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I'm world building a low-magic, early (to high) medieval (early 12th century-ish) fantasy world for a ttrpg. This world revolves around humans, but -while not something commonly encountered by humans- both elves and dwarves exist. The dwarves, had they be human and would they have lived in the real-world, would have been deemed (mostly) late medieval, with elves leaning into the (early) renaissance. But since this is a fantasy settings, comparing things to the real-world, for anything more than specific slices, such as for this question, quickly goes awry.

Magic
Some humans have magic spells, but magic is not commonly available. Those who have magic have dedicated large parts of their lives to learning it. Therefore, magic among humans is rare, awe inspiring, and -for common folk- not uncommonly feared or at least distrusted. Some rulers may be the patron for a 'wizard', but there are certainly no (human) warrior mages or anything like that.

While certainly not everyday common, both the elves and dwarves have a much higher affinity for, and skill in magic. For the elves, magic is a part of their natural world, and magic is used in many parts of their art, culture, and creations (including weapons and armor). Dwarves on the other hand tend to use magic to improve ('imbue'?) their architecture/building, tools, weapons, armor; magic is part of the art of making high-quality things. Magic is still not easy for either elves or dwarves; it requires effort and focus, but both the elves and the dwarves use it (in their own way) for things that are worth to effort.

Armor
In this world, the best armor available to human fighting and ruling class should be a helmet, with maille or scale hauberk over gambeson and maille chausses; humans blacksmiths have no method to make plate armor.

However, both the elves and the dwarves have (and can make) plate armour pieces (couters, spaulder, vambraces greaves), with the breastplates exclusively available to the dwarven folk.

My Question
This leaves me with a hole in the worldbuilding: within the world as described, what is a logical, internally-consistent reason for why humans would not have access to plate armor?

As this is a world for a ttrpg, when plate armor is exists, players will eventually (at the very least try to) acquire it. While this might be eventually OK for spaulder, greaves, etc., breastplates should be off-limits as player gear. Since players tend to accumulate wealth, 'expensive' on its own will not be sufficient as a method to limit availability to players.

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    $\begingroup$ Early medieval plate armor . . . where? Certainly not in Europe. Look at the Bayeux tapestry, which is the closest thing we have to a live YouTube clip from the $\rightarrow$High$\leftarrow$ Middle Ages, and count how many knights in plate armor appear. You won't have to use any fingers. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 20 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ The internally and historically consistent reason is that the technology just wasn't there. Some exotic foreign nations might have recently progressed technologically and economically to the levels required for the adoption of plate armor for some rich individuals. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Feb 20 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ Another way to look at this is that the golden days of plate armor was when Europe had population in the 60-100 million people range. In real life, armor wasn't built just to give options to shoppers at the local blacksmith and the idea that you could walk into a pawn shop and find even the pieces of plate armor is a bit laughable. Worse, it was originally the province of nobility (wealthy) until it became the province of governments (wealthy). So unless your adventurers have access to military supply chains in big cities or the nobility in small cities... they simply won't find it at all. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Feb 20 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ Are you trying to develop a world that stays technologically stagnant for centuries (like most magical worlds), or is this a temporary state that exists at the time of your telling? $\endgroup$ Feb 20 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ What's the goal here? Are you just trying to keep the players from getting too "tanky"? Because the concept of "large metal plates" for armor goes back to the Bronze Age, a good 2 to 3 millennia prior to 1200AD, so it may be easier to, say, improve available weapons rather than restrict available armor. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Feb 20 at 18:27

12 Answers 12

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Humans have not invented spring steel yet

In our own history, humans did not use plate armor in the 12th century because chainmail was a better choice for the kind of steel we could make. The idea of platemail goes back to the bronze age, but there is a huge weakness in older styles of plate armor in that you can not finely articulate it. When you look at something like Roman Lorica Segmentata for example, it is a form of armor made of articulating plates that would allow minor flexing in the abdominal region, but they could not cover the joints in the hands, elbow, knees, etc. without leaving gaps that a weapon could easily slip into. Romans were able to craft plates precisely enough to eliminate these gaps if they wanted to, but the quality of steel meant that if they were ever hit there, that the metal would crumple and lock up.

Then between about 100BC and 300AD, Lorica Segmentata was slowly phased out by chainmail, because it impeded movement far less, and it could protect joints without risking locking them up if it got damaged, making it the overall superior (and cheaper) style of armor.

The reason plate armor came back into fashion in the late medieval period was the invention of spring steel. Spring steel requires a homogenized medium carbon steel and oil tempering to achieve, but in the high medieval period, steel was water tempered. The issue here was that water tempering does not work well on iron with the carbon content required for spring steel. Once they figured out the oil thing, they could make steel that was just as hard to deform as before, but it would spring back to its original shape instead of staying crumpled. This meant that they could make precise joints without having to worry about them getting locked up.

So, in your setting, the humans could have plenty of blacksmiths with the skill to form platemail, but they don't do it because every human knows that platemail is worse than chainmail unless you "imbue it with magic" so that it can spring back into shape when deformed.

Why a Human can't just buy Dwarven Plate Armor from the local market

while not something commonly encountered by humans- both elves and dwarves exist.

This implies that very few, if any human towns would have a resident dwarf or elf to make plate armor for them. Even with this being the case, you'd think merchants would be able to get the occasional trade deal in place to buy and sell armors made by dwarven blacksmiths, but it's not as easy as this.

Plate armor has to be tailored to the owner. If the length of any segment is the wrong size, it will not articulate properly, and it will be anywhere from very uncomfortable to totally unusable. This means that a dwarf can't just make a bunch of presized suits of armor and ship them off to sell in human markets. For a dwarf to make armor for a human, he'd need to live among the humans where he can measure, fit, and alter his work until it is a perfect fit for the wearer.

Since dwarves and humans generally don't live together, dwarves can not make plate armor for humans, even if they wanted to.

From a game mechanics perspective, the tailored nature of fully articulated plate armor can also limit your ability to acquire it from a bad guy; so, you can put the players in a boss fight with a guy in plate armor, but they can not use it once they kill him if it does not fit... and because it is spring tempered, the local blacksmith can't refit it to you without heating it up enough to ruin the temper which would make the joints lock up if struck.

There may also be a cultural element

In our own history, chainmail replaced plate armor because it was the overall superior design given all the factors at play. Your humans may be well aware of this fact; so, there's is a good chance that your humans would look down on plate armor under the assumption that it is not good, or not good for the kind of warfare they expect to engage in.

So, even if they saw a dwarf striding along in full plate, they would likely perceive the dwarf as wearing 1000 year old garbage armor that is too hard to move in, full of vulnerable gaps, overheats too easily, etc. So, even given the chance to wear full plate, your humans may prefer chainmail for military doctrine reasons.

A good historical comparison to this would be the longsword and the katana. Even though both cultures were aware of each other's swords, they both choose to stick with their native sword styles because these swords matched their own martial traditions, making them each the most effective weapon given their training up to date.

To recreate this as an in-game mechanic, you could give humans access to talents, skill trees, or bonuses that they only get when wearing human armor. So, maybe your chainmail has a base defense of +4 and platemail +6, but if that +2 defense comes with major penalties or cancels out an even better bonus, then it may be mechanically not worth it for humans to pursue plate armor.

