An Alternative to AC and DR

Mechanics

Lately I’ve been trying to decide if I should have attack rolls in my ruleset or not. I’ve played both ways and like auto-hit attacks for two reasons: they’re fast and missing is boring anyway. However, I recognize that the threat of a miss might encourage players to be more creative in combat and the ability to differentiate between a good fighter and a bad fighter just by looking at one number on a character sheet has some value.

But that’s a decision for another day. Were I to remove attack rolls I’d need a mechanic to represent armor in place of AC. Armor as damage reduction comes to mind and I did briefly trial it last year.

Here’s a look at the effects of DR:

Armord4 average damaged6 average damaged8 average damage
None2.53.5 4.5
DR-11.52.53.5
DR-20.751.662.625
DR-30.2511.875
DR-400.51.25

DR is absurdly powerful at the damage scales commonly used in D&D and similar games. Any more than a couple points and you’re nigh unkillable.

Even at DR-2 you’re negating on average 70% of the damage from a d4 and 53% of a d6. Up just one step to DR-3 and you’re negating 90% of a d4 and 72% of a d6. On average, it takes 3 hits with a d6 weapon to down a character with 10 HP and no armor. That same character with DR-3 needs 10 hits to go down, or 20 with DR-4! With DR-3 against a d4 weapon, 40 hits would be required! Even 10 hits is far past my preferred combat pace – I like things quick and bloody.

This leaves only DR-1 and DR-2 usable. DR-3 might be suitable for rare late-game magical armor. That means players will only have two mechanically distinct armors to choose from for possibly the entirety of the campaign. For many games this is no problem but I want variety! I want interesting choices!

Enter Armor Value (AV). If a damage dice rolled against you comes up with a number matching your AV you ignore that dice. For example: AV[2] ignores any damage dice that come up as 2. You can find the reduction to average damage of a particular AV using the following formula: (Armor Value) ÷ (Die Size) = (Reduction to Average Damage). Some useful patterns emerge:

An AV will always reduce the average damage of a matching die size by exactly 1. Let’s look at AV[6] using the formula above: (Armor Value: 6) ÷ (Dice Size: 6) = 1 point reduction to average damage.

Each step of AV will reduce average damage by 1 ÷ Die Size. Each increment of AV versus a d4 will reduce average damage by ¼ of a point, each increment of AV versus a d6 will reduce average damage by ⅙ of a point, etc.

Here’s a look at the effects of AV[1] to AV[6]:

Armord4 average damaged6 average damaged8 average damage
None2.53.54.5
AV[1]2.253.334.375
AV[2]23.164.25
AV[3]1.7534.125
AV[4]1.52.834
AV[5]2.52.663.875
AV[6]2.52.53.75

An interesting consequence of AV is that smaller values lose effectiveness versus larger weapons. AV[4] reduces damage by an average of a whole point versus a d4 dagger but only by half a point versus a d8 greatsword. Thematically, this makes sense: armor designed to stop a knife isn’t going to help nearly as much against a lance. And inversely, some larger values are totally ineffectual against smaller weapons. AV[6] will reduce average damage from a d6 by an entire point but will provide no benefit against a d4. This makes sense as well: armor designed to deflect hits from big weapons might have small gaps that a dagger easily slides through.

There’s a problem, though. None of these armors are particularly strong. It takes three d6 attacks to down a 10 HP character with no armor but only four attacks if that character has AV[6], the strongest armor available against a d6. That’s a respectable increase but I want more room to grow.

The obvious solution is to give out multiple AV to a single character either by having armor with multiple values (AV[1-3]) or by breaking armor down into a few pieces, each providing it’s own AV (chestplate AV[6], helmet AV[2], etc). In theory I love the idea of multiple pieces of armor – adventurers running around in a hodge-podge of mismatched armor is a great visual. In practice I’m not so sure – the benefits might not be worth the added overhead. In either case the effect is the same: players have multiple Armor Values protecting them.

We can still use the same formulas to evaluate the effectiveness of multiple AV, we just need to sum the values like so: (Sum of Armor Values) ÷ (Die Size) = (Reduction to Average Damage). Thus AV[1-3] reduces average damage of a d6 weapon by (1+2+3) ÷ (6) = 1 point reduction to average damage.

