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In DnD 5e, what is the difference between the Glaive and the Halberd (PH p149)? They are both martial melee weapons, they both cost 20gp, they both deal 1d10 slashing damage, they both weigh 6lb., and they both have the same tags ("Heavy", "Reach", and "Two-Handed").

There is a section on page 41 of the 5e DMG that talks about different flavors for things in your world. This section is a large part of why I'm asking the question. It seems like Wizards' philosophy with weapons and gear in 5e is to make a handful of distinct templates for things, and let players or GMs flavor them how they want. Given this apparent philosophy, why are there two mechanically identical weapons?

@nitsua60 pointed out that these are the only two identical entries.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for answering or discussion. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Oct 30 '15 at 11:57
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The halberd and glaive are there because D&D has a history of offering a wide variety of codified polearms. Namely 2e and previous, which 5e strives to emulate in many regards.

It's fairly likely that someone on the design team, or if not them, someone that someone on the design team talked to, thinks that D&D is not D&D without some variety of polearms to choose from. This could be just "one of those things" (commonly called "sacred cows" in jargon) that becomes a tradition of the franchise and outlives its usefulness by virtue of the fact that many players are familiar with it.

To demonstrate my point, it's easiest to again refer to the 2e Arms and Equipment book, as @nitsua60 did, but also in addition to the core rules. Here's a list of the different polearms codified in the core rules and A&E:

  • Glaive
  • Halberd
  • Lucerne hammer -- like a halberd, but with a hammer.
  • Guisarme -- a peasant's weapon specialized in dismounting knights. It's defined by a hook on one side, usually with a spear tip emerging from the hook as well.
  • Longspear
  • Ranseur -- a spear with a crossguard, like a trident but with unsharpened, shorter side-points.
  • Scythe
  • Trident

This is pretty exhaustive even considering D&D, and even considering that it's spread over two books. Remember, we're dealing with a subset of two-handed melee weapons. 3rd edition, as most are well aware, did not make any meaningful attempt to curb the amount of codified rules. Pathfinder continues the tradition; a quick glance at the Weapons table in the d20pfsrd confirms that, even going so far as to make the arguably-pointless-in-real-life distinction between the bec de corbin and the lucerne hammer.

In fact, D&D's codification of long weapons goes all the way back to OD&D 1e at latest. Gary Gygax included Appendix T to AD&D 1e Unearthed Arcana (1985) which was an extensive discussion of pole arms that included citation to four different text books about medieval weapons. He ended up including thirteen (that is 13) different varieties of polearms in the original D&D 1st edition Player's Handbook. Even before that, Gygax had provided polearm supplement rules for Chainmail, D&D's wargame predecessor, via the wargame magazine Strategic Review, second issue. Many thanks go to Korvin Starmast for providing the information.

Things like this seem simple and pointless when viewed from an outsider's perspective, but it's just one of those things that gives D&D its character, something that sets it apart from other games, even if it is only a small thing. Many people are sad to see those defining characteristics go.

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    \$\begingroup\$ No love for the Bohemian ear spoon. My favorite pole arm of AD&D 1e... \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Sep 13 '16 at 1:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ D&D's love for polearm variety is also parodied in this Order of the Stick comic. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Sep 14 '16 at 11:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is pretty damn speculative with respect to 5e, and shows no effort to research the current designers' on-the-record intentions. (That said, kudos for the traipse back memory lane... ranseur, spetum, bec d'corban, etc.) \$\endgroup\$ – Lexible Sep 20 '18 at 3:08
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5e doesn't contain any distinction between the two.

(Note: the pike, which you didn't ask about, is also identical to the glaive and halberd in its combat stats. The pike, however, does not benefit from the first bullet-point of Polearm Master, and so is strictly inferior--mechanically speaking--to either of the glaive or halberd.)

So we turn back to my favorite TSR publication of all time, the 2e Arms and Equipment Guide.1

Glaive

The glaive is a pole weapon with a large head shaped like a knife or a sword mounted on an eight- to ten-foot long shaft.... [Description of common modifications and best-uses follows.]

Halberd

[Opening historical description]...the halberd consists of a cleaverlike axe blade mounted on a staff averaging six feet in length..... [Description of common modifications and best-uses follows.]

