I'm a fledgling DM and tonight, my group encountered and killed a group of giant fire beetles. They were looting the bodies and asked if they could use the beetle parts as shields. The books say nothing about it and I'm wondering how to go about doing this. We're doing the Out of the Abyss campaign and the party just escaped Velkenvelve and is trying to survive the underdark with nothing more than undergarments and some flint daggers. My question is, would it be possible to loot the fire beetles for their carapaces to use as shields? And if so, how?
This is role playing game — nothing is impossible.
The rules of D&D 5e are simple:
- You describe the environment — dead fire beetles
- The player's describe their characters actions — turn fire beetle carapaces into shields
- You narrate the result of the characters' actions — shields or no shields.
Which step is giving you trouble? :-)
If you are looking for help with step 3, the Player's Handbook has rules for crafting on p. 187. In summary:
- you need to be proficient in the relevant tools — woodworking, smiths tools, whatever — look at what tool proficiencies the players have and see if it can be stretched to fit
- you need the tools
- it takes 2 days per proficient character for each shield (you can craft 5gp/day and shields cost 10gp)
On that basis, it is unlikely that they will have the skills, the tools and the time so no shields for them.
However, there is always the rule of cool — good ideas should be rewarded. So they can't make a shield but maybe with a couple of hours' work they can knock something up that will act as a shield for an encounter or two?
As the DM, making these decisions falls on your shoulders. It's up to you to consider the circumstances of the game and make a ruling - if the rules don't explicitly say, there's no "right" answer.
Nevertheless, some answers are clearly better than others, and it can be hard to reach a quick judgement. What helps is to have some principles to inform your decision. (Check out Apocalypse World, which has a whole chapter dedicated to this stuff.) in D&D, you probably want to consider that:
- Whatever's happening should be plausible and not break anyone's suspension of disbelief or contradict what's come before.
- The game should present difficult and interesting* challenges to the players.
- Players will have more fun if the ideas they come up with are rewarded: Part of the game is being clever and resourceful, so let them be clever and resourceful. Even if it defies the expectations of you or the module writer.
These bullet points are what I think make good principles in a game of D&D, but you might have a different idea. Talk it over with your players if you want and go with what you feel good about. Or if all else fails, try to read the body language of the other players at the table. If they think something's lame, nix it. If they think something's awesome, go for it! You're one of the players at the table too, though, so don't think you can't take your own reaction into consideration.
Assuming you like those bullet points, if they try to do something unorthodox and you think it might be reasonable but you aren't sure you want to just let them do it like that, you might:
- Let them do it, but present some drawback that makes it only partially effective: "You can cut up the carapaces for makeshift shields, but they'll be brittle and only take one hit before falling apart."
- Let them do it, but present some cost they'll have to pay if they want to reap the rewards: "You can cut up the carapaces for makeshift shields, but you'll ruin a couple of your knives in the process."
- Let them do it, but introduce a complication: "You can cut up the carapaces for makeshift shields, but it'll be noisy. You might attract the attention of the monsters in the next room."
- Let them do it if they can meet some conditions: "You can cut up the carapaces for chitinous plates, but you won't be able to make shields until you get some leather straps or something."
- For all of these options, you can have the bad thing be certain, or else put it behind a roll: "You might ruin a couple of knives in the process if you fail a Dexterity check."
- If you can see how it might work but you're not sure, press for more details and then judge based on what they say: "Okay, so you're going to cut the insects apart to make shields. How?" "We cut at the joints with our knives, free the chest or back plates, then scrape away the viscera." "But how do you keep them strapped to your arms?" "Hmm... we don't have anything we can cut into straps. I guess we'll just have to hold them." "Sounds awkward. I'm gonna say you can do it, but not hold weapons at the same time - and if you miss a roll or something like that, I might choose to have you fumble the shield along with whatever else happens."
So, in accordance with the principles I listed: These all let you maintain suspension of disbelief - maybe you think that you can't just cut a dead thing apart and have a fully functioning shield, that's stupid - but you're also letting their clever idea be rewarded by giving them at least something, and/or you're presenting them with interesting decisions to make about what they're willing to risk or put up with to have the shields.
Or just let them do it. That's also a great option sometimes. In this case, you'd have the opportunity to keep bringing the fictional details of the shields back into play: "Halt! Who goes there? What are those crude shields you carry? I see they have bright red patterns on them, but I don't recognize that insignia as belonging to any clan I know..." The players would love that, I bet. Before you know it, your PCs will be famous as the Fire Beetle Warriors or some such. Sweet!
As for the crafting rules, you might figure there's a difference between a nice, professional-looking shield that takes the tools and time and all that to put together, and the desperate, hacked-together things they can manage to create on the spot. They need the crafting rules to end up with the kind of shields that cost 10 gp and offer a +2 AC bonus. That's not what they're getting under these circumstances. But again, it's up to you and your game principles to decide in the moment what's plausible and what's fun and where to draw the lines.
*By "Interesting," I mean that there are
- choices to make
- that are relevant to what the players think is important, (which could just be their hp or gp totals and that's completely reasonable,)
- with some significant gains, losses, and or changes at stake,
- and it's neither totally certain nor totally uncertain which choice is best. (Though it might become certain if they can gather more information - but that itself should present its own interesting challenges.) (If there's only a predefined "right" answer or set of answers, whether the players know it or not, I say you're on dangerous ground. But that's a whole different topic.)
I would point out that the party just finished killing these beetles using flint knives, and as such, the carapaces probably won't offer very much in the way of protection.
I would allow them to take the carapaces if they still wanted to, but I wouldn't assign any real benefit to using them as shields.
If the adventure literally starts them off in their undergarments, I expect there's a point in the not too distant future where they'll have an opportunity to buy real shields and armor. Maybe carrying some useless bug parts for a while will give them the confidence they need to go on and reach that point.