The Plasma Pistol is the smallest variant in the Plasma Weapons family. Each shot from a plasma pistol contains all the destructive fury of a larger Plasma Gun, although with a reduced range and rate of fire. The Traitor Legions have long made use of larger plasma weapons containing hydrogen fuel in a higher quantum state, making them both more powerful and more dangerous to wield. The Plasma Pistol is most commonly carried by officers of both the Space Marines and the Imperial Guard. Aside from individual Imperial officers, some specialized assault troops such as Assault Marines are also sometimes armed with Plasma Pistols. Space Marine Tactical Squads make extensive use of plasma pistols to augment their firepower; the lethal might of the weapon is useful against both heavily armoured infantry and light armoured vehicles. The latest pattern of Plasma Pistol in use by the armed forces of the Imperium of Man is the Mark III "Sunfury" but only a few Chapters, such as the Novamarines, are yet able to manufacture it.
Plasma weapons have been a part of the Imperium at least since its inception. Despite its drawbacks, plasma pistols have remained part of the Imperium's arsenal for thousands of years. Such technology was far better understood during the dawning age of the Imperium if still somewhat unsafe. By the time of the Horus Heresy in the early 31st Millennium plasma weapons technology was at a dangerous phase in its development. Plasma reactors were in limited use, and the giant weapons mounted on Titans and space faring vessels were a simple outgrowth of the systems needed to create reactors. Plasma pistols which could be carried and used by a Space Marine Legionary in Power Armour were still prone to overheating and leaking energised plasma onto their unfortunate users. Nonetheless the devastating power of plasma weaponry made it too potent to abandon and many Space Marine Legions utilised it in a limited fashion anyway. In the dark days of the Heresy itself the desperate need for ever more potent armaments pushed early plasma weapons to the battle front more and more, regardless of the risks involved.
Towards the end of the Heresy the Tech-Priests of Mars solved the immediate problems of plasma weapons. By slowing the recharge mode of the weapons they found they could maintain the integrity of the magnetic field containing the energising plasma. This prevented catastrophic leaks detonating the whole weapons and the slower recharge cycle also meant that the weapon's coolant system kept overheating to a minimum. The resulting weapons were safe and reliable but suffered from a slow recharge rate which limited their effectiveness. Space Marine commanders were far from happy at the compromise but the number of catastrophic meltdowns experienced with the older weapons made plasma too dangerous for the Space Marine Legions to continue using otherwise. As doctrine within the Adeptus Mechanicus changed, the old style plasma weapons were branded Fabrus Excommunicata, engines of destruction that had fallen from the approval of the Machine God. Within a few centuries the early plasma weapons had entirely disappeared. Such a light of reason has never shone over the Traitor Legions. They still maintain and use the old, dangerous plasma weapons, perhaps revelling in the raw danger of doing so. Given the contempt held for life by Chaos Space Marines it's unlikely they would be willing to trade off less firepower for a safer weapon anyway.
In the modern 41st Millennium, it is an honour to carry the gun into battle, and be trusted to make sure every searing shot counts. Based on the secrets of the sacred STC, it is a design that has never been developed or improved on. Indeed, the very thought of trying to mitigate the flaws of the plasma pistol would be repellent to the followers of the Machine God. By the grace of the Omnissiah, the weapon fulfils a role within the God-Emperor's armies, and to change this role in any way would be to invite mayhem and disorder. So the plasma pistol is crafted just as it has been for untold centuries, each one finding its way into the hands of a resolute Space Marine or an ungrateful Guardsman.
Plasma Pistols make use of a micro-fusion nuclear reaction to superheat a cartridge of gas into the state of matter known as plasma and then release it in a concentrated blast of weapons fire using an electromagnetic bubble. Such a volatile weapon comes with a significant drawback however. The barely contained plasma makes the weapon prone to overheating in the most spectacular of ways. While emergency cooling ducts and exhaust vents periodically expel excess heat from the gun, continual firing almost inevitably overloads these functions. When the weapon reaches critical temperatures, it will release a cloud of super-heated vapour to prevent the gun from destroying itself. Unfortunately for the firer, this cloud is easily capable of burning away light armour and peeling flesh from bone.
