Friday, April 26, 2013

Armor as Damage Reduction and Wound Points and Vigor

While talking with Jason this afternoon he suggested that I just bite the bullet and give up on the Unarmored Combatant feats and use a wounds and vigor system of managing the health and survivability of characters. I've spoken before of how I want to reduce the ferocity of the Unarmored Combatant series of feats. The thing is, I don't want to remove Unarmored Combatant from the game, as  it fits my world, and saying that it doesn't belong is along the same lines as saying Monks shouldn't have it either. 

The theory in The Known World is that guns are common and seem to hit flesh beneath armor with relative ease, so why wear armor if it will only slow you down with reduced move speeds, encumbrance, and armor check penalties? It stands to reason that it would become common practice to eschew armor and run like a rabid great ursine is after you to get the fuck out of the way when folks start slinging bullets around. This method of fighting already exists in the Monk AC bonus and the Dodge feat, so I felt there was plenty of precedent for coming up with a similar system. What I'd like to do is rip out the three feats I have and replace them with a single one that copies the +5 over twenty levels that the Monk gains and require a higher than average Dexterity and the Dodge feat as prerequisites. I think I'd also end up removing the Unarmored flaw and make a rule that allows any class to exchange all armor and shield proficiencies it has, assuming it has any in the first place, for this feat at first level.

With this change, the Monk still maintains its role as being innately better than any other class at this, as they have their Wisdom bonus to AC as well, but the non-Monks gain a viable means of keeping out of the way of bullets. This bonus to AC is initially low and doesn't exactly skyrocket over twenty levels, and ends up making Dexterity a pretty important stat to characters, but it should be. That is the nature of warfare. As it progresses, war becomes less about using metal, wood, and stone as a lever to apply greater force and more about speed and hand-eye coordination in striking targets from afar or evading the attacks of others. There is a reason modern military primarily uses rifles instead of swords. There's also this thing called cover that becomes important. It centers on the concept that you are harder to hit if you hide behind something while people throw or shoot things at you, no PC I have ever observed has ever utilized this concept. I assure you, it's kind of neat, and if two Elduman hadn't started flinging fire around their camp of wooden barrels and crates, the pirate deserters from last scenario would have been doing their best to stay low behind stuff while exchanging shots with the players. We all know barrels and crates and car doors and plywood and particle board are surefire defenses against zipping bits of death lead buzzing around the air. 

Looking at Pathfinder's system for wounds and vigor from Ultimate Combat, I do like some of the concepts of the system. I'm not sure it is something necessary for our game though. If people do not understand that hit points are horrifically abstract and in no way represent your ability to suffer injury at this point, they never will. The same goes for attacks per round and armor class. To return to abstraction for a moment (because it is a peeve that I have made a pet of): Seriously, think about it. A dagger wound to your throat kills you and daggers only do 1d4 damage. This is logic of our world, if you jam a dagger into a throat, that person dies unless they are already in an operating room in a hospital with surgeons and blood transfusions on standby. In the logic of Pathfinderland, a high level Barbarian can literally stand there surrounded by eight 1st level Commoners not defending himself and be attacked dozens of times without dying, even if the dagger damage manages to penetrate the damage reduction of the Barbarian class. Think about that for a moment. Daggers do 1d4 damage. A 19th level Barbarian without an archetype has DR 5/-. Does that make Barbarians immune to throat slitting or heart stabbing or kidney stabbing via dagger? Oh, no wait, those are critical hits/coup de grace actions, or called shots, depending on which subsystem you use and your interpretation of them. The critical hit system means you can do a maximum base damage of 8 with a dagger to someone's throat, but you're more likely to do 5, as that is the average result of 2d4, so our Barbarian is clearly immune to throat slitting from these Commoners that surround him with their average ability scores, maybe the town blacksmith can whittle him away with his Captain America level 12 or 14 in Strength. Using the called shot rules from Ultimate Combat you'd have to do a base 120 damage with a called shot to the neck to do anything more than just damage, and that doesn't kill, you just take bleed damage to your Constitution score and can't talk and potentially have difficulty breathing, which leaves a high Constitution Barbarian plenty of time to keep raging while a Cleric walks over and hits them with some shiny lights from on high. There is no logic to this system. It is so abstract and nonsensical that even pretending there is some semblance of logic to it like I am right now only results in ridiculousness. 

Wound points and vigor do make your character's durability less abstract, but it complicates how all the currently used and well understood features of rest and healing work. This forces everyone to relearn time honored rules they've understood for edition after edition. This shouldn't be too big of a deal, most of my players are engineers or something. I feel like changing the simple math used to adjudicate combat to a different system of simple math is something they can handle. It basically boils down to your Constitution score x2 is your hit points and is now called your wound points, and what would normally be your hit points are now a set of permanent temporary hit points that replenish through rest and healing and do not gain a bonus from your Constitution modifier and are called vigor. 

