Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Historical Armor

The other day I was browsing the website of the Sierra Toy Soldier Company, specifically its Medieval Knights Collection. Their products are much too expensive to even consider buying, but they're nice eye candy. They've got a very wide selection of stuff and I found myself wasting way more time just staring at its images than I ought to have done.  Plus, how can anyone not waste time on a website that includes 54mm miniatures of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Jacques de Molay at the stake?

Anyway, the website reminded me of just how much I like the look of historical armor. It's one of the things I like most about David Sutherland's early D&D artwork: his fighting men and clerics are usually wearing armor that, while it probably wouldn't stand up to close scrutiny by medievalists, is nevertheless close enough for my purposes. There's a "groundedness" to this sort of armor that I actually think helps to heighten the fantasy elements of the game, something that I think has been missing in it since the 2e era at least.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mark Allen is doing a historically-armored fighting man for me in an illustration that will accompany my first Dwimmermount release ...

25 comments:

  1. I agree there is something great about the historic-looking armor depicted in earlier editions of D&D, such as the iconic "paladin in hell" image. The later editions have used more and more unrealistic depictions of armor (how would I describe it? "Medieval-punk" armor?) and I think that's another sad thing about the evolution of the game.

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  2. Couldn't agree more.

    It's one of the things I really liked about the cover of Sanctum of the Stone Giant Lord

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  3. The depictions of armor in the revised 2e books are, for the most part, thoroughly rooted in history. Planescape armor has more of a "dungeon punk" feel, but it made sense, given the setting.

    3e, however, is a different story. I can remember cracking open the 3e PHB for the first time and wanting to vomit. It was as if the artists got together at an S&M club and asked each other "How can we rip off Warhammer without ripping off Warhammer?"

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  4. Perhaps more than the armor, I miss historical weapons. I wince every time I see an orc swinging a spiked, flared, curved, ornately fluted sword. Not only is such a weapon hideously impractical, but it demands I believe that this creature who can't even stitch together a decent pair of pants is capable of metallurgical feats that border on science fiction.

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  5. This guy looks like a dragon slayer crew member to me (from the 100 Years War series). Not too historical, but more than enough to give him some "grounding"!

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  6. I'm trying to recall, but it seems to me that it wasn't so much that 2e poorly depicted armor in its imagery, but that it hardly depicted it at all. The only specific artwork featuring armor that I can recall was the Dragonslayer pic near the front of the PHB, which only depicted a guy wearing a chain shirt and another wearing studded leather. I at least liked the design of the studded leather.

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  7. I much prefer historical-realist armor to the "belts and spikes" material that came to dominate the hobby.

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  8. I would love to see (or create) an old school version of realistic arms and armor.

    I am sorely disappointed by what we are given.

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  9. Great post James. I agree with it 100%. There's nothing I hate more than anime weapons. Fantasy armor and weapons are ok in very small doses. Unfortunately, it has become the norm.

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  10. Okay I just looked at the catalog. Holy crap, who the hell can afford those things?

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  11. I have a theory that much of what I don't like about newer versions of D&D actually has clear roots in the old D&D that I do like.

    In this case, I think the argument is easy: Erol Otus, right?

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  12. I also agree about the historic-looking armor and weapons vs. the more "modern" style we see today. The historic clad adventures seemed less prepared for what they were about to face then the decked out hyper accessorized adventurers we see in Paizo and WoTC art work today that seem prepared for just about anything.

    I also feel that the adventures themselves were depicted to be older and more grizzled then what we see today. When I was playing 1E I always felt the actual adventures were in their 30's or 40s by their appearance in the art work. Like they had spent their youth on a farm and now were forced into a dungeon in their middle years. Today when I see RPG art work it seems the adventurers are fresh out of adventurer school.

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  13. @ arcadayn Wow...you aren't kidding. For those prices, I hope to get an actual Teutonic knight rather than a mini.

    Overall though, I'll be surprised if we see too many responses from people here claiming they prefer the look of 3.x and greater artwork and are looking forward to 4.x "Now with 20% More spikes and chains!"

    I guess it's just a natural outgrowth of the movement of D&D away from it's wargamming/quasi-historical roots into the realm of anime and video game influenced imagery.

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  14. I agree completely. I liked the dungeon-punk style of Planescape but I wish it had stayed in Planescape. 3.x characters resemble shambling mounds. 4e takes after World of Warcraft, which is worse.

