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Space Marine Capabilities
26th Dec, 2010

This is an overview of what a Space Marine can do according to the ‘Philverse’ explanations of 40K technology. The aim is to provide a framework that re-enforces the heroic image of the 40K Space Marine. As 40K matures and pushes more and more into new media like computer games and movies, it seems the capabilities of the Marine changes to match the new medium. I know the Black Library’s position is to take 40K and make it ‘real’, and therefore bring 40K to life, and that approach yields very different Marine compared to the table top game. The same holds true for computer games like Dawn of War. None of these various media versions of Marines seem very compatible with each other, and often each new expansion seems to drift towards Marine mediocrity.

This can lead to Marines being portrayed in a way that does not seem to match what they are. Often they seem to acting like trigger happy ‘mooks’ or ‘cannon fodder’, and end up being killed off in droves. This popular image jars with supposed tactical prowess, robustness, and fire-power of the Angels of Death. It makes even less sense when we consider their rarity, and the difficulty of the conversion process of man into marine.

Either they are the ‘elite of the elite’ (and should act like it) or they are not (and should not be purported as such). It would be nice to have an overview of what a Marine can actually do, and how they act. To define their abilities and character in a ’40K cheat sheet’. This could help to avoid the Marines ending up in roles that make little sense for a Marine – often nothing more than new clothes to wrap up the same old mooks.

The idea of this post is simple enough: work out how marines can function on the battle field if they really are as good and smart as they are said to be. To close the discrepancies between what they, and their gear, is said to be able to do – and how it ends up being portrayed. I’ll start with my ideas on Power Armour, and how effective I think weapons should be against it. When I get the chance I’ll follow up with some more ideas. Remember this is ‘Philverse’ version of 40K, and while I’ll try and match 40K canon as I see it, I may diverge in my musings…

Power Armour

A fully powered exoskeleton body armour. The armour is designed to replicate the movements of the Space Marine and, through the Black Carapace, directly interfaces with the Space Marine’s nervous system. The armour is not responding after the fact to movement; it is activated by the nerve signals and is responding with the muscles. This means there is no lag in armour replicated movement, and Space Marine feels unencumbered while wearing it.

The armour is not powered with electric motors but instead it is powered with artificial ‘muscle wire’. The muscle wire, or Nuro Fibre Bundles (NFBs), are sandwiched in-between the inner superstructure plating and mid-fixing layer. The mid fixing layer is what the outer ablative armour plates are attached to (allowing damaged plates to be quickly removed and replaced). When an ablateive armour-plate is removed you can see the NFB channels, reinforcing ribs, and fixing anchors. The outer ablative plates do not contain any of the motional technologies.

The inner superstructure, though quite tough, is not designed to withstand direct attack. The inner superstructure is wrapped in the protective ablative plates. It is the outer ablative plates that bear the brunt on incoming impacts. Some ablative plates are thicker than others: the shoulders are around 4” thick, and most frontal armour is over 2”.

Ablative Plates

The ablative plates are composites of various armour material layered together. The outer facing is a variable depth advanced ceramic material, this covers a mid active armour layer bonded over a flexible mounting, which in turn is bonded to the rigid inner skin. The inner skin has mounting points to attach to the superstructure. The advanced ceramics and cermets used are ‘metallic’ in colour (note: some modern-day advanced ceramics are highly metallic, like TiN which is a nice gold colour, and can be used to replace gold trim on armour).

This outer layer must be defeated to reach the deeper layers beneath. To explore the capabilities of the armour I’ll start with the outer layer and work my way inwards.

Outer Layer

The outer layer is composed of an advanced ceramic. A comparable modern-day material would be something ‘Boron Carbide‘ which is used in tank armour, though the actual material obviously has not been invented yet so it hard to say what it really is other than a general family. It is probably made under extreme pressure and temperature like Heterodiamond or mechanochemically like beta carbon nitride. Suffice to say it is extremely hard, heat-resistant, and not brittle. Therefore it is highly resistant to direct energy and ballistic weapons.

