Core Rules Regarding Shields

SHIELDS ARE ANOTHER ONE OF those things which aren’t usually ran correctly. I think that the misconceptions about them have the Armor Class tables to blame, because it states on the table that the shield improves AC by 1, and that is all characters look at, along with the price guide, but this just isn’t so! I know that I personally have ran shields wrong for years, both as a Dungeon Master and as a Player, without even suspecting that it was cheating.

Shields are grouped by character size, a gnome who is using a shield which is small to humans, would treat it as a medium shield because of his size. Thus, if a fighter killed an evil halfling and took the large shield from his character, the human fighter would record it as a Medium Sized shield.


All Fighters (including Paladins & Rangers), and Clerics are naturally proficient in using the shield in their off hand, they don’t need to spend any Weapon Proficiency slots to acquire it, however a fighter can, at the cost of 1 Weapon Proficiency, Specialize in weapon/shield style.

A Wizard or a Rogue must spend a weapon proficiency slot to be able to use a shield. This is a skill, and once the initial cost is paid, then the character can use all shields, they aren’t broken down into different groups and don’t require additional weapon proficiency slots for each shield type.

Specialization in the Weapon/Shield fighting style enables you to have an extra attack. This attack is done with the shield itself, and has some penalties involved in it. The Shield Punch gives you a –2 penalty to hit with your weapon, and a –4 penalty to hit with your shield. If you spend another Specialization slot on it, then this penalty drops in half (-1 w/ weapon, -2 w/ shield). If you chose to use the shield punch in the round, you give up any AC it granted you from the point of where you make your shield-punch attack until the end of the round. The shield-punch does 1d3 (1d4 if spiked) + strength bonus in damage.

One more note in regards to a shield punch: If the player is using an enchanted shield, the + is only applied to AC and never to attack. This may sound weird, but it is more practical in actual play.


A buckler is a very small shield which is strapped onto the users forearm. It is small and light weight and doesn’t inhibit movement. Archers can use the buckler without giving up any attacks, fighters using two-handed weapons can attack normally, and two-handed fighting-style can be employed.

While the buckler is light-weight and allows freedom of movement, it doesn’t block as much damage. The user’s AC is improved by 1 for one attack per round. The player can determine which attacker he is going to use the shield against.

This is important, if a user is up against 4 goblins and a human leader, he can specify, before initiative is rolled, to use his shield against the human leader. Of course the human leader may not attack him that round, if this is the case, then the player can announce that he is instead going to block a goblin attack instead.

The attacker might have more attacks then one, in these cases the buckler attempts to block the first attack upon the character holding it.

The buckler is useless against missile weapons, and is two small to offer spikes.

Enchantment Note: If the shield has a + from enchantment then the player can either chose to block an additional attack per + at normal AC, or block one attack with all of the enchantment bonuses applied.


The Small Shield as a light-weight shield which is strapped onto the users wrist. It allows the user to hold something in his off hand, as long as it is not a weapon. This shield cannot be used with weapons that require two hands to use, and is incompatible with two-weapon fighting styles.

The Small shield can be used to defend 2 attacks per round of the characters choice. The small shield can be spiked (1d4 to damage with shield punch), but again, it just isn’t large enough to protect against missile, or ranged attacks and/or provide cover.

Enchantment Note: If the shield has a + from enchantment, then the player can either chose to block 2 additional attacks per + at normal AC, or block 2 attacks with all of the enchantment bonuses applied.


The medium shield is also strapped on to the users wrist, and offers a handle for the user to hold, but its size and weight doesn’t allow the user to hold anything except for the shield, thus two-handed weapons are again, not possible with this shield.

This shield defends against all attacks aimed at the users front and flanks, including missile, and other ranged attacks, but doesn’t offer any cover unless the character gives up all attacks and hides down behind the shield in a crouch.

Spikes can be added to the shield to give 1d4 + strength bonus in damage.

These bad-boys may not exist in your campaign, and when they do, they are so heavy that they are a burden to carry and you should always check your encumbrance if you’re playing with those rules applied.

This shield is massive! Covering from Chin to Toes. It is strapped to the wrist, and requires full dedication of the off hand to use. It offers superior cover, blocking all attacks from the front and both front flanks. It grants an AC bonus of 1 against all melee attacks, and an AC bonus of 2 vs. missile and ranged weapons. The shield also provides cover from breath-weapon and like attacks.

A DM is fully in his rights to demand that Shield Specialization is required to use the Body Shield, and it is up to the DM to determine exactly what your coverage is. A good rule of thumb is if he/she is using the shield and not making any attacks of their own, then they are 100% covered, and -25% per attack made in the round. (I am, of course, referring to TABLE: 59 COVER & CONCEALMENT MODIFIERS in the PHB)


The shield covers only a limited amount of space, this space, if you think about it, protects only the character’s off-hand side (usually his left) and front. Under this optional rule, all attacks coming from flanks not covered by the shield are able to bypass the AC bonus which they provide.

A shield never covers the fighters rear, a character can choose to strap a shield onto his back, which will grant the AC shield bonus, but will limit his movement at the same time, thus he will always suffer a –2 to attack rolls while wearing a shield in this manner.


