Power Armor and Battlesuits for your HARP Sci-Fi game

Copyright Clint Fell © 2013

Edited by Mario Butter for The Guild Companion

"Most large organizations can field a platoon of soldiers in Combat Armor for the same cost as a squad of Power Armor infantry."

Power Armor and Battlesuits for your HARP Sci-Fi game

Powered Armor and Battlesuits are a common feature in Science Fiction. In this article I will discuss some important issues a GM should consider when introducing Power Armor to their game as well as many examples of Power Armor that could be used in HARP Sci-Fi games. HARP Sci-Fi can model these ideas in a number of ways, but in this article I have decided to model Power Armor as armor that offers enhancement to the wearer. I have chosen to draw a distinction between Power Armor/Battlesuits and Mecha based on the controls used to operate them. If the user's limbs are encased in the limbs of the armor, and the user controls the armor by moving his/her limbs then I consider that Power Armor or a Battlesuit. If instead the user uses a cockpit and hand or even thought controls then I would consider this Mecha. Modern examples of a battlesuit would be from the Fallout series of video games, Elementals from Battletech, or the armored troopers in the Starship Troopers book. Modern examples of Mecha would include almost every example I can think of from the Gundum titles, Macross, as well as the walkers used in the Avatar movie. This text will only cover Power Armor/Battlesuits as I have defined them above.

Power Armor in your game:

Adding Power Armor to your game can have several effects that a GM should consider before doing so. First it gives characters access to levels of armor that make them almost impervious to smaller weapons and unskilled attackers. For this reason alone the price of Power Armor should be kept above where most starting characters can afford them. A starting character should probably require the expenditure of Development Points to acquire such an item.

A second point to address is the fact that Power Armor requires a lot of skill to use effectively - between 10 and 25 ranks depending on the situations. Low level characters may have a difficult time effectively using the armor. This fits well with the ideas I've written into this article stating that common soldiers often don't bother with power armor but a more elite one may. GMs may also want to address how many different skills are needed to effectively use the power armor in their game. The suits I wrote up below should require not only the armor skill to use, but also a gunnery skill (or two), a weapons skill, and in some cases a pilot skill (for the jump and marine versions of the suits). In some games having a specific combat style for battlesuit operation would be completely reasonable. Be aware however the more skills required to use the armor, the more specialized and uncommon the armor will be. A GM using power armor may wish to add a training package to reflect the training given to powered infantrymen. A possible skill selection of Armor -3, Gunnery (choose one) -2, Craft (Armorer) -2, Pilot (marine or pod) - 2, Mundane Lore (armored infantry tactics)-2 may work very well.

A third point a GM should address is "how good should my power armor be". Using the examples below it is clear that special features are cheap, but quality is expensive. I deliberately inflated several prices for the base armor to prevent the armor from being too good and thus the default for all soldiers. But by doing so I made the quality armor so expensive that anything beyond 2 IV of quality costs almost as much as a tank. So using my examples below, production suits should probably be only slightly better than combat armor and enhanced quality should be kept to within +3 IVs. More than that and it will be more cost effective to send a tank. Please note that this does not preclude higher quality and better base units from being built - eccentric billionaires and high end mercenaries (and adventurers) may want better versions and be willing to pay as much as two tanks for a suit to have one made. But these will be specialty exotic items and not production line units.

A fourth point to address for GMs is "who is going to have power armor in my game". In my example almost anyone could have it, but the limitations (cost and skill requirements) I placed on it restrict it to more specialized users. I intentionally left the 100 series power armor with a few glaring defects. This is because I want it to be the armor of choice for the "heavies" in an opposing force for my PCs. In this way clever PCs who know something about the armor can exploit the fact that it doesn't have dazzler resistance or any onboard long range sensors. The 200 and 300 series is more suitable to PCs and any "boss" type NPCs I may want to use.

