A pair of my dear friends got me into a free to play game called Firefall last week. Although the computer I currently use is badly in need of an overhaul (which is incoming :D) it can smoothly play this free-to-play/open beta game on minimum settings. I enjoy the frantic pace, running around in cool power armour exploring and fighting off the enemies of humanity. The game is fun and you should check it out if you like that sort of thing, but more importantly it led me to this evenings topic: a discussion about battle tactics in Futuristic Fantasy.
Futuristic Fantasy is stuff like Star Wars, Warhammer 40k, and Starship Troopers. These worlds do not make a serious attempt to follow scientific rules or even extrapolate current trends or ideas. Instead they use technology as a part of the background setting for the story they want to tell, often in a fantastic fashion. Guns replace swords, power armour replaces plate mail, psionics/the Force replace magic, aliens replace orcs, and huge mutant beasts replace dragons. I love this kind of setting, since it often incorporates progressive ideas like spaceships, cities, and modern political ideas. Some fans of science fiction frown upon these sort of works, but genre purism is almost irrelevant to many readers these days.
In my other battle tactics posts I discuss how Fantasy elements could change classical and medieval battles. With Futuristic Fantasy I am not dealing with a historical set of tactics as a base, which makes it even more creative. As always the idea is not necessarily to be realistic, but rather to be internally consistent and entertaining. Without further ado, I’d like to offer some thoughts on common tropes in Futuristic Fantasy and how I think they could change combat.
Power Armour: From Tony Stark to 40K, power armour is a suit of protective armour that gifts the user with greater physical prowess and often incorporates advanced weapons systems. Power armour can be a mechanized suit or a biological organism that the wearer puts on. I limit power armour to roughly man sized suits, anything bigger might qualify as a mech.
- Increased Protection: Just how good is your power armour at protecting the wearer? some suits might be more of an exo-skeleton that increases the wearers other attributes instead of offering protection against attacks, but most power armour is portrayed as being very resistant to whatever the conventional infantry weapons of the time are, similar to plate-mail in the middle ages, or an LGV these days. This level of protection makes the wearer a walking tank of sorts and elevates them above combatants who do not have access to power armour themselves.
- Increased Mobility: Does the suit offer faster travel? Power armour frequently allows the user to move far more swiftly than a regular foot-soldier. Booster jets, limited flight, deployable wheels, sonic gliders, and so on. Mobility is of great importance in warfare, allowing the wearer to react to threats and opportunities more quickly. Mobility is also a form of defence: moving targets are harder to hit and keeping out of your enemy’s range/reach is quite effective. If your power armour incorporates boosters or gliding, it may allow for specialized air drops. Often forms of mobility allow for new forms of assault as well, a fully sealed suit allows for amphibious assaults for example.
- Weaponry: Greater strength allows the wearer to carry more impressive weaponry, however some weapons might be mounted on the suit. An automated point defence system to shoot down incoming munitions or attack critters that get to close might be nice. Reinforced gauntlets for punching might make for some incredible power armour martial arts. Lots of options here.
- Drones: I feel that advanced power armour should have some sort of drone assistance (see below)
- Sensors: The value of onboard sensors and communication are often underestimated. If the wearer can sense the enemy better than they can sense him, then he has a tremendous advantage. The same goes for communication, targeting assistance computers and a host of other possibilities.
- Rarity: How rare is it? If power armour is the norm and every soldier has a suit, it presents a very different setting than if it is a lost technology handed down from from generation to generation.
- Counter-Tactics: Necessity is the mother of invention. Soldiers in World War II came up with a number of interesting ways to cripple and destroy enemy tanks with makeshift devices. If power armour is a factor in your battles then enemies will have to have some way of dealing with it. A massive metal suit invites all sorts of weaight based traps, such as a covered pit that a man can walk across but a suited solider cannot. Anti-armour weapons are another possibility as are devices that mess with sensors and programs.
- Logistics: Remember to think about fuel, ammunition, and what happens when these things break down. Exotic fuels lead to unusual economies. Five hundred pounds of armour could be a terrible liability when it runs out of power,..
Drones and AI: An area that I feel most action-based Futuristic fantasy games and writers are deficient in is automation. Drones are a good example of this. Every time I see or read a book about war in the future that does not have drones of some sort in it, I feel compelled to ask, why not? The ability to send out a little remote controlled or automated drone to spy or snipe at ones enemies removes risk and provides a definite advantage.
- Combat Drones: Combat drones are a reality now. They allow for action against enemies at a remote distance. Less risk to the drone pilot and well as the bonus of creation a craft that does not need to have a cockpit. Entire battles where all the combatants are drones (either remote or AI controlled) might make for very interesting reading, not to mention the extremely sensitive discussion about using robotic craft to attack civilians.
- Personal Drones: Foot-soldiers with locally controlled drone assistants could be another way to envision the future of warfare, Imagine a power-armoured space knight with a squad of drone assistants providing her with intelligence, targeting, fire support, and so on.
Techno-Feudalism: Techno-Feudalism is a futuristic setting where high technology is in the hands of a select few. Perhaps the setting has undergone a period of regression, and elements have been lost or perhaps the highest tier of technology is too expensive to see mass use or simple kept in the hands of the elite. Technology is power, after all. In a techno-feudal setting power-armoured knights might dominate the battlefield against lesser foes or fight valiantly against foes that would easily overwhelm conventional troops. Techno-Feudalism also offers the writer an excuse to leave out technology that would change the story in ways that he or she does not like, don’t want to explain why your “future” setting doesn’t have drones or AI? — they were lost in the great crash…
Techno-feudalism offers another combination with a common fantasy idea, that idea lost greatness that seems to pervade many fantasy settings. The age of wonders and such. It is an interesting setting idea and one I will post about in greater detail later on.