Sunday Survey: Wizard Armor

A while back on the Facebook 1E AD&D group, a discussion occurred that had me quite surprised by the direction it was going. Intrigued, I asked the following poll question:

This was surprising to me, because given the context, the top result ("elven chain only") is clearly counter to the 1E AD&D rules text. Of course, when we say multiclass fighter/magic-users in 1E, we're just talking about elves and half-elves (the only races allowed for that multiclass). Under Elves on PHB p. 16, it says that they can "operate freely with the benefits of armor, weapons, and magical items available to the classes the character is operating in", with the exception being if thief activities are occurring (so: plate mail and anything else is clearly on the menu for fighter/magic-users). Note that this contrasts with gnomes on the same page who are restricted to leather for any multiclass combination. Furthermore, as of the 1E AD&D PHB, "elven chain" wasn't even a thing yet named or defined; it didn't appear until the later DMG (p. 27, as "Chain, Elfin") which says merely that it's thin and light, with no special notes about spellcasting.

I think partly, the result of this poll can be explained by later edition's rules "bleeding" into the memory banks of the many gamers who played mix-and-match a lot with different edition products. It was the 2E AD&D PHB that established elven chain as a sufficient and necessary requirement for multiclass wizards to cast in armor: "A multi-classed wizard can freely combine the powers of the wizard with any other class allowed, although the wearing of armor is restricted. Elves wearing elven chain can cast spells in armor, as magic is part of the nature of elves." (Ch. 3).

Moreover, we can look at 1E adventure products by Gary Gygax and possibly detect an "implied ruling" in the same direction on this issue. Looking at the many drow fighter/magic-users throughout the D1-3 series, all of them are equipped with fine chain mail (not a single one in plate, to my knowledge). The 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set's Glossography has wandering encounter listings for that world, including "Elves, Patrol"; these are led by high-level elven fighter/magic-users with base AC 4 or 5 (chain, with or without shield). On the same page, "Elves, Knights" (p. 4) are principally fighter/clerics with better AC, but they have fighter/magic-user assistants again with AC 4 (chain & shield). So the consistency of this pattern may be another telling point.

Not initially knowing about the 2E AD&D rule or the apparent AD&D player consensus, I've done a similar thing in my OED house rules for OD&D for about a decade now; without reference to any special elven manufacture, multiclass fighter-wizards can cast spells in chain but not plate (also must have one hand free, no shield). Actually for quite some time I thought that was a semi-unique ruling; my surprise is that I've unintentionally matched how a lot of people elsewhere also play things.


  1. Althought in OD&D, it's written that elves can fight in magic armor. Therefore it's not without precedent. Having started with AD&D2nd, I did do exactly, in my head, what you say people did: I play OD&D and I interpreted magic armor as elven chain.

  2. One of the benefits of playing a wizard is that you don’t need to wear heavy armor. It means you can run away faster and carry more treasure.

    You wanna wear armor? Eh. Go ahead. Minor penalty (1 less AC) but a shield is out because it interferes with your somatics.

    OTOH multiclass as done in 1e and subsequent, you need armor. So it can’t be all that bad for spell casters in that cosmogony.

  3. I have become convinced that the original intent was for F/MUs to be able to cast in any armor. Here's what my research turned up:

    1) All the early modules that include NPC or pregened PC F/MUs have them in armor. N1 has two wearing chain, G1 has a F/MU in splint, S1 has two in chain again, and S4 has a F/MU/T in leather.

    2) Dragon #60 has a Sage Advice column written by Gary where a question is posed about the effect a shield spell would have on the AC of a F/MU wearing plate. Gary **accepts** the premise of the question without blinking, focusing on the fact that the shield spell won't actually do anything to improve the character's AC, since they are already better off.

    3) Dragon #103 includes an article called "Arcana Update, part 1" which was apparently an official errata/clarification document for the Unearthed Arcana. It includes the following: "With one major exception, multi-classed characters may use any armor and weapons available to any one of the classes in question without affecting the character's performance. The exception is a multi-classed thief's use of armor when attempting to perform thieving functions or acrobatic skills."

    4) The very earliest occasion when I see any mention of multi-classed characters being limited to the "worst case" armor availability according to their classes is in an article introducing half-dryads and half-satyrs in Dragon #109. The language there is broad, as if to say that this is always the case, for any multi-classed character, not just for these goofy new races. A letter published in #113 calls this out and Roger Moore, who wrote the article in question, basically has to admit that he kinda made that up and the rules don't really support it as written.

    Now, there is one piece of countervailing evidence - but just one! A Sage Advice answer in Dragon #64 - NOT written by Gary - indicates that a F/MU can NOT wear armor while casting spells. HOWEVER, it does so by incorrectly applying language found under the rules for DUAL classed characters to the case of MULTI classed characters. So I think we can discount that.

    F/MUs can cast in armor per RAW.

    1. Wow, thank you for putting in that research! There's a bunch of places I wouldn't have thought to check. Totally agreed the RAW are clearly any armor -- and fascinating to see there were a couple threads of intuition resisting that fairly early on. Great stuff!