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…
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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;
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.
This is a quick overview of the effectiveness of Space Marine Power Armour in dealing with alien threats.
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.
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 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.
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!
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