Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Going Lightly Armored

Supplement I introduces the idea of giving Fighting Men a bonus to their Armor Class based on their Dexterity. While I appreciate Gygax's feeling that he needed to "beef up" Fighters, I have been considering ways to make going lightly armored more attractive to all classes in OD&D. One option I am considering is allowing a Dexterity bonus to Armor Class only to characters wearing leather or cloth armor. Another option is allowing Fighting Men so armored -- and only Fighting Men -- the chance to deal double damage from behind if they surprise their opponent. This would give a tangible benefit to a "sneaky" Fighter but at the cost of heavier armor. I have discovered that, in OD&D, being able to wear chain and, especially, plate armor is a huge boon to survivability, so foregoing that in exchange for the chance to deal more damage under the right circumstances seems a fair trade.


  1. Although I don't have any hard and fast rules on this in my games, now that I think of it as a player I would greatly appreciate a boon for going without plate or chain. It would be especially nice for Fighter/MU's who I don't allow to wear any better than light chain if they want to do spells on the spot.

    Double damage seems to be kind of big to me, though. I think I usually give a non-theif a +4 to hit from a sneak-up behind but no damage bonus, and that seems to work out pretty well.

    I think to give double damage for that might not only have the desired affect of making fighters go lightly armored, but even moreso you'll probably have fighters who try to hang back in shadows waiting for a back shot rather than diving into melee. that'll get old quick.

  2. I toyed with the idea of allowing fighters to train in defensive weapon techniques that would give them the equivalent of plate armor protection. This way it would be open to all fighters regardless of dex and it would be something the fighter could buy, like armor. Though I wouldn't allow the fighter to stack the bonus if wearing plate or chain so they could switch back and forth as the situation required.

  3. I have never understood the urge to make being unarmored somehow "equal in defense" or "more attractive" to wearing armor. Why is this necessary?

  4. If you want to encourage more lightly armored characters you could introduce more environmental obstacles (crossing a rope bridge in plate mail?) or situations that require running (chase / flee).

    I think D&D's attack roll vs AC makes armor = better pretty ingrained into the system.

  5. I use the rule from 3e. (i know, i know) where armor limitins the Dex bonus...

    I agree with Brunomac about the duble damage rule, it's overkill.

  6. I agree with Nellisir, not wearing plate already has some good benifits in the dungeon enviroment; you can run faster and carry more, you don't sink straight to the bottom of the body of water you fall into, you don't make a loud clanking sound everytime you move, and you are not a lightning rod.

    The whole everyone should be equal and if my charachter wants to not have plate he should be just as effective as the guy with plate smacks of rules to make bad ideas in real life good in the game world. There is a reason everyone who could wore plate and carried a shield on the battle field, it worked the best.

    even Conan suited up in armour before going in a major battle.

  7. To me, armor is the obviously superior choice. People wear armor because it's better than being unarmored against the specific dangers they face. Once that advantage is taken away, people stop wearing armor (ala - gunpower, heat stoke, drowning etc.)

  8. There are pros and cons in the armor issue, such as the comment already made about swimming and climbing. Tying knots with rope in gauntlets is another case as well. One advantage I see in armor, beyond the obvious, is that if a thief manages to backstab you [catch you with your pants down] all that stands before you and the dagger is the armor. Dex should not count if you are surprised before you can react...

  9. Yeah, the dungeon environment (classic, anyway) is for sure extra hostile to those plate guys. Any GM on the ball should make it a pain in the ass to be anywhere but a battlefield in the stuff. Maybe that's why not many characters wear plate in my games. The 80's seemed to be the hayday of that.

  10. *Real* combat styles do give you the equivalent of a defensive bonus - e.g. German Longsword (the one I do) is all about attacking behind your sword in such a manner as to intercept the incoming attack, while landing a cut.

    Armour doesn't greatly reduce this ability, because it protects you more than it hampers you, (and you can use that protection to fight more aggresively.)

    So, in game mechanics terms, the better the fighter, the harder they should be to hit, regardless.

    However, light armour ought to be the default for other reasons.

