#14 Sometimes a Spear is Just a Spear

By Shamus Posted Sunday Apr 7, 2019

Filed under: DM of the Rings 36 comments

The rule is that Clerics are forbidden to use edged weapons. So, it’s wrong for the holy warrior to impale or slash his enemies, but just dandy for him to pound them into mush with a hammer or somesuch. This seemed odd to me, I tried to devise an alternate system where Clerics would only be forbidden to use weapons that were associated with phallic imagery.

Then I realized that, within D&D, this would pretty much force them to be a bunch of unarmed pacifists.

Shamus Says:

I am now, as I was in 2007, your perpetual source of highbrow comedy.

Pfft. Silvershaft. *Snicker*

Shawn Says:

Not too much to say on this one, except I like how Chuck Jones-ish Chuck ended up looking in panel 2. It wasn’t particularly intentional, but I dig it.

Also, Ramgar. *snicker*

EDIT 2019: I have a delivery here for an A. Chekov. Where should I put it? Just hang it on the wall? Great. Sign here. Okay, see you at the end of the story.

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36 thoughts on “#14 Sometimes a Spear is Just a Spear

  1. Chris says:

    You could use holy knuckle dusters or a holy rock to cave someone’s head in. I think no bladed weapons was based on flavor.

    1. Echo Tango says:

      Spears should be fine – there’s even a spear in Nethack which is pretty much the one this cartoon guy is holding! Personally though, I don’t get the flavor they’re trying to go for in DnD. I mean, in real life, the crusaders fought with all kinds of weapons. They just had emblems painted on their shields, but even that was not uncommon. Heck, even just mechanically, undead-fighting holy warriors would prefer blunt weapons without a special rule, at least depending on the version of DnD. Skeletons had resistance (or high AC?) to non-bludgeoning weapons, to simulate your sword or spear just poking through their empty bones most of the time.

      1. Lino says:

        But as far as I know, in some versions of Pathfinder (and D&D?) zombies have a huuuge resistance to bludgeoning and piercing weapons, so your best bet is something that can cut through them.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Got it. Paladins use a hammer-axe!

          1. Lino says:

            Or, alternatively, we could try to hear them out and find common ground! Can’t we all just get along?


            1. Galad says:

              give undead ache once? Just once? :P

              1. Lino says:

                And we wonder why society is in such a dire state :D

      2. Chris says:

        Usually zombies are weak to swords while skeletons are weak to blunt. I think of it that clerics are more like priests that smite down things with blunt weapons while paladins/crusaders use swords.

      3. Bubble181 says:

        But crusaders are paladins – armored knights fighting for a belief system.
        Historically, several monastic fighting orders had vows against spoiling blood, and when they went to war, they used Morningstars, maces, clubs, etc.
        Those bishops that went with the crusaders also used either staffs or maces – the prince-bishop of Liège for example, and the bishop of Constantinopel.

        I’m not saying it’s a great rule or sensible (those spiked clubs definitely drew blood, too, while many Western sword types were more used for bludgeoning armor than for chopping off limbs or stabbing), but there is some historical ground for it, if you’re looking for a way to make clerics less useful than a fighter.

        1. Joe Informatico says:

          This was believed by some historians as recently as a few decades ago, when Gygax and Arneson were first creating Dungeons & Dragons, and they incorporated that conceit into the cleric class. But it’s wrong. The majority of the medieval clergy were discouraged from fighting at all, although in the earlier Middle Ages some bishops and priests of high status occasionally ignored this prescription in favour of other obligations, like Bishop Odo the half-brother of William the Conqueror who participated in the Battle of Hastings, and the legendary Bishop Turpin from the Song of Roland (Turpin was real though his name was actually Tilpin; whether he did the things noted in the Song is the legendary part). But by the Crusades you had the religious military orders, the Templars, the Hospitalers, etc., most of whom took monastic vows but still fought with the standard kit of a man-at-arms of the age: lance, sword, and maybe crossbow, mace, or hammer.

          The confusion seems to result from a couple of things: Odo is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry wielding a club from horseback at the Battle of Hastings, which led some Victorian-era historians to fabricate the notion that medieval clergy who fought did so with blunt weapons. This ignores the fact that almost every other Norman of high-status–including William the Conqueror on the very next panel–is depicted on the Tapestry as wielding a club at some point, so it’s more likely an artistic convention depicting status than an accurate representation of the weapons actually used at Hastings. Also, Turpin specifically was a big inspiration for the D&D cleric class, and in the Song of Roland he wields a weapon called Almace. But this is just a named sword like Roland’s Durendal or Charlemagne’s Joyeuse–it’s not a mace.

