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What are shields?
The peoples of Toril used many different types of shields throughout the centuries. Whether a small buckler or large and rectangular pavise, shields come in all manner of shapes, sizes, materials, thicknesses, and grips. They protect their wearer and sometimes others by intercepting most types of melee and ranged attacks during combat. Various hardwoods, animal hides, woven reeds, and even lighter stones like lime provide great shielding material. Leather, rawhide, and metal also act as further reinforcement through bosses, a rim, or banding.
A higher armor class may be alluring, but not all adventurers can carry shields. These additional defensive bolsterers are available to those with proficiency like barbarians, clerics, druids, fighters, paladins, or rangers. However, a lucky few may take specific feats like “Moderately Armored” that provide them with the necessary skills as well. Regardless, those who chose to take additional protective precautions should keep in mind their fighting style or vocation. A warrior who relies on speed often selects a lighter, more agile-friendly shield, while heavy troops require more robust protection covering the bulk of their body.
Which is the best to use?
Different cultures have used round shields of varying sizes made from several linden wood types, including fir, alder, and poplar, with steel or iron bosses or umbos. These materials are light in hand and less likely to split or deteriorate over time. Owners of round shields often personalized them with colors or patterns but usually kept things simple due to their consistent use.
Many believe the use of mounted cavalry led to the development of the kite shield, as its narrow bottom protected the rider's legs while the upper curve defended the rider's shoulder and torso. However, not all warriors who wore a kite shield rode a mount. Consequently, the shield's shape evolved over the years to allow soldiers to hold the shield upright without limiting their field of vision.
Nimble fighters and rangers may prefer the size of a buckler. These shields are generally the smallest of the group, around 18 in or 45 cm. Typically made from metal, bucklers are held in the fist by a central handle positioned directly behind the boss and often stored on the user's belt. Bucklers were companion weapons, often paired with a sword or other single-handed melee weapon. Due to their size, these shields offered inadequate protection against missiles. Instead, they worked best by deflecting an opponent's blows and countering appropriately.
Heaters came later in Toril's history, with its shape evolving from the kite shield. As armor improved and covered more of the body, most shield sizes began to shrink. The decreased size and weight allowed Heaters to become more manageable and provided the ability to be used both mounted and on foot. The reduced material also made these shields cheap to produce, which allowed them to be available to nearly every social class.
The pavise was the largest of standard shields shapes. Tall, square, and convex, this shield commonly protected archers, crossbowmen, and infantry soldiers. It was often large enough to cover the entire body, which allowed its user to crouch behind it to reload their weapon.