Weapon Damage Evaluation

Ever wonder which weapon is better for damage?  Yes, there are a lot of considerations in terms of your ACTUAL average damage per round, because it matters a lot how OFTEN you can hit, but let’s start with some of the conclusions I came to, based on raw damage calculations.

The conclusions and breakpoints below are based on your Damage Modifier (Strength Mod + Feat Mod + Magic mod).

Keen and Improved Critical do not stack (in Pathfinder), and both double the weapon critical threat range (e.g. from 20 to 19-20, or from 18-20 to 15-20, by weapon).

Regardless of Critical Hit Damage Modifier or Keen Enhancement, Axes/Hammers and Swords of similar die type have same average damage.  That is:

  • Short Sword = Handaxe
  • Long Sword = Warhammer
  • Bastard Sword = Dwarven Waraxe
  • Great Sword = Earthbreaker

The reason for their equivalence is that the pairs of weapons listed above give “extra 2 pips” of damage from a critical. Swords give “extra pip” twice as often (19-20), but only ONE extra damage instance each time.  Whereas, Axes/Hammers give “extra 2 pips” all at once (two additional instances of regular damage), but only on a 20 (half as often as swords).  This math doesn’t change with Keen, because you count it the same way. (both get “4 extra pips” from a critical)

Greataxes are actually slightly worse than Greatswords, because of their d12 rather than 2d6 damage dice, which is because d12 averages to 6.5, but 2d6 averages to 7.  You also get lower minimum damage, but a much greater chance for maximum damage (due to the normal curve of 2d6 damage results).

As an aside, due to high crit frequency vs. high crit, these weapons are also similar:

  • Rapier = Heavy Pick

… for the same reason mentioned above.

Bonus Damage Breakpoints

Falchion (2h martial)

  • At +7 damage bonus, Falchion WITHOUT Keen, exceeds Waraxe/Bastard Sword
  • At +14, Falchion WITH Keen, exceeds GreatAxe
  • At +21, Falchion WITH Keen, exceeds damage of a Greatsword
  • At +29, Falchion WITHOUT Keen, exceeds GreatAxe
  • At +44, Falchion WITH Keen is better than a Large Bastard Sword

Falcata (1h exotic, d8, 19-20/x3)

  • At +2, Falcata WITH Keen is better than the Bast Sword / Waraxe
  • At+9, Falcata WITHOUT Keen exceeds Scythe, Falchion, Dwarf Axe, andBastard Sword

Kukri (light martial)

  • At +8, Kukri WITH Keen, does about 1 more damage on average, than a Dagger
  • At +10, Kukri WITH Keen exceeds Short Sword
  • At +20, Kukri WITHOUT, Keen exceeds Short Sword

Rapier / Scimitar (1h martial)

  • At +9, Rapier WITH Keen exceeds Longsword
  • At +19, Rapier WITHOUT Keen exceeds Longsword



Rogues should always use weapons with larger damage dice, if possible (Shortsword > Kukri), as their damage mod will never be high enough to make the crit range worthwhile (and Sneak Attack dice aren’t affected by crits).  That said, their Sneak Attack damage will dwarf their weapon damage, rendering the weapon damage moot in many situations (thus, Halfling Rogues can still use (small) daggers and not care about the d3 damage)

Still, following my raw calculations, the best rogue TWF weapons for weapon-damage are either Longsword/Shortsword (if elf or multi-classed), or Shortsword/Shortsword (Medium), or Shortsword/Dagger (Small)

If you want to spend an Exotic Weapon Proficiency feat, you should be taking a Sawtooth Sabre (can be used as off-hand-light if paired)

Another caveat: because of Weapon Focus, Rogues should probably try to use the same kind of weapon in both hands, even if damage dice are sub-optimal. If you can’t hit, you can’t do damage!

The Large Weapons

Falchions and Scythes are always equal in average damage. If you want a non-standard weapon with giant criticals, try a Scythe… 😉

Using a Large Bastard Sword or Large Waraxe increases your average damage by 2.2, compared to a Greatsword / Earthbreaker at a cost of -2 to hit.  My feeling is that this trade isn’t worthwhile because hit chance matters a lot, especially at low levels.  However, the math to combine hit chances and damage is very complex, and is the subject of a possible future article.

Intuitive Feelings…

I also have the feeling that weapons that crit more often rather than give bigger crits are better because their damage is less swingy,  and sometimes you don’t need that much damage to down your target, thus “wasting” the extra critical damage. However, it IS very cool to turn the tide of a battle with a giant x3 crit…