Awhile back I bought one of the coolest books I’ve ever found, George Cameron Stone’s “A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor: in All Countries and in All Times“, at a used book store. If you want a copy and don’t want to leave it up to sheer random chance of finding it buried on a messy bookshelf in a low-traffic used book shop, you can get a copy on Amazon because of course you can. I tweeted about my joy at discovering this book at the time, and then spent quite awhile paging through the lengthy work behind the scenes in quiet times at home.
Unexpectedly, tweeting about it engendered a massive response by my standards and hundreds of people weighed in on it one way or another with excitement. I mirrored that feeling! It’s a bonkers book that has a few dated terms and assumptions here and there (it was written a century ago!) but which is nonetheless one of the most comprehensive galleries of terminology and imagery of arms and armor. At nearly 700 pages and with 4,500 illustrations (photographic and otherwise), the book provided a nearly endless supply of inspiration to draw from, and I found myself really inspired by the incredibly detailed study of armor and its component elements. Because I was so hype about this discovery, I wanted to incorporate a tiny sliver of what I’d learned into fantasy RPGs.
On that note, I want to take a second to comment on armor in old school D&D sometimes being the subject of its own discussion altogether.
While most players are comfortable abstracting it to a complete set, where chain mail armor assumes a complete package of arming jacket, mail shirt, skirt or leggings, and hood, there are a few elements of classic D&D that split off from this formula. Shields, for example, offer a -1 bonus to AC in B/X (from which most OSR systems are derived); in OD&D there also exists a listed entry for a helmet, but no details as to the mechanical benefit of purchasing a helmet either because of an oversight or because of the focus on rulings over rules; in AD&D this helmet issue was “corrected” by the optional introduction of a d6-based hit location/detail roll and a head-specific AC value in the DMG, which I think nearly everyone ignored. There is, of course, an exception to the rule: once you start seeing magical treasure, you start noting individual pieces of gear on your character sheet, even if there’s no AC difference involved, because of other bonuses your character is receiving from the equipment. A character with Gauntlets of Ogre Power is going to have that piece itemized on his or her character sheet, even if the game is otherwise assuming a character in plate mail has gloves by default, because they’re special.
Other OSR-adjacent games, or house rules to our favorite fantasy role-playing game, might work a little differently. Some list numerous equipment slots, such as rings, chest piece, helmet or hat, shoes, and so forth. Even some alternative character sheets floating around the internet for bog-standard D&D employ this method of organization to track equipment. In some of these various cases, each piece of gear contributes its own modifier to the armor class (or equivalent); in others, it just needs to be tracked for weight or critical tables or other secondary reasons.
In both cases, however, marking down a specific piece of enchanted gear is a time-honored tradition, even if you’re not tracking the minutiae of armor construction otherwise. Regardless of what style of equipment you use at your table, I hope you find some use from these treasures – on with the show!
1. Greaves – Greaves of Springstep
Definition: Formed plates, usually metal but also of other materials, which guard the shins and lower legs of a fighter, favored by cultures such as the Romans and the Greeks.
Description: Fashioned from sylvan wirewood by a quartermaster of the tree elf rangers, these greaves appear to be made of a stack of dull, silvery rings. They are actually hollowed branches of a tree unique to the forest from whence they came, and are unexpectedly flexible – able to stretch and shape themselves to the legs of many creatures, thanks to the properties of the rare wood. The length of each greave is decorated with a carved leaf pattern. They were made to suit an elven defender, whose efficacy was measured by his ability to hide in the branches of tall trees and leap from branch to branch.
Details: +1 to any checks regarding balance or leaping, +50% distance to jumps, +50% movement (i.e. 90′ instead of 60′)
2. Ailettes – The Mantle of Abbess Naimh
Definition: Ailettes are small plates of boiled leather or metal fastened to the neck and shoulder by cordage to protect the joint and neck and to display heraldic insignia or similar markings.
Description: The Mantle of Abbess Naimh is a historical artifact of religious importance to a sect of warrior-priestesses on a misty isle known as Eilk. The sole protectors of their small state, these women were eventually overrun by seafaring marauders and though many of their number fought to the death to defend their people, those not so lucky were captured and imprisoned or put to death. Among those so captured was Naimh, a decorated abbess and veteran of many years of successfully repelling invaders from the island. Though she eventually escaped and began a popular revolt against the usurpers, her ceremonial armor – rumored to be blessed by a goddess – was taken by her captors and lost to the sands of time since. Comprised of iron, these slightly-curved quadrangles are strung with silken cordage and enameled with depictions of religious iconography in colors that have faded with age.
Details: Once per day, cast cure light wounds as if cleric of equal level.
3. Espallieres – Imperial Vanguard
Definition: Espallieres are segmented armor for the shoulder and upper arms, similar to the Roman manica. They were made of many materials, but were commonly metal on the European continent.
Description: Once worn by an elite soldier of a bygone empire, the Imperial Vanguard shows its history in the form of countless dings and battle scars. It is comprised of orichalcum, a rare metal with the color of gold and the strength of iron. The edges of each segment are lined with inlays of rosy copper, though the armor’s wear and tear obfuscates some of the detail. It appears to have been repaired dozens of times and was scribed with many armorer’s stamps and seals and initials over the years of its service.
