Following my post about the ability score name changes, I thought it would be prudent to discuss the four defense types and what they mean to a character in combat — I like the static defenses of 4e, and I think they work a lot better than table look-ups when it comes to determining a successful attack roll.

The four defenses are as follows:

Armor – this is probably best compared to the classic “Armor Class” defense score, Armor reflects a character’s ability to avoid sustaining damage from a physical attack on their person. A basic defense for basic attacks.

Armor is primarily modified by the Dexterity ability score, and/or by any worn armor. I prefer 4e’s approach to Dexterity being an “all or nothing” deal when applied to an armored character — heavy armor displaces a Dexterity bonus.

Reflex – 4e applied a shield bonus to Reflex in addition to AC, and I intend to take what I think is the next logical step and remove shield bonuses from “AC” entirely — the Reflex defense represents a character’s ability to turn aside an attack.

Reflex could be deflecting an attack with a shield, or it could be parrying with an off-hand weapon. Whatever the case, Reflex is a slightly more “intimate” defense score, and is both more difficult to modify and less commonly attacked.

Mettle – is maybe best thought of as a combination of both the 3e/4e Fortitude and Will defenses. Attacks against the functioning of a character’s mental and physical structure are both directed at Mettle. Mettle is body and mind.

Mettle is often the target of attacks that simply can’t be avoided — a few examples include gaze attacks, mental domination, and psychic assault. Poison and disease attacks are also made against a character’s Mettle. It’s life and death.

Resolve – while this defense covers an area that already existed, it’s set aside as a “different” defense in that it represents the very last line of defense against utter destruction. Attacks against a character’s fate and soul target Resolve.

If Armor is the most common defense, then Resolve is the rarest. If Reflex is the intimate side of Armor, Resolve is the intimate side of Mettle. Disintegration may target Mettle, but the really scary spells like Trap The Soul target Resolve.

Why four defense scores?

You could look at the scores any number of different ways — Armor and Reflex are the most common, most everyday type defenses, while attacks against Mettle and Resolve can be seen as despicable and wholly deliberate attacks intended to imperil one’s existence. Resolve attacks could not be mistaken as accidental.

The split between them creates a quasi-clear hierarchy of importance — Armor is the most common, it’s the best choice for enhancement. Or is it? If every fighter bulks up their Armor, it seems like a more effective strategy would be to swing for Reflex. So let’s bulk up Reflex too, to protect those vital areas.

But what’s this? Anyone who’s everyone is going in for something really nasty and underhanded like poison and mind control? Better pad that, too. What? Total erasure from existence is the thing now? Wait, what do you mean I ran out of stat points three defenses ago? How do I protect myself?

There is no way to protect every defense — but there aren’t so many defenses a player is left completely helpless. A player who doesn’t want to think that hard can stick with Armor and either Reflex or Mettle, or maybe just Armor.

For those crazy-prepared types out there, it could get pretty hairy…