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Medieval Prices

This is my reworking of the medieval price list at Medieval Prices into a form easy to use in RPGs, particularly D&D-likes.  I’ve based it on a silver economy,  since I like gold to be rare enough that a chest of gold is a fabulous treasure, not a couple month’s living expenses. You can change it back to standard D&D just by reading the numbers as gold and cp as  silver. These prices represent approximately 1/4 the prices listed in the reference, since they’re calculated in four-pence pieces to make them large enough for carrying, and in some cases adjusted slightly to better fit existing RPG price lists or to give prices for some common things adventurers want to buy that weren’t on the list.

Except where notes, prices in this list are given in silver pennies about 24mm diameter (1/60 of a pound).

The most common gold coin is worth 10 silver pennies,and weighs about 3.5 grams.

A copper farthing (where used) is worth 1/20 an SP would have weighed about six pennyweights, and been the size of an old Australian or British penny (31mm diameter).

Armour
Cloth Gambeson 10
Leather 15
Courbouilli 25
Scale 150
Mail 300
Brigandine 325
Partial plate 420
Plate armor, complete 500
Plate (of Proof) 600
Bascinet Helmet, with lining 50

 

Board & Lodging
College/boarding school, per week 6
Inn, London- beds, per night 3cp
Inn, rural- meal with drinks 5cp
heat and light private chamber 3cp
beds for gentlemen, per night 2 cp
beds for servants, per night 1cp
hot bath 5cp
stabling and fodder (per horse) 4cp
Rent, cottage, per year 15
craftsman’s house 60
merchant’s house 150

 

Building construction
Church, 1251, stonework only 6750
cathedral 125,000+
Cottage, 2storey- w. material free 120
Hall & chamber, modest (-labour only, materials from estate) 720
Hovel, from materials available 30
Wooden gatehouse, with drawbridge
-with materials from estate 320
-plus value of materials 960
Stone gatehouse, in modest private castle
-with materials from estate 1,000
-plus value of materials 1,800
Tower (in large royal castle) 12,000
Well, per fathom deep 4.5

 

Buildings & real estate
Row house (in York, well built) 300
Craftsman1s house, with shop, workers quarters, and tile roof 720
Merchant’s house, in large city 1,800
House with a courtyard, 2 5400
Guildhall in large city (hall, 2 chambers, buttery, pantry, kitchen) 8,150

 

Clothing
Prices listed are for plain, standard-quality. Apply modifiers for
expensive materials, fine workmanship, and so forth.
Belt, weapon 5cp
Boots, pair 2
Chemise, linen 2
Cloak, woolen 9
” fur-lined 19
Gown (long), woolen 9
Gloves * 7cp
Hat 2.5
Kirtle, woolen 6
Purse 4cp
Quiver, red leather 2.25
Robe, woolen 9
Scarf 2cp
Shoes, pair 1
Surcoat, linen 6
Trousers*, woolen 5
Tunic (short)/doublet 6
Underlinen 3
Clothing modifiers
Dyed, dear (scarlet, green, black) x1.6
” rare (purple, royal blue) x2
Fur lining, cheap +20
” luxury furs +120-180
Fine cloth x2
Shoddy (recycled rags) x0.4
Silk x12

 

Household furnishings
Basin & ewer 4-8
Blanket, woolen 4
Bottle 8cp
Bowl, earthenware 1cp
Candles, tallow, in the country, per lb. 4cp
” tallow, in a large city, per lb. 5cp
” wax, per lb. 16cp
Chair 1
Chest 15cp
2 large, for clothes 6
Coffer (strongbox) 3
Cup, earthenware 1cp
2 glass 7cp
Ewer, metal (brass?) 25cp
Knife, eating 5cp
Mattress, straw 5cp
Mirror, silvered 6
Padlock 3
Pillow 3cp
Plate, earthenware 1cp
Pot, cooking, ceramic 1cp
2 brass, large 8cp
Sheet, linen 2cp
Stool 8cp
Towel 15cp
Table 15cp

 

Information and Instruction
(a pecia is approx. 7,500 words,the Bible is about 100 pecia)
Books, per pecia 2.5
Book rental, per pecia per year 2cp
Fencing instruction, per month 30
Tuition, monastery school, per year 120
“, private schoolmaster 40
Tuition, University, basic courses 120
” fashionable lecturers, etc. 300+

