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One of my players raised an interesting observation about how the tower shield is worded.

In most situations, a tower shield provides the indicated shield bonus to your Armor Class. As a standard action, however, you can use a tower shield to grant you total cover until the beginning of your next turn.

He feels that when using the total cover feature of the shield, the normal AC bonus disappears. After reading carefully I find myself in agreement but still unsure as its vague to me.

Could someone clarify if using the tower shields total cover ability does make you lose its AC bonus?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What are planning to use the AC for? You can't be attacked if you have Total Cover. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Sep 7 '15 at 5:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ The tower shield only provides total cover on one edge of the square. You can still be attacked from the other 3 directions, or magic can target the shield too easily. \$\endgroup\$ – Fering Sep 7 '15 at 5:12
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By RAW you are correct, using a tower shield for cover negates its AC bonus.

As you said, the item description is ambiguous, but if you go to the tower shield entry in the armor and shield table, you see the following footnote attached:

A tower shield can instead grant you cover. See the description.

That makes these sentences,

In most situations, it provides the indicated shield bonus to your AC. As a standard action, however, you can use a tower shield to grant you total cover until the beginning of your next turn.

Pretty unambiguous.

Side note: The tower shield entry from Paizo's SRD has the following:

When using a tower shield in this way, you must choose one edge of your space. That edge is treated as a solid wall for attacks targeting you only. You gain total cover for attacks that pass through this edge and no cover for attacks that do not pass through this edge (see Combat).

However, KRyan IS right about the tower shield being super weak. Es lo que hay.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've +1ed this as sometimes a table includes information that isn't present elsewhere yet expands and doesn't contradict the text. While that makes finding such info more difficult, that doesn't make such info any less rules-legal. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 8 '15 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ If the primary text is ambiguous, and the secondary text is explicitly clear, then the secondary texts does not contradict the primary but rather clarifies it. \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Sep 9 '15 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan It clarifies the special case in exactly the way you suggested it needed to be clarified in your answer. Also, I don't know if there's an official text-trumps-table rule in Pathfinder, so I don't even know if that's relevant—seriously, it might all be rules text, making that table entry just as rules legal as the descriptive text. \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 9 '15 at 17:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Ah, fair. Well then. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 9 '15 at 18:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage That’s not actually true: if the primary text says something, even an ambiguous thing, a clarification changes that and a secondary source cannot do that (also, I really disagree that the primary source is ambiguous). Only if the primary text does not address it at all can a secondary text be valid. But the primary/secondary distinction is a 3.5 concept; Pathfinder lacks official rules for deciding such cases, and so HeyICanChan is correct that now the situation is ambiguous. Go Paizo... \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 9 '15 at 18:33
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RAW your player's reading is correct

The phrasing of the entry makes it unambiguously clear that the bonus is lost in this case:

In most situations, a tower shield provides the indicated shield bonus to your Armor Class. As a standard action, however...

Nonetheless, Tower shields are only very rarely useful and, particularly if your party is a small group of combat-focused adventurers, you should probably not employ the rule this way if you want tower shields to be a viable option.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your statement that tower shields are “very rarely useful” is incorrect: they are literally never useful. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 9 '15 at 17:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ My GM had an NPC that used a tower shield effectively. He put an immovable rod in the shield and would set it then throw things from behind it. It worked well, until we put a Spiked Pit spell under him. \$\endgroup\$ – GreySage Sep 9 '15 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan they're alright for sneaky types with a high enough stealth, since you can use them to hide. And they're certainly useful for non-adventurers; my paladin order when I GM often raises massed armies of poorly equipped low-level peasants in order to combat threats composed of superior combatants. Tower shields allow a block formation with a core of Huge (2 handed) scorpion whips to be protected more or less indefinitely by as little as 4 trained Paladins. Furthermore, tiny creatures, like pixies, are awesome with tower shields, since four of them can fit in a square (except magic :( ) \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Sep 10 '15 at 2:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GreySage There is nothing in the rules that allows you to do that; it’s meaningless to dispute statements about mechanical effectiveness with tactics that only work because a DM allowed his own NPC to do something the rules didn’t. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 10 '15 at 2:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Yeah, I’m not about to dignify that tactic with a change from my initial never statement. Yes, OK, RAW that works, but on the flip side of GreySage’s suggestion, you’ll have a really hard time playing that at any table. The immovable rod idea seems more reasonable than that one. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 10 '15 at 2:41

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