(Signs you don't know what day of the week it is: a post for Wednesday goes up for Thursday. Sorry!)
As a gamer I feel like my choice in weapon should be more a reflection of the character I'm playing than a necessary choice made if I want to be relevant or at least not behind the curve for my concept. Obviously there are limits to this. Someone who uses a gun should have an advantage - especially at range - than someone with a sword. I'm also not looking for every weapon to be the same. Just for them to be balanced in such a way that how I equip the character says as much about them as what class or race I choose. Today I want to talk about that.
Humanity has made dozens of different types of weapons. These weapons are all diverse and have varying strengths and weaknesses. Just looking at "melee" weapons you have bludgeoning weapons, cutting weapons, stabbing weapons, weapons with reach, weapons that bend, weapons that ensnare. Everything ends up being a trade off, and that's before even bringing in things like weight and how dangerous they are to use and learn.
It goes without saying that someone with a spear would use different tactics and have different advantages than someone with a sword or an axe. At the same time, someone with a sword or axe would have their own advantages. These don't all have to be reflected in the game - over complexity is a thing - but there should be something to show the different capabilities.
If It's Not A Sword You Suck
One of my biggest critiques of L5R 4th Edition is that if you're not using a katana - or other sword - you are already way behind the curve when it comes to power scale compared to other bushi. The katana, and the Kenjutsu skill, just flat out beat all other weapons in terms of power with the exception of heavy weapons that have the same/similar mastery abilities and more damage in the base weapons. Except that, by world rule, you can't use heavy weapons on anything except monsters and other t hings denoted "non-human" (i.e. ninja, bandits, gaijin.)
This is problematic for a couple reasons for me. One, the Samurai were as much spearmen and archers as they were swordsman, if not more. And two, since you end up behind the power curve when not using a katana, there is less variety in the bushi you come across as players because...why would you take that hit in power?
Everything Is The Same
On the other hand, 7th Sea 2nd Edition somewhat goes the other way a little too far. In 7th Sea there are no gear rules. As such there are no rules for weapons. As such, there is no difference - mechanically - between a zweihander great sword and a stiletto dagger. They both do as much damage as the raises spent to hit with them - barring things like a duelist school.
The idea here is that if you're good with the weapon - as a hero - you do about the same stuff. The GM and players should then be finding ways that they can use the equipment narratively that makes sense, and descriptions should also be differentiating things, but you still end up with a bit of a loss of feel.
At it's best - which is where 7th Sea is designed to operate to be fair - it works and everyone gets that feeling. Not at it's best though, and every weapon feels like any other weapon and you can end up with characters that feel the same in combat because despite the fact that Sarah has a great axe, and Bobby throws knives, they are both just doing 4-5 damage to the Brute squad at the end of the round and "how" they do it in game is just kind of fluff.
D&D vs. Star Wars
I like D&D for this topic, and there is a lot it's done right here. Weapons are more or less balanced around a number of things - including their cost at least somewhat. Various weapons do various things, and the game makes use of those weapons. Weapons have qualities to make them more unique as well.
For example, a Longsword can be used with one hand or two, and when using it with two hands it does more damage - but you lose the use of that free hand. A short sword on the other hand can only be used with one hand, but because of it's smaller size you can choose to use your Dex stat instead of strength to impact Attack and Damage values.
True, for some weapons, the properties match up. An axe and a sword can both be D8/D10 versatile weapons with a 5' reach and slashing damage. But more often than not there is some difference and reason to go with it. A mace may do the same damage as an axe, but one is bludgeoning while the other is slashing. 9 times out of 10 it matters not, but sometimes you fight skeletons who are resistant to slashing but vulnerable to bludgeoning and now that mace is a lot more valuable.
FFG's Star Wars on the other hand has a whole ton you can do with weapons. It takes the D&D approach, and then dials it up to 11 with add ons and modifications. The end result is you can - over time - end up with a weapon that is uniquely yours. The only problem here though is that there is so much stuff for gear that it becomes it's own source of power depending on the loadout.
Where D&D will sell you a "longsword" and it will represent that entire category of weapon. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire is going to sell you a 1911 framed 9mm pistol with a 10 round magazine for your medium pistol. ALternatively you can get the Beretta 9mm with a 12 round magazine. Or the Zephyr 9mm with a 5 round magazine but a bonus to hiding on your person. Or...or...or...it can be a lot to go through, and can lead to gear overload if you're not careful. It can also end up with "something for every situation" syndrome where because of variety, and the need for each piece to be worth having or not having in the game, you can end up with weapons that - after cost - completely end up bypassing the weaknesses of their form. Then you have someone with a Blaster Pistol that does the damage of a Rifle, at the same range, with autofire and it just feels a bit ridiculous.
My Happy Ground
I think my happy ground is a lot closer to D&D. There is enough difference between the weapons that it can be a choice with reasons. That choice has mechanics that go with it for in game feel. However, you don't get bogged down in needing to parse out all the specifics. Nothing wrong with having those specifics, I just find they get in the way sometimes. Especially in worlds like Star Wars where you never see that diversity in the source material.