Tag Archives: armor

Is there any situation (not modern-day) in which wooden armor would be useful or at least adequate? Like maybe made out of lighter wood like bamboo or balsawood?

Well, there is the myth that bamboo was used as armor in Japan. You’ll not the word “myth” there, actual feudal Japanese armor was made from varying combinations of leather and metal. So, that’s out.

Bamboo is used for the construction some styles of staves. It’s not armor, but you can make weapons out of the stuff, so at least there’s that. Then again, being able to make some varieties of weapons out of wood isn’t news.

Moving on, Balsa is not a good option. For those who’ve never worked with this stuff, Balsa is a very light wood. It’s used in architectural models, airplane toy kits, and to create breakaway furniture for film and TV.

If you’ve ever watched a movie where a character pulls the leg off a chair without much force, or shatters one against wall, the prop was probably made from balsa.

In addition to being a very light wood it’s quite fragile; which is what makes it ideal for stunt work. It’s also quite easy to work. You can easily cut this stuff to size with a pocket knife. If you’re making a trestle for your model railroad, or whittling pieces for a diorama, balsa isn’t a bad choice.

But, when you’re trying to stop an incoming attack, balsa is far less appealing.

The closest you’ll get to wooden armor in the real world were
shields. Interestingly, softwoods (such as pine or yew) actually made for better shields.
As I understand it, the reasoning is that softwoods better absorb force,
while hardwoods (such as oak) are more inclined to breaking. (Amusingly, Balsa is a

If you’re working with a fantasy setting, there’s no reason you couldn’t have some kind of cured light wood that can be used as the base for a practical armor. But, I’m not aware of any tree in the real world that would work.


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I’m not sure if you’ve answered anything or know much about armor, but what works best in different situations? A lot of fiction uses leather for agile fighters, but that doesn’t seem to offer the best protection, is there something better? As for more ‘tanky slow’ fighters, would there be something better than a full suit of armor?

From what I understand of medieval armor, the governing factor tended to be more, “what can you afford?” Not, “well, I need to wear light armor because I’m agile.” Even full plate allows a great deal of mobility. Being able to stand there and soak off the blows has never really been an effective approach to armor. A combatant that can’t get out of the way of a charging horse, or is incapable of pulling themselves off the ground is dead. At that point, the expense of their armor and training is wasted.

The costs involved also applied to outfitting troops. Archers weren’t likely to be given much (if any) armor, because they wouldn’t come under direct attack. Disposable infantry might not be equipped much better. Knights would get the best their lords could reasonably provide because they were a serious investment, and needed to be protected (to a degree).

I’m inclined to blame Tolkien and D&D for the cloth wearing wizards, leather clad rogues and rangers, and the chain and plate soldiers. It’s entirely possible there are prior examples. There is some logic to it, too, ignoring wizards for the moment.

Hunters living off the land would have access to leather, and could convert that into clothing which, if properly treated, would last much longer than fabric clothes. Note, I said leather clothing, not armor. If they wanted to make armor, they could do that with the leather they found from their kills, but, if they chose to do that would probably depend on what wildlife they had to deal with.

For thieves and assassins, plate or chain doesn’t make a lot of sense, simply because of the noise it will invariably make. But, at the same time, leather armor is an iffy expense, simply because any armor can make some noise, and can cause you to stand out from the general population (which can be fatal). If your character is some kind of commando in a fantasy setting (it would be anachronistic, but for the moment that doesn’t matter), leather might not be a bad choice. It would make less noise than heavy armor, while still providing some protection, if not much.

For heavy combatants, plate and chain made sense (sometimes), if they could get it. Unfortunately, actually obtaining the stuff was an expensive prospect. For someone who worked as a mercenary, the best armor they could get their hands on might be leather or chain.

In cases where someone had access to whatever armor they wanted, the decision of what armor to wear had more to do with what someone was expecting to face, and what they would have to do, not their approach to combat.

Armor was very uncomfortable for traveling long distances, this is still true. So even if someone had plate, they’d probably not want to wear it while wandering.

Leather made sense for the vikings. Because they were
frequently exposed to sea spray, which is corrosive to most metals. In
general this also made plate and chain less appealing for sailors.

So, yes, there are specific roles for armor, but it’s not about agility or tanking (which doesn’t really exist outside of MMOs). (The real world equivalent to MMO style tanks are skirmishers or pickets, which are deployed to screen incoming attackers, and keep them off the artillery, archers, or support forces.) It is about who you are, what you’re doing, and where you’re going to be fighting; not the kind of a fighter you are.

I’ll also throw in this link to a good armor glossary with helpful terminology.


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Is there any practical purpose of having one shoulder pad larger than the other? I see this often in games and movies and I’m always curious if it really serves any purpose. I can sort of see how it might free up one arm for more mobility, while protecting the other, but how practical would it be in actual combat?

It depends on how much larger, but yes, there are reasons to have asymmetrical armor.

Asymmetrical armor frequently favors the left arm, because your opponent will (presumably) strike with their right hand. Since the left side will take more abuse, and because you’ll need slightly more freedom of motion with your right hand, over-armoring the left was a real practice.

Popular media tends to massively overplay this, with enormous pauldrons that no one could take into combat, but the basic idea is sound. Usually this would simply involve slightly longer plates that provided better protection to the armor’s joints at the cost of range of motion, but there was a lot of variation.

When dealing with firearms, this is a lot less important, but to a very limited degree, the same concept applies. In most stances your off shoulder will lead. Meaning it will be slightly more likely to take a bullet from someone firing in your general direction. Except, so far as I know, there’s no real modern examples. If I had to guess, I’d say it was because modern combat philosophy puts a premium on mobility over protection.


Is it possible for someone to fight hand-to-hand combat wearing a motorcycle helmet? Would it be completely inconvenient or could someone suspend their belief?

It might cut off peripheral vision a little, but it’s certainly not the worst idea I’ve read today. Given the option, I’d rather use one as an improvised weapon, but it should protect against blows to the head and face. I mean, it is designed to protect against head injuries, so it should be better than nothing.

If the attacker is swinging a baseball bat or hammer, I’d worry about neck injuries if the weapon connected. But, against an unarmed attacker, the biggest risk would I can see be someone grabbing the helmet. If it’s properly secured, this shouldn’t be worse than someone getting a firm grip on your head. The helmet would protect against gouging, and should provide some protection against being bashed into walls.

The one big downside is that armor traps heat. It doesn’t really matter what kind of armor we’re talking about, this is one of those universal rules. For enclosed helmets, that also means breathing is going to be harder. This is part of why you’ll see articulated visors on plate armor. It’s there to allow the combatant to catch their breath, and vent some of the heat whenever they have the opportunity to.

Your character will heat up quickly and won’t be able to vent it. They’ll get winded much faster than they would if they pulled the visor up. Though, at that point they’d be sacrificing protection. The solution is to end the fight quickly, but, they’ll want the helmet off as soon as the fight is over.

One thing, I’m not certain of: it’s possible, between the increased perspiration and heat you could end up with condensation on the visor obscuring the character’s vision. This is kind of an issue with motorcycle helmets in general. Some models do have vents designed to deal with condensation and fogging under normal road conditions, but I don’t know how well they’d be able to keep up with the additional heat and moisture from combat.

You’d probably also need to replace the helmet if it took any serious hits in the fight. But, I’m inclined to think it would be better than nothing.


How well would soft armor (ballistic vests, thick padded jackets, etc) fare against something like a baton or pipe? I know knives will cut through them with ease, but how well do blunt objects go through?

Honestly, the best street wear option against a blunt weapon would probably be motorcycle gear. That stuff is designed to take hitting the pavement at speed and keeping you in (more or less) one piece. Technically, it’s not “soft armor,” since it’s reinforced with solid plates. But it’s in the same general area.

That said, any padding will help against blunt force trauma. But, all a normal padded winter coat will help deal with is unarmed strikes. It won’t really protect you from a crowbar or baton. It will protect some, just not enough to matter.

