Wednesday, March 25, 2020

[Guest Post] High Medieval weapons & armour

[The fourth in our ongoing series. This one is probably closest to your basic D&D equipment list. Most of this should be familiar to folks, except that plate mail hasn't fully developed yet. Let's check it out, with a couple of explanatory notes and links that reveal Steve's obsession with bows and crossbows... -HDA]

Previous posts in the series:
Dark Ages

[EDIT: I guess we made it to the big time! Finally on the board at the OSR links to wisdom wiki. Chin-chin! - HDA]

[EDIT AGAIN: I can't believe I forgot to include pictures in this post. Here are a few illustrating the armours of the day. - HDA]


-I spoke with a medieval anthropologist who shoots both crossbows and longbows and he shared an interesting theory with me. He's willing to swear by an academic work (the name escapes me) that the find of the Mary Rose has been misinterpreted to indicate that English archers used monstrously high draw weights like 185 or 200 lbs, because the bows are so stiff and the skeletons found had disfigured spines. The article's opinion was that remains of sailors were mislabelled as the skeletons of archers (supposedly there were only a few archers on board and a much larger crew) and that the back problems came from the crew's manual labour on the ship.

The bow staves being carried were actually half-finished munitions bows in transportation. The idea is they get shaved down by a bowyer to suit the individual man who would draw them, therefore reducing draw weight. Maybe they think so because the natural texture of the wood was left on the back of the bows. Anyway, if you believe that as this guy I talked to did, he was sceptical that any war bows were heavier than 110 pounds, arguing that a 190 pound bow is impossible for even a very strong man to draw. He thinks that the emphasis on the superhuman strength of English archers is a kind of historical myth perpetuated by England because it reinforces national pride and glorifies their ancestors. However, there are archers today who can draw and shoot the Mary Rose bows and they haven't trained from the age of 8. [Of course today we have access to a high-calorie, high-protein diet and fitness gyms. English peasants didn't. I saw a video of a dude squatting 1,001 lbs for 3 reps the other day. You be the judge. -HDA]

-Similar to the ancient Sica, the Baselard of the late Medieval had the connotation of a scoundrel's weapon, used by criminals, murderers, etc, and banned in certain places and towns. The high medieval/crusade era was trickier, but I did find a reference to an 11th/12th century short sword called a servile. It was assumed to be a boy's sword, or blade for a servant. They could have it wrong, it could have been a perfectly good weapon for war. Either way, in a fantasy context, a boy's sword is perfect for the Frodos and Bilbos and it might be an unassuming weapon for a rogue.

-Basically, everything we know about splint mail, banded mail, whatever, throw it all out. There is mail, and there is plate. One grew into the other over time. At the beginning it was "plated mail" or "mail & plate", which was just plates covering important parts. Europeans started putting plate over their mail, until it was all plate with just mail in the gaps (called transitional armour). Then they got so good that they didn't need the mail and just had a shirt with mail armpits that they put on beforehand.

-Lamellar is better scale armour using bronze wire to lace the scales to each other instead of to a backing. It was popular with the Byzantines and spread to the Byzantine-influenced areas of Poland, Lithuania, Russia, Turkey, Persia and into Asia from there. The cataphracts would upgrade their mail with a shirt of lamellar on top which then turned into mail-and-plate armour (or plated mail), and then the mail limb armour went back to higher grade lamellar (the same style as Roman lorica segmentata), so the highest levels of armour in the era were a composite of chest plates and segmented limb armour.

