Are shields too good?

I’ve been thinking about shields in BW. They are mechanically very powerful (at least with Shield Training), adding a significant amount of dice to your defense, but in the implied setting it seems like they shouldn’t be that commonly used. At least not according to my knowledge of medieval combat.

The first sign is that BW has plate armor. That type of armor was so good that the need for a shield was reduced well below the point of the advantage of using two-handed weapons. You’d mainly expect a knight in plate armor to use a shield while mounted.

Since the armor indicates the late medieval era the term longsword should therefor refer to a sword that you’d primarily use two-handed, and it would have a large crossguard as you would parry with the sword rather than with a shield. George Silver said that a two-handed sword was superior to sword and shield in single combat (and a polearm would be even better).

Armor in BW is good enough to simulate the protection mentioned above (at least below VA 2), but since a shield will add a significant amount of dice to your defense test the shield becomes an absolute must for any warrior with access to training. In Bloody Versus the dice outweigh the advantage for a larger weapon, and in Fight it gives you access to a vastly superior action (Block & Strike).

Has anyone else had this thought and come up with a balance that makes the system not favor shields so strongly over two-handed weapons? Removing Shield Training is one option, but it doesn’t feel like a very fun solution and it would have to include removing Two-Fisted Fighting Training as well.

Another option could be to give some bonus for wielding a weapon two-handed and allow Block & Strike in form of parry and riposte. It would also require Training, either a new or baked into another, to separate the highly trained from the amateurs bashing away. It would perhaps not solve the issue that shields are better in the game than the equivalent historical period suggests they should be, but it would at least create more options that aren’t mechanically inferior.

Or am I just completely wrong and have forgotten something vital in the rules?


It is important to note that a Shield has a Weapon Speed of 1 (Weapons Appendix, page 555). This means that they cannot block the second of two consecutive strikes. Pair them off against an opponent who bears a Spear and they can get in trouble pretty quickly. The spear-bearer will keep them at range, and while the first strike will be easily blocked, the second in a row will definitely get through.

There’s a guy who’s super into this medieval stuff that I like to go to for ideas:
Lindybeige - Spears are Better than Swords](

EDIT: A qualifier - After double-checking the mechanical definition of Weapon Speed in the Burning Wheel Gold, it would seem that Weapon Speed only applies to striking actions - essentially limiting the consecutive number of times you could Strike with a Shield (in case someone felt the urge). So technically, applying WS to Blocking actions would technically be a house-rule. However, it would be a house-rule that meshes with both reality and with the fictional limitations implied by mechanics already established. If that helps.

Shields were extremely good in battle. They were used up until the 17th century even with full plate and they won battles. Of course full plated knights used them less and less. But full armoured knights were the happy few. Most other soldiers/militia, would have to rely on far less quality. The shield was versatile as defence an offence weapon. A good resource for more info:

Or any other documentairy on the subject. I especialy like the small part about the buckler shield that shows the full potential of a shield.

To be honnest after 30 years of rpg experience and various systems, I have to say that the people of BW really did their homework well. Sometimes the numbers seem high or out of proportion, but if you go digging, you will find that they are right and balanced for the era and techlevel they implied.


I think only allowing a shield to block once in a row is too harmful to the shield since if it was one thing it did well it was to block. The issue with a shield is rather that it’s clumsy on the offense, which is one reason why two-handed weapons came to be favored when armor got better.

I certainly agree that long weapons have a good advantage in Fight!, but it doesn’t change that old fight manuals and their authors thought that the two-handed sword (of which the Longsword is one) was superior to sword and shield.

I know of Lindybeige and I’ve watched and enjoyed his videos. For medieval combat and weapons I do however think that Matt Easton of Schola Gladiatoria is the most knowledgeable on Youtube. He is a HEMA instructor so he both has a lot of theoretical and practical knowledge on the subject, but he’s not quite as funny as Lindybeige.

Edit: I forgot to add that I did forget a couple of things in the rules that I should have looked up before posting. Shields only give 1D bonus in Bloody Versus, so they aren’t as strong there as I thought (still better than two-handed Longsword use, which is my point of contention), and I had forgotten exactly how Counterstrike worked in Fight! so that does take care of one of the things I initially talked about.

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Shields were still used in structured battles in certain functions, that I agree with, but BW doesn’t have rules for that so the intended discussion is single combat (or variations of that with more combatants).

