I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Friday, January 05, 2018

D&D 5e fighting styles: Spears

The spear has been used throughout human history both as a hunting and fishing tool and as a weapon. Along with the axe, knife and club, it is one of the earliest and most important tools developed by early humans. As a weapon, it may be wielded with either one hand or two. It was used in virtually every conflict up until the modern era, where even then it continues on in the form of the bayonet, and is probably the most commonly used weapon in history. - Wikipedia. (emphasis mine)

The spear being the "most commonly used weapon in history" is not hard to see, right? You can easily picture a Norse god, a Zulu warrior, a mounted knight, an Irish mythological hero, or a native American fighting with a spear - same goes from Greek, Roman, Japanese, Chinese and Middle-eastern soldiers, cavemen, not to mention fictional beasts such as fish-men and aarakocra.

You'd probably have a harder time saying the same of a sword, mace or axe.

So 5e gets it right by making it a "simple" weapon anyone can use. It also has a couple of good features - versatile, thrown - to showcase its versatility (I'm sorry for the redundancy).

On the other hand, it is pretty useless for in all other aspects except versatility. If you're fighting with one hand or throwing it, you'd better use the cheaper, lighter, javelin - which also has a better range.

Fighting with two-hands makes the spear a decent simple weapon... but you're not very likely to use a two-handed weapons if you're not proficient with martial weapons. And, of course, picture those spear-fighters again: I bet they are using a shield (the legionnaire, the hoplite, the Zulu warrior etc.), and they are probably proficient in martial weapons (fighters, barbarians. etc.)...

"But what about the wushu spear", you might say. Well, I admit 5e has got this one covered, because the spear is a decent weapon for a monk. It bothers me a bit than you HAVE to be a monk to do that, tough - a "finesse spear" is no stranger than a one-handed quarterstaff - but I can't sey the archetype is not in the book.

Now, there are plenty weapons in 5e that are somehow related to the spear: javelins, pikes, halberds, lances, tridents, etc. You might say the spear is just the simple, non-specialized weapon, that should only be used when you don't have a more specialized tool. Still, NONE of those are good for our spear-and-shield build.

There are at least two ways we can fix this. You could just create a martial "heavy spear" or "military spear" that would be comparable to the long-sword (instead of the useless trident), or even a full SET of military spears: a heavy spear, a finesse spear, a long spear, etc.

Or you could just create a feat for specialized spear-fighters. Here is the one form feat from Unearthed Arcana (source):

Spear Mastery

Though the spear is a simple weapon to learn, it rewards you for the time you have taken to master it. You gain the following benefits.
  • You gain a +1 bonus to attack rolls you make with a spear.
  • When you use a spear, its damage die changes from a d6 to a d8, and from a d8 to a d10 when wielded with two hands. (This benefit has no effect if another feature has already improved the weapon’s die.)
  • You can set your spear to receive a charge. As a bonus action, choose a creature you can see that is at least 20 feet away from you. If that creature moves within your spear’s reach on its next turn, you can make a melee attack against it with your spear as a reaction. If the attack hits, the target takes an extra 1d8 piercing damage, or an extra 1d10 piercing damage if you wield the spear with two hands. You can’t use this ability if the creature used the Disengage action before moving.
  • As a bonus action on your turn, you can increase your reach with a spear by 5 feet for the rest of your turn. 
Even though I usually dislike that "+1" stuff (just because it is not a thing you see in most 5e feats), I have to agree it is a great feat, and covers most bases I'd like to see covered - better damage, reach, and "receive a charge" like in old school D&D.


* I don't quite see the reason to "increase your reach for the rest of your turn". Why not go all the way in and let you increase it until the beginning of your next turn, or until you choose to end it?

* While the "d6 to d8" stuff is nice, it is practically the same as +1 to damage, with a strange limitation (what other feature improves weapon damage die? and even if there is one - is +1 damage to a spear a cause of concern?).

* The feat applies to one single weapon - which seems a bit limited when compared to feats such as Crossbow Expert (useful for ALL ranged attacks), GWM (useful for all melee weapons), Polearm Master (useful for four different weapons but - alas!- not the spear).

* It also bears remembering that the feat must be compared with a +1 increase to your Strength modifier, which would give you +1 to-hit and +1 damage (without the limitation) with ALL weapons, plus some benefits to grappling, encumbrance, skills, saves, armor, etc. I'm not sure the last two points make up for the difference.

So, I'm tempted to make a feat that would make the spear the uber-versatile weapon and ALSO make it useful for shield-wielders. Something like this:

You have mastered the spear and many similar weapons to make the best use of them. While you're wielding a spear, trident, lance, glaive, halberd or pike, you gain the following benefits (the benefits don't apply to other weapons you're wielding).

  • You gain a +1 bonus to attack and damage rolls you make with these weapons.
  • As a bonus action on your turn, you can change your fighting stance to add the reach or finesse properties to one weapon you're wielding, provided the weapon doesn't have it already, or take a defensive stance an gain +1 to AC as long as you're also using a shield. Your stance lasts until the beginning of your next turn.

  • The +1 AC part highlights the defensive aspect of the spear-and-shield fighter and benefits "martial" classes (most classes that are proficient with shields are also proficient with martial weapons).

    As for setting the spear against a charge part... I would probably keep that last bullet point as written (other than allowing you to do the same with a pike, etc). I might even allow pikes to attack at an extra 5 foot distance, with disadvantage to attack a target within 5 feet of you.

    It is mildly frustrating that I can't think of something better than whoever wrote this (very neat) feat, but hey - this was in OD&D (Monsters and Treasure, pg. 31) and I don't think I can do a much better than Gygax & Arneson anyway.

