HR: Heavy Shields

One of the things that came up in conversation about ACKS before I bought it was modeling the hoplite shield, particularly in comparison to the light pelta. So, I came up with the simple idea of having shields and heavy shields. Shields are the pelta, buckler, kite shield, and similar items. They are shields per the ACKS rulebook. Heavy shields are things like the hoplon, scutum, and tower shield. They provide a +2 armor bonus, weigh 2 stone, and do not count if the wielder is surprised, attacked from behind, or retreating. Heavy shields cannot be used by characters that are restricted to leather or lighter, or cannot wear armor at all.

This lets linothorax-equipped hoplites still seem like somewhat heavy infantry, with AC 4, while the older heavy hoplites would be AC 7 (plate without arm and leg protection of AC 5 and heavy shield of AC 2). Roman legionnaires would be AC 5 (squamata), 6 (hamata), or 7 (segmentata) with heavy shields.

When a magical shield is found on its own, there is a 75% chance it’s a standard shield and a 25% chance it’s a heavy shield. When found with armor, it is a light shield if found with leather or lighter, while chain or heavier has a 50% chance of being found with either a standard or heavy shield.

Wouldn’t this result in just adding +1 AC to every fighter and fighter-type character in every game where they’re available?

It seems to me that there would need some sort of penalty compared to a normal shield to prevent it simply being standard issue for everyone allowed to use one; the extra stone of encumbrance does not seem significant to me.

Regular D&D seems to assume a pretty late Medieval situation where armour is what matters, and shields are almost cosmetic. +1AC is paltry and pathetic, and doesn't model eras when the shield was the most important defensive property, at all.

In my Hellenistic-era conversion, I had several categories of shield:

Item Defense Bonus Athletics Penalty Cost Enc
Cloak-wrapped forearm +1AC vs one-handed melee      
Buckler +1AC vs melee and thrown   5dr Item
Small shield +1AC vs melee and thrown, 2AC vs missiles   10dr 1 stone
Medium shield +2AC vs melee and thrown, 3 AC vs missiles -1 50dr 2 stone
Large shield +3AC vs melee and thrown, 5AC vs missiles -2 100dr 3 stone

What stops larger shields being "standard issue" is that they're heavy, bulky and slow you down. An extra 3 stone is a non-trivial amount, particularly if someone already has heavier armour on.

I should add I reworked armour as well (to complete the de-emphasis of armour towards shields):

AC Armour Cost
1 Hides, linen corselet, bronze pectoral 50dr
2 Leather, quilted linen 100dr
3 Lamellar/scale corselet 150dr
4 Celtic mail 400dr
5 Full lamellar/scale, hoplite panoply 250dr
6 Hoplite panoply with thigh and arm plates 300dr
+1 Greaves and metal helm for lighter armour 25dr

Greaves and a metal helm can be added to anything lighter than mail and count as two Items in calculating Encumbrance.

I can see a -1 penalty to initiative being an appropriate drawback. +1 vs. melee with an increased bonus vs. missiles is a good alternative as well.

I don’t think an initiative penalty is really appropriate, a shield doesn’t make you slower. What I went with was a penalty to athletics-related checks - bigger shields impede running, jumping, climbing and so on.

On a related topic, one of the original Olympic events was a foot race in full armour and shield. Because it’s what warriors would do, and it was difficult.

I could see shields larger/bulkier than a buckler denying bonuses to AC for a high Dexterity. Maybe a Small Shield would cap a DEX Bonus at +2, a Medium Shield +1, and a Large Shield would allow no bonus due to DEX.

A couple suggestions on ways to “tone down” the heavy shields, if +1 AC will wildly unbalance a campaign:

  1. Heavy Shields cannot be used mounted. This should be done regardless, since all of the historical types that would be classed as Heavy Shields were for the infantry.
  2. Heavy Shields cannot be used with the weapon and shield Fighting Style proficiency. Other Fighting Style proficiencies can still be used.

If you’re going to buff shields, I think you should tone down armour. That’s a very easy way to balance things.

For historical periods, heavy shields were pretty much only in use until plate was developed (there was a brief period of fully-plated hoplites with large shields, but they quickly got rid of the greaves and cuisses to improve mobility and endurance and reduce cost), so it could be fair to remove plate from the list of armor. That would actually weaken fighter-types, since they’d effectively have the same maximum armor (banded plate 5 and heavy shield 2 opposed to plate 6 and shield 1) but lose a point of AC when surprised, retreating, or attacked from the rear. The ones who would gain in that case would be the chain wearers (Explorer, Barbarian, Machinist, Courtier, and Ranger), who would gain a point of AC.

Current maximum non-magical AC at dex 10:
No armor: 0
Leather (no shield): 2
Leather (shield): 3
Chain: 5
Plate: 7

With heavy shield, no tweaks:
No armor: 0
Leather (no shield): 2
Leather (shield): 3
Chain: 6
Plate: 8

With heavy shield, no plate:
No armor: 0
Leather (no shield): 2
Leather (shield): 3
Chain: 6
Banded Plate: 7

Adding the heavy shield and leaving plate available means wealthy low-level characters are hit on an 18 instead of a 17 by 1 HD creatures (and a 19 instead of an 18 by 0-level humans). That’s a 10-15% chance of being hit by the weakest creatures, instead of 15-20%.

If it can’t be used with weapon-and-shield style, a heavy shield effectively becomes +1 init (for using pole weapon style) or +1 attack (for using one-handed weapon style), since someone using a shield with weapon-and-shield style has the exact same AC as the person with the heavy shield.

Well, to be fair, that’s because your heavy shield is rather underwhelming. If you used my shield variants with a reduced armour set, there’s even reason to wear no armour, but carry the largest shield. +3AC and +5AC vs missiles is not to be sneezed at. But neither is 3 stone of encumbrance and -2 penalty to athletics rolls like climbing and swimming.

If you’re going to buff shields, actually buff them. And leave Weapon and Shield Style as it is; that’s a Class Proficiency slot sacrificed for it after all.

As to chain, if you’re skewing for a more antiquated setting, make it costly and rare. Thus the choice becomes don’t bother with body armour, go light or go heavy. No “go medium” option in between.