Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Naked Warrior

I’m going to pick on Brad over at Skull Crushing for Great Justice a little bit. Yeah, I know, he’s mostly complaining about cheesecake pin-up babes, but he also brings up bare midriffs, halter tops, and generally scantily-clad warriors.

Who’d go into a fight without even, at bare minimum, a shirt and pants?

Oh, I dunno… maybe these guys. Or these guys. Or maybe even these guys (NSFW).

Seriously, we in the west have an equipment fetish. We can’t imagine going into a fight without 40+ lbs of gear. The average US GI goes into combat today carrying more weight than the medieval knights did, and those guys expected horses to do most of the heavy-lifting.

On the other hand, nothing looks dumber than two warriors who are supposed to be from the same culture, but one is so heavily armoured that not an inch of flesh and showing, and the other is wearing a bikini. (Which is my pet peeve with Red Sonja of the comics. Wearing a chainmail bikini in a fight only makes sense if everyone else is dressed similarly. If you’re the only one doing it, it looks as insane as tights in bright, primary colors. Xp ) Frankly, I think this says more about male body issues than female ones, but that’s a post for another day. What turns on thee may not turn on me. So let’s focus on scantily clad warriors in RPGs, shall we?

Ohio Metal Militia is poking at this question for his Antediluvian Witchery setting. Fact is, your players probably share in the common equipment fetish, and it drives them to outfit their characters with the most effective equipment they can get, and to the Abyss with looking cool. That’s only reasonable, which means if you want the PCs to dress “appropriately “ (and to not pwn everyone who does), you have to make these sartorial decisions make sense in your mechanics. How to do that?

1) Class Limits: this is the classic from the earliest days of the hobby. Magic-users can’t wear armour of any sort and still cast spells. Druids can’t wear metallic armours. Quick, easy, and to-the-point, though it can feel a bit “game-y” if you don’t work to justify it somehow.

2) Encumbrance: not only does the LotFP Weird Fantasy RPG include an easy way to track encumbrance, it makes it important, especially to thief characters. Most of the thiefy skills can’t be used if much encumbered, meaning your thief is either not going to be doing much other than searching for traps, or they’re not going to be wearing much armour.

3) Humidity: the panoply of the ancient Greek hoplite shrank a lot. By the time of Alexander’s march into Persia, the helmet had shrunk to expose the face, the shield was smaller, and the heavy bronze breastplate had been replaced with lighter Kevlar-like linen armour. Why? Because they were fighting on the shores of the freakin’ Mediterranean and didn’t want to get heat stroke. To simulate this in your RPG, say that folks in chain mail or heavier armour can fight for a number of rounds equal to their CON hit-point bonus without ill effect. After that, they suffer a -2 to all dice rolls. If the fight continues another equal number of rounds, they lose a hit point, and another for every additional equal number of rounds. Keep in mind that in most old school games, a round is a full minute. That’s a long time to be fighting in heavy armour in 80%+ humidity.

4) Buffs in the Buff: it’s been written that the Gaul warriors fought in the nude because they believed their sun god would give them strength and courage through the beams of the sun. These solar-powered scrappers exposed every inch of flesh to the invigorating sun beams to take full advantage of this gift. Unfortunately, in the real world, naked gaulish virility was no match for the Roman gladius. Fortunately, in your fantasy worlds, it actually can be. Combine a naked +2 to-hit and damage bonus with the humidity penalty above and folks will be shedding armour like they’re adventuring at Club Med.

5) Defensive Bonuses: you saw this first in the 1e monk, and later in 3e. In one version of WotC’s Star Wars RPG, things got “screwy” when high level characters were better protected by being nude than they were when wearing armour. Yeah, that makes no sense, but it does model what we see in the movies. Not my favorite option, but it works.

6) There is no Armour: your setting doesn’t have it. You’ll have to explain why, or your players or going to try to invent it.

