Saturday, November 22, 2014

Knocking Your Noggin - Helmets in AD&D

Last night during our more or less monthly delve into the Castle of the Mad Archmage, obscure rules from the AD&D 1e Dungeon Masters Guide came up. For me, one of the classics is the rule for helmets on page 28 of the DMG:
It is assumed that an appropriate type of head armoring will be added to the suit of armor in order to allow uniform protection of the wearer. Wearing of a "great helm" adds the appropriate weight and restricts vision to the front 60" only, but it gives the head AC 1. If a helmet is not worn, 1 blow in 6 will strike at the AC 10 head, unless the opponent is intelligent, in which case 1 blow in 2 will be aimed at the AC 10 head (d6, 1-3 = head blow).
I always found this to be a strange rule for a game with an abstract combat system and no called shots rule.

Not that we didn't try using this for a while, but it didn't make much sense for us. If you couldn't "call a shot" in the game as written how could you "call a shot" for an unarmored head?

It was least painful to the magic-users (whose magical armor and bracers covered them head to toe) than it was to other combatants whose armor (magic or otherwise) only protected from the neck down.

Also, what kind of AC does a chain coif or leather helm give? 5 and 8 respectively probably, but EGG doesn't say.

About the only thing helmets protected from in our campaigns was ear seekers, and you had to removed your helmet to listen anyway...


  1. I can deal with this rule - it's only for when there is no helmet, and he assumes that a suit of armour will indeed have one. With the cut and thrust of melee, some blows will be to the head so in those cases the defending AC is 10. I don't see it as a called shot or anything like that (use of the word "aimed" here is confusing though, he should have kept to "strike"). The problem I have is with that AC10 - why shouldn't dexterity bonuses or magical protection apply?

  2. The nature of "abtract combat" is entirely open in nature. If "called shots" are against the spirit and nature of AD&D combat why are there monsters with different AC scores and HP totals for certain body parts?

  3. You mention listening at doors, and this is the circumstances where I most saw this rule apply - if a party was having too many people listen to too many doors, and they a random monster check came up while they had removed their headgear. Or possibly if they were in a city environment where they wouldn't be in full armor.

    I never applied this in combat in normal circumstances. It's supposed to remind players to keep moving and be judicious in their detection activities, instead of listening at every door, etc.

    I also still give dex bonuses if the rule was in play.

  4. Learned early on that called shots were a pain in the whatever, there were no real rules to support them. Assumed that everyone was wearing an appropriate helmet and kind of ignored things like helms of uw action etc. Basically house ruled the whole problem away by ignoring that passage, as we did many other things that impeded the smooth flow of the game.

  5. We debated this thirty years ago (you'd think we had something better to do, but ohhh no) with the spark provided by the covers/interior pics from the modules at the time: SinSalt, Plume, Dread, Inverness, Descent into the Rift of Lolth, Xanathon, and of course Caves of Chaos with the moonshiner hermit and his ornery pussycat. The first A-series mods were in the fight too but their covers/ints elude my memory. To this day I've never owned Hommlet so I can't speak to that one.

    If I recall, the spread of pictures indicated a mixed-bag of combat-ready fighters with or without helmets. That swashbuckler in SinSalt sure had dreamy hair and there was a guy on the cover of Plume who looked right out of the Rockford Files (and we suspected he commuted to the boat on Dread's cover, too, a real getaround) plus that poor villager on G123 who didn't seem to even be wearing leggings . . . weird. So it's THAT kinda party you invited the Giants too, huh?

    As mentioned above we used or considered helmets more at listening behind doors or to flip'm and boil Hoolish swamp water than in combat. Once or twice there may have been a protective effect when a goo or slime or something fell from above.

    The baddest, raddest, goofiest helmet ever in my opinion is still the one Captain Kirk is wearing on the cover of Tomb of Horrors. Doesn't that thing have WINGS on it? Kirk and Magnum PI are about to take a shitstorm blast from the lich but that helmet makes me laugh every time.


  6. I play that the helmet AC is the same as armor AC unless great helm, as you state, or no helm, again as above. Thus if you have leather armor it comes with a leather cap, fitted to the head, for example. This becomes important if you find magical headgear.

  7. I always found that rule weird, and I never did know how to handle split AC. Split AC seems to assume a called shot system where the shots automatically get to roll against the AC of that spot. All you need to know is what to aim at, and get a lower AC, just like the helmet rule. No one I know played that way, too, nor really knew what to do with AC 0, but the belly is AC 5 kind of stuff.

  8. To me the prima facie solution is to make not having a helmet equivalent to -1 to AC (or +1 or whatever you want to call it). Since armor classes for Seven Voyages of Zylarthen are akin to armor types and are thus "fixed", I made a rule that a natural roll of "7" indicates an automatic hit if the target is not wearing a helmet. (If the "7" would have hit anyway, then it does double damage.) This is only applied to player characters. Among other things, this minimizes bonus/penalty creep. Of course the rule makes things worse for Magic-Users and perhaps Thieves (though in Zylarthen Thieves can wear helmets), but I think that's acceptable.

  9. The only problem I have with the rule as written is that the consequences of a blow to an unhelmeted head are unclear. Instant death? Unconsciousness? Regular loss of hit points?

    1. Same as a normal hit (loss of HP).
      I use the rule and I'll elaborate when I'm not on my phone.

  10. I think that the lack of an aimed blow rule combines with the AD&D 1E rule that says you don't get to pick your target in melee, it is instead chosen randomly from the foes within 10 feet of your character. Combat is abstracted in a way that indicates your character's opportunities during the (minute long!) combat round, and already assumes that your character will be making the most of those opportunities available.

  11. The last time I bothered with helmets I kind of went the other way and made a helmet a flat +1 AC bonus (the drawback being impaired listening etc.). My other thought was, if playing "20 is a critical hit," the helmet makes just a regular hit (but is ruined, so like Alexander at Issus, you lose your helmet but keep your head).
    But the called shots thing always bothers me when I run a monster with variable AC, since it basically means that there are these select monsters where it matters where the players attack but every other encounter has told them it doesn't matter where you try to hit a The rule that targets are random, which Faoladh pointed out, is actually a great idea though I've never enforced it. But based on my very limited experience in general melees it seems pretty realistic -- you just attack what you can, when you can when it's not one-on-one.


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