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I cannot find a single bit of info on this subject. My group shares around the DMing between our three different ongoing and concurrent campaigns, and twice now this issue has come up.

Granted there is the DM fiat which I always abide by, even though if grudgingly. So without any RAW or RAI that I can point to, it has been ruled that "...historically, lances in combat were mainly used as a mass cavalry charge weapon designed to disrupt a phalanx of infantry, knocking prone most that are hit and with only a few taking some serious injury, due to the oft breakage of the lance upon forceful contact", as happens during jousting and thus renders the weapon useless. So another lance is then taken up from a squire, for another "run".

But here's my misgivings on said breakage. It is also historically known that lances designed for jousting had the metal piercing tip removed, and were purposefully blunted then capped with carved wooden or poorly-cast (read as brittle) iron fists, balls and even small hand-sized shields. This was done to remove the possibility of death from the tip piercing the armor and impaling the rival jouster. Thus, when the blunt force of the lances in jousting made full contact, the lance would more easily bend and break.

So, in our game, after the initial charge attack (w/ or w/o my using the Charger feat), and upon landing a hit, my lance has deeply impaled the creature and I must drop it or back my mount away to pull the lance out. And if my roll was a miss, it's a d2 roll that instead the lance broke upon impact to their armor.

I know of no other weapon in 5e that has such a cost, in both the heat of battle and at the armory. My only hope of salvaging these two costs are to [1] always hit, then 'No-Action' drop it, followed by a Free Action to pull my Warhammer, 1 and [2] always roll a 2 on the d2.

I need help folks, are lances supposed to be single use?


1: I play a Human Cleric (War Domain) Noble (Knight Variant) designed to be riding a Warhorse into most battles, or on foot if inside or underground, hence the Warhammer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ regardless of the RAW (there are answers for that), I would like to note that, in reality, it would be pretty much impossible for you to pull your lance out of your enemy if you're riding past him at full speed. Of course, if you were to hit in this case, you would probably impale and instantly kill your opponent, and not deal a mere 1d12 damage. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2020 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster Depends heavily on the era, the exact type of “lance” in use, and how the charge itself went. And the lances intentionally used as one-offs were for formation charging—an unlikely choice of armament for a knight errant. So I kind of doubt that’s the lance that D&D is referring to. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Jan 21, 2020 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kryan What sort of lances were multi-use? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    Aug 10, 2023 at 20:37

5 Answers 5

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They are not single-use

The only thing close to something being 'single use' is if it is concerned ammunition such as arrows. But even those have rules around recovery.

The lance is simply another weapon, like a longsword, longbow, or spear and follows the same rules regarding it's ability to be used more than once.

There are even some weapons, like the net, which can be destroyed as a means of removing them from a creature who has been attacked with it. The lance does not have language like this.

DM ruling single-use would be a house rule

This makes the RAW indicate that the lance is usable again and again, just like longswords, javelins, or spears.

If your DM wants to houserule that they are single-use, that is well within their power to do so, but it is adding a mechanic that doesn't actually exist within the rules around those weapons.

There really aren't any hidden rules, so if your DM is coming up with a rule, it's a houserule.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So, like I believe it's the same with javelins or spears, but without RAW or RAI it's back to the DM fiat. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2020 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, 5e D&D. Not strictly AL rules, but we only have very few exceptions. This being one of them. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2020 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OnceAndAgainDnD What do you mean "without RAW or RAI"? You don't need a written rule that says "Lances do not break"; they don't break unless you have a specific rule that says they do. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2020 at 19:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Additional note, if your DM makes lances single-use only weapons, he should strongly consider reducing the cost significantly. They are priced with the intention that they can be used indefinitely, so changing them to single use while also maintaining the same cost isn't reasonable. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2020 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon Or at least make them recoverable after the fight, like arrows. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mast
    Jan 21, 2020 at 12:54
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Lances do not normally break on hit in D&D 5e.

The rules of D&D 5th edition assert that the DM can always invent their own house rules, or make rulings that aren't necessarily supported by the rules-as-written.

However, there is no rule in the core rulebooks that says a lance breaks or is lost on a hit. It's just another melee weapon.

The only special rules for a lance are described on page 148 of the Player's Handbook:

Lance. You have disadvantage when you use a lance to attack a target within 5 feet of you. Also, a lance requires two hands to wield when you aren't mounted.

There's no rule that says a lance breaks on a hit or embeds itself into an opponent. This appears to be a rule invented by your DM, probably with the intent of adding realism.

Wikipedia's take on whether or not a lance breaks or impales in reality:

The centre of the shaft of [jousting] lances could be designed to be hollow, in order for it to break on impact, as a further safeguard against impalement. They were often at least 4m long, and had hand guards built into the lance, often tapering for a considerable portion of the weapon's length. These are the versions that can most often be seen at medieval reenactment festivals. In war, lances were much more like stout spears, long and balanced for one-handed use, and with sharpened tips.

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Talk to your DM

None of the mechanics you described exist in D&D 5e, so your situation is deep into homebrew territory. Simply pointing out it's against the rules likely won't change the mind that came with such system, so I'm providing arguments.

Misaimed Realism

D&D is neither a wargame, nor a life simulator. In D&D, a lance is normally an unbreakable, un-embeddable weapon, great for mounted combat, with an appropriate cost. It keeps things simple. More complexity means less doing fun stuff. Fighting with a warhammer on horseback like a TES4: Oblivion NPC is not fun.

