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Plasma Cannon
Smell that ozone.
Plasma is one of the four states of matter, a step up from gas where the electrons become so energized that they break free of their orbits. Naturally some people have thought of weaponizing it. Unfortunately, in real life, plasma's properties make it more than a bit impractical, even without atmosphere it spreads out and becomes useless more than a fraction of an inch from the source, making it useful as a cutting tool but not a (ranged) weapon unless you can practically project a magnetic bottle to contain the plasma until it hits the target...which is very advanced technology in its own right. Needless to say, practical ranged plasma weapons are an indication of a highly advanced civilization.

Those impracticalities may be why most fictional plasma weapons, almost always heavy guns or cannons, are at most Cool, but Inefficient. Common traits include:

A Sub-Trope of Ray Gun and Energy Weapon. When the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness demands the function of the weapon to be explained, however, it's nearly universally mentioned to be a high-powered relative of Magnetic Weapons instead, the implications being that the projectile's launch energy and/or air friction is sufficient to turn most of it into plasma.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Film 
  • Sources vary on whether the blasters in Star Wars are plasma guns, particle beams, or just inaccurately portrayed lasers.
  • Terminator: The Terminator requests a handheld plasma weapon at a gun shop, confounding the salesman greatly. He then proceeds to rob the gun store of a number of conventional modern weapons. Being from the future, he probably wasn't making it up.
  • In the Predator series, the Predators are armed with shoulder mounted plasma casters with distinctive triplicate laser sights.
  • The Bugs in Starship Troopers combine this with their Hive Caste System. The towering bugs that the Mobile Infantry first encounters during their initial ground invasion of Klendathu are so-called "Plasma Bugs". They shoot huge bursts of plasma from their backs to target the human space vessels in orbit around the planet. Two of them are blown up onscreen, but the rest of them end up destroying most of the Federation's Fleet.
    • In the Robert A. Heinlein novel Bug soldiers were armed with plasma weapons, that were implied to be technological.
  • Pacific Rim: Gipsy Danger is armed with a Plasma Caster. So is Crimson Typhoon, with an updated version of Gipsy's, at the cost of charging time.

