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D&D 5E Spear houserule

While doing research for the mass combat rules I may or may not end up successfully creating, I kept running into something that has always bugged me about the 5e weapons: the spear.

To start, we have a javelin, a spear, and a pike in the rules to represent the three real-world categories of spear-like weapons. So far, so good.

The spear is a cheap simple weapon, as it should be. The problem is that, more than most other simple weapons, it is a weapon that is also used as a primary weapon by more skilled warriors and trained armies. Mechanically, it isn't on par with martial weapons, and it's a bad choice you probably aren't going to take for a PC. And when I look at the guard NPC statblock with its pitiful spear, I just feel bad.

In addition, there are conceptual issues because an essential part of the historical spear was its reach. Based on my cursory research, real spears were of similar length to glaives and halberds, which do have reach in 5e. But the spear doesn't, for some weird reason. While this is just an annoyance at the normal D&D scale, when you start messing with mass combat considerations, spears don't work. They need to both be usable in one-hand and have reach so they can be used for the actual spear and shield tactics that people used spears for.

But I found something interesting in my research. Apparently there are supposed to be two types of (sub-pike) spears. Thrusting and throwing. Javelins are for throwing, and thrusting spears aren't.

. . .

That was the revelation. What's holding back the spear is that it's being given the Thrown property unnecessarily. Sure, if you throw it it might fly better than if you throw a flail or scimitar, but so would a shortsword and that doesn't have the Thrown property. The thing is that you don't throw your thrusting spear except in extreme situations, because then you don't have it anymore. If you want to throw spears, that's what javelins are for. Carry 7 of them like the Romans.

So here is the spear houserule: Remove the Thrown property; add the Reach property. Everything else stays the same.

Conceptually this puts spears in their correct place on the javelin-spear-pike continuum.

Javelins can be used in melee, but are designed for throwing. (1d6 damage, ranged or melee)

Spears are designed for thrusting, have reach, and can be used either one-handed with a shield or two-handed. (1d6 damage melee reach with shield, or 1d8 damage melee reach two-handed)

Pikes are too big for one-handed use (and obviously have reach). (1d10 damage melee reach two-handed)

Mechanically, they now have a meaningful niche and are still balanced properly with other weapons. PCs and NPCs alike have a reason to choose a spear either at the personal or mass combat scale. This does put them on par with martial weapons, but I'm probably okay with that. Spears have been one of the most popular weapons in history, and this rule makes that hold up.

I'm hoping it works out the way I like. If everyone gives up on longswords and battleaxes and converts to spears, then I've screwed up. Otherwise, I think this should fix it.

EDIT: After following the discussion and putting a lot of thought into it, I decided a better solution was to make a martial warspear with the stats of a war pick, give it to guards, and treat phalanx reach situations as a facet of mass combat rules rather than standard D&D combat.
 
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Ath-kethin

Elder Thing
I think your suggestions are sound based on your research, and I agree with the changes you suggest. Spears have been historically very underserved in all editions of D&D, and while your amendment might not change that much it definitely gives the spear more of an identity in the equipment list.
 

While doing research for the mass combat rules I may or may not end up successfully creating, I kept running into something that has always bugged me about the 5e weapons: the spear.

To start, we have a javelin, a spear, and a pike in the rules to represent the three real-world categories of spear-like weapons. So far, so good.

The spear is a cheap simple weapon, as it should be. The problem is that, more than most other simple weapons, it is a weapon that is also used as a primary weapon by more skilled warriors and trained armies. Mechanically, it isn't on par with martial weapons, and it's a bad choice you probably aren't going to take for a PC. And when I look at the guard NPC statblock with its pitiful spear, I just feel bad.

In addition, there are conceptual issues because an essential part of the historical spear was its reach. Based on my cursory research, real spears were of similar length to glaives and halberds, which do have reach in 5e. But the spear doesn't, for some weird reason. While this is just an annoyance at the normal D&D scale, when you start messing with mass combat considerations, spears don't work. They need to both be usable in one-hand and have reach so they can be used for the actual spear and shield tactics that people used spears for.

