Tuesday, May 3, 2011

It's Interesting ...

I wonder what it is about the subject of armor class in D&D that makes it such a flashpoint for discussion and argument. I mean, I only mentioned armor class in passing, without any substantive thoughts about it, in a post last week, and it's become not only the primary thing being discussed in the comments to that post but also a continuing source of discussion, since there are still new comments being made about it. Likewise, yesterday's post has, in less than 24 hours, become one of the most commented upon posts I've made all year. I suspect that, in fairly short order, it will become the most commented upon post.

And all about a quirky little mechanic that nearly every RPG after D&D rejected and that even many D&D players don't like very much. It's an interesting phenomenon and I'm honestly not sure what to make of it.

22 comments:

  1. Part of it might be that you explicitly asked for feedback at the end of the post. I see the same phenomenon on my blog when I do that.

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  2. I think it's was also more about "how much of the rules + numbers do the players have access to" rather than simply "AC".

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  3. Heated argument over trivial points is a function of most hobbyist subcultures I've encountered, whether it's roleplaying games, fly-fishing, or baseball. Why ascending vs. descending AC became a flashpoint, I don't know. I do recall getting into some loud arguments way-back-when over the question of whether armor reduces damage or modifies the chance to hit.

    *(Obviously, it reduces damage. And anyone who believes otherwise is a heretic. :P )

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  4. Someone should start a blog that focuses solely on Armor Class

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  5. "And all about a quirky little mechanic that nearly every RPG after D&D rejected and that even many D&D players don't like very much."

    Seems like that would be consistent... everyone has to have their own "refit" that they've spent time considering & investing in.

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  6. There were things that a lot of us found nonsensical at first. AC being "backwards", armor not absorbing damage, increasing hp (and the rate thereof), level limits, alignment, alignment languages, etc. Lots of people didn't understand them or understood them but didn't like them. So, they then have something to say if the topic comes up.

    It's easy to make a list of these things too, because they are the things that other systems typically lack or modify.

    Those people who did get/like them--and those who came to appreciate them later--then naturally want to express their opposing viewpoint.

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  7. Yeah, I don't think the discussion was about AC specifically, but whether players should know what they need to roll, which is a much broader topic.

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  8. Welcome to Internet Backdraft, in which an innocent comment revives the War Eternal (in the case of our particular fandom: THAC0). ;)

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  9. I DISAGREE!!!! Umm ... what were we talking about again?

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  10. "And all about a quirky little mechanic that nearly every RPG after D&D rejected and that even many D&D players don't like very much."

    Seems like that would be consistent... everyone has to have their own "refit" that they've spent time considering & investing in.


    Not only every RPG after D&D, but even the game itself -- just about every edition of D&D has a slightly different take on AC. Ascending, descending, base of 10 or base of 9, matrix vs. THAC0, etc. If the designers themselves couldn't hit on a single preferred system, is it any surprise that the player-base would likewise be divided?

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  11. Armor class reducing damage or making you harder to hit should be something of a gray area, rather than a hard mechanic.

    Say for instance we have a fully armored knight fighting a goblin with a poke'n stick.

    Unless the goblin rolls a critical, he won't "hit". If this were to happen in real-life, the goblin would be smashing his stick on the knight's armor, just to no effect.

    The goblin is rolling what is defined as a "miss" in game terms, but a good DM would tell the knight, "The goblin is thrashing about your legs with bit of hickory stick. Fortunately, your armor is proof against his assault."

    Mechanically, the goblin is "missing", in the story, he's beating the living daylights out of our knight's greaves. Additionally, when damage is dealt to a player in armor, a sentence along the lines of "The blow penetrates your chainmail and you can feel the tip of the orc's blade barely slip between your ribs, where it not for your armor, he would have surely had your heart!"

    In this way, the armor does what armor does in real life, it makes it harder for enemies to damage you. A simple change in perspective satisfies both views on armor (damage reduction/harder to hit) with the same mechanic.

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  12. It's symbolic of the difference between those who wish to systematize all rules into a master simulation and those who don't. Both sides of this divide can get emotionally worked up about this and one side in particular is happy to characterise its stance as objectively better. That's more than enough to start a fight on the Internet.

