December 7th, 2008

Planets of Peril

Flame Pistols - any suggestions?

One of the weapons that appears in several of Weinbaum's Planetary stories is the flame pistol (the name is hyphenated in Parasite Planet but not the other stories):
the experienced Venusian frontiersman is very careful with the flame-pistol.
   It has to be charged with a diamond, a cheap black one, of course, but still an item to consider. The crystal, when fired, gives up all its energy in one terrific blast that roars out like a lightning stroke for a hundred yards, incinerating everything in its path.

[parasite planet]

who'd risk firing a flame-pistol indoors? It would simply blow out one wall of the building.

He was cornered between the monster and an impenetrable tangle of vegetation, so he did the only thing left to do. He snatched his flame-pistol and sent a terrific, roaring blast into the horror, a blast that incinerated tons of pasty filth and left a few small fragments crawling and feeding on the debris.
   The blast also, as it usually does, shattered the barrel of the weapon. He sighed as he set about the forty-minute job of replacing it—no true Hotlander ever delays that—for the blast had cost fifteen good American dollars, ten for the cheap diamond that had exploded, and five for the barrel. Nothing at all when he had had his xixtchil, but a real item now. He sighed again as he discovered that the remaining barrel was his last; he had been forced to economize on everything when he set out.


Inferno burst. The tiny diamond, giving up all its energy in one terrific blast, shot a jagged stream of fire that filled the canyon from wall to wall and vomited out beyond to cut a fan of fire through the bleeding-grass of the slope.
   Idiots' Hills reverberated to the roar, and when the rain of debris settled, there was nothing in the canyon save a few bits of flesh...

[The Mad Moon]
OK, so I have to develop game stats for this thing. In particular I need to explain where it gets its energy from (maybe bond energy or something), why it takes five minutes to reload if the barrel survives, or half an hour if it doesn't, and why the barrel (or in one story the chamber) bursting doesn't kill the person firing the gun.

My description of it in game terms currently reads:

Flame Pistol; Range 300ft radius 20ft, Effect 30; A:I B:C/K C:K
Fires 1 shot per 3 rounds; ammunition industrial diamonds value $10
Barrel (cost $5) shatters on 11-12; changing barrels takes 45 minutes.
Use in confined spaces is not recommended!

I need to change this a little - I think "1 shot / 5 rounds" and "Barrel shatters on 10-11, Chamber shatters on 12" would work for game purposes. It's still way too fast and reliable, going on Weinbaum's description, but I'm not sure that the rules will easily work with something that falls apart more often than not.

The trouble is that it's about as powerful as a War of the Worlds Martian heat-ray, but apparently hand-portable and usable without protective clothing (although I will add a note to the effect that if it's used in confined spaces the flame will spread in all directions, not just forward, which ought to discourage people from trying to use it inside buildings). In destructive power it's comparable to weapons like the Traveller PGMP(?) or Doom's BFG, but it's a pistol sized weapon.

When I ran my play-tests at Dragonmeet someone insisted on firing one of these at night and just after a friendly Martian had jumped into the air. The flame burst incinerated their enemies, the Martian (who was hurtling down to attack the enemies from above) and a large area of the Martian countryside, and was visible well beyond the horizon, which made their attempts to sneak inconspicuously a bit futile.

Any suggestions on ways of handling this would be greatly appreciated. I think, for example, that on Earth the authorities will not take kindly to people carrying around hand-portable weapons of mass destruction.