Last Updated on October 7, 2021
Any shield, magic or mundane, can be an incredibly impactful piece of equipment in Dungeons & Dragons 5e.
However, for such a useful type of gear, I don’t think shields get enough love in the rules as written – certainly not as much as their prettier older sibling, the sword.
When it comes to shields as basic equipment, the rules are simple, straightforward, and remarkably brief. Things are a little better when it comes to magical shields, though.
In our guide to shields in D&D 5e, we’re going to be going over the basics (and presenting some of our own homebrewed options if you want to make mundane shields a little more exciting), as well as looking at how different feats and fighting styles synergize with a classic “sword and board” setup.
Then we’re going to take a look at the magical shields found throughout the game’s official rules, graded by level.
A Basic Guide to Basic Shields
In D&D 5e, shields are a type of equipment made from wood or metal and exist as a subcategory of the rules for Armor.
A shield costs 10 gold pieces (quite the princely sum for a humble low-level adventurer), weighs 6 lbs, and requires one hand to wield. Doing so increases your AC by 2 points – assuming you are proficient with shields.
In 5e, only the Barbarian, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Paladin, and Ranger classes have proficiency with shields. If you try to use a shield and you aren’t proficient (because they use the same proficiency rules as armor) you still get the +2 to your AC, but you suffer disadvantage on any ability check, saving throw, or attack roll that involves Strength or Dexterity, and you can’t cast spells.
Also – presumably after things got a little cheesy during playtesting – you can only use one shield at a time. Strapping extra shields to yourself doesn’t keep giving you AC bonuses.
The official rules for shields are – considering how frequently used they are and how impactful one can be in the game – less than two lines long. That’s less space in the rulebook than is devoted to the description for a Block and Tackle.
In many ways, the game design for shields in D&D 5e is as beautiful as it is simple. Hardly anyone ever gets confused by the concept of a shield. If you know how to use it and you have one on your arm, you get a flat boost to your AC. Easy.
As with many elements of 5e’s ruleset (as I elaborated on in my article on Puzzles and Traps – possibly the most hand-waved element of the game), when it comes to additional detail or a little variety, the designers happily pass the problem down the road to individual source material.
Unlike when it comes to traps and puzzles, I actually don’t mind this approach to shields. Armor Class is an incredibly potent mechanic – an extra point reduces your chances of being hit by a melee or spell attack by 5% – so messing with it too much would almost certainly open up a whole pandora’s box of complications.
That being said, let’s go mess with it.
Mundane Shields Made Exciting
There are many threads on many websites by many prospective homebrew enthusiasts that have tackled the “problem” of how to make shields interesting. For the most part, I’d be inclined to say that, if something isn’t broken, don’t mess with it too much.
However, that’s not to say that shields in D&D 5e are especially interesting or, if you’re a bit of a history buff, particularly accurate. Humans came up with the idea of “hold thing in front of face. Die less,” a very long time ago.
Even if we restrict ourselves to the history of Western and Northern Europe we see a dazzling variety of shields, all built using different materials at different times to serve different purposes.
Obviously, the core purpose always remained “hold thing in front of face. Die less,” but shield design – from the humble round shield to the buckler and the pavise – was rarely that simple.
In the rules as written for 5e, a shield is always a shield, whether you’re deftly knocking aside blows with a buckler or cowering behind a pavise.
And, while that’s absolutely fine, the only place where variety gets introduced to shields in fifth edition is with magic items.
If you’re a low-level adventuring party or especially if you’re a DM running a game in a low-magic setting, we’ve thrown together some optional rules for making mundane shields just a little more exciting.
Cost: 15 sp
Weight: 10 lbs
This large, circular shield is made from wood with a brass or iron boss at the center. While worn on one arm, this shield increases the wearer’s AC by 1. If the wearer is within 5ft of a friendly creature also wielding a shield, the shield increases the wearer’s AC by 2.
If the allied creature’s shield only grants them an AC bonus of 1, it becomes two. A creature can only benefit from one instance of this effect at a time.
Cost: 20 gp
Weight: 8 lbs
This medium-sized shield is forged from steel and often emblazoned with some form of heraldry or insignia. While worn on one arm, the shield increases the bearer’s AC by 2.
