Tag Archives: RPG

Gamer’s Guide: The Buckler

Like most fantasy gamers, I’m fascinated by medieval and ancient arms and armor. Over the past few years, I have been delving deeper into the history and usage of historical weapons. So I find it interesting when a historical item is described differently in an RPG. As I research, I plan on creating “Gamer’s Guides” for different weapons and armor that will discuss different weapons from both a gaming and historical perspective. Before I begin this discussion, I need to point out that I am not a professional historian. I do not claim to know everything about the topic and I will point out areas of greater uncertainty.

What is a buckler? (Gamer version)

The Pathfinder SRD defines a buckler as “This small metal shield is worn strapped to your forearm. You can use a bow or crossbow without penalty while carrying it.” Obviously, not all RPGs are the same, but a similar definition can be found across many other fantasy RPGs and many gamers use this definition. The key points are that the buckler is a small shield that is strapped to the arm in such a way that allows you to feely use both hands.

What is a buckler? (Historical version)

Buckler Image from Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l'Arme (1570)
One example of a spiked buckler from Ragione di adoprar sicuramente l’Arme (1570). Lines indicate how a small buckler can protect a larger area.

The buckler is a small shield that is held in the fist. (Wikipedia). Bucklers are usually held out away from the body, doing so creates a “cone” of protection that maximizes the effectiveness of a small shield.

Who used a buckler?

Bucklers were very popular as a civilian shield. It’s small size meant that you could carry it as part of civilian dress without impediment. On the battlefield, the buckler was popular with those who used a sword as a backup weapon, such as an English longbowman. Larger shields were simply infeasible, but they could carry a buckler hooked over their sword hilt until they needed to engage in melee.

 Did shields exist that meet the gamer’s description of the buckler?

Ok, so maybe historians and gamers use the term differently, but are their other shields that fit the description? There were plenty of shields that strapped onto the forearm. However, most of these shields still had a handle to grab onto and did not allow any significant use of the shield hand.  A knight could hold onto reins, but wouldn’t be able to use that hand for much else.

The Scots had a shield called a Targe that comes close. The targe is a circular shield that has one strap for the forearm and a strap that acts as a handle. The size of the targe allowed warriors to hold a dirk in their shield hand and its blade would extend beyond the edge of the targe, allowing it to be used in combat.

An image from the Codex Wallerstein, A German fighting manual from 1556.
An image from the Codex Wallerstein, A German fighting manual from 1556.

The targe come close, but it’s not quite what gamers picture when they talk about bucklers.  The Codex Wallerstein, a German fighting manual, shows something closer to the gamers idea of a buckler. In it, the spear fighters have a shield that is called a tournament shield, a targe or a tartsche. This fits the gamer description – it is small and straps on the arm  and leaves the left hand free to hold a weapon. I have yet to encounter any other examples of this and the Codex Wallerstein presents the image without additional description. The image demonstrates one of the challenges with such a shield – you must keep your arm bent in front of you to keep the shield facing the opponent. With a spear (or other thrusting weapon), it appears that you can do this, but it is hard to imagine other weapons that would allow this.

What about archers? A frequent statement by gamers is that archers wore bucklers at the same time that they used their bows. We do know that some archers carried bucklers with them, but it appears that they were meant to be used only when in melee combat. I have yet to find a historical example of how bucklers would be used in archery. I hope that this is a lack of knowledge on my part, and if anybody has good examples, please share. My main concern is that an arm-strapped shield requires the left arm to be bent. Either the archer bends the arm, drastically reducing draw length, or draws to full length and gets little protection from the shield. Anyways, I might be missing something, hopefully I will revisit this article later with more information.

Does it matter?

How much historical accuracy do we need in games? Only as much as we want. However, it becomes important when we want to add historical elements into our fantasy gaming, especially when we start reading history to find familiar terms used in different ways. There are a lot of things from history that haven’t been explored in fantasy gaming and we can mine historical resources to create new gaming experiences.

Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle

Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle by Douglas J. EmlenI just got back from vacation. The book I took with me was Animal Weapons: The Evolution of Battle by Douglas J. Emlem, a professor of biology from the University of Montana. This is a book that explores an interesting question for world builders and gamers: “why do some, but not all, animals develop weapons of ridiculous size?” Emlem’s book examines creatures with enormous horns, antlers and teeth and shows how special circumstances leads to an “arms race” between members of the species. He also draws a comparison to the development of arms in human history.

The comparison to human history is the low point of the book. Emlem is not a military historian (and doesn’t claim to be one) and the analogies are pretty loose and a few are based on common misconceptions (such as the mobility of a knight in full plate armor). If you plan on buying this book to gain new insight into human warfare (like I did), you will be disappointed. However, the bulk of the book is spent on the animals and the evolution of their weapons and there are some great lessons there about the development of extreme weapons.

