banging my head against a wall of spears

Ok, I’m a perv. I have to admit it.

I really like polearms. I like pikes, halberds, partisans, spears, becs de corbin, swordstaves, longobarde (also called bardiches), ranseurs, guisarmes, naginatas, sarisse, lances and yaris. Gygaxian polearms spreads people find useless make me happy, and while I still dunno if his (apparent) liking them so much has something to do with his Swiss ancestry or not, I guess I never will (there are other links between Gygax and Switzerland, better left for another post tho). I consider squares of pikemen in aggressive stance, moving their forest of pointy deaths toward their intended target, the most terribly grandiose medieval display of condensed utter disregard for human life and suffering. The “push of pikes”, two pikemen squares against each other, pikes ending up in a number of wrong places with a lot of pushing till one of the formations involved collapses, is for me an amazing symbol of the futility of war.

The sheer ingenuity of putting a blade at the end of a long stick to better reach the enemy and keep it away at the same time is not lost to me; even Pappo, my B/X halfling thief, uses a pole-torch (10′ pole with a torch attachment) as main weapon. It’s really good to set moulds and oozes on fire from a safe distance. Or to set anything else on fire, by the way.

In addition polearms (together with missile weapons) proved instrumental in abolishing the wonder-weapon of medieval battlefields, aristocratic knights on heavy armoured cavalry.

Still, B/X and BECM don’t really do polearms well, hence the need for some more house rules. While I don’t particularly like adding rules to the game, I feel that the DM could turn consistent rulings into codified rules: after all, it eases the GM life and allow players to organize a bit.

My questions were:

  • how many spearmen can fight side by side in a 10′ wide corridor?
  • can I use a spear to attack from the second line? And a halberd?
  • What’s the spear-setting thing in the handbook?

The relevant answers evolved in this (still fluid) set of rules, which is optimized for interesting play and not for realism, as always.

Long Weapons

Long weapons are listed in the handbooks under three different names: spear, lance and polearms. The pike, a long spear, is added. The lance is used on horseback and marginally covered in these rules, which focus on footmen.

Initiative and setting polearms

Use of long weapons against an opponent with a shorter weapon wins initiative in the round the two opponents get close in melee if the long weapon is facing the attack general direction. This means that a knight with a lance and a footman with a spear will automatically win initiative against a footman with a sword or mace but not against each other, for example. If a footman with a long weapon (spear, pike, halberd or any other polearm with a spear tip) is facing the opponent and not surprised, stunned or incapacitated he’ll deal double damage against charging enemies as his weapon will be set.


Pikes are 20 feet long spears wielded two handed, not throwable, dealing 1d6 damage. They cost as spears but are not really useful in dungeons, due to the cramped environment (turning a 20′ spear in a 10′ wide corridor is not easy).

Second line

A footman with a spear can attack from the second line or, if in the first line, can attack the second line of the enemy formation. In both cases the initiative is not automatically won. Pikemen can attack from the third line, but if in the first line can’t attack opponents in the enemy formation’s first line.

Spearmen groups

If a spearman has a spearman using a shield on his right, he can gain cover by the shield gaining a 1 point AC bonus. Three such spearman can fit side by side in 10″, for example in a dungeon corridor.

Hedgehog and moving spear walls

It takes a full round to change spear orientation if in formation.

For example, six spearmen are in the first two lines, wizard and cleric in the back. Bugbears attack the party from behind. The first line of spearmen can’t do much, while the second line can spend a round turning around and repositioning, attacking from the second line over the third in the next round.

Obviously DMs uses these rules too. Orcs with spears are a pushover no more. Enjoy 🙂


2 thoughts on “banging my head against a wall of spears

  1. Would you let spearmen using two-headed spears turn as part of their movement instead of taking a whole round? Not as in the 3E whirlwind of death type of weapon, but used strictly to let you use one end or the other. Would you say it’s a good rule that you can’t turn your spear facing if your spear is longer than the ceiling height?

    • Generally yes to both.
      But, answering to the first point, no. I like to present choices to my players. Choices that force them to think hard. Spending a round to turn facing if in a dense formation is good enough and they NEVER complained.
      They don’t use pikes in dungeon because of the second point.

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