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ManvsMini

Food for Thought on Longbows vs Armor

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In recent years I've become fascinated with the use of the longbow, and the Hundred Years' War in general (thank you for that, Bernard Cornwell and your books). The amount of strength it takes to pull a warbow right down to its ability to penetrate armor is very interesting. And it makes me think back to previous additions of D&D where some of bows required a high strength score to use.

 

I recently came across the below video, where a group of archery/armor/history enthusiasts came together to test the penetration of the longbow vs armor around the time of the Battle of Agincourt (where armor had made lots of design advances, yet the longbow is still lauded). Thought some would find it enjoyable, and for those who like to homebrew rules for their campaign, it might give you something to think about with regards to weaponry and armor... or possibly new ways to describe how an arrow misses on a failed attack roll.

 

Arrows vs Armour - Medieval Myth Busting

 

And just for fun, here's a video of the archer in that video pulling a 200-pound longbow, and the sheer effort it takes him. Forget a body like the Rock's, I want the strength of an English longbowman.

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Indeed, there's a lot of space for designing games that are based on how medieval and ancient weaponry really worked without trying to turn it into a simulation. Even just plain "properly historically accurate" equipment is a lot more evocative than much of contemporary fantasy.

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1 hour ago, Twalrus said:

Indeed, there's a lot of space for designing games that are based on how medieval and ancient weaponry really worked without trying to turn it into a simulation. Even just plain "properly historically accurate" equipment is a lot more evocative than much of contemporary fantasy.

 

And the reverse can also be true, sometimes the fantasy is more evocative than historically correct equipment. It all depends on how you want to run your game, and I thought this might be interesting for anyone who wanted to use mundane (i.e. not magical) weaponry... because once you add the magical element to it, what happens in combat gets creative.

 

42 minutes ago, Glitterwolf said:

I like that!

The longbow wasn't feared for nothing!

 

The results of that video did surprise me, as what you read in basic history books makes you think that an arrow from a warbow was death for an armored knight. I'm watching a follow-up video from that group with their historical consultant, and he wants to make clear that they aren't saying the longbow wasn't an effective weapon at the time of Agincourt; the limited tests done in the video only show one aspect of that battle, because historical accounts from both the English and the French recount that arrows killed a significant number of armored warriors. They stress that they want to answer the "how?", which of course means more tests, and hopefully more fun videos.

 

I find it fascinating.

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3 hours ago, ManvsMini said:

And the reverse can also be true, sometimes the fantasy is more evocative than historically correct equipment. It all depends on how you want to run your game, and I thought this might be interesting for anyone who wanted to use mundane (i.e. not magical) weaponry... because once you add the magical element to it, what happens in combat gets creative.

 

I find it fascinating.

Something to consider is that for centuries, we've all been influenced by stories, myths and legends that glorify certain weapons (mostly swords) over others. And with the advent of movies, heroic swashbuckling and sword fights are more entertaining than one shot kills of just about any weapon. And in those cases where the hero does beat a mook in one strike, armor is pretty much useless.

 

When you start studying military history, where it was army vs army instead of singular heroes, weapon and armor design and uses take a whole new dimension. Those other weapons existed for a reason. For example, over time I've gained much respect towards spear wielders.

Edited by Cranky Dog
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2 hours ago, Cranky Dog said:

For example, over time I've gained much respect towards spear wielders.

 

I was reading through your response and before I even got to the above my mind was already thinking of spear wielders. Vastly underestimated.

 

I cannot remember if you've ever posted about it, but do you watch any of Lindybeige's videos? He did one at a H.E.M.A. training camp where he pitted spear vs sword in several scenarios (there's a short version of the video and a much longer version of it). He also in another video showed that mail armor or "chainmail" is actually quite quiet (not totally silent, but quieter than you'd think), so I find that incurring stealth penalties in D&D for mail-wearers is rubbish.

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1 minute ago, ManvsMini said:

I cannot remember if you've ever posted about it, but do you watch any of Lindybeige's videos?