  11. It's almost like someone should make a class good at sneaking and backstabbing.

  12. It's almost like someone should make a class good at sneaking and backstabbing.

    I agree. Do you know of such a class?

  13. The difficulty is to get good rules for botha rmors and no armors in the same game. But, using ascending AC and have AC=DEX for unarmored fighters works fine - for a sword & sandals game.

  14. The main advantage of going lightly armoured is a higher movement rate. A character in plate mail has better survivability in combat, but cannot outrun most enemies: if the enemy flees (perhaps to alert the others) he will not be able to catch them; if the fight does go badly, and he decides to flee, he will be caught by his pursuers. Leather armour or lighter is a must for any sort of serious scouting or reconnaissance; heavier armour is only for those times when you are committed to standing and fighting. In open terrain, missile armed troops with light armour will be able to fire, retreat, and fire again at slower-moving armoured ones armed with melee or shorter-range weapons.

    Mobility is a huge advantage, if you take use it properly. If anything, the benefits of wearing heavy armour in D&D are too few, especially at higher levels, where a low AC only marginally reduces the frequency with which characters will be hit.

    The weapon vs. AC rules in AD&D substantially increase the value of plate mail: against most weapons, plate mail + shield has an effective AC of 0 or lower.

  15. Yeah, I'm increasingly getting the sense I should just use the weapon vs. AC table and pay more heed to movement rates in armor as a solution to this "problem." The game already addresses the issue; I'm probably making more trouble by introducing stuff like this.

  16. I think this is one area that Rolemaster "got it right". In RM, the heavier armor made you easier to hit, but you took less damage. Lighter armors were tougher to hit, but when a hit was made, damage was greater than the heavier armors.

  17. For me, the only thing I add is that multi-classed wizards need chain or lighter to perform casting. Similarly, multi-classed thieves need leather or lighter for their skills. Thus, with fairly liberal multi-classing opportunities, there's a lot of somebodies whose optimal choice is one or the other.

    And of course I stay away from Sup-I's weapon-vs-armor tables as way too complicated. Just give a single, averaged bonus and you get the same effect and can have it memorized. (Axes +1 vs. chain & plate, clubs +2 vs. plate.)

  18. I think this is one area that Rolemaster "got it right". In RM, the heavier armor made you easier to hit, but you took less damage. Lighter armors were tougher to hit, but when a hit was made, damage was greater than the heavier armors.

    That doesn't sound like a good idea: it basically adds mechanical diversity (complexity) for the sake of novelty.

    You can use this system to create two armours that are, on average, equally effective, but the heavier one will be more predictable and therefore better from the wearer's perspective. Consider, for example, a 20% chance of taking 4 damage versus an 80% chance of taking 1 damage: the fighter with the latter stats will have more warning that a potentially fatal blow could be coming next round. But you could just as easily roll all of the variance into one of the two variables for a mechanically simpler system: either armour reduces the chance of taking damge or reduces the amount of damage taken.

    Mechanical differences do not automatically translate into different tactical or strategic options. Often, they just provide different rules for arriving at the same net result.

    IMO, difference in equipment stats should either position one as unequivocally better, and more desirable, than the other (e.g. a sword +2 is just plain better than a sword +1, and therefore a more valuable prize) or allow for different tactical options (e.g. heavy armour that trades mobility for better protection). Otherwise, the equipment is just cosmetic and doesn't need differential stats or mechanics. You could, for example, just say that armour provides AC 5, and it is up to the player to imagine whether it is leather, chain, or plate mail.

  19. Bear in mind that wearing an inferior armor does bestow one great benefit; faster base speed. When you're fleeing down a corridor, it could well make a difference if you're running at 6" or 9".

    Remember; I don't have to run faster than the dragon. I just have to run faster than *you*.

    Plus, if one chooses to use the weapon vs. armor type table in the AD&D PH (as I do, and I know I am of an insignificant minority who share my choice), it does make the choice of which armor to wear (and, in reverse, which weapon to wield) much more significant.

  20. "I have never understood the urge to make being unarmored somehow "equal in defense" or "more attractive" to wearing armor. Why is this necessary?"

    So you can have swashbucklers.

    "...smacks of rules to make bad ideas in real life good in the game world."

