Polearm

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A polearm is literally a weapon on a pole. There is an abundance of polearm types in NetHack. This is another feature of the game that echoes early editions of the Dungeons & Dragons games, which were infamous for giving stats for many exotic polearms, while describing none of them.

Monsters will attempt to use polearms in the following order: halberd, bardiche, spetum, bill-guisarme, voulge, ranseur, guisarme, glaive, lucern hammer, bec de corbin, fauchard, partisan, followed by the lance; and so this list is roughly from best to worst. Of course, polearms can only be used by strong monsters without a shield.

The lance is, in real life, a polearm, but in NetHack it uses the lance skill instead of the polearm skill, due to its very different usage: by mounted soldiers instead of against them.

Generation

Collectively, polearms make up about 6.4% of all randomly generated weapons (on the floor, as death drops, or in shops). The probabilities of each type range from 0.4% to 0.8%.

A few types of polearms are more common because they appear in the starting inventory of certain monsters. Ranseurs, partisans, glaives, and spetums are the usual starting weapons of trolls.[1] Lucern hammers may also be generated as a fall-back starting weapon for strong monsters that lack default weapons.[2]

Watchmen and soldiers in the Yendorian Army often start with a random polearm.[3]

Strategy

Main article: Pounding

Polearms are capable of attacking enemies from two squares away, but the procedure for using them is different from other weapons. A polearm must be wielded (like any weapon), and then applied via the a command each time you want to strike. This is referred to as pounding; consult that article for a full discussion. Simply walking into an opponent, as with ordinary melee weapons, will have decidedly sub-optimal effects; you will deal only d2 damage, with no bonuses, and will not train polearm skill.

If you are mounted, you may use polearms for melee attacks with full effectiveness. Polearms deal less damage than other two-handed weapons in most circumstances, but they are an attractive option for roles such as Rangers and Wizards, who can ride but are restricted in the better two-handed weapon skills, and the ability to transition from pounding to melee without switching weapons grants distinct tactical advantages.

Interestingly, in NetHack, one of the great uses of polearms is not for fighting mounted opponents, but for fighting sea monsters, since staying two squares away from water makes a character immune from their grabbing attack and drowning. If you have no simpler method for dealing with the sea monsters, it can be worthwhile to grab the best polearm you find and spend some time training with it before going to a level with open water.

Another useful feature of polearms is that, like missile weapons, pounding deprives monsters of their passive attacks: Floating eyes cannot paralyze you, for instance.

As of NetHack 3.6.0, pounding with a polearm can scuff engravings beneath you, just like attacking in melee.[4]

Packed Rooms

In leprechaun halls, throne rooms, and other rooms where every space is filled with monsters, a character with stealth can use polearms to attack monsters behind other monsters, protecting themselves from being attacked, and in some cases, preventing the target from moving.

Comparison table

Here is a quick comparison of all polearms. You can sort the table by name, appearance, probability, small damage, large damage, weight or value. The halberd and bardiche are overall best for damage, but the spetum does great damage for only 50 weight. The ranseur is also a respectable lightweight polearm. The bec-de-corbin and lucern hammer offer poor damage for such heavy weapons.

Name Value Weight Prob (‰) Sdmg Savg Ldmg Lavg Material Appearance Tile Glyph
halberd 10 150 8 d10 5.5 2d6 7 iron angled poleaxe Halberd.png )
bardiche 7 120 4 2d4 5 3d4 7.5 iron long poleaxe Bardiche.png )
bill-guisarme 7 120 4 2d4 5 d10 5.5 iron hooked polearm Bill-guisarme.png )
ranseur 6 50 5 2d4 5 2d4 5 iron hilted polearm Ranseur.png )
voulge 5 125 4 2d4 5 2d4 5 iron pole cleaver Voulge.png )
guisarme 5 80 6 2d4 5 d8 4.5 iron pruning hook Guisarme.png )
lucern hammer 7 150 5 2d4 5 d6 3.5 iron pronged polearm Lucern hammer.png )
spetum 5 50 5 d6+1 4.5 2d6 7 iron forked polearm Spetum.png )
bec-de-corbin 8 100 4 d8 4.5 d6 3.5 iron beaked polearm Bec de corbin.png )
glaive 6 75 8 d6 3.5 d10 5.5 iron single-edged polearm Glaive.png )
fauchard 5 60 6 d6 3.5 d8 4.5 iron pole sickle Fauchard.png )
partisan 10 80 5 d6 3.5 d6+1 4.5 iron vulgar polearm Partisan.png )