Small arms Immunity

Due to the thickness of the facing layer, as used in Space Marine issue power armour, it offers virtual immunity to small arms fire. The easiest way to imagine this is to translate everything into modern era (our) time. If a suit of Space Marine armour existed today, in our world, would defeat all modern small arms: pistols, rifles, and assault rifles. Such weapons would not even slow a charging marine down. Marine can literally run though a hail of lead and be completely unaffected.

Fixed weapon resistance

The armour would be capable of taking multiple rounds from machine guns like the .30 Browning M1919, and would be highly resistant to the .50 Browning M2. This also means it can resist the anti-material sniper rifle like the Barret M82. Hits from these fixed position weapons can slow a marine down, and affect their movement. Some areas of the marine are vulnerable to these weapons, and strikes to vulnerable areas have a similar effect to the larger calibre weapons described below.

Penetration – Mid Electric Reactive Armour Layer

Under the outer ceramic layer is an active armour layer. This active armour is a sandwich of conductive plates separated with ceramic insulator. The backpack provides a high voltage source to the plates. Any penetrator the breaches the plates completes the circuit and discharges the fast charge capacitor. The backpack can provide many charges in quick succession, but damaged plates will cease to function. This allows the marine to survive hits that are powerful enough to defeat the outer advanced ceramic layer, but not for long. Armour breach is a clear signal to get out of dodge.

Heavy weapons

Most areas of the marine’s armour can resist 20mm autocannon fire for a short while. Each hit from a 20mm autocannon will smash the outer layer and breach down to the electric layer. The hit will be stopped if the electric layer is still functioning. If not the marine will be damaged, and with this calibre it will often be fatal. Some areas are more resistant like the shoulders, which can often withstand multiple hits and not shatter, but it weaken and eventually fail.

A weapon like the 25mm Bushmaster will most likely punch through marine armour, and while the effects may be reduced by a functioning electric layer, there is more than enough remaining power to damage the marine. Even the shoulder armour will break, and a second hit will punch through.

Resistance to RPGs

The shaped charge’s jet is vaporised by the electric layer. The explosion will move the marine, knocking them back, and often down. A marine actually hit by an RPG would be stunned for a second. However hitting a moving marine, who will shoot back, with an RPG is another matter.

The marine can endure most PRG hits, but larger RPGs may cause such a powerful explosion that the marine is damaged with concussive blunt force trauma and soft tissue damage (from the rapid acceleration). This may or may not kill a marine, but they are most likely down for the count.

Advanced weaponry

The next section deals with some of the advanced weaponry found in 40K. At first I’ll deal with Imperial tech and move on to alien.

Lasgun

The ubiquitous Lasgun of the Imperial Guard is ineffective against the frontal areas of Space Marine armour. Although it has extreme wavelength and unusual penetration powers, it cannot breach the thick ceramic layers. It can affect thinner areas. The unusual side effect of a Lasgun striking Ceramics is that it does not leave damage, merely a glowing red spot that quickly dissipates. Lasgun hits do superheat the air (if in an atmosphere) and cause explosions, but these are minor. However on mass they can become a problem.

(Note: The same holds true for Eldar Lasguns).

Lascanon

Again it may be more energy but the wavelength are similar and it has trouble breaching. However so much energy is dumped into the armour that it superheats the air and cause an explosion that is pretty similar to being hit by an RPG. The difference between a Lascannon and an RPG is accuracy. It is much easier to hit a marine with a Lascannon that an RPG. It should be noted that on low atmosphere worlds, and in a vacuum, the Lascannon looses this ability and the marine is unlikely to be affected.

If the Lascannon hits a thinner areas it can breach to the inner layers and dump its energy into the armour. This will cause catastrophic damage.

Bolters

If using my concepts for the modal bolt then it uses a shaped charge for armour penetration, which like the RPG, the marine is pretty much immune to. This means that Marine’s bolter is ineffective against another Marines. Bolters are rapid fire, and the best a marine can hope for is to stun an enemy marine, with a sustained, burst long enough to close and retain the upper hand in the ensuing grapple. However Marines are heroes, they are though, and often this effect is short-lived. It is more an ‘insult’ than a real attack (like a slap in the face, and taken as a mark of disrespect).

