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SCA Heavy Combat - Affordably!

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I'm putting this here mostly so I can link to it, honestly, but some of it's applicable to different games, including KoN, so I'll stash it here, I guess.


Over the last six months, I've done a lot of reading and research and talked to a lot of folks to get going in SCA heavy combat. These are the minimums for combat in Aethelmearc, which is the SCA kingdom most of us are in. Albany folks, you're in the East Kingdom, but these minimums are the same (except that I don't know if you're required to have vambraces - but they're a good idea).


Helmet. This needs to be a minimum of 14 gauge metal on the crown, needs to cover your entire head from the neck up, and needs to have no gaps anywhere larger than 1".


Gorget. This needs to cover your neck, your larynx, and the top few vertebrae. NOTE: gorgets are fairly miserable pieces of gear for a lot of people to wear. You can omit a gorget if your helmet has a long aventail or camail of heavy leather or maille.


Kidneys and short ribs. The minimum for this is a heavy leather kidney belt over a gambeson or some foam padding (like a layer of blue foam). If you're wearing any kind of torso armor, this is generally covered anyway.


Elbows. You need to cover the point of the elbow and the bones immediately on either side of that. A single, unarticulated elbow cop is sufficient.


Forearms. Some sort of vambrace. Heavy leather with foam underneath is sufficient to meet minimums.


Hands. The baseline answer to this is a pair of demi-gauntlets, paired with a shield basket (on a strap shield) or a recessed shield boss (for punch shields) on your shield, and a basket hilt on your sword.


Crotchtal Regions. You're required to wear a cup if you're a guy. Females must wear foam or leather padding groin protection to cover the pubic bone area.


Knees. Same as elbows.


Those are the minimums. Most people will also want something on their shoulders, hips and thighs. Beyond that, it's really about what you're comfortable with. Some people want to be encased in steel, some prefer to fight light and take their occasional lumps. Beyond that stuff, you still need a sword and shield.


Now, I'd like to talk about how to do this cheaply, while not looking like a lump of turds.


My opinion is that there are only a few "mainstream" personas to do cheaply that can also be done well: 14th century knight/man-at-arms, Crusader, and Viking. These all work well to do cheaply because they all pre-date the full plate harness. Crusaders wore maille, 14th century armor revolved around the coat of plates, a sort of brigandine with overlapping plates on the inside of a jack or coat, and Vikings got by with just a helmet, or a helmet and maille. They also cover pretty broad time periods, yet remain distinctive. The main Crusades took place between 1095 and 1291. The 14th century covers (duh) a hundred years from 1300 to 1399, and "Viking" can be anything from about 800 to 1150ish. Please note that this entire essay is riddled with weasel words and qualifiers. I'm not a scholar, I'm a guy who really likes his hobby and wants to get others involved.


Here are a few pictures to illustrate approximately the looks we're talking about:





14th Century:






(Note that these images are all from books from Osprey Publishing. While they're not exactly scholarly research, they're essentially solid books, and have pretty pictures in color, and are a great starting reference point. I recommend you buy one or two from your time period and check them out. They're short with lots of pictures. Perfect for most people who want to hit each other with sticks.)


The defining thing here is that all of these personas come from historic times that are pre-plate armor. The 14th century knight will have some plate, but nothing articulated, and the Viking and Crusader have no plate other than their helmets.


So, all that said, let's talk about meeting the SCA minimums to get on the field, for around $500. There is a buy-in with getting involved with the SCA's combat activities. $500 is a reasonable starting point. If you're a golfer, you will easily spend that on clubs, shoes and bag. Snowboarder or skier? $500 blown fast on board/skis, boots, and outerwear. Playing paintball seriously? You can't hardly get started for $500. And don't even get me started on what the wife's spent on scrapbooking supplies. Hobbies cost money. You can do it cheaper, but it'll take either more time or more effort on your part. I'm still under $500 for my gear, but I've done a LOT of barter and trade. If you don't have a skill to barter or trade, that means you're using money to trade with. That said, there are a number of us who are pretty handy with making things, and I'm more than happy to help anyone who wants help to get armored up.


