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A Little Rant About Stupid Armor

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An example of not-so-stupid armor.

Stupid armor

Hey, nerds, today we’re going to talk about something stupid. Specifically, stupid armor.

There are a few quick ways to get my jimmies rustled, and putting a character in a skimpy outfit and trying to claim it’s somehow battle armor is one of the big ones. There is a time and a place for drawing something kind of outrageous and enticing, and what is supposed to be full plate is not that.

Like, Demon Hunters in World of Warcraft strip bare to the waist or wear very little for mobility purposes. Followers of Eilistraee will often just straight-up go into battle nude for the same reasons. I don’t have a problem with this, it actually makes some degree of sense. Historically, there are reports of Celts doing that exact thing, and the Greeks took to depicting their heroes in nude combat all the time. It’s fierce. I’d go as far as to say it’s actually sexy, both on men and women.

And then you get into MMORPGs and find a breastplate with better stats than the one you are wearing and it only covers a small part of the breasts? No, sir. No way. That is not armor, that is lingerie, and there isn’t even anything sexy about being peppered with arrows all throughout the stomach and chest region.

You can’t even tell me you did that for mobility because she’s still wearing a huge chunk of metal on her torso. And I do say ‘she’ because usually if people put this kind of stupid armor on a character, it’s a female one. I can think of a few reverse examples — and those are also incredibly stupid, do not get me wrong — but women in stupid armor is an epidemic.

What I don’t understand is this obsession with showing every inch of skin possible, but still covering the nipples. If you’re going to sexualize a fighter that much, what is wrong with just drawing her shirtless? Why is that going to make you squirm, but two small triangles of chain mail covering just the areolas doesn’t bother you?

Here’s an idea: How about if you want to draw something sexualized, you don’t do it with an armored fighter? Try a mage in a low-cut robe or a shameless bard. Put it somewhere that it makes sense, on someone who would actually wear something like that.

Anime, I’m talking to you right now. The second you show me a fighter in skimpy armor and suddenly have her act all blushy and bashful about her body, you have lost all credibility. It can totally make sense for a character to wear very little if she’s owning her nudity, comfortable with it and using it as a point of personal power. Absolutely. Do that. But not every single character should dress that way.

Under no circumstances is a bikini armor, I do not care what you made it out of. And just in case you missed the memo, boob plate is stupid, too. You take one good hit between the breasts on that plate and it’s going to crunch in on you. Do you want a glaring weak point right at your sternum? No. No, you don’t. That’s a good way to get dead, and the last time I checked that is the exact opposite of the point of wearing armor.

I could even believe somebody in leathers was doing it for mobility, but if you’re going to use mobility as an excuse, you’d better show me some shirtless guys doing it for the same reasons. And some sensibly dressed women that are not doing that.

Basically what I’m saying is, show me that it’s the character’s choice and not just you wanting to draw boobies. It’s insanely obvious when it’s the latter. You’re not fooling anybody.

Actual 16th century armor with a ridiculous codpiece. Credit: Wikipedia

Oh, but if you want to talk about stupid armor that is actually historically accurate, let’s take a moment to talk about the codpiece. Did you know that men in the 16th century actually armored up their dongs? And guess what you never see in MMOs or fantasy illustrations. And I am not talking about a sensible plate down there to protect you from a swift kick in the nuts. I am talking about big protruding hunks of metal. Apparently they just got bigger and more ridiculous when syphilis became more widespread, to give the dong more space in the aforementioned codpiece.

So why not codpieces? Could it possibly be because artists don’t want their male characters to look ridiculous? Or is it just that they don’t want to spend that much time articulating a dong? It boggles the mind, it honestly does.

Spikes on armor

Oh, and one more thing. I get that all those protruding spikes look heckin intimidating, but they’re not doing anything to protect you and are another good way to get grabbed and hauled off a horse or just generally restrained by other people on the field. Or caught on an assassin vine. Just generally they’re not a good idea. I mean, I’m a little bit more forgiving of this one because it’s less obvious and doesn’t have a double standard stapled to its forehead, but as long as we’re talking about bad armor choices, it deserves a foot note.

