Power Armor: Plug In and Suit Up

Power Armor: Plug In and Suit Up

Written by: Umberto Giano
Images by: Filipa Thespian

So, you just conquered a strategically important colony belonging to your enemy; after of course subjecting the unfortunate planet to an afternoon of starship-grade planetary bombardment. In the earlier, more civilized era of the Pax Galactica, the use of planet killers would have been considered illegal – but then again, so was genocide. The colony’s cities are no more, the infrastructure is irreparably damaged and there no longer even exists a concentrated population with sufficient enough numbers to warrant using precious heavy artillery … the battle is over. Soon the infantry will be dispatched onto the surface to set up a much needed supply base that will be crucial to the impending looming push forward to the next star cluster, deeper into enemy territory.

The troops left behind meanwhile will be stretched thin maintaining the supply base until reinforcements arrive next cycle. They will be prone to the extreme weather, heavier-than-norm gravity, guerrilla attacks from insurgents including IEDs and even the occasional auto-cannon fire. It is imperative nothing disrupts this operation, so you make the obvious call and requisition power armor for your squad.

The powered exoskeleton, otherwise known as power armor, is an exoskeleton framework worn by a person with a power supply that enhances mobility, and in some cases protects the wearer from damage and environmental conditions. In real life (RL), power armor technologies are currently being researched and developed for such uses as prosthetic limbs and military applications; however, we are still a long way off from the walking fortresses of science fiction literature – as most notably portrayed in Heinland’s Starship Troopers (a highly recommended read only bearing a superficial resemblance to the movie of the same name).

Despite the RL challenges actualizing powered exo-suits, power armor captures our imagination and fuels the success of games like Warhammer 40K (table top) and the classic computer-based Fallout (also a soon-to-be mmorpg). Why? Because it’s the next best thing to being bitten by a radioactive spider. An average human simply steps into a suit of power armor and the wearer is imbued with superior strength and invulnerability; transformed into a science fiction superhero – a true Iron Man or RoboCop. On this leveled playing field our enhanced warrior is ready to take on anything – no matter how big, powerful or deadly – like Ripley facing down big bad Momma Alien.

Some Important Notes on the Use of Power Armor

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  • Despite the popularity of power armor in games, literature and cinema, the use of it can be problematic in virtual role-play platforms. Are its weaknesses and strengths defined? That is why it’s important role-play admins adopt a policy and rules on its nature and use within their story.
  • Power armor may be a serious anachronism in some RP stories – example: high tech power armor with an internal power source isn’t typically compatible in a steampunk sim.

Abilities

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Power Armor features will vary according to your suit’s purpose and tech level. The “power” aspect of power armor is not related to its ability to absorb attacks and prevent damage but instead to your ability to move within it – as in Starship Troopers and Fallout. Without the mechanical assistance to your mobility, the thick armored plating would render your suit immobile and ineffective.
Games like Warhammer 40K and StarCraft have popularized the hulking exo-suit version of power armor, their appearance exudes strength and power but are essentially the antithesis of nanotechnology and just a sci-fi spin on medieval armor.

As expected there should be a converse relationship with your armor’s size and its tech level. As the level of the technology of your armor increases, its size should decrease while retaining the same protection, fire-power, capabilities and maneuverability. More recent fiction follows a similar logic, the Metal Gear Solid and Crysis series both feature more non-metallic suits using nanotechnology textile-like suits that increase strength, speed and greatly reduces, if not altogether prevents, damage from attacks.

Some common attributes ascribed to most power armor grades:

  • Improved mobility
  • Enhanced strength
  • Invulnerability
  • Built-in weaponry
  • Environmental protection
  • Flight (for scouts)

Limitations

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Each suit of power armor will present the wearer with a range of limitations depending on its tech level. The most basic armor will for example have screened eyes and restrict the wearer’s peripheral vision. Joints on more basic suits will have limited flexibility. Most importantly, the power source on the most primitive models will be external. These models serve the function of a human tank in essence and as any heavy artillery will probably be accompanied by infantry.

Weaknesses

  • As with limitations, the weaknesses of power armor will largely depend on its specific design. Primitive and smaller suits will most likely be much more susceptible to the following attacks:
  • Armor piercing incendiary rounds. Self explanatory.
  • Flamethrowers and heat based attacks (exo-suits with thick armor plating are especially vulnerable – imagine being cooked alive inside a large metal container)
  • Sword or knife attacks on exposed hydraulic lines and circuitry
  • Land mines (the weight of power armor will set off any IED)
  • Muddy and unstable terrain (again, the weight of your powered exo-skeleton will be an extreme disadvantage on unstable or soft terrain – unable to maintain balance on steep drop-offs or quickly sink in mud or bogs.)
  • Sharpshooter and sniper fire. A well aimed bullet could puncture the screen covering your eyes or disable a joint or exposed circuit.

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The Magic Bullet

One of the only sure-fire methods to disabling your opponent’s power suit is the use of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP). If allowed by your admin, EMPs should be used sparingly and only in the most dire situation as it’ll burn out all electronic devices within the effective radius of the pulse – essentially knocking you and your opponent (and whoever else is nearby) back to the stone age.

Last Note – Mechas

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A twist on the power armor theme is the Japanese mecha. A mecha is a cross between vehicle and tank, often bipedal, and ridiculously hard to face without heavy artillery. The mecha is basically used for shock warfare and impractical in most non-military scenarios due to its size. StarCraft’s Viking and Thor mechs are good examples of the mecha used in war conditions.

Your planet is reduced to cinders, and you’re one of the few unlucky souls left standing. Life as you know it is over. The enemy sets up a supply base in the ruins of the town hall – you know this installation is the lynch-pin in their designs to invade your ancestral home-world light years away. You and your fellow insurgents decide to make a stand and take this base down. While on a reconnaissance mission you note the enemy troops are outfitted in power armor. Despite all their strengths, you’re well versed in the weaknesses of power armor. You  chuckle thinking, “This won’t be so hard after all.”

Reproduced with permission from Roleplay Guide Magazine.
April 2011June 2011August 2011Sept 2011Oct 2011Nov/Dec 2011January 2012 – Oct 2014

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