The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

The Price of Plate Mail

I don’t think there has been any piece of equipment that has varied as much in price from edition to edition as plate mail. There are two schools of thought on how much plate mail should cost. In Basic and 4E plate mail is priced so a first level character who wants a suit of it can get it right away. In 1E, 2E and 3E plate mail comes at a handsome price that most characters can’t afford for a couple of levels.

For many years I was part of the camp that felt plate mail should be really pricey. For one, making plate mail several orders of magnitude too expensive for the typical peasant seemed to make sense; a peasant should have access to plate mail like you or I should have access to tanks. But more than that there was huge psychological aspect to it. From the moment a player made a new fighter character obtaining plate mail was a goal. And when your fighter finally obtained plate mail it was like announcing to the world “This character is for real.”

As you can imagine, I was against the lowering of the (monetary) cost of plate mail in 4E. But when I decided to abandon 4E for Basic, I felt like I needed to justify the low cost of plate mail; not so much from a meta-game perspective, but from an in-game one.

Does this cost 60gp or 400gp?

Why Plate Mail Might Be Cheap

Before one can talk about why the price of plate mail might be low, one needs to understand why it might be expensive. In the real world plate mail was expensive – it required large amounts of high quality steel to be crafted in to many fine interlocking pieces; a massive undertaking. This same argument could be used to justify a high cost in a fantasy world.

However, a fantasy world does not have to work the same way as the real world. First of all, the presence of various fantasy metals could create new types of steel whose properties we can only imagine. Perhaps plate mail in a D&D world is made with a special alloy that significantly reduces the hardships involved. Second, whether the mail is made from a fantasy alloy or real world ones, the availability of the raw materials, the tools, and the expertise might be very different in a fantasy world than the real one. Finally there is the matter of necessity; a nation threatened by orcs and dragons might be willing to commit more resources to making plate mail than one that only has other humans to war against.

The Right Price

I don’t think there really is a right price for plate mail, though obviously where it is set will impact the balance between classes and where the party’s money will go for the first few levels. There is a part of me that loved watching the players pool their money to get the fighters plate mail at the first possible opportunity; but there is also a part that likes seeing a fighter kicking ass from day 1.

Have an opinion about this article? I love comments. Please feel welcome to leave your thoughts.


January 6, 2011 Posted by | Dungeons and Dragons, RPGs | , , , | 7 Comments