Friday, September 18, 2009

Plate Mail Won't Save You

Man, I finally got a day off, which is great. That is to say, I have a day off, meaning a day to myself. I work 40 hours a week like most of the other American stiffs lucky enough to retain their jobs in this floundering economy, but I only work 4 days a week (10 hour days). Gives me a 3-day weekend, but because of traveling, entertaining, and shift changes (I used to get Mondays off, now its Friday)...well, it's been awhile since I've had a chance to catch up on my sleep.

Oh, I know, I know...I have SUCH a hard life, don't I? As I sit drinking a steaming cup of Diva Espresso's Perfection Blend (their special dark roast of the Virgoan season), I realize that I have many blessings, and must have done SOMEthing good in a past life to receive so many gifts in this one. After all, no one's invaded MY sovereign nation and bombed my house based on the evil acts of a handful of rogue individuals...

[all praise and thanks to God!]

Plus, both my wife and I still have our jobs (we've both seen lay-offs at work) which affords me the luxury of drinking coffee, and paying for my wireless internet so I can blog away at the kitchen counter...AND enjoy a decent B/X game in the evening with the help of Skype and Gametable on-line.

Last night was yet another foray into the Wilderlands care of Mr. Armstrong over at Ode to Black Dougal, my first time playing a thief. In fact, as far back as I can recall, I don't EVER remember playing an actual straight any edition of the game.

Even when I was playing 3rd edition, my dwarf fighter/rogue/duelist STARTED as a fighter, I'm almost positive (have to get the benefit of those starting hit points, right?)...though maybe not. Hell, maybe he didn't even start at first level...that really was a galaxy far-far away...

Anyway, a "rogue" isn't the same thing as a thief; thieves are thieves, and all PCs in B/X are roguish sorts. BECMI not so get paladins and druids who are all "holier-than-thou" about their respective forms of worship. B/X doesn't get so hoity-toity.

And speaking of rogues, I wasn't the ONLY one playing a thief last night. We'd actually scheduled THREE thieves to show up (hey, when you're rolling 3D6 in order, you get what you get!) but only two made our leather-clad fighter (more on him later) and yoyorob's new guy, a dwarf named Sully. 

Much fun, including one character death. I think Timeshadow's thief (who didn't make it to the party) is now the longest running character in Pat's "mini-campaign"...and she's only 1st level with 2 hit points!  See? It's all about SMART play can survive with a 6 Constitution.

Of course, it helps not to try to make friends with a wounded bear, right Jaxson?  ; )


All kidding aside,  it certainly appears that a character's survivability is inversely proportional to the amount of armor he wears. Case #1: Krome, Diomedes, and Biff (or whatever that henchman's name was). Case #2: Jaxson. Forgoing his familiar leather for the more familiar plate mail did NOT increase his ability to survive. 

Oh, I'm not talking about probabilities here...yes, I am fully aware that plate and shield decreases your percentage chance of being hit by 25% over leather armor alone. But how's THIS for a stat: 100%. That is the mortality rate so far of characters wearing plate mail in our B/X game. That's not probability, that is absolute certitude.

100%...compared to a 100% survivability rate for characters that do NOT wear plate mail. Now there are a couple caveats. The 100% mortality is over a span of two or more game sessions. All of the guys who have played (and died) so far participated in  at least two game sessions. Only Meepo's plate-sporting halfling (Sancho Peatfingers!) is excluded from the death poll, because Jim hasn't made it back to a game session since the first one. Based on the 100% mortality rate, I'm sure he'd be dead now if he had.
: )

Even the plate wearers fared better when OUT of their armor. Sully the dwarf also has a full kit of plate (once Rob figured out we were using the B/X equipment list and NOT the Labyrinth Lord one), but I don't think he even once had a chance to don it. The first encounter of the evening was aboard a river boat when the party was attacked by more than a dozen swarming river pirates (with archer support). Even though Sully (and Jaxson) were NOT wearing their armor (being less armored than the thieves!) they survived the encounter while fully engaging in combat and helping to drive off the brigands. Sure they took some wounds on their heroic bare-chests, but they both managed to survive the scrape.

Later when Jaxson was mauled by the bear, he was wearing full armor (I think K said later that he was unarmored, but Pat was making attack rolls as if Jax had his better AC and stated later that fighter's armor was ripped to shreds). Sully? He was reclining naked in the (locked) cabin where we could safely listen to "feeding time" without getting eaten ourselves.

[side note: bears are quickly moving up onto my top ten list of D&D monsters after their recent antics in-game. I am going to have post this list pretty soon!]

The reason why the damn stats lie regarding the wonderful ability of armor to save you has more to do with the underlying human nature of players than with any real failing in the math. Certainly, I recall the cleric Diomedes ability to leap into melee with a pack of kobolds, and practically route them himself (well, Sancho helped a bit with his bow, I guess...). Plate and shield IS effective in the right kind of encounter. Basically, any weapon-using dudes that are low in hit points (because the faster you can kill 'em the quicker they are to route). It's over-confidence in one's armor that leads to career-ending violent demise.

