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Helmets: Under-Used but Over-Important

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.

Hence the "generally" qualifier, which was intended precisely to avoid nitpicking over whatever the most finicky helmet was versus the most painless to doff and don rest of the kit.
 

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Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Hence the "generally" qualifier, which was intended precisely to avoid nitpicking over whatever the most finicky helmet was versus the most painless to doff and don rest of the kit.

Right, but the analogy doesn't really work, helmets, any kind of helmet, is not like a shield.
 



GMMichael

Guide of Modos
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.
So TRPGs are trying to emulate TV shows and plays? I'm not so sure, since in a TRPG, a helmet (usually) doesn't conceal someone's identity.

It's fair for rules to assume that a helm is included in a suit of armor, but I was more interested in the "appropriate" part - does full plate assume a greathelm? Does leather armor assume a skullcap, or no helm? If so, lightly-armored characters have a much greater chance of disfigurement than heavily-armored characters do. But they can probably see and hear much better.

Re: other posts...
I've never heard someone say, "I use my action to ready my shield." So I suspect that if helmet rules were more common, there wouldn't be requirements to don helmets, either. The armored fighter could clank along quietly in the dark, listening and watching without her lid, and throw it on once combat begins, right? (Personally, I'd require actions for these things.) So if a helmet doesn't require the use of a hand like a shield does, what's the cost of using a helmet? The value of seeing and hearing in combat shouldn't be minimized, here.

Sight - combatants need to track enemies, see their weapons and stances, see the battlefield, and see their footing. It's easier to get "flanked" when you have limited vision, and worst case, an enemy could use hiding/concealment rules against you if your visor is exceptionally thick, or say, covered in mud.

Hearing - key for communication with comrades, but also for preventing flanks, and gathering info about what you can't see. Ear/head safety contributes to balance.

A helmet might just be "another piece of armor," but it's not protecting just another body part. You could say that wearing a helmet is an important choice for a player, even if attacks don't/can't target the head. A helm, given the head's importance, could, for example, provide a defensive bump similar to that of some shields, with a cost of losing some ability to locate enemies, to call for healing, and/or to execute some maneuvers (if the helm is bulky).
 

I've always just assumed that your character has a helmet. But, I've also been laid back as a GM. It's your character. You tell me what s/he looks like!

I recall a, now dead, webcomic where, after seeing the critical hit table, helmets became the party's main goal for questing. I think it was Once Upon A Table. Something like that.
 

zarionofarabel

Adventurer
How come everyone thinks most helmets conceal ones identity? Most helmet designs I know of do not cover the face. Also, in most cases warriors in the era of sword fighting and such, WANT to be identifiable. After all, if you are renowned so-and-so with a reputation for being a badass, you want people to know.
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pemerton

Legend
This is something which is very system-dependent, I think.

In Prince Valiant, for example, there are three categories of armour: light, medium and heavy.

Light armour is "a shield, usually combined with a light helmet and a few bits of leather or cloth armor".

Medium armour is "a partial suit of metal armor, usually consisting of an open helmet and a breastplate or mail hauberk . . .the typical late Roman infantryman’s style of equipment, and also the Arab knight’s costume".

Heavy armour is "a full suit of chainmail, scale armor or Roman plate armor . . . which covers arms and legs as well as the torso and head. Usually a massive helmet covering the face is a part of this ponderous and extremely expensive equipage."

An attempt to gain an advantage by (say) ripping off or knocking off an opponent's helm would be resolved using the general framework for gaining bonuses or inflicting penalties. There is no mechanical state in the game of being in heavy armour but unhelmeted.

Compared to Prince Valiant, Burning Wheel is far more granular in its treatment of armour - it has six categories (leather/quilted; plated leather; light mail; heavy mail; plated mail; full plate) and four body locations (torso; arms - which can be half-armoured; legs - which can be half-armoured; and head). Wearing a helmet grants the appropriate armour dice to the head, but if it is anything more than a skull cap or hood (the helmet type that corresponds to leather/quilted armour) then it inflicts a penalty to perception/observation checks.

In AD&D's AC system, I would suggest a possible change is to assume that 1 point of AC in armour types between leather and scale comes from a helmet (so that taking it off reduces AC by 1) and that 2 points of AC in armour types between chain and plate comes from a great helm (so that taking it off reduces AC by 1, and replacing it with a lighter helm reduces AC by 1). A great helm can be rated for bulk like other armour in the system, though exactly how this interacts with the rules for DEX, surprise, initiative etc is pretty opaque (though there are some hints in the PHB and DMG).

