Can We Talk About Spears Again?

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Rhetorical Gamer
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Can We Talk About Spears Again?

So sue me, I know this was a topic already (albeit a long time ago) but spears man... they vex me.

First, I realize that there are arguments as to historic reasons to make the spear excellent. Those don't ultimately matter when you are sitting at the game table. I also realize there are abstract reasons why the spear would be more complicated than a sword or axe. Those abstract reasons also do not particularly matter when you are sitting at the game table. (EDIT: By, "don't matter" I mean, don't matter mechanically...)

What ultimately matters is that spears have 5 advantages over all other hand weapons with very few disadvantages.

1. Spears can be used exactly the same as a sword or axe (1d6/1d8 - one handed/two handed).

2. Spears can be used from the second rank (and judging by earlier posts/clarifications can attack opponents as if in a second rank even when there is no "first" rank). 

3. Spears can be used to attack an opponent acting before you in the initiative order on their count.

4. Spears can do double damage on a charge.

5. Spears can do double damage when braced against a charge.

6. Spears can be used as a ranged weapon.

This is balanced by the disadvantages that a spear weighs one full stone (instead of 1/6 for a sword/axe) and that a spear can be sundered (slightly) more easily than other weapons. This second one is hardly a disadvantage as sundering is rare to the point of non-existent from what I can tell.

With all that taken into account, the spear still heavily outclasses all other weapons.

This ultimately seems at odds with the stated intent (in those same earlier posts) that one of the reasons weapons were done as they were was to allow players to choose whatever weapon they wanted without feeling like they were losing out. Unfortunately, anyone not weilding a spear is losing out.

So... has anyone done anything effective to tone down the spear without simply saying... it's a hand weapon like all the rest and just making it work like the sword/axe? Because barring any good ideas, that's how I'm leaning for an upcoming game.

Jard
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from a purely mechanical gaming standpoint, in raw, there's very little reason for anyone to not use spears.  The main people who will end up not using spears are those who, due to armor and shield, are already dangerously close to being over encumbered without sticking to a 1/6th weight weapon.  That... and people who find magical weapons.

For this reason, in my own game, I chose to make other types of weapons more appealing by adding the additional penalty to spears that they break and become unusuable on a 1 rolled when attacking.  Of course, people who carry multiple spears can quickly get back into the combat, but it was just enough of a difference that players who chose not to resort to spears felt justified.

As always, each campaign is a law unto itself, and you should pick houserules that satisfy your desire for weapon diversity.

bobloblah
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The encumbrance of a spear is actually a pretty signficant consideration in my experience. As Jard alluded to, there's also the fact that magical spears are vastly less common than magical swords. In my own campaign, I've also disallowed dual wielding with a spear as well.

jedavis
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Swords are also a status symbol. If you want to be taken seriously in court, you can't show up with a spear; you might be mistaken for a rebellious peasant.

Actually though, in my experience parties usually find way more magic swords than they can use by somewhere in the 4th-5th level range. At that point fighters in the second and third ranks enter combat with a spear but drop it to draw magic swords if a gap opens in the front line.

Aryxymaraki
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Honestly, mechanically, spears are overpowered. Giving a class access to spear proficiency is an enormous bump in their combat effectiveness (when picking weapons for a Fighting 1 class, if you have spears, you're in better shape than if you didn't).

One intended drawback of spears is that they're easy to sunder relative to swords, but since special attacks in general in ACKS are underpowered, this doesn't help that much. Using some of the house rules people have on here to make special attacks more useful might be a good way to tone down the power of spears; if using a spear in melee put you at serious risk of losing your weapon, more people might think twice about it.

Lucasdelsur
Joined: 2015-05-05 18:43

you could give a -2 to close fightin (spear are not as good as swords at close fightin)

you could use sunder more often (anyone can use any manuver at -4)

you could give every othe weapon a small advantage of its own: like +1 damage to axes and maces, +1attack to swords.

Rhetorical Gamer
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you could give a -2 to close fightin (spear are not as good as swords at close fightin)

you could use sunder more often (anyone can use any manuver at -4)

you could give every othe weapon a small advantage of its own: like +1 damage to axes and maces, +1attack to swords.


-Lucasdelsur

 

I like the suggestion of giving spears a penalty in close fighting but then that opens up a whole can of worms with polearms, etc. Ultimately, I hope to avoid improving the other weapons because one of the best parts for me is that the rest of the weapons in the game are simple and effectively interchangable. 

It is possible that some of the intelligent boss-type monsters/encounters may find it in their dark hearts to sunder a little more often. 

For the moment, I think I'll keep things "as is" and see what happens. I will definitely invoke the rule that spears cannot be used with two-weapon fighting (makes sense considering their encumbrance).

koewn
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While Knockdown, Disarm, and Sunder seem to specifically omit the reference that several others have to Large opponents (as opposed to exceptionally large opponents from the blurb on pg110) one could also enfore size differences on those three.

An ogre contemptuously swinging his club around to break your spear in half (or knock it out of your hand) seems like a thing that should happen.

