28 November 2012

Plate mail

There seems to be a misconception about the term “plate mail” from TSR-era D&D among armor enthusiasts dealing with spread of D&D jargon as well as among some gamers.

D&D plate mail armor is not plate armor. In D&D, “plate mail” refers to mail armor augmented by some pieces of plate armor.

In D&D, actual plate armor—distinct from plate mail armor—is called “suit armor”. (D&D Master Players’ Book p. 15) In AD&D, plate armor is called “field plate armor” or “full plate armor”. (AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide p. 27; Unearthed Arcana pp. 75–76)

Yes, “plate mail” is an unfortunate term. (I’ve been using “mail and plates” until I find a better term.) It should be considered game jargon rather than a general term or historical term. And it should not be considered a synonym for “plate armor”.

(You may notice that plate armor, likewise, is typically augmented by some bits of mail.)

Note that—unlike “plate mail”—the use of “banded mail”, “ring mail”, “scale mail”, or “splint mail” in D&D is not similarly justified. It would be better to drop the word “mail” from these terms.

For what it’s worth, banded and ring armors might never have existed.

While “chain mail” has come into common use, in medieval usage it was called simply “mail”.

The “plate mail” drawing comes from the AD&D Dungeon Masters Adventure Log. The plate armor is Telecanter’s clean up of an image from Charles John Ffoulkes’ Armour & Weapons


Matthew James Stanham said...

Well, technically, in OD&D "plate mail" does refer to "plate armour". Only in the years following was this retroactively adjusted so that it means "plated mail" (for what it is worth, the best term going in the context). Basically "mail" was used as a synonym for "armour" in the 19th century, which is where the trouble arises. Anyway, it is not really a misconception so much as a Chain Mail legacy issue. It is all irrelevant when you consider the level of abstraction really.

Robert Fisher said...

That’s a good point. Having started in the AD&D era, it still tends to color my view of the game in places. Though I think there’s an argument that “plate mail” didn’t leak out of the game to become something non-gamer armor enthusiasts started encountering until after the retcon occurred.

“Plated mail” is not a bad choice. I hesitate to use it myself because, to me, it denotes a specific type of armor. (Mail with plates actually integrated into it.) A suit that is mostly plated mail would be plate mail. But plate mail can also be a mail hauberk combined with breastplate, vambraces, and greaves.

But, yeah, the mechanic is abstract enough that it doesn’t really matter. In my game, padded armor and leather armor are mechanically equivalent, but I still call AC7 “leather armor” on my price lists and tables.

Though, that may change. I’m on a trend of making some of the abstractions more explicit.

Matthew James Stanham said...

As I understand it, "plate mail" was current at the same time as "ring mail", "scale mail", "banded mail" and "chain mail". At any rate, D&D was concurrent with a lot of imprecise weapons and armour terminology. Most of this stuff comes direct from sword & sorcery fiction; plate mail for instance turns up in Howard's Hour of the Dragon.

If "plated mail" is no good for you, then I suggest "plate & mail", though my preference is toward the former because it looks the least different from "plate mail" (I just think of it as any mail armour reinforced or in combination with significant plating).

With regard to padded/leather, it is interesting to note that CM also uses leather as a shorthand for both, in that it lists them together without a shield and then only "leather & shield" afterwards (same with chain, banded and scale).

Generally speaking, I like to keep things abstracted with occasional "zooming in" on details during game play.