There would be no point worrying about helmets in 4e D&D's armour system. 5e's system is similar to 4e's and so probably the same thought applies.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
So TRPGs are trying to emulate TV shows and plays? I'm not so sure, since in a TRPG, a helmet (usually) doesn't conceal someone's identity.

It's fair for rules to assume that a helm is included in a suit of armor, but I was more interested in the "appropriate" part - does full plate assume a greathelm? Does leather armor assume a skullcap, or no helm? If so, lightly-armored characters have a much greater chance of disfigurement than heavily-armored characters do. But they can probably see and hear much better.

Re: other posts...
I've never heard someone say, "I use my action to ready my shield." So I suspect that if helmet rules were more common, there wouldn't be requirements to don helmets, either. The armored fighter could clank along quietly in the dark, listening and watching without her lid, and throw it on once combat begins, right? (Personally, I'd require actions for these things.) So if a helmet doesn't require the use of a hand like a shield does, what's the cost of using a helmet? The value of seeing and hearing in combat shouldn't be minimized, here.

Sight - combatants need to track enemies, see their weapons and stances, see the battlefield, and see their footing. It's easier to get "flanked" when you have limited vision, and worst case, an enemy could use hiding/concealment rules against you if your visor is exceptionally thick, or say, covered in mud.

Hearing - key for communication with comrades, but also for preventing flanks, and gathering info about what you can't see. Ear/head safety contributes to balance.

A helmet might just be "another piece of armor," but it's not protecting just another body part. You could say that wearing a helmet is an important choice for a player, even if attacks don't/can't target the head. A helm, given the head's importance, could, for example, provide a defensive bump similar to that of some shields, with a cost of losing some ability to locate enemies, to call for healing, and/or to execute some maneuvers (if the helm is bulky).

As Zarion has just illustrated, there are plenty helmets that do not limit vision and yet are incredibly study, if lacking in protection for the face, or full protection if they have a movable visor. You could build in all that variability into your game if you really wanted to, say if you're running an obsessively detailed GURPS historical game, but I can't imagine many players or even GMs would maintain that much interest in fiddling about with this stuff especially if your underlying game system is already abstracting armour and hp already, ie. d&d and the like.

I don't get why you're connecting shields with helmets, I don't see how or why you are relating the two. A shield is effectively a specialised weapon which is primarily defensive - it's incredibly easy to parry with it, compared to other types of weapons, it covers a very large area, which can be adjusted very quickly, some shields are so large you can even crouch behind it for full cover, it's an effective defence against virtually any kind of weapon attack, including ranged attacks, it can be used offensively in pushes or bashes, and it's also one of the very few "dual wielding" weapon combinations that actually make sense and work well together.

Helmets are largely static pieces of armour with a lot of variants. Some late medieval helmets had moveable visors which allowed the wearer to tradeoff overheating and restricted vision with cooler, freer breathing and better sight, that's about as dynamic as it gets. I can't see that once you've decided to wear a helmet that you are taking it off/putting it back on inside a combat. I suppose you could be punitive about the very highest level of protection but I'm not sure there's much else to it.
 

I don't get why you're connecting shields with helmets, I don't see how or why you are relating the two. A shield is effectively a specialised weapon which is primarily defensive - it's incredibly easy to parry with it, compared to other types of weapons, it covers a very large area, which can be adjusted very quickly, some shields are so large you can even crouch behind it for full cover, it's an effective defence against virtually any kind of weapon attack, including ranged attacks, it can be used offensively in pushes or bashes, and it's also one of the very few "dual wielding" weapon combinations that actually make sense and work well together.
Shield use is complicated, and it's not terribly easy.
You appear to have conflated parry and block, two different technique sets.
You appear to ignore the passive effect of shields.

In a block, you're using mass to prevent a hit by simply putting that mass in the way, usually just elevation or rotation of the shield, without extension. You're letting the opponent hit your shield.
In a parry, you're using movement to prevent a hit by active redirection of the incoming weapon.
The passive effect is that attacks that hit the shield without needing to block nor parry simply don't do much because the mass of the shield prevents rapid accelerations...

