Quite a while ago now, we looked at Hit Points and Damage. During that discussion, I talked about armour class in HD&D and how I wanted armour to reduce damage, not make you harder to hit. We had a chat about the various problems inherent in such a system, but didn’t actually make any head way in coming up with answers. As I turn my attention towards equipment and combat, it’s time to take another look at this – and to finally hammer out a solution.
In third (and fourth) edition, the DC to hit an opponent in combat is their armour class. Wearing armour gives you a higher armour class, and therefore makes you harder to hit. In HD&D this role has been replaced by your Reflex Defence. The role of armour has no bearing on how easy it is to hit an opponent. Therefore, in HD&D, armour has to mean something else. Logically, it should stop you from taking as much damage. I don’t think any of us will dispute that.
As a quick aside, none of what follows has any bearing on shields. Shields are used to deflect attacks. Unlike armour, shields are designed to make you harder to hit: they don’t absorb physical damage, they redirect it. Shields will add a bonus to your Reflex Defence in HD&D.
Originally, I thought that armour could provide a character with the HD&D equivalent of damage reduction (or “HD&D AC” as I refer to it in the rest of this article). The damage taken by the character is reduced by a certain amount. That works, but there are issues if a character’s armour is so tough that nothing can get through it. It’s fine for awesome monsters – PCs tend to find a way around these things – but if the 5th level fighter in the plate mail cannot be bruised by any of his opponents then damage reduction becomes game breaking. I think we’ve started to see this with Brack in the League of Light campaign. His DR 8/adamantine is an incredible advantage.
Having looked in various different places for inspiration, the answer (or at least some potential answers) were right under my nose. The third edition Unearthed Arcana supplement suggests many variant rules, including two for treating armour very differently. Both of these are reprinted on the d20 SRD site under Armour as Damage Reduction and Damage Conversion. Pop over and read the original text, and then come back and I’ll examine both of these ideas separately below.
Armour as Damage Reduction
This is my original idea given the third edition stamp of approval. Notice that the text from Unearthed Arcana doesn’t do away with the concept of armour making you easier to hit. Basically, the rules divide the armour bonus of every suit of armour in two. One half remains a bonus to AC, the other becomes damage reduction. In HD&D we can’t afford to have armour giving you any bonus to your Reflex Defence, so we are largely just looking at the rules for turning the D&D concept of armour class into Damage Reduction (HD&D AC).
I think it’s interesting that Unearthed Arcana doesn’t just port the entire armour value over into a DR system. Chain mail make give +5 to your AC in the normal rules, but it only grants characters a DR of 2/–. The lesson we can take from this is that DR values need to be kept low. I can get behind that. The question is where we set the level of damage reduction. My proposal (for all the armours in the third edition PHB) are as follows. Remember that “HD&D AC” is the same as damage reduction:
|Armour||3rd Ed AC||HD&D AC|
The immediate problem is that reducing the third edition AC down to the HD&D version pushes the values of all the armours closer together. Chain mail, scale mail and breastplate are all identical in the amount of damage that they can stop. Of course, there are other ways to differentiate between armours other than just stopping power. Things such as the armour check penalty, the cost and the maximum Dex bonus all need to be taken into account. Certain types of weapons (piercing, bludgeoning or slashing) will be more effective against some armours than others.
Natural Armour and Damage Reduction
But it isn’t just artificial armour that we have to worry about. Monsters with thick hides have large natural armour bonuses to their AC in third edition. Equally, some creatures have Damage Reduction on top of their armour class. How do we handle that?
The formula form Unearthed Arcana is as follows: Divide the natural armour value by 5 and round down. That becomes the DR value against all physical attacks. For example, a great wyrm red dragon has a +39 natural armour bonus. That gives the dragon DR 7/– in this new system. Now a great wyrm red already has DR 20/magic. But in third edition damage reductions that are different, do not stack. So the dragon would have DR 20 against all attacks, unless the foe was using in magic weapon in which case it would have DR 7.
However, in HD&D, damage reduction (or armour class as we’ll call it) always stacks. It makes sense. Often the third edition DR value is meant to represent a thick hide. So, here’s my proposal for HD&D: Divide all the DR values in the Monster Manual by two. Divide the natural armour by five. Add the two together and round to the nearest whole number. Does that work? Let’s take a few examples and find out:
Great Wyrm Red Dragon: DR 20 (20÷2 =10), Natural Armour 39 (39÷5 =7.8).
HD&D Armour Class is 18 (10+7.8, rounded up)
Brack Ogrebane: DR 8 (8÷2 = 4), Natural Armour 3 (3÷5 = 0.6).
