Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Armor Problem

There are three types of basic armor that have appeared in D&D from the very beginning: leather, chain and plate.

When you say "plate" I imagine this:

Whether we're talking about half plate, plate mail, full plate or whatever, Excalibur is the first thing that pops into my head.

Similarly, when you say "chain" my brain thinks this:

For better or worse, there it is.

But I don't have any sort of platonic ideal of leather armor locked in my head.  Anybody got any suggestions?  Part of me thinks that leather armor could be safely dispensed with, based solely upon the fact that it leaves little more impact on me than "what thieves in D&D wear".

(The Imperishable Fame series will resume tomorrow.)


  1. I think cover art from the Thieves' World novels. Giant round leather collars with studs around the edges and such.

    See it here:

  2. When you say leather armor, my mind jumps to movies like Gladiator, Troy, and Keira Knightley's Guinevere.

  3. Let me see
    Kevin Costner's studded armor in Prince of Thieves
    Dio in the Holy Diver video for hide
    There's all the cuir boulli in Gladiator.

  4. For me, leather armor makes me think of Hank the Ranger from the D&D cartoon.

  5. It's been awhile, but didn't that dude from Ally McBeal wear some leather when he faced off against the big lizard in Dragonslayer?

  6. The bandits from Krull pop to mind when I think of leather armor.

  7. A bit of a complicated answer, but if you watch the Spanish movie "Capitan Alatriste" AKA "Alatriste", starring Viggo Mortensen, there's tons of background characters wearing leather armour, and some of it is totally sweet. (example here)

    Also, Boromir in the FotR movie.

    In both of those cases we have what might traditionally be called "soft leathers" which are really just leather clothes, worn over cloth and/or padding. Just like motorcycle leathers, they blunt impacts and prevent light blows from cutting too deeply.

    For hardened leathers, historically you have basically every Greek or Roman soldier that isn't wearing obvious metal. You know the look: pressed into the shape of comic-book muscles, or scenes of battle and the like. Maximus is wearing leather, as is Achilles. Both are reinforced with metal, and my guess is that you would be in D&D as well.

  8. This is a very interesting question in context of the Imperishable Fame Campaign! I wonder how you will tackle it!

    As to leather armors, to me it has always been what those guys wore:

    The Roman and Hellenistic Period armors always seemed no pulpy enough for my tastes.

  9. Cheap, unrealistic movie armor. And I mean that in a good way.

    Leather armor has no unified look. It's also not the most historic and/or realistic. (That's true for D&D leather and studded leather, RQ3/Harn boiled leather is something different in my eyes).

    Tougher-than-average leather clothing, maybe with the occasional leather breastplate known from cheap Ren Fair enthusiasts. Complete with biker leather pants and Steve Reeves belts.

  10. What Ryan said:
    "Kevin Costner's studded armor in Prince of Thieves"

    This is what I think of first when somebody says leather armor.

  11. When it comes to armor in film, I've always really liked Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V. It has all three classic D&D armor types including leather:

  12. Part of the problem here is that there were so many TYPES of leather armor. If you were willing to spend the money, you could, once upon a time, obtain pretty much any "piece" of armor you'd have found in "Excalibur" -- greaves, cuirass, shoulder guards, the whole nine yards -- in leather, either soft, stiff, or boiled in oil to create a sort of carapace. If you're just looking for mental pictures, you could do worse than Costner in "Robin Hood."

  13. Part of me thinks that leather armor could be safely dispensed with, based solely upon the fact that it leaves little more impact on me than "what thieves in D&D wear".

    I have now reduced all armour in my game to 4 classes: None, Leather, Chain, and Plate. It has worked very well so far. What exactly each one means is really flavour.

  14. Same here. I reduce it all to None, Non-Rigid, Semi-Rigid, and Rigid, with Non-Rigid encompassing everything from bear skins to leather jackets or studded leather jerkins. When I think Official D&D Leather, I know it's supposed to be the boiled leather shaped pieces that Greeks and Romans would have used, but in my own drifting rules, I treat that as Rigid Leather: acts like plate vs. softer or more fragile weapons, but easily pierced/broken by metal weapons.

  15. definitely Hank the Ranger for studded leather, but for regular leather:

    Thallo from the '81 Clash of the Titans, pictured here:

  16. The trouble with finding a definitive image for 'leather armor' is that it isn't in the same category with scale armor, (chain) mail, and plate. Leather just refers to the material, while those other words refer to how the pieces fit together construction.

    You don't make 'leather armor', you make leather scale armor, leather laminar armor, or a leather breastplate.

    About half the characters in this scene from Jason and the Argonauts are wearing leather cuirasses. The cuirass on the torso and - maybe - a leather cap are pretty much what I picture when someone says they are wearing leather armor.

    But there's no reason not to switch it up now and then:

    And leather is also a good category to keep because the category can be used to cover things like quilted or padded armor, or a gambeson.

  17. The pic of Maximus that deadlytoque posted was the one I was going to post. Also, the armor Maximus wears with the horses on it is a leather cuirass.

    I also think of the segmented shoulder guards that Legolas wears at Helm's deep, though that's not full armor.

  18. I ended up with soft leather, hard (boiled) leather, hard studded leather in my world because of all these issues.
    Soft leather and boiled leather are very different.

  19. Hmmm. Leather armor.

    Maybe it'd look something like

    Seriously, I'd say something like this or
    this probably

  20. Robin of Sherwood:

    Nothing is forgotten...
    Nothing is ever forgotten...

  21. Or this might be a good example.

  22. deadlytoque: If you look carefully at the Boromir photo you posted you will see that he is actually wearing a leather cloak over a mail shirt.

  23. No leather armour in any purportedly historical (or fantastic)film really resembles historical leather armour (other than perhaps the aforementioned muscled cuirasses and buff coats in any English Civil War films). The reason for this is that historical evidence for leather armour is very thin on the ground. There is far more historical evidence for the use of textile armour from a variety of different time periods. I believe there is only one surviving piece of cuir boulli armour in existence (a rerebrace -for the upper arm) and little documentation.

    The significant forms of light armour in the middle ages and the renaissance were the jack, jupon, arming doublet, gambeson and aketon, all essentially similar or synonomous armours made of many layers of fabric (10-30ish)and/or quilted and stuffed. In most cases mail and plate were worn over some variety of padded garment, in some cases another padded garment would be worn over mail.In the case of the arabic jazerant the mail was actually sewn into a padded garment.

    But then, of course, this is fantasy.

  24. Robin hood runs around in leather armor most of the time in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. At least from what I remember.

  25. Russel Crowe's armor in Gladiator comes to mind for sure. Or Robin Hood for that matter.

    Check it out:

  26. Lior: so he is! Of course, if he took the mail off, he'd still be wearing leather armour, so I think the pic can stand.

  27. Anonymous4:46 PM

    The bad guys from Road Warrior

  28. Anonymous5:07 AM

    I think of Cuir Boili, or boiled leather. My parents used to be in the SCA, and they fought wearing quilted gambeson, then cuir boili with articulated metal plate joints, chain shirt over that, heavy boots, solid metal helm, and either mace / sword and shield or else great sword.

    So the shape of the leather armor would be basically like plate armor, except made of leather. The torso armor for example is just like a breastplate / backplate, hinged at one side and strapped at the other. You can even get away with articulated leather mitten-gauntlets although leather gloves plated with metal riveted on are common too. Fully articulated metal mitten-gauntlets or chain mittens far less so. I've never seen chain or plate finger-gauntlets in person.