Tag Archives: sci fi

Starship to Starship Combat

So, I’m writing sci-fi and I want to know about weapon ranges when it comes to space ships/station, or land to space missiles. What is possible, or if isn’t actually possible/we don’t know, what makes sense, especially when it comes to max ranges or accuracy/effective range. Also, would there be a such thing as sniping extremely long distances like idk 50 million km?? But the problem would still be speed and take too long to actually reach?

Something a lot of sci-fi genuinely screws up (for entirely artistic reasons) is engagement ranges. If you have a beam weapon which travels at the speed of light, a 50 million kilometer range will only take about a 6th of a second to hit the target. If that target is ship sized, you can connect with the target at that range, unless that ship can move at incredibly high speeds, with almost impossibly high reaction speeds, assuming it can also detect the beam before impact, which is kind of an issue when you consider that baring some kind of quantum physics mess any information that ship has regarding a hostile ship firing on it will be at least a sixth of a second out of date.

So, when you’re talking about these ranges, you’re talking about travel time for a beam weapon that is roughly equivalent to firing a pistol at someone in the same room.

Take that same beam weapon, and fire a range of an astronomical unit, and you’re still only looking at about eight minutes of travel time. If your targeting is good, that’s more than enough time to hit all but the most nimble of ships,

There is a problem with extreme range and beam weapons. A laser is just an extremely focused beam of light. This appears to remain as a tight dot at the destination, but that’s because you’re not using a laser at ranges where the angle of the beam becomes apparent. It’s not (strictly) a cylinder of light, it’s a cone. When you’re pushing a laser to thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of kilometers, this starts to become very apparent. This is not an unsolvable issue from a technological standpoint, a tighter cone, a true cylinder, or the cone as a payload for something else (such as high energy particles of some variety), all potentially expand the maximum range a beam weapon significantly. So, I’m not going to dig into the idea of extrasolar beam weapons, it’s still distinctly possible.

Parallel you have kinetic delivery systems. This is basically just a gun in space. It may be a rail gun, or it could be a classic propellent that gets it moving. Now, here’s the problem with bullets in space: There’s nothing to stop them.

On Earth, a 5.56mm NATO round has a rough maximum range of ~600m, and it’s effective range is only ~300 meters. Take that exact same bullet, put it in space, and it’s maximum range is infinite. It will continue to travel until it hits something or is pulled into a gravity well. There is no friction from the atmosphere to slow it down, so it will continue traveling at its original velocity (roughly 1km/s) until the heat death of the universe. (It will probably hit something before then. But, there a real possibility that this bullet would spend tens or hundreds of millions of years traveling through space before it connected with anything. To be fair, I think it would take that bullet about 1.3 million years to reach Alpha Centauri at that speed, though my math could be a bit off there. I’m using rounded numbers at a point where those rounding errors result in differences of hundreds of thousands of years.)

Sci-fi loves to put ships in close proximity to one another. Films and TV love to get the hero and villain ships in the same frame, and have them bouncing around for your amusement. As artistic license, this is fine, but you’re looking at ships where the engagement ranges should be well beyond visual range. In a science fiction shooting war, your ships should never even see each other. They should be fighting over radar/lidar signals. (Incidentally, this is also a problem with jet fighter dogfighting in films and TV. When you’re looking at a plane going over 343m/s, fighting another plane at similar speeds, you’re simply not going to be close enough to see each other for any length of time.)

Parallel to this, guided missiles are as accurate and fast as the technology allows. When it comes to missile sniping, with an FTL capable civilization, we’re potentially talking about firing from a different solar system. A simple rocket engine with an explosive payload traveling at a lower speed than a bullet isn’t going to be useful for much. However, guided projectiles, and anything that travels at relativistic speeds is going to start to explode maximum ranges in a very real way.

The same thing is true for planetary bombardment. Launching kinetic projectiles at relativistic speeds means you can be outside the solar system if you’re patient enough. Planets, as a rule, aren’t particularly good at dodging incoming projectiles, and you can use math to have a pretty good idea of exactly where it will be twenty years from now. The frightening thing about orbital bombardment is, you don’t actually need to be in orbit, or even in the stellar gravity well. If you’re targeting a rocky terrestrial world inside The Goldilocks Zone, it gets worse, because the star’s gravity well will assist in accelerating the projectiles as they get closer. It will also distort aiming, but this is in incredibly predictable ways, that anyone with a functional grasp of physics and a calculator can adjust for.

