In Defence of the Shield

Inspired by bloggers running old school Dungeons & Dragons campaigns, I've decided to organize a gaming night in March. As we lead up to the start of the game, I'm going to post some of the house rules and setting material we'll be using.

In classic Dungeons & Dragons a character's shield only reduces their armour class by 1 point. That's not much compared to the protective value of any other sort of armour, and makes the shield of questionable value to a warrior compared to a two-handed weapon or choosing to fight with two weapons at once. Given that a shield is also a fairly bulky, heavy item it also reduces the reasonable amount of treasure a character can expect to bring back from a gloomy dungeon expedition with them.

Historical texts, fantasy literature, and popular films all suggest shields should be more important on the battlefield. Certainly more than the single point of AC as depicted in classic D&D. For my upcoming game I wanted to make shields a bit more useful for the characters - but didn't want to do anything to the game that would slow it down with extra math or book keeping. One of the appeals of classic D&D for me is how relatively light the rules are compared to other editions, and any improvement to the shield that made the rules heavier wasn't going to work for me.

For the past couple of years I've had an off-and-on project to design my own game. (Honestly, how many gamers *don't* have one of those projects?) What follows is an adaption of one of the rules from that game for Classic Dungeons & Dragons.
A character with a shield may roll a single d4 for one attack causing damage on them per round. If the roll is greater than the amount of damage from the attack, the shield blocks it and no hit points are lost. If the roll is equal or less than the damage, the attack causes the regular amount of hit point loss.

A character's shield roll may be "given" to a nearby ally if both characters are fighting the same opponent (or group of opponents attacking from the same direction). Characters must declare that they are fighting next to another character before they may share their shield rolls in this way. A single character may not make use of more than 2 additional shield rolls per round - those from the characters fighting to their left and right.

Magical shields allow a player to roll a dice one step larger for each "plus" they provide. A Shield +1 rolls a d6, +2 a d8 and +3 a d10.

Using this house-rule in my game will make shields much more useful at lower levels when characters with low hit points can use a bit more help surviving their first dungeon crawls. At higher levels the 1-3 point range means the shield won't be blocking much damage, but it will continue to provide the 1 point of AC bonus just like it always has. What I like best of all is that there is no extra math involved in calculating damage, and no need to keep track of how much damage the shield has sustained (both of which I've seen as house-rules).

Being able to give your shield roll to an ally will also create some interesting new ways to approach D&D combat. Shield mates, and even shield walls will be good strategies - both of which have historical precedence. Dramatic moments and characterization during combat are possible for players who like that sort of thing as players will be able to "save" other player's characters with a lucky shield roll.

I'd love to hear your comments, particularly if you're an old school gamer... or even if you'd just like to be.