While 4e encourages characters that are very good at their basic role in the party, you can also go too far with your specialization. D&D is rife with deadly enemies and monsters who will challenge every party member, and occasionally your specialist will find himself in a poor tactical situation where his or her strengths are minimized. You need to be ready for this eventuality, and one fast and easy way to prepare for it is to carry and be ready to use a smart backup weapon.
For example, how many times have artillery or flyers rained down hell on you from a safe distance? Your melee-style battle cleric, dual weapon ranger, or avenger will want to close so they can deal maximum havoc. But closing on that pack of gnoll archers may cost lots of time and rounds, especially if the encounter starts far away or there’s a lot of difficult terrain and obstacles in the way granting them protection – like any good archer would seek out. Airborne foes like the manticore present yet another level of tactical challenge. Tail spike volleys rain down upon you as you cross an old, rotten bridge in the wild, leaving your tough, hulking warden or barbarian feeling less than prepared.
For these situations, you need to carry a backup weapon – or a power that can function as one. Otherwise, you’ll be spending several rounds out in the open, feeling vulnerable or ineffective, wasting opportunities to attack back, or spending a lot of time closing (if it’s even possible), putting yourself at great risk of being cut down on the way.
There are other times when switching to a backup weapon makes tactical sense. Sometimes you’re very badly hurt, and you and your party are already short on healing in a fight that’s really tested your wits, mettle and resources. If you’re a melee-oriented character without a backup weapon, you may feel like all you can do is fight to the death or withdraw and do… just about nothing. Don’t be that character! Withdraw to a terrain advantage somewhere and help out with some offense from a safer range, preferably behind some cover. Buy yourself time, survive, and still contribute to the fight and help your party to victory. Hiding or lamenting your situation doesn’t help anybody – and is far from heroic!
Here are some backup weapon solutions and ideas when you find yourself needing to reach for one:
- Classic Backup Weapons. Yes, that’s a really nice, sharp, heavy and enormous fullblade or executioner’s axe you got there. Of course, it’s not helping you much when you’re immobilized and there’s a row of archers firing at you from about 15-20 squares away. Pick up a bow, crossbow or sling, Hercules – at 1st level! They’re worth the few gold out of those 100 gp you start with. Or at least grab short-range options like a javelin or dagger – you know, in case of emergency. If you truly want to be a backup weapon master, then make sure to find a merchant for a common magical version of yours, or jot down a few nice backup uncommon rarity magic ranged weapons on your wish lists for your DM.
- At-Will Powers. If you’re a melee-focused class and build, consider taking a ranged power for one of your at-wills as your backup weapon option. For example, an avenger, who shines in melee by far, has a smattering of ranged powers – Radiant Vengeance, an at-will prayer, makes for a good back up ranged option.
- Master at Arms and Quick Draw. These are just two feats which improve your action economy, allowing you to draw or switch weapons more quickly and smartly, without having to let one clatter to the floor. It can be the difference between getting in an attack that fells that skeletal archer minion on the balcony dead, or letting it live and it ripping into you or an ally the very next moment.
- Ruby Scabbard, Bracers of Speed and Battle Harness. Much like the feats above, these are three example items which improve your action economy when it comes to drawing or switching weapons. However, they often have additional magical properties or daily powers, such as an initiative bonus or even bonus attacks.
Any adventurer worth his or her salt is “ready for anything,” right? While that may actually be a lofty goal, you at least want to be ready for whatever tactical positioning hand you’re dealt. Sometimes, range and distance creates a huge disadvantage and backups weapons help buy you some time until there’s a good opportunity to close - or simply as an alternative offensive option.