Utilizing the usual -4, an ogre would have a +0 penalty to their attack sunder a spear; not sure how that'd roll....magic spears would be uplifted in value, that's for sure.

Cinematically speaking, treating a successful sunder (or disarm?) as a "kill" for purposes of initiating a cleave sequence (limited to another sunder only) sounds fun. That same ogre could then sweep aside your spear wall.

 

Twilight Jack
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I think you guys are neglecting another disadvantage of spears (and polearms) that sets them apart from other weapons: a spear can't be holstered.  You're either carrying it or you're dropping it.  This is related to encumbrance, but ultimately a separate issue.  A dedicated spear fighter has to hand his weapon to an ally or toss it to the ground before he can engage in any activity that requires both hands.  If, as a Judge, you can't find ways to make that hassle into a tactical consideration, you aren't trying very hard.

Rhetorical Gamer
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It's a fair point. That said, if you are constantly picking on the spear guy that gets old.

Once combat is joined, the player will likely not have an issue with his spear not being "to hand" and outside of combat, it doesn't matter much if they put their spear down beside them as it is fairly incidental to pick it back up again.

 

I think you guys are neglecting another disadvantage of spears (and polearms) that sets them apart from other weapons: a spear can't be holstered.  You're either carrying it or you're dropping it.  This is related to encumbrance, but ultimately a separate issue.  A dedicated spear fighter has to hand his weapon to an ally or toss it to the ground before he can engage in any activity that requires both hands.  If, as a Judge, you can't find ways to make that hassle into a tactical consideration, you aren't trying very hard.


-SClaytonU

Twilight Jack
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I don't think you're picking on the spear guy if you require him to account for his spear whenever he takes an action that requires more hands than he's got.

A sudden glut of enemy fighters with Combat Trickery (sunder), who always target PCs wielding pole weapons?  THAT would be picking on the spear guy.

As for it being incidental to recover a spear once it's put down, I would tell that to the character who almost had to leave her spear at the bottom of a 20' deep pit trap in order to climb the rope her companions lowered to her.  That happened in my game just last session.  As it happened, she was able to toss it up high enough for one of her teammates to catch, but that involved some rolls and checks to accomplish, and could have ended differently.

The point isn't to punish the guy who's wielding a spear, merely to make the wielder contend with the natural consequences of that choice.  Is the choice usually worth it?  Yes, the spear is an awesome weapon (in Chinese martial arts, it's called "king of weapons").  The point is that it's not without its disadvantages, one of which is that it's impractical to carry one with you everywhere.

Aryxymaraki
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I'm not sure I agree with the idea that you can't sling a spear.

I've never done it with a spear, but with a staff (six feet in length, which for reference is also my height), taking a loop of rope and tossing it over the shoulder created a situation with the staff slung diagonally across my back. It's not difficult.

It's not difficult to draw it from that state, either, just shrug out of the loop. Takes about as long as dropping a backpack.

Twilight Jack
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I own a waxwood Chinese spear that is just over 7' in length.  The shaft of a viking spear seems to have averaged between 100% and 150% of the height of the wielder (so between 6'-9', on average).  The classical Greek dory spear had a similar spread, tending towards the longer side of that average (so 7'-9.5' or so).  Medieval pikes got up to 14', but those are better classified as polearms. 

It's also worth noting that a wicked sharp steel tip is the sort of thing a man would do well to monitor closely, lest he gouge out a companion's eye every time he turned around.  That might not be so easy to do if you've got the thing swinging free behind you.

As such, I'm not as convinced that a sling holster is a practical means of carrying your average spear.  It could be managed, I suppose, so long as the carrier had plenty of clearance, but that goes to hell if you're exploring a dungeon in close order formation.

At the end of the day, I suppose I agree with the original poster that spears are a powerful weapon within the mechanics of the game.  They happen to have been regarded as such throughout history as well.  Therefore, I'm inclined to balance them by exploring the historical reasons for their decline as the weapons of decision in warfare.  When I consider such things, the fact is that a spearfighter cannot also carry a bow, crossbow, or any other weapon which requires the use of both hands, nor can he engage in any activity which requires both hands without dropping the spear, is just the sort of thing to make a man reconsider. 

If I were forced to invent further rules to restrict the spear, I suppose I'd impose some sort of penalty against opponents who weren't directly in front of you (in general, I'm against facing rules in D&D combat, but it stands to reason when wielding a weapon that's only effective in one direction at a time).

Alex
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You could rule that fighter-types armed with spears and pole arms can only cleave up to half their level of experience, and that cleric/thief-types armed with spears and pole arms can only cleave up to one-quarter their level of experience. That would leave the spear as the weapon-of-choice for unskilled combatants, but encourage high-level combatants to use swords, axes, etc. 

You could increase the encumbrance of spears by 1 stone. That would decrease their usability for anyone who wants to maintain a 90' or 120' movement rate.

You could rule that spears are -1 to hit when used one-handed due to their unwieldiness.

You could rule that spears can be sundered without the -4 penalty to attack them.

 

Rhetorical Gamer
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All very practical suggestions. Thank you. I really like the idea of limiting cleaves with the spear. That strikes me as just the right note between "fiddly" and a real mechanical disadvantage. It also makes a certain amount of sense in the context of fighting "over the shoulder" of the front rank.

