29 January 2013

Dungeoneering Tools: The Spear

Upcoming Series

I'm going to start a series covering my take on common weapons and tools used in dungeoneering. First up: the spear.


It's a common misconception that the spear is a perfect dungeoneering weapon, and I think this misconception comes from the idea that all you do with a spear is poke people with the pointy end. While that's certainly a key point of the art of spearfighting, it's far from the whole picture.

I should point out here that I'm not talking about soldiers in a phalanx (which most RPG's don't deal with), but rather about single/small group melees.

I recently bought two 8' hardwood shafts to use for spear drills. My first reaction on bringing them into my house? "Crap, these are big!" Historical spears ranged from about 6' to maybe 9', so my spears are on the long side, but my conclusions hold more or less for 6' spears.

There is almost no way I could effectively fight with a spear indoors. Navigating through hallways is a pain. Doorways are a bigger pain. Corners are a pain. Turning the spear around is impossible without whacking into walls and bumping off furniture.

Much of spear-fighting consists of off-line guards - holding the spear vertically, or pointing it straight backwards. These off-line guards allow a strong parry with a turn of the hips, knocking aside your opponents weapon and leaving them open to a thrust to the face.

If your spear is parried, you can take the energy of the parry, and swing the back end of the spear around. This counter-parries, and allows you to strike with the butt.

These turning motions are *critical* to spear combat.


Trying to do them in an enclosed space with other warriors around you would be difficult at best, and impossible at worst. My experience fumbling around with an 8' pole in my house has convinced me of that.

Trying to fight without them would be lead to a marked reduction in spear effectiveness - something on the order of halving your combat effectiveness, I would say.

Mechanical Applications

For D&D - halve your AC, and miss on any to-hit roll of 10 or less when spearfighting in an enclosed space.

For S&S - no Attack or Defense bonus from your spear, miss on any to-hit roll of 10 or less.

14 January 2013

Magic Weapons

A few ideas for magic weapons that are a little more interesting than the old +1 attack/+1 damage.

I especially like the idea of having magic weapons that have a drawback as well as a benefit, or a purely situational benefit, or even a non-combat function.

See also Eric's post at the Dragon's Flagon here. He does a great job of outlining the problems with ordinary +1 weapons, and offers some cool ideas to help ameliorate the situation. I especially like his idea of "hero" weapons and "rune" weapons.

Some of these weapons have Spells and Steel specific powers, but many of them are applicable to any old-school-style game.

Stay tuned for more!

  • Longsword, blade engraved with twisting serpents
    • On an attack roll of 15+, enemy's weapon shatters (unless magical). On a roll of 1, breaks in two. The halves can be reforged by any swordsmith, and the sword will retain its power.
  • Very long, thin sword - inscribed on blade is "it fades away, into nothing, and so is as the air"
    • Wielder always knows just how to move the blade to block any attacks - effectively cannot be hit by one opponent, so long as the user doesn't attack.
  • Longsword, blade, quillons, and pommel all tinted black
    • Bizarrely poorly balanced, and almost impossible to swing, but the edge is exceptionally keen. -10 to Attack and Defense, but roll 4d6 for damage.
  • Drips blood when held. Roll d10 for damage instead of d6.
  • Moves with exceptional nimbleness. Can fight an additional enemy without penalty.

  • Feels almost weightless. Ignores all armour.
  • Feels exceptionally heavy. Requires high strength (13+) to use (otherwise, -5 to hit and no damage bonus). Roll 2d6 for damage.
  • Looks like a woodman's axe, but handles like a battleaxe. Cuts through wood like it was butter.
  • Exceedingly sharp. Ignores all armour.
  • Ivory handle, pommel in shape of a fat man. Any food cut with this dagger is absolutely delicious.

Complex Polearms
  • Poleaxe - Gives wielder an imposing and fearsome mien. Enemies have a -4 modifier to their morale role.

  • Wielder doesn't bleed - doesn't take more wounds while hors de combat, automatically passes all Fortitude checks.

3 January 2013

Crawling on Huge Monsters

This idea - as far as I know - comes from this post by scrap princess. This idea is the other puzzle piece missing from D&D that makes up the picture of fighting huge monsters, and, as such, is deserving of much praise.

Following on from the last post on my take on Alexis's amazing hp by mass idea, I think fleshing out my take on crawling on huge monsters is a natural follow-on.

The two main things that make my take on this unique are based on the way Spells and Steel treats damage and to-hit rolls.

In Spells and Steel, the to-hit roll doesn't represent the hard-to-hurt of a creature, but rather its ability to avoid being hit altogether. Therefore, when crawling on a creature, hits are automatic. If the creature has damage reduction, it still applies normally.

Movement on a creature is by Zones. Something like a horse would have just one Zone, while an elephant might have 2 or 3. A huge, 60' dragon might have 5 or 6. Only one person per zone. Make a Strength Save to move to the next Zone. Burglars may also use their freerunning abilities to move around on a creature.

Damage can be increased by crawling to a vital zone - for most creatures, this would be the head, but there's some weird beasties out there. For these purposes, if you can get to a high-value target, do max damage on each hit. Creatures with only one Zone always suffer max damage from someone crawling on them.

The other unique idea is this: for each round you spend on the creature, take 1 Fatigue. It's hard to hold on to a huge beast! This is obviously up to the GM's discretion - if it's something like a Sandworm from Dune, once you're on top, you're pretty much just standing on the ground, and taking a Fatigue would be silly.

If the creature spends its turn trying to get shake you off, take an extra Fatigue, and roll a Strength Save* to hang on. If you fail, you fall off and take at least 1d6 falling damage, (and maybe more, based on how far it is to fall...).

If the creature rolls over to crush you, roll a Strength Save to jump clear in time. If you succeed, you jump clear (but take at least 1d6 falling damage, more if appropriate). If you fail, take 1d6 damage per 500 lbs of creature. You can choose not to jump off, but instead brace a piercing weapon (spear, sword, etc.) against the creature. If you do, you'll take damage as if you failed your Strength Save, but you'll deal twice as much damage to the monster.

  • When crawling on a creature, hits are automatic. DR still applies.
  • If you are clinging to a vital area (i.e. head), do max damage automatically.
  • Roll a Strength Save or use freerunning to move from Zone to Zone on the creature.
  • When the creature tries to shake you, roll a Strength Save. Failure means you take at least 1d6 falling damage.
  • When the creature tries to roll over and crush you, roll a Strength Save. Failure means taking 1d6 damage per 500 lbs of creature. Success means taking at least 1d6 fall damage.
    • Or take the damage and brace a piercing weapon against the creature to deal twice as much damage as you take.
 * I haven't talked about saving throws in Spells and Steel yet, but a Strength Save is a Strength Check modified by your Attack Bonus from your Martial Ability. So a 1st Level Fighter with 14 Strength would need to roll a 16 or less to save, since a 1st Level Fighter has a base +2 to hit.