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I am currently working on my first Dark Ages: Vampire game, set in the old Vampire: the Masquerade setting. The armor rules get me so frustrated. How can you hurt your opponent and give him lethal damage if you can't break/pierce through the armor?

Say an Armor has a defense rating of 4, and a weapon has a weapon rating of 3. Under no circumstances should you be able to damage the armor wearer unless the attack is made at an unarmored part of the body. There is no soak roll to be made; you either have the protection or you don't.

Now if the object has a stronger Stamina/Durability than the armor, and the wielder is strong enough, he should be able to damage -- severely damage -- the armor, maybe break a part of it, or outright pierce it, in which case there would be damage done to the wearer of the armor no longer wearing protection. I was wondering if anyone has ever considered such rules or if this makes any sense?

Modern example of this: Take a pen. Stab a brick wall with enough strength, and the pen will almost explode in your hand -- or at least the edge used to hit the brick wall. Now, take a hammer and hit the same brick wall. If enough strength is applied, the brick will be damaged or broken. The same should apply to weapons and armor. Obviously, the speed/velocity of the hit can increase the damage of the impact, but even then, if the brick wall's Durability is a lot stronger than the object used to do it, the result will be almost the same.

(Sorry for the vague question; I am looking for an explanation of the current rule and also a "yes-or-no" on whether you would accept to play under this house rule. Thank you in advance!)

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6 Answers 6

up vote 19 down vote accepted

On Abstract Damage

under no circumstances should you be able to damage the armor wearer unless the attack is made at a not armored part of the body.

Vampire, like many RPGs uses an abstract damage system. This means that a single attack/defense/damage/soak series of rolls represents a much more complex series of actions than a single strike and parry.

For example:

You stab at him with your knife, but he ducks and grabs your knife arm. You continue to push the knife towards him, matching your force against his, but he's able to gradually twist your arm away from him. You break the stalemate with a swift knee to the gut. As he doubles over, you drive your knife into the unprotected area behind his armpit.

In system terms, most of the time, a scene like this is handled with a simple roll.

Specifically, most of the time, the location you hit someone is unspecified. So unless the armor wearer is literally encased in a magical form of flexible steel, there are going to be chinks and other weak spots that can be exploited.

Better armor has fewer chinks, which is represented with a higher armor rating. This makes it more difficult to damage someone wearing the armor, but not impossible. This is why damage rolls are less likely to inflict damage on someone wearing good armor, but damage can still be inflicted.

On Bricks

The key flaw to your argument is that combat in the dark ages is rarely going to be about plastic vs. bricks, or steel vs. bricks. It's almost always going to be steel on steel. At that point, the important aspects are force, angle of attacks, and the shape of the weapons involved (a slash is much less likely to pierce chain mail than a thrust is).

Even when it's steel vs. wood, or steel vs. iron, combat training is all about controlling the angles of impact. A steel sword doesn't immediately sunder a wooden shield because of the angles of deflection involved.

There's also the bludgeoning issue: A mace might not actually break a helmet, but that doesn't mean your brain hasn't just been scrambled.

On House Rules

The main issue I see with your rule is that it breaks down into two scenarios:

  • The weapon is inadequate to pierce the armor, in which case the armor wearer is invulnerable.

  • The weapon is adequate to pierce the armor, in which case the armor degrades severely in combat.

The first issue causes severe gameplay problems. Invulnerable PCs make combat a foregone conclusion (you will win, given enough grinding). Invulnerable NPCs make for comedic and frustrating fights (well, we can't hurt him, but we can mess with him until we get bored).

The second can start to make armor feel disposable. If your armor is torn to ribbons every third fight, it doesn't feel very durable.

Were I wanting to add more emphasis to armor, I'd do it this way:

  • Move most of the damage levels from the character to the armor. Characters without armor die very quickly.

  • Damaged armor provides less protection over time, making it more likely that the character dies. However, penalties start very minor / progress slowly at low levels.

  • Damaged armor below a certain threshold is repaired simply by removing it, performing basic maintenance, and reequiping it. Only serious damage requires repair. Destruction is either unheard of, or only happens after massive damage.

On Armor in Other Systems

Other systems take a different tactic: If the character is damaged, then that must mean the attacker damaged the armor in some way. Whenever the character takes damage, damage/degrade the armor.

