Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Purely Off the Top of My Head ...

In reading all these comments about the relative ineffectiveness of shields in D&D, I was reminded of the fact that, when Dexterity adjustments to armor class were first introduced in Greyhawk, they were limited to fighting men. I've long liked that limitation, since it provides a small but useful boost to fighters. So, I thought: what if, instead of Dexterity, characters could add their Strength bonus to their AC when using a shield?

Obviously, in such a case, I'd eliminate the Dex-based bonus to AC entirely and replace it with a Strength bonus when a shield is used. Is this idea at all helpful, even as an idea seed, or is it just completely without merit? Feel free to say so if it is, because I only just came up with it after a few seconds thoughts, so odds are that it is useless.


  1. I would say allow the fighting man to choose. Most will have a better Strength than Dex, so it will usually behoove them to do so.

  2. One problem I can see is that is pushes fighter characters even more strongly toward using a shield. Some DMs probably wouldn't have a problem with that, but I'm a big fan of polearms and other two-handed weapons. If one was going to do this at all, I'd recommend using Luke Martinez's approach, above.

  3. I like it a lot. The iconic two handed bringer of death peeves me just as much as the twin blades of death does.

  4. It's interesting, but it doesn't fit with the concept that armor absorbs damage (blocks blows). that's all I got.

  5. I agree, the choice should be theirs. Taking away the DEX bonus from characters of a more finesse-based style isn't right, but the STR option for sword and board tough guys is a nice option.

  6. I foresee a problem in giving STR way too much importance for a fighter. It already gives a bonus to hit and damage. Also, I'm not really sure I see the logic in giving a STR bonus to a shield. How does STR help you to better use it? Sure, larger shields could require a minimum STR to use effectively, but actually parrying with a shield is much more reliant upon DEX. Maybe you could have another AC bonus from DEX with a shield. Say 15-17 is a +1, 18 is a +2, or something similar.

  7. Given that some Shields (Blade and Spiked Shields) become a melee weapon (and they are included in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia), some qualify for a strength bonus when used as a weapon.

    Potentially Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution are applicable.

    Constitution because some shields allow a fighter to fight longer because it takes the shock of repeated physical strike away from the body.

  8. But then again...Str,Int, Wis, Dex, Con, Cha are all marital skills so maybe a Martial warrior should add and subtract all bonuses during combat.

  9. What I do is mix 2e and 3e with my Auld Skool

    There are three kinds of shields, Buckler, Target and Full.

    Bucklers (2lbs) add +1 to AC and may be used as an off handed weapon doing 1d4 or adding +1 to hit

    Shield (7lbs) add +2 to AC and may be used to bash or push.

    Large Shields (12 lbs) add +3 to AC and may be used to bash or push.

    Any one with a shield or buckler may subtract its bonus (not including magic) from a to hit roll and add it to the AC for that round

    Anyone with a shield (but not a buckler) may sacrifice it as per Shield Shall be Splintered.

    I haven't implemented it though I am considering some kind of to hit penalty for shields as well.

    as for 2h weapons, IMO the solution is to allow 1.5x STR bonus to damage or half swording (with a staff, poleaxe or 2 handed sword) which gives +1 to hit and +1 AC but loses the damage bonus

  10. Interesting, kind of a sideways replication of the little-used rule for Parrying in 1E - I think it would be simpler to just let fighting men "parry" using a version of that rul. In general, invoking the dreaded "real world" I see little or no logic in removing Dex as a modifier for AC. I also see little logic from a heroic fantasy trope vision either - how often was Conan described with some version of leonine grace and speed that allowed him to avoid being hit? All other things being equal, a stronger, faster, healthier fighter has distinct advantages against otherwise equally skilled fighter. D&D does a pretty good job of capturing this without really throwing things out of whack any more than anything based on somewhat nebulous gouts of spurting luck and chance (aka "hit points") is going to already do.


  11. As an aside, I just posted last night on how I handled shields and how I'm implementing the Swords are Sundered rule - y'all had me thinking about shields as well.


  12. I like it.

    How about instead of lowering AC, a fighter can reduce incoming damage equal to his str. Bonus, but no lower than 1hp. The fighter could choose to use his str to do dmg, or to "block".

