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Helmets: Under-Used but Over-Important

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
I just watched a video of a warrior going into a to-the-death duel. He grabs his helmet, but to take it off, not put it on.

Now I'm wondering:

Why do shields commonly get special treatment (rules) in TRPGs while helmets do not?

Should rules assume that wearing armor means wearing an appropriate helm?

For reference:
 

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In my settings, a hit to an unprotected head does double damage.

In most Hollywood movies (other than Westerns), lead actors and heroes do not wear headgear unless it is their trademark.
 


ninjayeti

Adventurer
Well at the very least using a shield occupies a hand, so there is a pretty obvious trade-off. You can't dual wield, swing a greataxe, shoot a bow, climb a rope, etc. Some characters that could use a shield choose not to.

Unless a system uses hit locations there is usually no reason to know if any particular bit of armor is being worn or not. Helmet, gauntlet, greaves, its all just armor. And if you are giving a benefit for wearing a helmet with no drawback then isn't every character just going to write it on their character sheet and forget about it. I don't think that would really add anything interesting to the game.
 

Well at the very least using a shield occupies a hand, so there is a pretty obvious trade-off. You can't dual wield, swing a greataxe, shoot a bow, climb a rope, etc. Some characters that could use a shield choose not to.

Unless a system uses hit locations there is usually no reason to know if any particular bit of armor is being worn or not. Helmet, gauntlet, greaves, its all just armor. And if you are giving a benefit for wearing a helmet with no drawback then isn't every character just going to write it on their character sheet and forget about it. I don't think that would really add anything interesting to the game.

Ah, but it does. It restricts hearing, and for some designs, vision. It negatively affects charisma checks. In hot weather the wearer will risk heat stroke. It is an entire class of magical items to add.

Just to name a few.
 



Bilharzia

Fish Priest
If you only have one item of armour, it's going to be a helmet, and before that, you will carry a shield. The helmet because a hit to the head can debilitate you in a way that a hit elsewhere might not, the shield because it can stop a hit before armour becomes a factor. If you don't model hit locations or damage absorption using armour then your system is just going around in circles, just live with the fact you are using an abstracted combat system.
 

Why? What if the person you are talking to thinks the helmet is cool looking, wouldn't that be a bonus? Or if you are trying to be intimidating and they think it's scary?

I was basing the penalty upon the fact that it would remove a lot of the unspoken cues common to a face-to-face conversation, thus making it harder for the wearer to bring the force of his charisma (speaking ability) to bear.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
If you only have one item of armour, it's going to be a helmet, and before that, you will carry a shield. The helmet because a hit to the head can debilitate you in a way that a hit elsewhere might not, the shield because it can stop a hit before armour becomes a factor.
So true. I mean, haven't we all seen Gerard Butler in 300?

Well at the very least using a shield occupies a hand, so there is a pretty obvious trade-off. You can't dual wield, swing a greataxe, shoot a bow, climb a rope, etc. Some characters that could use a shield choose not to.

Unless a system uses hit locations there is usually no reason to know if any particular bit of armor is being worn or not. Helmet, gauntlet, greaves, its all just armor. And if you are giving a benefit for wearing a helmet with no drawback then isn't every character just going to write it on their character sheet and forget about it.
You're right: the shield-or-no-shield trade-off is pretty obvious. Being less obvious doesn't reduce the importance of the helmet-choice, though. I suspect that many designers who can see the clear shield-choice just haven't been hit in the head before. If they had, the helmet-choice would be obvious too.

There's a reason @Jd Smith1 uses double damage for head shots. It's the single-best place to hit your opponent. An arm can take a scratch. An eye - not so much. Even if a game doesn't use hit location, the head is so important that it merits a special rule. . . right?
 

Kobold Stew

Last Guy in the Airlock
I really like the rules for protective headgear in The One Ring. In addition to the armour bonus, if you are wearing a full helm, it may be removed in combat to reduce a character's fatigue.

This has two immediate effects: there are tactical trade-offs that happen in combat, which adds granularity without really adding complexity (therefore good game design). It also allows for that truly heroic moment in the action near the end of the fight where your hero can take off his helmet, reveal his identity to the Big Bad, and find inner strength for the last push (therefore cinematic).
 


Benjamin Olson

Adventurer
Evidently medieval knights complained frequently about how obnoxious it was fighting in full helms. They were little ovens you put on your head that sealed off the only real vent of the big oven of the rest of your armor. Still worse they severely restricted visibility. It also made it more difficult to hear and much more difficult to accurately hear what direction things came from. As generally the easiest part of one's armor to take off they would often not be worn when not actually in or anticipating battle or would at least be swapped out for various levels of less enclosed helmet (it was possibly the decision of Richard I "the Lionheart" to do this while overseeing a small, unimportant siege against a sparsely defended castle that encouraged an archer in that castle to take the pot shot that killed him, though the arrow actually got him in the shoulder).

