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Fantasy armor has a long and noble tradition of awesomeness and lively debates. Many kind of fantastic armor, such as sexy bear skin speedos, chain mail bikinis, massive codpieces, ridiculously massive suits of plate mail, armor made of gold or even gems, and other overly elaborate forms of armor are all standard equipment for adventuring parties. Threads dedicated to fabulous and ridiculous armors are a common sight on /tg/, and discussions regarding people's favorite type of armor are also a common way to pass the time, although doing so has a risk of starting an ugly political debate over issues best not discussed on this page.
Most agree that even the most over-the-top armor designs aren't a huge problem for anything other than historically accurate settings, and in terms of the crunch it simply doesn't matter, as the stats and the design do not need to be linked in any way - after all, the key word is "fantasy".
As you may see with the images to the side, fantasy doesn't need its armor to be logically sound. Due to this, armor design is usually done more to appease the eye than the mind. Thus, armor design and usage that tends to be over-the-top usually leans on the following styles:
The character is so excessively armored with large pieces of armor that you must wonder how they can even walk unassisted without falling over. Usually done to give characters a stoic and/or intimidating look. Issues such as avoiding heatstroke and being unable to use a toilet in that armor are usually sidestepped in fiction, but then those issues are almost never addressed in fiction anyway. In real-life these drawbacks were trade offs for the protection the armor offered, and the armor itself can't be put on or removed by the person wearing it without someone else helping - in practice it's usually one of the jobs of a squire. To avoid heatstroke, the wearer had to drink and minimize activity where possible, and as for the toilet problem since the armor can't be properly removed without help, there was a flap at the back - otherwise the squire would have to clean it afterwards.
Not an armor type, so much as a lack thereof. Characters in this style typically wear just enough to keep them from being classified as naked (think "Red Sonja" and you'll get the idea). Traditionally given to characters who favor speed over protection (or fanservice, depending on the setting), it is also sometimes given to those who use some kind of supernatural protection against damage to supplement their armor or simply happen to be so good at withstanding/dodging attacks that they don't normally need to worry about being hurt in the first place. The average magic user is a good example of this, given that the traditional wizard robes are just natural fiber clothing and aren't usually much better in terms of their protective value (enchantments and other forms of magical protection notwithstanding). One popular example is Conan being depicted wearing only boots, a loincloth and a belt. This look originated from artwork of Conan by renowned artist Frank Frazetta. Frazetta himself depicted Conan this way because he liked drawing the human body and put that personal preference in his art style (which is why men and women in his art tend to be scantily clad whenever possible).
It should be noted that the "almost naked female armor" is not actually as common as one might expect. The worst offenders are usually fantasy pinups and JRPGs (and in the latter case, often applies to both men and women); for tabletop RPGs and most videogames, they're actually somewhat uncommon in recent years in part due to the backlash.
Flash to the Extreme
The character's armor is excessively decorated and designed in an over-the-top manner (ranging from bright colors to it being encrusted in precious gems and metals) that they basically scream: "walking target" and/or "mobile treasure chest" when out into the field. Usually given to the upper hierarchy of a setting to denote either their position or wealth. Large spikes count as an "evil" version of this; while they can make a villain look intimidating, they'd also be getting in the way, either poking yourself or your allies constantly.
Style over Substance
The character's armor includes elements that reduce its practicality in favor of looking flashy or appealing. Such features are found almost entirely on female armor and includes high heels, contoured breastplates, no clear means of fastening it together, thigh-high boots, and a lack of padding. Then again, one can easily point to countless real-world examples of the above-mentioned traits (Yes, even heels - riding a horse with stirrups is much easier wearing boots with heels), but most of the time were usually reserved for ceremonial armor and not optimized for combat.
The character's armor is specially designed to intimidate their enemies, either by just looking menacing or realizing what the armor is, is enough to inspire dread. This is typically reserved for villains, who will dress all evil-like to intimidate their foes and cement their position as a, or the, big bad. The good guys sometimes use this style, as an attempt to show his allies and the enemy he means business. This can take a variety of forms, such as:
- Dreadful armor - simply designed to intimidate foes while looking dignified. They make take the shape of beings feared throughout the setting, like dragons, wolves, angelic/daemonic warriors, or what else have you. While sometimes they're adorned with iconography that their enemies would fear.
