In Sunless Citadel, one of the major pieces of loot is a magic weapon called Shatterspike. It has a special ability that doesn’t necessarily translate well into Fifth Edition without a bit of extra thought. In this post, I’m going to take a look at the guidance we have and how I have decided to handle it with my players. Hopefully it helps some other groups, even if just to point to some resources. If nothing else, DMs should plan for this before they have to make a ruling so as not to bog down the table during an exciting combat!
Obviously, if you are a player still going through SC and haven’t gotten the big rewards at the end, you probably don’t want to read this post yet as it presents some (relatively mild) spoilers.
You have a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls you make with this magic weapon. If it hits an object, the hit is automatically a critical hit, and it can deal bludgeoning or slashing damage to the object (your choice). Further, damage from nonmagical sources can’t harm the weapon.
Hitting and damaging objects
The Dungeon Master’s Guide has guidance on destructible objects on pages 246-47. Like creatures, objects can have an Armor Class (AC) and Hit Points (HP).
Generally speaking, an object’s AC depends on the substance of which it is made, as a “measure of how difficult it is to deal damage to the object when striking it (because the object has no chance of dodging out of the way).” Examples include AC 15 for wood or bone and AC 19 for iron or steel. The DMG includes values for other substances like cloth, stone, and mithral, as well.
Once it has been struck, we need to know “how much damage it can take before losing its structural integrity.” An object’s HP depends on its size and fragility or resiliency. Suggestions are provided for Tiny through Large category objects. A Tiny Fragile object like a bottle might have as few as 2 (1d4) HP , while a Large Resilient object like a cart might have 27 (5d10) HP.
In many situations, like trying to destroy a door or a lock, these rules provide sufficient guidance. A metal lock has AC 19 and 5 (2d4) hit points. A wooden door has AC 15 and 18 (4d8) hit points, etc.
Specific beats general
For context, in the text of the adventure itself, the instructions for the DM during this fight include:
Sir Bradford uses Shatterspike to destroy his foe’s weapon, if possible.
At first glance, this seems less than straightforward. How does a weapon get destroyed? This edition of the game has no rules for sundering weapons and armor. And in organized play, how should DMs adjudicate this in a way that seems replicable and fair for players who will likely use this weapon at different tables?
However, one of the core tenets of Fifth Edition design is that “Specific Beats General” (PHB 7). That means that the specific case of Shatterspike outweighs the general lack of rules for damage against weapons and armor.
In combat, the Armor Class of armor itself matters less because the attacker is already rolling to hit. In general, a total to-hit roll less than the AC of a target creature but at least equal to 10 plus the Dexterity modifier of that creature is actually absorbed by the armor. Shields give +2 to AC, so a to-hit roll of 1 or 2 less than the total AC represent the attack striking the shield. In normal situations, this doesn’t really damage the armor or shield: that’s what they’re made to do, and (as noted above) 5e intentionally does not have rules for sundering.
Weapons can also parry hits in some cases. The Battle Master archetype for Fighters specifies a Parry maneuver in the Player’s Handbook page 74:
When another creature damages you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction and expend one superiority die to reduce the damage by the number you roll on your superiority die + your Dexterity modifier.
Another case could arise for a creature with the Defensive Duelist feat on PHB 165:
When you are wielding a finesse weapon with which are proficient and another creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to add your proficiency bonus to your AC for that attack, potentially causing the attack to miss you.
Any other ability or feature (such as the Parry ability for bandit captains in the Monster Manual) that allows weapons to negate or mitigate incoming damage could be interpreted as a clash of the weapons. Again, normally this doesn’t have any additional effect, but for Shatterspike it does.
At my table
Players with this weapon should expect to be able to get some benefit from its extra property. So here’s how I will handle it for now.
Absent any specific declared intent, Shatterspike will only hit a target creature’s armor or weapon if the attack would have hit the target but is deflected in some way by the armor or weapon. This means a to-hit roll less than the total AC but more than 10 plus the Dexterity modifier of the target creature. If this happens, Shatterspike gets an automatic critical hit and does damage against the hit points of the object it hit (but not the target creature itself). Objects reduced to zero hit points become useless and provide no benefit to the wielder. This does not apply to natural armor or weapons, such as an owlbear’s thick hide or a dragon’s teeth.
If the wielder of Shatterspike wants to attack a target’s armor or shield, then on a successful hit, the damage dice are doubled and all the damage is done to the armor. If the attack roll is less than the target’s AC, the above ruling for an incidental strike against armor still applies.
If the wielder of Shatterspike wants to attack a target’s weapon and the target is not attempting to parry, then the attack should be made against the weapon’s AC (based on its material) plus the wielder’s Dexterity modifier. Depending on the circumstances, the DM may rule that the weapon has cover (for example, if the target just attacked another enemy and could be considered to have its back to Shatterspike’s wielder). In that case, normal cover rules could apply. Other circumstances might also lead the DM to judge that the attack should be made with advantage or disadvantage.
What do you think? Does this make sense? How have you handled it at your table?