Alternative Armor System

One of the design goals of the revised D20 rules set I’m working on is to end with a more gritty combat system.  I want the system to reflect the fact that more experienced PCs are still mortal.  So I have elected to highly curb the proliferation of hit points gained at higher levels.  Martial classes each gain 1 hit point per level.  Other classes progress even slower.

Another change I made was to alter the way that armor functions.  Rather than adding a bonus to the character’s ability to avoid being hit (e.g. their Armor Class) it will instead absorb a certain amount of damage resulting from a successful attack. Shields however will continue to offer the character a bonus to avoid being hit, and in fact a larger bonus than was assigned in the D&D third edition rules.

This alteration has the advantage of cohering nicely with an addition I would like to make to the combat system, viz, a way of accounting for equipment wear and tear.  Realistically if one is regularly engaged in combat one’s armor will degrade over time.  Assigning hit points to a suit of armor is an easy way of representing this.  Once the armor absorbs enough damage to reduce it’s base HP value below the halfway mark it become broken, decreasing its ability to absorb damage (damage reduction) by 1.  Some types of armor (such as plate) will require the services of a forge to mend.  Other types, such as leather and chain, can be mended with materials that come as part of a ‘mending’ kit.  Here is a table I’ve assembled that shows the defensive values of armor on this alternative system:

Table: Armor & Shields

Light

Cost

Hp

Damage Reduction

Stones

Padded

2 sp

25

1/—

2

Leather

5sp

40

1/—

3

Studded Leather

8 sp

75

2/—

4

Chain Shirt

45 sp

80

3/—

5

Medium

Cost

HP

Damage Reduction

Stones

Hide

15 sp

65

3/—

5

Scale Mail

35 sp

100

4/—

6

Chainmail

100 sp

100

5/—

8

Breastplate

125 sp

110

5/—

6

Heavy

Cost

HP

Damage Reduction

Stones

Splint Mail

135 sp

120

6/—

9

Banded Mail

150 sp

120

6/—

7

Half-Plate

200 sp

150

7/—

10

Full Plate

400 sp

200

8/—

10

Shields

Cost

HP

Deflection Bonus

Stones

Buckler

5 cp

5

+2

1

Shield, Light Wood

1 sp

7

+3

1

Shield, Light Steel

3 sp

10

+3

1

Shield Heavy Wood

2 sp

15

+4

2

Shield Heavy Steel

7 sp

20

+4

3

Shield Tower

10 sp

20

+5

9

I’ve been play-testing this alternative system with my regular gaming group for the past year or so.  So far the system has functioned as expected.  Having a decent set of armor definitely improves the likelihood of surviving a combat encounter.  Combat encounters involving unarmored foes tend to be quicker, while encounters with armored foes take a bit longer.  Weaker characters may have difficulty damaging a heavily armored target since the armor absorbs much of the impact.

One way of offering Thieves and other finesse based classes or character builds a way to offset this last implication is to allow for a mechanism for penetrating armor.  The rule I’ve come up with is to create a specialized “penetrating attack” which allows the PC to bypass 1/2 of their target’s damage reduction at the cost of a -5 to hit penalty (Thieves only suffer a -2 penalty to this attack).  The idea here is that the character is looking for weak spots in the target’s armor, or is using an impaling thrust or some such that requires more attention.  You could of course get more technical than this.  If you wanted to a system that reflected the fact that various forms of armor were more vulnerable to specific forms of attack you could allow specific weapon types automatic penetration against specified armor types.  I chose to trade a bit of realism here for ease of play.

If anyone else is using a similar method I’d be curious to here your thoughts.

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9 thoughts on “Alternative Armor System

  1. With your new hitpoint system, how are you calculating starting HP? Are you using Con score instead of Con bonus? Or do non-martial classes get the double whammy of low starting hitpoints and slow hitpoint progression?

    1. The first way. In the revised rules, your character’s starting HP = Constitution score + Class HP progression (which varies between 1 HP per level and 1 HP every other level). So characters (particularly Mages & Rogues) begin their career a bit more hardy than in D&D 3e, but HP progression is very slow.

      1. Nice, I’ve always liked variants that go that way for starting HP. I hope to see an entry about how you are handling HP progression at some point – I like slower progression but have never really found a system I was completely happy with.

      2. Well it would be a pretty short entry. I can tell you now how it works though. There are three main progressions: Fast, Medium and Slow.

        Fast progression classes gain 1 HP per level. Slow progression classes gain 1 HP every other level. Medium progression classes are in the middle. So by 20th level a Warrior would have gained 20 HP, a Rogue will have gained 15 and a Mage 10 HP.

  2. I had actually thought of doing armor as DR but I never got very far into it. That is some fine work in those lists above. I hadn’t thought of doing hit points for armor – a nice addition to show damage. Very well done! I don’t know if you’ve mentioned it BUT how far along are you on those revised D20 rules & are you going to make them available?

    1. I’ve actually finished the beta testing rules, though after playtesting them for about a year now I think there are some things I will be tweaking. Still, that could take time and I’ve been deliberating whether I wanted to just release the beta version rules “as is” and wait to revise them later once I received more feedback, or spend a bit more time polishing them before releasing them.

      You are the first person whose expressed interest in them. If you’d be keen to check them out I’ll just release them as is on my site.

      1. That would be really COOL! I missed this reply somehow. I’m still getting used to WordPress but I’m getting the hang of it and I think I like it.

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