What do people do about helmets?

1981 B/X D&D doesn’t seem to say anything about helmets. Labyrinth Lord (based on B/X) has a helmet in the equipment list but no rules for effects, though the Advanced Edition Companion uses the AD&D rule (below).

The AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, of course, includes this:

Helmets:
It is assumed that an appropriate type of head armoring will be added to the suit of armor in order to allow uniform protection of the wearer. Wearing of a “great helm” adds the appropriate weight and restricts vision to the front 60″ only, but it gives the head AC 1. If a helmet is not worn, 1 blow in 6 will strike at the AC 10 head, unless the opponent is intelligent, in which case 1 blow in 2 will be aimed at the AC 10 head (d6, 1-3 = head blow).

To be honest, I’ve never really used this rule. I’ve been tempted from time to time to do so, maybe by just including a 6d roll along with every d20 to-hit roll, but have never gone ahead with it. I’ve also thought about the idea of a natural ’20’ indicating a “head shot” that causes double damage to those wearing helmets and triple damage to those without. Or maybe normal damage if wearing a helmet and double damage to those without.

Philotomy writes:

Wearing a suit of armor (i.e. doesn’t include “shield only”) without a helmet grants attackers a +1 bonus to the attack roll. (I followed the OD&D practice where an armor bonus/penalty applies to the enemy’s attack roll rather than to the PC’s armor class.)

This effectively grants an AC penalty to those wearing armor but no helmet and fits in with the AD&D view that “it is assumed that an appropriate type of head armoring will be added to the suit of armor.”

Generally, I’ve ruled that helmets don’t make any difference unless something specific comes up and I rule otherwise. Rocks raining down from above may cause 1d4 damage to those without helmets but only 1 damage to those with, for instance. Or maybe someone wearing a visored helmet gets a bonus when trying to avoid a medusa’s gaze. But I’ve never had any formal rules. Only on-the-spot rulings.

How do others handle helmets?

6 Comments to “Helmets”

  1. sean wills says:

    Only on-the-spot rulings for me too, but I like the head shot idea of yours, normal damage with a helmet, double without.

  2. Erin says:

    In my B/X campaign, a helmet adds +1 to AC, but increases chance of surprise due to limited perception. A helmet also penalises observation and missile fire, and prevents Hear Noise attempts.

    To make this fit, though, I decided to make armour more atomic: http://breeyark.org/content/battlefield-fashions

    BTW, I never really liked the AD&D rule, mostly because it opens up the door for called shots/hit locations, which don’t work well with the hit-point-abstraction that is D&D combat. The other issue is that this rule implies that 50% of attacks are aimed at the head only when there’s no helmet. If you are wearing a helmet, is your head still the target 50% of the time, and if so, what is its AC?

    To me, this was another of Gygax’s at-his-own-table-decisions cum rules. Not that the concept is without merit, but its incomplete and cursory inclusion impresses me as an afterthought that produces more confusion than clarity.

    So, um, yeah…+1 AC, with some penalty to observation, however it works best in your game.

  3. Ever since I started Trollsmyth’s Death and Dismemberment table, helmets have started making a difference without conferring any bonuses.

    • Kilgore says:

      I’d forgotten about the helmet rules in there. That is some good stuff. In fact, those differences (only stunned if wearing a helmet instead of KOed, for instance) are the sort of thing I rule on the spot for, rather than having a formalized rule for it.

      Thanks for the reminder.

  4. Jack Colby says:

    I don’t really care for the visual of a party running around wearing helmets, and I don’t think the players do either. So I never rule on helmets one way of the other. If someone actually wants one, that’s fine, but it has no statistical benefit or penalty.

    • Kilgore says:

      This is pretty much how I feel. I DO envision a lot of armored characters wearing helmet…but not all of them. I don’t want the woodsy ranger-type archer fighter wearing a helmet with his leather armor just because it gains him some mechanical bonus.

      At the same time, I don’t want everyone NOT wearing helmets because they give no bonuses whatsoever. That’s why I feel the bonuses should be small and limited but not meaningless.