Details: +1 bonus to AC, as if carrying a shield.
4. Cuisses – Drakescale Slacks
Definition: Cuisses are the element of armor defending the thighs. In some areas, these protect only the front of the thigh, whereas in others (such as medieval England), they wrap around entirely. In some eras these were solid, whereas in other times they were segmented for increased flexibility.
Description: The tanned hide of a drakeling is a famously durable substance, suitable for the armor of even the most unduly tested soldier. It is highly sought after for its flexibility, light weight, and resistance to blade and flame alike. Despite these terrific properties, it remains rare because of the scarcity of drakelings and the incredible hazards of hunting them for their hides. These cuisses were made by an unknown armorer in an unknown land from the breast of a dangerous grey drakeling and have been worn by many warriors – usually until they are slain by another covetous warrior looking to make them his or her own.
Details: +1 bonus to AC of any armor to which these are affixed, counts as light armor, cannot be burnt (though the rest of you, and your stuff, can be).
5. Plackart – The Gut of Hok-norok
Definition: Plackarts are a portion of torso armor covering the lower half of the abdomen, allowing for a modicum of flexibility when worn in conjunction with a chestplate and backplate.
Description: Orcs are not known for their concern with aesthetics, so when Chief Hok-norok was nearly eviscerated by a pernicious little hobbit, it was natural for the the tribe to patch him together with a piece of black iron taken from a suit of armor. And, in turn, when Hok-norok was successfully eviscerated by the upstart Morduk, son of Ardok, it made sense to reclaim the iron and use it to construct a new plackart for Morduk’s armor – trophies being of critical import to orcish culture.
Details: +1 bonus to the AC of any armor to which it is affixed, -1 to morale and reaction rolls from orcs and other goblinoids as the tale has spread in their circles.
6. Escuffa – Plume of the Champion
Definition: The escuffa is a largely decorative plate affixed on top of the helmet while jousting to offer additional protection and display one’s station and wealth.
Description: Decorated with the luxuriant feathers of a particularly ornate breed of wild gryphon from an exotic land, the Plume of the Champion was once the prize of a grand tournament held decades ago in a distant kingdom now long lost to ruin. Won by a traveling knight-errant in a great upset, it served as the literal crowning glory of his adventures. Despite being very old, this escuffa remains pristine, as if the feathers are immune to age and environment. The plate itself is fashioned from blued steel and is inlaid with gold in an incredibly intricate floral pattern.
Details: +1 to-hit and damage while mounted, +1 to reaction rolls from lawful creatures, +1 to all morale and reaction rolls for hirelings.
7. Brayette – Codpiece of the Satyr
Definition: A brayette is either a steel codpiece or a mail codpiece, and was, for a time, an expected item for all men of station to own. It protects the junk, dummy – but it was just as much a decorative object.
Description: A vulgar creation believed to have been constructed by a cult in the service of dark satyrs and their ilk, the Codpiece of the Satyr is an upturned plate of hammered steel fastened with leather cordage. Its exterior is unremarkable – besides being pretty blatantly phallic – but internally it is inscribed with the mad musings of a heretical priest on the subject of holy priapism and woodland fornications in an ancient and obscure language used only by fae creatures who feel particularly capricious. It cannot be overstated enough that translating this insanity into a decipherable tongue would be hazardous to the health of the reader.
Details: +1 to reaction rolls from chaotic creatures, once per day cast charm person as if magic-user of equal level.
8. Couter – Stalwart Steward’s Brace
Definition: Articulated, curved metal plate designed to protect the elbow joint at the point where the bracers or gauntlets end and the rerebrace has not yet begun.
Description: Loyalty has power all its own. When mutinous curs staged an ill-fated coup against the rightful heir to the throne upon his father’s demise, the boy’s lifelong guardian donned his outdated armor and defended the keep alongside loyalist warriors against seemingly desperate odds. Though the steward was himself almost as old as the armor, his own joints creaking as much as the steel and leather, he continued serving the royal line as he had served the boy’s father and grandfather. When all seemed lost, he placed himself between the point of a spear and the heir, perishing just as night gave way to dawn and reinforcements arrived from the western reaches of the kingdom to put an end to the coup. He was buried by a tearful new king in a new suit of dazzling, ornate armor. Though the tomb has been ransacked in the centuries since, the couters remain hidden beneath cloth and dirt.
Details: Once per day, parry a melee weapon strike and reflect its full damage back on the attacker.
In time I may revisit this again. I say again because I actually wrote this article (nearly in its entirety as you see it here) originally more than a year ago, in Octoberish of 2018! It got pushed into my lower-priority drafts for some reason, likely owing to a busy holiday/Zine Quest season in 2019. Hard to be sure! Nonetheless, here it is, and now that I finish it off with some last-minute editing and this closing text, I feel compelled to consider making an endless generator of magical items so we can all pretend we’re playing analogue Diablo without tormenting our DMs. Maybe someday I’ll do it. If you grab a copy of this book to mine for terms and beat me to it, hit me up on Twitter @DungeonsPossums and let me know!