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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Thousands of Shields Shall Be Splintered!

I haven't been reading the Autarch blog, since it is primarily about development for the Adventurer Conqueror King system. It's interesting, but I get the impression that ACKS is heading in a different direction than I'm looking for. But I recently went through a bunch of posts there and noticed a criticism of the "Shields Shall Be Splintered" rule based on the example of a fighter with a a bag of holding full of 1,000 shields, or a fighter with numerous shield bearers. The criticism points out that either fighter can survive any combat while dealing significant damage.

But I want to look at that closely...

I agree with Chris Hogan's comment that "Shields Shall Be Splintered" can only be used once per round, and furthermore a fighter pulling a new shield from a bag of holding is neither attacking nor defending for one round. When facing a single opponent, the fighter with a bag of holding can only avoid damage every other round; when facing multiple opponents, the advantage is significantly less. The fighter with shield bearers -- which did exist historically, btw -- likewise can't attack or defend while taking a shield from the shield bearer; plus, shield bearers cost money, are vulnerable to attacks, might choose to flee from combat, and should be subject to the command control rules from U&WA, so it might take a couple rounds to get that replacement shield, even when everything else goes well.

On top of that, you have to make a decision what it means to skip defending yourself for a round. When a fighter stops to take a shield from a bag of holding or a shield bearer, or for that matter stops to switch weapons, drink a potion, or do anything else, how do you resolve attacks on the defenseless fighter? I see a couple options:
  1. No Change: Fighter might lose the benefit of a shield, but otherwise continue to defend with normal AC. Successful attack may interrupt action or force fighter to drop item.
  2. Penalty: As above, but fighter is slightly easier to hit; usual numbers cited are +2 or +4 to attack defenseless opponent.
  3. Vulnerability: Fighter's AC is effectively 9 (no armor) because opponents can now target weak points like eyeslits easily.
  4. Truly Defenseless: No attack roll necessary, just roll for damage.
  5. Helpless: Identical to attacks against sleeping or bound opponents (i.e. instant death.)
I haven't decided, but I'm leaning towards #s 3 or 4. At the very least, an attack on a fighter who isn't defending should include the possibility of interrupting or disarming the fighter as per #1, but #1 seems unusually weak to me. Anything stronger than #1 seems to make Supreme Thousand-Shield Defense not very viable as something to do in combat.

And this isn't even considering damage. Should "Shields Shall Be Splintered" block any amount of damage, or just the damage that would be done by a weapon of equivalent size (1d6 for us "d6-only damage" users.) Adopting a rule like that would prevent the supposed ordinary fighter avoiding damage from giants example.


  1. I figure if you can grab a potion form your belt, uncork it, and swig it in one whole minute, it means you're already fighting defensively.

    I think not only is there no justification for giving someone a free attack or a bonus to attack against a combatant performing a non-attack action (such as drinking a potion), but there isn't a game balance purpose for such a rule. My exception would be someone casting a spell: you get no DEX modifier to AC and can't move in the round you cast, and if struck your spell is disrupted and lost.

    Check the size of the mouth of the bag of holding - can a shield even fit in there? How about volume - can you really fit enough shields to hit the weight limit? And again, weight of each shield.

    Even if you get enough shields, the Fighter still loses a whole round to equip the new shield, which means he can't attack. The bad guys lose one attack against him, but a dragon for example would have two claws and a bite. And the shield splintering probably won't work against a gout of dragon fire ...

  2. Yeah, I'm not too sure about penalizing the fighter. Losing your action seems harsh enough.

    On the other hand, my version of Shields Shall Be Splintered explicitly only prevents damage from one d6 - bonus damage of any kind always penetrates.

    The exception is magical shields, which can stop one extra damage per + (and also get a save to avoid being destroyed by the attack).

  3. A large shield might not fight into (or out of) a bag of holding but a buckler might.

    If we are looking at the possibility of a shield getting splintered, should we then look at the possibility of armor getting holes in it? Where does it end?

    Do these shield-splintering rules apply to monsters as well? For example, a bullet's carapace? or a dragon's scales? What about the shields carried by goblins, orcs and other humanoid opponents? Can they be splintered? Does all this splintering bog down combat?

    Do swords and axes ever get dulled? Does a blade break after hitting a shield too hard? Remember Newton's 2nd law of Motion: that kinetic energy is transferred in both directions.

  4. @By the Sword: You might be thinking of rules to add realistic breakage to the game. The "Shields Shall Be Splintered" rule produces more realistic variation, but has nothing to do with realistic physics; it lets a player choose to sacrifice a shield for protection from damage. I've previously described applying the rule to helms, too, and even allowing players to sacrifice a limb or two to avoid hp loss, so I have no problem with applying that line of reasoning to armor breakage... but if you say "the blow damages the armor on my left arm!" that means an attack can choose to target your left arm (now AC 9) instead of the rest of your body. Do you want to do that?

    I should probably write up a new post on this.

    @1d30, Witness: You've convinced me that option #3 might be too harsh for merely changing equipment, but I think option #1 with its chance of interrupting an action is still a good move. After all, if a spell can be interrupted, so can drinking a potion or grabbing a new shield.

    The way I see it, someone in combat who wants to change equipment (other than snatching something dangling from their belt with their empty hand) would step back from the combat, change equipment, then re-enter the fray. Not doing that means adding an element of risk.

    I think I would still use option #3 for true moments of vulnerability, though, like some kind of stun effect. But that's not applicable to the thousand-shield defense.

  5. Talysman,

    Thank you for clarifying.

    I have read your new article and I like the idea a lot.

  6. Ahoy Tal,

    The way we play this in Carter's game is: yes, we purposely acquire shields wherever we find them while dungeoneering, and so we have some number of shields left to replace shattered ones. But, perhaps because all the players accept that it would be idiotic to be able to pull out a new shield between rounds and not have that affect combat, we always play it as "The PC fights w/o a shield until combat is resolved".

    The way we play it, the Shields Shall Be Splintered rule helps the party gauge the true power of the foe. If one hit destroys a 5th level Dwarf, then we're not talking about "How many shields are in the bag of holding?", it's a question of whether we're just in way over our heads.

    In a way, the SSBS can act as a diagnostic for the party, giving them a clue that their best tactic might be retreat. For all the folks that bemoan the old school approach of "kill the monster take their loot", to me SSBS is a great tool for PCs to make decisions that might push them towards non-dungeoneering surface politics/Machiavellian machinations.