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Rethinking Shields--as a weapon system

Raleel

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One of the things the guys over at Regia Anglorum found was that an arrow would not penetrate standard Saxon shield but a javelin would go right through the shield with plenty more energy to kill. How ever you could easily dodge javelins but not arrows
This is what makes what sort of infantry formation you were in important. If you were in closed formation with many friends around you it was possible to hide behind the overlap of their shields but if you were the foe threw javelins you had it. If you were in open order you avoided the javelins until an archer brought your unprotected arse down.
This is actually modeled pretty well in Mythras. Javelins have the unique property of being able to Pin Weapon (Shield) - effectively rendering it useless. If one were to be in a shield wall, you would be able to Passively Block one more location (5, presumably arms, torso, abdomen, and head), making you fairly hard to hit with arrows. A javelin, however, could rip apart that shield wall by putting in gaps in the wall.

When in a dispersed formation, you won't be using passive blocking as much in all likelihood, and the shield will be more actively used. This, in turn, makes it less likely for the pinning of it to happen.
 

Gussick

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No, we are not affiliated in any way. I teach at The Forge, and am its co-founder. Checlick my sig. ☺ Our league includes us, AES Edmonton, AES Rimbey, The Shiners, and Saskatoon Historical Fencing.

Back to gaming, I did do the errata for TROS back in the day. Those looking for inspiration for modelling combat should give it a try, though it's not highly detailed for shield stuff.
Looks like a great group! Hopefully there will eventually be enough critical mass of folks to have a north american buckler/messer meetup and tournament. I like the Berlin approach because it allows me to travel light (no padding) and you can spar more people for longer. But I also enjoy the full speed whacking.

I found a copy of TROS but haven't had a chance to do much with it. Wasn't there an unofficial reboot of it?
 

BoardEnt

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Love that we're still discussing shields! Whether you call it a weapon or not, I agree with the concept that you have to run shields and weapons on the same rule system. In Legend Quest, either the shield or the weapon can be used to parry, or both. Shields just aren't static - you need to be skilled in shield, especially if you're using a buckler like many of the folks here suggest.
 

Max

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True! I'm with you. But you'd be surprised how many in HEMA and the greater HEMA multiverse argue about the use of shields and bucklers. Or maybe not. We can argue for years about rotation nodes. Roland's work is "new" in the sense that he's been doing it for a decade now and still generates a lot of controversy. Probably not worth going into here though. I did some of this stuff last year with his people and it was wild. The big shields obscure a very wide field of vision, so you have to use pressure cues. It's almost like fighting blind. Once you get used to it you can fold up the opponent like a cardboard box. I know 'cause I was the box.
It's not really controversial so much as simply 99% speculative, since we have no primary sources on the use of large shields, only bucklers, and that only from a much later period. Roland's work is pretty great, and I agree with his basic premises and material analyses entirely, but his particular interpretation on the use of "viking" round shields is almost certainly too closely informed by the sword-and-buckler systems from half a millennium later, and I.33 in particular - the broad principles and general thrust of it are probably correct, of course, but the technical details most likely not.

We are not necessarily restricting ourselves to realistic fighters here, from what I understand.
Even if we were, the statement is kind of misleading. Actual ambidexterity is rare, yes, but any fighter worth the label can make effective and efficient use of two weapons at once (e.g. shield and whatever; note that in all these combinations, the shield is the definitive component), to the point that IMO the options usually gated behind such "special" abilities in most systems really should be universally available. Handedness shrinks to nigh-insignificance in the face of lots of practice.

I have to say, I really think that fighting models which make everything about a two-party relationship (like 'control of the center') are losing sight of the fact that most RPG fights are not duels and will not allow you to develop a close exclusive relationship with a single opponent.
I prefer to keep such relationships open, anyway. :)

One of the things the guys over at Regia Anglorum found was that an arrow would not penetrate standard Saxon shield but a javelin would go right through the shield with plenty more energy to kill. How ever you could easily dodge javelins but not arrows
This is what makes what sort of infantry formation you were in important. If you were in closed formation with many friends around you it was possible to hide behind the overlap of their shields but if you were the foe threw javelins you had it. If you were in open order you avoided the javelins until an archer brought your unprotected arse down.
Yeah, judging by period accounts and archaeological finds these particular shields are really very light and nimble and intentionally vulnerable to certain types and amounts of force (and all shields are far more so than popularly imagined). They're great at allowing you to close in against a shower of arrows and then manipulate the opponent's weapons in close combat, but most period accounts describe the exchange of thrown weapons right before hand-to-hand engagement being far more devastating than any preceding archery barrage. Pilum-like, long-necked javelins were popular for a thousand years all over Europe, and not without good reason.
 
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s/LaSH

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So, uh, are there any systems out there that do shields D&D-style? It looks like everybody (and I count myself in this illustrious band) has brewed up systems where shields are much more active.

In fact, it's almost getting to the point where passive defense is ignored; and as ChalkLine pointed out, one thing shields can do really well is shut down a whole wedge of the battlefield just by existing. Gives me something to think about, at least.
 

DouglasCole

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More grist for the mill.

I speculate about how one might tweak out GURPS and DnD5e to allow/encourage more active use.

Also, I want to echo Max's point about both the fragility and nimbleness of the period viking shields. From what I gather, the center of the shield near the boss was maybe only 7-8mm of wood, and usually a fairly low-density hardwood at that (poplar, linden, maybe aspen). They were intentionally chamfered towards the edge to a wood thickness of 2-3mm at times. Then faced and edged with rawhide, bringing the total thickess to maybe 8-9mm in the center, and maybe 4-5mm at the edge. This is consistent with the thickness of purpose-built edge-clamps, which were metal and thus more preserved. The shield material that is usually specified in found writings was linden (known as basswood in North America), which has the wonderful property of starting to rot if you look at it funny, according to my woodworker friends.

