How Certain Weapons Get Tooled

Gamer Bling has long been a fan of spears. He does not know exactly when it started, but it may have started with the exquisitely rendered cover of his father’s boxed set of Wagner’s Ring (on 33rpm vinyl, of course, and played repeatedly on a monaural sound system to Gamer Bling’s great yet childish annoyance, seeing as Gamer Bling in those days had much greater appreciation for Hanna-Barbera television theme songs than marathonstrous German opera). The cover of said boxed set featured an armored Teutonic Walkure buxomly impaling a great dragon. With a spear.

It was cool.

Would have been cooler if she’d been wearing a chainmail bikini. Or a string bikini, for that matter.

Anyway, this fascination was permanently cemented in Gamer Bling’s mind when he played a spear-and-shield-toting warrior in RuneQuest. Especially when he mastered the two-handed-spear-and-shield technique. For those who wonder how this is done by anyone other than a Barsoomian, it’s actually simple: the shield is strapped to / slung over your left arm and chest. It’s essentially immobile, but acts as another layer of armor over your vitals. Except for your head.

But for some reason, fantasy RPGs are all about swords. And maybe axes. And maces, but only inasmuch as clerics are forced to use them because they (clerics) apparently suck. They’re just not edgy (cue rimshot).

Seriously, think about it. Drizz’t, arguably the most famous D&D character evah (with the possible exception of Gleek), uses twin scimitars. Gandalf, Aragorn, Boromir, and all the nasssty little hobbitses used swords. Arthur, King of the Britons, used a sword. That guy in the fanfic you wrote as a 12-year-old used a sword.

Part of the problem is probably due to the fact that most RPGs are medieval in nature. RuneQuest was a notable exception, being a game based in the much cooler Bronze Age, where you got to wear pileated helmets and legs straps that drive the chicks wild and togas, instead of being encased inside an articulated steam boiler and swinging something that looks like a car transmission at someone else who, like you, is nigh immobilized like a kid bundled into several woolly layers by an overprotective mother in winter. Think about it; how sexy would 300 have been if everyone looked like the Tin Woodsman from The Wizard of Oz?

So what does all this mean for 4e?

Look at the cover of the 4e PHB: the characters have a sword and a staff. Look at all the chapter-head illustrations in 4e. Do you see a single spear, even among the enemies? No. There’s even someone dual-wielding scimitars…

In the races chapter, the various illustrated people carry swords and daggers (9 of them, counting dual-wielders as 1), axes (3), bows (2), a hammer, and a wand.

In the classes chapter, the various illustrated people carry swords and daggers (4, counting dual-wielders as 1), an axe, a mace, a wand, and pure primal magic.

So what? It’s just art, right? Nope. This bias also impacts game rules. In fact, as far as magic items are concerned, spears get the shaft.

See, some magic items are available in any flavor of weapon, but others are restricted to selected types. This is called prejudice. Or discrimination. Or cheating. Or maybe common sense. Gamer Bling can’t remember which.

So consider the enchantments that are available in 4e: how are they divvied up?

Such a question veritably demands that Gamer Bling create another table.

Weapon Types Enchantments
Any 7
Melee 1
Ranged 4
Axe, heavy blade 2
Heavy blade, light blade 1
Light blade 2
Axe, hammer, heavy blade 1
Hammer, flail, mace, sling, staff 1
Axe, hammer, heavy blade 1

Discounting the melee / ranged partition, which is so general as to be nearly, but not quite, meaningless for purposes of proving a glass ceiling exists within the RPG marketplace dominated by violent medievals, a quick inspection of the list shows that spears and polearms show up exactly nonce.

In fact, heavy blades (swords or scimitars, duh) get the most variety, with axes second on the list. Light blades like rapiers and the sort come in third, but they have two enchantments that are available exclusively to them and none other, so that makes up for a lot. And Gleek’s ghost notes with sorrow that picks gets picked on as much as spears do, being able only to bear enchantments available to all other melee weapons (and usually ranged weapons, as well).

Speaking of ranged weapons, the halflings steal another one, as the sling is the only ranged weapon to be called out for a special enchantment. Sigh. Gamer Bling’s other major RuneQuest character was exceptionally skilled with a bow.

In any event, let’s look at the range of enchantments available in the 4e PHB by weapon type:

Weapon Type Enchantments
Heavy blade 13
Axe 12
Light blade 11
Hammer 10
Mace, Staff, Flail 9
Spear, Polearm, Pick 8

In PHB2, all the magical weapons are daggers, light blades, and heavy blades. Because, although bards can use all simple melee weapons, only blades can be used as magical implements. Because, Gamer Bling surmises, they haven’t invented skull-drumming yet.

At least this medieval prejudice does not carry forward to the powers. Gamer Bling has not yet done an analysis (which Gamer Bling Expansions #1 would call an anal-lyssis) on which weapons get how much lovin’ in the powers, at least it is clear that all the various weapon types appear in the fighter powers.