    Yes, it's a way of having characters from the Princess Bride and characters from Ivanhoe in the same game. D&D does this anyway: plate armour and a horse would probably make you invincible against someone with a dagger and no armour, rather than merely having an advantage.

    "even Conan suited up in armour before going in a major battle."

    Let's face it, we get our idea of Conan primarily from the comics.

  21. Some really great comments. Give all fighting men the abilities of the 'thief acrobat'?

    That way you can have all the swashbuckling without all the armor class of a knight

  22. James said: I agree. Do you know of such a class?

    It's called the thief is it not?

    I'm actually not 100% familiar with the Supplement 1 version of the Thief, but it does still have a backstab right?

    Based mostly off the way things were handled in the Village of Hommlet, I always allowed Thieves to wear whatever armor they wanted, but then there was no Backstab or skills.

    Assuming thieves get Hide in Shadows and Backstab, that seems an adequate reward for forgoing armor.

  23. UWS said: Give all fighting men the abilities of the 'thief acrobat'?

    Why not just give thief-acrobats the abilities of thief-acrobats?

    It's been my experience that Thief-Acrobats are explicitly better in combat than thieves, and I've often felt the class was designed that way on purpose, to account for the melee warrior who was "slippery" rather than a tank.

  24. As has been mentioned, one of the advantages of light armor is greater speed. If you use any sort of "Opportunity Attack" rules (such as AD&D's free strike against the rear AC for hastily breaking off melee, not to mention later editions...), then I would consider giving folks in light armor a significant bonus against such attacks. That really gives them actual mobility -- too often the lim fac is the pain for breaking off melee, not your speed.

    I've actually come to the school of thought where all armors provide similar "AC" protection. Light armor provides less ENC, better speed, and breaking off from melee bonuses. Medium armor is easier to enchant with special properties. Heavy armor is heavy and slower but provides slightly better AC than the other types.

  25. The sword and sorcery trope of the unarmoured and/or lightly armoured warrior is based, in part at least upon the idea alluded to above by Zornhau, that if the warrior is highly skilled then he will be able to avoid being struck through by countering, parrying, or otherwise avoiding the blow. A warrior's trained ability to block and parry protects him from harm as much if not more than his armour (or native agility).

    The warrior's choice of weapon is also a significant factor in that a pollaxe arguably offers better protection than a mace, which offers better protection than a dagger.

    All this stuff would of course be difficult to model in D&D without recourse to major rules renovation so p'raps the hit point abstraction could cover this stuff,

  26. I went through similar considerations early this year and tried various initiative systems out to try and make lightly armoured fighters more viable in combat.

    In the end, what I do is apply a base +4 to hit from behind and because I use the Heroscape hexes in combat, I have elevated battles. Moving upwards eats up more movement in my battles.

    This equates to lightly armoured fighters being able to outflank and attack enemies from behind more easily than their slower moving, more tanklike counter parts. A +4 to hit from behind on an opponent in platemail negates his armour (in effect turning it to leather) and this works out well in practice.

    So, it might be all you really need to do: put obstacles in the party's way that tie up heavily armoured fighters (such as slopes, hills, etc) and allow the lighter armoured ones to flank because of their faster movement rates.

  27. I favor rules that enable player decisions where high ability scores award a higher bonus to certain actions but they aren't "always on".
    In my own house rules a High-dex AC bonus isn't automatic and only applies to AC when one is actively parrying (or dodging). It makes decissions in play a little more important then raw stats.

  28. Surely swashbucklers, for example, wear light armour for the perfectly good in-game reason that otherwise they'll sink like a stone if someone pushes them over the side of a boat or off a cliff-top balcony.

    I don't think any other mechanism is needed other than a DM who is willing to say things like "It takes you three hours to climb the rope in your platemail; the princess was sacrificed to the dragon an hour ago".

  29. I think this is one area that Rolemaster "got it right". In RM, the heavier armor made you easier to hit, but you took less damage. Lighter armors were tougher to hit, but when a hit was made, damage was greater than the heavier armors.