- Eldritch abomination - armor that looks like something H.P Lovecraft would make. Such style incorporates features that are designed to either disgust or horrify the enemy at the mere thought that something like them could exist. Typically used by big bads, who either have armor writhing like its alive or have fused with their armor like its their second skin.
- Armored hedgehog - covered in big sharp spikes. Some armors in this school have so many spikes that wearing them in real life would run the genuine risk of impaling oneself. Sometimes the user is even portrayed as using the spikes themselves as a weapon.
- The Faceless - some very intimidating primary villains wear helmets which completely obscure their face. This usually indicates to the viewer what it does to characters - this person is not to be fucked with. For some reason villains with full face protection tend to be very dangerous. They got so strong because they wore helmets long enough to not get killed before levelling up a lot.
What are these "ergonomics"
One thing should be emphasized about real world armor: It's already bloody uncomfortable to wear an at least 20 pound (or 10 kg) over shirt (which is about what the very lightest armor will weigh), never mind fight in such a thing. Padding was absolutely required for even the most basic of armor (most cutting weapons can do double duty as (expensive) clubs), and that's just the first obvious problem you'll have when fielding armor (and, in fact, there was and is a non-trivial amount of armor that was nothing but padding (go look up the Gambeson if you don't believe us; D&D calls it "padded armor" and undervalues it because game balance)). Padding, needless to say, is hard to move around in. The Ergonomics of Real World armor was (and remains to this day) very important, as a result of these and other factors.
Fantasy armor frequently ignores such considerations as "weight", "flexibility", "range of motion", "chafing", "padding", and "comfort", among other considerations, with exceptions being people who wear armor that shows a lot of skin (which sorta defeats the point of armor, but there you go) or where magic compensates for ergonomics or function (e.g.; a metal bikini enchanted to protect its wearer). This is also ignoring the tendency for almost everybody to walk around without any kind of helmet.
The Main Source of Skub
Female armor is the main source of skub when Armor is discussed. Three points are probably indisputable:
- The forces that produce cheesecake outfits in Real Life probably exist in your game world.
- The realities of combat also probably exist in your game world, which directly counteracts #1.
- The armor worn by women in Fantasy Art veers strongly towards the cheesecake side of the line.
- In the real world, there were actual suits of armor that had some very goofy looking codpieces; here's one famous example.
- In the real world, practical armor is fairly unisex - breasts just don't get as much in the way as you might expect, particularly once you start adding the necessary padding.
- Yes, we know that's five points, when we said three are indisputable. Which three of the above five are indisputable is widely disputed.
(For example, point number two is dependent on how much of a roleplayer vs. rollplayer you are. You wouldn't care much about how well armor covers you if it's +3 defense regardless of hit location. You'll also have people argue that artistic license is more important than adherence to reality when it comes to fiction, since it's not supposed to be a literal interpretation of reality anyway, but by that point you're entering a philosophical debate.)
Beyond those few points, expect to see nothing but bullshit, and maybe a few well meaning but absolutely wrong "Best Practices" suggestions.
A Mild Digression about Ceremonial Armor
In Real Life, armor was usually divided into practical and Ceremonial armor. Practical armor was intended to be used (protect a guy from that spear or knife in the middle of a melee). Ceremonial armor was intended to look good. This resulted in occasional wild differences between the two, such as the ridiculous codpieces mentioned above.
Fantasy armor is usually inspired by the Ceremonial armor, as that's what was usually put into artistic depictions.
The Warhammer Line
As a side note, if your armor is as or more ridiculous than Warhammer's (either 40k or Fantasy), expect to be mocked. Yes, this means you, generic anime-inspired MMORPG, and you, That Guy who uses a screenshot from said MMORPG as his character portrait.
The Centurion armored suit. An armor system where the guy wearing powered armor wears another powered armor suit on top of it. At least the title is correct.