When it comes to naval warfare in space, 50m km isn’t really long distance. That’s pretty close to one another.

When you’re writing combat in space, it’s important to set the technological limitations of your ships and setting. This is why I’m somewhat permissive of settings which put ships within a few kilometers of each other, and have them engage at those ranges, when it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. Maybe your world’s beam weapons are only effective to 10km, and your ECM have enough time to disable missiles fired from more than 20km away. At the same time, the concept of ship to ship combat has some downright horrifying potential, especially when you realize that all of those missed shots will hit something, eventually.


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Q&A: Sci-Fi Arsonal

Any tips on creating sci fi weapons? I want a whole range of them, rifles, guns, swords, knives, bow&arrow, cannons, missiles, bombs, etc.. Using being made with up sci fi materials down to the projectiles, computer controlled, mind controlled etc?

If you’re having a hard time coming up with weapons for your sci-fi setting, my thought would be looking at equipment sourcebooks for RPGs. This will also help you pick the gear that best fits your setting. Core books can also be useful, as most RPGs will include some sample weapons and armor as part of the main rules.

As a sort of obvious example, if you’re writing a cyberpunk dystopia, a bunch of beam weapons wouldn’t make much sense. At the same time, a distant future setting wouldn’t be restricted to kinetic firearms, unless you wanted that.

So, with that in mind, a few things come to mind. You’re not likely to see swords in a science fiction setting, unless they serve some cultural role, if you’re dealing with things that can shrug off ranged attacks, or if you’re looking at fights in very tight spaces. (For example: You might see these in boarding actions on starships, especially if your ranged weapons would puncture the hull.)

The bow is a similar situation. You’re not likely to see it outside of very niche circumstances, or if there are cultural reasons. The weapon is very unwieldy, so even if you need to deliver a large payload, there’s more efficient ways to do that.

None of that means you can’t do these things. There’s a lot of sci-fi settings that incorporate various melee and bow weapons for any number of reasons. If you need a ranged weapon that is absolutely silent and has no energy signature, a bow or crossbow may be the most efficient way to achieve that. It’s also entirely possible you have energy bows of some kind that simply deliver far more killing power than the “conventional,” weapons in your world.

Moving beyond that, there’s an awkward truth to a lot of energy weapons in fiction. You have three kinds:

Kinetic weapons. These will usually differ from real world firearms in some technologically significant way, and the performance of the weapon is probably far beyond what you could achieve with gunpowder, but it’s still a gun. You pull the trigger and bullets come out. (This includes smart bullets, where the ammunition itself is electronically guided, and weapons with targeting assistance built in.) Gauss weapons are one of the more common examples of this (both coilguns and railguns. These propel the projectile by using and manipulating electromagnetic fields.

Beam weapons. This can be anything from a laser to something more advanced like Star Trek‘s Phasers and disruptors. These can be further split into short burst beams and sustained fire. The former will fire a brief burst of light, while the later can maintain a sustained beam, and may need some time on target to take effect. In some cases these will be used interchangeably. Either because the weapon has alternate firing modes or because the users are exercising trigger discipline.

Finally, we have energy projectile weapons which fire visible, discrete, energy blobs. As a functional consideration, these frequently travel at comically low speeds in visual media because, otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to track the projectile with your eyes. Star Trek sometimes gets inconsistent between these two, with both pulse and beam phasers and disruptors.

When you step back from that, a lot of this simply becomes different flavors of “space magic.” Star Trek takes it on the chin here, but it’s an excellent illustration. We’ve seen antiproton, polaron, tachyon, plasma, tetryon, and dozens of other beam weapon variants. While each one has it’s own contextual implication, from a narrative perspective they’re just different flavors of “ray gun.”

The, “space magic,” comment may sound critical, but it’s not. To an extent, in the context of a setting like Star Trek, the exact flavor of a weapon adds texture and credibility to the world. They’re not firing, “death rays,” they’re using, “a compressed tetryon beam.” What’s the difference? There isn’t one, just that the latter sounds more technical and scientific, while the former sounds more fantastic. There isn’t a right answer to which is a better fit for your world, it depends on the kind of story you’re trying to tell.

