Personal Weapons

Raygun 1
Image from Luke Campbell

Personal Weapons and Galactic Society

A personal weapon is one that a sapient being can carry and use without assistance, and that is not intrinsic to the body's design in the way a tooth, claw, or built-in cutting torch might be. Even excluding the weaponry held by clades specifically designed for combat, or by those sentient structures or ships so large that a 'personal' weapon is not meaningful, this does in fact cover a very large range. Elephant or dinosaur provolves, or some of the larger vecs, can carry devices that might require a troop of humans. Whatever the definition, humans and other sophont-level beings have been very inventive in respect to such weapons.

Perhaps because on their own scale such devices are not of the kind that seriously threaten the higher transapients or interstellar civilisation generally, there has not been much pressure to limit them from the archai. On the other hand, many individual civilizations of subsingularity beings, and some lower level transapients have their own crusades to prevent the spread of personal weaponry, with varying levels of success, usually on the argument that such restrictions enhance individual and collective security, including freedom from lethal attacks. The counter to this movement has often been some variant on the "right to bear arms" meme, one that dates back to some influential ancient Industrial Age human cultures. The result is that allowed personal weaponry varies greatly from polity to polity, and empire to empire. In many angelnetted old core worlds, ownership of personal weapons for anything other than as curiosities, collection-pieces, and for sporting purposes, is usually forbidden, or if it is allowed then actual use is restricted by the ever-watchful angelnet programming. Many non-angelnetted polities also strongly regulate the use and ownership of personal weaponry. In other polities with other values, especially away from the centres of power, or in free zones, cultural and legal restrictions are more relaxed, or even nonexistent.

Sentient weapons are of course common and widespread, although most are just simple-minded servants. Very different are demon weapons: guns that may be smarter than their wielders, and may have their own agendas. These tend to turn up with alarming regularity in any polity where their use is not forbidden, and can be a dangerous trap for the unwary.

Reasons for Personal Weapons

It might be asked, why would sapients want to actually have hand-held weapons at all. Very rarely is the reason military. As far as actual warfare is concerned, this is usually done remotely; either by bombardment of some sort, or by the use of remote drones. To give the level of control needed, bionts require a brain stem implant, whereas vecs, cyborgs and other non-organic life forms have specialized coprocessors attached directly to their central processing centre. A suite of other enhancements could be included here, including direct communications between soldiers, reflex enhancements, and some basic automatic enhancements in the drones for strength, aim correction, and so on.

Given the choice, most sophonts don't really want to be physically involved in actual warfare. One to one combat, or small game-like warfare is sufficient for asserting one's strength, authority, skill, social status, and so on. Thus, remote and expendable drones would be a preferable method of combat. However, in some cases, the balance of resources might mean that the cost of drones such as these is too much, or their might be cultural or memetic reasons in giving your sentient population (be they baseline humans or whatever) a gun, and sending them off to fight is more worthwhile. It also depends a little on what sort of campaign is involved.

Most often the reason for ownership and use of hand weapons is ceremonial or as a machismo icon; a weapon adds an element of charisma and gives the owner a feeling of power and in some cultures might be of great use. The trouble for a nearbaseline is that there is always a faster gun. For this reason, dedicated AI weapons and protection vecs are a large commodity. That way one can keep one's eyes, hands, and mind on what's important and let one's guardian/enforcer carry the big stick. Some clades may require the use of hand weapons, but more savvy sapients understand the benefits of a little hired help.

Another situation where individuals with hand-held weapons makes sense is self defence. In some less regulated large population centres that are not angelnetted or under hyperturing supervision, it would be quite dangerous to go unarmed, since criminal elements, factional warfare, or even the authorities might pose enough of a threat that hand-held weapons are necessary for defence. But if the one being defending against has hyper-reflexes and one is only a baseline, then having a bodyguard vec or bot is useful. Sometimes this even involves an attached AI companion that shoots when necessary or just notifies the owner of the assailant sneaking up from behind. Often there is a combination of weapon and AI, like a smart gun, or an ordinary gun and an argus (AI that watches all around its owner), or a "pet" that looks baseline but is actually a weapons platform. Of those two cases, the former may involve use of the full array of hand held weapons, from small lasers, to long range area effect weapons of devastation. The latter case generally involves the use of smaller weapons - pocket lasers, slug throwers, and melee weapons (monofilament, blades, and so on). In the end, hand weapons might be useful, but if the opponent(s) is faster, more powerful, or cunning, then something beyond baseline is needed to keep the balance of power.

