4e: Dodge Roll Or Die

If you’ve read my How To Be Series you may have noticed the way that lightly or unarmoured characters present a potential contention for the project. In some cases it’s that characters don’t obviously have much armour on and there’s the counterpoint of characters who definitely don’t have much armour on.

What’s the problem? Just put the character in armour, right? Or just don’t wear armour and use something else instead?

In 4th edition, the system is built around some general math that in general makes it so that the DM can rely on players being able to handle the things the game expects them to handle. There is some tolerance — characters have a real floor of 10+half your level, there’s only so bad you can be at it — but there are archetypes like the Paladin where the game positions you by default to be good at defending yourself with shields and blocks and heavy armour.

What if you don’t want to do that?

Is there an option for you?

original screenshot from Topless Robot, if you’re curious

The armour system in 4e isn’t purely additive. Some things don’t overlap with one another; if you wear full plate armour and then drape chain mail over the top of it, only the plate armour’s bonus counts. Similarly, you add the greater of your dexterity or intelligence modifier to your armour class, representing dodging or evading around attacks as well. That bonus only applies, though, if you’re wearing light armour or no armour. Plate armour, which is a type of heavy armour, doesn’t get that.

The heaviest armour you can wear that counts as light-or-no armour is Hide Armour, which grants a +3 to your armour class. If you were wearing that full plate armour, the heaviest armour possible, you get a +8 to your armour class. That means the gap between ‘light or no’ and ‘plate’ is 5 points at base, if you can make up the that difference with a combination of your ability bonus score or other stuff, then yeah, congratulations, you don’t need to worry about wearing armour.

There are some options everyone can grab: if you’re using a polearm or staff, you can take the feat Hafted Defense or Two Weapon Defense which grants you a sort of ‘pseudo shield.’ There’s also the Elven Chain Shirt, an item that doesn’t occupy armour slots, but gives you a +1 bonus to armour per Tier.

If you’re a character who benefits from a good Dexterity, then you only need a Dexterity modifier of +4 to be equal to Plate Mail with just the Chain Shirt. Some classes are built for this — the Avenger, Monk and Vampire all give you a bonus when wearing light or no armour and all three give you additional bonuses to armour class when you’re geared like that.

The math works out reasonably easily, then, but what if you want to play a character who should wear armour, by the way the rules expect, and don’t? What if you’re aiming at more of a Dark Souls experience? After all, the Monk and Avenger are highly mobile, aggressive characters, and the Vampire sucks, but also, it does actually suck, but what if you want to be a tank who gets the fast dodge roll?

There are two characters who ‘should’ wear heavier gear that can benefit from not — the Fighter and the Barbarian. Barbarians have a tank mode called the Berserker, yes, I know, that doesn’t make sense, look, I didn’t name it. Both Fighter and Berserker are strength-based, but they have builds that care about Dexterity as well.

The Arid Desert Berserker is a Barbarian who, if in cloth armour or no armour, gets a +3 bonus to armour class. The early cloth armour Bloodthread Armour works with this in a cool way, where the Berserker’s ‘do extra stuff while bloodied’ perks synergise with a cloth armour that gives you +2 to armour while you’re wearing it — which means that you can pull ahead of Plate Armour. That’s pretty cool!

The other option is the Fighter, who can take the Combat Agility option. This means that you’re not relying on your Wisdom to punish your opponents, and instead you care about Dexterity. If it’s one of your two most important abilities, Dexterity can really pick up the difference between that Hide Armour option and Plate Armour.

Note that this is also assuming you’d spend the time and money on Plate Armour — which isn’t free, most characters need to spend a feat to get it.

There aren’t a lot of characters who can benefit from Intelligence in the same way as Dexterity here. The Swordmage is a Defender that can take advantage, but it also wasn’t going to be wearing Plate armour in the first place, so the vibe is already all off. I also like that the Artificer is a Leader that can, if they pick the lighter armours and feats to go with it, add its primary stat to its defenses.

Happy Pride!

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