Armor and ammo are interesting topics, so I figured this would be a fun Star Wars discussion.
I think there are basically three types of armor protection:
Deflection: The weapon in question simply glances off the armor, minimizing penetration (like a tank’s armor).
Diffusion: The weapon hits the armor and the energy is dispersed, reducing the harm done to the wearer.
Ablative/absorption: The armor takes the hit for the wearer, either losing some of its material or simply taking damage in order to protect the wearer (kevlar).
Many armors provide more than one sort of protection, or the protections provided vary depending on which part of the armor is hit.
Another important thing to discuss is how blasters or slugthrowers work. Partly my theories, partly actual information.
Blasters are energy particles, not lasers. The way a blaster bolt does damage is that when it hits a target, the bolt does one of three things, depending on the target:
Against a sufficiently soft target, it burns through with minimal compression, losing some energy.
Against a sufficiently hard or dense target, it compresses, burning through the material and travelling until it has compressed enough that the pressure causes it to lose integrity and expand rapidly into a micro-explosion.
Against some surfaces, the bolt cannot penetrate at all. Either it flattens out across the surface, leaving only minor surface burns, or it deflects off.
All three of these are really different degrees of the same sliding scale: The question is how much penetration the bolt can achieve before sufficient compression and pressure has been reached for the micro-explosion. If no penetration, then the energy skitters across the exterior of the target. If too much penetration, it doesn’t explode at all, and just continues on through the other side, having lost energy from the resistance. Eventually, given a sufficient lack of resistance, it will lose enough energy that the bolt simply dissipates.
Slugthrowers work on similar principles, but with a different effect. Bullets deal damage by fragmenting or expanding and continuing to travel through the target. Hollow-point ammunition expands rapidly with the intention that it will spread out and deal more damage, but lose energy quickly enough that it doesn’t exit the target’s body. Armor-piercing ammunition expands much more slowly and does not fragment as easily, with the intention that it will get through the armor before expanding and then do more damage to the soft target behind the armor.
The biggest difference between blasters and slugthrowers is that the former relies on burning through the target to generate penetration, whereas the latter relies on kinetic energy.
A blaster gets its power from the size, heat, and cohesion of the bolt. A long, hotter, more cohesive bolt will have more penetration power because it will burn through more material before it compresses, it will have more explosive power because the length of the bolt feeds more energy into the micro-explosion, and it will be less likely to lose energy prematurely (and thus it will not lower the effectiveness of the other two).
A slugthrower gets its power from the size and speed of the bullet. A larger, faster bullet will deliver more kinetic energy on impact. However, that isn’t the whole story. Hardness and shape are also very important for determining how much penetration is achieved and penetration is very important for figuring out just how much damage you do. Sure your grizzly-hunting pistol will deliver a ton of kinetic energy, but if you can’t get through the target’s armor, you don’t do more than just punch him really hard. If you can get through his armor with a small, fast round that has the proper hardness and shape, you’ll do much more actual damage. Blasters lack these second two qualities, which makes them much simpler.
Okay, now to get on to how armor works in Star Wars:
Heavy Clothing: (Thick, durable clothing. Textiles with no particular technology.)
Slugthrowers: It ain’t gonna do much, but it’ll slow the bullet down just a little.
Blasters: Likewise, it eats up some of the bolt’s energy, lowering the penetration before it detonates, which reduces how much vital damage it will do. Not by much though.
Conclusion: This is entirely ablative/absorption.
Padded armor: (Soft textile materials like kevlar, sometimes with energy-dispersing mesh thrown in for good measure.)
Slugthrowers: It slows down the bullet, and, depending on the material, may be able to catch it, akin to how kevlar operates.
Blasters: The bolt has to burn through the padding first before reaching the flesh. Weaker bolts might “detonate” while still in the armor, protecting the wearer from the bulk of the blast. Stronger bolts will see their penetration and energy reduced, and would deal less damage as a result. Some may also include energy-dispersing materials, conducting some of the energy away from the bolt and the body and thus reducing its effectiveness further than just ablation.
