Monsters & Treasure
EXPLANATIONS OF MAGIC ITEMS (continued)
“ARMOR: Armor proper subtracts its bonus from the hit dice of the opponents of its wearer. If the shield’s bonus is greater than that of the armor there is a one-third chance that the blow will be caught by the shield, thus giving the additional subtraction.”The above quite innocent looking passage is what I once considered one of the poorest thought out of all the guides in the first three volumes of the game. In later editions, the system was changed entirely to not only arrive at fluid Armor Classes, improving in their protective quality with various modifiers, but also allowing magic armor and shields to be additive. This is one of the last gaming conventions unique to the 1974 rules that I have come to accept. It has indeed taken me months to get used to the static Armor Class system of the original game.
To recap the original system, Armor Class is not only defined by the armor worn, but also defines what armor is worn. In other words, there is only one way to achieve AC 4; Chain and Shield. Protective bonuses of any sort do not lower, or improve, this rating. It is basically a code revealing the type of armor worn. This was a major departure for my 1e mind when I first took on this edition. I spent many hours working the system over and converting it into a simplified collection of formulae and shortcuts.
Then I saw the light. Now I have adopted the original Armor Class setup. It’s up to the player to remind the referee that his magic armor (or other items) subtract from the attack rolls of monsters, just as it is his responsibility to remember to add magic or other bonuses to his own attack rolls during melee. Inspired by the method used by David Hargrave to indicate Armor Classes greater than AC 2 in his Arduin campaigns, I have adopted the simple AC expression of X+X. For example, the above wearer of Chain and Shield, who was lucky enough to find a suit of Armor & Shield +1 (Chain) would then score his AC as 4+1 rather than 3.
Why not 4+2, you might ask? Simply because, as related in the above passage, these two magic items do not in fact “stack” or become additive. Plainly put, using these rules, there is no advantage to Chain +1 and Shield +1 when compared to Chain +1 and Shield. None. Homebrew to taste. In the case of Chain and Shield +1, the character’s AC would still be 4, but the character would have a 33.3% or 2 in 6 chance to increase to 4+1 during melee.
It is quite common to see this explained as a positional or tactical translation of the protection afforded by a shield; that it protects against approximately 1/3rd of the possible directions of attack. The rules do not actually say this, though. They say that 1 out of 3 attacks will be caught by the shield, giving the additional protection to those attacks only. If engaged in single combat, presumably, the shield would always be positioned properly. But the rules state that the shield must catch the blow to effectively add any possible higher bonus it might grant. Furthermore, using a tactical ruling such as this shouldn’t be limited to magic shields, it should effect all Armor Classes, creating more detail and positional concerns than I care for. Nay. I prefer the static AC defining what is worn. AC 4 is Chain and Shield, and Chain and Shield is AC 4. No splitting hairs.
While I have indeed accepted the original game’s methods for Armor Class, and the effects of magic armor, I’m still struggling with the 1/3rd business for shields with a greater magic protection than one’s armor. My options as I see them are to:
1. Run it by the book telling players to keep a d6 handy which they must roll against each successful attack upon their character who has a shield of greater magic bonus, or
2. Use the simpler “positional/tactical” interpretation which I am not satisfied with, or
3. Allow the two values to become additive, or
4. Do away altogether with magic shields, or
5. Make magic shields do something else entirely.
Of the above options, I have used both 2 and 3 in the past. I want to avoid bonus inflation though, and as I move toward an even more abstract treatment of melee, I find the positional interpretation unsatisfactory.
Now I am considering option 5. My thoughts are to allow magic shields to give a bonus to either missiles only, or to certain saving throws, but not to Armor Class at all. A magic shield might provide it’s bonus to saving throws against certain targeted effects or dragon breath, for example, but not poison or area of effect spells. A bonus that would be judged on a case by case basis, provided the player remembered to announce such a modifier.
I’ve managed to digress from the normal scope of my reading here, but this is a major difference between the original rules and later editions of the game. As with many of the perceived peculiarities of the white box, I might simply try the by the book method, telling players who fall into the category of having a shield of greater magic value than their armor to roll a d6 every time they are hit in melee. A roll of 1 or 2 means the shield comes into play, and might raise their AC just enough to turn that hit into a miss by catching it with their shield. I have often found that once these seemingly baroque differences of the original rules are tried in actual play, they aren’t nearly as bad as they might seem at first.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee