Who’d go into a fight without even, at bare minimum, a shirt and pants?
Oh, I dunno… maybe these guys. Or these guys. Or maybe even these guys (NSFW).
Seriously, we in the west have an equipment fetish. We can’t imagine going into a fight without 40+ lbs of gear. The average US GI goes into combat today carrying more weight than the medieval knights did, and those guys expected horses to do most of the heavy-lifting.
On the other hand, nothing looks dumber than two warriors who are supposed to be from the same culture, but one is so heavily armoured that not an inch of flesh and showing, and the other is wearing a bikini. (Which is my pet peeve with Red Sonja of the comics. Wearing a chainmail bikini in a fight only makes sense if everyone else is dressed similarly. If you’re the only one doing it, it looks as insane as tights in bright, primary colors. Xp ) Frankly, I think this says more about male body issues than female ones, but that’s a post for another day. What turns on thee may not turn on me. So let’s focus on scantily clad warriors in RPGs, shall we?
Antediluvian Witchery setting. Fact is, your players probably share in the common equipment fetish, and it drives them to outfit their characters with the most effective equipment they can get, and to the Abyss with looking cool. That’s only reasonable, which means if you want the PCs to dress “appropriately “ (and to not pwn everyone who does), you have to make these sartorial decisions make sense in your mechanics. How to do that?
1) Class Limits: this is the classic from the earliest days of the hobby. Magic-users can’t wear armour of any sort and still cast spells. Druids can’t wear metallic armours. Quick, easy, and to-the-point, though it can feel a bit “game-y” if you don’t work to justify it somehow.
2) Encumbrance: not only does the LotFP Weird Fantasy RPG include an easy way to track encumbrance, it makes it important, especially to thief characters. Most of the thiefy skills can’t be used if much encumbered, meaning your thief is either not going to be doing much other than searching for traps, or they’re not going to be wearing much armour.
3) Humidity: the panoply of the ancient Greek hoplite shrank a lot. By the time of Alexander’s march into Persia, the helmet had shrunk to expose the face, the shield was smaller, and the heavy bronze breastplate had been replaced with lighter Kevlar-like linen armour. Why? Because they were fighting on the shores of the freakin’ Mediterranean and didn’t want to get heat stroke. To simulate this in your RPG, say that folks in chain mail or heavier armour can fight for a number of rounds equal to their CON hit-point bonus without ill effect. After that, they suffer a -2 to all dice rolls. If the fight continues another equal number of rounds, they lose a hit point, and another for every additional equal number of rounds. Keep in mind that in most old school games, a round is a full minute. That’s a long time to be fighting in heavy armour in 80%+ humidity.
4) Buffs in the Buff: it’s been written that the Gaul warriors fought in the nude because they believed their sun god would give them strength and courage through the beams of the sun. These solar-powered scrappers exposed every inch of flesh to the invigorating sun beams to take full advantage of this gift. Unfortunately, in the real world, naked gaulish virility was no match for the Roman gladius. Fortunately, in your fantasy worlds, it actually can be. Combine a naked +2 to-hit and damage bonus with the humidity penalty above and folks will be shedding armour like they’re adventuring at Club Med.
5) Defensive Bonuses: you saw this first in the 1e monk, and later in 3e. In one version of WotC’s Star Wars RPG, things got “screwy” when high level characters were better protected by being nude than they were when wearing armour. Yeah, that makes no sense, but it does model what we see in the movies. Not my favorite option, but it works.
6) There is no Armour: your setting doesn’t have it. You’ll have to explain why, or your players or going to try to invent it.
7) Guns: the big plus with guns was that they punched holes through armour pretty handily. When I use firearms in my games, they do modest amounts of damage (1d6 to 2d8, more than enough to kill the average human in a single shot) but give big bonuses to hit or ignore armour. If there are enough of these in your setting, and you use any sort of encumbrance rule, people will ditch the armour as too much fuss and bother, just as they did in the real world. Again, not my favorite way to go, but perfectly fitting for a Sword-and-Planet world. Though now you might have to justify why anyone bothers with a sword.
UPDATE: Bree Yark! suggests:
Here are a couple of options in addition to what you've listed:
#1. Limit the kinds of armor available based upon the law of the land. For example, it could be the case that only members of the nobility are allowed to wear plate armor. Anyone else found wearing or even in possession of plate armor will face the wrath of the king.
#2. Change armor to damage reduction. D&D uses AC as an abstract composite of how hard you are to hit, and how hard it is to inflict damage on a successful blow. You could separate these two things.
The less you are encumbered & the better your DEX score, the better your AC is (making you harder to hit). On the other hand, armor increases your encumbrance, making you easier to hit (weakens your AC), but you subtract a certain number of points from each hit, meaning weaker hits do no damage.
For example: Leather could provide 1 point of damage reduction, chain mail 2 pts, and plate 3 pts.
Yeah, sumptuary laws should have been on my list. Thanks for the reminder! As for option 2, that's a lot more involved than I think I want to get on this, but I'm considering it. Just how far do I want to stray from B/X/Labyrinth Lord? Well, I'm not going to be running a game like this anytime soon myself, so that's probably a question for another day.
And be sure to treat yourself to Bree Yark's treading in the artistic footsteps of a master (arguably the master) on his own blog.
Art by John Singer Sargent and Hendrick Goltzius.