I wish to incorporate an item durability system into my software application, though perhaps not for the immediate reason you might expect. Let me give you a little background information first.

I’m working on an application that handles a lot of the bookkeeping normally associated with the Dungeon Master’s job. I want to make it easier not only to play as Dungeon Master, but enables greater, “more detailed” play. This isn’t to say that I think everyone should for example, play with item durability. It isn’t for everyone.

However if I incorporate item durability into the “bones” of the program, then the degradation of items and equipment can serve as a motivation for the non-player characters in the world. Let’s face it, stuff breaks. Even if you don’t threaten the PCs’ goods with spoilage and breakage, if it’s a “fact of life,” then NPCs will have to deal with it–and this is where you get supply and demand.

Simple enough? Cool, let’s proceed.

So what I actually want to incorporate is not so much the durability of items, but their decomposition into other items. For example when you drink a potion from a bottle, the bottle remains. When your sword gets bent out of shape, you can (with the proper training and/or some luck) beat it back into shape. Of course the methods vary from one item type to another.

I found a handy “recycling” loop that describes how objects go from materials processing to final product to usage to its eventual disposal, and at what stages different types of reclamation are possible. For example the sword could be bent out of shape–pounding it back into shape returns it to usable status. If the blade is cracked or (heaven forbid) snapped off, you might be able to reuse bits of it but that sucker is broken.

If that sword is instead subject to a Rusting Grasp or Disintegrate spell well, you’ll be lucky if there is enough left to fill a plastic baggy.

When I was thinking about what sort of materials and components would go into the construction of various items, that led me naturally to thinking how those things might be recovered or reclaimed, and what state the thing would have had to be in to make use of the resulting materials. I have that description of the wear & tear a sword might take in my notes for precisely that reason.

Truth be told, I probably need no more “states” for an object than those I’ve described: objects may be in a ‘working,’ ‘damaged,’ ‘broken,’ or ‘destroyed’ state. Honestly, four states is pretty good and I think they are self-evident. Fragile objects like glass might go directly from ‘working’ to ‘broken’ or even ‘destroyed,’ bypassing the ‘damaged’ state entirely. Or not. It depends, I suppose.

But I was curious what other systems are out there. Long story short, I found a forum where a poster suggested looking up the AD&D 2e Complete Fighter book. I did so out of curiosity.

My reaction to it was, “fine.” But something troubled me. The system in a nutshell, gives items their own pool of hit points. Which is fine, you know? An item has roughly a number of hit points equal to what (in 5e terms) would be a point of AC. Padded/leather armor has 10 hp. Breastplate would have like, 40-50 hp. Full plate armor would have about 80 hit points.

And actually, here is where I started to ask questions.

See, a suit of armor normally only takes damage when its wearer is hit. This is fine, I guess. But the armor always takes only like, one point of damage per hit. And at that point my brain started to itch.

A suit of armor that a Rogue might wear (leather) has more “hit points” than the Rogue does. The armor only takes damage when the Rogue does, and the Rogue will likely die from a single attack which the armor would survive. That same suit of armor would go on to service the next nine Rogues–or not, since they’re getting hurt and killed because they have a pitiful AC with leather armor.

In other words, the PC is more disposable than the equipment they carry.

Now there are certainly real-world reasons this might be the case (and equipment often is valued over the lives of the people carrying/using it) but it still makes my brain itch. An attack that kills a character should probably (more often than not) render the armor they were wearing unusable, if not at least in need of repair. Obviously the armor didn’t work out for them.

I think the best takeaway I had from skimming the Complete Fighter was the section talking about piecemeal armor (which I’m now considering as an option for players who want to salvage pieces of fallen enemies’ gear). I think a general piecemeal armor rule would offer the armor at a -2 penalty: rendering the lightest armors worthless in terms of salvage.

That would at least enable a character to assemble “piecemeal plate armor” from a slain enemy at 16 AC–comparable to the armor with which a 1st-level Fighter or Paladin could begin the game. (And why not?)