A Comprehensive Guide to Arms and Armour for Newbies

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A Comprehensive Guide to Arms and Armour for Newbies

#1 Post by Puttock » Sun Apr 17, 2016 5:21 pm

Greetings everyone!
I have always liked historical arms, armour, and armaments, from many different eras. Whether it is classical antiquity, Imperial Rome, the Imperial Era, or even the 20th and 21st Century, I have always had a little passion to study them, learn their utility, and understand them.
This thread is intended to offer some insight in the medieval and early renaissance weapons, arms and armour that the World of Warcraft utilises and features, both from a realistic perspective, as well as from a fantasy one. It is meant to provide understanding as to how they worked, why they were made the way they were made, but also what leeway we can give to fantasy designs that are very prominent in the game, such as the game’s signature pauldrons that are the size of a gnome, or even bikini armour.
Without further ado, let’s get started!

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Re: A Comprehensive Guide to Arms and Armour for Newbies

#2 Post by Puttock » Sun Apr 17, 2016 5:26 pm

The term ‘armour’ in our context refers to garments made of various materials, the purpose of which is to provide protection against physical attacks. Given this is a fantasy setting, armour can also be enchanted with magical properties, and can also offer some protection against magical attacks, but this will not be discussed at present.

There are two basic categories of armour: light, and heavy. These terms can refer to the weight class they belong to, rather than how much protection they can actually offer.

First we are going to list the basic subcategories of armour based on their material, as well as their properties, followed by an analysis of various suits of armour that were found historically, as well as in-game. Last, but not least, we will include a section for fantasy designs, with specific focus on their unrealistic elements and how they can (or cannot) make sense and be realistic.

No armour
This term refers to the complete absence of armour, ie. no gear being worn with protection from weapons in mind. A character in no armour will usually wear their clothes, or be naked; believe it or not, both can make good sense within the context of battle!

It should be noted that as far as wounds are concerned, it is better to wear nothing as opposed to something. Wearing garments, such as clothing, will mean that a wound through them will be infected through the presence of fibres from the torn fabric. As such, fighting nude or partially nude can actually increase an individual’s chances of survival, especially since wound infections can be a more serious problem than the wound itself.

Fighting without armour confers some advantages of its own. These are, in fact, tied to the disadvantages of using armour of different types: you lack said disadvantages, and as such, can benefit from their absence. In addition, the setup allows an individual to go about in their everyday life completely unhindered, which is why not using armour is actually ideal in an urban or social setting.

The primary disadvantage of not using armour is, obviously, the absence of protective gear. A hit will always deal some kind of damage: as such, if you cannot ensure you will not be hit in the first place, not using armour in battle is probably not the best idea.

Donning procedure: Nothing unusual is required.
Maintenance: None required.
Wound effects: No protection from weapon wounds of any kind. Possibly lower risk of infection, if the wound is at exposed skin.
Weather effects: Depends on the clothing worn, if any; no special advantages or disadvantages.

Cloth armour
Cloth armour is notably different from everyday clothing: it is layered, very warm and heavy, and surprisingly protective against most basic attacks. Cloth armour is very light and flexible, but it has very bad ventilation and tends to hold the heat of the wearer very well. It is surprisingly protective from slashes, cuts, and blunt attacks, while it can even handle minor piercing attacks as well, such as from daggers and non-military bows.

The most basic form of cloth armour is the gambeson, a padded cloth shirt, sleeved or sleeveless, consisting of multiple layers of linen and/or wool, or other materials. It can be smart to wear, and rather classy even in an urban or social setting. Its effectiveness and traits meant that a gambeson virtually always worn as part of any suit of actual armour, whether mail or plate.

Some gambesons intended to be worn under plate came reinforced with mail at vulnerable joints, eg. the elbows. Another form of cloth armour is the linothorax, or linen cuirass of ancient Greek hoplites.

The basic advantage of cloth armour is that it is lightweight and flexible, while still affording important protection to the wearer. Historically, a gambeson was almost always the first piece of armour someone purchased, along with a helmet, even if they could not immediately afford a full suit of armour.

The basic disadvantage of cloth armour is, essentially, its thickness, at least compared to the absence of armour. It limits the mobility of the wearer to a small degree, though not as much as any other kind of armour.

