Project 2050: Armor 4

So, it’s the future, and things are pretty sweet! We have here our future bedroll tucked under our future backpack. Inside we have our future trail rations stored neatly beside our future waterskin and future flint and steel. Oh yeah, look at all that future-ey-ness! Woo!

Oh, wait, all that stuff looks the same as the stuff from hundreds of years ago. Yeah, sure, there are nylon straps instead of leather ones. And yeah, the trail rations are in cellophane and have a shelf life measured in decades. However, in a macro sense, 90% of the day-to-day survival adventuring gear people use are functionally identical to the stuff that was used way back when. The materials have changed, sure, but the mechanics are the same.

So, it should come as no real surprise that the same is true when we discuss body armor. Yet, when I see other gaming systems try to reconcile ye olde armors with fancy new bulletproof ones, they always make the new ones staggeringly superior. Pretty much, if you sent a flak jacket back in time, one man could conquer an entire army of knights and archers because he’d be indestructible. Whole nations would bow to this god king as he established his dominance over all mortals with his supernaturally impervious carapace.

Or, maybe not.

In the above link, there’s a “forced entry unit” armor (which I’m assuming is like some kind of SWAT team) at 18 AC with a couple straight up damage resistances all for only 20 pounds. Compare that to the PHB’s listing of full plate which has 18 AC, no resistances, and a whopping 65 pounds of encumbrance. Uh, what? Surely, that can’t be right. Let’s hit the books.

One of the best things about working on Project 2050 is the fact that my Google history has already qualified me for a tier two homegrown terrorism watch list. However, during those clearance-compromising searches, I have turned up some super useful stuff. For example, here is a chart detailing the classifications of modern body armor. Neato.

So, let’s assume that the above forced entry unit (FEU) armor is the best that money can buy and would thus offer Type IV protection. With some handy-dandy math, I have figured that armor of that caliber will weigh about 26 pounds (8×2 for the ceramic plates and 10 for the bulletproof vest plate holder). Wait, that’s just a vest? Yup. 26 pounds gets you torso protection. Otherwise, you’re naked. Compare that to the description of plate armor:

Plate Plate consists of shaped, interlocking metal plates to cover the entire body. A suit of plate includes gauntlets, heavy leather boots, a visored helmet, and thick layers of padding underneath the armor. Buckles and straps distribute the weight over the body.

Man, head-to-toe in steel, or a couple of ceramic plates in a vest yield the same AC? That seems unlikely.

Of course, it may sound like I’m giving that guy a hard of a time up there, but it’s not really his fault. The problem is, he had to make modern armor be effective against the outlandish damage done by firearms in the DMG. We’ve already taken care of that, so let’s fix the armor.

Let’s start with AC, or “Armor Class” if you’re uncool. Sometimes, there’s a bit of a misconception as to what AC actually is. Here’s the PHB’s definition:

Your Armor Class (AC) represents how well your character avoids being wounded in battle.

Notice that the definition is not “your AC represents how impenetrable your armor is.” This is because armor is not the only factor affecting your AC. Hell, you get 10 of it for just being an average Joe. Pretty quick on your feet? Here’s some more. Wearing armor? That helps too.

It is an important distinction, so I’ll make it again: AC does not equal armor. They are two related, but separate concepts.

So, when we talk about modern armors, it’s key to realize that the superiority of the materials involved is not the only consideration. Of course, in reality, the efficacy of modern armor as compared to medieval armor is probably about the same. Yeah, that’s a bold-as-hell statement, but let me explain.

The PHB describes as “Breastplate” as a form of medium armor. According to this convenient site, we can see that some of these breastplates had thicknesses of up to a quarter inch. Seriously, a quarter inch of steel is nothing to screw around with. For all intents and purposes, nothing of the era will penetrate that. Heck, even the majority of bullets won’t get through it until you get up to rifle calibers, as the video below shows.

It’s important to note that these shots in the video were against flat steel plates, where armor is generally curved in order to deflect hits. As far as longswords are concerned, there’s not much hope of penetrating that. Luckily, an assailant doesn’t have to. There’s lots of meat left to hit that’s not covered by the breastplate.

So, when we describe the effectiveness of modern armor, we need to make sure that we take proper consideration of all aspects of AC. Yeah, a full Type IV vest and plates is going to cover your torso no problem, but much like an old breastplate, it only protects your torso.

As far as modern armors providing resistance to things like slashing damage from knives and swords? That’s an errant assertion. Steel plating provides just as much protection from a sword as modern armor. If the armor gets to do its job (IE a hit takes place on the armor itself), a breastplate will be just as effective as a bulletproof ceramic plate and vest against a sword. Basically, it ain’t getting through.

Finally, I want to make sure we’re clear on our goal here: balance. Modern armors need to be balanced within the 5e system, just like firearm damage ranges.

So, here’s our armor chart. Remember, this is tentative.

ArmorCostArmor Class (AC)StrengthStealthWeight
Light Armor
Bulletproof Clothing5 gp11 + DEX Modifier--8 lb.
Kevlar Vest45 gp12 + DEX Modifier--10 lb.
Medium Armor
Kevlar Full Body Armor50 gp13 + Dex modifier (max 2)--15 lb.
Bulletproof Vest & Plates400 gp14 + Dex Modifier (max 2)--25 lb.
Heavy Armor
Heavy Military Armor75 gp16STR 13Disadvantage50 lb.
Multi-Layered Anti-Ballistic System (M-LABS)1500 gp18STR 15Disadvantage65 lb.

Bulletproof Clothing Fancy clothes knit with nanotubes and whatnot. Lightweight and normal-looking, but also stops handgun rounds pretty well.

