Wednesday, June 8, 2011

DnD: Why Shields Matter

In Dungeons and Dragons, shields provide a mere single point improvement in one's armor class. The benefit of a shield should far exceed that minor adjustment. If anything, it should be considered the first line of defence, with body armor only factoring into the difficulty of scoring a hit once you have overcome the interposing shield.

Why Shields Matter


Jaap de Goede said...

So very true. This was one of the main reasons for me to switch to RuneQuest in the early 80ies. And eventually build my own systems.

If you'd just want to patch D&D, I guess you should say that you can choose to go defensive with a shield, and then get a +3 for a normal shield, a +1 for a buckler and a +5 for a large shield. Hits with heavy weapons could break the shield though (give it something like 5 hits for a normal, 7 for a large shield). Going on the defensive should also decrease your hit chances in the same round though - maybe by the same amount as the defense bonus.


John Higgins said...

You could always just rearrange the AC table:

Unarmored: AC 9
Leather: AC 8
Chainmail: AC 7
Plate&mail: AC 6
Shield only: AC 5
Leather + Shield: AC 4
Chain + Shield: AC 3
Plate + Shield: AC 2

Unknown said...

Different shields were more or less breakable. Unless you're using wicker shields, or you're rolling to see if your weapons are breaking as well... I don't see why we'd have all these shattering shields in D&D.

Watch the episode of 'Deadliest Warrior' where they have the Spartan. The Shield was a HUGE asset in both defence AND offense.

Jaap de Goede said...

Just wrote a follow up post here:

Good issue :-)

@J.D: also an interesting solution!

@Stuart: some shattering would be cool tho...

Zzarchov said...

Also one of the big difference in Piecemeal.

Shields give +1, +2 or +4 (small medium large) to a defence roll. A warrior who specializes in shields gets an extra +2. But unlike D&D combat rolls are contests of d20 rolls, so a bonus to defence always matters.

Of course any warrior worth their salt with a shield no doubt has a high share of shield combat tricks turning them into formidable weapons as well.

My current group has a Norse shield maiden and her primary weapon has become the shield, her morning star being relegated to "oh right, my primary attack"

Jeff Rients said...

I am intrigued by J.D.'s revised AC chart. That's the simplest solution I've seen to date.

Padre said...

In Dragonquest there are two defensive "attributes." Defense is determined by a combination of agility, shield use and other skills or abilities that enhance defense. Armor reduces the amount of damage done by weapons. As many players find out in the game, initiative and defense usually matter more than the ability to deal massive amounts of damage. If you can’t hit your opponent, or die before you can return a hit it really doesn’t matter beyond that. Kite shields add 20% on to ones defense and are pretty much a standard in the game. Two-handed weapons are much rarer among the players who want to survive.

Unknown said...

As heavy plate armor improved and became more common the shield sizes became smaller. I think that should be reflected in any revised AC charts. I don't think you want the Plate + Large Shield being the best option when Plate + Buckler was what people were actually doing in the late middle-ages.

some shattering would be cool tho...

It depends on the period. The idea of metal shields shattering doesn't work for me. :-P

The Jovial Priest said...

Straight to Links to Wisdom with this post and the comments.

I am in awe of JD's suggestion. Sublime.

Jaap de Goede said...

@ stuart on metal shields: hahaha! LOL :-)

How come by the way that bucklers were kept? Would it be that a full shield was too heavy? On horseback they still had a bigger shield for jousting.

Unknown said...

Two handed weapons for stronger armor piercing and heavy impact, as well as greater mobility.

From what I've read I'd go with this if you want to revise the AC chart and keep it simple:

Unarmored: AC 9
Leather: AC 8
Chainmail: AC 7
Shield only: AC 6
Leather + Shield: AC 5
Chain + Shield: AC 4 (same)
Plate&mail: AC 3 (same)
Plate + Shield: AC 2 (same)

I'd keep AC 4, 3 and 2 unchanged.

Jaap de Goede said...

Hmmm. Doesn't the difference between leather and chain become a bit small then?

2eDM said...

I did a full blog post about it on my own blog, but why not just assign an AC to each shield, then treat it as wearing 2 armors: Best AC as base, modify in favor of armored character by 1 for the armor/shield.

the more detailed(better explained) version is here:

Anonymous said...

As much as I agree that the shield is way undervalued by D&D, using video from 300 is a terrible way to illustrate this!

The advantage of the hoplite shield was en masse. Battles were often a massive scrum of pushing shields, trampling over the enemy line when it broke (which is why the spears have the point on the butt end, for finishing off fallen enemies).

The spartan that broke ranks and fought one-on-one with the Persians would have been derided, and he certainly wouldn't have thrown away his spear for no good reason.

Check out a book called The Western Way of War for some fascinating details on hoplite tactics and the evolution of warfare from skirmishing to pitched battles.

Clovis Cithog said...


A house rule I used in my DnD days is to have shields reduce damage from successful hits with results less then -1- being treated as one

Damage reduction was based upon shield construction

1 point for light wood or wicker
2 points for timber or reinforced wood/ buckler
3 points for iron, acrylic or reinforced timber

Magic bonus would apply to damage reduction;
a +2 iron shield reduces damage 5 points; however,

a small shield only applies against one attack,,
a medium shield only applies against two attacks, and
a large shield only applies against three attacks per combat round

FOR monsters and NPCs with non-magical shields
small shields add +1 to AC
medium shields add +2 to AC
large shields add +3 to AC

Akrasia said...

It's hard for the AC system in D&D to do justice to the importance of shields. Something like J.D. Higgins' solution looks possibly like the best solution.

RuneQuest's system obviously does a great job in its treatment of shields. Likewise MERP/Rolemaster gives a +25% bonus to a shield-user's defence bonus. Both systems distinguish between being hit (for which shields are beneficial) and damage done when hit (armour worn reduces or eliminates damage). When these elements of combat are not distinguished, as is the case in D&D, it's hard to make shields as effective as they should be.

Todd said...

In Beacon, a d20 system, you can choose to do a blocking action where you forgo an attack to add your shield and strength bonuses to your AC. Since higher level fighters get multiple attacks in a turn this means they can use blocking more often and they get more value out of their shield.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Once again, I blame Chevski. This whole out-pouring of creativity was his damned fault, what with his musing on two-weapon fighting.


Thanks for the comments. I intend to house-rule the AC table, to make shields more effective, based on the amazing output of creativity over the last 24 hours.

Old School Rocks!

Monkapotomus said...

My solution to making the shield more useful was to (per D&D 3.0) have the shields provide cover with the ability to hunker down behind your shield to gain better cover (except for bucklers). So a buckler would grant 1/4 cover (+2 AC +1 Reflex save) but couldn't be increased, a small shield would grant 1/4 cover but could be increased to 1/2 cover (+4 AC +2 Reflex save), a large shield would grant 1/2 cover which could be increased to 3/4 cover (+7 AC, +3 Reflex), and the Tower shield would be 3/4 cover which could be increased to full cover. Typically you would have to give up an action to hunker down behind your shield so you could move but not attack, or attack but not move. I'm still experimenting with it but I like it.

Unknown said...

@Monkapotomus I really like that! If you're action is "take cover" you get additional AC based on your shield. Nice!