Ugh…I have been wrestling with this one for a while.
The rules for shields in most D&D games are amazingly simple and amazingly awful all at the same time. I want good rules for shields that are both simple but are a bit more accurate to what shields do in combat. I will not claim to be a great military historian or a super reenactor of the period, but I was a nerd in the 2000s that played a decent amount of boffer LARPing and a shield is an amazing piece of defense. Something to me that deserves more than a simple plus one to AC. A basic human armed with a spear and shield should have a better AC then 8, especially versus missile weapons. Considering all that, the flip side is that it is simple and keeps the game flowing. Complex shield rules with parrying and variable AC depending on the size of the shield. Different bonuses with close combat with different number of opponents and/or range fire just tends to bog things down in unwanted minutia. Below is a few of the shield rules I have seen in the OSR community that I like for different reasons.
Shields Shall Be Splintered
First off, if you are not familiar with Trollsmyth’s blog, you should. There is a ton of great content there. You will not be disappointed. To sum up “Shields Shall Be Splintered” quickly, shields function as written in the rules but a character that has a shield may sacrifice the shield to ignore the damage of a single attack. Powerful, simple, and quite useful for PCs. This adds quite a bit of survivability to characters that use a shield.
I decided to use this rule in my games, but ONLY Fighters could use it. This was an attempt to get people to play Fighters, because in my games no one would play one (I also gave the Fighters Weapon Specialization too). It did not work in seducing people to play Fighters. I have yet to have a Fighter in my multi-year campaign. For my game this failed on two fronts, one, the rule has not been used ever, two, it was not enough to get people to play Fighters. I guess I will just have to start offering signing bonuses for playing Fighters.
One of the other sets of shield rules that I like is from the myriad Kevin Crawford’s games (I cite Wolves of God above, but there are plenty of others). In WoG, shields are divided into broad shields and heavy shields categories. Broad shields give you an instant AC 5(15) and if you have an equal or better AC it provides the usual +1 bonus. Heavy shields give you an instant AC 6(14) and if you have an equal or better AC it provides the usual +1 bonus. They also are used to bash your opponents, thus provide a +2 to damage. Shields in his game also completely protect you from shock, which is a great benefit, but does not translate into general D&D.
I like these rules a lot. I think they make a lot of sense and make shields a bit more effective than the standard D&D plus one AC bonus. The main issue is that issue I see is that I do not see the rules coming up that often in a standard BX/OSE game. In WoG armor is much more rare and much more limited in scope. Many to most PCs in BX/OSE will have chain/plate or cannot use shields. Thus, the rules really do not change for them (accept doing more damage with a heavy shield), they are just getting the standard +1 AC bonus. Why add in all the complexity, if it really is only going to change things in the margins?
AD&D 2e (The rules I grew up with)
This set of rules has a lot to it, so I am just going to quote the source:
“A buckler (or target) is a very small shield that fastens on the forearm. It can be worn by crossbowmen and archers with no hindrance. Its small size enables it to protect against only one attack per melee round (of the user's choice), improving the character's Armor Class by 1 against that attack.
A small shield is carried on the forearm and gripped with the hand. Its light weight permits the user to carry other items in that hand (although he cannot use weapons). It can be used to protect against two frontal attacks of the user's choice.
The medium shield is carried in the same manner as the small shield. Its weight prevents the character from using his shield hand for other purposes. With a medium shield, a character can protect against any frontal or flank attacks.
The body shield is a massive shield reaching nearly from chin to toe. It must be firmly fastened to the forearm and the shield hand must grip it at all times. It provides a great deal of protection, improving the Armor Class of the character by 1 against melee attacks and by 2 against missile attacks, for attacks from the front or front flank sides. It is very heavy; the DM may wish to use the optional encumbrance system if he allows this shield.”
These rules while giving an assortment of different shields each with their own pluses and minuses is far to fiddly for me personally. Tracking four different weights, four different number of opponents, different directions that the attacks are coming from, etc. Doing all of this for a 5% modifier to your percent chance to be hit seems like a lot to me. I would rather just use the base BX/OSE model with a single shield with a +1 AC bonus compared to this.
I have not found a set of rules that I am completely happy with involving shields. I might be chasing something that does not exist. There are parts of me that enjoy each one of the rule sets mentioned here (some more than others), but each one has just something that does not click correct for me. How about you? Is there a system that you like that I did not mention? Do you like the plain +1 AC bonus and leave it at that? Let me know and maybe I can find something I like.
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