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Action Economy and Why Magic-Users Don't Wear Armor

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I was writing up some rules on carrying and readying gear, and finishing the portion that explained how magic-users prepare their spell implements for combat (spoiler: they're almost always ready), when I faced a conundrum:

Since there are no armor proficiency rules, there's nothing to prevent Magic-Users (MUs) from walking around in plate suits like they're medieval tanks.


I didn't want to write up an ad-hoc patch, and I didn't want to tell players that they couldn't play their favorite armored-caster concepts (the Witcher and Elder Scrolls come to mind). So why don't classic RPG MUs wear armor, in an action-based combat economy?

I had just written about the bandolier: a strap of pockets that lets you carry five additional things, since armor doesn't have pockets. Grabbing something from a bandolier costs one action, which is faster than removing a backpack (one action), and then pulling something out (another action, plus your stuff is on the ground). Maybe MUs wear robes because they want MORE than five pockets. Wasn't that a thing: mage robes having lots of pockets for spell components? What if it's not a class-restriction that MUs can't wear armor; they just prefer not to?

Thinking a bit, there could be a good number of (non-weapon) things that MUs want to have within reach: a spell book, magic scrolls, magic potions, smoke powder, wand(s), a familiar, and spell components, to name a few. Why keep digging through a backpack, when these could all be accessible and in their assigned pockets?

This justification goes away when retrieving items in combat doesn't require time, and PCs can carry about as much as they want, wherever they want. In that case, it's useful to say, "magic-users, you can't wear armor because it messes with your magical energy (or because the fighters get offended when you do)." I happen to like the idea of a practical reason for MUs to choose clothes over armor. (In a similar vein, armor reduces one's Dex score, and MUs seem to prefer the saving throw bonuses that they get from unencumbered dexterity...)

Are there other reasons why magic-users don't wear armor?

Do you use a backpack, bandolier, robe, or other method for carrying mage paraphernalia?
 

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niklinna

Explorer
Just weld a bunch of metal rings on the breastplate and tie your spell components to them. They'll all be in easy reach—just grab and cast! :LOL:
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Some games let you play armored mages easily, some don’t.*

if you’re designing one from scratch- as it seems you are- you could simply say that certain materials over a certain amout have a negative effect on casting spells. What those effects ARE depend on your goals as a game designer.

Depending on the details, I could see that approach making for some unusual caster designs. For example, if the refined metals used in traditional armor are problematic, spellcasters from a race like dwarves might use plates of stone for armor.

If metal makes things unpredictable, a caster who values chaos might actually ENJOY having it warp his mageries. It might even be something of a signature.



* I played a Sorcerer in 3.5Ed who wore scale mail and used a maul from Lvl1. He channeled his spell energies through a breath weapon, and many of his spells had no somatic components. The armor & weapon? He just lived with the negatives.
 

dbm

Adventurer
Another option (seen in GURPS core magic rules): casting magic is physically tiring (it costs fatigue points) and wearing armour or carrying a heavy load is also tiring. So, you can choose to wear armour as a caster, but that means you will have less energy available to power your magic.

You can invest to overcome this (by building up your fatigue points in different ways, or investing in a power source external to yourself) but these things all cost character points or cash. And you would still typically be able to cast more spelled unarmed if you did those things.

So being an armoured caster or not is a choice with associated consequences. In my experience most GURPS players choose to remain unarmoured.
 
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Are there other reasons why magic-users don't wear armor?

Do you use a backpack, bandolier, robe, or other method for carrying mage paraphernalia?
You've already nerfed the components.

Armor (real world) imposes a restriction on movement... but if you're building off D&D assumptions, spells don't have a dex requirement.

I've always been fond of "Armor messes with the energy" and forces a save to cast. Penalty based upon armor worn; this is least disruptive if it's only metal armors. It makes it so powerful casters may take the choice for armor plus spells.

And of course, the "Armor absorbs some of the spell energy" approach... this increases the cost by x per type of armor.

Couple increased cost with adding a failure chance, only a few will do both.
 

John R Davis

Adventurer
In 1980 dragonquest RPG iron interferes with the flow of magic, so even holding a longsword stops its creation. So leather and hide is fine, as is bronze armour
 

CubicsRube

Adventurer
Magic Users not being able to wear armor is a D&D thing, not an RPG thing, or even a fantasy RPG thing.

However you could simply impose a minimum strength-equivalent to wear heavier armours or otherwise have it exhausting for all but the best physically conditioned people. Hard to know more without knowing the system, but if you had some kind of stamina base, you could have magic deplete it, but also physically taxing things like wearing heavy armour deplete it. Once they are competing for resources you create an interesting choice for players.
 

MarkB

Legend
How much prominence do magic items have in your world?

I quite like the option used in Skyrim, where spellcasters can wear whatever they like, but the best bonuses to spellcasting are the enchantments woven into robes.
 

I always note that the chance of spell failure increases dramatically with every pound of iron, steel, or bronze the MU is carrying, due to the conductive resonance of the metal.
 

I always note that the chance of spell failure increases dramatically with every pound of iron, steel, or bronze the MU is carrying, due to the conductive resonance of the metal.

Which is why the magic users wear leather or dragonscale armor. :) Anytime they need a non-metal solution for something, they just ask the druid what he normally uses.

I quite like the option used in Skyrim, where spellcasters can wear whatever they like, but the best bonuses to spellcasting are the enchantments woven into robes.

What's the explanation for why you can't wear the robe under (or over) the armor? A video game is slot based. But in a system where you've already removed armor proficiency rules, what's to prevent it?
 

