On Equipment Degradation

How high power is your game?

A gritty, dirty, low power game needs some mechanical basis to make it feel dirty, gritty, and low power. One easy way to do that is with equipment degradation.

Sadly, this effect is often completely lost once the first magical weapons start appearing. Here's a method to fix that.

In a game I am playing in, equipment degradation rules are in effect. Every time you roll beneath the quality of the weapon the weapon takes a notch of damage. Quality ranges from 1-5.

Every time a weapon takes damage, there is a quality in six chance of it becoming broken. Armor works the same way, except quality is rated 16-20 (since the opponent attacks). After 3 notches the weapon or armor degrades one point of protection. After 6 notches the weapon is broken.

So how to avoid the magic item problem? Eliminate the straight +X bonus for magic items, and make them items of exceptional quality.

Equipment degradation and magic items

Normal items have a quality of 1-5 as normal. Quality 1 is the best quality normal items can have. Roll under your quality when attacking? Weapon or armor is damaged and provides 1 less point of protection/hit/damage and has a quality in 6 chance of breaking outright. (Armor is inverted, with quality 1 armor being damaged on a roll of 20 and quality 5 armor being damaged on a roll of 16-20)

Quality 5 is the base price in the books. You must find a more skilled smith to purchase higher quality weapons. Each increase in quality increases the price of the item by 50%. E.g. if the book price is 5 gold, then a quality 4 weapon is 7.5 gold, quality 3 is 10 gold, quality 2 is 12.5 gold, and quality one is 15 gold.

Quality 5 Book price
Quality 4 +50%
Quality 3 +100% (Price doubled)
Quality 2 +150%
Quality 1 +200% (Price Tripled)

Magical Items

Magical items have a +bonus. This is not a +X to hit or to AC. When you attack, you roll a 1d6 with your attack. If the roll is under or equal to the plus of the item, then it provides a +1 bonus to attack and damage. Armor and shields work the same way. When you are attacked, the player rolls 1d6 for magical armor and shields and any roll under or equal to the plus of the armor or shield allows it to increase your armor class by one.

If you want an item to possibly provide a +2 bonus or +3 bonus, then simply increase the magical bonus to above 6. A magical +7 bonus always provides a +1 and has a 1 in 6 chance of providing an additional +1 bonus.

Weapons are still damaged on a roll of one, reducing their bonus by one, or if only at a +1 bonus, becoming non-magical quality 1 weapons and armor. Armor is still damaged on a roll of 20, reducing their bonus by one, or if only at a +1 bonus, becoming non-magical quality 1 weapons and armor.

Repairing damage is possible, but requires a smith capable of forging the quality of the item or magic. It costs 25% of the value of the original item per point repaired.

Behind the curtain

So one of the advantages of this is that it's actually pretty easy to track and involves the players. With non-magical weapons and armor you are waiting for each piece of crappy armor to break for the first couple sessions.

Having the weapon or armor degrade on each point of damage serves several purposes. First, each point of damage has a direct effect as opposed to tracking multiple points before anything bad happens. Second, low quality weapons and armor such as daggers and leather armor may become useless before they become broken.

Realistically players will rapidly acquire quality 1 weapons, which means they will be looking for the critical numbers or fumbles on die rolls. It's pretty easy for everyone to look out for those 1's and 20's.

Once they acquire magical weapons and armor, they will be excited about rolling those dice for those additional bonuses, which means that you've got a handy reminder about when those weapons take damage.

Finding, recruiting, or hiring a smith that can make high quality or magical weapons in such a campaign becomes a major issue or victory.


  1. I love this topic and this idea, but I don't completely get the magical items element ... also, I should provide you with a room description. :)

    1. It's pretty straighforward I think. A magical weapon is exactly like a quality 1 weapon, except it has a bonus. If you roll under this bonus on a 1d6 when you attack, you get +1 to hit and damage on the attack.

  2. A thought: an alternate (but simpler?) option could be something along the lines of the ammunition system. On a critical fumble (1 to attack on d20) for weapons or a critical hit (20 on d20) for armor, a second die would be rolled say 1d6 = the base die, then following DCC rules scale up to 1d20 or 1d30. A 1 on the second die indicates the weapon or armor is ruined. If a 1 is not rolled, the die size is simply reduced (or not even that, to keep it simpler).

  3. Interesting food for thought, as I have been considering ways for making this dynamic both more salient and require less bookkeeping. I am not unsatisfied with the current method we are using, but I think it could still be improved.

