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Just Joe

Questions about Pulp-era Armor

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I am interested in pulp-era armor -- not unusual or outlandish armors, but kinds that would be relatively widely available. I had thought that very little armor was worn from early in WW1 (or earlier) until the invention of kevlar. But there are bulletproof vests in GURPS Cliffhangers ("PD 3, DR 4") and GURPS High-Tech ("PD 4, DR 6" for TL 6, which represents 1900-1950). Cliffhangers also has a concealable metal chestplate ("PD 4, DR 10"). And of course there are also various helmets and articles of heavy leather clothing. Call of Cthulhu's 1920's Investigator's Companion has no armor, though that could be as much due to the style of the game as to the history of the era.

 

So here are my questions:

 

1. What are PD and DR in GURPS?

 

2. How would you translate the above armors into HERO terms?

 

3. What can you tell me about the actual history of metal breastplates, pre-kevlar bulletproof vests, and the like in the 20th century?

 

4. What armor values (in HERO terms) would you give for WW1 and WW2 helmets?

 

5. What armor values would you give for clothing like heavy leather jackets? Would you give them a point or two of PD, with the limitation not vs. firearms, or would you handle them in some other way?

 

6. What else can you tell me about this general subject that I did not ask about specifically?

 

Direct answers or suggested references for any of the above questions would be greatly appreciated.

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I am not a GURPS guru, nut PD is Passive Defense (the effect of armor of causing blows to "glance off"), while DR is Damage Resistance (the effect of armor stopping some of the damage of a blow that lands).

 

If I was to translate anything into Hero terms, I would just go by what it is, i.e. the actual item itself. Thus, I would translate kevlar according to Hero standard given in FREd. If GURPS says a suit is slightly more protective than kevlar, I'd give it a little more DEF than the standard medium kevlar.

 

I'm also not an expert on the development of armor, but I know that many pulp heroes had something to stop bullets, usually something that fit under their trenchcoats. The idea was there, even if the actual armor wasn't yet.

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As far as real armor there was little to compare with modern body armor.

 

Of course you have the basic military steel helmet, probably DEF 3 to 5, these basically stopped fragments, not much good against guns. These appeared around World War 1 and improved primarily in shape (started out as flat tin hats, later versions provided better coverage), kevlar was a big improvement but that didn't come until the late 1970's.

 

By World war 1 most of the breast plates had gone out of use for all but ceremonial use, but a PC could probably get one through World War 2, again probably DEF 3 to 5.

 

During World War 1 there was some use of armor for snipers, a big heavy vest with sown in metal plates, I haven't seen much on these but would guess DEF 4 to 6, again not really meant to stop bullets directly shot at them. It was also common for snipers to build armored parapets which they could set up and fire through a slit, these could stop bullets, so DEF probably 7 to 10, it became somewhat common for large caliber hunting rifles to be used to combat these plates, so I think they were probably effective against standard military rifles (2d6 or 2d6+1 generally), this isn't really body armor but I can see where a PC might like the idea. The Ghillie Suits (the camoflage sniper suits) also became common for military snipers during WW1.

 

By World War 2 there was body armor for aircrews and naval gunners, these were heavy smocks from neck to knees with metal plates sown in to protect from fragments DEF probably 3 or 4. These were quite heavy and bulky (I'd guess at least 25kg) not sure about the naval versions but the air crew armor could be easily taken off, pull a few straps and it just kind of fell away allowing them to bail out of a plane, I would guess the navy ones did this as well, I'd hate to fall overboard with 50 pounds of steel on that I couldn't get off in a hurry. These were not made for moving around much.

 

I've seen referance to lightweight concealable chain shirts being popular for protection against knives in the 1930's but I have no idea how wide that use would have been. Seems unlikely to me so perhaps a regional thing.

 

Leather jackets and such would probably only be DEF 1.

 

Improvised armor such as metal plates like Clint Eastwood used in fistful of dollars (or was it for a few dollars more) would be possible but I've never heard of it really being used except for stationary uses such as the snipers positions mentioned above. Someone could probably make "light" body armor from thin metal plate of around DEF 3 or maybe 4 that could be somewhat concealed in clothing like a trench coat or jacket, a heavier steel plate might get DEF 5 but its going to be hard to hide except by wearing a poncho over it and it would be heavy and uncomfortable (try hanging a cast iron skillet around your neck for a few hours).

 

 

Medieval armor could be used, the really heavy plate mail would be of some use even against guns, some like to use AP against old armor but the stuff that gets DEF 7 or 8 was pretty thick steel so I don't know if it really needs to be cut down as drastically as AP, the first tanks only had 6mm or so of armor and I think some of the late platemail was that thick. GM call, besides how many PCs can run around in full plate without attracting unwanted attention.

 

Of course being Pulp the wonders of science couid find a kevlar substitute earler, Ballistic nylon was available by the 1960's and would probably provide DEF 3 or 4 at much lighter weights, not that concealable (looks kind of like a life jacket) but body armor was being experimented with from the time the heavily armored knight went away, it was just lack of materials that held up practical armor.

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I'd use the standard Hero system rules as far as DEF went, with the following addendum:

 

real armour automaticaly provides half defence vs most firearms (black powder weapons, pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, carbines) and 1/4 defence against high velocity weapons (rifles, heavy machine guns).

 

Unsually heavy or well made armour could be "shot-proofed" - giving it full DEF against low velocity weapons and half DEF versus high velocity weapons.

 

for example, Military helmets count as plate (DEF8) but only give 4 DEf versus low velocity weapons, shrapnel, etc, and 2 DEF against rifles and machine guns (better than nothing, but not by much).