The hardest part, and the part most people will spend the most money on, is also the most important part: the helmet. People - big, strong people - will be swinging sticks at your head as hard as they can. With a good helmet, you're completely safe. You hear a "ding", your head rocks a little to one side, and you tell the guy you're dead. Then you fight again. :)/>/> Here's the general style you should be looking for:


Crusader: great helm / barrel helm



14th Century: bascinet



Viking: spangenhelm, either with a nasal or with occulars



The trick here is to find one of these that's solidly built, not hideous, and economical. I highly recommend stainless steel for your helmet, but understand that it's not always possible at the sub-$500 price point we're talking about. There are some builders that are well-known for their economical helmets, and a few kits available too if you want to put in elbow grease. Let's look at a few for each.


Crusader Great Helm. These tend to be really cheap, because there's simply not a lot to them in the way of complicated shaping of metal.

Horsefriend Armory selling Great Helms for $80: http://www.horsefriendarmoury.com/Helms.html






MAKE IT: Check out the kits from Zweihammer Armory: http://www.zweihammer.com/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=shop.flypage&product_id=5&category_id=1&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=26 They take a little forming and a lot of riveting, but the end result is an awesome helmet for (relatively) peanuts. The base kit in mild steel is $85, in stainless it's $180, and you can ad a bunch of extras (brass on face, they do some pre-forming, and so on) that will bring the price up almost another $100 if you get them all, but that's still a cheap helmet - and $85 for the base one is ridiculous good.

normal_Topfhelm%2001-09-07%20018%20revised.jpg Zweihammer Armory is out of business, so this is no longer an option unless you have a shop - but these are easy helmets to make!


14th Century Bascinet. These are the workhorse helmet of the SCA. With their angled top, they shed blows easily, and they can be constructed from two welded halves, making them quick to produce. They can be made with a klappvisor for a more period look, or with a bargrill for excellent airflow and vision. Probably the most popular helmet on the field, and appropriate for well over 100 years of history.


BUY IT: Ironmonger Armory, $135: http://ironmongerarmory.com/stock-helms/munitions-bascinet-helms

MAKE IT: Not really an option here unless you know someone who has a welder. :(/>/>


Viking Spangenhelm: "Spangenhelm" is the name of any helmet that has panels held together with bands on the crown, usually a headband and a cross-shaped lattice with plates between the bands. Those plates are called "spangens", hence, "spangenhelm". This is an older way of making a helmet, because back in the days of yore, before metalshops had welders, a helmet dome either had to be raised in one piece from a solid hunk of metal, or else pieced together from smaller, shaped pieces. Raising helmets was time consuming and difficult, so most were made in pieces.


BUY IT: Again, Hjalmr makes the cheapest helmet in the world, but it's butt-ugly.



MAKE IT: Again, Zweihammer Armory to the rescue with an excellent kit. Technically, it's a Vendel helm (the ancestors of the Vikings), but it gives off the correct impression and is used by a lot of Viking personas in the SCA. Kit comes in the basic model for $115, or stainless with brass rivets for $223. I highly suggest paying them the $13 to pre-crease the parts that need creasing: http://www.zweihammer.com/index.php?page=shop.product_details&flypage=shop.flypage&product_id=1&category_id=1&option=com_virtuemart&Itemid=26


Zweihammer Armory is out of business, but Jamie at Polar Bear Forge has replicated the pattern: http://polarbearforge.com/helm_kit.html Jamie is a great guy, buy from him!



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Neck Armor:


So now, let's talk about gorgets. First thing to remember is that you don't need one if you install an aventail on your helmet. Rules say it can be chain, or heavy leather. All three of these helmet types work well with an aventail, although it might take some fiddling to make it fit right. That's not hard with chain though, just add or remove links until it's where you want it and attach it. Cheapest place I've found to get an aventail would be Therion Arms: http://therionarms.com/reenact/therionarms_c1298.html That will take a little judicious tinkering to fit on a great helm or a Viking helm, and should go right on most bascinets. It's butted rings, and you'll need to maintain it and watch for holes, but since a welded one will be $250 and a riveted one over $100, I'll take the $35 butted one. This aventail WILL fail over time, and it's heavy as sin, but it'll get you on the field. 


