... now with 35% more arrogance!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Magic and Armor, Rules As Written

No, I'm not going to discuss mechanical effects on spell casting, as I have before. Instead, I wanted to point to this comment from Frank Mentzer in a thread on Dragonsfoot:
"Where in any D&D or AD&D rulebooks does it place any restrictions at all on magic use (devices or castings) based on your attire (e.g. armor worn, baggy pants, shorts, types of shoes, etc)?
And if the answer to my question is "nowhere", where the heck do these misconceptions arise?" 
It's a subtle point. The rules do restrict the armor a magic-user can wear, but don't say that magic itself is affected by armor. Men & Magic doesn't even say a magic-user can't wear armor, only that they can't use magic armor and weapons, which is why I rule that magic armor and weapons act like their mundane equivalents unless used by a fighter or cleric.

The reason why some of us also make armor restrict magic is because we like the image of robed magicians and want to emphasize armor as a feature of fighters (and clerics.) Restrictions on magic use while wearing armor helps reinforce the stereotypes. I would say, though, that a magic wand is not restricted in the same way, as long as the magician isn't wearing gauntlets.


  1. 2nd paragraph on page 25 of the 1st edition Players Handbook state in regards to Magic-Users, "...they can wear no armor and have few weapons they can use,".

  2. @Dienekes: Exactly. It says magic-users can't wear armor. It doesn't say that magic doesn't work for someone wearing armor.

  3. I guess I just assumed that is stated because magic would not be castable unless only "normal" clothes were worn. An interesting idea might be to make a throw of some sort to determine if a spell is successfully cast.

    The good thing about this is that you can tailor the difficulty of that chance of success based on what you want for your campaign. For example, in my case, I don't want pc casters wearing armor so I would give the pc only a 5% chance of a successful cast if they attempted it.

    I feel that the ability to wear armor in a campaign setting not designed for it could be potentially game breaking.

    Good food for thought. This is why I love this game. Infinite flexibility.

  4. Here is what Second Edition says (PHB page 30):

    Wizards cannot wear any armor, for several reasons. Firstly, most spells require complicated and odd posturings by the caster and amor restricts the wizard's ability to do these properly. Secondly, the wizard spent his youth (and will spend most of his life) learning arcane languages, poring through old books, and practicing his spells. This leaves no time for learning other things (like how to wear armor properly and use it effectively). If the wizard had spent his time learning about armor, he would not have even the meager skills and powers he begins with.There are even unfounded theories that the materials in most armors disrupt the delicate fabric of a spell as it gathers energy; the two cannot exist side by side in harmony. While this idea is popular with the common people, true wizards know this is simply not true. If it were, how would they ever be able to cast spells requiring iron braziers or metal bowls?

    That's pretty much the explanation I use for my spell failure rules. I guess that's not surprising, as Second Edition was my entrance into the hobby.

  5. And clicking through to the Dragonsfoot thread, I see someone posted the PHB quote there too. Oh well, a little redundancy never hurt anyone.

  6. @Brendan: That's a pretty hokey set of explanations, as far as I can tell. No wizard anywhere has every found a day to practice putting on and taking off armour? Really? But at the same time, a 1st level mage has the same chance to hit with a dagger as a fighter? Not buying that, folks. Doesn't add up.

    And armour doesn't restrict your motion - if it did, people wouldn't wear it. It would mean losing every single fight you get in to!

    The only explanation that makes "sense" to me would be that being completely surrounded by metal somehow throws off spellcasting.

  7. @Charles

    I disagree. Armor does restrict movement. That's one of the reasons why modern soldiers wear minimal body armor. The mobility is worth more than the protection.

    That being said, I fully admit that this is a balancing mechanic, not a simulation. (And a way to encourage certain genre stereotypes, like the robed magic-user, as Talysman points out.)

    Incidentally, there are wizards in my house rules that divide their efforts between martial and arcane pursuits. They are called fighting magic-users, and essentially use the elf B/X class. Thus, they pay for their ability to use armor with no chance of spell failure by advancing more slowly and never being able to prepare the highest level of spells (though they can still cast them from scrolls).

    I would also add the following points. Being used to fighting while in armor is different than learning how to put it on. Also, I model combat skill by damage done (which is by hit die rather than by weapon) in addition to attack bonus, so even at first level a magic-user is much less capable in combat than a fighter.

    See here:


    And here:


    And here:


    I much prefer a rule that allows magic-users to wear armor with a chance of spell failure to one that forbids them from wearing armor at all.

    I realize this is quite a few house rules, but they arose exactly because of the type of concerns you raised.

  8. I agree that armor does restrict movement, just not as much as is commonly believed. I'll deal with that in a post tomorrow, though.

    What I'm seeing here is examples of how the rules as written became more strict with each edition:

    0e: M-Us can't use magic armor, elves can cast spells while wearing magic armor, no comments on mundane armor.

    1e: M-Us can't wear any armor.

    2e: M-Us can't wear any armor, and spells don't work when wearing armor.

  9. @Brendan

    I like what you've done with your house rules, and I like the inclusion of the (modified) elf class as the "fighting magic-user".

    From what I've read, and from what I've seen of people fighting in armour and not in armour with swords and poleaxes, I would say that if you're strong enough to wear traditional chain and plate, it hampers your movement very, very little. Again, if it was cumbersome, people not in armour would just whup people in armour, and it would never have been invented.

    IRL, the penalty for wearing armour is fatigue, not movement restriction. Run 500 metres in armour, and you're going to be tuckered.

    And making comparisons to modern body armour aren't super relevant, I would say. The requirement of stopping a modern rifle round is pretty different from dissipating a sword blow. To get whole-body protection against 7.62mm Warsaw Pact rounds would weigh far more than what would be reasonable to expect someone to wear, especially in addition to a 40-80lb gear pack.

    Chain and plate (which is what I'm talking about, as opposed to articulated plate, which I will freely admit I know nothing about) weighs about 40-60lbs, provides good all-around protection and good mobility at the expense of heightened fatigue and a high strength requirement.

    We could debate it, but these guys don't look particularly hampered to me (though they are a little out of breath after).


  10. Just a semi-random thought - there are such magic/armor rules in other games from back in the proverbial day. We played a little DragonQuest, by SPI, wherein Rule [29.1] (that's the way SPI was :) ) is "A character may never prepare a spell or engage in ritual magic while in physical contact with cold iron." (Not a big fan of DragonQuest, but I'm sure there are those who are.)

  11. @Charles: I think you are limiting "mobility" to things like speed and distance. Freedom of movement has more to do with how the joints are protected. If you wear gloves in winter, you decrease your range of motion a tiny bit (by at least the thickness of the padding.) Actual plates protecting your joints physically block each other and further decrease range of motion. Note that those guys in that video have plates behind the elbow and over the knee, for example, but not plates in the bend of the elbow or behind the knee. These areas are consequently more vulnerable than others. Protection is always going to be a tradeoff between leaving vulnerable areas and restricting range of motion.

  12. @Landlord: Yep, and in TFT, you have a restriction against iron and steel, but not silver armor. Lots of variation outside of D&D, and even within D&D house rules.