Last Updated on January 22, 2023
From the tight-knit tortoiseshell formations of Spartan hoplites, or Roman legionaries hurling a volley of glittering death into the approaching barbarian horde, to winged lancers charging down their enemies at full tilt, and the massed ranks of Zulu warriors brandishing their assegais, the combination of “long stick” and “pointy bit” is truly among the most iconic in history.
Spears are a criminally underrated weapon in Dungeons & Dragons 5e. Whether you want to hurl a javelin through an enemy’s chest at a hundred paces like Achilles, fight as part of an invincible phalanx like a Spartan king of old, or dance and weave around bigger, slower opponents like Oberyn Martel, this is our comprehensive guide to sticking people with the pointy end in D&D 5e.
How do Spears Work in D&D 5e?
In D&D 5e, a spear is a simple melee weapon with the thrown (meaning you can make a ranged attack with it) and versatile property – meaning you can wield one either one-handed, in which case you deal 1d6 piercing damage, or two-handed, in which case you deal 1d8.
The thing that makes a spear a good choice in D&D is its versatility. You can wield a spear one-handed and use a shield in your off hand, two-handed for some respectable damage (considering it’s not a martial weapon), or throw it for a Strength-based ranged attack.
There really aren’t many weapons in the game with that level of adaptability, and it’s the only simple weapon (other than the quarterstaff) that can deal 1d8 damage. They’re also really cheap. A spear costs just 1gp (and a javelin is just 5sp).
A javelin is similar to the spear, but has a longer thrown range and cannot be used two-handed, This means, in many respects, the weapon is very similar to the classic short stabbing spears favored by Greek hoplites.
In Praise of the Humble Spear
For over 5,000 years, the spear was the unsung hero of warfare in the ancient world. Swords require a great deal of metal and skill to construct, not to mention years of training to effectively wield.
Hand a bow and arrow to an inexperienced archer, and they’ll be lucky to hit the side of a barn, let alone the inch-wide weak spot in a charging knight’s plate mail.
Give a newbie a flail or a pair of nunchucks and, well, there are whole Youtube communities dedicated to that.
However, take a humble peasant who’s never done more than till the fields, put a spear in their hands and teach them that the pointy end goes in the enemy, and you’re well on your way to adding another perfectly competent soldier to your army.
Give spears to a hundred peasants and get them to stand shoulder to shoulder, and you’ve got yourself a near-impenetrable wall of bristling death.
Because of their simplicity – not to mention their well-earned image as the tool of fishermen, hunters, and peasant militias – I think the humble spear routinely gets underestimated.
Not until the investigation of the matchlock rifle was there a better way to even the odds between a heavily-armed and armored warrior with the benefit of years of training, and a terrified teenager thrown headfirst into their first battle.
The first notable difference between spears in the real world and in D&D is that, in D&D, spears get no mechanical bonus to their reach, making it more of a pointy quarterstaff than a long stabbing weapon.
This slightly annoys me because it fails to take into account just how much of a gap there was in terms of training and cost between a sword and spear historically.
A sword in, for example, Iron Age Britain (or in the viking cultures to the north) was a symbol of leadership or royalty. An expensive work of art – a symbol of status that required extensive training to master.
A spear was a highly effective weapon that allowed commoners to gut trained warriors in a matter of seconds. They were infinitely cheaper to make and took all of ten minutes to learn how to use.
Thankfully, that distinction has been preserved in D&D. In fact, with the versatile and thrown properties, there are few other simple weapons that can do as much as a spear can in the hands of someone who, by rights, should probably stick to farming (or casting spells).
However, because the spear lacks the reach property, it ends up functioning very much the same as a pointy quarterstaff (one does bludgeoning damage, the other does piercing) so, if you’re interested in playing a spear-twirling wardancer like The Viper, then the basic spear is a good way to go. More on that in a moment.
If you want to simulate the real-world advantages of a long stick with a knife on the end of it, however, we’re going to have to look elsewhere. There are other weapons in D&D that do have the reach property, including the pike: a longer, heavier version of the spear.
This elongated stabbing instrument is probably most familiar to you from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers as the chosen weapon of the Uruk Hai, but it enjoyed popularity on real world battlefields in the Late Middle Ages (particularly among German and Swiss mercenaries known as the Landsknecht) as well as much earlier, when pikes (then known as the sarissa) were used extensively by Alexander of Macedon to conquer most of the known world.
If it’s the ability to stab and jab enemies from range (or from behind the safety of your allies) then you’re going to want to look into getting a pike.
How to Make a Spear-Wielding Character in D&D 5e
Let’s look at some of the different classes, feats, and fighting styles that can help you maximize your effectiveness with a spear in D&D 5e.
Battle Master Fighter
An obvious and perennial choice, the Fighter class in D&D focuses completely on being devastating with weapons of all kinds, including the spear. The Battle Master’s maneuvers make them especially great at utilizing the spear to your advantage.
Take Lunging Attack, which increases the range of your weapon by 5ft to take down an enemy as they charge towards you, or the Quick Toss maneuver to draw and throw a spear or javelin using your bonus action.
In addition to some useful magic, the Eldritch Knight’s Weapon Bond ability lets them use a bonus action to resummon their main weapon to their hand using a bonus action. Throw spear, resummon, throw again, laugh smugly.
This monkish archetype is all about using weapons to their fullest effect to channel their devastating Ki-powered attacks. The Kensei Monk is a truly terrifying spear-fighter that can dance across the battlefield with deadly grace.
