Apr 5, 2011

Bec de Corbin Blues: D&D and Polearm Fetishism

Wizards of the Coast has a amusing quiz on their site right now: name these 22 different polearms from AD&D. Is that a bec de corbin? A lucern hammer? Better hope that pointy bit of metal on that long pole makes it a polearm and not a lance or a spear - polearms do the most damage of any weapon in the game!

Gygax is a Swiss name and the Swiss were famous users of polearms in the late middle ages and renaissance. So when he published D&D he made sure there were polearms a plenty in there. And on one hand that's really cool and I enjoyed learning about all these weird names for exotic spears and halberds. The problem is that it went beyond simple variety.

When used in military formations halberds and other polearms are unquestionably effective weapons. As skirmishers though (which almost all d&d characters are) are they really that much better?

In Supplement I: Greyhawk you have these dice rolls for weapon damage:

Spear d6
Pole Arm d8
(Swiss) Halberd d10

In B/X D&D it's even more pronounced:

Spear d6
Pole Arm d10

Isn't it a bit like me saying a Scottish Claymore should roll a d12, or someone from Wales saying a Welsh Longbow should do d20 damage?

So if we're not *really* into polearms, and our family isn't from Switzerland, what's to be done with the game stats for polearms? Swords and Wizardry uses 1d8+1… but I have to admit I do prefer full dice sizes for normal weapons. Should it just be a d8?

For non-formation combat (skirmishing) is a polearm really that much better than a spear or a lance? Should they only be d6?

I like rolling different sized dice for different weapons during combat (not just d6 for everything) but the spear / polearm difference feels rather arbitrary.