Like fantasy weapons in D&D, I believe armour defines the warrior. Conan in plate never really works for me nor do knights or paladins in studded leather. Or is this really true? Campaigns do not really have many boundaries and fantasy armour or the lack of it is another way of stamping a character on your campaign settings or characters.
The Two Extremes of Armour in Fantasy Roleplaying
In a recent D&D campaign, I took great pleasure in creating a female warrior from a savanna environment who shunned armour and metal weapons. Her husband (a Druid) wore more with true fantasy armour made of feathers. This created inevitable issues for her as she was frequently limping along and spent much of the loot on healing. It also did not compute for at least one of the party (character and player) who wanted to squeeze her into anything we came across. Admittedly the basis of the character was something of a protest or ward against over-generous GM’s but it did start the character in question down a number of new routes that for me, breathed new life into playing warriors and gaming with the individual concerned.
Original and Fantasy Armour From the “Good Ol’ Days”
Sadly, armour like weapons has become a little standardised and narrow in 3.5 and I hope 4.0 looks to put a new slant on this aspect of the game. The Arms And Equipment Guide of 3.0 dedicated some time to interesting fantasy armour types, styles, materials and origins which I think we miss in the later edition. More could have been made of opportunity, but the notion was planted with bark, bone and moon-ivy was a good one. The 3.5 Complete Warrior supplement totally ignored the opportunity and only introduced a few new magical types and abilities. In defence of the more recent editions racial traits in armour are still there but I would like to see the same detail applied to all races that you see in the context of Drow and Dwarves for example
Fantastical Metals and Other Armour Components
In D&D we have the eternal Mithril but what other resources are there for a suit of true fantasy armour?. In a hybrid campaign run by my good friend Adrian, the true potential of elemental metals has been explored and exploited to the maximum. I have not asked but I think the source of inspiration is the Rolemaster system. Here we are blessed with unearthly metals with remarkable properties, dug from deep in the earth or imported in minute quantities from other planes. Many are not magical but have innate properties that help in some situations but may carry other disadvantages in terms of weight or forging. The nearest I can find in D&D was Dwarven Dendritic armour in 3.0, a material grown from crystals.
Essential Armour Types for the Fantasy Campaign Setting
So what about the manufacturers? I invariably start with Reaper Miniatures because of the quality but also the vast scale of the range. One would hope to see all styles of fantasy armour represented somewhere but even here there are omissions. I have not been able to find a figure listed as wearing banded armour, a type I really like for guards, men-at-arms and other middling types.
Manufacturers of Original and Fantastic Armour Designs
There are many beautiful miniatures on the market with real original style to their equipment. For me, the most evocative Elves you can buy are those of Dark Sword Miniatures. Theirs is true fantasy armour styled with leaves and acorn motifs. Put aside an hour or two to browse their collection which shows what can be achieved by talented sculptors with superb sources. Ok so I am a little envious and why not? I believe all sculptors should look to give their warriors a distinct, trademark fantasy style. What pleases me most of all is that there are a few individuals carrying a common theme. In the days of freelance commissions, one often sees a nice original figure or two, but rarely a dozen all with that common theme in armour type, style and finish.
New Armour Designs for Fantastical Creatures
Before you all email me to remind me, I know Conan in his dotage was known to don a suit of chain under extreme circumstances but he might have been the exception that proved the rule. Either way, I look forward to fighting alongside Paladins in bizarre fantasy armour of woven grass (from the savanna of course). There may be opportunities to cross blades with the Gnollish slave warriors of Druvar the mighty dwarven Warlock-Smith clad in adamantine banded armour (when I sculpt them of course).