Low Tech: Choosing the right armor by weight

This is a follow-on post to my previous one about how to get a certain DR value for the lowest cost possible. Well, the lowest cost possible without dressing up a a wicker statue. Or a tree.
I’m biased that way.
Still, I promised to revisit this for the wealthy, and so for GURPS-Day today, here we go.
Introduction Repeated

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 a long summary table of the results of that work, this time sorted by DR per unit weight. I’ve removed enough material that you can’t do without the book (and I’m still not even remotely sorry).

Warriors Unburdened
My premise here is less simple than last time, where you were starting off on a budget.This time, you’ve either purchased enough Wealth or starting cash that you can skip the cheap stuff, or you have been around the block a few times and can afford to upgrade. That’s exactly what happened to Cadmus, as a by-the-way. I started with a complex and unbalanced set of armor, as follows:

1xMail, Plate, and Leather Armor Panoply

1× Boots, Leather ($80; 3 lb; DR 2)1× Cloth, Padded Undersuit (Shoulders, Upper Arms, Legs, Torso; Reduced Cost (-20%); $88; 13.2 lb; DR 1*)1× Gauntlets, Medium Segmented (Reduced Cost (-20%); $72; 2.4 lb; DR 4)1× Layered Leather, Medium (Front Forearms, Front Knees, Front Shins; Leather of Quality; $440; 10.4 lb; DR 4)1× Mail and Plates (Shoulders, Front Thighs, Front Torso; Reduced Cost (-20%); $924; 16.5 lb; DR 5)1× Mail, Heavy (Upper Arms, Back Thighs, Back Torso; Cheap; Reduced Cost (-20%); $316.8; 14.85 lb; DR 4*)1× Plate, Medium (Full Helm, Padding; Reduced Cost (-20%); $612; 7.8 lb; DR 7);
Wow. That’s a lot of bizarre stuff, but it was a balance of protection up front, weight, and most of all, cost. I bought as much extra Cash (5 points worth) as allowed, which I think gave me a $3500 starting point (less the Dwarven Axe and other weaponry). It also took me a long time and a lot of help by +Mark Langsdorf , +Emily Smirle , +Kevin Smyth , +Nathan Joy , and +Theodore Briggs . 

After we adventured for a bit, we came into a bit of money. Cadmus can’t keep more than he can carry by Holy Vow, but good armor is expensive. I upgraded!

1× Boots, Leather ($80; 3 lb; DR 2)1× Cloth, Padded Undersuit (Full Suit, Ornate (x2 cost), Lighten 3/4); $375; 12.4 lb; DR 1*)1× Gauntlets, Medium Segmented (Reduced Cost (-20%); $72; 2.4 lb; DR 4)1× Heavy Mail Armss and Legs (Ornate x2 cost; Lighten 3/4; Fortify +1); $3668; 20.25 lb; DR 6/4*)1× DR 7 Plate Corselet (Torso; TL4 x2 cost; Lighten 3/4, Fortify +1); $6150; 18 lb; DR 8)1× DR7 Plate Full Helm (Padding;TL4 x2 cost; Fortify +1; Lighten 3/4); $1845; 6.75 lb; DR 8);
This cost me a favor from the party merchant prince, and about $12,000 in cash. While the low-level Fortify and Lighten spells are more expensive in Nate’s game because he wants all magically enchanted stuff to start from a base of at least +1 Cost Factor  (a good rule; no enchanting crap stuff), the big changes is that I’m now equally protected on front and back, and my encumbrance while armored dropped from Medium to Light – a big deal. 
So, where’s the awesome when you have money to burn?

Cheesy Protection: DR 1-2

Well, while this might not be enough protection to do much other than protect against incidental contact and angry kittens (maybe), you can at least do this in some semblance of style here.
The DR 1 go-to by far is fine light leather. This low-end protection can be yours at 3.3 lbs, which isn’t bad for covering your full torso (but not arms, legs, which add their usual +150% to the weight and cost of these figures).
For the next level of non-protection, you are, interestingly enough, looking at cheap versions of otherwise very expensive armors as well. Light brigandine is nice if you need to not be quite so obvious and comes in at ten pounds, while cheap plate that is usually DR 3 but downgraded due to being cheap   Both will ring your cash register for $350-400, so you’re paying nearly $200 per point of DR – but both combined cost less than fine light leather!
Low-end Serious

DR 3 is enough to provide just less than average proection against a 1d attack. So it’s just enough to pretend you’re wearing armor, and honestly, there are times, like getting hit to the vitals, where with that x3 wound multiplier, removing 9 points of injury really is the difference between life and death.

If you’ve got money to burn, fluted DR 3 plate is the way to go.Thing is, that fluting is a very large cost multiplier for a very small weight reduction, so just regular-old boring DR 3 plate is probably a slightly better bet, as it comes in at 8 lbs for front -and back protection to the torso. 

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, or being completely protected vs. 1d-2 or 1d-1, which doesn’t look like much, but it effectively renders you proof against unarmed punches of up to ST 12 to 14, which ain’t all bad.

