Going to be nose to the grindstone this month, so odds are good that April is going to be full of fairly sparse posts. I'm still committed to writing every weekday, but my available time is going to finally force me to the kind of brevity I've been trying (and failing) to deliver.
So, today here's a small trick for 4e. By now, everyone knows that you can get a huge amount of mileage out of the existing material by reskinning monsters. Similarly, it's not terribly hard to reskin races, powers or many other elements of the game. Because the mechanics are the bedrock of the game, you can make any change you want to the game provided you keep the mechanics unchanged.
So with that in mind, let me propose one fairly drastic reskinning: weapons.
Obviously, it's pretty easy to just invent new weapons that use the stats of existing weapons, but which look and feel different. I'm thinking of something a bit more profound: you can replace weapons entirely with weapon styles.
The idea of weapon styles is pretty simple: you describe them in terms of their color - dirty fighting, martial arts, schools of combat or anything else that seems appropriate. When you do, pick a particular weapon, and use those stats to represent the style. Whatever weapon they use, they'll use the stats of their base weapon.
For Example: The Pirate Style is based off the Rapier (D8/+3, Light Blade) and covers the range of pirate weapons: cutlasses, knives, hooks and belaying pins. Any time the character who is proficient in this style uses one of those weapons, it uses the stats of a rapier.
There are as many potential styles as there are weapons, and a character can use any style that uses the stats of a weapon he's proficient in.
One of the real virtues of a system like this is that it allows a lot of diversity in a game where there is more uniformity of weapons (think Samurai, Roman or Martial Arts stuff) because it still allows a wide range of fighting. Plus, in terms of sheer fun, you get players able to pick the weapon they think looks most cool for their character (or best suits their mini) without stressing about the right weapon being one they don't like. To my mind it also does a nice job of underscoring that it's the warrior that's dangerous, not the weapon.
Handling Special Cases
Dual Weapons - So you have a style in each hand. So long as that style is valid in the off hand, so be it.
Rogues & Daggers (and feats) - If a bonus applies to a weapon, it applies to the style based on the weapon.
Magic Weapons - Given that magic weapon abilities are just layered on top of the weapon stats, there should be no real problems with that.
Changing Styles - An interesting question: Can the character change styles midfight? I would totally say "yes" and just make the action equivalent to drawing a new weapon.
Kung Fu - Yes, you could do this to make an entirely martial arts game. Yes, that would be awesome. Yes that would also kind of undercut the monk. In my mind, that is too bad for the monk.
1- For the unfamiliar, this means using the stats of a monster but changing its description entirely to suit your needs. You need creepy shadow cultists? Use the Displacer Beast's abilities, and just describe the attacks as bolts of shadow or something similar. If you're not doing this, you'll be amazed to see how much easier it makes the GM's life.
2 - This means that characters can swap pretty freely among simple and martial weapons, and most of the interesting stuff is in the domain of Exotic Weapon Proficiencies
3 - That, by the way, reveals the really simple way to do this. When a character grabs a weapon, he picks its stats from anything of the same category. You want your dwarf to have an axe but with longsword stats? Done. You pick up an exotic weapon proficiency for your staff fighter and make staff stats match Bastard Sword stats? Done.
4 - Yes, this means dwarves and elves and other folks with those cool racial weapons get a little more flexibility, but honestly, they're already pretty twinky.
5 - A more ambitious model might be to tie the magic to the style (which is to say, to tie it to the character, so that the character learns "+2 Flaming" and anything he picks up bursts into flame and gets a +2 bonus. Instead of finding new weapons, he finds the runes to let him learn new "magical styles") but that's the tip of a MUCH bigger iceberg.