Monthly Archives: March 2015

Deflective shields

My first Dark Souls dude, with a shield

My first Dark Souls dude, with a shield

These are the current shield rules (approximately the third revision) for The Final Castle. To make sense, I have included preliminarily a few general combat rules as well. Combat Tests are d20, roll high, aiming to meet or exceed an enemy threat level (similar to the probably familiar armor class or difficulty class). Hopefully the fragmentary nature is not too hard to understand.

“Unbalanced” is a state, something like a temporary condition (in 3E terms) that persists until addressed by the combatant. Deflection is a reaction that can be taken in response to an enemy attack.


Exceeding the target number of an Ability Test by at least 4 or rolling a 20 prior to any modifiers is an Overkill. For Combat Tests, Overkill adds 1d6 damage and may have additional effects in other contexts.


Unbalanced combatants may only Melee, Shoot, Flee, or Recover and may not deflect attacks withs Shields. Recover balance with a maneuver.


To deflect an attack, deploy a shield. Deflection must be declared before rolling dice to resolve an attack. Deploying a shield Unbalances a combatant but does not require an Action. Shields may not be deployed when Unbalanced. Bypass Maneuvers cannot be deflected with a shield. Different kinds of shields offer other benefits. See the Shields entry in the Weapons section for details.


Resolve Maneuvers with Melee, Shoot, or Throw Actions depending on the character of the desired effect, substituting Maneuver effects for damage. Overkill applies to Maneuvers also. Thus, Maneuver Overkills cause the Maneuver effect and also 1d6 damage.

Recover (Maneuver)

Recover from being Unbalanced, stand up from prone, or escape a Grapple.


To deflect an attack, deploy a shield. Deflection must be declared before rolling dice to resolve an attack. Deploying a shield Unbalances a combatant but does not require an Action. Shields may not be deployed when Unbalanced. Bypass Maneuvers cannot be deflected with a shield. Shields come in three varieties:

  • Bucklers grant +4 to parry maneuvers, but are useless against ranged attacks and great weapons.
  • Medium shields grant +2 defense against small missiles.
  • Tower shields deflect all small missiles but are useless against standard or smaller weapons.

Putting this all together, it means that PCs with a shield can deflect (that is, totally nullify) one melee attack per combat (not per round) essentially for free, though the deflection must be “used” before rolling Defense (the equivalent in the system of an enemy attack roll). After a shield has been used for deflection, combat options narrow generally due to becoming Unbalanced, and specifically the shield may not be used again until balance is recovered.

Since maneuvers work like attack rolls, but substituting effects for standard damage and only inflicting any damage upon Overkill results (exceeding target numbers by 4 or rolling a natural 20), the effect is that a skilled fighter attempting a Recovery Maneuver is still fighting (not potentially “wasting” a turn), just at a disadvantage (approximately -4) if they wish to earn another use of their shield during the current combat.

(Don’t worry about Parry Maneuvers; they are beyond the scope of this post.)

The Buried Giant

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Set in the British dark ages one generation after Arthur, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel The Buried Giant mostly follows the adventures of an elderly couple on a journey to visit their son. A mist of forgetfulness blankets the land, so the story unfolds shudderingly as if through a clouded or scorched lens. This both evokes a wonderful mood and allows Ishiguro to narrate without explaining too much too quickly. Though there are several underlying ideas, the novel is rewarding even if read as a straightforward fantasy, so I will not burden you with my thematic interpretation.

The depiction of myth-historical Britain and the way combat is described are worth focusing on in particular. The ogres and monsters and fairies and dragons are none of them cliches, and this is particularly impressive because Ishiguro describes them all in detail rather than resorting to the common strategy of leaving the imagination to the reader. For one example that I think does not risk spoiling anything overly much:

They might have been gazing at a large skinned animal: an opaque membrane, like the lining of a sheep’s stomach, was stretched tightly over the sinews and joints. Swathed as it was now in moonshadow, the beast appeared roughly the size and shape of a bull, but its head was distinctly wolf-like and of a darker hue—though even here the impression was of blackening by flames rather than of naturally dark fur or flesh. The jaws were massive, the eyes reptilian.

And the warrens that the Britons live in would be a great backstory for a series of mega-dungeons. It would not stretch the imagination to have many of these connected together in one great subterranean sprawl, partially taken over by restless dead, ogres, and other haunts while being active “towns” in other areas.

For warmth and protection, the villagers lived in shelters, many of them dug deep into the hillside, connecting one to the other by underground passages and covered corridors. Our elderly couple lived within one such sprawling warren—“building” would be too grand a word—with roughly sixty other villagers. If you came out of their warren and walked for twenty minutes around the hill, you would have reached the next settlement, and to your eyes, this one would have seemed identical to the first. But to the inhabitants themselves, there would have been many distinguishing details of which they would have been proud or ashamed.

The technique used to describe combat is singularly effective, with many paragraphs of positioning and perhaps some exchange of words prior to any actual attacks. The closest thing I can think of is the high noon contest of nerves in the wild west, but this is not quite that. Finally, the conflict is concluded swiftly with decisive action, with the loving detail focused on the slow buildup rather than a balletic interplay of punches, stabs, and blocks as is usually done in cinematic or adventurous combats. It is probably unlikely that any game would be able to capture this sense of combat, but it might be worth trying. A single scene ends up having many paragraphs like this:

Then the two men became fixed in their new positions, and to an innocent spectator, they may have looked, in relation to one another, practically unchanged from before. Yet Axl could sense that these new positions had a different significance. It had been a long time since he had had to consider combat in such detail, and there remained a frustrating sense that he was failing to see half of what was unfolding before him. But he knew somehow the contest had reached a critical point; that things could not be held like this for long without one or the other combatant being forced to commit himself.

Ishiguro’s Gawain is also perhaps one of the most memorable characters I have read in a long while. Here is a taste.

What do you say, sir? I’m a mortal man, I don’t deny it, but I’m a knight well trained and nurtured for long years of my youth by the great Arthur, who taught me to face all manner of challenge with gladness, even when fear seeps to the marrow, for if we’re mortal let us at least shine handsomely in God’s eyes while we walk this earth! Like all who stood with Arthur, sir, I’ve faced beelzebubs and monsters as well as the darkest intents of men, and always upheld my great king’s example even in the midst of ferocious conflict. What is it you suggest, sir? How dare you? Were you there? I was there, sir, and saw all with these same eyes that fix you now! But what of it, what of it, friends, this is a discussion for some other time. Forgive me, we have other matters to attend to, of course we have. What is it you asked, sir? Ah yes, this beast, yes, I understand it’s monstrous fierce but no demon or spirit and this sword is good enough to slay it.

A successful writer of literary fiction can afford to dedicate five or more years to the writing of a single novel, and the level of resulting craft is clear. Though doing so is a career risk, I hope that more serious writers experiment in this way, because The Buried Giant is a masterpiece. I devoured it over the course of a few days despite my current huge grad school workload, and I plan to read it a second time soon. Recommended without reservations. Apologies for the long quotes, but I felt like I needed to let the novel speak with its own voice.