While fantasising about what changes
6th edition One D&D might bring to Dungeons & Dragons, I put buffing leather armour on my ‘nice to have’ list of changes and noted that the whole 5th edition armour table could do with revisiting.
There’s some stuff that doesn’t really make sense there (what is the point of ring mail?), plus it feels like there should be some penalties for performing certain adventurous activities, besides stealth, in heavier suits of armour (I would much rather try to sneak around in splint mail, than attempt a backflip or try to shimmy up a rope in it, for example).
D&D players tend to have a fair bit of selective realism when it comes to their characters’ armour decisions, rarely stopping to think that climbing a mountain in full plate might not be the smartest idea, or that going for dip in a raging river in a 55 pound suit of chain mail is going to cause any problems. And I like to call them out on their fuzzy logic.
Anyhow, before starting my latest campaign (more on that another time), I decided it was finally time to tackle the 5e armour table and tidy up some of its weird disparities; while also throwing in a few penalties that will at least pay lip service to realism and force players to make some choices, based around the trade off of protection vs. practicality.
I created my new table in a shared Google spreadsheet, which you can check out here, and I’ll embed a screenshot now. Differences to the Player’s Handbook are in red, while you can find the logic for my changes below the image.
No More Scale Mail! Ring Mail moved to Medium Armour
Now that you’ve seen my revised D&D Armour Table, the first thing to note is I’ve effectively done away with scale mail… from the description in the Player’s Handbook it reads exactly like splint mail (metal scales/strips over leather), so I think we should consider them one type of armour. Scale goes, splint stays. Ring mail, from the description in the Player’s Handbook and from some Google images, I imagine similar to studded leather, but with rings that offer more metal coverage per square inch of leather than studs, and perhaps a skirt. It now sits in the Medium Armour section of the table, where it fills the gap left by Scale Mail. (It’s previous presence in the Heavy Armour section rendered it almost completely pointless).
Leather Armour is Buffed
Secondly, I’ve buffed leather armour (and therefore studded leather). It has always annoyed me that leather armour only reduced your chance of taking damage by 5%, when I think it should be quite a lot better than that (presumably at least some of it is boiled, making it extremely tough). It’s also annoying that adding a few metals studs doubles its effectiveness in 5e. By shifting leather up to AC 12, and studded leather to AC 13, I’ve dealt with both those annoyances. Also what is leather if not hide? So it makes sense that there’s parity in protection between leather and hide armour. I imagine leather to be treated and fitted (and hence more expensive) and hide armour to be just thicker layered (hence heavier).
I was tempted just to get rid of padded altogether, but now it has a different AC to leather it serves a purpose as a very cheap alternative for hard-up villagers etc. (I don’t see why sneaking around in it should be so much harder that a penalty is enforced, so I did away with that).
How Much Metal is on Your Leather?
In buffing leather, I’ve had to move all of Medium Armour options (other than hide) up one AC as well. But I’m ok with that. In my adjusted table, I’m effectively creating an AC hierarchy based on how much metal protection is added to your leather armour.
None? Your AC is 12.
Some strategically placed studs/rivets? Your AC is 13.
Lots of rings over the entire leather suit? Your AC is 14.
A sheet of metal on the torso (but nowhere else)? Your AC is 15.
Well-placed sheets of fitted metal all over? Your AC is 16.
How much metal your armour contains more or less determines its weight and cost as well.
Dex Modifier Modifications…
Next I’ve played around with the Dex. modifiers. For me Dexterity bonuses to your AC are as much about parrying, as physically moving out of the way of danger, so I’ve been a little more generous than the RAW about gaining the benefits of a good Dex. modifier for Chain Shirt and Breastplate, given that wearing this armour shouldn’t obstruct ones shoulders too much.
Following that logic, I’m even allowing Dex. modifiers to be added to Heavy Armour ACs, in a very limited way.
Chain Shirt Makes The Grade… Just!
I toyed with getting rid of chain shirt, as it doesn’t add much in the way of options at all, once I moved ring mail down to Medium Armour. Also, it’s hard to see much of a conceptual difference between someone with a heavily metal-enforced torso but only leather covered limbs, and someone with more or less the same metal reinforcement, but spread more evenly over the body.
Finally, I kept both, and just made ring mail the cheaper more cumbersome twin of chain shirt (+ leather), potentially allowing players the little buzz of upgrading their equipment using any gold gained in their first adventure or two.
More Nuanced Stealth Penalties
Disadvantage on Stealth checks for padded armour? Come on, man. That’s crazy talk. Meanwhile sneaking around in Medium Armour really shouldn’t be that hard. I feel like something more nuanced is needed, so I’ve gone with scaling modifiers.
Ok, and now for my little nod to realism. I’ve added a new column to the Armour Table called Mobility. Short for mobility penalties, this is a penalty to any mobility style skills checks, usually either Athletics or Acrobatics checks, that would clearly be significantly harder when attempted in armour weighing 30 to 65 lbs. You want to climb that crag wearing full plate… you can certainly try, but it’s going to be 25% more difficult.
(Note: if you’re playing the RAW jumping rules [5e], then you can use the modifier to subtract a number of feet from a characters’ long jump. Otherwise just use it as a penalty on a skills check made to jump over a crevice etc.).
Carrying a shield, meanwhile, gives you disadvantage on climbing checks (but not on jumping or Acrobatics checks). You can always sling it on your back of course, but if you get attacked mid-climb remember not to add +2 to your AC!
Swimming in Armour
Regarding Swimming, my rule is that – with the exception of leather and studded leather armour – if you fall/jump in a body of water while wearing armour you have to succeed on an Athletics check just to be able to use your movement (which in RAW is half your usual movement speed… but in my house rule is your Strength score). The DC of that check is the AC of the armour you’re wearing, i.e. DC 14 for swimming in chain shirt, and DC 18 for swimming in plate mail (if you want to be more realistic, you can enforce the mobility penalty as well as a kind of double jeopardy for splashing around in heavy armour).
Anyway, fail that swim check and you can’t move. Fail by 5 and you start sinking. I’m happy to improvise the rest… but the overall message is this: you can’t swim any sizeable distance in medium or heavy armour… the best you can hope for is to struggle back to the side of the river / lake etc. before you drown. Trying to do so with your shield gives you disadvantage.
(Hat tip to Old Dungeon Master, who helped inspired my swimming rules. He goes into more detail here).
Sleeping in Armour
Next I had a Sleeping column, but as Xanathar’s Guide handles this pretty well (stating that you can only regain a quarter of your hit dice – instead of the usual half – when you sleep in medium or heavy armour) I decided to stick with that. I wouldn’t penalise anyone for sleeping in hide however, while studded leather must make for a very uncomfortable sleep!
More Tankiness for Tanks
Ok, before someone has a meltdown in the comments section about ‘punishing martial classes’, I had better give some boons out as well. It has always felt unfair to me that the party tanks are the ones that take all the crits, and are forced to wonder around dungeons one-eyed, one-handed and with more horrible scars than they have body parts, despite the fact they are the best equipped to take some punishment. Aside from better protection in general (i.e. a higher AC), it feels to me that the main point of armour should be protecting you from truly deadly wounds. So my final column is called Lingering Injury Protection.
Now, Medium and Heavy Armour offers you a percentage chance to escape any nasty effects of the Lingering Injury Table. In my game, you would still take the double damage however, but – were you to adopt this idea – you could play around with this.
In any case, I really like this concept because it gives players a chance to actually survive a long battle or horde attack, when by sheer force of numbers the frontliners are just going to have to withstand the statistical certainty of being critted on… now well-armoured PCs can last up to twice as long, before sustaining serious injury.
Helmets Are a Thing Now…
Those proficient in Medium Armour may also choose to wear a helmet, or even a great helm if they are proficient in Heavy Armour. If so, they add a significant amount to their Crit Protection percentage, but suffer a penalty on all Perception checks and their passive Perception.
Right, as always, please let me know if you’ve made any of your own changes to the D&D armour tables, and whether you’d welcome an update in One D&D.
Apologies for any typos, but I’m going to hit publish as it’s getting late, and I fancy getting this out before Christmas (you never know who might need to escape for an hour or two for some D&D reading tomorrow!). Anyhow, feliz navidad , joyeux noel, wesolych swiat and all those festive greetings. I wish you a fantastic break, and speak to you in 2023!