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Sometimes, it is quite difficult to make that one concept you want for your character.

My group quite often ends up in the situation that the concept one of them have in mind for their character doesn't quite fit the rules, and you can't really make that character work with what Pathfinder offers as-is, sometimes even with supplements and third-party material. To give a recent example:

  • A player wants to roll a tanky barbarian-like warrior focused on defending its group while wielding an axe and shield, but:
    • Doesn't like Rage mechanics,
    • Wants to keep her character's gear more savage-like, with heavy furs serving as the little clothing she'll wear,
    • Wants to be able to protect her group and tank effectively, while being able to deal good damage,

An almost-perfect match for this is the warder. The class is very tanky, has good defensive mechanics, is very closely-related in power level to the rest of the group, and works nicely with sword and board.

But the warder uses plate armor, and it doesn't fit the "visual concept" the player wants for her character.

To solve that, I created the Berserker's Battle Furs. It is basically the same as a Full Plate in terms of stats:

Type: Heavy Armor

Cost: 1,500 gp;

Weight: 50 lbs.

Armor Bonus: +9;

Max Dex Bonus: +1;

Armor Check Penalty: -6

Arcane Spell Failure Chance: 35%;

Speed: 20 ft./15 ft.

...But it looks like a heavy set of fur bracers, boots, loincloth and cloak, more or less like the reference image. I used a lore explanation to justify the price and the stats, saying that it is made from the treated pelts of dire beasts. My only problem would be to time to don, since this is obviously easier to put over your body than a full suit of armor, and even so this situation comes up so rarely that it wouldn't be a big deal.

This solved the issue at hand, the player got quite happy, and now our group has a barbarian-but-not-really defending the group as a wall of flesh, fur, and awesomeness.

This got me wondering - is this a balanced approach for giving my players more diversity regarding character concepts? Or am I going to shoot myself in the foot, like I did so many other times in the past, by not seeing something coming?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Balance is always against something. Are you trying to balance game mechanics against other heavy melee types in your party? Or are you trying to make it balanced in a homebrew module, when you have to take everything into account, including Druids and spells that affect metal?.. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Feb 18 at 12:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot I'm trying to balance this approach (re-skinned gear) against the vanilla versions of the same gear. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Feb 18 at 12:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ You mention that you changed the time required to don the armor (or you didn't, not clear). Do you consider such changes a part of "reskinning"? If so, what are the limits? minor note: when I read "being able to deal good damage", I first thought they want to deal aligned damage :) \$\endgroup\$ – Szega Feb 18 at 14:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will vote to close because it is not clear to me how to answer this question without being too subjective. It sounds like you are doing something and you have worries about it and asking for confirmation. Everytime you homebrew, you are taking a risk, and that's part of being a DM. A better question would be more specific: "I made a special fur armor, what would be its mechanical effects / is it balanced?" \$\endgroup\$ – ZwiQ Feb 18 at 14:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ The way you answer this without being too subjective is by describing personal experience gained from doing something similar. In my experience anecdotal answers are welcomed on this stack, as long as they include some reasoning. Personally I'd expect there to be a wealth of experience here in re-skinning/re-flavoring content. IMO this isn't homebrew - it's an attempt to avoid homebrew \$\endgroup\$ – Carl Kevinson Feb 18 at 22:42
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Yes.

There are sometimes small concerns—for example, your battle furs would seem usable for a druid, when plate armor is not—but they are generally small in the face of having a game where everyone is happy about the character they’re playing. You have to consider things like druids and other characters with item restrictions, you might consider donning and doffing (though as you say, really rare that this becomes a serious problem), there may be some other concerns like economics (are dire animals rare enough that their hides can command prices similar to steel?), but it’s all pretty minor. Honestly, the druid thing is probably the biggest one in this case, and honestly if a druid burns a feat on Heavy Armor Proficiency I’m not going to be worried about it; druids are overpowered but the prohibition on metal armor doesn’t really produce a meaningful balancing factor for them (and there are numerous ways around it that are affordable by mid levels).

In fact, this is so rarely a balance concern that I allow players to do this kind of thing if their own prerogative. They still have to tell me, in case there is something about it that will be a problem, but that happens so rarely that I encourage them to just go ahead and do so, rather than having to ask me first (which I generally recommend for more substantial changes, since having to unwind plans is frustrating and disappointing).

I also have no problem doing the same for NPCs. Consistency has some value in the game: if players can do it, so can NPCs. Descriptions might get a little more complicated, in that you have to indicate that these are really heavy furs or whatever, but really, that’s often a good thing. I’d say most would prefer a more-descriptive DM to a less-descriptive one.

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Yes, but...

As long as you are not changing the mechanics, there is no risks to unbalance the game. After all, if I want my barbarian's shield to have a skull on it, or be painted bright pink, it's only cosmetic and only affects the narration.

If you begin to make changes based on "logic" (such as the full-plates-of-fur-that-isn't-plates being easier to don than its metallic counterpart), you're potentially opening loopholes and such. (The example is as you stated, probably not a big deal, but you might encounter some edge cases when doing "little" changes like that).

The caveat is that now, you use also Berserker's Battle Furs to mean full-plates. The more cosmetic changes you allow, the more things you have to keep track off. It means more work on your part.

It can also be a double edged blade, since now, what you will tell players is "The barbarian facing you is wearing fur", while you mean full-plates-reskinned. And hitting the AC of fur and full-plates is usually not the same.
It is sometimes problematic if two cosmetic changes collide. Player A want a rapier reskinned as a short sword, player B want a cutlass reskinned as a short-sword and now nobody knows what a short-sword actually does or mean.

I tried it, it works fine as long as you don't mess (too much) with the mechanical aspect, but it should be the exception and not the rule. It's a nice way to let people go for what they had in mind, but keep it as light as possible or it might become confusing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree, though the caveat may not be quite so much of an issue as this makes it out. After all, the players normally couldn't tell whether the furs were magical or not just by looking and magical furs could easily be as good as plate. The idea that equipment may not have the standard statistics on first glance is thoroughly baked into D&D. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Feb 18 at 14:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman I'm just trying to be exhaustive based on what I saw. I agree this is a rare occurence, but I thought it was worth noting, it can happen. \$\endgroup\$ – Nyakouai Feb 18 at 15:09

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