Mechanic Series: Armor Class & Damage

What exactly is Armor Class? We know that it came from naval war games, but I’m asking exactly what it means. In standard game play the combat is broken down into rounds, each round equaling 1 minute, and in that minute there is a lot going on which we are ignoring, the characters involved are parrying, feinting, and engaging in sword play, but this may not really be going on. For instance if a thief attacks an archer in single combat, the archer isn’t going to be able to parry unless he has a sword available, which he might not, but even if he don’t than the thief has to roll against his opponents AC anyway, which would be the same as if he had his sword drawn. Clearly these are game mechanics, and not meant to be taken seriously. We have sacrificed accuracy for ease of play. The alternative to this system would require a gigantic book of charts and require the thief to spend 1d10x10 minutes to figure out if he hit or not.

To those of us who play the game, the above makes perfect sense! We’ve come to except this logic as fact; we just roll the dice and move on without losing the images in our heads. This is the way that it has always been, which works! But, there are those out there who want to simulate different things, and there are rules hidden here and there in our handbooks which help us do just that. Of course every time we add supplemental rules to our combat, we are slowing it down just a little bit, and all of those little bits add up.

Some armors have them included by default, but if the character chooses not to wear one, then some DM’s heavily penalize them, but I don’t believe that a helmet supplies even 1 point of AC.  To me, this is just how you envision your PC, which is up to you. If you are wearing a helmet, you can’t get sapped, but, depending on your helmet type, your vision may be impaired, which the DM does have to know. Of course, there is another rule-set that influences this decision; called shots, but that is another topic entirely.

Shields have also got many strange house rules attached to them, some offering a cheap way of getting 3 free AC points, which grants the user the AC of studded leather if used by itself, though something like this does seem impractical to carry with you, so is a 10’ pole; and that shield rule kind of follows the Core Rules on Cover & Concealment, so why not?

How exactly does the shield protect the user? The rules imply that the shield is always protecting you, it factors into your AC, but some claim that they can do more with it, and block hits, which I don’t agree with. A hit is a hit. Perhaps this would work in a duel situation, but if that is the case, than the shield should be taken off of your AC score.

I’ve also heard that if your opponent misses you by 1, then it means that he hit your shield and it is destroyed, which is just silly to me, but different strokes for different folks, right.

Surprise is also a topic worthy of talking about here; since your AC also depends upon the user actively participating in the melee; would it be fair to adjust this when a character has been caught off guard? The attacker does gain a bonus to hit, is this enough? Is a surprise round really still 1 minute long? If not, how long is it?

Actively parrying is also an option which increases your AC, you focus on Defense, giving up all attacks. I’ve heard of DMs making players role to see if they block a hit, but I prefer to just increase the AC. I think that people may like the Roll to block method because they feel like it gives them more control, or at least allows them to participate, but I still prefer the easy AC bonus because it speeds up play.

Leather armor must be tended to regularly, if it gets wet it will rot, and since we are dealing with sweat and blood, rain and dew these things probably get gross really quick. If one doesn’t properly tend to even the cheapest of armors; this is magnified for the better stuff: Chainmail rusts, buckles break, dents in plate from who knows what, dirt and sand gets trapped in hinges, in other words, armor needs tended to, and tended often! For this reason a DM may enforce a monthly living expense, if this tithe is not paid saving throws must be made to see if your equipment holds up, failure indicates that a weapon is shoddy, and AC will suffer because you didn’t maintain it. Many DMs have applied personal modifiers; the higher the AC rating the more expensive that maintenance will be.

Sleeping in Armor also isn’t good, this stuff needs to be taken off; if it isn’t, than not only did you not get the full benefits from rest, but your armor will suffer for it as well, and runs the risk of damage. How long does it take to put back on? Look it up in the index, this is covered in the Core Rules.

Critical Hits vs. Armor
If you are using the optional rules in the Player’s Option handbook, than this is already covered, but even if you aren’t you can add a forced saving throw: if the save is successful, it could mean that the plate was still bent, or the shield was still trashed. If the player is carrying a shield, chances are the shield was sacrificed and damaged and he now has a new AC because the shield is worthless, but if he doesn’t than we can just assume that for whatever reason, the armor has lost 1 point of effectiveness that can be hammered out during your next break if the player can do that (NWP: Armorer), else the damage is permanent until the character can go back to town and get it repaired or replaced by a professional.

Weapons vs. Armor
This is an optional mechanic that probably requires its own space, but for now I’ll suggest that we can invent weapons that are designed specifically to damage armor types. Many existing pole-arms have this function, but, short of a guilty conscience, there is nothing stopping you from having a goblin design a strange blade which is meant to slip between armor plates and slice leather straps on a successful attack, while it wouldn’t be much good for attacking the man himself, it would allow his buddies a better chance of actually hitting him, and may make it so that the 15th level fighter has to get out of his armor before attacking because it’s just in the way.

