Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Worldbuilding: knights

    I started out looking for a nice fantasy landscape to put in this post. Searching for "fantasy landscape" gets you tons of cool wallpaper, though, and I quickly got distracted by knights. Started searching for "fantasy knight". Another  mistake. Very distracting.

    So let's talk about knights.

    As I mentioned a while ago, I'm doing some major under-the-hood work on an epic fantasy I wrote long ago. I have a military-centric kingdom where the local deities are closely involved with their people. Naturally, knights are an important part of their culture.

    Many things to think about when working with European medieval-style knights, by which I mean: well armored, on horseback, primarily sword-wielding, semi-professional to full-time pro. Jousting and heraldry a plus. The most common depictions of knights look something like this guy.

    However, over the course of the Middle Ages knights underwent a great deal of evolution. Broad definitions of "middle ages" put the period as a thousand-year spread from the fifth to the fifteenth century. And in addition, Europe was hardly the only place to put well-armored, heavily armed men on horseback. There's no need to reinvent the wheel -- there are lots of cool wheel designs out there. Consider this a post to get your brain burbling, since I can't  cover the whole topic... 

    Let's talk about armor. There are many ways to wrap yourself in metal. These are some of my favorites:

    Mail, aka chain mail. These are interlocked metal rings made into the shape of clothing. Wire rings may be looped pieces of wire or solid circles punched from a sheet. The wire loops may be riveted shut, welded shut, or left open. Leaving them open is a lot faster to make, but less protective. Its primary purpose is to resist the impact of edged weapons, and it did a good enough job to make it worth the trouble until something better came along. Mail is much older than the Middle Ages, though it did hit its peak in the 13th century and then start to decline. In Europe, it was supplanted and mostly replaced by plate armor. It's still around today.

    Lamellar, in which small pieces of metal with holes in them are laced together. The most famous examples are the old-style samurai armor before they switched to plate. You can also do this with pieces of leather, wood, bronze, pretty much anything tough. Lamellar has a long history, probably longer than mail.

    Splinted mail is a sort of lamellar/mail hybrid. Wikipedia calls it "plated mail".

    Laminar armor in its best-known form was the lorica segmentata of Rome. It was out of use by the Middle Ages but it looks good and isn't that far off the technology level.

    There is of course plate armor which hardly needs any introduction. In Europe, it started to come into play in the 13th century and is still with us today in the form of the body armor that soldiers are wearing in Afghanistan. I would not call it my favorite, though.

    I based my fantasy society on the late 13th to the early 14th century, when a full suit of mail was still quite standard, supplanted by greaves for the legs and maybe the arms too. It's a hefty amount of metal to walk around in, but not as ridiculous as the full plate armor that came later. My knights looked more like this guy.

    How realistic you want to be in your fantasy is up to you, but here are some armor-related things to consider:
    • How did your knight get it? Is it paid for? Was it Dad's? Taken off a dead guy?
    • Regardless of what the armor is, it ain't cheap. Lots of skilled manual labor involved. Who's doing all that work? How easy is it to get the materials?
    • Maintenance. Is it iron? Steel? Rust-proofed? (how?) Who's doing the repairs and getting the rust off? (Supposedly, they'd put mail in a barrel of sand and roll it around to buff the rust off. Great, now you're getting sand in interesting places... during combat...) If it's leather or organic, does it need oiling?
    • Underneath, the knight ought to be wearing a quilted -- or at least heavy-weight -- gambeson. What's the high temperature for today?
    This is why you have squires and servants to follow you around and pick up your armor. Or you wave a magic wand over it. Or invent a magical metal that's light, rust-proof and nigh-indestructible. You could do any or all of that.

    Since I'm writing fantasy, not historical, I will also have some of these:

    Because some women can do it. This will be a new addition as I'm trying to be less historically accurate. 

    What are your characters doing for armor?


    Lissa said...

    I haven't really needed to decide quite yet what form of armour my military use. I think I might go with some magically-mined metal plate armour, although as a placeholder in my head they're wearing kevlar, so I know that's not available in the 17th century.

    ali said...

    I don't write much in the traditional fantasy realm, but in my current WIP (a sci fi), their "armor" is created by a host of nanobots in residence in the people's bodies. Hey, don't mock me. I'm in the first draft. Guess we'll see where it goes!

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