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



RipperX said...

Sorry about the rush job on this post, this one clearly needs rewritten, I don't like how it flows but time was a factor this week, my real job sometimes wants more from me than I have, which was the case this week.

Brooser Bear said...

Rip, this piece is fine. Sorry you had to go over and beyond at work this week. Hope you made some overtime. Love that Elf Chick with the wrong choice of battle dress.

Further reading articles are interesting. I will study them later in greater detail. Add a bit more perhaps, to my list of rare and unusual metals in my campaign. Adamantine, Mithril, and Witch Silver are already there. Armor made of Gold, Silver and Platinum does not make sense, unless it is for decoration or otherwise enchanted.

Regarding Mages and Armor, historically, Plate Mail was off limits except those knights, who were conditioned to wearing it since 11 or 12 years of age, and wore a full suit daily and to dinner table. Literally. It was like foot binding for Chinese women - an adult knight who wore a full suit of plate mail armor had his natural body's range of motion in the neck, shoulders, and lower back the same as the limited range of the suit of armor he wore. That and stunted growth. That was a wide spread practice of the time, and children slated to be sideshow freaks were shaped and stunted by tight binding with rope and cloth.

So, Armor up to Chain and Scale Mail variants is open to all. Plate is the privilege of knights bound to it. I have no problem with Magic Users using light crossbows. A Gimmie instant 1 point skill. A Magic User can multi-class as a fighter if s/he has the strength and gets the right skills. A Wizard can cast any spell wearing a complete Chain Mail, provided that s/he removes the helmet, the Coif, and the Greaves.

I go with AD&D rules as written for shields - they give a +1 bonus to AC and additional bonuses versus archers with a large shield.

Helmets serve a very useful purpose is protecting from critical hits. Any exposed location - palm of the hand, face - has a lowest AC unless protected by a piece of armor, and if it is solid metal, it gets the highest AC of 1. Any to hit roll that exceeds the minimum to hit number by 5 or more is a Crit Hit that automatically does maximum damage. Sexy scars and long term injuries are a possibility. I have a Hit Location Table. I roll a D12 along with the D20's every time just in case. Of the 12 entries on the table, 3 are - Head, Neck, and Face. You have steel caps, 3/4 Helmets and Full Helms, only the last protects all three locations.

Armor failing is more exciting in the heat of the battle, and I use Crit Fumbles as well as Crit Hits. A To Hit Roll of 1 always brings interesting things to the one who rolled it.

Historically, it was the Stiletto and Rapier, that were designed to slide into the eye slits and little openings in the armor to murder a knight. Stilettoes were murder weapons, Rapiers were used in battle. They were designed to slide into the shoulder and neck crevices of the knight's suit of armor, much the same way a credit card can be slid into the office door jamb to push open the lock, instead in case of the Rapier, it cut whatever belts, ligaments and arteries that it could find. Of course, mere peasants caught with rapiers by knights' retinues were tortured to death and mutilated in the waning days of knights and armor.

RipperX said...

Usually I'm never happy with what I write, but I force deadlines upon myself, and a deadline is a deadline. Typically, after a day or two I'll go back and read the post again and end up liking it, but not this time. I was sloppy in the editing, and it has no polish.

In regards to armor, I am very strict on the Mage Class, I have a player who is a specialist, he can chew a DM up and spit him out again, and he likes it strict. I'm really glad to have him at the table, he is killer to watch in action, and it is challenging for me to keep finding ways to challenge him. Wizards can wear armor, but if the spell requires free movement to cast, he's got to take the armor off. Once a wizard gets high enough in level where he can craft new spells, he can always goes back through the list of his favorites and turns them into Verbal and/or material components when cast at a higher level. Logic is always a factor, you wouldn't want to cast lightning spells while wearing armor, though it does entertain the hell out of me.

Plate has always been a rich man's luxury, one needs to have a squire or two just to get in and out of the thing. I had always played that as being impractical, however I had one of our local Faire Knights take me to school about many of the thoughts on armor were nothing but wives tales. A properly fitted armor won't limit mobility, nor will it betray one's position by rattling when they walk. Their biggest concerns typically aren't themselves, but for their horses, who are also armored. Anyway, I do love watching those jousting matches! And the folks who travel around and do that stuff for a living are pretty easy to talk to.

