Ok, I think we all know that armor in D&D is fairly limited in it’s usability/usefulness. As levels increase, attack bonuses increase, saves increase, hit points increase, but armor is fairly static. Why is this? Mainly because AC is primarily a function of equipment bonuses, with ability as a small supplement. (I should note that this lack is primarily a concern for the front-line fighters, and not so much support or skilled characters) In contrast, attack bonuses are primarily a function of ability, with equipment bonuses as just that, bonuses.
The solution for this problem can come from a few different angles. Below I will present two possible fixes: Armor Feats, and Armor as Damage Reduction. First the feats:
Why is it that there are no feats to increase a character’s ability to utilize the armor they practically live in, day in, day out? Fighters get weapon focus and weapon specialization, two-weapon fighting, the list goes on. But what about armor? Proficiency is as advanced as any character can get in the core rules. So I propose some new feats, to mirror those that are provided to reflect weapons training.
Improved Maneuverability [General]
Choose one type of armor or shield.
Prerequisite: Proficient with chosen armor, base attack bonus +4.
Benefit: When wearing the armor selected, your armor check penalty is halved (round up).
Special: You can gain Improved Maneuverability multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take the feat you choose a new type of armor or shield.
A fighter may select Improved Maneuverability as one of his fighter bonus feats.
Shield Finesse [General]
Prerequisite: Base attack bonus +2, Weapon Finesse.
Benefit: A shield’s armor check penalty no longer applies to attacks made with light weapons using the Weapon Finesse feat.
Special: A fighter may select Shield Finesse as one of his fighter bonus feats.
Armor Focus [General]
Choose one type of armor or shield.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with selected armor or shield, base attack bonus +1.
Benefit: You gain a +1 bonus to AC while wearing the selected armor. This bonus does not apply when you are caught flat-footed or otherwise denied your dexterity bonus.
Special: You can gain this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take this feat you select a new type of armor or shield.
A fighter may select Armor Focus as one of his fighter bonus feats.
Armor Specialization [General]
Choose one type of armor or shield for which you have already selected the Armor Focus feat.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with selected armor, Armor Focus for selected armor, Fighter level 4th
Benefit: You gain damage reduction 2/- while wearing the selected armor. This bonus does not apply when you are caught flat-footed or otherwise denied your dexterity bonus.
Special: You can gain this feat multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take this feat, it applies to a new type of armor.
A fighter may select Armor Specialization as one of his fighter bonus feats.
Greater Armor Focus [General]
Choose one type of armor or shield for which you have already selected Armor Focus.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with selected armor, Armor Focus with selected weapon, fighter level 8th.
Benefit: you gain a +1 bonus to AC while wearing the selected armor. This bonus stacks with other AC bonuses, including the one from Armor Focus (see below).
Special: You can gain Greater Armor Focus multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take the feat, it applies to a new type of armor.
A fighter must have Greater Armor Focus with a given weapon to gain the Greater Armor Specialization feat for that armor.
A fighter may select Greater Armor Focus as one of his fighter bonus feats.
Greater Armor Specialization [General]
Choose one type of armor or shield for which you have already selected Armor Specialization.
Prerequisites: Proficiency with selected armor, Greater Armor Focus with selected armor, Armor Focus with selected armor, Armor Specialization with selected armor, fighter level 12th.
Benefit: You gain damage reduction 5/- while wearing the selected armor. This bonus does not stack with the damage reduction gained from the Armor Specialization feat, and does not apply when you are caught flat-footed, or are otherwise denied your dexterity bonus.
Special: You can gain Greater Armor Specialization multiple times. Its effects do not stack. Each time you take the feat, it applies to a new type of armor.
A fighter may select Greater Armor Specialization as one of his fighter bonus feats.
An alternative to adding additional feats to the list is to change how armor works entirely. This change is a little more drastic, and requires your players (and DM) to be on board with this rather more complex variant.
In real life, most armor converts damage from one type into another. For instance, bulletproof vests transfer a projectile’s energy from a single, high-energy point (piercing damage) into a lower-energy, more widespread area (bludgeoning damage). Chainmail works in much the same way, converting slashing damage into bludgeoning damage. The gambeson worn under top layers of armor would absorb a portion of the bludgeoning damage, and convert the rest into subdual damage.
Armor as Damage Reduction Variant:
Instead of AC being a static number, it is now an opposed roll, with dexterity modifier, shield bonus, size modifier, and miscellaneous modifiers as bonuses to a d20 roll. Armor no longer adds a bonus to this check, but acts as damage reduction/conversion instead. Dexterity and shields work to avoid being hit, armor serves to blunt the impact of those strikes which do. Since the armor check penalty indicates how difficult it is to move in your armor, it affects your ability to dodge attacks.
