Why do we have to wear different types of armour?

breastplate Back since MUD days, we’ve had different classes of armour available to characters. Cloth, Leather, Chain, Plate, is the usual progression. So some classes (usually casters) aren’t allowed to wear anything heavier than cloth, while the specialist fighter types will eventually have access to full plate, the ‘best’ armour in the game.

And usually, the heavier armour is the most expensive to repair and may be the most expensive to make also (actually WoW has gone the other way with the rare cloth requirements on crafted gear lately –- but at least it shows that they realise there’s no special reason why fancy cloth should be cheaper than fancy metal in game.)

In a game where a leather-wearing druid can shift into a bear form that means they have more armour than a plate wearer and where cloth-wearing casters frequently have access to protective spells and crowd control, I do wonder why my repair bills always have to be so high. The cost of wearing plate is really not justified by the extra protection.

I do remember MUDs where heavier armour was really significantly better. It gave a solid percentage reduction on all damage done. So it may have been more expensive to repair but you could see that being allowed to wear it was a bonus to a character. These days, I feel that it’s more of a drawback. If you can wear it, then your character is probably balanced around that level of gear, but all the other characters are balanced for solo play anyway. So there’s really no big drawback from wearing cloth (like I say, your character is probably balanced for it) and you save a lot in repair bills.

But really, is there any special reason why we have to get stuck with four completely separate classes of armour (D&D has approximately a zillion)? And surely a caster could pick up a magical mithril chaincoat or strap on a pair of leather bracers without interfering with her spellcasting?

I think it is considered important to the look and feel of a ‘fantasy’ game that characters have to be as close as possible to the standard D&D party in looks. So that means heavy fighters in heavy armour, casters in robes, rogues in light armour, and so on. But I get bored of seeing robes and platemail everywhere I go. I’d love to see some more flexibility with the armour classes.

What if my warrior could choose to wear a couple of pieces of lighter armour and trade off some armour for a bit more mobility and better dodge, and that was a totally viable way to gear? What if a caster could choose to wear a magical mithril coat and not be hindered from spellcasting? What if we had the same sorts of character creation options in fantasy games as you do in say … City of Heroes?

But it is the repair bills that really bug me.

17 thoughts on “Why do we have to wear different types of armour?

  1. There were already system when armor choice was free. Each kind of armor had some distinct advantages and disadvantages.

    Plate armor offered the heaviest protection, but limited attack speed and made offensive spell casts “fizzle/fail” very often. Basically, casting them was almost impossible. It also had a high weight.

    Chain Mail was lightweight but offered good protection and did not limit attack speed considerably. Spells still have a high chance to fail.

    Leather armor allowed stealthy actions, you could hide, unlike plate armor. Almost no attack speed limitations, but no good protection either.

    Cloth is ideal for casters, spells do not fail but it offers the least protection.

    You could mix and match armor parts, of course. I often picked plate breast with chain leggings and leather gloves for my warrior e.g.
    My caster used light leather lingerie…

    You can guess the game, I was talking about Ultima Online, of course. 🙂

  2. There was a Blizzard post about this a long time ago. The gist was that repair bills were balanced in the light of other costs – so for example, Warriors have plate, but don’t have to buy reagents. Hunters have to buy arrows, but could Feign out of a lot of repairs, etc.

    It’s an obselete system now, really. Reagent costs haven’t changed since level 60 (except perhaps for Druids?), a lot of bosses have “mop up” effects that prevent abilities like Feign, and classes like Shaman/Paladin have high cost armour and reagents. I would guess that Dailies and the like were implemented in part so that Blizzard could just not bother fixing the system – since while plate is expensive, it’s still cheap compared to what you can make by just doing the Crusader’s daily circuit once or twice a week – or however you like to produce gold when needed.

    • This is an excellent point. Given how easy it is to make money now as compared to Vanilla, it makes whining about repair bills in a PuG, for example, seem kind of petty.

  3. Heh, I guessed you were talking about Runequest, Longasc.

    In D&D and AD&D in the seventies and eighties there was this cloth/leather/chain/plate thing so I think it originally came from there.

    The problem with allowing mix and match is it adds a lot of complexity. The sort of system Longasc describes requires players to take decisions based on mathematical outcomes which are actually pretty hard.

    Is armour protection better than movement speed when you’re being circle strafed?

    We may get to find out soon as Mortal Online is promising that heavy armour will slow you down. Good luck to any plate wearers against kiting archers!

    “Weight plays a huge role in Mortal Online, a player wearing the heaviest gold armor, even though well protected will move at a snail’s pace, and his golden great hammer will take out all of the stamina bar in one swing, making extremely heavy weapons and armor while powerful absolutely useless in any real combat situation, as every action requires stamina.”


  4. I’m not aware of your warriors spec, but if it’s DPS you’re not limited to plate. Armored to the Teeth was implemented in the first Tier of the Fury tree solely to try and stop DPS warriors from wearing leather. It’s recieving a buff in 3.2 and from a purely speculative viewpoint it’s because AttT didn’t stop DPS warriors from wearing leather.

