Why are helmets in Dungeons and Dragons based RPGs so rarely actually protective?
D+D has been the backdrop to a lot of video game RPGs, many of them extremely famous titles of the genre (such as Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and, of course, the incredibly excellent Planescape: Torment). And in each of those games, the average helmet really doesn’t do much for your defense. Until you get far enough in the game that you start encountering a ton of enchanted equipment and may then come across a helmet with some trait that’s actually useful, the only thing a helmet does is prevent critical hits. It doesn’t add to your Armor Class, or reduce damage, or anything.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s nice not to have to worry that some punk ass little goblin’s gonna roll a critical right when he’s beating otherwise ineffectually against your mage, but this setup doesn’t seem logical to me. Yeah, I can kind of see the reasoning behind it--your head’s a pretty important and vulnerable spot on you, so you could say that any critical hit is an attack on your head, and thus a helmet is protecting you from those. But your heart, your liver, your stomach, your neck, and your genitals are all extremely vulnerable areas, too. The whole human body is basically one giant weak spot, really. It’s only reasonable to assume that attacks that penetrate those areas would be critical hits, possibly even more so than several parts of your head (which does have that thick, or even utterly impenetrable if you work at SquareEnix, skull around it). The regular armor covering those areas doesn’t protect against critical hits, despite being, often, considerably thicker than a helmet--it just increases the Armor Class.
Of course, Armor Class is kind of logistically bizarre already, so I don’t know why I’d expect the helmet situation to make a whole lot of sense, either.
It’s not a big deal, I know, and the games themselves aren’t solely at fault--they’re just following the way that the armor system worked in the actual version of Dungeons and Dragons that they were based on. I’m sure that the role of helmets in D+D were determined with gameplay balance in mind more than making sense of the armor defense system. It’s just weird to see what would normally be a vital part of one’s defensive equipment relegated to such a tiny protective role, that’s all.