When it comes to military hardware in a sci-fi setting, I’ve got a soft spot for Warhammer 40k‘s batshit insanity. It’s a setting that’s built off of material like Dune, Starship Troopers, Star Wars, and a lot of other classic sci-fi. The killing power the setting’s weapons is downright bonkers. We’re talking about a setting where a standard infantry weapon that can explosively liquify its target on impact is considered underpowered. You can skim through 40k’s wargear online, if you’d like to get an idea of what your options are there. Just remember that Games Workshop is very litigious about their trademarks.

Ultimately, the best way to get a feel for the kinds of technology you want to use in your setting is by starting with the genre, and looking at what’s out there. While I’m not a fan of the politics, Starship Troopers, is a good starting point. Armor by John Steakly is another solid option to follow that up with. Dune is more about the politics, but the eccentric technology of its world is critical to how it functions, and it’s worth exposing yourself to it. If you find the books intimidating, I’d recommend the miniseries from the early-2000s.

While some of this might be a little tricky to run down, my recommendation on RPG splatbooks is heavily influenced by the pencil and paper RPGs I’ve played. The Trinity Technical Manual from the game of the same name had a lot of interesting concepts. (Trinity itself was an interesting setting, though it did suffer from White Wolf’s inconsistent sensitivity.) D20 Future (not, technically a weapons list, thought that was included) was a supplement for D20 Modern. Because it’s bundled in with D&D 3.5 (legally), you can find the text for most D20 Modern (including D20 Future) in online SRDs. Unfortunately, the item focused D20 Future Tech supplement is not as easily available, and prohibitively expensive. Without knowing exactly what you’re looking for, GURPS in general is an easy recommendation, but pinning down a specific setting (and a short list of source books) could be trickier. GURPS Space has been around in various printings for over 30 years, and if you can find a cheap copy, it should probably provide you with excellent ideas. (Incidentally, there are four different editions, and the prices vary wildly.) There’s also a mix of supplemental books for GURPS Space, which is a rarity for GURPs.

It’s not about weapons, and could be a little tricky to track down, but I do have a real favorite in Star Trek: The First Line. This was sourcebook for Last Unicorn Game’s short lived Star Trek RPG in the late 90s, and focused on Starfleet Intelligence. It’s a very interesting look into espionage in a setting that only clings to this side of Clarke’s Third Law through aggressive technobabble.


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Q&A: Basic Energy Weapons

If Sci-Fi laser guns existed, do you think the bolts would act more like bullets or laser pointers in relation to how the various variables affect their path?

The thing about lasers is, they actually exist now. Which wasn’t true (or, at least, wasn’t as true) back when science fiction first picked them up as a concept.

A laser is, basically by definition, going to travel at, or very close to C. (Roughly 300 million meters per second.) So, if you’re thinking of slow moving projectiles that your eye can see and track, that’s never going to happen.

The other thing about lasers is, they’re just focused light. This is the same, basic concept as a kid with a magnifying glass, weaponized. It’s still going to reflect off, or burn through, anything it hits. It will also be basically invisible.

The only time you can actually see a laser beam, in real life, is if there’s particulate matter in the air, reflecting the light back to you. Smoke, fog, and dust will all pick up the beam, and reflect some back to you so you can see it. This isn’t a problem when you’re talking about a targeter or pointer; the beam isn’t particularly destructive, so this kind of blowback is harmless. But, when you’re talking about a weaponized laser, that starts to become a real concern.

This is a general truth about seeing things, by the way. For your eye to see something, light needs to strike it and bounce off, hitting your eye. Your eye processes that light, and tells your brain, “hey, there’s a thing here.” Lasers, by definition, avoid that until contact with their target. Thing is with a weaponized laser, the produced light is the weapon. So, if you can see it, you’re getting hit. Even if it’s bouncing off water vapor in the air.

Of course, as with any other variety of light, you can bounce it off a reflective surface. This means, the greatest defense against future soldiers with laser weapons may just be polished chrome surfaces. Not only would it reflect the laser off of it, it would send it back in the general direction of the original user or their buddies. Best of all, you couldn’t see exactly where it was going, because you don’t want that light being reflected back to you.