Here’s a look at the effects of multiple AV:

Armord4 average damaged6 average damaged8 average damage
None2.503.504.50
AV[1-2]1.753.004.13
AV[2-3]1.252.663.88
AV[3-4]0.752.333.63
AV[4-5]1.502.003.38
AV[5-6]2.501.663.13
AV[1,6]2.252.333.63
AV[1-2,7-8]1.753.002.25

Obviously this is just a few of the possible combinations. The first five are fairly basic, offering incrementally increasing protection. AV[1,6], however, brings a d4 and a d6 down to roughly the same damage output while also offering a respectable decrease to the d8. AV[1-2,7-8] offers a little protection against d4 and d6 weapons but halves d8 damage output.

The biggest problem I see with this system is that it’s not intuitive. You can’t glance at a list of Armor Values and immediately discern the important differences. A possible remedy is to describe these differences in the flavor text – “This piece of armor offers a little protection against light and medium weapons but excels at protection from large weapons.”

Another addition to differentiate armors even further is Durability. Each piece of armor has a Durability score. Any time the armor is used, decrease this score. Once it reaches zero the armor is useless until it is repaired. Some armor may be highly protective and inexpensive but very fragile, while some may offer moderate protection but high reliability.

Here’s a look at some traditional armors converted to AV:

ItemAVDur.SlotsDescription
HideAV[1]21Not particularly useful. Better than nothing, I guess.
LeatherAV[2-3]42The classic. An all-rounder.
ChainAV[3-4]103Offers solid protection and good durability. A go-to.
LamellarAV[4-5]42Useful in most situations. Somewhat vulnerable to daggers. Not particularly durable.
PlateAV[5-6]104Highly effective against medium/large weapons. Completely vulnerable to small weapons that can slip between the plates.

And here’s some whackier implementations:

ItemAVDur.SlotsDescription
Lucky BucklerAV[all]11A small enchanted shield. Reliably blocks any weapon once. Cannot be repaired.
Stone LamellarAV[5-8]25A suit of lamellar made from small stone squares. Extremely effective against large weapons, but very heavy and quite fragile.
Adamantite God-ArmorAV[odd]202Truly legendary. Extremely protective and durable. Might require a Godsmith to repair, unfortunately.
Mage ArmorAV[7+]N/AN/AA powerful spell that creates a field of dense air around the target. Large weapons are significantly slowed, but small weapons easily pass through.

Janakota: Map and Overland Travel Rules

Janakota, Maps, Mechanics, Player Maps

Janakota is an island covered in oppressive jungle and teaming with dangerous wildlife. The legions of the Yellow City were recently withdrawn leaving the people of the island to, once again, govern themselves. For those brave enough to venture outside Janakota’s few settlements the jungle may hide unmatched wealth.

Travel Rules

These rules are intended to be the foundation of a travel-focused campaign. If you consider travel something that has to happen between the interesting bits, these rules are not for you. If the idea of mechanics to support the logistics of an expedition excites you, these rules may be for you.

A few notes: these rules are designed to work with my GLOG hack. Resilience is essentially HP. Fatigue is a lower bound to all checks – you must roll under your target number but over your Fatigue for a standard success. If you roll under your target number and under your Fatigue, you may succeed at the cost of 1 Resilience. I will likely change the Fatigue rules as I playtest more.

The primary goals of these travel rules are as follows:

Take advantage of the information afforded by topographic maps. Primarily distance and elevation.

Encourage realistic routes through simple mechanics. Players should, for example, organically choose a longer but easier route around a mountain instead of a shorter but steeper route over the mountain.

Require an absolute minimum of reference during play. All the detail provided by the map should not, in the end, lead to slow play.

And, honestly, by far the most important goal:

Have an excuse to print out a big-ass map. I just really like maps.

Watches

Each day is divided into six Watches of roughly four hours each. The party must decide on one course of action for each Watch. Possibilities include delving into a dungeon, a trip to the local market to pick up gear, traveling through the jungle, or resting.

The procedure for a Watch is as follows:

  1. Determine weather. I’ll be using my Janakota Weather Generator.
  2. Determine activity. The party chooses their activity for the current watch.
  3. Determine encounter. Some activities may effect encounter probabilities. This will be detailed in a later post.
  4. Resolve activity and encounter.

Watch Activities

Travel: The party traverses the landscape. Every 5 km traveled, every contour line crossed, and every river forded incur 1 Fatigue. Traveling at night incurs an extra 1 Fatigue per 5 km and requires a light source. Traveling on a road negates 1 Fatigue. A maximum of 5 Fatigue can be incurred due to travel in a single watch. Designate a navigator to make a Bushcraft roll. On a success, the journey occurs as planned. On a failure there is a complication.

