History & RPGs: Chain and Plate Armor

I am always looking for ways to bring together historical understanding and practices to enhance my Castles & Crusades games. Modern History TV is a YouTube channel I enjoy watching since Jason Kingsley provides the history behind a medieval practice or idea and supports it by demonstrating how it was done as accurately as he can, and when he is speculating he is honest about it. All of this is very informative for someone interested in history and for those seeking greater insights into incorporating a concept or practice into their RPG.

In the first video linked here, Kingsley examines the history of the chain shirt, how it was made, how the style changed over time, how effective it was for protection, and how easy it was to put on and take off. The chain shirt was used by numerous cultures for over one thousand years and after this video you get a good idea why it had such consistent continual use.

One thing that is presented in many medieval RPG’s is how long it takes to put on and take off armor, and it seems every RPG has a different set of numbers to explain how long it takes to don/doff armor, many of which differ from each other. As is demonstrated in this video, putting on a chain shirt takes about 30 seconds, if you are adding your belt and sword it could take an extra minute.

In this second video Kingsley carefully goes through the pieces of plate armor, explaining why they were shaped the way they were, and what the purpose of stop ribs, loops, straps and grooves served on the armor. As he states, armor encapsulates a story and every dent is a reminder of a particular situation where that damage occurred. This is important for me and my C&C games, because all my common monsters, when they score a critical hit, rather than cause hit point damage, instead cause damage to armor and weapon, either by breaking shields and weapons, or reducing the body armor by one point of AC per critical hit. This means players need to spend money to repair their weapons and armor, and several of my players as a result have learnt armor-smithing and weapon-smithing as professions as they level up so that they can do their own repairs.

Unlike the chain shirt, which could be put on in about one minute, plate armor took 25 to 30 minutes, and each knight had a retinue of people to assist them in putting it on. The humans in my C&C world are roughly at the technology level of the mid-12th century, and my dwarves are at the level of the 14th century (when it comes to armor), as a result, since plate armor wasn’t invented until the 14th century, humans can only get plate armor if they can get a dwarven armor smith to make it for them, and at four times the cost listed in the Players Handbook! So there is not a lot of plate armor in my games. Nonetheless, if some human knight manages to get plate armor (a much greater sign of prestige and influence in my game), it is important to remind them that with that increased armor class comes the need for extra time to put it on and having an assistant.