Starship Shields and Armor Conceptually Inverted?


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Armor as DR would perhaps have been a solution that would gel with the OP's intuitions more.

For me, I'm happy to ignore it. I can see it's an issue if you think about it too hard, but I'm content to leave my analysis at:

"We were hit, but our shields took the damage!"

without thinking too hard about the fact that adding armor inside the protective bubble would somehow have saved our shields.


Basically everything about space combat in this game makes zero sense conceptually and the system exists to let you tell compelling stories. The structural integrity field idea is what I'll go with, for my sanity. Otherwise I'll just have to reinvent the system from the ground up where armor is another set of damage absorption that comes into play after shields and I really don't feel like doing that right now.


Micheal Smith wrote:

Yes it deflects it so it doesn’t do damage to the Systems. With out armor you would hit the critical systems. It’s the same concept as a fighter in full plate protects hit vital organs.

[b]Pease read the full sentence.[\b] It doesn’t say that it deflects the laser and deal no damage,

Look at X-wing. When you roll damage your opponent has a chance to evade. If they roll more evade than you the laser never hits your ship. If the attacker rolls more hits then you deplete shields first. So many systems use similar mechanics.

Armor still has to be hit in order to do damage. If you do t hit you don’t do damage. When a laser hits your hull it will damage you. Seriously people. Either you hit or you don’t. If you hit you deal damage, if you miss you don’t do damage.

Again when you go to fire you have to target the ship. If you target the ship when you pull the trigger, hit the button, or whatever is used to fire, your laser travels almost instantly and hits. There is NO SPEED for lasers like missiles.

You either hit the ship and do damage or you miss the ship entirely. That’s why you have 5e pilots ranks in the AC, to simulate you evading the shot. Then evasive maneuvers is an even more elobaorate move to help dodge.

When you hit the shields, energy shield, absorbs the damage.

Please get out of the mind set that you physically hit before you damage. Shooting lasers vs swinging a sword are 2 different concepts. Star Trek is a perfect example, dark matter as well. We will even throw in the Orville, they all target the ship, then fire then damage shields, then hull.

Also you are combating physical bodies to a invisible force field.

Page 297

“Armor protects a ship from direct-fire weapons (see Type on page 303), deflecting their energy and preventing damage to critical ship systems.”

Later, that same page
“Armor is a passive system and does not require any PCU to remain functional. It provides protection primarily through mass,”

So no, I will not get it out of my head that you physically hit before you do damage. Physically hitting is exactly what the armor is there to prevent. That’s the whole point of that game mechanic being given that in-universe explanation. It represents the difference between an incoming shot hitting the ship and being deflected, glancing off or otherwise physically withstood by the intervening armor such that no damage was sustained, and an incoming shot hitting the ship and causing damage because there was nothing in the way.

I mean, you understand that these aren’t just randomly selected numbers with pretty names attached to them to be ignored, right? You get a bonus based on the pilot’s ranks in piloting to represent how skillfully the ship is being flown. You get a modifier based on how big or small the ship is. You get a bonus if you were doing any evasive manuevers. The attacker takes a penalty if he’s far away. He takes a larger penalty if he’s farther away. Those things exist in the game mechanics to represent in-universe factors.

Okay, well, one of those in-universe factors is the armor your ship has. And being not just a pretty number pulled out of someone’s derriere but a representation of something in-universe, it is therefore subject to the ramifications that follow its in-universe description. It is described as deflecting energy primarily via mass, no power required. That means that whatever in-universe thing it’s accomplishing and however that in-universe factor is represented in the game mechanics, it MUST definitionally be accomplishing it when the incoming fire makes physical contact with the armor on the ship, not before, not after, but at that moment.

That also means that any factors that, in-universe, apply prior to said physical contact MUST definitionally not be subject to said physical contact as though the physical contact happened first. It simply doesn’t follow.

