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"Do Polearms Belong in the Dungeon?" Topic

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07 Jan 2023 6:08 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian27 Jul 2021 10:10 p.m. PST

In an environment often dominated by narrow corridors and small cell-like chambers, are polearms a practical weapon?

Personal logo Parzival Supporting Member of TMP27 Jul 2021 10:26 p.m. PST

Depends on the polearm, which is a very broad term, ranging from a 6' spear to a 24' pike. The former is perfectly usable in an indoor space, the latter is not.

Eumelus Supporting Member of TMP27 Jul 2021 11:05 p.m. PST

Very useful for at least two reasons: probing for trap doors, trip-wires, invisible or illusory hazards, etc., and for receiving/fending off charges by large monsters in corridors and open areas. If the way forward becomes narrow and confined, they can be passed back to be carried by the hirelings in the rear, until needed up front again.

And Parzival is correct, we're talking 8' to 9' halberds or partizans here, not pikes.

Vis Bellica27 Jul 2021 11:53 p.m. PST

As above, but the noise level would be high: no sneaking around with polearms in a dungeon!

I store my naginata and Dragon Pole (9ft) in the stairwell and always make clattering banging progress through the house as I take them out the front door, especially if I'm carrying anything else.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Jul 2021 2:25 a.m. PST

I've found that while I don't know what is in the dungeon, practically nothing doesn't know I'm there. Leading with a pointy metal bit three or four foot ahead of you is rarely a bad idea.


Personal logo Virtualscratchbuilder Supporting Member of TMP Fezian28 Jul 2021 4:50 a.m. PST

Back in the '70s I had a campaign going in which one of the players insisted on bringing a pike into the dungeon. Guess what… you cannot turn a 15' pike around in an 8' corridor when you get attacked from behind, and your dagger secondary weapon does NOT put you at an advantage in combat with Orcs.

Personal logo Sgt Slag Supporting Member of TMP28 Jul 2021 6:15 a.m. PST

Actually, if the entire front to third ranks have pole arms pointed forward, it can work rather well, presenting a wall of sharp, pointy metal bits! Pole arms work best in lines of troops. If you have 3-4 people, with spears thrust in front of them, in two ranks, that puts a lot of sharp points out front. The issue, of course, is that almost no adventuring party consists of 4-6 Fighters, all armed with spears/pole arms.

Could they work? Yes, for enemies in front of you. Do they have limitations in a dungeon? Yes, they do! I would say that a six foot spear would be the best, in two ranks of three across. Barring missile weapons, an enemy attacking you from the front, will have a rough go of it. With spears being only six feet long, you could have the 2nd rank turn to face the rear, or side, if necessary. You just have to have a party of at least six Fighters, along with the rest of the party: mage, cleric, and thief. Cheers!

USAFpilot28 Jul 2021 6:51 a.m. PST

Never was a fan of polearms for dungeons, too cumbersome. My characters usually carried a long sword with the other hand free. And you could always scabbard the sword and have two hands free or carry a lantern or torch. The idea is that your characters are not in a state on constant combat but exploring and it helps to have your hands, or a hand free.

Kropotkin303 Supporting Member of TMP28 Jul 2021 7:16 a.m. PST

Wasn't it popular for dungeon adventurers to carry a 10 foot pole back in the day so they could perform all kinds of feats? Surely a polearm would be comparable.

IUsedToBeSomeone28 Jul 2021 7:17 a.m. PST


Exactly the point I was going to make – a polearm is probably more useful than a 10' pole as well…


Personal logo 20thmaine Supporting Member of TMP28 Jul 2021 7:39 a.m. PST

Depends how big the dungeon is I'd imagine a polearm, or even a pike phalanx, would be ok in most of the major parts of Moria. Not so good in the sneaking in the side entrance parts of Erebor.

leidang28 Jul 2021 7:42 a.m. PST

A fight in a corridor is quickly going to be reduced to thrusts. A polearm with a point would actually be more useful than an axe or mace in tight confines. It could at least still be used from the back rank.

Front ranks would quickly be reduced to daggers and short swords like a saex.

Of course carrying and maneuvering a polearm through tight spaces comes with it's own problems.

Andrew Walters28 Jul 2021 9:07 a.m. PST

Back in the '70s someone once asked Steve Perrin why Runequest had halberds when Runequest is a Bronze Age game and halberds are a renaissance weapon. Mr. Perrin just said, "trolls."

And while attending to practical matters can make for a good game and increases the immersion, we're talking vast underground complexes full of beholders so we need to take "realism" with a grain of salt. If you want a ____glave, if it fits with your character, take the glave.

If I were the game master, I would certainly be looking for the chance to inconvenience or embarrass you for taking the pole arm. I am also looking for a chance to allow you to save the day with the pole arm. We're seeking emotion, not simulation. Simulation is only there to support imagination.