    Literature 
  • Artemis Fowl Koboi Labs and Police Plaza have plasma cannons that can be set to "stun" or "kill". They are also powered by a tube of plasma that acts like a gel when unpowered and is safe to swim in.
  • The Hammer's Slammers series: Powerguns use precisely arranged copper atoms stored in a plastic matrix. The atoms are pulled down the mirror-smooth barrel of the weapon by electromagnets. The barrels are cooled by liquid nitrogen and air, as most use a rotary assembly.
  • Honor Harrington: Plasma rifles and plasma carbines, considered to be anti-armor weapons, and plasma torpedoes, which are not torpedoes at all but rather a capital ship grade BFG, capable of tremendous destructive power at relatively short ranges (they pretty much stop factoring in the stories entirely once the Manticoran Missile Massacre becomes the preferred tactic of the setting.)
  • The Prince Roger series of books includes these as heavy artillery. That they're faulty due to Corrupt Corporate Executives running the companies that manufacture them, costing the lives of some of his marines, is one of Roger's Berserk Buttons.
  • The Kolnar pirates in The City Who Fought use plasma rifles that ignite slugs of U-235.
  • The Bolo stories are centered on the Bolo autonomous tanks, whose usual main armaments are Hellbore cannon, extremely powerful plasma cannon normally found on space battleships.
  • In the RCN universe, ship point defense mounts use plasma cannons, whose lightspeed bolts don't really work beyond relatively short ranges but are quite destructive within those ranges. Instead of destroying incoming missiles, they use ablation to try to drive anti-ship missiles off-course enough to miss.note  As a secondary use, they can strip the delicate sails used by ships to maneuver in hyperspace, to prevent a Hyperspeed Escape.
  • The Takeshi Kovacs novels by Richard K. Morgan have "Sunjet" particle blasters. They're most commonly used to vaporize heads, and the cortical stacks implanted within, thus making it one of the simplest ways to inflict Real Death on people without remote backups. The client in the first book died that way, but had a 48-hour backup enabling him to hire Kovacs to figure out who did it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: Before Phase Cannons were installed, plasma weapons were used regularly by the NX-01 Enterprise.
    • The time-traveling Nah'kul also had these weapons, having provided them to the Nazis in an alternate timeline. The German military mounted these weapons on their fighter planes.
    • Plasma weapons haven't been used since the pilot episode, probably because of their extreme inaccuracy. The Enterprise is shown not to be able to hit anything with them. In another episode (pre-phase cannons), they're testing spatial torpedoes. When those fail, the crew acts as if the ship is defenseless, forgetting about plasma cannons. In fact, the only time a plasma weapon is successful is when a farmer shoots a pissed-off Klingon with a plasma rifle.
  • Babylon 5: Plasma-based weaponry was used by both starships in the form of large-scale plasma cannons and PPGs, "Phased Plasma Guns", which were handheld weapons that varied from the size of a small pistol to an assault rifle-sized device. The in-canon justification of this is that they are safer for use inside a spaceship or space station than kinetic weapons, as the bolts will dissipate harmlessly if they strike a large conductive object (like the inside of a hull).
  • Star Trek: The Original Series: The original Romulan Bird-of-Prey encountered in the episode "Balance of Terror" had a high-powered, faster-than-light plasma-based weapon that was very destructive, but had limited range, and due to power constraints, could not be fired while the ship was cloaked.
  • Farscape: Sheyangs made prominent use of Plasma Weapons on their ships; several other species did as well, and handheld plasma weapons were mentioned on occasion.
  • Blake's 7: Terran Federation pursuit ships and planetary interceptors are commonly equipped with "plasma bolts", which can home in on (and strike) a target faster than light with accuracy and precision. They project enough force to destroy most unprotected space-based objects and craft in a single strike. Smaller Federation military vessels may be armed with up to four plasma bolt hardpoints.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer40000, almost every race in the game has access to some form of plasma weapon. The Imperium, Orks and Chaos Space Marines have high-damage, but unstable plasma weaponry, the Tau have safe and stable, but low-powered plasma, and the Eldar and Dark Eldar have stable AND powerful plasma. Some large Tyranids (read:bugs the size of houses) are also capable of generating plasma within their own bodies, although it's more of a mix of unstable chemicals ignited within the bug's mouth and spat out.
  • GURPS Ultratech has stats for a variety of plasma guns but notes that they are all "super-science" and therefore shouldn't be included in "hard" settings.
  • Traveller has the famous PGMP (Plasma Gun, Man-Portable) and FGMP (Fusion). Both are intended to be used with Powered Armor and expose nearby people to radiation.
    • Larger versions of plasma weapons could be mounted on vehicles and/or used as artillery, such as the Plasma A, Plasma B and Plasma C guns.
  • The most powerful handheld non-explosive weapon in Eclipse Phase is the plasma rifle, however it's also the bulkiest, only fires in single-shot mode, and has to cool off for a couple rounds every two shots.
  • In BattleTech, plasma cannons and rifles (notably not simply the same thing on different scales — there are plasma rifles for conventional infantry and battle armor troops, but also a Humongous Mecha-scale plasma "rifle" that weighs six tons and is considered one of the better "modern" weapons introduced to the game) are among the few energy weapons that actually use ammunition: they flash-superheat a special plastic foam into plasma, then fire that at the target. (Technically the classic 'Mech flamer is another example, as it directly channels and vents fresh fusion-hot plasma from the 'Mech's engine itself; it's better known, however, for embodying another trope.)
  • Battlelords of the 23rd Century. There are 10 different types of Pulse Weapons, each of which fires accelerated plasma pulses. There are also three different types of plasma grenades.
  • Star Fleet Battles gives Plasma Torpedoes to several factions, most notably the Romulans, but also the Gorns and Interstellar Concordium, the latter of which also have the Plasmatic Pulsar Device.
  • Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game Adventure 3 Fantastic Four: Fantastic Voyages. In the adventure "Crash Test", the Skrull scout ship the Kell'rr Anelle has four plasma cannons.
  • Rifts has them as popular heavy weapons, either direct projecting weapons, as warheads in missiles, and even the occasional Plasma Flamethrower.