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  15. Yeah, the prices are up there but then again these aren't gaming minis by any stretch. They're more like your granny's Hummels (Larger, finely-painted, highly detailed, limited edition collectibles).

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  16. Holy crap...in this economy, who is paying that much for these things?!?!?!?!

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  17. Midlands is known for its emphasis on historic armor and weapons. That is how a Fighter class can become interesting and advanced to play as a Ranger or a Magic User. Only knights (Fighters) are trained to use Plate Armor. You got to be in shape to wear Chain Mail. Common folk wears leather, if anything. Armor is EXPENSIVE. Characters acquire good pieces over time. You need to pay an ARMORER to make a captured piece of armor fit the PC and also to repair damaged armor.

    Lack of tactical realism was one of the reasons I broke away from traditional AD&D.

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  18. I also feel that the adventures themselves were depicted to be older and more grizzled then what we see today.

    Oh, yes, I agree with this too, though I'd be willing to excuse the younger characters in exchange for reasonable looking armor and weapons.

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  19. I feel the quality of fantasy art could be vastly improved by putting artists in armour and then trying to get them to do stuff, hopefully without them getting too hurt in the process. Especially if some of it is the armour they draw.

    Although in a world of magic, and more precisely alchemy (which has a strong relationship with the kinship of metals), one can readily propose that metallurgy is far in advance of historic models. This is the reason that weaponsmiths and armourers can forge "magic" armour and weapons in my campaigns. Which also explains why there is a lot more of it about than can be accounted for by the number of magic users (especially in later editions of D&D). [This being the canonical difference between your typical village blacksmith and an actual weaponsmith.] Named swords were either "henchmen" or artifacts.

    @Brooser Bear: If you want historic accuracy try the Armourer's Companion from BGD's version of Chivalry & Sorcery. Especially for the expense and time taken to create historic armour. Especially chainmail as compared to something like Wisby plate. [It was a lot easier to rivet overlapping beaten plates to a leather "apron" than it was to individually hand-draw and rivet all those links.]

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  20. I think we can go back earlier than 2e for getting the armour wrong. I can not think of a historical analog for studded leather. It is pretty clearly a misunderstanding of artists rendering of brigandine armour where small metal plates were secured between layers of leather/linen with the studs that the secured the plates shows through the outer layer.

    Ring mail probably was not used nearly as much as we imagine. It should be rated less protective than the misunderstood brigadine.

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  21. Aren't we having an 'chainmail bikini' discussion, only for guys?
    The fact that many illustrators (and editors who commission & accept their works) choose the eye-candy over accuracy is no surprise.
    Someone here termed it ren-fest punk (or something like that) which is probably one of the best neologism's ever; that nails exactly the two market categories that have come to dominate the marketing efforts of WOTC (to which I'd add WOW players).
    But the root of the problem seems to be accuracy v. play-ability: it's easier to have a tricked out kit a'la batman with maxed out armor and a giant blade than it is to have a hauberk, byrnie, greaves, etc....

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  22. The "eye candy" is awesome.

    The prices are staggering!

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  23. In my campaigns it's a slider effect. The more rooted in magic a character is, the more fantastic and impractical the armor is. The more rooted in science and martial skill a fighter is, the realistic the armor is. Which means most of my adventurers start off wearing fairly normal 'authentic' armor, but once they start rising in level and gain more and more mystical equipment, the less they are bound by the laws of reality and their armor starts to look more and more fantastic. I do have armor bikinis in my game, but the protection is not from the bikini, but from the magic that enchants them.

    Its a funny sort of power check, the stupider the outfit is, the more powerful the wearer probably is, because otherwise they would be dead. In my OD&D/Mystara/Immortals game, everyone are such paragons that they end up kind of like Dr. Manhattan and they start to leave garments behind.

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  24. While i love playing a wizard in 1st-2nd Ed AD&D - having 2-4 hp and one or two useful spells per day and only a single weapon - melee or missile - was pretty crappy. Having some cantrips in computer game convinced me and gave spell casters something else to do - castles and crusades style cemented it and the players all went for it. Also took away need to waste memory on crappy ""utility " spells while in the dungeon

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  25. sorry posted last post in wrong place - cant remove or post where i want now - doh sorry

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