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A polearm is a type of weapon that appears in NetHack. Polearms are a type of two-handed weapon that are designed to pound enemies from afar, and can only be used effectively in melee while riding.

The lance is a weapon that functions similarly, but is considered distinct from other polearms and has its own skill.


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% - certain types of polearms may be more common due to appearing starting inventory of certain monsters:

Polearms skill

Max Role

The following weapons use the polearms skill:

There are no artifact polearms.


Main article: Pounding

As mentioned above, polearms are unique among most weapons in that they can be applied to attack monsters from two squares away. The wielder's skill level affects the range when applying a polearm, with the article linked above providing more details - no role in NetHack can attain Expert in polearms, though Knights can become Expert in lances, which use the same mechanic.

Applying polearms to pound monsters will not trigger passive attacks against the wielder, but does scuff engravings on their square and cause Elbereth to fade, incurring an alignment record penalty;[4] the polearm will still be subject to the effects of passive attacks (e.g. erosion, disenchantment, etc.) as normal. Polearms can only be properly used in melee by a character that is riding, and otherwise will only deal d2 damage by bashing them with the pole, which does not train the skill.

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, and partisan. Polearms can only be used by strong monsters without a shield, and they will both use them in melee and apply them as an unskilled-level character - trolls are an exception, and can apply polearms as Skilled.


Polearms deal less damage than other two-handed weapons in most circumstances, but they are an attractive option for characters that seek to use steeds but are playing as roles limited in many of the better melee, such as Rangers and Wizards. For these characters, the ability to transition from pounding to melee without switching weapons is a tactical advantage, allowing them to retain the secondary weapon in cases they are dismounted.

Special rooms such as zoos and throne rooms can be taken apart with relative ease by a character with a polearm and stealth: they can use adjacent hostile monsters as a barrier to freely pound at the hostile monsters behind them, limiting retaliation from them to wands and breath weapons among some other ranged attacks. Characters that main polearms can more easily handle monsters with passives and dangerous melee attacks, such as the drowning attack used by some sea monsters - other characters can use them as a last resort if they lack other viable ranged options and/or want to save valuable charges (usually from wands).

In terms of differences between polearms, the halberd deals the most damage against small monsters, and the bardiche is best against large monsters, but both are also among the heaviest polearms. The spetum and ranseur deal decently high damage to both sizes while being some of the lightest polearms, while the bec de corbin and lucern hammer offer poor damage for their high weight.

Comparison table

Below is a table that directly compares all the polearms to each other in terms of damage, weight and other characteristics:

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 (naginata) 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 )


All polearms are introduced in NetHack 1.3d.


A polearm or pole weapon is a type of weapon that is predominantly designed for melee, and typically has the "business" end fitted to a long and usually wooden shaft to extend the user's effective range and striking power. Polearms can be divided into three broad categories: those designed for extended reach and thrusting tactics used in pike square or phalanx combat; those designed to increase leverage via the pole and maximize swinging force against cavalry; and those designed for throwing tactics used in skirmish line combat.

Polearms were common weapons on the post-classical battlefields of Asia and Europe, and many were adapted from agricultural implements or other fairly abundant tools that contained relatively little metal - poorer-class soldiers who could not pay for dedicated military weapons would often appropriate these tools as cheap weapons. This made them readily available to manufacture and kept cost of training comparatively low, since these conscripted farmers had spent most of their lives using these "weapons" in the fields. As a result, polearms are historically the favored weapon of peasant levies and peasant rebellions the world over.

Because of their versatility, high effectiveness and low cost, there were many variants of polearm that saw use - bills, picks, dane axes, spears, glaives, guandaos, pudaos, pikes, poleaxes, halberds, harpoons, sovnyas, tridents, naginatas, bardiches, war scythes, and lances are all varieties of polearms. The hook on weapons such as the halberd was used for pulling or grappling tactics, especially against horsemen, and there are also a subclass of spear-like designs fit for thrusting and/or throwing. The lance in particular is most likely to be used by mounted soldiers, which is why it is given a separate skill and categorization in NetHack.

Polearms in modern times are largely constrained to ceremonial military units such as the Papal Swiss Guard or Yeomen of the Guard, or traditional martial arts: Chinese martial arts in particular have preserved a wide variety of weapons and techniques, and there is much focus on polearms and classification among enthusiasts of the relevant historical periods, including re-enactment troupes. The fascination with medieval polearms extended to early editions of Dungeons & Dragons, which were infamous for giving stats for many exotic polearms, while describing none of them - NetHack in particular inherited this trait, hence the abundance of polearms available in the game.

As time went on, the various different polearm types borrowed heavily from each other, leading to a great deal of confusion over classification - this is a subject that Tom Fine touches on with one of his many personal pages, detailing the classification of polearms in NetHack as it relates to the real-life historical weapons.



SLASH'EM adds the fishing pole as a weapon-tool that uses the polearm skill. The range of pounding is also unrestricted, and can hit any square that is two squares away from the wielder.

Four of the five roles that are new to SLASH'EM can raise their skill in polearms:

Max Role

NetHack brass

In NetHack brass, pounding floating eyes with polearms can cause paralysis, as opposed to NetHack where doing so avoids their passive. There is also an "autothrust" feature that allows a character to hit the nearest monster with their wielded polearm by pressing v.


In GruntHack, monsters can use polearms and other ranged weapons in combat against other monsters.


dNetHack and notdNetHack reduce the weight of many of the polearms retained from NetHack, and add the naginata and poleaxe as weapons that use the polearm skill. The diskos also uses the higher between a character's axe and polearms skill for damage if they are not twoweaponing or using a shield.

Wielding a polearm while wearing a shield improves the wielder's AC by 2, though this is generally only possible with large monsters (and their polyforms) or smaller polearms: dNetHack and notdNetHack allow polearms and other items to be resized via upgrade kit.

Shiro is a spirit that grants skill in polearms while bound.

NetHack Fourk

In NetHack Fourk, nine polearms are removed, leaving the partisan, halberd and glaive.

Polearms can now be used to trigger known traps at a distance, and can pound monsters regardless of whether or not they are visible to the character.


In FIQHack, polearms can be used to pound monsters regardless of whether or not they are visible to the character.


In xNetHack, eight polearms are removed, leaving the partisan, glaive, halberd, and bec de corbin - the bec de corbin is also buffed to deal the same damage as the removed lucern hammer, and the probabilities of the removed polearms are adapted into the remaining ones.


In EvilHack, Priests are restricted to blunt weapons, leaving the lucern hammer as the only valid polearm that they can use.


In SlashTHEM, in addition to SLASH'EM details, troll characters that are not Convicts start with one of four polearms that are the same as those of NPC trolls, and can reach a minimum of Skilled in polearms.

Encyclopedia entry

Many of the weapons of the Middle Ages were poled or long-shafted
arms. Unlike the ancient spear or javelin, however, they were not
intended to be thrown. Some were devices with simple single- or
double-edged blades and nothing more, while others combined
the pick, spear, and hammer or axe all in one weapon.

[ Heraldry and Armor of the Middle Ages, by Marvin H. Pakula ]


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