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Shields Up


Old Man
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Shield Edge Bash I - Chin Music.

Shield Edge Drop II - Drop on foot.

 

The film 300 really opened peoples eyes to the versitility of a Shield in combat.

 

QM

 

Well, perhaps, it's better to say that 300 gave people a completely unrealistic view of how you could use a shield in combat. :)

To actually use a Hoplon like that you'd need a STR of about 30.

 

cheers, Mark

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Well, perhaps, it's better to say that 300 gave people a completely unrealistic view of how you could use a shield in combat. :)

To actually use a Hoplon like that you'd need a STR of about 30.

 

cheers, Mark

I think its fairly safe to say that in the context of a fantasy rpg, the majority of players arent too concerned with the lack of realism if it shows them something they can use in play.

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True enough - and I actually liked 300! I'd been waiting ages for a western/european fantasy movie to adapt wuxia elements. I was just pointing out that it was fantasy. You don't actually use a shield like that. In fact, it's pretty safe to say that no spartan used their hoplon like that - ever. As far as we know, the shield bash  wasn't trained with the hoplon. It's really poorly designed for it, for a start. Even if you overlook its enormous weight and size, the handgrip is actually placed right at the edge of the shield. The shield was further secured to your arm in the middle near your elbow (and often supported by a strap that went around your neck) making it awkwardly placed and unwieldy to swing.

 

In the movie you also have people throwing swords accurately and swiftly enough to pierce armour and leaping 10 metres from a standing start while holding 10 kilos of assorted gear. Now in the last D&D campaign we played I actually had a character who could leap up to 20 metres from a standing start, but you you probably don't need to point out to most people that's fantasy. In the case of the shield art depicted, though, it might not be as obvious.

 

So yeah, very cool in a high-fantasy game, but not at all realistic.

 

cheers, Mark

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As recorded in Herodotus, The Histories.   An Athenian at the battle of Marthon with out spear or sword, just decide to edge punch the Persian in line against him, it broke the fellow's arm through his wicker shield.   He quickly informed those around him and the Persian line broke because the Greeks had figure out a weakness and punch their way to victory.

 

 

The Greek's had schools that taught the battle and the "fencing".   

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There's a reason Herodotus earned the sobriquet "the Father of Lies". That's a little unfair, but he did like to embroider his stories. However, fisticuffs at Marathon can't be laid at his door. Here's what he actually wrote (Rawlinson's translation):

 

The two armies fought together on the plain of Marathon for a length of time, and in the mid battle, where the Persians themselves and the Sacae had their place, the barbarians were victorious and broke and pursued the Greeks into the inner country, but on the two wings the Athenians and the Plataeans defeated the enemy. Having so done, they suffered the routed barbarians to fly at their ease, and joining the two wings in one, fell upon those who had broken their own centre, and fought and conquered them.

 

We have comments about the battle at Marathon from several Athenian authors and they all agree the Greeks won because their heavily armoured infantry were not much affected by the Persian archers on their swift approach, and once the heavy infantry got in among the lightly-armoured Persians, they broke the Persian wings and then enveloped the centre and slaughtered it. The weapons involved appeared to be good old fashioned spears and swords. :)

 

cheers, Mark

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Temporarily got my hands on a reasonably authentic Afghan shamshir with accompanying buckler about a month ago. Shamshir was oddly balanced, a little tip-heavy, with a pretty thick blade. Of course it's not quite clear where it lies on the scale between functional and decorative. But its edge was sharpened and I sure as hell wouldn't want to get hit with it. Buckler was the type with two grips and a knuckle pillow--it really forms an amazingly secure grip. I can see how that would be a preferred shield type in dueling, but in a mass melee I think I'd prefer something significantly larger.

 

As for the Greeks, I think the aspis is far too heavy to use effectively as a weapon. Perhaps if the stars align and your opponent isn't ready for it, you could edge punch him.

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Well a buckler is also better for punching with ... but there's a reason that close order infantry have traditionally gone with the biggest shields they could carry :)

 

As for the Aspis/Hoplon, it's not just a question of weight: with the grip near the edge and a strap at the elbow you can't easily lift your arm more than about 45 degrees without hitting yourself with the edge of the shield, unless you twist your forearm to hold the shield vertical (in which case, it's bloody hard to put any force behind it). Given the weight and the way the shield is built, I doubt the idea of using it as a weapon (except a straight push forward) ever occurred to people at the time.

 

cheers, Mark

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The Hoplon was a metal skin over a solid wooden frame - it was bloody heavy. Unlike the smaller shields used by the Macedonian phalanx, I think you'd have to use a grip to maintain any sort of control over it at all. The use of a shoulder strap with the hoplon was probably simply to help take some of the weight. I've hefted a reconstructed hoplon, and I admit that my initial reaction was "Oh, you have got to be ****ing kidding me."

 

cheers, Mark

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Yeah, I was thinking of the Macedonian phalanxes (and a few others), where guiges were more practicable (or basically essential). I think we've got some pretty good pictures of the hoplon's grips and straps. Not sure if that's still the state of the historic art, but much of its unwieldiness for attacks was basically on purpose, as it simply wasn't designed as a defense for single combat. Much more shoving than punching, and you don't need much freedom of movement for that.

 

I'd be wary about the weights of "reconstructed" shields, though. I've seen scuta that were mostly made for looks (or just by following the originals very casually), and weighed way more than what was actually practicable. For hoplons, it's probably about 15 lbs. A leather-backed viking shield could come close to that weight.

