Roots Run Deep, a team of goblinkin are preparing for a raid on a human city.
Like anyone who lived on the
Reservation, Kip went armed at all times. Not that she had much. Her
tattered leather jerkin gave scant protection, and for weapons she
carried a flint knife and a tfaa, a traditional goblin fighting stick. A balanced, two foot-long rod carved from ironwood, the tfaa
didn’t look like much, but in skilled hands it could disarm and cripple
a swordsman. Prenta had gotten rid of her showy clothes and dressed in a
more practical leather jerkin similar to Kip’s.
impoverished goblinkin are wearing leather armor because they can't
afford anything better and their human rulers forbid them from bearing
metal weapons and armor. (This ban doesn't last, but that comes later in
the story. . .) Leather armor is a staple of fantasy fiction and
roleplaying games, yet many people don't realize just how common it was
in medieval warfare. Even knights wore it.
Leather armor goes
back to ancient times and continued in use through the Middle Ages and
into the Renaissance. This picture shows the shoulder and upper arm
portions of an elegant suit of leather dating to the Italian
Renaissance, courtesy of the Schola Forum.
As you can see, it looks much like regular metal armor, and many
historians believe that it was worn as much as or even more than metal
armor. A suit of plate was hot and heavy, so on the march or during a
friendly tournament the knight may choose to weather cooler leather. The
rank and file would also be fitted with leather and perhaps some
portions of metal armor for vulnerable places such as the head and
While leather was much cheaper, it provided pretty good
protection. Regular soft leather wasn't much help, but combined with
quilted padding provided some protection, especially against blunt
weapons such as maces.
More effective was cuir bouilli--boiled
leather. If you soak leather in water and then place it in boiling
water, it becomes elastic and pliable. It soon begins to shrink,
thicken, and harden. As it's hardening, the leather is hammered onto
shaped blocks to create breastplates, greaves, vambraces, and anything
else. A full suit of armor could be made in this way.
The 14th century
French chronicler Jean Froissart claimed that it was "leather that no
iron can pierce" and while that may be overstating the case, leather
armor certainly gave good protection. Games such as D&D probably
undervalue its effectiveness. Modern experiments show that the average
sword blow wouldn't get through, although a good English longbow would
make short work of a leather breastplate! This basic article (PDF) explains the technique. Also check out this thread from Schola Forum for some more insights and pictures.
The picture below from The Historians' History of the World
shows some improvements on leather armor, with overlapping metal
scales, discs, and rings. These were all cheaper yet pretty effective
alternatives to full plate and variants of these were used from ancient
times into the Renaissance.