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Laser Smallarms in Classic Traveller

Author’s note: This article, which appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of the magazine, is a revision and expansion of a less-extensive “Advanced LasersFreelance Traveller article concentrating on TL13 lasers, itself an expansion of an article which originally appeared in Challenge #65.

The rules presented here are also compatible with MegaTraveller, Classic (1981) Striker, and D20 Traveller and may be compatible with 4th & 5th Edition.

To many, the weapon most associated with high-tech is the personal energy weapon, usually a laser. In Traveller, laser smallarms are introduced at Tech Level 9, and are given a major upgrade at TL13.

Lasers are first introduced at TL9 (Y2K) in the form of the Laser Carbine and Laser Rifle. These are much less robust than firearms, and juice off their own unique (non-interchangeable) powerpacks. Essentially, they’re not far removed from their prototypes.

The Laser Pistol is introduced between TLs 9 and 10, as improved technology makes greater miniaturization possible.

Around TL10, lasers become more “ruggedized” and less fragile than their TL9 prototypes (though still not to the level of a conventional firearm), incorporating a modular solid-state construction with common power feed protocols which allow powerpacks to interchange between various sizes.

At TL13, officially “lasers fire beams of X-rays instead of visible/IR/Near-UV light” which negates the use of anti-laser aerosol “smoke screens”. Unoffically (based on Striker tables), they also put out more powerful beams than their TL9/10 predecessors.

However, nothing is mentioned about lasers intermediate between smallarms (pistol, carbine, rifle) and autocannon size – the size range used for infantry support weapons and Battle Dress. Under the existing firearms lists, only High Energy Weapons (the PGMP and FGMP-series) with their high-signature handicap are available in this size and power range.

TL9 Laser Carbine & Rifle

These are basic Traveller’s Laser Carbine and Rifle, long laser tubes with butt stock, pistol grip and (optional) foregrip, cable-connected to a power pack.

TL9 Laser Carbine and Rifle
  Ammo Length Mass Price
Laser Carbine TL9   80cm 5kg Cr2500
Powerpack-C-9 50 shots   3kg Cr1000
Laser Rifle TL9   100cm 6kg Cr3500
Powerpack-R-9 100 shots   4kg Cr1500

TL 9bis Laser Pistol

The first Laser Pistols are introduced almost an entire Tech Level later than the carbine and rifle due to problems with miniaturization – it took almost an entire TL to get a weapons-grade laser tube short and light enough to be used one-handed.

A Laser Pistol resembles a half-length Carbine with no butt stock, only a pistol grip. The grip is located near the center of the laser tube for balance, overhanging both forward and aft. (The silhouette is roughly similar to the “Sandman” pistol from the 1976 movie version of Logan’s Run.)

TL9bis Laser Pistols
  Ammo Length Mass Price
Laser Pistol TL9bis   40cm 3kg Cr2000
Powerpack-P-9bis 20 shots   1kg Cr400

TL10bis Lasers

These are less-fragile versions of the TL9 lasers, incorporating TL10bis modular powerpacks (see below, “TL10bis Modular Power Packs”), allowing near-complete interchangeability.

TL13 Lasers

Sometimes called “Lancers”, these improved lasers are more efficient and powerful than earlier lasers, almost as rugged as a slugthrower, and incorporate full TL13 interchangeable modular power packs and feeds (see below, “TL13 Modular Power Packs”).

TL13 Lasers
  Power Feed Length Mass Price
Laser Pistol TL13 100kW 40cm 2.2kg Cr3000
Laser Carbine TL13 200kW 80cm 4.0kg Cr4000
Laser Rifle TL13 400kW 100cm 8.0kg Cr8000

Heavy Laser Rifle

The Heavy Laser Rifle is an oversized laser rifle with twice the power of a regular laser rifle introduced at TL10, intended for use as a heavy long range/anti-materiel sniper rifle (like a Barrett M82) or support weapon (like a Light Assault Gun) fired from an integral bipod.

The TL13 upgrade is primarily intended as a heavy rifle for Battle Dress.

TL13 Heavy Laser Rifle
  Length Mass Price
Laser Rifle , Heavy (“Laser LAG”), TL10* 150cm 20.0kg Cr10000
Laser Rifle, Heavy, TL13** 130cm 17.6kg Cr16000

* Uses TL10 Laser Rifle or Heavy Tripod Laser power pack
** Uses TL13 Laser Rifle, PGMP-13/14, or FGMP-14/15 power pack

Tripod Lasers

Tripod lasers are crew-served weapons, laser “machineguns” formed by ganging four carbine or rifle-sized lasers together in a Gatling-style arrangement (though the barrels are stationary). Each laser “barrel” fires once in a four-shot burst; the complete weapon is about the size and weight of a heavy machinegun of 12-15mm caliber.