A fifth issue to think about is what will your PCs do when they encounter power armor. Using my examples I know my players would certainly loot any enemy suit they put down. So what effect will that have on the game? Low level characters may jump on a chance to get a 100 series armor even with its defects. A skilled armorer or engineer could tweak it out nicely, but after the first few suits encountered the rest will just be sold. A GM should be prepared to deal with PCs trying to dump multiple 25,000 sol suits of armor. My recommendation is to remember that salvaged armor may require a lot of repairs. Repairs could easily cost 30% of the total value of the armor. A buyer is likely to want to get between 50% and 100% return on his investment so a 25,000 credit suit of damaged armor would probably sell for no more than 8,500 credits and could be as low as 2,250 if the buyer thought it was acquired in a nefarious manner.

An interesting issue occurred while I developed these suits. It came from the flavor text I was giving the suits, but I chose to define it with game mechanics. The issue was the air maneuverability - jets in legs vs. jets on back. I decided to make back mounted jets easier and safer to use (normal check difficulty while flying but MAN 0), but legs mounts are more maneuverable and harder to use (one step increase in difficulty modifiers, MAN +5). Thus in my game the leg jets were slowly moving to vectored thrust back units as they proved ultimately more effective despite the reduced maneuverability.

The last point I should discuss is what other assumptions I made for my examples. My suits weigh a lot compared to combat armor. This is intentional for many reasons. First, I like heavier power armor, it seems more realistic to me. Second, the motive units, articulations, seals, and interconnects all add weight - and the more weight the suit needs to support the heavier it will get. Another set of assumptions I made was because the whole point of powered armor is to allow a soldier to carry more stuff easier into battle. So I assumed the power armor would have enough power to carry itself, plus allow a fairly typical soldier to carry their normal gear and a few support class weapons. I chose the St bonus of +10/+15 in order to keep the bonus somewhat reasonable, but added the Portage Skills trait to allow the operator to carry all the extra gear. A point to remember is that a character's worn armor does not count when calculating encumbrance - that penalty is reflected in the MP of the armor.

Examples of Power Armor

I have created four lines of Power Armor that could reflect an entire offering from a manufacturer. This armor could be easily used in the default Tintamar setting or many others. In most settings I would expect this armor to be uncommon and mostly used by Special Forces due to its expense and high training requirements to effectively use. Any government, corporation, or mercenary group is likely to require special training to issue such a suit. Despite its high levels of protection and dramatically increased ability to carry heavy weapons, most large organizations can field a platoon of soldiers in Combat Armor for the same cost as a squad of Power Armor infantry. The platoon of troops would be more versatile, faster to train, and ultimately more expendable than their power armor equivalent. Special forces units however are already highly trained, expensive, and not very expendable so equipping them with power armor makes much more sense.

Fell Arms Incorporated

Basic Power Armor

Fell Arms Incorporated manufacturers specialized suits of Power Armor for general sale to anyone that local regulations allow to purchase. While generally restricted, enough of these have been sold and resold around the galaxy that they are available on the grey market. The basic Fell Arms 100 series battlesuit looks like a squat oversized suit of combat armor. It is much thicker than combat armor however and adds about 20 centimeters to the overall height of the wearer. The feet are particularly large to distribute the extreme weight of the armor and prevent it from miring in the mud. This has led some unpowered infantrymen to call units wearing them "Clown Corps" despite the effectiveness of the suit. While these suits include mounts for large support weapons, the weapons are not included in the prices. Each suit includes one hard point in each arm plus an additional one on each shoulder. These hard points allow large support weapons to be used without bipods or tripods and come with adapters to allow these weapons to use the suits' power supplies rather than their own. A typical weapons load out would be a single heavy support laser and two tank buster missiles. Notable items missing from this series are radiation scanners, ECM gear, and fast access to don or remove the armor.