Donning procedure: Nothing unusual is required.
Maintenance: Cloth is vulnerable to rotting, so it is important to keep it dry. It is very easy to repair without any special skills, requiring only some basic tailoring equipment. Even though you will eventually need to replace it, as cloth doesn’t last forever, it is extremely cheap and easy to manufacture and procure.
Wound effects: The main vulnerability of cloth armour is dedicated piercing attacks, which in turn can cause an infection as pieces of it might enter the wound in question. It is surprisingly resistant to cutting, slashing, and bludgeoning attacks.
Weather effects: Cloth armour is, essentially, heavy clothing; as such it can offer protection from cold weather, but can severely impair the wearer in hot weather conditions.

Leather and hide armour
This form of armour is mostly unhistorical in nature, and the product of modern fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons. That is not to say it’s completely absent from historical sources, rare as it might be, or that it cannot work.

Leather and hide armour depends on the existence of very thick, often specially treated leather for protection. This can be something as boiled leather plates worn over cloth armour, thick animal hides, or even something as simple as thick leather akin to the kind used for the bottoms of shoes.

Correct and realistic leather or hide armour can be surprisingly effective in augmenting an individual’s protection, at the cost of mobility. While the weight itself is manageable, especially when compared to heavier forms of armour, the advantages it confers compared to mail or plate are actually negligible, safe for its potential simplicity in construction and maintenance.

As such, leather and hide armour can cost even more mobility than other forms of armour, but offer excellent protection against almost all types of attack. It is essentially on the heavier side of light armour, or even the lighter side of heavy armour. It can provide excellent warmth as well.

Its key disadvantages are the lack of ventilation and mobility. Since leather needs to be pretty thick and/or hard to be effective as armour, it can actually severely impair an individual’s mobility options if a full suit is utilised. Thinner leather ‘armour’ that does not impair mobility actually offers negligible protection against anything in the first place.

Another major disadvantage is that while it can potentially be an excellent alternative to mail or plate in terms of protection, it is vulnerable to damage and wearing out over time. If you want long-lasting armour, leather is not for you.

Donning procedure: Leather and hide armour can be worn over cloth armour, or on its own. It might take time and possibly some assistance to wear effectively, as it is rather bulky.
Maintenance: Like cloth, it is vulnerable to rotting, but unlike cloth, it cannot be repaired as easily. It takes skill to repair it, and the nature of the material is that, eventually, pieces will be discarded whole.
Wound effects: Thick leather armour can protect you against almost anything, especially if paired with cloth armour underneath. Light leather armour offers no real protection, and you might as well list it under the ‘no armour’ section.
Weather effects: It is extremely warm and with very bad ventilation, which can be an advantage in cold setups, but a major drawback anywhere else and especially warm climates.

Mail armour
Mail or maille is a form of heavy armour consisting of interwoven metallic rings. A contemporary neologism for mail armour is chainmail. It is extremely effective in terms of protection, and was the main form of armour for thousands of years: this was the main form of armoured used by the Romans, all the way to the Middle Ages!

There are many variants of mail armour, but the most common one is “1-to-4” meaning that each ring is connected to four others. Other, denser variants also exist, though these are also heavier. The simplest piece of mail armour is the hauberk, or chain shirt, which is pretty much the mail equivalent of the gambeson and worn over one.

The nature of the design means that a well made mail is relatively form-fitting, and when also supported by a belt, easy to wear. It does not offer any significant restrictions to mobility, while it is essentially immune to cuts, slices and slashes, while resistant to piercing attacks that are not either precise and using a very fine point (to go through gaps or the links, if at all possible) or using an armour-piercing projectile from a military bow or crossbow. It is not as protective against blunt attacks.
One of the disadvantages of mail is that it is particularly heavy (more so when not worn) and that it cannot be worn on its own: it is always worn over padding, most usually a gambeson or other such cloth armour. In addition, while its protection is consistent and significant, it is not definitive; as such, it can sometimes be worn under a form of plate armour (see below). When worn incorrectly and/or without a belt, it can also be particularly burdening to wear as well.