    I don't think I like the idea of rolling an extra die for each attack though, to see if a magic bonus is active. Mathematically, it just works out as a fractional bonus, and I think just making it a flat +1 bonus might be easier and not threaten numerical inflation overly much, if you wanted to stick to the bonus paradigm for enchanted weapons.

    1. I often think in real physical terms, and rolling a d6 along with the attack die seems to have very little overhead.

      The original implementation that I got the idea from modified random parts of the d20 roll - so if you rolled, say, a 14, that 14 counts as a 15 (but the other 19 numbers are unmodified). A d6 roll seemed a nice way to have less table reference.

      Also having bonuses in groups of 6 provides a nice little declining degradation slope for magic items, which is the advantage of rolling the die (other than tracking 'notches' that have no effect) this way the damage to the weapon reduces the bonus, slowly but surely.

    2. Yeah, rolling several dice at once might be okay. Need to see it in play for 3 to 5 sessions before being able to say for certain. I actually like the idea of looking at even/odd on the attack roll (or something like that).

      Seems a bit like the AD&D helmet rules though, which sounds some warning bells for me.

    3. The helmet rules are a different thing entirely. It's like,
      DM: "Are you wearing a helmet?"
      Player says no.
      DM:"Oh. the Troglodyte" *dice clatter* "targets your unarmored head, which is AC 10, and hits for 15 damage. If you are still alive save versus Death to stay conscious with a -15"

      It's super extra fun in hackmaster, what with criticals.

  4. Object damage and degradation is one of those topics that I'd love to see done, but most implementations add too much upkeep and ultimately have little effect on the gameplay. I like the general idea you have here, but this adds so much extra upkeep and rules. Having to roll to see how reliable your magical weapons are also does not appeal to me. I'm also not sure how masterwork weaponry fits in this model.

    If I designed a degradation system for a d20 system, I'd try to model it like firearm misfires from Pathfinder. A weapon's quality determines its botch range. For example, a quality of 3 means your weapon attacks automatically miss on a natural roll of 3 or lower. Armor can follow a similar scheme, using the opponent's roll. A botch (or near critical hit for armor) increases the quality. Weapons/armor break on quality 6 or higher and become destroyed on 10 or higher.

    This has an interesting interaction with PCs depending on their level. Low level PCs will likely not care about using a poor quality weapon because a natural 9 or lower will usually miss anyway. Additionally, the expense of mundane weaponry has significance with low level characters. Since low quality weapons are cheap and break often, it creates a scenario where a low level characters will throw away weapons frequently because the cost between fixing a broken sword and buying a used one will be insignificant. High level characters, on the other hand, will need high quality weapons. Higher attack bonuses and the ability to make multiple attacks per round makes having a high quality weapon vital. They also have enough funds to make investing in a single weapon viable.

    That's my thoughts on this topic. Unfortunately, I cannot really toy with degradation in my campaign. Due to poor loot pacing, my campaign has been fairly low power and my players have really terrible luck with the dice. I would have to wait for another campaign to start before I experiment with degradation.

    1. Cyrad, I think the intent is, this is what the campaign is supposed to be about.

    2. Oh, pardon me! I meant that I'd love to try degradation mechanics. I like low power because the few spikes of power the players do have feel amazing. However, I accidentally made my current campaign more low power than I wanted due to poor loot pacing on my part. So, it does not feel too wise to add a mechanic meant to make a campaign gritty and low power when the campaign already feels too gritty and too low power.

    3. All I meant was that this isn't something you sort of add to any campaign. The intent is that if you're going to use it, acquiring usable weapons and armor would be a major theme of the campaign.

  5. My current thoughts for a revision of my system is to dispense with tracking notches, and instead have three different gear states: fresh, damaged, ruined. On rolls less than or equal to quality, the item drops a category, which decreases its effectiveness in the case of "damaged." Repairing a damaged weapon costs 1/2 new cost. Some actions may cause an automatic downgrade, such as hitting a statue with an axe.

    This does away with "null result" notch accumulation while also giving players some warning before their weapon or armor is totally gone.

    (Terminology may change later.)

  6. You don't even have to have a dirty and gritty game to have broken equipment, I recall a certain ranger and future king from a very popular trilogy walking about with a broken sword.

    Weapons and armor break.

  7. Have you thought of a mechanic that deals with shields? Shields may be a way to mitigate damage to your armor in a long fight, choosing your shield to take the damage instead of your armor. Just an idea.

    1. "Shields Shall be Splintered" - long-standing and popular OSR rule. :) - sacrifice your shield, avoid one attack's damage.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...