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So the short question is: If a PC had the tower shield proficiency feat and an extra arm, would they be able to wield a Earthbreaker two-handed hammer with a tower shield?

The longer form of the question is: I'm a DM and I've got a player that is planning on making a Duergar Psionist Aegis class with Juggernaut Armor and the enhancement of an extra arm. Basically, he is a fighter with plate armor that can boost certain abilities; he is going mostly DR. Now, the part I'm unsure about is using a Two-Handed Weapon with a Shield in one hand (from his extra arm). As far as I know - and if I'm wrong I would love to be corrected - shields have no negatives for being in the "off-hand".

This could be a huge balancing problem for me and I'm tempted to just say no.

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2 Answers 2

Generally speaking, yes, he could

Two-handed weapons require two hands, shields require one. If you have at least three, that means you can use both.

Shields do not have penalties for being in the “offhand”

That’s where they usually are, regardless of what weapon is otherwise wielded. Also, note that “offhand” doesn’t actually mean anything unless or until you choose to use Two-Weapon Fighting to gain an extra attack.

If you have more than two arms, you usually treat all hands except one as offhand. This again only matters for Multiweapon Fighting.

Tower Shields are really bad

Note that Tower Shields have lots of drawbacks: −2 to all attacks, huge Armor Check Penalty, tiny Max Dex, and they weigh a ton. They are rarely a good idea to use. I’d encourage your player to avoid it, not because it’s too powerful, but because it’s not powerful enough. A solid Heavy Shield gives half as much AC, but you ditch most of the problems you get with a Tower Shield. The Standard Action for Cover option is just not even remotely worth it.

And this is ignoring the fact that Aegides don’t get proficiency in Tower Shields, so he’ll have to multiclass or burn a feat to get it. That’s a big deal; feats should get you more than the option of using equipment that isn’t better than what you already could use.

The Aegis Customizations actually give two arms

As specified under the lesser extra arms customization, these options give a pair of arms, not just one. Note, however, that shields do not stack with one another, so that’s of limited benefit. Lesser extra arms can carry things, but not use them, so that is insufficient to actually benefit from any shield or weapon. Actually using a shield requires extra arms, minimum Aegis 5 and requiring a total of 3 points (2 points for extra arms and 1 point for lesser extra arms which is a prereq). That’s a pretty big chunk of a 5th-level Aegis’s available customization points.

Note that the fourth arm is difficult to use here. He could have a one-handed or light weapon in it, but unless he’s using Two-Weapon Fighting (and therefore has way more Dex than you’d want on someone who has a Max Dex of 2 on his shield, or is taking ludicrous penalties for TWF without the feat) he isn’t able to use that alongside his earthbreaker, so there wouldn’t be much point. Even then, it’s going to take another −2 penalty on attacks just for being in the extra arms; it takes greater extra arms (minimum 8th level, and 6 customization points) to avoid those penalties.

(If it comes up, TWF penalties are based on whether or not he has a Light weapon in the offhand; that his main weapon is two-handed does not affect these. Note he could do this without extra arms if he used Armor Spikes as his Light weapon. Thus, the probably-optimal way to use greater extra arms is Two-Weapon Fighting with a Two-Handed weapon, a Light weapon, and a shield, to minimize TWF penalties. But other than the shield, you could just use Armor Spikes to achieve the same thing, so this is not especially impressive.)

None of this is particularly overpowered

You have a 5th-level character with, as a sizeable portion of his accumulated class features, the ability to use a 2d6-damage weapon along with a shield. Note that a Rogue at this level could easily have 3d6 Sneak Attack damage, on top of a base weapon damage that could be 1d6 or more; sure, some things are immune to that (though quite a lot fewer in Pathfinder than in 3.5), and he has to do a little work to make sure it triggers (though Flanking is usually easy and to everyone’s benefit), but it’s still literally twice as much damage.

He does have more AC, plus the DR of the Juggernaut Armor, but those are his class features, and are a big part of the reason why he’s doing half as much damage, has half as many base skill points for a much smaller list, and so on. And if he actually goes for the Tower Shield, his huge penalties to attack and many skill checks are even bigger problems. Note that for the same penalty to attack, your typical Rogue could double his damage by using Two-Weapon Fighting, so now his damage is quadruple what the Aegis gets.

The Aegis gets to be really, really difficult to hurt with physical attacks. That’s his schtick, that’s what the class is good at. It’s a pretty narrow schtick and I worry that he’ll find that smart enemies just ignore him since he’s a pain to kill but has low damage output. Maybe he’ll invest other customizations towards improving that, but Aegides aren’t exactly amazing in that department; he’s never actually going to catch up with the Rogue who gets his dual-wielding full-sneak-attack. That’s the Rogue’s thing; this is the Aegis’s. I recommend against punishing players for being good at what they’re supposed to be good at.

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Hey, remember that if he uses two arms for wielding the weapon and one for the shield, the fourth could count as a free hand for, say, drinking a potion, or to avoid dropping his primary weapon when he needs to pull a different one. Our fighter some time back lost a longsword 'cause he had to quick-draw his backup spear, and dropped the blade. Then we had to flee through a portal and the sword got left behind, since he had not the chance to pick it up (in fact he forgot to do so. We laughed for hours). A nifty free arm would have helped him avoid that. –  Cryptangel Aug 5 at 15:27

If you feel something is too strong, look for unintended, logical consequences. Ask the player, "Hey what about this, and this, and that?" Negotiate with the player, bringing consequences into play that will balance the design, but that the player is willing (or even eager!) to deal with, while tossing the consequences that are too much. Disallowing something outright is not as interesting as allowing them the power with a handicap, because it introduces strengths, weaknesses, and personal motivations to the character.

It's a difficult situation for you because character design has already happened, and retconning to the player's detriment is never fun for anyone - and has been talked about before. I would suggest phrasing it to the player not as a nerf, but as a way to flesh out their character. "I was thinking, this arm thing is really cool and useful, but what's it like to actually live with the thing?"

For example, since the arm is a prosthetic provided by some magical armor, you could consider that it is far more complex and power-intensive than most magical items. Where does it draw that power from, and how does the user instinctively control it? When he grabs something with it, does he feel the touch? If something cuts into it, does he feel pain?

A possibility: Maybe it bonds with the user, inserting needles that tap into the nervous and circulatory system. This works just fine, until the soul gem powering it runs out of juice. Then the player either replaces the gem, or puts up with armor sucking at their lifeforce. I'm not sure what the exact consequence of that would be. A negative level? Reduced HPs? Hallucinations? I don't know enough Pathfinder math, it'd be easy to over-do it. Can the armor be safely removed when it's feeding on the user instead of a soul gem?

In any case, this would be something that would come with the armor's Owner's Manual, as it were. Duergar, being like dwarves, I could see them etching that information into the armor itself, along with its maker, its lineage, stories of great deeds the armor's been used for, etc etc.

The following suggestions are from when I incorrectly believed the arms to be an aberrant mutation and part of the body, but they might still be interesting:

Having one or two extra limbs would be really, really awkward. Having full range of motion with an arm requires some considerations:

  1. A ball-and-joint shoulder socket. Where exactly are these extra arms going to go? Is it going to replace the scapula, with the extra arms sprouting out one's back? Are the arms going to be directly underneath one's original arms? Duergar are already compacted down there. I would expect this to deform the rib cage, and put the squeeze on internal organs, with all sorts of consequences for lungs, stomach, liver, etc. This would be completely untenable without some weird magic, and even then I would expect a constitution penalty. I'm not pulling this out of nowhere: one of my family members has three kidneys (!) and I can tell you it causes problems.
  2. A vast, complex network of muscles and tendons. Notice in particular that the latissimus dorsi (essential for swinging a warhammer up and down!) goes all the way down to the pelvis. If you added in an extra pair of arms, it would totally play havoc with this. The two sets would constantly be interfering with each other... either that, or they would be unable to move independently. If you're using that extra pair of hands to hold a tower shield, that screams extra, extra dex penalty to me.
  3. Tailored clothing and armor. That +5 Full Mythril Plate Armor of Invulnerability? Sorry, you can't fit your arms through it. Maybe you expand the arm holes, but where will you find the tools to cut mythril? That's like a quest all its own.
  4. A chiropractor and a massage therapist.

Essentially, he'd end up with a character who has all the flexibility and maneuverability of a Char B1. That being said, if he takes that idea and runs with it all the way, he could be a fun character for the whole group ;-)

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Enforcing unintended logical consequences on your player without informing them during character building is terrible DMing, so, downvote. Awful advice: it’s just a passive-aggressive way to say “no” except now your player has less reason to trust you and you have had an argument about this. I would most likely take that opportunity to leave a game if a DM seriously thought that this was acceptable behavior, because it indicates that he clearly values my time and effort and input into the game very little. –  KRyan Jan 10 at 17:20
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This has been very educational. It seems there are a lot of things I've taken for granted with my particular gaming group. We've always been able to just talk through such problems, mixing/matching/ignoring penalties or mechanics until everyone's satisfied. –  AndrewK Jan 12 at 1:13

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