BW is clearly the era of full plated knights and it’s not relevant whether they were common. The knights were the ones that used the best armor and the best weapons as they could afford them (and the training), and they didn’t use shields on foot anymore because other weapons were better and the armor protected them so well. Of course a knight would use something like a polearm as his primary weapon and the sword was a side-weapon, but even with the sword you have people like the renowned George Silver say that the two-handed sword was superior to sword and shield in single combat. That goes even more if you have to fight an armored opponent with your sword, as you’ll have a hard time using things like half-sword techniques with a shield.

I’ve read up quite a lot on the subject but I’m not sure whether I’ve seen that documentary so I’ll check it out, but Matt Easton (as mentioned in a previous post) is a really good source for this. He’s refuted a bunch of things with factual sources and thereby shown that there’s a lot of misinformation on the subject of medieval combat out there (even from archaeologists and in documentaries). He also shows the worth of mixing a deep theoretical knowledge with the practical.

I agree that BW does a very good job with combat in general, taking many important things into proper account (like weapon length and movement). I still remain with the view that shields are overrated in the system compared to how single combat was done in the era of plate armor though. It’s not a big deal, just something that’s interesting to discuss.

If two people come to fight with 4D Sword skills and one has a heater shield, the guy with a Longsword in two hands should have the advantage according to George Silver, but in BW the guy with the shield almost doubles his skill level and becomes way superior in Fight!. I’m fine with a shield being great for defense, it’s a big thing to get past, but the issue comes from that it just allows you to allocate more skill towards offense.

1H+shield vs two-handed should really be a choice between defense and offense, but right now the former is straight up better in both if we’re talking swords. Maybe the issue is in part that the Longsword is too short in the rules so it doesn’t have any reach advantage against pure one-handed swords and axes. The Longsword has been a name for many swords, but in the era that is implied it would be a sword you’d always prefer to use with two hands.

As a separate note I guess you could easily simulate half-sword technique by adding +1 VA and changing the weapon length to short or shortest. Requires an action to change between half-sword and regular two-handed grip.

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That’s already handled by the Great Strike action: +1 to IMS or +1 to VA, but requires two hands and an extra action to set up.

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Yes, it’s of course listed under that move but I think the idea I wrote in my previous post makes it for a more accurate representation of the half-sword technique as you would lose the reach of the weapon (so a drawback if you are at distance), and it’s not something you solely perform in one move but often it’s rather a change in fighting technique in order to better deal with that your opponent has great armor. Swords were pretty versatile.

This is actually pretty neat. I think you do have a valid point about how the use of a shield essentially increases offensive potential where it should realistically not. And after looking closer at some of these videos I do realize that larger shields don’t require much dynamic action in order to fend off blows.

If you were looking for other ways to disadvantage shield users, I’d consider giving them +Obs to Appraise and Observe actions due to the shield limiting your field of view.

I’ve got pretty limited experience using a shield in HEMA style sparring, but I was always bothered by how much of my opponent I couldn’t see, if I was using it properly.

For what it’s worth as well: I’ve done sparring scenarios of longsword vs one handed sword and shield. In my experience, the longsword has a strong advantage. It’s intimidating trying to close the distance to hit the longsword user.

On the other hand, we trained primarily longsword, and I probably didn’t practice shield to the point of being proficient, so my experience isn’t a fair comparison.

I think your instinct is good. It has always bothered me that Longswords are simply inferior to fighting axes of a similar length.

Adding reach, even if it pushed the weapon into a different category, may be a soft solution to modeling the versatility and sheer speed of swordplay.

It has been some time since I looked at BW fight rules. I seem to recall something about shielduse shortening the companion weapon? Or is this a product of my BWR-addled brain?


It’s a good thought and part of it is probably also that the light axe is probably too long in BW. One-handed axes tended to be shorter than one-handed swords, which makes sense as a weapon balanced more for agile movement can afford to be longer compared to weapons balanced for heavier impact.

Making the longsword a step longer and making it a two-handed sword is probably a working simple solution. It doesn’t solve all of the issues of the shields making you better at everything, but it at least simulates some of the advantages that the longsword should have. You’ll still be able to lunge thrust with it one-handed and so on, but if you for some reason have to use it with only one hand (maybe due to injury) I’d impose some small penalty. Those that want to use sword and shield should use arming swords.

I do not recall there being a rule that lowers the effective weapon length when using a shield in BWG, although that’s not a bad idea either. It would go a part of the way to make the shield a tool to boost defense at the cost of offense.

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