Types of Weapons

Generally, personal weapons can be divided into projectile ("slug-throwers"), beam, melee, area, transapientech, and miscellaneous.

Projectile Weapons

Because of their ease of manufacture and efficiency in an atmosphere, easily stored ammunition, and devastating effect against unarmoured or very lightly armoured targets, kinetic weapons are often a staple personal sidearm. Another advantage over most beam weapons is the flexibility to change the payload effect. Slug-throwers come in various forms and calibres; chemical projectile, gauss gun, pneumatic dart, etc. Rifle, carbine, pistol, low velocity, and exotic configurations all exist. Most two-handed firearms are either self aiming or assisted aiming, or may use guided micro-shell ammunition. Common slug thrower payloads include: explosive-tipped guided micro-shell, memo-form tipped micro-shell, spoiling penetrator, flechette, soft-shell, hydrostatic enhanced, hollow point dum-dum, infecter, mandel (fractal), wire trailing, penetrating guide point round, and more. The following is only a very small selection of possible variations

Most pistols are short barrelled, small to large-bore weapons with explosive speciality ammo or guided micro-shells. Being able to be fired one-handedly they are not self-aiming, although many are equipped with a cyber-link and laser range finder to let the user know when it is correctly aimed, as well as providing information like range etc.

Carbines and rifles generally require two hands and are often equipped with self aiming or aim-assist functions. Loading may be manual, mechanical, automatic (gas-blowback), electronic ("metal storm") or even organic.

The grenade launcher is a clumsy weapon, but has the advantage of firing a larger projectile, or a huge number of guided submunitions, but suffers from short range and, with non-guided projectiles, poor accuracy. Some grenade launchers have been tooled to fire small rockets or mortar shells, but this is generally outside the designer's specifications

Boom Bullets ACERs are projectile weapons using antimatter-catalysed fusion to achieve large detonations from very small shells. Similar weapons such as Amat flechettes use annihilation reactions directly to achieve even more energetic explosions. Note; these sorts of weapons, although they may be hand-held, create large destructive effects at the target zone, so should not be used at close quarters.

Beam Weapons

Lasers: by far the most common side-arm. Most modern lasers use diode/quantumdot/nanoemitter technology to produce powerful beams in a variety of wavelengths, the most common being microwave (masers), infra-red, visible and ultraviolet. Hand held X-ray lasers and gamma-ray lasers can only be produced by ultratech or clarketech means, and are rare, expensive and highly prized. An interesting variation is the adaptive laser. This is a variable frequency weapon that adjusts it's beam strength (manual override available) depending on the material it is fired at.
(Slogan from Trillicom Arms): "Why use a gamma laser and waste all those extra photons on a target that reacts best in the 510-514 nm range? Use an Adaptive Frequency Laser to get the most excitation for your erg".

Electrolaser: uses a laser beam to ionise the air, then sends an electric current across. Basically a hi tech taser, but not very effective in some weather conditions.

Sonic weapons: these fire a focussed very high pitched (screamers) or very low pitched (rumblers) sonic beam, and can have nasty effects. Obviously only works in an atmosphere.

Particle beam gun: a rather heavy weapon that fires a relativistic particle stream. Sometimes called a blaster because of the spectacular effect when the beam hits. There is usually a spray of relativistic particles one either side of the target (when the beam interacts with the air); these cause serious radiation damage. A rather brutal weapon, very energy intensive, not as efficient as a laser

Ionic gun: uses a laser to ionise the air, then shoots a stream of charged particles at fairly high speed, basically a light particle beam gun, not nearly as destructive.

Optical Phased arrays: a layer of OPA emitters can be added to any object, a vehicle or even a spacesuit, and can emit coherent light as if from a laser with the same aperture as the object. This can be very useful as a weapon if enough power is available.

Area-Effect Weapons

EMP weapon: fires a directed electromagnetic pulse. Harmless against bionts, bioborgs, and optical circuitry-based vecs, but fries the circuits of any non-hardened silicon tech. Note that Metasoft, Silicon Generation, and other vec societies consider their use "reckless" and "a general public hazard", despite the fact that many vecs are shielded against this kind of thing.