1d6Travel Complication
1Rough route. Gain an extra Fatigue.
2Weather shifts. Reroll weather halfway through the Watch.
3Impassable. A section of the planned route is impassable. Choose a new route.
4Active area. Roll an additional encounter.
5Temporarily lost. The party has to spend a few hours to get back on track. Only complete half the Watch’s planned travel.
6Totally lost. Only the GM knows the party’s location. During subsequent Watches the party may navigate based on the GM’s descriptions or spend a watch fixing their position.

Set Camp: The party finds a suitable campsite. Draw the layout. Consume a ration to regain 1d8 Resilience, plus one for every subsequent Rest.

Rest: The party regains their strength. If you’ve consumed a ration today, regain 1d4 Fatigue. If you also have a bedroll, regain 1d8 Fatigue.

Forage: The party searches for sustenance. Everyone makes a Bushcraft roll. For each success, gain 1d4 Rations.

This list of activities need not be exhaustive. If the players come up with something, find a way to make it work.

Play Example

First Watch: Morning

  1. Determine weather. It’s a beautiful, clear morning. No effects.
  2. Determine activity. Our intrepid adventurer Patra determines to set out southwest on the road from Merakatam. His planned route is 25km (+5 Fatigue), crosses one contour line (+1 Fatigue), and is on a road (-1 Fatigue); for a total of 5 Fatigue, the maximum possible in a single watch.
  3. Determine encounter. Megacroc tracks.
  4. Resolve activity and encounter. Patra makes a Bushcraft check and succeeds. There are no complications. The GM places the megacroc tracks near the river 10km south of Merakatam. Patra examines them but presses onward.

Second Watch: Midday

  1. Determine weather. No change – still clear.
  2. Determine activity. Patra continues on the road towards Mutalai. His planned route is about 20km (+4 Fatigue), crosses two contour lines (+2 Fatigue), and is on a road (-1 Fatigue); for a total of 5 Fatigue, bringing his total to 10.
  3. Determine encounter. 1d4 Raptors.
  4. Resolve activity and encounter. Patra makes a Bushcraft check and fails. A roll on the Complication table reveals the route is impassable. The GM determines that the river has washed out the road about halfway through the planned route. Patra diverts west to higher ground but encounters 2 Raptors. After a brief but bloody fight he scares the Raptors off but is left wounded and exhausted.

Third Watch: Evening

  1. Determine weather. Still no change – clear skies.
  2. Determine activity. Patra had planned to reach Mutalai in the evening but the washed-out road and Raptor attack have put that in question. He’s exhausted and wounded, likely to fail his next Bushcraft check due to all the Fatigue he’s accrued. Spending the night in the jungle is risky, but so is pressing on to Mutalai. He decides to press on. His planned route is about 20km (+4 Fatigue) and crosses one contour line (+1 Fatigue); for a total of 5 Fatigue, bringing his total to 15.
  3. Determine encounter. Megabird sighting.
  4. Resolve activity and encounter. Patra makes a Bushcraft check and fails. A complication roll reveals he is temporarily lost and only completes half the planned route. He sights a megabird returning to it’s roost on Paranta, the nearby peak.

Fourth Watch: Dusk

  1. Determine weather. Rain rolls across the mountains. +1 Fatigue this watch.
  2. Determine activity. Patra is committed to reaching Mutalai tonight. A night in the jungle is too risky – he can’t survive another attack. His planned route is 10km (+2 Fatigue) and it’s raining (+1 Fatigue), bringing him to a total of 18 Fatigue.
  3. Determine encounter. Tracks from a group of pilgrims.
  4. Resolve activity and encounter. Patra makes a Bushcraft check and succeeds, but rolls under his Fatigue. He chooses to lose 1 Resilience to treat the result as a success. On his way to Mutalai he comes across tracks left by humans heading towards Paranta. He reaches Mutalai without issue.

Fifth Watch: Midnight

  1. Determine weather. Mutalai is blanketed in thick fog. +1 Fatigue per 5km traveled.
  2. Determine activity. Patra plans to head to the local bunkhouse immediately.
  3. Determine encounter. The GM decides to waive encounters while in town.
  4. Resolve activity and encounter. Patra consumes a ration before bunking down. He recovers 1d8 Resilience and 1d8 Fatigue – rolling 6 and 4, respectively. His Resilience is back at full but he still has 14 Fatigue.

