2010-01-05 Arms and Armor Source Books

Looking around for some books on medieval arms and armor – including details about polearms, and not necessarily with gaming application – I found the following books via Amazon. What do you think? Other books you want to suggest? Warnings? Is this series from St. Martin’s Press good?

Or start with some books from other lists? [1]

I got recommendations for Gary Gygax’s World Builder and The Palladium Book of Weapon and Armour via Twitter. What do you think of these?



Hello Alex,

the “Fighting Techniques” books are mis-named, imho. Their main focus is on mass warfare; i.e. types of military formations, their positioning and use on the battlefield and similar tactics. Arms, armour and the use of either (actual “fighting techniques”) are mentioned only in passing in this context and are sometimes overly generalised. If you are looking for how individual fighters of the period were equipped and how they used their weapons, you will find a lot of books on swordsmanship (i.e. here: http://www.amazon.com/Medieval-Sword-Shield-Combat-Armouries/dp/1891448439) but little on other weapons.

I also own The Palladium Book of Weapon and Armour.

– Jorunkun 2010-01-06 01:05 UTC

Hm, interesting. I have Talhoffers Fechtbuch here, but without annotations or commentary. It’d be cool to have some interpretation from people with experience. Then again, I’m no European martial arts geek; my Aikido is hard enough to master, haha.

When I walked back from work today I thought that something I’d like to see is a discussion of the arms race through the centuries. Why flails, halberds, maces, rapiers, shield shapes, and so on. I have some amateur ideas. I’d like to read a historian’s perpective, I guess.

AlexSchroeder 2010-01-06 01:16 UTC

(oops ... hit save prematurely - continuing)

It features a very detailed list of weapons and armour, each of them with a little picture and detailed statistics such as weight, length and ratings for speed damage etc. History buffs will surely find much at fault with these numbers, but as a guideline for statting up weapons for an RPG, they aren’t all that bad. Also shown are fully quipped “typical fighters” from certain periods and cultures; but there isn’t much descriptive or context given - the book is one big collection of lists, essentially.

Personally, I really like the Osprey books “Men at Arms” series, which features detailed description of warriors, weapons and armour plus a very readable summary of the historical and cultural context, complete with pictures, maps and often great artwork (i.e. by Angus MacBride). http://www.ospreypublishing.com/men_at_arms/

Lastly, TSR put out a 2nd edition AD&D Weapons and Armour Guide (forget the exact title) that did a pretty good job presenting all the weapons usually seen in FRPGs, complete with pictures so you can tell your Bec-de-Corbin from your Glaive Guisarme.

Hope this helps.

Jorunkun 2010-01-06 01:17 UTC

Thanks! I keep hearing about the Osprey books but have never seen any here in Switzerland. I’ll have to try and get a book or two!

AlexSchroeder 2010-01-06 01:23 UTC

Matthew Bennett is an excellent military historian, so I would have no qualms recommending a book on that subject by him. The Palladium book of arms and armour is pretty interesting, but really a gamer’s primer to arms and armour. Gygax’s World Builder I probably would not recommend over any other. The <i>Osprey<i> series is pretty reliable and well illustrated. I was recently given a review copy of <i>Codex Martialis<i>, which is a pretty thorough and well researched guide to historical arms and armour written for D203e: http://www.rpgnow.com/product_info.php?products_id=65250

Matthew James Stanham 2010-01-06 01:24 UTC

Thanks. That sounds like a start. I’ll take a look at the Matthew Bennett book.

AlexSchroeder 2010-01-06 01:27 UTC

Hehe, parallel post. Looks like someone is up late in Switzerland ... :)

I don’t know of any book focused specifically on the arms race, probably because there isn’t one clear historically accurate narrative about it. Metal availability and quality, manufacturing skill or access to quality weapons and their use varied greatly by region and period so the historical record is patchy. History buffs frequently get into shouting matches over which side used what weapon to which effect (i.e. see here: http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=487764) so proceed with caution.

Jorunkun 2010-01-06 01:28 UTC

Haha, I guess I wanted a book that would allow me to join conversations such as these! :)

I ordered the following books:

  • Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World 500 - 1500 AD
  • Fighting Techniques of the Oriental World: Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics
  • Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armour (Military)
  • Fighting Techniques of the Ancient World (3000 B.C. to 500 A.D.): Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics
  • - AlexSchroeder 2010-01-10 10:50 UTC

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