Shadowrun: Modifying Armor

   Over at The Virtual Crypt, one of the current Shadowrun players proposed a set of armor quality grades, to account for the occasional pieces of grossly out-of-date equipment or for upper-end high-tech experimental gear. That proposal modified the effect of the armor on the user’s combat pool, allowing upper-level armor to have less of an impact compared to a character’s quickness, while more primitive stuff would (presumably, despite what I suspect was a mathematical oversight) have a greater impact.

   That’s not at all a bad idea – although, I, personally, tend to assume that the armor ratings are not at all linear. For example, under the standard layering rules, if you wear two identical pieces of armor, the second one only counts at half-value, rounded down, as far as protecting you goes – although all the armor you wear counts at full value when considering penalties. If you layer three or more pieces, only the best two count for anything at all in the way of protection – although you may also gain modifiers for a (single) Shield and set of protective headgear.  Adding +20% to the protection offered involves considerably more than adding +20% to the thickness and weight of the armor, which is why the high-end armors are already custom-tailored and made of highly-advanced materials.

   Ergo, the top-end, custom-fitted, cutting-edge-materials variants of common armors must offer a relatively limited amount of additional protection, both because of that non-linear scaling, because you cannot practically armor a human being into invulnerability – eventually the transmitted impact will start squashing you against your own armor – and because allowing a character to become nigh-invulnerable simply by buying more expensive armor is detrimental to the game. It’s the old defense problem: you have to protect everywhere, but attacks can be concentrated on a particular spot.

   Besides, Shadowrun seems to assume both (1) quite a lot of competition among manufacturers (since, with computer-controlled micro-machine systems individuals can set up their own assembly lines relatively cheaply), and (2) that quite a few items – firearms and personal body armor among them – are fairly mature technologies barring major technological breakthroughs.

   Still, there’s nothing wrong with offering a bonus or reducing the penalties for highly advanced or extremely expensive items, or for penalizing more primitive ones (although primitive armor is unlikely to come into play very often). Ergo, here are some modifiers:

Technology level armor modifiers:

  • Primitive Armor (Bamboo, Rawhide, Leather, Laminated Cloth, Wood, etc): -2/-1.
  • Medieval Armor (Chainmail, Platemail, Scalemail, Laminated Leather, Etc): -1/-1
  • Industrial-Age Armor (Flak Jacket, Early Bulletproof Vests): -1/-0
  • Modern Armor: No modifiers. This covers pretty much all current armor except for leathers, which already include the appropriate modifiers.

   The modifiers reduce the protective value for armor of similar bulk and encumbrance to a minimum of zero, but the base values are still used for calculating penalties.

Other common items of armor include:

  • Headware: Padded Cap / Hood; +0/+1, Armored Hat / Scarf; +1/+1, Motorcycle / Security Helmet; +1/+2, Light Military Helmet; +2/+2, Heavy Military Helmet: +2/3.
  • Shields: Small +1/2, Large +2/3.

Further Armor Modifiers:

  • Built-In Gadgets: Common items include helmet-based communications and sensory-enhancement gear, various instruments, air filtration or tank-based respirators, grapple-guns, a communications harness (links several worn items to a datajack for cybernetic control), escape devices (ranging from simple plastic-restraint melters on through some very elaborate systems indeed), buoyancy adjusters, autoinjectiors, medical monitors, underwater maneuvering adaptions, massaging liners (you can stay still for a long time and remain fairly comfortable), water seals, and various weapons. In general, if you have it built in initially, the costs are about standard. If you add it afterwards, you’ll have to either pay extra or do the adaption work yourself.
  • Camouflage: An appropriate camouflage pattern provides a +4 bonus against detection where relevant, but may be conspicuous otherwise. Note that armor can mount electronic (2500 NY), thermal (2000 NY), and visual camouflage (free if fixed, +500 NY for chameleon cloth and a selection).
  • Dikoted: +1/+1. Dikote can only be applied to hard-surfaced armor or armor with internal plates. It is not, however, considered when calculating combat pool penalties. Unfortunately, dikoting a suit of armor normally costs around 200,000 NY.
  • Ensemble: If your armor is designed in multiple pieces, and you’re only wearing part of it, it will be less protective. Hopefully this is not news.
  • Expensive: +1/+1. This armor is perfectly fitted, made of the best possible materials, etcetera. This modifier is not considered when calculating combat pool penalties. Unfortunately, this costs multiplies the base cost by a factor of fifty to one hundred times.
  • Hardened: This armor totally deflects attacks with a remaining power of “0” and is proof against drug darts and such. It’s also quite conspicuous, incorporates obvious hardened plates, and cannot be layered.
  • Resistant: Armor with this modifier reduces the power of some form of special attack better than normal. +200 NY per point of resistance. No single suit of armor can support more than its (total impact and ballistic armor ratings) points of resistance. Common forms of special attack include chemicals, electricity, fire, cold, and light (lasers).
  • Thermal: +500 NY to remain comfortable in hot or cold weather. This should probably just be counted as a built-in gadget, but it’s popular enough to break out by itself.

   According to the Cannon Companion, “Form-Fitting Body Armor” adds protection when layered normally, but does not count when calculating penalties to the user’s combat pool (apparently it does count when calculating target number penalties). A 4/1 full suit is the best available. Given that this unique exception to the basic rules pretty much amounts to simply announcing that “any character who isn’t currently layering armor and who has a few thousand NY available gets a +2/0 armor bonus in exchange for a target number penalty”, it is not currently available. When everyone finishes up their characters I may change my mind however. It depends on just how big the armor-level differences are and what the penalties look like.

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