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Does a shield not in use give armor check penalty?


Rules Questions


does a shield not in use give armor check penalty it seems unrealistic that a shield on the back interferes with checks as much as one in the hand but equally it seems just as unrealistic that climbing and balancing would be just as easy as with out


Pathfinder Companion Subscriber

A shield only causes you to incur a penalty when you wear it.
Not when you carry it.


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You only take a shield's armor check penalty if it is used (held in hand). If you strap it on your back, it's just a piece of equipment like everything else (counting agaist your weight limit as normal).


Strapped on your arm: armor check penalty

Hung on your backpack: encumbrance slowdown (str vs carried load)


Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

I have a problem with this ruling. Trying to climb or swim while holding on to a shield is next to impossible making a mere -1 or -2 penalty unrealistic. It should be assumed that the shield is on the back of a character in order to swim or climb or the penalty should be much more severe. At the same time, a shield in the back of a character could interfere with a character's ability to climb or swim, making a penalty of -1 or -2 seem very realistic.


Nicodemos: trying to swim while wearing 50lbs of plate mail is unrealistic. And yet you can in pathfinder. It is a game, not a model of reality.

Note: WotC dropped (3.0->3.5) the swim penalty from -1/5lbs to double armor check penalty. That was significantly more realistic. Pathfinder dropped it still further by making it a standard armor check penalty.

- Gauss


Climbing with a shield wouldn't be impossible. Particularly if you strap it onto your pack. I think even strapped semi-loose directly to your back wouldn't be that horrible though.


Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

Okay, then let me point this out: under "Shield, Heavy: Wooden or Steel" it says, "You strap a shield to your forearm and GRIP IT WITH YOUR HAND. A heavy shield is so heavy that you can't use your shield hand for ANYTHING ELSE." So explain to me then how you can still swim and climb with only a -2 penalty? This seems contradictory, and, quite frankly, laughable.

Also, as far as I can tell, a character with a 13 strength (barely above average, and which can carry up to 50 lbs with no encumbrance) can strap a 45 lb shield, that's almost as tall as he is, on to his back and swim and climb with no penalty what so ever! Lol.

At least swimming and climbing with plate mail incurs a -6 penalty. But that's the rule, I guess.

Silver Crusade

Nicodemos wrote:

Okay, then let me point this out: under "Shield, Heavy: Wooden or Steel" it says, "You strap a shield to your forearm and GRIP IT WITH YOUR HAND. A heavy shield is so heavy that you can't use your shield hand for ANYTHING ELSE." So explain to me then how you can still swim and climb with only a -2 penalty? This seems contradictory, and, quite frankly, laughable.

Also, as far as I can tell, a character with a 13 strength (barely above average, and which can carry up to 50 lbs with no encumbrance) can strap a 45 lb shield, that's almost as tall as he is, on to his back and swim and climb with no penalty what so ever! Lol.

At least swimming and climbing with plate mail incurs a -6 penalty. But that's the rule, I guess.

The Climb skill does say that you need both hands free to climb. The ACP is probably there just to follow the general rule of applying to all Str and Dex skills.


Nicodemos wrote:

Okay, then let me point this out: under "Shield, Heavy: Wooden or Steel" it says, "You strap a shield to your forearm and GRIP IT WITH YOUR HAND. A heavy shield is so heavy that you can't use your shield hand for ANYTHING ELSE." So explain to me then how you can still swim and climb with only a -2 penalty? This seems contradictory, and, quite frankly, laughable.

Also, as far as I can tell, a character with a 13 strength (barely above average, and which can carry up to 50 lbs with no encumbrance) can strap a 45 lb shield, that's almost as tall as he is, on to his back and swim and climb with no penalty what so ever! Lol.

At least swimming and climbing with plate mail incurs a -6 penalty. But that's the rule, I guess.

It seems that you are looking at a stack of house rules based on reality based vs rules based.

Type up your list and submit under house rules.


Nicodemos wrote:

Okay, then let me point this out: under "Shield, Heavy: Wooden or Steel" it says, "You strap a shield to your forearm and GRIP IT WITH YOUR HAND. A heavy shield is so heavy that you can't use your shield hand for ANYTHING ELSE." So explain to me then how you can still swim and climb with only a -2 penalty? This seems contradictory, and, quite frankly, laughable.

Also, as far as I can tell, a character with a 13 strength (barely above average, and which can carry up to 50 lbs with no encumbrance) can strap a 45 lb shield, that's almost as tall as he is, on to his back and swim and climb with no penalty what so ever! Lol.

At least swimming and climbing with plate mail incurs a -6 penalty. But that's the rule, I guess.

Ha, you'd think swimming with a WOODEN shield would give you a bonus, not a penalty to your swim check.

Grand Lodge

Nicodemos wrote:
I have a problem with this ruling. Trying to climb or swim while holding on to a shield is next to impossible making a mere -1 or -2 penalty unrealistic. It should be assumed that the shield is on the back of a character in order to swim or climb or the penalty should be much more severe. At the same time, a shield in the back of a character could interfere with a character's ability to climb or swim, making a penalty of -1 or -2 seem very realistic.

(my emphasis added)

Unrealistic? What part of throwing fireballs, summoning demons, and vanquishing dragons is even remotely realistic?

This is a game. Nothing else. Reality has no real purpose in it.


Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

You know, there once was a time when this game was so very simple, before mountains of rules books came along and changed this game into a never-ending jumble of statics. In those days, DMs used a certain amount of logic and common sense to adjudicate anything for which there was no specific rule. And players didn't really need to know the rules and were allowed to try anything that seemed like it might work, regardless of whether or not there was a rule for it. Clearly, those days are long gone now. What a shame. Now it seems that strict adherence to the rules is more important than playing a game with any amount of believability to it.

So reality has no real purpose in it? Seriously? Yeah, fireball spells, demons and dragons may not be realistic. But we can't just throw reality out the window. Playing a game, even a fantasy game, in a world that makes no sense would quickly get boring or frustrating or both. It's important that there be a certain amount of reality and continuity to the game, and that a player can attempt to perform some task and expect a certain result, based on common sense, rather than have a DM shut him down by saying, "Nope, according to the rules, that's not allowed."

This game we play, regardless of what it's now being called or who owns the rights to it, has evolved a great deal over the years - and it will continue to do so. But, in order to do so, there has to be those who will question the validity of the rules.

Personally, I love the Pathfinder game system. Is it perfect? Perhaps not. But, in my opinion, it's the best version of the game yet. So whatever you do, do not tell me it's just a game. And more importantly, do not ever tell me that reality has no real purpose in it.

P.S. Sorry for the rant.


If you think climbing/swimming with a shield on your back is a problem, how about carrying a backpack with 50 pounds of goods in it, or a water clock, etc.. While it's even more unrealistic for swimming, the fact is that gear your carrying (and not using) doesn't (and debateably shouldn't) hinder a person, so there's no reason for a shield to break that case.

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