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    $\begingroup$ Re: the dwarf making size 12 suits - IRL buying some clothes or shoes made in Chine might be a coin toss whether it would fit you. Even if they say your size on it. I've seen XXL shirts the size of what I'd consider an M at most. Or shoes that are reportedly size 40 and are visibly smaller than a different pair which is also a 40. I've even bought t-shirts from Redbubble which sells stamped shirts. I've ordered the same size each time. Presumably they just take the same shirt and put different stamp on it. Well, one reaches below my pelvis. Another barely covers my waist. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 20 at 16:03
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    $\begingroup$ @VLAZ lol, this is true, but with plate armor sizing is far less forgiving than with clothing. Two people of similar size can wear the same shirt (whether we call it an XXL or M). Same with chainmail. But platearmor will generally only fit the person it was made for; so, you can't just got to the market and pick the one that fits you. I could even picture dwarves struggling to make armor for humans and not being able to get the proportions right. It would be like a human trying to guess how to design form fitting armor for an orangutan, without actually having ever met an orangutan. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 20 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, that was my point. :) If we humans have issues making standardised clothing sizes for other humans, then what would a dwarf do :D $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 20 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ You're wrong about spring steel being needed, certainly for breastplates. The invention of a watermill powered forge hammer, that could continuously strike with identical force is what made plate possible. And Lorica Segmentata was phased out for economic reasons. Romans got mail(Lorica Hamata) from the Celts, used it extensively in the Republic period, partially ditched it in the high imperial period for the more expensive segmentata and went back to it during the late empire when their economy was a lot worse. $\endgroup$
    – Eugene
    Feb 21 at 16:16
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    $\begingroup$ And it wasn't made obsolete by gunpowder, but by a shift to mass armies. Napoleonic cuirassier breastplate was bullet proof to a musket at 100 yards. And there are preserved 17th century full plate, with the front being 11mn of face hardened steel(the Mark I tank was 10, with worse steel). But the ludicrous expense of the armor, plus of a horse that could wear it, given the fact that it still did nothing vs a cannon, made it impossible to use for the mass armies of the day. So TLDR plate armor usage is primarily a factor of economics. $\endgroup$
    – Eugene
    Feb 21 at 16:41
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Historically, plate armor as we think of it wasn't invented until the early Renaissance -- during times we'd call "medieval" most armor was mail (aka chainmail), sometimes with small plates attached, or leather with bands, scales, or small plates attached.

This is partly because the art of the armorer-blacksmith advanced over time -- artisans became more capable and inventive as they worked for generations and passed on their knowledge and skills to apprentices. It's also related to metallurgy; steel making advanced between the 11th and 14th centuries (as well as several centuries before and since).

Finally, plate armor was always expensive ("mind-boggling" cost, as one comment had it), the sort of thing only wealthier nobles had any chance of affording (and even they would pass a suit of plate down for generations) -- it required many hours to beat a steel bolster into a large plate; making the plate even and forming it just so took even longer, followed by polishing, riveting or welding multiple layers (at least for the breast and back plates). The cost of a suit of articulated plate was comparable to that of a small estate including a manor house, hundreds of acres of land, and possibly peasant labor (vs. rent-paying tenants).

If you were equipping an army, they'd have been lucky to get mail (most would have worn leather or gambeson unless they bought better themselves); only wealthy nobles ever had plate, even in its heyday in the 15th century (when it would still stop most bullets). Plate armor was symbolic of the power and wealth of the wearer; it was never widely worn.

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    $\begingroup$ I thought about the 'expensive' argument, but I think it is not enough of an argument on its own, because players tend to accumulate wealth: 'expensive' on its own will not be sufficient as a method to limit availability to players. $\endgroup$
    – Jacco
    Feb 20 at 12:55
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    $\begingroup$ Plate armor is not necessarily more expensive than chainmail in terms of labor required. Making chainmail is at least as labor intensive, but the metallurgy required meant you needed a much more knowledgeable and skilled blacksmith to do it well; so, the cost difference had more to do with who makes it than how hard it is too make. If no human in your setting has the skill, then no human in your setting will make plate armor. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 20 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Jacco you seem to have things backwards a bit. When something is expensive that's not because there are coin operated vending machines that dispense it. And the machines just require a lot of cash. It's real humans that need a lot of time, effort, and expertise to build it. Which means that blacksmiths able to craft armour are not many and they'd have a lot of orders. It might take days or weeks to build an armour. If there are 10 blacksmiths total and 100 people wanting armour - some might have to wait for months. And expect to pay a lot for the privilege. $\endgroup$
    – VLAZ
    Feb 20 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ The "expensive" thing is a brainbug. Articulated plate was expensive. Breastplates and such were comparatively cheap. $\endgroup$
    – g s
    Feb 20 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Jacco If you're concerned about players accumulating too much wealth and making rare things not rare, then you should tackle that problem at the source. Don't allow them to accumulate that much wealth in the first place. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Feb 20 at 21:38
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Make metal "Magioative" in large quantites.

