Friday, July 11, 2014

Don't Forget to Wear Your Helmet!

There's a famous anecdote about the British Army in the first World War. After the Brodie helmet (quite different from the medieval nasal helmet pictured here) was introduced, the incidence of soldiers with head injuries in the medical facilities increased dramatically. This shocked the British, who had introduced the helmets to decrease such injuries.

Of course, the reason for this is obvious. The soldiers who had suffered similar wounds before the helmets were issued had simply died, and not made it to the field hospitals. It's worth remembering that, as men went off to die a century ago, the meticulous war planning had not involved helmets, which had been a staple of warfare for the previous five millennia or so.

Helmets appear in the OD&D equipment list but are not mentioned directly in the rules. The Helm of Reading Magic and Languages lists a 10% chance of being hit and smashed, implying a like percentage chance of hitting the helmet generally. AD&D says that helmets are assumed, and if they are absent, there is a 1 in 6 or 1 in 2 chance (depending upon the intelligence of the foe) of targeting the unarmored head.

The assumption of helmets is part of the way that Dave and Gary both played. No particular rules were made for them, because they were an inherent part of the protection given by armor. But this is inelegant; if you lose your helmet, or have taken it off (say, to listen at a door), or foolishly choose not to wear it, the referee has to use the kludgy system from AD&D every time an enemy takes a swing at you. And that's rather annoying.

The simple thing to do is just to knock a point off of the AC of each armor type and say that it comes from the helmet. This increases the value of the helmet significantly, equal to the shield, and a character with a helmet and shield would be AC 7. I really like this because it gives helmets their due without forcing some huge systemic change, or even an extra roll; it sits neatly in the rules as they already are.

If this reduces the value of leather armor, I can only see that as a good thing. Leather is not very good material for armor, and only came back into fashion once guns were more common. Once any peasant with a gun could shoot clean through a suit of plate armor, there was no longer any reason to spend weeks or months painstakingly crafting it or a small fortune buying it. You might as well just wear a thick leather coat (the buff coat) on the chance that a sword blow might be turned by it.

So there you go: helmets in D&D. They're already important, you're just recognizing it.


  1. Simple and elegant. One of those "house rules" that, in retrospect, you can't help wondering why no one came up with this decades ago ;-)

  2. I recognize three armor slots: body, head and shield. Body armor is reduced in AC bonus, and shields are much more valuable. Hats are +1 and +2 AC.

  3. Yes! Interestingly enough, when we played AD&D as pre-teens, we somehow thought helmets added to AC like shields did. We actually did increase the AC of the various armors when a helmet was worn. We had no idea this wasn't in the rules.

    This is a great solution to lessen the AC for any metallic armor sans helmet (I wouldn't alter Leather Armor, for instance). I love this idea and will be incorporating it into my games.


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