Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How much can you enchant your armor?

GURPS Magic gives a trio of armor enchantments that see a lot of use in fantasy games - Fortify (improved DR), Deflect (improves DB), and Lighten (reduces weight).

One thing that annoys a lot of folks is that there is no limit by materials on these enchantments. You can put Fortify +5 on a ratty t-shirt if you really wanted to. Basically enchantment is divorced from the quality of the underlying item.

Here are a few ways you can tie the maximum enchantment to the underlying material.

One Level Per Point of DB or DR - you can't exceed the DR of the underlying item with Fortify. For split DR, use the highest value. So cloth armor (DR 1) can be fortified up to Fortify +1 and DR 2. Heavy leather (DR 2) up to Fortify +2 and thus DR 4. Mail (DR 4/2) up to Fortify +4. This makes heavier, stronger armor better because it holds a stronger enchantment. You can't put any more Deflect on the item than it has DR, either (or more DB than it has DB, for shields and cloaks.)

Another option is to limit this for armor, but not shields - you can get a DB 6 light shield, if you really want to. This is more fair because shield breakage can end a lighter shield and break the enchantment, making that DB a double-edged sword, and because cost is always 100% (no piecemeal "discount" for Quick & Dirty Enchantment cost figuring.)

One Level Per Modifier - For every armor modifier on a piece of armor, you can have one level of a given enchantment. So plain armor can't be enchanted at all. Fine armor (or Elven armor, or Thieves' armor, or whatever) can get up to Fortify +1, Deflect +1, and/or Lighten -25%. But Fine, Elven, Thieves' Mail can get up to +3 (or Lighten -50%). Modifiers with multiple levels count once per level - so Ornate +3 counts as 3 levels worth for enchantment. So the Fine, Ornate +3, Giant Spider Silk cloth shirt the king wears at court can be enchanted to Deflect +5 and Fortify +5.

One modification to this is "one level, +1 per modifier." That way even plain armor can get a single level of enchantments but can't hold anything better.

Limited By Specific Modifier - pick one modifier (Fine from DF, Expert Tailoring from Low-Tech, whatever), and that modifier is necessary to have an enchantment higher than +1 (or higher than Lighten 25%). Or pick more than one - maybe only Fine, Dwarven, Elven, or Orichalcum can support higher levels. Maybe all of them can support up to +3, but only Orichalcum can support +4 or +5. You can do it by enchantment, too - perhaps anything can be Lighten -25%, but only Fine and Orichalcum can be Lighten -50%, but neither can get Fortify +5, which is limited to Dwarven plate.

(Thanks to Cole Jenkins for mentioning this yesterday - I forgot about pinning it to one modifier.)

Cost Based - X dollars in armor can only support Y dollars in enchantments (your choice - either total, or per spell). This makes more costly armor better at holding an enchantment. Simply set a ratio - $1 in armor can hold $5 in enchantment lets you put Fortify +1 on cloth armor, but not Fortify +5. $1 for $1 means only the most costly, ornate, and well-made armor in the world can support Fortify +4 or +5 (unless you use piecemeal costs, which can bring it down for some pieces.)

Any other enchantment limitations people have used out there? I'd love to hear them.

In my own games, I have always done the DR based one, with shields having no limit on enchantments - although it's really tempting to say per modifier/modifier level. Nothing in my game has more levels of Fortify or Lighten* than they have modifiers, and the non-magical modifiers have seen a lot of use. So allowing a single level plus one per extra adjective on the armor might be something I would implement. It makes Ornate so very attractive - not a lot of extra expense, but allows a lot of extra enchantment . . .

* it is worth noting that I don't allow Deflect on armor in my DF game; I allow it on shields as usual. Basically this is because adding a different DB bonus depending on hit location adds another step to every defense roll and I'd rather avoid this. I got zero pushback on this by my players for the same reason.


  1. In 1E AD&D this is tied to the material. From DMG: Armor of +3 bonus is of special meteorite iron steel, +4 is mithral alloyed steel, +5 is adamantite alloyed steel. There does not appear to be a provision for padded or leather, however. Of course there is no reason you could not invent new types of material or use lost technology (kind of like Arduin does). I don't think there are the same rules for metal shields and metal weapons, but I could be wrong.

    I never got magic armor in GURPS.

    1. Rolemaster had similar rules for armor and weapons - Mithril, Laen, and Eog are the ones I recall offhand.

      Tying it to material is pretty much the same, I think, as tying it to a DF-style modifier. Steel is the basic assumption for metal, but you can make it heavier or just categorically better with a modifier, which implies some sort of qualitative difference in the materials. But yeah, it's worth saying you can just say "you need X material to get Y enchantment."

  2. I usually don't impose a limit. Maybe the players want to forge something more akin to a Holy Relic, and I use the rules to define its capabilities. Think of going into battle with the Shroud of Turin, or a robe that belonged to a powerful monk.

    1. Sure, but those could easily justify "Ornate" for the reaction bonus - that worn robe is the old Wu Dong master's robe, and you get a +3 reaction and treat it as Ornate, and then use that as a defining limitation. Not that I thought of that before just now though . . .

