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I am aware of the Shorten Grip feat, but I was wondering if it should be possible to improvise the other end of a reach weapon to use it as one end of a quarterstaff?

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The improvised weapons rules typically don't apply to objects that are already weapons

The Player's Handbook on Improvised Weapons says

Sometimes objects not crafted to be weapons nonetheless see use in combat—people fight with anything from broken bottles to chair legs to thrown mugs. Because such objects are not designed for this use, any creature that uses one in combat is considered to be nonproficient with it and takes a −4 penalty on attack rolls made with that object. (113)

(Emphasis mine.) Even Complete Warrior in extending the rules of improvised weapons (158–9) doesn't address the possibility of, for example, using a pole arm like a quarterstaff, much like the game largely omits the possibility of, for example, tying a dagger to a quarterstaff so that it's now a spear or using a bow or a crossbow as a club.1,2

Thus, for example, absent DM approval, a longspear is only ever a longspear, and a longspear's wielder can't just suffer a −4 penalty on attack rolls to somehow through mishandling transform the longspear into a quarterstaff.3

The inability of weapons to become mundanely and spontaneously other weapons—through improvisation or otherwise—is probably a good thing for the typical adventurer. While multiple ways exist even in the core rules for a reach weapon wielder (or a ranged weapon wielder) to also threaten a nearby area without first taking a hand off his weapon (e.g. the feat Improved Unarmed Strike (PH 96–7 and here), armor spikes (PH 123 and here) (50 gp; 10 lbs.)), in my experience the typical low-level guard—a common adversary of the beginning protagonist—is rarely so well-trained or well-equipped, therefore giving the adventurer a slight (yet sometimes necessary) edge.

However, I can imagine the alternative stance. That is, If such means to threaten an adjacent area are so readily available to the reach weapon user, what harm is there in making a house rule that explicitly allows a reach weapon to be used against adjacent foes at −4 penalty?

In the abstract, there probably is no harm in such a house rule—really, warriors will save some gp or a feat by not having to acquire such means, but that's probably a good thing overall. It is, though, another rules change that must be remembered in an already rules-heavy game and that will probably benefit mainly PCs and that nonetheless alters the way the DM must run some published creatures. In a low-magic E6 D&D 3.5 campaign a la the Three Musketeers, for example, I can imagine such a house rule being significant, but for many traditional campaigns I suspect such a rule's impact would be minor, making it more trouble to remember the house rule exists than it would be to negotiate the house rule into existence in the first place.

Note that the act the question may be trying to simulate is the classic Lights out!-style jab-the-downed-foe-into-unconsciousness-with-the-weapon's-butt bit that's common in cinema. A D&D 3.5 reach weapon wielder does that by suffering a −4 penalty on the attack roll with the reach weapon to deal that downed foe nonlethal damage—and does so at a distance, without the benefit of either the feat Short Haft (Player's Handbook II 82) or the feat Shorten Grip (Dragon Compendium Volume 1 108). However, if the fight's conclusion is already forgone, I recommend—unless the attack's instead supposed to be a coup de grace or something—that the DM just handwave such a nearby attack with pole arm and narrate the the poor, defeated enemy being plunged into darkness.


1 Rules for using ranged weapons as melee weapons are in "Wolfheads: Adventures for Heroic Outlaws" (Dragon #274 61). Those rules require a different exotic weapon proficiency for each ranged weapon, have the weapon deal damage as a size-appropriate club, and tend to see the ranged weapon-now-club when used in this fashion break. (Thus, given the typical ranged weapon's expense, unless the ranged weapon's made of a durable special material, this is not a tactic used casually!) Also see the style feat Frontline Archer (Dragon #332 88), the weapon modification elvencraft bow (Races of the Wild 166) (300 gp; 0 lbs.), and weapons like the (terrible) yuan-ti serpent bow (Dragon #349 23, 24) (50 gp; 5 lbs.).
2 Also see the style feat Spinning Halberd (CW 114).
3 But see the magic weapon special ability morphing (Magic Item Compendium 39) (+1 bonus; 0 lbs.).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't disagree with any point in particular, but such a strict reading would mean the holder of a pie plate or a lantern can make an Attack of Opportunity while the the holder of a guisarme could not, even as an improvised weapon. Seems odd to me. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wyrmwood
    Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 20:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wyrmwood Seems odd to me, too! I don't — can't, even — know what the authors were thinking when they wrote the improvised weapon rules, but I suspect they were designed expecting the DM to exercise his judgment rather than designed with them thinking I'll make these deliberately vague so folks 20 years from now will still puzzle over them or something. :-) Maybe it's time someone sits down and revises this puppy for real to eliminate all this pesky ambiguity. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 13, 2018 at 20:27
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Although the rules don't directly come out and say it, it's reasonable to assume from