Magical Armor
We have to decide exactly what we are dealing with; is the armor truly enchanted, or is it made out of a harder metal? While the metal can be enchanted, perhaps the bindings holding the thing on aren’t. Maybe, instead of just giving them Armor+3 you give them the pieces they need to make it, but the bindings had all rotted away? If the entire armor is enchanted, than it will do strange things: it will mold itself to the owner, and it will not break under most circumstances. This would be special armor indeed! But why not counter this by giving it an alignment; no need to be sentient, however, it can still disagree with the PC’s actions and betray them in subtle ways, such as a cuff coming lose and interfering with an attack, or not offering full protection until the character rights a wrong that he committed, have fun with it!

Players like to believe that Armor is constant, and it really isn’t. I don’t think that the above really adds to much bookwork to the game, but it will add some. I think that it can be over done, adding modifier after modifier is just silly to me, in my games an AC of -10 is the absolute best you can ever have, and that would be god-like armor.

Adjusting the armor system is actually quite brilliant when you look at it, the ideas above are pretty crazy, but they all function without breaking anything in the core rules. The Fighters Handbook has a few other ideas to add to the game, such as piecing together your own armor out of stuff that you find, and again, it all works!

If somebody has the wild idea of skinning a dragon that they had killed, and turning it into armor, this can easily be done on the DM’s side of the screen; probably not on the player’s side, but creating something like that would definitely be fun!

I suppose that the only thing that we have to debate about in regards to AC is Ye Olde Chainmail Bikinis! 

Further Reading:

A Treatise On Mages & Armor in AD&D, 2nd Ed.

AD&;D Rare Metals Breakdown
Crafting Systems in Tabletop Games: AD&D, Second Edition

Thac0 Forever: Shields

Trollsmyth: Shields Shall be Splintered


Retrospective on 2e style & Blogger

I’ve been doing research lately, and happened to stumble over one of my old comments that I had made. I didn’t always play the way that I do today, I am a 2er, and that reflected in my style. The meta-plot and me were close companions, and I would get frustrated writing because everything was so specific, but that was the way that it was supposed to be. Players wanted a story!

2nd Edition had a specific style, players were some times expected to do the bidding of NPCs, and then at the end, the NPC would complete the task and you’d just get to watch as these world changing events unfolded. That was actually the formula for the perfect game! We enjoyed doing that. We also enjoyed playing games were we really didn’t have any influence on the plot what so ever. We’d go to famous places and experience stuff. Granted, some of these games were actually quite good, even by today’s standards, it can be fun trying to stay alive while a couple of gods are locked in combat! But, I wasn’t ever really happy with them. It can be over done, and a party that consisted of excellent players will often find themselves escaping the module, which I couldn’t handle because it would ruin the rest of the plot, so I had to railroad them back on track, or even stop the game and explain to them that they are doing it wrong.

2e storytelling was very ridged, and domineering, and I wasn’t always happy with the results that I got. I’d put too much importance to a specific PC and ignore the others, and god forbid that they didn’t show up for game day because then I’d have to play their character for them, else we’d have nothing to do that day.

In those days, I protected my NPCs to the point that they were gods. I ignored all of the signs that players weren’t happy and would just tell them to stay with me, because the ending is awesome. This is what we did. I spoke to other DMs at the time and they played the same way. Protect your characters, the DM is the storyteller, the players are just along for the ride, and a successful DM is one who can tell amazing stories. Character involvement meant that you followed the script. We ignored dice, ran multiple DM PCs, and generally played very badly and had no idea.

I formed this blog to defend my ideals during the edition wars. I was right in the middle of the storm too! You had the 4ers vs. old-school and the one thing that they both agreed on was that 2e sucked. I had no idea how others played the game, and reading some of the blogs at the time was eye opening! Thankfully guys like James Maliszewski from Grognardia, and James Edward Raggi IV of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, among others, though none so influential than those two. Both took time out of their day to explain a new way of playing, with advice and the reasons behind it. At first I was arguing with them, but it is hard to argue with a sound idea, so instead of fighting, I started asking questions and they were answering. Everything that they did was different then what I did, but it sounded so interesting, so I began play-testing it. My players at first kind of rejected the idea off hand, they were used to having a sense of clear direction in my games, and I was taking that net away and allowing them to fail. At the end of the night we sat around and talked about what we had done, and we were very happy with the results. I could put together an original campaign much faster and easier with this method, I didn’t have to sit at my computer for months on end writing the thing, and instead just let it flow naturally and see where it goes.

I contacted Maliszewki and told him what had happened, that the players were really excited, more excited than they had ever been! He recommended a list of old-school modules that I should play, which I hid into my current campaign. They were written in a way that amazed me, these weren’t the bossy NPC dependant stories which I was used to, I could drop them in any thing! However this briefness and lack of detail kind of spooked me, there wasn’t any direction and I’d whine to James and he’d say how that was why they were so good. Add my own details, but don’t write anything down. The result was, literally, a game changer. The old modules taught me teaching points which were never provided in modules again.

Eventually I decided to try it. A full sandbox! I used the module “Isle of Dread” which would provide a great backdrop to what we were doing at the time, which wasn’t even true fantasy D&D but a heavily modified setting set in 1890’s earth, and that module still worked! Now I stumbled and fell on my face during it, but Raggi saw where I was going wrong and made it his mission to help me fix it and get back on track.

