April 26, 2012

The Forgotten Spear

Head of a spear from Mindanao, www.vikingsword.com

When was the last time you saw someone equip his FRPG character with a spear? The only time I ever used a spear in D&D was when I tried to create a Celtic-themed fighter, but I found it very unsatisfactory – just 1d6 damage, compared to heavier-hitting swords and axes, and range wasn’t very good. My friends share the same observation from their own games.

In the Hari Ragat setting, though, the spear is a premier weapon, fraught with symbolism.  Almost every fighting man will have one – the only ones who won’t carry a spear are archers.  Spears are used as messages – a spear left on the doorstep of a house means intention to court the householder’s daughter; a spear sent to allies means a call to war; a spear thrown onto an enemy shore means one is claiming the land for himself, by right of victory in battle. 

Since I believe most players in Hari Ragat will have come from similar gaming roots as myself – that is, they played D&D first – I’ll have to make the spear more attractive to them than it was in D&D.

So what are the spear’s selling points in Hari Ragat?

  • It’s free.  Every Orang Dakila character gets a pair at character creation, Orang Malaya and Orang Kaya characters get one.

  • Spears are effective weapons.  Since the Vivid system measures damage by the success of the victor, no one weapon stands out as being the obviously powerful choice, or being obviously ‘nerfed.’ There are also Secrets for the enhanced use of spears.

  • Spears have a Reach advantage vs. any kind of sword. You can also invoke this Reach advantage vs. large wild beasts.

  • Because of the religious symbolism attached to the spear, there’s extra Renown for making the first successful spear cast in battle (that is, the cast hits and injures or kills an enemy).

  • Spears can be used in overland travel, specially in climbing mountains, as effective walking sticks.  Steep, muddy slopes are a common terrain feature in the Hari Ragat setting, so a good alpenstock is always useful!

The Vijadesan Spear
The typical Vijadesan general-purpose spear is about 6 feet long, with a 6-to-8 inch head of iron and a ferrule or butt-cap on the other end of iron or brass. 


Below the head is usually a collar of iron or brass, or bindings of rattan, often quite ornate. The collars for very wealthy warriors’ spears might even be silver, incised with intricate designs.  (All the photos I’m showing here are of spears from various parts of Mindanao, and represent what Vijadesan designs will look like.)


3 Long Moro Spear-1 (Medium)



One curiosity about these spears: this photo (below) of a spear with a loop at the butt instead of the usual pointed or knobbed ferrule.  I’m guessing the loop is for attachment of a cord, so the spear is easily retrieved after throwing from a short distance:

7 Long Moro Spear-1 (Medium)

So, I’m going to create a Secret based on that idea!

Spear vs. Javelin
Metal is rather rare and expensive in the Hari Ragat setting, so spears will only be thrown at closer range, and only when there’s a good chance to retrieve them.  For distance fighting, Vijadesans throw javelins of wood or bamboo, often with only fire-hardened wood points.  Such javelins can be made in large quantities for very little cost, so warriors will pack a dozen or more on voyages.

New Spear Secrets
In the Hari Ragat game, martial arts techniques are taught as Secrets.  Each Secret is associated with a specific weapon or method of attack and defense, and lets the player ‘tap’ it for bonus dice. 

Spear Secrets play often on the concept of fighting distance – what in kendo is called ‘ma-ai’ – the ideal range from which one can strike the foe, or be struck.  The spear, and the Vijadesan way of using it, allows for very dramatic changes to fighting range, as combat may begin with the spear held almost like a dagger, very close to the head, then suddenly an attack comes from greater range as the spear is thrust with a grip lower down the shaft, or cast as a projectile.

Secret of the Darting Hand
This Secret gives a bonus to suddenly throwing the spear in melee combat, usually after a feint, so as to strike the foe by surprise.  The spear is cast at a part the opponent has failed to guard, and the throw is meant to deceive the opponent’s sense of reach, so that he is struck from a distance where he believes he’s safe from a thrust.  The price of using this technique, however, is that once you use it the spear is out of your hands.  (If you have a spear with a cord loop, however, you can recover the spear immediately).

Secret of the Flying Feint
This Secret is a technique for throwing the spear and then very rapidly drawing sword and following up with a flurry of slashes, the whole sequence being considered a single attack move.  The spear will hopefully injure the opponent or stick in his shield, making it awkward to use, which renders him vulnerable to the follow-up attack. 

Secret of the Cyclone Spear
This Secret is used when fighting with a spear, sans shield; the spear is held two-handed, and used in wheeling strokes like a quarterstaff.  The blade is also used to deliver thrusts and slashes, while the ferrule can deliver stunning jabs, or if pointed, may pierce just as well as the blade.

Secret of the Long Serpent’s Tongue
This Secret is used with spears that have a loop at the butt, to which a cord has been affixed.  Knowing this Secret means you can throw the spear and recover it so rapidly you can make it flick through the air like a serpent’s tongue, making two or three casts at very short range in a single round.  (Maximum range for doing this is about 10 feet). 

Secret of the Shattering Point
This Secret lets its practitioner identify the weak point on a shield by observation and experience, and to make a powerful cast at very short range that will punch right through most shields and hit the man behind it.  When this Secret is used, the defender cannot block damage with his shield. If it misses, however, you lose the spear.

Secret of the Sliding Grip
This Secret teaches its practitioners to slide their grip up and down the shaft of the spear during combat, usually opening the fight gripping the spear very close to the head, then suddenly changing grip to mid-shaft to dramatically extend the spear’s reach when opportunity presents itself.  It is thus very difficult to gauge the right fighting distance against a practitioner of this Secret.  


  1. Since most of my group shares another hobby, which is fencing, last time was just after we've had people try to spar against a spear. Seriously, spears are outright scary when you're on the wrong end!
    Of course, any system that nerfs spears is usually laughed at rather sarcastically, but we haven't played one of those in ages, anyway.

  2. That's good validation to hear! :-)

  3. That might be a harpoon for use with a thrower. My mother told me the throwers were used side-arm "like a baseball player". She saw them in use when she was a child, on Celebes, during WWII. My grandfather's village used them on the Japanese. All inhabitants of those villages were genocided. The throwers have a big fin on the side for holding the dart. The loop is for a sinew cord for fishing. The thrower doubled as a club and when you see them in museums, they are almost always labelled "club". :)


  4. Thanks for that info! Celebes is very close to Mindanao where that spear is from, so it's very likely their inhabitants shared some methods of weapon use.


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