Light Tripod Lasers incorporate four carbine-size lasers, Heavy Tripod Lasers four rifle-size.

The first tripod lasers appear at Tech Level 9bis (between TL9 and TL10); because of their expense and fragile construction compared to conventional firearms, they see only limited production and use – mostly in Zero-G applications where their lack of recoil overcomes their limited effectiveness, and in vehicle mounts where they can power directly from the vehicle power plant.

Tripod lasers become more competitive at TL10-11, when their more rugged design offsets their expense, primarily for vehicle-mounted support weapons. In this role, they provide high-penetration “machineguns” that run off the vehicular power plant without any need for ammunition. (For David Drake fans, a vehicle-mounted Heavy Tripod Laser fills the same niche as a Hammer’s Slammers 2cm Tribarrel powergun.)

By Tech Level 13, improved Light and Heavy Tripod Lasers come into use by Battle Dress (as a low-signature complement to the PGMP and FGMP) as well as vehicle mounts.

TL9 Light Tripod Laser: Earliest tripod laser formed from four TL9 laser carbine tubes. Uses only its own special powerpack, twice the size/weight/price of a TL9 laser rifle’s.

First of the tripod lasers, the LTL was almost immediately superseded by the HTL, which delivered twice the energy to target for only a 20% increase in weight and a 40% increase in cost. Accordingly, early LTLs are very rare, almost museum pieces. Being “instant antiques”, the LTL-9s were never updated to TL10 interchangeable power pack standards. Some surviving LTLs were converted to other power packs on a case-by-case basis, though this varies from example to example.

TL9bis Heavy Tripod Laser: Early tripod laser formed from four TL9 laser rifle tubes. At TL9 uses only its own special power pack, four times the size/mass/price of a TL9 laser rifle’s; at TL 10 can also use TL10 Laser Rifle power packs. With more ‘bang’ for the price and weight than the LTL, this becomes the more common tripod laser at TL10-12.

At TL10bis, these weapons can use TL10 Laser Rifle, Light Tripod, or Heavy Tripod power packs or vehicle power feed.

TL13 Light Tripod Laser: Advanced tripod laser formed from four TL13 laser carbine tubes. Used as a support/Battle Dress weapon at TL13 and obsolescent afterwards due to the introduction of Bonded Superdense at TL14. These weapons can use the interchangeable power packs from the TL13 Laser Rifle, the TL13 or TL14 PGMP, or fed from any power source at 800kW

TL13 Heavy Tripod Laser: Laser heavy “machinegun” formed from four TL13 laser rifle tubes. Most widely used of tripod lasers above TL12, either as a Battle Dress “light” support weapon or a vehicle-mounted “machinegun”. These weapons can use the interchangeable power packs from the TL13 Laser Rifle, the TL14 or TL15 FGMP, or fed from any power source at 1600kW.

Tripod Lasers
  Ammo Length Mass Price
Light Tripod Laser TL9   80cm 20.0kg Cr10000
Powerpack-LTL-9 100 bursts   8.0kg Cr6000
Heavy Tripod Laser TL9bis   100cm 24.0kg Cr14000
Powerpack-HTL-9 100 bursts   16.0kg Cr12000
Light Tripod Laser TL13   80cm 17.6kg Cr16000
Heavy Tripod Laser TL13   110cm 35.2kg Cr32000

Grav-assist Harness (TL14)

Tech Level 14 Grav-assist harness similar to that used in the PGMP-14 and FGMP-15, incorporating a minimum-sized Low Power L-Grav module (100kg maximum lift/thrust) powered from the fusion powerpack. With the harness, a TL13+ Heavy Laser Rifle or Tripod Laser can be carried and used as a “rifle” or light support weapon by troops without regard to Battle Dress. When activated, the grav module cuts the apparent weight of the weapon and its power pack by 90%.

Grav-assist Harness
  Volume Mass Price
100kg Grav-assist Harness TL14 3l 2kg Cr30000

TL10bis Modular Power Packs

At higher Tech Levels (usually starting around TL10 or 11), personal laser weapons incorporate a modular design of power pack, allowing interchangeability between pistol, carbine, rifle, and tripod laser. These power packs are based on arrays of “cells” that can link either serially (for peak power output) or in parallel (for number of shots). The serial/parallel selection is controlled by ROM chips in the laser and power pack circuitry which automatically adjusts the power pack output to the weapon when the two are connected.