Conclusion: This is usually pure ablative/absorption protection. The armor sacrifices itself to protect you by slowing the ammunition and reducing its energy. As mentioned, sometimes you can through in some diffusion where blasters are concerned.
Armored Clothing: (The armor varies, but typically includes a mix of hard plates and strong material, often with an energy dispersing mesh.)
Slugthrowers: The hard plates block and deflect bullets, while the strong material would operate like kevlar, slowing down or catching the bullet to reduce how much damage it does to the wearer.
Blasters: The hard plates can deflect or diffuse some blaster bolts, while the strong material and energy-dispersing mesh absorb the energy, reducing the bolt’s effectiveness.
Conclusion: Mostly ablative/absorption, but parts of the armor have deflection (Defense) and diffusion qualities. Depending on the angle of the hit and the power behind the hit, the attack may punch straight through the deflection.
Laminate Armor: (Hard plastoid-alloy plates over a body glove, sometimes with various coatings or treatments)
Slugthrowers: Very, very hard to get through laminate armor with a bullet that isn’t particularly large, armor-piercing, or fast. Not especially focused on deflecting these rounds, usually stopping them by simply being in the way and too tough to go through.
Blasters: Laminate armor has a couple ways of reducing the effectiveness of blaster bolts. Punching through the armor itself is difficult as it eats up the bolt’s energy and can be sufficiently hard as to cause premature compression, but it also can diffuse the bolt. Some laminate armor can spread the heat of a blaster bolt across the wearer’s body, which mean they have expansive burns where they were hit by a blaster, but minimized explosion and penetration. So it hurts, but you survived.
Conclusion: Mostly ablative and diffusive. Almost purely ablative against slugthrowers, but a good mix of the two against blaster weaponry.
Heavy Battle Armor: (Metal alloys, plastoid, ceramics)
Slugthrowers: Most of the time, it’ll stop slugthrower rounds simply by being too tough for them to penetrate. However, because of the hardness of the materials, it can often deflect them as well.
Blasters: Diffusion, ablation, and deflection are all present here. Like laminate, it can diffuse the energy and spread it out across the wearer’s body, but it can also deflect the bolt entirely if it hits the right spot or at the right angle. A direct hit can still punch through, but a light enough weapon might just lightly punch the wearer and deal no real damage.
Exotic materials: (Cortosis and Beskar)
Slugthrowers: These metals are very tough, and can stop most bullets if they are thick enough.
Blasters: Cortosis and Beskar are both very energy resistant, and nearly impossible for blasters to penetrate given their nature. Hits at some angles will likely be deflected, while direct hits will likely punch the wearer without doing an real damage, beyond the kinetic impact, which is spread out across the armor. Usually, a direct hit would diffuse, skittering across the surface rather than compressing.
I think it would be cool to come up with a system for classifying blasters and armor on power level, type of protection, etc. Of course not to make a game mechanical system for it, but just a way of thinking about the stuff.
Blasters have a rating 1-5.
Holdout blasters are 1, pistols and heavy pistols are 2, rifles and carbines are 3, heavy rifles and light repeating blasters are 4, and heavy repeating blasters are 5.
Then you could measure armor by saying what rating it can take before penetration, and then what sort of protection it gives.
Class d is diffusion, ablative is c, deflection is b, and a combination of ablative or diffusion and deflection is a. If it has all three, then it’s aa.
So if padded armor protects against up to class 1 and is purely ablative protection, then it’s class 1c. If heavy battle armor protects against up to class 3 and has ablative, diffusive, and deflection protection, it would be class 3aa.
In closing, I am long-winded, overly geeky, and have boring Saturdays. Enjoy! ^_^
Hopefully some of you can get past this wall of text and engage in some interesting conversation on the topic, as I find this to be an intriguing and complex topic.