|Don't let its size fool you... this can be a life saver.|
What A Buckler Is (And What It Does)
While there are a lot of arguments about what a buckler is or isn't among historical combat enthusiasts, in terms of Pathfinder a buckler is just a small, metal shield that straps to the user's forearm. It leaves the hand free to hold items, and it provides a +1 shield bonus to the user's armor class. That's half of what you get from a larger wooden or steel shield, but as many players will tell you, a +1 is a +1, and it can make a difference. There is an armor check penalty of -1 for using it, though, and a 5% arcane spell failure chance, if you're an arcane caster. A buckler cannot be used to shield bash with, unless one has the proper feats or class features that specifically give you this ability.
|The numbers check out.|
There are other advantages to bucklers if you read the fine print, though. For example, though you incur a -1 penalty for using your shield arm to wield a two-handed weapon, or to make an attack with your off-hand using two-weapon fighting (in addition to losing the shield's AC bonus for that round) this is not the case if you're using a bow or a crossbow. So if you're an archer who wants a little added insurance, you can strap on a buckler and just add a little boost to your AC.
The other useful thing about a buckler is that you can use your free hand to cast spells with somatic components. Doing so means you lose the shield's benefit to your AC for the round, but you take no other penalty for this action.
What's The Big Deal About a +1 Bonus?
As with so many other things in Pathfinder, that buckler's bonus to your AC is only a +1 if you do absolutely nothing else to boost it up. And that's not nothing, but it's hardly a big, impressive number. But with all of the options you have to include this handy device in your character's makeup, there are a variety of options you could pursue.
|All right, let's see just how potent we can get this brew...|
The most obvious benefits are going to be for specific classes that can spontaneously boost their shields with class features, like the Skirnir magus archetype in Ultimate Combat, or the Holy Vindicator prestige class in the Advanced Player's Guide. Both of these classes can spontaneously boost their shields (with the Skirnir actually getting to add bonus magic abilities), and given that they tend to have access to both spellcasting and melee capabilities, a buckler could go a long way in their hands.
However, you don't need the power to spontaneously boost a buckler's abilities to get some solid use out of it. Any enchanted buckler is going to provide an enhancement bonus to its total value, and you can often stack on useful abilities you might have trouble getting in other ways. Arrow Deflection, for example, is an ideal way to make sure that enemy archers have to work a little harder to really hurt you. Mirrored bucklers might be a combination signal mirror and medusa repellent, and a channeling buckler improves the amount of a channel for any wearer, while protecting them from their opposite energy type.
List goes on... point is, a lot of shield special abilities are very useful, and putting them onto a smaller, more versatile shield doesn't diminish that capability. And when you add in the special materials a buckler can be made from (mithril, darkwood, adamantine, etc.), as well as the feats and archetypes surrounding the buckler's use (like the buckler duelist in Inner Sea Primer, the thunderstriker in Ultimate Combat, or the falcata swashbuckler in Weapon Master's Handbook) it grows more and more useful.
With all of that said, the most realistic bonus you could get from your buckler is still fairly low. An enhancement bonus of +2 or +3 is expensive in and of itself, and even augmented with a +1 from a feat like Shield Specialization, you're only going to have a slightly better bonus than if you were using a tower shield. You could pour on the bonuses from specialized classes and feats to add utility, but a buckler isn't going to make or break your build.
But it can provide a surprising amount of protection, often with no additional armor check penalty. That could be just the thing for those who've taken a level dip, and find themselves with a shield proficiency that really isn't something they feel they can get the most out of. Or for those whose main weapon fires arrows or bolts.
Just something worth thinking about!
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