What’s the problem with heavy and medium armor?

The Nerdy-ness level of today’s topic? 10

At our biweekly Dungeons & Dragons game, the team was busy splitting up the loot from recent battles. Loot in D&D is usually two forms: Money (i.e. gold pieces) and magic (i.e. weapons, potions, wands and what not).

On this particular ocassion, we had recovered some magical Breastplate from a fallen foe. The magic enveloping this particular bit of armor was pretty good (+2 Breastplate to be exact), and certainly better than any our characters owned.

The problem is no one wanted it. Granted, two out of four of the characters couldn’t wear it, but the other two, my cleric included, wouldn’t take it.

Why? Because big, bulky armor like breastplate slows a character down in combat. It’s the way the rules are written, and it makes sense from a logical standpoint. If you’re dressed like a rhinocerous, you aren’t going to have a lot of mobility.

Still though, this got us talking. Why is it that no one takes Medium and Heavy Armor*? What makes players opt for a better movement rate over better protection? And more importantly, what sort of rules tweak could be made to make players reconsider adopting Medium or Heavy armor?

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Almost instantly, someone suggested to add Damage Resistance to armor. It’s a good idea. After all, armor is there to take the damage for you. But should all armor have Damage Resistance? Probably not. On a wholly game-mechanics aspect, Light Armor already has enough going for it.

It’s the Heavy and Medium Armors that are next to worthless. Aside from their amped up Armor Class bonuses, they’re awful. You’ve got reduced mobility. There’s spell-failure issues. It weighs you down, potentially slowing a character down even more.

So for my next campaign, whenever that may be, I might just add DR on to Medium and Heavy Armor. In a real world sense, it’s completely arbitrary, but for the game mechanics benefit, it might be worth it.

Here’s my plan: All armors in the Medium category have a Damage Resistance of 1 (DR1). No special designations like DR1/piercing or anything like that. Medium Armors are Hide, Scale, Chainmail and Breastplate. Flat DR1. Some Heavy Armors — Splint Mail, Banded Mail and Half Plate — get a DR3. The most protective and expensive armor, Full Plate, gets a DR5.

The only thing I might add is to boost the actual cost of all those armors except Hide armor.

There is a can of worms here though: What about natural armor bonus, the extra bit of protection some creatures have because of a tough hide or chitinous plates. My first thought is that I’d probably add that for every +3 a creature has in a natural armor bonus, it recieves a DR+1. So a creature with a +8 natural armor bonus would get a DR2.

But thinking about that last bit, I’d say that natural armor provides you with no DR. Natural armor is part of the creature. If you hack into a giant turtle’s shell, the turtle takes damage. It weakens it. The same can’t be said for a bandit who purposefully donned special gear to protect himself.

So there’s my theory on adjusting armor. Will it work? Only some playtesting will reveal the holes in my scheme.

(*The designation “Medium” and “Heavy” for armor is a part of the game rules, which basically allows for certain character classes to be unable to don such armor. For example, wizards can’t wear any armor unless they take certain special abilities as they progress in levels)


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