Monday, June 15, 2015

Pole Arms Through the Ages

A graphic found in "A Critique of the Theory of Evolution",Thomas Hunt Morgan, 1916; therein shown as Figure 2 and noted, "Metropolitan Museum. After Dean."


Thanks to Wikimedia Commons for making this image available (link).


19 comments:

  1. Its funny, I was discussing last week, the lack of 38 paragraphs on every kind of pole-arm in current RPGs. Also that there seemed to be no matching level of detail for other weapon types. young me would have loved to see a detail about the various pros and cons or sword shapes and styles.

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  2. Actually, I always considered Gygax's poll (note correct spelling) arm fetish to be a bit bizarre. Don't get me wrong, I think they are neat. I have several in my collection! But functionally there is little difference between a bill and a halberd, for example, and many of the different types really could be collapsed into one or perhaps two or three at most. Also, his descriptions in Dragon 22 and repeated in Unearthed Arcana have an awful lot of errors (zum beispiel the "awl pike" never existed; there is, however the "awl spiess" which was a shorter spear type weapon with a heavy quadrangular spike head designed to pierce armour, but this was never more than 5' or so in length). Gygax relied on some pretty bad and woefully outdated references, which is sad given that Ewart Oakeshott, in "Archaeology of Weapons" and "European Weapons and Armour" gave much better information. The former was published in the 60's, and the latter in 1980 (a bit late for The Dragon article, but in plenty of time for UA) These old references (Ashdown and ffolkes, in particular) are the genesis of many of the goofy errors in AD&D arms and armour ("banded mail" etc.)

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    1. I agree, I'm not really that fond of having to parse a huge number of pole arms in AD&D for little or no benefit. I do prefer a small number of variations my game: the poleaxe/halberd, pike, perhaps maul options make me happy enough.

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    2. The correct spellings are pole arm and poleaxe. The Wikipedia entry on poleaxe has a weird belief based upon disputed etymology that it should be spelt pollaxe. But is isn't spelt that way, English doesn't work that way, and putting the wrong spelling on a whim is misinformation.

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    3. English kind of does work that way.

      Firstly, pollaxe and poleaxe will generally mean the same kind of weapon to most people, so insisting on one specific spelling over the other on some claim that English works a specific way is on par with with saying there is only one way to spell mail/maille, or armor/armour or center/centre or spelled/spelt.

      Secondly, I have seen it spelled either way, although most instances of poleaxe have been referring to blade and beak or blade and hammer pole-arms which also seem to be the same instances where someone feels the need to specifically name hammer and beak weapons something like "bec de faucon" or "bec de corbin" or "pole-hammer."

      Thirdly, isn't spelt a grain and not the past tense of to spell?

      Fourthly, who actually cares how you spell pollaxe? It's like someone going on and on about how the way D&D misuses "longsword."

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    4. I don't mean there's only one accepted spelling for words. And I don't mean spelling can't change. And I don't mind Tolkien preferring Dwarves to Dwarfs. And I don't mind C.S.Lewis inventing words.

      Changing the spelling of words from the dictionary spelling to some made-up faux archaic spelling that never existed based upon a disputed etymology? And then tell everyone they're *wrong* for using the standard spelling?

      Poleaxe = 366,000 results. Pollaxe = 42,000 results.

      And the uses of pollaxe almost invariably seem to tell you the dictionary is wrong, e.g. "(although many academics mistakenly spell the word "poleaxe")"

      Who cares? The same sort of nutters who play RPGs and comment on blogs! ;-)

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  3. I always figured banded mail was lorica segmentata. The upgrade to plate mail would add more coverage and consolidate a lot of the separate chest pieces into a cuirass.

    I think the weirdest ones are studded leather because I imagine a bunch of tiny decorative studs (whereas it's most likely just lots of little plates that aren't heavy enough to call it scale armor), and ringmail because why would someone go through the effort of making rings to sew on instead of little plates (although you could very easily say that ringmail is just butted chainmail or lighter-gauge chainmail, both would have lower protective ability).

    In general I think (1) the representations we have of arms and armor are hampered by the stylized and generally crappy art style of the day, and (2) the artifacts we have won't show all the experiments, field modifications, show pieces, and smiths disconnected from the latest fads.

    D&D equipment might be better classified so that weapons are all just injury-type and size (which may affect reach, speed, and how many hands are required), so you could have a Battle Axe or a Machete and they're both Medium Cleaving. Armor as Light / Medium / Heavy (and you could have three suits of mail that fit in three different categories) made of Leather / Mail / Scale / Plate (which is superficial unless you have weapon type vs. armor type rules).

    This would cut down on how many different rules there are, while allowing any number of examples of that type to be listed under it.

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    1. Personally I am down with having a reduced number of options like in OD&D. What I usually disagree with is turning them into abstract types. It's the concrete details that really make a world vibrant, capture the imagination, and suck a person in (basically stealing observations from my college creative writing instructor here). So if had Leather/Chain/Plate, and then from time to time presented other stuff as "equivalent to Chain", that always feels the most elegant to me.

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    2. A fairly minor distinction, but there it is.

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    3. Oh definitely, I agree. What I meant was that Ringmail would need to fit somewhere, probably as Mail just because the shape of the metal bits would make the weapon type vs. armor type work still. Banded Mail would be some kind of Plate. Studded Leather would be Light Scale. I dunno, it doesn't entirely work. I typically will include some armor and give it stats in relation to other armor. For example, maybe a kobold has cobbled-together armor pieces and a washboard for a breastplate, and if the party gnome puts it on he gets equivalent of Padded armor (AC 8, MV 9", fairly bulky). Armor made from tons of coins equals Scale. Etc.

      I just feel like having two armors with exactly the same stats is a bit of a waste - but also wasteful is having 8 AC places times 3 bulkiness / movement categories = 24 potential armor permutations.

      And is Banded Mail / Lorica Segmentata really that different from Brigandine?

      Honestly, I haven't implemented the previous post. I have done a Leather/Mail/Plate game, which was fine I guess. But the huge list of 2E equipment is for some reason super-enticing (as much as the 3E extended equipment list with its mercurial swords and Orc Butt Scratchers isn't).

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    4. "So if had Leather/Chain/Plate, and then from time to time presented other stuff as "equivalent to Chain", that always feels the most elegant to me."

      That's exactly how I approach it.

      The other day I had some Atlantean undersea warriors wearing so-called "scale armour" which was made from some fish scales. It was the same as chain armour, weighed less, but looked weird and stank of fish! Sad joke I know...

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  4. No poleaxe in the chart! :(

    And talk of correct spelling is mostly just people trying to make themselves feel superior at another's expense. There's a wide variety of common-usage spellings of poleaxe. No need to say this one or that one is right or wrong.

    In any case, there's no such thing as correct or incorrect spelling, only common-usage and idiosyncratic.

    Banded mail and ring mail are both known to not be actual things. Both are misunderstandings of drawings of chain.

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    1. Actually, the "Pole Axe" label is near the bottom left, just above the Bardiches. Easy to miss.

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    2. There's a label that says pole axe, but none of the pictures are of poleaxes.

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    3. And if you scroll up there are halberds that have the profile of hammer-bec pollaxes, but who actually knows.

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  5. That chart is excerpted from a pamphlet called "New York Metropolitan Museum educational charts" (https://archive.org/details/educationalchart00metrrich). It includes similar family trees of swords, shields, armor, helmets, bows and even spurs, and well worth a look!

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    1. Awesome, thanks for finding that!

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    2. Wow, that's really crazy terrific.

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