Thursday, October 14, 2010

Visual Armor Chart

I like that Swords & Wizardry Core has a picture of fighters wearing each armor type with the Armor Class underneath them.  But inexplicably they gave one of these fighters a shield and then put them out of order, making it pretty useless for a quick reference when you're at the table and trying to remember what AC ring mail is.

This is one of those problems that is showing me DMs of different experience levels need different things (It's odd to me that after 30 years products still don't seem to acknowledge this).  When first starting out there are so many things you have to keep track of, aids can be really helpful.  Now, I pretty much have them memorized.  But it took a lot of fumbling looks in the book with play paused to do that.

So a while back I set out to make a chart for myself and to show players when they start out.  It isn't too important for my players because to speed up start of play I've pretty much let everyone start with leather armor, but I realize this won't always be the case.

One problem I ran across is that there doesn't seem to be a historic "leather armor" the way there is scale mail or chain mail hauberks.  Yes I've heard of cuir bouilli, but it sure doesn't show up much in books about armor or historical accounts. Another problem is that books on armor tend to two approaches 1) using period illustrations like those in the picture above, which tend to be so crude that the do little more than show us the various ways mails were artistically represented, or 2) using photographs of existing specimens, which skews everything to the odd, extremely expensive, and pieces lucky enough to survive.  What this all means is that I have to search old books looking for suitable illustrations of armor types, in just the right position. Difficult.

I wonder if I should drop leather armor altogether and go for something like padded armor in its place: gambesons, arming doublets, the quilted or cloth armors that a warrior too poor to wear mial would probably more likely be wearing.  Here is as far as I got with my chart:

 Another issue is my conflicting urges between simplicity and detail.  I like a world that has scale mail, and ring mail, and half-plate.  I also like a system that has unarmored and three armor types neatly separated by 2s.  Maybe I could present it to players as armor classes and have ring be a type of mail, just a poor one.


  1. cool figures.
    #3 in the old illustration looks like "studded leather" of a sort. Scale over chain is also darned good (but terribly heavy) armor as the gent #2 is wearing.

    The sheathed ring mail in figure #9 and the cheap bar mail in figure #10 are interesting as both are labeled "banded mail". As is the bar mail in figure #11.

  2. Well, since combat itself is merely an abstraction, I don't see why its various implements can't be, either. I've discovered that shooting for reality only shows me that the target is infinitely out of range. Detail, then, is great until it gets in the way of rules simplicity.

    But I could change my mind any minute. You know how it is.

  3. Thanks, and yeah, BLH, I think that is the crux of all this: finding the best balance we can between detail and abstraction. And I think each of us has slightly different tolerances for how abstract we feel comfortable with.

  4. Well a D&D world has a lot of different cultures... you could keep your simple '3 armours divided by 2s' system and just have them represented by different armours in different cultures.

    eg You medium armour in Saxonville could be chain, whereas a dude buying medium armour in Deutschestadt would get ring mail, and Normans get banded. Or something.

    For the light armours you have padded, leather, fur etc.

    You could use some kind of bug-plate armour like in Morrowind as well, lots of other options.

    Keeps both the mechanical simplicity and the flavour of realism and choice.

  5. Also!

    The thing about 'leather armour' is that leather is a just a material and thus is implicitly vague. It's like saying "He's wearing iron armour" and expecting people to know that you meant mail and not plate or lorica somethingrather.

    Obviously due to the low defensive value and minimal encumberance suggested by D&D they're talking something light, rather than a set of full plate armour made of hardened leather.

    This type of thing

    Is on the right track for me - mostly regarding the Kikko down the bottom, or brigandine with leather plates.

    Basically any kind of light armour constructed with leather could be construed as 'leather armour', Brigandine, Scale armour, Leather Cuirass/Greaves/Vambraces, Lamellar etc etc.

    Also re: 'leather armour', check out the video section of ARMA ( website for examples of how effective even regular soft leather is as armour (stops decent chops, slashes and cuts).

  6. DANGER:

    Or to put it more gently: Gygax didn't know an awful lot about historical armor, and was largely informed by fantasy and romanticist authors. DnD armor doesn't directly equate to historical armor types.

    I'm a stickler for these things, So I'm slowly redoing the whole armor and weapons tables.

    BTW, I enjoy this blog very much