D&D Armor and Weapon Weights

7 May

Like I said in my earlier post on my ship dungeon, I’m new to this whole table-top gaming thing, so forgive any ignorance. (My DM girlfriend loves lecturing me about roleplaying at the drop of a hat  ~_^)

When I first flipped through her game books well over a year ago, one of the things that drove me crazy was the armor and weapons section. Having done medieval living history for almost a decade, studied Western martial arts for 5 years in ARMA, and owning a full suit of armor (the real stuff, not bullshit leather, plastic, or stainless steel) I think I can pretty well say that I know weapon and armor weights, and what you can do with both.

For example, the buckler is a small shield that can be used defensively and offensively. It has a small hand grip and is in no way “strapped” to your arm.

The hypertext 3E SRD describes a buckler as: This small metal shield is worn strapped to your forearm.” Another thing that drove me crazy was the idea of a “locked gauntlet.” Again, the SRD describes this as: “This armored gauntlet has small chains and braces that allow the wearer to attach a weapon to the gauntlet so that it cannot be dropped easily. It provides a +10 bonus on any roll made to keep from being disarmed in combat.”

Small chains? You know why real knights never wore horns on their armor? Because horns, just like chains, give the enemy something perfect to grab at and hook you on to let them pull you down. That’s why real armor is always smooth and flowing, so there is nothing that can be caught. Chains defeats the whole point. But that’s not my biggest objection. My biggest problem with this idea is that very often in real combat you want to be able to drop your weapon.

Look at this video, at around 1:30 they start to do some techniques that are part of what is called “half-swording.” Many times, when your opponent starts to “wind” his blade the only thing you can do if you can’t out wind him is to drop your blade and grapple him.

Lastly, the other thing that drove me up the wall was the weights. Let me start with shield weights.  Again, the buckler, the 3E SRD says a buckler weighs 5lbs. I’m holding mine in my hand right now and it only weighs about a pound. Here’s a picture of me with my buckler:

mewithbucklerBut perhaps the most ridiculous shield weight has to be that of a tower shield. 3E SRD says it is 45lbs. Now something like that would unpractical to carry into battle. Even these huge judicial shields weren’t that heavy, the guys can still swing them around easily.

I also know Roman re-enactors and their tower Shields aren’t that heavy either, and they have to sometimes form a testudo:


Now on to armor:

I must say, the 3E SRD does a good job when it comes to armor weights. They have padded armor at 10lbs, which is accurate.  A padded jack like this one:

is pretty darn heavy for just a bunch of cloth. Mine has 25 layer of linen and weighs about that much dry. I don’t ever want to see how heavy it is if wet.

3E SRD has full plate at 50lbs,  Swords and Wizardry core rules has it at 70, 4E player’s handbook has it also at 50. I must say that I am surprised how close to accurate they came.  The true weights are somewhere between 60lbs and 80lbs. It depends on the time period really. Here, look at this picture:

steve and me

My friend is the guy on the left, I’m the guy on the right. My suit of armor is 1370’s ish, his is 1470’s ish. His weighs about 60lbs, mine weighs about 75lbs. The difference is the chainmaile. As you can see, I have a LOT more maile than him. As the armor got better and stronger, the knights started to ditch the maile, hence why his is lighter.


This is the part of roleplaying that I think is most egregious and epitomised by this clip from the 13th Warrior:

Lets take my favorite weapon, the longsword:

This particular sword happens to be called “The Agincourt“, made by Albion Swords (one of the finest places to buy a real sword, period) and weighs 3lbs 7oz. Swords and Wizardry has the longsword at 10lbs! 4E is closer with a weight of 4lbs, but then gives a greatsword a weight of 8lbs!

Ask any re-enactors in Das TeufelsAlpdrücken Fähnlein how heavy their two-handers are, and they’ll tell you not more than 4-5lbs.

All these horrible weights make me think D&D is trying to tell you all swords handle like this:

D&D Glaive weight: 10lbs, real weight, 3-4lbs, D&D Halberd weight 12lbs, real weight 5lbs. D&D dagger weight 1lbs, real weight .7 (Ok, so now I’m getting picky :-p)

My DM girlfriend tries to tell me that these weights are an attempt to signify weight + volume, or how difficult it is to carry something. I don’t know if I buy that. Maybe. But it then leaves people with this horrible idea that the real weapons weigh that much, which as a re-enactor, is my duty to dispel.

8 Responses to “D&D Armor and Weapon Weights”

  1. Brian May 7, 2009 at 8:06 pm #

    Your DM girfriend is right. (But of course I’d take her side, right? 😉 ) Like hit points and armour class, encumbrance is terribly abstracted and is more interested in preventing people from exploring the dungeons while carrying a small blacksmith’s shop in their packs. So a lot of stuff is approximated or increased in “weight” to measure unwieldiness. Players rarely get hung up on dragging their 10′ poles through 4′ wide passages, even if their characters probably would.

    Love that first video. Every time I see that sort of thing, I’m struck by how much grappling is involved, and how “modern” those techniques look. Clearly, what’s used is what works, and time and place make little difference.

  2. Stuart May 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm #

    Good article – thanks for sharing your insights on this. Have you seen the TV show Deadliest Warrior? It has some very interesting analysis of historical weapons and armour.

  3. River May 7, 2009 at 9:24 pm #

    The inaccurate weights in the PHB always bothered me as well. I almost got into an argument my first session because of it. 😛

    Found your blog from Odyssey’s, which I found from some other gaming blog, which I found from another… anyway, I’ve enjoyed your write-ups so far — you’ve got a good start!

  4. Chris May 23, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    To amplify Odyssey’s point about encumbrance != weight. What’s the total weight of, say, a longsword *with* scabbard, baldric and basic maintenance kit please GP? ~8lbs, or substantially less?

  5. Carey October 24, 2009 at 9:06 am #

    Here’s the thing: the D & D weight charts for weapons and armor are pretty consist throughout the different versions. Back when D&D was created in the 70s, they used what information was widely available about medieval weaponry and some of this stuff was not accurate.

    The weights might also be based on reproduction “wall hanger” swords and armor which tend to be heavier due to the poorer craftsmanship.

    You should also consider modern reproduction weapons– even those intended for actual combat– are vastly superior to weapons and armor created in their original periods because of the superior materials and production processes we have today. It wasn’t even until the 10th century that they started using steel instead of iron. It is not unlikely that the average period weapon weighs more than a modern reproduction.

  6. Carey October 24, 2009 at 9:13 am #

    I also forgot….so many people forget that the weights given for armor in the game are the base weights before special materials.

    “An item made from mithral weighs half as much as the same item made from other metals.”

    You have to consider the game mechanics involved in D&D. It’s a fantasy game, not a simulation of historical warfare.

  7. Octane February 14, 2010 at 4:21 am #

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂 I, too, am more interested in the realism side of roleplaying, much to everyone’s chagrin. :p

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