    2. Actually, reading it again, my post didn't really pertain to the discussion. You are concerned with players picking a common material and enchanting it, I am concerned with explaining in gaming terms the effect of a great relic, which doens't matter much, as I can simply say that it is as strong as adamantium and light as a feather, because of its holy properties.

  3. The usual problem isn't DR 0 robe with Fortify cast on it (it's still pretty cruddy armor), the problem is someone deciding "I can use five layers of cloth padding under my armor, cast fortify on all of them, and get DR +5 for $250". Saying that any level of fortify causes cloth to become stiff enough to count as layered armor (with normal penalties for layering) should solve that.

    1. Or going with the standard ruling that only one layer of Fortify counts - no stacking.

      I prefer stacking, but I also don't allow more than 2 layers of anything resembling armor, and I'm extremely harsh with the DX penalty in edge cases.

  4. I'm fond of the "Velveteen Rabbit" school of enchantment - if someone has strong feelings about it, it can be enchanted, and might even auto-enchant if the feeling is strong/common enough. So stuff that represents a lot of hard work and dedicated craftsmanship qualifies, but so does the iconic weapon of a hero, even if it's just a rusty dagger or a rock. (Surely if you found the rock that slew Goliath on a roadside path in the Levant you could enchant it, presuming it is not already a holy relic.)

    This has various advantages in terms of storytelling, but is admittedly hard to quantify.

    Oh, and I also tend to allow "substance X" is automagically magical as well.

  5. Two idea's off the top of my head are:

    * The 'Universal Limit', or 'Inverse levels per point of DR':
    There is a maximum limit to how good you can make something, each level of basic DR takes up one slot, as does each enchantment, and the number of slots is fixed. This allows you to get extremely magical thin cloth (natively 0DR) for wizards, but non-magical heavy plate (natively 9DR or whatever the maximum slot level is) for fighters.
    It preserves the "magical robes" and "mundane armour" balance, which can be desirable if you like that sort of thing. It also means you never get anything *better* than a specific level, unless it's an 'artifact' that is allowed the break this rule. It also means that the costs of gear balances out, you either pay for better intrinsic properties, or better magical properties - you will ultimately reach an upper cap on either end which curtails over investment into a single items worth.

    Additionally, if this is because of odd constant of the universe, then the dwarven master smith who makes a brand new type of *mundane* armour which has a brand new property that grants more DR, may well indeed also revolutionise all armour craft as they increase the number of slots *every item in the universe* can hold! (as Max Slots = Max DR + C, so increasing the DR increases the Slots)

    * The 'Only the Worthy can use it' or 'Tied to Status/personal trait':
    This assumes a world where Kings really are gods among men, Knights really are divinely gifted servitors, and thieves and other lowly scum have to rely on poisons and trickery as magic doesn't work for them. Or any other simple method of differentiating a persons 'worth'.

    For each level of worth, you can access another level of enchantment an item has. This means there will be lots of enchanted items with one or two properties, but dwindling numbers with more, as the number of people who can actually *use* them goes down.

    There are two methods of implementation, you either define the a hierarchy of enchantments, so the order is always predefined and when you don't meet the status required for all of them, the highest ones are barred to you. Or, you simply say that if you don't meet the status required, none of them work.

    You could, alternatively, limit specific properties to specific status levels, rather than cap the number of properties by status level. This would mean a Knight can always benefit from +3 DR, but it would only work as a +1 DR for a peasant, and you need to be a Nobleman before you can gain the benefit of Lighten -25%, etc. This means you can have highly enchanted items, but some or all of the enchants can be blocked by low status.
    This method would lead to items falling into a cookie cutter template though, Knights would never bother enchanting armour with +4 DR because they'll never gain the benefit from it until given a Lordship. So every minor Noble you find wears +2 DR Lightened armour, but they *all* wear that as its the best they can get - you never get any diversity in style. So I'd generally avoid this method, it is, however, an idea to work with that might suit some settings.

    Using Status like this can also work into 'The Deeds Make the Man' sort of idea for peasant to hero stories, where as you get more and more heroic doing bigger and bigger deeds - more and more magic becomes available to you. The old sword the blacksmith gave you was actually a +1 sword, however you needed to slay the swamp monster before you could use it, etc. This only works if Status is granted for free or cheaply and easily, rather than having to find a Knight to knight you so you can climb the status ladder.

    Also, I'm sorry for leaving really long comments - I always seem to type a lot when I reply.

    1. Those are pretty good. The Universal Limit, though, means that fighter-types have a strong incentive to wear magic cloth, because it's light for the same DR even if it's costlier.

      But they are are interesting limits.

    2. The formula can be tweaked for preference, 1 Slot per 2 native DR etc. Common and easy to employ magical countermeasures can also make fighters want *real* armour.
      If all magical gear has a good chance of cutting out in low mana, and is almost certain to in very low mana (and *will* in no mana) then high native DR armour suddenly has its uses - and fighters (who've lost none of their power from the zone and have the ST to carry it) become best equipped to deal with threats in those areas.

      You can also impede purchases a little though use of social constraints. Guild memberships that offer discount to members (or more likely a mark up to non-members) makes it just more affordable to play your role.

      But yeah, I agree that as written it's likely that everyone will


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