Q&A: Arms and Armor

I was wondering if you would have any tips on good armor for my characters. I’m having a little trouble figuring out what would be the best option for combat. I’m also having trouble figuring out what weapons would work out the best too. Any help is much appreciated!!

There’s a similar answer to both of these, it’s contextual. “Good weapons” are ones that can kill your foes without killing you in the process. “Good armor” is gear that can protect you from your foes weapons without getting you killed in the process. Both are going to change significantly depending on the world your characters live in, and what they’re doing.

Here’s a quick example: If your character is a 17th century sailor, heavy armor is far more dangerous to your character than going unarmored. If they fall off the deck, they won’t be able to swim, and they will drown. (There’s a decent chance that they couldn’t swim anyway. Ironically, swimming was not a common skill among sailors in the 17th century.)

Their best options for weapons are short barrel firearms and swords. This is because they’re going to be engaging in very close quarters during boarding actions, where long muskets and polearms will get caught on the environment and can’t be used. When going ashore, they’d probably draw long muskets and breastplates from the ship’s armory (if it had one.)

In modern infantry warfare, those weapons would be suicide. Most modern combat happens at ranges where a smooth bore, black powder pistol simply can’t connect.

If your character is infantry in 11th century Europe, it’s probably going to be a cloth gambeson, and polearms, which won’t work for any of the examples above.

Picking the right weapon for the situation is all about understanding the kind of conflict your characters will be seeing, and the technology of the world they live in.

It’s easy to look back at history and the get the impression that nothing changed over long stretches. This is not true. Military technology has been a constant progression. This can be seen in the advancement of armor and weapons throughout history. The swords the Roman Legions used were fundamentally different from the swords wielded in the 18th century, and a smith from two thousand years earlier could not have replicated them.

This is before you consider specialized weapons like the estoc. Which was specifically designed as an anti-armor weapon against plate. Obviously, if your characters exist in a world where plate armor isn’t a thing, the estoc’s not going to be a real weapon. (Not just, “not a good one,” it probably won’t exist.) A shocking number of weapons originate in these kinds of “problem/solution” dynamics, and armor follows suit. The original term, “bullet proof,” referred to early modern armorers “proofing” their armor’s effectiveness by shooting it with a pistol. To demonstrate that the armor would hold up on the battlefield, where firearms had started coming into prominence.

So, weapons evolve to deal with armor, and the situations they’re used in. Armor evolves to deal with the weapons used against them. Sometimes, weapons have a technological surge, leading to new innovations that seriously change the nature of combat. Such as the development of bronze, iron, steel, and firearms. Each of these stages dramatically changed weapons and armor. Even within those fields, refinement of existing technologies kept things moving forward.

One excellent, and recent, example is World War I. The introduction of fully automatic weapons completely changed the face of warfare, and, in less than a year, brought an end to millennia of human combat doctrine. Fundamentally, the answer to your question changes completely when you move from 1900 to 1920.

The best I can offer is, consider the situations where they’ll need to use the weapons. Research any historical allegory for your world, and try to build it from there. It’s not perfect, but it might give you some ideas. For example, if you’re making your characters in the model of Scandinavian heroes, you might want to read up on Viking warfare. If it’s the Romans, then read up on the Roman Legions. There’s no harm in reading up on history and trying to learn from it. Even if things don’t match up 100%, you’ll learn things about how people looked at conflict, and how they responded to it.

-Starke

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