+3 Armour

Ugh.  There's a lot of junk out there, pretending to be armour, and it irritates me. I get it.  It's easy to make, because the materials are cheap and readily available, they don't have to be shaped much, you don't have to think about them, they're not so hideous that you don't fit in with your clan, and you can go off to fight and have a good time.  There is legitimate value to all of those things.  Not everyone wants to do better, but I think we can, without a ton of work, and we should.  Here's why.

Are we doing medieval things?  I believe we should make some real effort to. We should read about how they did things and look at images of medieval people and artifacts to figure out what they truly looked like.  If we don't start with those, we're recreating our own fantasy of what the middle ages were.  That's OK, there are LARPs and cons where that's lauded, and lots of people love it.

Do you get hurt?  Bruises are part of any combat sport, but if you're getting broken bones, or your friends are getting broken in similar gear, consider the construction approach.

Are you effective in what you're wearing?  It's possible to be super safe while not being a threatening opponent.  Is that what you want to be?  If you make your armour following a medieval mindset, so that it looks like what they wore, using good materials, you'll be better protected and faster on the field.

+1 Materials
Let's be honest, is what you're wearing made of roughly medieval materials?  I'm not losing sleep over what grade of steel something's made of, or how the leather is tanned, but the big rough cut, is the first name of this material something they would have used?  I can see an argument for using aluminum for a coat of plates.  You have to use thicker plates but they're less likely to cut you or the shell of the CoP.  It's a little bulkier than steel, but not by so much that you'll really care.  For most other things, steel, fabric and leather are the way to go.
  That said, spring steel is one of the core +1s in the +3 system.  With no design changes, you can swap a mild steel design over to spring steel and cut its weight almost in half, and the resulting piece will be tougher.  Leaving some weight in the helmet is a good idea, but for limbs and body armour, less weight is clearly a good thing.  While 1050 is the closest alloy to medieval spring steel, consider 4130.  It's readily available from a range of suppliers in the US, and is more forgiving while heat treating because it tends to not get as hard as 1050.  Cracking is a catastrophic failure mode, while denting is just annoying and ultimately inevitable.  All armour can be convinced to dent with enough violence.

+2 Research
A kidney belt made of the best leather around is still just a kidney belt.  Medieval warriors pretty much didn't wear them.  Someone's rushing off to prove me wrong.  There may be some exceptions, but if you look at breastplates from the mid 14th century onward, they tended to not put a single, rigid piece over the area between the ribs and the hips.  That's where your body bends, so you have to make it loose to keep from sacrificing flexibility.  Breastplates covered the rib cage, and other plates with some flex built in covered the areas that bend more.
    That's just one example.  What I want to stress is that you should look at the original pieces in detail.  Better yet, draw them.  Drawing forces you to really see what's there, not what you think is there based on years of looking at D&D paintings (which are cool, just not truly medieval.)   This process used to involve long trips to the library or collecting rare and expensive books, but no more!  There are great resources on line like Effigies and Brasses.   Plug in your time range and place browse through what it returns.  I strongly recommend building a Pinterest page.
    Here's one of mine on late 14th century arms.  Making the page very specific will keep your project focused, and encourage the search engines that drive the site to suggest other images that you're unlikely to stumble across.  It will suggest the collections of other people who are learning about similar things.  I try not to mingle modern works with original medieval ones (though I have some catch-all pages where I do pin works of other artists who've inspired me; we can learn from them too, just be careful not to let their whimsy or mistakes misinform your understanding of what the originals looked like.)  A generic armour board can be fine for day dreaming, but it will have everything from Red Sonja to the Ugroli.  It's not as helpful as a focused and carefully curated set of images.
   Understanding the whole kit in context is important.  Having a wide date spread within a single harness makes it less functional and make your intention less clear.  It's like in shooting- aim small.  Pick a year, or a decade at most.  Look at everything you can find from your place and time on that.  Look at manuscripts, tapestries and effigies since they all have different strengths and weaknesses in what they can depict.  Pick your single favorite complete harness and reproduce that.  You can riff of ideas once you deeply grok how they built things and embellished them.  Doing so before you understand them is a recipe for making up things that don't look medieval. 

+3 Shaping
Most rookie armourers and armour buyers are OK with things that are pretty flat or blocky.  They figure your body's roughly a cylinder.  Your arms are kind of cylindrical.  That gets you in the ball park.  It is a legitimate start, though you end up being a bit like a stick figure. Look deeper.  Your forearm is more like a cone, but because the radius and the ulna cross 2/3 of the way down, the final shape you see in most of the late 14th century arms (see the pinterest link above) is like a vase, or a tulip.  Look carefully.  The extant pieces flare toward the wrist, just past the crossing point of those two bones.  Why should you care?  Putting in that taper and flare distributes incoming force over the length of your bones so blows hurt less and they're not focused on the most delicate points of your wrists.  An arch is stronger than a flat sheet, and a complex arch is stronger still.  Making your steel carapace follow the curves of your body keeps you from building a set of big cylinders which are bulkier, make you look bulkier and are inherently heavier than the minimum volume shapes required to cover you.  I go into a little detail on this here.  Harness that's shaped well is lighter and stronger, making you lighter, faster and better protected.
   Roll up your sleeve, bend your elbow and look at it.  What shape most closely approximates your eblow?  A sphere?  It comes to a point, right? So how about a cone?  Now look back at the late 14th century elbows.

   There are essentially no flat spots on your body larger than a couple inches long. Coincidentally, it's maddeningly difficult to heat treat flat pieces of steel. Consequently, all surviving armour pieces have some curve, even if it's subtle.  Look at the curve of your body, and the original armour.  Shape your armour that way.  You'll be safer, tougher and more medieval.  Don't be easily satisfied.


Popular Posts