Why is chainmail heavy?

Hiya all, as an archer I find the rules regarding chainmail a little strange and I think it causes some confusion to both the archer and the target what exactly should happen when they are hit by an arrow.

Obviously Empire is not meant to be historically accurate, and feel free to call me bias (I am an archer after all), but why is chainmail of any construction regarded as heavy armour that protects against IMPALE? It just seems weird. I’m sure chain has saved many a life from a distant arrow shot or glancing blow in the past, but I don’t think anyone would feel confident against pitting it up against an arrow.

To be entirely honest even against regular melee weapons chain, while a very good a worthwhile form of armour is best compared against very thick leathers rather than things like plate.

It’s heavy because it’s actually heavy. The armour types are mostly based on actual weight. A padded jack is lighter than a vegtan leather hauberk is lighter than a steel cuirass.


I think of it as encumbrance as much as stopping power. We’re modelling foam weapons rather than real ones so it doesn’t matter if it can stop and iron arrow or a bronze axe, instead what matters is how much it affects the wearer. It’s the penalty for the extra armour hits.


It’s also worth noting that a specific type of arrowhead was invented to penetrate chain, which kind of suggests that chain was effective against arrows specifically.

Mostly, I think it’s about encumbrance. Steel chain is heavy (as I know from experience) and lightweight armours (aluminium, polyurethane, etc.) count as one category lower no matter material. Empire is simulationist, not realistic; if you can accept foam swords and armour which gives you extra global hits, you can surely accept armour rules based on weight.


So silly conjecture and headcanon time.

The system is modelling your weapons (and thus the arrow head) as Mithril, this is consistent with your weapon weighing less than the same size steel weapon would. We know from the armour rules Mithril is actually weaker as a metal (but is a better conductor of Magic) than Steel is.

Presumably Iron is rarer than Mithril in the Empire setting (suggesting why we use Mithril rather than Steel to raise armies. As the Heroes of the Empire (and the elite of the Barbarian forces) we have access to better armour, but no one wastes precious Iron on arrowheads.


Chainmaille only counts as heavy if it is iron or steel. This is usually (a) more expensive and (b) wieghs a lot more, than, maille incorporating aluminium, neoprene, or similar materials.

I suspect it could be argued that the damage distribution of chain and the layers worn under it are pretty useful against arrows, but then the same could be said for cuibolli.

I choose to look at [the classification of steel chain as heavy armour] as a balancing point in the Armour Debate. (see below)

Player 1) “I have this awesome steel chainmaille, it looks great, and adds extra flavour and immersion to your game!”
Ref) “That’s great, but it’s not heavy armour, and won’t stop arrows.”
Player 2) “I’ve made this armour out of gaffa tape and foam, it looks like plate armour, wieghs less than a kg, and counts as heavy!”

  1. “So I invested considerable cash in buying kit that looks great, but is heavier and less mechanically good than his gaffa-plate?!”
  2. “Chainmaille is expensive! Are you going to penalise me for being unable to afford good armour physreps?”
  3. “I want to play my character concept with immersion and a touch of historical accuracy!”
  4. “I want to play my character concept without dumping £200 on one piece of costume!”
    Ref) “Okay, here’s what we’ll do. 1, given that it costs a lot and wieghs more, the chain is heavy armour. That’s the penalty and the downside. 2, not the gaffa-plate. Have you considered this resin armour? It looks good, is fairly cheap, and is much more durable, so it’ll have resale value…”
  5. “What if I knitted a chainmaille hauberk…I could make it look really good?”
    Ref) As the weight and the cost are the balance factors… no."

(this is entirely from my head, and may be as accurate as knit-maille)

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I wont rehash the utterly brilliant arguments above as to why Chain is the real deal heavy stuff in empire (admittedly its mostly butted but hey its cheap). Historically Chain is pretty effective against arrow fire, if it has padding underneath it. For example the historian Baha al-Din records during the battle of Arsuf describes Crusaders wandering around quite happily with ten arrows stuck in them.

A lot will depend on the arrow type and the type of bow launching the arrow in terms of kinetic impact. But far to complicated to work all that out on a Larp battlefield… so instead Chain stops Impale, but doesnt stop the point of damage. So just fire more, and aim for their knee joint/shins/unarmoured bits.


Back in the day a Gambeson was enough to stop an arrow dead with no bleeding and mail is usually worn on top of this. Arrows really aren’t as good as you’d think. If woven linen can stop a metal projectile think about how much mail will be able to do on top of it. Heres a cute lil vid Warbow vs Padded Gambeson - YouTube

Watched that, really interesting, this came up next Medieval Crossbows vs. Breastplate and Lamellar Armor - YouTube in which a gambeson seems to give reasonable protection against a 350lb(?) crossbow.

What we see here is that arrows/bolts are less effective than commonly thought against armour. I had to think about this in the context of Agincourt - a battle that was famously won by english arrows killing french knights.

Notably the battle was famously a mudbath in which the french knights were unable to move quickly towards the english position. Perhaps rather than imagining the english arrows all piercing through plate/maile/gambeson it makes more sense to imagine them primarily killing horses, then as volley after volley of arrows is fired, by sheer numbers finding weekpoints and penetrating the armour of the unhorsed and demoralised french knights.

Getting back to larp I like the fact that empire rewards players for using cool/costly/heavy equipment like maile and bows. If we imagine the 40lb larp safe bow is larping as a much better piece of equipment that can strike through all but the heaviest armour (thus giving you impale), it doesn’t seem unfair to imagine a 15kg steel hauberk that in real life could stop nearly everything is larping as a piece of armour good enough to stop it.

Steel (or other heavy metal) mail is heavy armour because it’s literally heavy armour. This isn’t the real world and Empire physics are probably a bit different.

Of course, if it was the real world, mail works pretty well. The point of armour was to work. If it was routinely defeated, then it was made more protective or discarded.

The way any bow or crossbow defeated a mailed warrior wasn’t scything through the armour like paper, it was by volume of fire, eventually finding a chink and causing an incapacitating wound. Empire represents this quite well - arrows still cause a point of damage, so you can whittle down your opponents, especially if they’re limited in movement by terrain or other factors.

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I would say the rules on this issue are very clearly worded, and I don’t see any reasonable cause for confusion.

(Some players might have various beliefs about real historical armour and real historical war-archery, and those beliefs might match the rules or not, but I don’t see that as relevant: the rules are clear, and playing the game means following the rules.)