Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Musings on pricing the Shield Wall Training Perk

This spawned from a Google+ discussion. The original poster put up a funny image (an old one, but still a good one) and we rules guys turned it into a discussion of rules and pricing of Shield Wall Training. I had a few thoughts, as usual.

Shield Wall Training - what's it give you?

It provides two benefits.

1) You can Block for someone adjacent to you on your shield side.

2) You can attack while wielding a Large shield without the usual -2 to hit.

If you've got a Large shield, it's a really great deal. You net a +1 DB over a Medium shield (albeit for a lot of additional weight), and you don't suffer a -2 to attack with your weapon hand. Hurrah!

Even if you don't have a Large shield, it's still useful if you have a pretty good block and a friend you want to protect. If you want to protect people behind you, you need another perk (Sacrificial Block, which is in DF15).

But still, a pretty good deal at 1 point. Should it be more? Well, let's try to price it as a Technique.

First, what's it give you?

You can Block for another person, if they're next to you. That's pretty narrow but it's still something other people can't do. So that's -1 to the default.

You negate the -2 to attack while holding a Large shield. This is tricky to price - Shield is the skill you use, but it's not a -2 to shield, it's a -2 to attack with that skill or another. It's hard to buy off a blanket penalty to an open-ended set of skills with one technique. If you look at Cavalry Training, for example, you buy off the penalty for striking from horseback, but you don't buy it off overall but by weapon.

Of course, some people will read this and think, okay, you should have to buy off the -2 by each weapon, and it should be expensive. Which is fair enough, but it will be expensive, and apply only in a very narrow set of circumstances (you're holding a Large shield).

Second, how do we price it?

The question here is, do you price it as buying off -2 of penalty? Tough, because the TDS assumes the penalty is always on if you try the technique - Kicking defaults at -2, and your price for it is based on that -2. A Large shield gives you a -2, but others give -0. Shields come in 4 basic sizes (Light, Small, Medium, Large) and give penalties of -0/-0/-0/-2 for an average of -0.5, rounded up to -1.

So worst case, where you assume that -2 is so important that you need to charge as much as possible, Shield Wall Training defaults to (Weapon Skill)-3, it's Average (it's an offensive technique, and merely expands who you can defend), and it costs 3 points to buy off.

Better case, using the average, it's -2, it's still an Average Technique, and costs 2 points to buy off.

Best case, you figure that -0.5 average isn't very important at all (affects only some of the uses of the technique) and it's a base -1, and costs 1 point to buy off.

All of those would be per melee weapon skill. So using a Large Shield without penalties is going to cost a lot. A medium shield costs you 1 point of DB but will save you a lot of points.

You can also choose to break off the skill penalty from the blocking for others. If so, you could push all "Block for others" into one perk, Sacrificial Block (from DF15, mentioned above) and put all of the "buy off the -2" into separate Techniques for all weapon skills. That would be expensive (2 points per skill) but it would make it easier to price out.

Personally, I just don't think you get enough for it. GURPS prices getting rid of the -4 for off-hand use at 5 points for all skills, 1 point for each skill. This costs more for less benefit, done this way. Now Shield Wall Training is valuable. It's a good deal a 1 point. But so are a lot of perks (Grip Mastery, anyone? Naval Training, when you fight on ships all day? Teamwork? Exotic Weapon Training?). The thing about perks is they should be a good deal. They should be pretty damn useful for people within the narrow range of utility they have. They're a good tool for dealing with odd cases and edge cases (like your shield training affected other offensive skills), minor rules exemptions, and other "doesn't quite fit" issues you want to deal with.
They don't all need to be equally valuable, just valuable to the character who acts in the manner covered by the perk.

My thoughts on the pricing-as-a-Technique approach.


  1. As much as I was a proponent, in the original discussion, of increasing the costs here, I'm on the fence now.

    I am curious, however, if there's any validity in pointing out that the assertion that it "only" impacts the use of the large shield might well be rendered as irrelevant given that players are more often than not allowed to choose their own equipment, and will never be without a large shield if they have paid points to avoid the penalty with same, in much the same way that only someone who can afford the encumbrance will take a large shield in the first place. It's limited to one type of shield, but if you're looking at this as a solution to a penalty problem, you've already committed to carrying that shield most of the time.

    1. You should get a "choose your own equipment" price break just like guy with Broadsword should get a price break because they'll avoid being without a broadsword. Or any other weapon - pricing that affects "only equipment X" shouldn't get a price premium because you can choose your gear. You're spending points you could have spent on a lot of other things because presumably you think it's a valuable buy, and you're going to try to set up situations so it stays valuable. I don't see why that would get penalized by extra cost, to be honest.

    2. I guess I can see that.

      I'm currently debating the relative merits of splitting this out into two distinct cases: the real Shield Wall training benefits, to being near others with similar training and shields, and the recovery of the -2 to all attacks while carrying a large shield.