Here’s an example to illustrate: you know how you and I are not in the same room discussing this face to face. There’s the walls surrounding the room I’m in and, unless you’re outside, the walls of the room you’re in, plus the hundreds to thousands of miles between and probably a portion of the Earth’s bulk in the way, too.

Okay, that phenomenon? It’s the same thing that says that if shields are a thing that accomplish something represented somehow through game mechanics (which in Starfinder are floating shield points but could easily have been a bonus to AC or a flat out miss chance instead) and accomplish this something BEFORE the introduction of the in-universe factor referred to as “armor”, then they MUST not be subject to the armor’s success or failure. That is simply how space works, sir. I’m sorry. I wish I wasn’t limited to three-dimensional movement and causality, too.

But until then, please put it out of your head that these things get to ignore their obligation to sense and logic. They are not just game mechanics, they represent things happening in-universe and are therefore subject to those ramifications. They cannot NOT be subject to those ramifications.

Luke Spencer wrote:
I disagree with this, is it not reasonable that with the level of technology available a computer could know if an incoming attack would damage the hull or bounce off and raise/lower the shields accordingly? This seems like a perfectly reasonable and fairly grounded solution to the entire problem.

There are scifi settings where something like that would be plausible, something like Firefly or Star Wars where the technology that exists and is known is all that has to be accounted for. A setting like Star Trek, on the other hand, would have new technologies and/or new space-born lifeforms (which, by definition, would not be something a shield-controlling shipboard computer would be able to model and predict). Given the existence of a Science Officer and his role to, among other things, scan enemy targets and learn useful information about them that would arguably not already be known, I’d say that Starfinder would seem to be leaning more towards Star Trek than Star Wars.

Besides, there are a couple of quirky ramifications to this model. First, if the shields are controlled by something able to accurately model incoming fire to the point of being able to tell if the shields are necessary or if the ship’s armor can take it instead, doesn’t that argue for this sort of pertinent information being known by the ship already. And if that’s the case, what purpose is there in the Science Officer doing all the scanning necessary to learn the enemy’s armaments?

“Warning! Incoming Mk IIB 52-isoton-yield Sharknado-series photon torpedo! Press “I” to identify the enemy ship’s armaments.”

Doesn’t this just make the Science Officer into Tawny Madison from GalaxyQuest? Except, instead of being the only one able to talk to the computer, she has to sweet-talk into telling her what it already knows.

The other ramification is that this model ties shield functions to the sensors, which would seem to make the shields also subject to any malfunctions the sensors are suffering. Granted, this would be easy to model. Just figure out the ship’s AC without the armor bonus. Then, whenever the shields wouldn’t know when to lower themselves to let the ship’s armor take an incoming shot instead, have that be the ship’s working AC until either the sensors get fixed or the shields go down.

Adrick wrote:

armor deflecting shots (causing no hurt/hit) can't happen until after a shield bubble has been hit and lost some integrity. the shield bubble doesn't/shouldn't benefit from armor. So either shields should have their own AC until collapse or the ships should be easier to hit until shields drop and so forth. but that gets needlessly complicated pretty quick.

So for ease of use just say armor also includes some projectors energy lattices whatever you want that provide strengthening(ac) for the deflection of any overlapping shields. mysteriously always the same ac bonus as bare armor. whatever techno babel you want to close the conceptual gap in the rules.

That could work. Star Trek (at least by TNG) had the shields represented by grid lines on the hull. So if we say that Starfinder shields are projected from a similar place (the surface of the hull or the armor if the ship has armor), we can then say the shields provide an amount of protection exactly equal to and dependent on the armor it’s sitting on. Maybe the shields act in a shock-absorber-like method, transmitting any external forces to the hull/armor and therefore applying precisely the armor’s resistance back out. Any incoming fire that hits the ship but wouldn’t get past the armor is likewise stopped by the shield envelope with no damage to the hull or loss of shield points (similar to the G-Diffuser spin in Starfox). Anything that would get through the ship’s armor likewise makes the shield buckle, forcing the shield to consume energy (shield points) until it withstands the damage or drops, sending the rest through to the armor (which would also fail to stop it, being the same as the shields) and causing damage.