          Blunt weapons also didn’t have anything to do with religious prescriptions against shedding blood. Clubs and staffs have probably always been used as weapons of opportunity or by poorer people who couldn’t afford anything better. But maces and hammers and the like aren’t very common weapons in the early Middle Ages*. They don’t become prominent until much later, when more and more soldiers and knights are wearing mail and plate armour. Because maces and hammers are specialized anti-armour weapons. Swords aren’t very good at penetrating metal armour even with specialized techniques, while a percussion weapon can eventually batter a hole in steel plate through metal fatigue or break apart mail links, and even when those aren’t effective they still often hit hard enough to hurt even through the armour. It’s all part of the arms race that culminates in the full plate harness of the late Middle Ages and the various multi-tool-headed polearms intended to defeat it.

          *Tolkien was taking most of his inspiration from early medieval literature and history, so you’ll note you mostly see weapons common to that Anglo-Saxon/Viking era in his books: swords, spears, axes, daggers, bows, mail armour, and large round shields. I can’t recall any mention of maces, hammers, plate armour, or crossbows in Middle-Earth, though the movies obviously take some creative liberties.

          1. Ofermod says:

            I believe that although the Witch King has a sword when he rides into Minas Tirith, he has a mace at one point (he breaks Eowyn’s arm with it), as does Morgoth. In both of these cases, I would imagine it was due to the connotations a mace has with royalty and power (orb and scepter kind of thing) rather than for plate armor.

      4. Decius says:

        The theme there came from the flavor of the tactical miniatures game that preceded D&D, in which a holy order received great divine power in exchange for oaths that they would not shed blood. They were not pacifists.

  2. Crokus Younghand says:

    Why does the “ninja” guy’s silhouette makes him look like he’s pregnant? Is he holding a pig too?

    1. Scampi says:

      Dual bucklers.

      Damn. Ninja’d

  3. Zaxares says:

    This rule of “clerics may not use edged or bladed weapons” is a relic from the 1st/2nd Ed era of D&D. Supposedly it was because clerics swore an oath not to draw blood, but what’s particularly bizarre is that even clerics of EVIL deities were restricted to blunt weapons. Eventually 3rd Edition and subsequent editions did away with this rule, going with a “Clerics wield Simple category weapons such as clubs or maces, because due to their theological duties, they don’t have as much time to train with weapons as warriors do.”

    1. Lino says:

      clerics swore an oath not to draw blood

      So, them using blunt weapons was basically a loophole (as in “hey, our oath never said we couldn’t break bones, cause internal bleeding and bash people’s skulls in!”)?
      I guess back in the day EVEN THE CHARACTERS were trying to rules-lawyer!

      1. Blackbird71 says:

        I recall reading a fantasy novel many years ago (I believe it was in one of Christopher Stasheff’s “Warlock” series, probably “The Warlock Heretical”) in which this loophole is explicitly pointed out. As I remember, a bishop or somesuch had raised an army against the crown, and he arrived on the battlefield wielding a mace. The book’s protagonist confronted the bishop about his hypocrisy, noting the biblical verse about those who live by the sword die by the sword. The bishop’s response was to argue the loophole; he pointed out that even if the word “sword” was expanded to include all edged weapons, it certainly didn’t apply to the blunt mace. It was one of those “adhering to the letter of the law by ignoring the spirit of the law” moments.

    2. MechaCrash says:

      Some half-assed Googling and hazy memories come together for there to be two reasons for “clerics can’t do stabbing.”

      Reason #1 is a game balance thing: in the older games, the kind of blunt weapons usable by clerics weren’t as good as swords and the like, so the fact that fighters could use weapons that hurt more made up for the fact that clerics had magic.

      Reason #2 is that “clerics can’t shank anybody, but pounding them into mush is fine” is because it’s based on Odo of Bayeux, who (supposedly) did the “the rules say I can’t draw blood, but smashing all their limbs with a giant hammer isn’t technically drawing blood so it’s fine” thing. (This may not be true; its truth isn’t really relevant here.)

      1. silver Harloe says:

        In some cleric expansion for 2e or maybe 3e, it was changed to “clerics should use weapons appropriate to their deity” (i.e. spears for Athena, tridents for Poseidon, bows for Artemis, etc)

      2. King Marth says:

        Breaking the skin or not is a big deal in ye olden days with no hygiene. Historical medicine was really good at setting broken bones, but if you got cut, then you’re probably losing something to gangrene. When you don’t know about germs, there’s no such thing as clean water.

        This is why Excalibur’s real value was in the scabbard, which prevented its wearer’s skin from being pierced.

        1. krellen says:

          Also, exsanguination was, by far, the most common cause of traumatic death up until the idea of the blood transfusion was invented. Almost all military defence (and medical practice) was devoted to keeping blood inside the body.

      3. Joe Informatico says:

        Odo is depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry wielding a large club at the Battle of Hastings, which is likely one of the main origins of this myth. This ignores the fact that almost every high-status Norman is depicted somewhere on the tapestry wielding a similar club–including William the Conqueror on an adjacent panel–so it’s more likely an artistic convention denoting rank than an accurate representation of the weapons actually wielded at Hastings. But the Victorian historians weren’t always so rigorous in their scholarship.

