Monday, August 10, 2015

Shields & Stuff


Shields, Cavalry, and Mass Combat

Shields aren't highly valued in the D&D rule system, and they never have been. Not the first time that's been said. Start by looking at the original Chainmail mass combat table for missile fire (p. 11):


Ok, so shields give some kind of benefit there -- men with shields (or "1/2 armor"; think chain mail) reduce hits by about 1 for similar dice rolls. But let's consider a historical case like the Battle of Hastings (Wikipedia):
The battle opened with the Norman archers shooting uphill at the English shield wall, to little effect. The uphill angle meant that the arrows either bounced off the shields of the English or overshot their targets and flew over the top of the hill... After the attack from the archers, William sent the spearmen forward to attack the English. They were met with a barrage of missiles, not arrows but spears, axes and stones. The infantry was unable to force openings in the shield wall, and the cavalry advanced in support. The cavalry also failed to make headway, and a general retreat began...

This is an example of a "shield wall" which seems to make the defenders effectively immune to missile attacks (and others), as long as they maintain it. But that's a big difference from the one-hit reduction granted in Chainmail. Furthermore, Chainmail has no "shield wall" rule; it never did, and neither did D&D in any classic form. So this action is completely non-simulatable in any version of the game. Worse, consider the switch to the Man-to-Man rules:

That's the start of the Chainmail Man-to-Man missile fire table where, at the top of the table, armor class 1 = none, 2 = leather or padded, 3 = shield only. Note that in most of the cases there is absolutely no benefit given to either the shield or leather/padded armor! (Almost all of the target numbers are the same.) Of course, the D&D d20-based system gives a fixed 1-in-20 benefit for a shield; and AD&D DMG p. 28 suggests the option of changing this to +2 for large shields vs. small missiles, not that I've seen anyone ever use that. In any case: a very small, almost negligible benefit, and not at all representative of "shield wall" type immunity. (Contrast with EGG's almost fetishistic gauntlet of bonuses given to Swiss pikes.)


Let me also comment on cavalry in the system here. In the Chainmail table, no distinction is made to targets of missile fire that are horsed or on foot (see above). Presumably, a hit in any case wipes out one figure, whether mounted or not. But if we switch to EGG's later mass-combat revision of Swords & Spells, we see that he adds the entirety of the mounts hit dice as a benefit to cavalry units (p. 17):


Note the line, "Mounted troops include the hit points of their mounts." So instead of just killing the man riding the horse, you now have to deplete the entire sum of the hit points of horse & rider -- tripling or quadrupling the number hits that a figure takes from attacks before being eliminated (as compared to Chainmail)! That's a tremendous benefit, and later rules like Battlesystem basically carried on that tradition (or at least averaged them in the 1989 revision).

If I watch a Western movie with my father, who's worked on horses et. al. as a large-animal veterinarian for a half-century and counting, then he'll usually say, "Those guys should skip shooting at the riders and just shoot at the horses instead, because one bullet to the leg and they're done for". So at least in one expert's opinion, men on horses would have additional vulnerabilities to missile fire, not added endurance; and likewise when we look at famous historical cases like the Battle of Agincourt or Crécy, we see cases where English longbows were devastating to massed cavalry. But  it's practically impossible to simulate that action in the D&D system from Swords & Spells or later, because the endurance of cavalry is made to be several multiples greater than that of a man on foot.


So the end result of this is that whereas, based on historical sources, we might expect a dominance diagram of the basic unit types to look like this (infantry beats archers via use of shields, archers beat cavalry by shooting either riders or horses, and cavalry beat infantry by charging through shields):


... In D&D the situation, at least when you look at a cost-benefit analysis, looks exactly the reverse (infantry beats cavalry simply because they're so cheap and numerous, cavalry beats archers due to endurance multiplication, and archers beat infantry because the latter have negligible defense from shields):


And there's kind of no way I can see to wrestle this back around without entirely overhauling practically all of the guts of the D&D core system. Something we just kind of have to accept and live with if we take the simple D&D combat system as the basis for our games.


37 comments:

  1. This is why it's been up to the Game Referees to bolt on "extras" to the core rules to try and make up for that.

    For instance, with regards to shields, I already have a "sacrifice the shield" rule which negates any physical damage (and similar touch/poison effects as well) at the cost of the shield (or in the case of metal shields, use of the shield arm for a period of time). I might even consider its use against criticals.