So you would start out with a “shield AC” until the shields in that arc went down, then you have an “armor AC” (which is the same AC as the shield AC). In this model, shields wouldn’t be protected by the armor; shields get their magnitude of protective ability from the armor, and then stand as the first line of defense over everything else, the armor included. As would make sense when you have shields outside the ship and assume that space works normally.

Well done, Adrick. I think I need to see about suggesting to a dev that this or some other explanation be included in a future book for the benefit of anyone else who might have the same conceptual problem and didn’t see this thread.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

OK WOW.

Then go with this. When the armor is hit and damage would be done the shields absorb the blast.

You really are trying to make since of something that isn't real, that is just science fiction. Other then that I don't know man. You are OVERTHINKING something that is really irrelevant.


Micheal Smith wrote:

OK WOW.

...
You really are trying to make since of something that isn't real, that is just science fiction. Other then that I don't know man. You are OVERTHINKING something that is really irrelevant.

I share your sentiment, but I think the "problem" here is that it ISN'T science fiction. In that, it's not science.

Basically, it's space opera, so stuff doesn't have to make sense. And the mechanics are as they are because they're a port of personal combat mechanics (that also didn't make sense).

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Companion, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Yeah, hitting a person's armor in combat would still reduce their stamina. It doesn't make "sense" that armor protects from stamina damage.


Tectorman wrote:
That could work. Star Trek (at least by TNG) had the shields represented by grid lines on the hull. So if we say that Starfinder shields are projected from a similar place (the surface of the hull or the armor if the ship has armor), we can then say the shields provide an amount of protection exactly equal to and dependent on the armor it’s sitting on. Maybe the shields act in a shock-absorber-like method, transmitting any external forces to the hull/armor and therefore applying precisely the armor’s resistance back out. Any incoming fire that hits the ship but wouldn’t get past the armor is likewise stopped by the shield envelope with no damage to the hull or loss of shield points (similar to the G-Diffuser spin in Starfox). Anything that would get through the ship’s armor likewise makes the shield buckle, forcing the shield to consume energy (shield points) until it withstands the damage or drops, sending the rest through to the armor (which would also fail to stop it, being the same as the shields) and causing damage.

Star trek has always had something like this: in Enterprise there's an energy field that stiffens the hull as it's main defence. By TNG the stability field is still there, if it wasn't, the ship would be completely ****d once the bubble goes down (i.e. single torpedo vaporizes most if not all of the hull).


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KingOfAnything wrote:
Yeah, hitting a person's armor in combat would still reduce their stamina. It doesn't make "sense" that armor protects from stamina damage.

That makes perfect sense. Wearing armor doesn’t 100%. Getting hit with armor is still going to take out of you. A lot why back in medieval times they used bludgeoning weapons against full plate, i bast the armor in and cause internal bleeding from the impact. In those times internal bleeding was very difficult if not impossible to deal with.


Its an interesting point. I understand that the system is an abstract concept but i would still prefer something like, "Pilot check acts as AC for the turn but targeted weapons ignore this and instead are countered by TL DC, then come shields against any hits that land and finally damage that would get past shields is reduced by armor hardness."

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Companion, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber
Micheal Smith wrote:
KingOfAnything wrote:
Yeah, hitting a person's armor in combat would still reduce their stamina. It doesn't make "sense" that armor protects from stamina damage.
That makes perfect sense. Wearing armor doesn’t 100%. Getting hit with armor is still going to take out of you. A lot why back in medieval times they used bludgeoning weapons against full plate, i bast the armor in and cause internal bleeding from the impact. In those times internal bleeding was very difficult if not impossible to deal with.

But why does armor increase Armor Class then? Wouldn't armor as damage reduction make more "sense"?