Avail Cost Mass DR UF Mx MP UF Min MP Mx MP Min MP CP IV
R 25,000 215 105 -200 -50 -100/-85/-75 -25/-15/-10 +12 5
  • Adds the Portage skills trait to the wearer
  • Adds a +10 St Bonus to the wearer
  • Includes an Integrated Spacesuit
  • Includes a Vehicle power pack and a weapon power cell for emergency backup
  • Includes a tactical scanner, Audio/Visual Recorder, Heads Up Display, Radio Communicator, Satellite Navigator, Medical Scanner (occupant only), Hypodermic spray (occupant only), and 3 doses of drugs.
  • 110 Infantry Powered Armor
  • 120 Jump Infantry Powered Armor. Adds atmospheric jets to the legs and allows VTOL flight at 50km/h (leg mounted jets increase the maneuver difficulty one step but add +5 MAN). Adds 10Kg and 2000 sols.
  • 130 Marine Powered Armor. Adds hydrojets instead of atmospheric jets and allows 50km/h water speeds. These leg mounted jets increase the maneuver difficulty one step but add +5 MAN. Adds an additional 10Kg and 2000 sols for the hydrojets and buoyancy modifications.
  • The 100 series has an energy consumption of 1 energy/km moved at a walk or 2 energy/km moved at a run.
  • The model 120 uses 2 energy/km while flying at cruise velocity and 4 energy/km at full speed. The model 130 uses 2 energy/km while swimming at cruise velocity and 4 energy/km at full speed.
  • The 100 series Power Armor is donned in 8 pieces and due to the complicated seals and connections takes twice as long as typical armor to don or remove. After equipping the armor, it also has a 4 second boot up and calibration sequence before it is operational. Later series of Powered Armor from Fell Arms has made dramatic improvements on these faults.

Mid-range Powered Armor

The Fell Arms Incorporated 200 series of Powered Armor is it's widest line of battlesuits as well as it's most popular and profitable. The 200 series battlesuits use a more advanced motive system and lighter armor materials to save both weight and manufacturing cost over their 100 series. These design changes combined with higher economy of scale production lines makes the 200 series an excellent money maker for the company. Special care was taken with this series to prevent negative impressions from buyers — the feet are still somewhat oversized but the rest of the suit has been designed to make everything look more to scale as well as generally more intimidating. The 200 series has proven to be in much more demand than the 100 series, but is more restricted in it's allowed markets. Fewer governments are tolerant of these being sold to mercenaries, but the governments themselves tend to buy them instead. A strong black market exists for the 200 series battlesuits and prices for them often exceed double normal price and in some cases even reach 10 times the normal price. The 200 series battlesuit adds about 45cm to the user's height. It has four standard hard points (one in each arm and shoulder). Another key feature used to reduce the overall weight of the unit is the removal of the vehicle power supply - the unit instead uses a utility power cell in each of the 8 major components. This allows much greater redundancy in case of battle damage but slightly reduces its endurance in battle. The addition of a dazzle neutralizer, radiation detector, integrated hand-held computer, and a much improved component interconnection system round out the improvements of the 200 series.

