Wednesday 26 July 2023

How Many Polearms?

Why are weapons handled the way that they are in Mythic Bastionland

Let's read some Oddpocrypha on the matter.


The Knights are trapped in a besieged citadel, the attackers almost through the main gate.

Tal: I knew this was a trap when we had to hand our weapons over on arrival.  

Moss: But this place must have weapons somewhere. Where did the guards get their weapons from?

Ref: Some guards stuck around, obviously not part of the plot against you. They hurriedly direct you to an arms store at the base of the citadel. There’s basically any common weapon you could want. Some piecemeal armour too, but you still have your own armour at least.

Tal: What looks most dangerous?

Ref: So there are some polearms, like some halberds and… fauchards? You know, blades and spikes on poles. They look the most effective, but they’re also Long, so won’t be great in an enclosed environment.

Tal: Yeah and I guess we’re going to be fighting on that big spiral stair at some point.

Moss: Okay, something one-handed, so I can use my shield. Like a solid mace or axe?

Tal: Hey remember those bone-creatures were tough to kill with sharp weapons? Let’s get a mace and shield each. Actually, I’ll take a mace and another weapon. Is there something I could wield in my other hand?

Ref: Sure, you grab a hefty mace and a light mace that you can wield together effectively.

Moss: Wait, are there any javelins here? Or spears that we could throw if needed?

Ref: Erm, hang on.

Ref makes a Luck Roll and gets 4, an okay result for the players.

Ref: So there are some shortspears. Not really designed for throwing but they’ll work okay. Let’s say you can throw them, but rolls of 6 are discarded.

Moss: Rubbish. Well better than throwing rocks I guess.  


In Mythic Bastionland I wanted weapons to matter, but not too much. I wanted players to feel like their choice of weapon matters, but I didn’t want them to spend lots of time crunching numbers and weighing up options. 

Breaking the weapons into broad categories means that the choice between a polearm or a shortsword matters, but specific polearms generally behave in the same way.

Specialist weapons are special case if you really want a weapon for a niche situation.

Here the players start by looking for the “best” weapon, which Ref reasonably interprets as “the weapon with the biggest attack die”, but their current situation of defending a tower leads them to consider the environment they’re likely to be fighting in. 

Better yet, they remember that blunt weapons would be especially useful against their expected enemy. There’s no “blunt” weapon type listed, so the game relies on the group using common sense. An advantage of this approach is that mechanically identical weapons can become mechanically distinct if the right situation arises. 

When looking for a particular type of weapon, Ref falls back on the ever-useful Luck Roll, a mixed result prompting them to say that they find a weapon that almost does what they want.  Here Ref throws together a ruling out of nowhere, saying that throwing the spears will mean rolls of 6 are discarded, making them less effective than javelins.

They could have gone in other directions with this. Perhaps they’re ineffective at anything but very close range, perhaps they gain the slow type when thrown, or perhaps they’re bulky enough that you can only carry a few of them, rather than a bunch of javelins. 

It’s inevitable that a referee will need to make rulings like this on the fly, and I think this solution is fine. On average this ruling is identical to saying “thrown attacks are impaired” with a slightly different distribution of possible results, but I like the idea that players might roll a 6 and curse the clumsy spears, wishing they had proper javelins instead.


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1 comment:

  1. Nitpicking, I know, I know!, but I'm a historical fencing enthusiast so I'll say it anyway…

    Poleaxes weren't particularly long, especially compared to other pole weapons – some were comparable to a longsword or just slightly longer – but due to how they were held and used, they were actually quite effective even at grappling range, and often used to hook and assist throws rather than just strike.

    For example, look at Fiore dei Liberi's ( or Paulus Kal's ( treatises.

    They were, however, specialised weapons for plate armoured knight vs. plate armoured knight. I'd say they would actually be a valid choice against bone creatures 😁