Shields Are Useless

"If I were to pick up this cowering-plate, I would have to put down my second sword," a Scotsman thinks. "And surely this is madness."

Shields. Big pieces of wood and/or metal that protect at least one half of your body against attack. Pretty useful in battle, you might think. And indeed some characters will gratefully sigh that Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me. Others, however, are not so sure.

In reality, people covered by a shield from shoulder to knee are rather difficult to hit. Only their head and calves/feet are exposed. This meant that in the Middle Ages, a popular trick was to stab your opponent in the foot and then, whether they saw what you were trying to do and went to protect their foot, or didn't and dropped their guard when hit, you stab them in the face. Which is arguably less cool than heroic slashing.

This trope applies whenever shields are shown to have a negligible effect in combat. A Hero may discard his shield before charging the Big Bad just to show how badass he really is. Yes, our hero is so awesome that he doesn't need a shield. In the villainous version, mooks will have shields - but the good guy, armed with a BFS, or two swords at once, will still slaughter them by the hundreds. Apparently they learn to use their shields at the medieval equivalent of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy. And it only gets worse if the hero has an Absurdly Sharp Blade, as said shields will put up all the resistance of wet tissue paper, often getting cloven right in two!

Closely related to Armor Is Useless. Not to be confused with Deflector Shields.

Contrast Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me, Barrier Warrior. Compare and contrast Throwing Your Shield Always Works — it shows there's something you can do with them, but rather relies on the belief that there's no particular use in holding onto it.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: Samson is one of the few characters to use a shield. As soon as he blocks with it instead of parrying with his weapon, a single slash from Guts' sword went through it, Samson's helmet, and his entire head.
  • In Gate, the Empire's Roman/Medieval style shields do not protect against bullets at all.

    Card Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: Many cards have effects that destroy monster in Defense Position. Some of those have artworks that feature broken shields.

    Comic Books 
  • In Astérix, the Roman legionaries are regularly shown with their large scutum wall-pattern shields, often put into strong defensive formations like the Tortoise or the Square. Historically, such shields and formations were quite effective. Unfortunately for the Romans, their defenses are worth precisely jack-squat against the Gauls of the Undefeatable Little Village, who plow through formations and flatten legionaries on a regular basis, which usually ends with both legionaries and shields crumpled like newspaper. Usually, scutum only see some use when the Gauls get their hands on bash legionaries over the head repeatedly.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Kingdom of Heaven, when the walls of Jerusalem are breached, Orlando Bloom's character throws aside his shield and charges into the fray with only his sword. In reality this would be a death sentence.
  • In the The Lord of the Rings trilogy, shields are used for a variety of standard and creative purposes, but often we see the Red Shirt Armies on both sides just letting their shields hang by their sides as they're casually dispatched. The only member of the Fellowship to carry a shield is Boromir, and we know what happened to him. The most famous use of a shield in the trilogy? A surfboard for Legolas.
  • In Hero, Flying Snow and Broken Sword fight through the entire imperial guard single-handedly, slicing through their shields like cardboard.
  • In A Knight's Tale, William's master's shield does nothing more than attract derision. ("How quaint!") After William gets his new suit of armor, he never wears a shield again. In real life, late-medieval knights did away with shields because full plate armour made them mostly redundant, and it wasn't until gunpowder weapons came along that they made a minor comeback.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Most combatants in Game of Thrones don't use shields, even when they're only using one hand for a weapon. The ones that do generally don't get much use out of them:
    • Bronn refuses a shield for his duel with Vardis Egan. Combined with his lighter armor, he's able to use his increased mobility to defeat the Mighty Glacier by wearing him down.
    • Brienne's shield isn't of much help in the melee, as Loras causes enough damage to it with his axe that she is forced to discard it during their fight.
    • The Unsullied use spears and shields, and while they sometimes are shown working, other times they just leave them by their side not doing anything.
  • Deadliest Warrior:
    • Because of how shields were treated by the simulation model at the time the episode aired, the Viking's shield is this. Specifically, all equipment was ranked by the number of kills made, and the shield (obviously) recorded the fewest kills of all the equipment assigned to the Viking and Samurai (if you're curious, the Samurai was given a kanabonote  in the same slot as the Viking's shield). The simulation did not give any consideration to how many deaths the shield prevented (its primary function).
    • In addition, the ishlangu shield (made of leather over a wooden frame) wielded by Shaka Zulu was saved from being cut in half by William Wallace's claymore only by the frame that held it up.
    • This trope is completely averted, thou in every episode involving the Spartan, being useful not only for defense, but also as a weapon. It might have something to do with the heavier construction of the Spartan shield, made from metal not wood or animal skin.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Shields in GURPS provide no help against guns and energy weapon unless they're big enough to hide behind.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In standard rules, shields give a passive bonus to your AC, typically by a mere 1 or 2 (5% or 10%) without any modifiers. In doing do, however, they take up a hand, preventing your character from using both hands for offense. You also must be proficient in shields to get any benefit. Various magical enchantments, feats, and different rule systems can be used to make shields more useful. These examples should be listed in Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me.
    • Basic D&D shields only provides a nominal passive bonus to AC. However, they provide Breakable Weapons known as Shield Weapons that give an attack and a better AC bonus if you train them well enough.
  • d20 Modern allows the player to carry a shield. While it may seem like an odd choice in a game where firearms are generally quite available, sufficiently large shields (like riot shields) which also provide ballistic protection offer the benefit of cover, a vital mechanic for staying alive.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Among Space Marines, shields are pretty much only used by melee-obsessed Chapters like he Black Templars and by Terminators (in which case they're an aversion, being capable of protecting the user from anti-vehicle weapons). Even the Grey Knights (who wield psychic-force halberds to face-stab daemons) exchange shields for a wrist-mounted double-barreled storm bolter.
    My faith is my shield!

