Stupid Fantasy Armours
“Studded Leather” Armour
“Studded leather” armour appeared first in Dungeons and Dragons. It consists of “studded leather” – leather armour with metal studs (or sometimes, spikes) inserted into it.
Such armour never existed historically, and for a good reason. Metal studs would not prevent any kind of attack. In fact, their presence would make armour weaker – studs would catch the attacks while compromising structural integrity of leather plates.
What “studded leather” armour actually was is either a coat of plates or a brigandine. Both of these consist of metal plates riveted to the inside of a cloth or leather jacket, resulting in a reasonably cheap, practical yet highly effective armour. Since plates were within the coat, only the rivets were visible on the surface – thus creating an impression of “studs”. This armour was both practical and cheap, and by the 15th century even wealthier of peasants could afford it.
Ringmail is an armour that consists of metal rings sewn onto a fabric or leather foundation.
Just like most other examples in the article, this armour is fundamentally stupid. Mail consist of interlocking rings, with hollows in rings used so that other rings can connect to it. But if metal elements are sewn onto a leather or cloth backing, then there is no need for rings to connect to each other. And this is indeed the case: rings in ringmail lie next to each other, sewn onto the backing.
But using rings in such a way is idiotic. Mail is constructed of rings because hollow is needed for rings to pass through, and connect to, each other. But this hollow is a fundamental structural weakness of mail armour. It means that all resistance is provided by the relatively thin wire, which can be cut, or else rings may be split apart. And this is very likely to happen, since rings are going to “catch” any sharp, stabbing weapon (such as a sword or a spear tip). As a result, mail armour is very weak at resisting stabbing or thrusting attacks.
Armour where this hollow is not necessary to connect structural elements to each other is not going to use ring construction of said elements. For this reason, all armours which used backing as a structural foundation always used metal plates of various sizes: such construction allows far superior resistance to missile and melee attacks while also reducing weight, albeit at the expense of increased maintenance and reduced coverage (e.g. scale, lamellar, brigandine or coat of plates). But ringmail would have all the disadvantages of mail armour combined with all the disadvantages of scale armour, and advantages of neither.
Some authors however use the term “ring mail” interchangeably with “chain mail”. This would be the proper use of the term, if the term is used at all: after all, chaim mail is constructed of hollow rings. Robb Stark, for example, was mentioned as wearing chain mail by Bran, but ring mail by Catlyn. But neither ring mail nor chain mail is a proper term; term is akin to saying “bladed sword”, as mail (or maille) is constructed from chain mesh, which consists of rings.
No matter how realistic an armour is, not wearing helmet is always stupid. Brain is literally the most important organ in human body, and it can be damaged even if the skull is not pierced or crushed. Head also cannot be protected by the shield, since that would involve the loss of vision – and unlike what certain movies would want people to believe, testudo is not a good formation for hand-to-hand combat. Because of this, helmet was always the first (and often the only) piece of metal armour used by soldiers. Gauls wore helmets, even when they often wore little else. In Middle Ages, poor soldiers would use textile armours, but they always procured metal helmets – even if they were only second-hand examples.
The lack of helmet is often excused by the need to see soldiers’ faces – but this argument is garbage. In fact, soldiers through history often preferred open-faced helmets, especially if they were infantry. Reason was that such a helmet protected the most important part of the head while still allowing for unobstructed vision and hearing, which is crucial especially for infantry. Even Greeks, who fought in the very tactically unsophisticated phalanxes, eventually abandoned the all-encompassing Corinthian helmet for various open-faced types. Romans of course used open-faced helmets from the beginning. In late middle ages, cavalry used enclosed helmets – bascinet in 14th and sallet in 15th centuries. Infantry however regularly utilized the open-faced versions of these helmets.
The reason for lack of a helmet is recognition, which involves not just face, but also the hair. In visual media, hairstyle can be important in identifying the person, especially in a crowd. And even an open-faced helmet may obscure character’s face from some angles. But this could be solved relatively easily by making helmet – and armour in general – recognizable. Unlike what Game of Thrones would want people to believe, medieval armours were not uniform. And not only were they not uniform, helmets were typically adorned with personal heraldry – this could involve just painting the helmets (as some sallets were in 15th century), but also very elaborate figures atop the helmet, as on late 14th century great helms.
Just like head was the first priority in armouring, heart (and chest in general) was the second. Roman legionaries who were too poor to afford mail armour would wear pectoral plates which protected the heart and literally nothing else. Greek curass and linothorax protected the torso with solid defences, while shoulders, loins and upper thighs were protected by hanging leather straps.
Yet many armours give solid protection to shoulders, arms and legs, and only chain mesh or no protection for torso. This is a literal inversion of the logical order. Limbs are difficult to hit and not exactly vital, and so were historically last part of the body to be armoured, whereas head and torso were given protection. The doughnut armour gives priority to limbs, while torso is left weakly protected. The cause of this insanity are likely English funeral effigies, which often look like the person is wearing a loose-hanging surcoat along with plate protection for the limbs.
Bikini armour is essentially a specific subset of the Doughnut armour. It is basically armour designed for fanservice, and full-on bikini armour looks like an actual bikini. In extreme versions, only breasts, butt and pubic area are covered. Less extreme versions still expose neckline, shoulders, midriff and limbs (including thighs).
This approach clearly exposes crucial areas. Midriff (gut) contains crucial organs even by itself, and more extreme versions also leave even more important organs – heart and lungs, specifically – completely unprotected. Male versions of bikini armour are, if anything, even more stupid. Barbarians will often walk around in armour which consists solely of oversized shoulder pads, but the entire torso would be left bare.
Downplayed female version is “boobplate”, a breastplate which is shaped like breasts. But this would mean that any strike would transfer portion of the force to breastbone, even if just from the fall. A lance strike to such armour could be lethal even if it does not penetrate. In fact, whereas actual bikini armour offers no protection, boob plate has protective value that is outright negative.
Soldiers from some cultures historically did wear skimpy armours or no armour – Celts in Europe, most subsaharan tribes in Africa, even Egyptians all eschewed use of armour. In general, the hotter the climate, lighter the armour. But these cultures did however compensate for lack of armour by using very large shields and tactics that fully utilized protective capability of said shields. And some societies which used heavy armour with limited coverage also could only afford to do so because they utilized large shields: Roman scutum allowed legionaries to armour only most important areas, while limbs were left unencumbered.
Bikini armour, and skimpy armour in general, can also make sense if seeing skin and blood is the point. Roman gladiators wore armour which was designed with two things in mind: providing competitive balance and making fights entertaining to match. Seeing blood from wounds was big part of the entertainment, and gladiators were trained to avoid causing lethal wounds. Because of this, armouring vital areas was not crucial. But this also shows what bikini armour actually is: fanservice, plain and simple.
Top-heavy armour is armour where upper body is given much heavier protection than lower body. But such armour is not actually stupid, necessarily. During 15th century, infantrymen often left out any leg protection from their armour, while their upper body (head, torso, arms, loins) would be encased in full plate armour. Later almain rivet also left out arm protection, so that it consisted only of helmet, cuirass, pauldrons, tassets and fauld.
In former example, it was not impossible for the upper body to be fully armoured while legs were left with no armour whatsoever. However, such armour still protected the hips and upper thighs (via tassets and the fauld), which is something many fantasy top-heavy armours forgo. Armour from Dragon Age: Origins mentioned on acoup post is actually a functional example of such half-plate / 3/4-plate armour, though the tasset placement prevents it from being a good example.
Pauldrons of Doom
Pauldrons of Doom are a subset of the top-heavy armour. Historical pauldrons were actually a very tight fit to the shoulder, in order to provide maximum protection and mobility at minimum weight. But in fantasy, it is not rare to have pauldrons larger than wearer’s head.
Artistically, oversized pauldrons send a message of strength and masculinity. Inverted triangle is a long-standing ideal for a male body, and it signifies fitness. As a result, armour with oversized shoulder pads looks intimidating. Functionally, shoulder is a very flexible joint which is difficult to protect while still maintaining its mobility. Thus shoulder armour must be either flexible, segmented, or else have enough room for a shoulder to move inside – which means a very large ball-like shape.
But fantasy pauldrons are oftentimes simply too huge. They look like they would decapacitate the user if he were to raise his arms (or even crush his head), and in many cases completely block peripheral vision.
Scary Impractical Armour
This kind of armour looks very scary and intimidating, but such accessories often make it impractical. Spikes are one of main features of such armour, with some armours having enough spikes to make a porcupine jelaous. Yet there is a good reason why historical armours avoided spikes: they would catch blows instead of deflecting them, snag on things, and be greater danger to allies than to enemies.
Again using Peter for example here, mail armour in particular (but also often plate armour) is shown to be floppy, standing away from the body quite a bit. This may have been true for inherited or cheap munitions armour. But armour made for nobility or royalty (as in the picture) was a very tight fit – regardless of whether it was mail or plate. This had a lot of practical purpose. Loosely fitted armour had to use more material, and was thus heavier for the same protection than a tightly fitted armour. It also flapped around, making it difficult to move in, and in case of loosely-fitted plate armour could make some movements outright impossible. This was also true for an armour that was too tight. Because of these concerns, armour for royalty and nobility was custom-made. Mass-produced armour for soldiers came in different sizes, and soldiers would go through them until they found a reasonable fit. Munitions armour would, for these same reasons, dispense of everything other than a helmet, breastplate, tassets and pauldrons – pieces which could be made to work even if they were not exactly a proper fit.