That turned out to be the greatest, and most rewarding campaign that I had ever ran. My style is even stronger now, my players are excited to play again, and I am a total convert, all because I spoke up and said something, and because I listened. Today I am more apt to try new things, and go into different directions. I’m not a tyrant at the table . . . well, not as much of one anyway. It is funny to see an old comment that I made years ago, and smile at it because I had no idea when I made it, how different I would become because of it.

I am also a more entertaining DM now, I received the tools and the advice that I needed to really push the game into the direction in which it was intended, I can’t stress enough how important that that little comment window is to this game. It allows us to see past ourselves and what we are doing, through it we can strengthen our own games and look at others. It also allows us to help others, not just those that comment, but those who will read those comments in the years to come. Maliszewki & Raggi never once got hostile with me, they never said, “You’re doing it wrong”. They just told me what they do, and what works for them, and why they do it that way. They reinforced a method of play which allowed me to better express myself, to look at what I was doing and keep the story telling elements but keep them in check. They were the loudest voices of their time, and I miss what they had to offer. You don’t see that much in the loud talking heads of today. Today it is about shocking the reader, and berating ideas. They offer very little of anything else, which is sad.

As far as I’m concerned, the Edition Wars are over, and we all won, and the people who complained so loudly about 2e sucking weren’t really complaining about the rules, but how TSR taught us how to use them, which did suck.

Writing Lore: Who really owns that sword?

I have been really pushing the mechanical aspects of the game, so for today I’d like to address something that is more lore related. Creating lore is probably the most rewarding aspect of Dungeon Mastering, with the growing dependency upon modules, this aspect is being forgotten. In worlds such as Forgotten Realms, people are so obsessed with canon lore that they spend more time looking for somebody else’s work than just sitting down for a moment and writing it on their own. The more WE know about the world, and how it works the better, and players appreciate a unique spin (or even a stolen one) on an old idea. The problem is that people are at a loss when they are staring into the abyss of a blank page, how does a DM create something from seemingly nothing? That answer is simple, we ask ourselves questions.

So the fighter has a magic sword. Typically this is as far as the idea goes, unless the DM adds stuff to it, which he should! A Sword+3 is kind of like calling the gal who works at the tavern “Serving Wench #4”, but I am going to assume that you know all of this already. We can add an adventure seed by asking one simple question, who owns this? Chances are, especially with a powerful item, it ISN’T the PC.

I suppose this question leads us to define the weapon even further, who constructed it? In my worlds, once in a while a very skilled craftsman can create a +1 weapon; a king can gather the finest materials in the land and have a weapon constructed that is capable of great things! There are always exceptions to the rules, but for the most part, magical weapons are relics of a lost civilization, or the fantastic creations of the great fantasy races, the dwarves and elves. In this case, as they are longer living races, perhaps they see ownership and lending differently than humans do?

Is it a far reach for a fighter to defeat a powerful enemy and claim his sword as his own? We all know that the enemy was one dubious fellow who deserved what he got, but where did he get the sword+4 from? Maybe it was looted and stolen from the crypt of a great hero of men, and the sword had been gifted to this hero by the elves, who allowed the sword to be buried with him. Now, how do you think that they will react when they see the PC carrying it around?

In the land of Dwarves, they have long memories and have lost much of their culture, are they going to look kindly upon a man finding a relic that had been lost and who refuses to return it to them?

Now I am guessing that this is going to create some drama at the table, because PCs aren’t willing to drop torches and store bought junk never the less a cool magic sword that they righteously feel that they had earned. How they keep it is up to them and you, perhaps the dwarves will allow it to stay with the character if they perform a brave act which furthers their cause?

Elves are a secretive race, the player characters will no doubt be arrested while a long drawn out discussion may eventually turn into a trial, assuming that they are cooperative, which probably won’t happen. Maybe the players will escape with the sword, maybe they won’t? Being forced into a situation that they don’t want to be is fun! Do they engage in combat with the elves, further convincing them that the party is evil, or do they find some other means of resolving the situation nonviolently?

Do you hear the voices? Perhaps the sword itself can communicate to the loremaster what had happened, that the PC had saved it from committing vile deeds? The weapon need not be intelligent as defined in the DMG, but it can still have a voice that speaks to those who know how to listen. Maybe there is even a hidden power in it? The sky is the limit! And stories like this make an item more than just a string of numbers on the Character sheet.

Perhaps the lore master charges the player to return the sword to its dead owner who is terrorizing the countryside in the form of an undead creature? Perhaps the loremaster is full of beans, and though he says that it should be returned, using the sword to slay the previous owner is enough to quiet the creature as it sees that the blade has betrayed it . . . then again, maybe it will refuse to betray it.

All of this from one question, who REALLY owns the item? Once you start with a seed, and ponder its implications the lore will flow from you, and I guarantee you that your stories will be better than anything that Wizards of the Coasts will ever publish.

Contact me at

My Photo

Advanced Gaming & Theory is my Blog

A 2nd Edition AD&D holdout, I've played since 1993 and still love it!

Search This Blog