    Video Games 
  • Bloodborne plays this surprisingly straight, given the predominant combat style in its spiritual predecessor. The only shield available, the wooden shield, is called "ineffectual" in its own item description. The description is accurate, in most situations. Subverted in that the shield is actually decent at blocking gunfire, the one thing you'd think a medieval shield would not be useful for.
    • The Old Hunters DLC adds the Loch Shield which is even better at blocking gunfire and elemental attacks, but manages to be 'worse' at blocking normal physical attacks, thanks to being made of glass instead of wood. How someone in Yharnam came up with bullet-proof glass is anyone's guess.
  • Sniper Joes are shield-toting enemies you'll find in many of the classic Mega Man (Classic) games. Their shields are quite effective at blocking even fully charged buster shots, but are useless against weapons that go through enemies, like the Elec Beam. Similarly, Mettool/Metall/Mettaur hide under hard hats, and there are weapons that can destroy them while they're hiding.
    • Mega Man X2 featured shielded enemies who could be temporarily disarmed with a single charged shot.
    • As of Mega Man X8, X's fully charged buster shot, Zero's 3-hit sword combo, and Axl's rapid-fire shots can flip Metools over. They all also have at least one boss weapon that breaks shields like the previously-mentioned techniques, and one that bypasses shields completely.
  • The businessman's briefcase shield, however, is no match for the mighty Mad Karate Man's skills!
  • World of Warcraft: Played straight for offensively-minded Warriors, Paladins and Enhancement Shaman, which will much rather use a two-handed weapon or dual-wield. Averted for tanking, where the shield provides a good chunk of armor, allows blocking and is required for several useful abilities such as Shield Bash (smacking an enemy with the shield to interrupt spells).
    • Nowadays however, the tank specializations for warriors and paladins can be quite deadly in PvP if used right through combination of being able to survive normally lethal burst and being concentrated on while being able to deal decent enough damage to be a threat as well as taking up time from people who try to kill them while their allies enjoy not being attacked. A well geared warrior/paladin designed like this can tear lesser geared damage specialized classes apart, especially cloth wearers. One on one fights with them can be quite unfair due to their survivability as well.
    • The Death Knight class is the only plate-wearing class that cannot use shields. They can still act as a tank but use other damage mitigation abilities to offset the lack of a shield.
    • Paladins and Shaman also find some shields to be useful for spellcasting while still offering decent protection (blocking won't be very effective, but shields still make up about a third of the players total armor value).
  • In Tales of Symphonia, Kratos and Zelos can equip shields. They don't actually do anything except add a few points to the defense stat.
    • Actually, the shields can occasionally deflect insignificant projectile attacks that happen to land directly on their hitbox. Tales of Phantasia (the first game in the series) had Cless, whose shield showed up on his sprite even when he didn't have one equipped, and could sometimes negate enemy attacks if he wasn't moving.
  • Age of Empires: Several units carry shields (in some cases added by upgrades) without getting any tangible benefit from them.
    • Age of Empires Online averts this since shields are part of all units equipment that are seen using them. Generally speaking, they add a slight health boost and a significant ranged defense boost. the Babylonian Shield Carrier is entirely based on this, using a massive shield to make ranged attacks almost useless.
    • Age of Mythology is a partial example; the shields most units carry don't have an obvious effect, but the Armoury shield upgrades that put bigger shields on the unit models do increase their resistance to arrows.
  • Bastiodon from Pokémon has a shield as a face and is one of the most defensive Pokémon in the game, but that doesn't stop Ground and Fighting-type attacks from walking all over him (damn his vulnerable Rock/Steel typing).
  • Played nearly (and painfully) straight in the Punch-Out!!-esque WiiWare and Nintendo 3DS game Rage Of The Gladiator. While some attacks can be blocked with the shield, most simply go right through it and deal full damage to you. Some of them can't be evaded and need to be blocked with a shield though, like most long-lasting beam attacks.
  • Earthworm Jim will encounter Lawyers who hide behind their bulletproof briefcases. Luckily Jim can whip them out of their hands easily.
  • The Elder Scrolls has the Tsaesci, an Akaviri race of supposed "snake vampires". Historical records indicate that they like to dual wield a katana and wakizashi, and have a cultural aversion to shields. Tsaesci martial arts emphasize agility over blocking, and preach that if you don't want to get by your opponent, you get out of the way. They would even do this for arrows. When they attempted to invade Tamriel in the late 1st Era, they were confused by human warriors using the "sword-and-board" fighting style.
