Level based defense bonus for characters out of armor?


In an otherwise gorgeous gaming system, I find myself consistently frustrated by the sheer dependence on items to even come close to the par of defense as attack is set naturally.

What this functionally means, is that unless you're playing a monk or a wizard who has access to their defense at all times, or a hour/level force barrier at the start, you're comparatively helpless without being decked out in all of your gear.

Here are some problems with that for me:

-Periods where armor isn't used as much.

-Gun heavy settings, as by pf rules(I ignore this out of necessary balance), guns do touch attacks in 1st increment.

-Games involving any decent degree of social maneuvering or espionage, as one cannot reasonably bring their full plate to the courtly ball.

-Games involving heavy detail into adventures in forbidding terrain.

-When ambush is a major theme, such as in a city loaded with crime, or again, in the wilderness.

-Games when GMs want to actually enforce the rules of armor. (How many of you -really- make every heavy-armored fighter, paladin, etc have attendants to strap into and out of their full plate before and after adventuring?)

Now, as for the armor quandary, pathfinder does an amazing job already with the ultimate combat variant.

This leaves a gaping hole in the defense mechanic though. And I for one would prefer that skill at defense is equally represented as skill at offense.

One thing. Spare me the "Hit points actually partially represent defense because it represents a gradual exhaustion from absorbing blows at a mitigated angle, etc etc."

We all know fights become rocket tag, and if that were supposed to represent defense, we'd have no need of an AC mechanic to begin with.

It would obviously have to be stratified. In prior versions such as Unearthed Arcana or in the Fullsteam Beta (a very excellent 3rd party work), it's stratified by armor proficiency given by class.

How do you handle multiclassing? How do you avoid it being too attractive an option to level-dip just for the defense bonus? Do you rule that you take the lowest of your class progressions? Or do you just make the differences incrementally small enough to make that a less attractive option?

Throw me your ideas! I want to see a level-progressed defense that people can get behind to turn armor into DR and make it a great thing to have on but not a necessary item at all times.

Maybe you could make the favored class the progression you stick with even if you multiclass? If you're a half elf, good job, small benefit? That would depend on how different the progression from low-to-high on the defense scale.

Fullsteam ends it with a very small variance by 20th level, like a difference of 3-4 between low and high progression. It gives nothing to people with zero armor proficiency, and I guess i'd be ok with that.

Yep. That's the system... starting with 1st edition to Pathfinder.

I found Star Wars Saga had an elegant solution to the d20 system. They effectively gave characters an AC bonus equal to their character level if they did not wear armor. Therefore, you never saw characters wearing armor past 5th level unless they were built with armor-based feats or sneaking around as stormtroopers.

Within the rules here, there's always Crane and Snake styles plus Deflect Arrows.


Grand Lodge

The Monk is not the only one.

Careful: Using such a system will undermine a lot of class abilities and Magic items.

Consider just giving everyone some Monk's Robes.

Dark Archive

I know in my games I give a +1 level bonus every 4 levels to balance this out. This bonus applies to everything, flat-footed, touch, and of course AC.

Although, after reading the Star Wars rules, I have thought about making a defense bonus that only applies when not wearing armor. Or at least a feat that does this. I haven't put the math to this yet as I'm on an iPad, I'll get back to you guys on this.

Dark Archive

I dislike the idea that this would only work when out of armor. I still think any such system should allow you to better defend yourself while wearing armor as well. Even if armor restricts your movement, you can also relie on it to turn a graze into a harmless bounce.

Full Steam does this:

Class Level Class AC Bonus
Class Level Class AC Bonus
Light Armor Proficiency Light and Medium
Armor Proficiency
Light, Medium, and Heavy
Armor Proficiency
1 +2 +3 +5
2 +2 +3 +5
3 +3 +4 +6
4 +3 +4 +6
5 +3 +4 +6
6 +4 +5 +7
7 +4 +5 +7
8 +4 +5 +7
9 +5 +6 +8
10 +5 +6 +8
11 +5 +6 +8
12 +6 +7 +9
13 +6 +7 +9
14 +6 +7 +9
15 +7 +8 +10
16 +7 +8 +10
17 +7 +8 +10
18 +8 +9 +11
19 +8 +9 +11
20 +8 +9 +11

Even in a setting where you don't use armor as DR, using either or is still viable when your level-based defense bonus is never going to be as good as the armor you could be wearing for your level.

It provides something that's not an altogether helplessness when ungeared, but it doesn't replace the value of having your shiny stuff equipped either.

For balance sake it would -have- to count as an armor bonus to AC, so that items and class abilities and whatnot aren't adversely affected. So things that ignore armor like incorporeal and touch spells and such would bypass this. You can abstract that to say that this somewhat represents parrying and blocking or whatnot, and that it doesn't do so well to parry a laser beam or block a ghost.

Another benefit to actually wearing armor over having this training-based defense bonus is that I cannot abstractly justify this bonus staying with you while flatfooted. (The whole instinctive spidey-sense defensive awareness is what uncanny dodge is for).

I could see wearing a crappy light armor that might be concealable, and even inferior to your training bonus so functionally useless when you're using that lovely level-based defense, but kept on just in case you get backstabbed.

I was at first concerned about the types like monks, wizards, etc who get nothing at all, but when you consider their wisdom to AC, level bonuses, and/or mage armor/shield combos, I feel ok with the ruling.

What I do disagree with in fullsteam is the idea that they get the better of the two. It would be statistically retarded -not- to go from a sorcerer/wizard and drop a level in fighter or whatnot and watch your AC soar by 11 in the course of your 20th level career.

What I figure might work is to pick the lowest progression, or a favored class as your progression. The only thing I could see breaking that would be half elves, and when I consider it, i'm not sure I mind them getting away with it to show their penchant for multiclassing.