      I'm fond of Doug's idea, where shields of any size might inflict a penalty (like DB-1), though I'm not sure how that would impact the cost.

    3. Either it would mean everyone takes this, or shields get less use because they make it harder to fight at all. Either way, it's really re-costing the use of a shield to make it more expensive.

  2. I follow your argument, but want to take a step sideways.

    Seems like a Shield Wall Technique would make more sense if you were buying off an omnipresent penalty. Like "all shields penalize attacks by the amount of their DB." So a buckler with DB +0 allows a Block defense at all, but minimally encumbers you. DB +1 through +3 give strong defensive benefits, but hamper you more and more.

    (Or to make it match with -2 to Attacks, or -2 to DX for a DB+3 shield, make it one less than the DB, so that a DB +2 shield is a -1).

    So you can spend points on an Average technique to offset this penalty, but it'd never be worth more than two points to begin with.

    The ability to block for a friend should always be available with a Wait maneuver, and allowing it as a 1-point perk (or making Shield Wall a Hard technique, and including that in the buy-in) would also be a way to go.

    Nonetheless, we're talking about a point here or there, max, so ultimately "this perk is too useful" is probably subsumed into "you're a PC, and it's good to have useful things; the GM is still going to throw a Medusa Magi at you, and that ain't exactly fair either."

    1. Yes, it would make a big difference if that was the case. It would still be expensive, though - it's really unreasonable to base it on Shield, you'd need to buy it for every weapon skill. Using a shield would then be very costly in terms of training and points.

      You could always integrate Shield, and say that your relative skill level negates a penalty equal to the DB of the shield (DX+1 negates -1, etc.) but then the "to hit" penalty is a low skill tax. Having low skill is bad enough already. :)

    2. I use that optional DB-1 rule. Therefore, any serious fighter who makes use of anything larger than a small shield/buckler pretty much has this perk. It's so common that I don't associate it with styles in any way, so that even a 25 - 50 point garrison trooper or well trained peasant militiaman is going to have this.

      But making it per weapon type makes me start thinking of a more "holistic" sword-and-shield or axe-and-shield skill that would more or less be penalized for NOT having a shield when wielding a sword or an axe. I'd hate to do that, though, as it would just get confusing.

    3. I'd wonder if anyone would really learn to fight with a shield but not practice for what happens if it breaks or is dropped or otherwise made useless. It seems like a tremendous risk to take, practicing only for the best case scenario.

    4. Well, that would be the penalty for a holistic shield-and- skill. You train for not having it, but it's less than ideal. But to me, that also seems cumbersome -- less cumbersome than dividing out the skills.

      With styles as is, there *ARE* incentives for picking them up, but no penalties for leaving them out, so sword-and- can always be handled that way. I would imagine, though, that weapon training itself would be more "style" based than individual "skill" based in most historical settings. And any style that doesn't train for the eventual loss of a shield isn't likely to survive for long.

      That said, there are all sorts of special tricks that might be done using shields in combat, depending on what type of shield you're using and against what weapons they're typically used. Imagine, for example, a wicker shield that is relatively likely to be pierced by a spear combined with a technique designed to take advantage of over penetration to put disarm the opponent -- likely at the cost of the shield.

  3. If I wanted to price SWT "fairly," I'd go with +1 Enhanced Block with an equipment limitation (must be blocking with a large shield), plus a perk for the sacrificial block.

    However, I don't think SWT is one of the "fairly priced" things in GURPS. Rather, like Combat Reflexes, it is an incentive.

    1. I'm not sure I follow the logic here. 1 point to block for other people, and Enhanced Block (Large Shield Only) to . . . ? How do you get rid of the -2 to your own attacks?

    2. Actually, I messed up, I should have said "Enhanced Defenses."

      A medium shield +1 level of enhanced defenses is effectively DB3 instead of DB2. So a large shield (DB3) is effectively paying for that extra point of enhanced defenses with the attack penalty. (Plus some extra weight, minus some increased durability, which I optimistically assume is a wash.)

    3. That's pretty optimistic, really - a large shield pays for that +1 DB with a -2 to hit with your own attacks, and +10 pounds, and +$30. And in advantage terms it's +1 DB in your front arc only, takes up one arm, and requires equipment. That's a lot to give up, even if that +1 DB is really sweet.

      In any case, waving -2 of a to hit penalty is pretty common for perks - Exotic Weapon Training, Shield Wall Training, Sure Footed (and Naval Training) all leap to mind.

    4. *Most* perks are underpriced though.

      You are right about the further limits to the DB - but even at the discounted CR price of +1 to all defs (15), the max discount of -80% gives 3 points of utility for that +1 DB.

    5. And to be clear, I'm not arguing it should be re-priced, I'm arguing that it is deliberately a good deal to make a lot of warriors have it. Historically, most big shield guys were BSGs because they were often parts of shield walls. Dueling style shields tended to be smaller.


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