Optional Rule: Weapon and Armor Damage

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?

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8 thoughts on “Optional Rule: Weapon and Armor Damage

  1. Most systems of tracking weapon and armor damage are kind of ponderous, so I’ve never bothered, but this looks workable, at least for armor. Weapon damage is a little more tricky because it seems to me that some weapons are simply broken or not (like clubs and maces) while edged weapons might have more of a range of range of effects (blunted, bent, broken).

    1. I would agree with this. Also, in the case of magic items, I have always assumed that weapons with magical properties are more “fortified” and therefore more resistant to breaking. So, in the system you describe, I would probably have magic weapons immune to damage like this. Otherwise, it’s a cool idea.

      I’ve done something similar for armor in one of the many games I have written. Though they don’t use the D&D system, which can make things like this a bit more complicated.

    2. The biggest problem I had with all of this was the issue with edged weapons seeming to require more maintenance than things like maces and hammers. It’s easier to imagine a sword dulling and having a reduced effect than it is to imagine what kind of similar malady would affect a war hammer. A war hammer seems like it either would work as intended or just be broken. But mechanically I didn’t want to add something that affected wielders of one weapon more than it did another, which is why I wrote it the way I did. I may have to rethink this though, since the original goal was to add some realism and not just add some extra accounting. In the long run the whole thing may be more of a burden than anything else. I really liked the idea of adding an ablative quality to armor more than the weapon part anyway, so I may just see how that works out by itself first.

  2. I think your first suggestion seems quite interesting, although it seems to me that regular wear and tear would involve more than merely damage inflicted by critical hits. As to the second suggestion, is there a logical in-game explanation as to why a character can choose to allow their armor to absorb some of the damage inflected on them, when ordinarily their armor does not function that way? I can’t seem to think of how this would actually work in the real world (but then that might be due to a lack of imagination).

    As for myself, I’ve opted to go with an alternate armor system whereby armor simply functions to absorb a certain amount of damage. Armor, like characters, have a set of Hit Points, and when reduced by half, the armor becomes broken (rendering it less effective); when reduced to 0, the armor is ruined (unusable).

  3. The reason behind assigning armor damage only via critical hits and by player choice was mainly to keep things as streamlined as possible. While realistically armor would be damaged after every hit, like in your system, I felt that the my rule would come in to effect enough to effectively simulate wear and tear, even though there is no real-world reason why armor damage would be left to player choice (I also like the idea of passing some control to the player, too, making the rule another tool they can use instead of just giving them more to keep track of).

    You’re ‘hit points for armor’ system seems relatively easy to keep track of as well, but my concern is that the armor would degrade too rapidly for me, making armor repair more of a focus than I think I want it to be. Also, I’m not sure I want to make the switch to armor as straight DR, which looks necessary for your system. Also, I’d probably rule that all back stabs or flanking attacks by thieves were considered penetrating hits under this set of rules. I like it though, and may ultimately play test something like it in the future.

    In the long run the best thing might just be to tell the players they should pay some lip service (and a few coins) to weapon and armor maintenance. Else I’ll simply start telling them that things aren’t working as well as they should and applying modifiers ad hoc: “When’s the last time you sat down and oiled your armor? Never, right? Well, it’s starting to show. Until you take some time to maintain it you’re going to lose your Dex bonus to armor class because things just aren’t moving as smoothly as they should be…”.

  4. You are right, armor maintenance does take up a portion of time each game. I’m personally alright with this but I can understand why others wouldn’t want to be bothered with it. I like the idea of having an alternative “Upkeep” fee though. You could roll a lot into this as well: cost of room and board at local Inns, local taxes, mending of torn clothes (and purchase of new), cobbling etc. Each time the adventurers return to town from an excursion you could have them pay the feed depending on how long they’ve been adventuring and how long they intend to stay in town. I may uses something like this and an alternative system in my game as well.

  5. While I always like the idea of degrading gear in practice it’s never worked so well for me. You always end up having to constantly remind players to account for it and then make changes to the character sheet. There’s the money aspect, and generally people don’t like D&D: The Accounting Edition. Like residuum, spell components, encumbrance weight, and rations, people get very hand-wavy with it: I generally assume you know how much food to take on a trip unless something goes horribly awry.

    That being said I think if I was going to implement it in my games I’d streamline it down further.
    – Weapons degrade when you roll a natural 1 on attacks with them.
    – Armor degrades when you suffer a crit.
    – Optional: any encounter you are hit/hit with a weapon make a d20 roll for the piece of gear. On result of a natural 1, apply either point 1 or 2.
    – Assume general upkeep of equipment explains why the items don’t normally degrade between fights.
    – Damage can only be repaired at a proper smithy by someone with formal skill to do so.

    At least that’s how I think I would implement it just thinking off the top of my head.

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