 

Livestock
Capon 5cp
Calf, weaned 2.5
Cow 18
” good milker 30
Duck 2cp
Donkey or mule* 70
Falcon, trained gerfalcon 12
” trained goshawk 15
Fowl (hen) 1cp
Goose 7cp
Horse, riding hack 75+
” pony* 75+
” trained for horse-archer 120+
” draught horse 300+
” palfrey 420+
” hunter* 525+
” trained destrier 2,400+
Ox 27
Pig (in breeding country) 6
” (in a large city) 9
Pigeons (4) 2.5
Sheep (in breeding country) 25cp
” (in a large city) 4.25

 

Precious items
Necklace, gold 20
” pearl 70
Ring, gold setting with diamonds 450
” gold setting with ruby 80
Spoon, silver 7

 

Provisions
Ale, per gallon 1cp
Bacon, per side 2cp
Bread, 2 loaves (24 oz?) 1cp
Cider, per tun 15
Cheese, retail, per lb 5cp
” whole, 80 lb 10
Eggs, per dozen 1
Fish, herrings, per dozen 2
” Pike, whole, 31 long 20
” Sturgeon, per barrel 99
Fruit, figs, per 3 lb 1
” pears, 10 1
” pomegranate, 1 only 15cp
Gingerbread, per lb 15
Grain, barley, per quarter 5
” oats, per quarter 4
” wheat, per quarter 9.5
Ham, whole 4
Onions, 1 bushel 2
Partridges, per brace 1
Raisins, per lb 5cp
Salt, per bushel 8cp
Spices, per lb up to 42
Sugar, per lb 3
Wine, fine claret, per tun (252 gal.) 120
” best, per gallon 1-2
” cheapest, per gallon 5cp
To feed a lord, per day 2
” a squire 5cp-1sp
” yeoman 5cp-15cp
” groom 4cp-5cp

 

Services
Armour, clean & de-rust 12cp
” overhaul & varnish 4
Carriage, annual maintenance 3-9
Cesspit, empty out 20
Courier, 1 horse, per 50 km or day 3
“, 2 horses, per 100 km or day 4.5
Ferry, river crossing for man & horse 2-3cp
Guide, for one night 2-3cp
Milling grain, per quarter 2-3cp
Minstrel, to play at an inn 2-3cp
” Christmas gig at manor house 9
Stabling & care, warhorse, per day 13cp
” foal 2 4cp

 

Stationery
Parchment, folio, per leaf 1cp
Vellum 2 3cp
Wax, sealing, per lb. 5cp

 

Tools and hardware
Anvil 60
Armourer1s tools, complete 831
Auger 8cp
Axe 1
Barrel 8cp
Bellows, large (for forge) 60
Bucket 1
Canvas, 25 yards 20
Chisel 1
Loom and treadle 6
Pick* 4
Plow 9
Rope, light, per fathom 1cp
Sand barrel (for cleaning mail) 2.25
Saw, hand* 3
Saw, cross-cut* 8
Shovel* 4cp
Spade 4cp
Spinning wheel (late) 2.25
Vat 1
Vise 40
Yoke 4

 

Vehicles
Barge 600
Boat, 101 sailing 20
Carrack 225
Carriage 80
Cart, iron-bound 12
2, wooden, unfit for long trips 6
Cutter 25
Dray/waggon, iron-shod wheels 30
Galley, 40-oared* 2,120
” 80-oared & masted* 3,725

 

Wages & Incomes
Labourer, per day 3cp
Craftsman, per day
armourer 13cp-15cp
carpenter 8cp
mason 1
weaver 6cp-7cp
apprentice carpenter 4cp
apprentice armourer 1
Landowner, per year (in GP)
” knight 180-1800
” baron or abbot 1200-3000
” earl/count or bishop 2400-66,000
” King (of England) 180,000
Mercenary, per day
Archer 8cp
” mounted 1.5
Knight banneret 12
Knight 6
Infantryman, armoured 1
Man-at-arms, mounted 3
Squire 4
Priest (in a chantry), per year 280
Servant, per year (plus bed & board)
” squire 40-60
” carter, porter, groom, 15-25
falconer, messenger, etc.
” indoor and kitchen 6-12
” boys and pages 3-9

