I got this idea from some random thread awhile back. The poster was talking about how reducing speed based on the armor you're wearing was stupid and totally illogical - you can actually move quite easily in full plate, because it was designed for mobility (I've seen this myself, having been to a Ren faire or two). There are even stories of people being able to SWIM in full plate! So, when I overhauled the armor system, I decided to limit max speed instead - it makes sense that you can move quite easily at a walk in full plate, but not run full out. Other changes include:

  • Max Dex was changed to a Dex penalty. This affects everyone more equally, and doesn't penalize those who use light armor as much.
  • Arcane spell failure is gone. I've always thought that it was unfair that mages were penalized when it came to armor, but clerics/druids could wear it without penalty. Instead, I implemented a Concentration penalty for anyone who wears armor with which they're not proficient.
  • Weights for chainmail and several shields were adjusted slightly to balance them out and make players think more about their choices, rather than just go for the best right off the bat.
  • Shields have also been adjusted. Steel shields, being heavier than wooden ones, have greater penalties to offset their greater strength. All shields have a Concentration penalty – having several pounds of wood or steel hanging off one arm tends to hamper spellcasting – as well as a (small) Dex penalty. Bucklers were also lightened up (and their prices reduced slightly); they're already better than light shields as far as hardness and hit points, and making them cost more is a stupid (and illogical, really) balancing factor. Also, tower shields impact your speed - hauling around 45 pounds of metal and wood should realistically slow you down a bit. Finally, I instituted another very simple change that someone else suggested and I should've thought of myself - bucklers add a +1 AC bonus, light shields +2, heavy +3, and tower +4.
  • Splint mail is gone. While it was an actual armor type, it wasn't very effective - the up-down arrangement of the pieces restricted movement, and pieces could break off and stick into the wearer. In game terms, it's nearly identical to banded mail; even in 2E, banded mail was by far the more popular choice if you had the money.
  • I moved breastplate to Heavy armor (since it's basically the lightest of the heavy armors), made chainmail the heaviest Medium armor (which will probably make it fairly popular, but it really was anyway), and added brigandine to round out the Medium armor category. Brigandine, I found, was very popular with footmen and infantry, as it was easy to make and repair - and fairly inexpensive - while providing good protection. It makes sense to have this for NPC soldiers (PCs would rarely use it) along with scale mail.

I have found, through research, that most armors are very similar in design, mechanically speaking. Greek hoplite armor, for example, provides about the same protection as a chain shirt. Mongolian/Turkish lamellar armor is the same as scale mail (it actually developed from scale). Japanese mempo armor is the same as banded mail. In point of fact, many cultures used armors that were nearly identical in design. So, if you want to play in a culture other than Medieval European, or need armors from a different culture, simply "file off the serial numbers" - change the name of the armor, maybe tweak a number or two, and run with it.

As with weapons, I used a valuing system to make sure all my changes were more or less balanced. Since there wasn't a system for armor, I had to make one myself, but I eventually got everything working properly and more or less balanced. Here is the system I used. Start with a base score of 100, then add modifiers as applicable. A set of armor is balanced if it falls between 95 and 105. I put it all on an Excel spreadsheet for easier reference; interested parties can download it here.

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