One of D&D’s most underrated feats, Charger means that, if you move at least 10ft in a straight line towards your target, you can either add +5 to the attack’s damage roll, or shove the target 10ft back if you choose to take the shove action. This is highly evocative of the fighting style displayed by the Spartan warriors in 300 who were all about the classic spear and shield combo.
If you’re playing a class that doesn’t already have access to a fighting style (or you just want another one) the Fighting Initiate feat lets you choose one from those available to the Fighter. More on which fighting styles pair best with a spear-based build below.
If it’s Battle Master maneuvers that you crave, but you don’t want to go full Battle Master, then the Martial Adept feat gives you two maneuvers and a d6 Superiority die that refreshes on a short rest. Maneuvers like Lunging Attack and Brace are great ways to control the battlefield and take full advantage of a spear, javelin, or pike.
If you choose to walk the path of the spear, then you’re going to be doing piercing damage from 1st to 20th level. Grab this feat from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything to reroll an attack’s damage die once per turn, deal an additional damage die when you crit, and get a sweet +1 bonus to your Dexterity or Strength.
This is probably the best feat for anyone using a polearm. The Polearm Master feat lets you take opportunity attacks with your spear when enemies enter your reach (perfect if you’ve got a 10ft pike), as well as follow up an attack action with a bonus attack using the haft of your weapon.
This feat combines beautifully with the Polearm Master feat and a reach weapon. Enemies who you hit with an attack of opportunity have their speed reduced to 0.
That means that, if you have Polearm Master, Sentinel, and a pike, you can hit an enemy before they get within range of you, stop them in their tracks, back away, and repeat the process next turn.
The classic Spartan pairing of spear and shield keeps your AC high, and the Shield Master feat gives you some useful offensive and defensive capabilities.
You can use your bonus action to make a bash attack with the shield, add your Shield’s bonus (+2) to your roll when you make a Dexterity saving throw, and burn a reaction to ensure that – if you would take half damage from an effect on a successful save – you take no damage instead.
While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to your AC. This is rarely going to be a bad choice, and can really help embody the style of a heavily-armored defender. Also, if you combine this style with chainmail and a shield, your AC becomes 19 at 1st level.
Want to feel like Achilles or the Viper? Grab the Dueling fighting style to give yourself a great +2 flat damage buff when you’re holding a spear in one hand (which actually averages out as better than the bonus you get from increasing from a d6 to a d8 by holding the spear in two hands) and have no other weapons.
Much like the Fighting Initiate feat listed above, Superior Technique lets you dip your toe into the Battle Master maneuver pool. Choose one maneuver and gain a single d6 Superiority die.
Thrown Weapon Fighting
Definitely a must-have if you want to hurl javelins like there’s no tomorrow. This fighting style lets you draw a weapon with the thrown property as part of your attack. Also, if the attack hits, you get a flat +2 bonus to your damage.
Now that we’ve laid out some of the best classes, feats, and fighting styles that can help make a spear-fighter shine, let’s put everything together and see if we can’t replicate some of the different spear-wielding archetypes we’ve mentioned throughout this piece so far.
Channeling the spear-wielding warriors of ancient Greek legend, this build balances all the elements of fighting with a spear and shield, either dueling one-on-one or as part of a larger formation.
It blends defense and offense, as well as the ability to take down enemies from afar.
Equipment: Spear, Shield, Javelins (x2), Heavy Armor
Class: Battle Master Fighter
Maneuvers: Brace, Distracting Strike, Lunging Attack, Quick Toss, Risposte
Feats: Piercer, Shield Master
Fighting Style: Defense
This build is all about dancing around your opponents, wearing down bigger, stronger foes with a flurry of deadly cuts until they fall to their knees and await the killing blow.
You’re going to be relying on your speed and precision more than any defensive capabilities, and you’d better not let your guard down at the last moment.
Equipment: Spear, Javelin (make both your Kensei weapons of choice at 3rd level)
Class: Monk (Way of the Kensei)
Feats: Defensive Duelist, Mobile
Want to be an absolute master of the throwing spear? Want to impale enemies left and right? Follow this build to find out what it would have looked like if Legolas was really into spears.
Also, your weapon bond will allow you to resummon your main weapon to your hand once you’ve thrown it for extra style points.
Equipment: Spear, as many javelins as you can carry
Class: Fighter (Eldritch Knight)
Feats: Alert, Piercer, Mobile
Fighting Style: Thrown Weapon Fighting
And finally, this build is all about simulating the benefits enjoyed by massed ranks of spearmen for millennia.
It’s about keeping your enemies at range, poking and prodding them until they can fight no more – not to mention keeping them away from your back line.
Equipment: Pike, (maybe a knife for backup)
Feats: Polearm Master, Sentinel, Fighting Initiate
Maneuvers: Parry, Brace, Bait and Switch
Fighting Style: Protection/Defense
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a spear a polearm?
Yes, along with glaives, halberds, quarterstaffs, and pikes, a spear counts as a polearm in D&D 5e.
Is a spear versatile?
Yes, the spear has the versatile property, meaning that it can be used either one-handed (1d6 piercing) or two-handed (1d8 piercing). It also has the thrown property.
Is a spear a reach weapon?
No. While common sense says that spears should have longer range than a sword, dagger, or axe, in D&D 5e, the spear does not have the reach property.
Therefore, its range is 5ft, the same as other melee weapons. Weapons with the reach property that can attack enemies up to 10ft away include the Glaive, Halberd, Lance, Pike, and Whip.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.