Monday, June 28, 2010

Spears & Swords in Chainmail

After a quiet May, chipping away at my Master's Thesis, I finally have a breather to talk shop again. I just want to briefly address the noble spear and sword, two ancient and remarkably versatile weapons that perhaps don't get all the respect they deserve in Chainmail.

The spear holds esteem as being the most ancient of elegant weapons - a simple design that invites a profound depth of mastery. Others have bewailed the poor sorts the spear has been dealt before. Indeed, a weapon that E.O. seemed to favor in his art has generally been relegated in Dungeons & Dragons to dealing less damage than the competition, with no advantage granted for its superior length and versatility.

Yet, Chainmail presents much more detailed rules for individual weapon types, and should more than account for the different strengths and weaknesses of each armament. The spear's high weapon class of 8 certainly allows it to strike first against a majority of weapons on the charge. After the first round, however, the high weapon class becomes a disadvantage, penalizing the spear with a subordinate striking order - a drawback meant to handicap unwieldy weapons like the two-handed sword or pike. The parry rules (which could equally represent the quick, warding jabs of the spearpoint) further punish high weapon class, meaning the spear is actually a terrible choice for a defensive weapon.

While I don't think, as Sham suggests in his article, that we need to see a proliferation of magical spears (in comparison to magical swords) to offset this imbalance, I would propose a simple house rule to better represent this humble but graceful weapon. But first, lets take a look at the treatment of the sword in Chainmail.

The sword is, of course, a classic weapon. The flexible design of the sword can be employed to jab, slash and parry with equal authority. Looking at the Man-to-Man Melee Table in Chainmail shows that the sword's weapon class represents this well - it is high enough to outreach simple maces, hand axes and daggers, while it is also low enough to strike faster than (and effectively parry) all other weapon types. The only apparent disadvantage is the low kill number for the sword. It is comparable to neighboring classes of weapons against lightly armoured foes and significantly worse against heavily armoured enemies. I'm loathe to adjust this directly, considering that the aforementioned proliferation of magical swords already impacts this. Instead, I suggest the same presaged house rule to allow the humble, mundane sword even more flexibility to strike faster, more often and to parry more effectively.

Swords & Spears
When wielding these versatile weapons, a Hero may employ the full weapon class or half the weapon class at any time.

This allows swords and spears to strike more quickly (both in terms of number of strikes and strike order) and to serve as excellent defensive weapons (with regards to the rules for parrying), without sacrificing their advantages in reach (due to high weapon class). Thus, spears and swords are good, tactical choices for arms. For blunt striking power, the heavier armaments are still ideal, but if you want an edge in fending off monstrous claws and humanoid weaponry in the dark hallways of the dungeon, or if you value an earlier strike, spears and swords are the weapon of choice.


  1. I agree with you, the spear is underappreciated and underutilized.

    I'm not sure i'm following the argument. Part of the problem with the Chainmail --> D&D conversion is that in Chainmail, rabble were usually killed in one hit, so the longer weapon was useful to eliminate your opponent before he git inside your defences.

    D&D screwed with this wargaming tradition of longer weapons striking, and usually killing first, by prolonging combat to multiple rounds.

  2. I'm not sure I understand, the above house rules would be used for OD&D (using Chainmail for combat). As you said, OD&D combat is more prolonged, so the above house rule helps the spear and sword strike earlier even after the first round of combat. Also, importantly, the above house rule reinforces the sword and spear as elegant weapons useful for defense (the Chainmail rules for parrying require low weapon classes to successfully parry).

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