Shield & Staff

Monday, October 1st, 2018

Shields are often underrated in play, so I thought for a while how to better express their general historical combat utility without overpowering them in comparison to weapons, and came up with something I thought could make them a little more useful (a solution I later learned others had also arrived at): sacrificing a shield to avoid damage.

What this means is when you have a shield equipped and are successfully struck in combat, before damage is rolled you can decide to sacrifice your shield to block the damage. This destroys the shield, but the attack is treated instead as a miss. A magical shield can be sacrificed one additional time per plus before being destroyed. Sacrifices cannot be “repaired”, however.

My worry is that this makes shields slightly too useful. Instead, perhaps, sacrificing a shield reduces the incoming damage by 1d6 ( + the shield’s bonus )–or perhaps 2d4, which would give a nice average damage reduction of 5, useful enough to protect a person from a strike by a normal weapon. In either case, the shield must still be sacrificed before the opponent rolls damage.

I rather like the latter better, as it seems to avoid the “buy infinite shields to avoid death” problem other groups have faced. In this case, sure, maybe you hire a retainer to carry a few extra shields, but you’re not bringing a wagon-load because they aren’t guaranteed salvation. You can only carry one. Your hireling, if nearby, can pass another to you as an action, after which you must use your next action to secure.

What about their even broader utility? One of the special skills Fighters can learn is mastery of a shield, which gives them a free action with their shield once per battle, which can be used to trip, push, or disarm an opponent. (Class skills are detailed in an upcoming post.) Shields also provide light cover against ranged attacks if you use your action to hide behind them (it isn’t automatic), so you can still make a normal move action, but nothing else while using it for cover.

Something else happened rather by accident: we had our Magic-user and Rogue using shields, just carrying them around for protection. I didn’t correct it at the time, so it stuck–but Magic-users can’t cast spells while holding one, and it takes an action to drop in order to cast spells. It’s not generally a huge boost to AC, and it comes with a reasonable penalty, and such things don’t generally stack with much better protective spells like Shield.

And use by Rogues? I just don’t mind, they can’t use ranged weapons while using them, and that tends to be their combat role.

We’ll see how it holds up over longer-term play.

Staves are an interesting weapon in that they are somewhat nerfed in play. They are d6 weapons that require both hands and thus cannot be used with a shield, unlike any other d6 weapon. There’s zero mechanical reason to choose one over any other non-d10 weapon. Historically swordsmen did not underestimate warriors who used staves; they were useful for parrying while quickly counter-attacking, as well as hitting hard (they are not simple sticks but fire-hardened heartwood as strong and solid as steel), and had more reach than a sword.

But enough history: to even out staves with other d6 weapons, our ruling was their use provides a +1 bonus to AC like a shield.

I suppose instead we could have as easily given staves a +1 (or probably +2) bonus to trip, push, and disarm, along with reach, but that starts getting into more discrete weapon-utility territory, and we’re trying to keep things more abstract and simple. Another alternative would be to go with the original rules that Rogues (and Magic-users) can not use shields, so it simply doesn’t matter if they use a staff versus any other d6 weapon. It would only matter to the Cleric and Fighter.

Except the idea of staff-wielding kung-fu monks (Clerics) is just too cool to pass up, hence I think we’ll keep the +1 AC ruling.

This means staves are the only two-handed weapon without reach, so what happens if a character decides to use a one-handed weapon with two hands? (Because someone is eventually going to ask.) I’m not sure. I know it will not create reach, and, of course, they cannot have a shield equipped while doing so.

I think perhaps the wielder should gain a simple +1 to hit, as they have slightly more control of and leverage with their weapon; or alternatively, choose to gain a +1 to damage instead, but take a -4 to initiative as they draw back to put more power behind their strikes. Which seem to be fair trade-offs.

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