some uniques, and very rarely on the floor/in shops.
  • Cleaving encourages fighting enemies in groups, which is risky.
  • All cut off hydra heads.

Best Choices

  • Depending on character aptitudes, both routes (shield or no shield) are feasible.
  • Vampiric axes are especially strong due to cleaving.

Polearms

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

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Nothing good for small races, since they become two-handed or unwieldable.
  • Few races are particularly good with them (other than Merfolk, it's just Minotaurs, Tengu, Hill Orcs, and Gnolls with a positive aptitude).
  • Lower base damage than most other weapon types.

Best Choices

  • Tridents are an excellent starting weapon and the most broadly useful of the common polearms.
  • Halberds and glaives are all usually inferior due to their high delay, though enough skill can make them more usable.
  • Demon tridents (and trishulas) are the best polearms due to their combination of low min delay and damage output.
  • Bardiches are extremely slow, but have enough damage output to make up for it. If you find a nice branded or randart one, consider it as a keeper.
  • Scythes are just outright terrible.

Staves

Highest aptitudes: +2 (Minotaurs)

Advantages

  • Quarterstaves are probably the best early-game weapon, very accurate.
  • Can have the speed brand.
  • Can be used for enhancer staves.

Disadvantages

  • Only two choices in normal weapons: lajatangs and quarterstaves.
  • If you're not wielding an enhancer staff, you can't wear a shield, as lajatangs and quarterstaves are both two-handed.
  • Enhancer staves are two-handed for smaller species.
  • In order to get use out of an enhancer staff you also have to train Evocations and a spell skill.

Best choices

  • A staff of earth with good Evocations and Earth Magic deals high AC-checked damage if you have already invested in earth magic. Do not train earth only for the staff, however.
  • A lajatang is a respectable weapon that requires comparatively little skill investment. Additionally, it is by far the strongest non-artefact weapon that can have a speed brand.
  • Quarterstaves are good accurate starting weapons.

Ranged Weapons

Ranged weapons work a little differently from other weapons - while they do allow you to hit things from a distance, they require ammunition to do so. Once you're out of ammunition, a bow is nothing more than a hunk of wood that is less effective at bludgeoning things to death than your fists. As such, many ranged weapon specialists carry a secondary melee weapon for use in close quarters.

Throwing weapons

Highest aptitude: +1 (Centaur, Kobold)
Ammunition: Stones, Tomahawks, Javelins, Large rocks, Throwing nets

Advantages

  • Do not require wielding a launcher, especially useful for followers of Ashenzari or those wielding vampiric or distortion weapons.
  • Throwing nets can pin an enemy down.
  • Large rocks are one of the most powerful ranged options.

Disadvantages

  • Weapons smaller than javelins are unlikely to have much killing power.
  • Javelins are too large for small species.
  • Large rocks are only usable by ogres and trolls and have quite high delay without any skill.

Useful notes: The various throwing weapons present in Crawl are a somewhat unconventional ranged option. Many of them are more useful for softening up targets before engaging them in melee. Stones and tomahawks in particular are most often thrown by early-game characters that still have low weapon skills. That said, javelins are a powerful option that a reasonable investment in the Throwing skill can make quite viable, and large rocks are devastating when thrown with enough skill, though only ogres and trolls are large enough to make use of them.

Throwing nets, unlike most weapons, simply inflict the Held condition on monsters, making them susceptible to repeated stabbing attempts or buying time to flee. They remain useful even late in the game.

Blowguns

Highest aptitude: +1 (Centaur, Kobold)
Ammunition: Needles

Advantages

  • Can be used to soften up targets from a distance.
  • Can inflict a variety of helpful debuffs.
  • Curare-tipped needles are extremely powerful.
  • Uses the Throwing skill, which improves performance of weapons like tomahawks and javelins.
  • Can still be used while held in a net or web.

Disadvantages

  • Curare needles are useless against poison resistant monsters.
  • Non-poisoned needles are rare, curare needles exceptionally so.
  • Blowguns aren't really intended to deal damage.
  • Apart from curare, moderate skill investment and a highly enchanted blowgun are needed to make needles viable.