(The work in this section of Arms & Equipment seems largely-derivative of Appendix T: Polearms from the 1e Unearthed Arcana, itself a classic Gygaxian treatise.)

So why distinguish?

Some people prefer a sword-on-a-stick to an axe-on-a-stick. That's all I've got.

Historically the different weapons had different reach and damage output, but 5e's decided to streamline that. There are real, tactical differences that I'd certainly consider in order to "properly" equip my NPCs. (Arms and Equipment gets into those differences.)


1 - okay, favorite TSR non-novel.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note: Since this posting, there is errata to the Polearm Master feat, and the pike is now included in its first bullet point. \$\endgroup\$ – SorcererQzot Jun 17 at 0:40
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Implicit Power.

The distinction is in what the weapon actually IS. Remember, all weapons are tools, and many polearms are functional tools outside of combat as well. (Some are designed for combat, but many, like the guisarme, are just a long pole tool that proved to be shockingly effective in riot combat.) Polarms come with all sorts of useful steel tool heads, and their exact shape can be used to do all kinds of things other than killing a guy. Older editions, especially OD&D, focused very heavily on creative use of equipment because, for the most part, your equipment defined what your character could possibly do! 5e goes to great pains to emulate some of the finer elements of earlier editions, and this improvisation of environmental interaction is one of those things. As such, having many structural variations of mechanically identical objects is actually of great benefit to the players, as such tools provide a wide variety of implicit functions on top of their explicit "crack their skull open" properties. Essentially, these weapons are not just valuable two-handed weight that deals damage in absolute abstraction. A glaive can do everything that can be imagined for a real glaive to do, because it represents a real glaive, and the same can be said of the halberd.

Using Your Imagination

If you're having trouble understanding how a weapon, particularly various polearms like the glaive and halberd, can be used outside of their written properties, read on.

Implicit power is where logic and creativity combine to give game elements more functions, powers, and effects than they were written with. We use this all the time when we make assumptions about elements in the game environment. (Like gravity pulling down. Never stated in the rules, but it must be true for the game to work. Or your human having two eyes, it's an assumption we make because we are humans who have two eyes, but again it isn't written anywhere to be true of our characters.) This kind of thing is necessary in order for the game to function at all. We assume that the game elements are representations of real things. Implicit power is the creative use of these necessary assumptions.

In the context of this question, let's use the example of the glaive and halberd. Simply looking at their structure, we can see why they wound up with identical combat stats: a ~2m pole with an all-metal striking head, with a bladed face, a stabby top, and usually a spike out the back. (There are examples of both which lack this hook/pick feature) The only difference is the arrangement of those properties; its physical shape. What can you use these tools to do, other than kill stuff by hitting them directly?

As polearms, they can of course be used to check for traps, as with any long pole-like object. With a metal head though, you're less likely to lose length from minor things like a bear-trap or the like, and localized spontaneous heat sources will just heat the head, not set the entire shaft aflame. Similarly, as poles, they can also be used to prop things against each other, like jamming a door which lacks a lock by propping its handle against the stonework of the floor, or propping two slowly closing walls (or a slowly closing ceiling) against opposing surfaces to buy yourself some time to get out. You can use them to bar a door, if the door's closure mechanism can be barred. In shallow waters on a small boat or raft, you can use it to propel yourself via punting. You can also use poles to safely smash out a pane of glass, allowing safe access through a window or other such portal.

A halberd has a non-bladed tine protruding from the top. This means the end of the halberd can be used to dangle or lift things, (or people) without accidentally slicing a strap, (or someone's hand) or to reach into tiny holes, such as to plug the source of poisonous gas in a dungeon trap, or to stab someone spying on you in the eye through a peep-hole. The glaive can not to these things, as it is too broad and, (aside from the back edge usually) entirely bladed.

Assuming either weapon has a rear spike, these can of course be used to hook just about anything in the environment. You can use it to grab objects or flip switches that are out of reach, or to pull down tree branches. You can hook it to an environmental feature and then climb up the dangling pole like a short grappling hook. The glaive has a shockingly wide variety of forms that this spike could take. In some cases it was a hook, like the halberd, but in many cases it took the form of a fork, intended to catch weapons and wrench them from someone's hand, or a long tine meant to turn a swinging strike into concentrated piercing force. This means that, depending on the shape of such a spike, if your glaive has one, it can provide alternate functions. A fork, for example, could be used as a hanger, such as for a lamp, allowing you to carry your light source and a weapon at the same time.