    3. Joe Informatico says:

      I go into more detail elsewhere on the thread, but basically it’s one of many bad misconceptions of medieval history (along with 10-pound swords and ring mail) fabricated by Victorian historians that still had clout in the 70s when Gygax and Arneson were thinking up D&D, and possibly a misreading of Bishop Turpin’s sword named Almace from The Song of Roland.

      Interesting tangent: the original inspiration for the cleric class was Peter Cushing’s portrayal of vampire hunter Van Helsing from the Hammer Horror Dracula films.

    4. Joe Informatico says:

      I handwave it for game balance reasons, but even the notion that maces and hammers are easier to use than swords and axes is probably bullshit. Maces and hammers were specialized anti-armour weapons that were used mostly by heavily-armoured knights and men-at-arms to fight other heavily-armoured knights and men-at-arms, because they were more effective at bashing through mail and plate than swords. They weren’t simpler weapons for less-trained people. Whereas by the High Middle Ages almost every common soldier had a sword as a backup if they could no longer use their spear, polearm, or bow/crossbow, and by the Late Middle Ages many adult men in towns and cities were probably wearing swords (it’s a relatively common depiction in art of the time). When they were affordable and not proscribed by law, daggers and swords were among the most common weapons for civilians or everyday carry, because they’re easy to wear and have on-hand while you go about your daily business.

  4. tmtvl says:

    Shamus is invoking Chekov’s gun, clearly Barbarian Rage will be important later on. Prolly something about the conferred immunity to the Maze spell.

    1. Freddo says:

      Spoiler that sh*t!

  5. Carlos García says:

    In your campaign they would need to be maimed pacifists, since they’d still have phallic imagery by keeping the ability to flip off their enemies or the length of their handless arms. And then some bitter ones would learn to flip their enemies with their toes.

  6. King Marth says:

    Main thing that bugs me in this one is how it reinforces the odd new-player assumption that D&D is one big continuous game, where characters can move freely between campaigns like they’re quest lines in World of Warcraft. They just switched to a new system too! There is no old campaign, we’ve seen everything this new character has done. The DM was even confused at this character’s existence, there’s no way there was a discussion about porting.

    I really liked the explanation that compared the D&D rules to an operating system, which gives a consistent shared core to the wildly different games/programs you write to use it. From this point of view, asking whether you can use your Fallout 4 character’s loot in Skyrim more accurately represents the scenario here about using treasure from another game. (As with that case, the answer is “yes, if you get the right mods.”)

    1. Sartharina says:

      From what I can tell, they aren’t starting at level 1. While two of the characters are straightforward (Sapphire and Ramgar), it looks like Marcus, probably being new to the group and possibly Tabletop RPGs (Or, at the very least, not as confident with the system and group) went for a straightforward character. It looks like Chuck re-made an old character he had and enjoyed playing in the system, and re-created his weapon from the previous campaign as well.

      I tend to re-create a few of my own characters between games – I have a gnoll I really love.

    2. Nimrandir says:

      In fairness, this could be a legitimate point of confusion for players introduced to tabletop role-playing via organized play campaigns. I mean, if they can play the same character at Gen Con, Dragon Con, and the local game store in Scranton, why couldn’t they do the same here? They brought the paper trail and everything!

  7. Joe says:

    In the real world, spears are actually a really good weapon for melee combat. They have a longer reach than swords. Good video, with practical demonstration.

    1. The Nick says:

      I like how I KNEW it would be this Lindybeige video before I clicked on it.

  8. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    I don’t get, the GM let one of his player import a magic weapon from another character and another system? Does that system have a New Game + feature or something?

  9. Anachronist says:

    “That seems overpowered.”
    … says the overpowered munchkinned min-maxer character.
    Gave me a chuckle.

  10. Pell says:

    In my campaign, Orcs are explicitly misogynistic jerks (culturally, not like as a racial mind control; those that are raised by human parents turn out normal enough), and as part of that, they heavily favor using bludgeoning or piercing weapons instead of axes or swords. The counterpart to that, which would satisfy your cleric’s needs here, is a culture whose preferred weapon is the Labyrs, or Double-Bladed Axe, whose symmetrical rounded shape is loosely reminiscent of feminine anatomy, and which is (ostensibly, according to Renaissance Festival-type people) associated with the phases of the moon in a way that is embraced by female neopagans.

    Of course you could go full Oglaf and just have the Amazons use nothing but whips and nets and other “enveloping” weapons. Since not everyone will go read a usually-NSFW strip, I’ll spoil the entire joke: “If we use impaling weapons or cover our breasts, everyone will think ‘ooh, she wishes she was a man’!” “But why would we care what people think of us?” “BECAUSE WE’RE LADIES! Honestly, if you spent as much time on your makeup as you do on stupid questions, you’d be soooo pretty!”

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