    Toys 

    Videogames 
  • Metroid has the plasma beam usually be the strongest beam-weapon that Samus could get in each game, being heated to the point that it could incinerate lesser beings with a shot, and burn those who survive. In Metroid Prime, where she had other beam weapons available at once, the plasma beam also appears to have a fairly lengthy charge time as opposed to her other weapons.
  • Earthworm Jim uses a plasma gun as his primary weapon.
  • Energy weapons in Fallout include plasma pistols and plasma rifles (and plasma grenades, but they suck). Plasma weapons do more damage than lasers but tend to hold less ammo, have a lower rate of fire and the projectiles are slower (the last is only relevant from Fallout 3 on). They also have the ability to reduce the enemy to a pile of goo with a lethal critical hit.
    • Fallout 3 introduces a more compact version of the plasma rifle, eliminating the "bulky" aspect of it (it isn't significantly heavier than other rifle-sized weapons). Fallout: New Vegas expands on the difference in plasma rifles by retconning it to be the "Q-series" (and showing the series' Super Prototype, the Q-35 Matter Modulator, as a unique weapon), as opposed to the classic Fallout "P-series" (like the Winchester P-94).
  • The plasma rifle in Doom (Doom 3 in particular) does more damage per projectile than the machine gun with higher accuracy, but has slower projectiles, more scarce ammo, and in the classic games an arbitrary one-second delay after releasing the trigger.
    • The BFG9000 in the original games is implied to be a plasma cannon, given that it uses the same ammo as the standard plasma rifle.
  • The Plasma Cannon in all three games in the Descent series fires massive green blobs that have excellent range and do fantastic amounts of damage to anything they hit. This is balanced off by its marginally higher energy usage as well as rarity.
  • In the first two TimeSplitters the plasma rifle is basically a sci-fi version of the machine guns, with a few differences; rather than needing reloading it overheats if fired for too long, it fires faster as it begins to overheat and it's secondary fire grenade launcher fires a sticky plasma grenade (rather than the conventional grenades the "Soviet Rifle" fires). The third game removes the secondary fire from rifles and instead makes the plasma rifle a more powerful, slower version of the automatic rifle from the same era.
  • Dead Space has the Plasma Cutter, a heavily modified industrial tool. The intended use (as seen in Dead Space 2) is to fire a continuous beam that cuts through hardened materials. The modified version instead fires highly damaging beam pulses instead. The pulses have less actual cutting powernote , but are much more useful when it comes to killing things.
  • Galactic Civilizations has ship-board plasma weapons in the Energy Weapons research tier, the description notes that they're technically not "energy" weapons though.
  • Mass Effect 2 has the Geth plasma shotgun added in one DLC. It is a small BFG and basically a secondary heavy weapon that takes the shotgun slot, despite not fulfilling a shotgun's typical role: Instead of spreading close range buckshot it fires three blobs that are actually very accurate but affected by gravity, making it more of a grenade launcher, especially considering that it doesn't actually shoot plasma, but cluster rounds of superconductive material that creates plasma on contact by superheating and ionizing the air around it. It is very useful against armor and it does massive damage, but has a slow rate of fire. It can be supercharged for even more damage, although it takes significantly longer to fire.
  • In Halo, plasma weapons are used by the Covenant. They tend (in-game) to be less powerful then ballistic weapons but are much better at draining energy shields. In particular, the Covenant use a device in their weapons which can project a magnetic sheath remotely, and its operation is described as being like focusing a series of lenses to adjust the containment as the plasma travels. This can actually be used to "guide" plasma to its target, though that is subject to certain limitations.
  • Purple features plasma gun as one of the available weapons for the player. It's not as powerful as a hammer, but it provides nifty Recoil Boost, which is necessary to get some secrets.
  • In Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun and its expansion Firestorm the Brotherhood of Nod deployed an advanced aircraft known as the Banshee equipped with plasma cannons. Also Nod's Cyborg Commando was also equipped with a plasma gun.
  • In Command And Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars and its Expansion Kane's Wrath the Scrin make extensive use of plasma weapons.
  • Deus Ex: A projectile weapon which "superheats slugs of magnetically-doped plastic and accelerates the resulting gas-liquid mix using an array of linear magnets." Too bad this weapon is not held in high esteem among players.
  • The computer games Dune II, Dune 2000, and Emperor: Battle for Dune. The Harkonnen Devastator Tank is equipped with dual plasma cannons, which fire plasma "shots" over a short distances. They are powered by a nuclear reactor, which can be pushed into a meltdown under certain circumstances.
  • EVE Online: Large scale plasma cannons and plasma railguns are the favored weapon of the Gallente Civilization.
  • First Encounter Assault Recon series: The Type-7 Particle Weapon, a portable sniper weapon which fires a high velocity particle burst that vaporizes a human save for bone material.
