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Modern Weapons


The different modern weapons are too often mixed and matched, considered interchangable. These weapons each have features and weaknesses, and better roleplaying results from attention paid to using the correct tool for a job. Sometimes a character needs a great deal of stopping power, but other times needs a great deal of armor penetration.

It should be noted that I am not an expert of theoretical weapons design. The content here is my best educated guess as to how these weapons work. If I'm wrong about some detail please email me and let me know.


Conventional Firearms

A bullet is placed at the bottom of a barrel, on top of an explosive charge. When triggered, this explosion will push against all surfaces. This push causes the bullet to accelerate down the barrel as well as the gun to recoil against the user. Assuming that the bullet is closely fit to the size of the barrel, it will recieve energy and momentum for as long as the barrel confines the explosion. Thus, longer barrels generally result in faster, more damaging bullets. Of course, after a certain point the  explosive force becomes comparable to the friction between the bullet and barrel, and it is more effective to release the bullet.

Most conventional bullets are cylindrically symmetric with a point on the front. This lends the bullet excellent excellent inertial and aerodynamic properties, as well as increased penetration value (similar to the physics of pointed weapons, discussed earlier). Increasing the mass of the bullet allows it to more easily transfer momentum to a heavier target. Experimental non-lethal firearms take advantage of other bullet types, including unpointed cylinders, rings, beanbags.... These options are less lethal than standard ammunition because they have less penetration value; increased surface area at the point of impact will allow the projectile to transfer momentum without penetrating the skin. The projectiles often have much higher stopping power than their lethal counterparts.

Likewise, armoring oneself against conventional firearms involves lowering the penetration value of the projectile. One can either slow the bullet down with strong padding, which distributes the bullet's impact over a large surface area, or place a very strong, hard material in the bullet's path, capable of exerting a great deal of force over a very small surface area. This second alternative may actually increase the momentum transfer between the bullet and the target, causing the target to feel more of an impact.

Damage Cause: Kinetic impact
Range Limitations: Gravitational pull, limited explosive power
Stopping Power: Very high, depending on shape and size of round
Penetration Value: Good, depending on shape and hardness of projectile
Recoil: Very High, depending on size of explosive charge

Rail Guns

The projectile lies between two conductive rails, serving as an electrical connection. The rails are also connected at the stock of the gun, through some type of electrically resistive medium, which allows the projectile to form a complete circuit. By placing a magnetic field between the rails one induces a current through the circuit, as well as an electromotive force which, if oriented correctly, tends to increase the area swept out by the rails' connections (at the bullet and the stock). This means that the electromotive force produced by the magnetic field accelerates the projectile along the rails down the barrel of the gun. Eventually, the projectile runs out of magnetic field and rail, and has reached its maximum velocity. At this point the projectile is released as a bullet, acting in every way similar to a bullet fired using chemical explosives.

What is the advantage of rail guns over chemically fueled projectile weapons? The kinetic energy of the projectile is proportional to the amount of energy used to induce the electromotive force which propels the projectile. If a large energy source is used one can achieve very high projectile velocities, not limited by the size of the projectile. Low energy rail guns exist in most introductory physics class demonstrations; high energy (weapons class) versions exist only with the advent of high powered portable electrical batteries and power sources, as well as small portable methods for generating intense magnetic fields.

A different configuration of magnetic fields can produce a similar weapon called a "coil gun." Typically, ferromagnetic materials are accelerated through an array of cylindrical coils in the barrel using either magnetic attraction or inductive repulsion. One advantage of a coil gun over a rail gun is that the projectile does not form any electrical connections inside the weapon, reducing the number of complicated parts. A severe disadvantage is the precise timing circuitry required to produce a maximal projectile velocity.

A major disadvantage of all magnetically powered weapons is the reliance on heavy ferromagnetic materials and power supplies. These weapons are, at best, considered to be "heavy," and are most likely unsuitable for many users. On large scales they could make excellent ballistic assault cannons, being scalable, finely tunable, and relatively silent compared to weapons using chemical propellents.

