Q&A: Hide Armor

Would fur or hide prevent injury effectively? One of my characters, a barbarian, she’s wearing boar skin pelt over a chainmail shirt, and I want to know if the pelt itself would be able to prevent an arrow or sword blow?

For the arrow, probably not. For a sword blow, it might absorb a glancing slash, but a solid hit or a thrust wouldn’t stop it. But, there are some factors here worth considering.

The original animal the hide came from does matter some. If it’s a normal animal, that can be hunted with a bow, then a single layer of hide probably isn’t going to stop an arrow. (This includes boar skin.) I mean, it didn’t work when the creature was alive, now that it’s dead that hasn’t changed.

Here’s the caveat: a character might layer multiple hides together. So, while one deerskin wouldn’t stop an arrow, several layers might do the trick. (I’m not sure how many layers you’d realistically need.)

It’s also possible that the way the layers are attached to one another could significantly affect their protective ability. Three or four layers held together by a semi-rigid resin could offer some significant protection.

Finally, the if the hides, or even one layer mixed in, is something significantly tougher, it might do far better shrugging off abuse. Deerskin armor might not be a great idea, but in a fantasy setting, the armor may incorporate something far more exotic like werewolf hide. At that point, the rules associated with it will vary based on how that works in your world.

A fantasy barbarian could be wandering around in hides that include a couple more exotic beasties she’s snuffed out along the way. This is also a reasonable character affectation, as she just keeps accumulating the hides of things she’s killed, skinned, and treated, discarding the badly damaged outer layers as they become too mangled to offer much protection.

Personally, I wouldn’t want the chain shirt as the innermost layer. So, probably a layer of padded clothing (or, more likely, leather), then the chain, then her outer layers of hides. Other than that, layering armor is a real thing. Armor that’s well suited for one kind of assault may fail, at that point redundant protection is a good idea. For example: Plate Armor was almost always worn over a gambeson (padded armor.) (Usually with a layer of chain between the padding and plate, as I recall.)

Most things that get through the hides (even just boar hide) would be stopped by the chain. Direct arrow fire would still be bad news, but it would offer a lot of protection in melee. So, of someone did try to run her through, it’d (probably) go through the boarhide, and stop on the chain. (Though, some of the kinetic force would carry through, so that wouldn’t be fun. Though, again, a padded layer under the chain could go a long way towards blunting those hits.

The hides (again, even just boar hide) would be excellent at dealing with natural threats. Think wolves and things of that nature. Larger animals like bears or big cats would still be a significant threat, but against medium sized animals, it would help a lot.

Pelts are also an excellent way to manage cold temperatures. Boar wouldn’t be my choice (unless you’ve got furry boars in your world), but wolf or bear hides could do wonders for keeping her warm in arctic conditions. Again, in weather like that, I’d want a layer of insulation between the skin and chain, but it is a very legitimate way to keep warm. Hair and fur are excellent insulators.

If you presented the character to me, I’d assume the hide layers were to keep her warm, and the chain was for armor. Though the hide would take some abuse, it’s far more valuable against the cold.


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