/s


Armor class abstraction is huge.
But it is convenient abstraction.


KingOfAnything wrote:
But why does armor increase Armor Class then? Wouldn't armor as damage reduction make more "sense"?

Yes, yes it would.

But Pathfinder inherited it from D&D3, and Starfinder wasn't going to have such a radically different mechanic from pathfinder, because then it wouldn't be simplified pathfinder in space.

So what we have here is a legacy oddity that was curiously inevitable.


KingOfAnything wrote:
But why does armor increase Armor Class then? Wouldn't armor as damage reduction make more "sense"?

Yes and even if this would make a better/more intuitive system and Paizo already introduced it in Pathfinder (Ultimate Combat - and yes it wasn't perfect), they decided to stick to their D&D roots.

I believe this is the biggest flaw and benefit of SF, the D&D roots.
Benefit: because the basic rules are known and established
Flaw: D&D was designed as a tabletop like fantasy dungeon crawler and this ruleset did not fit perfectly on a scifi saga game.

For the Space-Ship Armor issue, I wouldn't even try to explain why it is this way, because every explanation makes the system even more clunky and creates even more logic issues.
Just take it as what it is, a abstract, non-realistic game mechanic with the goal to create a easy to use and familiar system.


If it helps, think of shields more like the Star Trek: Enterprise variety "Polarize Hull Plating" rather than the more common idea of a bubble if energy. Think of it however you want - it's more like a damage resistance or temporary hit points than armor.

AC doesn't have anything to do with tracking weapons, instead you have your ship's maneuverability (the ability for the pilot to dodge the incoming missile) which is directly affected by the mass of the ship (so bigger ship, or more armor = less able to juke and dodge), and you have EMC systems to jam the incoming missiles targeting systems = IL. Think of that like AC against tracking weapons.

Really, that's all there is to it. This is more like star wars than star trek anyway - it's a space fantasy system, not really sci-fi.

If it helps - think of shields as magic that keeps your armor from cracking. *shrug*

As far as armor as damage reduction- I've always like that. The old Palladium system (Rifts, Hero's Unlimited, etc) worked like that. Armor didn't affect your to-be-hit chances, it soaked damage (and had hit points). Everything was opposed rolls - but you had to spend an action to dodge an attack - no actions, no dodge, you're hit. You might have 8 actions a round, but you had to mind the action economy. Yes, you could unload 8 attacks on some enemy, but you better dang well kill it, or it was going to get free hits on you... Always loved that system. The fluff from Rifts was great too, just wish making a character wasn't like writing a PhD thesis in mathematics. It made it really hard to teach anyone how to play...


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In Starfinder personal armor is nearly indestructible. We know this because everything from a simple knife stab to something as fearsome as a bazooka blast won't punch a hole in it--at least, not enough of a hole that you start losing pressure in the vacuum of space or some other hostile environment.

How this works is heavily glossed over and left up to flavor. It could be anything and everything from micro-shields, to self-deploying patch glue, to magic.

Why then can't ship shields work the same way?

If someone attacks your ship, and beats the ship's AC, they've hit your ship. That's pretty clear. Then the damage happens. Chunks of your ship start falling away and numerous secondary systems step in to mitigate that damage. These secondary systems are your shields and are basically a more advanced form of what we see in personal armor.

Think of when a Star Trek ship gets blown open, but a forcefield pops into place, keeping people from getting sucked out into space and allowing the ship to continue functioning at full capacity--just like personal armor does in this game. The structural damage is undeniable, but the actual effects are minimal to non-existent, up to a point.

If it's good enough for personal armor, it's good enough for starships, and more or less resolves the conceptual conundrum I think.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I actually think that after reading and thinking on this, I will be changing "armor" in my SF games. Here's a world I think works better without changing too many mechanics:

1) Only giant capital ships have plating substantial enough to be called "armor" (this is the damage reduction mechanic). Against all other ships without DR, there is no substance that can stop starship weapons.

