In Search of Flexible Defense Mechanics

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aramis erak

Wait, what? So, if a shield is a weapon, I can forget about taking four pounds of sword/axe/mace/spear into battle with me?

"Ow, stop hitting me with that broad, blunt, poorly-weighted-for-damage object!"
You don't want to rely upon it for your primary, as it's fairly heavy (tho' historical style rawhide over willow or rawhide over laminated wood are not as heavy as most people envisage), but as your backup? It's a lethal weapon. Keep in mind that it usually has 3 pointy bits (tho' horsemen often have the base point rounded)... and that when used with force can do considerable blunt force damage. SO much so that the SCA prohibits any shield techniques that bring it into contact with foes.. But that mace has about twice the reach; the longsword even more. And the rapiers ran up to 6' overall... as did sweihanders and the 2h claidhmohrs.

The durability of the shield is largely due to the construction methods -
  • hideglued laminated wood (generally 3-4 layers, split, steamed, glued and pressed), often covered in rawhide or leather. Thickness generally under 1", some down to 3/8" from what I've read. The use of steamed split-wood instead of cut wood provides pretty good strength. Friends have tested this… to destruction.
  • wicker frames with steamed bent-wood rim and covered in rawhide, sometimes with a brass or bronze rim
  • bronze structural rim with wicker face, covered in rawhide or painted leather.
They typically aren't metal, nor solid wood planking. I've a plywood 12" targe I use; there are so many times I see openings for it that I cannot take for safety of my opponent. It's 3/4" plywood, covered in 8oz glove leather, using leather straps. It's still useful defensively as an active defense, and I can often see chances that I cannot take due to safety rules. Note that it's taken no appreciable damage in 10 years of use, without a metal rim.

The historically standard attacks with a shield include
  • aggressively hitting the parrying shieldarm of the foe after they target you.
  • Stabbing their thigh with the base point.
  • Hitting the face with the dexter-chief point.
  • Parry the arm, instead of the weapon. Especially if no gauntlets nor vambraces
  • Shove shield to shield, especially if you can trap their weapon in so doing, while striking with your primary over their shield
They are mostly attacks taken because an opening appears... and only the shield to shield isn't banned by most groups doing historical European martial arts, due to the risks they definitely pose to one's opponents.


Guide of Modos
While we're suggesting food for thought, see Modos RPG:

What I mean by flexible defense
Most rpgs that I know of handle defending against an attack like this: Attacker needs to beat a target defensive value in order to hit. 90% of the time that number doesn't change.
Attacker needs to beat the defender's roll + defender's bonus. That's a different number every time, unless the defender A) doesn't defend or B) takes half on the roll.

Sure, sometimes it's different based on factors (3e famously has a few ACs depending on what was going on), but it was still largely the same number whether you were being attacked by one person in a round or ten. Sometimes you could boost that target # via several means (spells, dodging, etc.), but again, the number stayed pretty static regardless of who or what was actually attacking you.
Defenders, like most everyone else, get three actions. So the first three attackers (attacks) would attack the same defense roll, and the rest would get free hits. The defender could boost the defense roll (target #) by having some sort of advantage, either from the situation or by using an action to create one.

If you have a pool of defensive ability in a round, maybe you don't worry so much about the mooks attacking you, but focus your defense on a tougher opponent.
Disregarding mooks is a good way to get trounced. BUT, if that tougher opponent is the leader or morale support, a quick takedown might scare the mooks away or into submission. Also, the tougher opponent might be capable of doing greater-than-one damage per attack, while mooks are probably doing the bare minimum, so it's a better idea to use actions against those tougher attacks (if the plan is to occupy the tougher opponent).

Why I want to do this
It's just one way of many to allow martial and mundane PCs have more stuff to do in combat. One round they may act like a tank, while the next go on offense. It models the verisimilitude I prefer in how a combat encounter looks like against multiple opponents--shields can't block every attack at the same effectiveness and being swarmed matters (this part is subjective, I know). I think it adds a new facet to the combat encounter that's largely overlooked.
More D&D, I'll assume. Other games seem to be providing plenty of options, here. Modos RPG provides yet another option - defensive posture - which allows a defender to get behind allies, behind cover, or further away from the fight, which gives attackers another choice: do I fight the nearby enemies or spend time/energy getting a better position on the harder-to-reach foes?


Small God of the Dozens
The system in Stara Szkola uses a d20 die pool for combat. You start with one d20 and can add more via various careers, up to a maximum of four. Extra dice in a given round are available via extra success, special moves, and circumstance. The die pool represents what you can do in a round, both attack and defense. You could make four sperate attacks at one die each, two more precise attacks at 2 dice each (its a keep best system). You can also elect to save dice to use in defense and that defend roll can also include as many of your dice as you like. Different weapons have different bonuses depending on length, to start, and also some special applications (most vis a vis armour penetrating shenanigans). Armour is damage reduction, but shields are part of your active defense and can indeed be used to attack. There are a variety of counter attack possibilities that stem from a successful defend roll that can make a shield bash quite effective. Anyway, it's very cool and worth checking out.

Edit: a lot of the tactical coolness comes from balancing your die pool and bonus dice available. You must include one die from you pool to make an action, but clever play can add a couple of dice to that, so it's certainly possible to make four separate 2 or 3 dice actions in a round.

I'd recommend against reducing a character's defense the more attacks that target them in a turn, as this will make focus fire an even more dominant tactic than it already is, and reduce the amount of interesting choice players have.

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