It could be speculated that the Emperor chose the bolter as a way of reducing casualties from internal conflicts and ‘friendly fire’.

A Marine will often have to grapple to kill another Marine, unless one has a heavy weapon. Power armour has it roots in the pre-history of the Imperium, when techno-barbarians would fight wrestling matches in ritualised duels. As such it is possible for a Marine to literally pull apart another Marine using grappling locks. It takes a fair bit of effort but it can be done.

Design notes: it is very important for me to include this 40K historical point, and to reference fight manuals of the middle ages (Talhoffer, Hector Mair, etc.) that also have grappling as a major component. When knights fought other knights they often had to close and finish a knight with grappling which is contrary to the popular ‘Hollywood’ image. Plate armour was very good at protecting a knight/ man-at-arms and swords were ineffective against it (warhammers were far better). It’s only with the event of armour piecing crossbows, and firearms, that plate armour fell out of favour. An important point to note, that unlike the historical plate, the Marine’s armour is still standing up to the weapons of the era.

Sniper Bolters

These weapons are for long-range only. The have solid penetration cores and no shaped charge. The bolt leaves the barrel at subsonic speeds and rapidly accelerates through the sound barrier and well past Mach 2, some can reach over Mach 3 at full range. A marine hit but one of these weapons will feel the effects. The impact energy is extreme, and far more than conventional rounds.

Flamer

Being made of heat insulating ceramic and having re-breather, I imagine Marine would be immune to fire. However if the Marine does not have an enclosed re-breather the fire will consume the oxygen, assuming that the flamer uses atmospheric oxygen, and that could cause problems. I would tend to imagine that a flamer contains its own oxidisers, as not all worlds have oxygen present.

Flamers would be exceptionally powerful against unarmoured troops like rogue IG, Nids or Orks, but next to useless against Marines.

Chainswords

Another weapon I imagine would be next to useless against a Marine, but could be lethal to hordes of Ork or massed ranks of renegade IG. I figure the teeth simply will not effectively cut into the super hard advanced ceramic of the power armour without some ‘super science’ to help out. Talking of super science;

Power Weapons

Due to the nature of power fields the electric layer of the Marine’s armour (see above) would power up the field’s effects making the damage far worse. The suit will deactivate the electric later of the power armour when the Marine is engaged with an enemy using power weapons. I thought this would make sense according to my version of power fields, and allow a dramatic weakness in some instances.

Aliens

This is a quick overview of the effectiveness of Space Marine Power Armour in dealing with alien threats.

Nids

Natural claws are completely useless on Marines, but Tyranids are not natural. They have innate psionic abilities built into their genetic structure. One is the brood mind, another is the psi-fields woven into their chitinous armour and claws. A ‘Nids claw is effectively a ‘power sword’, and as such it can cut into Marine armour. Due to the nature of power fields (see above) the electric layer of the Marine’s armour would power up the field making the attack worse. Therefore the electric armour layer will deactivate. The problem then is that much of the Marine’s resistance is compromised. Weapons that they would have a good chance of surviving may effect them when in combat with a ‘Nid. The big problem with ‘Nids is that they have no compunction about firing on their own, and will blast a Marine in hand to hand combat, even if it will kill the ‘Nid combatant in the process.

Orks

These are very powerfully built aliens, and the larger Orks can carry weapons that are similar in power to 20mm autocannon. This means the Marines are vulnerable to the larger Orks. Most Orks are smaller, and the Marine can resist most Ork small arms fire. Orks are powerful in hand-to-hand combat, while not destroying the armour, could still damage the Marine within (similar to mace hits on a Medieval knight – as Orks are similar is size and power to a Marine). I’m sure Bolters should affect the Orks, but the Orks should be hideously tough and hard to put down. I figure a direct hit with shaped charge jet penetration can kill (but marines will run out of ammo) but an airburst (using ‘model bolts‘) would be ineffective.