  5. It is all generic.
    D&D and other games dictated that fighters wore plate/chain, rogues wore leather, and Magic Users wore cloth, and so that is what people generally are forced to wear in fantasy games.
    There is no logic to it.

    • Oddly enough, in 2nd edition AD&D the rules governing magical protection stacking made it better to NOT wear armor. I could get to a -11 AC with Plate +5, but if I used Bracers AC 0 (equivalent to Plate +3) I could get down to -23. Wearing the armor negated a lot of stacking defenses, since they had a “doesn’t stack with armor” restriction, but since the bracers weren’t considered to be “armor” — well there ya go.

      Of course, with a -11 AC it wasn’t like I was getting hit a lot either 😉

  6. I still like DAoC’s armor usage the best of any MMO i’ve played. Eash armor type was better at defending against certain weapon types. Chain wearers got a reduction in damage vs slashing weapons, plate wearers got an increase in damage taken from blunt instruments,..on and on. It added to the strategy of who to attack. You usually wanted to hit healers first, but beyond that, it helped to go after the class you would do the best damage to next.

    “Oh man I see that Reaver is using a mace instead of a whip, so as a Champion who uses scale armor, I want to avoid him and go after that Paladin who will be weaker against my big two handed hammer…and then run like a little girl cause i’m a Hibernain”

    • One of the interesting things I remember as a crafter in DaoC is that chain actually cost more than plate. I dunno if that’s good or bad (well, it was bad if you were a chain wearer) but I remember not being sure if that was intuitive or not. It might actually be that chain is more expensive/ intensive to make iRL.

  7. Geez, QQ MOAR? 🙂

    Seriously, if you don’t want to wear plate, don’t wear plate! At least you aren’t forbidden from wearing lower armor types, unlike spellcasters who can only wear cloth.

    My two mains are a plate-wearing DK and a cloth wearing Warlock. Yes, my cloth repair bills are significantly lower… but I also go splat at least 2-3x more often in cloth, so I think it actually evens out.

  8. Speaking as someone who’s main is a shaman?

    The degree of sympathy I have for plate wearers repair bills is so minute it cannot be measured. Mails almost as expensive to repair and nowhere near as durable. So I get all the pain and none of the fun. But do I complain?

    Yes. Reguarly and often.

    • If you take as much damage as a tank then I think you’re doing it wrong 🙂

      But I agree that there’s no reason an elemental shaman should have higher repair bills than any other caster (for example). It just makes no sense.

  9. As Proudmoore points out, the rationale behind the repair bills in WoW hasn’t worked for about four years (if it even worked back then).

    In terms of the why of armor types, the model is that classes with better avoidance (ranged DPS, who avoid attacks by virtue of being at range, and evasion types like rogues) don’t ALSO get to have high mitigation AND competitive DPS. It’s not a bad model, but it can be hard to get just right, especially since many of these stats scale with gear.

    The next best thing I guess is to have appearence armor slots. My EQ2 Dirge rarely, if ever, displays her actual mail armor. I’ll wear robes or various other things instead. I feel bad for the clothies, who don’t have that option (your class needs to be able to equip items to use them for appearence).

    • I very much like the idea of appearance armour slots. And I guess really I like the idea that you could riff off your desired look.

      So if you want to play a duel wielder with rapiers and brightly coloured silk shirts, you could set your appearance up to look like that, even if the mechanics were similar to a leather wearing dagger wielding rogue.

  10. There should really be a factor of rarity that has an important role in armor and equipment decisions. I’m not talking about the rarity of magical equipment, but the rarity of the basic armor (for instance) being more in line with the rarity of real life basic armor. Cloth should be braindead easy to find and use, leather should be very common among armies, chain should be rarer than leather and primarily used by wealthier or more elite troops, and plate should cost significant amounts of money while taking a long time to make and being specific to a character race (and perhaps a limited gamut of character heights/weights).

    In a system that has a meaningful rarity curve, you can give the rarer armor flat-out advantages over the less rare without being too concerned, although certain disadvantages to heavy armor need to be maintained. You also allow players to scale up their armor as they become more wealthy or achieve higher status. Early on, you’ll see plenty of cloth-wearers, but as players advance, you’ll notice higher quality armors and higher tier armors–throughout the process a new player will have experience with all types of armor (up to the point where they decide they want to stick with a certain kind of armor due to its unique advantages and disadvantages).

  11. Cool article.

    I doubt traditional MMOs will head that way with armour but I’d love to play a sandbox MMO in which any class could wear any armour if they had the stats. Plus, the armour actually effected mobility etc so you could tank in leather if you had the evasion stats etc.

    Anyone remember the original Diablo? My Mage used to wear plate armour and it looked awesome.

  12. I’d love to be able to make my armor choices freeform, depending on what I wanted to do. Of course, that goes hand in hand with wanting to build my own “class” and respec anytime I blasted well feel like it. If something just isn’t working for my playstyle, I could change it without rolling up a new alt and trying to make that one work.

    Balancing the costs would be built around the benefits of the armor, not the type.

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