Smaller shields, and especially bucklers and small round shields, are usually used to parry -you use it to force the opponent's weapon out of your attack's way.
Larger shields tend to be used to block, not to parry - a quick rotation at the shoulder or elbow to let the attack come in on intended angle, but to have the shield in the way. Essentially, simply stopping the attack by mass.

Good blocking skills can blend blocks and parries, especially snap-rotations to pop the corner up and allow the attack to go over one's head; pulling that off has been a challenge for many a Historical European Martial Art enthusiast (whether HEMA member or SCA member, or other recrudescence group). The tendency is to hide one's head and lose sight of the opponent...

The reason a helmet is important with a shield is this: Many basic shield blocks will turn a high shot from a would-be shoulder hit into a side of head hit. The passive position is, for visibility reasons, with head exposed over the shield, ideally covering the chin or even nose. This puts the high shots often being guided right into the hit on the ear.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
The reason a helmet is important with a shield is this: Many basic shield blocks will turn a high shot from a would-be shoulder hit into a side of head hit. The passive position is, for visibility reasons, with head exposed over the shield, ideally covering the chin or even nose. This puts the high shots often being guided right into the hit on the ear.
Good point about hiding the opponent. But as a south paw, I feel slightly left out of this analysis.

As Zarion has just illustrated, there are plenty helmets that do not limit vision and yet are incredibly study, if lacking in protection for the face, or full protection if they have a movable visor...
Which is why Zarion got an XP. . .

I don't get why you're connecting shields with helmets, I don't see how or why you are relating the two. A shield is effectively a specialised weapon which is primarily defensive - it's incredibly easy to parry with it, compared to other types of weapons, it covers a very large area, which can be adjusted very quickly, some shields are so large you can even crouch behind it for full cover, it's an effective defence against virtually any kind of weapon attack, including ranged attacks, it can be used offensively in pushes or bashes, and it's also one of the very few "dual wielding" weapon combinations that actually make sense and work well together.

Helmets are largely static pieces of armour with a lot of variants. Some late medieval helmets had moveable visors which allowed the wearer to tradeoff overheating and restricted vision with cooler, freer breathing and better sight, that's about as dynamic as it gets. I can't see that once you've decided to wear a helmet that you are taking it off/putting it back on inside a combat. I suppose you could be punitive about the very highest level of protection but I'm not sure there's much else to it.
I'm suggesting (now, if not earlier) that using a helmet is just as tactically interesting as using a shield. Not that they're the same type of armor. And what's more: they deserve just as much consideration in game design as shields do.

If a game blows off armor details like, as pemerton points out, Prince Valiant does, then you don't need shield or helm rules. But I'm pretty sure that Pathfinder 2 has shield rules, and I hope it also has helmet rules to explain whether or not debilitating damage left those uncovered heads (from OP) unscarred, unblinded, and unconcussed. :unsure:

Or to put it another way, why not have a table like this:
Small shield+1 ACNo penalty
Medium shield+2 AC-1 hand
Large shield+3 AC-1 hand, +1 encumbrance
Small helm+1 ACNo penalty
Medium helm+2 AC-1 hearing
Large helm+3 AC-2 sight, -2 hearing
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
I'm suggesting (now, if not earlier) that using a helmet is just as tactically interesting as using a shield. Not that they're the same type of armor. And what's more: they deserve just as much consideration in game design as shields do.

I get it, but I think this is absolutely and clearly wrong, why connect the two in the first place? As I've said, shields are a specialised type of weapon, armour is almost always a type of specialised clothing(!), including helmets. The point about shields is that you take action with them when you are using them, unfortunately most (all?) f20 games do not model this at all. I understand PF2 does actually have actions which make use of shields but not entirely in a reactive way, f20 games don't use an attack Vs parry action in the way BRP games do.

What doesn't make sense is the idea that you are taking some kind of tactical action with a helmet, in an equivalent way that you might do with a shield. This is a bizarre notion.

Shield use is complicated, and it's not terribly easy.
You appear to have conflated parry and block, two different technique sets.
You appear to ignore the passive effect of shields.
Haha, yeah which is why I said "compared to other weapons" which is why I italicised it, and which of course you've ignored to straw man it.
No, I haven't ignored the passive effect of shields, I just didn't mention that property clearly in that last post.