Sometimes objects not crafted to be weapons nonetheless see use in combat. Because such objects are not designed for this use, any creature that uses one in combat is considered to be nonproficient with it and takes a -4 penalty on attack rolls made with that object.

that a reach weapon would still threaten adjacent opponents, albeit as an improvised weapon. While the blade end of a glaive would be reach only, you could hit someone with the haft, for example. Since I say "reasonable to assume", check with your DM.

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Rules as Written, it is fairly clear that reach weapons are not supposed to be able to strike at adjacent spaces at all, as a balance consideration. This is consistent across all rules discussing reach and threatened area.

Most reach weapons double the wielder’s natural reach, meaning that a typical Small or Medium wielder of such a weapon can attack a creature 10 feet away, but not a creature in an adjacent square.

That being said it's not an unreasonable thing to house-rule. Though if you want to carry it to its logical conclusion, you basically treat every reach weapon as a double-weapon, so the haft would not get the benefit of any enchantments on the blade. Basically, if you're not playing in a setting where RAW is strictly enforced, your GM can feel free to make that call, since it makes sense logically.

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This could significantly affect the balance of those weapons.

One of the weaknesses of a reach weapon is that you don't threaten the squares next to you. So, for example, someone who is 5ft away from you could initiate a grapple with you, and you would not receive an attack of opportunity. (If the attack of opportunity were successful, it would prevent the grapple entirely, so this is significant. Sometimes you really don't want to be grappled.)

On the other side, the fact that you threaten those squares next to you means you could also make a grapple or trip or disarm as your attack of opportunity. So, just the fact that you could try to hit someone with the haft of your glaive, would mean that you could ignore your glaive and trip or grapple them instead, without even the -4 to hit.

There's an argument that melee characters are weak enough in 3.5e that we shouldn't worry too much about common sense rulings making them stronger. You could go for that if you wanted. But be aware this does make melee characters stronger.


(scene: a wizard stands five feet away from a glaive fighter. The wizard holds a wand and a buckler.)

WIZARD: Aie! my hit points are few, but my eldritch power is mighty! I cast dominate person upon thee, here where thy glaive cannot reach!
FIGHTER: O, but the short end of my glaive can reach thee!
WIZARD: Strike me, then, with thy -4 attack penalty and thy 1d6 improvised-weapon damage. I shall persevere.
FIGHTER: Nay, I think I shall grapple thee instead!
WIZARD: Aie! My dominate person spell faileth because I am grappled!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ RE: "So, just the fact that you could try to hit someone with the haft of your glaive, would mean that you could ignore your glaive and trip or grapple them instead, without even the -4 to hit." Does this answer assume that if the creature threatens an adjacent area with its reach weapon, that creature need not then make its attacks of opportunity with its normally-a-reach weapon? (Either way, a disarm, grapple (if it can be completed on an attack of opportunity at all), or trip attempt will typically also itself provoke an attack of opportunity from the foe, a significant drawback!) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 18:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer does assume that. If a creature threatens an adjacent area with its longsword, the creature need not then make its trip-attack-of-opportunity with its longsword. It would be weird for a glaive to follow different rules. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ So, (ahem) by extension, this answer puts forth, for example, that a Medium creature that's wielding a reach weapon can already grapple a foe that's 10 ft. away? (I'm just clarifying, by the way; I understand this isn't the answer's thrust, but those aren't the rules I use so they weren't a concern when I crafted my own answer.) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 18:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ No -- I would not allow a creature to grapple outside of its unarmed reach, even if it were holding a reach weapon. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan B
    Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Okay. Cool. Tables I've played at have read "An unarmed character can’t take attacks of opportunity" as meaning that if A provokes an attack of opportunity from B, B can't do any unarmed stuff unless B also threatens with B's unarmed strike without the weapon. That is, if B stops using the threatening weapon to make an unarmed attack of opportunity, B is now unarmed and typically makes no attacks of opportunity. But, like I said, it's cool. Your way works, too. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 26, 2018 at 19:04

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