while reading through the rulebook I had doubts why anyone would use a lasgun at all. The danger is simply too great to attack someone with a shield. Still, the book is contradictory there. On the one hand you read things like:
“The most commonly used firearm in the Imperium.”
“The universe is filled with lasguns, befitting the planet, culture, and group using them, making countless variants available for purchase.”
“Lasguns are the conventional method of combat (…)”
(Lasgun, p. 194)
On the other hand:
“They are expensive and sometimes unreliable, and the reaction with shields makes them often undesirable in mass combat, when a stray shot could have catastrophic results.” (Lasgun, p. 194)
“Shields are affordable for those of means, and always a factor when determining strategies against House operatives and soldiers(!).” (Shield, p. 195)
“Shields are affordable for most Houses and are commonplace with nobles and their retainers, with even some merchants able to have one.” (Shield, Personal, p. 196)
“These are the standard line infantry used throughout the Imperium: shielded soldiers armed with melee weapons and trained to fight efficiently in large formations of a thousand men or more.” (Shield Infantry, p. 201)
It’s hard to understand why soldiers don’t just use normal guns. The worst thing that can happen when someone uses a normal firearm is that it doesn’t work. If someone uses a lasgun, in the worst case 1. they themself will die, 2. everything around them will be annihilated, 3. their House will be politically destroyed.
Therefore, can you think of a way to introduce lasguns into the game without it being potential suicide? Why should Lasguns be a reasonable choice?
I agree that Lasguns are very uncomfortable to think about. Like a piece of grit they irritate me when I immerse myself in the Dune universe. As a GM you feel that Players will always want to deliberately want to set up Lasgun/Shield explosions (cleverly managing to blame one of their enemies).
My way of dealing with it is just to ban them altogether (what House would entrust a common soldier with a weapon that could EASILY result in the political suicide of the entire House!). For the Fanatical Fremen, why wouldn’t they use this tactic all the time?
So, for me, Lasguns simply don’t exist. Ranged weapons are common, but useless against Shielded targets. Shields are common everywhere except on Arrakis, in the open desert.
This has come up before in discussing firearms in Dune and a large part of the problem stems from the source and the Novel itself.
Frank Herbert wrote with the apparent assumption that the risk of shield/Lasgun interaction was so great that the bulk of combat would be melee.
The only actual interaction of them that I think occurs is when Duncan intentionally plants a shield to be triggered by a Lasgun to deal with some Sardaukar during Paul and Jessica’s escape.
I agree that they seem out of place, but hey, got to work with the source material.
As for why ordinary soldiers don’t use guns we had a long discussion here on their use in the Imperium.
My personal head cannon is that well trained troops with Shields and melee weapons will massacre a force armed with guns. Even if they have Shields as well because you are sacrificing skill in melee to train them to use guns as well.
Lower down the pecking order I agree that common forces will have guns, though nothing too impressive as those are the cannon folder troops and you don’t equip them well.
So the art of making guns drops down the order of importance, which impacts how many are made, which affects quality.
A downward spiral as it were.
My players thankfully aren’t focusing on conflict so the issue hasn’t come up.
I would probably avoid them having Lasguns by saying they are too expensive and risky to issue out generally. So you end up with specialist teams that only get used in times of Kanly & War or to put down peasant uprisings with extreme brutality. Such as the Baron allowing Rabban to keep some for use against the Fremen.
I agree with you @JohnDoe and @MickH.
Lasguns just aren’t a thing. Herbert establishes them in the setting and then gives all kinds of reasons as to why no one would ever use them, either on or off Arrakis. If anything, to my mind it makes it all the more likely that projectile weapons would still be in use, especially on Arrakis. However, Frank tries hard to remove those in the same way, i.e. with shield technology. He was going for a very particular feel.
My personal theory is that Dune is a reaction to the ubiquity of laser weaponry that was prevalent in early sci-fi but that’s neither here nor there.
The way I make sense of it is to lean into the science fantasy of the whole thing and as this particular implementation of the Modi 2d20 ruleset implies, this is not a setting where modern tactical warfare as we understand it tends to play much of a role. To me, Dune is more about the politics of why you’re fighting vs. how.
Thanks for your comments! I think I will also ignore them in my games, because they’re too hard to handle in a reasonable way. Also I like the aspect of Dune that it’s mostly about melee. It makes the setting unique.
Lasguns are a tool mostly. They are also expensive and they obviously go boom when they intersect a shield. Common troops don’t use them, but I would surmise that engineers and specialists would use them.
I would imagine that troops are divided into specialties just like any other military in history, and Lasgun armed troops are probably specialists. That would be my guess.
I imagine there are other uses for lasguns than shooting at shielded troops. They could be used for hunting, for policing, for sport.
Rabban is fan of hunting children (notably Duncan Idaho) with a team of lasgun armed mercenaries. So there is that…
Lasguns are a thing because Frank Herbert didn’t think this part of his setting lore through enough. He clearly doesn’t understand how the military mindset works, because the reaction to learning about shield/lasgun interactions is more realistically “Yay! Cheap nuclear explosions!” and not “Oh no, let’s never use this ever”. It’s probably the single biggest problem for making Dune the setting for RPGs because the mind of the average player will also start looking for ways to exploit shield/lasgun blasts rather than just giving up on them.
It doesn’t help that many players will be using the corebook as their only source for setting lore, and the writers there clearly stated more than once that Lasguns are common weapons.
While being faithful to the lore is important for a setting like Dune, Lasguns are one area where it really needs a retcon. Frank Herbert’s motivation for introducing shield/lasgun detonations is clear and a big part of what makes Dune different than other sci-fi franchises. But the way he went about it wasn’t properly thought out and creates more problems than it fixes.
My own proposal would be to adjust the lore slightly. Instead of the lasgun beam being what causes the blast, it’s the lasgun power source. Any high-density power cell such as those needed to power a man-portable energy weapon will release the stored energy in an explosive manner when inside a Holtzmann-effect field. This means that lasguns are still a thing and still have some utility, but that troops carrying one can’t also be equipped with shields. If you then say that coherent light loses coherency when passing through a shield (which has a characteristic shimmer anyway) then Lasguns are reduced in effectiveness against shielded targets, especially ones wearing armour under the shield.
This means that it’s now logical that the invention of the shield leads to the lasgun becoming obsolete, while still allowing for it to be in use for various niche applications. It also still allows shield/lasgun detonations to occasionally happen when the lore calls for it to occur.