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    1. For Dragon Heresy, I created a "Martial Spear Fighting Style" to make spears a bit cooler:

      Martial Spear Fighting
      You can fight with a spear as a martial weapon, rather than a simple one.
      When wielded as a one-handed weapon, the damage die increase to d8. In two hands, the weapon gains the reach property and the die type increases to d10. Furthermore, the combatant gains +3 to the critical threshold when attacking with a spear.

    2. I dunno. If my Dex is higher than my strength, do I really want to spend a bonus action every turn to turn the spear into a finesse weapon? Or do I just want to use a weapon that always have finesse? If I were to steal this for running 5e I would probably just have it give the spear finesse permanently, and then the bonus action could give the reach property, + 1 AC, or the ability to use your reaction to make an opportunity attack against someone entering your reach like with polearm master. Or something. I'd have to think about it. But as a player I still wound't care about a finesse spear if I have to use a bonus action every turn to take advantage of it, I don't think.

      On the other hand, if you use a bonus action to add both your Str and Dex mods to your damage roll...

      1. Yeah, the finesse thing is probably better dealt with by creating a different spear altogether. I agree with lots of the ideas you just mentioned and I'm working on something like that - a "stance" system that is similar to 4e.
        I've thought of adding both Str and Dex, but that is a very interesting idea!

    3. Oh, just want to say so that I'm not doing nothing but naysaying, I recently found your blog and I've been digging through it. I've really been enjoying some of your ideas, and really appreciate this series so far and look forward to more.

      1. Oh, don't worry, I always appreciate the feedback! Thanks for reading this, I'll certainly post lots of stuff about weapons in 5e soon and I'd love to hear your opinions.

    4. How about just giving an Advantage die to a PC or NPC when wielding a spear two-handed vs. an opponent no more than one size larger? Or, when wielding a spear one-handed, perhaps a +1 or +2 to-hit bonus. Having a longer reach in melee combat is a huge advantage, even if the spear doesn't have the hitting power of a sword or axe.

      I've also been considering giving an Advantage die to characters armed with a shield. The AC bonus for shields goes without saying, but shields were also used offensively in combat. And having a spear and a shield was a killer combo!

      1. Giving advantage sounds like too much... I like the +1 or +2, and the idea of giving reach is perfect for the spear.

    5. Thank you for all your ideas man. You are very fair and balanced with these issues. As someone who has fought a good deal in the SCA, I have experience with the advantages of spear fighting. We don't allow polearms in single combat for a good reason. Range is arguably the greatest advantage a spear fighter has and should be represented in game. For those of you who have tried to gap the distance against a spear with sword and bord, you know what I'm talking about. It feels more like a +2 AC or higher. You are going to take that hit in exchange for getting close almost every time. I was winning duels my first day against people who and been fighting for years. How did I do this at 5'10 180 lbs against bigger guys? I grabbed a spear. They let me use it knowing as a noob they were gonna hurt me regardless of the weapon I used. "NOPE" Granted I am a decent athlete but when I used sword and shield later that day, I got owned.

      1. Thanks for your kind words! I'm very glad to see someone with actual experience in the matter agreeing with my ideas!

    6. Thought i should mention for anyone who stumbles across this, Polearm master feat now applies to spears as of this: https://media.wizards.com/2016/downloads/DND/PH-Errata.pdf

    7. I loved this idea. Using it, I threw this together just now:

      Though the spear is a simple weapon to learn, it rewards you for the time you have taken to master it. You gain the following benefits.

      -When you use a spear, its damage die changes from a d6 to a d8. When wielded in two hands, its damage dice changes from a d8 to a d10. (This benefit has no effect if another feature has already improved the weapon’s damage dice).

      -As a bonus action on your turn, you can change your fighting stance to one of the following:
      1. Aggressive Posture: Add +1 to your attack and damage rolls with a spear.
      2. Defensive Posture: Add +1 to your AC while wielding a spear.
      3. Distant Strikes: Add the reach (5ft) property to your spear.

      Your stance lasts until you change to a different stance using another bonus action.

      1. Yes! Great! I want to bring 4e's "stances" to 5e's fighting styles; they are more flexible and interesting, IMO.

    8. I really like the idea of a hoplite feat!
      I was actually thinking of making some sort of hoplite/tribesman sorcadin (draconic bloodline) with shield and spear. As our DM allows us to chose a feat at level 1 (and I am planning on going variant human - for which I will take war caster), I was wondering which feat would suit this best? Now that Pole-arm master works with a spear, is this a more solid option or do you think your Hoplite feat will work better? The fact that you have to use your bonus action to set for charge, means that you not only use up both your action and reaction, but it will also only work when you actually role a higher initiative than your opponents (as it seems to me that set for charge is mostly used at the beginning of a fight).

      Taking into account the fact that as a sorcadin there is some competition for the use of bonus actions (quickened spell - green flame blade or booming blade, searing smite, ...), as well as the fact that sorcadins are generally quite squishy, so a decent AC is a requirement.

      Thanks in advance!

      1. I'm not great at PC optimization, TBH, but off the top of my head:

        Polearm Master is a great feat for paladins, giving you additional chances to score a crit (and smites, etc.). I'd guess for a Sorcadin this would be better than hoplite (or spear mastery), since those feats are more fighter-focused.

        Green flame blade and booming blade does not require bonus actions, IIRC, so it shouldn't be a problem either way.

    9. Using a spear shield combination as part of a group as in a shieldwall or phalanx is a leathal combination however using them when fighting 1 on 1 can be a real problem. If an opponent can knock the spear aside you're done! Perhaps a bonus if you are adjacent to an ally would be appropriate