7) Guns: the big plus with guns was that they punched holes through armour pretty handily. When I use firearms in my games, they do modest amounts of damage (1d6 to 2d8, more than enough to kill the average human in a single shot) but give big bonuses to hit or ignore armour. If there are enough of these in your setting, and you use any sort of encumbrance rule, people will ditch the armour as too much fuss and bother, just as they did in the real world. Again, not my favorite way to go, but perfectly fitting for a Sword-and-Planet world. Though now you might have to justify why anyone bothers with a sword.

UPDATE: Bree Yark! suggests:
Here are a couple of options in addition to what you've listed:

#1. Limit the kinds of armor available based upon the law of the land. For example, it could be the case that only members of the nobility are allowed to wear plate armor. Anyone else found wearing or even in possession of plate armor will face the wrath of the king.

#2. Change armor to damage reduction. D&D uses AC as an abstract composite of how hard you are to hit, and how hard it is to inflict damage on a successful blow. You could separate these two things.

The less you are encumbered & the better your DEX score, the better your AC is (making you harder to hit). On the other hand, armor increases your encumbrance, making you easier to hit (weakens your AC), but you subtract a certain number of points from each hit, meaning weaker hits do no damage.

For example: Leather could provide 1 point of damage reduction, chain mail 2 pts, and plate 3 pts.


Yeah, sumptuary laws should have been on my list. Thanks for the reminder! As for option 2, that's a lot more involved than I think I want to get on this, but I'm considering it. Just how far do I want to stray from B/X/Labyrinth Lord? Well, I'm not going to be running a game like this anytime soon myself, so that's probably a question for another day.

And be sure to treat yourself to Bree Yark's treading in the artistic footsteps of a master (arguably the master) on his own blog.

Art by John Singer Sargent and Hendrick Goltzius.

8 comments:

Roger the GS said...

General Butt Naked. Nuff said!

5stonegames said...

What you are talking about is very in genre and as such god rules are always welcome

Speaking only human scale here however the reason everyone (and I mean everyone) used the best armor they could afford and knew how to make most times is that armor works very well.

Against lightly armored opponents, unless the lighters can choose the battlefield armor is trump.

Even the Celts were famous for and likely invented mail armor. They just couldn't afford much of it.

Same with the linothorax (the linen armor you mentioned) -- it wasn't heat or humidity that mattered (the armor was only partial anyway) but the high cost of bronze.

Those Zulu only have shields because thats all they could afford and likely they faced weapons that could ignore any armor they could make (c.f the guns you mentioned) anyway. Had the armor and faced foes, they'd have used it

We see much the same things during the flintlock era, armor that could stop the weapons of the day was too cost ineffective and was discontinued for the most part

Otherwise solid ideas. My personal preference is some kind of level based AC bonus equal to what would be the normal amount of armor and magic bonuses for the level.

The also works well with limited magic games, just give inherent bonuses equal to the expected pluses.

4e does this very well incidentaly and its rules In DMG2 I think) not especially hard to graft on as they add up to roughly 1/2 basic attack

In general thats what I do, grant 1/2 attack bonus to AC for anyone who can see an attack coming.

Alex Schroeder said...

@Roger: Serious WTF is wrong in this world!? I still can't believe this guy is for real, and about my age, too. Seriously disturbing. Ugh!

@Trollsmyth: I read Ines of my Soul by Isabel Allende where the Spaniards in plate mail are fighting naked Aztecs. It was crazy! And certainly supports your view that it's our prejudice that lets us prefer heavy metal armor in our games.

richard said...

John Carter is never truly naked, for he retains his wit.

I'm going to confess a terrible thing: I have no idea just how much help armour should be in a fight. And I suspect Gary didn't either. I think he ranked a set of different armour types according to gut feel (prejudice) and assigned numbers 'til it felt like a simulation. The result is an armor type that does more to ensure a 1st level character's survival than the next n experience levels. Simulationist? Maybe. Satisfying? Depends. Under 1e armour rules any MU or thief who doesn't walk about in plate mail is a fool: take it off when you want to do your special juju. Unless goblins in your world don't shoot people in the back. And the rest of the game - abilities and threats on arbitrary scales - is built around a plate mail standard. It needn't be. Just change the AC numbers. They're not sacred. (And allow improved AC for dodging, cover, shadows, levels, sure.)

