You are going to want your player character to buy armor, if he is allowed to use any. Armor is the easiest and cheapest way to improve your character's chance of surviving the more violent dangers of the adventuring life. Clearly, the better the armor the character possesses, the less likely he is to be hurt. Armor protection is measured by Armor Class (AC), a number rating; the lower the Armor Class number, the better the protection. Table 46 lists the values for all the types of armor found in the equipment lists.
Although there is some controversy historically over the different types of armor, all known or suspected types are included here. However, not all armor may be available if your DM has chosen to set his campaign in a particular historical era or locale. For example, full plate armor is not available to characters adventuring in an ancient Greek setting.
Banded: This armor is made of overlapping strips of metal sewn to a backing of leather and chain mail. Generally the strips cover only the more vulnerable areas, while the chain and leather protect the joints where freedom of movement must be ensured. Through straps and buckles, the weight is more or less evenly distributed.
Brigandine: This armor is made from small metal plates sewn or riveted to a layer of canvas or leather and protected by an outer layer of cloth. It is rather stiff and does not provide adequate protection to the joints where the metal plates must be spaced widely or left off.
Bronze plate mail: This is a plate mail armor—a combination of metal plates, chain mail or brigandine, leather and padding—made of softer bronze. It is easier and cheaper to make than steel armor, but it does not protect as well. A large breastplate and other metal plates cover areas of the body, but the other materials must protect the joints and movable parts of the body. It is not the full plate armor of the heavy knight of the Late Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Chain mail: This armor is made of interlocking metal rings. It is always worn with a layer of quilted fabric padding underneath to prevent painful chafing and to cushion the impact of blows. Several layers of mail are normally hung over vital areas. The links yield easily to blows, absorbing some of the shock. Most of the weight of this armor is carried on the shoulders and it is uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Field plate armor: This is the most common version of full plate armor, consisting of shaped and fitted metal plates riveted and interlocked to cover the entire body. It includes gauntlets, boots, and a visored helmet. A thick layer of padding must be worn underneath. However, the weight of the suit is well-distributed over the whole body. Such armor hampers movement only slightly. Aside from its expense, the main disadvantages are the lack of ventilation and the time required to put it on and take it off (see the “Getting Into and Out of Armor” section). Each suit of field plate must be individually fitted to its owner by a master armorer, although captured pieces can be resized to fit the new owner (unless such is patently absurd, such as a human trying to resize a halfling's armor).
Full Plate: This is the impressive, high Gothic-style armor of the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance. It is perfectly forged and fitted. All the plates are interlocking and carefully angled to deflect blows. The surfaces are normally highly ornamented with etching and inlaid metals. Each suit must be carefully custom-fitted to the owner and there is only a 20% chance that a captured suit can be refitted to a new owner of approximately the same size. The metal plates are backed by padding and chain mail. The weight is well-distributed. The armor is hot, slow to don, and extremely expensive. Due to these factors, it tends to be used more for parades and triumphs than actual combat.
Hide: This is armor prepared from the extremely thick hide of a creature (such as an elephant) or from multiple layers of regular leather. It is stiff and hard to move in.
Leather: This armor is made of leather hardened in boiling oil and then shaped into breastplate and shoulder protectors. The remainder of the suit is fashioned from more flexible, somewhat softer materials.
Padded: This is the simplest type of armor, fashioned from quilted layers of cloth and batting. It tends to get hot and after a time becomes foul with sweat, grime, lice, and fleas.
Plate mail: This armor is a combination of chain or brigandine with metal plates (cuirass, epaulettes, elbow guards, gauntlets, tasets, and greaves) covering vital areas. The weight is distributed over the whole body and the whole thing is held together by buckles and straps. This is the most common form of heavy armor.
Ring mail: This armor is an early (and less effective) form of chain mail in which metal rings are sewn directly to a leather backing instead of being interlaced. (Historians still debate whether this armor ever existed.)
Scale mail: This is a coat and leggings (and perhaps a separate skirt) of leather covered with overlapping pieces of metal, much like the scales of a fish.
Shields: All shields improve a character's Armor Class by 1 or more against a specified number of attacks. A shield is useful only to protect the front and flanks of the user. Attacks from the rear or rear flanks cannot be blocked by a shield (exception: a shield slung across the back does help defend against rear attacks). The reference to the size of the shield is relative to the size of the character. Thus, a human's small shield would have all the effects of a medium shield when used by a gnome.