  • Freelancer, among a number of other starfighter-mounted energy weapons, plasma weapons have short range and low muzzle velocity but high damage as a trade-off. Pistols and rifles are also seen wielded by the main characters in certain cutscenes.
  • Half-Life 2: While never explicitly described as a "plasma rifle", the Overwatch Standard-Issue Pulse Rifle functions much like the plasma rifles of most FPS games. The main difference is that Pulse Rifles function by using containers filled with dark energy, as clips which expel this material in controlled bursts. They also can fire a compressed orb of dark energy as a form of self-propelled projectile. Dark energy has heat and kinetic damage, and due to the nature of this sort of exotic matter, it causes normal matter to vaporize and cease to exist. Similar weapons are found mounted on the game's enemy warships and vehicles.
  • Homeworld includes many ships armed with plasma bomb launchers, notably the Attack Bomber and Assault Frigate.
    • The semi-canon Homeworld Cataclysm has the Taiidan attempting to increase the rate of fire for plasma bomb launchers. The result is the Energy Gun, an upgrade for mass drivers that fires a self-guided and thus highly accurate plasma bomb. This gives larger ship classes a fighting chance against fighters, yet fighter strafing runs also become more deadly against larger ship classes. The Kuun-Lan's siege cannon is an oversized weapon originally designed to crack the shielding of asteroid bases. It has a range of several kilometers and a massive blast radius.
    • Homeworld 2 features a few ships with plasma-based weaponry, Bombers and Progenitor Movers in a forward mount as well as Progenitor Dreadnaughts in a dual-barreled underside turret. The non-controllable Progenitor Drones are armed with a rapid-fire version. Many mods feature the heavy use of plasma-based weapons.
  • Mega Man series: Reploids [robots] use plasma weapons.
  • Sid Meierís Alpha Centauri: The plasma cannon is a powerful late-game weapon.
  • System Shock: plasma rifle which uses energy, while most other weapons use solid ammo.
  • Total Annihilation and its unofficial 3D open-source variant Spring both include plasma cannon in the place of most tank, infantry, ship and artillery guns.
  • Master of Orion has plasma cannon for your ships, and plasma rifles for infantry. In both games, the plasma cannon is a fairly advanced late-game weapon, and the plasma rifle is the best handheld weapon available.
    • In the second game, plasma cannons have an enveloping effect, which means they deal damage to all four shield sections simultaneously. Also, the Stellar Converter is mentioned to be an extremely-powerful plasma weapon. It's capable of causing an Earth-Shattering Kaboom.
  • Dawn of War has plasma weapon upgrades for Imperial Guard, Space Marines, Chaos Space Marines, and Tau infantry squads.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine upgrades Captain Titus's bolt pistol to a plasma pistol about a quarter of the way into the game. Larger plasma cannon are also available in multiplayer and at special points in the campaign.
  • In X-COM: Ufo Defense, plasma weapons are mainstays of the alien army. You can research and reverse-engineer these weapons, making them also mid to late game mainstays of X-COM.
    • Exactly the same can be said on the various clones and descendants of the title, like for example Xenonauts.
  • Sword of the Stars has plasma cannons as the initial medium-level energy weapons. They fire green bolts. Later on, they can be upgraded to fusion (yellow) and Anti Matter (purple). There are multiple kinds of plasma/fusion/antimatter weapons, including triple-barreled heavy mounts and plasma/fusion/antimatter emitters (which fire a short-range cone of bolts). There are also plasma/fusion/antimatter torpedoes, which track their target.
  • Earth 2150 has plasma cannons as the energy weapon of the United Civilized States. It's implied to be reverse-engineered from a UFO at Area 51. Like all energy weapons, can be countered with Deflector Shields, while kinetic weapons and missiles pass right through them. The UCS superweapon is a giant plasma cannon with ballistic bolts guided by satellite.
  • Star Fox Assault has a plasma cannon that Fox uses in two missions while riding on a teammate's wing, it's about the size of a rocket launcher and about as powerful and is fully automatic.
  • The plasma rifle in Abuse is an unusual example. Instead of firing the familiar blobs or bolts, it shoots rapid-fire beams that quickly dissipate into what look like contrails.
  • In addition to the Plasma Torpedoes carried over from the source material, Star Trek Online also features plasma energy weapons, coming in a wide variety of forms, both carried and ship-mounted. Any captain can decide to use them, and by default the Borg and the Romulan Republic use them.
  • Appears in the HD version of Spelunky, where it appears as an extremely rare Random Drop in a crate or at the top of the Mothership. It's much larger than the player character, has enough recoil to send the PC back a good ways and throw him/her off of a rope, and its shots cause explosions on impact (so be very careful about firing one).
  • The Particle Projector Cannon in MechWarrior 2 functioned like a plasma cannon with massive damage, extremely slow projectile, slow refire rate, and infinite ammo (but heavy heat generation), unlike the PPC in later Mechwarrior games which were generally nigh-Hit Scan Lightning Guns used primarily for sniping. The Mechwarrior 4: Mercenaries MekTek re-release had an actual Plasma Cannon from BattleTech, though its excessive heat generation made it rare on the battlefield.