Polearms skill

Polearms
Max Role
Basic
Skilled

How skill affects range when applying a polearm:

ESUSE
SXXXS
UX@XU
SXXXS
ESUSE

The @ is where your character is standing. Spaces marked with a X are too close to be hit, spaces marked with a U can be hit even while unskilled, spaces marked with a S can only be hit when skilled, and spaces marked with a E can only be hit when expert.

All of the weapons listed on this page use the polearms skill:

  • halberd
  • bardiche
  • spetum
  • ranseur
  • partisan
  • voulge
  • glaive
  • fauchard
  • guisarme
  • bill-guisarme
  • lucern hammer
  • bec-de-corbin

There are no artifact polearms.

SLASH'EM

UUUUU
UXXXU
UX@XU
UXXXU
UUUUU

In SLASH'EM, the range of the polearm is expanded and not restricted by skill level.

A new role, the Yeoman, can reach Expert skill at polearms, and begins play with a +1 partisan.

Reaper is a lawful artifact halberd with a high bonus to damage.

Real life

Polearms were popular in warfare for combating mounted soldiers, and those with heavy armor. The polearms (arms on poles) increased leverage for cutting the armor, and increased reach for reaching above the horse.

As time went on the various different weapon types borrowed heavily from each other and began to look like each other, which has led to a great deal of confusion over classification. Warfare is, after all, a ruthlessly pragmatic matter, and classification is a hobby for comfortable people after the dust has settled. If you search the internet now for examples of these weapons, you are likely to see weapons completely mislabeled as something different.

The term "poleaxe" seems to mean an axe on a pole, and that is how it is used in NetHack's descriptions. However, the term in real life is considered a corruption of "pollax", the "poll" part meaning "head", denoting originally a tool for slaughtering animals by hitting them in the head with a spike (whence the verb "to poleaxe"). As with many other agricultural tools, it became yet another military polearm.

Halberd

) Halberd.png
Name halberd
Appearance angled poleaxe
Damage vs. small d10
Damage vs. large 2d6
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 10 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 150
Material iron

Origin

Halberds.png

The halberd was a mainstay weapon in many armies for a long time. The halberd is a type of poleaxe in the most literal sense, an axe on a pole. Its main identifying feature is that the blade is always angled slightly downward, which explains NetHack's description of an angled poleaxe. In addition to the axe, halberds also have both a spear tip, and spike or hook on the rear for penetrating armor or hooking, making a versatile three-in-one weapon. Due to the popularity of this weapon, there are a wide variety of different styles, although some were only parade weapons. The halberd is one of the best NetHack weapons, and this is consistent with its role in real warfare.

Bardiche

) Bardiche.png
Name bardiche
Appearance long poleaxe
Damage vs. small 2d4
Damage vs. large 3d4
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 7 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 120
Material iron

Origin

Bardiches-Colored.png

NetHack calls the bardiche a long poleaxe and that is exactly right, if you assume that the "long" applies to "axe" and not "pole". A bardiche is nothing more than a long axe blade on a stick. The cutting blade was typically two feet long or more, and usually attached to the pole in two places (in the middle and the bottom). But it is mounted on one of the shortest poles for a polearm, only about five feet. So "short poleaxe" would be accurate also. This simple weapon's advantage was in its size and weight, not its subtlety. NetHack gets the weight wrong - a bardiche should be heavier than a halberd.

