09 January 2016

About That Ranseur

For us ancient gamers, back when gamer meant pencils, a table, paper and dice, there was Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

We recall E Gary Gygax looked up every synonym of "polearm" and put them on the weapon table.  We even got pictures when Unearthed Arcana came out.

If you used the speed/range table, the differences in these weapons mattered.  Real debate about the relative merit between a glaive and glaive-guisarme happened with the same heat as 9mm vs .45.

Here's a series of youtube on the problem.  In particular...

It was actually something of a relief when we converted to GURPS with just a few polearms defined by effect rather than appearance (glaive, halberd, and poleaxe in 3e adding a naginata for 4e) and it boils down to what kind of thrusting damage you do when stabbing and if there's a hook on the side.  The GURPS names for these things is wrong for a lot of the weapons represented, and it's not until Low-Tech for 4e that we start adding in all the silly sub-variants we're familiar with from the old AD&D days, but it's still a pretty sparse list by comparison.  Bill (including dueling bill, forest bill and guisarme), Glaive (including dueling glaive, bardiche, fauchard, jedwart, jeddart stave, and lochaber axe), Halberd (including dueling halberd, ji and voulge), Horse-Cutter (including pudao and bisento), Monk's Spade, Naginata (including nagamaki, rhomphaia, and ngao), Poleaxe (ahistorical) and Polleaxe (including bec de corbin).  With sub-variations listed in the text description.

In GURPS, spears (including bolg, chaing, hasta, ngao, sibat and yari) and warhammers aren't polearms because they use different skills.

Our friend the ranseur is listed under partisan (Low Tech p. 60), and that's just a kind of spear using the spear skill.  In GURPS terms, a ranseur is the same as a boar spear, Bohemian ear-spoon, magari-yari, partisan, spetum, or spontoon.  An "unthrowable" spear with something to keep the impaled target from walking up the stave (rules for this are in the GURPS: Martial Arts I don't own).


  1. I get the feeling with polearm heads it was as much artistic whim and trying to make something scary looking and ye olde buzzword marketable. With no internet to argue over the respective merits, if it wasn't purchased in bulk by someone it came down to "Buy this one! It's got the most spikes!"

    Even in later editions of D&D, which still have sizeable but less ridiculous tables of polearms, I think I'm the only person in any game I've taken part in who's actually USED one. Polearms just aren't sexy enough (and depending on D&D editions like 3.5 that require a special build be used to actually remain effective, not always viable).

    I want to compare polearms to the glock of the middle ages (boring but practical), but they were a main combat implement so that would imply rifle/musket, most of which take a bayonet to turn back into a polearm so the whole thing kind of just breaks down.

    If you're curious, the rules for keeping foes at bay are stop thrust, check for knockback/knockdown (foe must win quick contest of ST if you didn't use a thrusting/impaling weapon or didn't get through DR). If you punched said thrusting impaling weapon into him, it's a will-3 (+3 for high pain threshold, -4 for low), which moves the wound up to max possible injury. If max damage using HIS thrust score is greater than his back armor, your weapon is now stuck and he may advance normally.

  2. Many, if not most, of the names for swords come from historians attempting to keep them differentiated.

    I'll bet much the same thing is going on with polearms.

    Always fun is this post from S Weasel.

  3. I forgot to mention that I'm the polearm guy too. GURPS and hexes was the first game we played where you could place the halberder behind a couple guys with swords and reach past them to attack. This also gave the guy with the polearm cover to take time to re-ready it.


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