Outside historical games, historical precedent is useful for 3 things: 1; sparking creative ideas, 2; helping suspend disbelief and 3; establishing a common language of expectations (when you agree on your history/terms). With long-term players 2 is the problem here: their prejudices are set by familiarity with one system. You have a set of great rationales here for fighting that. I might just change the technology - lightsabres or ghost blades will cut straight through plate. Or metals are so scarce that even swords are like diamonds: wooden spears are the order of the day.

And winning through superior technology may be "true" but it doesn't help us tell satisfying stories of forza vs. frodo: instead it helps us tell colonial stories. Which, again, might be fine for sword v planet.

trollsmyth said...

Roger: I shouldn't be surprised at all, but... o.O

5stonegames: Against lightly armored opponents, unless the lighters can choose the battlefield armor is trump.

True, but, and the but is wide-ranging. For instance, the first foes of the Zulus, when Shaka was still in charge, were not westerners with guns, but other local sub-saharan tribes. Shaka purposefully made his warriors fight barefoot to toughen up their feet. They could have worn more armour (they certainly had cow-hide and other materials) and it would have been effective against the arrows and javelins of their foes. But it was deemed unnecessary for whatever reasons.

As for the Greeks, long before Alexander, they'd been dropping bits and pieces from their armour for quite some time, larger because it was horribly cumbersome and uncomfortable. It had nothing to do with cost, and everything to do with the loss of effectiveness something suffers when you just don't want to bother with it, or it exhausts you. (See this book for more info.)

Also, don't underestimate the power of culture. Klauswitzian total war is rarely seen because people just don't fight that way, and most cultures have limitations on how they fight to minimize the damage and hardship, while preserving whatever it is they're fighting over. Those naked Aztecs were also fighting with skills and techniques focused on bringing back captives for sacrifice, another in a number of handicaps they struggled with when fighting the Spanish, who only hoped to kill and live against far greater numbers.

That said, yeah, the stuff is effective. The Romans did win, after all.

Alex: Yeah, the trick is overcoming our biases to create models in which we get the behavior we want. That means either making armour a terrible burden or less effective than other options.

I'm wondering, though, if there are other options I haven't thought of. I'd be surprised if there weren't.

Richard: Yeah, among those who've studied such things, the general thought is that shields are not nearly as effective as they should be. But historical accuracy was never really a strong suit of D&D combat. ;) Hence, I feel no compunctions against tweaking it to make the naked warrior a more effective combatant, though I'm still Western enough to insist on a rational justification, even if it's based on magic.

Bree Yark! said...

Here are a couple of options in addition to what you've listed:

#1. Limit the kinds of armor available based upon the law of the land. For example, it could be the case that only members of the nobility are allowed to wear plate armor. Anyone else found wearing or even in possession of plate armor will face the wrath of the king.

#2. Change armor to damage reduction. D&D uses AC as an abstract composite of how hard you are to hit, and how hard it is to inflict damage on a successful blow. You could separate these two things.

The less you are encumbered & the better your DEX score, the better your AC is (making you harder to hit). On the other hand, armor increases your encumbrance, making you easier to hit (weakens your AC), but you subtract a certain number of points from each hit, meaning weaker hits do no damage.

For example: Leather could provide 1 point of damage reduction, chain mail 2 pts, and plate 3 pts.

Anonymous said...

Simple solution: make AC purely class-based, regardless of what is actually being worn. Leave armor choice as a cosmetic decision for the player, nothing more. If an attack misses, describe it as being nimble avoidance (unarmored character) or blocked by armor (armored character.)

People often bring up that "Conan always wore armor if he could," but I say "Conan never got killed because he was the protagonist, regardless of whether or not he had armor on." Deadly blows only landed on Conan when he had armor to block them, otherwise he avoided them. We can do the same thing in D&D games.

Mae said...

I believe one and all must glance at it.