I do watch him on occasion, and have seen his spear vs sword videos. I had already started to appreciate spears from other historical videos, but the H.E.M.A. one just reinforced the idea.

 

It's also from watching plenty of these types of videos that you realize that katanas, as beautiful and elegant looking as they are, are no better than other quality made sword designs. They excel at certain things, and are bad or underwhelming at others.

 

Again, centuries of myths and legends surrounding knights and chivalry; samurai and ninjas; or even shaolin monks and whatever style of kung fu; have clouded the practicality and usefulness of many weapon and combat styles.

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If spears weren't useful why are we still sticking knives onto the ends of guns? That's a rhetorical question but one that I watch videos to find answers for. I like military history and weapons so I watch a lot of videos from people like Skallagrim, Lindybeige, scholar gladatoria and Tod's workshop. I especially enjoy it when they are trying to test things as accurately as possible like in the original video and not just fluff like some tv shows I've watched over the years.

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9 hours ago, ManvsMini said:

 

And the reverse can also be true, sometimes the fantasy is more evocative than historically correct equipment. It all depends on how you want to run your game, and I thought this might be interesting for anyone who wanted to use mundane (i.e. not magical) weaponry... because once you add the magical element to it, what happens in combat gets creative.

 

 

The results of that video did surprise me, as what you read in basic history books makes you think that an arrow from a warbow was death for an armored knight. I'm watching a follow-up video from that group with their historical consultant, and he wants to make clear that they aren't saying the longbow wasn't an effective weapon at the time of Agincourt; the limited tests done in the video only show one aspect of that battle, because historical accounts from both the English and the French recount that arrows killed a significant number of armored warriors. They stress that they want to answer the "how?", which of course means more tests, and hopefully more fun videos.

 

I find it fascinating.

 

Keep in mind how that battle went.

A large group of Knights in heavy armor on their warhorses got stuck in the mud and got pelted with arrows.

I think there is more to it than, the bow defeated the armor, it would have been raining arrows, horses would get killed, if you know what a real warhorse looked like in those days, those were heavy animals, any knight getting stuck under his heavy horse in the thick mud would either die from the injuries or drown in the mud.

With so many arrows it would also be reasonable to imagine that some would struck the lesser armored parts.

And then there is the matter of the lesser armored knights, a knight would have to pay for his gear, not all were rich enough to get the latest gear.

 

Do not underestimate mud.

In the Great War ( WW I ) many soldiers just drowned in mud because they were carrying too much weight and got stuck.

I can imagine how this could happen to at least a part of the French Knights in such chaos where arrows would rain down and injure/kill both men and horse.

 

I agree that the role of the bow during this battle itself might be exaggerated, but it was a deadly weapon for sure.

The circumstances might have been deadlier though.

Maybe some horse panicked, knights might have clashed in a narrow area filled with mud while being shot at, all leading to the death of many knights and soldiers.

 

 

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11 hours ago, Glitterwolf said:

Keep in mind how that battle went.

A large group of Knights in heavy armor on their warhorses got stuck in the mud and got pelted with arrows.

I think there is more to it than, the bow defeated the armor, it would have been raining arrows, horses would get killed, if you know what a real warhorse looked like in those days, those were heavy animals, any knight getting stuck under his heavy horse in the thick mud would either die from the injuries or drown in the mud.

 

Most certainly there was quite a bit of arrows (the English army at the start of the campaign had sailed with hundreds of thousands of arrows), but unlike earlier battles in the war, the French did not use their cavalry to a great extent. This is the video I was watching yesterday from the same people, and the historical consultant (who is a curator for a museum collection in London) goes through a fair bit of what we know about the battle (which is quite a lot) vs what has been built up by myth. I learned several details that I didn't know (the English captured the French battle plan the previous day, and were able to position themselves to nullify the planned cavalry attacks to their flanks).

 

It's a long video (~45 min), and while the guy isn't the most exciting speaker, he is focused on wanting to know the facts and openly admits where his knowledge is lacking. Put it on in the background while you do some painting or cuddle Brutus.

