Discussion: How Blasters and Armor Work in Star Wars

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.

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On one hand, I enjoyed your thorough compilation of different ammo/armor types. You really did great job on explaining it interestingly and I like these explanations.
On the other hand I have flashbacks of the armor discussion on the old forums. I hope it doesn’t derail that way :smiley:


Haha, that was my first thought. It was like I walked into a room and saw a rancor and promptly turned around waving my hands in the air. “Nope. Nope. Nuh-uh”


Where is the section on explosives/concussion weapons like many grenades, artillery, missiles, and similar weapons that use a combination of energy/heat and compressive force to do damage to armor; that doesn’t fall under the description of “blaster” or “slug thrower” as outlined in the OP?

I also have questions about armor effectiveness in the RPG vs. armor effectiveness in the movies/tv shows, but I have a bad feeling that would fall under the “armor discussion on the old forums”, and completely derial this thread, so I shouldn’t mention it? ;)


I don’t know enough about kabooms. :P
This was more about penetration and damage models for “standard” weapons.

However, challenge accepted. I’ll make a post analyzing the different sorts of grenades based on what (relatively little) I know.

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No no, that’s fine. Armor effectiveness in the movies is basically “as works for the plot” but it’s worth noting that we don’t see it in action very much, and just because a stormtrooper or clone trooper goes down doesn’t mean he’s dead.

Please accept the challenge as I wanted to respond to your OP, but I felt like 1/3 of the information was missing. :)

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In real life there is a difference between ballistic protection vs. explosive protection. Bomb suits worn by EOD/ Bomb Technicians protect from fragmentation, thermal (fire) and explosive shockwave. Their not design to protect from ballistics. But I caution for game purposes there should be no difference. I believe it will be too complicated.


In Star Wars, grenades have three basic types of damage:
Fragmentation: The grenade deals damage by sending shards of metal from the casing shredding through targets.
Concussion: The grenade deals damage by the force of the detonation and resultant blast wave.
Incineration: The grenade’s detonation creates a lot of heat, igniting flammable material or even outright incinerating targets if they are close enough.

Armor deals with these sources of damage in different ways:
Deflection: The effect is physically stopped by the armor.
Diffusion: The energy of the effect 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.
Shock Absorption: A variant of ablative/absorption, the armor protects the wearer from blast waves by insulating vulnerable body parts and slowing down the shock waves that pass through.

Each of these are a little bit different than in the first post, and some armors that provide one type of protection against “gun” weapons may have a different type of protection against grenades.

First, let’s discuss grenade damage in more detail:
Frag grenades deal damage in a similar way to slugthrowers, through kinetic force delivered by fast-moving matter, in this case shards of metal from the grenade’s casing.
Secondarily, they deal some minor damage from the shockwave generated by the detonation, but this is not its main method of damage.
This is the simplest and most common sort of grenade.

Concussion grenades deal damage in a completely new way when compared to the first post, since it is based entirely on the shockwave. Basically, when the grenade explodes, the blast compresses the air in the direction in which it is moving, delivering a “punch” to anything that blocks the path of the compressed air as it moves away from the blast zone.
This mostly causes internal damage, through brain or pulmonary (lung) trauma.

Incendiary/thermal grenades deal damage through heat. If you are close enough to the blast or it’s powerful enough (thermal detonators, looking at you), you’re incinerated in an instant. Otherwise, you’ll likely be on fire. For a while.
The thing is, the fire doesn’t usually come from the explosion, it comes from chemicals ignited by the detonation. The burning gel gloms onto anything it hits and keeps burning until it’s burnt out, often igniting flammable materials.
Thermal Detonators are so effective that I’m not going to mention them often. In-game, they have Breach, meaning that they ignore armor anyway.

Okay, now to get on to how Star Wars armor defends against this:

Heavy Clothing: (Thick, durable clothing. Textiles with no particular technology.)
Fragmentation: It ain’t gonna do much, but it’ll slow some shards down just a little.
Concussion: Practically nothing. It provides next to no protection.
Incendiary: If anything, it will make it worse. Unless it is coated with fire retardant chemicals, it will usually be very flammable. Now you not only have burning gel on you, but your clothes themselves are on fire. You might (might) be better off naked, but you’re screwed either way. Stay away from napalm.
Conclusion: Virtually no protection, but what protection it provides is in the form of ablative/absorption.

Padded Armor: (Soft textile materials like kevlar, sometimes with energy-dispersing mesh thrown in for good measure.)
Fragmentation: It slows down the shrapnel, and, depending on the material, may be able to catch it, akin to how kevlar operates.
Concussion: It provides some basic protection against concussive blasts, since the armor’s material will compress when put under enough pressure, and often includes a helmet which would protect the wearer’s head.
Shock absorption.
Incendiary: It provides some basic protection at first because it shields the wearer’s skin and parts of the face from the gel, but has the same failings as heavy clothing since it itself is flammable (though this can be somewhat mitigated with flame-retardant coatings).
Some deflection.
Conclusion: Provides basic protection against the most common grenades, but is not a good choice when going into grenade-heavy environments.

