Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Shields Shall be Splintered!

I'm working on giving the shield a bit more love in my Moldvay/Cook/LL hack. The shield really doesn't get the prestige it deserves. There's a reason it was a staple of the infantryman's gear from the dawn of history all the way into the 17th century. Shields work. They stop blows, they can be moved to intercept attacks coming from almost any direction, and they can be used to attack your foes. Simply lowering your AC by a mere point is hardly representative of the value of a good shield.

However, things are complicated by my adoption of some popular houserules for weapon damage. To whit, I'm considering tossing the plethora of different dice types for weapons and just adopting 1d6 for single-handed weapons and 2d4 for two-handed weapons. This is a variation on schemes I've seen elsewhere. Fighting with two weapons allows you to roll 2d6, and you take the better roll.

So you can see that there's a lot of value to fighting without a shield in improving the damage your character dishes out, making the shield an even less likely choice. What can be done to rehabilitate the shield and make it a worthwhile choice mechanically?

I'm considering allowing the shield to act as ablative armour. One thing historical shields frequently did was shatter. A strong blow with an axe or a sword could cleave a shield, splintering the boards. Viking duels often had a three-shield rule, allowing each combatant to enter the contest with a shield on his arm and two spares in reserve. (I believe this was seen in "The 13th Warrior", but it's been a while since I've watched it, so my memory could be faulty.)

With my houserule, you get the usual -1 to your AC with a shield. However, any time you take damage, you can opt instead to say your shield absorbed the force of the blow. The shield is shattered and must be discarded, but you don't take any damage from that hit. It's quick, it's easy, and it's valuable.

What about magic? Should a shield ward you against the ferocity of a fireball or a lightning bolt? My instinct is to say yes, but that makes a shield incredibly valuable, and takes a lot of the sting out of those spells. Maybe you can sacrifice the shield in exchange for an automatic save and half damage? Do you get to decide after you've rolled the save, or do you have to choose before you roll? We can go crazy with this and say that shields crafted from the wood of the rowan tree can be sacrificed for a successful save versus any spell, even those that don't deal damage directly.

What about magical shields? I'm kinda meh about the idea of mundane swords being able to shatter magical shields. On the other hand, I certainly don't want a warrior being able to just ignore hits every round because his shield won't break. Maybe each +1 gives the shield a 10% chance to survive the blow? Maybe I just won't have magical shields in my campaign? Seriously, in the quarter-century-plus I've been playing D&D, I think I can count the number of magical shields in my games on one hand.

(I also considered allowing the shield to give its bearer an AC of 3 versus a single opponent, but then you have to keep track of who it's been used against, and the character's AC jumps around between 3 and whatever their armour grants. It's a lot more hassle in the thick of dice-rolling. And I just love the visceral feel of shields being cloven in twain under the blows of a dangerous foe.)

207 comments:

1 – 200 of 207   Newer›   Newest»
Ripper X said...

Man! That is one of the coolest house rules that I've ever heard of! Awesome Trollsmyth!

Badelaire said...

In my few revisions of C&C that I use when I want to play "D&D" these days, I have a Small Shield and a Large. The small grants the usual +1 to AC to the front and shield flank. The larger grants +2 AC bonus to the same. The smaller allows you to carry a light item in that hand, while the larger does not. I apply circumstantial mods to using them, such as penalties to stealth and climbing or being able to fit into tight spaces (or use in tight spaces) depending on the shield.

I like the "cloven shield" idea of having it soak a hit and break. I also like the idea that it might soak the lightning bolt or fireball and grant auto half-damage. Both seem flavorful and promote shield use (as opposed to just putting on the heaviest armor you can and swinging great weapons).

As for magical shields, I'd be a little more generous, but that's mostly because I think a magical item should be pretty special. I'd give it an item saving throw of some sort to soak the hit AND survive being "cloven". Seems pretty silly that a "priceless magical item" would have, at best, a 50% chance of surviving such a blow from, say, a spear or club.

Ripper X said...

How about forcing the weapon that hit it to get a saving throw, if it survives then the shield gets a saving throw, plus it's bonus. A magical shield can absorb so many blows per day/week/month whatever.

If the shield has cooler properties then just blocking damage, then it will make the player think twice before using it in this fashion.

thanuir said...

Maybe only magic protects from magical attacks (spells, maybe magical weapons). Some sort of chance to not break, or perhaps a weakening of the enchantment before breaking, might be appropriate for magical shields.

trollsmyth said...