For some reason, magic binds easily to iron, steel, and similar materials. If the piece of metal is large enough, it begins to radiate strange, magically-charged effects over time, causing all sorts of ill-effects.

This is a thing that happens passively, with the "magic in the air" binding to large enough pieces of metal. This makes things larger than [whatever your desired largest armor piece] dangerous to wear, as they might cause undesirable effects on those wearing it for more than a few minutes. Small pieces of metal, like chains or coins (or helmets!) don't have those issues, as there isn't "enough metal together" to make it a good "magical sponge".

Magic is weird. Anyway!

This effect is what causes large "chunks" of metal underground dangerous to mine, as miners have to use special protection to avoid being exploded by random magical energies. A dwarf "Cave Wizard" is often employed to disperse those energies safely, so metal can be extracted with no issues. That's what makes them so much better miners than humans, too.

For your elves and dwarves, those magical energies pose no problem - their higher affinity to magic allowing them a greater resistence, thus allowing them to use plate armor without issues.

With the correct circunstances, metal that has been "seeping in" magic for far too long mutate into different, magical forms - silver becomes mithril, iron turns into adamantite, gold becomes orichalcum, and so on. Those forms are far rarer but way more stable, and can be used for all sorts of magical devices.

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    $\begingroup$ I was about to say just "humanity-wide allergies". But yeah, this is the answer. $\endgroup$
    – N1ngu
    Feb 20 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ This kind of solution has a serious pitfall: not allowing, say, a magical portcullis, which is much larger than a suit of armor. Nor magic wagons (if made with metal), doors for vaults, etc. Perhaps you could get around this with suitable spells which only some people know. $\endgroup$ Feb 23 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelFoster That's a good excuse for having the local wizard at hand. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Feb 25 at 13:49
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The other answers recommend technological reasons, but I'd like to suggest a cultural bias.

The dwarves and elves make plate mail, but they do so with industrial processes (magic) that aren't available to humans. The things humans really want can be purchased from other races much cheaper than what it takes for humans to make them. Humans could figure out a work-around for those, but on the rare occasions when people do, it just doesn't catch on and eventually fades from memory. The leap from plate mail to field plate becomes an insurmountable economic jump because the incremental technologies don't leak into the wider market.

Over time, it just becomes common wisdom that humans can't do that, and certainly can't do it at scale, so they don't even try.

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  • $\begingroup$ History shows that always somebody keeps trying. This is the most human quality. Elves, dwarfs, demons, can stop trying but humans always keep trying. I don't think this works. $\endgroup$ Feb 22 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ @akostadinov, Not indefinitely, no, but good enough for fiction. Given the effort that Japanese craftsmen went to when making katanas, there would undoubtedly be prestige items by master craftsmen. Just because humans don't do it doesn't mean that there won't be men who do it. $\endgroup$ Feb 23 at 1:39
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    $\begingroup$ @akostadinov Like converting lead into gold. $\endgroup$ Feb 23 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelFoster, I see the humor in your comment and I like it. What I meant with humans never give up is the "ends" not the "means". The difficulties in turning one chemical element into another are well understood. But this is just a means to the actual goal of obtaining gold. And people have invented all kinds of other ways to obtain gold. On the other hand some people still try to prove Earth is flat. So I'm not sure we fully give up on the "means" either. $\endgroup$ Feb 25 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ There's also the reasonable possibility that our historical field plate could never actually be as good as magically imbued field plate. Metalurgists like to joke about "sword shaped objects," referring to the stainless steel equivalents that you get out of catalogs. To them, our field plate might be an approximation in shape without the functionality of magical field plate. $\endgroup$ Feb 25 at 19:46
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Another inconsistency to consider

With nosajimiki's fine answer of why humans don't have plate armor you got your main issue solved, but you need to solve another inconsistency:

However, both the elves and the dwarves have (and can make) plate armour pieces (couters, spaulder, vambraces greaves), with the breastplates exclusively available to the dwarven folk.