I am using the term 'parry' to include most of what you are talking about with 'blocking', in my terms and game system active parries of any kind are called 'parries', whereas explicit passive blocking is called a Passive Block, I can see why you got confused by this since I didn't call it out, my bad. I'm interested in what HEMA and SCA get up to, but they typically cover a very narrow range of periods and weapons, so I don't particularly care about the terms they use since they are very particular to the periods and cultures they are concerned with.

The reason a helmet is important with a shield is this: Many basic shield blocks will turn a high shot from a would-be shoulder hit into a side of head hit. The passive position is, for visibility reasons, with head exposed over the shield, ideally covering the chin or even nose. This puts the high shots often being guided right into the hit on the ear.

Helmets are the most important armour piece you might wear, I said that in my first post, so I'm not sure why you are ignoring that, it seems obvious to me. Shields are a different category of equipment, again that seems obvious.
 

Good point about hiding the opponent. But as a south paw, I feel slightly left out of this analysis.

Intentionally so from a historic standpoint - many cultures would have forced you to function right handed.

When a lefty faces a righty, the sword arm is the most common hit, simply because the shield is poorly covered by the shield, and the arm must needs be exposed when on the attack.

On the other hand, a good fencer vs a fencer still usually hits the body more than the arm, but the rapier is a stabby, not a choppy, sword, and so the successful parry or block usually results in total miss, not a hit displaced from aim.
 

Dr Magister

Explorer
I know in the most recent edition of Barbarians of Lemuria (and Everywhen, the generic version), wearing a helmet is treated separately to other armour, and gives a +1 bonus to protection and -1 penalty to initiative due to reduced vision/hearing.
 

GMMichael

Guide of Modos
The point about shields is that you take action with them when you are using them, unfortunately most (all?) f20 games do not model this at all. I understand PF2 does actually have actions which make use of shields but not entirely in a reactive way, f20 games don't use an attack Vs parry action in the way BRP games do.

What doesn't make sense is the idea that you are taking some kind of tactical action with a helmet, in an equivalent way that you might do with a shield. This is a bizarre notion. . .
Ah - I'm seeing helmet-use as a tactical decision, not action. Also, the thread is partially about the rules of the gear, so why do f20, PF2, and BRP treat shields differently...and do they have helmet rules as well, or are helmets just specialized clothing?

Intentionally so from a historic standpoint - many cultures would have forced you to function right handed.
Darn commanders and their trying-to-efficiently-train-everyone! They probably would have made me wear a helmet too. :geek:

I know in the most recent edition of Barbarians of Lemuria (and Everywhen, the generic version), wearing a helmet is treated separately to other armour, and gives a +1 bonus to protection and -1 penalty to initiative due to reduced vision/hearing.
That's cool - have you tried it? Does it make the defensive side of combat more interesting?

Hmmm...defensive side... could this be why helmets get overlooked: because defense, in general, gets glossed over? Take D&D - a character is always defending, against every attack. (Yes, they made a rule so backstabbers could get around this.) And you don't even get hurt until you're dead, which makes me wonder why a character is able to spend so much time defending. Why have a helmets rule when defense itself doesn't much matter?

By this idea, shields aren't important because they're essential for defense; it's because they interfere with one's offensive capabilities (weapon wielding). Of course, assuming that seeing and hearing are less important for offense, and that fantasy characters can't wield a shield and sword in the same hand, or wield a weapon two-handed while wearing a shield.
 

By this idea, shields aren't important because they're essential for defense; it's because they interfere with one's offensive capabilities (weapon wielding). Of course, assuming that seeing and hearing are less important for offense, and that fantasy characters can't wield a shield and sword in the same hand, or wield a weapon two-handed while wearing a shield.
The shield is (unlike in most games rules) capable of offensive use. The reason one seldom sees it such in SCA and HEMA is because, unlike the rebates used for activities rely upon deconcentration of force to prevent actual injury, but the shield used offensively isn't able to be reasonably rebated. I assure you, a shield edge is a dangerous thing, hence why it's not allowed to be used offensively in the SCA.
 

Ace

Adventurer
The easy if harsh way to encourage helmets is to have a house rule that unless you have a helmet or defenses like mage armor, any hit is automatically a critical hit.

If you apply a modest penalty to perception , it becoems a trade off , perception or safety.
 