Now, there is a possibility it would burn through any dust or other atmospheric contaminants on the way through, leaving a faint, singed, after image of where the laser was fired, but in general, you wouldn’t be able to see the beam. Which isn’t that different from bullets, for that matter. There’s another possibility where it would reflect off something like water vapor or any other atmospheric obstruction, (the way lasers actually do), and diffuse to the point of worthlessness almost immediately. (To be fair, I’m not sure which is more likely to occur.) Either way, you’ve got a weapon that will face all kinds of problems on a battlefield.

If you’re trying for a hard-sci-fi setting, (meaning the science underpinning your setting is sound), then all of these factors will make lasers less appealing. If your setting is aimed at a less grounded, soft sci-fi, then lasers are (somewhat) less appealing, simply because their fantastical value has worn off. Lasers sounded like weapons of the future, when you couldn’t pick one up as a cat toy for $5 in most department stores.

With that in mind, you can try to keep the same weapon concept, but selectively trim off the issues, for your softer settings. Things like Star Trek’s phasers and disruptors aren’t, technically lasers, while Star Wars’s Blasters are an entirely different technology that you probably interact with in a non-weaponized capacity on a regular basis.

As with a large amount of stuff in Star Trek, whatever technology keeps phasers from reflecting around randomly is never clearly explained. The term itself is a portmanteau of phased and laser. So, it’s some kind of laser variant that won’t normally reflect (though it is shown happening a couple times in the franchise).

Disruptors are even more nebulous, and it’s helpful to remember this is more of a catch all term, including things like sonic weapons, up through a variety of molecular disruption weapons.

Star Wars uses the molecular disruption idea for their disruptors, when the writers want one, but basic blasters aren’t laser weapons. Blasters fire bolts of ionized gas, meaning they’re actually plasma weapons.

As with lasers, plasma is a concept we’re familiar with in modern day. In the simplest terms, it’s a fourth state of matter. You have solids, liquids, and gasses, with plasma sitting above gasses. Plasma is heavily affected by magnetic fields, meaning it is possible to contain and eject it with directed energy weapons (though, that’s not possible with current technology.) It’s not a very energy efficient technology, but you don’t need to worry about it reflecting back and killing the shooter because it struck a mote of dust en route to the target.

If you absolutely need an energy weapon that behaves more like a modern gun, firing glowing bolts of energy, plasma is probably your best bet.

There are problems. Magnetic fields on the target’s armor could mess with the plasma delivery, (which may help you understand that line about the Death Star’s trash compactor being magnetically shielded.) Also, any magnetic field it passes through on the way.

Plasma is also an option for beam weapons. In fact, the most destructive form of plasma you’ve probably encountered is a lightning strike. The electrostatic discharge instantly ionizes the atmosphere between the points, and you get a visible flash of light, followed by the sonic shock of that air being instantly converted into plasma.

Before I move on, it’s probably worth noting, most current plasma research is focused on power generation. That is to say, using magnetic fields to contain plasma for the purposes of safe fusion reactions.

Long term, plasma weapons are probably going to fall by the wayside for sci-fi the way lasers have. Most people don’t think of fluorescent lights as plasma, so the term sounds more fantastic than the technology really is. With refinement of magnetic containment technology, and the use of fusion as a power source, plasma weapons will probably lose a lot of their shine.

The railgun is another weapon you’ll see referenced in near-future sci-fi. Sometimes called gauss weapons, or mass drivers, these are, quite simply, a gun. Instead of using a chemical propellant, they use magnetic fields to accelerate a ferrous slug to speed.

I’m bringing them up for two reasons. First, it is one conceivable way to make a plasma weapon viable. Second, they actually exist.

Laser weapons are, at best, theoretical. Plasma containment and manipulation is an actively researched topic. Though the primary goal there is power generation, not weapons technology. Railguns do exist today.

Modern railguns are mounted weapons. You can stick these things on a naval vessel, or in a facility. They draw massive amounts of power to fire, but deliver a lot of destructive force on impact. Part of the reason is because they’re truly frictionless. You can accelerate their payload to speeds that would utterly destroy conventional firearms. You can also send payloads down range that are far harder than anything you’d ever load into a gun.

One of the mechanical limitations to modern firearms is, the bullet and barrel are in direct contact. When you fire a bullet, it, quite literally, scrapes the barrel on its way out. Part of the reason why we make bullets out of materials like lead and copper is because they are substantially softer than the steel barrel, and will result in significantly less wear.