Failing that, you'll need an actual gorget. Your choices are leather or metal, and there are lots of options. You shouldn't need to spend more than $40 on a gorget. For leather, check out Torvaldr's dog collar gorgets: http://www.skaldic.com/neck-gorget.htm and for metal ones, try Stonekeep Armory: http://spiers-saddlery.stores.yahoo.net/2instgosila.html

Body Armor:


Now let's talk about where you're going to drop another chunk of change. We've already discussed how these personas all work well because they don't wear a lot of visible plate. But you're getting hit with clubs, so you want some protection - and kidney protection is required. The best way to satisfy the requirement for the Crusader and Viking personas, and to get some additional protection, is far and away Zoombang pads: http://www.zoombang.com/ These are the pads NFL players, among others, are wearing for protection. They're soft and pliable normally, but instantly stiffen when struck. Freaking amazing. They also weigh a bunch of nothing, compared to plate armor, which is a huge advantage on the field.


Zoombang has worked with the SCA to design a special set of pads for us, their Max Coverage line: http://www.zoombang.com/zoombang_shop_category.php?i=25 You're into them for $300 for shirt and shorts (skip the kneepads), but I cannot overstate how great they are. They ARE your armor. Put them on and go fight.


If you're doing the 14th century knight, you get to save a lot of money here, but you're going to carry more weight and pay in sweat, because you're building a coat of plates.


Coat of Plates:


BUY IT: nope, sorry. I don't know of anyone selling complete CoPs.


MAKE IT: first, decide if you want plastic or metal. It's hidden, so it doesn't matter, really. The plastic will be a little lighter, the metal will be a little more awesome. If you want plastic, go find a 55 gallon barrel and cut your plates from it. If you want metal, I HIGHLY suggest you throw your money at Jaime from Polar Bear Forge: http://www.polarbearforge.com/cop_kit.html and get the aluminum one, unless you plan to wear it for Dagorhir too (in which case get the galvanized). Making a CoP from stainless is kind of silly with those other two options available. It's $105 shipped for the aluminum kit. Now, you need a shell to hang all those plates on. The cheapest way is to go get a canvas drop cloth from Harbor Freight or Home Depot and make the shell from that. Maybe if you want to be fancy, you get some velvet or brocade for the outer layer. The kit comes with instructions how to make the shell, but even for a non-sewer, it's easy, basically a tabard with long wrap-around sides. You'll also need rivets. Aluminum roofing nails are often used, because they're cheap, won't rust and pien easily. If you want better, you can use copper rivets and burrs for plastic plates, or brass rivets for the aluminum kit (get those from McMaster Carr).


Next, elbow requirements. Actually, let's talk about knees at the same time, because we're doing them the same way.


Elbows and Knees:


Viking and Crusader: what you're going to do is go to a sporting goods store and buy some cheap volleyball kneepads and elbow pads. Then, buy some cops. Mild steel is fine, because we're going to paint them to inhibit rust, since they're hidden anyway. You need to contact Master Cet at Rough From The Hammer: https://www.facebook.com/Rough-from-the-Hammer-362237653794369/. A pair of elbows and a pair of knees should run you about $40, total. 

When you get them, drill four holes in them, punch eight holes in four pairs through your pads, and tie them on, like so:



14th Century Knight: these are done a little differently, since they're visible. What you want are called "soupcan" elbows and knees. I do not know why. You will get these from Rough From The Hammer, too: https://www.facebook.com/Rough-from-the-Hammer-362237653794369/

These you should buy stainless, so they're a bit more expensive; expect to pay perhaps $80 for knees and elbows. This is where you spend some of the $150 you saved by making your coat of plates rather than buying Zoombang pads. These get attached to you with a thin buckled strap that goes behind the knee. They can be additionally pointed (tied) to your pants with the installation of arming points, which are just little reinforced tabs with eyelets to tie them to.