I think between that, and limiting spears such that you cannot two-weapon fight with them (it has been done in my game) that should create enough reasons to make it a choice.

Thanks again all.

You could rule that fighter-types armed with spears and pole arms can only cleave up to half their level of experience, and that cleric/thief-types armed with spears and pole arms can only cleave up to one-quarter their level of experience. That would leave the spear as the weapon-of-choice for unskilled combatants, but encourage high-level combatants to use swords, axes, etc. 

You could increase the encumbrance of spears by 1 stone. That would decrease their usability for anyone who wants to maintain a 90' or 120' movement rate.

You could rule that spears are -1 to hit when used one-handed due to their unwieldiness.

You could rule that spears can be sundered without the -4 penalty to attack them.

 


-Alex

nemomeme
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You could rule that fighter-types armed with spears and pole arms can only cleave up to half their level of experience, and that cleric/thief-types armed with spears and pole arms can only cleave up to one-quarter their level of experience. That would leave the spear as the weapon-of-choice for unskilled combatants, but encourage high-level combatants to use swords, axes, etc.

-Alex

As conceived here, would a 1st level fighter still get a cleave with a spear, or would they have to wait until 2nd level to get a cleave?

More broadly, I was looking for some universal round-up or round-down rule in the rulebook and did not find one.

 

Alex
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The universal rule for ACKS is round the 0.5 up if the base number is odd, down if the base number is even.

7.5 = 8

8.5 = 8

9.5 = 10

10.5 = 10

 

 

wmarshal
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This is going to be harsh on 1st level fighter types as 0 is an even number (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parity_of_zero), though it is a bit of a strange case. Under your rule the value of 0.5 would round down to plain old 0, unless there is a rule I'm forgetting stating the minimal value has to be 1. Even if there is no "minimum 1" I would make a HR to do such for cleaving if the character class can cleave at all. This would give classes that attack as fighters, clerics or thieves 1 cleave attack at first level. On the other hand, if you really want fighters to shy away from using the spear, then denying them their cleave completely at first level should do it.

Alex
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Good point. In practice I have always awarded 1 cleave at 1st level to the cleave-capable so don't listen to me.

Nimas
Joined: 2016-04-11 16:45

Uh, isn't the rule that Fighter & those who use their attack progression cleave at 1 level - 1 Cleave? And everyone else is at 1/2 level - 1 cleave? It makes perfect sense to me that a Fighter can cleave at level 1, but no-one else can (as honestly their martial superiority is not nearly as pronounced at low levels).

bobloblah
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Fighter-types get 1 Cleave per level, not 1/2 a Cleave, so it's a non-issue. 1st level Fighters and similar have 1 Cleave at 1st level, and non-Fighter classes do not Cleave at 1st level. In my experience it really makes Fighters stand apart in ACKS, right out of the gate.

Kiero
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Something else overlooked: a fighting spear is not a javelin. The thrown range for a spear is too long, but a javelin would have a longer range than that.

In my hack, fighting spears have a thrown range of 15/30/45. But javelins (a different weapon entirely, and much, much easier to sunder than a fighting spear) is 40/80/120.

That reduces the versatility aspect, and requires you to carry a separate thrown weapon if you want range. Of have a follower who carries your javelins for you.

nemomeme
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Okay, so with the hack mentioned above, a zero level henchman, a 2nd level (but not 3rd level) cleric and a 1st level fighter are all in the same boat with respect to NOT getting a cleave while using a spear, yes?

Maybe this still makes thematic sense seeing that the 1st level fighter is a "Veteran".

"Sure a spear is a fine weapon for you pressed serfs, but I'm not using it if I'm in the front rank."

As I look through all the B-modules and ponder the goblin guard posts where there are a couple goblins with spears and with a clear path to the front rank, it occurs to me this hack would be a great kindness to player characters (removing spear cleave from 1st level fighter progression). Sure those two measly charging spear goblins are going to drop the front line at the dungeon entrance, but this hack would meant they don't also go on to immediately drop the second rank of PCs.

The 2HD spear-carrying gnolls on the 2nd level though? Yeah, you're still doomed against them.

Beragon
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For what it's worth, I've kept it simple and simply ruled that you can't cleave with spears at all. I still have 3 out of 4 of my players with characters/hirelings/henchmen using spears in every session since the ruling.

nemomeme
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You know what, Beragon? I think that's what I'm going to rule. Nice and simple. I think that's about right because I might still carry and default to a spear even as a second level Fighter, switching to my axe or sword after the first round.

Still totally worth the extra stone. If it's sundered during the adventure, if I need to leave it behind to run or because I've accumulated treasure, I've still got my sword.

Rhetorical Gamer
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For what it's worth, I've kept it simple and simply ruled that you can't cleave with spears at all. I still have 3 out of 4 of my players with characters/hirelings/henchmen using spears in every session since the ruling.


-Beragon

 

This is great. I think I'm going with this too. Balances nicely with the extra damage and versatility of spears. Simple and clean. Thanks.