Roleplayer #15, August 1989

Weapons and Armor in GURPS Space

(Part 2 of 2)

by Mike Hurst

This concludes the discussion, begun last issue, of the background and reasoning behind the weapons and armor in GURPS Space.

If Not A Laser, Then What?

The laser (discussed last issue) is the principal weapon of ultra-tech societies, but other items in the arsenal have significant uses as well:


Unsealed armor has only 1/2 its DR against a flamer attack; the target takes a minimum of 1d-2 damage (doubled if the attack hits the head). A sealed suit loses integrity on a roll of 10 or less; die rolls are -1 for every successive turn that the target is flamed.

The armor can actually be heated to the ignition point; on a 5 or less it burns and die rolls are -1 for each successive turn as with breaking integrity above. A hand flamer could defeat even Superheavy Combat Armor, given enough time. A tripod flamer can slaughter armored troops.

The flamer's weakness is range, but this is a positive advantage inside the confines of a ship. Stray shots are less likely to damage the hull or vital components.

Force Swords

Force Swords can carve through Light Body Armor with a good roll; against heavier armor they can target the weak points. Combined with a Force Shield it gives a melee fighter a real chance against any weapon, if he can close the range.

Paralysis Guns

Only totally sealed armor has any resistance at all to paralysis guns. Totally sealed armor is an additional 5 lbs. and $1,500 to any complete body armor. Any breach in the suit's integrity negates its defense against a paralysis gun.

P-guns are the usual equipment of military ship's crews for in-ship combat at TL10+. Unfortunately, the radiation they emit can scramble delicate computer and communication circuits. Military ships have shielded circuitry; civilian ships usually don't, because it is costly and requires careful maintenance. A hit with a P-gun on an unshielded device has a 1/3 chance of putting it out of service. Saboteurs and terrorists use P-guns to attack delicate circuitry. They can say piously that they were using non-lethal weapons; it's not their fault that the elevator fell 800 stories when the control box failed.

Screamers and Stunners

Screamers degrade armor slowly (-1 DR per successful attack). Unless it is part of a completely sealed Suit, any hit to the helmet is likely to shatter the eardrums (roll against HT to resist) leaving the target deaf. Shattered eardrums are a special category of stunning damage (see p. B99). Even if it does less than 1/2 HT, all the target's defenses are at -4 until the next turn. Then the victim must roll against HT to recover.

Armor resists stun weapons only partially; HT is increased by one for each five points of DR at the hit location.

Stunners can be hotshotted; a hotshotted stunner is a screamer which burns out after a single shot, but has only the range of a stunner. It is then useless; it cannot be repaired and reused. This is also a highly illegal modification. It takes the same time and roll as hotshotting a laser; parts cost $400.

Stun rifles can also be hotshotted; parts cost is $600. A hotshotted stun rifle is -1 to Malf for each shot after the first. On any failure it burns out and cannot be repaired. On any critical failure it burns out and does 1d of burn damage to the firer. It has the same range and damage as a screamer.


Tanglers can wrap and bring down a foe in even the heaviest armor. He can then be dealt with at leisure. One method is to bring up a drill with super-hard bits and bore him to death (a joke beloved of Marine drill sergeants).


Kevlar and Monocrys have minimum resistance to any sort of needler. Needlers are widely used by security guards and by anyone stationed on a primitive planet. They are not as regulated as beam weapons, are small and light, and carry a lot of shots without reloading. They are also very difficult to detect; chemscanners can't find them and radscanners are at -3 for Gauss needlers and cannot detect needlers at all.

The enormous rate of fire of Gauss needlers makes them especially deadly to unarmored targets. Since they are effectively recoilless, it is easy for a skilled shooter to get most of the shots from even a long burst into the target. The weakness of any needler is against rigid armor. The thin, frangible needles disintegrate against anything they cannot penetrate.


At TL9+, blasters and blast rifles are almost as common as lasers in the military arsenal. They are not as elegant and versatile as lasers and are shorter ranged, but they are powerful and simple. They are favored as the armament of barbarian mercenary units and hastily-formed conscript armies. They are also widely used for hunting dangerous game at close quarters, because of the knockback effect.

Blasters are also favored by the more brutal sort of bucko mate or prison guard. The noise and spray of blood and flesh from the surface explosion have a powerful psychological effect in suppressing mutinies.

Call for Fire

The usual source of heavy firepower for a spaceman in trouble is a spaceship. The weapons and defenses of even the flimsiest and lightest starship can be incredible. There is no exact relationship between the firepower ratings of starships and the damage of lighter weapons, but no personal armor can protect against even a light spaceship laser, and the range of spaceship lasers is over 100 miles even in Earth atmosphere. A light explosive missile has the equivalent explosive force of a 5-inch gun, and is accurate enough to hit any defined square yard at 100 miles.

Ships also have lighter weapons. For instance, Gatling lasers may be used as a Close-In Weapons System, to defend ships and fortifications from missiles. They are powered from the power plant of the facility, and have effectively infinite ammunition.

Spacemen who are in contact with their ship can call down the wrath of the gods in fire and thunder. If they lose that communication, they become just more grunts in the mud, with what they have on their backs and in their vehicles.


Armor at TL8+ is very effective. The heaviest versions are nearly impervious to legal civilian weapons and even resistant to military weapons.

Even the best armor is not invincible, however. The joints, faceplate and hands are weaker than the large areas of torso, limbs and head. In general, the joints (for a human, faceplate, hands, knees, elbows, hips, waist and neck) have 1/2 the DR of the main suit. (The reason armor has only 1/2 resistance to flamers is that the gush of plasma washes over the joints.)

Joints (the firer must specify which joint is aimed at) are -5 to hit; faceplate is -6 to hit; hands (specify right or left) are -6 to hit. Impaling attacks at the waist can be aimed at the vitals (-7 to hit); impaling attacks at the faceplate can be aimed at the brain (-9 to hit). These shots are more difficult than aimed shots at an unarmored target because the shot must first hit the weak point of the armor at exactly the right angle at Other attacks at the waist hit the torso if they penetrate; other attacks to the faceplate hit the head.

Armor with No Faceplate

At TL10+, military armor can be built with no faceplate; only the joints are vulnerable. All the sensor information is presented on a display inside the helmet. Such a sensor suite costs $1,000.

Suit sensors are subject to spoofing and jamming. This is considered a Contest of Electronics. Jamming is at Electronics skill of the jammer; spoofing is at Electronics from -1 to -7 depending on how elaborate the false information is. Jammers and spoofers are $2,000 and five pounds for each +1 to the Electronics roll. Helmets can be fitted with countermeasures; $2,000 for each +1 to the Electronics roll.


At TL8+ sights need not be mounted on the gun; they can be part of a heads-up display in a helmet or goggles. At TL9+ they can be holographically displayed in front of the firer's eyes. HUD sights cost $1,000; holographic display sights cost $2,000. Each sight mechanism must be slaved to a particular weapon. HUD sights are -2 to SS; holographic sights are -5.

(Back to Roleplayer #15 Table of Contents)

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