Cost: 10 gp
Weight: 4 lbs
This small shield is favored by duelists who focus on the enemy in front of their face and nothing else. While worn on one hand, the Buckler increases the wearer’s AC by 1.
When the wielder is within 5ft of a single hostile creature with no other allies or enemies nearby, upon being hit by a melee attack, they may use their bonus action to reduce the damage by 1d4 + their Dexterity modifier.
Until the start of their next turn, all ranged attacks made against the wielder have advantage.
Cost: 30 gp
Weight: 40 lbs
The Pavise is a 4-5ft tall, square shield used by archers for cover in the heat of battle. You must have a Strength of 12 to use this shield, which increases your AC by 2.
On your turn, you may spend half of your movement allowance to embed the Pavise in the ground, where it now serves as half cover. Mobilizing the Pavise again requires you to spend half your movement.
Feats and Fighting Styles
There are several feats and fighting styles in D&D 5e that can help you make a shield into more than just a plain old +2 AC buff.
While you are wearing armor, you gain a +1 bonus to your AC. This doesn’t strictly interact with a shield (in fact, I’d say it’s more or less a prerequisite for any martial class not carrying a shield) but it can be a great way to double down on being virtually unhittable.
This fighting style allows you to use your reaction to impose disadvantage on an enemy attacking one of your allies if they’re within 5ft of you. You must be wearing a shield to use this style.
Much like Protection, the Interception fighting style requires you to be wielding a shield (or a simple or martial weapon – so just about anything as long as it’s not your bare hands or a chair leg).
Using your reaction, when an enemy attacks a target other than you within 5ft of you, you can reduce the damage by 1d10 + your proficiency modifier.
This feat is probably the easiest and best way to take the humble shield and make it a little more dynamic. While wielding a shield, you gain the ability to – when you take the attack action on your turn – use your bonus action to try to shove a creature within 5 feet of you with your shield.
You can also add your shield’s bonus to any Dexterity saving throws you make against a spell or other harmful effect that targets only you.
And, if you are subjected to an effect that allows you to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, if you pass your saving throw, you can use your reaction to instead take no damage at all.
If you really want a shield but aren’t playing a class with proficiency, as long as you’re proficient with light armor, then the Moderately Armored feat gives you the ability to use a shield without incurring any penalties.
Magical Shields in D&D 5e From the Early to Late Game
If you don’t fancy homebrewing regular shields in D&D 5e, then your best bet for adding a little variety to your +2 AC lump of wood is to get hold of something magical.
While 5e is replete with sprawling lists of magic swords, wands, rings, and other arcane oddities, shields in the base game get something of a short shrift.
There are just three magic shields in the Dungeon Master’s Guide and, while other sourcebooks have expanded that list somewhat, there are still an awful lot less of them than most other types of magic item.
That being said, there’s still a pretty good range of shields in terms of power rankings, so we’ve put together a list of every magical shield in the D&D 5e official rules, organized by suitability from low level ratcatcher to 20th level demigod.
Low Level Shields (1-5)
Shield of Expression
This is the only common magical shield in the official rules. Mechanically, it functions like a regular shield. However, the shield’s front is emblazoned with the likeness of a face – either painted on or carved into the shield.
A shield emblazoned with the symbol of an eye. While holding this shield, you gain advantage on all initiative rolls and Perception checks. Great stuff, but not too game-breaking for a low level adventurer.
From the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount (Matt Mercer’s setting for Critical Role), the Battering Shield gives you a +1 bonus to your AC (on top of the +2 granted by a shield as standard).
Additionally, the shield has 3 charges. When you push a creature within your reach at least 5ft away, you can expend a charge to push them a further 10ft and/or knock it prone. The shield regains 1d3 expended charges each dawn.
Often compared to the +1 weapon, but much more impactful as it brings the total AC bonus from your shield up to +3 – a full 15% increase to the chance an enemy won’t hit you. Awesome stuff.
Mid-Level Shields (6-12)
One of the coolest weapons to put in the hands (so to speak) of an Eldritch Knight or Paladin. The Animated Shield can be used as a normal shield, but at the command of its wielder the shield can leap into the air and hover around them for one minute, serving the function of a regular shield, but leaving both the bearer’s arms free.
Allows you to use a ranged or two-handed weapon without sacrificing your AC.