Sixth Watch: Dawn

  1. Determine weather. The fog rolls off – it’s clear for now.
  2. Determine activity. Patra continues resting at the bunkhouse.
  3. Determine encounter. The GM decides to waive encounters while in town.
  4. Resolve activity and encounter. Patra recovers another 1d8 Fatigue, getting lucky and rolling an 8. He still has 6 Fatigue and will need to spend at least the following morning resting if he wants to get a totally fresh start.

Janakota: Weather

Janakota

This is my take on Daniel Sell’s Six Dimensional Weather for my jungle island setting of Janakota. I’ve made a few tweaks of my own, but the idea is the same: you pick a spot and begin rolling to generate weather. Travel across Janakota is supposed to be difficult, not least because of the chaotic weather. This generator reflects that.

I break down each day into six 4-hour Watches. This generator is intended to generate distinct weather for every Watch, not each day.

The default die is a d8. A result of 1 moves the weather a single hex upwards and subsequent results continue on clockwise. Results of 7 or greater keep you in the same hex. Some hexes specify a different die – larger dice make the hex stickier, the weather more persistent. Smaller dice make the weather more fleeting.

Some hexes are split. The top-left result applies during the day and the bottom-right result applies at night.

Some hexes have walls. If a result leads you into a wall, “slide” to the nearest hex. Some walls are marked by an X. Treat these the same as a roll of 7+. Some walls are marked by arrows – these can be traversed only in the direction indicated by the arrow.

All these rules contribute to the chaos – but some patterns do emerge. Sporestorms and Spiderblooms are rare but when they happen they’re likely to stick around for a while. Superblooms are rare and fleeting. Typhoons are uncommon and always in the midst of a deluge of rain.

Here’s a closer look at the types of weather on Janakota. A little context: you must roll equal to or less than a target number but above your Fatigue to succeed any given check. Resilience is essentially HP.

WeatherDescriptionEffects
RainA light rain pelts down. It’s a bit tiring to deal with.+1 Fatigue
DownpourRain pours down. Rivers swell and most creatures seek shelter.+2 Fatigue, rivers impassable, resting impossible
TyphoonWind and rain assault the island. All but the most desperate shelter until it passes.+2 Fatigue, rivers impassable, resting impossible, tents useless
WindHeavy wind scours the landscape.+1 Fatigue
FogA thick fog hangs to the ground. Navigation is difficult.+1 Fatigue per 5 km traveled
AshA cloud of choking volcanic ash descends on the area.+1 Fatigue and -1 Resilience per 5 km traveled
ClearClear skies – a beautiful sight!None
Burning SunThe sun scorches your skin.+1 Fatigue
Dead AirThe air is hot, still, and muggy. Bugs swarm everywhere.+1 Fatigue, -1 Resilience
SuperbloomEverything in the area sprouts blooms. Plants, tree stumps, creatures.???
SporestormA storm of fungal spores overtakes the area.???
SpiderbloomA mass of floating spiders rides the wind.???

Superblooms, Sporestorms and Spiderblooms require a bit more thought. I want them to have a much more significant impact on the world than the other types of weather.

And here’s a week’s worth of random generation. The weather soon turns to torrential rain and gets dangerously close to a typhoon before settling into an extended Sporestorm.

Day0-44-88-1212-1616-2020-0
MondayFogRainClearClear SkiesDead AirDead Air
TuesdayDead AirRainDownpourDownpourRainRain
WednesdayRainFogRainRainDownpourDownpour
ThursdayRainRainRainRainDownpourDownpour
FridayDownpourRainRainRainRainRain
SaturdayFogRainDownpourWindWindSporestorm
SundaySporestormSporestormWindSporestormSporestormSporestorm

The last critical piece of this system is gear. Gear to protect yourself from all this nasty weather. Here are a few examples.

ItemDescriptionEffect
CloakA simple waterproofed cloak.Prevents 1 Fatigue from rain unless resting.
Feather-CoatA coat of giant feathers. Very waterproof.Prevents 2 Fatigue from rain unless resting.
TentA small, burly shelter.Prevents all Fatigue from rain while resting.
SunjellyA pouch of sweet-smelling jelly to be smeared on the skin.Prevents all Fatigue from sunburn.
BugjellyA pouch of sharp-smelling jelly to be smeared on the skin.Prevents all Fatigue and Resilience loss from bug bites.
AshmaskA face covering of finely woven fibers.Prevents all Resilience loss from ash.