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In AD&D (1e or 2e) would Bracers of Defense stack with a shield?

The relevant text from the AD&D DMG (p. 139) is:

Their magic bestows an effective armor class equal to actually wearing armor and employing a shield. Of course, if armor is actually worn, the bracers will not be effective, but they do work in conjunction with other magical items of protection.

The wording in AD&D 2e is very slightly different (DMG p. 162):

Their magic bestows an effective armor class equal to actually wearing armor and employing a shield. If armor is actually worn, the bracers have no additional effect, but they do work in conjunction with other magical items of protection.

For what it's worth, I don't remember any player actually doing this back in the day. Magic-users couldn't use shields (and had no way to acquire what later editions would call shield proficiency), and a multi-classed Fighter/Magic-user (for example) would usually just wear armor and leave the Bracers of Defense for the single-classed Magic-user.

I'm mostly curious because of the way this is explicitly addressed in the later editions, such as 3e where they explicitly stack (the 3e equivalent Bracers of Armor gives an armor bonus, which doesn't stack with actual armor but does stack with anything that grants a shield bonus), or 5e where they explicitly don't stack (per the item's description).

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3 Answers 3

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Shields counted as armor in AD&D

2nd Edition

For 2nd Edition you can see this both on the armor table on page 69 that lists under types of armor also Shield, and on the table 46 on page 75, Armor Class Ratings:

Type of Armor AC Rating
None 10
Shield only 9
Leather or padded armor 8
Leather or padded armor + shield, studded leather, or ring mail armor 7
Studded leather or ring mail + shield, brigandine, scale mail, or hide armor 6
Scale mail or hide + shield, chain mail 5
Chain mail + shield, splint mail, banded mail, bronze plate mail 4
Splint mail, banded mail, or bronze plate mail + shield, plate mail 3
Plate mail + shield, field plate 2
Field plate armor + shield, full plate 1
Full plate armor + shield 0

As you can see, in the second line, "Shield only" counts as a Type of Armor.

The whole section on page 75 is also titled Armor, and lists Shields as one of the described types of armor, right between Scale Mail and Splint Mail.

So wearing a shield is wearing armor, and will mean the bracers won't function.

1st Edition

The Armor Table (on page 35 PHB) lists Shields, too, and the ARMOR CLASS TABLE (on page 36 PHB) looks very similar to the table above, again with the Type of Armor column header and "Shield only" listed on the second row with AC 9.

However the text there says

Armor, along with the use of a shield, is the basis for determination of how easily a character can be struck by an opponent's weapon

so it's a bit less clear cut (like many things in 1e), because if you use armor along with a shield, then a shield is not armor. These two contradict each other, so the DM would have to make a ruling how to run it. From all I know about E. Gary Gygax, I'd guess he did not intend your shield to stack with bracers of defense.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think this answer is wrong, but I'm not sure of the justification. 'Shields appear as a type of armor' is true, but the first listing in the table is 'None'. Does that mean that 'No armor' is, by this definition, a type of armor? \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Sep 5, 2023 at 23:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kirt The shield is not only in the table, its also in the list of armors, so you do not need to rely on the table argument to see it counts as armor. None is a type of armor and has an AC, but of course with that type, no armor (including no shield) is actually worn. As bracers only cease to function if armor is actually worn, they work with that type. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 6, 2023 at 4:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree "None" is a type of armor. It's if you currently are wearing no type of armor. At least as you'd interpret any table I've ever seen. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jason_c_o
    May 11 at 11:48
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I liked the answer Nobody the Hobgoblin gave because it is very well explained and reasoned, but I disagree. I played 2e for 20 years and nobody ever thinked in do not stak the bonuses. My elf fighter/mage used the bracers with a customized spell created by his master that emulated a magical shield (as it was weightless, he did not needed to toss it in the ground to cast a spell).

I am almost sure the Baldur's Gate game series based in 2e allowed to stack the bonuses, and as GM I use the following technique: when 2e rules are very confusing or ilogic, look at the (non-canon, ok) pc games and finally open the 3e books to make a decision.

Of course, you could decide the bracers should be used actively (like Wonder Woman does, for example) and now yes, I do see some better logic here.

I agree Gygax was a hardline GM/author but as a counterpoint I readed some answers he gave in interviews and I had noticed a tendency in him to let logic to be above the rules as written.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that the example you gave, of how a homebrew spell interacted with the bracers, is really relevant to how published rules for physical shield works. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Sep 6, 2023 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ In my opinion the 2e rules are being interpreted literally, when they should not be, 3e fixes most of the errors and ilogic thinking from 2e (I prefer 2e than 3e in general, but 3e is more organized). But you did the right thing, down vote is a valid method to express what you think to be an useless answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Lucas
    Sep 6, 2023 at 18:03
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All good arguments, but:

I also disagree with Nobody the Hobgoblin here. Shields are listed under Armor simply for expediency; it would be more complicated to have their own separate chart (and section), and so they did not. The whole purpose of the chart is a quick reference to check AC for Thaco calculations.

Armor is worn. A shield is not worn, it is held and can also be used as a weapon to push or bludgeon or to throw.

I believe the spirit of the rule lies in the fact that armor covers your arms and would thus interfere with bracers (or otherwise cover them up), and thus serves a double purpose. Shields do not so impede the arms.

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