But I found something interesting in my research. Apparently there are supposed to be two types of (sub-pike) spears. Thrusting and throwing. Javelins are for throwing, and thrusting spears aren't.

. . .

That was the revelation. What's holding back the spear is that it's being given the Thrown property unnecessarily. Sure, if you throw it it might fly better than if you throw a flail or scimitar, but so would a shortsword and that doesn't have the Thrown property. The thing is that you don't throw your thrusting spear except in extreme situations, because then you don't have it anymore. If you want to throw spears, that's what javelins are for. Carry 7 of them like the Romans.

So here is the spear houserule: Remove the Thrown property; add the Reach property. Everything else stays the same.

Conceptually this puts spears in their correct place on the javelin-spear-pike continuum.

Javelins can be used in melee, but are designed for throwing. (1d6 damage, ranged or melee)

Spears are designed for thrusting, have reach, and can be used either one-handed with a shield or two-handed. (1d6 damage melee reach with shield, or 1d8 damage melee reach two-handed)

Pikes are too big for one-handed use (and obviously have reach). (1d10 damage melee reach two-handed)

Mechanically, they now have a meaningful niche and are still balanced properly with other weapons. PCs and NPCs alike have a reason to choose a spear either at the personal or mass combat scale. This does put them on par with martial weapons, but I'm probably okay with that. Spears have been one of the most popular weapons in history, and this rule makes that hold up.

I'm hoping it works out the way I like. If everyone gives up on longswords and battleaxes and converts to spears, then I've screwed up. Otherwise, I think this should fix it.

Human spearmen (which is every spearman you've ever heard of in real life) have the PAM feat.

If they're Fighters, they also have the protection fighting style, imposing disadvantage on melee attacks against the enire phalanx (each man protecting the one to his right, and the ones behind the ones to the front)/
 

While I wouldn't necessarily go the route you have, I feel that it works quite well. A bit of verbiage change would help too. The javelin is a specific type of throwing spear, while the spear is just the generic catchall of all spears. By changing the names to throwing spear and heavy spear, it would differentiate them properly. This is kind of the same issue with "studded leather" and "long sword."
 

While I wouldn't necessarily go the route you have, I feel that it works quite well. A bit of verbiage change would help too. The javelin is a specific type of throwing spear, while the spear is just the generic catchall of all spears. By changing the names to throwing spear and heavy spear, it would differentiate them properly. This is kind of the same issue with "studded leather" and "long sword."
Yeah, weapons and armor are pretty much the only parts of the game that I refluff without a second thought. Our fighter (the player not terribly familiar with 5e rules) wanted to dual wield (with the feat) and one of the weapon she wanted for the character was a mace. I find the mace stats underwhelming, so I offered a "warmace" which is just a warhammer refluff.

I treat each armor as a category with different possible manifestations. Splint includes splint, banded, plate and mail, and even heavy dragonscale. It is the category for heavy armor (covers the whole body) that is made of a variety of smaller pieces that can flex relative to each other, but isn't a fully integrated set like plate mail. The other categories are similarly broad.
 

jgsugden

Legend
The one area of the game where they could do more to make the game more distinct would be weapon flair. I want to see weapon choice feel like it matters. To that end, I would:

1.) Give more creatures vulnerability and resistance to certain weapon types.
2.) Give every weapon (or weapon class, like axes, etc...) a 'special feature' which usually triggered on a 20 on the attack roll. They'd focus on giving weapons different flavor. However, for something like the spear, I think allowing it to be a one handed reach weapon would make sense for the 'distinct' flavor.
3.) I'd make the melee based class fighting styles 'weapon dependent' to encourage a focus on one weapon. Like the Heavy Weapon Master feat, they'd have two tiers - a general ability useful with any weapon and a specialized ability that works with only one type of weapon. I'd also do this for a variety of class abilities, allowing a barbarian build that uses a maul to feel different than one that uses a greataxe, a pair of scimitars, or a speak and shield - but have all be effective and fun.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
People really underestimate the historical importance of spears while overemphasizing swords because swords look cool. There's also been many, many implementations of the spear with everything from the Roman pilum that was 7 foot long but could still be thrown to what D&D rules would consider a halberd.