    18 str. +2 hit and dmg or +2 hit and -2 incoming dmg while a shield is equipped. Kind of a offensive/defensive stance.

  13. That way it's still useful to a fighter with -6 AC fighting a legion of goblins.

  14. Off with the top of his head! <grin>

    Actually seriously, it works well, and is a simple fix. Especially since strength (and more importantly leverage) is a prime requisite for doing those little offensive tricks with a shield (and resisting the same).

    However I'd allow fighters to use both Str and Dex adjustments. The reason being was when I was first taught to use a shield I was trained by people that didn't move. So I didn't. It took fighting someone from interstate to realise that I'd just forgotten the previos decade of martial arts. Moving is good.

    Then again, being in formation is good too, and I don't allow Dex adjustment to AC when you are in formation,* but do increase the AC bonus due to shields for your shield-mates, so this might be a fix for this as well.

    There is always a tendency to overamplify combat techniques in RPGs. In reality you have experience and an array of "tricks" which allow you to both see and take advantage of any openings that you do see. Which is all summed up by having a single attack with a single attack bonus against a single armour class.

    [* or when you can't retreat (which may very well be past your attacker). If you don't (or can't) actually move you don't get the Dex bonus. Using furniture and chandeliers is just an added storytelling bonus to get your Dex adjustment.]

  15. @UWS Guy: D&D is weird in that your defensive capability is a combination of armour class and hit points (unless you think you are actually think your ability to take actual physical damage improves with each level).

    Which means that I think it is only fair that armour absorbs damage, whether you use a Runequest style of removing a certain amount of damage from each blow whether a fixed or random amount (one variant a friend used was to remove a variable amount based on the armour type [platemail, for example, removed 1d12], which worked well, because it meant that you couldn't rely on armour saving you [as you could if it were a fixed amount] but it did extensively increase the survivability and fun of playing low level characters, especially fighters who were the best ones to make use of this ability), or something from Bifrost which multiplied the characters ability to take damage by the armour worn (so chainmail, IIRC, increased your hit points by 300%). This is all in addition to restricting the opportunity to deliver a telling blow (the increased* AC argument). There are simulationist appeals to both approaches.

    The only problem is deciding what armour absorption to use for creatures and the like, which means deciding what benefit comes from armour and innate toughness, and what comes from being small, fast, and magical.

    [Personally I used a fixed damage reduction (ala Runequest), but I think the random damage reduction was actually much more fun (at least for me as a player), and if I restart my D&D game this is the technique I will be using.]

    [* Or descending if you are an Old School mavin. Shall we compromise and say "better" instead. <grin>]

  16. My house rule for shields:

    *, -1 to AC
    *, Shall be splintered rule.
    *, -1 to the multiplier that I use if more than one opponent is attacking the same target character. E.g., Brutus is being attacked simultaneously by 3 orcs. Normally my house rule is that this produces a x3 multiplier to the damage produced by any one attack. Brutal, I know. A shield, though, reduces the orc's multiplier to x2.

  17. 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 and heavier shields needs to be counter-balanced by their penalty to dexterity and coordination based saving throws

  18. You could take it another way and have most of the armors assume the use of a shield in order for the AC to be fully effective and give a 1 AC penalty to those who choose not to use one. Without a shield, being in padded or basic leather armor isn't really far off from being unarmored really.

    Historically, once you get up to plate armor, shields were generally discarded, so you could give a penalty to attack if using a shield while in plate armor (due to the added awkwardness of it).

    Makes shields a more practical choice for the lightly armored and provides a counterbalance to dual-weapons and two-handed weapons.

  19. Fighters who use shields can add their STR bonus (hit bonus for AD&D) to a shield, otherwise like all other classes only their DEX. Heavy armors do not allow DEX bonus.

  20. Would probably be fine if a shield enabled use of strength to modify armour class instead of dexterity, but probably not in addition to. If you allow strength modifiers to move from attack to defence then it have more of an impact when not attacking [e.g. when receiving missile attacks]; depending on your aims it might be fine.

