I’ve been using Trollsmyth’s “Shields Shall Be Splintered” house rule since the start of the Watchfires & Thrones campaign with great success. Seeing as how Ian from Swashbuckler’s Hideout took the time to present his own take on the “using a shield to save your bacon” rule, I thought I’d chime in briefly with my own modified version of Trollsmyth’s house rule.
In my game, in order to use a shield to absorb the damage intended for your character, you need to make a successful save vs. death. I realize that this gives the clerics and the dwarf a slightly higher probability of success than the fighters, but I wanted something that was easy to remember and, since the shield splinter rule is most often used to avoid dying, this seemed like the best category. If push comes to shove and an explanation is required, I’ll just say that the gods look out for their own and, with the short stature and inhuman fighting techniques, dwarves are plain harder to hit sometimes.
I introduced the need for a saving throw because in Trollsmyth’s original version (whether it may have changed since inception, I do not know), using a shield to save your hide was a matter of simply saying so and I wanted there to be an element of chance involved in order to keep the players on their toes. That’s merely my own bias. So far we haven’t had to use the rule to avoid spell-inflicted damage. I’m curious to see how I’ll end up using this rule once that occurs.
I did have to make an on-the-fly ruling regarding this permutation during the third game session, one which so far seems to work fine. When one of the PCs was attacked by killer frogs and reduced to his last hit point, he attempted to block one of the frog’s two successful attacks. He rolled a natural 20 on his saving throw vs. death, which I ruled meant that the shield was able to take the blow and remained intact. Then, unbelievably, he invoked this rule to attempt to block the second attack and rolled another natural 20! I again ruled that the shield survived the attack and he remained unscathed by the blow. I could have stated that the shield, already weakened by the first strike, broke regardless of the 20, but I’d rather reward everyone with a really cool game memory, which is exactly what has seemed to occur. Conversely, in our most recent session, another character attempted to block a blow with his shield and rolled a 1. I took this to mean that the attack was so powerful that it not only splintered his shield but carried past to damage him despite his efforts to turn the blow.