Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hmmm, 1 point of AC bonus...

There's a number of posts going about on the blogosphere about the piddly little 1 point bonus AC award in most D&D and D&D-like games give to the shield. I've done it myself in the past in these posts : shields again, splintering by material and shield combat variants .
All those options were pretty much geared to action in man vs man combat where armor class modifiers vs armor type were unaccounted for (which were present in some earlier forms of the game).

One consideration in the estimated value of the shield that is often ignored is combat outside of the theater of man-to-man combat. A heck of a lot of RPG combat is man-vs-monster and the monster is often little if anything like a man. The strength, size and fighting methods of many a monster would limit the effectiveness of a shield greatly.

Inhuman Strength and Size would easily defeat the shield as defense. A nice big target for a war-mammoth to crush isn't much of defense is it? An opponent who strikes you hard enough to splinter the arm bearing the shield is little inconvenienced by the shield. A big giant would surely be able to punt a shield warded warrior rather easily.

Shields aren't really much of a barrier for attacks they weren't designed to block. Explosive spells detonating on the surface of your shield might be a little better then having hit you at all but it'd sure be nice if they missed you entirely. The touch of a wraith or spectre is little interfered with by a bit of wood and metal interposed by a doomed victim. Is there really an advantage to holding a shield when green slime drops on you?

Tiny opponents don't' much care about your shield. A swarm will climb over your shield or dodge under it with little difficulty. diminutive warriors can take advantage of your limited reach and visibility inflicted by your own shield.

Maybe when we really look at the wide range of attacks a D&D combatant actually has to deal with a 1 point bonus isn't all that unreasonable even if many of us can agree the shield is much more effective in actual man-to-man combat.


  1. On the other hand a shield would be tremendously beneficial against some types of monsters. Zombies, wolves, stirges, ghouls, giant snakes or scorpions - I would definitely want a shield if facing off against something like that!

  2. zombies? They are just hard to kill really incompetent people. Do you mean plague zombies?

    Hireling and henchmen are a great defense agaisnt wolves, ghouls,striges, giantsnakes and scorpions.

  3. Anything that's not smart enough to try and go around the shield makes the shield an even better defence. Animals or low intelligence enemies (eg Zombies) would fit that category.

    Any argument against a shield being protection (eg. giant hitting you with a tree) is also an argument against armor in general.

    Hireling and henchmen are a great defense agaisnt wolves, ghouls,striges, giantsnakes and scorpions.

    As is running away. :)

  4. "Anything that's not smart enough to try and go around the shield makes the shield an even better defence. Animals or..."

    I don't know, hunters have historically disdained the use of the shield with only a few exceptions. If a shield was useful agaisnt animals it sure would have been used in hunting more. I think it saw common enough use in areas with lions but wasn't much used otherwise.

    I agree running away is very effective and even more effective with slow hirelings getting eaten first.

  5. Hunting shields were popular in Africa. I think the biggest reason that it saw use in there was the design of the shield itself. A light, hide tower shield kind of design called an iHubelo and popularized by the Zulu warrior tribe. Such a design wasn't so effective at blocking direct attacks, but was very useful as a misdirection tool and was light enough for the hunter to run from, turn aside, and dodge attacks. Obviously I'm not sure of how much use it was in their hunting parties, but the Zulu believed that the shield brought them luck at the very least.

    As for your post, I had never thought of it that way before. When a giant swings his club at you, perhaps a shield is more deadweight than defense.