Thursday, June 23, 2011

Armor Confusion

This is kind of a continuation of the Shield Article in the last post.

A big part of the confusion comes from the ahistorical mix of armors in the pseudo Europe and the understandably mediocre research. Let me be clear none of this is not the authors fault. Back then they were short research material and what they did have was old inaccurate Victorian stuff. Given what little they had, they did a pretty good job and most importantly its playable.

The armor issues as I see them are

1st the existing armor types in B/X are Elizabethan not medieval (Buff Coat, Mail, Plate)

2nd Leather was in fact was rarely used in Europe as armor early on because of the expense and the inability to easily repair it . This category should be layered textile defenses, probably using the same stats as leather.

3rd Happily the mail rules are fine though there should be two or three lengths of it (the most common short hauberk, what D&D calls a mail shirt, longer hauberks and full mail) with different stats.

Now it helps to that mail was really effective (it can't be cut or trusted through with anything but a heavy longbow or specialized weapons) but it was horribly expensive. Defeating it was done not with a sword slash or cut but either with specialized thrusting weapons, going around the armor or by beating the wearer to death with a mace (the #1 weapon) . Not very heroic.

Shields were used in the mail period because they were cheap and effective especially for warriors who could not afford armor and they could protect weak spots (the legs typically) and prevent a solid blow. Still very useful.

4thThat leaves Plate Mail. What D&D calls plate mail is probably a coat of plates over mail!

A coat of plates was a common armor used later than mail . It looked rather like a modern ballistic vest with inserts within budget and comfort for many soldiers but as Widby showed, it too was mostly impervious. Most wounds were on unarmored legs.

Shields were still used at that period and and even later but by skirmishers and in personal combat.

What we think of as plate was what Gygax called Field Plate and Full Plate in AD&D. It was unbelievably expensive but it was Plate was basically immune to most weapons save very strong crossbows at close range and highly specialized weapons and joint attack techniques that were almost all two handed.

A really good set of white harness, 2mm or so Italian steel was essentially impervious to everything other than sustained bludgeoning attacks and specialized weapons (the Poleaxe was the #1 choice)

As I mentioned this was was pretty expensive stuff (as in price of a house or more) but even so its later cheaper cousins (and note munitions grade armor was cheaper and less labor intensive than mail) provided good protection.

By this time less well off troops mostly dropped the shield because it was tactically no longer needed , polearms were needed for battle field work and they were all two handed.

How we work that into D&D without big changes is tricky.

5th and last comes all the oddballs...

Studded which is a misinterpretation of brigandine (a common European leather and scale sandwich armor) and didn't exist in Europe although I suppose could be used for boiled leather scale if desired.

Scale which was dark ages stuff in Europe (though scale sandwich as above was common enough )

Banded which was Roman Lorica Segmenta and not used after Rome fell .

and "Splint" which was not clearly defined and was apparently mail with greaves if it existed at all.

Ugh, its little wonder there is some much confusion.

As for fixes well, thats another post for another day..


  1. Brigandine was certainly a type of armor present in Europe. I've seen pictures of Italian brigandine armor from the 14th or 15th century.

  2. Yep, D&D's biggest problem is it's armor confusion. It takes and gives us everything that showed up in Europe (even if only conjecturally)over millennia and tries to classify them together. The system might have held together better if it had been tightened down to a smaller period, as it is it's the SCA of RPGs- it runs ancient through renaissance/early modern (minus firearms mostly). The same problem shows up with weapons, but to a lesser extent.

  3. You are correct of course on the brigadine J.D. It was actually pretty common. I edited the sentence for better clarity.