The suit's joints worked with marvelous fluidity, as if they moved on jewel bearings like a fine watch; the articulated lanes that made up the back and breast gave him nearly as much flexibility as mail, with far better protection. It was a bit lighter, too, though even hotter than chain links since there was no movement of air through it.
— S M Stirling, The High King of Montival
The Man-at-Arms is the ultimate lancer cavalry unit. Armed with a long, heavy wooden lance and armour the likes of Europe had never seen before, almost nothing but the most resolute of enemies can resist the charge of these men-at-arms on the field. These cavalry units are this effective against many types of foes, although some units such as medium infantry can pose problems. Equally, noble knights, despite being equipped with the best armour and horses available, are liable of being unhorsed with fatal consequences by an organised line of pikes.
Towards the 16th century, Europe experienced what could best be described as a "mini-Industrial Revolution" in which after almost a hiatus of 1,000 years, the production of steel sheets was regained by European societies. Whether this was due to introduction of new methods from Asia or from rediscovery of old methods remains to be discovered, but one thing is certain: it led to the improvement of personal armour. The first effect of this was an increase in the armour of heavy cavalry: unlike chain armour, plate armour gave better protection against slashing blows, and could with luck turn a few thrusts. This made knights on horseback even more impervious to weapons, albeit the weight of the armour meant that only mounted units could use it over extended periods of time. Yet by this time new tactics were rendering armoured cavalry obsolete: the use of disciplined ranks of spears as well as judicious use of gunpowder weapons meant that the glorious charges of knights in war was soon to become a thing of the past.
At the same time too, Europe was also moving away from the feudal system. Military command would no longer be delegated to landowners of questionable loyalty, but would be directly under the thumb of a new class of aristocrats. True, they were indeed still feudal nobles but they were slowly being woven into the fabric of a new centralised state. The role of heavy cavalry reflected this too, as being no longer the preserve of the highest-ranking nobles, but was also recruiting from the commoners and the yeomen to make up for a shortfall in manpower, especially after the Black Death of the mid-14th century.
Nevertheless, some nations can and still retain their heavy cavalry traditions. Due to their contact with the Mongols, the Turks, Russians and Poles continue to maintain their cavalry traditions, as do the condottieri of central Italy, of which the Papal States have snagged a pocket to enforce its rule. In France, the king is desperate to centralise his rule and so has created a corps of professional soldiers, drawn from the common citizenry, to fight nevertheless in the same style and mannner as the nobility do on horseback, in an attempt to sideline the influence of treacherous nobles in the military. New armour-making technologies too have emerged in northern Italy and Southern Germany too, benefitting the knights of the Holy Roman Empire. Those who take on the German states will notice that their heavy cavalry are speedier in the attack, and are also capable of greather agility on the battlefield due to these new production techniques.
- Heavy cavalry, with powerful attack, exceptional armour, but far more limited mobility compared to more agile medium cavalry or horse archers.
- Shiny Happy People Holding Spears — Men at Arms are fairly slow, but still fast enough to chase and hunt down lightly infantry, and also are the bane of light or medium cavalry. Their main weakness is in being swarmed — or being force-fed into a grinder of spearwalls, such as those at Kortrijk.
- Elmetti — In Italy, Italian robber barons have taken over the entire Romagna. Disreputable, they nevertheless represent the finest fighting forces on horseback, but are also equally treacherous, demanding sums akin to highway robbery from potential employers.
- Gendarme — Arguably the best heavy cavalry unit of Rise of Kings, the Gendarme is a unique French unit and has better speed and a more destructive attack.