hoplites

D&D 5e: Shields?!?

image credit: Austin Hsu

Shields exist in D&D 5e. That’s about it. You can bash with em and get +2 AC with em, but that’s all that they do. That’s all the customization that they have. But what about the differences in wood and metal shields? What if I carry a buckler? What about my shield breaking? What if I am a simple weapons guy? Shields were hands-down the best options for soldiers in the middle ages fighting with one-handed weapons so they really should have more mechanics dealing with them. Here are some homebrew rules for shields to let more people use them and make using them more fun!

Some notes I couldn’t fit in any section: Shields went out of style as armor improved. People started using two-handed weapons around the same time full plate armor became widely used. The kite shield was used in a time when leg armor was weak or not worn because it was too heavy and unwieldy. The kite shield’s shape could protect their legs without exposing themselves to attack. Also those shields with holes for lances were largely ceremonial or for jousting tournaments only, not adventuring. Bucklers were the most common for someone who needed to be ready for combat at a moment’s notice, as carrying a shield was really tiring unless you were going specifically to battle. But hey, this is a fantasy RPG so we can do whatever looks badass.

Shields

  • Wooden Shield: +1 AC.
  • Metal Shield: +2 AC. Only creatures proficient with Medium or Heavy Armor can comfortably use a metal shield. Druids are typically forbidden from using a metal shield.
  • Wooden Buckler: No AC bonus. Creatures proficient with Light Armor can wear bucklers. Does not provide an AC bonus against ranged attacks. You can use your reaction to deflect an incoming melee weapon attack that beats your armor class, reducing the damage by 1d4. The buckler has a 50% chance to break when used in such a way.

A metal buckler

  • Metal Buckler: +1 AC. Creatures proficient with Light Armor can wear bucklers. Does not provide an AC bonus against ranged attacks. Druids are typically forbidden from using a metal buckler.
  • Wooden Tower Shield: +1 AC. You must be proficient in Heavy Armor and have a STR score of at least 13 to comfortably wield a tower shield. You can plant the shield on the ground to gain partial cover (+2 AC). When using the shield in this way, you only move at half your regular movement speed. The bonus provided by the shield does not grant cover against spell attacks. You have a -1 penalty to attacks while using your tower shield for cover.
  • Metal Tower Shield: +2 AC. You must be proficient in Heavy Armor and have a STR score of at least 15 to comfortably wield a tower shield. You can plant the shield on the ground to gain partial cover (+2 AC). When using the shield in this way, you only move at half your regular movement speed. The bonus provided by the shield does not grant cover against spell attacks. You have a -1 penalty to attacks while using your tower shield for cover. Druids are typically forbidden from using a metal tower shield.

Special Shields

  • Sticky Shield: When a creature misses you with a melee weapon attack, this sticky shield coated in alchemical slime can catch the weapon. The attacker must succeed on a DC 11 Strength saving throw, or the weapon becomes stuck to your shield. If the weapon’s wielder can’t or won’t let go of the weapon, the wielder is grappled while the weapon is stuck. While stuck, the weapon can’t be used. A creature can pull the weapon free by taking an action to make a DC 11 Strength check and succeeding
  • Spiked Shield: When you succeed at a Shove attempt when wielding a spiked shield, you deal 1d6 piercing damage to the target. Improvised weapon attacks made using the spiked shield deal 1d6 damage instead of 1d4.

A dhal shield (Indian spiked shield)

  • Mirrored Shield: Any metal shield treated with alchemical silver. When a ranged spell attack is rolled against the shield’s wielder and the attack misses, the wielder may use their reaction to reflect the spell back at its caster. To do so, the wielder makes an attack roll against the caster using their DEX modifier at disadvantage. If the new attack beats the caster’s AC, the spell affects the caster instead. 
  • Pavise Shield: A tower shield meant for archers to use as cover. It has either a spike on the bottom to be driven into dirt, or a hinged rod to prop it up. Creatures can prop up the pavise shield as an item interaction, or stow it as a bonus action. Once set up, it provides partial cover (+2 AC) for those standing behind it, and it does not move unless hit with a melee attack. You do not need proficiency in Heavy Armor to set up a pavise shield and use it for cover, but using it as a regular tower shield does have this requirement.
  • Tanglevine Buckler: A wooden buckler intricately grown out of vines by wood elves that can be used to deflect ranged attacks as well as melee attacks in the way described above.
  • Stonemountain Shield: A dwarven stone tower shield that requires a STR score of 18 or higher to wield. It can be used to provide ¾ cover (+5 AC) when planted on the ground. In addition, it is resistant to being sundered (see below). It has one additional point of durability.
  • Iron Shield: A metal shield resistant to sundering (see below). It has one additional point of durability.

Shield Interactions

Sundering: You can sunder an enemy’s shield with repeated bashing. You can attempt to hit a creature’s AC minus the bonus provided by their shield to target their shield directly. Each time you hit their shield, roll for damage. For every 7 damage dealt to it, it loses one point of durability. When the last point of its durability is lost, the shield breaks. This also makes it easier for creatures who deal more damage to sunder shields more easily. A magical shield cannot be sundered except by a magical weapon. Use the table below:

  • Wooden Buckler: 1 durability
  • Metal Buckler: 2 durability
  • Wooden Shield: 2 durability
  • Metal Shield: 3 durability
  • Iron Shield: 4 durability
  • Wooden Tower Shield: 3 durability
  • Metal Tower Shield: 4 durability
  • Stonemountain Shield: 5 durability

Group Tactics: Shields for the Romans and Greeks were all about group formations. Greek hoplon shields were held in the left hand and the hoplites would sometimes use their righthand neighbor’s shield to block attacks (leading the right flank to often win battles). Roman scutum shields were sometimes used in a tortoise formation to protect everyone from incoming arrows. Give shield-carrying characters adjacent to one another +1 AC against attacks if they opt to halve their speed and always move together to simulate this.

Example of a Roman scutum shield and javelin 

Javelins: So another point on Roman scuta: the legionaries would usually throw a few javelins as they made their initial charge. The purpose was not necessarily to kill the enemies (although I am sure that would be perfectly welcome). The intent was to get the cheap-to-make pointed sticks to impale themselves in the enemies’ scuta. Have you ever tried to hold up a 6-foot javelin sticking straight out from your forearm? Me neither but I would imagine it’s unwieldy. You have to either spend time snapping it or ripping it out or just ditch the shield altogether. Javelins in D&D, however, always have felt stupid. It’s just a basic ranged attack for orcs and goblins. Instead, have creatures just carry a few javelins and let them try to disable the PC’s shields! And let them do the same! To do so, make a sundering attempt (see above). If you remove at least 1 point of durability, the javelin sticks and the unlucky creature either has to drop the shield, spend an action making a STR check to break the javelin, or else live with a -10 move speed reduction and no shield bonus.

4

1. Marble stele of a youth and a little girl

Attica, Greece~530 BCE

423.4cm

2.  Fragment of the marble stele  of a youth

Attica, Greece

~530 BCE

121.9 cm

3. Grave stele of Antigenes

Attica, Greece

6th century BCE

224.8 cm

4.  Stele of a Hoplite (foot soldier)

Attica, Greece

~ 525–515 BCE

142.1 cm