With a Kevlar vest, I’m not sure how rigid those things are specifically. If you’re taking a blow directly to the chest, it should absorb some of the force, though I’m not sure exactly how much. ProRonin and Skypig would be the people to quantify that.

Except, it probably doesn’t really matter, because of how people actually use blunt weapons.

The common attacks with blunt weapons are strikes to the shoulders, arms, and head. You draw back and strike in towards the silhouette of your target. …and a Kevlar vest doesn’t protect any of those areas. It’s designed to save you when someone tries to shoot you in the chest, not when they’re swinging a baseball bat at your head.

You can perform a thrusting attack with a pipe, but, if you know someone else is wearing armor, it would make more sense to just strike around it. Incidentally, you can’t perform a thrusting attack with most telescopic batons, since you collapse them by striking against a hard surface. Incidentally, a quick thrusting strike is one of the most devastating things you can do with a baseball bat in combat. It delivers most of the force in a fast short motion that’s almost impossible to avoid. But, the kind of person that knows to do that is also probably the kind of person that would choose to strike around armor.

I would be genuinely surprised if a vest actually offers less protection against a knife than a leather jacket or shirt, but, some of the same considerations apply. Knife fights usually end based on injuries to the arm before following into a killing strike at an angle that would bypass a Kevlar vest, rather than trying to stab through it. And, while I’m not completely certain, I’m pretty sure an “aim for the kidneys” shanking from behind can be performed at an angle to bypass a vest.

Ultimately, we’re talking about trying to use the wrong kind of armor for the situation. Most riot gear won’t protect you from someone shooting at you, but it does wonders for someone coming at you with a sledgehammer.

The opposite is true of Kevlar. If someone’s shooting at you (and they’re far enough away), it should keep you breathing, but it’s just not going to help you when dealing with someone armed with a baseball bat, frying pan, or whatever else they managed to dredge up from their home.


I have a character in a fantasy story who wears a strong leather armor that covers her entire body. Would this be practical?

Without enough details… sort of. Boiled leather plates make for some marginally decent, if not very sturdy, armor. The plates aren’t particularly flexible, which is why you can use them as armor in the first place.

Properly treated leather isn’t as good for armor, but you can make an outfit out of it. It’s probably not going to be extremely comfortable without other materials getting used in the process, but yes, you can wear it.

You could combine the two to get a full body leather outfit, though you’d probably want separate pieces forming the jerkin (shirt), pants, boots and gloves (or full guantlets). If the chest includes a hood or if there’s a separate helmet would be up to you.

To be clear, I’m talking about an outfit, not a single piece of armor that covers your character’s entire body. A one-piece body suit isn’t going to be practical. This isn’t just a combat concern, by the way, it would also be an issue if your character simply needed to go to the bathroom.

We’re also talking about armor that isn’t going to be as good as metal. Boiled Leather is better than going out there with nothing but flax padding between you and an axe, but it isn’t a huge improvement.

It doesn’t really matter if the plates are exposed, visibly stitched onto the jerkin, or if they’re under the surface as part of the insulation, like a modern motorcycle jacket. I slightly prefer mixing it with the insulation, because that prevents your character’s foes from seeing the weak points in her armor, but at least in your writing, this is probably more of an aesthetic choice.

In general, full leather like this would work better in a colder environment. In a hot environment, you’ll perspire everywhere and be miserable.

Now, given it is a fantasy setting it’s possible the boiled leather is something mystical or exotic, like, say, manticore hide, and hard as steel. But that would be an aspect of world building you’d need to decide on and not a question about historically available armors.


About the post on fantasy armor- did they make it the other way around too, Like for left-handers?

Not that I’ve ever seen, but I wouldn’t just say “no.” On the other hand, striking with your left hand primarily would put the shield on the less armored side, and armor up your sword arm, giving you free shots at your opponent’s less defended right arm without sacrificing much protection.


