One obvious answer might be that lugging a 10' pole around isn't practical or, for that matter, realistic. It did strike me as somewhat incongruous when I first saw it all those years ago. "For an item with such a limited range of uses it was considered an essential piece of equipment for a long time. Not a lot of people realise this, but it was also an intensely magical item. It had the ability to disappear in combat or when running or when traversing narrow tunnels and only reappeared when you wanted to prod that pile of rags 10 feet away! " [The EvilGM]
The long lost 10’ Pole is not just a piece of equipment, it’s also a metaphor for the changes that D&D has gone through on its journey towards 4th edition. Once upon a time overcoming obstacles was more about description, storytelling and problem solving than dice rolls. In those games a 10' pole could be a useful adventuring tool. But it started to loose its universality as character specialisation introduced rules that defined the differences between the Classes and how they carried out their specific skills. The Rogues Find/Remove Trap skill introduced in 2nd Edition is an early example. By 3rd Edition the Search skill further reduced the need for players to describe the nature of their investigations by reducing it to a proactive (the player proposed it) dice roll. This has been taken even further in 4E because now its an unconscious (the GM suggests it) Passive Perception roll.
I do recall one edition having a ten foot pole that came in 2’ lengths that screwed together - a bit more practical then the original version – but even that seems to have gone by the wayside in current equipment lists. So in an attempt to encourage its reintroduction to the game here are ten suggested uses for a 10ft Pole.
- The obvious and classic use for a 10' pole is for springing traps such as floor tiles from a safe distance. Similarly it could be used to push open doors that you suspect of being magically trapped. I recall using a pole to open a door that had an Arcane Mark on it. Needless to say the 10ft pole wasn't 10ft long when I'd finished.
- Lash a knife to the end and you have a long spear. Alternatively...buy a long spear and use it as a pole.
- In an emergency, and where wood is scare, its a portable campfire.
- Use to 'lock' doors that have lost the original locking bar. Not as strong as the original but it might buy you a few seconds.
- Placed upright into the ground it becomes the centerpiece of a gentleman's nightclub (think about it).
- A makeshift washing line after falling into the river. It could also be used to hang metal equipment from in camp, rather than leaving it on the ground where the morning due would rust it.
- Combined with a suitably large piece of material it can be used as a tent pole to make a Tepee style shelter.
- In conjunction with a rock or other fulcrum it can be used as a lever to move heavy objects such a boulders.
- Checking the depth of muddy water such as when the PC's are making their way across a swamp. It's time consuming but better than stepping in a 6ft deep puddle.
- As a map making aide the Pole becomes a way to accurately measure the size of rooms.
The 10 Foot Pole may seem like a very archaic and impractical piece of equipment but I think it still has a role to play in D&D. My current 4th Edition PC, Uthek, will be shopping for a collapsible version as soon as he's back in a city.