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WORG guy (writeups.org mascot) armor breastplate (header version)

Weapons Locker – Body Armour – Chapter 1 – Light low-tech armour


This is a chapter of our Weapons Locker – Body Armour series. A great and thunderous saga full of, err, well, body armour.

The start of the series is about . So DCH players should start there, to make sure they understand the stats.

These articles aren’t dual-statted for M&M for now.

All the disclaimers — particularly the one about trying to model body armour in GENRE FICTION, not write about historical accuracy — were in the aforelinked first article.

This article is in beta. I prefer to get the basics out of the way before I start doing the genuine research, since the basics are needed in so many character profiles.


Table of content

Alamen Tabris drawing her swords

Alamen Tabris, a Dragon Age character in light low-tech body armour.

Padded fabric (crude)

This is makeshift and/or super-cheap armour. It relies on multiple layers of fabric and padding, perhaps with soft leather thrown in.

For instance, post-apocalyptic survivors might use super-glue, winter clothing, shoe soles, some tyre rubber, waders, etc.. They’ll create something that’s not superb armour but clearly helps against zombie bites, switchblades, punches, wild dogs, etc..

Another example is a fantasy setting with dirt-poor street thugs, or dirt-poor rural militia. Their armour would likely be horsehair padding (or packed straw) trapped between 2×2 layers of rough quilted fabric.


BODY 01, Blunting: 01, Damage capacity: 02, Enhance (Cold RV): 01 (cap is 05), Limitations: Damage Capacity has No Recovery unless suitable repair facilities and supplies are available.

Partial Coverage (Jacket) would be common.

Depiction of a 1300s peasant levy with a bill, likely from an old Osprey book

This feller with a bill and a fancy hat is a typical European peasant from a levy of the 1300s. Given the style, this uncredited illustration likely comes from an older Osprey book. The possibly-reinforced vest atop the multi-layered work clothing can work as visuals for crude padded fabric.

Padded fabric (pro)

The same general idea, but done by a pro. The fabric will be tightly-woven, the quilting pattern will be just right for holding the “pockets” of padding (or perhaps glue will be used instead), the padding will be packed right, etc.

This sort of armour is, frex, associated with archetypal Ancient Egyptian warriors.

Even if, say, bronze armour is available people might prefer proper padded fabric armour. It is much easier to carry around, to repair… and to wear in hot climates. Ancient Scythian warriors apparently often did that.

It could also be gambeson. Gambeson is a padded layer normally worn under heavier armour in medieval times. But there are records of levies wearing just the gambeson as much cheaper, better-than-nothing body armour.


BODY 03, Conditional Soaking (Bludgeoning & Unarmed), Blunting: 01, Enhance (Cold RV): 01 (cap is 07), Enhance (Bludgeoning, Slashing, Piercing RV): 01 (cap is 06).

All levels of Partial Coverage would be common.

Light body armour - Fantasy padded armour - Credits in caption

Archetypal heroic fantasy RPG padded armour. Art by Mates Laurentiu  for The Rivengeld  .

Quilted fabric (thin)

This relies on an important principle in armouring – multiple layers work better to resist penetration. Even fabric used for mere clothing, with multiple layers and adjustments, will be more efficient against knives and arrows than what most expect.

The “thin” version of this uses fewer layers, as it is worn in hot and humid climates.

A typical example would be historical Nahua (“Aztec”) armour, made of about three layers of rough cotton. It is then slightly hardened by immersion in brine water, as the salt crystals will remain embedded in the material once it is dry.


BODY 02, Blunting: 01, Damage capacity: 02, Enhance (Piercing, Slashing RV): 01 (cap is 05), Bonuses & Limitations:

  • Damage Capacity only vs. Piercing, Slashing.
  • Damage Capacity has the Full Recovery Bonus.

All levels of Partial Coverage would be common.

Light body armour - Aztec quilted armour - Jaguar - Osprey Publishing

Typical visuals for a quilted Nahua onesie armour. Unsourced image (grr), but if I had to bet I’d say it’s from an Osprey Publishing book.

Quilted fabric (thick) (a.k.a. jack)

A typical European armour jack has 25+ layers of selected linen, plus one layer of deer leather to keep the rain out.

A well-made jack is more protective than leather armour. It is also useful for part-time commoner warriors, such as the medieval French free archers.

In some areas, it is more practical to pound the bark of certain trees to create a fabric called bark cloth, rather than use linen. But it’s about the same thing for TTRPG purposes.


BODY 03, Blunting: 02, Damage capacity: 02, Enhance (Cold RV): 01 (cap is 08), Enhance (Lightning RV): 01 (cap is 06), Enhance (Slashing, Piercing, Bludgeoning, Ballistic RV): 01 (cap is 06), Bonuses & Limitations: Damage Capacity has the Instant Recovery Bonus.

Vest coverage would be common.

Light body armour - Quilted armour jack - Medieval Market

A replica for a many-layered armour jack, which looks about correct. From reenactement shop SPES Medieval Market  .

Quilted fabric (thick) (linothorax)

This is a specific example of layered linen body armour. It was worn by Ancient Greek warriors who didn’t have access to metallic hoplite breastplates.

