System X over Y Part 1: Armor

Guild_master_armorArmor in one form or another is a role-playing game staple. Starting with leather skins, to chain mail and half plate all the way to laser shields and Kevlar vests, most characters are going to not want to get hit by clubs and particle beams. Because death sucks.

What mechanic is the best to play with?

First to consider is a mechanic something like Armor Class.  Wearing plate mail and carrying a shield the size of small table makes you harder to hit. It does not have contested combat dice rolling. You have a 20 armor class, someone attacks and hits you or not, based on their roll. Quick and it keeps combat moving. This is favorable, but what if a lucky peasant attacks with a sharpened stick of viciousness? Our peasant rolls a 22 and somehow injures our knightly juggernaut. Realistic or silly?

Next, there’s damage resistance or a stopping power mechanism. Our peasant hero grabs a makeshift spear and plunges it into our Sir’s side. Let’s assume another hit, doing 4 points of damage. In the first example, the plate mail does its job as Armor Class, performs as all or nothing and either stops/deflects the blow. Should the armor stop all or some of the four points of damage? Say the armor has damage mitigation of three. Now our spear is not going in as far, only doing one point. Is this better than the all or nothing of AC (Armor Class)? Is the spear considered armor piecing? What if our peasant had an assault rifle with bullets designed for shooting through tanks?

Are the two together too much? First having to beat an armor class/rating and then penetrating the armor itself. Adding in the latter takes an extra step. Doubly so if the defender gets some sort of avoidance, defense or soak roll. (That’s another topic)  All together they seem too much. There are four types of an armor mechanic that could be used.

  1. Peasant would need a high roll based on the knight’s plate armor. (AC/AR)
  2. The knight could attempt to block or evade the strike (Active Defense, Dodge/Block Etc)
  3. The armor itself could stop some or all of the incoming damage. (Damage Resistance/Stopping Power)
  4. The Knight’s own personal stamina/health could shrug off the blow entirely. Damn you White Wolf.


I’m leaning towards something with number 1 and number 3 as the best for playability. I can’t think of system that has this already off the top of my head, but I’ll update this post if I come across it.

Armor Penalties Next Week.


4 responses to “System X over Y Part 1: Armor

  1. Some of it, I think, ends up depending on where your balance between realism and convenience falls. I like the AC idea from a speed/convenience standpoint, but that doesn’t lend itself well (IMO) to dealing with situations like a pike square vs. a mounted knight. In the real world, even a single pikeman could conceivably take down (in one shot) the most heavily armored knight, and with little effort or risk on his part. The Battle of Nancy demonstrated that (with one or more full pike squares) quite nicely.

    If realism isn’t a concern at all, AC is (IMO again) one of the best options, but it is an all-or-nothing deal, as you noted. The typical accompaniment to AC in most systems I’ve seen that use it is the potential for a ridiculous number of hit points (or equivalent), usually without an equivalent damage-boost available for the attacker.

    That combination I *don’t* like, even without AC in the mix. It makes ridiculously improbable things relatively commonplace — Someone with dozens of HP can survive repeated blows that should *kill* them, even completely unarmored, if they are even remotely human.

    Something like an AC-based to-hit, and a fairly consistent HP range (based on mass, constitution, or whatever) that’s balanced with weapon capabilities would, I think, be a better set-up.

    YMMV, of course… 🙂

    • The realism vs. cinematic arguments eliminate to the possibility for a ‘Universal System’. GURPS has tried, but they have always fallen short doing credit to the latter. For me, I think it’s always been one or the other. If possible, this blog will either find or create the perfect middle ground. Perhaps the best course to counter hit point bloat, is a character increase in fighting prowess, they become harder to hit?

      • Eh, maybe… I vaguely remember an argument some years back that D&D/AD&D Hit Points were intended to represent pretty much exactly that. It wasn’t that characters got any tougher, per se (though in the case of the various fighter-classes, that might well have been part of it) so much as they learned how to not get hit so often/seriously. The same argument was trying to explain why different HP dice were used for different classes.

        That sounds fine until you have to try to work out something like a massive Fireball, dropped into a volcano, or getting hit by a multi-ton boulder during an avalanche. Harder to hit is viable in hand-to-hand combat, but most of the simple mechanics start failing quickly and/or badly when confronted with being attacked unawares, or various natural or supernatural damage-scenarios.

        Realism vs. cinematic is definitely a balancing act, I think. For me, it starts feeling ridiculous when characters can run across lava-fields and not even have to deal with significant damage, let alone dying. I think.

        Have you looked at the FUDGE damage rules? One of the things that I liked there was the idea that a character could, more or less, sustain a single lethal wound, a couple slightly-less-than-lethal wounds, a few more less dangerous ones, or a handful of minor wounds before dying. Not a bad overall feel, though the rest of the combat system felt awkward to me.


        Ultimately, I think it boils down to the feeling for the game you’re running.

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