20 November 2015

Armor makes you harder to hit

You find this argument regarding role-playing games about whether armor should absorb damage or make you harder to hit. (GURPS tried to make it do both, but I believe they gave up on that in 4/e.) It is a silly argument because tabletop RPG mechanics can’t be complicated enough to really simulate the difference.

But forgetting that and just considering the question...I’m going to think-out-loud on a topic I am far from an expert on.

Armor does absorb damage. But because it does, it would be foolish to aim a blow at the armor. As anyone can quickly discover. So, one instead attacks the gaps in an opponent’s armor. Which is what the period fighting treatises advise. So, the upshot is that—in practice—armor makes you harder to hit rather than absorbing lots of damage.

Well...no doubt there are exceptions. Some weapons are designed to minimize the effect of certain armor. Even then, attacking a gap will usually be more effective. So, I think this is indeed the exception rather than the rule.


Angantyr said...

Fairly spot on analysis, really. Granted, one can make a case for soft armour (aketon, etc.) absorbing damage, but most "heavy" armour (mail and plate, primarily) is largely immune to any man powered weapon, whether a sword, mace, spear, whatever, thus necessitating bypassing. Mail can be compromised by the more powerful crossbows and perhaps poll axes as well; plate can repel most anything short of an arquebus ball (and even then, some of the best grades of plate were of sword grade steel and tempered; however, one can always up the size of the ball and the powder load - increasing the protectiveness of the plate becomes much more difficult). Were I to redo the D&D rules, though, I would combine a little of both, sticking with the armour class system to some extent, but also allowing for damage reduction for certain weapons (swords vs. heavy armour come to mind; perhaps halving the damage or something similar, while poll axes might do normal damage)

Robert Fisher said...

Thanks for the comments, Angantyr.

I have long thought that if you really want to add some realism (verisimilitude for those who prefer the term) to RPG combat, weapon vs. armor and armor vs. armor rules are the quickest route. But I haven’t found such that I find simple enough for tabletop use. Yet.

(I will tell you that Rolemaster’s Arms Law doesn’t have to be as bad in practice as most people who have never played it usually think, but it is still more than what I really want.)

Anonymous said...

This fellows' youtube videos will educate you as to why D&D combat mechanics are wrong:


Your welcome.

Robert Fisher said...

While I am a Patreon supporter of Lloyd’s, I think he makes a lot of mistakes when analyzing RPGs.

When it comes to D&D, I have a hard time calling it’s combat system wrong. It isn’t the only one I’d want to play. It is not realistic (though often not for the reasons commonly cited). But it does what Arneson wanted it to do. And it has been very successful. Maybe more successful among computerized games than among traditional RPGs.

Robert Fisher said...

Whoops. “It’s” shoulda been “its”.

Anonymous said...

Please accept most abject apologies, oh Great Bearded One of the Inestimable Fanzine, but Lindybeige has given his opinion with far better reasoning than what you have presented thus far. The verdict is in: until such time as you can present a more rational argument than He of the Ill Fitting Sweaters, it is proclaimed that you and all your descendants unto seven generations are having 'Bad Wrong Fun'.


Angantyr said...

Lindy's analysis raises a number of good points, but is ultimately flawed. Mostly it is incomplete - for example it fails to address whatever function armour *does* serve, if it doesn't make you harder to hit. But his conclusion is somewhat false, and ignores two things: first, heavy armour "voids" the parts of the body it covers from human powered attacks. Poke away at a tempered steel breastplate all day long, you aren't getting through. Second, the D&D rules as written are based on the assumption that you are fighting someone who is "armed" and thus able to threaten an attack in return (slaughtering unarmed opponents seems to fall more under the assassination tables in the AD&D PHB than the combat rules), so defaulting "to-hit" based on armour worn is not such a bad assumption. Of course, one (of many) problems arise when dealing with non-physical attacks, such as magical "touch" attacks where the armour. AD&D in particular is pretty realistic, for man-to-man combat only. The system breaks down when magic is introduced, or in situations other than man to man combat.

Robert Fisher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert Fisher said...

But the bigger issue with D&D is that D&D combat is too abstract. Combat effectiveness is mostly represented by hp. Treating to-hit and damage as literally those things misses the mark. You have to consider the system as a whole rather than a sum of individual simulations.

An argument could be made that armor and dex in D&D should modify hp instead of making the to-hit roll harder.

Angantyr said...

Yes, yes one could have armor and DX mod HP - that is a perfectly valid interpretation! In actuality, hit points *are* quite realistic, when one remembers that it is an abstraction that conflates ability to absorb punishment, endurance, skill, luck, divine favour, etc. For the very narrow situation of one on one combat it works pretty well. In every other circumstance, however, it creates problems, some fairly severe (i.e. people surviving 100' falls, etc.). The mere fact of conflation is problematic (for example when one is taken by surprise DX and skill would not help you much).
Had I designed the system from its Chainmail roots I would have taken a rather different approach. There would be no hit points. Ability to hit a foe would be based on the level of attacker vs. defender in addition to armour, weapon type, agility, endurance, luck, etc. which would be individually factored in as appropriate. Hits would cause either a light wound, a serious wound, a mortal wound, or perhaps be instantly fatal depending on weapon, armour, and perhaps luck/divine favour. Done correctly this would be fairly realistic without being terribly complicated.

Angantyr said...

Upon further thought, there is merit to the heroic types vs. monsters table in Chainmail, since it shows the relative odds of scoring a telling hit on a lesser or greater creature. Such could also be used to show a typical low level inexperienced figure attacking, say, a "Conan" or similar super hero. The Man to Man rules would only be used for peers attacking one another - hero vs. hero or superhero vs. superhero, etc. Just a thought.