So I understand what you're saying, but there's really not that much difference between what used to classified in D&D terms as a long spear and a halberd. As you said, the actual function is largely just fluff. A halberd is just* a spear with an axe head slapped on so you could chop into an enemy's helmet.

So I guess I would just make halberds your "long" spears and be done with it. Maybe give them the option to do slashing or piercing or bludgeoning since they were kind of the Swiss army knife of damage types.

*Well, not really but there were too many variations of spear/axe/hammer options to count.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
3.) I'd make the melee based class fighting styles 'weapon dependent' to encourage a focus on one weapon. Like the Heavy Weapon Master feat, they'd have two tiers - a general ability useful with any weapon and a specialized ability that works with only one type of weapon. I'd also do this for a variety of class abilities, allowing a barbarian build that uses a maul to feel different than one that uses a greataxe, a pair of scimitars, or a speak and shield - but have all be effective and fun.
Huh. If anything, funneling martial characters into using one type of weapon is something I'd like to see less off. I'd rather see martials have access to different abilities depending on which kind of weapon they're using, so they're more willing to use more than one and are more responsive to gaining magic weapons that aren't their usual type.

I used to have a house rule that characters with the fighting style feature got access to all their fighting styles (with protection amended to only work with shields); since Tasha's introduced so many new ones I've amended it to selecting four.
 

Stalker0

Legend
I think the OP change is perfectly fine and good for people that want to shake up spears.

For a Trojan war inspired game I’m thinking of running, my plan is to give spears a d10 damage but also give them the fragile property:

Fragile: on a nat 1 attack roll, the weapon breaks and becomes nonfunctional.

however I’m intentionally overpowering spears to fit that settings flavor. The idea is to make spears the mainstay weapon, with swords serving as the backup when the spear breaks…which tracks more with the history at that time
 

Stormonu

Legend
Personally, I’d set the spear (pun intended) to have the Thrown property when used one-handed, but when used two-handed, it has the Reach property. It then becomes a half-step between javelin and pike and really versatile (pun intended again).
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
They need to both be usable in one-hand and have reach so they can be used for the actual spear and shield tactics that people used spears for.

Historically, my understanding and personal experience is there there's two broad approches to spear use: Either they are used one-handed with a shield, or they are two-handed, but effectively give reach. You don't get one-handed and reach at the same time, if you intend to keep the spear.
 

embee

Lawyer by day. Rules lawyer by night.
So here is the spear houserule: Remove the Thrown property; add the Reach property. Everything else stays the same.
Hard disagree. When you do that, you unbalance it.

Reach is 10'. When you pair it with Polearm Master and/or Sentinel WHICH IS INEVITABLE, you wind up with a character who can't be touched. Remember, PAM uses the weapon's reach. And for the first two benefits, so does Sentinel. So if you add Reach to a plain spear, you are now able to lock down enemies who get within 10' of you, reach enemies 10' away with a back-end strike, and hold a shield.

What you want is a long-spear, which is 2 handed, not versatile (which a spear has). That's the trade-off. You get reach but you no longer have a free hand. And more importantly, you no longer get the back-end strike. Nor would you get a bonus from the Dueling fighting style. This way, you're not creating a super tank.

Also, think of it cinematically. Specifically, watch the fight scene between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It is a series of fights between a variety of polearms, including, at one point, a spear. Yeoh swings the spear one-handed at Zhang, gripping it by the base of the shaft. Keep in mind that Yeoh's character is not some 3rd level fighter. She's an epic-level master who is even capable of limited flight.

The spear is 5' long. Add 2' for the length of an arm. She bends forward, using her torso and leading leg for more extension. When the spear gets swung in the widest possible arc, the maximum reach is still less than 10'. And that's in the hands of a uniquely powerful fighter.

