Spears & Polearms - too good?

My players have quickly noticed that spears and Polears seem to be the best weapons in the game since they are the only weapons with special abilities (specifically charging for double damage and setting for charge). Is there any reason besides class restrictions to not use these weapons?
I’ve been instituting a rule that after a charge such weapons are tangled in an enemy and you lose use of them as some kind of limiting factor.

They can be sundered much easier than swords, for one.
You can’t be carrying much anything in hands if you’re carrying one of those babies, for another. Swords can stay in scabbards till you need them, but you really want two hands free with a spear or polearm. They’re a bit big and inconvenient.
Mapper can’t carry a spear. The guy tapping with the 10ft. pole definitely can’t carry one. Guys with torches and lanterns can’t carry one – if you’re anal about it.
Same thing – to a lesser extent – applies to axes and clubs: one reason for the popularity of sword historically is that not only is it an excellent defensive weapon (unlike say a mace), it makes for a great /backup/ weapon since unless it’s a huge 2-hander it is relatively easy to carry at your side pretty much whenever. and it can be brought into play quickly.

Spears are one handed weapons so you can do anything with it you can do with a sword or axe in your hand and while you might need to sling it across your back for climbing, mechanically that’s no different from having a sword sheathed.

Most magical weapons are swords. Swords can be used easier in tight quarters.
As mentioned above, spears and polearms are easier to Sunder. Polearms give you a penalty to initiative.
But, I think spears are intentionally more versatile than swords in the game.

Spears (and other polearms) are more awkward (not always to fight with, but certainly to carry/maneuver) in tight situations than shorter weapons, and unlike the sword, burn nicely when hit by fire, fire-based spells, etc. Add in how much more easily they can be wrecked and the fact that they really cannot be concealed on a person in situations where carrying a weapon is not publically acceptable (unlike some other weapons), there are plenty of reasons not to use them. Carrying a sword or dagger and the like may often be considered acceptable as a personal arm in public (what with how much swords are associated with the upper classes - that whole prestige of the sword element), but carrying a halberd or spear is extremely unlikely to be.
In relatively simple systems like ACKS, you need to always bear such things in mind if appropriate weapon use and balance actually matters to you; some things are just not reflected in the mechanics.
Of course, there are some strong reasons why spears and pole arms were bloody effective (versatility) and commonly used weapons for a very long time, and I bring up all of the downsides of the weapons despite being a big fan of spears.

I’m just curious why one weapon was given such large mechanical advantages while other weapons were simplified to the point of being interchangable. I mean we could give bludgeoning weapons bonuses versus hard armor if we were concerned with realism, and piercing weapons bonuses vs soft.
I think I’d rather have the double damage thing only occur with mounted charges…otherwise the physics of the world would dictate that spears and polearms would be the prominent weapons of nobility because frankly they are superior to all other weapons.

blinks at one-handed spears
Huh, so they are. I was visualizing a different weapon. :slight_smile:
I completely agree with Colin, though I would phrase it just the opposite. A sword is very versatile. A spear or polearm is damned effective: a swordsman has a hard time closing in or fending against the superior leverage, and even if you do close in those bloody things reverse in a blink of an eye.
Sliding gently offtopic, I’ve on occasion fantasized about a system which builds on Silver’s analysis on advantages of various weapons. :slight_smile:
“First I will begin with the worst weapon, an imperfect and insufficient weapon, and not worth the speaking of, but now being highly esteemed, therefore not to be unremembered. That is, the single rapier, and rapier and poniard.
The single sword has the vantage against the single rapier.
The sword and dagger has the vantage against the rapier and poniard.
The sword & target has the advantage against the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.
The sword and buckler has advantage against the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or rapier and poniard.
The two handed sword has the vantage against the sword and target, the sword and buckler, the sword and dagger, or rapier and poniard.
The battle axe, the halberd, the black-bill, or such like weapons of weight, appertaining unto guard or battle, are all one in fight, and have advantage against the two handed sword, the sword and buckler, the sword and target, the sword and dagger, or the rapier and poniard.
The short staff or half pike, forest bill, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of perfect length, have the advantage against the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, the sword and target, and are too hard for two swords and daggers, or two rapier and poniards with gauntlets, and for the long staff and morris pike.
The long staff, morris pike, or javelin, or such like weapons above the perfect length, have advantage against all manner of weapons, the short staff, the Welch hook, partisan, or glaive, or such like weapons of vantage excepted, yet are too weak for two swords and daggers or two sword and bucklers, or two rapiers and poniards with gauntlets, because they are too long to thrust, strike, and turn speedily. And by reason of the large distance, one of the sword and dagger-men will get behind him.
The Welch hook or forest bill, has advantage against all manner of weapons whatsoever.
Yet understand, that in battles, and where variety of weapons are, among multitudes of men and horses, the sword and target, the two handed sword, battle axe, the black bill, and halberd, are better weapons, and more dangerous in their offense and forces, than is the sword and buckler, short staff, long staff, or forest bill. The sword and target leads upon shot, and in troops defends thrusts and blows given by battle axe, halberds, black bill, or two handed swords, far better than can the sword and buckler.
The morris pike defends the battle from both horse and man, much better than can the short staff, long staff, or forest bill. Again the battle axe, the halberd, the black bill, the two handed sword, and sword & target, among armed men and troops, by reason of their weights, shortness, and great force, do much more offend the enemy, & are then much better weapons, than is the short staff, the long staff, or the forest bill.”
– George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence
(Yeah, he really had a beef against rapiers.)