    So perhaps we could design a system like so (using old Labyrinth Lord ACs as an example):

    Padded, AC 8
    Leather, AC 7
    Studded leather, AC 6
    Scale, AC 8, -1 to damage
    Chain, AC 7, - 1 to damage
    Banded, AC 6, -1 to damage
    Splint, AC 6, -1 to damage
    Plate, AC 6, -2 to damage

    Then, no armor is better than AC 6, but some provide some damage resistance. You still have your problems with movement and encumbrance, plus make thieves unable to use anything heavier than studded leather and they don't get advantages from damage reduction. You could add the shield for an armor class bonus and if you include Trollsmyth's "shields shall be splintered" rules, you get some damage reduction rules for shields, too.

    I'm not sure what I think about this. While from a game point of view it's mechanically simple and makes someone think more about their armor choices, I don't know so much from a simulationist standpoint. There'd definitely be more hits, but I can see now that monsters or weapons that do very little damage would be nerfed. The dagger, specifically, seems like a sore spot to me. I thought a chief advantage of the dagger was that you could slip it between the plates and get a good strike in during close combat? This would largely negate that effect, when half the time your damage is reduced to zero by plate armor.

  30. Not quite that simple - better armour does make you harder to *hit* because either the blow has to be heavier, or else better aimed, or in the case of plate, both.

    If you're in shirt sleeves, I can open your throat with an opportunistic schnit. In armour, I'll need to get you with a good blow, or hook inside your gauntlets, armpit or groin.

    Conversely, you only need hit hard enough to kill the other person. I'm not going to use might swings if you're just in a loin cloth.

    So, armour affecting the to hit roll is realistic, damage absorbtion, oddly, is not.

    On another note, I once tried to get down a real countermine in 15th-century plate armour - couldn't be done!

  31. I don't like the idea that every fighter wears plate at all times because it is simply the best. I do like the idea of lightly armoured warriors, but do not feel comfortable making them equally viable to heavily armoured warriors just for the sake of game balance. That leads me to ask myself why someone would choose a lighter amour over a heavier armour given the choice. It seems to me that while plate may be the best choice for straight up combat, that it would hinder the wearer in other activities that may occur between or during combats.

    I favor rolling under a character's relevant stat as a quick and easy resolution method. So why not subtract the AC from armour from the stat, the heavier the armour the bigger the penalty. Of course some common sense will still be required that penalties are only applied where appropriate, but I think it has some merit as a quick and dirty method.

    EX: In severe heat you might call for constitution checks to avoid increasing penalities, being weighted down with heavy armour will of course affect you chance of passing and suddenly you have a good reason to avoid that plate.

  32. Actually, damage absorption is not necessarily wrong - this is kind of a complicated subject, as there are exceptions.

    It is *mostly* correct, though. A war sword vs. full plate (esp. high quality harness, which was tempered sword-grade steel) was a futile gesture if one was attempting to cleave or hack through it - but as Zornhau points out, you did not do that but rather aimed for the visor slot, etc. So in a sense plate armour basically "voids" the places it covers, rendering them more or less invulnerable to most attacks.

    And even if you could conceivably get through, one would still want to go for something less well protected. For example, it is (barely) possible to breach maille armour, but one is better served aiming for less well protected parts of the body. An account from some Viking Age battle (Clontarf, possibly) tells of how they wrestled a Viking to the ground and pulled his hauberk off in order to kill him.

    Of course, if one is using, say, a mace, then such finness is not possible. Presumably the concussive force might be enough to injure or stun, but I don't know.

    Actually, the AD&D combat system, using the full ruleset, is really not all that unrealistic, though it is putzy and not terribly user friendly.

    A thought - one could model this sort of thing thusly: allow certain weapons such as maces, poll axes, etc. to hit even plate armoured foes fairly easily, but do limited damage (half or less). Swords have a very hard time hitting but do full damage when the do (representing a direct hit to a weak spot).

    Don't know if it would be worth doing, but there it is.

  33. It's called the thief is it not?

    Not really. The D&D thief, even in its OD&D form, is too muddled a character class to represent a lightly armored, nimble fighting man. It has too many extraneous and nonsensical abilities for my present purposes.

  34. Longer post on armour and combat here: