Q&A: Heavy Infantry

i feel like usually in fantasy settings you see characters combine super heavy armour with an equally heavy weapon, like a warhammer or a battleaxe, but how feasible is this realistically? i feel like the combined weight of both alongside the full body motion needed to control the weapon would wear someone out ridiculously fast, even if they are trained and have a lot of endurance

The first thing to remember is that, heavy weapons, weren’t really that heavy. Real warhammers often weighed less than 3 lbs. Even the heaviest battle axes rarely weighed more than 5 lbs.

Now, fantasy art can get kinda goofy. That’s reasonable enough, and can result with situations where you have cartoonishly exaggerated proportions on the weapons. This is where you end up with warhammers that look like supermassive sledges, and busterswords.

It’s also reasonable, in some situations, to see a character using a sledgehammer as an improvised weapon. Most sledges will run around 8lbs though you can buy much heavier ones. Pretty much anything your character’s doing will get by fine with an 8lb sledge. That is heavy, as weapons go.

So, yes, when you’re talking about characters in fantasy wielding supermassive weapons, that would quickly exhaust a real fighter. Sometimes this is just artistic license, sometimes there’s justification in setting (ex: if the characters aren’t human), and sometimes it’s legitimately an oversight. “But, Oblivion said my character could wield a 62lb greatsword!”

Armor does get much heavier. This where you’ll often see legitimate problems with the fighter wearing out quickly in the real world.

I’m not as confident on the weights of historical armor off the top my head, but 60-80lbs of armor wasn’t unreasonable for plate. And, yeah, someone could train, and get used to, that extra weight. The idea that someone could carry an extra hundred pounds of armor on them isn’t any stranger than the idea that someone who weighs 300lbs could still be physically active.

Armor can wear you out, but that more to do with heat. Armor is very effective at trapping body heat, and that heat will exhaust you. This is something you can learn to work with, but it’s why fighting in armor requires conditioning. The extra weight is a reasonable tradeoff for the the protection you get.

Again, artistic license will see comically exaggerated armor. It depends on the exact source you’re looking at. So, if you see someone walking around wrapped in what looks like half a ’57 Chevy, that’s probably not going to work. (There’s an edge case here where you could see armor that heavy if it is self-carrying. Though, that’s rare in fantasy, and more of a sci-fi thing.)

Armor needs to be maneuverable. You can find videos of people wearing full plate and doing handstands or basic gymnastics in the stuff. If your armor seriously impairs your movement, it’s not going to allow you to fight in it. This can be an oversight by an artist who doesn’t understand this, and that’s a fault with their design. There’s also a few rare outliers like jousting armor, which did impair movement, but was designed for very specific situations, and not combat.

Lack of mobility is something that you’ll sometimes see with heavy utility armor. For example: hazardous environmental suits may not give you a full range of movement, but if you’re not going to be fighting in them, that’s not a problem. However, when you’re designing armor for combat, if you can’t fight in it, it won’t work.

Heavy infantry did combine heavy armor and heavy weapons. There’s real history there. But, that can be played up in art. There’s nothing inherently wrong with playing fantasy out of the realistic. Even stuff like Lord of the Rings is, ultimately, more about superhuman characters, rather than any reality of historical combat. So, it depends on the story you’re going for. A world filled with wizards, monsters, and epic heroes can absolutely have an over the top comic book aesthetic. They may even be able to justify it against objective reality. The characters are wearing armor forged from some mystical metal, or enchanted to augment the wearer’s strength and endurance. Whatever the cause, it is defensible as an art design.

-Starke

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