Donning procedure: You can wear mail armour alone, though it takes a special move or two.
Maintenance: Mail is best kept dry, as you don’t want it to rust. In addition, it requires a specialist (a blacksmith) to repair, eg. to replace broken links.
Wound effects: The combination of mail over padded armour offers excellent protection against most conventional attacks. Bludgeoning attacks will consistently damage you, eg. offer broken bones and bruises. If both the mail and the padded armour layers are penetrated, refer to the cloth armour wound section.
Weather effects: Mail acts as an insulator for the cloth paddings worn underneath, making it excellent to use in cold climates. At the same time, it can prove terrible in hot weather for the very same reason, though not as much as leather armour.

Plate armour
Plate armour is the heaviest, most protective, and most expensive form of armour available. It is second to none in protection offered, but this comes at the cost of decreased mobility and ventilation. It is always worn over padded armour, mail, or leather. A custom suit of form-fitting full plate has the equivalent cost of a very expensive sports car or house in the modern world.

Plate armour is virtually immune to any incoming attack (with some exceptions), meaning the enemy must attack exposed, unarmoured areas to wound you; as such, shields are essentially obsolete with full plate. The only exceptions are heavy bludgeoning weapons, and high-power missile weapons with armour piercing tips fired from point blank range (which is a range at which you can cut them down anyway).

The main setback of plate armour is the lack of mobility, but this shouldn’t be mistaken for making you immobile. You can still do even aerobics in plate armour: the basic problem is that you are not nearly as flexible and lose a certain range of motion, more so than any other form of armour. In addition, the ventilation is horrible, meaning that prolonged fighting in plate armour can be problematic, especially in hot weather.

There are actually many forms of plate armour, and not just the classical High Medieval suits of full plate made of tempered steel. Most forms are made of metal, but some can also be made of leather (though usually metal), such as the boiled leather plate armour already described earlier, lamellar or scale. Other forms of plate armour include brigandine. This section will try to cover all forms.

Scale armour consists of small plates of leather or metal, the top side of which is woven onto canvas or leather, allowing the plates to interweave like scales. This form of armour was not historically common, and offers zero protection from attacks coming from underneath, which can bypass the plates entirely.

Lamellar armour is similar to scale, in that it consists of small plates of leather or metal. Unlike scale, these are actually woven tightly onto each other using lace commonly made of silk, offering much better all-around protection. Lamellar was very common in certain cultures, such as the Byzantines and Japanese, and it is weak to precision slashing attacks that can cut the laces holding the plates together, thereby destroying the armour.

Banded armour consists of metallic bands tied to each other, offering certain flexibility. This is iconic of Roman legionnaires, but it was actually rarer than mail armour, and not ‘true’ plate.

Brigandine armour is also similar to scale, in that it consists of metallic plates that are riveted on the inside of canvas or leather, the exterior of which is visible. Unlike scale and lamellar, the plates are not as small and actually offer complete all-around protection, second only to the solid plate armour.

Solid plate armour, also known as full plate, is the pinnacle of protection available. Unlike other armour designs it consists of large metallic plates that provide full coverage, with angling of the design to help deflect incoming blows. This is the basis of full plate suits, and iconic with many historical warriors, from the ancient Greek hoplites to the late medieval knights, and even fantasy archetypes such as the paladin.

Donning procedure: Plate is difficult and time-consuming to wear alone. Full plate requires an assistant to wear.
Maintenance: Rust is your only enemy with plate, but it still requires good care and oiling. It can be very bulky to store, however, meaning it is not ideal to carry with you when travelling with a dedicated supply train.
Wound effects: Plate itself makes you virtually immune to injury, except in the joints, which are usually covered by cloth or mail armour, or both. Heavy bludgeoning attacks can, however, shatter your bones and cause internal injury without so much as denting your armour.
Weather effects: Plate is very, very bad to use in hot weather, more so than any other armour type; but like mail, it is pretty insulated and actually not that bad to use in cooler climates, especially if exposed skin doesn’t touch very cold metal (which it is not supposed to touch anyway).

Fantasy designs

Fantasy designs of armour most notably include extravagant models, such as with massive shoulderguards, spikes, or even breastplates; partial armour, which can either be on the historically-friendly side, or go as far as the plate bikini; and even extravagant, exotic designs such as armour made from dragonscales, solid stone, and other such.

