Running a game last week came across a situation where one of my monsters was disarmed by a PC. Since a fist is about as good as a sword, when it came time for the disarmed monster to go he ignored his sword and just took a punch at the PC, with spectacular results. PC was knocked unconscious by the blow.
Afterwords got to thinking: when an empty fist and great-sword are roughly equal as weapons for any user, what is the point of the Disarm bane?
Made a list of proficencies and packages that reinforce backstory, let a player play anything they want from Monk to Gladiator to Scholar with any stats they want, and gives PCs a good collection of known weapons, but limits weapons known to a chosen set. Fighting with any non-proficient weapon is fine, just the same as a miss (no roll), as in: 3 points or apply an appropriate bane. I very much like the RP reinforcement (“I learned to use a blade in the army of King xxx”), and it is lifted very roughly from Blue Planet, but am wondering if there is a better way to do this? Did I miss something? Thoughts?
Fists are as good as a sword for the same reason a mace is as good as a club in Open Legend: because the goal is to encourage people to use the weapon that fits their character and not be punished for it. For example, using a club in D&D is something you only do when you don’t have anything better to hand; it doesn’t matter that your barbarian from the frozen wastes prefers clubs to axes, they do less damage regardless.
You’re going the right way about it, though I don’t think you need lists. Whenever it comes up, just ask yourself/ the player “but would this character know how to use this weapon?” and base the answer on their backstory. Your punishment is way too harsh though, I strongly disagree with your assessment that a using a non-proficient weapon is fine under your system. Disadvantage 1 is still significant without rendering the character almost totally useless with the weapon, see the Martial Focus feat for how the game currently handles “proficiency”.
To actually answer your initial question more directly, Disarmed works best for getting rid of special weapons or key items, and denying enemies their Attack Specialisation feats (remember that you have to choose a weapon type). It’s not universally useful, but then very few banes are.
I’m not the biggest fan of just having “you need a back story for using unarmed” because then everybody just can say so and people who don’t potentially gets punished.
There is however a few a few ways to include it in the game for counter play; martial and extraordinary focus makes getting disarmed devastating.
Having NPC’s that use bane attacks based in the weapon even have something like bane focus persistent damage on a might character will lose that’s great without the right weapon.
Disarming ranged weapons, with extraordinary or ranged weapons you can disarm firearms at a distance.
Disarming shield’s dies lower the defence and is rly good on defence based characters.
It’s also worth mentioning that is almost hard to make a character that can’t use the disarm action with all the attributes you can use for it and you only need 3 or 2 points if you use a weapon with the bane.
So I assume it’s a bit balanced around being so accessable compared to other games where you need to specialise in order to do it
I had the same problem a while ago, but I guess my answer was less elaborate and extensive than yours: I’ve house-ruled that if someone with a melee weapon is disarmed, won’t get an advantage if they are using unarmed strikes instead. So instead of putting a penalty on it, I removed the incentive from it and only allow unarmed strikes to get advantage if it’s a character’s primary melee mode of attacking.
Edit: I also agree with Sam though, that the question “Would this character know how to use this weapon?” could solve this question just as easily and you remove the advantage based on that answer.
There is also something like technology level, you may opt to give unarmed enemy simple disadvantage on attack, for example if a character wears steel armor. From the other hand you can give advantage to attack such creature with weapon, because it’s harder to parry such attack with bare hands. From my point of view it’s better to have different fighting style for monk and swordsman. Monk’s fists have, in fact, harder bones and thicker skin and they are trained in hand to hand combat, when swordsman is untrained, or at least less trained than a monk, so it makes sense to give them advantage in this kind of situation. Plus your player see that the did something and not just wasted a turn.
Additionally you can describe different styles of combat, makes martial combat look superior than more direct style called “punch till it stops moving”.