Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Armor Class: The One Reason I Can't Commit to Old-School D&D

I love the rules of B/X Dungeons and Dragons, especially through the filters of Labyrinth Lord and Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I like these set of rules so much that I've considered settling down and committing to only running these games, only purchasing material compatible with these games and only expend creative energy designing monsters, items, classes and systems for those games. It would be so nice to commit to one system. It would make life so much simpler.

But there is one thing, one little feature, of these games and other old-school D&D variations that I just cannot reconcile. One feature that just rubs me the wrong way. That feature is Armor Class.

Essentially, Armor Class is intended to be an abstraction of how hard it is to get a good hit on a target. It takes into account the dexterity of the target along with the strength of the armor he is wearing. The problem I have with the system is that it places much more emphasis on armor than dexterity. So much more that the bonus one receives to Armor Class due to a good dexterity score is worthless compared to the absurd value of plate mail.

Now part of me understands that this is actually more realistic. When fighting in a medieval melee, you're much more likely to be hit by your enemy than successfully dodge the attack. But that's not how I visualize the battles, nor it is how I automatically describe failed To Hit rolls to my players. I envision a missed roll to be a missed blow, the enemy deftly stepping to the side or the hero dramatically parrying the attack. It's a much more cinematic and exciting image than a bunch of guys whacking each other with swords and only occasionally cutting someone.

Maybe I could come to terms with Armor Class if I didn't know that there was something better out there. Savage Worlds breaks down a character's defense into two stats: Parry and Toughness. The result is a combat system that has the dramatic bobbing and weaving I love while accounting for the strength of a character's armor. To hit a Savage World's character, the roll must meet the target number of the character's Parry. To actually do harm, the resulting damage roll must meet or exceed the character's Toughness score. Such a simple system, yet so perfectly executed. This is one of the things I love the most about Savage Worlds and is the reason I can't keep away from it for very long.

I'm sure that a similar thing could be done for old-school games, but it doesn't seem right to change Armor Class into two different stats. For one it would make it much more difficult to convert monsters and items from one game to the other, which would take away much of the appeal that I have for old-school games.

I think that my issues with Armor Class are just something I'm going to need to suck up and get over. It's a small blemish on what I think is a beautiful system. Still, it's enough to keep my eyes wandering.

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