Damage Cause: Kinetic impact
Range Limitations: Gravitational pull, limited strength of magnetic field and power of energy source
Stopping Power: Very high, depending on shape and size of round
Penetration Value: Good, depending on shape and hardness of projectile
Recoil: Very High, depending on size of explosive charge

Lasers

This technology takes advantage of a material's discrete (non-continuous) atomic energy levels. Energy can only be emitted or absorbed in specific amounts; when configured correctly the release of energy is stimulated in a controlled manner. This energy is in the form of photons, and the secondary components of the laser focus these photons at a target using conventional lenses. The photons are all, within a very small range, of the same frequency and are all travelling in the same direction. This focus allows a laser to deliver incredible amounts of power to very small areas.

Laser light is also coherent, meaning the photons emitted all have the same phase. The beam of light won't spread like one emitted from an incoherent source (like a light bulb), which coupled with well-focused lenses gives a laser weapon nearly infinite range. The amount of light absorbed and scattered by air is typically very low; for game purposes, it has very little effect. One result of this is that laser beams are not easily visible outside of their path. The only time you see a laser beam coming at you is when it hits you in the eye! Of course, when the beam strikes a solid target it is partially reflected over a wide solid angle, allowing an external observer to see the point of impact.

Photons carry very little momentum, which means a laser weapon will have no stopping power. In turn, this means that a target not actively watching himself for laser attacks won't realize that his armor is being damaged until the laser has burned through! Lasers deposit incredible amounts of power over very small areas, giving them excellent penetration value. A weapons-grade laser like those found in the Palladium system would cause damage by burning through armor to the target underneath, not blasting the armor away in large chunks.

Armoring yourself against a laser is simple, in theory. If you know the frequency of the laser that you'll be up against, you can develop any number of films and coatings that either reflect or absorb the energy. These coatings will work over a limited range of frequency, which means you are only protected against specific attacks. For example, common mirrors work very well in the visible range, but not as well for other frequencies. Several coatings could serve to offer protection over several frequency ranges. Armor beneath these coatings should be able to absorb very large amounts of energy and quickly conduct large amounts of heat. This minimizes the effect of the energy deposition, and therefore minimizes the permanent damage done to the armor.

Tricks with laser weapons:

Damage Cause: Energy deposition, via monochromatic photons
Range Limitations: Effectively none under normal atmospheric conditions
Stopping Power: None
Penetration Value: Excellent, depending on the focusing of the optics
Recoil: None

Ion Blasters

Charged particles can be accelerated using electric fields. This means that the particle, which has some small but measurable mass, is given momentum as it accelerates through the field and down the barrel. Unless large electromagnetic fields are present the charged particles will continue on in a straight path until they are part of a collision. Upon the collision the particle transfers its momentum to the target. The damage caused by this attack is due more to energy deposition (which heats the target) than impact (like a conventional bullet). The charge of the particle is not responsible for a significant portion of the damage; this is not a lightning gun! The particles are charged (making them ions) to facilitate the use of an electric field as an accelerator.

The most harmful aspect of these weapons is the penetration value. Materials of biological density will experience particles penetrating deeply into their body. Internal organs are more susceptible to damage due to energy deposition than external skin. The damage caused by these weapons will be painful and potentially life threatening, as well as very difficult to repair. The exposure of unshielded biological target to this weapon will also cause internal damage due to ionizing radiation (see below).

Indirect damage is caused by secondary reactions within a material after collision with these particles. This type of weapon produces what is called "ionizing radiation." The ions pull electrons off of the target's molecules, causing residual radiation. This radiation lasts well after the blast, but at the expected levels is not excessively harmful in small doses. If radioactive material is ingested it could cause prolonged exposure, and therefore severe internal radiation damage. This small radiation is a potential health hazard; the federal government is not likely to approve use of these weapons in public

The particles are not as easily focused as lasers, which means the damage is over a greater area. At high energies the particles penetrate deeply into materials before colliding with other molecules, diffusing the damage over a deep internal range. Armoring against this weapon would require a material with high heat capacity and conductivity. Very strong electric fields between the target and the source may pull the blast off target.

Damage Cause: Energy deposition, via kinetic impact of ionic particles
Range Limitations: Atmospheric interactions, depending on energy of ions
Stopping Power: None
Penetration Value: Excellent, assuming that the ions are high in energy
Recoil: None

Particle Beams

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Damage Cause: Energy deposition, via kinetic impact of ionic particles
Range Limitations: Atmospheric interactions, depending on energy of ions
Stopping Power: Low
Penetration Value: Very good, assuming that the particles are high in energy
Recoil: Low