Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Equipment of Alnwich: Armor

Thus far in this series on the equipment commonly found in and around Alnwich, I've discussed weapons. Today, we switch gears and take a look at what a typical warrior wears for protection. In other words - armor.

Technology Level

The average technological level for armor in Starfall is late iron age / early medieval age. This is a time when large pieces of iron could not be manufactured because blast furnaces were yet to be developed. As a result, full suits of plate only existed in bronze  a much more rare expensive material owing to the rarity of tin  more likely, not at all.

This varies by region, nationality, and people, but Usk falls squarely in this category. The Skidafolk of old were an iron age society that relied almost entirely on fabric and mail armor, but they were quick to add Usk's predominantly mail augmented with small plates to their armories.

Why So Primitive?

I originally considered making all of Starfall average around the dark ages, specifically around the time of Charlemagne because it isn't terribly common in fantasy games. Usually, I see high medieval trappings with occasional steampunk/Victorian anachronisms for fun. Once in a while, I come across some sword-and-sandal bronze age goodness. But I never see what fell in between.

When I began digging into this time period's technology, I noticed that some key things were missing for the feel I wanted. Civilization should be...well...civilized. And in my mind, that meant having the moldboard plow and water wheels. Also, the dark ages didn't see the variety of weaponry that befits a hack-and-slash game. So I bumped it up to early medieval period, with some anachronistic weaponry for fun.

Side Effects of Early Medieval Tech

Three main things stand out to me when I look at early medieval armor: it was layered, it was heavy, and it came in pieces. Note that this doesn't mean it didn't protect pretty darned well. A knight could still enjoy a silly amount of protection, but it cost him a lot in encumbrance and DX penalties.

Layering. Armor often consisted of at least a mail undergarment that eventually evolved into the arming garment, plus plates strapped over it. An additional layer of padded armor was sometimes also worn under the mail for even more protection.

In GURPS, this means the wearer takes penalties to his DX for layering. And considering how DX affects combat skills, this can be quite detrimental when it comes to hitting things. Of course, heroes with lots of skill might not mind, and the protection offered means one can get hit a lot more without worrying about harm. Net effect: Walking Tanks aren't nearly as agile as their unarmored counterparts.

Weight. Early medieval armor was heavy. The armor of the first crusades easily broke 100 lbs. That immediately puts Man-in-a-Can at Heavy (-4!!!) encumbrance. This penalty stacks with penalties for layering whenever they both apply, but it doesn't apply to most combat skills (Fencing versions of combat skills do suffer, however). This means that a heavily armored warrior really isn't going to be mobile - or quiet -, but the enemy will have a heck of a time getting to the squishy center of that metal tootsie pop.

Comes in Pieces. Armor, as mentioned in Layering, above, wasn't one big suit. It was lots of little pieces all strapped together by the wearer to add protection where he thought it was most worth the weight and encumbrance. This means that suits of armor can be quite customized - something players usually love. Moreover, it gives players even more stuff to spend money on, and that is never a bad thing!

So all totaled, doing armor this way means that players get more options for their PCs and PCs are more mechanically differentiated based on how they choose to equip themselves. None of this sounds bad to me.

Armor by Type

Most armor in Alnwich is comprised of layers of linen and qualifies as Layered Cloth Armor in GURPS terms. This is usually fashioned into either a vest, a gambeson, or hauberk for protecting the torso and arms, and into skirts and greeves for protecting the lower body.

Mail is also common among the wealthier warriors in the area, who may mix it with or wear it over linen armor. Furthermore, those who can afford it, will regularly augment their mail with smaller plates to protect the forearms, joints, and of course, the head.

Solid plate armor is unheard of in Alnwich. Even the Earl cannot afford a full suit of bronze plate, and even if he did, this would be layered over a full suit of light mail. The result is a heavy and nigh impenetrable armor coat. But such plate armor suffers gaps. The lack of arming garment reduces the penalty to target chinks in armor by -2 and hitting a chink means the plate armor doesn't protect at all. It is said that wondrous suits of full plate are made by certain faeries their princes that lack these vulnerabilities, but no adventurer has brought back such a treasure.


Helmets in Alnwich are most often of a pot helm type and made of cloth, lamellar, or metal plate. These are virtually always of a spangenhelm construction. Also extremely popular are mail coifs. These are typically worn beneath another helmet for added protection or simply on their own.

Other helmet designs do exist in Alnwich, usually owing to outside influence from Usking traders and soldiers. These include bascinets with the occasional full helm from beyond the Usking borders.

More importantly, Usking heavy knights wear a very specific combination of head protection that has yet to catch on among natives of Alnwich. This sees a knight wear a coif beneath a pot helm. He then adds a massive great helm over all of this for even more protection during a mounted charge. The great helm is often discarded on entering melee, which may be why it is not as common among the often-unmounted descendants of the Skidafolk.

Hand & Foot Protection

It gets cold in Alnwich. This makes protecting the extremities especially important. Most locals wear boots, and the more wild inhabitants prefer waterproof mukluks - especially in the winter. Any warrior will augment such footwear with sollerets that protect the top, if not also the bottom of the foot.

Handwear is a bit more tricky. Mittens and gloves are commonplace in Alnwich for everyday wear, and necessary in the cold months. But they also penalize combat skills. One alternative is open-palmed gauntlets, but these do not protect against the cold. Depending on the season, warriors will wear either just gauntlets, or layer gauntlets over gloves or mittens.

Neck & Face Protection

The neck and face are some of the last places to be armored because of their impact on vision. Skidafolk use to wear masks made of leather, bone, and wood, but today this is rare in Alnwich. Most such protection is comprised of different coverings of mail - ventails and aventails. Lobsterbacks are unique to southern Uskings, where they were adopted from Arnath.

In Summary

Alnwich has a wide variety of armor options for PCs to choose from. This provides the opportunity for more personalized armor, and for players to buy armor that better fits their fighting style. The only major armor type completely absent is leather armor. These are common in Arnath and among the tribes of Carantania, but they just haven't caught on in Usk.

I think that this set up will provide a nice bit of backdrop and flavor while also enhancing player options and enjoyment. What do you think? What armor do you use in your games?

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