Low Tech: Choosing the right armor by cost

GURPS Low Tech is a pretty darn good book. There’s a lot of value there, and even more so in the three companions.

There are a few books out, such as Instant Armor, and the forthcoming Low Tech Armor Loadouts, that help whittle down the very large job of choosing armor kit. It took me a very, very long time to assemble the armor for Cadmus, my Warrior Saint in +Nathan Joy‘s game.
Along the way, I put together a spreadsheet. It took permutations of the various armor types in Low Tech, with quality and heaviness modifiers. I then sorted it by DR, and calcualted Cost/DR as well as Weight/DR. 
Here, I present the (long) table that is the summary of that work. I’ve removed enough material that you can’t do without the book (and I’m not even remotely sorry). 
Warriors on a Budget

My premise here is simple. You’re starting off and your’e on a budget. If you purchased multiple levels of Wealth or you’re an experienced adventurer looking to upgrade, you will want this list sorted by Weight per unit DR. Yeah, I’ll be doing that later. 
Cheesy Protection: DR 1-2

This isn’t really enough armor to deal with much of anything, but I suppose it beats nothing at all, and can provide much-needed partial protection against certain low-level wounds. It can also be darn protective against things like smallshot or other things that are pi- and carry an armor divisor of (0.5). So, low utility but not entirely useless.
Cheap medium and heavy leather are your tickets here for anything you’d actually want to be seen in. Straw, wood, and cane are, well, embarrassing.
Low-end Serious

At DR 3, which is just enough to more or less protect against the average damage from a 1d attack, there are a few contenders. Good Heavy Leather and Good Layered Medium Leather are nice, Cheap Layered Heavy Leather is in there, and if you must have metal armor for some reason, Cheap Medium Scale makes the list.
Decent Serious Protection
Now at DR 4-5 you’re looking at being protected vs. the average damage from a 1d or 1d+1 attack. That’s starting to get credible, and DR 5 is well worth having.
If you can get it, Cheap Mail and Plates is (by about 10%) the superior ticket to DR 4. Cheap Heavy Scale ad Cheap Heavy Mail are in there, as is Cheap Heavy Segmented Plate. Those run $100-120 per point of DR. Mail and Plates isn’t on the “too shabby” list by DR per pound, either, being smack in the middle of the pack. Cheap Heavy Mail is even better by that basis.
At DR 5, Cheap Jousting Mail is your go-to, though it comes with significant drawbacks in flexibility (it’s not). Proofed paper is surprisingly effective (if flammable, perhaps? maybe not) at this level, and Cheap Medium Plate  and Good Mail and Plates are the real winners in the “overall, some darn nice protection for $1,000.” 
Note that that is starting wealth for TL3. So you’ve just blown your entire wad on armor that only covers the torso. Better invest in signature gear or a level or more of Wealth at this kind of entry point.
Starting to Tank Out

DR 6 and DR 7 are where you start to expect to find plate armor (that was the DR of a steel breastplate in Basic, more or less) and in fact, that’s what you find. The “very best” in terms of cost per unit protection at this level are Cheap DR 7 and Cheap DR 8 plate, which become DR 6 and 7 respectively, as Cheap metal armor loses a point of DR. 
Hardened Mail and Plates is also DR 6, but will cost you $5,000 for the privilege.  Cheap DR 7 plate (that gives DR 6) is probably the overall cost/weight winner here, as is Cheap DR 8 plate (that gives DR 7) at that entry. Hardened or Duplex DR 5 plate, on the other hand, are hugely expensive at DR 6, while not-insane-heavy but still spendy could be Fluted DR 6 plate and Hardened Heavy Mail, both at 3lbs per point of DR.
You Wanna Wear WHAT?

At the DR 8 and up level, it’s all plate, all the time. DR 9 is the last place where Cheap Plate gets you to a good price point, and you’re spending $1,800 to get it. If I did the math right. Spreadsheet is kinda old. 
You Can do Magic . . .

All of this goes more or less right out the window when you can get Fortify and Lighten on your armor, and at Dungeon Fantasy prices, that’s exactly what you want to do. Very quickly, and recognizing that Nate uses some special rules to make magically-suitable armor more expensive, including requiring at least a +1 Cost Factor (+1 CF, or x2 cost multiplier) on the base armor in order to enchant it. TL4 armors in DF cost double, so they qualify.
The low-low end armors don’t seem to be worth the magic. Again, given Nate’s rules, think about:
DR 4: Heavy Leather and Medium Layered Leather play nicely with Fortify/Lighten
DR 5. Medium Scale and Layered Heavy Leather, but both aren’t as good as the mundane Mail and Plates for DR 5.
DR 6: As you might guess, take Mail and Plates and hit it with Fortify and Lighten for DR 6
DR 7: Jousting mail with Fortify/Lighten can be pretty sweet if you can deal with it being rigid. If not, Mail and Plates with Fortify +2 is still a pretty good ticket
DR 8: Again jousting mail (Fortify +2) for the win here, though DR 7 plate with Fortify 1 is runner up (though 15% more expensive).
DR 9+: Back in the all Plate, all-the-time, with magical DR extending easily to DR 12 (DR 10 plate and Fortify +2).
Remember, that if you’re in a TL4 game or you don’t get the x2 cost basis for enchantable armor, some of the Fortify 1/Lighten 3/4 will be very very attractive.

Parting Shot

What you’re looking at here, with no surprises, are variants of leather at DR 1-3, mail at DR 4-5, and plate at DR 6+. Mail and Plates, if available, is a spectacularly good balance of cost and weight per unit DR. 
Another, much more complicated, option is to optimize your kit with slightly weaker DR on the back than the front. Working within a budget, it can seem attractive for starting armor to have (say) DR 5 or 6 on your front, and maybe DR 3-4 on your back. 
That’s not wrong, per se, but you’ll want to upgrade to a more uniform level of protection, and if you expect to face swarms or magical foes that teleport (or are just very sneaky), you’ll want to protect the vitals, either through a separate pectoral piece (not mentioned in the above table) or just thickened armor over the Vitals (bought, naturally, as a pectoral anyway).

4 thoughts on “Low Tech: Choosing the right armor by cost

  1. If you send me the spreadsheet, I'll convert it to a sortable table in HTML. (Or you could do it yourself – there's an example here, and you just need to grab a local copy of the library.)

  2. Do you have a similar table/discussion either done or planned for optimal DR for particular weight thresholds? It's rarely cost that stops me in my tracks when buying armor, but the encumbrance.

  3. Also note that some of these costs are errata. Notably, I was just reminded that Mail and Plates should probably be $1400, rather than $1000, which will make it less of a no-brainer to get it wherever you can. I can't link the thread from my work computer, because my firewall blocks it, but it was just reposted over at the SJG Forums.

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