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Every culture has its armor and their armors always, without exception, fit in with the culture they belong to. Even more than weapons, armor makes or breaks a cultures feel and theme, you would not expect to see a Germanic Barbarian Wearing samurai armor, nor would you ever think of seeing Native Americans wearing Aztec wear.

Needless to say the armor a culture wears is are as important as their beliefs and necessary to keep the feel of that culture and many works of fantasy show great design that fits the feel of their armor; such as the Thalmors armor in Skyrim, or the Orcish armor in Lord of the Rings. What things should you keep in mind when designing cultural armor?

All Culturally Correct Questions

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  • $\begingroup$ "What are some guides, tips and ideas" - Opinion based!!!!!! Include some restrictions and guidelines with which you will judge anwers! $\endgroup$ – Aify Aug 27 '16 at 8:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Aify the most comprehensive answer will be accepted $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 27 '16 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ Aztecs were Native American. They weren't Plains Indians, but they were certainly Native American. As much as any Johnny-Come-Latelys can be, that is. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Aug 28 '16 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ @WhatRoughBeast while technically true, Native american is a term assosiated to the tribes that lived in the USA and Canada. Do you mean that the Aztecs are Native south Americans? $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Aug 28 '16 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b A bit pedantic but I prefer to use the term Pre Columbian Civilizations to avoid confusing with Native Americans $\endgroup$ – jean Feb 7 '17 at 12:20
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There's many factors that go into a good armor but let me throw some bullet-points out. These all must be considered at the very least:

  • Resource availability, you need a decent amount to make armor so this is going to reflect economy (you wouldn't have a standard armor made out of gold on earth).
  • Resource shape-ability, the easier the more intricate work is allowed and the more culturally adapted it can be.
  • Resource protect-ability, does it actually guard against anything for its weight cost? Really heavy cotton candy does not a good armor make.
  • Resource significance, are we culturally allowed to use said resource?
  • Climate adapted design, you can't wear plate mail in the desert. Moisture and cold aren't much better pairings either.
  • Culturally adapted design, your god protects the left hand of righteous people, so why cover it in armor? If pictures are forbidden use spirals and knots. If combat is about fear maybe make armor imposing at the cost of being practical (Vlad would approve). Is armor mainly ritualistic/ceremonial? Then it doesn't need to be practical at all but entirely reflect its cultural purpose.
  • Military adapted design, is it mass producible? We're not thinking about resources now, we're thinking about time to create a single unit. Armor would tend to be trendy or radically individualistic if not for a "common" armor.
  • Combat adapted design, in the rock-paper-scissors of weaponry and tactics: what's the current trend and what best protects against it? Are me aiming for mobility? Are me adapted for mounted units? Are we opting for maximum protection on each unit? Curved surfaces deflect blows but really soon we could optically camouflage a flat surface. There's almost a need for a History of Wars here.

There's almost certainly more points I haven't considered here. Definitely make sure it's consistent though. Cultures tend to bleed across political boundaries for example.

Edit: I talked with an armor smith. A major additional point under the military bullet is the fact that you live in your armor at war, so ceremonial/tournament armor would be designed differently than war armor.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, the war armor you have to fight in. You need to consider not just protection, but the burden of wearing it. Too heavy, and you're going to murder endurance; it doesn't do you any good if the soldiers collapse from exhaustion after half an hour. If it's not reasonably comfortable, that's not going to be good for morale, either. You also have to consider the environment; wearing something like plate armor in desert conditions is essentially suicidal, since any real fighting in that armor will raise your body temperature too high and quite likely give you heat stroke. $\endgroup$ – Palarran Oct 2 '16 at 14:36
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Weapons, industry, social and political organization, technology, resources and materials. Basically what shapes a culture and its choice of armour is the world in which it exists and the ways in turn that culture influences that world.

Essentially what determines the design of armour isn't purely cultural expression (the symbols and iconography the armour represents) but its utility in warfare.

Native Americans didn't wear armour because their cultures lacked the industry and technology. They weren't engaged in conflict where wearing armour was an advantage. The wearing of armour was discarded when new weapons made armour a disadvantage. For example, wearing a full suit of armour isn't very useful in going up against machine guns.

Culture is only an expression of all these factors. Once armour is useless people hang it on their walls and get on with using weapons and protective gear that give them the advantage in war they need.

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