Other negatives to spears and pole arms are their encumbrance values. These weapons incur 1 stone were most other weapons only incur 1/6 stone. Use of these weapons make tracking a PC’s carried items much more important and can greatly affect movement rates.
Also, I would rule that charging attacks on foot and setting weapons for a charge require the use of both hands, thus negating the use of a shield. This might fall under the “house rule” category, however.

I might be wrong, but I don’t think spears are intended to be used in charging or setting for a charge while they are being used one-handed. Maybe if the charging character is mounted and has a military saddle (ie jousting)? I’m also a little suspicious at the notion of slinging a spear across your back- it’s 6-8 feet long! How do you walk? How do you unlimber it in combat? There’s a reason that henchmen carry shields and spears, right?
Other things worth thinking about: Only Fighters, Explorers, Bladedancers and Spellswords can use spears and polearms. Of these, Bladedancers and Explorers are unlikely to be charging. Likewise, many Fighters might be reluctant to, since it necessarily involves moving away from your allies into a group of enemies, possibly without wielding a shield, and foiling your allies’ potential missile attacks. Also, charging itself can be foiled in a number of ways: Setting for the charge, obviously, but also fighting in less open terrain or beginning combat more than 20 or 30 feet from your targets.
Edit: I think the cheapness and replace-ability of spears probably has as much to do with their popularity as their versatility!

I’m actually surprised that this question has taken so long to be raised!
There is no question that the spear in ACKS is a better weapon than it is in any version of D&D or related games. There are two questions raised: (1) Why did I rate the spear so highly and (2) is it too good?

  1. Why did I rate the spear so highly?
    Frankly, I think the spear has gotten short shrift from other games. The spear was the primary weapon of melee combat during Antiquity and the Dark Ages. It dominated mass combat for over a thousand years because of its affordability, ease of use, and reach. It was also heavily used in personal combat. The Iliad suggests (in the famous duel between Achilles and Hector) that the spear was considered superior to the sword for one-on-one combat. Most vikings were armed with spears.
    Symbolically, the Chinese consider the spear to be the “king of weapons”. Athena and Odin carry a spear. The Romans declared war by plunging a spear in the temple of war. Celts destroyed a dead warrior’s spear to prevent its use by another.
    Moreover, its damage dealing capabilities are unfairly belittled. Piercing weapons have historically been more lethal than slashing weapons, and the spear is the ultimate piercing weapon. It should certainly be capable of as much or more damage as a short sword or arrow.
    If the spear were as bad a weapon as most iterations of D&D have suggested, it would not have been the primary armament of the ancient and middle ages warrior and it would not have carried such resonant mythic overtones. Achilles would never use a spear in 3.5 rules, for instance. It was clear that the spear needed to be improved.
  2. Is the spear over-powered?
    The advantages we assigned to the spear were (1) ability to set for charge, (2) ability to charge, (3) ability to fight from the second rank using the spear, and (4) the ability to use the spear one or two handed.
    Most of these are readily justified by the Hoplite spear, a 7ft weapon with an iron head and bronze butt-spike designed to be used one-handed with a large shield. The Hoplite spear needn’t be used two-handed to set for charge, because of the butt-spike. One-handed use was standard for charges as well.
    Because of these benefits, in the early levels of ACKS, most characters capable of using a spear will want to carry one and use it at least some of the time. The default “formation” in most games of ACKS I run has a second-rank of party members armed with spears.
    The disadvantages to the spear are (1) it weighs 1 full stone, (2) it is hard to conceal,(3) it is easier to sunder than any other weapon. (Also, in Domains at War, spear/polearm troops suffer penalties to maneuvering and are more vulnerable to flank attacks - but that’s outside the current discussion).
    The sundering rules explain why spears are the most common non-magical weapon, but swords are the most common magical weapon. If a mage is going to invest thousands of gold pieces and months of time into a weapon, he wants it to last. Swords are by far the hardest weapons to sunder, while spears are the easiest.
    Many of the other disadvantages of spears do not appear mechanically but are evident in play and have been pointed out above, e.g., where do you put it when you’re climbing a wall, what if you want to carry two spears, and so on.