DisasterWargamer Supporting Member of TMP28 Jul 2021 10:59 a.m. PST

Sure – though as others have said limitations are definitely there – so hope you have a secondary weapon

Korvessa28 Jul 2021 11:14 a.m. PST

Likely more useful tan a longbow I imagine

SpuriousMilius28 Jul 2021 11:35 a.m. PST

One DM in my D&D group had a phalanx of goblins armed with long spears who could block the dungeon hallway with spearpoints 4 deep backed up by archers thus forcing us to wear them down or rout them with missiles or magic that wouldn't rebound on our party. It was a nuisance but we took some hits & expended some of our limited stock of arrows & spells early in the adventure.

John the OFM28 Jul 2021 6:39 p.m. PST

I dunno. Gary Gygax was famously in love with all kinds of pole arms.
So therefore voulges, guisarms and Bohemian Ear Spoons were not only allowed but mandatory.

Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP28 Jul 2021 8:07 p.m. PST

I've done SCA fighting inside a small house and defending a stairway polearms work just fine in tight indoor quarters and are my weapon of choice for that sort of thing.

In addition to thrusting, the best snap cut with them doesn't take up any wider space than your body anyway. You crank your hip into it and pull back with your lower hand for leverage while snapping the upper hand forward.

Held upight in front of your body, it's a superb parrying weapon with the snap cut as the riposte.

You're never swinging them wildly around to the side or overhead in any useful fighting technique.

Oberlindes Sol LIC Supporting Member of TMP28 Jul 2021 10:19 p.m. PST

You'll be wanting the pole arms for the forest adventure to and from the dungeon anyway.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP28 Jul 2021 10:32 p.m. PST


That's an interesting point. Some of the forests where I growed up in Appalachia are probably worse places to use a polearm than in a dungeon.

Deer trails tend to be much narrower than corridors, and just off the deer trail, the density of branches and such would make polearms tough to use. Unlike most dungeon encounters, things can attack you from the sides … in fact, they're more likely to!


Personal logo miniMo Supporting Member of TMP29 Jul 2021 7:28 a.m. PST

Polearms work just fine in a woods battle too. Same principles for working in confined spaces that makes them good indoors.

That type of thick undergrowth is much more of a damper on maneuvering and agility than it is on a polearms weapon form.

A buttspike on the polearm would definitely be your friend for critters coming from the side. But even without a buttspike, you would want to hold a polearm blade down to fight shorter than people critters anyway.

olicana29 Jul 2021 1:23 p.m. PST


Good enough to guard the corridors of the Vatican.

Zephyr129 Jul 2021 9:13 p.m. PST

Those are just for show. ;-)
Believe it or not, they have SMG's concealed in those uniforms…

Col Durnford Supporting Member of TMP31 Jul 2021 6:13 a.m. PST

Anyone make them with SMG's in 28mm?

jamemurp03 Aug 2021 8:35 a.m. PST

Is this another "realism" question? How and why are their so many dungeons anyway? Who builds and maintains them? How do you even breath in some of them? This kind of question strikes me as getting way into game as reality simulator. If dungeons are just an excuse to kill and loot monsters, who cares? The kind of weapon is just dressing. If it is a tactical game, then it is a strategic question that should be built into the rules.

We already kind of have an answer anyway. Trench warfare provided a wide variety of clubs, blades, axes and even makeshift spears in the form of rifle bayonets. Full sized polearms and poleaxes developed in a completely different environment and obviously have some drawbacks in tight quarters. Additionally, you don't really get the full benefit (reach) in such close quarters.

That being said, gaming dungeons tend to be full of grand altars, caverns and other big spaces where giants, dragons, and similar monstrosities could be engaged.

Lapsang23 Sep 2021 5:20 a.m. PST

Pikes were as long as they were primarily to fend off attacks by Cavalry, so one has to wonder how a Cavalry force would fare down a Dungeon…

A Half Pike with Spearheads at both ends might solve the problem of being atacked from the rear…

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Sep 2021 4:15 p.m. PST

Fair point above …

Dungeons and Kobolds … No. The fat guy can't come, either (Wait! That's me!) … or the tall guy (Not me, this time). Everybody sharpen your penknives.

Dungeons and forty foot lizards with a sixty foot wingspan that can comfortably turn around in the rooms … Maybe enough space for a halbred.

La Fleche28 Sep 2021 3:01 a.m. PST

I disagree about the pike not being useful in dungeons.

To check room for monsters:

1. Tie chicken to end of pike.
2. Insert pike into room .
3. Jiggle pike.
4. Withdraw pike from room.
5. Check to see if chicken is still attached to pike.

If the pike still has the chicken attached either there is no monster in the room; the room contains an intelligent problem-solving monster or aware of the ruse; the room contains a semi-intelligent monster which has previously experienced the chicken on a pike trick.

If there is nothing on the end of the pike but chicken blood then there is a hungry un- or semi-intelligent monster in the room.

Tf there is no chicken or blood on the end of the pike then there is probably another chicken in the room with a knot untying ability of 15 or greater.

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