What is the worst (best?) example of stupid armor you have ever seen in a video game or other media? Are there any of these tropes you like or want to rant about? Got any good stories about stupid armor in your tabletop games? Or even better, if you can point me in the direction of a work of fiction that illustrates a codpiece the same way bikini mail always gets shoved into things, please let me know in the comments below.

Oh, and if you have any questions for our resident necromancer, click on over here to the Speak With Dead advice column and leave a question in those comments, or tweet out to “Speak With Dead” to seek advice from beyond the grave.

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Robin Miller

Speculative fiction writer and part-time Dungeon Master Robin Miller lives in southern Ohio where they keep mostly nocturnal hours and enjoys life’s quiet moments. They have a deep love for occult things, antiques, herbalism, big floppy hats and the wonders of the small world (such as insects and arachnids), and they are happy to be owned by the beloved ghost of a black cat. Their fiction, such as The Chronicles of Drasule and the Nimbus Mysteries, can be found on Amazon.

10 Comments

  • Murph
    July 7, 2017 at 11:51 am

    If you want “functional” or “realistic” armor, go play Ars Magica or GURPS Middle Ages. The only important question in fantasy games is “does it look cool?”.

    • Feidhlim
      July 7, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      The Issue isn’t whether it looks cool or not its the problem of female warriors getting sexualized and put in armor that has no function whatsoever but to satisfy the male gaze, yeah fantasy armor doesn’t have to be practical but it should look the same on men or women, this isn’t about being cool its about strong female characters being reduced to eye candy for drooling idiots.

      I feel women deserve to get the same treatment we do in fantasy, if folks want sexy fantasy armor fine but women should be allowed to choose if they want that or practical armor not just be lumped with it, hell we guys should be given the option for sexy male armor if we wanted to play it that way.

      Point is equality matters there is a double standard and its an issue don’t dismiss it by telling the author who put time and effort into this to go play something else its extremely bigoted

      • Murph
        July 8, 2017 at 6:19 pm

        So they get sexualized. Big deal. It’s FANTASY. What treatment do “we” receive? Ever seen a Boris Vallejo picture? Men in fantasy are held up to equally ridiculous standards of physique and prowess. It’s fantasy. That’s the whole point.

        • Joshua Brickley
          July 9, 2017 at 6:03 pm

          I’m going to stop that argument right there. Justifying an unsavory act by saying that it happens to both sides is an implicit admittence that what’s going on is unacceptable. Two negatives do not make a positive. However, I will take this one step further to say that the argument isn’t about physical makeup, which the argument would still be won, because it’s still less acceptable for women to have less than ideal figures then men. It has been starting to change recently, but as a whole beauty standards for men and women across all visual media is severely unbalanced.

          Besides, physicality isn’t the point here. The point is that we are forcing the sexualization of women through these highly unrealistic components. The key word in there is, “force.” If each of us, male or female, choose to represent ourselves in a way, that is a personal choice, just as if that depicted character were to make their own realistic choice based on their personality and needs. Artificially creating something, especially something that is regularly counterproductive, and forcing it on someone else, real or fictional, is unacceptable. Especially if it interferes with who that character is, or what they’re trying to be. Sexy armor is useless for a warrior, but may be more worthwhile for a bard, since they’re less likely to be in an actual melee combat.

          Finally, dismissing it as a means of fantasy isn’t a great argument, either. By saying that it’s just fantasy, you’re saying that in your mind you find it okay to force your sexualized wishes on someone else. In sports, there is a phrase, “you practice how you play.” Fantasy is practice reality (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2005/12/the_real_reason_children_love_fantasy.html). Exercising forced sexualization in your fantasy bridges into a desire to force your views of fantasy women into reality. This, of course, isn’t limited to the fantasy genre, but all forms of beyond human (fantasy, sci-fi, super heroes, etc.) fantasy.

          Again, I will also make the distinction, as Megan did, that if it makes sense for the individual character, then that’s fine, especially if it doesn’t interfere with their ability to do their job, or if it improves their ability to do their job. Bards are the primest of examples. Bards are performers. There are many types of ways that you can play a bard. You can be a storyteller, singer, dancer, leader, actor, comedian, or whatever. If you chose to play your bard as a visual bard, with a focus on singing and/or dancing, then the armor would be more akin to a costume, and if that character (or player) chooses to have a sexualized nature more in line with the way they perform their magics or the way they inspire, that makes sense. But, a warrior with a giant axe on the front line, and armor that doesn’t protect all of those very fragile internal organs, just wouldn’t wear sexualized armor.