Useful notes: Blowguns work best as a support weapon. They are best used by characters that are less skilled at straight-up melee combat (stabbers in particular can make good use of them). Characters that have a few ranks in Throwing already should consider using a blowgun in special cases if they find one.

Slings

Highest aptitude: +4 (Halfling), +2 (Spriggan)
Ammunition: Stones or sling bullets

Advantages

  • All can be used effectively with a shield.
  • Can use common stones as ammunition, though sling bullets do more damage.
  • Quite fast.
  • Can almost always be found on early dungeon floors.
  • Very effective in the early dungeon even without any skill.
  • Crosstrains with Throwing weapons.

Disadvantages

  • The weakest of the offensive ranged weapons.

Useful notes: While they have trouble damaging heavily armored opponents, slings are quite effective against other foes. The ability to wear a shield without impacting your performance can also be quite helpful. Slings are best used by the small species (all of which have the best aptitudes), but larger characters can also make effective use of them, especially as an early dungeon ranged weapon.

Bows

Highest aptitude: +3 (Centaur), +2 (Spriggan)
Ammunition: Arrows

Advantages

  • Fastest of the ranged weapons.
  • All centaurs carry shortbows, making them one of the most common ranged weapons.
  • Can easily replenish arrow supply from centaurs.
  • Longbows are marginally slower, but have a lot more power.

Disadvantages

  • Somewhat inaccurate.
  • Smaller characters cannot use longbows.
  • Disallow the use of a shield.

Useful notes: Bows, while somewhat inaccurate, are as fast as slings and have more power, allowing them to more easily deal with tougher enemies. Centaur characters (much like their monstrous brethren) are particularly effective with bows, as their high speed allows them to kite enemies with ease. Most archers will wish to eventually upgrade to a longbow, with increasing weapon skill easily compensating for the reduced speed and accuracy.

Crossbows

Highest aptitude: +2 (Kobold)
Ammunition: Bolts

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • The slowest ranged weapons - minimum delay cannot be reduced below 1.0.
  • Crossbows are very rare until yaktaurs start showing up.
  • Arbalests and triple crossbows disallow the use of a shield.

Useful notes: Crossbows are probably the most difficult ranged weapon to make effective use of, as they are rare for the first half of the game. Bolts are somewhat common, but can still be hard to find on occasion. As such, Hunters or Arcane Marksmen that start with a hand crossbow will probably want to make sure they have a decent backup weapon in case of ammunition shortages.

Hand crossbows are quite powerful and accurate for a one-handed weapon, though they are still quite slow. Arbalests and triple crossbows are even more powerful, though they are also even slower. Triple crossbows in particular require a skill of 26 to reach the minimum delay of 1 aut, so most characters that wish to use two-handed crossbows should probably stick with arbalests, which are pretty strong on their own (as the yaktaurs found in the later parts of the game will happily demonstrate).

History

0.15 introduced several new ranged weapons: greatslings, hand crossbows, arbalests, and triple crossbows.

Prior to 0.12, there were two additional forms of handedness: hand-and-half weapons and double weapons. These each received further penalties when wielded with a shield, but were otherwise one-handed weapons.

Weapons
Axes BattleaxeBroad axeExecutioner's axeHand axeWar axe
Bows Shortbow (Arrow) • Longbow (Arrow)
Crossbows Arbalest (Bolt) • Hand crossbow (Bolt) • Triple crossbow (Bolt)
Maces & Flails ClubDemon whipDire flailEveningstarFlailGiant clubGiant spiked clubGreat maceMaceMorningstarSacred scourgeWhip
Long Blades Demon bladeDouble swordEudemon bladeFalchionGreat swordLong swordScimitarTriple sword
Polearms BardicheDemon tridentGlaiveHalberdScytheSpearTridentTrishula
Short Blades DaggerQuick bladeRapierShort sword
Slings Fustibalus (Sling bullet, Stone) • Hunting sling (Sling bullet, Stone)
Staves LajatangMagical staffQuarterstaff
Throwing Blowgun (Needle) • JavelinLarge rockStoneThrowing netTomahawk