After watching Treantmonk’s superb subclass ranking series I was excited when the rules-savvy vlogger published a video in which he claimed to ‘fix D&D’ with just three house rules.
I was left absolutely flabbergasted when the first of these rules was to remove the shield spell from the game!
Wtf? If I was going to start removing spells from the game shield would be pretty far down on my list!
Now, I’ve railed against certain incantations so many times on this blog that I’m not going to list them again here… regular readers have no doubt grown sick of me complaining about them! As for shield, I’d never even considered that it was somehow damaging my D&D sessions, nor had anyone else flagged it as an issue.
As someone who is currently playing a very fragile College of Lore bard, I’d more likely go the opposite way and say the shield spell is actually good for the game. Anyone unable to wear medium or heavy armour in 5th edition walks around with a suicidal AC for essentially the entirety of their adventuring career. Shield goes someway to offset that. Plus, it’s one of the only defensive mechanics in the game… a rare, and enjoyable, moment of empowerment for players who are usually unable to actively do anything to prevent an enemy hit.
Now, Treantmonk obviously runs games full of optimised character builds who (it seems) spam the table with full spellcasters in plate armour etc., so maybe this house rule makes sense for his games – if everyone on the table feels obliged to take a certain option, then I agree with his logic: it’s better to remove that option, because all you’re doing is killing variety in your game.
But while I must confess that I may have exasperated a few DMs with successive castings of the spell in clutch combats, for ‘normal’ tables I don’t think a nuclear option is required to deal with shield. Just a little down-tuning should be enough.
So here’s my easy fix…
1st level abjuration
Casting time: 1 reaction
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 round
An invisible barrier of magical force appears and protects you. Until the start of your next turn, you have a +5 bonus to your AC to a maximum of 21. The bonus works against the triggering attack, and you take no damage from magic missile.
Now the shield spell goes back to fulfilling its job of protecting glass cannons, and is still a pretty useful option for the likes of Eldritch Knights (at least ones that don’t wear an actual shield). But it’s never going to result in players spamming their ACs to obscene levels where they become all but untouchable.
If you want to be a bit kinder to Eldritch Knights and Artificers, for example, you could use my original idea that the AC bonus depends on whether you’re wearing no armour / light armour (+5), medium armour (+4) or heavy armour (+3). (It kinda makes sense… the more armour you have, the less help having a protective magical barrier provides vs. the protection you already have). However, I personally prefer just sticking a top limit on, which is easy to remember.
There are even a couple more alternative fixes I could suggest, such as not being able to cast shield on successive turns perhaps. Or you could steal a mechanic I used many years ago for a couple of high level defense spells I created (such as Lavinia’s Stunning Escape, below… which, yes, is massively overpowered!). Using this mechanic, the spell has to be cast before combat using a longer casting time and then is triggered later, using a reaction, during combat. This essentially limits its use to once per fight, which could be a really good way of limiting shield‘s effectiveness, esp. if you don’t play many combats in an adventuring day.
Lavinia’s Stunning Escape
5th level evocation
Casting Time: 1 minute (activated with a reaction)
Components: V, S, M (a pair of cymbals)
Duration: 24 hours
You weave a protective aura around yourself (or a willing target you touch) that you are able to trigger using a reaction the moment you take damage from an attack. When triggered a stunning blast of magical force affects anyone within 30 ft., doing 2d10 damage (half on a successful Strength saving throw) and causing them to be stunned for 1 turn (no effect on save). In addition you may turn invisible as per the conditions of the spell invisibility (requires concentration, ends if you attack a creature) and teleport up to 60ft to an unoccupied space that you can see. The spell must be triggered within 24 hours of casting, or be lost. Only one protective aura can be active per person at one time, and it can be triggered only once.
Shield Beating Tactics
Whether you’re using the Hipster Remix or the original shield in your game, Dungeon Masters can reduce the spell’s effectiveness by switching up their tactics a little from just piling on relentless claw, bite or sword attacks against an impossible AC. Once a player has cast shield, for example, consider using the next monster attacks to grapple or shove (prone) the player instead. The shield doesn’t help the players’ Athletics score after all, and, if knocked prone, other monsters can pile in with advantage (or the same monster if it has enough attacks). Otherwise, you could have one (weaker) monster use the Help action so that a second monster can get advantage on their next attack, another way of offsetting the spell’s AC bonus. And while you probably don’t need me to tell you this, area of effect spells/abilities are great shield circumventers.
Your Experiences with Shield? Did You Ban It?
As always, I’m curious to know about your experiences with the shield spell and whether it’s been a problem with your game, and what you or your DM did about it… you know where the comments section is!
Treantmonk’s Other Two House Rules
I feel like now is probably the time for my thoughts on Treantmonk’s other two house rules.
Rule Number 2: A levelled spell gained through a class may only be cast with armour or a shield equipped if that class provides the proficiency for that armour or shield.
Again, this seems designed to deal with an issue that probably only comes up with spammy multiclass builds (which don’t feature much on my tables), but I’m totally on board with this rule. As Treantmonk says in his video, casters being squishy is really the only downside to the massive upside of being insanely powerful magic users, so this house rule makes perfect sense to me.
Rule Number 3: When you attack using the attack action to make a weapon attack or unarmed strike, you can choose to take a -5 penalty to that attack roll. If the attack hits you deal +10 damage.
Arggggghhhhhhh! Treantmonk’s favourite house rule is actually one that would legitimately put me off playing the game. The -5 / +10 is just such a horrible, un-5e mechanic, that skews damage output, while introducing a player dilemma (i.e. time wasting) on every single fucking attack – so pretty much the very last thing I would do is make this mechanic a cornerstone of my game.
Now, I can see why he did it (and he makes a good case in the video), but again it seems very specific to his table, dealing with the fact that martial characters are more or less obliged to take Great Weapon Master or Sharp Shooter if they want to optimise their damage, leading to very little variety on the table. I feel like he could have achieved the same just by removing those two feats (and feats being optional rules, it’s more a case of not allowing them than banning them), rather than making 5e’s most annoying trade off an ubiquitous part of gameplay.
Personally, I think just switching the -5/+10 on the GWM and SS feats for some situational benefit would be the best way to improve the game.