Thursday, 18 April 2013

Let's Talk Armor

Okay, so I said the next post would be about 2nd Edition's "The Complete Paladin's Handbook," but I've received some comments that were a little at variance with my stance on full-Plate armor. So I'm going to use this post to express my thoughts a bit more. It would have been nice if they had commented here on my blog, but given our long friendships . . . all is forgiven! LOL
It's not that I hate full-Plate, or anything like that, it's just that I consider it a little too "modern" for the game "flavor" I'm looking for. So, basically, what we consider "Plate armor" can be said to have had its beginnings in Ancient Greece, though at that time it was more like partial plate. At any rate, that's the view that I have of their Bronze Cuirass, a piece of armor dating as far back as the 5th Century b.C.E.

Now add to that date the fact that the Romans fought against Gothic tribesmen wearing Chain Mail armor as far back as the 3rd Century b.C.E.  Consider too that the Romans, themselves, used chain mail in the beginning of the Republic, when each citizen was responsible for supplying their own equipment. However, as the Republic began to experience substantial growth their attitude changed, the Republic's rapid growth causing them to abandon the practice. This was due to the fact that Rome's growth caused the Republic to recognize its need for a standing army, thus forcing Rome to begin outfitting their soldiers at the State's expense – and chain mail armor wasn't cheap!

Baring all of this in mind, it is easy to see some individual soldier prowling the now quiet battlefield, bending over to pick up a battered piece of armor and saying to himself: "Hey, if I put this Bronze Cuirass over my chain mail hauberk that would make it even stronger!" And thus was born half-Plate armor . . . who can say in what century this might have occurred.

So the use of half-Plate could – conceivably – be a couple of thousand years old; not so full-Plate armor. In truth, full-Plate armor – as we think of it – was developed only a relatively short time before flintlock weapons came into use; yep, gunpowder. And we all know that I don't allow gunpowder weapons in my game – in spite of Murlynd.

Admittedly, it's no great "leap" to conclude that – in later centuries – the Knights' constant antics at jousting played its part in the development of full-Plate. It's just that . . . I don't see a lot of "jousting" going on in the World of Greyhawk; which is the world that I game in. In fact, most of the Orders of Knighthood for Greyhawk – in the Canon sources – don't even qualify for what I would consider a Knight . . . that is a Knight in full-Plate armor. I think many others might feel the same way about it.

Full-Plate armor – as most of us think of it – was "conceived" during the 13th Century A.D. and reached its "height" during the 15th and 16th Centuries A.D. This places its "advent" after the time of Richard I, (the Lion Heart {1157-1199}) and Sir Ivanhoe. During this brief "life-time" flintlocks were invented and, from then on, manufacturers of gunpowder weapons raced to keep pace and very soon no amount of plate armor could stop the bullets. That's when full-Plate armor went the way of the Dodo bird.


When gaming, I like to play a little "earlier" in the time stream than many others do and half-Plate armor covers a period of a couple of thousand years, whereas full-Plate armor is relatively "new" and has a short life-span. Also, I find it hard to rationalize how full-Plate armor would have been deemed a necessary development, without allowing certain other items that I am not particularly fond of. But let's stick to armor for now . . .

Consider also that the spell Heat Metal aptly demonstrates that full-Plate armor has its distinct disadvantages. Not only does it take a couple of people to help you get into the armor, how do you get it off – in combat – when struck with Heat Metal? That's why castles had "murder holes" built over the gate and in the roof of the Gatehouse. Machicolations were also used as "murder holes."

Boiling oil, or boiling water, would be poured through the murder holes and the advancing knights would – quite literally – be "cooked" in their armor. Both the oil and the water would find every crack and crevasse in the armor and get onto the soldier's flesh. I once had boiling water thrown on me, while wearing clothing. It peeled the skin right off and "fighting" never entered my mind. Oil was worse than water – and much more expensive and so it was rarely used – given that it would "stick" to the target and thus inflict more damage. So, while full-Plate armor had its advantages on the "open" battle-field, it also held some unique disadvantages.

I'm not denying that half-Plate would suffer the same disadvantage, but to a lesser degree – given that it's easier to get off – I'm just pointing out that I see no over-riding factor for the development of full-Plate. (Incidentally, a Green Dragon's acid breath and the spell Acid Splash would work much in the same way.) 