Thanks for all the feedback!

badelaire
Small vs. large shields isn't something I've looked at, since Moldvay/Cook just has a single, generic shield listed, but yeah, I'll have to play with that large vs. small idea and see how it works.

magic shields
I'm hesitant to include saving throws. One of the things I like about the cloven shield rule is that it doesn't add another die roll to combat. But it may be the best I've heard yet, and is certainly worth investigating.

"If the shield has cooler properties then just blocking damage, then it will make the player think twice before using it in this fashion."

Very, very true, and just another reason to avoid any lame +x shields that don't have any other distinguishing features.

- Brian

Randall said...

I really like the "cloven shield" idea. If you don't object, I'll probably add a rule for this to the Fighter in my Sorcery & Sorcery supplement for BFRPG. It really fits the S&S mold, IMHO.

trollsmyth said...

I don't mind at all. I posted it to share. I'm curious to see what your version will finally look like.

- Brian

Jeff Rients said...

I agree that your shield rule is good stuff. It's simple and it promotes breaking stuff, which I'm always for.

And I didn't know about that 3 shield rule for viking duels!

trollsmyth said...

Thanks, Jeff.

Yeah, the rules for dueling, or hólmgangulog, could be extremely complex:

These were the roles for the hólmgang: a cloak five ells square was to be laid down, with loops in the corners. Pegs with heads were to be rammed in there which were called tiösnur. He who attended to this was to approach the tiösnur in such fashion that he looked up between his legs while holding onto his earlaps and speaking the spell which later was used in the sacrifice which is called tiösnublót. Three borders (or furrows), each a foot in breadth, were to be around the cloak, and at the edge of these borders must be four posts which are called höslur (hazels). And when all this had been done the spot was called "hazelled" (völlr haslaðr). Each contestant was to have three shields, and when they were destroyed then he must step on the cloak again if he had left it before, and defend himself with his weapons thereafter. He who had been challenged was to have the first blow. If one of the two was wounded so that blood flowed on the cloak, then no further fighting was to be done. If either one stepped outside the höslur with one foot, then that is called "he yields ground"; but "he flees," if with both. Each contestant was to have someone to hold his shield for him. He who was wounded hardest was to pay hólm-ransom (hólmlausn) -- three marks of silver (Hollander, Kormáks saga, 33-4).

You can find more here: http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/holmgang.shtml

- Brian

Max said...

Here's an offhand notion for a potent magical shield: Normal weapons have a chance to sunder only on a natural 20, and must then make a saving throw to break the shield. The attacking weapon is also destroyed on a *successful* sunder.

trollsmyth said...

Max
My hesitation to use something like that is based on my goals for the houserule. If I say the shield can only be sundered if the attacker rolls a 20, then either the shield can absorb any other strike without cost (making the defender nigh untouchable), or we say the shield can only absorb damage when the attacker rolls a 20, which makes a magical shield less useful than a non-magical shield.

Yeah, it's a bit of a twisty puzzle, ain't it?

Trampled Dwarf said...

One of the best house rules I have ever seen, consider it stolen. *Yoink*.

Anonymous said...

I like this rule!

An idea for magic shields:

The plus value is the number of times you can use the shield to absorb the hit. Every day, the magical strength of the shield recovers by it's own.

So, a shield +2 can absorb 2 blows a day. But if the shield bearer uses it a third time, it breaks apart.

The absorbing capability "regenerates" every 24 hours.

- Zulgyan

trollsmyth said...

Zulgyan
That might work. It's simple, and only requires minimal notation to keep track of.

Trampled Dwarf
Thanks! Let me know how it works for you, if your group finds any issues with it.

Zachary The First said...

I've done something similar in my games; in Rolemaster, it didn't stop the blow, but would take the crit away (which, for those not savvy in Rolemaster, is what usually kills you). You could do this once with a small shield, twice with a larger one before it was considered shattered or busted up beyond the point of rescue.

But I really think your way is simpler and smoother. Nice work!

trollsmyth said...

Thanks! Glad to hear there is precedent for it.

- Brian

Jeff Rients said...

Brian,

I think it would be great if you took this idea and worked it into a nice little article for Fight On!

trollsmyth said...

Jeff,

I'll pretty-it-up for y'all then after I find your style requirements. That might not get done before Monday, though.

- Brian

Anonymous said...

With my houserule, you get the usual -1 to your AC with a shield. However, any time you take damage, you can opt instead to say your shield absorbed the force of the blow. The shield is shattered and must be discarded, but you don't take any damage from that hit. It's quick, it's easy, and it's valuable.