2) Shields work as normal and are a bubble around the ship a la normal sci-fi rules.

3) The system currently referred to as armor will be re-skinned as "defensive countermeasures" and represent active interference with enemy targeting systems used by your pilot to make it harder for enemies to hit.

4) the TL armor class will be "active projectile defense" systems and represent debris/lasers/flak being fires at incoming projectile tracking weapons, similar to Point Defense weapons, with actual Point weapons acting as a final desperate defense.


@Ravingdork: Yeah, I know I can just re-name them. "Starfinder ships do not and have never had 'shields', they have 'force fields' or structural integrity fields' and any rules references that use the word 'shields' are doing so incorrectly" is something I'm already familiar with. My gripe is that I'm the one having to do that, though.

The traditional depiction of a shield is "the bubble outside the ship". The traditional depiction of armor is "the outer surface ON the ship". If they want Starfinder so-called "shields" to be more like "structural integrity fields" or whatever, then there's no problem as long as they call them out as operating in that non-traditional method. Or even just reference a semi-mainstream scifi franchise where that is the standard way shields work. No, Star Trek doesn't count because the things that would be the closest analogues (polarized hull armor and/or the SIF) already have their own names and aren't called "shields".


AmosTrask32 wrote:
3) The system currently referred to as armor will be re-skinned as "defensive countermeasures" and represent active interference with enemy targeting systems used by your pilot to make it harder for enemies to hit.

Honestly, I already assumed this to be the case in the core rules. Not saying it is there or implied, but my brain automatically put it there, just as it does for personal AC (in terms of other things interfering).


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Tectorman wrote:

The first problem: A starship is a certain difficulty to hit (or rather, to hit in a fashion that does damage) due to its AC which is influenced in large parts by the pilot’s skill and by the ship’s armor. Perfectly reasonable. Weapons fire either misses outright or it hits, glances off, and does no harm. Makes sense. And with ships that don’t have shields, the entire order of operations is coherent and sensible. But let’s say that the starship has shields. Well then, they come into play after we’ve determined that the ship took a damaging hit.

Let me repeat that: a starship’s shields do not come into play until after it’s been established that the ship took a hit. Okay, simple question: how is that even happening? How does a ship’s armor do its job before the shields? Aren’t the shields the energy barrier projected OUTSIDE the physical ship? And isn’t the ship’s armor the dense plating on the outside of the ship (but you know, still INSIDE said energy barrier)?

Like you said, the pilot adds their skill to the AC, meaning its implying that the pilot was unable to do its job. An energy field lessens force spread across the hull, so of course it will not function until actually hit with something. It lessens the damage taken by the actual hull until hit after hit causes it to disapate until engineering can get it back on track. It makes perfect sense.


pirateprincess23 wrote:
Tectorman wrote:

The first problem: A starship is a certain difficulty to hit (or rather, to hit in a fashion that does damage) due to its AC which is influenced in large parts by the pilot’s skill and by the ship’s armor. Perfectly reasonable. Weapons fire either misses outright or it hits, glances off, and does no harm. Makes sense. And with ships that don’t have shields, the entire order of operations is coherent and sensible. But let’s say that the starship has shields. Well then, they come into play after we’ve determined that the ship took a damaging hit.

Let me repeat that: a starship’s shields do not come into play until after it’s been established that the ship took a hit. Okay, simple question: how is that even happening? How does a ship’s armor do its job before the shields? Aren’t the shields the energy barrier projected OUTSIDE the physical ship? And isn’t the ship’s armor the dense plating on the outside of the ship (but you know, still INSIDE said energy barrier)?

Like you said, the pilot adds their skill to the AC, meaning its implying that the pilot was unable to do its job. An energy field lessens force spread across the hull, so of course it will not function until actually hit with something. It lessens the damage taken by the actual hull until hit after hit causes it to disapate until engineering can get it back on track. It makes perfect sense.