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  13. joe's comments are further borne out by the AD&D situation of touch attacks (i.e. attacks where all the attacker needs is contact with his opponent), which generally assume an AC of 10 modified only by dexterity bonus. The idea is that just making contact with your opponent is easier than getting a weapon through his armor.

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  14. Not even close to surprising. Try one on level limits next. ;)

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  15. I agree with Stuart's observation.

    I'd also add that the differences seem to lie in whether or not a DM believes that numbers get in the way of the player's imaginations. I noticed that if a player knows how the numbers work, they don't second guess themselves as much when taking narrative control over their PCs actions.

    With transparent rules a player can instantly know how to interpret near misses, or near hits, or whatever sort of attack based on the die results without having to consult the DM, and from there they are more confident in taking narrative control, reducing the amount of math talk at the table, and coloring and expanding upon the narrative in ways that no one person could on their own.

    In this way, the only time numbers comes up is for damage, and when the DM tells the players what they need to hit/or what they need to add to their roll(target 20 works sooo well for descending AC) along with a description of why taking into account any modifiers. From there most players are trustworthy enough to do their own math and supply their own description based on their calculations. So rather than engage in math talk, the player simply describes what happens to the group.

    This works well for most players I've noticed, with the exception of the rules lawyer, and the tactical commander player types who seem to have a hard time focusing on role playing to begin with, ever focused on squeezing out invisible modifiers from the DM.

    I'd also argue that having to rely on a DM for all sensory information detaches a players imagination somewhat. If they do not understand the numbers, they may not be imagining the same thing as the DM, and when the descriptions and numbers are out of sync, immersion can tend to break down slowly.

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  16. @joe, Hear! Hear! I said the same thing... http://bit.ly/w-is-for-wounds

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  17. The Gazetteer from "Thyatis and Alphatia: Dawn of Emperors" had interesting optional rules for AC, it mentioned Armor Class and Armor Value, when you attack first you roll against AC then substract AV from the damage, normal armors do not effect AV but have an armor value: chain mail has 4 armor value for example. AV reduces the damage by the same amount. Dexterity reduces AC as usual and magical items and armors reduce AC by their magical bonus (chain mail +1 has 4 armor value and reduces AC by 1 for example). I think it is a good system, but it didn't attract much attention.

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  18. Armor also has the geek friendly quality of being nicely tangible, with clear differences particularly between chain and plate. You can mentally feel up a bit of armor and imagine what it will do without any direct experience in a way you can't feel a combatant's ability to dodge or their fatigue or limits on their movement or visual field or whatever. This makes it a perfect foil for categorical statements and misplaced confidence.

    Sorry, where were we again?

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  19. Regarding Armor as AC versus armor as damage reduction:

    In the military history book "From Sumer to Rome", the authors present their findings, based on extensive modeling and testing, that ancient weapons could *not* penetrate the common armor of the ancient warrior. From this data, as well as a survey of the actual wounds seen on war casualties, they conclude that combat casualties were caused by well-placed attacks at gaps in the armor.

    In other words, rather than a strange abstraction, AC is a concrete simulation of how the ancient warriors would have looked at it. Armor makes you harder to hit.

    This book didn't come out until years after D&D, but it settled the AC v. Damage Resistance in my mind.

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  20. In other games, the “armor makes you harder to hit” vs. “armor absorbs damage” distinction can be a worthwhile discussion. In D&D, though, you can’t really reason about AC without also considering HP. The abstractions are such that you have to analyze the system as a whole. IMHO.

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  21. In part it has to do with changing systems (THACO, matrix), etc, and in part it has to do with terminology.

    For years I railed against the system, because armor does not make you harder to hit, and it becomes difficult to model a lightly-armored swashbuckler, whose main thing is parries and dodges. With light armor, he has a poopy AC, which means he gets "hit" more often. Um, yeah. The terminology should be more like "bypass" and "reflect." It's a confusion where failing the "to hit" roll doesn't actually fail to hit, it fails to get past the armor.

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  22. Where are the gaps in the armor on an ooze?

    I neverminded the AC tables much but we always kept one rule above all else....Play for fun. Use the rules as a framework to support the fun. If people felt strongly about knowing what number they needed to roll, so be it. Most if not all of the late 70s through the 80s rules, imho, fit into the category of "needlessly complex." But, I don't think I'd say that out loud at Historicon.

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