Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2013/05/31/tabletop-review-arms-an-
I can’t think of any other book that has shaped my perception of the weapons and armor used in various medieval-esque fantasy games than the Arms and Equipment Guide originally written for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. I can remember leafing through this thing time and time again, ogling the illustrations and trying to imagine ways to fit the various equipment into my games. Weaponblack alone could be found multiple times masquerading as mystery liquid in bottles and barrels, with me sitting there in front of the players, tightlipped, hoping they would drink it. I distinctly remember an adventurer finding several small barrels in a store room, opening one of them, and me describing the contents as a “thick, dark liquid” or something like that. The player then asked doggedly if it was weaponblack, and I sheepishly answered that it was.
Give Me My Coin Mail
This supplement starts of perfectly with a countdown of armor by armor class value from the lowly padded armor all the way to full plate. Each armor type is accompanied with a full-page illustration that depicts some scene where the armor is being worn. Some of my favorites from this section include the special types of armor that are included as a sort of side note under the larger armor type. The first (in countdown order) is the spiked leather armor which is a special type of studded leather. Not only does this armor offer comparable protection to regular studded leather, but should someone get you in a bear hug or other grappling position, your armor will do a few points of damage to them! Awesome (at least, that’s what I thought back when). My next two favorites both are under the scale mail armor type: “Sea Elf” scale and coin mail. First, the thought of sea elves was extremely awesome. Second, the armor was made from crazy materials like eel skin and fish scales. The coin mail is like the D&D version of bling: a set of scale armor made from coins. This concept has fascinated me ever since, and has made me wonder if a vest of armor made from quarters would be considered insane. Probably.
There is a questionable difference between hide armor and leather armor, the former being Armor Class 6 and the latter Armor Class 8. In the hide armor section, this is explained as the hide being more stiff than leather and the wearers of hide relying more on their agility to avoid a hit than the typical leather users. The downside of hide armor is that it smells and no one will mistake you for anything but a savage if you wear it, but when it comes down to it players can always game the system and figure out a way to make the better (and probably cheaper) hide armor work. When it comes down to it, I’m not sure hide armor merits the extra two levels of Armor Class below leather.
At the end of this section are some special armors like Gnomish Workman’s Leather, which is basically a Goonies type of suit that gives that character the excuse to whip out any gadget they might dream up. “Goblin nose-hair pliers? I think I have some of those in my wrist pouch!” There is also Elven Chain Mail (read: Mithril), and Drow Chain Mail (which is just a little better than Elven Chain Mail, oh ho ho ho) among a few other armors specialized for races. You’ve got a shields page, home of the infamous tower shield, and a helmets page with a nice illustration of the most fetching headwear. Following that is the “Horse Armor DLC” for D&D but better – it’s barding and other various mount accoutrements.
A Cringeworthy Illustration
The section on weapons is the other star of this show. Oddly, it begins with the arquebus, a rudimentary gunpowder weapon. Soon you realize that the only reason this gun kicks off the weapons section is because it starts with “A”, and the weapons are listed alphabetically like an encyclopedia. This is good, since the book is a reference work primarily anyway. This section is fantastic, it’s got your standard swords and axes, but it also has things that might become weapons like the belaying pin, gaff, or whip. All kinds of polearms, slings, arrows, bows, infantry weapons, cavalry weapons, and the like are described and explained here. Pages and pages of information, more than you probably even need to know, fill the imagination with scenes of the battlefield and regiments marching this way and that with dangling hand weapons and hefted polearms. At the end is a huge chart listing all the weapons and their stats, which is immensely useful. Instead of having a stat block next to the weapon’s text description, they chose to wait and just put it all in a big table, which I think is much better and keeps the section from becoming cluttered. There is an illustration of the caltrops that always make me grimace a little – on one side it has a hand dropping several kinds of caltrops, and on the other side a very non-graphic picture of a foot stepping on them. Ouch! Caltrops, another adventurer favorite.
Following the bulky weapons section is the section on equipment and clothes. This is a sort of general smattering of information but it definitely feels useful and informative, not tacked on. You have mostly the essential and standard adventuring gear here, and I think equipment has been delved into more comprehensively in some other books. Backpacks, tinderboxes, thief tools, and lanterns are some of the familiar equipment. The clothing section gives very nice, short descriptions of lots of words you hear when reading fantasy novels like “tabard” and “tunic”, though there are even more out there I know it (because I’ve read the word somewhere and thought “what the hell is that?”). In this section you have typical dress guidelines, some common materials (although it would have been nice to have more materials described), as well as specific descriptions of objects like the ruff, gorget, and breeches.
I can’t think of any circumstances where I would not recommend this book. It succinctly and authoritatively describes so many fantasy objects taken from medieval eras that, unless you already know all of this stuff and more, would simply be necessary if you even want to know what you are talking about when discussing armor, weapons, and equipment. Even if you are familiar with this material, having it around for reference is always helpful, not to mention the easy-to-use table of stats. This book is also made 168% better because of the illustrations within. They are simply amazing and incredibly helpful when trying to visualize the objects being described. In many cases the different types or styles are shown next to each other in the same illustration in a totally thematic way. One particularly great example of this is the illustration for chain mail, which shows two guards (presumably) in chain mail questioning an uneasy traveller while another man in ring mail looks on. To see the items “in action” with these illustrations just breathes so much life into what might otherwise be a dry volume. So, since this is basically one of my favorite supplements ever, I give it two plate-armored thumbs up, the only downside being that codpieces are not mentioned.