Posts Tagged ‘armor


The Incredible Indestructible Halfling

In B/X, halflings are much like fighters, but with a slew of minor changes that seem geared to make them good ranged combatants. On the one hand, they get a bonus to hit with missile weapons, an initiative bonus and an Armor Class bonus against larger than man-sized creatures. On the other hand, they can only use weapons “cut down to their size” (limiting their offense in melee) and they use six-sided Hit Dice instead of the fighter’s eight-sided dice, making them more fragile than their human and dwarven counterparts.

But in actual play? It’s all frontline halflings in plate mail, all the time.

Your typical halfling warrior in plate mail, ready for action.

The reason for this is an emergent property of the B/X rules for ability score adjustment (p. B6). Characters can drop points from some stats to raise a prime requisite on a 2-for-1 basis. And who has Dexterity as a prime requisite? Halflings. So everyone who plays a halfling trades away Intelligence and Wisdom to get an 18 Dexterity, which is impressive when a natural Dexterity score is rarely higher than 15. Combine that with plate mail and shield and you’ve got a base Armor Class of -1, which goes up to -3 against larger than man-sized creatures. The resulting survivability boost more than makes up for having one less hit point per level than the fighter.

The first question here isn’t what’s to be done, but whether anything should be done at all. Is there anything fundamentally wrong with a party with a bunch of plate-armored hobbits anchoring the front line? If the players seem happy enough with the situation, it may be best to let them keep doing what they’re doing.

On the other hand, if the DM’s dissatisfied with the resulting flavor, there are a number of approaches to be taken:

1) Disallow ability score adjustment, so halfling PCs are stuck with their initial dexterity roll. The downsides here are that this may be a case of taking out a housefly with a hand grenade if it’s the only problematic situation caused by ability score adjustment, and that a player who rolled a high dexterity can still choose to play a plate-armored halfling anyway; this makes the situation rarer but does not abolish it.
2) Put a limit on how much of a dexterity bonus a PC can get from heavy armor, like in later editions of D&D. So plate mail might cap the wearer at a +2 (or even +1) AC bonus from dexterity. This meshes well with the movement rules; if metal armor slows you down, it’s reasonable to think that it also makes you less agile in combat.
3) Remove plate mail from the halfling’s list of allowed armor types. This may have an overly negative effect on the halfling’s survivability, and unlike some other solutions, it requires grandfathering in exceptions to the rule for existing characters if you want to let them keep playing as they have been playing. But it has the advantage of matching the race’s original Tolkienian flavor; they’re not the sort to dress up like knights in full armor.


By the Book: Movement Rates and the Chain Mail Problem

According to the Red Box rules, an unarmored character moves at a rate of 40’/round, one in leather armor moves at 30’/round, and one in metal armor moves at 20’/round—or a mere 10’/round if also carrying treasure. But how fast is that?

A round is ten seconds, so an unencumbered man walks at a rate of four feet per second. Running triples one’s movement rate, albeit at the cost of temporary fatigue (-2 to attack and damage rolls and to AC), so an unencumbered man runs at a rate of twelve feet per second. These are reasonably accurate numbers, all things considered. (Sure, some people will walk or run faster than others, and there’s jogging and sprinting and so forth, but this is Basic D&D; we’re not going to fret the details.

How about a character in metal armor? Halved movement speed is pretty extreme. Personally, I don’t have much—or, in fact, any—experience with moving around in plate mail. A bit of casual internet research (and we know how accurate that is!) suggests that heavy armor doesn’t slow one down significantly; the main effects are an increased demand on the wearer’s stamina from hauling around the excess weight.

But let’s face it: sometimes we deliberately ignore realism to keep gameplay simple and to produce interesting tactical or strategic choices. The movement rules may not reflect reality terribly well, but they’re simple and they work. Want to move fast? Wear light armor or none at all, or run in armor and accept the resulting penalties. Want to hang tough on the front line? Wear heavy armor. Can you make it out of the dungeon laden with treasure? Let’s find out!

And here we encounter the one fly in the ointment: chain mail. By the book, there’s little reason for player characters to ever choose to wear chain mail. It costs only 20gp less than plate (a trivial savings) and weighs only 100 coins less than plate (allowing one to bring out a little more treasure), while providing significantly less protection in battle.

My solution has been to house-rule the movement table. In my game, characters in plate move 20’/round, characters in chain move 30’/round and characters in leather or no armor move 40’/round. Accurate? Unlikely. Playable? Definitely! Chainmail suddenly becomes a viable choice, as the character wearing it gives up protection to gain significantly increased mobility. (My players had an example of this last session, where the plate-wearers slogged slowly through a storm of arrow-fire to reach their opponents.)

Other solutions are certainly viable. One could use AD&D-style tables indicating which weapons are best against which types of armor, or one could modify the exhaustion-from-running rules to impose greater penalties on plate-wearers. I’m curious to see what approaches individual referees have taken in their own campaigns!

Past Adventures of the Mule

September 2019
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