The author looks at animal weapons as a cost-benefit analysis: for example, a large set of antlers is unwieldy and requires a huge amount of nutrients, however it provides critical mating opportunities. The assorted costs and benefits depend on circumstance. In many cases, the costs keep most weapons to a reasonable size, but sometimes the benefits outweigh extreme costs and an arms race develops. Emlem discusses these circumstances, and how the arms race develops and sometimes collapses.

Overall, the writing is accessible without being dumbed-down, illustrations are well-made and used appropriately to demonstrate important content, and the author is meticulous about listing sources. While I picked this book up to learn about human warfare, I recommend it for the lessons on creature design.

A Few Important Lessons for Creature Design

While I really recommend reading the book, here are a few lessons for creature designers.

  • Weapons require resources to make – a creature with extreme weapons has a stronger need for nutrients
  • Most extreme weapons are used against members of their own species. The “bigger is better” development only works when you are going up against somebody similarly armed. Prey creatures will usually have different defenses.
  • For the benefits to outweigh the cost, the weapon must provide access to a valuable resource. Usually, this is the chance to mate, but in a fantasy setting, it could be some other resource that the creature needs.
  • For a resource to be valuable, it must be rare and defendable. If a resource is common, there is no need to fight over it. If you cannot defend your resource, if it is very disperse or if others are capable of sneaking around you, then your weapons become less useful.

There are many more lessons for a creature designer to learn. This book covers a topic that is near and dear to many gamers’ hearts and is well worth the read to add depth and flavor to your fantasy fauna.

Paper Playground – Juvenile Chromatic Dragons

Originally Published January 20, 2005

Paper Playground - Juvenile Chromatic DragonsThis was the last product from Penguin Labs LLC. It was an interesting challenge to design a dragon that could be made this small. I really don’t remember too much about this product.

So, what happened? Why did I stop? Well, I guess it was a few factors. The first was the birth of my son. Then, I picked up some freelance work which became a full time job. With the demands of work and family, Penguin Labs kept getting pushed to the background. While I worked on other projects, I never polished them enough to justify selling them. Part of my goals for this new website is to brush off some of those old projects and share some new ones as well. So, I hope you enjoy the products, and thanks for letting me take this trip down memory lane. Let’s see what the future brings.

From the product description:

Paper Playground – Juvenile Chromatic Dragons gives you a set of small cardstock dragons for you to print out, assemble, and use in your next game. This set provides smaller counterparts to the adult dragons provided in Paper Playground – Chromatic Dragons or they can be used by themselves to challenge your heroes.

Paper Playground – Juvenile Chromatic Dragons consists of kits for six colors of dragons, each with their own breath weapon plus a variant of the green dragon that breathes fire. Pages are scaled for printing onto both A4 and Letter sized pages without difficulty.

The basic model size, without scaling:

  • Length, total, including breath weapon: approx. 5 inches

  • Length, nose to tail: approx. 3 1/2 inches

  • Length, body: 1 1/2 inches

  • Height, to shoulder blades: 1 inch

  • Width, body: 3/4 inch

  • Width, wingspan: 2 3/4 inches


Paper Playground – Metallic Dragons

Originally Published January 5, 2005

Papaer Playground - Metallic Dragons

I don’t have a lot to say about this particular set. It is basically a reskinning of the Chromatic Dragon Set, with some changes to the fins and horns.

From the product description:

The companion set to Paper Playground – Chromatic Dragons, Paper Playground – Metallic Dragons brings the mighty forces of good to your table by providing cardstock dragons for you to print out, assemble, and use in your next game.

Paper Playground – Metallic Dragons consists of kits for six species of metallic dragons (five found in the OGL and one created specifically for this set). Each dragon can be assembled to be on all four legs or reared up on its hind legs. Additional leg and tail positions give you additional flexibility in creating dragons to your taste. Best of all, you can make as many as you want – if you have ever wanted an army of dragons, don’t miss this chance!


Paper Playground – Tyrannosaurus Rex

Originally Published July 30, 2004

Paper Playground - Tyrannosaurus RexWhile I was working on the Portable Adventure Kit materials, I was stretching my abilities as a paper modeller. When I built my models, I didn’t use unfolding programs like Pepakura. Nowadays, I wouldn’t shy away from it. Back then, I felt that it made it too easy to create a model that would be too hard to build. Designing it by hand forced me to keep it simple. So, the entire design was done with sketches, measurements, and lots of calculations. My son love dinosaurs, so more dinos may be in the future.