Here are DCH stats for a panoply, namely :

  • Linothorax vest, with some light bronze reinforcements.
  • Strips of hard leather hanging down from the linothorax, to reinforce the skirt.
  • Bronze greaves.
  • Enveloping bronze helmet, with a nasal and full cheek protectors.

LINOTHORAX w/HELM & GREAVES [BODY 03, Blunting: 02, Damage capacity: 02, Enhance (Cold RV): 01 (cap is 06), Enhance (Slashing, Piercing, Bludgeoning, Ballistic RV): 01 (cap is 07), Enhance (RV against Critical, Devastation and doubles): 02 (cap is 07), Enhance (Unarmed RV): 03 (cap is 08), Stealth penalty 0/1, Drawback: Audial Perception rolls have +1CS to their OV/RV.]

Light body armour - Hoplite with linothorax - Osprey Publishing - Steve Noon

Early Ancient Greek soldiers, illustrated by Steve Noon  for Osprey Publishing  . The white armour vest is a linothorax.

Quilted fabric (thick) (Korean)

Here is a XVIIIth Century Korean (Joseon) equivalent of an armour jack. This specific vest-and-hat armour is kept at the Met  .

It’s 30-ish layers of tough cotton with hemp, rather than selected linen and leather. The hat is also reinforced with iron bands.

There are Taoist and Buddhist protective inscriptions as well. I *think* that the Buddhist one is the same mantra used by Thundermind. These could be important in setting with magic.

Attacks by French then American troops against Korea showed that this kind of armour could protect against small-calibre handgun rounds (in DCH terms, EV 03 ones) about as well as the arrow impact and sword blows they had been designed against. .45 Colt at close range apparently could penetrate, but it seems likely that common musket balls at a range couldn’t.

The stats are the same as an armour jack, but it’s not wrapped in leather. Which means an Attack Vulnerability (-1CS against fire-based attacks, and the rarer water-based attack) and a Drawback (becomes useless in heavy rain or after having been immersed).

Light body armour - Joseon Korean cotton jack

Joseon cotton armour jack with armoured hat.

Silk armour (realistic)

This is comparable to the thin quilted fabric armour, but using multiple layers of rough silk. This is done in areas where silk isn’t an exotic luxury good.

Silk is lighter than linen, and the fibres have a high tensile strength. Thus, it’s hard for a point or — especially — a edge to break them. By exaggerating this a bit for fiction purposes, we essentially get a concealable, soft, stab-resistant vest.


BODY 03, Blunting: 02, Damage capacity: 02, Miniaturisation: 01, Bonuses & Limitation:

  • Blunting & Damage Capacity only work vs. Slashing and Piercing.
  • Damage Capacity has the Full Recovery Bonus.
  • Miniaturisation is Encumbrance Only.

Will usually appear with vest-level Partial Coverage, but it’s certainly possible to make bigger ones.

Light body armour - Studded Chinese silk armour late Qing dynasty

Chinese studded silk hauberk from the close of the Qing Dynasty (so, 1900-ish).

Silk armour (cinematic)

This is an exaggerated version of the silk armour above. Its surface is so smooth and, well, silky that arrows and knives may simply slide off if they come at an angle.

Whereas realistic silk armour uses raw silk, cinematic silk armour will use processed threads.

This might have a place in semi-fantastic settings, such as some wuxia adventures or the pseudo-Chinese realm in a pulpish, two-fisted adventure. Or simply the pulpish version of an “Oriental” country.

Frex, Indiana Jones stories are cinematic enough to have this sort of gadget. The stories of the Shadow or the Spider definitely are.


BODY 03, Blunting: 02, Enhance (Slashing RV): 01 (cap is 06), Kinetic Absorption: 02, Miniaturisation: 01, Bonuses & Limitations:

  • Kinetic Absorption only vs. Piercing.
  • Miniaturisation is Encumbrance Only.

Will usually appear with vest-level Partial Coverage, but it’s certainly possible to make bigger ones.

Silk sash

These broad, stout sashes were worn by les Apaches. This was a violent Parisian subculture circa 1900, calling themselves that out of admiration for the North-American Apache tribes’ spirit of resistance.

These young toughs liked these sashes because they looked flashy. But they supposedly also had protective benefits. If stabbed in the belly with a low, upward thrust the silk could prevent a small knife from penetrating. It might also help prevent blood and viscera from getting out.

Did it work ? No idea, and to our regret we can’t legally run tests. But it’s a cool story, and stories are all that concern us here.


[BODY 02, Blunting: 01, Partial Coverage (Vest), R#05, Limitation: Blunting only vs knife thrusts in melee].

Design notes

The Partial Coverage is there for a streetwise opponent not to knife where the sash is. And the low Blunting value means that it’s only likely to work for characters with Hero Points, who can LDD most of the damage and survive as the sash takes care of the rest.

Light body armour - Apache silk sash - Le Petit Journal 1907

Archetypal apaches de Paris bad boy, from a 1907 engraving in Le Petit Journal.