For what it’s worth, spears are the superior weapon in “The One Ring” rpg as well, so ACKS isn’t alone in its spear-love.

I keep picturing it as a renaissance footman’s lance, which is why I a hard time reconciling it with one-handed use… but yeah, spears kick ass. :slight_smile:

While I’ll cool with spears getting some love and I agree they’ve not had the decent treatment they’ve deserved. BUT that still leaves the other weapons as just interchangeable which seems a bit bland and unfair. I think taking away the charge damage except on horseback but leaving everything else makes them more then potent enough.
Besides…I don’t really want third level pcs potentially one-shot by goblins with spears.

Tywyll, all of the hand weapons (mace/axe/sword) were purposefully left interchangeable.
The reasons for this:

  1. I think it is more important how you are fighting (weapon and shield, two weapon, two-handed weapon) than with which particular hand weapon. The game mechanics emphasize this. A fighter may start with two-handed spear, then switch to two swords over the course of a fight.
  2. It permits players to have their character wield their favorite weapon aesthetically without worrying about whether they’ve “gimped” their character by doing so. A dwarf can use an axe or a warhammer and either option is fine.
  3. It encourages the Judge to offer different weapons as treasure without worrying that he will offer a sub-optimal choice or a weapon that no one will play with.
  4. It makes arming NPC guards and beastmen much easier, as you can just assume it’s a hand weapon doing 1d6 damage.
    There are dozens of house rules available should you wish to offer more robust differentiation between maces, hammers, axes, and swords, of course.

I appreciate that but there are almost no reasons to swap out of your one handed spear. All guards and all beastmen use them or maybe a polearms. Sundering is not so easy as to neutralize them effectively.
Personally I find it aesthetically unappealing to simplify all weapons and then give one weapon set several superior abilities. It seems out of place, considering the four reasons you just gave.
Also I think their commonality as a weapon in the ancient world had more to do with their ease of manufacture than basic superiority. I’m not saying they weren’t good, but a lot of factors were involved in them becoming iconic.

I kinda like being able to use axes, maces, and other weapons without being left in the dust by the traditional longsword d8. It makes characters more flavorful with the variety of weapons instead of the standard plate and longsword that everyone has in other iterations.
What type of flavor or differences are you looking for in weapons?
I think the most obvious drawback of using spears is in dungeon environments. There should be a lot of harrowing maneuvering if a party gets attacked in a 10’ passage and characters have their spears out.

Yeah I’d love it if that were actually in the rules but there are plenty of arguments as to why your one handed spear is plenty fine in a dungeon corridor. Arguably it’s superior to a weapon you need to swing around.
And I’m with you…I prefer the weapons being abstracted to doing the same damage. But I think if you do that it becomes weird to single out a couple of weapons for special treatment.
I guess what if it worked the other way and all weapons did the same damage except axes which did one step less. That wouldn’t really sit well with most people I think.

Alex - would this discussion be a good candidate for a blog post? It seems to me that a nice explanation of spear love would be worth sharing with all the ACKS readers.