    Webcomics 
  • The titular character of Schlock Mercenary favors the BHG-209 Plasgun. It's barely usable one-handed, makes a distinctive Ominous huuuummmmmm sound when charging up, sears through most body armor, and explodes at the drop of a hat. It's more or less a handheld fusion-powered thruster with "recoilless" mode, which can be toggled with a flip of switch. When used for propulsion, it allows the quarter-ton amorph to fly around and try aerial acrobatic. Which also means it eats a lot of working medium and expects to take it from air, so in vacuum it fails and around liquids becomes even more dangerous than normally. His first one blew up when he poured beer on it. Later strips introduce the AP-10, which is smaller than most handguns and doesn't have a lengthy charging time, Sergeant Schlock rejects it as "dinky". Then he picked up BH-250, looking much the same as his old one. It totals 19.5 kg.
  • S.S.D.D has the Black Rose Mk. II plasma gun. It's powered by a backpack fusion generator connected to the gun by a flimsy hose and is infamous for exploding when hit. Naturally, Tessa owns one.
  • In Vexxarr, the Mahlakosian's Humongous Mecha and Lattrox ships use plasma cannons.
  • The Ecosystems Unlimited compound that Florence Ambrose visits in Freefall has plasma cannons mounted in its guard towers, though after serving as part of a punchline for one strip they're never heard of again.

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • Plasma guns are used extensively throughout Lilo & Stitch after Jumba states that a direct hit might stun 626 momentarily. In the first film one blows up and destroys Lilo's house.
    • In the sequel Jumba is held at gunpoint for a bargain, where he is said to be allergic to plasma. Doesn't seem like an allergy to any lethal weapon would really matter, but...
  • In the season 3 finale of Archer, "Space Race", the crew uses Plasma Pulse Rifles aboard the International Space Station.
  • A Running Gag in Young Justice has the Scarab recommending this for everything. At one point, Jaime picks a lock, and the Scarab expresses his disappointment that he didn't just blow the door off.

    Real Life 
  • There's some experimental plasma weapons in Real Life such as MARAUDER and Shiva Star.
    • MARAUDER notably fires plasmoids at huge speeds (1000km/s or more) in contrast to typical fictional devices... any slower and the plasmoid would pop before it reached its target. It also wouldn't blast its target to pieces, instead fatally disrupting its electronics rendering it useless. Obviously no good on asteroids and other dumb projectiles.
  • "Casaba-howitzer" devices are effectively forcussed nuclear explosions... a one-shot brief pulse of 50000K plasma reaching over a relatively short range. A bit like a plasma weapon, but both more powerful and less useful than fictional plasma weapons.
    • Originally designed for peaceful purposes too... nuclear shaped charges are a key part of the Orion Drive design.
  • The prime reason plasma weapons were hitherto considered Awesome, but Impractical is the fact that plasma dissipates quickly when outside a magnetic containment field. Recent developments, however, have enabled a plasma projectile to generate its own field. While it still doesn't remain stable for long enough to travel any practical distance, this is an important proof of concept that holds significant promise for self-sustaining plasma reactions. Humans being humans, you can bet that the possibilities of weaponizing it will be duly investigated.
  • Functional relatives of plasma weaponry include particle beams and electrolasers.


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