From the product description:

The Tyrant Lizard is now yours! Paper Playground – Tyrannosaurus gives you a magnificent Tyrannosaurus Rex to build and use in your game or to display. Two versions of the model are provided, one at 30mm scale (approximately 1/60) for most fantasy RPGs and a larger one at 45mm scale (approximately 1/40 scale) for larger scaled games or for display. All pages are optimized for printing onto either Letter or A4 sized paper.


Portable Adventure Kit – Grassy Hills

Originally Published June 28, 2004

Portable Adventure Kit - Grassy HillsThis is the last of the Portable Adventure Kit products to be released. While I liked The Fields of War set, the terrain pieces were difficult to transport. So I needed something that I could fold up that would support pewter minis. The result worked better than I expected; I could set a full can of soda on top of one of these pieces. Your results may vary depending on the weight and type of paper you use.

From the product description:

Take your terrain with you with Portable Adventure Kit – Grassy Hills! This set of cardstock structures is designed to store flat to be carried with the rest of your gaming materials. When unfolded, the pieces become terrain tiers for your miniatures.

The product contains geomorphic, edges, corners, and basic filler pieces (9 pieces total) that you can configure to create a wide assortment of hills. Pieces are marked with 1-inch squares, making them compatible with most games. When in use, the platforms are stable and capable of supporting metal miniatures so you can use them with the rest of your gaming materials. Pages are designed to be printed on Letter sized paper or A4 paper without scaling.


Portable Adventure Kit – Campgrounds

Originally Published April 27, 2004

Portable Adventure Kit - CampgroundsThe campgrounds set was inspired by all the times that adventuring parties got attacked during night watch. If they are going to argue about watch schedule every night, the least I could do is make it worth while :). The design is the result of studying books about designing pop-up cards. Like the village set, the hardest piece was a detail piece, the campfire.

From the product description:

Take your game camping with Portable Adventure Kit – Campgrounds! This set of cardstock structures is designed to store flat to be carried with the rest of your gaming materials. When unfolded, the set reveals a wide variety of tents and a campfire.

The set consists of three types of tents (wedge, wall, and pavilion) with different styles for each of them to maximize your campground options. Also included are a campfire, a lean-to and a terrain tile to help you create your own campground. Structures are designed to 30mm scale, making them compatible with most fantasy games and can be printed on Letter sized paper or A4 paper without scaling.


Portable Adventure Kit – Village Set

Originally Published April 8, 2004

Portable Adventure Kit - Village Set 1 Cover

I was receiving good feedback on the Starter Set, so I decided to spend some time working on PAK products. At this point, I was researching pop-up cards for inspiration. The buildings weren’t that difficult to design, but the well was tricky.

From the product description:

Take your village on the road with Portable Adventure Kit – Village Set 1 from Penguin Labs! This set of cardstock buildings is designed to store flat to be carried with the rest of your gaming materials. The set unfolds to reveal three different buildings and a village well.

The village set consists of three buildings, three roof options for each building, optional chimneys for each building, a beautiful well, and an additional terrain tile to help you create your own village. Buildings are designed to 30mm scale making them compatible with most fantasy games and miniatures and can be printed on Letter sized paper or A4 paper without scaling.


Paper Playground – Fire Elemental

Originally Published March 10, 2004

Paper Playground - Fire ElementalThis product was my most experimental product. Commercially, it didn’t do that well, but that is no real surprise. This product, and the T-Rex (coming soon), served two purposes: to gauge customer response to larger products, and to expand my skills as a paper modeller. I had planned on doing a full elemental set, but I moved on to other projects instead.

From the product description:

Bring the power of the elements to your game! Paper Playground – Fire Elemental gives you a beautiful fire elemental to build and use in your game or to guard your desk. Designed for the experienced paper modeller, this model can be constructed to form a towering elemental standing 9 inches tall and standing on a 3″x5″ base or scaled to fit your gaming needs.


Portable Adventure Kit – Doors & Windows

Originally Published February 12, 2004

Portable Adventure Kit - Doors and WindowsThis was a pretty basic creation. I was experimenting with a lot of designs at this time, many of which would not make it into a final product. I wanted to make sure that I was putting out product on a semi-regular basis. I also wanted to expand the utility of the Starter Set so I took some time out and created thee doors and windows to be added onto the walls, I used a temporary adhesive in my games to great effect.

From the product page:

Expand your dungeon with realistic doors and windows!

The first expansion for the Portable Adventure Kit is the Doors and Windows set. The set consists of over 40 realistic doors, windows, and accessories for you to print out and attach to your P.A.K. structures. A wide variety of styles are represented here, giving you the ability to customize the look and feel of your dungeons.

Each feature is presented against a section of the same wall texture used in the Starter Set. This prevents the need of cutting out complex outlines – cut out a simple rectangle, attach it to a plain wall with glue or a removable adhesive and you are ready to go. Of course, experienced modelers can cut the features away from the texture and use them in other modeling projects.