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Shields Are Useless

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"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."
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Shields. Big pieces of wood, animal hide, 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. This trope applies whenever shields are shown to have a negligible effect in combat, or are treated as an unnecessary encumberance.

The use of a shield in combination with one's choice of spear, sword, axe, etc. been enduringly popular throughout the history of hand-to-hand fighting because it works, especially if you haven't got a lot of armor and also need to protect against arrows or thrown projectiles. Just because it's practical doesn't necessarily mean it's entertaining, though. Storytellers prefer to give a Hero a more flashy or exotic fighting style, often a two-handed weapon such as a BFS, and sometimes even two swords at once. According to The Law of Diminishing Defensive Effort, this means he's either tough enough or skilled enough that he doesn't need a shield. Even if a hero begins the fight scene with a shield and uses it to block some hits—something often required in a Sword & Sandal epic where shields are just too iconic of the period not to include—he'll take minor damage to the shield as an excuse to throw it away, and then he won't go looking for a new one. Furthermore, discarding a perfectly good shield before charging a villain can be a sign of reckless bravery or determination to fight seriously, getting rid of the protective but encumbering object in order to move more quickly and strike powerful, two-handed blows.

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In the hands of the Red Shirt Army or a villain's mooks, shields are little more than a part of their costume. They will rarely form a proper shield wall or use proper guard technique, often letting it hang limp at their side or swinging it behind them each time they strike a blow with their weapon. They may or may not be smart enough to try a Shield Bash. Their shields also seem to be made of cheap crap, since a major character's Absurdly Sharp Blade can cut through them like wet tissue paper, and they'll disintegrate if you give them a strong kick.

Historians of combat such as Matt Easton have pointed out that it's more difficult to train actors to use a weapon and shield at the same time compared to just a weapon, and that large shields have an annoying tendency to block line of sight while a fight is being filmed. When you watch videos of historical recreations like this one from Roland Warzecha, you'll notice that large center-gripped shields can make it hard to see what's going on between the fighters at certain angles, and that's without getting into Jitter Cam or close-ups. Since shields are of limited use for Hollywood flynning, it may be tempting to portray shields as useless so that the main characters (and by extension, their actors) have an in-universe justification not to use them.

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Closely related to Armor Is Useless and Helmets Are Hardly Heroic. 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.


Examples:

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    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.
  • Justified in Gate. The Empire's Roman/Medieval style shields were never made to block modern bullets, so the JSDF can shoot straight through them. Rory Mercury has Super Strength so her halberd can slice through shields like butter.
  • A Certain Magical Index: When Touma Kamijou tries to rescue Misuzu Misaka from Skill-Out, at one point, the Skill-Out thugs try to shoot him. He protects himself with a riot shield. Though it blocks most of the bullets, the last one somehow punches through the shield and nails him in the side.

    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 Asterix, 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 them...to 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. He favours a double-handed style throughout the film, so he apparently took up the shield for the sole purpose of discarding it.
  • 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.
  • In Troy, shields tend to get thrown away a lot.
    • Achilles dodges the first spear thrown by Boagrius, lets the second one lodge in his shield, and then drops the shield so he can break into a sprint and perform a leaping stab down into Boagrius' shoulder before the giant can raise his own shield.
    • When the grizzled warrior Menelaus engages the callow Paris in Combat by Champion to settle the war, the result is a Curb-Stomp Battle instead of a real fight. While Paris hides behind his shield, Menelaus confidently and contemptuously throws his away and just uses his sword to beat down Paris' guard, before wrenching the shield from Paris' hands and putting him totally at his mercy.
    • Achilles and Hector start out their fatal duel with spear and shield, but end up with swords alone as they progress to the point of Combat Breakdown.

    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. The uses they do have are odd; their entire style of fighting is built around discipline and unbreakable formations, but they never use any kind of shield wall and their shield design is unsuited to it.
  • 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.
    • The show's questionable judging criteria were put in sharp relief when the Spartan's shield was judged to be the most powerful offensive weapon in an episode after the testers slammed it into the face of a test dummy. Like other examples of shields on the show, no account was given to its defensive use.