  • Metal Slug, a shielded infantry can take many hits from gun shots, but with grenade, the shield goes down in one hit if the bomb doesn't outright kill him.
  • Throughout the core Phantasy Star series (outside of the first game), you are given the option of equipping shields on men and "emels" on women for extra defense. However, the games, instead of having dedicated weapon and armor slots, equip the characters' left and right hands. When it is nearly always more effect to either dual wield or use a two-handed weapon, you're going to ignore shields pretty fast. The exception is for your magic users and healers, where it's actually more effective to give them two shields instead of a weapon, turning it into Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me.
  • Thoroughly averted in Dwarf Fortress, which handles shields unusually realistically; instead of counting as extra armour, they grant a large bonus to a separate 'parry' role and also act as a secondary weapon that does quite respectable bludgeoning damage. If anything, they're actually overpowered at the moment because Breakable Weapons and other equipment haven't been implemented, so even a simple wooden shield can deflect a blast of dragonfire and suffer no damage.
  • Team Fortress 2: Played fairly straight with the Razorback, a shield for the Sniper whose only purpose is to prevent the inevitable Back Stab but has only one use that delays the Spy for literally two seconds, is clearly visible to the enemy (so the Spy can just shoot them with their Revolver), and the Sniper might not even notice it breaking (and when he does, he only has his melee weapon for self-defense at close range).
    • The available unlocks released after the initial class updates subvert this. The Darwin's Danger Shield provides the Sniper with an additional 25 hit points and a 15% reduction in bullet damage. This combination of bonuses allows them to survive uncharged headshots or fully charged bodyshots (even offsetting the Machina damage bonus) when at full health, while simply being more vulnerable to explosive damage. Considering that a sniper's greatest threats are other snipers, and not explosive classes... there's a reason that this weapon has been consistently banned in every competitive or even semi-competitive league.
  • In the original Super Smash Bros., Link's shield is purely cosmetic. Later games decided to fix this by allowing his shield to block projectile attacks while he's standing still, much like the older Zelda games.
  • Completely averted by Dragon Quest IX, where having a shield gives you a permanent chance to block an attack without affecting your weapon-holding ability in any way (whether or not it makes sense). Instead, there are character classes that don't use a shield (it's replaced by another weapon skill) until you max out the shield skill.
  • Literally the case in Super Robot Wars Judgment, where due to a programming error, the Shield Defense attribute doesn't reduce any damage at all.
  • Played with in Quest for Glory. The Weapon Master in Quest for Glory I has this opinion, looking down on the brigands and calling them cowards for using shields, though he admits they are quite successful. He firmly believes that a skilled swordsman has no need of a shield. And [the player] definitely needs a shield. In the EGA version of the game, the player can drop his shield as a Fighter with no real ill effect, and in fact this enables him to use magic in close combat (carrying a shield normally prevents a Fighter with magic from doing so). However the VGA remake (and subsequent games until QFGV) doesn't allow you to do this, so the Fighter and Paladin have no choice but to use their shields throughout the series. Quest for Glory II-IV largely avert this, particularly in II, which greatly refines and improves on the combat system. It's finally played largely straight again in V, in which rather than blocking blows, Parry acts as damage reduction instead, and having a shield doesn't offer much better protection than blocking with your weapon.
  • For Honor plays the trope straight with the Mooks, who all wear wooden shields that fail to defend them from Player Characters, who subvert this trope.

    Real Life 
  • The heavier your armour is, the less defence a shield would give you. With the invention of full suits of plate armour, knights stopped carrying shields because they were already so heavily protected that a shield was little more than an extra encumbrance. Compare the kite shield of the early Middle Ages to the considerably smaller heater shield. It also meant that the extra swinging power of the off hand was needed to penetrate your enemy's full plate with your weapon.
  • Japan effectively abandoned the use of personal shields from the late Heian period onwards, while nearby countries like China or Korea still used shields often. This came back to bite Japanese warriors later when they tried fighting people who had mysterious planks of stuff that stopped swords while letting their other arm come around with its own weapon.