          That’s the point.

          • pandemon1c
            October 5, 2017 at 4:58 pm

            “By saying that it’s just fantasy, you’re saying that in your mind you find it okay to force your sexualized wishes on someone else.”

            Complete and utter garbage. Sexy armor may be unrealistic, but this IS fantasy and while the author may find it stupid, it is not inherently “unsavory” as you put it, nor is it unacceptable. My enjoyment of a sexualized female character in a fantasy setting also has absolutely ZERO bearing on how I treat people in reality.

            The reality is that the warrior with a giant axe on the front line isn’t protected by their armor… they’re protected by the stats written on the piece of paper in front of me and their fate determined by the roll of the dice, NOT by the real life efficacy of said armor’s visual design.

      • DnDPaladin
        October 5, 2017 at 10:52 am

        because you think male aren’t sexualised with their big bulky muscle bounds alpha male at all times ? you sir have to stop ranting about things that do not matter. you want to protect female characters, i get it, but aren’t you sexualising yourself considering that male have seen the same abuse ? how often do you see a big fat guy in full plate ? how often did you see a big fat guy in the nude ? how often do you think we see in real life a big fat guy on the cover of piece of clothing that you buy ? stop thinking only woman gets that treatment, because it is false. stereotypes exists in all part of our lives not just on woman.

        also it seems that everytime you rant about this argument, it is always the same thing you talk about… reality, sorry but i dont play fantasy for reality. if i wanted to play reality i would go into those medieval fairs. heck i would LARP instead of playing TTRPGs. no… games that are just too realistic i just dont play. if thats your thing about reality then go for it, i dont care. but stop trying to be like vegan and trying to enforce your desires into ours. sorry but wonder woman to me will always be better in skinny barely protective armor. because i know her fucking armor is magical ! which leads me to my next point…

        armor in MMORPGs are fucking magicals… how the fuck can you not warrant or even conceive that perhaps those arrows are attracted to the little piece instead because fucking magic ! how can you not conceive the inverse as well, that maybe those little piece gives more protection because they change the arrows trajectory ? why can you not conceive one second that maybe they are fucking magicals and have proerties and interactions that we as in reality may never ever experience ?

        the answer to all that… you rant just for ranting, and that is what makes me mad !

  • David
    July 9, 2017 at 3:34 pm

    Two thoughts: historically, D&D hasn’t supported mobility oriented fighters very well. You had to have armor or significant magical protection to get a respectable AC. You did have the monk and barbarian early on, and now the monk, barbarian, blade-singer options. However, a straight fighter or rogue? They have no such “special” ability that would allow them to fight without armor. If you insist on armor being realistic (and I prefer it be so) then you are essentially ghettoizing light fighters and limiting them to very narrow class choices. In my games I allow anyone to take a “light fighter” feat based on a negotiated characteristics. That may reduce some of the niche protection for classes that incorporate it, but it does allow for light fighters without “bad explanations” thrown in. That said, I enjoy the scale-mail bikini as a nod and a wink / tongue in cheek genre trope, but I wouldn’t call it armor. Rather: Bikini of Distraction +5! We gamers, myself included, have a tendency of taking these things far too seriously far to often. Not all gamers aim for realism or attempt to emulate realistic genres. Mine tend to be serious to a fault, but I’ve sat down with a few beer and pretzels groups over the years. They were also doing it right.

  • Derek
    January 11, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    Great article! As a historical fencer I have a my own version of this rant, but yours is way better and more complete. I like what you brought up about the Celts and Greeks and owning the nudity if it’s going to be there.
    Although not high fantasy, I’m hoping Captain Phasma will make more folks feel better about putting females in “armor” as opposed to “female armor”.
    Although she can’t possibly be the worst example, I’d say Wonder Woman has probably done the most damage on this front, sadly.

  • Ben
    August 31, 2018 at 10:04 am

    Actually, the 5e player’s handbook has a knight in the feats section who has a codpiece on his armor.

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