A big part of D&D is to never stop learning history. The more we know, the more powerful we are!

Brooser Bear said...

I think that the quality and commonality of the plate armor depends on the time period and how it was acquired. The statement about child knights having wear plate armor around the house to get used to it, came from Ewart Oakeshott himself, and covers late 1200's and early 1300's. He could be wrong, but I have seen the restrictive and cramped condition under which gunners lived and fought on the Napoleonic Wars era ships, and thus I would not be dismissive of this as an old wives tale. Anyway, around 1200-1300, all armor was custom made for the original purchaser, who travelled to see the famed armorers in what is now Germany and Italy (neither formed a nation state until 1800's). Armor then passed down from one person to another, was won in tournaments and captured on battlefields. So, there was plenty of ill-fitting armor. By 1400's plate was worn on battlefield by the common foot-soldiers in the West European armies. By 1700's, European kings would sit for portraits in suits of plate armor, that they owned, and brandishing medieval weapons. By then, armor plate was reduced to a heavy torso piece, known as Cuirass, typically worn by the type of cavalry, known as Cuirassiers, who fought with a sabre and a pike to break up infantry formations on the ground. Dragoons were another type of armored cavalry at the time - they fought from horseback using two early pistols and hurled bombs - early grenades.

Renaissance fairs featuring jousting knights were a popular form entertainment in the days before renaissance. Without wars and crusades, a typical knight earned a living as a fencing instructor and a tournament jouster. Famed medieval jousters would travel the fair circuit much like the boxers do today, so, Jousting can be said to be the first European international sport, as I am sure there were match promoters and a system of fees and prizes that existed in the middle ages.

I think that in AD&D all equipment is priced too low, so as to make it affordable for the first level player. In Midlands, prices are set high, and the players have either to scrounge their armor or go into service and get the good stuff issued to them.

RipperX said...

Awesome comment! I am a sucker for history, but I read much more fiction than I do history books. Castle life and arms are things that interest me but I've not really pursued.

In regards to prices, mine float all over the place. The further away you get from where they are made, the more expensive that items become. My system is rather complex because I do like to keep a trade economy going. I base everything off of simple rules, small towns provide raw goods and large cities produce finished goods. Cheap armor, as described in the PHB would require metal from nearby mines, enough craftsmen to make steel, and a government that is supportive of war. Rarely are all three of those conditions met. Everybody must get paid, but to be fair, a GP is an good chunk of change which most people don't have on hand. If the adventures introduce to much gold into an economy, things can tend to get pretty crazy.

The Dale Wardens said...

+Booser Bear and Ripper,

Have you ever checked out the Pendragon RPG? The money in that system is done a little bit differently. I have always thought that things such as (especially) economics, prevalence of magic and effect on daily life, and religion, in D&D and typical fantasy settings are not well thought out. People are mainly looking for a good adventure game that has the feel of a real world and not a real working system.

I don't know if you have seen this blog or post, but I like the ideas on how to handle shields.

In some ways shields are more useful than armor. Would you rather have a shield or a suit of armor when you are being shot at by arrows? AC 9 never seemed good enough to me for a shield, and I think the link provides a pretty good alternative.

This is also an interesting use of shields:

Any thoughts?

David S.

RipperX said...

I am aware of both of them, I really enjoy Trollsmyth's work, and I remember that article. I don't think that his system is broken, I have play-tested that one and it works fine, but the thing with me is that I could hire a shield bearer and/or a cart of shields. Some creatures and most classes only get one hit per round, to take away a hit isn't something that I really like to do.

The system in Thac0 Forever, I've played with systems like it, but find that it is too much. One can use shields as cover in the supplemental rules, against ranged weapons. This grants some nice AC bonuses, but to apply this in melee combat, I think that it is an unfair disadvantage to the attacker, A large shield would be in the way, maybe if your shield worked both ways, giving your opponent the same AC bonus, but cause it is in your way too, that would level it out?

We did have one shield that we tinkered and house ruled, maybe? It might be core as well, I don't know, but if you specialize in small shield, you can attack with it, or try to block a none 20 hit. We meshed up the Wizards Spell, and gladiator movies where a lightly armored fighter has just that little shield to defend himself with. It is rarely used as most fighters don't want to specialize in shields, but it is an option.

RipperX said...