Ghost shirt

A ghost shirt is made of linen that has been made impenetrable (or at least super-difficult to shear and pierce) using a fantasy process.

It isn’t particularly thick – a few layers. Perhaps even a single layer in the more fantastic and magical settings.

Possibilities include :

  • Being boiled in a secret concoction that may involve wine and/or liquor, the fat or semen of large and tough animals, the wax of rare insects, the bark of sacred trees…
  • Being made using the silk of fantasy animals such as certain giant spiders, or the wool of gods-favoured sheep herded by a cranky cyclops. It would be the third, even more fantastic step up in silk armour as above.
  • Alchemical processes that alter the fibres in a vaguely credible way, such as carbon deposits or polymerization.
  • Outright magic. In this case it may be even powerful, such as magic force deflecting bullets (as was supposed to be the case for historical ghost shirts).


BODY 05, Blunting: 04, Enhance (Piercing, Ballistic RV): 01 (cap is 07), Miniaturisation (Encumbrance Only): 02.

Usually have the Vest-level Partial Coverage. The more fantastic/magical examples may have higher numbers.


Hard leather

Most “leather armour” is actually cuir-bouilli. Cuir bouilli (“boiled leather” — “queer booyee” is close enough for little effort) is treated to become rigid and tougher.

It is not done using solely a boiling water bath. Yes, that makes leather hard, but also brittle. Rather, it is likely that it involved immersion into a boiling liquid using a local “secret sauce” and/or post-boiling treatments with the secret sauce.

This likely meant insect waxes and/or resins and/or powdered bones (for collagens). And maybe salts.

Thus, the core of “leather” armour will be a rigid leather breastplate. Then you can add other cuir-bouilli bits such as a helmet, bracers, greaves, a groin protector, shoulder plates, etc. over a soft leather jacket and trousers.

Strips or scales of cuir-bouilli can also be used to protect weak points.

This isn’t quite as protective as an armour jack. But it’s relatively close, lighter, and less bothersome when it comes to humidity.

In some areas, it may not be cuir-bouilli but instead the worked skin of particularly tough animals such as kangaroos, sharks, elephants, hippos, rhinos, giraffes… Such leathers can be remarkably resilient.


BODY 03, Blunting: 01, Damage capacity: 02, Enhance (Cold RV): 01 (cap is 05), Enhance (Piercing, Slashing, Bludgeoning RV): 01 (cap is 05), Bonuses & Limitations: Damage Capacity has the Full Recovery Bonus.

Partial Coverage (Jacket) would be common. High-quality leather armour will have one or two APs of Damage Capacity, and armour based on super-tough animal leather may have more Blunting.

Light body armour - Fantasy leather armour - La Gueuse

Heroic fantasy-style leather armour. From a French-Canadian costumer/leatherworker  . She’s got a shop too, if you want to tell the world you’re the sort of woman with an Armour Class of 8 (minus Dexterity bonuses).

Studded leather

Studded leather is hard leather armour with additional, metallic studs/rivets. This can place an additional bit of metal between an incoming blade and the wearer’s body.

As far as I can tell this is fantasy armour, and wouldn’t quite work in real life. But it is certainly well-established as fantasy armour. For instance, there’s studded armour in my 1978 version of the Player’s Handbook. So heh, go ahead.

Studded armour is likely the result a confusion caused by seeing brigandine. Or more likely, leather jackets styled to resemble those (more about brigandine in later chapters).

Some of the unusual leathers mentioned above, especially shark skin, may end up producing leather armour with “studded leather” stats.


BODY 03, Conditional Soaking (Slashing), Blunting: 01, Damage capacity: 02, Enhance (Cold RV): 01 (cap is 04), Enhance (Slashing, Bludgeoning and Piercing RV): 01 (cap is 06), Bonuses & Limitations: Damage Capacity has the Instant Recovery Bonus.

Partial Coverage (Vest) would be common.

Light body armour - Studded leather - Black Raven Armoury

Here we’ll go with a fantasy example from this British LARP and props shop  . Perhaps the bits of chainmail come from wealthier, fallen enemies.

Spiked leather armbands

These is a set of four leather bands, studded with sharp metallic spikes. Two are worn over the forearms, the other two over the arms.

The inspiration for this is Liabeuf, a French Belle Époque worker. Condemned for a crime he did not commit, he became a cops killer – using a cleaver and a so-so revolver. The spiked armbands prevented policemen from grabbing his arms.

This doesn’t translate well in most RPG environments, where grapple are less likely to be an instinctive tactic in close combat, and strikes are emphasised. And in most fantasy environments, where most fights involve swords and axes and stuff.

But we’re trying to cover diverse bases here.


BODY 02, Enhance (OV vs. Grappling and Wrestling Combat Manoeuvres): 02 (cap is 06), Power Loss (Enhance isn’t applicable if the attacker has a RV of 07 or more against Physical Attacks with a Piercing Descriptor).

Liabeuf - Le Petit Journal Paris - fight - spiked armbands - cops

Another Le Petit Journal illustration showing Liabeuf.

Writeups.org writer avatar Sébastien Andrivet

By Sébastien Andrivet.

Helpers: Kevin Berger.