Swords are the most ubiquitous weapon in all fiction, and they set the standard for damage values in just about any roleplaying game. Axes are often comparable, though usually tweaked for no other reason than to be different from swords. And spears are like swords, only longer. But what about the dagger? They’re deadly, and there are no degrees of dead.
Daggers have historically killed at least as many people as the sword, are the favorite weapons of assassins –– often considered the deadliest of all PCs –– and are long enough to penetrate straight through an opponent’s torso. So why no love for daggers in gaming?
It’s Harder to Kill with a Dagger
Yes. Yes, it is. But not for the reason you think. It’s easier to deal damage with a sword because of its reach and weight. But, if placed correctly, the dagger is just as deadly.
It’s the same for the .22 caliber bullet, the preferred round of hitmen. The .22 will penetrate the skull at close range, makes less noise than a larger round, and is cheap enough that you wouldn’t mind dropping it in the dumpster outside. Would the target be any more dead if the hitman used a .45? No, but a .45 would have made the first part of the job much easier.
But how easy it is to hit an opponent is the domain of the accuracy (or To Hit) roll, not the damage roll. Proper placement is deadly, regardless of the weapon used. The accuracy roll determines whether or not you were able to place the weapon in the right striking zone, allowing the weapon to deal damage.
And that’s really where the bulk of this argument lies: it’s easier to thrust with a long weapon than it is with a short weapon, because you don’t have to close distance, and it’s easier to hit with a swinging weapon than a thrusting weapon, because you don’t have to be quite as accurate.
If you hit, it means you placed the weapon in the right spot, allowing it to do its job.
How to Represent this in Gaming
Rather than making a sword deal more damage, in my opinion, RPGs should be giving swords a bonus to hitting a target over a dagger (and flip that bonus if grappling or backstabbing).
If I wrote D&D, weapons would all suffer disadvantage if used in a grapple, and their stats might look something like this:
Sword: +3 to hit, damage d8+Str
Dagger: +0* to hit, damage d8+Str
*Grants advantage in a grapple.
And now that damage values are equalized, the discussion shouldn’t be about damage rolls –– they’re all the same, which is boring. We should be talking about damage resistance rolls. “You got hit with a lethal weapon. Roll to see how tough your character is.”