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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Spear and Shield Summary

Time to summarize some thoughts on the great debate about using a weapon length/AC swap rule for melee weapons, but excluding spears from that benefit, as well as the +/-2 modifications for using certain weapons (including the spear) against a shield. In case anyone missed some posts in the debate (or the comments on those posts,) here are the links:
  1. My thoughts on modifications to combat, and the responses
  2. My follow-up and brief second follow-up
  3. Charles Taylor responses about spearsshields and axes, and weapon reach
(Charles also has a post on confined spaces, not quite related to this exchange, but worth looking at. I had some thoughts on confined spaces a while ago, but forgot what I came up with, so I'm waiting a while to see if I can remember...)

Now, a great deal of the disagreement involved differences in the way we use words (like "block",) and possibly also they way we abstract combat (I'm a confirmed one-minute round, one roll to summarize the results of many combat actions GM, which might not be what Charles is doing.) Also, Charles seems to fall back on examples drawn from one-on-one challenges, whereas I'm thinking more in terms of melee in an enclosed space. This is why I talk about advancing/retreating and Charles talks about circling your opponent, which in my mind is something you'd never do if you're putting yourself between a crowd of goblins and your weak magician comrade. But we can skip all that; we're more concerned with the two main points of contention: (1) Does allowing two-hand swords to treat plate as AC 5 or 6, but not extended the same benefit to spears make the spear useless, or weaker than it should be? (2) Is the +2 bonus for ax/flail vs. shield illogical?

First, I'll respond to # 2, the easier point to deal with. The +2 for ax/flail, -2 for spear/bow vs. shield is, as mentioned, derived from an analysis Simon Bull did of the weapon vs. AC tables in Eldritch Wizardry and the AD&D PHB to simplify them. That's what my weapon-length swap rules were about: my own way of simplifying those tables, to produce nearly the same effect. So, although it does introduce a quirk where you can drop your shield when faced by an ax-wielding maniac and improve your odds, it does remain truer to the source. Note, though, that both I and Simon use Shields Shall Be Splintered, so the best response would not be to drop it immediately, but to sacrifice it to the first ax blow. And that's assuming you're only being attacked by people wielding axes, and not a mix of weapons.

(Incidentally, I've been reading Will McLean's blog about medieval matters, mostly because he posts excerpts of actual historical descriptions of armored combat. One of the things he found was that, historically, shields tended to be discarded after the first blow or two, mainly being used to block a thrown spear, very much as the Shields Shall Be Splintered usage would suggest.)

Anyways, Simon and I discussed the +2 ax/flail implication and came to the conclusion that reducing the mod to +1 (and -1 for spear/bow) wouldn't be too far away from the effects of the original weapon vs. AC table, but would correct this problem when using the tradition +1 defensive bonus for a shield (he actually uses a +2 bonus for the shield as a house rule, so he wouldn't have that illogical quirk.)

So, #2 is dispensed with: quirk eliminated. Now, back to #1. It's important to remember that, even if swords of 4 feet or longer get a benefit that the spear doesn't, the spear isn't any worse in terms of the attack roll than many one-hand melee weapons, and it's considerably better than a short sword when you take into account:
  1. the reach,
  2. any two-handed weapon bonus,
  3. the fact that it can be used one or two-handed, even with a shield,
  4. the fact that it can be thrown,
  5. the fact that it does double damage on a charge,
  6. the fact that it can be used from the second rank,
  7. the fact that it can be used two-handed up close to block or push back an opponent.
In fact, spears are pretty versatile and ought to be considered as a second or third weapon option on an expedition. Just because it can't be used as an all-in-one answer to every combat situation doesn't mean the spear has been "nerfed".

In particular, I'd like to point to my comment about a spear being a "knife on a stick". There's two reasons I said that (not counting the fact that I'm not the first person to say that.) One is: the weapon-length/AC swap idea is basically using weapon length as a stand-in for weight of a melee weapon and the size of the danger zone. The other is: like a knife, the spear is best when it is aimed at a vulnerable spot ... but unlike a knife, the reach of the spear allows you to stab at an eyeslit or a weak spot in armor from a safe distance, perhaps even as the first blow in combat.

So, although Charles is definitely going to continue doing things his way and I'm going to do them my way, I hope he sees now that I'm not planning on making spears irrelevant.

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