So, from a practical standpoint, the 5' spear cannot have Reach because it won't go that far.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Spears are designed for thrusting, have reach, and can be used either one-handed with a shield or two-handed. (1d6 damage melee reach with shield, or 1d8 damage melee reach two-handed)
A D&D reach weapon has 5 extra feet in length. How is that effective in one hand? You could slim it up a bit, but then you'd get a lot of those cool scenes where one guy breaks the other gal's spear, and she starts dual wielding to compensate.

Edit: partial ninja by Umbran :(
 

Istbor

Dances with Gnolls
Some real-world fuzziness notwithstanding, I think for a DnD game, this will be strong, but not overpowered.

I was far lazier when I changed spears for a homebrew, took off the throwing, and just bumped it up to 1d8/1d10 for damage to bring it in line with the other martial melee weapons, leaving a javelin as a javelin or refluffed as a light spear.

As time goes on, I begin to see the wisdom in Warhammer fantasy just saying hand-weapon and that grabbing anything you can effectively wield in one hand, and listing anything with special properties as their own entry.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Huh. If anything, funneling martial characters into using one type of weapon is something I'd like to see less off. I'd rather see martials have access to different abilities depending on which kind of weapon they're using, so they're more willing to use more than one and are more responsive to gaining magic weapons that aren't their usual type.

I used to have a house rule that characters with the fighting style feature got access to all their fighting styles (with protection amended to only work with shields); since Tasha's introduced so many new ones I've amended it to selecting four.
Fair enough. The semi-fleshed out version of this I started to assemble recently give any PC with the Fighting Style feature a number of combat stances equal to their proficiency bonus. These stances had prerequisites, bonuses and costs. The benefits and costs were intended to offset, and the prerequisites limit the use of the stance to reasonable situations (or were subtly part of the costs). Some focused on weapon type, others armor type, others combat style (for example, one gave bonuses so long as you used your full movement each round). You could start combat in a stance if not surprised, but entering it otherwise took a bonus action. I stopped working on it because I had other priorities and I think it was going to be a bigger change to the game than I wanted it to be.
 

Hard disagree. When you do that, you unbalance it.

Reach is 10'. When you pair it with Polearm Master and/or Sentinel WHICH IS INEVITABLE, you wind up with a character who can't be touched. Remember, PAM uses the weapon's reach. And for the first two benefits, so does Sentinel. So if you add Reach to a plain spear, you are now able to lock down enemies who get within 10' of you, reach enemies 10' away with a back-end strike, and hold a shield.

What you want is a long-spear, which is 2 handed, not versatile (which a spear has). That's the trade-off. You get reach but you no longer have a free hand. And more importantly, you no longer get the back-end strike. Nor would you get a bonus from the Dueling fighting style. This way, you're not creating a super tank.

Also, think of it cinematically. Specifically, watch the fight scene between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It is a series of fights between a variety of polearms, including, at one point, a spear. Yeoh swings the spear one-handed at Zhang, gripping it by the base of the shaft. Keep in mind that Yeoh's character is not some 3rd level fighter. She's an epic-level master who is even capable of limited flight.

The spear is 5' long. Add 2' for the length of an arm. She bends forward, using her torso and leading leg for more extension. When the spear gets swung in the widest possible arc, the maximum reach is still less than 10'. And that's in the hands of a uniquely powerful fighter.

So, from a practical standpoint, the 5' spear cannot have Reach because it won't go that far.
Except that 5 feet is way too short for spear that isn't an iklwa, and unless there are a lot of Zulu themed Fighters being played that I'm not aware of, I don't think that's what people want from their spears. For reference, a standard competition wushu qiang starts at 200 cm, or about 6'6".

And if you want to talk about being cinematic, then compare this scene from Hero (2004):


Or The Legend of the Condor Heroes (2017), starting around 5:00

 

Hard disagree. When you do that, you unbalance it.