Viking: armor here isn't really appropriate for a Viking, so essentially it doesn't matter what you do as long as you wear long sleeves over it. Some simple plate gutter bracers, hardened leather bracers, some leather bracers with metal or plastic splints, or even just some soccer shinpads strapped to your arm securely will all do the trick. Alternatively, lots of guys go with hardened leather bauzubands, which will also give you your minimum coverage for your elbows, so you find some bracers you like and they're $50, can skip spending the $25 on elbows and just spend $75 on some Bauzubands. It's another option.


Crusader: essentially the same as the Viking, but you can also get away with some exposed plate vambraces, just simple wrap-around metal ones, like:



14th Century Knight: Splinted vambraces are the way to go here. Something simple like:

DSC02358.JPG is fine. Splints are easily added to any pair of leather bracers, just buy some aluminum or steel barstock from Home Depot or Lowe's, hacksaw to size, drill holes and rivet on. If you want to throw money at this, buy some nice 14th century arms, $150ish a pair in mild steel from many armorers and you can skip buying elbows - but splinting leather bracers is cheaper.




The Viking and Crusader personas don't have a good way to do this correctly. Vikings didn't wear gauntlets, and Crusaders wore nothing, or mail mittens. 14th Century Knights wore gauntlets, but they were complex and expensive to reproduce. The SCA compromise for all three is the demi-gauntlet, paired with a shield basket or boss and a basket-hilted sword. A demi-gauntlet is essentially a cuff and the metacarpal plate (the back of the hand). If you are using a strap shield, you only need one of these for your sword hand. If you're using a punch shield, buy a pair.



BUY IT: You can get these at a lot of places, sometimes for as little as $35 a pair. Windrose Armory sells a kit for $42: http://www.windrosearmoury.com/zc/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=541, or a nice finished pair of aluminum ones for $75: http://www.windrosearmoury.com/zc/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=483 Many other options exist, shop around.


MAKE IT: Take a look at the Windrose kit and duplicate that in heavy leather or heavy plastic. Here's a pattern you can print: http://armourarchive.org/patterns/demigaunt/ and it doesn't get any easier than that.


Then get a cup, and you're done with your armor!


What's left is a sword and shield. Sword is easy, you get a stick of rattan from any any number of SCA vendors online (try Munitions Grade Arms), then find a basket hilt you like. A basket hilt will run you between $25 and $200 (shop around). 


The shield, first you decide if you want punch or strap shield. If you want a punch shield, you need a shield boss. Shop around for one - Windrose Armory's prices on shield bosses are reasonable. If you want a strap shield, you need a shield basket, and here's a $20 shield basket: http://stores.renstore.com/-strse-152/Shield-Basket/Detail.bok - although you can certainly pay more. As for the shield itself, the SCA standard is the aluminum shield. They're light and durable - but the price of aluminum has gone waaaaay up lately. I suggest you acquire a street sign and work it over with a jigsaw. If that's not your style, you can pay someone for a shield blank. It will run you between $75 and $100, generally, depending on shape:


Viking: round punch shield, maybe a combo strap/punch long teardrop shape for Vikings after about 1050. Round shields are flat, not domed. Teardrop can be slightly curved.


Crusader: Long teardrop, slightly curved, strap or punch.


14th Century Knight: strapped heater shields are most common.

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So, soon after I posted this, Zweihammer Armory stopped selling helmet kits. Fortunately, Jaime at Polar Bear Forge has a copy of this pattern, and is going to start selling laser cut Valsgarde 6 helmets.


If you're interested in getting going in SCA, it's still a good deal.


He's also producing them in aluminum, for LARP and SCA Youth Combat.

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Both Polarbear Forge and GreyCat Workshop offer the Valsgarde 6 kit now. Both are priced similarly to what Zweihammer charged. I'm looking into picking one of these up to use for Dag/Novitas.

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An aluminum one would be hot shit for KoN. Several players have helmets made of leather from this pattern that I made.

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GreyCat Workshop has been good on communication. He might be willing to put together an aluminum kit. He was willing to put together a 16 gauge kit for me, but I talked myself into sticking with a 14 gauge kit.

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