When we do need to fire a round with something more solid as its payload, the harder core will be wrapped (called jacketed) by a softer metal. For example, a steel core round will have a copper or lead jacket, to protect the firearm. On impact, that coating will strip away fully, and the steel will (usually) punch through any light armor in its path. You’ll also see things like depleted uranium, or tungsten used as cores for armor piercing rounds.

With railguns, that’s not a consideration. Unless the material is magnetically inert, you can just drop it in, and fire it.

What we can’t do with a rail gun, is carry it around. Current technology is too energy intensive for that. But, if you’re looking at a future setting, where power generation is less of a consideration, then these may be an option. Ballistically speaking, they are guns, firing solid projectiles. The only difference is, they’re doing so at speeds that are impossible to achieve with conventional firearms.

I’m going through all of these, but all of them are built around the idea that we need something other than conventional firearms. That’s probably true, on a long enough timescale, but modern ballistic weapons are remarkably energy efficient, for their design. You have a cartridge which contains all of the necessary energy to propel a round at hyper sonic speeds. There are considerations like recoil, which can be minimized through mechanical developments. There’s also potential hybridization of other technologies into them, in order to make a more efficient design. But, if you’re working with a sci-fi setting, it’s worth considering that guns may stick around, simply because they work.

In a vacuum, lasers or plasma weapons are probably more desirable, because a mass projectile will continue traveling until it hits something, which could be in hundreds of thousands of years. But, a laser will eventually disperse to the point that it is too indistinct to cause damage.

In an atmosphere, a gun, or gauss rifle may be a much better option for the situation presented.


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Q&A: Sci-fi Firepower

For a sci-fi webcomic, I’ve been working on the specs of a class of power-armor clad enforcers (called Jotunns) and their weaponry; they have a specific handgun they use. For ammunition I was thinking of two types they carry: 12.7mm hollowpoint for soft targets and shorter range, and tungsten-tipped sabot rounds as ‘high-power’ rounds, for anti-armor/anti-giant-mutant and long-range use. Is this just me going way off the mark for firepower, or could this be justified for a man-scale tank?

So, 12.7mm is a real round (well, several different rounds), and it makes this entire question a little strange. We talked about the idiosyncrasies of firearms a couple weeks ago, and I had to check, but 12.7mm did come up as an example. 12.7mm is half an inch, so .50. Occasionally, you’ll see .50 BMG listed as 12.7x99mm instead of the imperial caliber.

I’ve seen 12.7 come up as a distinct round in, basically, two places. There’s a 12.7x108mm Chinese AM round, which is their answer to the .50 BMG, and, Fallout: New Vegas.

Ironically, the reason New Vegas calls it a 12.7mm is actually in the above paragraph. The game includes an Anti Materiel rifle patterned off the Barret which fires .50 BMG rounds. Because of how New Vegas formats ammunition names, this creates an immediate problem. There’s two different .50 rounds. The BMG and the AE. The AE is a handgun round (12.7x33mm), the BMG rifle round (again, 12.7x99mm). So, if you include a .50 pistol, and a .50 rifle, people who aren’t very firearms savvy are going to wonder why they don’t share ammunition. “I mean, it’s all .50, right?”

What Obsidian (I think this was specifically J.E. Sawyer’s call, but I’m not completely certain) chose to do was label one as 12.7mm, and the other one .50. Since the Barret has slightly more name recognition it got to keep the imperial name, and the pistol got the metric.

The other thing weighing on giving the pistol the metric name was, it’s a returning design from the first two Fallout games. They had something called a 14mm pistol (externally based on a SIG sporting pistol, if I’m remembering correctly), which was an upgrade from the .44 Desert Eagle, in game terms.

All of that said? .50AE isn’t a great round, and, while I could be wrong, I don’t see it having a real future. It fits with Fallout because it’s chromed steel excess meshes well with 1950s consumer design.

Hell, the Desert Eagle is an excellent example of that era’s design aesthetics. Big, heavy, more steel and chrome than is practical. It’s a four pound pistol. Even though it’s Israeli and didn’t actually enter production until the 1980s, it’s an excellent flash card for that era of Americana.