Flamer: Although a flamer can be an energy weapon (e.g. plasma) it is usually much easier to make a chemical one. A flamer can be so hot it could melt through all but the toughest metals. As an area effect weapon it is superb. The psychological effect on defenders is also worth considering. However, this is a clumsy, heavy weapon and limited by very short range. Note: combustion weapons can be dangerous to the user in places with enclosed atmospheres. Also breathing equipment is often needed

Transapientech Weapons

A few transapientech devices are simple enough for ordinary sapients to use. These weapons are so dangerous that they are often banned even by hyperturings and powers that would otherwise turn a blind eye to slug-throwers and conventional beam weapons. Some of these weapons are sentient, a few can out-think most sapients.

Neutronium Melter: Neutronium and similar ultra-dense substances can be manufactured and kept stored. When released, they produce a powerful blast of decay products that can do terrible damage. A neutronium melter simply releases a stream of relativistic neutrons with a bit of protons and electrons at the target. Very deep penetration, tends to do severe radiation damage and the secondary radiation often fries electronics and nanosystems - this kills bionts and vecs alike.

Anti-particle gun: a complex weapon that evacuates a column of air using a power laser beam, then shoots a beam of anti-particles down it. Not only is there a tremendous blast effect but the radiation yielded from the beam hitting its target is intense. Problem with amat weapons: dangerous to use as personal weapons because of the amount of radiation. If used in space you have to sweep the beam path with a cloud of matter later on, to make sure there's no stray amat floating around out there.

Miscellaneous Weapons

Dial-A-Gun: This weapon has different features and capabilities depending on the setting. Heavy and rather impractical, although still used by a few eccentric nearbaseline clades.

"Water Pistol": squirts any kind of fluid, may be a chemical acid, a lysing agent (to reduce any organic matter to slag), or nano-bot destroyers. Short range only.

Elemental Weapon: Uses the elements, earth, wind, fire, water to damage the target. Used as a curiously baroque weapon of choice by some very strange clades. This also suggests a whole range of cultural weapons: it is not enough to kill people, it has to be done in the right way. Hence guns with hologram projections, bullets with religious inscriptions or nano-disassemblers performing automated "last rites".

