Use of Weapons

Arming characters for a GURPS Space campaign

by Stephen Dedman

GURPS Space, Ultra-Tech, and Ultra-Tech 2 contain a bewildering array of personal ranged weapons, ranging in legality and lethality from sonic stingers and holdout dazzle lasers to mortars and missile launchers. Because of this, choosing guns and combat skills for your player character may take much of a play session, and arming a pack of NPCs may take even longer. After all, you want to choose the right tool for the job, don't you?

The easiest shortcut is to look at a character's background, and the environment in which he's used to fighting. Different military services will prefer different weapons, as will police, spies, and criminals. Voluntary colonists worried about the local wildlife are likely to carry heavier weapons than bounty hunters hunting for lowlifes. Other factors include price, weight, range, and sometimes concealability.

The following list is designed for a TL10 campaign, and is intended to make this choice easier. Note that a character may be trained with a particular weapon but unable to obtain one on a particular planet, and have to rely on default skills.

X-ray lasers (p. S81)

Military X-ray laser rifles and carbines, Military X-ray dinosaur lasers, and X-ray heavy laser pistols are the preferred options for the Navy, Space Marines, and libertarian Belters, who do most of their fighting in vacuum or trace atmospheres and in microgravity or free-fall. Their beams penetrate armored spacesuits with ease, they have no recoil, and their range in vacuum is awe-inspiring. While they may be too expensive and delicate for infantry, sensible armies don't scrimp when equipping their highly-trained special forces, and even in a realistic campaign that uses advanced batteries, the extra weight isn't a problem in zero-g. X-ray lasers are only useful at point-blank range in a denser atmosphere, but even this can be an advantage inside pressurized spaceships, where a stray shot can damage delicate systems. Nonetheless, Space Marines, Fighter Jocks, and Belters will probably also carry heavy laser pistols with variable beams (p. S81) as sidearms and as tools.

Lasers (pp. S80-81)

Military laser rifles and carbines, and military dinosaur lasers, are popular with troops who can expect to fight in a wide range of environments, from airless moonlets to the swamps of high-gravity greenhouse worlds. A laser pistol or heavy laser pistol with variable beam (p. S81) and perhaps blue-green frequency (p. UT37) and/or a selector switch for full-auto fire (p. UT22) would be an ideal sidearm, especially for those who may have to live off the land in unfamiliar territory -- Scouts, Colonists, Rangers and SEALs, Scientists, etc. These people would probably keep a dinosaur laser in their ship's locker as well, just in case.

Because lasers are particularly effective against most concealable body armor (except for bioplas bodysuits), they are also popular with Assassins and Terrorist/Rebels who specialize in "soft targets."

Laser weapons will be less common in campaigns where rechargeable power cells are unavailable; the weapons become heavier and the cost per shot very high. Holdout Dazzle lasers (p. S81), however, are likely even more popular in realistic campaigns where power cells are unavailable, as they get 5 shots from an advanced battery. (They are also less than 1/3 the cost of a sonic stinger, which will make them popular with those who can't afford anything better, such as startown Riffraff.)

Stunners (p. S82)

Inexpensive, small, non-lethal, and about as legal as a personal computer, stunners are almost ubiquitous as air. The hand stunner is a common home defense weapon, and also a standard fixture in starship lockers, especially as it won't damage the surroundings. Hand stunners will also be popular police weapons, especially in societies when civilians are rarely heavily armed or armored (though many cops will also have access to more lethal weapons). In more repressive societies, cops may prefer Screamers (p. UT53) with a stun setting.

The sonic stinger (p. UT53) -- a more concealable, less powerful stunner -- may be a popular form of "feminine protection," the TL9+ equivalent of pepper spray or mace. Some societies may even insist that women carry them; they will also be carried by many undercover cops as a backup weapon. Many stun weapons will have nauseator settings (p. UTT59) for extra deterrence.

Blasters (pp. S81-82)

Blasters can be designed for use in vacuum or in atmospheres, but not both; for this reason, most starfarers prefer laser weapons. However, Bounty Hunters, Escorts, Intelligence Agents, cops, bodyguards, and others who like sidearms with a choice of lethal and non-lethal settings often carry blasters with Electrolaser or Neural Blaster settings.

Electrolasers (p. S80)

Popular on desert worlds, particularly with law enforcement professionals and for home defense, but rarely encountered anywhere else.

Chemical-Propellant Guns (p. S78)

Though many spacefarers dislike the problems caused by recoil in varying gravities (see p. S98), the invention of liquid propellant smartguns at TL8 (p. UTT48) and 10mm shaped-charge rounds at TL9 (p. UTT51) has kept chemical slugthrowers popular with ground forces well into TL10. Many mercenaries, planetary militia, and police SWAT teams still prefer them to lasers or blasters: they will be even more common in campaigns where rechargeable power cells are unavailable.

Common chemical-propellant weapons in a TL10 campaign include:

Electromagnetic Guns (p. S78)

Though expensive, Gauss pistols (p. S78) are popular sidearms for people more concerned with a high rate of fire than legality class, but who don't need shaped-charge rounds: Terrorist/Rebels, Pirates, and some Escorts and Special Forces. Gauss needlers (p. UT19) are cheaper, very effective against most concealable armor, and also favored by terrorists.

