Monday, 17 April 2017

Lets talk about armour..

Once again, as the latest Raging Heroes TGG models filter through into general release, the ongoing debate about armour, especially that worn (or indeed, not worn) by female models has popped up. There's actually quite a lot to chew on here, not all of it related to gender, so this may ramble about a little. Buckle up! (This post is a little long, and quite image-heavy)

Let's start with the one that irritates me most and is conveniently most easily dealt with. Take a look at this:


Now let's be honest, that would be pretty dumb, and there's certainly no shortage of outfits on female characters in comics and to a lesser extent games that would probably only stay attached by magic or the most advanced sticky-tape known to science. Let's take a look at another nice example before we get to the boring talky bit.

This one's a particularly good illustration of why 'bikini armour' annoys people. At its worst, it's presented as having the protective qualities of field plate whilst having the coverage of O2 in the Outer Hebrides, which is clearly daft. Games, be they tabletop or virtual, where the same suit of armour looks like an entire ironmonger's on one gender, and three bits of tinfoil held together by twine on the other, are certainly asking to be ridiculed and deserve every last bit of it. Heck, I've even been a bit guilty of that one myself in the past, using some of the older, bulkier Witch Elves as Chaos Warriors of Khorne in my Valkia army. WFB/ AoS gives you a bit of an out in the form of Chaos Armour that has grown into the body and gone under the skin, but still, a 3+ save for a bikini is a bit cheeky (potentially in more ways than one.)

The thing is, though, there seems to be the prevailing idea that this.. supposed to be the same thing as this...

..which is pretty odd, when you remember that Sonja was inspired by the writings of the same person who gave us this guy:

Now we can go round and round as to whether being basically naked as a male barbarian and being every bit as naked as a female warrior is the same thing or not, but one thing I think we can probably agree on is that neither is exactly 'armoured'. The thing is that there's a pretty simple reason for this- both characters are basically adventurers, not soldiers. Both of them have plenty of battlefield experience, sure, but you can bet that if they see a battle coming they usually take time out to grab any armour that's available, as you might remember from the end of the classic 'Conan The Barbarian' movie. Once the battle is done, however, they usually discard or sell the armour and move on, and by happy random chance that Sonja pic gives us one of the reasons why that is- she's wading through a river. Now you can actually do quite a lot by way of running, jumping and even doing cartwheels in battlefield plate armour, as seen in many Youtube videos like this one...

..but one thing you won't be doing is swimming. An old friend of mine still tells the story of when his veteran Runequest character, resplendent in enchanted runic plate-mail and tower-shield, decided an entire raiding party of over 100 Orcs was a tad rich for his blood and attempted to elude them by swimming a river. Needless to say this ended poorly for him. Of course you could always take your armour off before trying something like that, or carry it about in a sack and only put it on when danger threatened, but with the really solid stuff you'd want on the front-line of a battlefield that's not really an option, and of course if you're a thief like Conan sneaking into the Tower of the Elephant to make off with the valuables, you're planning to be carrying a heavy sack out, not carrying one in on the off chance you run into a guard.

Of course the other thing with battlefield armour, especially in fantastical settings like 40k or AoS, is that its protective value only takes you so far. As any Dark Souls player will tell you, the ability to take a few sword blows without dying is very handy, but should that same armour lead to the dreaded Fat Roll when you try to dodge the jaws of an irate dragon all you've done is give the thing some intestinal discomfort when nature eventually takes its course. In 40k, sure that power armour is very nice, but if the enemy are pointing Grav weapons and plasma guns at you you'll be envying those Wyches as they Fleet their way into cover.

Games in general, and video games are particularly bad for this, are not fond of reflecting the negative effects of armour. Most games that let you swim let you do so in full plate with no penalty and wear helmets with no effect on your hearing or vision. The visibilty thing is particularly interesting- I've talked to people who actually wear medieval helmets who don't think it's a major issue, but then there's this quote from an interview with Nicola Adams on winning her first pro boxing match:

"I absolutely enjoyed every minute of it," Adams told BT Sport. "You can see a lot more without the headguard. I loved it. I'm here to stay."

