Mages, Armor, Coolness, and Effectiveness

edited October 2012 in Game Design Help
Hey folks,

This is a cross-post from Google+, but I like this format better for lengthy discussion. Here is the (snipped) comment from +Gerardo Tasistro that got me thinking:
Ok, so what's got my mind working this morning is why can't magic users wear armor.

I'm working on a new explanation for it because the classic "it interferes with the magic powers" just doesn't cut it anymore.
For the game I'm working on, I'm entertaining the idea of mechanically treating all armor as the same and letting the character's individual expertise determine how effective the armor is. So you just have "ARMOR" and you describe it however you want - the fictional appearance and material of the armor is just for flavor.

Then, classes that favor close-combat can have the option to purchase abilities that improve the effectiveness of wearing armor. So maybe, the Fighter has an Armor Specialist ability that increases the amount of damage mitigated by wearing armor. This gives the player more creative freedom with describing their character while providing the classes that need the defense the most abilities to increase their survivability.

So, with this type of system, you could have a Fighter wearing Studded Leather and a Mage wearing Full Plate, but the Fighter is trained to make the most use of the armor they wear so their Studded Leather actually mitigates more damage than the heavy suit of metal worn by the Mage. Despite the fact that the Mage's Full Plate is harder to puncture, the Mage just isn't trained to move in it effectively, whereas the Fighter's Studded Leather isn't as thick as the plate mail, but the Fighter is an expert at making the most of their armor and can avoid harm with more skill.

This methodology consciously moves away from a design that favors realistic simulation and heads towards fictional effectiveness. I've always hated the fact that when push comes to shove, certain weapons and armor in games like D&D end up being the most effective so you wind up with everyone in full plate with two-handed swords. At that point, it's not about what makes your character cool but about what combination of equipment makes them most powerful. Why not separate the correlation and let effectiveness and coolness have their own spotlights?

Along with this, I'm thinking about what advantages one might have for not wearing any armor at all.

Comments

  • For the game I'm working on, I'm entertaining the idea of mechanically treating all armor as the same and letting the character's individual expertise determine how effective the armor is. So you just have "ARMOR" and you describe it however you want - /.../ Despite the fact that the Mage's Full Plate is harder to puncture, the Mage just isn't trained to move in it effectively,
    If you treat all armour the same, and you may describe armour in whatever way you want, why should the mage have a hard time moving in an armour that the player describes as "silk hardened by magic" or "a magic force field surrounding the wizard"?
    Along with this, I'm thinking about what advantages one might have for not wearing any armor at all.
    This is thinking backwards to me. Why shouldn't you presume that no armour is standard and that the system should give you options to increase armour, damage, the number of spells, attacks and skills?
  • If you treat all armour the same, and you may describe armour in whatever way you want, why should the mage have a hard time moving in an armour that the player describes as "silk hardened by magic" or "a magic force field surrounding the wizard"?
    That description was meant to be kind of just an example. The fact that I used a Mage as an example is beside the point as well since this would go for all characters. The ultimate point was, armor provides a standard level of protection which is always going to be less effective than a character who has an ability such as Armor Specialist. So the wizard could describe their Armor however they want - the description doesn't matter mechanically. What matters is the presence of a special ability like Armor Specialist that improves the effectiveness of the armor. Does that make better sense?
    This is thinking backwards to me. Why shouldn't you presume that no armour is standard and that the system should give you options to increase armour, damage, the number of spells, attacks and skills?
    That's an interesting thought. I suppose from experience I assume everyone is going to put armor on their character. I want to create mechanical trade-offs between the choice of Armor or No Armor. Obviously, Armor provides protection, but probably makes physical skills more difficult to succeed. This means either the skill penalty would need to be fairly large to encourage some people to go armorless, or there needs to be a benefit to wearing no armor.
  • edited October 2012
    OK, lets take this from another perspective. Can the players buy equipment to their characters with a resource other than what they use to buy powers? Like in D&D, where they use gp for equipment but feats to learn new tricks.

    I'm talking about using the points to buy anything. Powers, equipment, relations, hit points, you name it. It doesn't matter. A player could then buy +5 armour with those points and describe it as "extremely agile" while another player can buy +2 armour, tell the other participants that it's a "full plate armour" and then buy something else for 3 points, like +3 damage (Claws).
  • Characters in the game get to pick a new Talent every even numbered Level. Equipment is found or purchased. Is that what you're asking?
  • Hmm, I'm not sure divorcing mechanical effect from description of the armor will work either. I've played games that made all weapons mechanically the same, and that didn't feel right either.

    I think the key is that there has to be a connection between the fiction and the mechanics, and different fictional choices have to have different mechanical effect.

    Consider also that no armor is just another description... Why should my description of my guy being nimble be treated differently if the mage saying his silks are magically enhanced and the warrior saying he is wearing full plate are treated the same (other than the warrior having some trait that gives him better armor)?

    Frank
  • Fair enough. I could see how one would desire some kind of connection between the fictional description and the mechanical effect. Especially those used to taking things more literally.
  • I think these are very granular types of design decisions. What is the big picture? What are the goals here?
  • Characters in the game get to pick a new Talent every even numbered Level. Equipment is found or purchased. Is that what you're asking?
    Yeah, and I think that's your problem. A good base in a system solves those kind of things automatically. Otherwise, you have to think about extra rules like the thoughts you presented at the beginning.

    When it comes to description and mechanics, I believe that descriptions never should be dressed in mechanics, like how a full plate gives +8 in armour. Instead, I prefer when mechanics are described in the world. +8 on armour could mean all sorts of things, not just a full plate armour.
  • edited October 2012
    I think these are very granular types of design decisions. What is the big picture? What are the goals here?
    In essence, the goal is explore some design possibilities that have the intention of allowing a player to describe their character however they want without having an impact on their mechanical effectiveness. As an example, you don't need to wield a Great Sword to do 1d12 damage. Just toying around and exploring mostly.
    Characters in the game get to pick a new Talent every even numbered Level. Equipment is found or purchased. Is that what you're asking?
    Yeah, and I think that's your problem. A good base in a system solves those kind of things automatically. Otherwise, you have to think about extra rules like the thoughts you presented at the beginning.

    When it comes to description and mechanics, I believe that descriptions never should be dressed in mechanics, like how a full plate gives +8 in armour. Instead, I prefer when mechanics are described in the world. +8 on armour could mean all sorts of things, not just a full plate armour.
    I see what you're saying. You would favor a system where characters start flat, and then spend "Effectiveness Points" or something to improve their character in various ways which can then be described however you want. This is cool and all, but it's not really what I'm looking to create with this game. I'd like to maintain some semblance the source framework (D&D). So the trick would be finding a way to blend the two approaches seamlessly.
  • Fair enough. I could see how one would desire some kind of connection between the fictional description and the mechanical effect. Especially those used to taking things more literally.
    I'm not saying there necessarily has to be a direct connection between fictional description and mechanical effect. I think the most important thing is that fictional choices should result in real mechanical differences. That could be a very direct effect (plate is +8, chain is +6, leather is +4) or it could be more indirect (you have armor +8, because you chose to describe it as plate, it means you move slower or have to make a health check at -8 when you fall in the stream, meanwhile, the other guy who described his +8 armor as a magical force field emanating from his ring doesn't have those problems, but has some other negative consequence (can't think of any right now)). Ideally also the choices should be hard to make so you don't have all the warriors deciding magical force field is a better choice. Things don't need to be balanced, they just have to be set up so the choice is interesting (but I think it's also ok to have choices that are there to make a more complete world but we would be surprised if a player ever chose them - the world needs street sweepers, but there may never be a PC street sweeper).

    Frank


  • Why doesn't "it interferes with the magic powers" not cut it anymore?

    To find the solution, one must tease out the details of the apparent problem.

    It's a difficult one, because it's one of those subtraction statements - ie, it does say what it wants to add, like if someone said 'I want fighters and mages to both wear plate armour', that's an addition statement. Here, sure, you know the person doesn't want to be forced to wear robes. That's a subtraction statement...and does that mean he wants fighters and mages to wear plate mail? Subtraction statements often incur unexpected ramifications.
  • Well you know in 4E there's no restriction on magi wearing armor, they just have to spend Feat slots. It wouldn't be particularly unbalancing in a 3E framework (which is what it sounds like you've got here) to do that; magi generally get better AC eventually than fighters anyway.
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