Grenade Launchers (p. S78)

Grenades and grenade launchers are rarely available to civilians, but standard equipment for most military and police units; a mini grenade launcher (p. UT28) can be fitted under any ranged weapon weighing 4 lb or more, and often will.

Tanglers (p. S79)

Bulkier and more expensive than stunners, tanglers are favored by people who want non-lethal weapons that are also effective against armored opponents, or creatures who may be invulnerable to stunners and paralysis guns. Scientists who want to catch animals alive use them, as do Colonists, and they are standard equipment in survey service ships. Military and police units are more likely to use Tangler grenades (p. UTT66) in grenade launchers.

Needlers (p. UT22)

Cheap, almost undetectable, and very effective against soft targets, needlers are popular with Assassins, Intelligence Agents, and Terrorists, but are also used by those unable to afford anything better (Riffraff, Rogues). In campaigns where Power Cells are unavailable, Needlers will be very popular holdout weapons. Minineedlers (p. UTT57) with drugged needles are favored by those who want to be even more discreetly armed, such as Diplomats.

Ice Guns (p. UT72)

A low-powered sidearm, the ice gun is a useful survival weapon found in most starship lockers. It is much favored by Scouts and Colonists, but also by Assassins and Terrorists (who usually mix some venom into the ice). Ice Guns will also be popular in societies where weapons are strictly controlled (CR 5+); it's hard to restrict access to ammunition to someone who can get 1500 shots from a B cell and 6.5 gallons of water (150 from an advanced battery).

Gyrocs (p. UT20)

Another weapon saved from obsolescence by new technology -- in this case, the Viper round (pp. UT73-74). Assassins and Terrorists favor Rocket Carbines (p. UT20) for sniping, and Holdout Gyrocs (p. UTT55) when they want concealability, range, killing power, and quick martyrdom. Both weapons are also popular with police forces: Rocket Carbines for the SWAT team, Holdout Gyrocs for undercover use, especially bodyguard duty. Assassins and Terrorists use APEX and HEX (p. UT20) and Salvo (p. UTT155) rounds; cops prefer less lethal CHEM, SLAP and Stingray rounds (p. UT20).

Character Type


Likely Weapon Skills



Beam Weapons (Laser); Guns (Gyroc, Needler, Rifle, Pistol)

Bounty Hunter


Beam Weapons (Neural or Sonic), (Blaster)



Beam Weapons (Laser); Guns (Needler, Shotgun, Tangler)



Beam Weapons (Laser, Sonic); Guns (Needler)



Beam Weapons (Neural or Sonic), (Blaster); Guns (Gyroc, Needler)

Intelligence Agent


Beam Weapons (Laser, Sonic); Guns (Needler)



Beam Weapons (Laser); Guns (Grenade Launcher)



Beam Weapons (Neural or Sonic), (Blaster); Guns (Grenade Launcher)



Beam Weapons (Laser); Guns (Needler, Shotgun)

Planetary police


Beam Weapons (Neural or Sonic), (Blaster); Guns (Gyroc or Grenade Launcher)



Beam Weapons (Laser)



Beam Weapons (Laser, Sonic); Guns (Needler)



Beam Weapons (Blaster or Laser); Guns (Needler, Shotgun)



Beam Weapons (Neural or Sonic); Guns (Tangler)



Beam Weapons (Laser); Guns (Needler, Tangler)

Security Guard


Beam Weapons (Sonic); Guns (Light Automatic or Pistol)

Starship Crew


Beam Weapons (Laser, Sonic)



Beam Weapons (Laser); Guns (Grenade Launcher, Gyroc, Light Automatic, Needler, Pistol, Shotgun)



Beam Weapons (Sonic)

Trooper (Ground forces)


Beam Weapons (Blaster or Laser); Guns (Grenade Launcher, Light Automatic, Pistol)

Most Common Weapons

Desert world, CR 0-2:


Electrolaser pistol or rifle

Home defense, CR 0-2:


Hand Stunner, Ice Gun or Civ Shotgun

Home defense, CR 3-6:


Hand Stunner or Ice Gun

Hunting weapon, CR 0-4:


Civ Shotgun or Laser rifle

Police sidearm, CR 1:


Blaster pistol with Neural and Tight-Beam settings

Police sidearm, CR 2-4:


Hand stunner with Nauseator setting

Police sidearm, CR 5-6:


Blaster with Neural and Tight-Beam settings

Security guard, CR 0-2:


Submachine gun

Security guard, CR 3-5:


Stun rifle with Nauseator setting

Startown sidearm, CR 0:


Heavy laser pistol

Startown sidearm, CR 1:


Laser pistol

Startown sidearm, CR 2:


Ice Gun

Startown sidearm: CR 3-4:


Stunner or Holdout laser

Startown sidearm, CR 5+:


Sonic Stinger

Article publication date: January 17, 2003

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