I think shields are a bit more resilient than that. I would say give shields a value of how many blows they can take in this regard before they are splintered (for wooden shields), a metal shield would have a much higher value. On a critical hit (if used), a wood shield would be splintered on that blow regardless of how many blows it could take. A metal shield would be a little tougher in regards to crits. The magical shield still presents a problem. Maybe double or triple the value of their non-magical counterparts vs. non-magical weapons? Magical weapons would treat magical shields the same way as non-magical ones.

trollsmyth said...

I think shields are a bit more resilient than that. I would say give shields a value of how many blows they can take in this regard before they are splintered (for wooden shields), a metal shield would have a much higher value.

I can certainly understand the sentiment. However, keep in mind that shields won't be shattering willy-nilly all over the place. The player decides when his character's shield is sundered. The rest of the time, the shield is assumed to be deflecting blows as it provides it's single-point bonus to AC.

As for metal vs. wooden shields, that's a matter of taste. I'm working from a base of Moldvay/Cook/LL, which only has a single, generic "shield" in the equipment list. Also, I'm a middle-aged guy, so time is at a premium for me; anything that slows down combat is anathema.

However, if you're playing a game where the difference between a simple wooden shield and an all-steel buckler is important, I'd probably just give the steel buckler a saving throw. If you have the player declare they want to risk the shield before you roll damage, then you're just replacing the damage roll with the saving throw, so it won't take that much longer.

Just don't make the saving throw too good. You don't want fighters to be too resilient. The idea is to give the character a get-out-of-jail-free card, not allow them to ignore a flurry of blows and go round after round unscathed because they got lucky with their sheild's saving throws. The nice thing about the mechanic as it stands now is that it allows the player to judge whether the sacrifice is worth it, and makes it easy for the DM to judge how much more resilient are the characters who uses it.

Looking at it this way, I can see a lot of parallels between this houserule and the per-encounter and per-day abilities of 4e characters. The important difference, to my mind, is how the "power" is tied to something the character can understand and plan for.

Thanks for the comments!

- Brian

trollsmyth said...

I just got this as an email from Mike Harvey, and there are some good ideas here, including a very easy save for magical shields:

I was unable to enter a comment on your Shields blog entry
(https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=28751902&postID=2987785875550901100)
because the captcha was boken, but I wanted to offer some additional
ideas:

Using a shield to block dragon breath is a classic image... I refer
you to Moldvay page 1 for proof!

Any shield can be used to block dragon breath like any other blow,
resulting in an automatically successful save... but this will
instantly destroy any mundane shield.

Blocking blows with metal and magical shields...

Wooden shields are ablative. If you block a blow they are destroyed.

Magical Wooden Shields get a save equal to "bonus or less" on
1d4. Thus a +3 shield has a 75% chance to save.

Metal shields are indestructable, but if you block a blow your
shield arm is injured and useless. Either way you lose the shield for
the rest of the fight.

Magical Metal Shields work the same as metal shields, but get a
save equal to "bonus or less" on 1d4 to avoid the injury/loss.

An arm injury means that arm is bruised and you cannot block any
further blows with it until it heals. An injured arm heals in one day.
However if you receive any healing magic that restores hit points, the
arm is also restored.

Option: If you don't like arm injuries, you could let the shield be
torn from the character's arm instead. Or you could make it a 50/50%
chance for injury or loss.

Having your shield arm broken or your shield ripped out of your hand
adds to the visceral punch.

Wooden shields are great because they are cheap and protect your arms.
Metal shields are great because you can re-use them and don't have to
carry spares. Orcs with shields are unpleasant.

I would allow a character to choose whether to block a blow, spell or
dragon breath after the damage and/or saves are rolled. Sacrificing a
shield is a significant decision and this allows it to be done only
when it makes a difference. Knowing what might have happened makes it
dramatic.

The Recursion King said...

Why not make it really easy for magical shields?

Have them able to block spells and spell effects, such as dragon breath, whereas normal shields cannot? That would be very cool.

As for the problem with breaking them, have them degrade with each thing they absorb. E.g. a shield +3 degrades to a shield +2 on absorbing a blow... a shield +1 degrades to a normal shield and will break the next time it absorbs damage. That will put players in a bind and they will likely use them ONLY to absorb life threatening damage!

Red said...

How about if your to hit roll is high enough (say 4 more than necessary?) than the defender is not able to use his shield to absorb the blow. I'd also suggest a 20 always hits.

This keeps magical shields from granting invulnerability. You can use a 'reasonable' (we're talking magic here) mechanic as to how resistive magical shields are.

verification word: excutor

Kiltedyaksman said...