  21. (my) D&D shield use is based on two premises.

    1) this is fun/fast/fantasy abstract combat, Wrong to mix in realism.

    2) shield is part of a game system, a system about choices and trade offs.


    Two handed weapon provides damage bonus
    Two weapons provides to hit bonus
    Sword and Board provides defense bonus

    It's only important that those three bonus are roughly equivalent and significant when compared to other bonuses (magic, stats, etc). So there exists a real choice between the 3 options.

  22. I think this is a great idea. Obviously with a shield your probably not going to be dodging out of the way as much as absorbing blows with the shield. Strength would be a legitimate choice for the bonus.

  23. Heavy armors do not allow DEX bonus.

    They don't? Is that in the DMG somewhere?

  24. I'd be inclined to go with an amalgam of several of the ideas mentioned above, largely in keeping with the principles Norman Harman sets out. I generally think that D&D combat makes the most sense when you look backwards to Chainmail and remember that the "to hit" roll was actually a "to kill" roll. Hit Points were something heroes had, to represent their heroic ability to survive attacks that would kill a normal man, and also to create a dramatic narrative of attrition against another powerful foe (or horde of foes).

    Accordingly, how about:

    * Shields grant +1 AC for light, +2 for medium, +3 for heavy
    * Fighting men get their DEX bonus to AC
    * DEX bonus to AC is reduced by 1 if wearing medium armor (or shield), by 2 for heavy
    * Two-handed weapons get +2 to hit against heavy and medium armor, and they (and only they) add a fighting man's STR bonus to damage
    * Fighting men get their STR bonus to hit
    * Paired weapons grant +1 to hit and +1 to AC (not against missiles), but get no STR bonus to hit

    I'd also generally expand the class of weapons capable of alternate one- or two-handed use (spears, broadswords, etc.) to allow more flexibility to occasional shield-users.

    The incentives created by this system are:
    * High-DEX fighting men will likely go with light armor, and are unlikely to use a shield (because light shields aren't that useful compared to the alternatives)
    * Two-handed weapons (or a sword or spear used two-handed) are effective against armored opponents, and are best when used by a high-STR fighting man
    * High-STR fighting men are unlikely to use two weapons -- they'll go with a shield or two-hander instead

    Remember that high-STR and high-DEX characters are relatively rare: for most people, the heaviest armor and heaviest shield they can get with a one-handed weapon is the safest bet. Which sounds about right to me.

    Also, I like that this generally avoids variable weapon damage, for the reasons I stated at the top. The only exception is two-handed weapons, which can be used by an exceptionally strong hero to do things like kill a large monster (2HD+) with a single blow.

  25. "Interesting, kind of a sideways replication of the little-used rule for Parrying in 1E - I think it would be simpler to just let fighting men 'parry' using a version of that rule."--fluerdemal

    I like that -- and not just for fighters too. Anybody who's allowed to use a shield can use it to parry, using the AD&D1E PHB p104 parrying rule. It just makes sense.

  26. @Ed Dove - That is sort of what they did with the Cavalier in UA. In my own House Rules, I split the difference - Bucklers either parry or attack, shields provide bonuses to AC (and Cavaliers can use them to parry where others can't, and get a bonus to parry with them equal to the AC bonus of the shield).

    Shields are one of those things that always seem to be tweaked becaus they are relatively useless as written. I'm firmly in the 1E or OSRIC camp rather than any of the OD&D clones, but I think that adapting that rule from 1E meets the "Simplify Dammit!" ethos of the from the "new OD&D" pretty well.


  27. I meant that "no dex for Hvy armors" for a possible house rule.

  28. I think the issue is noted in your initial statement. At first a shield was the only mod to AC. Then over time additional mods were added and they then grew, but the shield mod stayed the same. Thus it went from an acknowledge and valuable aspect to a less acknowledge and less important aspect.

    Look at the mods you use, and think about the importance in between them. Then adjust them as appropriate.

    As for Dex or STR, well both work legitimately. STR in particularly with large shields and DEX as a representation of the natural footwork involved in any defense.

  29. @noirsol I think your analysis is insightful and correct, and your advice is sound and useful. Thanks!