Balance Issue

Mounted combat is supposed to be superior to footmen. The idea is to get within lance reach, hit and ride outside creature's movement range. Requiring resupply runs would make standing in place a better option - wasting turns means not killing enemies and getting hit with ranged attacks and risking your pricy mount if you lack the proper feat.

Alternatively: change the lance

If breakable lances are unavoidable, try to persuade the DM to make them much cheaper and lighter, sold in bundles. Ask him to allow strapping some to your saddle like you would a banner.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks to all for your responses. I have already asked to allow my lances to come in a set of 3 at purchase and he is considering such. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2020 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Someone_Evil, I will go back and add the quotation mark, where appropriate. As to being a Knighted Cleric, the campaigns are 5e. There are not AL, as there are a few DM fiats in play, and yes, mostly for realism. I play a Human Cleric (War Domain) Noble (Knight Variant) designed to be riding a Warhorse into most battles, or on foot if inside or underground, hence the Warhammer. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 20, 2020 at 18:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OnceAndAgainDnD Neat, I added that as a footnote to the question. As a matter of the site though, do note that each post has a seperate comment thread that has nothing to do with eachother, so try to answer in the same thread (this makes things followable and makes the notifications work) \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Jan 20, 2020 at 19:06
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Tournament or Warfare?

Tournament Lance

I believe you are conflating a tournament or sporting lance with a war lance. Some tournament lances had "popelles", or a breakable section near the tip that causes the lance to shatter on impact, lessening the force on the opponent. This type of tournament lance would indeed be single-use on impact and require repair after use.

Battle Lance

A lance built for warfare had no such "popelle" and were designed with reinforced hardwoods, intended to withstand the rigors of battle.

D&D

5e doesn't make the distinction, but we can assume since they aren't considered ammunition or have any special rules saying so, they are intended for the battlefield and constructed to withstand sustained use.

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That's not how hits work.

Other answers here have ably described that this is not how lances work, RAW, in 5e.

But there is a more fundamental misunderstanding here - that of how combat works.

As described, the OP's DM has a system in which lance "hits"1 always pierce armor and impale the target, while "misses" sometimes narratively strike but are stopped by armor, and sometimes miss entirely. This confuses the game term "hit" with not only a narrative impact on armor, but one that pierces the armor and does grievous and visible bodily damage. This is simply not how combat works.

Actually, the rules for making an attack state:

  1. Resolve the attack. You make the attack roll. On a hit, you roll damage, unless the particular attack has rules that specify otherwise.

The rules for making a "hit" state: if you "hit", you roll damage. That's it and that's all. Nothing there says you necessarily strike your opponent in a narrative sense, and nothing says you must certainly pierce their armor and impale them. You most likely reduce their hp; that is the only rules-required consequence.

What are hit points?

Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck...Whenever a creature takes damage, that damage is subtracted from its hit points. The loss of hit points has no effect on a creature's capabilities until the creature drops to 0 hit points.

A successful "hit" reduces the target's hit points, which are some combination of its durability, will, and luck. It is possible for a successful "hit" to be a narrative miss, since it doesn't result in any apparent physical damage or reduction in their immediate effectiveness. This is sometimes called 'getting stabbed in the luck'. In fact, the PHB suggests that while you are above half max hp, "hits" don't have any visible narrative effects. The "Describing the Effects of Damage" sidebar (p. 197) says:

Dungeon Masters describe hit point loss in different ways. When your current hit point total is half or more of your hit point maximum, you typically show no signs of injury. When you drop below half your hit point maximum, you show signs of wear, such as cuts and bruises.

So while OP's DM is empowered to describe their combat narrative the way they would like, it would be passing strange to have a lance "hit" against an armored foe narratively pierce the armor and impale them if they were left with more than half their hp. More likely a "miss" would be a narrative miss, while a "hit" that left them with many hp would be a narrative near miss that damaged their luck but did not impact the lance. A "hit" that left them approaching half hp would be a narrative hit that was deflected by their armor, and only "hits" that left them with fewer than half their hp would cause narrative wounds, which would be 'cuts and bruises' rather than impalement. Impaling would be reserved for the consequence of a hit that brought them very close to 0hp. Which brings us too...

Knocking a creature out:

Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable.

If impaling a creature with a lance is a precursor to killing it in combat, the attacking player gets to make that choice, not the DM. The lance is a melee weapon, and OP should be able to choose to knock foes unconscious rather than kill them. The DM might choose to describe that as the lance shattering on the foe's helmet as it is dealt the knock-out blow, but it is hard to imagine how impaling someone with a lance would leave them stable and unconscious.

As other answers have indicated, the DM's combat system is one that is specifically designed to make lances single-use weapons, either through their destruction or having them remain stuck in targets. However, it does so through a fundamental change in the combat rules. For OP's DM, a "hit" is always a narrative hit that buries the weapon in the foe, while a "miss" is a narrative hit half the time as well. In the RAW combat system, all "misses" are clean narrative misses, and even "hits" are sometimes narrative near misses and sometimes glancing blows depending on the target's hp total. It is the DM's prerogative to alter the combat system thusly, but OP should approach their conversation with their DM armed with the knowledge of just how radical a departure from RAW this is.

Suggested reading: Does piercing damage ignore Armor Class?
How can I describe hit point damage without talking about wounds?
How to flavor my narration of a fight in a creatively plausible way without affecting mechanics?
How should I handle players wanting to aim their attacks at specific body parts?


1 Herein I use "hit" and "miss" in quotations for the game-defined meaning of both, and hit and miss without quotations for the narrative event.

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