Does the original post refer to just the PCs or humanoid monsters as well?

trollsmyth said...

Kiltedyaksman: Yep, I use it for anyone (or thing) using a shield in the normal way. I probably wouldn't allow it with, for instance, hill giants who have shields strapped to their body as a form of makeshift armour.

However, I'm also playing Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord, which has fairly quick combat. For someone playing a more recent iteration of D&D (3.0 and later, specifically), I'd probably only allow it for the PCs, since combat in those games is slow enough already.

seaofstarsrpg said...

Good thoughts and the rule is simple and brilliant. Though I would mention, as I think may have been done, that the shield just needs to be rendered useless by the 'splintering', some of them may be able to be repaired.

I just mention this because I like the idea of a fighter dragging around a battered, many times repaired shield that barely has any of its original parts "saved my life a dozen times this shield has!"

faoladh said...

I realize that it's been a long time since this was posted, but I've decided to experiment with making shields better in S&W Whitebox, myself, and thought I'd try this rule (comments appreciated):

In addition to the AC bonus of a shield, Fighting Men and subclasses may use one to parry attacks that otherwise would hit. Roll a Save vs. Weapons (Fighting Men get a +2 to this save) to take the damage on the shield instead. A normal shield has 10 hit points before it is destroyed (the remains can still be used for the AC bonus, but not to save against weapons). Magic shields get an extra 10 hit points per +1 of magic bonus, and may add their bonus to the save against weapons. If a magic shield has a special bonus against a particular type of attack, it takes no damage from that sort of attack. Other classes may also attempt to use a shield in the fashion, but Clerics (and Thieves and Monks) take a -2 penalty to Saves vs. Weapons, while Magic Users take a -4. Subclasses are treated as their root class. (Though I won't be using anything but generic "shields", at least at first, I added the following just in case: If used, Bucklers only get the AC bonus, larger or smaller shields may have more or less hit points.)

Christopher Richardson said...

i love these rules! i think Recursion King's thoughts on magical shields degrading is great. I just have a question though; what about piercing weapons? I can't really imagine a shield bursting to splinters from an arrow or a spear. How would that work?

Christopher Richardson said...

Oh, also, sorry to double post (especially on such an old, old topic) but I had a historical comment I forgot to add:
In real life, pretty much nobody used metal shields, ever. An entire shield made of metal was much too heavy to use. The knight wielding an all-metal heater, much like the knight sitting astride an ungelded stallion, is pretty much a myth. Basically all (non-ceremonial, non-buckler) shields were wood, sometimes with a metal rim to reinforce it. BUT, what evidence we do have of metal shields show that they could be "riven" almost as easily as a wooden one from a strong enough sword or axe blow. So I would say, even if you do decide that metal shields are usable in a fantasy world, there's no need to make special rules for them, especially since any metal shield would probably be very thin and not offer protection much better than a wooden one. Of course, this has no bearing where magic shields are concerned...

trollsmyth said...

Christopher: Thanks for the kind words. :)

As to what to do about spears and arrows, I assume the shield's been taking a beating up until that point in other fights, and the offending arrow or spear is simply the final straw that breaks the camel's back. Maybe all it does is knock the handle loose instead of shattering the entire shield to splinters, or maybe the spear gets lodged in the shield and can't be pulled out, making the shield more a burden than a benefit in further combat.

steelcaress said...

I apologize as this is so old, but I felt I just had to weigh in. I like your house rules on the shield. About time someone did something worthwhile with 'em!

In my game, shields don't grant anything to AC, they block the blow (if you roll higher).

My rules on breakage is different, too. A wooden shield will be useless after a battle, and will need to be discarded. A metal one will do fine.

A natural 20 will automatically destroy a shield, metal or wood.

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Anthony said...

Ugh, the spam bots have attached. Either way adding a +1 here, I am going to pinch this house rule as well. Thanks!

trollsmyth said...

Anthony: Yeah, this is my most-linked-to post, which means it attracts the most bots. ;p I clearly need to do some pruning here.

Thanks for letting me know you're going to give it a whirl. Let me know how it works out for you.

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Taketoshi said...

I'm using this in my current LL campaign--but I've decided that the player has to decide to sacrifice the shield before damage is rolled.

Further, since they've killed some orcs wielding shields, and they've discovered how quickly they can lose shields at low level, they've started scavenging. But due to the low level of craftsmanship involved, my rule is that if you decide to sacrifice the shield, it only has a 50% chance of actually absorbing the blow. Otherwise, it's sacrificed and the attack just goes right through.

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