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Zulu is pretty bad once you have other options.
For melee prot you want a jewel because that’s where you find lv6.
For armor you want GM since it has high armor, no dex pen and good prots.
RND on the other hand lets you get three lv3 prots from one item, freeing up other slots for more fun modifiers. It also has lower dex pen which is a nice bonus, fortified hats should give no penalty whatsoever.
As for metal shields I don’t know why the crafted ones have always sucked. Also wooden shields give no dex penalty. GM shields have been buffed though and are now rightfully better than all crafted alternatives.