The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Alternative Amour Rules

Over the years there have been times when the lack of realism in D&D has bothered me; I’m not in one of those times right now (I’ve been in more of a its a game, let it flow funk these days), but I thought today I’d share some thoughts from a time when the rules on armor were really bugging me.

What's a fighter without his armor?

The Armor Rules Are Iconic

The armor rules in D&D are quietly one of the most iconic aspects of the game; so much so even the 4E designers didn’t dare touch them. Pick up any edition of the game you want, any, and you will find leather, chain and plate armor, and regardless of the edition you will see them generating similar numbers; leather is the weakest armor, chain is 2 or 3 steps better than leather and plate is 2 better than chain. Its like clockwork.

Recognizing the iconic status of the D&D armor system and how it is intimately tied to the to-hit mechanics, has always made me hesitant to do a complete overhaul of the system; after all if you start tossing core mechanics out of a game, then why not just choose a different system to begin with?

So what can you do to improve it if you can’t toss it all out?

Armor Should Absorb Blows
Well, first of all one has to decide what exactly one wants fixed – there are lots of candidates when talking about D&D armor. Personally, I am not really offended by the lack of historical realism of some of the armors, nor am I interested in a complex rule system that compares weapons to armors. My biggest beef over the years has been in exactly what it is armor does.

In D&D armor makes attackers miss you. Not literally, of course. It is assumed that the attackers’ blows are glancing off your armor in a way that leaves you unharmed. But this leaves no room to interpret blows that are so strong that the armor is of no help. Neither does it make any allowance for armors taking away some of the energy of incoming blows; blows either hit full force or they don’t affect you.

Armor as Damage Resistance
One solution I have tried in the past is to make armors grant damage resistance instead of AC. Basically it turns every +1 that armors normally give for AC to +1 damage resistance. Other aspects of AC such as shields and dexterity stayed the same. This results in a lot more hits, but somewhat less damage.

I liked this system, but it was not without its flaws. For one, it was not always obvious how monster’s ACs would break down; how much would still grant AC bonus and how much gave DR. Another was that a well armored fighter became almost impervious at low levels, but then was extremely vulnerable at higher levels. The system wasn’t totally broken, but it required a certain type of campaign.

Leather armor, good for some things...

Weapons That Bypass Armor
Another solution, one I have never really tried, would be to have certain weapons bypass armor. I knew a number of people promoted this in 2E, but at the time it seemed really broken to me. Sure real longbows punched right through armor, as did two handed swords, but those weapons had some limitations in real life that aren’t really reflected in the game. But with the advent of 4E I think there could be a way to resurrect that idea and make it balanced.

My thought is that you could make a group of weapons that historically were very effective against the armors used in D&D. A character could use those weapons vs reflex instead of vs AC. I don’t know how fair that would be, but it comes across as reasonable; if it were unbalanced then a game mechanic could be a limiting factor, such as requiring a character pick up a feat before being able to attack weapon vs reflex.

As I said off the start, these days I am not so much into worrying about armor rules, but either of these should be workable alternatives if one was wanting one.


November 2, 2010 - Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , ,

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