    With regards to the mounted troops, I'm wondering if Gary/et al thought that mounted troops losing their mounts would fight unmounted? It would require some bolt-on to make that happen.

    So I'm not sure the guts need replaced, just some add-ons to bring in more of an effect - not a 100% perfect replacement, but a thought.

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    1. I know a lot of people use the break-the-shield rule, but I'm not a big fan for a couple reasons: (1) it doesn't feel like the agency is in the right place for the shield-bearer to decide when it gets broken for advantage, and (2) it doesn't solve problems like value against a sustained barrage of missile-fire.

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    2. In any event, shields were not usually THAT fragile. Certain likely uncovered shields used in Holmgang duels in the Viking Age, perhaps. But a properly constructed shield of wood planks, covered in leather, and edged with metal or rawhide? Hardly. I know because I've built them and they are lightweight and sturdy. Yes, over the course of a long battle they will take enough damage to need repair/replacement. But you generally won't lose them in a single shot, which is why it hurts my head to see rules like these...

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    3. I think the rule assumes that the shield will take a few hits before the player decides to let it break, so the cowhide covering has gotten slashed up, the rim snagged and ripped off, and finally a solid hit cracks the planks apart. That could happen in one 1-minute round of melee combat against one attacker, which could represent 10 solid hacks with an axe. Please tell me you can make a wieldable shield using period-appropriate materials that you personally can't break with a couple minutes' earnest whacking with a similar-quality axe.

      Another way to look at it is that the hit that broke the shield was probably strong enough to kill a Normal Man, which is a pretty good hit.

      The reason the defender gets to choose is because it gives the defender an interesting option rather than it being a special benefit for the attacker who gets to bash the shield, or the overhead of a chance of it happening on a hit.

      That said, I don't like it. We don't use similar equipment damage elsewhere, what are you supposed to do with magic shields, why can one arrow from someone's equipment list fired at the shield explode it.

      I think it would be better to give the shield a really good bonus against attacks passing through the space directly in front of the figure (melee or missile), which immediately reduces its effectiveness against multiple enemies who can surround you, and gives you a great reason for buddying up with other shield-wielders.

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    4. Angantyr: Agreed that my head also hurts from that rule. 1d30: Agreed that a better rule would be a higher bonus from certain attacks.

      As a side note, the critical hit charts from Dragon #39 include "shield destroyed/broken" results by the attacker which satisfy my taste for that (2-4% on certain criticals; link).

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    5. "I think the rule assumes that the shield will take a few hits before the player decides to let it break, so the cowhide covering has gotten slashed up, the rim snagged and ripped off, and finally a solid hit cracks the planks apart. That could happen in one 1-minute round of melee combat against one attacker, which could represent 10 solid hacks with an axe. Please tell me you can make a wieldable shield using period-appropriate materials that you personally can't break with a couple minutes' earnest whacking with a similar-quality axe."

      Lot of misconceptions here; so many that I am not sure where to begin...

      First, you need to educate yourself on period fighting techniques, esp. those involving a shield. The best surviving relevant work is the 14th century I.33 treatise, which has been published in recent years. Talhoffer also touches on some shield work, but I think only in the context of judicial duels, and in any case it dates from the 15th century, when two handed weapons and plate armour dominated.

      The Viking Age re-enactment group Hurstwic has reconstructed sword and shield and related techniques; their DVDs can be found on Amazon. William Short's "Viking Weapons and Combat Techniques" is also a good, if speculative, source.

      Reason I say this is because you seem to labour under a fair amount of ignorance as to how to actually use a shield. Generally, you do not "block" so much as "deflect" an incoming blow in melee; your statement about "a couple minutes earnest whacking" with an axe implies a profound lack of understanding of how this actually works. Honestly a well wielded shield could last for hours under myriad blows provided it is used correctly. Of course, mistakes will happen, naturally, but still these things can take a fair amount of abuse. I've seen this first hand, have you?

      Which leads us to point the second - you need to learn about how shields are actually made. Four sources I can recommend that are specialised on the subject:
      1. Dickinson & Haarke's "Early Anglo-Saxon Shields"
      2. Kohlmorgen's "Der Mittelalterliche Reiterschild"
      3. Hilary & John Travis' "Roman Shields"
      4. Ilkjaer's "Illerup Adal - Die Shielde" (Vols. 9 & 10 of the series on that find site)

      Yeah, two of the above are in German - suck it up, broaden your horizons, and learn a new language. If you want to know more about Viking shields, Short's book has some data, along with Siddorn's "Viking Weapons & Warfare"

      Bottom line: while not invulnerable, these shields can certainly take a tremendous amount of abuse. No, the cowhide covering (which, by the by, is glued to the face of the shield planks) is not going to be all slashed up and useless. Nor is the rim (which is heavily sewn on) going to be snagged and ripped off. Finally, even though the planks may well crack, it doesn't matter since they are glued to the leather, which keeps the shield basically functional. And this is just a Viking shield, which is fairly light. Heavier Roman Scutums were much tougher. Legio IX Hispania did some testing several years ago on one of their authentic reconstructions, and found that their Pila literally bounced right off... and those are some pretty heavy duty lawn darts right there!

      Put another way, there is no sudden or hard fail - it's a graceful degradation. No room for a bizarre rule where you "let your shield break" Sorry. If you don't like that conclusion, tough. I invite you to do the research I did and defy you to come to a different conclusion. I've given you all the primary sources, so hop to it!

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  2. If you have a large shield, and if you do nothing else but hide behind it, you should be largely immune to normal missile fire (natural '20' to hit against stationary shield wall?).

    But, if you advance on the archers, it will open up the wall a bit and you will take more casualties, casualties that will disrupt the shieldwall even further.

    One thing you could do for shields in an RPG setting is to make a shield have a minimum AC. For example, a shield is as good as chainmail. But only from the front and shield side. So an unarmoured man with a shield is well protect from the front and the left, but get around behind him and nope. (Could still give the +1 to represent a small chance he gets the shield around in time.

    Now if the guy is wearing chain as well, then the shield is back to it's +1.
    Historically, when armor got heavy enough, the knights stopped carrying them as being too much hassle for marginal benefit.

    The cavalry vs. infantry situation.
    Horses aren't stupid and they do have a sense of self-preservation. They won't charge into a seemingly solid object too often. So frequently, cavalry breaking infantry is because the infantry would stand there and receive the charge.They are going to be looking at these 1500lb monsters coming at them and frequently decide, "Not today." and boogie. so it's actually a morale and discipline issue.

    During the Napoleonic period, infantry formed square to defend against cavalry, it created a sense of security as your rear was obviously protected and also put the men under closer supervision of the NCOs and Officers. Making them less likely to run.
    But, earlier, during the SYW period, the troops were so disciplined that they didn't form square, they were trusted to hold their position no matter what (although on occasion, the rear rank was about faced to guard the rear).

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  3. I sometimes use the cover and concealment rules if a combatant is hiding behind a large shield in AD&D. They are unable to move for the round and have limited vision (easier to sneak up on, etc...no specific mechanic there, just something to keep in mind for adjudicating certain situations).

    My own long-gestating homebrew ruleset ended up redoing D&D combat precisely because of shields...in my new system, attack rolls are opposed by defense rolls, with shields adding an extra die (d4 to d12 depending on the type) to the defense roll.

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  4. The shield wall people are not attacking - so they're performing full defense actions while the archers attack. Depending on the game system, that could be around +4 AC. I favor giving shield-users a better full-defense bonus than non-shield-users.

    One campaign I ran: the defensive fighting rule was that you got to double your DEX bonus to AC, but if you had a shield you got to double DEX and double Shield. Minimum +1 AC for defensive fighting in any case. And in that game I had shields give +2 AC instead of +1.

    So assuming someone had a +1 DEX bonus, the two ACs would look like this (1E/2Edescending first, 3E ascending second):

    Chain (5), Dex (1) = AC 4(16) / Defensive AC 3(13)
    Chain (5), Shield (2), Dex (1) = AC 2(18) / Defensive -1(21)

    All of this makes less sense in mass combat, where you would expect some hits to happen instead of all-or-nothing. But if your mass combat game has that feature, cramming the defensive fighting rule into it should be easy enough.

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    1. "Depending on the game system, that could be around +4 AC."

      Coincidentally, Doug Niles' Battlesystem does have a shield wall rule that gives +4 AC vs. missiles, +2 vs. melee attacks (rule 11.6).

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  5. The symmetry of the RPS is nice, but there's the tactical layer too: archers are great in one situation, but get them into melee and they suck. Because they can attack when their target can't, they're supreme when firing, but in melee they're inferior to everyone. This alone breaks the RPS model of the three units. Consider also that cavalry's mobility means they choose their fights, and should be able to get 1:1 or at worst 2:1 engagements they have a good chance of winning. The tactical choices will go a long way to determine the outcome of any cavalry vs. infantry fight.

    As for the RPS model: Infantry should be broken up into shield-using and pike-using (and of course those doofuses who don't have either). Cavalry breaks through infantry well unless it must contend with pikes, because the pikes hit first and many infantry can attack a single cavalry. This is one case where the greater numbers of cheap infantry make that difference to defeat cavalry. Another is when infantry gets cavalry to charge and get bogged down, losing mobility and allowing multiple infantry attackers per cavalry. But regardless of tactics, those pikes elevate the infantry above cavalry in RPS. There's another reason to break up a unit of infantry into the shield wall and the rest: incoming arrows at a 45-degree angle will be hard for the shield-wall to intercept if they're raining down on the pikemen behind them. I'd rather see that modeled as two separate units than a mixed unit.

    There's no reason why archers need to be above anyone in RPS for them to be useful, because their usefulness is situational. That said, shield-infantry and heavily armored infantry and cavalry should have a better RPS situation because the archers have trouble penetrating. Having a shield means you can't have a pike, so you're choosing whether you're going to be good against archers or against cavalry. Having heavy armor means lower mobility and higher unit cost, which are valid tradeoffs.

    Cavalry doesn't especially beat archers due to HP multiplication - it affects everyone. To simulate horse hits (and most horses don't have barding), you'd need to determine how many attacks hit a horse instead of the rider - and those attacks will cause damage more easily because the horse is lightly armored. Another way to handle this is by reducing the HP value the horse adds to the horse+rider pair - perhaps 1 hit for the rider and 1 for the horse = 2 total, even though the horse alone has 3 hits. Another way might be assuming half attacks will strike horse, half strike rider, and rolling a d6 to determine how many attacks to move from the rider to the horse (because the horse is a bigger target and has those vulnerable legs). 20 archers fire and the shot will hit cavalry, roll d6 and get 3. We roll a 7-shot attack against the riders and a 13-shot attack against the horses. The horses will be able to take 3x the hits but will suffer more hits because they're lightly armored. This will also sometimes generate the "riderless horse scampers off" and the "we got all our horses shot out from under us" situations for free. Consider a small bolt-on rule of d3 variance for less than 10 attackers and 1d6 variance per 20 attackers rounded up.

    On a tactical note, a system with perfect communication and perfect knowledge means it's hard to move your archers close enough to fire at enemy archers without immediately receiving return fire. Which seems weird. It also means a general can have his infantry waltz aside at the perfect time to let his archers fire into melee safely. Seems dumb. Also, archers should have to secretly declare their target area on the field while, for example, advancing cavalry declare their movement directions. This way it's possible for the archers to plink the cavalry before it reaches them, but the cavalry can definitely try to avoid the incoming arrows entirely. Their evasive maneuvers slow them but improve arrow defense organically through the existing rules.

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    1. Short response: Important issues that I've already taken account of in this analysis (see prior blog entries if you like). The RPS analysis is across all different terrain types; if you presume in the open then results would be different (e.g., cavalry beats everyone). Some examples: If infantry or archers post themselves on a hill then cavalry mobility doesn't help them choose otherwise. Infantry here are meant as sword & shield-wielders; pikes are indeed a separate consideration. Simulation of attacks on cavalry resulted in the Book of War rule that cavalry hits for non-aggressive mounts are min(mount+rider, 2*rider). In my games the movement issue seems efficiently resolved by just adjudicating move & attacks for one player at a time, so there is incentive to move up & get the first attack off (as opposed to the Chainmail phased separation sequence).

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  6. KenHR: you don't need a defensive roll. Just say that 1 in 3 attacks strike the shield (attack rolls of 3, 6, 9, 12, etc.) and then decide what happens when you get a shield hit: (base attack bonus + 2) damage reduction maybe? Or the damage goes to the shield instead and when shield HP zero out it's broken?

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    1. The defensive roll became baked into the system when I decided "eff it, I'm not trying to re-write D&D," but the shields were the starting point. I don't really have a group at this time (marriage separation kind of blew things up for me), but I tinker with it now and then.

      BUT...your idea is pretty awesome. Maybe a successful hit roll ending in, say 1, 2 or 3 for small shields, or 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 for large shields is a shield hit that gives damage reduction of some sort?

      E.g.: PC with a small shield gets hit by an orc. The to-hit die shows 13, so the shield gets a damage reduction effect. Bucklers might absorb less than small shields, etc.

      I'm not a big fan of shield breakage rules if there also isn't a system in place for weapon breakage, armor wear, etc. But that's just personal preference.

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  7. I've been thinking about cavalry rules myself lately, and I think the distinction between a D&D based system and a mass combat system is that one is for very small numbers of combatants. Chainmail wasn't but it was also very simple. D&D however (especially in later editions) is about groups of 8-10 tangling it up with each other.

    Additionally I think the changes from OD&D, where a single point of AC was considerable because of the AC cap, paucity of AC bonuses available elsewhere and a lack of attack bonuses valued shields fairly well. Later editions sort of pumped up everything but shields (especially the damage benefit of two-handed weapons) so they look a bit feeble.

    Horses in D&D have never really been done right - there main advantage is mobility and saving the rider's energy for combat (chariots were popular mostly for these reason I hear). I don't think the psychology of cavalry shock has ever been modeled either. Yet if cavalry's main advantages are in larger scale battles, what does one do with horsed combatants in D&D - let alone judging how horses might be effected by the smell of something like a troll. Heck camels are bad enough apparently.

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    1. Disagree with that, giving effectively no bonus for shields in OD&D was never right. Arguably the power of cavalry is the strength of the charge, not other issues. And if one argues that cavalry charges are a matter of morale, then the same could be said for pretty much any other shock attack.

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  8. Given that D&D's armor system doesn't really match well with real-world performance, either, I don't see any reason to worry about shields other than some kludges to make them a little more consequential.

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    1. Sort of yes, but the problem is that we're all then off-book and using incompatible systems.

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  9. I have seen the dominance diagram drawn both ways, but more often I see it the second way. Cavalry has the mobility and power to over run the archers, massed infantry in a shield wall formation can beat Cavalry, but massed infantry is beaten by archers. The shield wall may protect them from the archers, but while in the shield wall they can do nothing to the archers.

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    1. Well, that's interesting. That was not my intuition (and not what I see in the most famous historical examples).

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  10. FWIW I took the same cop-out for shields that I did for arrows.
    Different rules for man to man combat from field combat. Since 90%+ of dungeon time you are not going to be carrying tower shields or forming shield walls.
    Then just have a different add-on rule for when a shield wall is in place.

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  11. My shield fix (works like a charm):

    Fighters carrying a shield can modify their AC with their Strength instead of their Dexterity if it's better.

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  12. Side note: It bears mentioning that in the Swords & Spells quote, the passage "4.5 × 10 = 45 × 10 = 450" is faulty math writing (not Gygax's first or last time); in this case, a classic misuse of the running equals sign.

    Specifically, "4.5 × 10 = 45 × 10" is a false statement. A true statement would be "4.5 × 10 × 10 = 45 × 10 = 450" (possibly with units if you want to make it totally clear).

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  13. My simple solution is based on the AD&D rules, actually, coupled with the realization that going from 2d6 Chainmail to d20 D&D means that the bonuses in the former are at least halved if translated unchanged into D&D. Thus, I recommend a +2 AC bonus in melee for all shields. On pg. 28 of the DMG it states under Large Shields that, "Optionally, you may allow them to add +2 to this armor class rating with respect to small (non-war engine or giant hurled) missiles..." So for large shields I allow a +4 against normal missiles, though only +2 for small shields (the advantage of the latter is less encumbrance)
    I find this to be the most straightforward approach with the least rules overhead, even if it falls somewhat short in terms of strict realism.

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    1. You're right on the principle of Chainmail -> d20 modifier translations, but it seems shaky to apply this to a rule that first appeared in the AD&D DMG and never actually in Chainmail.