Spetum

) Spetum.png
Name spetum
Appearance forked polearm
Damage vs. small d6+1
Damage vs. large 2d6
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 5 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 50
Material iron

Origin

Spetums.png

The spetum is a spear with two more knife blades stuck on the sides. NetHack's "forked polearm" is vaguely accurate, but forked weapons, like the military forks shown below, would more typically have side prongs that reach all the way up to the top. Over time variations were added and it more strongly resembled the ranseur. (The spetum may have grown into it, they may have been developed independently). NetHack gives this an advantage with large monsters, which doesn't quite make sense, as it is supposed to be a lighter polearm.

Forks.jpg

Ranseur

) Ranseur.png
Name ranseur
Appearance hilted polearm
Damage vs. small 2d4
Damage vs. large 2d4
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 6 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 50
Material iron

Origin

Ranseurs.png

The ranseur, the hilted polearm, is essentially a spear with a hilt. The hilt served primarily to block opponents' weapons and possibly trap the weapon for disarming. The hilt was sometimes also used secondarily as an alternate way to attack. The hilt often hooked backwards also, so that it could be used as a hook. The ranseur was probably an all around better weapon than the spetum, but this is not the case in NetHack. In a perfect universe, NetHack would give this weapon an advantage when fighting monsters that use weapons, as that is where the hilt is useful.

Partisan

) Partisan.png
Name partisan
Appearance vulgar polearm
Damage vs. small d6
Damage vs. large d6+1
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 10 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 80
Material iron

Origin

Partisans.png

The partisan also winds up looking much like the ranseur and spetum. Originally the partisan was a spear with small double axe blades added below it. This basic form is shown in the first partisan above; however you won't likely ever see a partisan that looks like this. The other forms are more typical. Note that while some of them look like spetums, they present broader protrusions than the knife-like spetum prongs. The partisan is also more likely to have a flat bladed tip, rather than the spiky blade of the spetum and ranseur. Over time partisans (or weapons called partisans) became more ornamental and ceremonial, which may explain why it is one of the weaker polearms, and also why it is referred to as a vulgar polearm.

Perhaps one good way to differentiate between the spetum, the partisan, and the ranseur is to look for the edges on the prongs. Typically, a ranseur would have no edges, a partisan would have edges only facing out, and a spetum would have edges on both sides of the protrusions.

Voulge

) Voulge.png
Name voulge
Appearance pole cleaver
Damage vs. small 2d4
Damage vs. large 2d4
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 5 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 125
Material iron

Origin

Voulges-Colored.png

NetHack has it just right referring to the voulge as a pole cleaver, as this weapon probably was invented as a meat cleaver on a pole. The voulge may look somewhat like a bardiche, but the blade is much shorter and the shaft is longer. It also may tend to look like the glaive, but would generally have a broader blade.

Glaive

) Glaive.png
Name glaive
Appearance single-edged polearm
Damage vs. small d6
Damage vs. large d10
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 6 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 75
Material iron

Origin

Glaives-Colored.png

If you could put a cleaver on a stick, why not just a knife? The glaive is basically just that, a knife on a stick; or as NetHack calls it, a single-edged polearm.

Naginata.png

In NetHack the glaive is called a naginata if you are playing as a samurai. A naginata is a Japanese polearm tipped with a curved blade similar to (although often shorter than) the blade of a katana.

Encyclopedia entry

A Japanese pole-arm, fitted with a curved single-edged blade.
The blades ranged in length from two to four feet, mounted on
shafts about four to five feet long. The naginata were cut
with a series of short grooves near to the tang, above which
the back edge was thinned, but not sharpened, so that the
greater part of the blade was a flattened diamond shape in
section. Seen in profile, the curve is slight or non-
existent near the tang, becoming more pronounced towards the
point.

"With his naginata he killed five, but with the sixth it
snapped asunder in the midst and, flinging it away, he drew
his sword, wielding it in the zigzag style, the interlacing,
cross, reversed dragonfly, waterwheel, and eight-sides-at-
once styles of fencing and cutting down eight men; but as he
brought down the ninth with a mighty blow on the helmet, the
blade snapped at the hilt."