So, here’s the hard part. For someone who’s not wearing a powered exosuit, a .50 is an annoying round to control. In an exosuit, and against the kind of targets where you’d really need that kind of firepower, I’m inclined to think it would be kind of anemic. Why use a .50 round, when you could simply have a standardized 19mm or 25.4mm high explosive round? With varying payloads depending on what you’re shooting. Sure, no normal human could use it, but if you’re in powered armor, that’s not an issue.

A sabot round is, basically, a dart loaded into a shotgun shell. Now, that’s not completely accurate, but if you’re dead set on using one. I’d recommend just using solid darts, rather than having a distinct tip. For serious AP capability in a high power rifle, I’d actually be more inclined to point at man portable gauss weapons, rather than wasting space on a sabot.

All of this is going to be predicated on the technology your characters have access to. So, it’s possible your setting just doesn’t have portable gauss weapons. Also, feel free to ignore the bolter calibers I listed back up there. That is a Warhammer 40k reference. But, for ways to load out a suit of powered armor, 40k is a fantastic thing to look at.

Some quick primers for powered armor:

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein is probably the patient zero of SciFi space marines in powered armor. I deeply dislike the politics that Heinlein was advocating, but the book is worth reading. I’m much more partial to the film, but that’s a brutal takedown of the military jingoism that Heinlein was celebrating.

Armor by John Steakley is written as a rebuttal to Starship Troopers. I’m inclined to say it’s actually a better book, but that’s my bias seeping in. Either way, Steakley does some good worldbuilding.

If you haven’t, Warhammer 40k’s Space Marines are something you really should be looking at. You can check the Lexicanum to get a quick overview, and some basic statistical data; it will also work as a good quick litmus test to tell if the setting’s zealotry dialed to 11 and played for laughs is something you can actually get into and enjoy. For specific recommendations, first impulse here is to actually point at the THQ games. The generically titled Space Marine is a surprisingly good third person action title. Dawn of War was my first real introduction to the setting, and Dawn of War 2 specifically isn’t a bad starting point.

Generally speaking, when you’re looking at characters in powered armor, it can trace it’s lineage back through one of these sources. So it’s probably worth looking at them, if you’re working with this sub-genre.


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Crossed Genres magazine Raises Rates to Pro-Rates for Sci-Fi Stories



Crossed Genres Publications, an independent publisher of spec fiction, is now paying fiction writers 6 cents/word, considered pro-rates for this genre.

Crossed Genres (est. 2008), the magazine, is still soliciting short fiction stories for the October 2014 issue. The theme is “Robots, Androids & Cyborgs”—fiction tales about these classic themes using dominant elements of sci-fi/fantasy to tell the story. 

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Hello :) I asked this question of fuckyeahcharacterdevelopment, and they forwarded me to you, so I hope you can help me. Would you be able to point me in the direction of any resources regarding weapon recoil, specifically relating to laser weapons? I know they’re not a thing yet, but this is for a sci-fi novel in which they will be and i just wanted to know whether a laser gun might recoil like a normal one, particularly since said gun is also part of a robotic arm (much like Iron Man’s hands).

No. At least not unless the setting is getting creative with the term laser. Recoil is just Newtonian physics at work. Specifically Newton’s third law, that’s “for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.”

You have a chunk of metal you want to accelerate to hypersonic speeds, and an explosive package to do it. When you pull the trigger, the recoil you feel is the reaction to accelerating the mass of the bullet.

A laser is just a focused beam of light. Newton doesn’t apply (at least not to a degree that your character will be able to experience.) Just point and burn. You can experience this not happening personally with one of those impulse buy laser pointers… or a flashlight.

The only way you’d end up with recoil on a laser weapon is if it’s not actually a laser, or if there are some heavy moving parts in the weapon, which would be a serious design flaw.

Okay, a couple major caveat on the following. One, I’m not an expert on physics. Two, as you said, lasers don’t exist as anti-personnel weapons yet, so, some of this could be a little off:

If your characters are wanting to vaporize someone with lasers, the result is going to be messy. Just think of the last thing you exploded something in the microwave, and apply that to a person. (Star Trek’s Phasers use technobabble to avoid painting the walls in gore every time they shoot someone.)

