Originally Posted by frahse
I am not a gamer. Never the time. I am a student of weapons technology and history though.
I like to think of poleaxes (only primitive axe head on a long shaft) as being wielded by great brutes of barbarian men (Visigoths and the like) as they besieged Rome and waited for the river to freeze to cross over in mass. A pole axe could have a chipped stone axe head and be tied to the long shaft, or later it was a crudely forged metal axe head with a shaft hole or at least a groove or slot or bumps on it that kept it fixed on the long shaft and prevented twisting. I keep saying "long shaft" to differentiate it from regular battle axes or even war hammers.
Halberds on the other hand were later for more stately genteel Swiss Guards and the like. There are still ceremonial halberds wielded today in matters of state. The halberd has fine metal work and combines ornate axe heads with spear or pike heads.
Anyway, poleaxe goes with rough barbarians.
Halberd used by very well uniformed Swiss Guardsman and the like and still today used in traditional ceremony.
The guys who wrote 1e D&D based the equipment listings on actual medieval equipment, because it was written by historical wargamers. They did their research because they figured their readers would be able to tell the difference between the various polearms, as well as the different types of armor across history. Never mind the fact that most of them had identical stats.
Later iterations of the game which were actually written by gamers simplified things a lot, as did other games as well. For example, World of Warcraft just has "Polearms," which includes a variety of spear and halberd-like weapons including a few that're unique to that game.