Tuesday, July 7, 2015

A Meditation on GURPS Tech Level and the Scale of Damage

I've been tinkering a lot with Ultra-Tech, and since Pulver said he's finalizing some of his beam weapon damage tables for VE2, I thought now might be the time to discuss them.

A typical Low-Tech weapon deals between 1 and 10 damage (before applying bonuses), depending on the strength of the wielder.  Most LT armor also applies a DR of between 1 and 10.  Given that humans have 10 HP, this means there is an element of HP whittle: That is, you can be cut by a knife without instantly dying, or even falling unconscious.  They are inherently i-scale weapons.

Size matters, of course (I feel confident in assuming that a catapult will deal more than 10 damage without bothering to check my books), but when it comes to the "average man" wielding a weapon appropriate for his size and scale against another man, he tends to exist on an i-Scale (1-10).

A typical HT weapon, such as a pistol, starts close to an average of 10 damage.  Rifles typically deal 20.  DR remains relatively low, but by TL 8, you start to see some simple, light (as in "less than platemail") armor that is DR 10+.  By TL 6+, we're definitely getting into "d-scale" weapons.  This is why gun fights become so lethal: A single hit can wipe out all ten of your hitpoints, and easily toss you into requiring survival checks.  People survive thanks to cover, dodge checks, and armor, not on "sheer toughness," though it might be possible at this point to do so.

A typical UT weapon still deals 10-20 damage, but it's armor penetration starts to rapidly scale up: a TL 10 beam weapon will penetrate 20-60 points of armor, a TL 11 beam weapon will penetrate 50-100 DR,  and a TL 12 beam weapon will penetrate 100 to 200 DR (or vastly more).  Personal armor remains in the 10s (d-scale), but heavier armor (hardsuits, space armor, battlesuits) quickly reach into the hundreds, and man-portable weapons are expanded by battlesuits to easily get into the many tens of damage and even into the hundreds (a semi-portable fusion gun deals an average of 100 damage and will penetrate an average of 200 DR).  If HT weapons brush against the d-scale, UT weapons are solidly in it.

This is why many people throw up their hands at UT combat, because 10 HP is nothing against, for example, a plasma battle rifle or a portable railgun, both of which inflicts an average of 50 damage, which is nearly an instant kill against an unarmored target.  Humans are effectively i-scale characters in a decidedly d-scale conflict.

When cosmic weapons like disintegrators are introduced, we hit the c-scale.  A disintegrator pistol deals an average of 120 damage, ignores physical DR, and penetrates 1200 points worth of force screens.  A semi-portable disruptor inflicts 800 damage (8000 vs force screens), which is the same amount of physical damage a high-end anti-matter bullet will deal.

At this point, we're absolutely in the c-scale and human-scale HP becomes a footnote.  Weapons at this scale can, if they are explosive, miss you and still instantly kill you (even to the point where you're just dust), even setting aside knock-on effects like radiation.  Surviving this sort of battlefield even goes beyond the scope of most armor (someone in a Warsuit is still instantly dead if struck by an antimatter bullet, though he'll survive a miss by one yard) and even most shields (a tactical conformal force screen only provides 150 DR.  A hypothetical cosmic shield that provides 1500 will at least hold off a disintegrator pistol for a little while).

Ever scaling DR is one solution for this, but it requires people to wear them, and it doesn't really deal with the binary nature of combat at this scale, as is visible with the warsuit (if you're struck by an anti-matter bullet, you'll take 800 damage, which leaves 400 damage unaccounted for after you apply your DR, which means you're dead.  If you manage to step to one side and take "only" 300 damage, then the armor will absorb all of it, meaning you're perfectly fine).

Another solution would be up-scaled HP.  Supers do this with injury tolerance: By dividing all damage by 10, they lift themselves up to the point where a pistol round becomes like a dart, and a grenade becomes like the blow from a mace and only a bazooka poses a serious (if survivable) risk.  Force Fields offer a similar solution, albeit a slightly strange one, thanks to the nature of how semi-ablative DR works (which is why I've seen several house rules that propose treating force fields like HP)
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