Monday, August 4, 2014

Arms & Armor at the Met

I finally got to spend some time in the Arms and Armor exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC yesterday.

I've been the museum before, but it was always with folks or with time limits that made it impossible to linger on the arms and armor section.

Some things I noted:

- the swords, at least the medieval/late medieval ones, ranged from 2 lbs 2 oz up to 3+ pounds for one handers, 3 pounds 7 ounces all the way to 6 pounds+ for hand-and-a-half swords and greatswords. Since GURPS Basic Set pegs swords at 3 pounds (broadsword), 5 pounds (bastard sword), and 7 pounds (greatsword), and since GURPS Low-Tech confirms this is roughly 2/3 sword and 1/3 sheath and furniture, the swords made the Basic Set seem pretty reasonable. RAW GURPS puts that swords sans sheaths at 2, 3.3, and 4.6 pounds, which compared the ones there were a little light, about right, and a little light. I'm sure larger collections would provide a much better same size, but still.

This one made the basic set seem generous.

It still makes Swords & Wizardry and 1st edition AD&D incredibly harsh though.

- The biggest greatsword, which I immediately though of Vryce wielding, was over 6 lbs. and had a handle in excess of 12". One of the hand-and-a-half swords - which weight in close to 4 pounds - would have come up to my armpit with the tip on the floor. That's hockey stick height for street hockey.

- they had a nice selection of Japanese war arrows, including narrow-tipped ones for armor pieces and wide cutting heads, too. They also have ceremonial arrows for display, which are exquisite but were about as useful in combat as the Faberge eggs they have up on the third floor.

- generally, maces and axes are generally much smaller than you'd probably expect, especially if you come at them from the fantasy art angle. Sadly they didn't put weights on them.

- the polearms they have are mostly later and ceremonial, but still cool. Funniest thing I heard while looking at them? "Did they use them for jousting?" "It doesn't say. I think so." Yeah, the standard jousting halberd is pretty awesome.

- they have a nice rapier selection. Early rapiers, especially, look like they'd cut extremely well for all that they are designed for stabbing in the main. The smallswords really go the other way - smaller, shorter, and stiff and edgeless. Generally, though, looking at the swords classified as rapiers, the whole "I'd stab him through the chinks in his plate armor with my needle-like rapier" thing seems silly, especially seeing how tiny actual eye slits are.

- armor is lighter than most early RPGs (GURPS included) makes it. Helmets, though, are pretty hefty. One was in excess of 10 pounds. Nicely, most of the suits list weights to the ounce or gram.

- they have a lot of horse armor, including my favorite stuff - spiked bridles and chain reins for horses. No screwing around with "I grab the horse's gear and make him throw the rider!" when it's covered in spikes.

All it all, it was nice to finally get to see what they have on display. I've seen collections before, but not so much, so close, and labeled in English along with weights. I'd love to see more. I've seen a lot of swords in Japan (including the official sword museum) so I didn't spend much time on the swords they have . . . although they have a very early to and some swords either imported from or copied from China . . . and an early Japanese sword that wasn't cut down later as shorter swords came into vogue. I also managed to find lots of Japanese weapons from the Boshin War on display in Japan. But the European stuff I find fascinating yet hard to actually get up close with.


  1. I remember being surprised at how _small_ the sword museum in Tokyo was.

    1. Shorter swords was a fashion thing in the later Edo period, so they cut down most of the originals and made smaller ones.

      Looking at late katana and late wakizashi is like looking at dress smallswords - they're weapons, but fashion dictated their look because they were much more widely used as fashion accessories than for killing.

      Plus, "preserve these for later generations in their original state" wasn't much of a priority. You see the same in general - the dress, decorative, and fashionable weapons survive, and only luck preserves the battle weaponry.

    2. Oh wait, you said the museum was small.

      Yeah, it's not big. One large room.

      Annoyingly, there is a private sword dealer around the corner with a similar sign out, and my friend and I wandered into his shop and were very disappointed. It's a small shop even by Tokyo standards. The main museum would have been closed anyway, it was Golden Week, but still.

  2. Were you comparing Basic Set weights or Low Tech, for the armor?

    1. Basic Set, although there were plenty of steel full helmets that make Low-Tech look extremely generous!

    2. I think that despite endless and passionate forum arguments, this is a good case for "all of the weights, from heavy to light, are likely not out-of-the-park stupid for GURPS." What this means is that defaulting/adopting a spectrum of weight and protective value, based on item HT, DR, and weight/HP is entirely reasonable, and so long as it's self-consistent, will work just fine for the game, in broad-brush strokes.

    3. The basic set ones are pretty high-end, though, in general.

      I'd love a larger sample, and more detail on what they counted in the listed weights on the displayed figures. Nevermind many of those suits lacked back-of-the-leg and seat-of-the-pants protection, since you'd mostly be on horseback or in formation. DFers, notably, get backstabbed a lot, so that's not an option. :)

  3. One of my favorite collections to visit; last year's member guide had an in depth review of the chief collecting armorer and the work that went into restoration, in particular, my all-time favorite suit of brass embellished brigandine half-plate.



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