Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like this is one of the rules that could use a little tweak to support the genre. The objective here is to fit the feel we’re going for without accidentally creating anything unbalanced – OR worse, requiring everyone to play a monk or a vampire (haha) in order to skip out on heavy armor plating. Basically, though, I want a setting where everyone gets to wear cool cloth armors and I don’t have giant clanking paladins who can’t get in on the more agile feats of martial skill (Partly because my favorite part of The Forbidden Kingdom is watching Golden Sparrow fight in her dress. Followed very closely by the awesomeness of The Silent Monk as he uses his sleeves to disorient his opponents. And partly because I just hate clanking when I move).
There are a few possible solutions to this. One of them is suggested in the DMG under “Swashbuckling” (I feel like there’s a lot of overlap between a campaign centered on martial artists and a campaign where lightly armored rapier wielding rogues swing on chandeliers and leap from balconies to horseback, though perhaps I’m the only one) – and to be fair, it isn’t a bad one. Just eliminate heavy plate and scale armor, and adjust the armor bonus of a lighter armor (like the breastplate, for instance) to compensate for those characters who would be affected. This way your Paladin gets a decent armor class, and you keep your feel intact.
I’d present that as one option, but I’d also like it to be possible for everyone to wear cloth without suffering ill effects or opening up gamebreaking feat combos.
This is going to be a several step process, and the solution will vary based on the nature of the classes approached.
- Firstly, inherent bonuses are a must. They go a long way toward making 4th Edition less about shopping for cool toys that give more “pluses”, and they make it so we don’t have to worry about armor enchants.
- Characters who normally get only cloth armor are unchanged. Half of them get Unarmored Agility for free (or an equivalent effect that stacks in some cases) and they need other kinds of tweaks rather than AC buffing.
- Characters who normally get leather armor proficiency have the option of either keeping it, or trading it for the following feature:
Unarmored Defense: You receive Unarmored Agility as a free bonus feat.
This neatly gives them our “all cloth” feel, and prevents stacking the Unarmored Agility feat with our tweak.
- Characters who normally get hide armor receive the following option:
Body of Bronze: You have hardened your chi to protect your body from blows, whether by turning them aside or by absorbing the impact. You receive a +3 to your AC when you are wearing cloth armor or no armor.
Special: This bonus does not stack with that granted by Unarmored Agility.
- And honestly, pretty much the same thing all the way up the armor scale. If you wish, you can offer the same thing with shields – with the possible exception of the Weaponmaster Fighter and the Tempest Ranger, most classes probably wouldn’t mind a shield bonus with the condition that they can’t carry a shield or must have a free hand. I know my vampire doesn’t!
- Wondrous Items, being perfectly practical examples of magic, are basically unchanged.
- Magical Weapons are extraordinarily rare. When they are found, more often then not they account for several of a character’s boons at any given time. Moreover, magical items can only be used by the person who does great deeds to unlock their powers – IE, the adventurer who found them, usually. They can be passed on to a new owner only under rare circumstances, like on their owners death, and in all but the rarest cases they lose all their power and become ordinary weapons when that happens… at least until a new owner performs the great deeds needed to unlock them again!
In game terms, this means that magic items are no longer a commodity, but they are still a treasure. They’re also the sort of thing that martial artists/adventurers really ought to have buried with them when they die. After all, an Emperor of the Middle Kingdom was buried with a terracotta army that he believed would help him rule again in the afterlife. How much more should a hero of the people be buried with his sword? UNLESS he passes it on to a successor.
- Apart from magical items, martial artists also can receive boons in the form of magical talents, divine gifts, or grandmaster training. The latter makes a good catch-all description for boons in a game like this one; in genre, martial artists frequently gain insight in battle that leads them to refine new techniques and attacks.