 

Weapons
Swords
Dagger* 1
Main gauche* 2
Short sword* 7
Falchion 3
Scimitar* 5
Tulwar* 5
Rapier* 3
Sabre* 4
Broadsword* 4
Estoc* 5
Hand & a Half* 8
Claymore* 8
Two-handed sword* 8
Hafted weapons
Hand axe 1
Battle axe 2
Great axe 2
Giant axe 3
Crude club 0
War club 2cp
Torch 2cp
Mace 1
Giant mace 3
War hammer 1
War pick 2
Flail 1
Morningstar 1
Mattock 1
Quarterstaff 2cp
Buck-and-a-Quarterstaff 1.25
Sap 1cp
Pole weapons
Javelin 3cp
Spear 1
Giant spear 2
Pike 1
Lance 1.5
Halberd 1
Poleaxe 2
Trident 2
Glaive 1
Giant glaive 2.5
Missile weapons
Sling 3cp
Short bow 4
Long bow 5
Composite bow 6
Giant bow 14
Crossbow 15
Cranequin for above 10
Spearthrower 4cp
Blowgun 5cp
Ammunition
Arrows (longbow),30 1
Bolts (crossbow), 20 15cp
Bullets, lead (sling),4 1cp
Entangling weapons
Net 8cp
Bolas 1
Whip 2
Anachronistic weapons
Cestus 1
Garotte 5cp
Shields
Buckler 5cp
Small round shield* 8cp
Large round shield* 1
Kite shield* 1.25
Tower shield* 2
Main gauche* 2

 

Legal privileges
Apprenticeship, guild of carpenters 3
2 company of mercers 12
Freedom (of a city) 10-60
Marriage licence (for serf) 3-40
Membership, guild of carpenters 10
2 company of mercers 60
2 other guilds 20-180
Nobility, patent of 7500
Damage Chart

Easy Hit Location

To get a hit location without needing another roll, look at the least significant digit of the damage rolled and whether the to-hit roll was even or odd.  E.g. damage 3 would be the upper right arm if the attack roll was even, upper left arm if odd;  damage 12 would be right foot if even, left foot if odd.  The numbers are arranged so the heavier damage tends to be the result of hits in more vulnerable spots, while still allowing the full range of ordinary weapon damages (1d4 to 1d12) to fall almost anywhere on the body.  One trick to using this fluidly is to interpret the results of smaller die sizes as covering larger areas, so a 3 on a d4 might  be anywhere on the arm or even mid-torso, while a 3 on a d12 is specifically the upper arm.

 

As I use it this is purely informational to help describe the result, though I might make an ad hoc ruling if it seems particularly relevant, such as requiring a saving throw to keep holding on if they’re clinging to a rope when they get hit in the arm.

(This is a re-post of the chart that originally appeared in the post on Death & Dismemberment for 5e, since I think there are folks who skipped it since they’re not interested in D&d 5e content).

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Death Slaves of Eternity 0-Level Party Generator

Hear ye! Hear ye! Ask and you shall receive! Roll up your Death Slaves of Eternity on Purple Sorcerer 0-Level Party Generator! Last night I gave John Marr  a file with the 0-level Occupations from Marzio Muscedere’s Death Slaves of Eternity module, and today Purple Sorcerer’s 0-Level Party generator has it in the Occupation Source list!

It’s a great list for generating occupations that have a more Sword & Sorcery/classical feel than the late-medieval-ish standard occupations chart from Dungeon Crawl Classics itself, so you don’t really need to be planning to use Death Slaves of Eternity as your funnel, though you should consider it, because it’s a good adventure.

The only thing missing if you’re using Death Slaves is the circumstances of arrest entries, for space reasons, so the GM will have to look up your profession and tell you what the circumstances are, but that’s a pretty minor price to pay.

 

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DCC Alternate Luck & Healing Rules

The 2016 Free RPG Day Goodman Games packet included an adventure for the upcoming DCC Lankhmar, but what I want to talk about is the downloadable packet of pregens for the game, which includes two fascinating new rules to make DCC better fit the setting.

