Tuesday 7 July 2015

Gaming in fantasy central Asia: armour

For reasons that should be fairly obvious, western-style heavy platemail never really took off in central Asia. When the days are baking hot, the nights are freezing cold, and the distances are colossal, it's going to be hard to persuade people to wear armour that's far too hot in the day, far too cold in the night, and weighs down both men and horses, especially when it costs a small fortune to make. Throughout history, the region's inhabitants have favoured practical, lightweight armour that is both better suited to the climate, and easier to make in a region which has never had much in the way of big industrial centres. Here's a quick rundown on what your PCs might be wearing.

(NB: ATWC uses ascending armour class. Easy to swap if you use descending instead.)

Young woman dancing in tribal dress, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Base AC: 11. She looks like she might have a Dex bonus, though.

Light Fur, Leather, or Padded Clothes: AC +1. If you live in the steppes or taiga, you probably wear clothes like this all year round. A bit uncomfortable during the summer in hotter regions, but nothing you can't deal with. Doesn't count against encumbrance. 

Base AC: 12
Heavy Furs or Leather: AC +2. This covers everything from the long buff jackets worn by soldiers, to the heavy fur clothing worn by inhabitants of the tundra and northern taiga. Wearing clothes like this in hotter regions will make you really miserable all the time. Doesn't count against encumbrance.

Mongolian Archer
Base AC: 13. 

Very Heavy Furs and Leathers: AC +3. This could be a single garment made from very heavy hide - the pelt of a bear, the hide of a wooly rhino, etc - but is more likely to be made up of multiple layers of fur and leather, worn one on top of the other. This is the kind of gear that you want to wear in the tundra and deep taiga during winter. In the deserts it will make you pass out from heatstroke and then die. Counts as one item for encumbrance purposes.

Unarmoured? That's just what he wants you to think! Base AC: 14.

Chain Shirt: AC +4. The only real reason to wear a chain shirt rather than a breastplate is because a chain shirt can be concealed (by wearing it under your clothes) and a breastplate can't. Obviously you wear padding under the chain shirt, as well. In real life chainmail was horrible and useless against guns so you might want to have it grant only +2 AC vs. firearms (from the padding) if you care about that level of realism. Counts as one item for encumbrance purposes.

Uzbek Warrior in Tashkent - Vasily Vereshchagin
This guy's just chilling out in his rockin' turban and his base AC of 15.

Helm and Breastplate: AC +5. This is the armour worn by most actual soldiers. It's not too cumbersome (you don't move your head and torso nearly as much as your arms and legs), the weight is well-distributed, and the breastplate will stop a bullet. (A swivel gun round will punch right through, though.) People other than travellers and fighters (who know how to manage these things) will find breastplates and helmets uncomfortably hot in warmer climates. Counts as one item for encumbrance purposes.

Mongol armour, 12th-15th century A.D.
Legends say that whoever wears this armour will gain a base AC of 16.
Half Plate: AC +6. This is either a coat of overlapping metal segments (like the one pictured) covering the torso, upper arms, and some or all of your legs, or a breastplate and helm worn with matching greaves and bracers. Either way, it's a serious amount of metal to be carrying around on your body. Wear it into the tundra and you'll freeze; wear it into the desert and you'll cook; most places in-between should be OK, though. Counts as two items for encumbrance purposes.

Heavier Armour: AC +7 and a lifetime of misery. No picture, because this sort of armour wasn't historically used in central Asia. If you import a suit and wear it, you will be either too hot or too cold all the time. About two hundred miles into your first five-hundred-mile journey, you will realise that the weight and the misery just isn't worth it and strip it down to half-plate instead. Counts as three items for encumbrance purposes.

With his base AC of 17, this bold historical re-enactor fears nothing!

Shields: I've always thought that D&D badly underestimated just how much difference a shield makes in hand-to-hand combat; and, as ATWC PCs tend to have slightly worse AC from armour compared to regular D&D characters, this seems an easy chance to correct this without unbalancing the game. In ATWC, a light shield (defined as either a small metal shield, or a larger shield made from wood or hide) grants +1 AC and counts as one item for encumbrance, and a heavy shield (defined as a large metal shield, or a huge wooden shield that you can hide most of your body behind) grants +2 AC and counts as two items.

Which brings us onto the last type of armour you might be wearing:

Koryak Armor, c. 1900. Kamchatka.
Koryak archers, Kamchatka peninsula

Heavy Leather Armour with a Giant Shield Tied Onto Your Shoulders To Stop People From Shooting You In The Back of the Head: Grants AC +3 from in front, and AC +4 from behind. Counts as one item for encumbrance purposes. Makes you look kinda awesome, though.


  1. Four years late, but I'm still using this post whenever I need to explain how armour works to new players. I guess I'm also using it for my ATWC campaign, but that one went on hiatus for work reasons 18 months ago and never came back.

    1. Glad you've found it useful! I'm always pleased to hear that anything ATWC-related has made it into actual play, however briefly...