Friday, January 13, 2012

No Armor in Space

Just a quick note as Monday's a holiday (which means a long weekend for me, i.e. one in which I spend the whole time at home and don't get any writing accomplished) since I have other things I need to pound out on Ye Old Keyboard before I leave for the day:

Armor in space games is kind of ridiculous.

At least in Heroic Space Opera of the Cinematic Variety. How many space heroes on the screen actually wear any kind of armor? Buck Rogers? Flash Gordon? The Star Wars crew? Starfleet Federation officers?

No, no...even when Luke and Han don stormtrooper outfits, it's quickly removed at the first breather they get on the Death Star. Why?

Well, the cinematic reason is: so the audience can see the actors.

But what's the "justified" reason? It must be that the disadvantages outweigh gain, right? Or something like that, anyway.

Most space opera RPGs include some sort of personal body armor, even the non-military ones (and to be clear, I'm not saying it ain't appropriate for the Warhammer 40K universe...but that's a wargame, after all, not really cinematic heroic space opera...) including Star Wars (all editions), Traveller, Stars Without Number...hell, even Star Frontiers had "skeinsuits" and albedo armor. Though how a dralasite would squeeze into such stuff is a little tough to visualize...

Anyway, I'm not sure yet exactly how to model this in my space opera game, but I've decided that it's about time I do. And MY game didn't have anything besides light and heavy armor anyway! But I think I'm going to make armor

a) not very useful (it already has 0 value in protecting against energy weapons; see Exhibit A: Stormtroopers)
b) requiring a skill or class-based ability to use effectively (Zoe in Firefly wears a bullet-proof vest under her flannel, but she's a warrior archetype. You don't see the others sporting that kind of gear).

Okay, just an update on what I'm thinking back to the rest of my day. Cheers!
: )


  1. In Starship Troopers (the book) armor served a few purposes. It was a re-entry vehicle, a jet powered mode of transport, a weapons frame, and offered protection from nuclear blasts. I'm sure it offered some protection from fisticuffs with the Bugs. It was also a spacesuit, allowing the wearer to survive on airless planets.

    I guess it's more like 40K Marine armor but it WAS a major part of the MI's identity and provided function to their fashion.

    This was reflected in the ST cartoon.

    The movie sucked.

  2. Armor is worn. By soldiers and by cops. In most space RPGs that you're referencing the players aren't soldiers or cops. They're civies (possibly retired soldiers/cops). Civilians don't go walking around in armor. It's hard to pee, move, etc. and the authorities tend to hassle you lots.

  3. It's probably easy to fix.

    In D&D fighters can buy plate armour, and the plate armour gives them a certain AC. But I don't think it would be very different if you just said that being a Fighter gives you that AC.

    It doesn't really matter mechanically if the AC is actual armour, or your ability to dodge, or luck, or something else (and D&D often fudges it and says it's all those things anyway).

  4. On another technical note, armor may not protect against a direct beam weapon hit, but it may offer protection from fragments, concussion and environmental factors (think nerve gas). It is claimed that Stormtrooper armor (in expanded universe material) that Stormtrooper armor will stop slug projectiles and bladed weapons. Also, we never saw it in any of the movies, but how do we know the Stormtroopers who took a round didn't take a trip to sick bay and get patched up? It's possible the armor kept some of them from being killed by ablating the effect of the beam and he simply passed out from kinetic force, blunt trauma, heat or some kind of nervous system disruption like a taser.

    I know you like to go by what you see, but these are just some possibilities.

    In the Star Wars movies the heroes were not normal everyday people. They were dealing with the Stormtroopers in much more aggressive situations than the average civvie. Your common street schlub may see the armor and think twice about speeding in a school zone or causing trouble at the local recruiting post. Armor offers a morale boost to the wearer and can be a psychological deterrent to those who may be thinking of attacking.

  5. @ Pavo: See I consider Starship Troopers "military fiction" not "heroic space opera." Space opera protagonists don't use armor.

    @ Norman: Right, they're not why need armor?

    @ Anarchist: My game has a different attack system than "roll to hit versus AC," so that's kind of a moot point. I'm just talking about the inclusion of armor (as effective gear/equipment) in general.

    @ Pavo: Yeah, um...from a designer/GM point-o-view I don't care if stormtroopers are recovering in a hospital or not. They get shot, they go down.

    Heroes in Star Wars are constantly getting into firefights and they don't bother wearing armor. That tells me it's completely unnecessary (except as a possible DISGUISE...see the original film).

    ; )

  6. In your high tech milieu you can make the armor look like clothing. Better armor would cost more. Protection for the un-armored head or hands can be done by personal force fields (see Frank Herbert's Dune).

    For the longest time armor was useless so we think it looks outdated. But as a previous commenter has said, modern cops and soldiers do indeed wear body armor. If weapons technology advances then someone will always be trying to figure out a way to defend against it.

    Weapons usually have to stay one step ahead of armor's capability, otherwise you get futuristic battles where soldiers slug it out with melee weapons (see Joe Haldemen's The Forever War).

  7. Maybe they don't wear armor because they are the heroes so they will never be killed unless it serves to advance the plot? Leia took a blaster hit in the arm and survived. She should have lost her arm if you ask me.

  8. @ Pavo;

    Oh I agree (that protagonists can survive wounds because they're integral to the plot); and unlike with some games I think it's right and appropriate to model this in a space opera RPG; as opposed to, say, a military RPG, in which PCs should be dropping like flies left and right (see Aliens or Starship Troopers). For the LATTER games, armor is totally appropriate...but most space RPGs bill themselves as 'heroic' space opera types, not military (Albedo PC is an exception)...and yet they still make armor an integral part of play!

  9. @JB:

    Maybe just because that's how D&D does it.

    The 'Mystery Men' superhero RPG did the same thing. I thought that D&D Monks were probably a better basis for superheroes than D&D Fighters, in that their abilities are innate rather than a function of equipment and training, but the designer didn't agree.