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"Bows vs Shields" Topic


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25 Sep 2015 9:02 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian24 Apr 2015 8:57 p.m. PST

Writing in Slingshot, Nick Harbud concludes:

…with the exception of pavises and similar heavy shields, the protective qualities of a shield are questionable and… much smaller than that afford by the archer's inability to hit his target.

Do you agree that rules should generally not consider shields as having a protective factor against bowfire?

Personal logo Pictors Studio Sponsoring Member of TMP24 Apr 2015 9:11 p.m. PST

Is he saying that shields don't offer protection against arrows or is he saying that the offensive capability of the bowman being impeded by the shield offsets the defensive abilities of the shield.

In other words, an archer is more protected without the shield because his bowfire provides some protection. Using a shield hinders his ability to hit the target so reduces how safe he would be because an arrow-hit target is less dangerous.

Dark Knights And Bloody Dawns24 Apr 2015 9:52 p.m. PST

I think he's saying that with some of the armour piercing arrows the shield holder would end up with a very sore arm.

emckinney24 Apr 2015 10:23 p.m. PST

"protective qualities are … much smaller than [the protection you get from] the archer's [wild inaccuracy]."

In other words, don't bother with a shield because the bowfire is so inaccurate anyway.

JezEger25 Apr 2015 2:30 a.m. PST

That quote means little out of context. What period? Is he talking about archers with shields or archers shooting at shielded targets?

Griefbringer25 Apr 2015 5:46 a.m. PST

Given a prospect of facing a hail of bolts and arrows, and given a choice of having a shield or not, I would certainly prefer the shield option unless I happened to be wearing very good armour.

rustymusket Supporting Member of TMP25 Apr 2015 6:51 a.m. PST

Depending on how you can figure the percentages, some rules should allow for shield having a factor of protection compared to no shield. I am not sure if I am explaining myself correctly. On a D6, you may not be able to separate the protection of a shield from archery but on a D10, it may add +1 protection. Hopefully that explains my opinion.

The Last Conformist25 Apr 2015 6:56 a.m. PST

That quote means little out of context. What period? Is he talking about archers with shields or archers shooting at shielded targets?
Nick's article aims to cover the ancient and medieval periods in general, and he's talking about the usefulness or otherwise of shields to the archer's targets.

Mute Bystander25 Apr 2015 7:00 a.m. PST

Give me the shield, I only need to stop one arrow ("The One") in reality…

haywire25 Apr 2015 7:19 a.m. PST

I think he's saying that with some of the armour piercing arrows the shield holder would end up with a very sore arm.

All my left arm has to do is pick up the shield and maneuver it. Better a sore arm than an arrow through the head… or heart.

keyhat25 Apr 2015 8:46 a.m. PST

Mr. Harbud is saying two things.
One is that the protection offered by a shield is not as great physically, (not psychologically-he's not addressing that in this quote) against bow fire than you might think, unless it is a large, heavy shield.
Secondly, the statistical protection of a shield is not as great a factor in determining the effectiveness of bow fire as is the apparently poor accuracy of the ancient archer.
This second factor probably explains the first statement.. One was just as likely to be struck anywhere on the body as the chest or the head, thus unless one had a large shield protecting most of the body, you didn't have as much protection as you might think.

Great War Ace25 Apr 2015 9:22 a.m. PST

Where/when did "volley shooting" come into vogue? Was not most if not all archery done on an individual basis in ancient warfare? Lines of archers were thin and fairly widely spaced apart. At some point somebody noticed that if you saturated a "target area" with a lot of missiles that you hit more enemies. So the infrastructure of shooting went through the radical change of producing enormous quantities of arrows to "feed" the new tactic of saturation shot. Only skirmishers continued to use the individual shooter method. Well, the untrained, irregular archers too, of course, but these were fading from warfare all the while.

Saturation shot obviates the "wildly inaccurate shooter" assertion and turns the premise into a wildly inaccurate assertion. Shields of any sort are very good at taking or deflecting an incoming arrow in a skirmish. The shielded man can see the arrow(s) coming easily enough and dodge, deflect or block them as determined.

In a massive battle situation, with literally thousands of arrows in the air, incoming, at a time, the only shield (as the writer says) that is any good is a large (heavy) one. "Body shields", e.g. the "kite" shield of the 11th and 12th centuries, were proof against arrows, that is to say, arrows would not penetrate through to the man behind. Overlapped, they presented a veritable "wall".

If original sources are believed, the "Carmen" says that the overlapped shields of the English "shieldwall" at Hastings were effective against arrows, but not against crossbow bolts; it specifically states that: "Against quarrels shields are not secure" (Barlow), or: "Against crossbow-bolts shields are of no avail" (Morton and Muntz). Javelins are even more problematic for shields, and the English could produce a veritable "hail" of hand-thrown missiles, enough to drive off and overwhelm the infantry of their attackers.

Shields should, therefore, imho, not be treated as a separate "bonus" against missile fire in wargames. But shields should be considered as one way that troops can be protected to some degree. If combined with body armor the shield can bump the "armor class".

Stand alone shields (the bulk of medieval infantry, shield and spear and helmet) are "light infantry" in our game. Combined with soft body armor or a mail shirt they become "medium" troops. A full coverage of mail without a "body shield" would also be a form of "medium" armor. Add in the body shield and it becomes a "heavy". "Plate" is exactly that: cap-a-pie plate or plate-mail armor with perhaps a small ("heater") shield; at this point the overlap of possibilities becomes onerous to try and include in wargame rules and simplification eliminates duplication inherent in minutia. The addition of a large shield might take a plate-mail "heavy" into the "plate" class versus incoming arrow shot, e.g. at Agincourt where the French front ranks of advancing MAA were "pavised". In this case the shield bumps the "heavy" up to "plate" status. If the rules considered ditching the pavise, then the troops would revert to "heavy" class. But generally the shield ought to simply be part of the armor class and not receive a special "shield bonus". That's how I do it anyway….

John the Selucid25 Apr 2015 10:09 a.m. PST

So, an umbrella is not much use due to the inaccuracy of rain.
If enough arrows are launched in your general direction, there would seem a fair chance of one or more hitting you. A shield might intercept the one that would have killed you.
How effective a shield would be would probably depend on how well armoured the person was. A shield would not add much protection to someone in full plate armour being shot at at long range, but for someone without armour could well reduce a significant proportion of wounds.
As to whether wargames rules afford too much importance to shields, that would seem to depend on the rules you are using.

goragrad26 Apr 2015 7:43 p.m. PST

Without reading the article, having seen some footage of arrows shot at differing materials (including from longbows) it would appear that composition and size of shield and power of the bow would be the deciding factors.

Too many variables to make any blanket statements.

Amusing a set of ancients skirmish level rules in the 70s (Sword and Spear), considered the shield as paramount. Armor was only considered if the shield was breached or if an attack was able to bypass the shield.

Quite a few historical accounts of shields 'bristling with arrows…

P.S. Rather the same with accounts of early Crusaders with numerous arrows sticking out of their armor and being unwounded.

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