Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Swashbucklers, Wizards, and Monks - Ability Scores, Armor, and Class

I've been thinking lately about armor, ability scores, class, and how they should all interact. The deft martial arts artist ("monk") or nimble rogue ("swashbuckler") are strong enough archetypes, I think.

All of my DEX-based archetypes should be in light or no armor. Also, I am not sure if I want light or no armor to be a viable choice for STR or CHA types. I am leaning towards "yes," because otherwise you create a Choice to Suck. Say someone envisions their Barbarian (a STR & CON type) as wearing just leather hides rather than plate mail. Or, a Priest (CHA & WIS) doesn't have sufficient STR to carry Chain Mail. Should they be strictly worse than a counterpart in superior armor?

In previous editions of D&D, heavier armor tends to be strictly better. The only limitation of plate mail in OD&D or S&W is pretty much cost (negligible for PCs) and slower movement speed. I think most players trade higher AC for slower move every time. Even in AD&D, where leather can give better chances to surprise foes, its rarely chosen over Chain or Plate, except for a set of pajamas to sleep in. Even in 3.5, the goal is to achieve the highest AC; that's usually reserved for high-dex types in mithral breastplates, but for low-dex types, you're looking at full plate.

It may be realistic for chain to provide vastly superior protection to leather but I don't think that makes for good game choices. A continuous static benefit that comes up nearly every round of combat (i.e., an AC bonus) is going to be worth a lot to most players, so making light armor worthwhile is tough.

I see two potential implementations.

The 4E route is to give all classes pretty much the same ACs. 4E lets you either use (A) heavy armor + masterwork or (B) light armor + DEX + masterwork. Heavy Armor masterwork scales up by 3 per tier. Light armor DEX + masterwork scales up by 3 per tier. So, basically, the only factor is are you in shitty heavy armor (Chainmail) or good heavy armor (plate)? There's about a 10-20% spread in defenses, which keeps things pretty comparable.


Another route is to differentiate the different armors so that they are all pretty much equal. You could do this with "Basic," "Simple," and "Advanced" armors set up in a tree; Advanced Armors are strictly better than Basic ones, and but within each class, they're all mechanically equal.

This set up might look like this:

Light - Cloth Gambeson
Medium - Brigandine
Heavy - Scale

Light - Leather
Medium - Ring Mail
Heavy - Half Plate

Light - Studded Leather
Medium - Chain
Heavy - Plate

One problem with this system is that I think its hard to come up with another three Advanced Armors, which is the entire point of having the tree in the first place. Don't present a choice to the player if its not interesting.

Another problem is Treasure. With this system, someone who is proficient in Advanced Armor is a fool to wear Ring Mail instead of Chain Mail. So, if the DM includes Ring Mail as a special treasure, that player will not be interested. That makes it hard to hand out random treasure and keep it interesting; characters will tend to be so specialized that they can only viably use a handful of different types of equipment. In contrast, if the DM can include "Medium Armor" as a treasure (whether that be chain or ring or brigadine), several players may be interested, which keeps things interesting.

So, I think its best to just go back to one tier of armor split into three types; what those types are exactly might be are based on the time period of the campaign. A DM can include inferior, obsolete armor (with a 5% penalty in effectiveness) as loot if he wants it to be ignored or used for hirelings, or a rare piece of superior advanced armor (that gives perhaps a 5% bonus).

NONE - Cloaks/Robes
LIGHT - Gambeson, Leather
MEDIUM - Brigandine, Ring, Chain
HEAVY - Scale, Plate

So, if the DM's campaign is set in the late medieval milleu, then most heavy armor will be plate mail. Scale Mail, being obsolete and strictly inferior, really shouldn't be a viable choice; if a player specifically asks about it, he could be allowed to obtain some at a good price but it will be inferior to the standard of the day, Plate.

A campaign set in Roman times, however, might have Lorica Plumata. Late medieval armors were probably superior to Roman armor. But, in game terms, they're equal. What matters is how effective the armor is relative to the milleu.

Access to Armor

STR-based types should have a predisposition towards using heavy armor, like plate mail. That fits the archetypes for Fighters, Paladins, and even maybe Swordmages. My ENC rules handle this quite nicely; you'll need to have at least above average STR to even consider wearing plate mail without penalty. Likely only folks with 16+ STR will be in plate mail without penalty.

CON based folks wear more armor than INT or WIS types as well; I see a Swashbuckler in light (maybe even medium) armor, whereas a Wizard and Monk will be in No Armor. A Skald is likely to be in medium armor, whereas a beguiler is probably in Light armor. Alternatively, you could say that INT based folks wear less armor, as do DEX based folks. INT & DEX based folks (i.e. Wizards) really don't like armor!

So, you could give a unique bonus to high-dex and int types if they stay in light armors. I don't think I want to go with a straight AC bonus from DEX, though, like 3.5 does; that means folks with 18 DEX are strictly better in a very significant way than those with 13 DEX.

For example, I could see Monks benefiting from mystic tattoos only so long as they are in no armor; Swashbucklers might lose mobility advantages in plate mail; wizards might have less potent spells in armor. Slapping a penalty on ("you lose X if you choose Y option") makes it very obvious that you shouldn't do something, as opposed to the absence of a bonus. And I like making choices easy for players.

Effectiveness of Armor

Leather should only suck more than Chain if you want Swashbucklers to be less durable in combat than Fighters. Swashbucklers already likely have fewer HP, so if they get socked with worse AC too then it gets really ugly for them. So, I am inclined to keep the armors pretty close in effectiveness.

To Be Continued...

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