Last Updated on October 24, 2023
Shields are important. In real life, they protect us from the deadly projectiles others can throw at us. These days, who doesn’t bring their shield with them before leaving the house?
Wait… I’m thinking of masks again.
Regardless of our real-life habits, shields can be a vital boost to AC in D&D 5e. Pretty much any martial character wielding a one-handed weapon should grab a shield, and it’s not a bad choice even for spellcasters!
However, there aren’t a lot of shields to choose from — D&D 5e just has the single generic shield meant to cover every possibility.
However, in real life, shields come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Take the buckler, for instance. A smaller shield, the buckler was traditionally used as a hybrid defensive weapon for parrying sword blows while also providing a tool to occasionally smack someone with.
If you’re the kind of player or DM who likes to think about interesting medieval gear to add to D&D 5e, you’ve probably considered the buckler before (and if you haven’t, you should!).
While there’s no official content for a buckler-style shield in 5e, this guide is all about homebrewing your own buckler. We’ll go over how best to put together a homebrew piece of gear like the buckler, a good set of stats for our new piece of equipment, and the best situations in which to use our new shield.
How To Homebrew Gear
When homebrewing equipment, a balance is key. That is, you don’t want to create something so powerful or useful that everyone uses your homebrew equipment instead of standard gear because it’s clearly superior, but you also want there to be occasions when it is simply better to use your homebrew.
When developing the stats for a buckler, we have to compare it to an ordinary shield (which requires proficiency and gives +2 to AC). If our buckler is always superior to a regular shield, then there’s no point in ever using a shield (thus, overpowered). However, if there’s never a scenario where it would simply be better to wield a shield, then we haven’t made a homebrew item anyone will want to use.
Here, real life can provide some inspiration. Cursory internet searches (mostly Wikipedia honestly) tell us that the buckler was a smaller shield gripped in the hand and used to either deflect melee attacks or make quick bashing attacks. It was not suitable for protection against arrows as it was too small, and its placement in the grip of the wielder did not make it as sturdy as a regular shield for defending against heavier weaponry.
So, we need a shield that can be used as a weapon for some moderate amount of damage, provides some protection (but not as much as a regular shield and not against ranged attacks), and can sometimes be more effective to use than a regular shield.
Let’s try out the following stats.
Our buckler will be a Light one-handed “weapon” that grants +1 AC against melee attacks only. A reasonable price, if it matters, is 5 gp. You can attack with it to deal 1d4 bludgeoning damage.
Optionally, you could have the buckler be a little more powerful, perhaps granting a +2 to AC against melee attacks or doing 1d6 damage, but I don’t think it should get more powerful than that.
Notably, using a regular shield as an improvised weapon can also get you 1d4 + Strength bludgeoning damage; however, you do not get proficiency to your attack roll as you would with this buckler.
Lastly, you do need to be proficient with a buckler to use it effectively, and it is a Martial Weapon. If you lack proficiency, you suffer the penalties of not only trying to attack with a weapon you don’t know how to use but also the penalties imposed when wearing armor one is not proficient in.
Using Our Buckler
This item is best used by builds who rely primarily on a one-handed weapon but occasionally lack a use for their Bonus Action.
They can use the buckler for two-weapon fighting when another Bonus Action is not forthcoming but still receive some of the defensive benefits of a shield. Thus, a martial character with a buckler trades in some of the defense of a shield for quicker maneuverability and an offhand weapon.
This is pretty similar to how a buckler would have been used in real life, which is a good sign that these stats are on the right track.
DMs might also consider granting proficiency with the buckler to some spellcasting classes or subclasses, like the Bladesinger wizard. While one cannot cast a spell holding a shield and a sword, the ease with which a buckler can be dropped (compared to a regular shield that has a don and doff time) makes it potentially useful for spellcasters as well as martials.
Developing homebrew magical bucklers can be a bit tricky. You’re kind of adding another layer of homebrew onto existing homebrew — it’s not for the inexperienced!
Here are some general tips to help you make magical bucklers.
Firstly, you can go the obvious route. Simply boost the AC bonus by up to +3. Perhaps a magical buckler creates a force effect, magnifying the protected area or simply guiding the wielder’s hand to the perfect location. You might even make a +3 buckler capable of defending against ranged attacks!
You could also use the buckler to grant resistances against some specific elemental damage or have it do damage when an enemy melee attack misses (to signify the buckler parrying the blow and responding with a magical surge of damage).
Finally, you could use a fun variant of spell turning as in this example item:
The Buckler of Reflection (Rare)
This +1 buckler is capable of deflecting certain spells onto nearby enemies. By cleverly angling the buckler just as the spell hits the magically reinforced shield, the buckler’s wielder can redirect ranged spell attacks of the 1st level or lower.
The buckler’s AC bonus (a total of +2) applies not only to melee attacks but also to ranged spell attacks.
When the wielder is targeted by a ranged spell attack of 1st level or lower, if the attack misses, the wielder can choose to reflect the spell toward a new target within 30 feet of the wielder. Use the original spell’s attack roll to see if the spell hits its new target. On a successful hit, the target suffers the original effects of the spell.
In addition to being an excellent defensive tool for martials, you could use this buckler for around-the-corner trick shots with your party spellcaster.
You could also make a Very Rare version of this item that reflects spells of up to the 3rd or 4th level.
Creating homebrew gear can be pretty tricky. You need to make something that a player can actually use without it being so good that every player would want to use it. A buckler that just grants +1 to AC without any restrictions and without taking up a hand would be way too overpowered, but if it couldn’t be used as a weapon, there would be little reason to consider it over a simple shield.
While what we’ve developed here probably isn’t perfect, it’s a good place to start. You can make a useful buckler, something that works similarly to real-world bucklers in D&D 5e and whose function as an offhand hybrid offensive and defensive piece of gear is supported by its mechanics.
Hopefully, this guide has served to demonstrate how such a buckler might function and even provide insight into how you can design your own gear of any kind.
Whether you’re a sword-swinging martial or a homebrewing DM, good luck on your buckler journey!
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Growing up I spent most of my time reading, so when I first started playing RPGs in middle school and got a copy of DnD 3.5’s rules I loved their collaborative take on storytelling. These days I like to use RPGs to develop my creative problem-solving skills as well.