Which is to say that I think a helmet is more like a shield than the rest of one's armor in that it is generally relatively quick to doff and don and has advantages and disadvantages to having equipped at a given moment, and the calculus for how protective/constraining one is willing to go with the helmet is different from the decision the same person may make for the rest of their armor. I can imagine both the adventurer who goes for fairly extensive armor but goes minimalist on the helmet or even skips it because they want maximum sensory awareness (and as bad as it is to have most of the attacks coming at your exposed head that also makes it easy to anticipate which way the strikes are coming) and the adventurer who skips on most armor for the sake of mobility, comfort, stealth, etc but wants their damn head as protected as can possibly be.
 

Tyler Do'Urden

Soap Maker
Back in the 2E days, I learned this the hard way when I sent a major NPC against my PCs... in full plate, but with no helmet.

Player: "He's not wearing a helmet? Called shot to the head!"

I wasn't very good at putting my foot down and saying "I'm the DM" back then. He rent the NPC asunder with called shots to the head.

Ever since then.. my NPCs have helmets. Just in case.
 

Evidently medieval knights complained frequently about how obnoxious it was fighting in full helms. They were little ovens you put on your head that sealed off the only real vent of the big oven of the rest of your armor. Still worse they severely restricted visibility. It also made it more difficult to hear and much more difficult to accurately hear what direction things came from. As generally the easiest part of one's armor to take off they would often not be worn when not actually in or anticipating battle or would at least be swapped out for various levels of less enclosed helmet (it was possibly the decision of Richard I "the Lionheart" to do this while overseeing a small, unimportant siege against a sparsely defended castle that encouraged an archer in that castle to take the pot shot that killed him, though the arrow actually got him in the shoulder).

Which is to say that I think a helmet is more like a shield than the rest of one's armor in that it is generally relatively quick to doff and don and has advantages and disadvantages to having equipped at a given moment, and the calculus for how protective/constraining one is willing to go with the helmet is different from the decision the same person may make for the rest of their armor. I can imagine both the adventurer who goes for fairly extensive armor but goes minimalist on the helmet or even skips it because they want maximum sensory awareness (and as bad as it is to have most of the attacks coming at your exposed head that also makes it easy to anticipate which way the strikes are coming) and the adventurer who skips on most armor for the sake of mobility, comfort, stealth, etc but wants their damn head as protected as can possibly be.

They are not. A great helm is laced on from the outside, and even ordinary helms generally had to be tied on, as buckles that small were expensive. If a helm is worn unlaced, a hit can twist it, leaving the wearer blind and possibly with impaired breathing.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
I don't think of helmets, or any other armour as similar to a shield. Helmets are nowhere near as dynamic to use and move as a shield, with the possible exception of helmets with visors (like some sallet helmets) or maybe Corinthian helmets which do seem to have been frequently pushed-back, but unlikely in close combat. Helmets are like any other armour, but introduce specific restrictions, whether you want to incorporate these into your game is down to how granular you want it. Even though the TOR system is quite abstract, I do like the helmet-trick you can pull as @Kobold Stew mentions, but it's a more a cinematic move than anything else.

When used for parrying, a shield deflects a blow, it isn't necessarily about absorbing damage, (although it does that as well) a shield is used as an active defence much of the time, not solely as a passive defence as armour is, although again, it can also function as a passive damage sponge. A shield is also a weapon that can be used offensively, just as any other weapon. There are possible mechanical differences as well, in Mythras, making a successful parry means you deflect the weapon attack and protect yourself from a Special Effect, which is an advantage or opening that an opponent can pull on you - for example attempting a Stun, a Disarm, or a Trip against you. So even though you might be well protected with armour, if you fail an active parry against a successful attack, you have opened yourself up to one of these effects which might change the odds against you.

If anything, I disagree with the premise of the OP, it's shields that are neglected, not helmets. I have seen some of the rules involving shields in Pathfinder 2, presumably that's what the big picture was a reference to, and although it looks like shields get more of a look-on in PF2, it all seems a bit too little and ultimately a bit daft. Shields bring you a huge defensive advantage with the downside that you can't use a 2h weapon, this (afaik) has never been treated well in any d&d-like game.
 

It would be easy to add a rule where, if someone is wearing a helmet, a critical needs to be confirmed with an additional role. (As per 3.5) So it doesn’t totally mitigate a crit but it might deflect the occasional blow to the head. The trade out being a penalty to perception.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
D&D has never done a good job handling shields or armour in any respect, it's just a matter of how the system works. Of course helmets prevent a hero from showing off their good looks!
 
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the Jester

Legend
I've been strongly considering adding two categories of helmet in my game- a regular helm that grants +1 to AC and a great helm, which would add +2 to AC and impose disadvantage on Perception checks. I don't think that a +2 to AC will massively impact the game.
 

I just watched a video of a warrior going into a to-the-death duel. He grabs his helmet, but to take it off, not put it on.

Now I'm wondering:

Why do shields commonly get special treatment (rules) in TRPGs while helmets do not?

Should rules assume that wearing armor means wearing an appropriate helm?
Why? In film, TV and Plays, it's about recognition of the actor by face.
In novels, it's got many reasons, including some authors simply being utterly ignorant of the physics of melee combat.

Should they? Yes, absolutely. With a shield, you're most likely to get hit near the knee or above the jawline, with a significant chance of in the buttocks or back of the thighs.
A helm isn't as important if you aren't using a shield, as you then are actively parrying or dodging.
 

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