Illustration by Drew Sheneman
'm sure that someone else out there has the following point of view, but I haven't read it yet. The issue of appropriate armor focuses on this question: Is the armor appropriate? The question could be answered in a million different ways, but a simple yes or no will suffice.
So let's ask the question and then give it some context. Please answer the question with only a yes or no answer.
Is the armor in this image appropriate?
Did you answer yes?
The image is historically accurate. (It's from a French museum, by the way.)
Sure, the spurs are big and spindly, and they probably hit the ground when you try to walk. I bet the 70–100 pounds of armor would be hard to move around in. There can't be a lot of peripheral vision with that tiny eye slot. Can you imagine wandering the desert, even on horseback, in that? You'd bake in no time flat. Heck, for that matter, can you even guess how you'd get on the horse without a hoist and a couple of guys to help you? Can anyone tell me what's up with those goofy pointed toes? And forget about making a quick dash to the nearest portable toilet.
Those of you who are on the ball are saying, "Whoa! This is a specialized set of armor, set up for a specific purpose, for a particular environment and to protect against a specific threat. Just because it doesn't work for everyone or every situation doesn't make it inappropriate."
So, with the above in mind, let's define appropriate armor. For me, the definition is pretty simple. Appropriate armor is armor that is appropriate to the culture, environment, available technology and building materials, and threat. For example, each and every one of these examples of cultural armor is appropriate because they fit into my definition.
I mentioned environment. I'd like to discuss that topic for a moment. I've heard folks put down images that had people wandering around in nothing but loincloths. Before you discount the style of dress, please ask yourself whether it fit the culture and environment. Can you imagine our armored knight from above wandering around in a boiling desert, or a hot and humid jungle? Sure, he'd be well armored, and he'd probably die from heatstroke in no time flat. Even modern armies understand the importance of environment. Take a look at a sample of various "camouflage" patterns. Notice that each pattern is trying to take into account the environment in which they will be used.
Now, in terms of culture, while I was looking at armor and considering the topic of appropriateness, I spent a lot of time and energy researching historical female armor. Guess what? There isn't much armor. We can find mentions of Amazons, Valkyrie, and a few female warriors such as Joan of Arc depicted in literature and art, but outside of artistic renderings, we really don't have any solid evidence about what they actually looked like. Many scholars have guessed that they just wore smaller "men's armor" that was appropriate for their culture. So if I were to depict a female fighter in a medieval setting, this wouldn't be far off.
Even though the image is from the BBC "Merlin" series, it's pretty historically correct. So this would be culturally appropriate, right? Well, all except for the part that it wasn't culturally appropriate for a woman to fight in that time period's military forces. That means we have to set aside reality for a moment and start looking at this discussion from the point of view of the hypothetical . . . or from the point of view of the fantasy setting.
So let's decide that we are no longer talking about Earth in medieval England. We're talking about a fantasy game. Sure, there are correlations between Earth cultures and cultures in, for the sake of argument, the Forgotten Realms setting. There are cultures that take some cues from period Europeans, Chinese, Arabs, Mayans, Ethiopians, and a whole host of other cultures. We do this on purpose. We give you something that you can conceptually understand and then build layers of fantasy on top of that. At some point, if we push reality too far, you have nothing to relate to and your ability to suspend your disbelief crumbles. Suddenly we go from fantasy to camp to ridiculous.
For example, if I show you a curved sword that is narrow at the hilt and flares wider as we get toward the tip—you call it a scimitar, and you might relate it to Arab society. Now I can change it up and make it look somewhat different, but I can't change the fact that you'll think it is a scimitar—unless I change it so much that it now looks like, well, something else. At that point, you'll no longer associate it with a scimitar, and chances are good that you'll no longer associate it with Arab society. Maybe now you'll think it looks like a sabre and associate it with a Cossack.
I bring this up because I'm going to ask you to stretch your imagination a bit now. Let's say I create a culture that is influenced by several African cultures. It isn't a direct port. I'm just picking up a few cultural references from this culture and that, and maybe from a few different time frames in African history. I mix 'em all together and create a culture that isn't anything real, but is influenced by something real. You might look at it and give it the generic term of "African." Another person might look at it and link it to the "Ethiopian" culture. Another might pick up a different cue and call it something very different. In the end it matters less about the tags that folks assign it, and it's more about the fact that we always try to name things. That okay. It's normal.
So we've got this made-up culture, and now we start envisioning what townsfolk, merchants, nobles, and the military might look like. These guys are made-up, so it doesn't matter that there are no real-world cultural metaphors to draw from for a female fighter in the real-world cultures we pulled from. Instead, we just worry about whether the male and female feel like they are both from the same culture, and that they are appropriately armored for their culture, environment, technology, and materials.
Now we have two warriors from a particular culture. Each is wearing equivalent armor types of similar materials, gaining equal protection to the same types of threats, and looking like they belong together on the battlefield. Can we agree to this? Hopefully you said yes. If not, we've got bigger issues.
For clarity, the following is my personal stand on appropriate armor.
Armor should look appropriate to the culture, environment, materials available, and technology, first and foremost. If the armor doesn't pass that test, then it doesn't matter whether it is being worn by a man or a woman.
In other words, a male knight in full battle dress, wading through the desert sands, is just about as silly as a female fighter, in a chainmail bikini, forging through the frozen wastes of the Iceland Dale.
In my world, a sorcerer would wear:
If you are an artist, or know an artist, now is the time to get involved!!
I'm sure that many of you are familiar with the "Art Test" process used by studios to find appropriate staff artists. Well, I'd like to use a very similar process but for a slightly different purpose. As part of the development process for the next iteration of D&D, I want to do a lot of explorations around everything on the creative side of the ledger. Included in that is a desire to do a lot of art explorations—from art style, to render style, to content depiction, to . . . well, everything! What has this got to do with you? Well, you get to be part of the discussion!
So I've got a proposal for you. I'll put up three simple art orders (with appropriate references)—creature, environment, and culturally inspired. You pick an art order (or all three) and submit a piece to me for consideration.
I'm looking for examples of every style imaginable—comic, realism, photorealism, surrealism, modernism, and just about any kind of -ism you can think of. I'm interested in all types of render—loose and painterly, super refined, 3-D renders, simplified, edge dependent or not, photo-manipulations, pencil sketches, and any other treatment you can think of (even sculptural!) The one thing I'm not willing to surrender is our commitment to quality. So make sure you rock my socks with quality.
And what do you get out of it?
We're always looking for new artists, and I'm making up a new list for the next iteration of D&D. Should your name be on it?
By making an Art Test submission, you will become part of our catalogue of artists considered for future freelance assignments*. Don't worry, you retain all rights to your Art Test submissions; they will be reviewed internally and kept on file as a sample of your work in our catalogue. If we do contact you for a future assignment, then we would go through the standard contracting process for your work. Win!
So hop over, check out all the details, and get your images to me (yes, you can do more than one) as soon as you can.
*Just like any submittal of your portfolio for consideration, an Art Test Submission does not guarantee that you will be hired by Wizards for commissioned artwork in the future.
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.