A buckler (or target) is a very small shield that fastens on the forearm. It can be worn by crossbowmen and archers with no hindrance. Its small size enables it to protect against only one attack per melee round (of the user's choice), improving the character's Armor Class by 1 against that attack.
A small shield is carried on the forearm and gripped with the hand. Its light weight permits the user to carry other items in that hand (although he cannot use weapons). It can be used to protect against two frontal attacks of the user's choice.
The medium shield is carried in the same manner as the small shield. Its weight prevents the character from using his shield hand for other purposes. With a medium shield, a character can protect against any frontal or flank attacks.
The body shield is a massive shield reaching nearly from chin to toe. It must be firmly fastened to the forearm and the shield hand must grip it at all times. It provides a great deal of protection, improving the Armor Class of the character by 1 against melee attacks and by 2 against missile attacks, for attacks from the front or front flank sides. It is very heavy; the DM may wish to use the optional encumbrance system if he allows this shield.
Splint Mail: The existence of this armor has been questioned. It is claimed that the armor is made of narrow vertical strips riveted to a backing of leather and cloth padding. Since this is not flexible, the joints are protected by chain mail.
Studded leather: This armor is made from leather (not hardened as with normal leather armor) reinforced with close-set metal rivets. In some ways it is very similar to brigandine, although the spacing between each metal piece is greater.
In addition to the types of armor listed above, your DM may have special armors prepared from rare or exotic materials. Since it is highly unlikely that your character can afford these at the start, the DM will tell you when you need to know about such items.
The equipment list reflects the price of a suit of armor (including an appropriate helmet) made for any normal player character race. Although a halfling is much smaller than a human and needs a smaller suit, there are fewer armorers available to meet such specialized needs. Thus, the armor for a halfling is as expensive as that for a human. Armor for nonstandard sizes and shapes is going to cost significantly more and must be custom-made. This is not the kind of thing one can pick up at the local store!
When armor is found during the course of an adventure, the players should note the creature who wore the armor previously. While a human-sized character might be able to wear the armor of a gnoll, it will do little good for a halfling. Likewise, the armor of a giant is of little use to anyone.
Armor size also affects the weight of the armor, if the optional encumbrance system is used. The weights listed on the table are for human-sized (Medium) armors. Small armor weighs half the amount listed, while large armor weighs 50% more.
Getting Into and Out of Armor
There are times when it is important to know how quickly a character can get into or out of his armor. Accidents and unforeseen events happen all the time. The party is attacked at night. Those sleeping around the campfire may want to don their armor before rushing into battle. A character slips and falls into the river where his heavy armor pulls him down like a stone. He greatly desires to get it off before he drowns. Just how long does it take him?
The time required to don armor depends on its make. Those armors that are a single piece—leather tunics, robes, chain mail—take one round (two for metal items) to don with slight assistance. Without aid, the time is doubled. Armor that is made of separate pieces require 1d6 + 4 rounds, again with assistance. Without help, the time required is tripled. In all cases, the times given assume that the proper undergarments and padding are also worn.
Sometimes characters need to get into armor in a hurry and thus, they dress hastily. This assumes that some buckles aren't fastened, seatings adjusted, etc. Single suits can be hastily donned in one round at the cost of 1 worse AC (though never worse than 8). Thus, a fighter could hastily pull on his brigandine jack (AC 6) and charge into a fray with an AC of 7. Hastily donning piece armor (plate mail for example) improves the character's AC by 1 (from a base of 10) for every round spent dressing. A fighter could choose to spend three rounds fitting on parts of his plate mail, giving him an AC of 7, before going into battle.
Removing armor is a much quicker matter. Most can be shed in a single round. Piece armor (particularly full plate) requires 1d4 + 1 rounds. However, if the character is willing to cut straps and bend pins, such armors can be removed in half the time (roll 1d4 + 1, divide by 2, then round fractions up).
Creatures with Natural Armor Classes
Some creatures possess a natural Armor Class already superior to some of the armor types (for example, the horse is AC 7). However, these creatures can still benefit from wearing armor of a quality worse than their natural Armor Class. If the AC of armor is equal to or worse than the AC of the creature, the AC of the creature improves by 1. For example, a horse has a natural AC of 7. The AC of leather armor is 8, worse than the horse's natural AC. However, if a horse is fitted with leather barding, its AC drops to 6 since it gains the benefit of the additional protection.