Friday, 6 April 2012

A to Z: F is for Fusion Gun

“The Fusion Gun, Man-Portable.
For when you absolutely, positively,
have to kill every single oengzoez duevae in the room.”

Staff Sergeant Ahallu Jorgon, Imperial Marines, Ret.
PR Consultant

When my friends and I saw our first copy of Traveller Book 4: Mercenary back in 1980, the first thing we did was turn to the weapons stat page and eagerly scan down it. "Holy Space Biscuits!" we said (well, not exactly, but I do try and keep this blog PG), "16D damage! Excellent! What's an FGMP-14 or 15?"

When Traveller was first published, the rules were presented as a boxed set of three little black A5 booklets - hence the term LBB is often used to describe this first, or Classic, incarnation of the game. While there were rules for making characters and designing star ships and planets, the equipment - the weapons that teenage boys love to festoon their characters with - were strangely conservative and "unscience-fictiony". In fact, the only concession to movies like Star Wars, or TV shows like Star Trek, was the inclusion of the laser rifle and the lighter laser carbine, neither of which were particularly robust. I understand the designers of Traveller had a theory that the most efficient way of stopping an animal or a bad guy in his tracks was to deliver a large amount of kinetic energy, and that a bullet, or something similar, would continue to be the simplest delivery mechanism.

Characters in Traveller, as in most roleplaying games, are defined by a number of characteristic statistics that indicate how strong, dexterous, intelligent, etc, the character is. In Traveller, these stats are generated by rolling two six-sided dice for each characteristic, giving a range of 2 - 12. Wounds and aging can decrease a characteristic to 1 or lower, and certain career results can lift a human's attributes to a maximum of 15. In combat, it is the first three physical characteristics - Strength, Dexterity and Endurance - that determine how much damage a character can take before being killed. A character with average stats of 7 for Strength, Dexterity and Endurance could take 21 points of damage. If an FGMP-15 dishes out 16 dice of damage, for an average of 3 per dice, then one shot does 48 points of damage - over twice the damage an average character can sustain!

By the time Traveller Book 4 was released, development work had produced a lot of the classic tropes that we now associate with the Official Traveller Universe of Classic Traveller - the Third Imperium, the interstellar Nobility, the Imperial Marines, the psionic Zhodani - as well as a technology progression running from Tech Level 0 - Stone Age all the way through to Tech Level 15 - Third Imperium leading edge tech. Indeed, the rule books specifically encouraged Games Masters to look beyond Tech Level 15 for Matter Transporters, black hole manipulation and planet-moving technology - in short all those fantastic things which seem like magic, because we cannot, as yet, fathom the physics or technology that create them.

Plasma and Fusion Guns take advantage of developments in energy technology. Using a laser ignition system to ignite hydrogen fuel, the Plasma Gun holds the resulting plasma in the ignition chamber before releasing it through a magnetically focused field along the barrel of the weapon as a 2cm diameter high-velocity plasma jet. The Fusion Gun, first appearing in a man-portable form at Tech Level 14, contains the plasma slightly longer until a fusion reaction begins to take place. This makes the Fusion Gun more powerful than the Plasma Gun and at Tech Level 15, with a gravitic field generator to negate most of the mass and recoil of the gun, usable by troops not wearing powered armour.

So, you can possibly see the attraction to gun-lovin’ teenage boys, and fun-lovin’ Imperial Marines, of the Sun Gun One Five. The acquisition of such a weapon drove a number of the games we played, given that the Imperial authorities were rather leery of having them fall into civilian hands. We didn’t often get there, but we had a lot of fun trying.