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Thank you so much for your answer, it help a lot, I am currently working on my house rule as I am typing this, but I can finally understand the reason behind the rule of the book, I do tend to complicate these thing anyways thanks again. I also want to thank all of you who took time to answer my questions its really appreciated. –  DarkTeutonic May 9 '12 at 17:07

Several fallacious assumptions in your proposal

  1. that armor is inherently rigid
  2. that armor works by stopping energy.
  3. that armor that isn't penetrated provides near-absolute protection from injury
  4. that lethal damage requires the weapon actually penetrate armor
  5. that weapons and armor are significantly different materials
  6. that penetration results in useful holes.
  7. that damaging hits missed armor.

Taking them in order of importance

1: Rigid Armor:
Most armors are in fact flexible; almost all the ones in the period covered in V:DA are flexible to some degree. Even "rigid" leather.

2: Stopping Energy:
absolutely false. Armor works by spreading the energy out, not by stopping it. Damage is a function of concentration of energy into a short impulse and small area; rigid armors work by spreading out the energy over a larger area, while progressive give armors tend to be more about lengthening the time. Most armors of the period are a mixture of both principles. Chain spreads a swordblow from a 0.5mm to 1mm wide impact out to a 1-3cm wide impact. The gambeson underneath both further spreads this out, and more than doubles the time it takes for the energy to transfer from sword to flesh, reducing the acceleration forces upon the flesh (and thus the resultant damage).

3: Non-Penetration=non-injury:
I don't have to penetrate the helmet to cause a concussion — I just have to cause the brain to slosh hard enough to bruise. And a severe enough concussion can be lethal. Happens occasionally in boxing that a guy dies of a concussion.
Likewise, I don't have to worry about your armor if I twist your elbow until it dislocates. Or twist your neck. Lots of ways to put energy into your flesh without worrying about the armor.
Further, just ask any cop who's been shot in the vest if he was uninjured... almost all of them walk away with broken ribs. And a sword blow actually carries more energy in many cases than a bullet.

4: Lethal Damage is Penetrating damage:
Chain and rigid leathers, I don't have to penetrate the armor, just cause enough force to displace the rib underneath fast enough to spall a portion of it into the lung tissue. Or fracture a femur or humerus into the artery. Or crush a larynx. Even severe bruising can be adequate to kill by "blood loss" — even though none of the blood left the body, there can be enough blood no longer circulating to trigger shock.

5: Materials:
Chain is actually made from steel — often just as good a steel as the weapons used against it — and is thicker at the impact point than the blade hitting it. Leather armor is seldom cut by a sword-blow. (Draw and push cuts can cut it pretty easily, albeit shallowly/slowly, but are harder to deliver and do less damage to the wearer — further, draw and push cuts are not part of the documented practice of that era.) Wool or quilted linnen gambesons are actually quite resistant to damage — they give, rather than cut, under sword and axe blows.

6: Penetration results in useful holes:
Even plate, anachronistic as it is to the setting, seldom fails spectacularly. It deforms, rather than falls off. Yes, that can mean a chunk of steel is bent into your muscle and/or the location your bone was... that doesn't mean that piece won't still stop another hit. Chain, usually, you'll only pop a link or two — it requires literally dozens of blows to put a decent rent in a chain shirt made of abutted rings... and most of the chain of the era was in fact riveted, which is much more resilient. Leather, likewise, deforms. Most damage through doesn't actually result in holes in the armor; even arrows often could be pulled by careful pulling on the linnen or silk arming doublet. Even with a pick or a kindjal, a hit that makes it through the armor is a small hole, which may be nearly impossible to hit again until the foe drops.
In 7 years of active SCA fencing, and 5 of SCA Heavy, I've never had an injury that wasn't through armor. I've only had one injury where that armor was compromised — a draw cut to my hand, during an inspection! The blade cut my glove while I was inspecting someone else's armor and weapon for safety on the field. (They went and sanded out the nicks that did it.) Every other injury on the field — bruises mostly, one cracked rib — were done by force transmitted through the armor and into my body. SCA heavies often walk away with bruises covering a square foot or more — with no damage to the armor worn, and all the bruises being under the armor. And this with very good historical armor. (SCAers who want no bruises wear extra foam and use pickle-barrel instead of steel — it lengthens the impact impulse more, and is springier than steel.)