Space Marines are at least afforded a degree of protection against these catastrophic overheats because of their Power Armour, the ceramite plates and hard seals usually limiting the damage to their surroundings. Even so, an overheat can still kill or maim a battle-brother, especially if the exhaust vents clog or the coils crack from the intense heat. For lesser warriors, like Imperial Guardsmen, overheating plasma guns are almost always fatal, leaving frail bodies charred to blackened bone by great gouts of charged particles. In rare cases, plasma guns are even capable of detonating if they get too hot. This may occur as a result of excessive firing, but can also be the result of a flaw during manufacture. Should the casing crack or the magnetic containment fail, the firer will have only a fraction of a second before the gun turns into a ball of blazing energy in his hands, consuming itself with the heat of a star and vaporising everything with reach.
In addition to the dangers of an overheat, plasma pistols are difficult to reload. Only with the requisite prayers should the hydrogen flasks be screwed into place, their unstable ammunition all too prone to spilling or fouling the plasma intakes. An incorrectly attached flask can cause the weapon to explode the first time it is fired, as an empty or partially filled magnetic chamber creates inescapable pressure that will tear the gun apart, in addition to its user. Removing a flask is also dangerous, as even a small amount of plasma leaking out of a broken seal or an incorrectly closed value can burn away a hand or cost the shooter several of his fingers. For these reasons, plasma guns are slow and difficult to load or unload on the battlefield, a task often best left to the sacred ministrations of a Techmarine or Tech-Priest and long hours of repetitious binary prayer. In combat, a Space Marine can rely on a plasma gun for a dozen or so consecutive shots before the flask starts to run dry, and he runs the risk of triggering a catastrophic overheat.
Known Plasma Pistol Variants
- Barrage Pattern - These deadly plasma side arms are unique to the Jericho Reach Deathwatch, and few exist even within their hallowed armouries. Like their larger siblings, the Barrage plasma pistols feature a higher rate of fire at the cost of increased overheating and energy consumption.
- Kronos Mk III Pattern - In addition to seeing military service, this sophisticated plasma pistol is offered for sale by the Mechanicus weaponsmiths of the Lathes at an exorbitant price for those who wish to purchase its sacred power. Just why this rare and potent device of the Omnissiah's divine wrath is available for sale while other lesser weapons are not remains another inscrutable mystery of the Adeptus Mechanicus.
- Mk III "Sunfury" Pattern - A modern subtype plasma pistol variant known to be utilised by the Novamarines Space Marine Chapter
- Mk V "Wrathfire" Pattern - A modern variant that is more compact than both the "Sunfury" or Ultra patterns.
- Ryza "Wrath" Pattern - The "Wrath" is a duellist's plasma pistol, made in limited numbers in the Calixis Sector and popular amongst the nobility there. Finely crafted (and correspondingly rare) these weapons are longer-ranged and higher-powered than Ryza's typical plasma pistols. The lack of a semi-automatic fire setting is regarded as unimportant -- a proper duellist is expected to drop his target with his first shot. This weapon may be equipped with any plasma pistol ammo.
- Ultra Mk II - Another modern variant known to be utilised by the Marines Errant Space Marine Chapter.
- Valthek-II Pattern - A known Astral Claws Chapter pattern variant monocore plasma pistol.
- Helicon Pattern - Production of this pattern discontinued in 843.M41 due to increase in the overheat margin past the fifth shot.
- Black Crusade: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 158
- Codex: Blood Angels (5th Edition), pp. 58-59
- Codex: Dark Angels (4th Edition), pg. 52
- Codex: Space Wolves (5th Edition), pg. 59
- Codex: Imperial Guard (5th Edition), pg. 59
- Codex: Space Marines (5th Edition), pg. 99
- Dark Heresy: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 134
- Dark Heresy: The Inquisitor's Handbook (RPG), pg. 134
- Deathwatch: Core Rulebook (RPG), pg. 148
- Deathwatch: Rites of Battle (RPG), pg. 135
- Imperial Armour Volume Nine: The Badab War, Part One, pp. 60, 78, 117
- Imperial Armour Volume Ten: The Badab War, Part Two, pg. 32
- Imperial Armour Volume Twelve - The Fall of Orpheus, pg. 141
- Warhammer 40,000: Munitorum (Digital Edition)
- The Horus Heresy Book One: Betrayal (Imperial Armour), pg. 232
- Warhammer 40,000: Rulebook (6th Edition), pg. 57
- Warhammer 40,000: Rogue Trader (1st Edition), pg. 79
- Warhammer 40,000: Wargear (4th Edition), pg. 34
- Warhammer 40,000: Wargear (2nd Edition), pg. 17