TL13 Modular Power Packs

These are similar to the TL10bis power packs, but not interchangeable with them as the TL13 packs are built around 100kW power increments instead of the lower-tech lasers’ 40kW. This higher capacity and power makes them seriously more expensive than the lower-tech power packs.

Interchangeable Modular Powerpacks for Advanced Lasers
  Mass Power Cost Pistol Carbine Rifle Heavy rifle Light Tripod Heavy Tripod
Powerpack-P/I-10 1kg   Cr400 50 shots 25 shots 12 shots n/a n/a n/a
Powerpack-C/I-10 3kg   Cr1000 100 shots 50 shots 25 shots 12 shots 12 bursts n/a
Powerpack-R/I-10 4kg   Cr1500 n/a 200 shots 100 shots 50 shots 50 bursts 25 bursts
Powerpack-H/I-10 16kg   Cr6000 n/a n/a 400 shots 200 shots 200 bursts 100 bursts
Powerpack-P/I-13 1kg 100kW Cr7000 200 shots 100 shots 50 shots n/a n/a n/a
Powerpack-C/I-13 2kg 200kW Cr14000 400 shots 200 shots 100 shots 50 shots 50 bursts 25 bursts
Powerpack-R/I-13 4kg 400kW Cr28000 n/a 400 shots 200 shots 100 shots 100 bursts 50 bursts
Fusion Pack PGMP13   800kW   n/a n/a n/a (Effectively unlimited) n/a
Fusion Pack FGMP14   1600kW   n/a n/a n/a (Effectively unlimited)

Laser Sights (TL8+)

All laser smallarms incorporate laser sights. A light touch on the trigger shines a low-powered laser pointer beam down the optics of the weapon, indicating where the beam will hit. This pointer beam has a range of 30-50 meters (CT Short to Medium range) under most conditions. Just put the dot on the target and pull the trigger all the way.

Pointer beams are normally visible light, but IR is also available for those who can see into the infrared (certain nonhumans or humans using passive IR and thermal-imaging gear). Playing a visible pointer beam on a target also has intimidation value.

The range and visibility of the pointer beam can vary from a couple meters to 50 depending on ambient light, color of the target being pointed, and atmospheric conditions. The most direct way to figure out this effect is to take an everyday laser pointer and shine it at various distances on various “targets” under various lighting conditions.

Laser sights are also available separately for other firearms, starting at TL8. Depending on visibility conditions, they give a DM of +1 to +2 out to 50 meters (CT Short/Medium).

Separate Laser Pointer/Sight: TL8, weight 100g, Cr10-50 (depending on quality), DM +1 to +2 at Short and Medium range. Can be knocked out of alignment by violent action on 7+ as per telescopic sight, after which they will always miss.

Laser sights can also be jury-rigged on-the-spot from ordinary laser pointers, using either a flashlight bracket or even improvised shims and duct tape to attach them to the firearm. These “poor man’s sights” are effectively free, but have some disadvantages:

They must be bore-sighted (aligned exactly parallel to the bullet path – basic throw 7+) or the sight will always miss in the manner of a knocked-out-of-alignment telescopic sight.

Even when properly bore-sighted, they are even more prone to be knocked out of alignment than telescopic sights – 5+ instead of 7+.

As the pointer’s switch must be “taped down” to shine without being pressed, the laser will always be on (and visible). “Searchlights work both ways.”

Laser-RAM Rifle Grenades (TL9+)

These are 40mm RAM grenades that can be fired from laser carbines and rifles. The grenade fits over the muzzle shroud of the carbine/rifle; the laser pulse against an ablative interior blows the grenade off the muzzle and ignites the RAM rocket motor, at which point it acts just like any other RAM grenade of its Tech Level.

Note that LRAM Grenades can ONLY be fired from laser carbines/rifles; they are NOT interchangeable with normal RAM Grenades.

Powerclips (TL10)

A powerclip is a small-capacity compact power pack that attaches directly to the rifle/carbine/pistol like a slugthrower’s magazine, and is used the same way. In lasers so-fitted, the powerclip inserts under the barrel forward of the trigger guard. In pistols, this “beefs up” the barrel similar to a muzzle weight on a competition target pistol; in rifles or carbines, this inserts either forward of trigger guard (between it and the foregrip, if present) or flush into the foregrip itself (if present).