If the elves are capable of making plate armor pieces, but don't have breastplates, you need a valid reason for that. Breastplate is by far the easiest piece of plate armor to make - you don't even need a spring steel for it. Even Ancient Greeks had an armor that could be considered breastplate (made out of bronze and thus not all that good). So you need a really good reason why the elves would lack the arguably the most important piece of armor, even thou it should be in their capacity to make. And no, mobility issue is not a good enough reason, as plate armor didn't decrease your mobility all that much. Nor is the weight. If you want to lighten your armor you remove pieces that don't protect your vital organs first.

If you insist on elves having plate armor without breastplates I suggest that the true protection of elven warriors is not in armor at all, but in magical enchantments. Enchantments that are woven into vambraces and greaves for example. And metal breastplate somehow interfere with those enchantments.

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Healing Potions Don't like Steel Plate

Since it's for a TTRPG, I'll assume some kind of "healing magic" is in play.

Make it so healing magic doesn't work if you're wearing steel.

A player can drop their steel helmet and gulp a healing potion, but if they're wearing steel plate, it's going to take 10 minutes to doff the gear, and they better hope they don't bleed out in that time.

Restricting it to steel allows you to use bronze or iron style plate armor - so Roman lorica segmentata is fine, and Ancient Greek bronze cuirass' work. But if you don't want those armors either, you can make the prohibition apply to all metal.

Topical Ointment

You could also have the healing magic work on contact, and not like steel (or any metal). It's relatively easy to pull up a chain shirt to expose a wound and move the metal in it far enough away for the ointment to work.

But for plate you'd have to remove the whole section of armor, which is harder to do in the middle of combat.

Exceptions

If you want to have Dwarven plate be a good option, just say its made from a special metal that doesn't prohibit healing magic. Or have the magic involved in making Dwarven armor work with the healing magic so the restriction doesn't apply.

This approach also gives the option of trading better defense for not being able to heal in battle, which I think is an interesting mechanic for a game.

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  • $\begingroup$ A fair approach, but in this low-magic world, magic users, let alone healing magic is not commonly available (getting too heavily wounded is a big deal). $\endgroup$
    – Jacco
    Feb 20 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Jacco - you could make the treatment a "herbal magic" thing instead of a "magic magic" thing. Have it do something relatively minor, but meaningful. (stabilize at 0 hp instead of dying, stop the -1 hp per round bleeding penalty, provide a 40% chance of gaining 4 hp, etc.) Point is, if you give a mechanical reason for avoiding plate mail, it doesn't matter if it's possible in the setting or not - your players (and most other fighters) will avoid it. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Feb 21 at 14:54
  • $\begingroup$ Dwarven / Elven armor is infused with capillary magic that distributes the healing potion / ointment to the appropriate location. Humans can't / don't have the skill to perform capillary magic infusion. If you can afford plate armor you can easily afford healing potions; it's more practical to get hurt and heal than to buy plate if you're poor. $\endgroup$
    – philn
    Feb 22 at 17:03
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Laws

Maybe ores that are good enough for plate armor are rare in human lands, and the powers that be want to limit their usage to the making of tools, weapons and smaller armor pieces. Those are easier to reuse among soldiers, since they don't need as much personal tayloring.

Maybe the elves and dwarves subjugated the humans and forbade it. In The Nerdier Scrolls V: Skyrim storyline, the human empire is forbidden from doing some things because they had been defeated in war by the elves and gave up some freedoms in exchange for the right to live.

Maybe it was some other historical reason of your own.

This can lead to some really cool writing because if the prohibition is old enough, the skills involved in plate armour making would be practically non-existent among humans (see other answers on more refined reasons why - the tech for these wasn't even easily available during what we call medieval times). So for the humans to have even a single suite of plate armour, they will have to go on an adventure to dwarven and/or elven lands. They will have a lot of bribing, seducing, cohercing, lying, threatening and negotiating to do before they get the goods.

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    $\begingroup$ I really like this answer. Historically such conditions were pretty common after losing a war. Just look at the contract of versaille after WWI and what germany was allowed and what not by it. And certainly every law is destined to be broken someday. Also nice character plots of a knight wanting to become a "honoary dwarf" for the right to wear plate armor. Or some quest by an elven king to slay an old dragon and for the duration of the quest that law is put aside. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Feb 21 at 13:15
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    $\begingroup$ If you combine it with the other answer about the difficulties in making good articulated armor, you may well get a situation where the aristocracy largely restricts plate armor to its knights and nobles simply because supply and talent. You want a master cratfts-dwarf skilled enough to make it, AND available steel supply, you better be down with the royal court, because commmon foot soldiers gonna have to put up with the cheap stuff $\endgroup$
    – Shayne
    Feb 21 at 13:50
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    $\begingroup$ A general ban by whomever is ruling is another valid option. Plate is rare and restricted to highest nobility. Until players gain enough political clout they simply can not possess it without significant issues. Consider licenses for modern firearms. $\endgroup$
    – Ekaros
    Feb 22 at 8:16
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One reason could be simple economics and scarcity. Metal in general and steel in particular is rare, difficult to make and very expensive in a medivial setting. Making plate armor requires a lot of metal and it also requires a lot of training to learn to make a useful armor. The metal used to make a single set of plate armor could alternatively be used to makes knifes or wooden spears with metal points for 100 peasant fighters.

So overall there is very little plate armor in your world and even fewer people who know how to make it. Dwarfs have better access to metal (because they are dwarfs ?!) so the few metal smiths that have mastered making plate armor are dwarfs.

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    $\begingroup$ There is a common misconception that chainmail uses less steel than plate armor. The average historical weight of chainmail and plate armor is actually about the same. So, while you may choose to arm about 5-10 peasants (definitely not 100) instead of making a suit of plate armor, the choice between chainmail and plate armor was never an issue of scarcity. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 20 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Thanks for the info on chain and steel mail, I didn't know that. I was comparing say 20kg of steel for one set of armor versus 100 times 200g which should be enough for a knife or a wooden spear with a metal tip (no metal armor for the peasant fighters). $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Feb 20 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ The average medieval spear tip was 300-500g and they often had a metal sauroter or butt cap which would have been another 200-500g to counter balance it. Also, there are medieval manuscripts and artworks that talk about/show the minimum arms a leveed peasant would have been given, and just a spear almost never happened. Peasants would have typically also been given a metal helmet in the 2000-2500g range and a shorter melee weapon like a hand axe or messer with another 1000-2000g of iron. So, even peasants typically went to war with 3.3-5.5kg of metal gear. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 20 at 18:46
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    $\begingroup$ I see your point about a spear vs a suit of chain armor, but something as simple as a metal helmet was reported to be a 3x force multiplier when comparing an army given helmets vs one without. Butt caps are necessary to be able to hold a spear at level for more than a few minutes making them another surprising force multiplier, and spears can't be used in every environment; so, having a backup weapon was a necessity if your enemy tried to exploit your lack of side weapons by engaging you in poor terrain. So yes, you COULD skimp on the iron, but even the most frugal of generals knew better. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Feb 20 at 18:55
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A process of induction

Dwarves typical living spaces are deep underground, and elves are in trees. Neither of which is good for big smoky cooking fires. So, they invented simple magical heaters. They're one of the few stable, readily available magical items in the world, simple and easy to construct, and they just require attaching to a ferrous plate to heat it to glowing hot, perfect for cooking your dinner in flammable or smoke filled places

Some bastard of a dwarven weaponsmith figured out you could make this ranged with simple modification. One battle against a plate armoured human army, a few stories from the survivors of "The Great Barbecue", and no one wants to go near plate armour. It even brought down the kingdom on the losing side - it turns out that when you crispy fry all the nobles on the battlefield inside their fancy plate armour, the peasants seize the opportunity to take over the kingdom.