The king here will always wind up being plate armor. It’s nearly too good, but then again, you are paying thousands or even nearly ten of thousands of dollars for the privilege here.

So duplex and hardened plate are the tickets for the uber-rich. You’re still talking about 8 lbs, or slightly less, but you’re sporting DR 4.

Again for the sneaky and fashionable set, the 10-lb hardened light brigantine is pretty interesting too, and if you drop down to light hardened mail. it’s still expensive (and not rigid), but literally half the cost of the more-expensive plate or brigantine.

We don’t yet have a piece of torso armor that breaks the ten grand mark yet – but we’re getting darn close

Starting to Tank Out

DR 6 and DR 7 are the points where you would normally find plate armor, and so you do. In fact, without magic the only way you can achieve DR 7 using Low Tech and Instant Armor that doesn’t involve some form of plate is hardened jousting mail (for $7500).

But that’s not even the most expensive non-magical armor – though a sorting error has provided a nice example of where you can get with magical help, with Mail and Plates (usually starting at DR 5) being slapped with Ornate, Fortify +2, and Lighten for just shy of $10K.

For DR 6, you are still throwing down with hardened and duplex plate, with a very large price increase  being paid to save about a pound and a half going from hardened to duplex.

If you don’t mind mail and 18 lbs instead of 14.4 lbs, you can go with hardened heavy mail, which is TL2, DR 6, and not stupidly expensive.
You Wanna Wear WHAT?

Oh, you can now wear plate, plate, plate, plate, and look . . . more lembas bread.


But yeah, in the DR Crazyland realm you can basically count on hardened and duplex plate being the best combination of weight per DR you can get short of physics-busting stuff.

You Can do Magic . . .

Adding magic adds cost, and can add a lot of it. If money really is no object, you want Lighten 1/2 and Fortify +2 – more if you can get it, but I’ll assume you can’t. There’s really no trick here – take the best armor per unit weight, cut that weight in half (and pay through the nose for it), and you might as well add +2 DR through magic while you’re at it.

Parting Shot

Actually, when you really look at it, and I should have long ago, the answer to “best protection per unit weight is duplex plate all the way from DR 4 on up. Not terribly surprising, but also very, very expensive. I think even without Nate’s house rules, DR 10 duplex plate runs more than $20K (we double cost for TL4, and my sheet says it’s over $40K, so . . . )

So ultimately, this is less interesting in terms of choices than the “do it on a budget” post was, largely because there’s really only one answer – wear plate – unless other things intervene.

Such things can be concealability (brigantine, probably) or being not metal for noise, electrical conductivity, or if it interferes with tropes such as no metal armor for spellcasters.

There’s also the fact that even at 3-ish pounds per point of DR, DR 11 duplex plate is still 32 lbs for just your torso, and about 90 lbs for a full suit including a helm.

7 thoughts on “Low Tech: Choosing the right armor by weight

  1. Hahaha nice! wondered how to use "cheap modifier" min-max wise!
    I always get Front Torso, Front Legs, and Arms and Hands, Feet, and Full Helm (0.5, +0.5, +0.5, +0.1, +0.1, +0.3 = x2.0) Then work backward from a budget of weight OR cost with what I can afford to fight with.
    So My Elite Orcs with BL101 @light-enc. has a working budget of 60lbs. 60/2 = 30lbs what armors are 30lbs and below = Hvy Scale, Med Seg., Heavy Plate, etc.. the remaining vulnerability the R-Torso is what ever remaining lbs are left after all the key equipment. If I have 3lbs I can use cloth or if I have 9lbs I get get heavy mail.
    Also Full Armored (above counts as full armored) OR Shield + Light Armored (F torso and half-helmet only) never BOTH.

  2. It's definitely been on my "to-do" list to put together a set of panoplies for specific weight profiles – "ST 10, Light Encumbrance, under $1000", "ST 12, No Encumbrance, under $5000" and the like.

  3. I just plugged Cadmus' original armor into my spreadsheet and it came up just so-so.

    Item, Material, cost, weight, DRi, DRs, DRc, value, cost/value, weight/value
    Boots Leather, medium $80 3.00 2 2 1 18.64 $4.29 16.09
    Padded Undershirt Cloth $110 13.20 1 1 1 155.33 $0.71 8.50
    Gauntlets Segmented, Medium $90 1.80 4 4 4 40.00 $2.25 4.50
    Limb fronts Layered Leather, Medium $176 20.80 3 3 3 95.50 $1.84 21.78
    Torso fronts Mail and Plates $1,085 15.50 4 5 5 249.67 $4.35 6.21
    Torso backs Mail, Heavy (cheap) $396 5.94 2 4 4 191.11 $2.07 3.11
    Full Helm Plate, Medium $750 7.20 6 6 6 60.00 $12.50 12.00
    Full Helm Arming cap $15 1.80 1 1 1 8.00 $1.88 22.50
    TOTAL Cadmus' Armor $2,702 69.24 23 26 25 818.25 $3.30 8.46

    That's a defense value (DR for each 3 types multiplied by location odds) of 818.25, a cost/value of $3.30, a weight/value of 8.46, and a c*w/v^2 of 27.94 (lower is better).

    This (ARMOR #22) has a lower cost, weight, and a higher defense value:
    Torso Mail, heavy $1,200 18.00 4 5 5 368.67 $3.25 4.88
    Limbs Mail, heavy, butted $816 30.60 4 5 2 451.00 $1.81 6.78
    Neck Mail, heavy, butted $24 0.90 4 5 2 14.67 $1.64 6.14
    Full helm Plate, heavy, cheap, flat $240 11.52 8 8 8 80.00 $3.00 14.40
    TOTAL $2,280 61.02 20 23 17 914.33 $2.49 6.67
    c*w/v^2 of 16.64

    1) Why is the second genuinely better?

    Boots seem comparatively overpriced. I generally try to either upgrade to Sabatons (DR4 for $90) or pick up the Stealth +1 from Moccasins.

    A plate helm is where cheap really shines. Combined with flat-topped the CF is -0.8, leaving a DR 8 full helm at only $240 and 11.52#.

    Cadmus has no neck protection. I suppose that, being what he is, vampires are not a terrible threat.

    2) Why might Cadmus' be better then my spreadsheet shows?

    The spreadsheet doesn't weight front versus back. This is a big one and I should fix it but I really have no idea what the weight should be. Any ideas?

    The spreadsheet doesn't factor location damage multipliers. I don't really think this favors Cadmus though.

    1. Cool. A few questions, though:

      1) You say that the second one has a higher defense value, but the padded undershirt and mail and plates is DR 6 vs all types from the front, while I think your version is only DR 5, and less against crushing.

      2) Why is the torso mail DR 5 instead of 2 vs crush?

      3) We use halfsies (50% front, 50% back) for the front/back split. If you're attacked from the side or rear hexes, the back defense applies. Don't get flanked.

      4) We've realized that a front/back plate pectoral is critical for DF survival. It shouldn't have layering penalties, and is nearly required protection for the vitals. Our current adventure is all about ninjas, so that "don't get stabbed in the back to the vitals" insurance is big.

      5) I thought that either a full helm or the torso armor is assumed to protect the neck (one, not both), but that's why I left it off. I think his neck is protected at DR 8 with his upgrades, but it would be worth double-checking.

    2. This is one of those times I want to slink off and hide because I'm an idiot. I screwed up the legend (should be in DRs DRc DRi order), I failed to include the Quality and correct weight of Cadmus' leather, and when I built ARMOR#22 I gave heavy mail a DR 4 against crushing instead of 3.

      Corrected values:
      Cadmus' Armor $2,966 58.84 869.98 $3.41 6.76 23.06
      ARMOR#22 $2,280 61.02 845.67 $2.70 7.22 19.45

      So, Cadmus' armor does offer a bit more protection, is a touch lighter, and is a bit more expensive. The overall value rating is still slightly against it.

      I still like flat-topped cheap helms and something besides boots for feet. I also still think that limb impaling protection is the best place to skimp.

      4) So if I incorporate location wounding modifiers then impaling to the torso should be x3, or at least greater than x2? It also suggests that having frontal armor isn't hugely better than rear. Maybe 25% better?

      5) Typical torso armor certainly doesn't and the Full Helm "covers the skull and face, like the Greek “Corinthian” helm." Neck protection is LT113, search "Aventail" to go straight there.

    3. I have very little doubt, by the way, that Cadmus' original armor isn't optimal for much of anything. Every time I put something together, my fellow players, all much more experienced with DF and the various armor supplements, helped me improve it. Eventually, I found something that fit my budget – which included the 20% discount for Armoury-12.

      The boots thing was a bit of sentiment. They're Cadmus' old boots from his time at home, the Nth son of a noble. You'll note that despite spending $12,000 on new magically enhanced armor, he kept the gauntlets his father gave him on being recognized as a warrior of Pharasma, and the boots. So that's a bit of character.

      The helm thing seems to be a bit of throwing up my hands in frustration at times. It took me a while to find the GCA equipment modifier bit that dealt with helms, so I took the simple route.

      With respect to (4), I think that by and large, the "stabbed in the vitals from the back" might be a unique problem we're facing with our opposition in this particular Adventure Path. Most impacts are from the front – but that's where your defenses are. So if you get whanged in the back, you by and large get no defenses (can't see it coming) and possibly get nailed in the vitals by a staged premeditated backstab. So maybe frequency and severity cancel out.

      (5) I see where I made my error for neck protection. I read the description of "body" in Basic, and looked at "Body Armor" and figured it contained body, but only the Buff Coat, Mail Coif, and Greathelm actually cover either "body" or "neck" hit locations.

      That means Cadmus has been wandering around with an exposed neck or at DR 1 for the entire game. Must fix this before Nate takes advantage of it. I'm thinking a fine mail coif, possibly enchanted.

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