Today while doing a home improvement project I had occasion to walk around the house with a dueling version of the venerable “Ten Foot Pole” from Dungeons and Dragons.

Well, not too much – the pole was nine feet long.

Boy was it a pain in the butt. My basement has ceilings that range from seven to nine feet, with nine being the distance, MAYBE from concrete to up inside the joists.

But to wander around with such a thing? In anything resembling a real dungeon? Icky and annoying.

Heck, I self-imposed this on myself while playing Cadmus, my character in the Pathfinder-inspired GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign I play in on Tuesdays. He’s an axe-and-shield guy, but I wanted him to also be skilled in a long weapon, and so I chose a dueling poleaxe, with spear, hammerhead, and pick. But realistically, a Reach 2,3 (6-9 foot beyond the 1-yard hex he’s standing in)  weapon is just unwieldy. I kept making jokes to the GM about “can’t I have one of those Highlander polearms, that you can just procure out of nowhere and that doesn’t encumber you at all?”

GURPS gives Bulk ratings only to ranged weapons; Holdout penalties in the Basic Set come close, but top out at -6 for a “heavy sniper rifle,” and a bastard sword is -5. A longbow, which is going to be six or seven feet long, is -8. I came up with a formula (as I always do) for Bulk as a function of length for The Deadly Spring (my article in Pyramid #3/33) making Bulk equal to 9 – 9*log(weapon length in inches). If you have a crossbow, add the length of the bow-part to the length of the stock. So a 9-foot pole is -9, and a 10-footer is -10.

If you apply this (or some fraction thereof) as a penalty to DX to move around with the damn thing, especially in a hurry, well, given how many times I banged it into the ceiling, it reality checks well.

8 thoughts on “Managing polearms

  1. Something based on 3xReach sounds perfectly workable. Maybe 1+3*Reach, which would be -1 for knives and Reach 0 weapons (the Basic Set says -1 for daggers, -2 for large knives); -4 for Reach 1 weapons (that checks with broadswords), Reach 2 isn't really listed, but -7 (given a sniper rifle at -6) doesn't seem wonky, and Reach 3 is -10.

    One could then say "-1 for 'small' versions of the same thing, +1 for large." So a tiny palm knife is Holdout/Bulk 0; a short sword is -3, a "large" sword like a bastard sword is -5. A greatsword might be -6 or -7, which would be a 6' staff or spear, while a halberd or dueling arm might be -7 or -8.

    That works well for realism AND is quick and dirty. Best of both worlds.

    1. We had a rule that initiative – when two people came across each randomly, as opposed to simply judging things – was Bulk + Basic Speed + 1d6. Bulk was simply -1 for each foot length of weapon or part thereof.

  2. Hey, clever thought trying that out!

    Reach seems like the way to go.

    What sort of DX checks – anything other than attacking?

    Would it be viable to apply the same penalty to attacks for swinging weapons if there is a wall on any two adjacent hex sides?

    1. I agree Reach is simpler, and since you're not really going to get too much more than Reach 4-5, it's self-limiting. Probaably want to make the multiplier 3/Linear Scale (from Size-Speed/Range Table) for large/small critters.

      For DX checks mainly for movement and stuff. I'd honestly NOT apply it to most attacks; skill is what allows you to use a Reach 3 weapon correctly. I might apply it to Move and Attack, or half penalty or something, unifying the way Bulk is used to all weapons.

      I think there was a discussion of swinging weapons in hallways in one of Bill S's manuscripts. I don't remember if it's out yet.

  3. I think you will find that in a lot of cases the normal dungeon crawlers who, unlike yourself, have never taken the time to try out a Ten foot pole or even tried to strap a great sword on their back while carrying a broad sword and a short sword on their right waist with a bow and arrow to boot. Add a leather jerkin with a coat of mail and a steel corselet and they would be hard pressed to make up a flight of stairs, let alone a ten minute combat with an band of Orcs and Hobgoblins. Funny how real-world realities intrude when you try them out fot real.

    1. Heh! Yeah, this was one of those moments where I was moving that stair rail from the garage to the basement. I'm geeky enough to admit that by the time I got through my house, which isn't quite 'a maze of twisty passages, all alike,' but one has to navigate a couple of tight corners. With my Reach 3, 9' staff – which matches historical staffs with the quarter-staff technique, which were commonly 7-9 feet! – I had a bugger of a time moving through the house without hitting ceilings, getting through doors, etc.

      Hell, I used to bang my rapier into stuff ALL THE TIME at the Minnesota Renaissance Fair. Benches, doors, toddlers . . . harder than you'd think. That being said, as I got better trained in the sword, I had a better sense for moving around with it.

      Nonetheless, this is clearly a case where you have to invoke the Wendler-Dell'Orto Rule of Awesome: http://dungeonfantastic.blogspot.com/2011/09/rule-of-awesome.html.

      If the game is made better by invoking a rule about a DX penalty to most non-combat uses of long weapons in confined spaces, and a limit to using a pole weapon as a swung, rather than thrusting, weapon . . . it is Awesome and should be done. If not, it sucks and go ahead and whip that pike around in a nice regular 10×10' dungeon tile. Why not?

      Definitely something to ask the GM. I don't know if Peter penalizes his players for super-long weapons in tight quarters, but my DF GM does!

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