It is assumed in the PHB, that the shield is made of steel. Of course we know that this might not be the case. Wooden shields are very popular, they are more light-weight. The wood is treated so that it is very very hard, a sword can’t chop it up in a couple of rounds. Of course, if a fire attack happens, then the shield is subject to its own saving-throw vs. the appropriate fire, if it fails, then the shield has caught on fire. It is a cool weapon for a while! However it is up to the DM to decide how long it will take for the shield to become useless if not put out right away.

I know in my campaigns, I like to limit the use of steel. This is still a dwarven secret which hasn’t been figured out by the rest of the races yet, thus most shields must be constructed out of some other metal, I normally use bronze, but careful readers will not that bronze items carry a –1 penalty to AC, so what do you do if the shields are made of bronze? EASY! You ignore it, and double the AC of steel shields to +1. Of course this isn’t from magic, so it doesn’t count as an enchantment. It is just how I keep everything balanced. Weapons are typically made of bronze or iron as well.

I check all of these things once a month, with modifiers for a players wisdom, to see if the item is still usable and find out what kind of shape the thing is in. I suppose that if this kind of book-working is not your bag, then you can just have the player make a wis check for each item every once in a while, and if he fails it, make a saving throw for the item against crushing blow, failure indicates that the next object that comes in contact with the blade or shield, the item will break.


The logic behind the Wisdom check is to insure that the user is properly taking care of the thing. Oiling leather straps, polishing the metal, keeping it painted to protect it, that kind of stuff. For each failure to properly maintain it, gives a penalty of 1 to the save vs. crushing blow, and since this is a shield, even if the opponent misses, then the item breaks to the point were it is useless.

Finding a shield typically means that it is in some sad shape. If the shield is so old that it is already falling apart, the DM can have the thing hold or break whenever he wants to.

Primary Use of the Shield

Besides offering a bonus to Protection, the shield also serves a more important function: It identifies you! Once you create a stronghold, you’ll also probably want to design a unique Coat of Arms, or a symbol which will identify all of your hirelings and followers. Naturally you’ll have to replace all of their shields to carry this Coat, but it allows them to identify each other at a glance, while engaged in combat.

A shield can announce a bearers kingdom, who he is loyal to, or even identify him personally. A Paladin, who is always required to identify himself at all times through heraldry, will typically have his loyalty and kingdom draped over armor itself, but his shield will display her personal coat of arms to identify who he is personally.

Of course there are other uses for a shield, creative players can come up with some off the wall things, from using them as sleds to carrying out treasure, not even to mention the tactics which a shield allows, beyond the shield-punch above. Tactics such as the Shield-rush, forming a shield curtain, or wall for even better protection while fighting lawfully, the possibilities are nearly endless, but I hope that I’ve given you a better idea of how shields protect, their limitations, and their usages during battle.

BONUS LINK: Shields Shall be Splintered by Trollsmyth This article really impressed me. Great brainfood!


Mad Brew said...

Nice post. I had too must have not ever ran them properly for all those years I played 2nd Edition!

Makes me want to go back and read all the rules and again (and perhaps convince some people into playing 2e).

Helmsman said...

Okay. I'm not sure what rules D&D has for cover but really that's what shields are. Cover. Ultimately using a shield in your hand is no different then fighting with a stationary post between you and your opponent, a skilled fighter will be better at using that post to his advantage just as he would be at using the shield.

This is something I don't think a lot of game systems have realized yet, that defensive bonuses to fighting should remain the same however a shield brings in the additional bonus of having something to hide behind, in many ways it's no different then a small wall. Once games begin to realize this than using improvised shields like a door or a frying pan become quite easy to handle within the rules.

RipperX said...

Thanks Mad Brew, I know lots of people who still play 2e exclusively. Even my new players who were used to 3e, and had never played 2nd before now prefer it. Granted, for a while there is some serious smoke coming out of their ears while they force themselves to count their THAC0 backwards, but once this hurdle is crossed, they enjoy the freedom that the game gives you.

Helmsman: I completely agree! I know that we played with guns in the game for a while (I hated it) and Cover and concealment rules were heavily used as everybody's AC is 10.

Give me a couple of days, I think that an article on Cover & Concealment is something that would be worthwhile to work on.

Helmsman said...

Um... what? You agree? Completely? I don't think that's ever happened before. Usually when I say stuff people pat me on the head and pass off my ramblings as the words of a madman (which they are).

Seriously though, I'm glad you like the concept, when my friend and partner in the game we're designing explained it to me I was struck by the brilliant simplicity of it.

Tala said...


When you said frying pan it reminded me of the scene from Legend when BromTom was using a frying pan to deflect arrows from the approaching goblins. You are right though. Trees, buildings, tables, doors, and yes even a frying pan could be used as a shield in a pinch. Most people don't think that way though for some odd reason. As Rip said, in our last game we used guns and we took every opportunity to use anything we could get our hands on as a was of covering ourselves. You should have been there for the carnage on the Orient Express. LOL Now I've played for a long time, and quite honestly, that is one aspect that a lot of players and DM's alike forget about. Why I have no idea, but it would definitely be more beneficial to the players if they would use cover in a fight.

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