War Talk – Lances

Well met Variants, and welcome to another War Talk. Today we shall discuss the iconic weapon of the medieval knight, the lance. Since we clarified a few misconceptions about knights before here, let’s do the same with their weapons.

Related: Origins of the Knight

A lance is really just a fancy spear, and the earliest versions were interchangeable. The primary use was as a shock weapon for cavalry to charge with. Lances were particularly effective against infantry since the rider did not have to lean down to strike a blow as is required with a sword or mace. Later lances were reinforced to penetrate heavier infantry armor, but remained largely unchanged for thousands of years.

From Alexander’s Champion cavalry to the heavily armored knights and cataphracts of the Middle Ages, spears saw wide use with cavalry even into the Napoleonic Wars. Cavalry like Hussars continued to use lances for massed charges in the age of gunpowder, and the lance remained a mainstay of horseman until the First World War when cavalry was largely replaced by motorized or armored units.

Related: War Talk – Pikes Part 1

In TTRPGs, the lance retains its role as a weapon intended for mounted warriors. In DnD 5e, the weapon is normally two-handed, but when mounted can be used single-handed. It also has a large damage dice, using a d12. It is unwieldy in close quarters combat, lending to the weapon being used once to charge into melee, only to be replaced with another weapon like a sword for ongoing combat, much like the realistic use. Another depiction of lances in fantasy comes from a recent favored hobby of mine, Warhammer 40,000. The Death Riders of the Death Korps of Krieg use a modified lance to charge heavy infantry or armored vehicles, with a shaped explosive charge at the tip of the lance to make it effective against heavy armor.

Just like the knight and other armored horsemen, the lance has been highly stylized in modern media, but I hope this brief look into the weapon got the point across. Next time you play a mounted warrior, try keeping a lance handy. Let me know what your knights use when fighting from their valiant steed in the comments! 

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