If you’ve ever played any kind of RPG, you’ll probably be familiar with the concept of ‘tanking’. Basically, because nobody except a warrior is allowed to wear decent armour or carry a bit of metal to stop their arms from being lopped off, they have to keep their cloth-clad, squishy bodies out of the way of enemy steel.
If you do have the good fortune to be a warrior in your fantasy realm of choice, you’ll be further subdivided into two groups: those who deal damage (DPS) and those who take it (Tank). But if you want to ascend to the illustrious position of ‘tank’, you usually need to own a shield. And not just any shield – a nice big one that you can barely see around, adorned with fire-breathing lion heads and more spikes than an acupuncturist’s utility belt.
Shields in RPG’s have been reduced down to their very basic form. They are solely the tools of the tanking warrior, who uses them to block, bash and occasionally even throw. But if we overlook the ridiculousness of a warrior throwing his shield at the charging enemy and then expecting it to boomerang and return to his waiting hand, we are left with a very versatile piece of weaponry being used for precisely two purposes.
In real-world history there was no such thing as a ‘tank’. Most melee fighters would have carried a shield, for good cause, because it’s probably the bare minimum you’d want to bring with sharp and pointy pieces of metal flying all around you. Even ranged attackers would sometimes employ the use of a pavise, a free-standing shield which meant you had less chance of taking an arrow through your skull while firing and reloading.
The shape of the shield is important, too, because fantasy tends to assign random shield designs to characters, usually giving kite shields importance over others in the belief that ‘bigger is better’. The reality is that shields increased in size over time, eventually evolving to the point of tower and kite shields. Up to this point, fighters would have a pretty rubbish choice of body armour too – the shield was their main protection. As armour improved, knights found they didn’t need such large, bulky shields anymore and the designs shrunk in size, leading to styles such as the heater shield.
So the general trend is that as armour improves and people wear more of it, the smaller and lighter their shields become until they are eventually abandoned completely. In fantasy, particularly in gaming, warriors are always striving for the heaviest, bulkiest armour and the biggest, most unwieldy shield. Which makes sense if all you’re trying to do is soak up damage, but you wouldn’t be very useful to anyone if the enemy decided to move.
I’m not really sure what my point was meant to be with today’s post. Mainly just a mild rant at how unrealistic some fantasy can be. It’s important that some elements in fantasy are realistic, even while others are not. We can write about dragons and unicorns, but it’s an absolute no-no to have our character ride a horse for three days at full gallop with no rest.