Against big means with claws and teeth, plate is going to get shredded nearly as fast as leather or cloth. The key here is the multiple in the "tyranid swarm syndrome" (TSS) to borrow a term from Warhammer 40K. Hell, even Khorne Berserkers (my 40K army of choice). The multiple attacks give you more chances to hit, thus more chances to damage. Even in an army on army, multiple attacks are generally going to carry the day in melee...but if you've got a multiple attacking swarm on a greatly outnumbered opponent (such as small party of PCs) chances are the smaller group's going to get gaffled.

Fighting a bear is like fighting three guys...except harder. First off, a single opponent doesn't break morale, generally. Second off, its high hit points mean there is no diminished effectiveness based on YOU doing damage. Third off, its high hit dice means the thing is going to hit you a LOT easier (and thus more often) than a 2 HD trog or a 1 HD orc/kobold/pirate. And of course, when it DOES hit it does tremendous damage compared to a hobgoblin with a sword. Given the bear's multiple attacks (AND the added "bear hug" damage) just ensures that you're toast. Even (or especially!) a wounded bear is nothing to scoff at...lower hit points does NOT equal diminished effectiveness, remember?

Jaxson never had a chance against the thing, plate mail or not.

Compare this to a 2nd level fighter attacking an ogre. On average an ogre has 19 hit points, AC 5, THAC0 15 and does 1-10 points of damage. Against a fighter with AC 2 (plate and shield) his damage output is (average) 2.2 per round (hits 40% of the time X 5.5 average damage). The 2nd level fighter with a sword and a 13 strength? He does the exact same damage output. Now if the fighter has a 16+ strength, a high constitution and/or dexterity, or a couple buddies helping him...well, then the odds of taking down the ogre radically shift in favor of the fighter. A 3rd level fighter with 17 hit points (we play with max hit points at first level) would have the same damage output as a 2nd level fighter but would have an even chance of killing the ogre before being killed.

Not so with the bear. Even a 4HD black bear average 3.73 damage per round (and with 18 hit points, clearly outweighs the 2HD fighter). The third level fighter will need more than 7 rounds to kill the bear, even taking into account the bear's worse AC than the ogre. The bear will kill the 3rd level fighter in less than 5. Against a grizzly (which I think is what we fought) it's even quicker.  A grizzly's damage output versus plate and shield is 7.24 damage per round! A 2nd level fighter with 13 hit points (I think that was Jaxson's total) can't expect to last more than 2 rounds against such a beast...and Jaxson, still wounded from the earlier encounter, did not even last one.

Rest In Pieces, guy...little, tiny, bear-digested pieces...

Anyway, as I mentioned, I am a blessed man. I have a job, a loving wife, a home, and two wonderful access to good coffee and the internet. And in addition to all that, I have a new B/X character that is still alive and well (un-scratched, actually).as well as more than 60gps richer then when he started the evening.

Being a thief is kind of fun! I sure run faster than the guy in plate mail!
: )


  1. It was a cave bear I believe, of course I also believed it was a pet...

    While I hadn't statted it out like you, I must have sensed it on some level; as my new PC is an M-U. So no armor and the Dex penalty doesn't apply!

    How about number of game sessions before dying? Last night was Jaxson's third. He might be in the lead in that stat. Not sure about Lao.

  2. I also direct your attention to this post of mine:

    See what happens when you give the DM ideas.

  3. Oh, man...a cave bear is even more vicious! A pair of 'em did for several high level (above 5th) adventurers in a recent B/X game I ran:

    Really makes you want to take that "speak with animals" spell.

    Lao, Timeshadows' thief, and MikeD's magic-user will all be in their third session, should they play again. Jaxson was indeed the vet of the group.

    Stop giving Pat ideas! He already has enough!

  4. Awesome! But now I have to clean the sprayed coffee off of my screen here. Thanks.

    Yeah, ol' Sully Slaghead (or Slagheap, as the family was called waaaay back in the early days - like 2 minutes before I mistyped it in GameTable) sure must treasure that new Plate, eh? Poor guy just doesn't want to get it all dirty, I guess. Weird, really, as I made this fella with a sorta Sam Slagheap (Flintstones) and Pig-Pen (Peanuts) hybrid in mind. "Sully"...yeah he's a dirty, soiled sorta chap.

    Speaking of chaps, don't forget that the wise (WIS=7, but I sure made that ability check with a sweet 6!) old dwarf made sure to don his shield, even though besides that he was mostly nuuuude. IIRC he made sure to noite that he was covering his backside with it at one point in the battle.

    Speaking of backsides, good thing (I think) that Falstaff was seemingly constantly watching Sully's. Else that dagger in the back sure would have made things a little tougher. Still, me thinks that the dwarf will start wearing pants for our next adventure. He won't always be able to shift that shield around the back, ya'know?

  5. LOL.

    Falstaff knows a good thing when he sees it!
    ; )

    I'm sure your plate mail will get a chance to get dented. Just learn from the rest of our mistakes: don't charge the big, toothy, claw/claw/bite monsters!