Your vigor is a buffer of endurance and rolling with blows that soaks up damage and your wound points are your actual physical health in terms of being dealt damage. When your vigor is all eaten away by blades and bullets and fire and lightning, it all starts taking chunks out of your wound points. When you hit half your wound points, you are staggered and doing pretty much anything deals you an additional point of damage to your wound points and you have to save or pass out if you so much as move. I like the system, it is sensible and reasonable and seems slightly more realistic than hit points. Perhaps I'll institute it in future campaigns, perhaps not. I don't have strong feelings about it either way and if it isn't a house rule directly related to the background of the world and I don't feel strongly about its merit, it is probably something that could be left out of the game. 

Armor as damage reduction is something I do feel strongly about. I really feel like armor class is janky as fuck. The following is of questionable veracity, as I am nothing more than a Wikipedia certified armchair armorer and historian. The medical stuff is legit as far as I know though. The way armor works in our world is similar to the way your rib cage works to protect your vital organs. The deadly piece of metal speeding for your heart has a lot of energy that it wants to convert into force that it will inflict upon your internal organs as traumatic injury and your ribs are there to stop it with a rigid material harder than your skin. If they don't stop it, they break or fracture, which takes energy to do and dissipates some of the force of the object to prevent the full force of it from unleashing itself upon your heart or lungs or whatever. Armor works the same way, except that it uses tougher material like layers of hardened leather, scales or rings of linked metal, or big fat plates of metal. There are other armorer tricks the are built into metal armors to help make armor harder to penetrate, and some armor types are better against certain types of weapons. It's really really hard to slash apart a guy wearing a full suit of plate, but hit him enough with a mace and you're going to start deforming the plates and he's still taking the blunt force trauma of the blow and a nice thin blade can get all up in the joints and such. Regardless of the type of armor, you're still getting battered around in it and it still hurts and you can still get bruised and broken, but it's definitely better than standing there in your boxers. Although, in your boxers you could probably outrun all the other guys trying to come at you that are wearing all kinds of armor to keep other guys from bashing apart their insides. They'll probably pass out from exhaustion or heat stroke first, as there's no air conditioning under the sixty pounds of steel and padding and leather they're wearing. 

The point is that armor does not make stuff miss, and that isn't what armor class means in the game rules either, it's just how it ends up looking. Armor reduces the force of an impact on your body or gives you blunt force trauma instead of a spear through the chest, thereby reducing how much injury you take from such an impact. The system of armor as damage reduction in Ultimate Combat is a little more complex than wound points and vigor, and I think it takes an excessive hand with renaming things, but it is a solid system. It also has a very interesting and appropriate modification to the way shields work. In regular combat, touch attacks ignore armor and shield bonuses while being flat-footed makes you lose your Dexterity bonus to AC. The armor as damage reduction rules essentially make all attacks touch attacks, because armor bonus no longer factors into your AC outside of the armor's enhancement bonus from being magical. However, you retain your shield bonus to your AC. If you are flat-footed, you lose your Dexterity bonus like normal in addition to losing your shield bonus. This is a really logical change to the way armor and shields and defending yourself works. 

Your shield isn't something you just strap on and it does its job. You actively wield your shield in combat, interposing it between you and an incoming attack (if I wanted to be really savage, I'd rule that to use a shield effectively, you have to have the Two-Weapon Fighting feat). It stands to reason that if you are unaware of an attacker or unprepared to defend against him, you cannot use your shield to defend against the attack. I've never thought of shields like that before, but it makes a lot of sense and if I wasn't already planning to include Pathfinder's armor as damage reduction system in a future version of my campaign world's rules, I'd certainly plug in that rule about shields and being flat-footed. This system does have sort of an equalizing effect on the benefits of firearms against certain types of enemies though. They still offer some benefit, as they ignore shield bonuses and enhancement bonuses, but people would hit a lot more with this system in the first place so the advantage they bring when fighting against heavily armor foes would be less noticeable. The damage reduction aspect would be much more visible with firearms. Firearms already hit a lot more easily with heavily armored foes, but now heavily armored foes can soak up damage from those hits with their damage reduction from armor instead of it being a binary damage/no damage system. In my current game, the guys pretty much always hit any Asosan they target, but in this armor as damage reduction system, each of those hits would do less damage. Logically, if armor doesn't do much to protect against bullets, it shouldn't do much to reduce the damage from them. I haven't been able to find any special rules about firearms and armor as damage reduction in my research today, so I'm not sure how the developers of the system intended it to interact with firearms. A brief bit of Googl-fu doesn't seem to reveal anything either. Hrm. 