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Yeah, I was thinking of the Macedonian phalanxes (and a few others), where guiges were more practicable (or basically essential). I think we've got some pretty good pictures of the hoplon's grips and straps. Not sure if that's still the state of the historic art, but much of its unwieldiness for attacks was basically on purpose, as it simply wasn't designed as a defense for single combat. Much more shoving than punching, and you don't need much freedom of movement for that.I'd be wary about the weights of "reconstructed" shields, though. I've seen scuta that were mostly made for looks (or just by following the originals very casually), and weighed way more than what was actually practicable. For hoplons, it's probably about 15 lbs. A leather-backed viking shield could come close to that weight.

The reconstructed shield was made at the Danish national museum, so it's as close to a state of the art as we we can easily get. It was certainly a lot heavier than a reconstructed viking shield (smaller as well, of course). It was however about the same weight as some iron shields from iron age Germany/southern Denmark. Obviously warriors from back then had pretty muscular forearms!

 

Cheers, Mark

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  • 2 weeks later...

Driving with your legs isn't going to help when you have difficulty holding your shield higher than knee-height. :)

 

cheers, Mark

 

Awesome! There it is, down around your ankles, perfect for a good solid kick, which drives the reinforced metal rim into your enemy's shins. While he's hopping around on one foot, holding his shin and swearing up a blue streak, you have both hands free to grab your battle scythe and slice through his other ankle in one clean blow!

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Reports about Visby often suffer from the Chinese whispers style of citations. IIRC it was a pretty peculiar scenario and the archeology ain't that clear either (done in the 30s, from graves, possibly lots of post-combat mutilations etc.).

 

But yeah, I wouldn't expect much shield bashing from conscripted militia. Or formations in general. I guess it's a good additional option when you're fighting in a more sparse style, e.g. when out a-plundering. Also, after all that rowing, a few measly pounds of shield are positively relaxing ;)

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I saw a documentary about the Battle of Visby Wall -- Gotland's countryside militia against invading Danes with German mercenaries. Most of the casualties' -- almost exclusively the Gotland farmers -- skeletons showed extensive damage to the shins and feet.

 

Reports about Visby often suffer from the Chinese whispers style of citations. IIRC it was a pretty peculiar scenario and the archeology ain't that clear either (done in the 30s, from graves, possibly lots of post-combat mutilations etc.).

 

I've been to Visby and visited the museum where many of the skeletons of the losers are presented. There is clear evidence that many of the dead did suffer injuries to the lower leg. Obviously, while they were hefting their heavy slow moving shield for an unwieldy shield bash, they got their legs cut out from under them ... :)

 

More seriously, that kind of injury has been reported by many archaeological sites. It's the result of a standard move, which you could expect to be particularly successful against part-time soldiers. The move is simple: you feint at the head. When you opponent lifts his shield to counter - momentarily blocking his sight-line - you cut at his leg. When he falls, you finish him off with a thrust into his back or side. The other thing that is very clear on the skeletons is how many of them died or were seriously wounded by crossbow bolts. A lot of them were in the back, so the Swedes were shot down as they were fleeing, but a fair number had crossbow bolts in the front as well, and the assessment of the archeology team is that the Danes closed up on the Swedish defenders and not only went at it hand to hand, but that their crossbows provided supporting fire from essentially point blank range. Probably the Swedes, being mostly militia didn't have much in the way of missile weapons to retaliate. That they were poorly armoured is also indicated by the number of head wounds (and the fact that over a 3rd of them were 15 or 16 - even back then considered too young for military duty - tells you the rest of the story)

 

Edit: I should note that the remains from the Visby and Uppsala battle graves have both been the subject of quite large studies over the last decade: so the data does not rest entirely on the old Bendt publications from the 1930's.

 

All together, if I recall correctly, well over 70% of the wounds on the bodies from grave pit 1 (which is where the first part of the battle was) were to either the legs or head. Compare that to grave pits at Towton, where heavy armour (including leg armour) was used by front line troops - only 30% of the injuries there were below the head. That strongly implies that the Danish professional soldiers went at the poor militia, and simply hacked off or shot the bits that were most accessible around the shield. I doubt anybody in the battle was doing any shield bashing: it was too important for protection.

 

And this is the point. Movies like 300 aside, as far as the shield bash goes, it's a highly inefficient way to deal damage. A shield's a crap weapon. The shield bash is a trick - the sort of thing an experienced fighter might spring, but it's a risky move, because you are losing your protection for an instant. It's not a tactic that was trained (with the exception of later renaissance shield and buckler duelling: that's a different question entirely). And it's not some thing that was used frequently on the battlefield, as far as we can tell by osteoarcheology.

 

cheers, Mark

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  • 3 weeks later...

military duty - tells you the rest of the story)

 

 

And this is the point. Movies like 300 aside, as far as the shield bash goes, it's a highly inefficient way to deal damage. A shield's a crap weapon. The shield bash is a trick - the sort of thing an experienced fighter might spring, but it's a risky move, because you are losing your protection for an instant. It's not a tactic that was trained (with the exception of later renaissance shield and buckler duelling: that's a different question entirely). And it's not some thing that was used frequently on the battlefield, as far as we can tell by osteoarcheology.

 

cheers, Mark

Indeed, which is why a shield should have an OCV penalty at least equivalent to it's defensive bonus. i would imagine it would mostly be used in the capacity (in hero terms) of a surprise move when your opponent is least expecting it in hopes of stunning them as a setup for a coup de grace.

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So i have a question about shield usage.

 

A character wielding a shield gains the DCV bonus against attacks from the front and from the flank of the shield side. (The left side if the character is right handed). characters attacking from the rear and opposite flank ignore the DCV bonus of the shield.

 

What happens when the shield wielder has Defense maneuver? does that allow them to apply the DCV bonus from the shield against attacks launched from any direction? if so that some incredible synergy there and a skill no shield wielder should leave home without...

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