You can attach things to your weapons too. Like, for example, a flag. Or your possessions in a sling. Or a bottle full of alchemist's fire, so when you hit something the bottle smashes open and makes a huge flaming mess. You could use your halberd to frighten enemies by putting the severed head of one of their fallen comrades on the spike of your weapon. Enchanted items which generate effects just from being carried can be tied to your weapons in various ways as ornaments, to save room in your pack, while still benefiting from their effects.

Both weapons are bladed, as mentioned before, so you can of course use these to cut pretty much anything in the environment. In particular, you can use them to cut ropes, like those of a rope bridge, or the rope which suspends a chandelier. And as a reach weapon, they can cut such things from 10 feet away, so even if it would normally be safely out of reach, this weapon can totally change that situation! You could slice down an overhanging tree branch to drop it on an enemy, or to create a spot of difficult terrain! On a ship, you could slash off lines which are part of the upper rigging, like chopping down a jacob's ladder that someone is trying to climb to escape you, above where they've climbed to! Obviously, the glaive would be better at this, because it doesn't have an awkward unbladed spike sticking out the top.

There's definitely more that you can do with these things. It just comes down to being creative and picking your situations.

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There is a fairly extensive section in the DM guide about foreign campaigns and how you can turn weapons, spells, etc into a more asian flavor, and other styles of play. The main reason is that glaive is a more far eastern style of pole arm. Found mostly in china, japan and with some ties to siberia and later europe. Though it's mechanically the same, it's a flavor option that gives players more freedom to make who they want, something 5e is very encouraging of.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A glaive is a western weapon, which incorporates a wide variety of subtle structural variations. Japan has the naginata, which is similar but structurally very different, designed for precise slicing attacks, and china has the guan dao, which is more like a big decorative butcher's cleaver on a stick. \$\endgroup\$ – JAMalcolmson Sep 13 '16 at 12:04
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As noted in previous post there is no mechanical differences between the two weapons in D&D 5e. In real life the Glaive is a blade attached to a pole while the halberd has three different aspect to the place that can be used. A blade for chopping, a point for stabbing, and a hook for pulling. Remember that in real life medieval melee involved a lot of grappling; certain weapons had features that helped with this. The hook or "thorn" on the halberd was used against mounted opponents to pull them off.

Having said all that, if you wanted to have a mechanical difference between the two I would keep the Glaive as is and use the following house rule for Halberds. Note that Halberds are not a reach weapon unless you use the spike. This I believe will make the halberd reflect reality better without over-complicating the resolution of combat:

Halberd

Damage: 1d10 slashing (blade), 1d10 piercing (spike), Heavy, Two Handed, Reach (spike only)

This is a halberd head affixed to an 5 to 6 foot pole. The halberd head consists of a large 12 inch long single sided blade, on the back is a hook, and on the top is a 12 inch spike. The attacker chooses which aspect of the halberd head to attack with before making his attack roll. Attacks with the spike (only)has reach.

When a character uses the hook of the halberd head, he may elect to knock a target prone. On a successful hit, 1d6 damage is dealt and the target must make a dexterity saving throw versus a DC equal to the to-hit roll. If the save is failed the target is knocked prone. If the target is mounted then they are dismounted and fall to the ground prone.

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I think something that is being missed here is a mechanical difference. A glaive can be argued to be a sword. Many of the magic weapons in the DMG specifically state that they can be applied only to swords. One can argue that a glaive should be able to have one of those properties (like the Holy Avenger), while a halberd can't.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hello, jbartos. Welcome to RPG.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help center to see how an SE Q&A site is not the same as an internet forum. (You will earn some nice little badges for doing that). Your answer is based on opinion, rather than being a supported answer. Please revise it (using the edit function) and upgrade it so that it meets SE standards. You may even attract up votes. :) Once again, Welcome! We hope you will browse various questions and answers that cover RPG topics of interest to you. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Sep 20 '18 at 2:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you think that "A glaive can be argued to be a sword" then you should do that! A useful answer would explain why a glaive is sword, instead of just stating that it could be a sword. \$\endgroup\$ – Ruse Sep 20 '18 at 3:12

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