The first is a rule for Fleeting Luck, which adds a sort of free-wheeling easy-come-easy-go luck economy to the game.  Each session every character starts out with one point of Fleeting Luck that they can spend as if it were regular luck (including Thieves getting their Luck Die when they spend a point); every time a player rolls a natural 20 the character gets another point, and the GM is encouraged to hand them out for cool or foolish actions or roleplaying that is evocative of the setting.  There’s no limit to how high the pool can grow, but whenever anybody rolls a fumble at the table (except on rolls where 1 isn’t a failure, such as roll-under luck checks or rolling init) everybody loses all their Fleeting Luck and starts over at 0.

That’s actually a pretty brilliant way of keeping it flowing instead of hoarding it to unleash on the big-bad at the end of the adventure.  Luck as used in DCC is actually one of the only such point economies I can get behind, since it’s really something that you can think about in character.  Even in our world people absolutely do feel lucky or unlucky, or pray for luck when taking a risky action. It’s still a tiny bit meta since you know if you have it or not, but that’s still way better than Fate points or the like.

The other Lankhmar-specific change that would work well in any Sword & Sorcery setting is Luck as Healing.   This is basically a DCC “second wind”: once per battle you take a full round (you can still move, but that’s it) to “examine your wounds” and find out they’re not as bad as they look by spending 1 Luck point and getting back your HP die + Stamina mods (min 1).

After battle, once per day you can spend time recuperating: after 1d3 turns (not rounds) binding up your wounds and resting, you can spend a luck and get your HP die + Stamina mods + level. If you drink a “restorative” (basically a non-magical potion or strong spirits) while recuperating you get some additional HP, depending on the restorative: in the free adventure there’s an example of Eevamarensee Emerald wine, which restores MAX  Hit Die for the class + Stamina Mod + Level.  I presume this is instead of rolling the normal HP die, and is still limited to once per day: that is it’s only effective in conjunction with recuperation.

For some this might smack a little too much of D&D 4e healing surges or the 5e “take a knee” mechanics, but I think it offers significant advantages over both.  For one thing, it doesn’t require tracking a new (and somewhat mysterious) resource: it’s just Luck, a pervasive part of DCC already and something that has significant uses outside of healing. For another, it’s quite limited. If you’re using the Fleeting Luck rules, the only way to get more except at the beginning of a session is to get out there and adventure: holing up and licking your wounds for a couple days isn’t really an option, unless you’ve got a whole lot of luck to spare.  I’d actually suggest limiting it further and saying once you’ve recuperated you can’t spend any Luck on healing until you’ve taken more damage, even if you get in a new battle or wait until the next day.  There’s only so lucky you can be once you’ve examined your wounds and found them not as dangerous as they first seemed, and then taken the time to bind them up.

Since I’m currently running a DCC Swords & Sorcery game on hangouts, I’m thinking of adopting these rules immediately.  My players probably need some help if any of them are going to make it out of the crypts in Death Slaves of Eternity….

 

 

 

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A Ready Wit In Their Every Tongue

“I have entertained in all the courts of Europe and speak a ready wit in their every tongue!” – The Court Jester

Let’s talk about languages in D&D-likes.  Generally speaking, languages receive short shrift in D&D.  The core rules, dating back to the days of White Box D&D, default to assuming that there is a “Common Tongue” spoken by all humans and most demi-humans, and then individual racial tongues like Elven, Dwarven, Dragon, and the like, plus the somewhat controversial “alignment tongues” (which apparently Gary Gygax originally conceived of as being like the way Latin was the language of the church, or the Black Tongue was the language of the creatures of Mordor).  While this is easy enough to revamp into languages specific to your setting, whether that’s Spanish, French, and German or Hyrkanian, Aquilonian or Kushite, the other thing that most D&D-likes share is that languages are extremely hard to know and acquire, in most cases with a hard limit based on your Int.  For instance in AD&D, the number of extra languages you could even know ranged from 0, for Ints 8 and below, capping out at 7 for those with a whopping 18 Int.   Other versions limited it even more severely, for instance in Basic D&D and its descendants such as Dungeon Crawl Classics your number of extra languages is the same as your Int bonus: 1 to 3.

