This is an idea I’ve been toying around with lately, but I haven’t tried to implement it yet. I’m considering trying it out in my next game session, if that session ever happens. Feel free to let me know what you think of it in the comments, or if you’ve tried something similar let me know how it has worked out for you.
In a typical RPG, characters purchase their armor and weapons, write down what bonus their armor gives them and what damage their weapon does, and then essentially forget about these items until they find or purchase an upgraded version. However, in reality, these items require constant maintenance to perform the way they should. Swords need to be sharpened, links of chain mail need to be reforged, and plates of armor need to be replaced or at the very least pounded back into shape occasionally. I’ve come up with an idea that simulates the kind of wear and tear that weapons and armor would suffer during the course of use; one that hopefully adds an element of realism to games without adding too much additional book keeping.
The rules for armor damage are simple. There are two ways in which armor can be damaged, and a few ways it can be repaired. Firstly, any time a character suffers a critical hit, the protection bonus they receive from their armor is reduced by one. Simply put a check mark or other notation beside the armor on your character sheet, and for each subsequent to hit roll made against you, the amount of protection you receive from the armor is reduced by the number of check marks. When the protection value of the armor is reduced to 0, it is effectively ruined. Such armor can still be repaired, but we will get to that later. In the case of shields, assume that a wooden shield is completely sundered and must be replaced if reduced to an armor value of 0. Magical armor continues to grant bonuses for each +1 it grants after the armor itself is reduced to 0, and these pluses can be removed as normal, as the armor continues to take damage. You may want to rule that a suit of magical armor that has been reduced to a value of 0, after all magical bonuses have been subtracted due to damage as well, can still be repaired but has suffered enough damage to lose it’s enchantment (In the case of magical armor which imparts some benefit other than a flat bonus to AC, you can treat each of these benefits or special abilities like a +1 for the purposes of determining if the armor is ruined or not. Magical effects or bonuses are always the last thing ‘removed’ from a suit of armor).
The second way armor can suffer damage is controlled by the player. A player can opt to take half damage from any hit he or she receives (except a critical hit, these always do full damage unless there is some other mitigating factor at work), at the cost of reducing the effectiveness of their armor by one point. Using this option will keep your character in the fight longer, but he will also become progressively easier to hit, as his battered armor provides less and less protection.
A skilled armorer with the proper tools and raw materials can, of course, repair damaged armor. Armor that has been damaged but not ruined can be repaired at a cost of 10% of the armor’s value for each reduction in protective ability the armor has suffered. So a suit of chain mail that has had its effectiveness reduced by -3 can be repaired for 30% of the cost of a brand new suit of chain mail.
An armorer without access to adequate tools may be able to repair some damage as well. Allow any character with an armorsmithing skill, and at least the rudimentary tools of his trade, to repair a maximum of -1 armor value reduction. This means that such a smith will be able to repair a piece of armor that has only suffered 1 reduction (and not been ruined completely by this reduction) to practically new condition, but he can never repair more than a -1 reduction to a suit that has suffered a -2 or greater reduction before a repair attempt is made. Once a suit been damaged beyond this point, it can only be fully repaired by an armorsmith with access to all the tools of his trade. (Note that an armorsmith can keep repairing the same suit of armor to ‘good as new’ condition, provided that it has only suffer a -1 reduction before each repair attempt.)
Armor that has been reduced to 0 protective value is considered ruined. This type of armor can only be repaired by an armorsmith with full access to all the tools of his trade, and the repair cost is 50% of the value of a new suit of armor of the same type.
Weapon damage is handled in a similar fashion; every time a character rolls a 1 on his to hit roll, all future attacks made with that weapon will suffer a -1 to damage, with a minimum of one damage being inflicted on each successful hit. Magical bonuses and strength bonuses are added normally after the appropriate reduction to the die roll is made. Optionally, you can require a character to make a save vs. crushing blow each time he or she lands a critical hit, with failure indicating that the weapon suffers a damage reduction in this circumstance as well. I’m not sure if I like this or not because, while realistic, it mechanically punishes a player for an exceptional roll.
Weapons that have suffered only a -1 reduction to damage can be repaired by any character who has enough time to attend to his weapon. This can be as simple as a fighter going over his long sword with a whetstone at camp that night, or binding a weekend weapon haft with spare strips of leather or something. Like armor repair, such routine care and maintenance efforts can only repair a maximum of -1 damage reduction; further damage will need to be tended to by a weaponsmith at a forge or receive some similar treatment. The rules for repair are the same, 10% of the weapons cost for each -1 that is to be repaired. It can be ruled that weapons reduced to 0 damage are beyond repair and must be replaced. The rules for magical armor would apply here as well.
Wow, that was a much more lengthy explanation that I intended it to be, but I don’t think the implementation of the above system would be terribly difficult or cumbersome in terms of additional paperwork. I feel like this system adds a not-to-unreasonable level of realism to weapons and armor, and also adds a potentially deadly element of attrition to games that take place far away from civilization. In such situations, where “formal” repair is not an option, you could possibly allow players to make piece-mail armor, scavenging the armor of their foes to repair damage to their own equipment. What do you folks think?