EDIT: Immediately after posting I did remember something. You will sometimes see light flexible armor specifically for the swordarm, with no armor anywhere else. This was on the assumption that you’d be using something like a shield or buckler to defend your off side from incoming attacks. A little unusual, and very much a trait of very light or otherwise unarmored combat, but it did occur occasionally. It wasn’t about being left handed, though.

When I look at fantasy armor they all seem to add one ornate pauldron while leaving the other plain. Was this an actual feature or are fantasy armorers having me on again?

I’m not sure. Asymmetrical armor was an actual thing, and I’ve seen that reflected in some fantasy armor.

The idea was, if you’re opponent is primarily striking with their right hand, they’ll be connecting with your left arm, so we’ll just slap a lot more armor on there for when a blow gets in.

This is why you’ll sometimes see massive left pauldrons, sometimes even including partial neck guards on that side. While the right pauldron is smaller, lighter, and designed to give the combatant more mobility in that arm.

You also see some implications for this in castle designs in Europe, where the person coming up the stairs would have their right arm against the wall, while the person coming down would have their right hand in open space, or the twist of a staircase would be designed so the central spire would get in the way of someone trying to fight their way up if they were right handed (which was a safe bet.)

You might see ornate elements specifically on the right pauldron because it would be somewhat safer from constant assault, and it wouldn’t be a terrible place to put some kind of status indicator or insignia. You might also be thinking of the heavier pauldron as being ornate, which in some cases I’m sure they were.

It could also just be fantasy armor messing with you. Sort of like how full plate that was designed to counter early firearms will sometimes show up in fantasy settings that don’t even have crossbows.


I need armour help, I don’t know if you do that but I thought I’d ask. Basically, one of my characters has feathered wings growing from her back. They’re big and can’t be removed. She gets into fights a lot, and so she needs some kind of protective armour, but the issue is finding armour I can work around those wings. She lives in the modern day, and since she’s Chinese and kind of traditional, I was thinking some kind of Chinese armour, but I can’t make it work. Thanks in advance!

Okay, so, two or three problems here.

Traditional Armor; I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you mean historical armor. There’s a reason why you don’t see people busting out kendo gear or fencing armor outside of the sports that call for them. It’s the same reason that soldiers don’t go into combat in football/rugby gear. It’s not going to protect you from the threats your facing.

Part of this is that, with armor, form follows function. Modern tactical gear isn’t designed to look cool. It’s designed with very specific ballistic behavior in mind. Similarly, historical armor was designed to deal with the specific situations its wearer faced.

Lifting 8th century Chinese armor out, and saying, “no, she should wear it because it’s the armor of her people,” is non-nonsensical, suicidal, and reeks of orientalism. Even if you replace the components with modern synthetic fibers and ceramics. The shape itself won’t, necessarily, be effective in dealing with modern threats. If you adjust the shape, and the materials, your character’s no longer wearing “traditional armor” at all. And we’re just back to the modern day.

That doesn’t mean, you shouldn’t look at historical armor for influences, in designing something futuristic. Following that train of thought, historical Chinese armor does offer a lot of potential visual inspiration for near future riot gear, powered armor, or just high tech tactical gear. But it’s not going to be “traditional Chinese armor.”

Wings are problematic. She’s not going to find armor she can wear. Hell, as you’re probably already aware, she’s going to have a hard enough time dealing with clothes. But that’s not the real issue. The problem is physics.

I’m assuming the the wings are supposed to allow flight, even if she doesn’t use them for that. I’m also assuming you’re talking about someone with, roughly 16 – 18 foot wingspan. If that’s the case, she can’t weigh much more than 50lbs and expect to take flight, ever.

The alternative would be comically large wings several times the size of her body (we’re talking a ~30ft wingspan). Google image search the Argentavis. You should see some shots from the scale model that used to be in the Museum of Natural History in LA. That’s just to glide, the wings will need to be substantially larger than that if she wants to be able to actually take to the skies at will.

Neither of these solutions will work well in hand to hand. The wings will get in her way (comically over-sized or not) if she’s trying to fight people. And if she is somehow under 50 lbs, she’s going to end up with bones made of balsa wood.