Crusadius

Explorer
Armor is heavy and requires higher strength to offset its penalties. Magic-users are not known for their prodigious might. So either fatigue and/or movement penalties. Or an armour-use skill/feat/talent to help offset penalties armor inflicts while worn, i.e. without training you cannot take full advantage of the armor you wear.
 

MarkB

Legend
What's the explanation for why you can't wear the robe under (or over) the armor? A video game is slot based. But in a system where you've already removed armor proficiency rules, what's to prevent it?
The flowing nature of the robes is part of how they operate, mediating the flow of magical energy into, out of and around the wearer. If they get bunched up around restrictive armour, they can't do their job.
 

Which is why the magic users wear leather or dragonscale armor. :) Anytime they need a non-metal solution for something, they just ask the druid what he normally uses.



What's the explanation for why you can't wear the robe under (or over) the armor? A video game is slot based. But in a system where you've already removed armor proficiency rules, what's to prevent it?
Leather, sure, without studs. No dragon scale available in my campaigns.

Or Druids.

You couldn't wear robes under armor, it simply won' fit. I don't know why anyone would wear robes outside a ceremonial situation. They provide endless hand-hold opportunities for the enemy, they catch on brush and branches, they are hot in summer and drafty in cold weather, and if they get wet you're hauling fifteen extra pounds.

Plus it is akin to hanging a big neon sign around your neck flashing 'KILL ME BEFORE I CAN CAST A SPELL'. The key to survival is to blend in with the group. Otherwise, you're archer-fodder.
 
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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
Armor is heavy and requires higher strength to offset its penalties. . . So either fatigue and/or movement penalties. . .
Does magic-use have to be a physical thing? Is it just "psionics" otherwise? Some disciplines just require magic words. Movement-related magic has good precedent, largely in dance and street-magic.
Plus it is akin to hanging a big neon sign around yor neck flashing 'KILL ME BEFORE I CAN CAST A SPELL'. The key to survival is to blend in with the group. Otherwise, you're archer-fodder.
I like this point. Looking like a magic-user is a good way to get shot. So...wearing metal can be a good thing!?
How much prominence do magic items have in your world?

I quite like the option used in Skyrim, where spellcasters can wear whatever they like, but the best bonuses to spellcasting are the enchantments woven into robes.
I'm hoping to keep magic items to a minimum. But that's obviously on the GM.

The robe-bonus is ad hoc, but it makes great sense on one level. "Why wear only robes?" "Because heavier armors don't enhance my magic, and my mage armor doesn't work as well when I'm wearing armor."

But on another level: "why can't I make Dragon Plate of Destruction and Magicka Regeneration?" "Erm...because that's just how it works."
 

Crusadius

Explorer
Does magic-use have to be a physical thing? Is it just "psionics" otherwise? Some disciplines just require magic words. Movement-related magic has good precedent, largely in dance and street-magic.
I meant in general as opposed to specifically targeting magic or magic-use. So a spell-caster wearing plate armor gets to walk slower than those with higher strength, and if you make use of fatigue points as mentioned above in spell casting, this resource also gets consumed by walking around carrying heavy loads that you are not physically able to for long periods of time (like walking around in a dungeon, sleeping with the armor on like every adventurer does) - so a magic-user needs to work out what they spend their fatigue points on - magic or wearing a fortress.
 

For me, proficiency with armor allows you to wear it effectively as well as maintain it too. Those without proficiency only gain half the bonus and there will be a cost to repair it after the adventure. This coupled with the higher weight and lower carrying capacity of low STR magicians makes anything beyond leather undesirable. Spending a feat to gain proficiency with increasing weights of armor is an option.

Furthermore, iron grounds out magic. If you carry more than a stone's worth of iron magic becomes... unpredictable. A few daggers are fine, belt buckles and clasps can be adjusted for, but actual armor is right out. Notably, medium and heavy armor grant +1 and +2 on saves vs. magic, respectively.
 

Crusadius

Explorer
For me, proficiency with armor allows you to wear it effectively as well as maintain it too. Those without proficiency only gain half the bonus and there will be a cost to repair it after the adventure. This coupled with the higher weight and lower carrying capacity of low STR magicians makes anything beyond leather undesirable. Spending a feat to gain proficiency with increasing weights of armor is an option.

I agree about proficiency. If you take D&D as an example (and perhaps this applies more to the older editions but the baggage still remains haunting the newer editions) a Fighter can wear any armour whereas a Magic-User cannot. The rules probably hand wave a lot of the explanation but a Fighter would be trained in proper use of armour in battle whereas a Magic-User would have spent all their time learning magic, so a simple "cannot wear armour" rule would suffice.

It gets mucky when you start talking about dual-class or multi-class because then the assumption would be that a Fighter/Magic-User can wear armour properly (as an aside, I think the exception regarding Elven-Chain was so that Melf could actually be a Fighter/Magic-User with armour). But the rules, due to the lack of explanation/detail, then prevented a Fighter/Magic-User from wearing armour and being able to cast spells at the same time (barring the aforementioned Elven-Chain exception). No plate-armoured spell-casting walking fortress thank you very much! ... so you get explanations such as "armour restricts your arms so you can't cast spells" which doesn't explain how it affects spells with only verbal components and also should have meant spell-casters must have been performing mystic yoga to cast spells with somatic components (embarrassing themselves on the battlefield performing "Downward-Facing Dog" to get that fireball off) to explain why armour would prevent such spells from being cast.

But I digress. I think if your system doesn't go into the detail of spell-casting gestures and what does or doesn't work when wearing restrictive armour, then requiring a spell-caster to acquire proficiency in armour-use to get around not being able to cast spells while wearing armour should be enough, and warriors should automatically be given proficiency in armour-use.
 
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