Going a bit further, these facts also demonstrate that a Dragon's breath weapon would not have been any great incentive for the development of full-Plate armor either. When one considers that half-plate armor – which primarily reinforces head, chest and back protection – does a very good job of stopping both arrows and crossbow bolts, there's even less reason to "dream up" full-Plate. Consider too that chain mail armor – found underneath half-Plate – is almost perfect against slashing weapons, which includes most simple pole arms, such as Bills and Halberds. (Pole-axes – in truth, any type of Battle-axe – can be devastating against almost any kind of armor, so long as the wielder knows its proper usage.)

One thing I allow – given the great quantity of Canon source pictures depicting them – is eye glasses, even though eye glasses as we know them – and as the pictures depict them – weren't invented until 1286 A.D.

Too many of those "modern inventions" brings the game much too close to the Renaissance period for me. Oh, sure, you can invent many reasons for adding all these "nifty" gadjets, the primary reason being: "It's a fantasy world, Mystic!" Sorry, but that just doesn't work for me. I like just a little "reality" thrown in; i.e. no one survives a fall from a five thousand foot cliff, even if they do roll a "natural twenty." (Personally, I think all the Feats and Skills have gotten a little bit out of hand, but that's another discussion.)

Anyway, we all play it differently, but that's my "more in depth" reason for not wanting to use full-Plate armor – even though I do. Damn players! ROFL

Now you're free to "beat up" my premise, so have at it!


  1. MS,
    In your campaign I would say you are correct in your analogy and your take on full plate. However, in someone else game gunpowder might be used which would then circumvent your take on full plate. In someone else campaign it might serve to reduce the damage from any attack then one could argue its advantage.



    1. Absolutely correct, full-Plate armor would develop in such a game along the same lines that it developed in our Real World.

      But your reasoning is exactly the reason I don't use Murlynd in my game – no gunpowder. In my game, there is also no crashed spaceship in the Barrier Peaks. I limit "technology" as much as possible in my gaming world, this includes clockworks.

      Hear me, I do not post these positions in an effort to get other DMs to "change their minds" and stop using these things. I merely wish to go into greater detail – than I can elsewhere – as to the reason that I choose not to use these things.

      This is also why I limit my "association" with Pathfinder and it's World of Golarion – though I do write the occasional story. Golarion has Numeria, with its laser swords and "ray guns." And Golarion has The Shackles, with its gunpowder weapons. These are just two examples.

      I'm not interested in a world with such "technology" in it. If you are – more power to you! I think everyone should be happy gaming and that means gaming in a world of your own choosing with the "rules" Edition you prefer.

      My blog simply exist to state my position, not to change attitudes. People are free to question my positions and I will be happy to clarify and enlarge upon previous statements. But game as you will and be happy in your gaming!

  2. I was thinking on this further and believe that the advent of crossbows or an improvement on earlier models could also have lead to the advent of Full Plate as opposed to just utilizing half-plate armor. However, as we both agree what works in one man's campaign may not work in another mans game. Though these posts do provide some food for thought on why something exists in a game world. Mystic, I do not have a spaceship in my barrier peaks either. I have not decided on clockworks for the city of gods in the Blackmoor area. Though the clockworks may be more inline of construction the way the old water clocks functioned. A key which acts as a siphon can reload the water that has drained into the clockworks reservoir filling in the head and allowing the clock work to function for another 8-10 hours that day.

    Just some ideas sort of the early age of golem construction.



    1. It is amazing the things that were invented many thousands of years ago. Things which we think were only invented "recently." It was once explained -- and I wish I could recall the source of the information -- that these inventions "failed" and were "forgotten" because of slavery. The inventions were centered on "labor saving" machinery type things. With all the slaves that existed during the Greek and Roman "heyday," who needed the expensive "machines?" And so they were forgotten.

      As to your crossbow suggestion -- it's possible. But bare this in mind, the flintlock weapons were merely the final "nail in the coffin" for Plate armor, it started a couple of hundred years before that with the matchlock weapons. In fact, gunpowder weapons were used in Europe as early as 1326 A.D. Jan Zizka, a Czech general, Hussite leader and follower of Jan Hus, used gunpowder weapons -- as did his enemies -- in 1410.

      And remember that we're talking about the development of armor. The picture "above" showing the full-Plate armored mounted Knight depicts a Knight of the 16th century. Plate armor wasn't that "fully developed" when gunpowder weapons first appeared.

      As for the clockworks . . . that's another post!