[ Story of Tsutsui no Jomio Meishu from Tales of Heike ]

Fauchard

) Fauchard.png
Name fauchard
Appearance pole sickle
Damage vs. small d6
Damage vs. large d8
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 5 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 60
Material iron

Origin

Fauchards.png

The fauchard - which NetHack calls a pole sickle, is distinguished from other single-edged polearms by having a curved blade with the sharp edge on the inside of the curve. This was not a very effective weapon, and as such it is fairly weak in-game.

Guisarme

) Guisarme.png
Name guisarme
Appearance pruning hook
Damage vs. small 2d4
Damage vs. large d8
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 5 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 80
Material iron

Origin

Guisarmes.png

The guisarme like the voulge, started out as a peasant's weapon, made from a tool on a stick. In this case the tool is a pruning hook, which is where it gets its description. While it was a somewhat useful cheap weapon, the lack of a spear point was a significant liability. It was good for pulling riders off of their mounts, but what do you do once they're off? It evolved to some degree, sometimes adding a reverse spike, but eventually guisarme became a generic term for any weapon with a hook, such that you had voulge-guisarmes, and glaive-guisarmes.

Bill-guisarme

) Bill-guisarme.png
Name bill-guisarme
Appearance hooked polearm
Damage vs. small 2d4
Damage vs. large d10
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 7 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 120
Material iron

Origin

Bill-guisarmes.png

This leads us to the bill-guisarme. Bills, developed from an agricultural implement called the bill hook (still used today), were English weapons similar in shape to the guisarme, but perhaps with somewhat less hook in general. They followed a different evolution, such that any weapon that was similar to a glaive or fauchard, but with extra bits thrown in, was often called a bill. So, in terms of origination, bill-guisarme would be a bit redundant, but in terms of later meaning, a bill-guisarme was a bladed weapon with multiple sharpened edges and spikes, and with a hook. NetHack should give these weapons more credit - they were very versatile, and used over long periods of time, second only to the halberd.

There is a lot of confusion out there on guisarmes and bill-guisarmes. Often the bill-guisarme is called simply a guisarme. Also, many pictures purporting to be guisarmes are actually fauchard-forks, which is a fauchard, with a sharp spear point added to the back of the blade.

Lucern hammer

) Lucern hammer.png
Name lucern hammer
Appearance pronged polearm
Damage vs. small 2d4
Damage vs. large d6
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 7 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 150
Material iron

Despite the name, the lucern hammer is not really a hammer, and does not use the hammer skill. This confusion may have been responsible for the creation of Thunderfist. (Similar confusion was common among players of the first edition of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. AD&D cleric characters were denied the use of sharp weapons, restricting them generally to maces and war hammers. Any number of early clerics therefore ended up carrying around a Lucern "Hammer," which did more damage than a traditional war hammer.)

Origin

Lucernhammers.png

The lucern hammer is vaguely similar to the halberd, only instead of an axe blade, it presents a three-pronged hammer to its victim (hence the pronged polearm designation).

Bec-de-corbin

) Bec de corbin.png
Name bec-de-corbin
Appearance beaked polearm
Damage vs. small d8
Damage vs. large d6
To-hit bonus +0
Weapon skill polearm
Size two-handed
Base price 8 zm
(+10/positive
enchant)
Weight 100
Material iron

Origin

Becdecorbins.png

The bec de corbin (literally "crow's beak") looks extremely similar to the lucern hammer; however the hammer side was sometimes blunt instead of pronged. The distinguishing characteristic though is that the spike was a thick beak-like shape designed only for puncturing (armor, or whatever). This is why it is the beaked polearm. The beak was the primary mode of attack; the hammer or claw was secondary. The spear tip was also generally less pointy than that of the lucern hammer.

References

This page is based on a spoiler by Tom Fine, available at http://hea-www.harvard.edu/~fine/Fun/polearms.html