How necessary is armor when using “blunt weapons”, not guns? It’s really hard to find reliable sources but I’m having trouble imagining a, let’s say, swordsman fighting without any type of armor just because it looks cool. Or just wearing a single piece of armor on their arm or shoulder for some purpose like they try to make it look. What if they get seriously injured righr after a match starts?
Then they become an important object lesson for why you should wear armor.
I understand the idea of skimping out on armor, specifically for the purpose of creating an aesthetically interesting character. But, there’s no practical application for this.
A character who can’t afford armor might be forced to go without, or scrounge what they could find, but, the armor you’re not wearing will not protect you from the injuries you suffer.
There are two important factors when choosing armor for a character: What can they obtain? And, what do they need it for?
As we’ve said before, armor is not universal. Different kinds of situations call for different types of armor. A character wandering around on horseback in an arid wasteland, scavenging ruins is not going to need, or want, the same armor as a raider wandering frozen tundra.
Just like with clothing, armor is about dressing appropriately. This means picking gear that will protect you from the threats you’ll face.
Within that context, asymmetric armor is a real possibility. If you’re going to be facing right handed combatants, it’s reasonable to further reinforce the armor on your left arm. That’s fine, and did happen. In extreme cases, you may wear armor on your left arm, and not armor your right arm. This isn’t usually a great idea, but it’s still there.
Also, heavy armor will wear you out faster. So, there are legitimate reasons for a character to run around in a padded armor or chain mail (over padded armor), without going to full plate (wearing that over the chain, and the padded under suit).
That said, someone who fought in heavy armor would train in it, and build up conditioning to take it into a fight. It’s exhausting, but that’s a reasonable tradeoff for the protection it provided.
Who your character is will control what armor they have access to. They may not have the money, or the ability, to buy the best gear. They may not even be able to buy good armor, depending on their setting, and whatever laws exist for them.
With that in mind, the two highest priorities are the torso and head. Doesn’t matter if it’s a breastplate, a chain shirt, or just a padded gambeson, taking blows to your vitals will end a fight. If your character has one piece of armor, it needs to be this.
Second priority is the helmet. Again, if your brain stops working, fight’s over. Depending on your priorities, this might edge out above the torso armor, but your skull is a smaller target to hit than your body. If you have two pieces of armor, follow up with a helmet.
I’m actually going to step back for a moment and point out; when it comes to safety gear, the helmet is more important. When you’re dealing with hitting pavement, or falling debris, protecting your head is more important. There are also some other edge cases where the helmet is more important than body protection, including in sports. However, when you’re outfitting a character for combat, you’ll want both.
After you have a chest piece and a helmet, then you can worry about other fun things like Boots, asymmetric pauldrons, gauntlets, bracers, a single fingerless glove, greaves, sabatons, whatever. Protecting the limbs is your first goal here, keeping those in functional shape after a stray hit. Then you can worry about reinforcing so that they can take intentional hits, depending on what threats your character will face. The scavenger above will get more value out of boots and sturdy gloves, while the raider would probably benefit more from bracers or full gauntlets.
Also, worth noting that a lot of those names I’m listing, come from specific eras. The sabaton is fifteenth century, the pauldron evolved from spaulders sometime around the fifteenth century, the gambeson is (roughly) thirteenth, and gradually transitioned into the arming doublet later. In some cases, the armor you might be thinking of wouldn’t even exist yet. It’s easy to point at “medieval armor,” and say that you want that, but armor has gone through significant technological advancement throughout history. So picking and choosing what you want can quickly result in an anachronistic mess.
Lumping armor into one “medieval” category does result in strange anachronisms, including armor types that never existed, or ones that were designed specifically to deal with threats which don’t exist in their new setting. A common example are fifteenth century variants of plate armor which were designed to deal with gunfire being dropped into high fantasy settings without firearms. Also, leather armor.
Leather can be a really nice material to use for components where you need flexibility, with a little bit of protection. Gloves or boots, for example. But, it doesn’t make for particularly good armor against armed opponents. It is a good option to dress a character in, if they’re spending most of their time away from civilization, and they need clothes that will survive years of wear and tear, but that’s not the same as armor.
I realize I haven’t even touched on the blunt weapons part of the question. The very short answer here is that, while some blunt weapons like maces and warhammers were designed as anti-armor options, you’re still better off being hit by one of those while wearing armor than not. Yes, taking a mace to the head while wearing armor will suck, but taking a mace to your skull without armor will just result in a smeary mess, and a corpse for someone to loot.