RE: Pendragon RPG

I have heard of it, but I've never pursued it. Much of that stuff aids in play. If it was written down somewhere, than the player may know it, but if it isn't, and it is just in my head, then we have an opportunity if we want to explore that.

Most people don't even think about money, it is dull, except for when it isn't. If I am looking to cause problems, I can have you arrested as a spy for trying to pass the coinage from a country that that city hates. What are the duties of the cleric? This stuff can come up in the game. We don't want to bog it down with this stuff, but if it aids a story or causes problems, then it can be a lot of fun to pursue. Little things like that can make all the difference to a player.

I want to know more about this world than anybody else, because I like smart players, and mine know enough to ask lots of questions, but somethings really are just for me only. I guess that that is a writers thing.

Brooser Bear said...

Ripper (bow) Dalewarden (bow)

Well... Sometimes history and D&D just don't mix. D&D has a range of shield from the buckler to the so-called Body Shield. i.e. a crossbowman's Pavise, a Roman Legionnaire's shield, or a modern day police Riot Shield. can you imagine dragging one of those things through a DUNGEON LABYRINTH????? Those things were heavy, like carrying solid Oak doors.

We didn't have Dungeon Exploration in history. Romans did amazing things with shields on battlefields, but murdered each other with daggers in towns and homes when they were off the battlefield.

Shield Walls were amazing moving barricades. It was form your own shield wall or die. Tactics evolved, all but forgotten today, that made the Ancient battlefield feel pretty much like our own day. Ancient Romans had BOMBAS - this was a heavy, heavy ball of lead, like a kettle weight, with a spearhead. Legionnaires in the third and fourth rows of the shield wall would throw it on the heads of their enemies in their shield formation. Balearic Slingmen, going back to biblical times, they hurled fist sized rocks out 150 yards in high trajectory. They rained them on the approaching phalanxes - random area fire weapon, like mortar fire today. Kinetic energy - Armor would not save you from sling stone. Never mind David and Goliath. If that rock touched the armored shoulder or a shield, where it touched on shoulder, that shoulder and collar bone were broken... oops!!! Touched a helmet - person DIED from concussion! How would we handle this in D&D terms? it's not 1d4 damage, is it? This style of death goers back to Ancient Greeks. Ancient Romans improved - their SECRET weapon was a sling bullet, cast from lead. It had an effective range of 350 yards and rained the same sort of death. Today's assault rifles fired without a scope, kills out to 150-250 yards. Only difference is - To be a slingman, you learned since childhood. To shoot an assault rifle, you can learn in a day.

Another interesting thing, Shield Walls in Anglo-Saxon times. long handled battle aces were used to bust shield walls - Swordsman engaged the dude holding shield. Axeman tried to hook the great shield and pull it away from the Shield Man. Spearman then tried to stab the Shieldman in the face, in the eye, in the neck - some soft tissue that would catch and channel the spearhead towards the brain or the throat.

There are several versions of the film 300 Spartans about the Battle of Thermopole made around the world going back to 1960's. Try to get a historic version. This 300 I hate because it is such bullshit. In the real world the 300 Spartans were finished along with the King Leonidas by the archers. Spartans stood their ground in a phalanx, repelling all phalanx assaults on them until only about 30 Spartans stood. Persian King then said - why am I losing my men here? Finish them with arrows! Spartans did as that clip shows. Arrows DID NOT penetrate their shields, but their shields did not cover their entire bodies, and all were eventually pierced with arrows and bled to death.

Regarding Pendragon RPG. I've seen the ads for the game, when I was a kid, but I never got a chance to buy it. Pendragon and Chivalry and Sorcery. Or the Iron Crown series of games that had Arms Law, Claw Law, Spell Law etc. I have the idea of the last two, but not Pendragon. What was that game like and how did it differ from D&D?

RipperX said...

RE: 300

God that movie made me mad. My wife and I saw it in the theater, which is rare, we never get to go to the movies. The trailer looked good and I was expecting something along the lines of "Troy" which I loved! That movie was the exact opposite of Troy, they should had shown that monster trash in the trailer so I'd know not to go. That was such an exciting story, why they felt that they had to liven it up with horrendous SGI is beyond me. And monsters? Armies that big and you feel compelled to give the Persians monsters? To know that people love that film gives me a headache. Monsters?

Brooser Bear said...

