Tuesday, May 29, 2018

better living through polearms

A common source of confusion and merriment for AD&D1 players is the ludicrous number of polearms detailed on the weapons list.  Every designer has their fetishes and blades on long sticks was one of Uncle Gary's.  Over many years of play, I've seen players make use of only a handful of the 16 polearms statted out in the original Players Handbook, but today I'm going to show you DMs how to use all these crazy weapons as a worldbuilding tool.

This post was inspired by the chart below, which I found on wikipedia, and FLAILSNAILer Shoe Skogan, the only player I've ever seen whose character wields a partisan.


Click to Embiggen
So here's how to do it.  Start by naming 16 different polearm-wielding factions in your campaign setting.  Here are some examples:

  • One or more dwarf clans (per the Monster Manual, 10% of dwarf forces are armed with polearms)
  • One or more gnoll tribes or mercenary units (35% polearms)
  • One or more hobgoblin tribes (30% polearms)
  • One or more orc tribes (30% polearms)
  • One or more large, successful, and long-running bandit gangs (10% polearms) 
  • A famous merchant city (10% of merchant guards have polearms)
  • A well-known unit of mercenary heavy footmen
  • One or more ethnicities or nationalities (the Hill People, the Islanders, etc.)
  • An elite foot unit of a major nation
  • A now-dead empire
  • The elite guards of a city, a king, a high priest, etc
  • An order of fighting monks
  • Any other weapon-wielding monster that might use a polearm (the Gith, for instance)

Now, arbitrarily or randomly assign each of these groups a Signature Polearm from this list:

bardiche
bec de corbin
bill-guisarme
fauchard
fauchard-fork
fork, military
glaive
glaive-guisarme
guisarme
guisarme-volge
halberd
hammer, lucern
partisan
ranseur
spetum
volge

So now you know that 10% of the Dwarfs of the Ironbutt Clan wield fauchards.  Big hairy deal.  Here's the next part.


This chart, adapted from the first chart above, is a relationship map.  It tells you who has interacted with each other in your campaign's past.

Items in the same column have had some sort of friendly contact in the past.  If the items in the same column are adjacent, that alliance continues.  If there is another item in between, the friendly contact was long ago.  So the Ironbutt Dwarfs have an ongoing alliance with whoever on your list wields fauchard-forks, and they once got along with the military fork people, but the relationship has cooled for some reason.

The three horizontal lines identify the major factions in three big wars.  The top line is the most recent conflict, the bottom line the most ancient.  The left half of the row were allies against the right half of the row.

Working through this stuff means you should 16 factions, some alliances past and present, and 3 wars that have been important to your campaign world.  It also allows canny players to make observations like these:

"Those orcs have guisames.  That means they're not the same tribe as the ones we're warring against.  Let's try to enlist them in our cause."

"Some of the skeletons were wielding bardiches.  That means this tomb must date back to the Torgonian Empire!"

"These ladies claim to be Amazonian Mercenaries, but they wield halberds.  I think they're really members of Lady Katarina's bandit gang."

"There's a broken lucern hammer by the dwarf corpse?  He must have been a kinsmen of mine.  No other dwarf clan uses that polearm."