Reach is 10'. When you pair it with Polearm Master and/or Sentinel WHICH IS INEVITABLE, you wind up with a character who can't be touched. Remember, PAM uses the weapon's reach. And for the first two benefits, so does Sentinel. So if you add Reach to a plain spear, you are now able to lock down enemies who get within 10' of you, reach enemies 10' away with a back-end strike, and hold a shield.

What you want is a long-spear, which is 2 handed, not versatile (which a spear has). That's the trade-off. You get reach but you no longer have a free hand. And more importantly, you no longer get the back-end strike. Nor would you get a bonus from the Dueling fighting style. This way, you're not creating a super tank.

Also, think of it cinematically. Specifically, watch the fight scene between Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon." It is a series of fights between a variety of polearms, including, at one point, a spear. Yeoh swings the spear one-handed at Zhang, gripping it by the base of the shaft. Keep in mind that Yeoh's character is not some 3rd level fighter. She's an epic-level master who is even capable of limited flight.

The spear is 5' long. Add 2' for the length of an arm. She bends forward, using her torso and leading leg for more extension. When the spear gets swung in the widest possible arc, the maximum reach is still less than 10'. And that's in the hands of a uniquely powerful fighter.

So, from a practical standpoint, the 5' spear cannot have Reach because it won't go that far.
I feel that spears could be enhanced beyond their default abilities or they should work with PAM+shield, but not both. PAM+shield+spear is already one of the uber martial builds of the game and boosting that doesn't seem necessary to me. Boosting the use of spears used without feats makes all the sense in the world to me. That could be by:
  • Renaming Pikes (which, with a mere 10' reach, don't really jive with IRL pikes anyways) to be Longspears.
  • Giving spears +1 damage when wielded by someone with Martial proficiency (putting them in league with longswords or warhammers).
  • Giving spears (wielded in two hands) reach.
 

dave2008

Legend
I think the OP change is perfectly fine and good for people that want to shake up spears.

For a Trojan war inspired game I’m thinking of running, my plan is to give spears a d10 damage but also give them the fragile property:

Fragile: on a nat 1 attack roll, the weapon breaks and becomes nonfunctional.

however I’m intentionally overpowering spears to fit that settings flavor. The idea is to make spears the mainstay weapon, with swords serving as the backup when the spear breaks…which tracks more with the history at that time
You could also just downgrade sword damage. The typical side-arm type sword of the time was similar to a D&D shortsword. Just get rid of, or limit, longswords, greatsword and the like. Make 1d8 2-handed swords the norm and 1d6 sword the norm.
 

You could also just downgrade sword damage. The typical side-arm type sword of the time was similar to a D&D shortsword. Just get rid of, or limit, longswords, greatsword and the like. Make 1d8 2-handed swords the norm and 1d6 sword the norm.

This is tangential to Spears in particular, but I'd suggest against this. Every time we limit one form or another of martial ability because of 1) allusions to realism, or 2) balance concerns between the various weapons, one has to consider whether weapon-based combat on a whole needs more limitations. I say this because both monks (who don't need weapons) and casters (who engage the game in means other than weapons) still exist as alternate player options and the later (casters) certainly already threaten to run away with the game. I say that even as someone who is really, really annoyed that the best options seem to be gimmicks --sharpshooting, XBE-ing people with ahistoric/barely historic hand crossbows; using the but end of halberds (definitely something that showed up in the treatises, but certainly not a primary combat type); PAM one-handed quarterstaves and shields; etc. Those shouldn't have such oversized capacity amongst the weapons, but IMO the solution is to bring the other options up to their level, not dilute all martial ability (which will only make the latest HexbladelockCoffeeTwilightSimalacrumMinionMasterCheezelikeproduct build all that more powerful compared to martials in general.
 

toucanbuzz

Legend
Our Houserule: when you have a weapon with at least Reach 10' and your opponent does not when entering your threat zone, they provoke an attack of opportunity. Reads like Polearm Master, which we modify to make the 1st use in a round not consume a reaction. I include Spears in this category.

Historically, it's why they made such great weapons. Easy to construct and train, great at keeping enemies at a distance.
 

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