Recently I posted this set of rules clarification questions and a number of people explained how they do things. I had no idea this would turn into a survey, but now that we have some data, why not make use of it? Many people discuss rules prescriptively or theoretically, but this is a measure (at least partially) of what people do. Thus, these approaches are actually working for people at the table (as opposed to just looking good on paper).

Of all the questions, the one that seems to have generated the greatest variation is how people handle helmets. Here are some of the answers, organized roughly by popularity. I tried to group similar answers and in the process I may have lost some minor details.

The most common option (though not a majority) was to have no mechanical benefit or ignore the issue:

(Regarding looking awesome, everyone should check out JB’s B/X headgear table.)

Some people give penalties for not wearing a helmet:

  • Penalty for not wearing a helmet (1d30, DuBeers, Reign of Jotuns, rpgist, Gordon Cooper)
  • “No, but not wearing one makes your head AC9, and I understand you keep important stuff in there…” (Beedo, Chris Hogan)
  • AD&D (DMG page 28):

    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” odds 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).

    (James Mishler)

  • Labyrinth Lord (AEC page 142):

    Generally characters are assumed to be wearing a helmet with their armor. However, if for some reason a character is not wearing a helmet an opponent of no intelligence or relatively low intelligence will strike at a character’s AC 9 head on a roll of 1 on 1d6. Intelligent opponents will attempt to strike the head on a roll of 1-2 on 1d6.

    (Bob, scadgrad)

A few people allow helmets to function like shields (presumably stacking the bonus):

Another somewhat common approach is to grant some level of protection against critical hits or detailed injuries:

  • Can save you from a head crit (Jeff Rients, Niccodaemus, Zzarchov, Catacomb librarian, GrognardlingJohnathan Bingham, Dak)
  • Protects against some death & dismemberment results (The Bane, Mike D.)
  • “Only if a critical pushes a system shock check … Critical Hits that require a system shock roll have a chane at serious scaring or dismemberment.” (ERIC!)
  • “A adjusted roll of 17 or better that hits on a helmless target is a successful head short and cause the target to make a saving throw at +2 or fall unconcious. A adjusted roll of 20 or better is a faceshot and will cause the target to make a saving throw or fall unconcious unless they are wearing a greathelm.” (Rob Conley)

Or defense against stuff from above:

  • Protection from falling objects (Lasgunpacker, Stuart Robertson, Timrod)
  • “Only if something falls on their head, in which case the helmet gives the same AC value as the armour worn. A helmetless head is unarmoured.” (David Macauley)
  • AC 2 if attack from above, otherwise AC 9 (Ian)
  • “Anti-critical hits + possible damage reduction for stone blocks hitting one’s head.” (Omlet)

Bonus against head shots:

And finally, some miscellaneous approaches:

(Please forgive me if I missed your answers.)

    18 thoughts on “Helmets

    1. Brendan

      I always like the rules MERP/Arms Law. Individual pieces of armor don’t do much until you roll on the critical tables. Then you get things like “Blow to the head +15 hits. If no helm the target is down and in a coma for d6 weeks.”

    2. faoladh

      I haven’t gotten around to answering the 20 Questions, but my games will handle helmets differently from each other – in the AD&D game, I’ll use the AD&D rule (if helmet and armor ACs are different, then roll a d6 in addition to the d20 to hit); in the S&W:WB game, I’m using Death & Dismemberment, which includes specific effects of helmets.

    3. Lasgunpacker

      Agree with Alex J. our OSR house rules are “better” in a certain sense than the actual original rules. Rather than trying to figure out how often an intelegent monster might or might not strike an unprotected head, we come up with simple, and easy rules to reward players for doing what people really do, and put a helmet on that head.

    4. Erik aka VectorSigma

      This is indeed interesting. I suspect that in many cases the ‘why’ of someone’s helmet-rule interpretation (or lack thereof) might be setting-driven. For example, my campaign setting is a fantasy/17th-19thC mashup, so to my mind having a particular benefit to helmets drives characters to wear helms. And I don’t want them wearing helms – I want them wearing tricorns, top hats, bowlers, or feathers. Not pot-helms, not great-helms, not Erol Otus Bat-Winged Badasseries. It’s about shaping the genre-emulation; if I were running a game about Aztecs, you can bet I wouldn’t have extensive shield rules, either.

      1. Lasgunpacker

        That is an excellent point. I run a vaguely dark ages sort of game, so armor, shields, and helmets are key to the “look”, so trying to make that work is something I strive for.

      1. Joshua L. Lyle

        Yeah, thanks for this; for me it’s actually way more interesting to read a bunch of people’s responses to one of the twenty questions at once than to read one person’s responses to the twenty questions.

    5. Erin Smale

      RedHobbit’s “Naked Warrior Challenge” makes me want to change my helmet rules…

      Thanks for posting this questionnaire, Brendan. So useful on so many levels.

    6. Michael Bolam

      Stonehell Supplement 1 ( has some specific rules for cramped areas of the cave — “If the Labyrinth Lord wishes to add an element of realism to this cave crawl, he can ask each human or elf exploring these low ceilinged caves to make a save vs.
      petrify once during the game session. A failed result indicates that the character smashes his head on the low overhead and takes 0-1 hp of damage if not wearing a

      Stonehell supplement 1 is available free on Lulu (and Michael Curtis seems like an all around “good guy”), so I figured the author wouldn’t mind me quoting directly…

      1. Brendan

        As long as you give proper attribution, a short quote should pretty much always be covered under fair use. So it shouldn’t matter whether he minds or not. But I agree he seems like an all around good guy and probably doesn’t mind.


        Thanks for the pointer, I need to check out that supplement.

    7. Ed Dove

      I add my thanks for your work. In case anybody’s interested, here’s what I’ve been doing:

      A suit of armor includes a coif appropriate for that type of armor – but not a helmet.

      While wearing a coif, a character’s chance of hearing anything is cut in half.

      Wearing a suit of armor without its coif (or without any other piece of the suit) degrades its Armor Class value by 1 point (for each piece of the suit not worn – until its Armor Class value is degraded to unarmored Armor Class).

      Wearing a small helmet improves a character’s Armor Class by 1 point – and also protects that character’s head in every way that makes sense to the referee, including every way that any player can convince the referee makes sense.

      Wearing a great helmet improves a character’s Armor Class by 2 points – and protects that character’s head, face and neck in every way that makes sense to the referee, including every way that any player can convince the referee makes sense – but also obstructs that character’s peripheral vision, doubles that character’s chance of being surprised, and cuts that character’s chance of hearing anything in half.

      (So, while wearing a great helmet over a coif, a character’s chance of hearing anything is divided by 4.)


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