Ripper, was that the Troy movie, where Brad Pitt played Achilles? It was a good film and I enjoyed it.

It's much worse, actually. Ancient world was a very alien place, especially to the modern west, which claims Greco-Roman, Judeo Christian roots.

In the historical conflict that involved three hundred Spartans, there was more exotic human monstrocity than in LOTR and game of thrones combined.

Spartans were not good guys. They were a first modern totalitarian state. Ancient Greeks were slave holders, typically foreigners taken in wars of conquest, but Spartans were the only ones, who took fellow Greeks as slaves, and raided nearby Greek cities and villages for slaves come harvest time. Okay... shrug.. so what? In Sparta, real name Lacedaemon, political rights of citizenship, passed down the generation with real property ownership to boys. But to get that right and KEEP THEIR INHERITANCE, the boys had to complete the military education system. OK, not too bad. Surviving school was like surviving prison... OK, romantic childhood... EXCEPT, it wasn't enough to graduate - there were dining clubs, literally group dining tables, that were a combination a fraternity, dining club, a social club, and a political club. If you were not invited to sit at one of these tables, YOU DID NOT INHERIT OR BECOME A CITIZEN. There were slave revolts in Sparta. SLAVE REVOLT NUMBER 3 was instigated by dispossessed Spartans, who were humiliated and ostracized for being weak, and were reduced to being tenant farms on their own lands. This led to a civil war, where the rebels lost and were horribly executed. Not really... quite simple... but... In WW2 some Nazi did the same thing, the citizens and historians keep bemoaning the horror, the horror... how and why did they come up with it. The war criminal was never caught, and I can just picture him having an a-ha moment, he must have studied classics at the university as a student.

Brooser Bear said...

Anyway, Sparta was also a unique city state in Greece, that alternatively tried to enslave the democratic Athens (which Spartans considered weak and decadent), started wars in Ancient Greece, and also saved Ancient Greece from foreign invaders.

Instead of a king or a democratic forum, Sparta was the first society to have a cult of personality of Lycurgus function as a political ideology. He was a semi-mythical founder of Sparta, who starved himself to death so as to inspire Spartans to keep their loyalty the State.

Spartans abroad in Ancient Greece behaved as 20th Century totalitarians behaved in the West. Spartans believed their city-state to be superior to all else. They had a cult of physical fitness. Spartan Women enjoyed greater social equality with men than did Athenian women. Spartan women were property managers and executors of the estate for their, often absentee fathers, husbands, sons. Spartan men and women would go naked among Athenians, to show off their bodies, especially Spartan women, who in their forties and fifties remained slim and toned, while Athenian women were stay at home moms and did not engage in athletics as a rule.

Spartan warriors were openly and proudly bisexual. While fresh at military schools, they engaged (or were taken) in sexual relations with older students, who also mentored them and protected them. These bonds remained strong throughout later life. At the same time, Spartan men fell in love, married and had families around the time that full rights as Spartan citizens were accorded to them.

There is a surviving historic account of some Spartans sunning themselves, enjoying the sun, rubbing each other with oil and braiding each other’s hair before a battle that would likely take their lives. The historian wrote of shock and incomprehension of the non-Greeks, who watched them, and of the arrogance of the Spartans, who felt superior to the non-Spartans because they can relax and adorn their hair before the battle, and because of their superiority as warriors over the little people.

Now, I wish THAT would have made it into any version of the 300 film!!! Why bother with cheap CGI effects and with fantasy, monsters or otherwise, when you have something as awesome and terrible as the mere ***historic*** Sparta, and what a name, LACEDAEMON!!!! You can put into a D&D game these days, and nobody would know the meaning! And for Persians as well, historically, it was an Empire as exotic as Sparta. Emperor Cyrus left memoirs of his youth, the way Julius Caesar did, and I can write as much about ancient Persia as I did about Sparta.

RipperX said...

Brad Pitt was in Troy. I found the movie to be brilliant, it gave life to those characters, it cut out the gods and stripped it of fantasy. Not to mention, I think that it was some of the best sword work since Earl Flynn and Basil Rathborne.

Brooser Bear said...

Come to think of it, I didn't even notice the absence of gods in the film. Someone told me that it was part of a new Hollywood genre of the epic adventure film. I am not sure if that genre passed as fad or is still with us with new films being made.

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