So now every ruler sticks to mail and a relatively heat proof wool or leather jerkin. These heat guns have spread widely - they're a favourite tool for arsonists and saboteurs, so even making large iron plates for structural reasons have gone out of fashion. Axes or polearms are also favoured - if a big chunk of metal can get red hot at any moment, you want it on the end of a big stick.

The dwarves make magic induction resistant plate, by layering and breaking up the steel plate with other non ferrous metals. It is heavier, but stronger - perfect for dwarves, but no human can march in it.

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    $\begingroup$ and if you're going for a D&D style campaign, this would be a simple "reskin heat metal as heat ferrous metal, and then make it a cantrip or 1st level spell" $\endgroup$
    – lupe
    Feb 22 at 10:53
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The Three C's i.e. Culture, Climate and Cost

Lots of non European cultures developed sophisticated armor sets during the medieval period but never adopted the widespread use of full plate armor. Look at the types of armor developed in China, Japan, India and the Middle East as templates for your world. Lamellar, laminar (not the same thing BTW - look it up!) jazerant, mail and plate combinations like ' four mirror armor', scale armor? There are lots of technologically sophisticated options. And lots of reasons other human cultures didn't develop full plate armor to the extent Europeans did.

Add in climatic conditions, hot and tropical climates where full plate is simply to exhausting/confining to wear for long periods and perhaps a greater emphasis in human cultures on cavalry warfare and mounted archery as was common throughout Central Asia and you have further reason to avoid heavy restrictive armor. Perhaps the main human cultures and the bulk of the human population also tend to occupy relatively 'open' terrain like plains & steppes, large river valleys and coastal regions of your continents while other races prefer the deep forests and mountains. (Not exclusively mind you - but in the majority of instances?)

Finally Cost: Full plate is expensive and the human societies have large armies to maintain

Also FRAME CHALLENGE: If your humans have sophisticated enough metal working skills to produce other types of armor then there is literally nothing preventing them forging/manufacturing full plate armor if they want to, especially since they have the example of and could simply copy Elvin and Dwarfish designs if they wanted to. After all copying and imitation is intrinsic to human culture.

So instead? Yes they can produce 'plate'. They just choose not to produce 'full plate'.

If you accept this last issue as fact then there is nothing stopping them producing sections of plate that they include as small pieces in other types of armor. They just don't produce full plate for the reason's given. In the time and place your setting? Full plate armor is simply not the best option for them.

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  • $\begingroup$ For your conclusion, I would put it "not to produce ... very often." If there is mail and plate, and the ability to do full plate, the occasional knight will spend the money on full plate. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Feb 21 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ If a knight or whoever wants to spend the money that's on him/her although in that case they could just as easily order it from the dwarves who are already expert at making full plate than trying to get a human armorer who rarely if ever makes it to have a try. The thing is though the real impact of full plate on the battlefield came from mass i.e. hundreds of men in full plate armor advancing into the foe in a solid mass. One lone dude in full plate mixed up in the battle line? Wouldn't really matter much one way or the other. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Feb 21 at 6:43
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Given that making plate armour is very expensive the dwarves might just have cornered the market with cartel tactics. If ever any human armourer gets good enough they lower prices to drive them out of bussines then jack them up again. The super wealthy and connected can afford dwarven kit and a lucky few are considered friends enough by the elves to be granted armour by them.

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Magic, Fit and Culture

This is mainly an amalgamation of the other answers.

Dwarves and Elves use some kind of magic to work large plates, a magic that isn't available to humans. This rules out native production of plate armor by humans and adaption of Dwarven or Elvish plates by humans.

Dwarves and Elves have a body shape that's widely different from humans, thus simply aquiring Elvish or Dwarvish plate and putting it on, is out the question. PLate armor needs to fit the wearer, which is in stark contrast to mail.

Dwarves and Elves have strong cultural and/or legal reasons to not produce plate armor for humans. This is the trickiest question in my opinion: why not simply have plate armor made for human by Elves or Dwarves?
You could look at medieval guilds as a blueprint for a legal framework restricting Dwarves or Elves to produce armor for humans, or you might want to come up with a cultural reason, or a mix of both.

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