  • ACER (aka 'Boom Bullets')  - Text by Luke Campbell, Mike Miller, and Todd Drashner
    Personal weapons system that operates by firing small nuclear explosive shells.
  • Active Polymorphic Defence  - Text by John B, with additions by AI Vin
    Systems using amorphous systems such as utility fog, bushbots, swarm or conglomerate technology or fuzzy shielding can use a variety of defence measures to minimise damage.
  • Amat Flechettes  - Text by Todd Drashner
    Anti-matter micro-flechettes, used in space combat.
  • Automatic Rifle  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Steve Bowers
    Hand-held kinetic weapon with effective range generally in the vicinity of several hundred meters.
  • Blackmailer  - Text by Anders Sandberg
    A weapon developed on Daedelus, and since turning up widely throughout known space.
  • Body Armour  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Body armour developed early as protective suits made of such materials as leather, shells, wood, and basketwork, later supplemented by metal and synthetic materials.
  • Borque K'tal  - Text by John B
    A somewhat ritualistic unarmed combat style found amongst some of the Sophic League, the Borque K'tal is noted for its extreme self-control at all levels of application.
  • Camoflage Suit, Janusuit  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Photonanotech full-body stealth suit or skinware covered in janusoptic transceivers.
  • Carapace Armor  - Text by Todd Drashner and 'Total Annihilation'
    Middle Information Age to early Interplanetary Age light combat armor consisting of layers of synthetic chitin and diamondoid plating over an underlayer of kevlar and arachnoweave.
  • Chameleon Suit  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev; minor additions by Stephen Inniss
    Full-body stealth suit covered in specialized interlinked mesobots and nanobots that form an Optical Phased Array. The background on one side of the suit is detected via cambanks and this is then projected on the other side, enabling the wearer to be invisible. Some models also have built-in laser capacity. Not as sophisticated or impervious to detection as a janusuit, and easily detected by most perimeter security tech (motion analysis, nano cloud, sonics, interferometry, etc). It is still used in some kinds of games and sports, or on occasion for casual anonymity where security devices have not been deployed. It is till popular among some feral and barbarian groups.
  • Combat Jacket  - Text by Ryan B
    Wearable Multi-gun platform for versatile personal offensive/defensive operations.
  • Disassembler  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev, updated by Steve Bowers
    A system of nanomachines able to take an object apart a few atoms at a time, while recording its structure at the molecular level. Often employed as a swarm or part of a swarm. This could be used for uploading, copying objects (when used with an assembler system), a dissolving agent or a weapon.
  • Disintegrator Weapon - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    A very rare clarketech device, much more common in fabulist tales than in real life. Most actual disintegrators work in different ways, showing their origin as rare artifacts. Almost all uses clarketech effects that weaken the atomic bonds in the target so it vaporises in a huge ball of superheated gas. The range is not known to exceed 200 meters (more often no more than 50 meters), making it almost as dangerous to the user as the target Some weaken molecular bonds, some weaken atomic bonds (such as a weak force boson beam), the most powerful (probably never hand held) somehow separate the quarks from each other.
  • Dusters   - Text by Michael Boncher
    Particulate Matter Sprayers.
  • Electro-Magnetic Quadrail Musket  - Text by Michael Boncher
    Rugged and flexible ballistic weapon with smooth bore or caged barrel versions.
  • Gauss Gun - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Generic term for kinetic weapon that uses a magnetic charge to accelerate a projectile. Hand-held models tend to use a simple small calibre (usually 2 to 4 mm) high density solid ferrous slug which is accelerated to hypersonic velocity. Some variants use a combination of explosive and magnetic accelerant. These weapons rely on a very high rate of fire to make them effective. Large vehicle or ship-mounted gauss guns with open barrels are called rail guns.
  • GS Vannce - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    General Soldier (ad)Vance - expert systems based on the 251 most efficient humanoid soldiers of the last 4000 years, given out as public domain by Battleprime subsidiary Dark Star Warrior Software during the middle Central Alliance period. Many mercs swear by them.
  • Hand-held Lasers  - Text by Luke Campbell
    Handheld laser weapons have long been used in combat situations on planetary surfaces and elsewhere.
  • Ionic Pistol - Text by M. Alan Kazlev
    Hand-held weapon that fires a beam of high velocity electrically charged ions. Short range when used in an atmosphere.
  • Klank  - Text by John B
    A fairly common vec brushbot physical control mode which is noted for its unarmed combat potential.
  • Marrowbone Armor  - Text by Michael Boncher
    Combines protection from high-powered weaponry with close combat armor and defenses against gray or khaki goo attacks.
  • Melee/Close Combat Weapons  - Text by Michael Walton
    A range of weapons used in close-range armed conflict.
  • Meson Gun - Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Richard Baker
    Hi-tech particle beam weapons that create high energy mesons and direct them at targets. The device, which is usually mounted on a ship or combat remotes, uses the collision of electrons (matter) and positrons (amat) creates pi neutral mesons. Being electrically neutral, these particle beams are not deflected by magnetic fields, and do not disperse as fast as charged particle beams.
  • Mobility Denial Myoribbon (MDMr)  - Text by John Edds
    deployable restrictive technology for subduing mobile targets.
  • Overcharge  - Text by John B
    This is a deliberately destructive biostimulant cocktail designed to greatly amplify the capabilities of the baseline body. It is often considered to be the 'last gasp' of the pure baseline warrior concept.
  • Pencil Missile - Text by Anders Sandberg
    First developed during the early Interplanetary period, this precursor of the knife missile was (and in some more isolated areas still is) a popular drone weapon: generally a small missile with high manoeuvrability used mainly on small hard targets like other drones or to threaten humans. They have a shaped charge sending tungsten shrapnel into the interior of the target, intended mostly to damage electronics and servos. Since they are so small, portable launchers can carry tens of missiles. Because they have only limited ai and do not require advanced nanotech, pencil missiles are preferred by paranoid and ludd groups.
  • Portable Laser Weapons  - Text by Luke Campbell
    Portable laser weapons from the Late Interplanetary Age
  • Shivverskate  - Text by John B
    A relatively recent fad. the Shivverskate stores a moderately impressive amount of kinetic energy in molecular flywheels and releases it as a standing sonic wave beneath itself, allowing a relatively frictionless interface with the ground in a standard-gravity environment. Useable for transport or as a weapon.
  • Shoulder Laser  - Text by Steve Bowers
    Shoulder mounted laser weapon, designed to acquire targets independently while still remaining under the user's control.
  • Squirt Guns  - Text by Michael Boncher
    Liquid spray weapons.
  • Weapon Harness  - Text by M. Alan Kazlev; modified from Anders Sandberg's original
    Wearable complex of devices for ordinary sophonts, sometimes disguised as clothing, with extra add-ons for dedicated ai, expert systems, point defence and sometimes even offence.
Related Topics
Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev, Peter Kisner, Trond Nilsen, Anders Sandberg,Tapio Erola, and Grant Thomas

Initially published on 01 October 2001.