That’s all very well for adventures where talking is limited to the occasional parley with creatures in the dungeon or perhaps trying to eavesdrop on their plans, but it seems to be the product of a view of language acquisition heavily influence by the difficulties of learning through formal classroom instruction where you need to be quite clever and diligent to make any headway at all.  Worse, though, is that it’s not very similar to Appendix N fiction at all, where well-traveled characters can rattle off a list of the tongues they speak, or surprise their captors by knowing full well what they’re saying. Granted, pulp fiction may make language acquisition quite easy, and perhaps there’s something to be said for having a common tongue means that there are more opportunities for roleplaying conversations since you don’t have the language barrier stopping you all the time.

One interesting exception to the above is Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  In keeping with its early-modern era default setting, it makes knowing multiple languages a snap.  Or at least the possibility of knowing more languages. In LotFP, whenever the player needs to know if the character speaks a language for the first time in the game, you roll a d6.  If you roll less than or equal to 1 plus the character’s Int modifier (with some extra mods for distant/exotic languages), the character actually knows the language from having learned it some time before play started.  You only get one shot at knowing the language, though, and if there are rules for learning a language once it’s been established it’s not part of your background I couldn’t find them on a quick scan.  I think that’s pretty darn neat, if you don’t mind the slightly Schrodinger aspect of having the skill be indeterminate until needed.

An aspect that few of the D&D-likes deal with, except the 3e-derived ones with ranks for every kind of skill, is fluency with particular languages.  You’re either fluent or you’re not, with possible modifiers based on your Int as far as whether you’re literate (including in your native tongue).

Naturally, I have a proposed rule to address these shortcomings (to the extent you perceive them as such for your particular setting).

Languages

Chance You Already Know the Language.

When you need to determine if you’ve learned a language some time in your past, the base chance is 1 in 6, plus the better of your Int or Cha/Personality modifier (this isn’t book learning so being able to get along with others is a good way to pick up the language from strangers).  Apply the remoteness modifier to the result.

Remoteness Modifier
Local (from the nearby area) 0
Exotic (from a distant land or a non-human race) -2
Dead (few living speakers) -3
Magical (arcane) Can’t already know

If the result is negative, whether because of low Int/Cha or it’s a remote language, for every negative 1 bump up the die-size by one. So a -1 chance on a d6 becomes 1 chance on a d8, a -2 on a d6 becomes a 1 on a d10. This way even the stupid and or shy have some chance of having picked up extra languages in the course of living.

How Well Do You Know the Language?

Language knowledge is rated from 1 to 6 on the following scale:

Level Fluency Learning Period
1 Broken/short phrases Day
2 Halting/sentences Week
3 Fluent (heavily accented)/prose Month
4 Fluent (vaguely foreign)/compose poetry Season
5 Eloquent (native accent)/identify dialects Year
6 Expert/Imitate dialects

Characters always know their native tongue at level 5.  Otherwise roll a d6 when first determining if you already know the language, modified by the better of Int or Cha and modified by remoteness and that’s how well you know the language from prior exposure. Minimum level is 1.

Learning a New Language

When you’re exposed to a language you begin to learn it or improve your understanding. When you’re in a situation where you’re immersed in using the language daily, such as traveling with a caravan, spending time with a foreign city, or adventuring with a native speaker you can see if you improve your skill in that language. I recommend only allowing one roll per calendar period, to avoid bookkeeping hassles1. Roll the same die as when seeing if you already know the language, without any remoteness penalties, once per period: on a 1 you advance to the that level in fluency and the period between rolls changes to the one for the next level you’re trying to learn. We’re not applying remoteness penalties because if you’re currently learning from speakers of the language it doesn’t matter whether it’s really unusual that you’ve met some. For example, if you know nothing about the language you would roll every day you plausibly are practicing until you got a 1 and became able to speak the language, albeit brokenly. To progress to being able to speak haltingly, you would now roll once a week until a 1 came up, then once per month to attempt to become fluent albeit heavily accented, etc. If you have significant down time you can skip steps:  e.g. if the referee says three weeks later, your ship arrives at the port you can make 3 rolls to see if you went from nothing to level 2 at whatever language the sailors are speaking: you don’t have to roll day-by-day to get to level 1 first. If you fail, you get the next level down anyway.  (After a week you’d likely have succeeded in reaching level 1 anyway, even with a penalty, and after three weeks it’s virtually certain.)  Yes, that means with a big chunk of downtime you can get pretty good at one particular language with no risk of failure.  That’s OK, it’s not meant to be a gambling game, just a helpful way of figuring out how long it takes you to learn a language while taking into account some of your attributes, and that doesn’t require that you track anything except whether you’ve made a roll this calendar period.


