Saturday, July 2, 2011
Pictured- What a Shield Wall looks like coming at you, only usually they are much, much bigger.
The thing about a shield wall is that it needs an anchor at either end or it becomes easy to flank and, therefore, irrelevant. If it can be anchored though it can be damnably formidable, like fighting against a real fortification almost. Almost because a shield wall has two key weaknesses.
The Shield Wall's first key weakness is that it is made of shields rather than actual walls. The fact that it is made of shields means that it is flexible rather than rigid, which is sometimes beneficial because a line can bend without breaking, but can be just as easily bad for the defenders because the flex can open gaps between shields. The fact that the wall is made of shields is also bad because anything that can destroy a shield can tear a hole through your wall.
The second key weakness is that people have to hold the wall up instead of being able to just stand behind it and fight from there (possibly while holding a shield), so anything that can take out a person can punch a hole in your wall.
Now the good news- It doesn't take a lot of training or experience to stand on the line in a shield wall and not get killed, just hold the line; probably the guy standing behind you is more experienced and will be doing your killing for you. You are the wall for him. He probably has a spear.
Because there are, essentially just a few different types of troops on a battlefield that has a shield wall. The guys on the wall holding shields and some type of mêlée weapon, they stand there and take shots at each other and mostly miss because they are so well protected.
Then there are the mêlée killers in the back. Mostly they have spears, some have other types of reach weapons or mass weapons. Usually they work alone, sometimes they come in teams, when they work in teams they are DEADLY; one guy will hook your shield with his Halberd and pull it down while the next guy simultaneously spears you in the throat and they have a buddy that's blocking anything coming over the wall at them.
Then come the Wall-Breakers, they usually come as units, although they may be pretty ad-hoc. They pretty much just look like an opposing section of the shield wall until they make their move, which can come when a gap opens up and they just take advantage of it or, much more likely, they destroy an opposing section of shield wall usually with a charge.
I freely admit this is my strength in shield wall combat, when advancing towards the enemy shield wall I take point with my men-at-arms behind me (in an unseen wedge) and charge the last five paces or so. I throw my shield up in front of me, so I get the protection of my shield AND their shield wall and just crash through them with my mass. Once I have pushed the first shieldsmen out of my way I quickly kill to my right and keep moving into their unprotected rear killing their spears and mass weapons and archers, my men-at-arms behind me, doing the same and spreading out. Usually this will open a big enough hole in their line that it will destroy the integrity of their wall entirely.
There may be a few people launching arrows into the fracas, but they are not terribly likely to be aiming for anyone on the shield wall, they are trying to hit the guys in the back that are doing the damage and they're having a hard time getting clear shots (unless there's a nearby hill with a clear view of the battlefield); they'll shoot you if you make an easy target by being too tall or by being wicked awesome or something, but mostly they're aiming for the killers.
So, if I were to put this in D&D terms I would leave them the awesome bonuses vs. missiles and give them all of the mêlée bonuses too I guess, then add an additional +2? maybe for can't be flanked, then they get to lose any Dexterity bonus because you just can't move that well in a shield wall. I'd give stabbing weapons like spears a bonus to hit though because you can really snake those into a shield wall, they're like magic on gaps and for hitting people in the face. Also, don't forget the optional shield killing rule. It couldn't hurt to have some sort of opposed role strength check for holding the wall too against big wall-breakers like me. I am 6'6" tall and I can do it nearly every time, you pretty much have to kill me to stop me, now imagine an Ogre trying to break your shield wall, or how about a Hill Giant? Cavalry traditionally only have had a hard time breaking a shield wall because horses don't like to run directly into walls of angry people with pointy things.
Next time- The importance of Helmets and how D&D screwed that up too.