If you could do one thing to increase your survivability, increase dodge as your main defense skill. Spreading points out between 2 armor and dodge is not wise. If you want to go armor, go with that armor. If dodge, all out with dodge.
I concur with this entirely. A high dodge, combined with ONE armour skill will keep you alive all that much better.
It is possible to get armor skill to a good enough lvl and then focus on something else like I did in book 1. I had a light armor skill of 28 and a weapon skill of 43 so the armor bonuses were good with melee characters.
There are a number of defensive skills that you can use to keep yourself alive-
1-Dodge-As said before, excellent. A skill of 10 will give you the ability to see results and sometimes battles that are hard, will be easy due to chance/counterattack.
2-Light/Heavy Armor-Not a bad deal but dodge still wins out. The only difference is that ranged weapon enemies do less damage to an armor focused char whereas dodge cant block damage from ranged.
3-Survival/Medicine (book 2)-This one is something I want to try eventually. Combine this with a little endurance stat every lvl and you eventually regenerate hp every round, meaning you can go on skirmishes. Just reading this makes me want to try this build.
4-Alchemy-This one is the one I am using in book 2. With a mediocre skill, you can get +3 to armor enhanced on each piece. This adds up to a lot. Combine with speed and dexterity for even more finesse/defense.
5-Hide/Move Silently-Basically a thief character. Combine this with melee and you can become almost too powerful (ESPECIALLY BOOK 1). I dont like thieves so I wont use this but even powerful in book 2.
Shields dont usually get good until book 2 and they still arent that great.