On spiked armour
Spiked armour is generally a bad idea, mostly due to the quality of life considerations. Sometimes, you even carry the risk of impaling yourself, thereby limiting your range of motions.

On massive pauldrons
Aside from weight being one consideration, the reduced range of motions can also prove a problem. Not so unforgivable as spiked armour, especially in the context of World of Warcraft.

On partial armour
Partial armour can be a good, bad, or neutral thing. It can be as much as using bits and pieces of armour in everyday life or travelling; using armour without its intended accompanying parts, eg. mail or plate without underlying padded cloth; or even the mail and plate bikinis.

Partial armour of the first and third varieties actually have historical equivalents, or even were sometimes used; especially the former type. The mail and plate bikini is a discussion of its own, and will be covered under the following section.

Suits of armour
Cloth armour
Full cloth armour is as simple as using a gambeson or linothorax over your everyday clothes. Unlike every other type of armour suit, this one is actually viable to use even in everyday settings, as it is lightweight, comfortable, and even smart-looking. It can be worn with a side-arm for completion, or on its own. Just make sure to not forget the accessories if you go to battle with it!

Leather armour
There are two iconic examples of full leather or hide armour: the barbarian archetype, and the rogue archetype.

The barbarian makes use of thick leather or hide, assuming they don’t fall under the bikini archetype. They are a classic example of heavy protection with seemingly primitive means, often making use of a shield or a two-handed weapon.

The rogue archetype makes use of sleeker and better-fitting boiled leather plates. This affords the protection of heavier armour types, while keeping the weight low and, especially if used partially, affording better mobility as well.

Mail armour
Full mail armour consists of the underlying padded armour (such as that shown under the cloth section of the present chapter) and the mail armour worn on top. Swords are the most common side-arm, with a dagger, helmet, and shield also being virtually necessary; the main weapon may or may not be another one-handed weapon.

Full plate
Full plate armour is that of the iconic knight with shining armour. It is usually tailored to the wearer, impossibly expensive, and with unparalleled protection that renders shields virtually obsolete and thereby unnecessary. Just as with other armours, a helmet and a dagger are must-haves, and a sword as a side-arm can be common and even recommended. The main weapon can be easily a two-handed one, since a shield is entirely unnecessary.

Bikini armour
Oh dear, the biggest fantasy trope since the 1980s! Whether it’s Conan the Barbarian, Red Sonya, or even characters like Vanessa VanCleef and Jandice Barov, the bikini armour is prominent across all armour types. And, of course, given it exposes so much, it’s not really protective, and not really armour... But is it unreasonable to use?
Well, no. It is not unreasonable.

Given this is a form of partial armour, it negates the biggest disadvantages of actually using armour: bad ventilation, and decreased mobility. At the same time, it affords some protection, especially if paired with a good shield for extra measure.
Of course, one might wonder why you would use bikini armour. Maybe you are a gladiator or duelist, who can benefit from the mobility and extra range of motions as much as to impress an audience, or even distract a weak-willed opponent. Maybe you like flaunting your abs, mighty man-boobs, or dat draenei bum. Maybe you are a sorcerer or sorceress, and therefore fall under the ‘no armour’ archetype.

As long as you understand that what you wear is not designed for a battlefield with massed armies it is perfectly alright. In fact, bikini armour is probably more reasonable for duelling, city and travelling usage than full plate, and maybe even leather and mail at times!

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Re: A Comprehensive Guide to Arms and Armour for Newbies

#3 Post by Puttock » Sun Apr 17, 2016 5:28 pm

One-handed weapons
One-handed weapons are the backbone of warfare for thousands of years. They can be used by themselves, in pairs, or with a shield, and can cover multiple uses.

The Sword
The one-handed sword, knightly sword or arming sword is the signature sidearm of the medieval era. It can be used with one or two hands, as a piercing, slashing or even bludgeoning weapon, and is probably the most versatile sword out there.
Scimitars are an excellent sword for low-armour settings and opponents. They are among the best slashing weapons in history. Cutlasses and sabers are very similar in functionality, if significantly heavier and more potent.

Rapiers are the last major type of one-handed sword. They are fast, precise piercing weapons with limited to little actual ability to cut and slice. They are one of the reasons full plate fell into disuse, however, and as such, they can be viable both against armoured and unarmoured opponents.