A TL10 powerclip is 1/5 the weight, cost, and capacity of a standard TL10bis modular powerpack.

A TL13 powerclip is 1/10 the weight, cost, and capacity of a standard TL13 modular power pack.

Like full-size power packs, TL10 and TL13 powerclips are NOT interchangeable.

Interchangeable Powerclips for Advanced Lasers
  Mass Cost Pistol Carbine Rifle
Powerclip-P-10 200g Cr100 10 shots 5 shots n/a
Powerclip-C-10 600g Cr200 20 shots 10 shots 5 shots
Powerclip-R-10 800g Cr300 80 shots 40 shots 20 shots
Powerclip-P-13 100g Cr700 20 shots 10 shots 5 shots
Powerclip-C-13 200g Cr1400 40 shots 20 shots 10 shots
Powerclip-R-13 400g Cr2800 80 shots 40 shots 20 shots

Because of the effect on a pistol’s balance, a pistol can normally use only pistol powerclips while carbines and rifles can “juice up” on a pistol powerclip in emergencies. If you have to fit a heavier powerclip to a pistol, the weapon’s balance is shot; DM -2 to hit with a carbine clip installed and -5 with a rifle clip.

Dual-Mode Lasers (TL13)

These are select-fire lasers, capable of both single-shot like a rifle and automatic fire (four-round bursts) like a tripod laser. Unlike slugthrowers, full-auto fires a weaker “round” than single-shot; because of this, single-shot is called “High Intensity” and autofire “Low Intensity”.

Dual-mode tripod lasers have the same four laser “barrels” as single-mode, with an additional collimator at the muzzle. In low-intensity mode, the barrels fire in a rapid burst sequence like a single-mode tripod laser; for high-intensity mode, all four barrels fire at once and the muzzle collimator merges the four pulses into a single high-powered pulse. In a dual-mode laser rifle, the laser tube deliberately “stutters” four low-power pulses in low-intensity mode instead of a single full-power pulse. The rule of thumb is:

A dual-mode laser rifle fires high-intensity as a rifle and low-intensity as a full-auto pistol (akin to a “laser SMG”).

A Light Tripod Laser fires high-intensity as a heavy laser rifle and low-intensity as a full-auto laser carbine. The dual-mode Heavy Laser Rifle and Light Tripod Laser are identical except for the mounting; the Heavy Laser Rifle is stocked for use as a “Battle Dress Rifle” and the LTL for crew-served tripod or vehicle pintle/cupola/coax mounts.

A Heavy Tripod Laser firing high-intensity is more akin to a light anti-tank gun than a heavy machinegun.

Designer’s Notes

This is a compilation of all my thoughts on laser small arms over the years. Ever since my first Traveller experience – what they look like, how they operate, features and special quirks. Lasers seem to have been the “unwanted stepchildren” of Traveller weapons tables – there, but always a sideline compared to advanced slugthrowers and plasma weapons. While lasers would work best at large (artillery-sized) levels, they seemed shortchanged.

Also, Traveller lasers did not evolve much beyond the Laser Rifle and Carbine, with Laser Pistols a later addition missing from the original CT rules. The laser small arms family needed filling out, as was done in “Missing Links: Filling the Gaps in Slugthrower Evolution”, Freelance Traveller #92, March/April 2019.

In appearance, I have always visualized laser rifles as resembling the German MG42 machinegun – a long perforated barrel shroud with pistol grip and short stock. (Redressed MG42s were used for the long-barreled blaster rifles in the original Star Wars.) Carbines and pistols follow the same pattern, but shorter, smaller, and less powerful.

(Note that in the illustrations, the pistol/carbine/rifle all use a Garand-style trigger-guard safety; I’m strongly left-handed and all my Traveller designs can be used right- or left-handed.)

Tripod lasers were to “fill out the family” with heavy weapons – literally laser machine guns for crew-served, vehicle-mounted, and power-armor roles. Same with the heavy laser rifle, originally intended for Battle Dress but backdated as an equivalent of heavy sniper rifles (or the “Antitank Rifle” and its descendants in the above-mentioned “Missing Links” article).

Dual-mode lasers originated in an abortive “V” fanfic in the mid-eighties as a way to have select-fire lasers; the idea was for the same power consumption a laser could fire a powerful single pulse or a full-auto burst of weaker pulses.