Kevlar Vest A basic vest of bulletproof material which provides excellent protection against handguns. As worn by standard beat cops. It can be hidden under loose fitting clothing, but it definitely makes you a bit bulkier.

Kevlar Full Body Armor Full-body coverage of the basic bulletproofing material plus a helmet. Great for stopping handgun rounds and even the occasional poorly-aimed rifle round. This is usually worn by special police forces.

Bulletproof Vest & Plates A sturdy bulletproof vest lined with tough ceramic plates. This armor can take a fairly high caliber bullet while keeping its owner’s meat relatively intact. This is what is worn by the typical infantry troop. Comes with a matching helmet!

Heavy Military Armor An upgrade to the bulletproof vest & plates, this provides better coverage over the rest of the body, including smaller plates for legs and arms.

Multi-Layered Anti-Ballistic System (M-LABS) When the military decides that they need you to be indestructible, they just park you in one spot and layer as much bulletproof clothing and armor on you as possible. This level of armoring is typically worn by those that are manning turrets on vehicles, which leaves them outside the protection of the vehicle.

As always, let us know what you think!

4 thoughts on “Project 2050: Armor

  • Jason Scott Gleason

    Historically speaking, armor had two functions: to absorb and deflect. Some armor was better at absorbing, while other armor was better at deflecting. Meanwhile, weapons had two functions: to convey force to the body and to penetrate the body. Some weapons were better at conveying force, while other weapons were better at penetrating.

    And, since first time Oog bashed Nog with a rock, and Nog draped himself in pelts to make Oog’s rock hurt less, we’ve been in an arms race. Weapons have come into and gone out of fashion as armor became more prevalent. If someone’s wearing lots of padding, why use a hammer when you could use a spear? But if someone’s decked out in Maximilian plate, why use a spear when you can use a Lucerne hammer?

    It’s the most sublime and consequential game of Rock, Paper, Scissors in human history.

    Modern weapons and armor are no different. Kevlar armor is specifically designed to stop bullets. It stops bullets about as well as maille stops swords and daggers. Well forged and annealed maille is practically impenetrable by any but the most direct of sword thrusts, although the impact of a boar spear could still leave you with internal bleeding. Fun times.The same goes for shooting someone in kevlar with a .45. Rifle rounds are a bit different, but the inclusion of ceramic plates helps protect the vital organs pretty spectacularly.

    D&D doesn’t bother modeling any of this. It just gives us a playable, fun mechanic that balls it all up into “You either take lethal damage or you don’t”. That’s fine. But I love what you’ve done here. You’ve recognized that modern weapons and armor are just iterations of the never ending race in small arms. There are still the same gaps in armor, still strengths vs. weaknesses, still issues with moving targets and glancing blows.

    Oh, and Kevlar? It doesn’t stop knives. A solid thrust from a fighting knife will allow plenty of lethal penetration–in fact, about as much as non-boiled leather, or thin hides.

    The slow blade penetrates the shield….

    • Matthew Stanford
      Matthew Stanford Post author

      Hey Jason, thanks for reading!

      …Yeah, I agree with everything you said. Just wanted to thank you for the support and acknowledge your awesome input.


  • Scott

    Glad to see someone taking modern body armor out of the “godly enchanted” range, and making it realistic.
    Everything else I’m thinking has been said (heck, even that’s been stated), just tossing in my two cents. Keep up the good, logical work!

  • Jason Scott Gleason

    What about the idea of certain weapon types making touch attacks against certain armor types?

    For example, one of the reasons why firearms were such a game changer is that they went right through most types of armor in the 15th century. The only thing effective against early ball-type firearms was the steel cuirass favored by the conquistadors; earlier plate armor was largely ineffective, and jacks-of-plates, maille, and quilted armor did nothing to stop early firearms. That’s why armor was abandoned as firearms became the rule, rather than the exception.

    In contemporary terms, ballistic cloth gives some protection from ball rounds. Rifle rounds, however, do a wonderful job of penetrating ballistic cloth and basic “bulletproof” vests. So do certain blade profiles of knives, for that matter. And while a bulletproof vest does a great job of ablating the force from a punch or kick, ballistic cloth (a couple layers of kevlar) isn’t as effective at stopping a mace or Louisville Slugger than a good old quilted jack from the early medieval period.

    So my advice would be to say that certain types of attack bypass certain types of armor, effectively making them a touch attack. A rifle would be a ranged touch attack against ballistic cloth or a bulletproof vest, but would be a regular attack against the level 4 body armor currently employed by the US military. Which is ceramic and metal plates sewn in between layers of ballistic cloth. Which, when you think about it, is exactly what a Jack of Plates was in the medieval period, just with different materials.

    I’d give each weapon a Bypass Armor trait. That would turn a regular attack into a touch attack. I’d break it down like this:

    Handguns–Bypass Medieval Armor
    Rifles–Bypass Medieval Armor, Bypass Soft Armor
    Knives and certain other piercing weapons–Bypass Soft Armor
    Bludgeoning weapons–Bypass Ballistic Cloth
    Slashing weapons, wide bladed piercing weapons, and shotguns with shot (not slug rounds)–no armor bypass trait

    Other than that, I’d keep the same changes you’ve already made. A bulletproof vest doesn’t cover any more than a cuirass, and modern level 4 body armor doesn’t cover any more than a chain hauberk with leggings and coif. And maille was almost 100% effective at stopping sword slashes–fighting men at the time would aim for areas not protected by maille, since they knew that swords would not penetrate.

    The parity that you’ve created is awesome. If you take into account the fact that certain types of weapons (rifles, for instance) blow right through certain types of armor, I’d say you nailed it.

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