    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 provide 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 
  • Demon's Souls and Dark Souls players typically end up falling into this mentality sooner or later, as well as Armor Is Useless. Players will typically only equip heavy armour and actually use a shield for blocking when they first start playing the series, as a form of Skill Gate Character. Once they get used to the mechanics, players will typically come to value mobility over defense, and discard both their heavy armour and shield in favour of light (or sometimes no) armour to maintain full mobility and Stat Sticks that are glued to the player's back 100% of the time and never actually used, ending up with a Glass Cannon that never gets hit rather than a Mighty Glacier that can block or tank many hits.
    • FromSoftware seemingly took notice of the player base's preference for this playstyle when developing Bloodborne, since it's pretty much the only playstyle in that game. There is exactly one shield in the game, and it's a Joke Item whose Flavor Text straight up says it sucks and that there are no shields in the game (although the trope is downplayed since it’s decent at blocking gunfire). The DLC adds a second shield which is even worse at blocking physical attacks but is somewhat useful for blocking elemental attacks.
  • Mega Man
    • 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 hit 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 him with his 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 item's description even lampshades the Razorback's weaknesses, explaining that "all the tribal craftsmanship in the world, it turns out, cannot stop a modern butter knife". It's even contrary to the Sniper's defense in that it negates all overheal.
    • The available unlocks released after the initial class updates subvert this. The Darwin's Danger Shield passively provides the Sniper with 50% resistance to fire damage and complete afterburn immunity, making him almost impossible to effectively heckle with a Flare Gun.
  • 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.
    • A more unusual way in which it's played with is that there are occasional non-combat puzzles in which the shield actually is useful. For example, in Quest for Glory III a Fighter or Paladin character must use his shield to knock down the orb holding the Gate open, because touching it himself would be fatal.
  • For Honor plays the trope straight with the Mooks, who all wear wooden shields (indeed, you'll see their shields getting sheered in half upon their deaths a lot) that fail to defend them from Player Characters, who subvert this trope when they have them.
  • Final Fantasy VI has shields, which are *supposed* to boost your evasion against physical attacks. This trope comes in due to a glitch in the game making this boost completely useless— magical block percentage is used for all attacks, while physical block percentage is completely ignored. The exceptions are a number of shields which boost magical block percentage, or have other useful bonuses, like the Paladin Shield. This glitch was fixed in Updated Re-release, making it a properly functional Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me as intended.
  • In Divinity: Original Sin II, given that aggro skills are more or less useless and there are plenty of skills that can increase one's armor and health already, shields are considered some of the worst items to use in the game. There is a Warfare skill that involves throwing a shield at range for physical damage, and equipping a shield grants a skill that restores physical and magical armor, but it's just better to go with a two-handed weapon or two one-handed weapons.
  • A glitch existed in in the original version of Trials of Mana on the Super Famicom that prevented Duran's shield from working. This carried over into the official localization released with Collections of Mana. It was fixed for the 2020 release.

    Real Life 
  • The heavier your armour is, the less defense 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 (suspected to be simply because of weapons that required two hands to use effectively becoming popular among them), 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.
  • For most of its history, the army of Ancient Rome was equipped specifically to cause this to happen to the enemy:
    • Roman infantry, both the lightly armed velites skirmishers and the more heavily armed and armored legionaires, carried the pilum, a javelin with an extremely long shank behind the head designed specifically to penetrate shields and then break or bend and be impossible to remove in short order, thus either killing the shield-wielding enemy if he didn't keep the shield sufficiently distant from his body, wound the shield-bearing arm if the pilum hit in the right place, or simply make the shield unbalanced through their own weight, thus forcing the enemy to either use an extremely unbalanced shield that is now more an encumbrance than a protection or throw it away outright. The velites carried many pilae and used them in their Hit-and-Run Tactics to harass the enemy infantry during the approach, while the legionaires carried only two and would throw them shortly before the infantry collided, ruining the enemy formation right before contact with no time to reorganize.
    • The Roman legionaires were armed with the gladius, a short sword made mainly for thrusting in a melee, and trained to just stab the enemy while going around their shields (the ones remaining after the pilae barrage, that is) while staying behind their own wall of shields.
    • The Romans found themselves at the receiving end of this trope in two occasions:

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