Defense rolls look like this:
1d20 + Dex mod. + Shield bonus + Size mod. + Deflection bonus + Misc. mod.s – Armor Check Penalty
For simplicity’s sake, you may roll once per round instead of in opposition to each attack if you find that combat is taking too long due to utilizing this variant.
Armor now has different properties: Damage Reduction and Damage Conversion (DR and DC, respectively)
The damage reduction property of armor indicates how much damage from an individual attack is ignored, just like the barbarian’s class ability of the same name. Different armors will reduce different amounts of damage from different weapon types (Piercing, slashing, and bludgeoning). These are indicated in the listing after the slash as P, S, and B (ex. 3/P, 6/S, 1/B) The remainder of the damage (if any) is then subject to Damage Conversion. Damage Conversion then changes the indicated amount of leftover damage into subdual damage, while any remaining damage is taken directly.
Example: Bruk Ironfoundersson the Dwarven Fighter is wearing full plate armor (DR: 6/P, 8/S, 8/B; DC 8). He is attacked by three orcs, who are conveniently (for our example) wielding a shortspear, a longsword, and a club. The first round of combat he rolls a d20 and adds his Dex mod of +1, his Shield Bonus of +2, and subtracts his armor check penalty of 6 for a total bonus of -3. He “adds” this to his roll of 18 for a respectable defense of 15. The goblins with the shortspear and the longsword miss, but the one with the club hits with an 18. He deals a total of 12 damage to Bruk. The first 8 damage is ignored (due to the DR 8/B of the full plate), and the remaining 4 damage is converted into subdual damage. Round 2: Bruk rolls a 5 on his defense roll, for a total of 2. The orcs land all three of their attacks easily, but Bruk’s armor still protects him. The shortspear wielding orc deals 9 points of damage, the first 6 of which is ignored, and the remaining 3 is converted into subdual. The orc with a longsword strikes with a critical hit, and deals 24 damage to Bruk. 8 of this is negated, 8 is converted to subdual, and the remaining 8 remains lethal damage. The orc with the club hits, but only deals 6 damage, all of which is ignored.
After two rounds of combat, our stout dwarven hero has taken 15 subdual damage and 8 lethal damage. Not too shabby.
And now, what you have all been waiting for, the new Armor Table (Note: Cost, Max Dex, Armor Check Penalty, Spell Failure, Speed and Weight all remain unchanged:
Padded: DR 0/S, 0/P, 1/B; DC 1
Leather: DR 1/S, 2/P, 1/B; DC 2
Studded Leather: DR 3/S, 2/P, 1/B; DC 3
Chain Shirt: DR 4/S, 3/P, 1/B; DC 4
Hide: DR 2/S, 3/P, 2/B; DC 3
Scale Mail: DR 4/S, 3/P, 2/B; DC 4
Chainmail: DR 5/S, 4/P, 1/B; DC 5
Breastplate: DR 5/S, 4/P, 4/B; DC 5
Splint Mail: DR 6/S, 4/P, 4/B; DC 6
Banded Mail: DR 6/S, 5/P, 5/B; DC 6
Half Plate: DR 7/S, 6/P, 6/B; DC 7
Full Plate: DR 8/S, 6/P, 8/B; DC 8
Any magical armor effects (bracers of armor, mage armor and the like) has equal protection across the board, so Mage Armor would provide DR 4/S, 4/P, 4/B; DC 4. In addition, these spells (along with magical enhancement bonuses to armor) provide damage reduction to spell effects such as Fireball, Acid Arrow, and other evocation spells. However, deflection bonuses (vis. Ring of Protection) to armor would simply improve the Defence roll. Enhancement bonuses to shields would provide a bonus to Defense rolls as normal as well as the enhancement bonus being applied to reflex saves.
If desired, the ultimate in realistic armor performance would be to apply some sort of mechanic to indicate when the armor had taken so much damage itself that it becomes useless. A simple way to do this would be to assign it a number of “hit points” equal to five times its DC score, and count each attack that manages to deal lethal damage to its wearer as one against that hit point total. Masterwork armor would have hit points equal to six times it’s DC score.
So that’s my ideas for you. Any questions or comments are appreciated. It may be a bit cumbersome, but believe you me that I simplified it quite a bit from my original idea. Even the stuff I made up just now I edited back a bit. If anyone out there sees this and actually puts it into use, please let me know. Good Gaming to you!