Face-on, it's going to have a hard time with axes, swords, javeliins, arrows, and harsh language. Edge-on, it's much more sturdy. The thin edge can trap a blade pretty easily (and as Max notes, by design, it seems) and once that happens, you get your blade taken away by having the shield twisted or manipulated.

It IS speculative, of course. And complicated by the paucity of quality finds. I think Roland has said there's precisely one complete shield, and one complete helmet, both from the same archaeological find. Lots of pieces, but not exactly the treasure trove that was, say, the Mary Rose, either!

Thanks for the interest!
 

Victim

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So, uh, are there any systems out there that do shields D&D-style? It looks like everybody (and I count myself in this illustrious band) has brewed up systems where shields are much more active.

In fact, it's almost getting to the point where passive defense is ignored; and as ChalkLine pointed out, one thing shields can do really well is shut down a whole wedge of the battlefield just by existing. Gives me something to think about, at least.
To be honest, even dnd can get a lot of active use shield stuff these days. Iirc both 4e and 5e can let you use a shield to influence enemy positioning from level one.
 

Bankuei

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Two of my favorite games treat shields as more than a simple defense buff.

Burning Wheel

Burning Wheel does two things with shields mechanically that help reflect their use in reality.

First, you can bash, of course, but because Burning Wheel deals a lot with reach of weapons, the shield as an option for a very close range attack gives you an extra option in case someone gets in past your weapon. (or, if you're being tricky, instead of staying at range with a longer weapon, you slide in for a short range attack they're not expecting).

Second, Burning Wheel allows you to simultaneously block with a shield AND attack with a weapon at the same time, which also gets bonus dice from the shield. There's a whole lot of complexity around BW's combat system of "choose actions ahead of time and try to outsmart your opponent" but being able to push defense and offense at the same time is a really useful advantage.

Any kind of block or parry, if done with enough successes, can be a chance to "open up" the opponent for a counter attack, either delivering a penalty on their next action or leaving them effectively stunned for an action.

The Riddle of Steel

TROS also has a reach system, with similar benefit to being to work at multiple ranges if your opponent cannot.

TROS gives different target numbers depending on the type of weapon and it's action being used - so you have some things which are pretty great at attacking but terrible to use defensively, things that are more balanced (but usually less damaging) and so on. Shields, of course, have easy-to-roll target numbers that allow you to get more defense out of the same dice pool - which means you can put MORE of those dice instead, towards offense.

- Chris
 

Dagor

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So, uh, are there any systems out there that do shields D&D-style? It looks like everybody (and I count myself in this illustrious band) has brewed up systems where shields are much more active.

In fact, it's almost getting to the point where passive defense is ignored; and as ChalkLine pointed out, one thing shields can do really well is shut down a whole wedge of the battlefield just by existing. Gives me something to think about, at least.
Shields in GURPS 4e provide a +1 to +3 bonus depending on size and composition to all active defenses (Block, Dodge, or Parry) against attacks from the front or shield side. By default this only applies to melee and muscle-powered ranged attacks, not firearms or beam weapons, although there's also an optional "Damage to Shields" rule that, if used, appears to allow using that bonus there as well (the rule itself doesn't say so, but the references to it do) -- it's just that in that case, any attack in which the shield's bonus makes the final difference is treated as one that hits the shield itself and may damage and possibly still penetrate it.

All that and you can still actively defend (that's what the whole Block maneuver is for if you have some decent skill in using shields in the first place) and bash or rush with suitable shields to your heart's content, too.
 

Gussick

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Roland's work is pretty great, and I agree with his basic premises and material analyses entirely, but his particular interpretation on the use of "viking" round shields is almost certainly too closely informed by the sword-and-buckler systems from half a millennium later, and I.33 in particular - the broad principles and general thrust of it are probably correct, of course, but the technical details most likely not.
Told you it was controversial ;-) It's obviously speculative, just like Short's work and everyone else's in pre I.33 European swordplay. You can find art from the period showing outstretched shields, and you can find art with closely held shields esp. in the wall formation. From my first hand observation, it works a lot better than the more traditional slow/heavy/passive use of the shield. In the I.33 sense, such a shield is pre-collapsed. It protects only those portions of the body directly behind it and can do very little to retake the center. By stretching the left arm out and actively engaging, the cone of protection covers the entire body. And the skeletal structure is able to secure the center allowing the sword to move for the attack.

But getting back to the game mechanics, the other side of this debate has some points to make as well. Specifically, that when it comes to missile weapons, shields were simply armor. And a distinction may need to be made between shields for dueling such as the light viking shields that have been reconstructed from linden planks and heavier shields (possibly the scutum) that may have been a mobile piece of armor against slings and arrows with limited role in one-on-one fighting. So it might be possible to categorize shields with some being primarily offensive and some being primarily defensive. Or indeed as Roland's experiments with kite shield straps has shown, it's possible the same shield could be rigged to do different tasks depending on the need. In late medieval and renaissance terms, the buckler can be seen as the ultimate evolution of the dueling shield and the pavise as the ultimate evolution of the missile-blocking shield. Which fits in with that period's refinement of earlier weapon types (ie cut and thrust blades evolving into pure cutting and pure thrusting)
 
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