7: Damaging hits bypassed or penetrated armor:
Look at #6: most SCA injuries are through armor. And the SCA uses Rattan for heavy to spread the blow energy out initially, so the armor has less work to do.

Given your obvious misconceptions about armor, your "fixes" to a non-broken rule are in the "Hell, No!" category.

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+1 for an excellent summary of principles of armour. Just awesome. Thanks, particularly for points 3 and 4 - these are common misconceptions for people used to gun-based eras, and I'd like to back them up. (I know half a dozen longsword moves intended to disable someone with a head hit; I can't even imagine any supposed to break through the helmet.) –  Tynam May 10 '12 at 20:13

You seem to be making several assumptions that are unwarranted. First, as AceCalhoon explained thoroughly Vampire uses an abstract system, so it is quite reasonable to assume a hit on an unarmed spot if that makes you feel better.

But even in a literal, fully realistic version you are giving armor too much credit. Many types of armor, chainmail in particular, are highly flexible. This means that they still transmit a fair amount of force through them. Bashing weapons like clubs and warhammers will still transmit most of their force through chainmail. Chainmail will help pad and diffuse that kind of force, but the wearer will still take a large percentage of the damage they would have without armor. Now, chainmail is much more effective against slashing and piercing weapons like spears and swords, but even there the wearer can expect a bad bruise.

If you are talking about plate armor, then it often truly will prevent all damage from certain types of attacks. But, we come back first to the abstract system. Full plate armor was rare and even it had chinks and weak spots, and partial plate armor left large parts of the body with less protection like chainmail. Second, even full plate, even in areas fully covered, could only stop so many hits to the same spot before the metal would start to give. And the angle of the hit mattered tremendously. Most bows normally couldn't pierce plate armor, but there are plenty of examples of plate pierced by an arrow that hit that right spot at the right angle. Certain weapons (greatswords, maces, etc) were developped specifically to deal with the good protection provided by plate.

So, the key to the answer is, as AceCalhoon explained, the abstract damage system. But even modelling just one blow, there is a real chance some damage will get through so a roll rather than a "You can't hurt that type of armor" does make sense.

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I really don't think density is the right heuristic to use here. Consider a couple of examples (all densities from here):

  • Density of brick: ~1900 kg / m^3. Density of human flesh: close to that of water, ~1050 kg / m^3. And yet, humans have been known to break bricks on a regular basis without sustaining serious injuries.
  • Density of iron: ~7800 kg / m^3. Density of lead: 11350 kg / m^3. But lead weapons were basically unheard of during the Medieval period, while iron weapons and armor were widely used.

Accurately modelling damage physics is a terrifyingly complex problem. I'm not a materials scientist, and therefore am probably not qualified to speak authoritatively on it, but at a guess you'd want to take into account yield strength (force required to bend), fracture strength, torque / rotational velocity of the strike, impact area, armor type (eg - chain is inferior to plate at blocking blunt impacts and crossbow bolts), and potentially hit location (eg - plate often had chain at the joints for flexibility). This sounds basically inviable; there are RPGs that do it, but WoD isn't the system for it.

I guess what I'm really getting at is that just using density, or any one other metric, is an unhappy medium. You don't really improve the quality of simulation, since the logical strategy is for people to start wearing lead armor and using solid gold arrowheads (because hey, gold has a density of 19290 kg / m^3), when in real life those would be disastrous choices. You also don't improve the quality of the game experience. Rather than a simple abstraction, you end up with a mess of complicated rules and slow combat while you look things up on tables of material density. So you're liable to end up with slower but no more realistic combat, for a net loss. Further, this rule introduces the problem of untouchable foes; if you don't have a denser weapon, and they're wearing full-body plate, there's not a whole lot you can do. This tends to be poor design.

So, in answer to your question: while I don't remember the letter of the oWoD armor rules, I do remember from my time playing under them that they produced reasonable results at the level of abstraction on which the system operated, and they did so quickly. Given a free choice, I would decline to play with this houserule.

