Call to Arms: Shields
This installment of the Call to Arms-series clocks in at 48 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, leaving us with 42 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
As always, we begin this pdf with a flavorful piece of prose before diving into the history of the shield before we receive rules for the respective shield types: The pdf classifies a total of 4 shield types, providing a nice overview of what you can and can’t do with shields – like heavy shields preventing you from doing anything else with that hand, while light shields allowing you to use the hand to carry items – which makes sense, I guess, but I would have liked some finer modifications there: Penalties for delicate work like disarming a trap while a shield’s still strapped to your arm, for example. Also slightly problematic: “You cannot use weapons with it.” I get that…but do e.g. tanglefoot bags count? Torches? The improvised angle could have used some coverage here.
Somewhat annoying: Tower Shields are rebranded as “Body Shields”. In a rules-system as crunchy and terminology-heavy as PFRPG, that is just unnecessary and a potential cause for confusion. I get why: The new term is used as a hyperonym, whereas tower shields are used as a subcategory. The issue, though, is that there is a Proficiency for tower shields, but RAW, none for body shields. Shield designs and materials are next…and left me a bit disappointed. Where usually, the Call to Arms-series excels in providing these nice little rules-tweaks for simulationalist games, here, we are basically left with: “It’s fluff, no mechanical repercussions.” This left me somewhat stupefied, in spite of the discussions being solid – the pdf acknowledges the traditions…but does nothing with them. Weird.
Now where we actually do get some crunchy bits is when it comes to wielding a shield: A total of 3 grips are provided. Shields strapped to your arm require a standard action to strap and loosen, but grant you +2 CMD versus attempts to disarm your shield. Argive grip lets you drop the shield (or don it) as a move action, with Quick Draw-like bonuses for BAB +1 characters, allowing the shield to be drawn as a swift action accompanying a regular move. Finally, the boss grip can be dropped or used as a move action (the pdf here mentions “readied”, which is a loaded term in PFRPG – that could have been more elegant), but can be drawn as a free action as part of a move y characters with a BAB of +1 or higher.
The main bonus here in contrast to the Argive would be that you can draw it and a weapon as one action if you have TWF and draw/put back it as a free action if you have Quick Draw, treating the shield as a quickdraw shield. There are, unfortunately, a couple of issues here: 1) Why ever use argive? It’s objectively worse than both other grips, bringing literally no benefit the others don’t. 2) Regarding boss grip and quickdrawing: Quickdrawing shields, as far as I can remember, exist only for light shields. Heavy shields in PFRPG do not have that option by default, and neither do tower shields. Particularly when looking at the latter and the significant action-investment their use requires, one cannot help but ask whether boss grips can be made to modify tower shields. The interaction of the new rules with the existing ones, alas, is not as precise as I’ve come to expect from the series.
The next section here covers a diversity of different shields that are used as weapons – think of this as the collating section, where you get all the info in one place, from the tiger claw shield to the klar or the throwing dueling buckler….the array of weaponized shields presented here is nice, but the table’s messed up: One, the table lacks cost entries for many of the shields – probably due to them being shield + modifications…but why not simple provide the total cost for convenience’s sake? The very first entry has a glitch, where the crit multiplier wandered into the range column and from a layout perspective, the Exotic Ranged Weapon-row does not feature the grey background to set it apart that the other sub-headers feature.
The collated shield modifications provided are intriguing – integrated firearms, bladed edges and throwing shield modifications all are cool. However, considering the usual mission of collating and collecting relevant information, I was somewhat puzzled by the omission of the boss modifications already existing for PFRPG. On a more positive side, the rules for providing shields as cover (first presented in a sidebar-installment, unless I’m horribly mistaken) is nice and adds some tactical dimension and useful upgrade for the shield: You know, hiding behind a tower shield to survive a dragon’s breath, etc. – neat. And yep, you can’t Stealth-abuse them, which is a nice catch.
Speaking of nice: The pdf provides some generally cool variants of new shield designs; from dueling bucklers to jousting shields, provides a cool selection of new and interesting modifications – but, alas, the devil’s in the details here as well. When a dueling buckler notes “Treat this shield as a standard buckler when shield bashing.” I cringed a bit. Bucklers cannot, RAW, be used for shield bashes. It’s these little glitches that add up and make the chapter less refined than it should be: Granting adjacent allies shield bonuses can be fun and the pdf does have these little glimpses at what I expect to see from the Call to Arms-series.
Among the modifications, straps to keep dropped shields attached make sense, but fail to specify hardness, hp or anything like that – even though sooner or later someone will try to sunder them. Again, one of these avoidable glitches that hamper a great concept. On the plus-side, reinforced straps or integrated weapon sheathes – there is amazing to be found here. The pdf then goes on to collect special materials for shield construction – though only a part of Paizo’s materials are collected here. One new material can be found, wicker shields, which are lighter and more buoyant. The pdf also provides relatively concise rules for shields with special bosses etc. – and yes, a sidebar provides Captain America-build guidelines.