  1. that is, check each day, and each week, and each calendar month, each time only checking one language that you could plausibly be improving based on your current circumstances, instead of trying to track per language how much time has elapsed since your last check. While  YOU CAN NOT HAVE A MEANINGFUL CAMPAIGN IF STRICT TIME RECORDS ARE NOT KEPT, there is a practical limit.  Looking at a global campaign calendar is way easier than per character per language timesheets. 
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Conan and the Ambiguous Text

There is a big ambiguity in the Conan Role-playing Game rules mentioned on the ZeFRS site that the referee will have to resolve before trying to play, which is that modifiers to the die rolls call for shifting the columns to the left or right,  but there are two kinds of columns on the resolution chart and apparently no consensus by the fans of the game exactly how they’re used.

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Specifically there are small columns corresponding to individual numbers, except at the extreme edges of the chart where they become ranges, and then there are larger groupings of the numbers together into bands of five.  It’s pretty clear that when you roll against a particular talent, or attack by subtracting the defenders Move from your Fighting, you’re looking up a particular number in the column… but when you then shift that right 2 or left 1, do you just go to the next number left or right, or the next big band left or right?  While shifting number by number is simple and seems obvious, it produces really tiny changes in the die rolls needed for success. E.g. even being completely blind is only a -6 shift, which would take marginal success from, say, 72% to 54% and great (red) success from 10% to 7%.  And that’s the largest penalty there is in the reference guide.  More typical penalties and bonuses of 1 or 2 columns barely budge the needle. It would have been simpler and completely unambiguous to describe the modifiers as adding or subtracting from the rating itself, instead of shifting columns. Plus interpreting a shift column as a “band” means the dark vertical lines are there for a purpose more than just a visual aid to keep which column you’re looking in straight.  In addition when using bands for shifting +/- 6 to an action is actually the largest modifier the chart can support, making it quite natural to say that attacking a bound foe (the biggest bonus) is +6 columns and attacking while blind (the biggest penalty) is -6.

Despite that, I suspect the original intent was probably just shifting the rating up or down, firstly because it would have been really sloppy to write up the rules without discussing the difference between the minor and major divisions on the chart if the major divisions were critical to using it. Secondly, having the shifts be by the minor rating columns allows more leeway for stacking modifiers, such as fighting from a lower position and in the darkness. But since tiny modifiers aren’t worth the mental effort, and I think attacking a helpless foe ought to give you a bigger bonus than a paltry 18%, if I were to play I’d probably choose to interpret column shift to mean the big bands.

If you’re doing that, though, you have one more nicety to address, which is when you shift a band where in the band do you roll?  Are you shifting the minimum necessary to fall in the band (closest column to original), the maximum (farthest), smack in the middle, or proportional to your position in the starting band?  Personally I’d go with the last interpretation, so that if, say, your rating is 9 (second highest in the 6-10 band) if you shift left by 1 you’d look on column 4 (second highest in the 1-5 band).  Similarly, shifting right by 1 from 9 would take you to the 21-25 column (second highest in the rightmost band). That way you keep the relative ordering of the characters: If Anna has Dirk 10 and Beryl has Dirk 9 and they both get a -3 shift for fighting with two weapons, Anna is still better than Beryl (rolling on the -1 column instead of the -2 column).

Doing this tends to make stacking modifiers pretty irrelevant: you hit the limit of the chart pretty quickly.  If that bothers you, you could make it so that once you reach the extreme left or right band each additional shift is one column within the band.  Since the columns themselves are in groups of 5 that even makes a certain amount of sense, but it does add extra complication.  As D&D 5e’s advantage/disadvantage rules show, it can be really liberating to not have to care whether you’ve accounted for every conceivable bonus.  In fact, that suggests an alternative way of doing it, which is to ignore the chart of the exact modifiers and count anything that gives you a left shift as one band left, anything that’s a right shift as one band right, and if you have both they cancel regardless of how many are stacked on one side or the other.