Depending on the weapon’s power output, this could apply to all laser wounds. Ballistic firearms work by disrupting the victim with kinetic force; this is impossible with a laser weapon. Lasers can project radiation as heat, but they can’t create a physical impact, the beam itself is still just light. So the laser could, literally, cook the victim in their own juices. If the laser is heating the victim enough to cause steam to erupt (which is plausible) you could see massive tissue disruption from superheated organs exploding. Fallout and Fallout 2 used laser weapons as a cutting beam (with some of the in game text and the death animations), so that’s a slightly less gruesome option.

Finally, the biggest issue with lasers as weapons has been power. It takes a lot of juice to superheat an object using a laser. So, how your setting has solved that issue might affect a lot of this.

For future reference: any Roleplaying game that has an optional sci-fi component or a tech level system should have some info to get you started. GURPS Ultra Tech is a good quick source of information (it also has some information on wide array of future technology).

A lot of old sci-fi themed strategy games talked about the implications of advancing weapon technology. I want to say Alpha Centauri or the original X-Com was where I first came across the no-recoil bit about lasers.

If you can find it, White Wolf’s Trinity setting might have some useful ideas for you. Not about lasers, but, in creating a sci-fi setting in general.


I have a character who has cameras mounted on her motorbike helmet that give her full 360 vision, how much would this benefit her in a fight, especially in close quarters? (The cameras are connected directly to her brain, but due to damage to the controlling computer that happens in her backstory, they provide her with effectively all-round peripheral vision, but she can focus on any point around her.)

That’s…gotta be really confusing.

You’re working really hard to give your character an advantage that most fighters develop naturally during their training. Close to or slightly better than 180 degree peripheral vision (mine was 172 when we measured it in middle school) and what amounts to a sixth sense for someone coming in behind you? Got it. It doesn’t really even take specialized training, just a fair amount of practice. There are exercises you can do to develop your peripheral vision on your own, I just don’t remember what they are.

Comparatively, the problem with electronics equipment is that it breaks. A motorcycle helmet isn’t a great option for fighting because it’s designed to take one high force impact, not someone taking someone else by the collar and slamming their head into the concrete wall fifty times. When electronics break – and they will – whether it’s on your characters end or on the controlling computer’s, they’ll send some nasty electronic signals directly into her brain that could short things out or fuck your character up long term. At the moment, our brains are more advanced hardware than a computer so the signals won’t be as compatible or as natural as your character’s eyes. If your character is still using their eyes, then they’re going to experience double vision. Cameras are also slower at processing data than the brain, so your character is also going to experience a time delay when they’re fighting. There’s also the time it takes for the cameras to send the data to the “controlling computer”. Fights happen in a matter of seconds, even a split second time delay in hand to hand or a gun fight is going to be fatal.

This sort of thing works with powered armor because it’s powered armor, it can afford to be a little slow. Your hand to hand fighter really can’t because they don’t have the protection several inches of hardened plate provides.

These are just some things to think about. I recommend watching Strange Days. It’s not exactly what you’re talking about, but it’s an interesting example of working with videos getting jacked into the brain. It’s also really good.


mimitcs said: May I add a huge trigger warning for Strange Days? It’s a great movie, but I remember there were a couple of scenes (maybe just one?) about rape. Better be prepared

Good point. There are actually several sequences where the main character is experiencing (and reacting appropriately to) the visual memory of a rapist and murderer. It’s sick and it’s meant to be. The narrative never treats it as it being okay (quite the opposite) but it is disturbing. So, be careful.

This might be weird, and I’m not sure if it’s anything you can answer, but do you have any tips on space fights? Like with ships and stuff? How to make them realistic (or semi-realistic)? I wonder how good of a study Star Trek and Star Wars may be (though in the Star Wars galaxy space might just work like that, who knows?). If you can’t help I understand, and thanks.

Babylon 5 is your friend, watch Babylon 5. It uses some hard science and the human technology (ships, space stations) use rotating sections to generate artificial gravity. The fighters have thrusters that allow them to move in all four directions. The show is pretty great, it’s writing is top notch and one of my all time favorites. The first season is a kinda rough, but it really finds it’s feet in the second one and the whole series is great for the way it ties everything together.

Star Trek isn’t so great because it’s working under the physics of submarine warfare, not space. I have no idea about Star Wars.

