GURPS101: It Ain’t Heavy, It’s my Shield

I’m not sure where I got the idea (I’d attribute it if I could), but someone asked why shields didn’t have a minimum ST requirement like other handheld weapons did. That’s actually a really good question. From a game design perspective I understand why it’s been done the way it’s done in GURPS. Think about it, having a minimum ST statistic to worry about for a shield is going to lead gamers to wonder why their armor doesn’t have one too. Armor and shields count against encumbrance which incur other penalties. But what if shields did have a minimum ST to wield?

The Basics
Assume that each shield has a Minimum ST based on the table (see below). If your ST is less than the required Minimum ST you suffer a -1 to Shield skill per point by which the Minimum ST exceeds your ST. So if you have a 10 ST and you try to use a Medium Shield (Minimum ST 11) you’d suffer a -1 to rolls to use it. If your Minimum ST is twice the needed ST you gain a +1 to rolls to use Fast-Draw (Shield), if you have three times the needed ST you get a +1 to rolls to Block with it. Treat cloaks as a Buckler.

Shield Weight     Minimum ST
Less than 2.5 lbs.              5
Less than 5 lbs.                 6
Less than 7.5 lbs.              8
Less than 10 lbs.              10
Less than 15 lbs.              11
Less than 20 lbs.              12
Less than 25 lbs.              13
Less than 30 lbs.              14
Less than 35 lbs.              15
Less than 40 lbs.             16
+5 lbs.                             +1

Fast-Draw (Shield)
Readying a shield or cloak takes a number of Ready maneuvers equal to its Defense Bonus. With Fast-Draw (Shield) you can shave off a number of Ready maneuvers equal to 1/3 your margin on the skill roll. On a 0 or less, the shield is readied as a free action. There is no penalty if the shield or cloak is worn over either shoulder (+1 on a hook or sling) or -2 if it’s anywhere else. Optionally, if you have an applicable Fast-Draw and a weapon in hand you can attempt to sheathe it as your draw the shield for a -6 to the roll. This requires you make two Fast-Draw rolls at the usual penalties. Quick-Sheathe (Shield) becomes a valid perk when using these optional rules!

Picking Over the Bones
The numbers are pulled from GURPS Low-Tech Companion 2, but with a 2.5 multiplier since your not really wielding the thing. It also means that if you want a Medium Shield you need a ST of 11, and a Legionnaire is going to need a ST of 13. Those implications might not make it suitable for most games. On the other hand, you could extend such a rule to worn armor, but I’m not sure how to account for the ST of the bearer in such a situation. What would you do? How would you change it for your games? Would you even bother using such rules? 

Posted in GURPS 101 and tagged , , .


  1. I, too, have always thought that shields should have ST just like weapons; as it is, any weakling can wield the hugest shield without a thought, which is odd.

    My basic idea: A shield in the *hand* (i.e., buckler) should have a Min ST similar to that of a weapon of similar weight. Maybe a bit less – weapons typically have a center of mass somewhere forward of the hand, whereas a buckler would keep that very close to the hand. Without a detailed system for deriving Min ST, some simple mod would suffice.

    For shields strapped to the arm, a greatly reduced Min ST, just as you suggest, is perfectly appropriate. In short, I'd go with *two* Min ST scores for any shield, one as the in-hand (buckler score) score and one as the on-arm (typical shield usage) score. (Yes, a strong enough character could theoretically use a big shield as a buckler.) Or just use a simple Min ST multiplier: Set very generous Min ST scores for on-arm usage, and add a note that the score is multiplied (x2?) for in-hand usage.

    (Further differences of buckler-type usage vs arm-type usage would be interesting to explore: better range, punching ability, etc. for buckler usage? Seems a buckler's mobility would be all-round better, with that greater ST requirement the main drawback… But, I can also understand setting all that aside for detail-lovers only.)

    I like the idea of Fast-Draw (Shield) bonuses for high ST relative to shield Min ST. However, I don't know about the similar +1 Block; if light shields get such a bonus for extra-high maneuverability, then why not light weapons as well?

    Perhaps it'd be better to take existing light weapon – i.e., Fencing – skills as a model, and work out something complementary. For light shields, consider reduced penalties for multiple blocks, and/or improved Block on a Retreat… Perhaps with higher benefits available only with buckler usage (due to the greater mobility) and perhaps even then only if used in conjunction with actual Fencing skills (or similar "footwork" skills like Karate). A nice rationale for the classic "rapier + buckler" combo…

    Finally, as for armor: No, I don't see any reason for a Min ST score. Armor isn't wielded, and wielding is what Min ST addresses. As you note, encumbrance already covers the effects of armor weight (and, appropriately, shield weight and weapon weight) on overall mobility.

    Good stuff!

  2. I had a system like this a while back, but scrapped it because no one else in the group was a fan.

    In mine, I had the guige act as an ST multiplier to represent what the purpose it served in real life, to help support the shield and reduce the weight on the arm. In RAW GUPRS, unless you're using one of the weird guige-only rules, there's no reason to add it to a shield, and in fact you benefit by *removing* it (reduces overall weight by a pound).

    I wouldn't bother adding in an ST requirement for armor. Your capacity to carry armor is already determined by, go figure, your carrying capacity. Weapons and shields, in my opinion at least, need specific ST values because the need to effectively manipulate the equipment beyond carrying it; anyone can pick up twenty pounds, but bringing a twenty-pound shield to bear in time to deflect a blow requires above-average strength, and swinging a twenty-pound sword effectively requires a silly amount of strength. You simply wear armor and it passively defends you from incoming blows, no active manipulation required.

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