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Armor as Damage Reduction?

An obvious refinement in handling armor in RPGs is making armor reduce damage instead of the original D&D reducing the chance of taking damage.  Intuitively that’s what armor does, right?  It doesn’t make you better at dodging, it just reduces how much you get hurt when you get smacked.   A lot of pretty good games over the years have taken that tack, including one of my favorite combat systems, the microgame Melee that formed the basis of The Fantasy Trip and later on GURPS.

The thing is, the phrase “roll to hit” is a misnomer.  It’s really roll to hurt.  We don’t, except in some special circumstances, really care if the blow missed completely or hit the armor and bounced off.  What we want to know is if the blow actually hurt enough to bring the foe closer to defeat.  From there it’s easy to see that the “space” of possible results from an attack are basically the same whether you treat armor as reducing the chance of rolling for damage or reducing the damage once rolled: the target isn’t hit at all, the target would have been hurt but for armor, and the target is hurt. Editions of D&D with rules for “touch attacks” only needing to beat the AC of an unarmored man make this explicit… really any attack that would have hit an unarmored man but didn’t beat the AC of the target can be presumed to have hit but failed to penetrate the armor1.

In fact, the only real difference between the two approaches is that armor as damage reduction introduces an extra oddity that usually needs to be addressed. In the standard D&D AC system armor can make it unlikely that a blow scores a wound, but a blow that finds a chink in the armor can be just as deadly to an armored man as an unarmored man: an arrow to the eye slit2 will kill a knight just as dead as a peasant. In contrast, in systems that use armor as DR it’s often the case that once you have a reasonable amount of armor, it becomes literally impossible for a single blow to kill an average man.  If an arrow does 1d6 and chain armor stops, say, 4 points, then a first-level fighter with at least 3 HP can’t ever be killed with a single arrow.

To compensate for this, DR systems almost always add further complication.  Typically they include “critical hits” that introduce the possibility that if you roll well the damage is then multiplied by some factor large enough for weapons to once again pose a deadly danger to the average man.  Others will introduce things like differentiation between weapons that can pierce through the armor and weapons that will bounce off, so an arrow or warhammer might be more dangerous to a heavily armored fighter than a club or saber, or  add “called shots” so that if you want to actually hurt a knight in plate armor with your arrow you have to take a penalty to the roll representing aiming for the eye slit. Which is all well and good, but wouldn’t actually be necessary if you hadn’t introduced the complication of damage reduction in the first place.  It’s several extra steps to get back to “against heavy armor you need to get extra lucky or good if you want to do significant damage.”

When I was younger I used to heavily favor such complications; it’s only comparatively recently that I’ve come around to preferring the simpler “chance to hurt” abstraction.  I still enjoy me a good critical hit, but I like ’em like Dungeon Crawl Classics or Arduin, where they are used to add a big dollop of flavor with results that are more specific and usually much grittier than a straight double hit point damage.  In a system where damage is usually abstract: 3 points, 4 points, 8 points, it’s nice to have the occasional “your ear is torn off” or “your forearm is shattered” as long as it doesn’t become something you have to calculate every blow.

 

 


  1. and when it comes to simulation, that’s probably a more accurate representation anyway.  Most of the time if you’re hit while wearing armor you won’t take the same wound that an unarmored person would take, except shallower. If it didn’t find a weak point in your armor chances are you won’t take any damage at all, what damage you do take will often be in the form of a bruise or broken rib instead of a gash or hole in your flesh. The only game I can think of off-hand that did that level of  simulation was CORPS, which took the physics-based intuition even farther and made armor reduce some damage, and then convert some of the remaining damage into less lethal concussion damage.  Of course, at the level of abstraction Hit Points represent you could/should simply interpret differing amounts of damage as representing different levels of wound anyway, but if you’re doing that there’s even less reason to care whether “no damage” is a 13 on the to-hit roll vs AC 14 or a 10 on the to-hit roll vs AC 10 but a 3 on the damage die against 4 points of DR. 
  2. a reasonable interpretation of rolling high damage against an armored knight, even if there’s nothing explicit in the mechanics dictating that’s where it hit.