Wednesday, June 08, 2011

J.D. cracks the code?

Over at A Paladin In Citadel a classic topic came up: how sucky shields are in D&D compared to their general usefulness in actual pre-gunpowder warfare.  I'm personally a fan of Trollsmyth's Shields Shall Be Splintered! rules, but as a practical matter it is just one more crazy house rule my players can't ever remember.  Some days they need to be reminded of the Big Purple d30 rule even though that sucker is sitting right in the middle of the table the whole durn session.  And I already have enough crazy new stuff to explain to newbies as it is.

But over at A Paladin In Citadel commenter and fellow Tape Leg enthusiast J.D. Higgins came up with a simple solution:
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
That looks pretty dang slick to me.  For you modern gamers with new-fangled upside-down armor classes that would be Leather +1, Chain +2, Plate +3 and Shield +4. For my own platemail-free campaign I'd have to goose the numbers, but it would still work. A bonus effective is that small and large shields become super-easy to implement, AC-wise: Buckler +2, Small Shield +3, Shield +4, Ridiculously Oversized Shield +5.

The big downside I can see is that the ACs for countless published NPCs will be wrong.  Any other issues I'm overlooking?


  1. Fantastic. I like it a lot.

    My players always forgot shields shall be splintered as did I. After a player died and I forgot to remind him (them) about the rule, I was left feeling unhappy and dissatisfied.

    This suggestion by JD is remarkably simple and sublime.

    So what if platemail alone isn't as effective.

    Two handed weapons will certainly need rethinking as will dual wielding. No great loss in my opinion.

  2. The other issue is that historically people would pick the platemail over just the shield.

    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.

  3. People forget Shields Shall Be Splintered? Really? All the shield-wielding members of my group never leave town without at least one extra shield, if not three strapped to the poor mule...

    Was that historical reality of choosing plate over shield only because of protection or because of prestige?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. I think it was protection. That's why the aristocracy and the Church got so upset when the Crossbow was introduced and a commoner could kill a Knight.

  6. I also liked it a lot, but... the more I think about it, it just trades off the effectiveness of leather and chain for the effectiveness of a shield. Leather loses one ac, chain loses 2. That's nasty. Unless of course all PCs start using shields and start dropping their dual weapons. Then leather + shield is one class better than used to be.

    So, I'm less sure. Anyone already started playtesting since this afternoon?

  7. As far as I am concerned, the primary issue with altering the shield rules is how it impacts on the effectiveness of two-handed weapons. If you do not address that, then it is pretty much a waste of time.

  8. Jeff, you are nine kinds of awesome.

    You and JD Higgins have taken my feverish and incoherent ramblings and created a thing of beauty.

  9. Anonymous4:30 PM

    My house rule to bump the effectivenesss of shields is simple but effective:

    If you use a shield you can't be hit!
    The player's love it until I started arming the greenskins with them too but it was the only fair thing to do!


  10. I think you are being silly. Knights only used shields for jousting because their armour made it superfluous in hand to hand and they had to use two handed weapons to penetrate plate.

    A shield is a poor man's chunk of armour he holds in his hand. Perhaps increased benefit for those unarmoured or in leather but probably not worth remembering the difference.

    Shields employed in unison by a rank of disciplined troops is a different matter.

  11. Good points, all. Why not use the old rule, "when wearing more than one kind of armor, use the armor with the best AC and ignore the rest?"

    For this, make a shield AC 5 (same as chain.) If you are wearing leather and a shield, your AC is 5. If you are just employing a shield, your AC is still 5.

    Why would you ever wear plate and carry a shield? The "shall be splintered" rule is still in effect. Also, a character might try something crafty, like use the shield to pin the opponent's weapon.

  12. Shields

    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

    the advantage of larger shields is reduced by their bulk / dexterity penalty

  13. I posted on Grognardia how shields are part of a system and must be balanced / with two handed and two-weapon.

    Just thought of this, Shields really need to be on different "track" than armor. Either DR(damage reduction) or having their own AC. Say 8/6/4 for buc/sm/lg. Even to hit rolls strike armor, odd ones strike shield (or armor if no shield). So shield is still good with light armor but fades out with heavy armor (thus opening up two handed weapons).

    But, really, meh. All this finiggling and worry over "realism" doesn't fit in with fast/fun/fantasy abstract D&D combat.

  14. Anonymous8:44 AM

    I see armor as a tradeoff between AC and ability to run fast; this is key especially if you assume that the world is a dangerous place where (especially low level) characters need to know when to run away.

    Would you change encumbrance rules to make shields heavier, or assume that many of your fighting-men and clerics would enjoy AC 5 and a move rate of 12?

  15. Shields generally give a big bonus compared to no-armour when using the Weapon Vs Armour charts. If you're wearing heavy armour already, then they add proportionally less.

    So, basically, I think this is re-inventing the rule that's already there in 1e at least.

    Of course, magic shields can be a huge boon.

  16. Anonymous5:39 PM

    I use a different combat system that has fewer steps in AC, so the granularity that the shield introduces to the armor track doesn't appeal to me.

    What I do instead is every round characters can choose to use their shield or not. When they do so they roll on a table and, depending on the result, the shield might absorb some damage, and then it might break, or the character might have some penalty on his next attack. I like it because, along with Shields Shall Be Splintered, it makes shield use more tactical than it is by default, although it's also more fiddly, and it's too closely tied to my combat system to just be ported to vanilla D&D.