My question about armor -- how important is DR? Can I get away without it if I'm the party bruiser (barbarian)? I was thinking of Black Kingdom Southerner as the race, which would give me a +1 to Dodge, but only unarmored.
1) DR is reduction to damage dealt, but most of the weapons do a ton of damage anyway, so you have to ask yourself if that MaxDex modifier or Armor Check penalty is worth it for reducing a mere 4pts of damage.
2) ther's 2 major ways to get around armor. Armor Penetration (AP) values of weapons add to the wielder's strength and if that number equals or is higher than your DR, then that DR value is halved. Also, ther are Finesse Attacks. All an opponent needs really is a light, one handed weapon and, if his roll To Hit is higer than your Defensive Value (DV) plus DR, then he ignores you DR completely. Finesse attacks also use DEX rather than STR, so high DEX character prefer this mode. For example, If I'm trying to hit you (bonuses and the die and everything) and your DV is 17 wearing DR4 armor, all I need to get is a 22 total. With DEX bonus, BAB abd a die roll, that's not too tough. If you then consider that high DEX characters often have Sneak Attack too, lots of damage can be dealt without you ever seeing your DR have any effect.
Conan is sort of designed that way. Armor slows you and protects you at low levels, but after about 5th lvl, it's better to rely on cunning and forego the "protection" of DR.
They add to Parry, not DR (AE pg137). This can increase DV slightly, but it provides no reduction to damage, and if you Dodge instead (which high DEX characters whould do) a shield won't even be of use.
Resectfully, I must disagree with Sutek. DR is incredibly important at any level. The real importance of DR is not just the HP it saves you (though don't discount that) it is the protection against massive damage. The MDT in Conan is only 20 points. If you think of DR as increasing your MDT it should quickly become obvious why it is so valuable: a Brigandine coat effectively raises your MDT from 20 to 26 (or 23 if the opponent can penetrate it). Some quick math demonstrates that, if fighting an equal level opponent, it is very easy to produce average damage of 12-14, reasonable to hit for 16-18 and prety hard to produce average damage 20-22. Every point of DR drastically decreases the chance that you will have to face a massive damage save which, needless to say, can really ruin your day.
Beyond that DR is still a great way to increase your combat endurance. I can't tell you how many times I've had a player finish 5 or 6 rounds of combat with only 4 HP or so. In that case not only did the player's armor save his live it may very well have made the difference of the party winning or loosing the combat because it meant that he was standing and fighting right to the very last round instead of dropping in round 4.
Lastly don't forget that it is still possible to have a good DV in armor if you focus on your Parry instead of your Dodge. Your Str bonus to Parry is not limited by your armor's Max Dex Bonus so all you will have to contend with is the decreased mobility imposed by the armor. If you carry a shield as well your Parry DV can quickly reach a very respectable number.
Now, all that being said it still does not necessarily mean that armor is best for you. The Barbarian class offers a good Dodge and a poor Parry plus you have that racial bonus to Dodge. Depending on how your Str compares with your Dex you may find that, at low levels, your Parry outdistances your Dodge (espically if you use a shield) I have had several Barbarians like that. Then again, at higher levels your class bonus to Dodge will start to overcome your class bonus to parry, maybe enough to have it make sense to switch. It all really depends on the particular build of your character.
So I'd suggest you figgure out what your dodge and parry DV's will be with and without armor: if your dodge w/o armor is only 1-2 points above your parry with armor then go for the armor, if it is 3 or more points higher then go for the dodge.
I didn't say it woný help, but I just think it doesn't help much.
If someone with decent STR (say a +2 bonus, +3 two-handed) hits with a Bardiche, that's an average of about 13, true. However, that's also an AP of 7, so armor is more than likely going to get it's DR halved (all light armor is DR6 or less).
The thing is, it doesn't take players long to connect attribute bonus increases (1 every 4lvls and all every 6thlvl) to see that a base rance like CImmerian with thier inherent +2STR, above average die rolls generating good attribute levels at Char-Gen, and a character of at least 6th level can garner a STR20(+5). At that point feats can "override" a lot of the drawbacks, not to mention the two-handed bonus. It makes that same Bardiche do an average of 17pts now at an AP of 12, enough to halve the DR of any armore around.
I guess what I'm saying, and that argo may be saying too, is that not getting hit in the first place is really the better defense rather than relying on DR. DR can help, but it's not a sure bet if players (or nastily crafty GMs) start looking for brutal damage combos. It also doesn't take a 17th level character to be capable of really pounding out the damage, either - forget even mentioning Critical Hits.
MDT is the way things get killed fast in Conan because of the low value (it's 20 in Conan but 40 in D&D). All an attacker need do is roll damage that is 20pts higher than his DR can protect against, and even the best armor in the list, Plate, has only a DR of 10, 5 if the AP is 10 or more (like the Bardiche example I mentioned above).
Now, if you look at the DR values, that AP12 reduces a Brigandine Coat from 6 to 3, but 10 to 5 is much more of a jump, and that's the key to what I'm talking about. It doesn't take much after about 5th level to find easy ways around big DR, reducing it's effectiveness, and that starts making such armor more of a hinderance, IMO. It doesn't make it a bad idea, just more of a "minus" than a "plus", AFAIC. The armor check penalty and the reduced speed become something to really consider if you're going to be taking considerable damage anyway.
But then again, this is why fighters can Parry better and Thieves can Dodge better.