After the material component, the shield special abilities are next – on a slightly nitpicky side: The glamered quality has been renamed “glamOred” and lacks italicization. It’s these little glitches that are just unnecessary. There is new material here as well, like shields that feature a nice breeze to keep you cool and may also create, for short bursts, clean air and protect against lethal gasses. Feather fall-inducing shields are nice – shields that can turn into gliders are cooler still. I also liked the shield that has a minor glamour to hide you from foes when using total defense (erroneously called “defence” once…). The offensive shield properties are not reprinted and, oddly, they are not organized by bonus, but alphabetically…weird internal inconsistency there, but aesthetic only.
The book then goes on to depict specific magic shield – it basically collects the info from Paizo-books…*sigh*, but the battlement shield‘s formatting is messed up. Something you can actually see at one glance. That being said, we also get an array of new shields among the reprints…but, alas, they are missing from the table in the beginning…why? On the definite plus-side, the shields that are new generally provide cool visuals and options: Does e.g. a Bullette Maw turned shield sound amazing? What about a buckler that helps with burglary and may turn into tools 1/day? Yeah, it’s cool – but e.g. an italicized name in an item’s header once again would be a cosmetic, but still, easily avoidable glitch. Charge-enhancing Line Breaker is another nice example; not so cool: The Savage Quill‘s shield bash is locked into a full-round action, converting its bonus…which makes it a bad choice for shield bash specialists. Amazing: Slider’s Shield is basically a shield and a hoverboard at the same time. The pdf also contains two cursed shields, one that is a reprint…and one is a shield -2. Yay? No GM has ever needed a -2 shield designed for him/her. The intelligent shield, Rovan’s Round…is not as cool as usual: No unique abilities and “protect others from spellcasters” is pretty bland, even before at-will (!!!) dispel magic. Nope, can’t see myself using this guy.
There is a reprint of a mythic shield ability and a shield as well as a new shield, Breathtaker, which adds nonlethal damage after bull rushes…which is per se no big issue. What *is* an issue is that it justifies this by the target beginning to suffocate. Are non-breathing critters immune? Can you hold your breath? No idea. Oh, and, more importantly: THIS IS NOT HOW SUFFOCATION WORKS IN PFRPG. Artifact-wise, the Aegis is reprinted (oddly, again, with italicized header), as is the Shield of the Sun – but there’s also a new one, namely Centurion’s Fortress – this one can both animate and dance, allowing it to execute autonomous defense and shield bashes. Additionally, the wielder can designate a target as a swift action and have the shield attack the adversary, potentially even adding bull rushes to bashes while granting cover and it may 1/day spawn copies to prevent flanking etc. – while the wording’s not perfect here, I love the visuals and everything’s functional…so yeah, I may end up using this guy!
Editing and formatting are not up to the standard the series usually has; a glitch here and there is okay, a slipped row can be forgiven when the information’s clear…but this pdf feels rushed. There are literally a ton of formatting hiccups that even casual observation should have caught. Layout adheres to the nice two-column full-color standard of the series and the pdf comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks as well as with some neat full color artworks.
Taylor Hubler, CtA-team…what has happened here? I don’t get it. Let me make that abundantly clear: I don’t object t the reprints herein – that’s pretty much the deal of Call to Arms: Collect information and expand it. Here, however, there is not that much new information…and I wouldn’t mind even that. If only the new material, the cool rules-tweaks that you can usually find in these books, would be here, the spark of the amazing. It’s not. The supplemental rules-material feels half-done; not checked. The pdf acknowledges so many facets…and doesn’t really work with them. And when it does, there are some serious hiccups to be found, some of which impede the functionality and the toolkit appeal significantly. I…honestly was flabbergasted here. I usually look forward to reviewing Call to Arms-books, because they often have this neat spark of brilliance this one so sorely lacks.
In fact, at one point, I was just stupefied – between this and other, recent Fat Goblin Games-releases like the awesome Player’s Guide to Vathak, the installment on Ropes or Lucus Palosaari’s Mantles of Power yawns a huge chasm in ambition, quality and execution. (Btw.: Get those!) In fact, this pdf, to me, felt very much like a WIP, perhaps handed in with a delay and thus rushed through editing/development…that would kinda explain the significant discrepancy. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought this was the first CtA, from even before Axes. And it’s about shields, of all things, which have so much amazing untapped potential, which can use the coolness-upgrade so hard. *sigh* Don’t get me wrong, there are gems herein…but you have to look for them. The problem is that modification-engines like the one this tries to provide, ultimately, require significant precision and when the crunch feels just not as carefully generated…well…then you have a problem. It breaks my heart, it really does, mainly because I went into this wanting so hard to like it; looking forward to reading it…but I can’t go higher than 2.5 stars on this one, rounded down.
You can get this installment here on OBS!