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.
|Armor||Cost||Armor Class (AC)||Strength||Stealth||Weight|
|Bulletproof Clothing||5 gp||11 + DEX Modifier||-||-||8 lb.|
|Kevlar Vest||45 gp||12 + DEX Modifier||-||-||10 lb.|
|Kevlar Full Body Armor||50 gp||13 + Dex modifier (max 2)||-||-||15 lb.|
|Bulletproof Vest & Plates||400 gp||14 + Dex Modifier (max 2)||-||-||25 lb.|
|Heavy Military Armor||75 gp||16||STR 13||Disadvantage||50 lb.|
|Multi-Layered Anti-Ballistic System (M-LABS)||1500 gp||18||STR 15||Disadvantage||65 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!