Well, there's a few random thoughts for you, accompanied by some ranting. Huzzah.


  1. The reason I originally suggested the Wound/Vigor system is because of what my first experience with it was which is the first WoTC Star Wars D20 system.

    In there they had Wound an Vigor as described above. They added helpful descriptions of what taking Damage to your Wound points would be like (getting shot in the shoulder with a blaster, having your father chop your hand off with a lightsaber, etc.). Because Star Wars allows people to follow the 5 D's of Dodgeball in combat with and/or without armor they implemented a system into each class that gave them an built in AC bonus based upon class role and level.

    They start off at level 1 with a Defense bonus (Defense was AC) of either +2 or +3 and it would then rise by +1 every 2-3 levels until they ultimately reached +10/+11 by 20th level. This is in addition to the normal Dex bonus to AC.

    In this system when you used armor it acted as Damage Reduction instead of an AC bonus. (Stormtrooper armor give DR 5, heaviest core rulebook armor gave DR 7. Masterwork armor gave a bonus to DR as well) So it is really a combination of the two systems you mention above with Unarmored Combatant built into it as well.

    From my days when we were playing Star Wars D20 I remember really liking this style of AC. It allowed you to play the game as a character in a robe that can go toe to toe with a melee badass in power armor without needing a ton of special feats to be created and balanced.

    The funny thing is I've seen/heard of people who combine the classic HP/AC with the Wound/Vigor/Defense system and it works. (Planescape is a hell of a setting...) I'm not recommending mixing the two I just wanted an excuse to share this anecdote.

    Anyways, I think using the Wound system in a manner similar to Star Wars D20 is what you really want in your system. All you really need to do is add in the inherent AC into the classes, which can be done with a 3 column or so table.

    1. I've had experience with defense systems before. I've run a few d20 Modern/Urban Arcana campaigns in the past and class bonuses to defense are present in those rules and are similar to what you describe for d20 Star Wars, no armor as damage reduction though.

      Back then, I didn't much care for class bonuses to defense and penalized defense bonuses from equipment when non-proficient. Rereading it now and thinking of how prevalent firearm based combat is in The Known World, I can see the merit of it. However, I can also see the merit of removing armor proficiency from classes as well and using the d20 Modern system of a partial bonus to defense when wearing an armor you are not proficient in.

      I can also see adding in traits for certain cultures in The Known World (like The New Empire) that allow folks to use the normal armor proficiency of a class or something. Something along the lines of "if your class would normally be proficient in using armor, choose one type of armor that it would normally be proficient in and you have the appropriate armor proficiency feat for that type of armor, even if you don't normally qualify it." Or perhaps something like each class has an archetype called Archaic, and if they select that archetype at first level, they trade out the class bonus to AC for that class' normal proficiency with armor.

      Hmmm. I'll have to think on this. The Monk would require a slight bit of reworking (basically amounting to changing the title of the AC Bonus column to Class Bonus to AC) and I'd obviously have to remove Unarmored Combatant from the rules as well.

  2. I also want to add that critical hits hitting Wound Points instead of just hitting your general HP pool is so much cooler. It makes criticals mean more than just bonus damage dice.

    1. Wow. I cannot believe I missed that rule regarding wound points and critical hits. I think it may have altered my kind of ambivalent feelings about this system and pushed it into serious consideration for addition to the campaign book in the future.

    2. Aw, lame. I just read how Pathfinder does it to make sure I wasn't about to make an ass of myself thinking the system worked the way I thought it should did so, and it totally doesn't work that way. I'm really disappointed by it now.

      Apparently Pathfinder has the Crit apply damage normally (normal crit dice taking from Vigor and then Wound points as normal) and then applies an additional amount of Wound damage equal to the Crit modifier to the victim of the crit. Not as cool, plus the double con score for wounds sucks...

      I much prefer the Star Wars D20 system. It really feels like a proper combat system to me. (Might be the Star Wars nerd in me talking though)

      -Con score = Wound points, these never increase.
      -If you take Wound points you are considered Wounded
      -Vigor is gained exactly the same way as HP per level
      -Critical Hits do not gain any extra damage dice, they just directly apply your weapon's damage to your target's Wound Points, guaranteeing a major combat advantage
      -Each Class has a Built in AC boost depending upon role that ranges as previously stated (it really is easy) in addition to your normal boosts.
      -Armor acts as Damage Reduction rather than an AC bonus. All other penalties apply normally.

      It really is a much cleaner and more cinematic system that lends itself to gunplay and unarmored combatants than base D20 does. It has a much more brutal critical system despite not having damage multipliers anymore. I really think that it is far closer to what you're looking for to work inside Hekinoe's setting as a proper representation of combat.