We shall see how these downtrodden weapons fare in upcoming releases.

Which Gamer Bling doesn’t have yet. But he’s tryin’.


~ by Gamer Bling on 14 April 2010.

5 Responses to “How Certain Weapons Get Tooled”

  1. It’s probably worth noting though that spears do have a metric crapton of feat support in 4E. I noticed this recently as I was building out my monk (who doesn’t care about spear enchantments anyway because he has a ki focus!).

    He as a spear wielder can benefit from
    Hafted defense, pointed step style, spear push, swift spear, impaling spear, polearm gamble (he’s using a greatspear), polearm momentum and probably some more I’m forgetting.

    Tacked onto the awesome Draeven Marauder paragon path to get crits on 19’s at only 11th level, I’d say spears have a pretty healthy leg up in the game, regardless of enchantment availability.

    • Well, it appears Gamer Bling is granting verbal combat advantage to you. In the PHB and Martial Power, which are among the few books he has, he can only find spear push, polearm gamble, and polearm momentum. Whence do hafted defense, pointed step style, swift spear, and impaling spear come from?

      It’s Gamer Bling’s considered opinion that 4e does a good job of apportioning out the aforementioned craptonnage of feats for every weapon style, although he has not yet done a detailed analysis of said opinion. He is, however, happy to note that the warlord gets a longarm martial paragon path. Even though he is not likely to use it, and instead will probably opt for the spiral tactician.

  2. Well, except that, monks aside… spears and polearms have different attribute requirements for their feats, the basic spear is a simple weapon and very substandard for a ‘fighter’ and only the greatspear seems worth it, costing a feat…

    At least Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e had the right idea… spears are the best one handed weapon in the game.

    • Gamer Bling is not yet aware of a greatspear in 4e; perhaps he does not have the book. But the longspear rocks, and costs the fighter nothing in terms of feats.

      And as far as spears being the best one-handed weapon in WFRP, Gamer Bling would surmise that history shows that spears are cheap, easy, and effective, but not necessarily the best. Certainly there can be much fun debate on this point (pun intended).

  3. Here are some new magical spears you can play with:

    (Magically imbued for slaying dragons)
    Level 9 (+2), 14 (+3), 19 (+4), 24 (+5), or 29 (+6)
    Weapon: Spear
    Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
    Critical: +1d8 damage per plus
    Property: When an attack with this weapon fails against a dragon it still deals damage equal to the weapon’s enhancement bonus. This damage ignores any resistances the dragon may have.
    Power (Daily): Standard Action. Make a melee basic or ranged basic attack against a dragon with this weapon. Treat any hit as a critical hit.

    *Impaling Spear*
    (This spear hungers for blood, and will burrow into a creature to get it)
    Level 5 (+1), 10 (+2), 15 (+3), 20 (+4), 25 (+5), or 30 (+6)
    Weapon: Spear
    Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
    Critical: +1d10 damage per plus
    Power (Daily): Free Action. Use this power when you hit with this weapon. Deal an extra 1d6 damage, and the target is impaled (grabbed) until it either succeeds on an escape attempt or you make another attack with this weapon. When the grab ends, the target takes damage equal to 3 times the weapon’s enhancement modifier.

    *Poison Spear*
    (The very metal of its spearhead is poisonous to the touch)
    Level 3 (+1), 8 (+2), 13 (+3), 18 (+4), 23 (+5), or 28 (+6)
    Weapon: Spear
    Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
    Critical: +1d8 poison damage per plus
    Property: Every time you hit with this weapon the target also takes poison damage equal to the weapon’s enhancement modifier.
    Power (Daily, Poison): Free Action. Use this power when you hit with this weapon. The target takes ongoing 5 poison damage (save ends).
    Level 13 or 18: 10 ongoing poison damage
    Level 23 or 28: 15 ongoing poison damage

    *Spear of Alacrity*
    (Incredibly flexible and light, this spear makes you a deadly opponent to move away from)
    Level 14 (+3), 19 (+4), 24 (+5), or 29 (+6)
    Weapon: Spear
    Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
    Critical: +1d6 damage per plus
    Property: You gain a +2 bonus to attack rolls when making opportunity attacks with this weapon.

    *Storm Spear*
    (Charged by the power of a great storm, this spear crackles with thunder and lightning)
    Level 3 (+1), 8 (+2), 13 (+3), 18 (+4), 23 (+5), or 28 (+6)
    Weapon: Spear
    Enhancement: Attack rolls and damage rolls
    Critical: +1d6 thunder and lightning damage per plus
    Power (At-Will, Lightning): Free Action. All damage dealt by this weapon is lightning damage. Another free action returns the damage to normal.
    Power (Daily, Thunder, Lightning): Minor Action. The next ranged basic attack you make with this weapon before the end of your turn becomes a burst 1 centered on the target. Use your normal attack bonus for the basic attack, but against Reflex. The damage dealt by this attack has the Thunder and Lightning keywords. The spear reappears in your hand after the attack.

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