Necrons

Necrons seem to be the 40K version of the undead (rather than the Terminator). Necron weapons are very strange as they seem to strip away armour and flesh. Marines will suffer if they are hit by ‘Gauss’ weapons. However, because the materials used are so tough (the atoms within the armour have very strong bonds) it may take a few passes to strip the ablative layer (or not). This may be all the time the Marine needs. Marine bolters would probably affect the Necrons, but Necrons do heal up (‘living metal’). Necrons could also have electric armour and force marines to pull them apart in grappling (if a Marine can pull apart another Marine, they should be strong enough to do this). I suppose it all depends on how ‘supernatural’ the Necrons should be.

6 Responses

Hearing feedback is very important to me in developing my ideas. Much of my designs are inspired, and crafted, by chatting to fans on forums before snowballing into a full concept you'll find here. I would like to thank all those who have contributed critiques and participated in discussions over the years, and I would especially like to thank all those who commented on this specific topic. If you would like join in you are most welcome!

  1. Kage2020 says:

    I have a fairly distinct memory of replying to this, but it might have been eaten by FF Beta.  Back to Chrome for me for the foreseeable future.

    Anyway, despite being burned out on the 40k universe (all things considered), and since I’ve turned my mind to the cyberpunk and post-apocalyptic genre (the joys of Shadowrun Apocalypse!), I thought that I would comment here since my mind seems to be in the “tech niche” that your interpretation of the 40k universe tends to fall.  Or maybe it’s because writing a report on Civil War encampments and house sites just isn’t doing anything for me at the moment. 😀

    As 40k matures and pushes more and more into new media like computer games and movies, it seems the capabilities of the Marine changes to match the new medium.

    Or, put another way, the concern of Games Workshop is to satisfy shareholders desire for more profit (as they should) and expansion into alternate revenue streams is more important than any concept of consistency or coherence.  Which is all good and well since it keeps them in business and producing new materials to inspire the latest batch of teens (and occasional grognard) in the hobby.

    It would be nice to have an overview of what a Marine can actually do, and how they act… This could help to avoid the Marine ending up in roles that make little sense for a Marine–often nothing more than new clothes to wrap up the same old mooks.

    There’s nothing wrong with Marines being “mooks” when one considers that the term is fairly flexible depending on the over-arching “power level” that is represented.  The fundamental flaw to Marines in the 40k setting and how they have been incorporated into games such as Deathwatch is that they are all-but-universally attributed as being the “best of the best.”

    On the other hand, I do agree that a more developed look into what Marines can and cannot do would be incredibly useful.  Dare I call it a consistent look at Marines that is not hampered by “speed of the plot mentality or value judgement about whether this or that is “heroic,” “epic,” or whatever.

    Now the preamble is over with, on to your individual sections.

    Power Armour

    You could miss out on some of the jargon by just referring to an endoskeleton Phil, thus avoiding “mid-fixing layer” or whatever.  For the NFB musculature to work effectively and to parallel the functioning of the human musculoskeletal system, having an endoskeleton is all but required.  From there you can construct your terminology from standard anatomical terms with regards to origins and insertions of NFBs, NFBs acting synergistically with others, etc.  About the primary difference would be that point-insertions might be harder t mimic given the increased cross-sectional diameter of the endosekeleton so the NFB musculature would require more equivalents to connective tissue “fans,” e.g. aponeurosis or retinaculum.

    See?  I can bring the almost-technobabble to the field as well. 😉
    I’m fond of the idea that AAPA incorporates ablative armour, though imagine that it is not all ablative (except in the broadest of terms).

    Due to the thickness of the facing layer, as used in Space Marine issue power armour, it offers virtual immunity to small arms fire.

    I really wish that such considerations are brought forward in the universe, be it the “speed of plot” exceptionalism that we seen in the novels or the application of Horde mechanics in Deathwatch.  Sometimes mechanical balance is not balanced.