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Great answer, but in looking at human's breaking bricks, it is more akin to striking the brick with a bone which is somewhat padded by flesh. The average density of human bone is ~1900 kg/m^3. But as you point out, other mechanical factors (being rigid instead of highly malleable like gold and lead are...) are far more significant in an items usefulness as a weapon. –  TimothyAWiseman May 9 '12 at 21:47

Choice of system

If you're interested in realistic simulation of physics, Storyteller is not your system. There are awesome systems out there that take into effect armor degradation, hit location, and more. Storyteller states up front that they opt for simplicity and ease of play over realism. That's why they named the system Storyteller. They have the design philosophy of story over realism.

I would say that there's no more explanation necessary. This is the compromise they made to keep things simple and keep combat moving.

If you want realism, you might want to check out this question: Which roleplaying games feature realistic combat?.

House Rules

Storyteller also explicitly says (and I'm big on this philosophy in general) that the rules are there to support your style of play, not the other way around. This means that anything that you an your players agree on is more than acceptable rules wise.

My preference on house rules is simple: try it out for a couple sessions. If it doesn't work, revisit it. If it does, keep it.

Meta-gaming

General Statement: anything that increases lethality favors the PCs. Conversely anything that decreases lethality favors the bad guys.

This sounds wrong, but is generally true. The PCs are typically more powerful than the NPCs. That's why they win most encounters. Individual PCs may die more often if the lethality is increased (due to, say, a lucky shot by an NPC) but the party will, in general, win encounters faster and easier.

I'm not saying you shouldn't do this, just that you should be aware of some of the consequences of making your game a tad less lethal.

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In many (most, almost all?) systems increased lethality makes the winner of a fight be determined a bit more by luck. Increased randomness helps the weaker party - with no randomness they would lose 100% of the time. I guess more lethality doesn't always equal more randomness, but it usually does. –  psr May 9 '12 at 18:31
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@psr is correct here. Also, increased lethality favours the PCs in any one fight, but it's bad for them in the long run, in proportion to how often they expect to fight. (Increased lethality is terrible for PCs in strongly combat-oriented games, because eventually the odds will catch up and kill you. Winning all the other fights faster and then dying still leaves the PC dead...) –  Tynam May 10 '12 at 9:05
    
I disagree. Anything good in one fight ends up being good in the long run. Players tend to heal between fights, lock themselves up when they run out of healing. The only way something that is good in the short run can be damaging in the long run is if they're underprepared for wandering monsters or the like. And ... when you kill things faster and gain treasure faster death is not the handicap it used to be :) –  goofdad May 10 '12 at 18:01
    
@goofdad: You're completely correct, but that assumes that the players can heal between fights. That's true if you increase the damage output without increasing lethality, but not if you increase the chance of outright character-slaying injuries. (Since we're talking about Vampire, death isn't much of a handicap anyway... but loss of heads is.) –  Tynam May 10 '12 at 20:09
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@goofdad At least in V:TM, PC's are often the equals of the badguys in terms of overall power; it's often the case that GM's tilt it, but the setting as written, most of the opposition is as tough as the PC's, at least at start. Which is why so much of the material implies a need to avoid a straight up fight. And, in many cases, V:TM and V:DA fights are won due to taking advantage of particular strengths and weaknesses due to particular discipline sets. Also, in VTM and VDA, healing is reliant upon blood points - themselves a limited resource. –  aramis May 12 '12 at 6:56

In a Werewolf the Apocalypse core book I used to have (sorry I can't site the specific edition) they listed a "pack tactic" called Fur Gnarl. The effect of it was that you would literally rip patches/pieces of the armor off. It was a standard attack, and instead of doing damage to the wearer you would reduce the armor's values by 1 for every 2 damage you would have dealt normally.

Additionally, as stated above, you can always increase the difficulty to hit an unarmored location to bypass some or all of the soak value it provides.

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Fur Gnarl existed in 2nd and revised edition. Difficulty 7, reduces armor by 1 for every 2 damage done. Damaging attack is at +2 difficulty, because it has to hit the 'bare' spot to get the advantage. (Guess how much Werewolf I've run...) –  Tynam May 10 '12 at 9:08
    
Thank you kindly. It's been a few years since I ran Apoc. –  CatLord May 10 '12 at 17:54

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