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  14. You may want to read the "Shield Wall" rules presented in the 2ed Combat&Tactics manual. I don't have it with me now (but I own it so I may check when I come back home) but if I recall correctly the modifier for shields are:
    +1 AC noting that buckler only gives this bonus only agains one attack in any combat round
    +2 AC vs Missile (af any sort except boulders or siege engines propelled) for large shield only, that is the heaviest

    Fir shield wall the Combat&Tactics add the following modifier that stack with the above:
    +1 AC
    +4 AC vs Missile
    +2 on saving throw vs area effect spells (when it makes sense)
    -1 on the d20 hit die

    The shield wall may be made only by people holding medium or large shields.
    The penalty on the attack roll makes sense to me since it's hard to hit while holding the line.
    Furthermore the books also talk about people behind the shield wall able to attack enemies in the front line using any weapon of size L, that's what our wizard did when he was without spells and any other idea, attacking with his staff safe behind the wall.

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    1. Interesting; the +4 AV vs missile is compatible with what Doug Niles stipulated in Battlesystem for that. And yet I find that's still not a large enough bonus to change the dominance chart or simulate Hastings, say.

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  15. Also,talking about cavalry according to the basic rules it isn't very useful. We fixed it by giving it a further +1 to attack when charging, stacking with the regular +1 for height when attacking M sized target on foot and the +1 for the charge for a total of +4. We also added a chance that if the target gets knocked down by the hit will be trampled by the horse (2d4 dmg for ponies and light horses, 2d6 for medium and 2d8 for heavy). However if someone tries to run into a pike formation there are heavy chances (we roll on a table) the the horse will stop, try to turn left or right or jump over.

    Our main concern with horses is that they seems to be unable to run fast with a fully equipped man on the back, even for a single round, according to encumbrance rules and loading capacity. Not to mention the barding weight. We circumvented this interoducing some exceptions stating that every X rounds, and for a limited number of times, the horses may srpint (i.e. charge) even if encumbered. This limits the number of times you may smash into enemy lines during a mass combat situations. But in 1410, at Tannenberg, the Teutons charged thrice the enemy (before being defeted) and the records mantion this as something noticable, so I'm inclined to think that it was unusually for them to charge more the once or twice in a single battle.

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    1. Good point about the horse encumbrance rule. Of course, the 12/18/24" move rate was initiated in Chainmail presuming normally-equipped riders in battle. Arguably what should have been done in D&D is to double the horses' base rate (to 24/36/48"), such that the encumbrance takes them down to the Chainmail mounted rate. Or much higher encumbrance limits, or something. That's an issue that I usually cover my eyes and go "la la la" about.

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  16. we all use an excell tool I made, basically it calculates many stuff, and the weight of the items carried (for character, in the backpack,on the horse, on the horse battle-ready and on the mule) is among them. We don't usually bring the laptopt at the gametable, we use the printed version and manage by common sense and quick math the weight change. In this way we have a precise base to start calculating encumbrance from and do not loose time at the table. Before every session we update the printed version so everything is fine.

    All this said, since we use encumbrance rule, and we have pretty precise figures about it, the horse not really able to charge when bringing and heavy armored knight was an issue for us.

    I even checked every manual to see if the loading capacity figures given for the horses were to be considered as stacking with the PC weight. It would have been very unfair (isn't the horse noticing the difference between the weight of an halfling and an halforc?) but it would have allowed a person to ride a fully barded horse while wearing an haevy armor, and charge!!

    However.. this was not the case..

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  17. A few thoughts, because I agree the relative effectiveness of shields is woefully small in (A)D&D. The basic way I deal with it is pumping up the AC bonus +2, leaving only bucklers at +1. But, from my limited experience fighting in foam-weapon battles, shields are HIGHLY effective against a KNOWN archer or spear-thrower. Likewise, a shieldwall. The historical examples from battles bear this out as well. So I think the simplest solution is you could either have a flat higher AC bonus (an additional +4?) against known missile attacks or you could give a situational bonus of +4 or whatever when the PC is using the "tactic" of defending against the archer. I would say based on my very limited experience, as in the Hasting example, that deflecting missiles can be done fairly easily while still maintaining a good melee defense as long as both are facing you frontally. The shield really loses it's effectiveness only when you're breaking out from your shield-wall buddies, exposing your sides. So, I'd say maybe a universal +2/+4 v. missiles plus a situational "shieldwall" bonus of +2.

    All of this may be giving shields too high an effectiveness, however, because the main disadvantage of shields, and probably the reason sufficiently-protected platemail knights would abandon them, is that they decrease your attacking ability. This is not modeled in D&D at all. With a big shield, you have to reach around it to make attacks and, of course, can't deliver the striking power of a two-handed warrior to punch through an enemy's plate or helm or whatever.

    Another caveat is that even in the Hastings example, there were still vulnerable areas so it's not like the shieldwall was preventing all casualties from the Norman archers, just decreasing the casualties to such a level that the archers wouldn't be able to 'break' the shieldwall (also consider that the infantry surely would throw some spears and the Saxons had some archers in their line). After all, you can always get hit in the eye like Harold was.

    So given that and the fact D&D doesn't really model the real shield tradeoff, I'd probably stick to accepting a certain level of combat rules abstraction and just bump shields to AC +2 and allow smart players to describe certain blocking tactics. This +2 would be the average of how shields play out - you need some dexterity to use them, you're getting a better protective benefit but will have to expose yourself a bit when using them, not all attacks will get blocked because skilled attacker will create openings, etc.

    On Agincourt and RPS, when you read histories of medieval warfare and the hundred years war in particular, you realize it was really the longbow and its massed volley tactics that allowed those archers to dominate over cavalry. Basically, in pre-longbow battles, cavalry absolutely dominates them and you would want to mass your infantry against the cavalry rather than your archers (see Swiss v. Burgundians or the French defeats against the peasants of Flanders in the 14th century or the English loss at Brannockburn v. scottish pike shiltroms). Those Genoese crossbowmen are great against slow-moving infantry or in a siege, but they just can't bring down enough horses in a massed cavalry charge (hence the French's shock at how they couldn't defeat the English at Crecy and Agincourt, albeit they should have learned their lesson at Crecy).

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  18. Delta, I forgot two questions. Didn't you do some experiments with archery versus a target that knows it's going to be hit and when it doesn't? What were your conclusions (-6 seems to be floating around in my memory)?

    I'd also say this bears on your discussion from a few years ago about mounted charges. Based on that, I allow a +2 v foot, +4 on charge, double damage, horse also overruns/tramples (I do 1 attack, 2d6 for the hooves, I feel like the horse hits you or not-not two attacks). Getting hit with either the lance/weapon or the horse will probably knock you down from the momentum. What did you ultimately conclude for horse charges yourself?

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    1. You're right about the archery; I assume standard combat rolls apply for a target that's aware and mobile, while a helpless-immobile-and-unaware target is +6 to be hit (done that for a while).

      Personally I've never been able to accept that the horse is twice as dangerous as the knight on its back in combat, so I just give a single 1d6 attack to the horse in my games (one good hammer-like blow at most). For what it's worth, I've gotten stomped on real good by steers on the run growing up, receiving a single hoof-print on my chest, but never two at the same time. :-)

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  19. Regarding the vulnerability of horses: Tony Bath's rules give all cavalry a -1 to saving throws against missile fire, though a score that would have otherwise have been a successful save results in a 50% chance to catch the loose horse and remount (otherwise the rider's killed)

    Also, if an elephant stampedes, the rider is thrown off and killed. I could see something like this being applied to horses as well. Maybe a failed morale check causes the horse to flip out

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    1. That's reasonable at 1:1 scale, but I wasn't able to digest the idea of tens of knights all simultaneously catching and re-mounting horses in an organized fashion.

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  20. Archers and Melee-Cavalry are equally dangerous to each other, depending on who's getting the drop on whom (Charges DESTROY archers but arrows -along with other piercey/stabby weapons like spears- kill horses). Infantry can assume tight formation to decrease damage from cavalry charges (and bog down calvary) and loose formation to take fewer losses from arrows and artillery. Artillery, btw, are just an even more crippling overspecialized version of archers: more of the glass, more of the cannon. Spearmen are all about holding their position at a chokepoint to murder charging enemies (being vulnerable to archers and, unless they are using a circular-but-immobile formation, being flanked) while Missile Cavalry are mostly a psychological gambit (perhaps the target makes special, leadership-assisted morale check vs. going berserk?) all about getting units to break formation and chase them. The Horse archers will flee but shoot at their pursuers while they are chased.

    So here's your triangle: Charging beats Projectiles beats Spearman Formations beats Charging. Infantry can spread out/box together to improve defense vs. Projectiles or Charges. Cavalry have fewer numbers but faster movement and more devastating charges than infantry. Cavalry can also pass right through a loose formation of infantry to charge again, but gets swarmed in a tight formation and forced by the chaos and mob mentality to fight until one side is dead or routed. Missile Cavalry is just weird but can be defeated with foot archers/light cavalry/tenacity.

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