Sunday, November 20, 2016

A question of plate

Thesis:  First level PC fighters really shouldn't start out with the ability to afford plate.  Sure, they've got a massive 8-10 HP, so they need all the help they can get pretending to tank their way at the front of the party.

But that's not what that initial funnel is about, now?  It's about scrabbling through that first dungeon, avoiding the giant frog, learning how to skulk and retreat, and getting out with enough coin to get that coveted equipment upgrade...

So let's take a quick review of where a few version of the game sit with respect to the economy of armor.

For consistency, I'm just looking at the three basic armor types that are persistent through various versions of the game (at least the ones that I have laying about right now) - leather, chain mail, and plate mail.

The Moldvay/Cook books line out leather, chain, and plate at 20, 40, and 60 gp, respectively.

S&W spreads out the cost a bit more - 5, 75, and 100 gp.

Basic Fantasy prices the three types at 20, 60, and 300 gp.

1st ed. AD&D puts them at 5, 75, and 400 gp.

Labyrinth Lord costs are 20, 150, and 600 gp.

In the first case, an average-rolling PC (120-130 gp on a 3d6x10) can afford plate.  S&W can make plate available for strongly-rolling 1st level PCs, unless they skimp on other accouterments and supplies.  And plate is out of reach for 1st level characters in BFRPG, AD&D, and Labyrinth Lord

(Later on, 3.5/Pathfinder makes most medium and all heavier armors out of reach for 1st level characters, and perhaps even for 2nd or 3rd level depending on their treasure hauls: 10, 150, 600 for 'half-plate'/1,200 for 'field plate'/1,500 for 'full plate'.)

I doubt that many of these values have much grounding in any 'real' economy. There are limited resources on the historical prices of armor.  However, here is one that lists out some example costs for a few common armor types (typically chain mail, a few helmets, partial armor bits like curiasses, as well as some values for custom armor made for nobles.)

Anyway let's move on to starting GP for 1st Level PCs:

Prior to 1st Ed. AD&D, all character classes rolled the same starting gold - 3d6x10 GP.   The OSR clones generally stick with this model.

Of course, we probably can all recall more than once a magic user PC rolling high and buying out the town market's daggers, oil and pack animals.  And a fighter rolling 40 GP and gamely heading out of town in their leather and spear, with a bag over their shoulder.

Then comes AD&D, and the starting gold values get skewed by class.

This skewing is not simply starting GP as buying power, it is also proportional to the types of equipment required/allowed by the classes.

But... perhaps another way to think about these variable starting gold values may actually be as part of the backstory for the individual PC.

Consider the four base classes:
  • Clerics may be supported by their orders, or have may have collected sufficient tithes to kit themselves out to do their god's work in the world (3d6x10)
  • Magic-users are ascetic scholars, or apprentices to higher level mages, with limited means or needs (2d4x10)
  • Thieves live hardscrabble lives, perhaps using their first big 'score' to purchase that coveted set of lockpicks from a guild craftsman (2d6x10)
  • And our fighter, remember, at 1st level in OD&D and AD&D, is referred to as a 'Veteran.' They may be a former citizen-soldier, feudal militiaman, mercenary, or man-at-arms. Their kit may be considered armor in possession from former service, or purchased via loot from some campaign (5d4x100).
Even within these rolls, there are ranges of 60 to 150 GP between the lowest and highest values for the four classes, which can add a bit more to the 'story.'  Although, due to dice probability, most will hang near the middle of their range.

So, our poor-rolling PC fighter in leather bearing their spear may have been a conscript, a city militiaman, or just some yokel who saved up enough coin to pick up some basic gear and set about making their fortune.  A strong-rolling PC in chain and shield, with a bow and sword, maybe even a mount, becomes a huscarl, heavy infantry, perhaps even a errant noble.

Pushing this variable starting gold back down into the OSR clones and similar may have some value in creating a bit of economic creativity in chargen purchases, even for the variants with 'cheap' plate.

More on the armor itself....