High Middle Ages (11th-13th century)
Simple Melee dmg notes
Club D4 B light or versatile
Dagger, knightly D4 P finesse, light, thrown (10/30)
Handaxe D6 S light
Javelin D6 P thrown (30/90)
Mace D6 B -
Mace, footman’s D6 B versatile
Military flail D6 B -
Morningstar D6 B -
Peasant flail D8 B two-handed
Quarterstaff D6 B two-handed
Sap D4 B finesse, light, knockout
Sickle D4 S light
Spear D6 P thrown (20/60), versatile
Simple Ranged
Crossbow, hand-spanned D6 P ammunition (60/120), loading (1), two-handed
Crossbow, belt-spanned D8 P ammunition (80/160), loading (1), two-handed
Dart D4 P finesse, thrown (20/60)
Shortbow D6 P ammunition (80/160), str 11, two-handed
Sling (stone) D4 B loading (0), ammunition (30/90)
Sling (bullet) D6 B loading (0), ammunition (30/120)
Martial Melee
Battleaxe D8 S versatile
Greataxe, dane axe/sparth D12 S heavy, two-handed
Lance, light D6 P reach, thrown (20/60), versatile
Lance, heavy D8 P heavy, reach, two-handed on foot, versatile
(couched charge) 2D8 P heavy, reach, two-handed on foot, versatile (2D10)
Pike D8 P heavy, reach (15 ft, cannot attack 5 ft), two-handed
Polearm, fauchard/guisarme D10 S heavy, reach, two-handed
Polearm, spetum D10 P heavy, reach, two-handed
Shortsword, servile D6 P finesse, light
Sword, arming D8 S/P -
Sword, falchion D8 S -
Sword, long D8 S/P versatile
Sword, scimitar/sabre D8 S finesse
Whip D4 S finesse, reach, knockout, no opportunity attacks
Martial Ranged
Longbow D8 P ammunition (150/300), heavy, str 13, two-handed
Longbow, heavy/recurvedD10 Pammunition (150/300), heavy, str 15, two-handed
Net - special, thrown (5/15)
Shortbow, recurved D8 P ammunition (100/200), str 13, two-handed
Special weapon rules:
Light: Ideal for off-hand use when dual wielding.
Versatile: May be used in one or two hands. Roll the next higher die for two-handed damage.
Finesse: May use DEX modifier in place of STR for attack/damage rolls.
Heavy: Small creatures have disadvantage on attack rolls.
Reach: Adds 5 feet to striking distance, unless more is indicated.
Ammunition/Thrown: A ranged weapon. The first number is short range (attacks incur no penalty), the second is maximum range, in feet.
Loading (x): Require the user to spend an indicated number of actions reloading the weapon. If the number indicated is 0 it can be fired once per round, but no more.

Light Armour AC notes
Padded aketon 11+dex -
Padded gambeson 12+dex -
Medium Armour
Mail shirt 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Mail coat 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Scale shirt, lamellar 13+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Scale armor, lamellar 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Plated mail shirt 14+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage
Coat of plated mail 15+dex (max 2) stealth disadvantage, str 13
Heavy Armour
Suit of mail 16 stealth disadvantage, str 13
Suit of plated mail 17 stealth disadvantage, str 15
Shield +2 -


[Here are some great links for more info:

The mighty Delta explains archery, range & accuracy in D&D Plenty of further reading. Archery is much more complex an issue than I thought!
Military kits of British soldiers, 1066-today with lots of pictures
How did swords work against armour anyway?

Firing speed of bows & crossbows:


  1. The sling is listed with the Thrown property but I think it should be Ammunition.

    1. Hey BubbaDave, when I wrote the table above I thought it was weird how as a muscle propelled weapon, the sling would be keyed off Dexterity if given the ammunition quality. But actually you're right, the projectile is so light weight that almost anyone can spin a sling up to a speed that equates to its full power, and the David and Goliath myth serves as a touchstone for how its a weapon that a smart, quick user could use to fell a brute. Thanks!

    2. Good point guys. Updated!

  2. I love this series but wish you had used Delta’s range calculations in the bow/archery ranges. So like 30’/maybe 150’ max. Then you could * note longer ranges for masses targets

    1. Hey Nick,

      I cut the 5e long ranges roughly in half for that exact reason. 5e offers a lot in usable simplicity, but not much in the way of granular simulation ism since it abolishes most d20 modifers. Matching the curve of his model with range penalties is hard when the penalty is (has disadvantage) or (does not have disadvantage).

      For that reason, I kept 5e's short ranges since they roughly tracked with Delta's model of where a skilled shooter can maintain high accuracy. 150 ft on a longbow is half a football field, which seems long without crosshairs, but feels right if our archer is the medieval fantasy version of Tom Brady (and if he's not, we just hope that nonproficiency penalties or low level bonuses make up the realism gap).

      When it came to determining the long range, instead of the 'max battlefield range' implied by 5e's long ranges, I simply doubled the short ranges to eyeball a non-ideal range that an archer could still 'try for it' with an arcing shot. If you are firing on masses of troops, you could double this long range again to arrive at 5e's 600 ft value (as you suggest), the equivalent to using the weapon like a mortar. Or, if you're using a system that has a schedule of range penalties and would like some gritty variety in the low end, chop it up thusly: 75/150/300