Bilharzia

Fish Priest
Ah - I'm seeing helmet-use as a tactical decision, not action. Also, the thread is partially about the rules of the gear, so why do f20, PF2, and BRP treat shields differently...and do they have helmet rules as well, or are helmets just specialized clothing?
I'm using "f20" in the sense of all fantasy d20 games - all the d&ds, 13th Age, the Pathfinders, osr, etc. What I mean is that attack and defence in those games are resolved in a single roll, and that's why AC is used so that defence is subsumed within the attack roll. In BRP games attack and defence are two separate rolls - attacker makes the attack roll, defender decides if and how they will defend, then rolls their defence. In BRP's case armour absorbs damage, it typically does not influence whether the defender is hit or not. That is the essential difference between f20 games and BRP when it comes to combat, and AFIAK most rpgs treat armour as a damage sponge, unlike the f20 games where armour changes the to-hit chance.

This means that shields (and any weapon) can be used actively in a parry action to defend against an attack. In Mythras you can use the shield as a passive block while at the same time making an active parry with your main weapon, assuming a 1h weapon + shield combination.

Yes, BRP games have helmets, and cuirasses, greaves, vambraces and so on, depending on setting. Not all BRP games use hit locations but when they do, armour and hp are broken up across different locations (seven for a human), so you can be armoured differently in different places, and each item of armour can be of a different quality and strength. You can also be wounded in different locations, and a serious wound in the leg has different consequences than a serious wound in the head, for example. It is perfectly possible to have a very protective metal helmet, a linen cuirass and cloth limb protection as a mixed armour set. In some campaigns you might want to enable PCs scavenging materials like chitin from tough creatures to make their own armour pieces, or take crafted armour from defeated foes. This works well in sword & sorcery settings, or post-apocalyptic ones where materials are scarce.

So there are plenty of options, decisions and tradeoffs you might want to make with armour (including helmets), but all that comes before a combat and not during one. With a shield there are also decisions you need to make before you get into a combat, beginning with what weapons you are trained to use, what is available to you and what you are fighting against. For example you might need to decide whether your character uses a large 2h weapon, or whether they use a sword and shield and so on. When it comes to being in a combat there are then tactical decisions to make when you are using a shield - (using Mythras) are you using a passive block to defend and conserve action points by not attempting an active parry? do you attempt a parry in the hope of getting a special effect and trying to trip or disarm your opponent? do you attack with your spear or do you try an attack with your shield with an idea to Bash your opponent off a bridge because the shield gives you an advantage when bashing and knocking back? These are the kind of tactical decisions you don't get to make with a helmet.

In an urban setting you might not be able to carry certain weapons around, if you consider the reaction you might get today if you walked into a bank carrying a riot shield and a motorcycle helmet... it's unlikely that a town would tolerate large weapons and shields, but in a certain setting it might be permissible to walk around with a rapier and dagger and/or buckler because those are personal defence weapons and not military weapons.

By this idea, shields aren't important because they're essential for defense; it's because they interfere with one's offensive capabilities (weapon wielding). Of course, assuming that seeing and hearing are less important for offense, and that fantasy characters can't wield a shield and sword in the same hand, or wield a weapon two-handed while wearing a shield.
A shield and weapon combination makes offense easier because it protects you from attack as you close with an opponent. This is why a comparatively unimpressive weapon (the Roman gladius) was so deadly, because it was part of a weapon system used with a large shield (scutum), and in a formation. The shield means you can get close to use the gladius, without the shield you have less offensive ability.

A more typical weapon combination is spear and shield, which both protects you and allows you to strike at a long reach, and defend yourself against attackers at range and close up.

Your table of helmets and shields is probably fine for an f20 game.
 
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Dr Magister

Explorer
That's cool - have you tried it? Does it make the defensive side of combat more interesting?


A little, I suppose. It reduces damage a small amount at the cost of a smallish penalty to initiative. I guess it's more significant when fighting rabble (low-ranking mooks) because their damage is low, so the damage mitigation is more significant, and they almost always go last in combat anyway, regardless of your initiative roll.
 

Bohandas

Adventurer
I'd like to add that in a fantasy RPG setting with magic a helmet is doubly important by virtue of being a metal hat, and thus potentially shielding your head from certain divinations

EDIT:
Also, I feel compelled to point out that several of the images posted by zarionofarabel a few posts back had face coverings, which is contrary to his point.
 
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