"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Monday, November 16, 2009

B/X S&S: Sans Armour - part two

I am going back on my previous thoughts about unarmoured AC for fighters. I now dislike the proposed solution I drafted in that post.

A character’s hit points represent his ability and luck when it comes to avoiding the lethal effects created by the point of a sword. In Dungeons and Dragons, armour class doesn’t scale with level, but hit points do. This is because a characters ability to avoid being hit isn’t reflected primarily by armour class, but by his hit point total.

As such, I think there are a couple of things that can be done to better reflect the trope of the loincloth wearing barbarian or chainmail bikini clad amazon while still keeping the same B/X combat system.

These are nothing earth shattering.

1. Start characters at a higher level - this gives them more hit points and also reflects the fact that S&S characters are usually already quite capable.


2. Give starting characters some sort of hit point kicker - something like adding the character's constitution score to their beginning hit point total.

An important thing to remember to capture the the S&S feel is to always focus on in-game disadvantages of wearing heavy armour. Such things as noise, heat, sand, insects, costs for repairs, etc should cause definite in game problems for any character wearing heavy armour.

I would also make armour much more expensive than given in the B/X rulebooks if I was running a sword & sorcery hack.


  1. That's a good thought. Making the drawbacks of armor more of an issue is something I've been inclined to address in my game, time and again, especially the notion that all the PCs have their armor on all the time. And it's always ready. And they're never sore, or infected, or so on. Granted one could argue that this falls under the time spent at the end of the turn after a combat in B/X, but who knows.

  2. The thing that armor provides that more hit points don't is a continous reduction in damage taken (via not being hit).

    Either of your suggestions is a good starting point. But, to have similar effect/scale of Armor you need to have something more.

    Damage Reduction: take x point of damage off of every attack. I'd use dex and/or con bonus for this and have it apply only when wearing no or light armor.

    Armor Class: give AC without wearing actual armor. Again based on dex and/or con and only if not wearing armor.

    Fast recovery of hitpoints so they're more of a per encounter resource than per adventure.

    Or, if you're fine with loin cloth warrior being able to survive only few battles before likely death go with it.

  3. I agree with the faster recovery of hit points. One thing I think 4E does right is recognizing the nature of hit points as more than a measure of physical damage and gives the second wind mechanic to restore lost hit points.

    I would have no problem incorporating a similar mechanic in a game using older versions of D&D.

  4. Sorry, I hit Post Comment before finishing my thought.

    RE fast recovery of hit points. I have done something similar with the Flagon of Wine. A quart of wine in B/X costs 1 gp. That is a pretty cheap way to heal up 1d6+1 hit points.

  5. In my dotage, I have realized that the abstract nature of Hit Points and of the Combat Roll (really misnamed the "To Hit Roll") give you a lot of flexibility. Should tougher folks and monsters be harder to hit? Sure--that's why they have more hit points.

    I am also finding the Chainmail-style rules for Armour really help as well. Plate Mail is not always the best choice; some weapons are actually less effective against unarmoured folks.

    In my Under the Dying Sun thing, I also make characters make a CON Save every hour with a penalty equal to the Armour Class (ascending).

  6. The more pulp S&S I read, the more I come to the realization that the "no armor" trope stems more from cover art than from the stories themselves! The last couple of Conan stories I've read, for instance, specifically describe him wearing ring mail and scale mail, and a plethora of other bits of armor picked up from his travels;) Conversely, the more thief-oriented Conan stories frequently describe loincloth-only attire!

  7. The problem is that AC and HP work in tandem.

    In order to make lightly-armored characters a viable option, you need some in-game mechanical advantage to light armor, or disadvantage to heavy armor.

    I might be tempted to give a bonus-to-hit to high dex, lightly armored fighters, equal to their dex bonus, if they are lightly armored and sans a shield (no more than studded leather, for example). ALternatively, let them add their dex bonus to their AC, but only if wearing light armor.

  8. @ Al - I agree but I am actually going more for a comic book/Frazetta sword & sorcery vs a REH pastiche.

    @ Paladin - I think I will go with the negative route instead of the positive route. Focus on the problems with heavy armour instead of giving lightly armoured guys new things. IE, it's expensive, hot, dirty, noisy, etc.

    For example, if I get the skype game going I am going to begin in Zamboula which is in the middle of the desert which brings all sorts of problems to those wearing heavy armour.

  9. I don't know if I should make this a separate blog post but one other thing that helps S&S characters survive is that most of the enemies will be 1 or 2 HD Normal Humans, Bandits, Neanderthals, etc (in B/X terms)
    with only a couple of more fearsome foes - the evil sorcerer, the demon, the dinosaur, etc. - coming at the end.

  10. One thing to keep in mind...it's pretty damn difficult to scale an RPG perfectly to literature/fiction.

    Yeah, that's a no brainer but like I said, it's something to keep in mind. One week an S&S author may be having his loinclothed protagonist hack his way through a dozen or more velociraptor-type monsters of the 4-6 HD variety. The next he's captured at spear point by two or three 1HD men-at-arms simply because it's integral to telling a good yarn.

    A close approximation is "good enough;" it doesn't need to be ultra-perfect. If you want PCs to have the advantages of fiction heroes, give 'em some sort of saving throw versus death or some such (I believe D20's Mutants and Masterminds has a similar comic book mechanic?). Character's defenses would thus be a three-legged foundation:

    - finite regenerating resource determined by level (hit points) and strategy (rest/recovery pursued)
    - infinite non-regenerating resource determined by player ingenuity/opportunity (armor and armor class)
    - infinite regenerating resource determined by level (saving throw)

  11. Several versions to solve that issue:
    -"an armor gives full AC, no matter how much it covers effectively the character". So a chainmail bikini is AC5.
    -use ascending AC (conversion is easy, as shows BFrpg) and makes AC=DEX (more difficult with monsters, but you just need to convert desc. vs asc.)
    -makes AC a Damage reduction and use a parry rule (a version for D&D is provided in dawn of the emperors boxed set).
    - Use the Sotu rules for hps: characters recover their full hps after one turn of rest. It keeps the HPs as a mix of luck, dodge and resistance to pain.