Weapon choice

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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.


Each of these properties is briefly described below:


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 damage enchantment on your weapon (the second number in a weapon's +X, +X). 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.


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%). Cutlasses 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 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 weapon skill. Thus, accuracy becomes a secondary consideration - reasonable accuracy comes with sane weapon delay.


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. 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.


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.


One aspect of weapon choice is that training in most weapon types makes it easier to learn certain other weapon types. Training in one type improves your aptitude for the weapon type you're cross-training by +4, cutting the experience cost to learn it roughly in half. This bonus lasts for as long as the weapon type you're training is at a lower skill level than the first weapon skill. Once it exceeds the first weapon skill, that skill will start receiving a cross-training bonus instead. Cross-training skills are linked as follows:

Each weapon type is capable of being useful all throughout the game, though some excel over others in certain sections. Also, generally speaking, cross-training is less efficient than simply training in the weapon you intend to use (a choice strongly influenced by your species' aptitudes). As such, choosing to cross-train is essentially choosing to toss out the experience invested in the weapon skill you don't intend to use later on. However, some backgrounds start you with weapon types your species may not be particularly adept at, and you may stumble across extremely powerful weapons outside of your current skill set. In these cases, particularly if you haven't gotten terribly far yet, it may be worth changing the skills you train and the weapons you intend to use.


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

  • Long Blades: One of the least exciting weapon types, but solid. They deal high damage and give a small bonus to Stabbing damage.
  • Short Blades: Although they do low damage, they attack extremely fast and give a large bonus to Stabbing.
  • Maces & Flails: These do heavy damage, and offer large species the most powerful two-handed weapons in the game. Also good vs. hydras.
  • Polearms: Although they only deal moderate damage, these weapons all have an innate reaching attack.
  • Axes: Heavy damage and cleaving make axes excellent for crowd-control.
  • Staves: These weapons are most distinguished by the magical staves they give you access to, but their mundane options aren't too bad either.

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/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 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, claymores, 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, 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, bastard swords, and broad axes. Eveningstars and bastard 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, sacrifice too much speed for too little damage increase, and are generally worth avoiding.

Weapon Schools: Advantages and Disadvantages

Short Blades

Highest aptitudes: +3 (Kobolds, Halflings)


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


  • Poor 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 (High Elves, Minotaurs)


  • High damage and speed.
  • Can go one- or two-handed, contains good weapons for both.
  • 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.
  • TSO can upgrade the damage output of all of them, though demon blades are best.
  • Races strong with them are usually good for hybrid builds.
  • Decent for stabbing.
  • Claymores are the strongest weapons most characters can wield.


  • Fairly rare before D:10 or so.
  • All cut off hydra heads.
  • Only Fighters and Gladiators can start with them.
  • Bastard swords and claymores are extremely rare.

Maces and Flails

Highest aptitudes: +3 (Ogres)


  • Can either go the fast or slow route, through demon whips, giant spiked clubs, eveningstars and the like.
  • Very easy to find.
  • Whips are a good starting weapon.
  • None cut off hydra heads.
  • Also used for rods, although they're as bad as clubs.
  • For large races, giant spiked club has highest base damage in the game.


  • Most races good with them are bad with magic, and vice versa

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.


Highest aptitude: +3 (Hill Orcs)


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


  • Most races good with them are also bad with magic, and vice versa.
  • Single handed axes aren't worth using in the long run; all are fairly bad, forcing a two-handed build.
  • 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.

Best Choices

  • Hand axes are not bad starting weapons for classes that start weaponless.
  • Forget about shields and go for the biggest, baddest axe that you can find.


Highest aptitudes: +4 (Merfolk)



  • 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 and Hill Orcs 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, scythes, 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.


Highest aptitudes: +2 (Minotaurs)


  • Quarterstaves are probably the best early-game weapon, very accurate.
  • Can have the speed brand.
  • Can be used for enhancer staves.
  • Crosstrains to two separate skills, Polearms and M&F.


  • Only minotaurs and tengu have positive aptitudes, and then only elves, humans, draconians, and octopodes have +0 aptitudes. All others are negative.
  • 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.
  • 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 non-resistible damage and is one of the most powerful weapons in the game.
  • 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.


Highest aptitude: +3 (Centaurs, Halflings, Kobolds)
Ammunition: Needles


  • 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 javelins or throwing nets.
  • Needles are extremely light.
  • Can still be used while held in a net or web.


  • 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.

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 may also consider using a blowgun.


Highest aptitude: +4 (Halflings)
Ammunition: Stones or sling bullets


  • Can be used effectively with a shield.
  • Can use common stones as ammunition, though sling bullets do more damage.
  • Jellies won't eat stones.
  • Quite fast.
  • Can occasionally be found on early goblins.
  • Crosstrains with Throwing weapons.


  • The weakest of the offensive ranged weapons

Useful notes: While they have trouble damaging heavily armored opponents, slings are quite effective against other foes and are especially useful against jellies, as they are the only ranged weapon that can use ammo that jellies can't eat. 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.


Highest aptitude: +3 (Centaurs, High Elves)
Ammunition: Arrows


  • Fast.
  • All centaurs carry bows, making them probably the most common ranged weapon.
  • Can easily replenish arrow supply from centaurs.
  • Longbows are slower, but have more power.


  • Somewhat inaccurate.
  • Jellies eat arrows.
  • Smaller characters cannot use longbows.

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, the reduced accuracy and speed of which can easily be negated by increased weapon skill.


Highest aptitude: +2 (Kobolds)
Ammunition: Bolts


  • Very powerful and accurate.
  • Yaktaurs all carry crossbows, making it easy to find one that's at least halfway decent.


  • The slowest ranged weapon.
  • Crossbows are very rare until yaktaurs start showing up.
  • Jellies eat bolts.
  • Few species are particularly good with them (only kobolds, minotaurs, deep dwarves, centaurs, and tengu have positive aptitudes)

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 that start with a crossbow will probably want to make sure they have a decent backup weapon in case of ammunition shortages.

That being said, crossbows are the most powerful and accurate ranged weapon available (as the many yaktaurs roaming the lower portions of the dungeon will gladly demonstrate), though they are rather slow.


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.