Now that's very interesting, given that the headgear worn by Olympic boxers is completely open in the front and is designed mostly to protect the forehead and temples. I've never yet seen a game in which the effect of a helm on the wearer's peripheral vision is represented, though of course any game in which you see from a first-person view does limit it anyway. (There's a related discussion there on why third-person is in some ways a more 'realistic' viewpoint but that's for another time)

On a related note, it always amuses me in RPGs when people ask for a 'hide helmet' option (and I'm one of them, much of the time) and others say something along the lines of "you can't have the protection and not accept the consequences" in a game where characters can drink healing potions apparently straight through a full-face helmet without even stopping to open the visor.

So, I think we've covered why characters might wear little or no armour in games. How much skin that armour reveals is a matter of personal taste but if you're going to have barbarians in loincloths it stands to reason that their sisters-in-arms aren't going to be wearing a smock. Let's take a quick look at another common argument, the dreaded 'boobie armour'. 

Quite a few people have an issue with the look of Sisters of Battle, and the fact that, like most (but not all) armoured female miniatures, they have breasts on the armour:

To look at this firstly from a 40k perspective, the most common complaint is that this forms a Shot Trap, where a bullet or blast hitting the curved piece would deflect into a more vulnerable area. I've never been hugely convinced by this argument.

After all, if we look at this example, the shot would seem to be likely to be deflected right into the middle of the chest, where we would expect the protection to be thickest, or up towards the gorget and shoulder guards, or off to the side, or down to the legs, none of which have any big gaps. Interestingly, if we look at Astartes armour..

..we can see plenty of places where a shot can deflect off a curve into another part of the armour, most notably the curved chest plate which seems to want to guide a bullet under those chunky shoulder pads, or the inviting hollow at the gut. I was going to say at this point that the bottom line is that Power Armour will almost always have some shot traps and the breasts just move it a bit, but then I read this very interesting piece, where in the comments it's explained that in fact, the concept of a shot trap in modern tank armour is basically obsolete, since at the velocities the projectiles now travel at they either shatter on impact, lodge in place, or go straight through. Since power armour is basically tank armour on an infantryman (being made of Ceramite and providing a save against Autocannons, which are the closest thing in 40k to modern tank cannons) it seems we don't need to worry after all. As for how armour shape would effect weapons like Shuriken, las-blasts etc. your guess is as good as mine, but it seems to work better than Stormtrooper armour does. The bottom line seems to be that for good protection, everything needs to be covered in armour and both Astartes and SoB armour seem to have that, er, covered.

Of course everyone really, really should be wearing their helmets but the Emperor protects, and all that. (At least SoB hair looks like it would fit in the helmets, unlike the Sons of Russ...) 

So what about fantasy? What about this sort of thing?

Now, let's draw a very important distinction firstly, in that we're not talking about something like this:

That has obvious gaps all over the place and a blade sliding off it would go straight into something squishy. Interestingly that image comes from this article which raises a few relevant points and also illustrates that I don't have an editor and Kotaku does. No, what we're talking about here is whether an otherwise fine set of plate is compromised by boobie curves, which is a commonly made argument. In that Kotaku piece, the armour-smith says the design 'seems to guide a thrust straight to the heart' and we can certainly see that this is true. If you look at that other video so, so far above though, we see a sword-strike on a breastplate and it just bounces off- it doesn't deflect, it simply rebounds from the armour. If the armour is strong enough to resist a full-blooded impact from the attacking weapon, then it being 'guided' to centre body mass like this doesn't matter- in fact, you could reinforce that central area to compensate. Real plate armour, like this...

..was rarely defeated by the weapon puncturing the metal, but by it entering a join, which is why there are so many overlapping plates. The idea that a thrusting weapon like a Rapier or Estoc would be able to go straight through the breastplate simply because a 'trap' prevented it sliding off seems fanciful.

