Designing New Tech for A&A — Weapons

So last time we built a new tool for A&A. This time, I want to talk about designing weapons for the game, which gets a little more difficult to balance. (Originally I was going to cover armor also, but the weapons section got longer than I expected! We’ll do armor in the next article.)


All Space Marines have a trusty pulse rifle, which we designed specifically to mimic the standard guns of the Marines in Aliens (1986). Pretty standard gun with three modes – single shot, burst (3-shot) mode, and fully auto (empty the clip). Like all weapons in A&A, damage starts at d6. (There’s a typo in the book — it should be d6+1, which is listed incorrectly on page 36 as d6, but correctly on page 39 as d6+1.)

So a single shot does d6+1, a 3-round burst does 3d6 (at a Disadvantage), and a full-auto blast from the gun does 6d6 but requires a cooldown turn afterwards. In all three cases, the player has to declare what they’re doing before they do it and roll accordingly against an Accuracy check, which is at Advantage if they have the Guns trait.

Whew. Get all that?

Now you may be asking why I walked through all of that in the first place… But really it was to reverse engineer a bit of the different elements involved.

Design Process

Honestly the design process is pretty much the same as last time, but even simpler because we know a weapon is usually used to harm or affect a target in some way. Though we want to know what it is and what it does, we can assume that the attacker wants to affect the target in some way that aids the attacker’s goal.

A couple of obvious options may be:

  • Do damage to the target with the intent of harm or eventually killing it.
  • Stun the target for a time so the attacker can achieve some other goal.

What type of harm or effect is desired?

Actually harming an opponent could happen in quite a few ways, but we’ll just list a few common ones here.

  • Physical damage to HP (or AP if Armor is involved)
  • Stunning the target (either some sort of physical rictus or knocking them unconscious) for some number of turns if they fail a Save vs. Presence or Save vs. Morale
  • Poisoning (or drugging) the target with an initial bit of damage (usually low) and the intent of causing additional harm or effect in subsequent turns

Those are pretty good options and some of them can even be non-lethal if desired.

And then you have to consider the range of the effect itself. Is it a melee, close and personal weapon? Is it a sniper-level distance weapon? Is it limited by basic physics and only effective to a short range?

What about an example?

During our playtesting sessions, one of the PCs discovered what is essentially a futuristic multi-tool that had things like a small plasma blade, some screwdrivers, a wine opener, and a small dart gun. I think I was a little crazy that night giving out such an item to the players, but heck — it seemed like a useful tool!

We had examples of a knife already, but I think I bumped it to d3+1 as a blade designed purely as a tool, not a weapon. But in a pinch, it could do some damage in interesting ways I’m sure.

As for the dart gun, I had to ponder things like range of a tiny dart and how much of a payload it could deliver. In this case, we used the venom of a swamp anemone they found on an alien planet. When you step on the anemone, it shoots a spike into whatever part of the body that lands on it (armor piercing!) and injects a paralytic agent. So long as the spike is engaged, the victim is paralyzed. When you remove the victim from the spike (or the other way around) it wears off after a while.

So we decided that each dart could hold enough paralytic agent to paralyze a victim for d6 turns if they fail a Save vs. Morale check and the range was within 10m. After all, we’re talking something the size of a pocket knife here so it doesn’t have a lot of oomph.

We ended up with:

  • Alien Multi-tool – Melee/Ranged – Pocket-sized device with easy access to three screwdriver types, a small plasma blade (50mm long, d3+1 damage), and a small dart gun with a three dart cartridge and a range of 10m.
  • Multi-tool Paralytic Dart – Ammunition – Small dart that uses the paralytic agent of the swamp anemone from TRAPPIST-1f. Target must Save vs. Morale or be frozen in place, unable to move for d6 turns.

This tool (and various darts) were used in several instances to great effect as the campaign wore on. I think they even created a remote tracking dart and a sniper bullet that sent back biometric readings. 🙂

Use Common Sense

I have tried in all cases to make rational choices as far as several qualities of each weapon goes:

  • Measured Effect – Based on the size of the weapon, coming up with a reasonable amount of damage or other effect on the target.
  • Logical Range – If it’s a melee weapon, it’s the reach of the limb that’s holding it. If it’s a ranged weapon, how much power does it have to launch a projectile at the target? Are we talking thousands of meters or just a handful?
  • Technology Used – Are there any limitations or capabilities of the technology itself we can take advantage of?

For example, a dart that relies on traditional fins may not work all that well on a windy day and may not be quite as effective or consistent in a low-gravity environment. Or a “smart” projectile may rely on a laser pointer from a mile away and chase a potential victim across the battlefield without mercy in a zero-g scenario…

These are the things that keep me up at night. But you can always rely on that good old pulse rifle!

Next up we’ll look at armor and some of the special things we have pondered!

Looking for more ideas for your Aliens & Asteroids campaign? Check out the rest of the available articles!

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