Avail Cost Mass DR UF Mx MP UF Min MP Mx MP Min MP CP IV
R 30,000 150 105 -200 -50 -100/-85/-75 -25/-15/-10 +12 5
  • Adds the Portage skills trait to the wearer
  • Adds a +10 St Bonus to the wearer
  • Includes an Integrated Spacesuit
  • Includes 8 Utility power cells
  • Includes a tactical scanner, Audio/Visual Recorder, Heads Up Display, Radio Communicator, Satellite Navigator, Dazzler Neutralizer, Radiation Detector, Hand-held computer, Medical Scanner (occupant only), Hypodermic spray (occupant only), and 3 doses of drugs.
  • 210 Power Infantry Suit
  • 220 Heavy Infantry Suit. Adds Greater Kinetic option and the Heavy Ablative add-on. (adds 1000 sols and 4Kg)
  • 230 Jump Infantry Suit. Adds Jet modules as per the 120. (adds 2000 sols and 10Kg)
  • 240 Marine Suit. Adds Hydrojet modules as per the 130. (adds 2000 sols and 10Kg)
  • 250 Scout/Infiltrator Suit. Adds the Chameleon suit option, laser listener and holocamera. (adds 4500 sols and 10Kg)
  • 260 EW Suit. Adds Electronic Countermeasures Kit (adds 1000 sols and 3Kg)
  • 270 Command Suit. Adds Jet modules as per the 120, adds a satellite communicator as well as upgrades the computer to a personal computer. (Adds 4000 sols and 13Kg)
  • The 200 series has an energy consumption of 1 energy/km moved at a walk or 2 energy/km moved at a run.
  • The model 230 and 270 use 2 energy/km while flying at cruise velocity and 4 energy/km at full speed. The model 240 uses 2 energy/km while swimming at cruise velocity and 4 energy/km at full speed.
  • The 200 series Power Armor is donned in 8 pieces, but the improved interconnect and seal design allows the armor to be equipped or removed in the standard amount of time. After equipping the armor it has a 2 second boot up and calibration sequence before it is operational.

Premium Power Armor

Several years ago Fell Arms Incorporated received numerous inquiries for a higher end, more cutting edge alternative to their successful 200 series Power Armor line. Not wishing to miss out on an opportunity to sell higher end equipment, the corporate executives set their R&D department to work. Rumors also have it that some independent mercenary companies raided several remote megacorporate competitors' R&D labs during this time. Accusations have been made that these raids were ordered by FAI's competitive research branch, but no proof has ever been found. However, new manufacturing materials and methods were developed in a short period of time whatever the method used. These new technologies were incorporated into a refined version of the 200 series Power Armor and dubbed the 300 series. After field testing proved these designs (including fighting off a mercenary raid at the very design center they were created at) the armor was given extensive restyling to increase its high end appeal and marketed to FAI's premium customers. The styling combined with the advanced fast entry system of this series prevented the units from losing much mass, but has succeeded in attracting the attention of many wealthy and famous clients. Several of the 320, 350, and 370 suits have even been featured in action holovids. The most notable improvements of the 300 series are a fast entry system, premium hand-held computer, enhanced tactical and medical scanners, and a cutting edge radio communicator. Most governments refuse to buy the 300 series due to its incredible price tag - a single squad of infantry equipped with this armor would cost more than a grav tank.

Avail Cost Mass DR UF Mx MP UF Min MP Mx MP Min MP CP IV
R 500,000 150 115 -200 -50 -100/-85/-75 -25/-15/-10 +12 5*
  • Adds the Portage skills trait to the wearer
  • Adds a +10 St Bonus to the wearer
  • Includes an Integrated Spacesuit
  • Includes 8 Utility power cells
  • Includes a tactical scanner(+10), Audio/Visual Recorder, Heads Up Display, Radio Communicator(+10), Satellite Navigator, Dazzler Neutralizer, Radiation Detector, Hand-held computer(+10), Medical Scanner(+10) (occupant only), Hypodermic spray (occupant only), and 3 doses of drugs.
  • 310 Advanced Infantry Suit
  • 320 Commando Suit. Adds Greater Kinetic option and the Heavy Ablative add-on. (adds 10000 sols and 4Kg)
  • 330 Advanced Jump Infantry Suit. Adds Gravatic modules much like a grav plane (+10 to operate). (adds 40000 sols and 10Kg)
  • 340 Advanced Marine Suit. Adds Hydrojet modules as per the 130 but with a +10 to operate. (adds 20000 sols and 10Kg)
  • 350 Advanced Scout/Infiltrator Suit. Adds the Chameleon suit option (+10), laser listener (+10) and holocamera (+10). (Adds 45000 sols and 10Kg)
  • 360 Advanced EW Suit. Adds Electronic Countermeasures Kit (+10) (adds 10000 sols and 3Kg)
  • 370 Advanced Command Suit. Adds Gravatic modules as per the 320, adds a satellite communicator (+10) as well as upgrades the computer to a premium personal computer (+10). (Adds 60000 sols and 13Kg)
  • The 300 series has an energy consumption of 1 energy/km moved at a walk or 2 energy/km moved at a run.
  • The model 320 and 370 use 4 energy/km while flying at cruise velocity and 4 energy/km at full speed (55km/h). The model 340 uses 2 energy/km while swimming at cruise velocity and 4 energy/km at full speed.
  • The 300 series Power Armor can be donned in 8 pieces if needed, but the new fast entry system allows the armor to be equipped or removed in 2 rounds with a hard armor check, or 4 rounds under normal conditions. After equipping the armor it has a 2 second boot up and calibration, however the system may be left in a sleep condition allowing "instant on" operation.

