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Bag o' Nifties: Tricks for GMs

Sci-Firearms - The Bottom of the Bag

by Dan Bayn
Jun 04,2003


Sci-Firearms - The Bottom of the Bag

The Problem (sorta)

It took two years and twenty-four articles, but the bag o' nifties is finally starting to feel a little light. It's time to move on to something new, but you won't have to go far to find it. Next month, I'll be starting a another monthly column right here at RPG.net: Action Scenes! Each article will detail a fight or chase location, complete with suggested props, stunts, and complications. I'll be writing with my own Wushu RPG in mind, but you should have no trouble plugging the material into any game or system.

However, before we get to all that, there are a few final nifties I was able to shake out of the bag...

The Solution (kinda): Sci-Firearms

Well, "sci-fi weapons" is probably more accurate, since only one is an actual gun, but I'm a sucker for a play on words.


I've always kept a special place in my heart for sci-fi settings with slug-throwers (as opposed to energy weapons). They're a lot like modern day guns, but bigger, louder, and more intimidating! See "The Fifth Element" and "Aliens" for examples. Smartguns follow in this time-honored tradition by using extreme miniaturization, just shy of nanotech, to deliver more bang for your buck!

  1. Ammo - A smartgun bullet is a marvel of engineering in its own right. They are self-propelled, thanks to tiny scramjets and steering fins that increase both range and accuracy. Their tips can be packed with high-yield explosives, armor-piercing uranium, or non-lethal caps that flatten out on impact. Complex loading mechanisms allow users to select specific bullet types on the fly.
  2. Firing - Smartguns can carry 2-3 time many rounds as modern guns of the same size, because the bullets are not packed with gunpowder. Instead, smartguns inject a tiny amount of chemical propellant into the firing chamber and ignite it with an electric spark. After this initial boost, the bullets' scramjets take over (they have a minimal operational speed just above the sound barrier).
  3. Targeting - This is where smartguns get their smarts. A CPU mounted under the barrel tracks targets, accepts commands from the user, and sends guidance data to bullets in the air. You still can't shoot around corners, but you can shoot in wide arcs, weave around small obstructions, and bullseye structural weak spots in machines, vehicles, and armor.

Unlike modern slugthrowers, smartguns need to be recharged regularly, or their targeting system and firing plugs won't work. You'll also need to change out your propellant after a few thousand rounds. Oh, and all you snipers should make sure to pick up a smart-rifle with a holographic scope.

Nano-Field Weapons

In his excellent novel "The Diamond Age," Neal Stephenson depicts cities protected by clouds of defensive nanites designed to seek and destroy hostile nanites. But why stop at civil defense? Nanites in such fields would surround and even permeate anyone inside them. They could be controlled by remote from a secure position, or linked to point-and-shoot control devices carried by soldiers and guards. In a fantasy setting, this would even have the appearance of magic!

Nanotech has limitless potential for efficient killing...

  1. Bleeders - These nanites are designed to destroy organic cells on command. The effect is similar to the terminal phase of Ebola infection; the body's tissues simply disintegrate and blood oozes from every orifice.
  2. Thicken - Normally, nano-fields are as permeable as air, but these can be commanded to thicken around targets and restrict their movements by "sticking" to the ground and nearby objects. This effect may by invisible to the eye, or result in a web-like substance.
  3. Lightning - Create an electrical charge differential between two points in the field (like the control device and whatever it's pointing at, or between the target and a point above the target) and watch the sizzling current flash across the gap!
  4. Boom Sticks - When all else fails, blow shit up! You could use explosive nanites, radioactive nanites, or nanites that emit some kind of incendiary chemical. The result will either look like a fireball or a microwave dinner.


A personal favorite, these melee weapons create "blades" of counter-directional gravity fields. Anything that passes through them is literally torn apart in all directions at once. They're also known as "gravitic chainsaws." Obviously, they pass right through armor and can "cut" through just about anything. Visually, rivenblades are kaleidoscopic; any light passing through them is bent and scattered into meaningless chaos. If you want to go the lightsaber route, rivenblades can be used to parry each other, for some reason.

Warding Spheres

These baseball-sized globes have appeared in two of my settings: All Worldz and Karmic. In the former version, they are "psionic" devices that use telekinesis and clairvoyance to float around users, detect incoming attacks, and move to intercept them. In the latter incarnation, they are purely sci-fi devices, powered by hover technology and radio telemetry. Though I usually depict them as purely defensive, there's no reason they couldn't zip towards anything the user points at... and pummel it into oblivion at twice the speed of sound!


Another Karmic weapon, these swords cause exothermic reactions in organic tissue. In other words, anything they stab or slice starts to burn. This isn't a flaming, oh-my-god-I'm-on-fire kinda burn, it's more like a chemical burn. It hurts like hell and doesn't heal easily. Emberblades are especially effective against regenerating adversaries, like those pesky vampires and trolls. Their name comes from the fact that they burn microbes in the air, giving them a smoldering glow when drawn.

A Note on Source Material

As mentioned in the very first Bag o' Nifties article, all of these nifties were pulled from the vast stores of my own games and settings. Most of them are even free! Just follow the links to check 'em out.

Next Time: Look for my new column, Action Scenes! Same bat time, same bat channel.

Bayn.org - Loath Your Fellow Man

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Bag o' Nifties by Dan Pond