    The armour would be capable of taking multiple rounds from machine guns like the .30 Browning M1919, and would be highly resistant to the .50 Browning M2.

    This is fairly meaningless when applied to the 40k universe, though, unless you actually model it with numbers.  Just what you turn to for this will effect the outcome.  For example, if you turned to the official 40k RPG materials you wouldn’t be left with anything fundamentally useful given the contrivances of that game.
    It also scales weaponry in modern terms, whereas the craziness derives from the inconsistent weaponry of the wargame (etc.).

    The shaped charge jet is vaporised by the electric layer.

    Remember that Marines need weakness to something.  It is far too easy to create the armour equivalent of a Mary Sue to explain Marines as little more than awesomesauce covered in a chocolate awesomesauce coating.

    Advanced Weaponry

    This is where the aforementioned awesomesauce comes out.  While it perpetuates your idea that the armour surpasses the weaponry so that it is more effective for Marines to hit each other over the head with the femur of a dinosaur, it begins to get into raised-eyebrow territory.

    A Marine will often have to grapple to kill another Marine…

    You’re approaching trope territory, here, akin to the “Inverse Ninja Law” or perhaps even just the <adopts terrible Japanese accent> “Only a Ninja can kill a Ninja.”
    Thus, back to awesomesauce.
    On the other hand the references to medieval martial arts just makes me want to strip all the crap–all the pseudo-scifi detritus–from the 40k universe and, with honest hand on heart, just play in a medieval fantasy setting.  As soon as you begin to bring such medievalised elements in a definitive fashion it dilutes the universe significantly (and you end up with Dark Heresy).

    Due to the nature of the power fields the electric layer of the Marine’s armour (see above) would power up the field’s effects making the damage far worse.

    Forgive my lack of surprise that power fields trumps all in Phil-verse. 😉

    Aliens

    Natural claws are completely useless on Marines, but Tyranids are not natural.  They have innate psionic abilities built into their genetic structure…

    So, what you’re saying is that they have innate “power fields” so that they can bring the smack down to a Marine?

    Orks are powerful in hand-to-hand combat, while not destroying the armour, could still damage the Marine within (similar to mace hits on a Medieval knight).

    I think that along with the Marines there is significant over-estimation of striking power and the subsequent blunt trauma effects.  Whatever twiddles the ‘ole noodle on this one, though.

    However, because the materials used are so tough (the atoms within the armour have very strong bonds) it may take a few passes to strip the ablative layer (or not).

    Wow.  Marines are so awesomesauce that they beat the strong nuclear force vs. a “disintegrator”-type weapon.
    On the other hand, the noble Knight striving in enchanted power armour against the insidious Undead with their Corpse Rays works just fine. 😉
     

    • Philip S says:

      That is my aim: a consistent set of rules or what marines can and cannot do according to all the premises and concepts I’ve written about 40K – ‘Philverse’. The idea is to help a Player or GM (or game designer) imagine what a marine can ‘realistically’ do when all the interlinked Philverse concepts are brought together and applied. Later it can be converted into numbers (probably WarSpike numbers) but for now it’s at the concept level.

      You could miss out on some of the jargon by just referring to an endoskeleton Phil, thus avoiding “mid-fixing layer” or whatever.

      I assume you mean ‘exoskeleton’? I refer to it as such.

      The idea of going into detail about the armour’s structure is to give an idea of how it is put together. In Philverse the NFB take a concept from the old Rogue Trader era cutaway diagram with the ‘cables’ being NFBs in a channel sandwiched into the inner armour layers. Part of the superstructure. The ablated outer layers do not contain any of the NFBs or critical components. The ablative layers are surfaced with active camo.

      Grapples: I wanted to reference the old Techno-barbarians of Terra. This stems from the fact that in Philverse the Marine Bolter is ineffective at killing other marines. The armour is too effective. In our modern age this is not the case, people are downed by modern firearms very easily if hit, so a charge is the last thing on a combatant’s mind. This was not always the case, and throughout history armour has outstripped missile fire-power on many occasions. Shields are pretty good at stopping arrows, and so is later plate armour before firearms turned up. When a warriors is immune to missile fire, hand to hand combat resurges.