*note the 300 series includes 1 IV of materials and 1 IV of manufacturing bonus which is already incorporated in its cost. For early power armor settings this would be the very best available, but for mature or advanced power armor settings it would merely be a premium or quality line of products.

Heavy Power Armor series 400

For some people you can never have too much armor. A very recent product released by Fell Arms Incorporated caters to just those people. Utilizing many of their latest innovations (but without the expensive exotic materials and processes) this suit adds even more armor than their previous products. The 400 series looks like a very thick skinned cross between the 200 and 300 series battlesuit and adds about 50cm to the height of the wearer. Besides the increased armor, the 400 series incorporates the fast entry system of the 300 series to make a very attractive product for the price point. Unfortunately early reviews of the line indicate that the additional armor makes it ungainly and difficult to maneuver in. Experienced power armor users will likely require additional training to effectively use these ponderous suits. Whether the additional protection offered by this series is worth the loss of mobility only time will tell. Another hot topic for the 400 series is the move to back mounted jets on the 430 model. Some users claim the ease of use the back mounted jet offers is a great asset, while others talk about a loss of maneuverability. So far only 4 models have been released in this series, but judging from their naming others are likely to follow.

Avail Cost Mass DR UF Mx MP UF Min MP Mx MP Min MP CP IV
R 50,000 180 120 -240 -60 -120/-105/-95 -30/-20/-15 +12 5
  • Adds the Portage skills trait to the wearer
  • Adds a +15 St Bonus to the wearer
  • Includes an Integrated Spacesuit
  • Includes 8 Utility power cells
  • Includes a tactical scanner, Audio/Visual Recorder, Heads Up Display, Radio Communicator, Satellite Navigator, Dazzler Neutralizer, Radiation Detector, Hand-held computer, Medical Scanner (occupant only), Hypodermic spray (occupant only), and 3 doses of drugs.
  • 410 Power Infantry Suit
  • 420 Heavy Infantry Suit. Adds Greater Kinetic option and the Heavy Ablative add-on. (adds 1000 sols and 4Kg)
  • 430 Heavy Jump Infantry Suit. Adds a single jet module on the back rather than in the legs. (adds 1500 sols and 10Kg).
  • 460 Heavy EW Suit. Adds Electronic Countermeasures Kit (adds 1000 sols and 3Kg)
  • The 400 series has an energy consumption of 1 energy/km moved at a walk or 2 energy/km moved at a run.
  • The model 430 uses 2 energy/km while flying at cruise velocity and 4 energy/km at full speed (50 km/h MAN 0).
  • The 400 series Power Armor can be donned in 8 pieces if needed, but the new fast entry system allows the armor to be equipped or removed in 3 rounds with a hard armor check, or 6 rounds under normal conditions. After equipping the armor it has a 4 second boot up and calibration, however the system may be left in a sleep condition allowing "instant on" operation.

Power Armor is a favorite Sci-Fi trope of mine, so I hope this information proves useful to your game!