Spears: Why bother?

That was the question posed to me this weekend while we were making up characters for a coming Mouse Guard game.

One of the players created a heroic, survivalist-hunter type and, given his main skills, picked up a bow and spear as his weapons, as they are more hunter-y/survival-y than other options.

However, when we got around to an example conflict and he reviewed the benefits inherent in each weapon, he was perplexed, and posed the question: why bother with spears?

His observation is that bows and spears have pretty much the same bonuses and penalties to the same actions… except that the bow gets more stuff on top of that. Basically, a bow appears (to our newbie eyes) entirely superior to a spear, and he can’t imagine why or when it would ever be tactically useful to resort to his spear instead of the bow… or, come to that, why anyone would pick a spear over a bow in character creation, other than for the sake of a concept.

Honestly? I didn’t know what to tell him. Bows are pretty easily disarmed, but spears suffer the same vulnerability, so… well, as I said, I didn’t have an answer.


the spear is also a ueful tool for a number of non-combat uses… hunting for fish, probing the ground for muck, pulling friends up, etc…

Also I would suggest that bows are more vulnerable to complications of other failed rolls. Like the rain ruins your bowstrings when you fail to find shelter, or your arrows fall out of your quiver as you climb across the fallen branch that bridges the stream…

I think the choice has to do more with the type of character you’re playing rather than whats gonna give you more dice in a conflict.

I forget…does MG grant “advantage dice” for situation advantages? Because I’d totally grant a spear an advantage die in situations requiring reach or standoff distance.


I think the choice has to do more with the type of character you’re playing

I’m surprised it took someone this long to make that observation.


Sorry, that was unfair; my point is that, in a game like MG (or BW) there is a fair amount of mechanical crunch, and the crunch matters – in the case of my players, the crunch is enjoyable and is, in fact, part of the draw (along with the joy of Beliefs and Instincts and Goals that actually do things).

To have a such a (suitably) short list of gear, and then have two of the pieces of gear on that list be almost identical in effect, but one notably inferior to the other even to the eyes of someone who hasn’t yet been in a conflict just seems like sand in the gears. Moreover, avoidable sand.

In the end, the player took both the bow and spear, despite mechanical redundancy, because they were simply the best story choices for his character, but the question posed in the subject line remains.

Spears also don’t have any any ammunition. Bows gotta have ammo. It’s not a super stickler thing in MG, but it does come up every so often.

We did talk about that a bit before the first session; I simply pointed out that “Your bow is made ineffective in some way” is the sort of failed test consequence that that I’m likely to toss in sometimes, instead of a “tired” or “hungry” or whatever – with some kind of ‘thing’ that needs to be done to fix it. I.e.: the string is too wet, out of ammo, or the arrows are scattered all over after your tumble, whatever.

It made perfect sense to the players, as did the fact that such things are less likely with the straightforward “stick with a pointy end” spear.

I have got or read MG, but is a spear only mechanically treated like a javelin (i.e. thrown), or is it a sort of combination Longest Melee weapon and Thrown Weapon? (Yeah, yeah, BW terms… but I think y’all get my point.)

If the former… yep, sounds like it’s only “balancing” benefit is it’s less complex of an object, and so less prone to failure. If the latter… well, there ya go! Try bringing a bow to a knife fight and see how you fare. :wink:

It’s a (as I understand BW) “Longest Melee Weapon”, but in the MG system, the benefits from that are essentially the same as a bow (only less), and the downsides are the same (vulnerable to knives, etc.).

It can’t be thrown, (officially, that is; I allow it) though a staff can…

I dunno. I personally think a spear should be an either/or toggle between ‘spear’ and ‘staff’ mode (in the way Halberd can toggle between ‘spear’ or ‘axe’ mode). That differentiates it in interesting ways for me, but maybe it breaks something else or overcomplicates the whole thing.

Might it be that the “+1D Attack vs Defense” is supposed to be “-1D Defense vs Attack?” That sentence read kind of weird in my head.

Also there was a bit of wonky wording between the bow and I think the sling where one referred to a bonus vs everything that had a shorter range, and the other referred to all “short range” weapons. Is there a difference?

How do these weapons match up to their Burning Wheel versions?

I’m also reminded that in conflict involving multiple mice that the weapons interact with each other differently. I’ve worded that poorly… I always make my players describe exactly how they’re helping in any given task. As a result our fights are illustrated affairs where the weapon itself becomes a narrative tool. The mouse with the shield pushes foward while the mouse with the spear leaps over his back with a downward thrust from his weapon. My players love that crap.
In an example like that the weapons tell different stories. The bow would be a sniping or flanking theme while the spear is up close and bloody.