I remember Ender’s Game doing some fun stuff with the ability to move in all three directions. C.J. Cherry’s Downbelow Station series is nice to get some ideas for sci-fi, though not necessarily combat.

The Dead Space games are also good, especially if you want to start playing around with movement in four directions and transitioning between gravity and no gravity. It’s a really great sandbox for trying to simulate fighting in space, less with the ships, but you might get some nice ideas. Dead Space 2 is really good for that, so is Dead Space 3 in the early space sections.

Does anyone have any other suggestions that might help?


I have a human character who is being hunted by an alien race aboard a star ship. At one point, I have her jumping from the moving lift onto a deck that it didn’t stop at. Is that feasible? (The lift door has been jammed open, but the lift still works.)

It depends on a couple things, how fast the lift is going, what safety features it has, is it going up or down?

But, yeah, depending on those answers it should be feasible. It could also produce the most revolting episode of Will it Blend? ever. If you’re really asking, “how fast can it go before it shears my character in half?” I’m honestly not sure.

Also, given that it’s aboard a starship, then artificial gravity becomes a wonderful physics cheat. Depending on how that works, things like fall momentum, might not work quite right. If jumping suddenly releases someone into micrograv, then it should be viable, assuming that contact with the wall doesn’t restore gravity, but it’ll be a very different scene.


Q&A: Sci-fi Warfare

Sorry, I didn’t want to be specific because I tried to keep it short and to the point. However, I can think of a lot of reasons why guns might fall out of favor. Mostly, it’d come as armor. Kevlar is fantastic against bullets, but has a weakness stabbing. Just take that to 11. Another might be like Dune, a sort of energy shield that stops high velocity impacts, but doesn’t stop low velocity. Anyways, I’m mostly curious what could be modern sword technology, (nano-tech and cryoforge, apparently).

With the caveat that it’s been a few years since I read Dune, a few things stand out: I wouldn’t call the year 10,000 the near future. Dune is, very much, a post apocalyptic setting; humanity is in the process of recovering from domination by autonomous AIs. I’m not sure if this was a jab at Asimov, but, regardless.

And, personal shields are very rare, very expensive, and extremely fragile pieces of equipment. House Atredies is able to afford a few of them. This is one of the most powerful members of the LANSRAD, and an incredibly wealthy family.

So, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the combat we see might not be completely representative of warfare in the setting. That said, when actual battles occur, the great houses and the Sardukar have no qualms in breaking out lasguns.

The personal shields can’t handle fire from lasguns, so ranged weapons remain preferable on the whole, and really only work against sword strikes. Hence the whole, “a slow blade penetrates,” because a normal blade strike will reflect off. I can’t remember if the shields could survive normal firearms in the setting, but they certainly didn’t change the nature of war in Dune.

The blade fighting in the novels is, almost exclusively, the purview of dueling, and while houses have “swordmasters”, the actual weapon of choice is long knives.

I will say; Warhammer 40k, Dune, and Star Wars all make for fairly reasonable uses of melee weapons in a sci fi context. Lightsabers have ways to stay effective against ranged foes (so long as they’re backed up with superpowers), 40k is loaded to the gills with things that won’t die from sustained bolter fire and ludicrously lethal melee weapons, finally; Dune has a fairly rich dueling tradition. But, I wouldn’t hold any of those up as justifications for a near future setting.

On the subject of Kevlar, it’s actually been improving at a fairly steady pace. Used to be, 9mm rounds posed a serious threat to someone, and now we’ve gotten to the point where a vest can take an intermediate rifle round at medium range.

The problem with Kevlar is one of the basic constants of the universe, entropy. While a modern Kevlar vest will stop a 5.56mm rifle round, at 50m, when you start getting closer, or taking more fire, the vest will fail.

I’ll add a primer on modern body armor, because this one can get a bit complicated, though fair warning, I’ll probably do that after I’ve done most of my firearms primers. If you want to do some research now, I’d recommend looking into Kevlar, and ceramic inserts. Also if you start feeling too cocky about body armor, look up the history of the 10mm handgun round, and steel core ammunition. If you want a setting where you can use a sword in a gunfight and live, I’d suggest Warhammer 40k. It’s comically over the top, but there’s some coherent world building, and it does present you with the kinds of things you’d need to be dealing with to see swords really return to the battlefield.


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