For a bit of perspective:

"It is true that, unless looted from a battlefield or won in a tournament, the acquisition of armor would have been a costly affair. However, as there are certainly differences in the quality of armor, there also would have been differences in price. Armor of low to medium quality, affordable to burghers, mercenaries, and lower nobility, could be bought, ready-made, at markets, trading fairs, and in urban shops. On the other hand, there were also the high-end, made-to-measure products of the imperial or royal court workshops, and of famous German and Italian armorers. Armor made by some of these celebrated masters represented the highest art of the armorer’s craft and could cost as much as a king’s ransom.

Although examples of the price of armor, weapons, and equipment are known from several periods in history, it is difficult to translate historical monetary value into modern terms. It is clear, however, that the value of armor ranged from low-quality or outdated second-hand items quite affordable to citizens and mercenaries, to the cost of an entire armory of an English knight, the contents of which were valued in 1374 at over £16. This was equivalent to about five to eight years of rent for a London merchant’s house, or over three years’ worth of wages for a skilled laborer, a single helmet (a bascinet, probably with aventail) being worth the purchase price of a cow." -source

(again... backstory)....


Therefore, there are three grades of armor:

Shitty - 25% discount from book value.  This armor is likely already in disrepair, possibly some battlefield salvage left in the back of the shop.  It will be ill-fitting, causing the equivalent of +10% encumbrance, and a comparable decrease in mobility.  For systems where armor doesn't 'soak' damage, the armor is flimsy, and loses 1 point of AC when the PC is hit by a crit. Shitty armor can't be repaired, although 'undamaged' shitty armor can be modded/improved to Standard-quality armor at 50% the book price if an appropriate armorer/craftsperson is available.

Standard - This is book value armor, with normal encumbrance and limitations.  It is fit to 'generic' (ex. S, M, L) sizing and is mass-produced (or equivalent) by competent craftspeople.  This armor can be repaired, and can be improved to Exceptional-quality armor at 1.5x book price if an appropriate armorer/craftsperson is available.

Exceptional - 2x book value.  This armor is custom-fitted for its wearer, made by a master craftsperson.  Because if the quality fitment, it has a decreased encumbrance equivalence of 10%, and base movement is equivalent wearing one lower 'weight' of armor (ex. 'medium' vs 'light').  It can be repaired.

Moving forward, what about that found bit of armor in a loot pile?

'Found' armor:  We probably all started out with the game scenario of finding armor, putting it on, and moving onward.  Not much different that clicking on the next level of power armor in a video game.  'click' and your character is upgraded and off to slay more bugs.

But what if the armor doesn't even fit?  And anyway how long has it been lying there?  Is it damaged, rusty, missing bits?

Finding a bit of new armor, whether a single piece, or multiple suits in a pile, doesn't mean that its fit or quality is guaranteed.

Assuming human-sized armor (I'm not going to delve into non-human humanoid sizing at this time) - what is the chance of any particular example of armor being of a particular quality, and/or fitting an individual character?

Roll 2d6 per piece of armor found.  The first d6 to determine its quality, and the second to determine fit per each character interested in trying it on (I'm assuming human for now - demi-human races will add more complexity to the roll):

                            (sh/St/Ex)        Chance of Fit
Individual body:  1-3/4-5/6                    2/6
Loot Pile:            1-2/3-5/6                    3/6
Group (<10)        1-2/3-5/6                   4/6
Group (>10)        1-2/3-4/5-6                5/6

So, just some theorizing on economics and fit...  Feel free to bend and twist, or discuss your own houserules on that suit of plate found in the dungeon armory....


  1. I like Plate armor priced out of reach to starting PCs. There should be something worth adventuring for that sets the beginners and more successful neophytes apart aside from offering the option of ye olde magic shoppe.

    1. Agreed - that's why the higher prices for heavy armors in the later versions is attractive. There is value in pricing even mundane items out of reach of the entry-level PCs, as it creates more economy-based goals. I also considered adding a variable roll to outfitting to see if an item was available. i.e. - if the PC is starting in a small town, not all items will be available at ye olde armour shoppe. You might have the choice of leather or shitty chain. Perhaps this will be a later topic for rumination.