Armored Clothing: (The armor varies, but typically includes a mix of hard plates and strong material, often with an energy dispersing mesh.)
Fragmentation: The hard plates block and deflect shrapnel, while the strong material would operate like kevlar, slowing down or catching the shrapnel to reduce how much damage it does to the wearer.
Mostly ablative/absorption, but some parts of the armor provide deflection.
Concussion: Armored clothing would provide fairly good protection against pulmonary trauma, since it is often equipped with gel or ceramic plates close to the torso, but the head is left vulnerable in most cases. Additionally, the torso protection may be lacking in some cases.
The gel inserts would absorb the shock wave, while ceramic plates would help block the shockwave (which does its damage by passing through the body–not just “punching” it).
Shock absorption and deflection.
Incendiary: Armored clothing is not well-equipped against incendiary, as the material is, again, flammable. Like padded armor, it provides some initial protection by preventing direct contact with skin.
Conclusion: Provides some moderate protection against grenades, but only has a bare competency.

Laminate Armor: (Hard plastoid-alloy plates over a body glove, sometimes with various coatings or treatments)
Fragmentation: It provides excellent shrapnel protection, usually stopping them by simply being in the way and too tough to go through. However, shrapnel can bypass these defenses by working itself into the armor’s chinks. Because of shrapnel’s scattershot approach, if the wearer is close enough to the blast, he will likely receive shrapnel wounds in the weak spots of his armor.
Purely ablative/absorption.
Concussion: It provides decent protection from shockwaves because the initial armor plate slows down the shockwave dramatically (although the wearer still gets “punched”), and the bodyglove provides some minor additional shock absorption.
Mostly diffusion, but some minor shock absorption.
Incendiary: Laminate armor fares much better against incendiary for three reasons: 1. It isn’t flammable and provides almost full-body protection, preventing direct skin contact. 2. It can easily be reinforced with flame-retardant coatings. 3. Laminate armor is often already designed to wick away heat, spreading it across the wearer’s body rater than concentrating it in one place, designed to counter blast bolts. Instead of localized extreme burns, you’re more likely to have minor burns spread across a larger area.
The drawback is a flammable bodyglove, but that is more manageable since so much of it is protected by the armor itself.
Deflection, diffusion.
Conclusion: Very little downside to laminate armor, and it provides competent protection against all three main types of damage.

Heavy Battle Armor: (Metal alloys, plastoid, ceramics)
Fragmentation: Most of the time, it’ll stop shrapnel simply by being too tough for them to penetrate, but because of the hardness of the materials, it can often deflect them as well. However, because of its greater weight when compared to laminate armor, there may be more vulnerable locations where shrapnel will not meet armor, again because of the scattershot approach. Against point attacks, less blanket protection is required.
Ablative/absorption, deflection.
Concussion: The hard shell of the armor blocks much of the shockwave, but still transfers that to the wearer as energy is still transferred to it. Some may feature increased padding or gel inserts to absorb such shocks.
Deflection, shock absorption.
Incendiary: The armor’s hard shell is impervious to flame, but will heat up. This can literally cook the wearer if it burns hot enough for long enough, and the wearer also has to deal with any flames that catch in the unarmored portions of their body, such as the flammable bodyglove. Also, like laminate, it can diffuse the energy and spread it across the wearer’s body.
Deflection, diffusion.
Conclusion: Provides in some ways worse protection than laminate armor given the added weight and (often) corresponding reduction in actual coverage. However, the protected parts are virtually invulnerable to shrapnel and provide excellent protection from shockwaves.

Exotic Materials: (Cortosis and Beskar)
Fragmentation: These metals are very tough, and can stop pretty much all shrapnel that could come from a grenade.
Ablative/absorption, deflection.
Concussion: These metals can block a shockwave, but the impact will be transferred to them and thus to the wearer.
Incendiary: These metals are very resistant to heat, but still heat up. That heat will be transferred to the wearer, and… cook him.
Conclusion: Provides no real benefit over standard heavy battle armor, which is not uncommonly constructed out of these or similar materials. The drawback comes, again, in the form of weight and lack of coverage. A Mandalorian cuirass is nigh-impossible to penetrate, but the added weight makes it necessary to remove weight elsewhere, such as on extremities that would be hampered by such weight. While key points are protected from melee and ranged attacks, AOE attacks like grenades have increased effectiveness when compared to full laminate suits.


Armor in tv and movies are totally plot-reliant. They only hold if the plot needs it. You could say, it’s a plot-armor ;)

Edit: Ah, I’m too slow :D Or I should read all the comments before answering to the first unread :smiley:

Am I the only one here who is pretty excited to rehash the insane flame wars of the old forum days?

I am?


You talk about the “Armor does not prevent the target to be hit, it only reduces the amount of damage taken” discussion?

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Yeah, pretty much. :P

TWAS GLORIOUS, that flame war of old

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I’m proud to to be a veteran of the 3rd War of the Noimrights.


I guess the 2nd was the Great Missing XP War, but what was the first?