The lantern shield

I think I first saw a drawing of a lantern shield in a The Palladium book of weapons & armor.  It may even have been featured in the ads for the book in Dragon Magazine, but I’m not sure.

It may even have been in the Exotic Weapons & armor book, come to think of it.  Anyway, a lantern shield is a crazy weapon which basically combines a small spiked shield, a bladed gauntlet, and, as the name implies, a lantern.

The Palladium book illustration was very similar to the following public domain image from Handbuch der Waffenkunde. Das Waffenwesen in seiner historischen Entwicklung vom Beginn des Mittelalters bis zum Ende des 18. Jahrhunderts by Wendelin Boeheim, Leipzig, 1890. (sourced here)

I found a couple of excellent photos (© Gregory Liebau) of a specimen in the Kunsthistorisches Museum which must be the very same one as the one illustrated above: from the front, and from the back, showing the lantern which hangs behind the little “port hole.”

I’ve never run across this weapon in any other book, but a couple of internet forum posts claim

  1. the port-hole opens with the little lever the gauntlet seems to hold, and this is used to blind an opponent at night
  2. they were described in Russian chronicles as having some use in defense of city walls, but exactly what use is unknown and the only illustration does not include a lantern
  3. they may also have been used as protection at night in cities from criminals

Here is a rather odd Russian illustration:

No lantern but there is a peep hole.

Anyway I can imagine this bizarre weapon being a bit of a deterrent to muggers, but more importantly, could this be imported into D&D?

Many versions of D&D have rules for spiked shields, so you could just call it that, but of course the important thing is you can hang a light source on it and use it in a dungeon.  I certainly don’t want to lay off any hirelings, although I suppose it makes the perfect weapon for a torch bearer (twice the light!).  The problem would of course be the risk of breaking the lantern on yourself, but otherwise it would allow an adventurer to carry a bulls-eye type lantern as well as a shield in that hand.  Why don’t we see more adventurers with lantern shields? (And miner’s helmets, while we’re at it…)

Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 2:14 am  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. The lantern shield would seem like a very dangerous weapon for its wielder. Maybe your chain mail would protect you, especially worn over a good haubergeon of leather, but any lantern inside the shield with oil in it is more deadly to the carrier than the foe. Swinging that shield will cause the oil to slosh and perhaps spill out, and burning hot oil is gonna ruin anybody’s day or night. A good hard blow on the shield would probably break the lantern with the same effect, but you get flying glass as well as flaming oil when it shatters. Nope, you couldn’t talk me into carrying one of those things.

    • Hah! I think it says a lot that you see so few of them. I found like two other examples online.
      Combination weapons, like combination tools, are never as good as the real things separately. Give me a sword, shield, and lantern over the Lantern Shield.
      Still, it looks awesome.

      • Actually, these “lanterns” held candles just to overcome that problem, and the weapon they were designed to work against could hardly destroy a buckler like this.

        Lantern shields were actually quite often used in Italy for lonely travellers as a robber deterrent where there were fencing schools specialised in lantern fencing with lantern shields.

  2. I would think any user of the Lantern shield, knowing the dangers of oil, would use a solid candle (or, in D&D a Continual light) as a safer replacement. If the lantern were designed right it shouldn’t even get blown out by the motions of the shield.

  3. […] back, posting about shields, I mentioned lantern shields. Swords and Dorkery has an excellent post on the subject complete with cool […]

  4. Tom Roberts has it right. You scuffle and scrape until your Cleric hits level 3, whereupon he equips everyone with Continual Light cast on copper pieces and nails. You each keep such a nail attached to the peak of your helm, the front of your shield, and a few extras in your pouch for nailing into the walls. The coins are great for rolling into a room or tossing down a well.

    While you might want to NOT have light sometimes, typically the greatest danger comes when you’re stuck in the dark. When sneaking around you simply remove the helm and shield nails and pack them away.

    I can’t believe Gygax, as important as resource-management was for his design theory, just let Continual Light slip by. He must have intended for adventurers to stop worrying about light sources like torches and lanterns by level 3, and food and water by level 5 (create food and water).

  5. Is lantern oil really that dangerous? I’ve seen several DnD players try and use the stuff as a weapon in games, but lantern oil is thick and slow-burning. It’s not really the highly combustible molotov-worthy liquid players seem to think it is.

    I can’t imagine an oil lantern would on a shield like this really being much of a danger to the user.

    • You’re right, real lantern oil is not very flammable and certainly wouldn’t explode. BUT — D&D has a weird tradition of treating it like napalm. So if you are letting players throw oil flasks and burn up monsters with it, it’s only fair to make it a danger in this case!

  6. safety first!

  7. I think ‘lantern oil’ became dangerous in D&D simply because there are in so many old horror movies where someone drops or flings a kerosene lantern at the monster and the previously powerful monster is suddenly defeated by the farmer’s lantern… similarly, some 0 level peseant throws a torch at Frankenstein’s monster and, in the movies, that flesh golem’s shirt catches on fire and he goes up in smoke… after having killed half the village, the monster is killed by a 2 hp commoner with a torch costing 1 cps…

    I remember seeing a similar shield, I think in Germany, that had an arquebus type gun built into it. I guess that the general theory was that one could load the gun behind the cover of the city wall, then step up to the window or embrasure to fire it and be protected from the arrows of your enemies while you chose your target by peeking through the little ‘aiming hole.’ I don’t remember seeing more than one of these so I suspect it wasn’t really that effective… maybe having that big-ass shield attached to the gun made the gun less effective and having a heavy and inaccurate 1 shot gun attached to your shield made your shield less useful, so perhaps it was the worst of both worlds.

    • Good point … D&D weaponized oil is one thing, lamp oil another.

      The gun thing also reminds me of Da Vinci’s design for a shield/bow: link

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