 

I keep saying it, but it's just fascinating to me. I love this time period back to ancient times the most because so many things are such a mystery.

 

And it also makes me wonder, to fit some more fantasy into this, if a longbow requires a fair amount of strength, where does the idea that elves are so proficient with them come from, given that in most games and fiction they are treated as being expert archers but generally aren't regarded as strong? I realize strength does not equal better archer.

 

Maybe my mind is just trying too hard to tie real world analogies into the fantasy.

Edited by ManvsMini
typos and clarifying
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I love Military History, if you read up on ancient civilizations and the way they waged war you'll find that the reality sometimes surpasses Fantasy in terms of badelfery.

Chaos Lord Khorne? Hmm, remember the Huns and their piles of skulls/bodies?

Extravagant looking warriors ? Meso-Americans in animal outfits and adorned with feathers and flowers.

War Elephants? India/Hannibal ....

Etc Etc.

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1 hour ago, ManvsMini said:

 

Most certainly there was quite a bit of arrows (the English army at the start of the campaign had sailed with hundreds of thousands of arrows), but unlike earlier battles in the war, the French did not use their cavalry to a great extent. This is the video I was watching yesterday from the same people, and the historical consultant (who is a curator for a museum collection in London) goes through a fair bit of what we know about the battle (which is quite a lot) vs what has been built up by myth. I learned several details that I didn't know (the English captured the French battle plan the previous day, and were able to position themselves to nullify the planned cavalry attacks to their flanks).

 

It's a long video (~45 min), and while the guy isn't the most exciting speaker, he is focused on wanting to know the facts and openly admits where his knowledge is lacking. Put it on in the background while you do some painting or cuddle Brutus.

 

I keep saying it, but it's just fascinating to me. I love this time period back to ancient times the most because so many things are such a mystery.

 

And it also makes me wonder, to fit some more fantasy into this, if a longbow requires a fair amount of strength, where does the idea that elves are so proficient with them, given that in most games and fiction they are treated as being expert archers but generally aren't regarded as generally strong? I realize strength does not equal better archer.

 

Maybe my mind is just trying too hard to tie real world analogies into the fantasy.

 

In so many games you give your physically weak characters the missile weapons and let the strong guys be up front. I suppose that might work for firearms and crossbows (although cranking a high power crossbow is also physically demanding) but not so much for a bow. I've dabbled a bit with archery and am in decent shape. I can use a 60-70 pound bow ok once my shoulders get into shape. I don't know if I can pull a hundred pound bow and nowadays the consensus seems to be that longbows/warbows were way heavier than that. I guess the games that have some sort of strength requirements for certain weapons (mostly thinking some of the videogames I play) are a bit more accurate on that front. A bow is kind of a brute force weapon in it's own way. Without the required strength it's kind of useless. I kind of like the idea of battle wizards that can fight at least as well as an ordinary soldier better than typical RPGs wizards who bleed to death if they cut themselves shaving. Hmm, maybe that's why they all have such long beards.

 

One thing that kind of amuses me about the Hundred Years War is that as an English speaker and with English ancestry most of what I've read has a heavy English bias. Hear a lot about the great victories of Crecy and Agincourt but very little about the fact the English lost pretty much all their continental lands in the end. It was a long complicated affair but mostly I just read how much better the English longbowmen were than anything the French had so why did they lose? That's another rhetorical question. I'm a dabbler in all my interests so while I have read overviews of it all I don't remember a lot of the details and the English defeats don't seem to get nearly as much attention.

 

You see a similar view with WW2 where some people still want to say the Germans had the best soldiers and equipment of the war and yet lost to the Soviets who were basically useless until they somehow took Berlin. Good soldiers and good equipment are a definite help but battles and wars are won because of a lot more factors. In real life we don't have groups of soldiers running around with +5 weapons and armour totally slaughtering the enemy and in the cases where there was a slaughter it was usually tactics and strategy that lead to it more than which side had a bit better weapons.

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