      I really like the idea of a shaped charge being the anti-armour mode of my multi-modal bolt. Such a bolt could cut through very thick armour indeed. I am also fascinated by electric armour and the fact that it can nullify shape charges. That such a powerful weapon can be rendered nearly useless due to this technology. It offers a fun thought that if a marine has an anti-armour weapon based on a shaped charge, and electric armour, that their own weapons would be useless against them. If the bolts are not working what is a marine to do?

      Power fields: It is one of the quirks of power fields in Philverse that they run on, and drain, electrical power. It’s a tongue in cheek homage to movies that the presence of aliens often stops electrical gear from functioning. Advanced power field tech, such as ‘anti-grav’, will drain electricity. This does not affect Adeptus Mechanicus computer technology as it is photonic/ biological.

      The side effect, if applying this Philverse power field is that it will always drain electrical power. I figure the only way a ‘Nid is going to cut through Space Marine armour is if their claws as sheathed in a power field. As power fields are (in Philverse) a psionic phenomena, it was not hard to add this to the ‘Nid make-up. The side effect of this, which I thought of while writing it, is that a penetrating strike would drain any power in the electric layer of the armour.

      While this would not really affect a marine in close combat with a ‘Nid, if they were in combat with a ‘Nid and hit will a bolt while their electric armour is deactivated, they would be in trouble. It is more a side note, that while in combat with ‘Nids, the marines would (logically) no longer be immune to bolter fire.

      Necrons: I figure Necron weapons have limits. A single Necron hand held gauss flayer cannot disintegrate a whole planet, so there is a limit somewhere. Where that limit is  – is anyone’s guess. I figure power has a lot to do with it. I like the idea that some materials are harder to disinterested than others  base don bond strength. And yes, in case you were wondering, I do class Necron weapons as ‘power field’ derivative tech, and sharing a lot of similar tech to the Imperium (bio-photonics for their brains etc. basically one step away from my version of ‘Iron Men’). Which goes against everything we have been told about the Necrons. I have a different concept of them, I see them as using a lot of ‘power field’ technology, and not beings quite the purported opposite to the chaos gods. More another agent, and links to humanity.

      Philip

      • Kage2020 says:

        I assume you mean ‘exoskeleton’?

        Yes, of course I did.  That’s actually more embarrassing a mistake than I care to admit.  With that said it was more a reference to all these “fixing layer” business.

        This stems from the fact that in Philverse the Marine bolter is ineffective at killing other marines.

        Aye, I saw.  It’s one of the things about the 40k canon that makes me want to run for Dungeons & Dragons since the idea of the Marine getting it on in some form of Graeco-Roman wrestling contest just doesn’t do it for me.
        And, well, that’s all I’ve got for the reply. 😉

        • Philip S says:

          In general I do refer to it as an exoskeleton – but this article I wanted to go into a little more depth and describe the various layers and how that affect their capabilities.

          As for ‘Graeco-Roman wrestling’ I was thinking more of Germanic grappling styles of Hans Talhoffer. More ‘grappling at the sword’ though in this case it’s more ‘grappling at the bolter!’.

          I find the medieval period fascinating in a wider context of arms development. It’s an era where armour was superior to missile weapons for a short while (or several short whiles in the ebb and flow of development). I thought it would be interesting to apply some of that to the Marines, seeing as they are always being put across as ‘knights’ it may enrich them to drag a bit of the reality of knights into the mix (ignoring the Hollywood elements).

          Philip

  2. Topher says:

    I haven’t been on here for a while, but I do enjoy reading your stuff and find it very good food for thought. However, there’s one thing I’m confused about, which is the effectiveness of bolt rounds vs. powered armor. In the “canon” stuff from GW the round is specifically noted as armor piercing. I liked reading your article on bolts that could be programmed as they left the gun, but I wondered why you decided that th