Now of course 'boobie armour' is not in any way historical. In the era when plate armour was common, women on the battlefield as warriors were basically unheard of, and one of the rare examples we do know of seems to have worn fairly standard armour:

Good old Joan of Arc there, who was also the inspiration for Bretonnia's Repanse de Lyonesse (and wears basically this armour on that model) Also, between the armour and the person it's protecting would usually be leather and/or a cloth gambeson, to absorb the impact of blows (and prevent chafing, especially if you had mail in there too), so whilst some adjustments might be needed for the comfort of the bustier lady (as seen with modern police stab-vests) you wouldn't necessarily actually need breasts on the armour. However, armour certainly was made to show off the... virility of the wearer:

That's Henry VIII's armour, on display in the Tower of London, and as we can see Henry Jr was provided with generous accommodations. It's certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility that were a warrior queen to take to the battlefield in armour, it might have been similarly exaggerated, even if the breasts on the armour actually didn't have their fleshly counterparts in them at all.

What I'd like to find, and so far Youtube is coming up blank on this, is a proper test of such 'feminised' plate armour versus various weapons, compared to the performance of the more historically accurate stuff. The expense of making this sort of thing only to then wreck it is obviously a factor- I talked to a lady a year or so a ago who was having a suit made, and so far she had an arm and a gauntlet after a years saving.

So here's my bottom line, at least for now- ultimately everyone has their boundary for what's 'ridiculous'. You might find SoB armour silly but have no problem with an Astartes with shoulder pads so big they'd crush his head if he shrugged, and that's fine. But it really comes down far more to your personal taste than to some slam-dunk of 'practicality'.


  1. Every time I come across this type of mentality it convinced more that far far too many involved in gaming cannot see the wood for the trees.


    99% of wargaming in 28mm scale is ABSURD FANTASY andd trying to make some flawed science out of comparisons of FANTASY ARMOURED OR NAKED WOMEN OR MEN IS..........FUCKING POINTLESS IN ITS EXTREME.

    From ridiculously oversized guns and armour of space marines and various pseudo copies to bikini clad heroines it is part of the same absurd fantasy pot.

    ABSURD FANTASY....Unless you play bolt action or traditional wargames were adherence to traditional convention is the exacted norm.

    1. I am not attacking the author!

      It is a general rant at the pointless nature of trying to vilify or justify either side of the argument.

      The bottom line....It's ALL ABSURD FANTASY!

    2. Actually I'm broadly in agreement, except that I think exploring the subject can lead to some interesting discoveries- I didn't know the whole thing about Shot Traps until I did a little research for writing this, for example.

      Ultimately the whole discussion is as pointless as the games themselves are, but that doesn't mean it can't be interesting. Also when you're trying to get people to see the ad for your book clicks are nice :)

  2. Interresting, but I think the real problem is less about half-naked clothes or boobies armours themselves than how they are justified in the fictional universe they are part of. I really don't mind about impractibility as long as it makes sense from another point of view.

    The SoB are an excellent example. As a female-only organization, it makes sense for them to have exagerated female attributes in a universe where symbolism, tradition and superstition are more important than rationalism. Greeks and Roman wore their famous muscle chestplates for the same reason as it was a symbol of manliness and physical perfection. You spoke about Johan of Arc, so I think it is relevant to highlight that she was ultimately condemned not for heresy - the tribunal couldn't find significant deviances in her beliefs - but because she wore male clothes ! It was not the heart of the problem of course, but the argument was legitimate enough for the medieval society. Since the Ecclesiarchy can't have "men under arms", emphasizing on womanhood whenever it's possible sounds logical.

    It is not even a problem for the Wyches, who are supposed to be both warriors and artists in a depraved and hedonistic society - Roman gladiators were half-naked for the same reason, some of them becoming high-tier sex-symbols. They could wear elegant armour plates, BDSM leather clothes or nothing at all, it would fit perfectly with the consistent and broader concept of a decadent hyper-sensitive race.

    I understand the problem with (over)sexualization above practicality and I am not a big fan of fantasy stuff with hot half-naked chicks everywhere for the sake of "BOOOOOOBS!". The fact is, exagerated feminity/masculinity can be symbolically or aesthetically meaningful in a specific setting and that should be considered before any debate about gender or realism. The rest, as you said, is about personal taste. :^)