Shields Shall Be Splintered

From Trollsmythe

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.)

Also from Trollsmythe

FRIDAY, MAY 09, 2008

Spears Shall be Shaken
In my post “Shields Shall be Splintered”, I mentioned briefly my plans for weapons in my hack of Moldvay/Cook/LL. To the best of my knowledge Moldvay/Cook was the first edition of D&D to offer a wide array of variable damage for weapons. Most do 1d6, though a few do 1d4 damage. Two do 1d8 (the sword and battle axe), and two do 1d10 (the two-handed sword and pole arm).

It’s a simple system, and it works, but there have been many other options floated from time-to-time, including damage by class and a simple 1d6 for all weapons.

I’m going to wuss out and split the difference a bit, here. To keep things simple, the default on weapons is 1d6. Weapons built to be swung two-handed get 2d4. This keeps things simple and it’s easy to know what you should be rolling. Using one hand? 1d6. Using two hands? 2d4.

To get the two-handed bonus, you must be using a weapon made to be used with two hands. Using both hands to swing your dagger doesn’t benefit you.

A few weapons break the rules. Spears, for instance, can be used two-handed, but they still only do 1d6. They can, however, be set to receive a charge and do double-damage in that case. They’ll also get a little love when I talk about initiative.

Torches, of course, can light you on fire. Not sure how I want to handle that. An extra 1d4 ‘til you put it out?

Flails are not in the Moldvay/Cook books, but I’m adding them in. As an added quirk, they ignore shields. Why? Because that’s how they were designed to work; the length of chain allowed the damaging head of the weapon to swing around behind the shield and clobber your foe. I might still allow the target to sacrifice their shield in exchange for ignoring a successful “to hit” roll.

And then there are staves. Ok, I’ll have to admit a bit of prejudice here, I love staves and always have. I think they are among the coolest weapons ever devised, and this mostly comes from reading tales of Robin Hood as a boy. The back-and-forth of staff combat, its flexibility as weapon, and its easy availability have always appealed to me. So I’m doing something special with staves: highest die of 2d6.

What is up with that? Well, I couldn’t really justify the full-on 2d4 that halberds and two-handed swords get. I also wanted to represent the ease and flexibility of the weapon, how an attack could come from either end of the staff, or even the middle. The highest die of 2d6 represents that, giving a touch more damage due to the speed and sneakiness of the weapon. It’s also the damage roll for using a weapon in each hand.

So here’s what my weapons look like:

Bastard sword: 1d6 or 2d4

Battle axe: 2d4

Club: 1d6

Dagger: 1d6

Hand axe: 1d6

Lance: 1d6 (double on charge)

Mace: 1d6

Pole arm: 2d4

Short sword: 1d6

Spear: 1d6 (double when set to receive charge)

Staff: highest single die of 2d6

Sword: 1d6

Torch: 1d6 + burning damage (1d4?) until put out

Two-handed sword: 2d4

War hammer: 1d6

And there you go. Simple and quick and intuitive, I hope. Since the average person has 1d6 hit points, this means every weapon can be fatal on a single strike, while the big, two-handed weapons are especially fearsome, as they ought to be.

Shields Shall Be Splintered

Garnia Jagatai Jagatai