I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

OSR piecemal armor

The subject came up on the Gaming Ballistic blog. Douglas has written several interesting books on combat, including Dragon Heresy (I contributed a page) and Dungeon Grappling (my review). 

I like the idea of piecemeal armor, I've written some post on the subject myself - and a complete treatment for 5e games in 5e Manual of Arms: Armor & Shields (also here and here). If you want more ideas on 5e armor, check this one out. I don't remember writing anything like this for OSR games, however.

I really like Stella's idea... it suits my minimalist instincts well. See (from the OSE SRD):

The pattern is obvious (2/4/6, 20/40/60, 200/400/...well, 500) except for plate mail being a bit lighter than we might expect. Let's make it a bit heavier and voilá: you don't even need a table anymore.

Armor is also too cheap in B/X when compared to weapons (and garlic, but that's another story). Multiply the cost by 10, and now weight = cost in gold.

Let's say any armor lighter than 400 (AC 14) is considered light armor. So you can wear leather with a heavy helmet, or you can add greaves, or run around naked with helmet and shield... 

How much each part weights? Again, because of my minimalist tastes, I'm tempted to divide it evenly. Maybe in four parts (legs, arms, torso and head), maybe five (shoulders).

Let me paste a bit from Armor & Shields:

In the first chapter, and throughout this book, we play fast and loose with “realism”. There are a few reasons for that.
First, this is a game of dragons and flying wizards, and we don’t usually let realism get in the way of our fun until the suspension of disbelief becomes annoying (if it does, feel free to ignore any of the options present here). The usual rules are not particularly realistic, either. It is highly debatable, for example, if leather armor is particularly efficient (when compared to padded armor)...
Second, even if we were trying to make things more realistic, we would have to recognize that there is no way to say, for example, that every breastplate weights (or costs) the same.
Real armor can vary immensely in weight, size, composition, etc. There are layers (a breastplate with chain armor, with padding underneath), materials (linen, iron, leather, horn, stone), quality (hardened iron, leather from different monsters, etc.), symmetry (gladiator armor could be asymmetrical) and craftsmanship (butted mail versus riveted mail, etc.) to consider. Some of these topics are discussed on chapter IV.
The issue is further complicated because, even in the original rules, some types or armor are just smaller parts of others, while some include greaves, many layers, or are completely fictional. As the nomenclature is all over [...]
To make things a lot simpler, you could just ignore the names of the armor and judge it by weight and AC. Let the players choose if they are wearing a helmet, shoulder pads, leather or chain to protect the joints, etc.
Now the table is neatly organized in order of AC and weight.
Light Armor: Made from supple and thin materials, such as linen, leather, etc. Alternatively, fight bare-chested with an iron helmet and greaves, or heavy winter clothing.
Medium Armor: made of hardier materials, mostly metal – in plates, scales, strips in varying sizes or metal rings (interlocking or sewn into leather), and a layer of padding underneath. Alternatively, a breastplate with greaves, braces, etc., but some exposed gaps (joints, etc.).
Heavy Armor: covers the entire body in thick metal, mostly in large plates, plus padding. It includes a helmet, gorget, or both.
Within these guidelines, you can call your armor padded, gambeson, leather, hide, scale, chain, ring, brigandine, breastplate, lorica segmentata, mirror armor, just helmet and braces, dark clothing and a cape, or anything of the sort. We used the terms “gambeson” and “brigandine” in chapter I to fill existing gaps, not to include any realistic versions of these types of armor. You might as well say you are wearing a “long, thick gambeson” for medium armor, for example.
The materials you can use to build armor are described on chapter IV.
It makes me think... is there enough interest for a "Manual of arms" book for OSR games? Certainly there is much to add and a little to  "fix" in the original game (for example, I don't think "slow" weapons need to suffer that much). 

As you've noticed, I like to keep things simple. So, maybe 20-30 pages, adding minimum crunch but lots of options. Like Old School Feats.

Well, maybe that's the subject for another post. But if you like the idea, let me know!


  1. I've tinkered with some similar ideas before -- light, medium, and heavy armor categories instead of specific types. Then partial armor of each type would be 1 point lesser AC and a bit lighter, so if you wanted to wear only the mail hauberk and not the chausses and coif and whatnot, you'd be AC 6 (13 ascending.) I also had considered allowing armor of exceptional quality that would cost five times as much and provide an extra point of AC or a little less encumbrance, or both for 10 times cost. Combined with the partial armor rule, it got a bit crazy, but still kind of cool.

    1. Yeah, I like it. Add a few variations to armor and you have endless possibilities.

  2. Not so much on piecemeal, but I did meditate on armor quality some time back (scroll past the armwaving on the price of plate) https://leicestersramble.blogspot.com/2016/11/a-question-of-plate.html