Tag Archives: armor

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

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.

-Starke

Do the characteristics of full-plate armor change in colder climates?

Probably. Fair warning: I’m going to be guessing here, and thinking through it, so I could be missing something important, or just flat out wrong.

Normal full plate isn’t just a slab of metal between you and the outside world, if it was it wouldn’t be very effective against blunt weapons; like maces, flails, mauls, warhammers, and morningstars.

Those were all weapons designed to transfer a lot of kinetic force through plate or chain armor, breaking the recipient. Plate works fantastically against swords, some axes, and polearms in certain circumstances, but, ultimately, if you’re a giant bell and someone else has a hammer, I can completely botch a metaphor.

The solution was to wear a layer of heavy padding underneath the plate. This would be flax or any other easily available fabric, that could then provide some kinetic protection, in addition to the plate’s protection from weapons like axes and swords.

Okay, so that’s the part I can say with confidence, here’s the part where I’m guessing.

The padding would probably provide some insulation against cold weather on it’s own. By design it’s basically just a thick coat under the plate anyway. If that’s sufficient to keep a soldier warm enough to fight, then that’s all it takes.

But, if it’s not, then you’d need to supplement the padding with something that would keep your combatants warm, and furs are an obvious choice. Now, I don’t know that furs would actually absorb as much kinetic force as the padded armor, and you can’t just add extra stuff under the armor without heavily reworking the plate. So you’d probably need to either sacrifice some of the padding for more warmth.

Depending on how the plate is articulated this might not actually be an issue. If you can slap a fur cloak over the armor, or even just attach fur over the plate itself, you might be able to keep your soldier warm when they’re not fighting without substantially increasing the weight they’re carrying and without accidentally freezing them.

I’m kind of preferential to the cloak because it’s slightly more likely to survive combat, and this gets to another issue. During combat, the issue wouldn’t be keeping your soldiers warm, it would be keeping them from overheating.

Anyone who’s ever worked strenuously in a cold climate should be familiar with this phenomena, but, while you’re engaged in heavy physical activity, including combat, you’re body will generate enough heat to compensate for the environment. You’ll feel the cold, but it won’t impair you. This can create a weird situation where while being active, you’ll actually feel too hot in your snow gear. You’ll perspire into it, and then you’ll end up with it drenched when you stop working. If you’re wet, your body temperature is dropping, and if your environment is cold enough, this can spiral into hypothermia.

For someone experiencing this today, the easiest solution is to wear layers, and toss off outer layers while working, so they remain dry, preventing excessive perspiration, and then put them back on when you’ve finished. But when you’re wearing full plate and in combat, that’s not an option.

In the case of your soldiers, this can create a situation where they’d actually sweat into their gear and face more of a threat from the cold after combat, assuming they had no place to make camp, and warm up.

It’s probably also worth pointing out that winter campaigns in northern climates have been a very bad idea through most of human history.

I hope this is useful, even if it is a little more speculative than I’d like.

-Starke

How and what does leather protect against?

If we’re just talking about a leather jacket, then mostly minor cuts and scrapes. The lining provides a little protection from impacts, it won’t save you from a baseball bat, but it does make blocking unarmed strikes a lot less unpleasant.

Some motorcycle gear has fiberglass plates, this stuff will take a baseball bat, tire-iron, or hitting the pavement at low speeds. It’s not fun, but it will save a lot of damage. I don’t think the fiberglass will protect against being stabbed, and (probably) won’t do anything about a gunshot. That said, fiberglass was the basis of some early flack vests, and some motorcycle gear is reinforced with kevlar so, your character could get lucky.

If you’re talking about historically, leather armor is a little different. Leather would be boiled in water, and then formed into the desired shape before it hardened. Once hardened, it would function as a low quality slab of stuff between you and anyone trying to kill you, or a substitute for scale. So, again, impacts, cuts, scrapes, and minor penetration. But, I’m not sure how well it would hold up against someone trying to stab through it, (that probably depends on how thick the slabs of leather are, and what’s trying to run through them.)

-Starke