HD&D Armour Class is 5 (4 + 0.6, rounded up)
Iron Golem: DR 15 (15÷2 = 7.5), Natural Armour 22 (22÷5 = 4.4)
HD&D Armour Class is 12 (7.5 + 4.4, rounded up)
Fire Giant: DR 0, Natrual Armour 8 (8÷5 = 1.6)
HD&D Armour Class is 2 (1.6 rounded up)
Pit Fiend: DR 15 (15÷2 = 7.5), Natural Armour 23 (23÷5 = 4.6)
HD&D Armour Class is 12 (7.5 + 4.6, rounded down)
Well, that seems to work. And don’t forget that worn armour stacks with the above. So Brack in Plate Armour would have an HD&D AC of 10. Fair enough? Shall we pursue this system?
By-passing HD&D AC (aka Damage Reduction)
Just to remind you all, that the HD&D AC should not be seen as an impervious barrier to damage. Yes, every attack that strikes you has the value subtracted from the damage done. But there are a number of ways to get through the protection offered by the armour, or thick skin. Here are some examples:
- A critical hit automatically by-passes HD&D AC.
- Every successful attack does a minimum of 1 point of damage under HD&D rules.
- Certain weapons give attackers an advantage against certain armours. For example, piercing and stabbing weapons are more likely to go through chain mail than bludgeoning weapons.
Or shall we take the other suggestion from the Unearthed Arcana, which I have to say is really quite interesting. Now, these rules depend on us using a system for subdual/nonlethal damage that is similar to third edition. I have no problem with that, the system works as well as anything I’ve seen. If you don’t know what the system for nonlethal damage is in third edition, you can pop over to the d20 SRD and find out. It’s okay, I’ll wait.
In this system, there’s no messy conversion for armour. The armour bonus of the suit of armour becomes the amount of damage that the armour converts to nonlethal damage with each hit. In this system, characters wearing armour don’t last any longer in combat than unarmoured opponents. But they are much less likely to die, and find that they recover from their wounds much more quickly than their unarmoured friends.
However, a degree of double entry book-keeping is required. When you’re damaged you need to make a note of nonlethal damage separately. Ideally, you would make a note of real damage counting down from hit point total, and a note of nonlethal damage counting up from zero. When the amount of nonlethal damage you have taken exceeds your current hit points you fall unconscious.
The rules in Unearthed Arcana suggest that characters in armour ignore all nonlethal damage (such as kicks and punches) up to ther value of their armour. I’m not entirely sure that this needs to be the case, but I’m willing to be guided on the matter. It also mentions that this system creates issues with Regeneration; but that assumes regeneration in HD&D will work the same as it did in third edition – and I don’t think that it will.
Natural Armour and Damage Conversion
But how do we handle natural armour? If a great wyrm red dragon converts the first 39 points of damage from any attack into nonlethal damage, then slaying a dragon just got much, much more difficult. But then, shouldn’t it be? Is there really a problem with most physical attacks just bouncing off the dragon and eventually dazing it into submission? Critical hits and energy attacks (no argument here, we’ve all see the poll results) bypass the protection of physical armour anyway. I don’t think that, even if we adopted Damage Conversion, we would have to trim a monsters defences.
A Damage Conversion system in HD&D would not sit will next to a separate system of Damage Reduction. If we adopt Damage Conversion then the whole DR mechanic will have to go out of the window.
I would probably rule that a character’s third edition damage reduction value can substiute for natural armour in the Damage Conversion system. So the great wyrm red dragon has DR 20 and Natrural Armour 39, so it uses the higher value of 39. Brack Ogrebane has DR 8 and Natural Armour 3, so he’d use the higher value of 8. The first eight points of damage from any attack against a butt-naked Brack is converted into nonlethal damage.
Pros and Cons of Damage Conversion
In this system, the chances are that any armoured enemy or monster than you defeat isn’t actually dead. Whether this is a pro or con depends on the circumstances. It does mean that if a PC goes into battle wearing armour, the chances are that he is going to survive. That’s certainly something of a boon for PCs, and works well with the way that I run my game. However, the mechanics are also slightly unbelievable because someone in full plate is just as likely to go down in combat as someone dressed only in a thong. That said, it does reflect the fact that even armoured characters are battered when they are hit in combat.
In terms of mechanics, I prefer Damage Conversion to Damage Reduction for the HD&D game. It means that PCs can have high armour values, but armour alone isn’t going to keep them up and moving in combat. It means that heavily armoured characters won’t prolong combat. Remember that shorter combats is a big goal of HD&D. Damage Conversion would go a long way to helping me achieve that.
Additionally, the Damage Conversion system is not so bogged down with maths. I don’t have to try and balance armour values and average damage and hit points, because it wouldn’t really matter. We can also allow the damage conversion gained from natural armour to stack with the damage conversion gained from armour. So that red dragon in plate armour is going to convert the first 47 points of damage from all attacks into nonlethal damage. That’s not going to stop the party defeating the dragon after all.
So what do you think? There will be a poll on this, but I’d like a discussion first. Damage Reduction vs Damage Conversion: you decide!