I think right now though I prefer the idea of lowest progression. Because otherwise you get a wizard with no arcane spell failure eventually getting the gleeful twink of equivalently +2 full plate with none of the penalties to casting.

I am ok with a fighter getting less than what he could have for level by shedding the weight and cost, but not with the abuse that comes via class crossover barring some mitigating mechanic.

All in all, I could see using this mechanical variant with the armor as DR variant system.

@blackbloodtroll - I don't want to solve the item dependence with a more specialized item. What are some concerns with class abilities if I made this variant? I am sure some feats, spells, and magic items could work differently.

@Jubal - I liked that system myself. But in this system there is supposed to be a variance between classes, and we don't want to remove the iconic warrior in glowing heavy plate by higher levels, so much as provide a back up option for when an assassin devil tries to pwn him while he's in his PJs.

Those feat combos are amazing, but ever so specialized, sadly.

@DragonbringerX - I know better than any how these play out in your games, oh worthy GM. Issue at hand is that when paired with the mechanics already in place, it actually tips AC higher than normal by a small margin.

You brought up a point in our last discussion about this quandary that you can't do it by class because it'd have to be a case-by-case basis, and you can't do it solely on armor proficiency as that makes a feat dump powerful even for classes that would have zero incentive to actually wear the armor.

At this point the best I can drum up is to use a proficiency-based system whereby something stops the would-be level-dipper from exploiting the ever living hell out of it without even a lick of thought necessary. Such as it being chosen by your favored class or your lowest progression among all of your base classes.

EDIT: @ Raymond (Just saw your post).

I'm with you there, to be honest. Without tipping the numbers unintentionally higher, I figured crappy armor as a backup option, is some use against flatfooted attacks. Or the armor as DR variant would be a wonderful way to pair off armor soaking damage while your fighter parries at a progression per level.

Can you think of anything else?

In my games without armor we usually use the table from unhearted arcana(I think that's the name).It give bonus to your AC depending on your armor profiency. For those who still ware armor we add some DR depending on the armor.

Honestly, I think the best solution to the multi classing problem is to go with whatever class you have the most levels in, rather than what you get a favored class bonus in, because they aren't the necessarily the same, especially when you start taking prestige classes. And if you do it by proficiency, it may be an easy fix to say that taking feats does not increase your out-of armor bonus to AC, but if you have a class (Say Magus or Arcane Duelist Bard) that gradually gets better armor proficiency, then that does. (or maybe not, we all know how you loathe the magus :-P )

Honestly, I like this best as an addition to Armor as DR.

First: I don't see any reason why a Sir Warwick III can't wear his plate armor, which can be a symbol both of his knighthood and (depending on its design) and his wealth when embellished with a scarlet cape and feathers. Lighter armor is even easier to fancy up. Leather armor can practically be clothing as is.

Second: Why are players rolling characters that can't stealth in an adventure that is going to rely on stealth? If it's a matter of one mission in a campaign involving stealth and one or two players in the group are disadvantaged, there is nothing wrong with that. Classes are supposed to be better in certain situations than others. In a gun-heavy setting, a player should just not rely on heavy armor, like people in real life did after guns came around.

Third: How do you explain in narrative terms why you could gain an AC bonus when not wearing armor and then lose it with armor?

If a player doesn't like the drawbacks of a heavy armor build (having a lower Dex to defend when unarmored) he she should play a character that uses light armor. A change like this, I feel, would simply end up removing a weakness for certain types of characters and not benefitting others in any meaningful way.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber

It might be a little hard to convert and use in Pathfinder but the D20 Wheel of Time game had something similar to this.

I could see whatever class you have the most levels in counting, though that could be cumbersome. I like either that or going with the lowest, as favored class can be easily abused in a level-dip.

As for narrative terms and AC bonus, you don't lose the bonus when you wear armor, but rather you take whatever is higher, since armor bonuses don't stack. So if you were wearing leather and then had say a +5 level-based defense bonus, you simply take the +5. As to why it would be viable to even wear an armor beneath your total, for occasions of being caught flatfooted, or in the armor as DR variant.

As for sir Warwick and the like, the examples were just to enumerate possible scenarios that might make wearing armor not quite viable.

By the mechanics as is, classes can do ok at skills not traditionally assigned to their roles. Defense remains tied way too heavily to an abundance of special items, whereas attack accuracy can end up barely dependent upon anything shy of a single magic weapon and maybe a belt item of strength or dex.

So the problem as I see it boils down to a system mentality as a whole, rather than an issue for a few classes. The hope is to somewhat lower the item dependence in a way that doesn't overly tip the scales when items are thrown fully into the mix.

As for gun heavy games, or ship-based games, or games involving considerable amounts of deep-cover, ambush, or espionage, or in extreme terrains and climates(where check penalties, weights, social and legal restraints, and penalties in fortitude saves come into play), this could provide an option for classes that ordinarily rely upon armor to scale down to lighter or to none at all and still be viable to play, if not at their utmost optimal compared to decking out in all the gear when possible.

I don't think that 'able to wear armor' should equate to 'proportionally defenseless for your level outside of it.' I am more than ok with wearing that armor being the best option, but a middle ground of somewhat competent but not ideal could prove valuable.

There is a defense progression for each type of proficiency, so it wouldn't do a great deal of skewing the favor of a particular class in any direction. The main complaint has never been that the party heavy hitters are helpless without their stuff, but rather that most classes get screwed when the armor's off, and how that doesn't make purely mechanical nor narrative sense. Why do characters improve at attacking but not at parrying or blocking as they level?

What I haven't quite figured out is what the scale of level-based defense numbers should be. It might need some good old fashioned playtesting.

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