Improved Defense with Shields (DnD5e)

In Wednesday’s post, plus others, I mused on shields, and how actively they’re used. Thinking about DnD5e, and therefore Dragon Heresy as well, how can we model this, if we wanted to?

DnD5e

In a way, this is the easiest. The options are fairly straight-forward.

Protection Plus

The Protection fighting style allows giving an incoming attack disadvantage so long as it’s not directed at you. It costs you your reaction. OK, well, if you’re going to spend your reaction, you should benefit. So just extend it. Spend your reaction, and you can give one incoming attack disadvantage, so long as it’s directed at a target within five feet of your location. This includes yourself.

So between the +2 you get for just being proficient with a shield and the +5 (ish) you’d get for opting to stick your shield in your foe’s face, suddenly shields no longer suck so long as you’re using it actively. So actively, in fact, that you can’t make opportunity attacks or do all sorts of other things that come by spending your reaction.

I’m sure this is a house rule already in use all over the place, but it seems logical. Personally, I might allow the protection action to apply to yourself as a matter of being proficient with the shield; to use it for others provides the style. Or, perhaps, you can “protect” a fellow combatant by using your bonus action, and so long as you are within five feet of that creature, the first attack sent their way is at disadvantage. This does not use up your own reaction.

Obviously both would need playtesting. But shields would be very, very desirable here.

Sword-and-Board?

The dueling fighting style gives you more damage when you’re only using one weapon, but the other hand can use a shield.

Two-weapon fighting is for things like dual-dagger, and shortsword and dagger: two light weapons unless you take a Feat that’s in the PHB but not the SRD which allows you to fight with (say) rapier and dagger, or katana and wakisashi.

But what about aggressive sword-and-board? Let’s see how far we can get by just bastardizing the text.

Shield-Weapon Fighting
When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in is being wielded with one hand, you can use a bonus action to attack with a different light melee weapon a shield that you’re holding in the other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative. A medium shield strikes for 1d6 damage. You must be proficient with shields to take this fighting style.

Strikethrough is removed text; italics are added.

See above about being able to impose disadvantage on one attack directed at a shield-wielder by spending your reaction. Much like the Two-Weapon Fighter Feat allows you to add both the ability bonus and to use not-light weapons, there should probably be a version for Shield-Weapon fighting.

Either that, or simply let “a different light melee weapon” be appended with “a shield.” This would be best if 5e included a buckler-sized shield (say, at +1 to AC) that was 2 lbs and considered a light weapon/armor, and then the medium shield would be considered a not-light version.

Note: allowing a buckler to be actively used to induce disadvantage on one attack, at the cost of spending your reaction, but give no AC bonus, that is, +0 to AC, but allows this use of the reaction, would be a good way to go here as well.

Another way to go would be to allow the primary weapon to be either light or finesse weapons, so that Two-Weapon fighting would include sword-and-buckler or Florentine sword-and-dagger, but you’d need the feat to do shield-and-longsword, flail, battleaxe, or shield-and-spear (which is versatile, not finesse).

That’s not bad either, and might be preferred so one doesn’t waste a feat/style to mimic one of the more popular cinematic and realistic fighting methods!

Parting Shot

One has to be careful about mucking about with fundamental stuff in a deeply playtested game such as 5e. Tweaking bounded accuracy or changing fundamental assumptions of how certain things work (or don’t) can ripple through with some pretty big unintended consequences.

Still, advantage/disadvantage is not considered to be breaking such things, and it already exists, in a way, for the Protection fighting style for others. There’s really nothing between +2 to AC for being proficient with a shield, and the Dodge action which is a total defense that gives disadvantage on all attacks thrown at you.

Allowing being proficient with a shield to give the benefits of a dodge to a single attack by spending what seems to be one’s precious reaction hopefully shouldn’t break much. It will give a boost to shields that makes them more useful, which I like a lot. But they’re still vulnerable to multiple attacks by one or many foes – they can’t be everywhere.

I’ll have to review my Dragon Heresy manuscript. I do some cool things with shields in that ruleset, but I wonder if some of the ideas I’ve had here should either be added, or even replace some of the existing concepts.

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