Arrow Catching Shield
In addition to this shield’s +2 AC bonus, you also gain an additional +2 AC bonus against ranged attacks. Also, when an enemy makes a ranged attack against someone standing within 5ft of you, you can use your reaction to have the attack target you instead.
Shield of Missile Attraction
This is the only shield in the game that comes with a ready-made curse baked in. The shield gives you resistance to all ranged weapon attacks. However, attuning to it causes you to be cursed.
Whether you’re holding the shield or not, any ranged weapon attack that targets someone within 10ft of you targets you instead.
Shield of Far Sight: An especially creepy mind flayer artifact from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, the Shield of Far Sight has a literal organic eye harvested from an intelligent humanoid embedded in the front.
Whomever attunes to the shield can – as long as the shield remains on the same plane of existence – see through the eye, which has darkvision up to 60ft.
Granting a total AC bump of +4, a shield like this can start to really make your character feel like they can’t be hit. Combine it with the Defense fighting style and plate armor, and your AC could go as high as 23.
High Level Shields (13-20)
Shield of the Hidden Lord
This Legendary item is, like, super cursed. This completely death-metal-inspired shield – which is celestial in origin but warped over time by its infernal inhabitant until it looks properly creepy – is the prison of the demon lord Gargauth.
In addition to being a straight-up +2 shield, the Shield of the Hidden Lord is sentient. While the demon lord remains imprisoned within it, the shield has the following properties:
- An Intelligence score of 22, a Wisdom of 18, and a Charisma of 24, as well as hearing and truesight out to a range of 120 feet.
- It can speak, read, and understand Common and Infernal, as well as being able to communicate telepathically with any creature it can sense within 120 feet of it in a deep, hollow whisper.
- The shield has 3 charges. You can use an action to expend 1 charge to cast Fireball or 2 charges to cast Wall of Fire from the shield (save DC 21 for each). The wall of fire spell lasts for 1 minute (no concentration required). The shield regains all expended charges daily at dawn.
- Anytime during your turn, the shield can choose to radiate an aura of dread for 1 minute. (This is not a power of the shield that you control.) Any creature hostile to you that starts its turn within 20 feet of the shield must make a DC 18 Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature is frightened until the start of its next turn. On a successful save, the creature is immune to this power of the shield for the next 24 hours. Once the shield uses this power, it can’t use it again until the next dawn.
Other than the fact that the demon lord living in this shield really, really wants to escape, murder you, and then burn down the universe, this is a pretty great suite of abilities.
Shield of the Uven Rune
Made from the scale of an ancient white (read: super evil and cruel) dragon, this magical shield has a rune (“Uven”, meaning “enemy”) burned into its front side. The shield can be found within the Dungeon of the Mad Mage beneath the city of Waterdeep.
While attuned to the shield you: become immune to cold damage; immediately after a creature hits you with a melee attack, you can use your reaction to deal 3d6 necrotic damage to that creature; you can cast the spell Bane using the shield; and you can spend eight hours performing a ritual to transfer the shield’s magic to a mundane item or weapon of your choice.
Found within the Guildmaster’s Guide to Ravnica, the Pariah’s Shield gives you a +1 AC bonus for every two allies within 5 feet of you (up to a maximum of +3). If you’re a character like a druid or conjuration wizard who focuses on summoning a ton of creatures, this is an insanely powerful way to give yourself a +5 AC bonus.
And then, if you just want the best, fuss-free way of giving yourself a +5 bonus to your AC, grab a +3 shield. A word of warning to DMs: this shield makes the wearer a full 25% less likely to be hit, so save this for the very, very late game, or only give it to a party that’s really struggling with their survivability.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best shield in DnD 5e?
While there are some insanely powerful Legendary shields in DnD 5e, they often also come with baggage, like the occasional curse or imprisoned demon lord. For my money, the basic +3 Shield is the best in the game. The most interesting shield, however, is definitely the Shield of the Hidden Lord.
Can Wizards have shields in DnD 5e?
Wizards don’t have proficiency with shields so, if you want your Wizard to use one, you’re going to need to multiclass into a class that does have shield proficiency (like the fighter) or take the Lightly Armored feat and then the Moderately Armored feat.
How much does a +1 Shield cost?
A +1 shield is listed at 112 gp in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and a +2 shield (Rare) is listed as 838gp. A +3 shield costs 20,000gp.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.