 

As for adventurers - the primitive kinds of bullet-proof clothing avaialable in the pulp era have already been described - I'd say 4-6 DEF, with an activation roll. Several adventurers in pulp fiction have been described as having chain shirts under their clothes as added protection - I only allow DEF4 for this kind of concealable chain because it was a) lighter than the heavy mail worn by medieval knights and B) obviously didn't have the heavy padding they wore under their mail (or you'd look like the Michelin man).

 

One thing that might be of interest - the Australian highwayman Ned Kelley made himself a suit of heavy armour - when cornered by the cops, their bullets simply bounced off his armour, letting him do a one-man-army impression. Unfortunately, he didn't armour his legs, and was captued when his legs were shot out from underneath him. That suggests DEF8, full value against handguns.

 

Also in WWI the original German Stormtroopers were issued with heavy Metal armour for the neck and torso - it was supposed to be proof against small arms fire.

 

Neither of these are very concealable, however.

 

cheers, Mark

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Originally posted by Markdoc

I'd use the standard Hero system rules as far as DEF went, with the following addendum:

 

real armour automaticaly provides half defence vs most firearms (black powder weapons, pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, carbines) and 1/4 defence against high velocity weapons (rifles, heavy machine guns).

I'm running a Space:1889 game, and body armor is in use by players and NPCs. Leather is Def3, chain is Def5, and plate (helmets and breastplates) is Def7. Against firearms the defense is halved, rounded up (more protection) against pistols and rounded down against high velocity rounds from rifles and machine guns. All guns use black powder, although smokeless powder is available as a special invention.

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Page 66 of Justice, Inc has an entry for "Wisbrod Super Bullet Proof Vest", which is essentially a vest with 3" by 5" metal plates sewn in it in an overlapping pattern. The vest is described as +6 resistent Def or +12 non-resistant Def, only for locations 10-13, and weighing 16kg. Since encumbrance rules weren't built in at that time (3rd Edition), it cost 2 END per phase just to wear it in combat (and just 2 END per turn out of combat).

 

For a less fictional source, try the following site:

http://www.qmmuseum.lee.army.mil/korea/armored_vest.htm

 

They have a brief blurb about a vest with aluminum plates being developed by the end of WWII.

 

Hope it helps,

 

Joe

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Originally posted by Arthur

Up to about DR 10, you can translate GURPS DR directly to HERO DEF. Ignore PD, it has no equivalent in HERO.

 

It's been quite a while since I've played GURPS but I think point for point would be way to high HERO DEF is probably 1/2 GURPS DR since most GURPS Weapons do about twice the damage of similar HERO weapons.

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I spoke to one of my friends who is a GURPS guru and has been a playtester. The bulletproof vests and metal chestplates in GURPS Cliffhangers were put in for the "Doc Savage" crowd, while the bulletproof vests at TL 6 in GURPS High-Tech represent the M-12 vest. Neither of these were evident during the Pulp Era in the real world.

 

However, if you're running a true Pulp game, don't worry about it. Pulp Heroes wear dinky "chainmail vest made of the latest experimental metal" or "a coat woven of metal fibers." Somehow, they only got hit where they had coverage (allowing for a cliffhanger at the end of one episode of the serial and a revelation of their survival somewhere in the next). Also, the armor seems to weigh nothing, and never becomes a factor when encumbrance is important (like when diving into the water to fight that crocodile hand-to-hand).

 

To answer some of your questions that haven't been answered:

 

2. How would you translate the [bulletproof vests in GURPS Cliffhangers ("PD 3, DR 4") and GURPS High-Tech ("PD 4, DR 6" for TL 6, which represents 1900-1950), and the concealable metal chestplate in GURPS Cliffhangers ("PD 4, DR 10")] into HERO terms?

 

The GURPS Cliffhangers bulletproof vest represents very good armor that stops a bullet cold; assuming a normal round, I'd call that a 6 or 7 DEF vest. For the reasons given above, I wouldn't give it either the Limited Coverage or Real Armor limitations, although IIF might be appropriate.

 

The GURPS High-Tech bulletproof vest represents the M-12, "a 12-pound vest of aluminum plates and nylon fabric" which made standard Army issue before the end of the War; it was primarily designed to eliminate wounds caused by shrapnel and metallic fragments, since making it truly "bullet-proof" would have made the soldiers clumsy and over-encumbered. I'd give this one 4 or 5 DEF (for the aluminum plates, Limited Coverage: Locations 9-14) and 2 DEF (for the nylon layers, Limited Coverage: 7-8 & 15-18).

 

The concealable metal chestplate in GURPS Cliffhangers is probably best represented with a DEF 8 breastplate from the fenatasy armors section (Locations 10-12), with the same Pulp Era caveat.

 

4. What armor values (in HERO terms) would you give for WW1 and WW2 helmets?

 

WW1 helmets were of variable quality depending on who made them. The British developed "Type A" helmets by 1915. I found a link which gives them the ability to stop "shrapnel ball travelling at 750 ft/sec". This would seem to indicate a pretty high DEF. I'd give WWI helmets DEF 5-8, depending. Coverage would be limited to locations 4-5, except for your "man in the iron mask" Doctor Doom types. Subsequent development of helmets has made them more comfortable, and standardized the DEF, but I'd say 5-8 is a good range.

 

5. What armor values would you give for clothing like heavy leather jackets? Would you give them a point or two of PD, with the limitation not vs. firearms, or would you handle them in some other way?

 

I normally just give them 1 or 2 points of DEF, with the Limited Coverage limitation. This represents well the miniscule reduction of damage from a rifle round, will sometimes stop direct low-caliber rounds completely, and provides some insulation from fire and electricity - all qualities of real world leather jackets.

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