Let me explain that. One of the way birds keep their weight down is with hollow bone structures. This massively reduces the weight of their skeleton, allowing them to, well, fly. In turn, it means their bones are very fragile, compared to mammals. This is the tradeoff, they have more mobility to avoid injury, but when that fails, it’s more catastrophic.

Even if she doesn’t have a weakened skeleton, for whatever reason, she still can’t afford to go into hand to hand with anyone, for any reason. Because, wings are actually fairly delicate. Some of this is with the whole ported skeleton issue, but some is also just that wings are fairly delicate.

So, it’s a modern day setting, you have a character that can’t fight in hand to hand without risking a crippling injury from any meat head with two functioning hands, and, now you’ve got guns.

This actually makes things even worse if she’s spouting a 30’ wingspan, because once she’s in the air, she’s going to have the mobility of an airliner. (Not, literally.) Meaning, in the air she’d actually be a rather convenient, slow-ish moving target. Making things even larger just makes her a bigger, easier, target.

On the ground, the wings would serve to make her, well, again, an easier target. I don’t know exactly how bad getting shot through the wing would be, but I’m pretty sure it would be a debilitating injury. Combine that with her providing a target nearly twice her size, and gunfights would not be a good position to get in.

You could armor her wings, but that would mean she couldn’t fly at all, it’s a trade-off, armor or flight, and it still might not effectively protect her from the kinetic force of incoming rounds. I’m not convinced this would be an impossible engineering challenge, but I’m also pretty sure it’s not one that’s already been solved.

Now, obviously, this is if the wings are just there. If we’re talking about an urban fantasy setting where the wings are a boon from, say, an angel, demon, or the forgotten god of marine iguanas, then, sure. They work because magic says so, and they may actually be invulnerable to harm, which, if they’re not also invulnerable to pain, could be very unpleasant. In those circumstances, armor could be the same deal, it’s enchanted by somebodyorother, so it’s effective because magic says so. But, that’s the cheat, and the real risk with using magic, it’s very easy to turn the entire story into a “but, because magic” logic hole.

If the wings are cybernetic, then the whole armor situation might just be the wings are effectively part of that. Someone shoved a rocket up between them? That makes sense I guess, so long as it’s not actually cooking her legs on liftoff. She’s not taking to the air with the wings, they’re just flight controls? Again, okay, That’s a little high tech, and I would worry that the wings could still be damaged from gunfire, though, depending on how tightly they fold up when not in use, they might not be a huge liability in combat on the ground.


Hi! This blog is so helpful. I have a question regarding armor. My MC is part of a s.w.a.t. like team. They fight supernatural being who use sword and shields and engage in gunfights. What kind of armor would would you nede to be alle to engage in both?

Well, riot armor actually reduces mobility. It’s good for dealing with someone chucking a bottle at you, but if someone opens up on you with an automatic weapon, you’re screwed. I’d assume your supernatural beings would be slightly more dangerous than that.

Normal SWAT gear is probably the best option, honestly. Unless they’re dealing with a specific threat that calls for heavier armor.

If you’ve never seen it, the British TV series Ultraviolet, might be a good thing to look at.

I would strongly recommend against sword ‘n board in a modern environment, though. The problem with going toe to toe with a monster that’s superhumanly strong and fast is, in melee, you’re just going to lose. If your characters are going up against werewolves or vampires, or something worse, a shield isn’t going to save them, at best it will become the implement used to beat them to death.

Something Ultraviolet does, that might be worth expanding on is specialized ammo. Just because a vampire is “immune” to a chunk of lead passing through their body, doesn’t mean a dragon’s breath shotgun shell won’t ash them on the spot. High explosive rounds are a (rare) thing, so your monster might be able to soak off a .38 to the face, but when that .38 explodes on contact, it’s a different story.

Even things that are immune to conventional weapons might not be able to shrug off a Tazer slug.

The other thing that might be worth looking into is Hunter: The Reckoning. My fondness for the original World of Darkness is pretty well documented, but, Hunter was about humans with limited superpowers going up against monsters in an urban fantasy/horror setting.