The Spear
The one-handed spear, while difficult to implement in-game (unless you are a Fury warrior) is another iconic example of weaponry. It offers excellent reach and punching power.

Heavy weapons
Maces, flails, hammers and axes are heavy one-handed weapons that historically were very common main weapons. They tend to be excellent against armour, providing accurate and heavy strikes that tend to bypass it, or even destroy it. As such, they are very safe picks with comparatively easy techniques to master.

Two-handed weapons
Polearms are the signature historical two-handed weapons. Longspears, halberds, glaives, gauches; there is many types, but essentially, this is a heavy, long stick with an end featuring sharp, pointy, or blunt stuff, or any combination of the above. They are excellent when used against mounted enemies, when used in formation, or even by a duelist who wants reach and flexibility. A safe pick, especially if you like using full plate, but they can be problematic to carry around.

Two-handed swords such as the Zweihaender and the Greatsword are actually so massive that function much like polearms. They can be used akin to spears, akin to hammers, or as massive can-openers. Not as flexible as smaller swords, but certainly intimidating. The katana, by comparison, is an excellent cutting weapon against unarmoured or poorly armoured enemies.

Whether heavy or light, large or small, the shield is a key component of many suits of armours. While it is unnecessary when wearing full plate, almost all other armour types would rather have one, rather than lack it. It can offer significant coverage and protection from missile weapons, while also offer a lethal blunt weapon in your off-hand.

Missile weapons
Bows are the iconic fantasy missile weapons, especially for elves. They are fast-firing, accurate, and with lethal power, but take a lifetime to master and significant strength to operate effectively, especially if they are heavy warbows.
The missile of a bow is called an arrow.

Crossbows are, by comparison, less fancy but much simpler to learn, and potentially more accurate as well. A crossbow has a lower rate of fire than the bow, which is compensated by the fact you can keep it drawn indefinitely; as such, it is an ideal sniper weapon.

The missile of a crossbow is called a bolt.

World of Warcraft comes with firearms, and as such, all the problems they can cause in discussions. Are they overpowered? Are they not?

The missile of a firearm is called a bullet.

It is the nature of these bullets that answers the above questions. While a bow and crossbow can fire a variety of ammunition, suitable to hunt with or to pierce armour with, pre-industrial firearms (which is what we are stuck with, pretty much) only have pretty much one type of ammo to fire, the round shot.

What therefore determines the ability of a firearm to pierce armour or fail is the power with which the shot is fired. And boy do firearms have significant punching power.

Still, a firearm is not an ‘I win’ card. Unlike bows and crossbows, pre-industrial firearms were quite inaccurate, due to the technology available to construct them with. In addition, it is not guaranteed to penetrate the heaviest of armours consistently. There are historical examples of bulletproof plate armour, after all.

The safest way to use firearms is to consider them single-shot, close-range weapons; or to use them en masse, where their accuracy is not a significant problem. Of course, unlike a crossbow or bow, a boomstick and a pistol make excellent bludgeons if needed.

Vital Accessories
There are a few vital accessories you don’t want to forget when kitting your character for battle!

Oh boy, where do I even get started. This is THE most important and underused piece of equipment in fantasy games. Helmets save lives, whether from direct hits, shrapnel, or other such. I will avoid getting in extensive detail, but seriously kids: don’t forget your helmets.

You might wonder why is a tabard or surcoat listed under ‘vital accessories’. There are two answers:
First, identification. Their colours and emblems help identify friend from foe in a battlefield. But this is not even their most significant use.

Second, armour maintenance. An armour worn underneath a tabard or surcoat is an armour less exposed to the elements, especially rain! As metal doesn’t really soak, it can help you keep this mail or plate armour of yours much more dry, and therefore, more rust-free with less effort!

You can cut with it. You can stab with it. You can eat, or even dig with it. It’s the best tool and weapon you have available. Never forget your dagger.

You can’t survive without water. When armouring up, make sure you don’t forget that flask full of delicious water, whether you’re travelling, fighting, or socialising.

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Re: A Comprehensive Guide to Arms and Armour for Newbies

#4 Post by Nomine » Tue May 03, 2016 12:44 pm

This might give some perspective on heavy plate:


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