It makes sense if the so-called "shields" are really a force field within the hull (or a structural integrity field or the hull armor being polarized or any technobabble that doesn't imply a bubble IN FRONT OF and BEFORE the physical structures of the ship). But they used the word "shield" which carries a certain expected meaning (i.e., not something that would be functioning in the manner you describe).

Let me put it this way:

"This morning, I got into my rake and drove down the speech to get to my apple."

Nonsensical, right? Obviously, I'm trying to communicate something to you and you're completely justified to think I could have done a better job. So what if I had tried this?

"The following uses the word "rake" to mean "car", the word "speech" to mean "highway", and the word "apple" to mean "job". 'This morning, I got into my rake and drove down the speech to get to my apple.'"

Still aggravating to get through, but at least now, I'm acknowledging that I'm not using the words that typically have the meanings that I'm trying to convey and I'm giving a guide as to how to go from what I said to what I actually meant. Now what if I had tried this?

"This morning, I got into my car and drove down the highway to get to my job."

No aggravation or confusion. Not even any hint that someone somewhere out there could mess up a sentence like that. See the difference?


I'm currently (since several months^^) working on a rebalance of the starship rules and I also take a shot at this issue.

My solution/idea:
Normal Armor will be working as a DR against ALL damages as soon as the shields are gone (including tracking weapon damage). The amount of DR is equal to twice the armor level.
Additionally there is a new crew action which allows the engineer to boost the Armor for a very short amount of time ("polarise the frontal hull armor").

The normal AC of a ship is based on the Pilots piloting skills and the ships tier. Additionally there is a new crew action which allows the science officer to boost the AC (rotating shield frequencies, relocate energy, initiate E-War tactics etc.).

AC = 10 + Pilot + ½ Tier + Size + Misc

I also added a "concentrate Fire" gunner action:
These action can be used when you are targeting a non-shielded arc of a ship and the science officer already scanned the enemies defenses.
This action allows the gunner to attack with all weapons of one arc and sum up the damage done, before subtracting the armors DR (which then will be only subtracted once). This action cost one resolve point.


Late to the party... My interpretation is if the attack angle is insufficient to damage the armor it is also insufficient to damage the shields.

Like sloped armor on a tank the angle of the in coming round makes a big difference on whether on not a round can make it though the armor plate. If there were real life shields they would probably work the same.

A near miss is not a direct enough attack to cause the shields to use energy stopping and or absorbing the damage... and instead the shield simply deflects (maybe even letting some of the material bounce off the armor) or refracts it.

There is president for force fields working inside armor... lashunta ringwear is comprised of "Metal guards, woven chain sheets, and force fields stretch between the bands to form a complete set of protective gear" though it provides AC, it does not provide additional tempory health like force field upgrades.

Anyway it is meant to be abstract, with multiple ways to achieve the same results. Maybe it's like Star Trek (giant bubble) Maybe it's like Dune (only the slow blade penetrates) maybe it's like Ironman's armor (forcefield bolstered... which also describes the Lashunta Ringwear)


The same thing has happened in 40k since the dawn of time.

1. Roll to hit.
2. Roll to wound.
3. Roll armour.

Why is armour rolled after wounds? We just don't know.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Umbral Reaver wrote:

The same thing has happened in 40k since the dawn of time.

1. Roll to hit.
2. Roll to wound.
3. Roll armour.

Why is armour rolled after wounds? We just don't know.

Are you questioning the wisdom of the Emperor? That sounds an awful lot like heresy to me!

*ahem*


I'm in the middle of a major starship rules overhaul, and one of the differences will be that Armor gives bonus to Damage Treshold, while Target Lock is used for both missile and direct weapons (as I understand the space combat as done by computer-assisted sights, not just shooting manually aiming the gun by yourself to a target that might be moving hundred of miles away at thousands of miles per hour anyway)

This solution, which I did for other reasons, has the side effect of solving this disconection. Just in case anyone might find it helpful.

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