-Howlers at War-
Red Howler military doctrine, despite being varied from tribe to tribe, can be found to have several common elements. The creatures tend to prefer quick raids and attacks from afar, where their superior eyesight and coordination gives them the advantage over their foes. To this end, the primary red howler firearm, the Bolt Rifle, is well-suited for such engagements; it is sturdy, reliable, accurate at long range, and carries plenty of stopping power. Its performance suffers against armor, however, as has been demonstrated in tests involving firing a bolt rifle repeatedly into a standard M3 chestplate. Even with the plasma blast effect from the shell coating, the plate withstood several rounds before failing, though the testers later admitted that the wearer would still probably be stunned and even knocked over from taking a small plasma burst at that range.
While it is certainly a primitive weapon, especially compared to the firearms available to the Colonial Marine Corps, it is far from being a simple musket. These weapons are breech-loaded, rifled, and utilize brass cartridges with rounded conical slugs, much like old earth rifles and minie ball rounds of the 19th century, and it is suspected that it won't be long before the howlers are able to mass-produce repeating rifles. Should that take place, the firepower available to a howler raiding party will dramatically increase.
Blast pistols, which are typically used by group leaders, give a bit of a preview on this, though they vary in design. Some are in a pepperbox pistol configuration, while others are more like an over-under double-pistol. Rarest of these pistols, however, are actual revolvers, which are typically only found in mountain settlements or among howler nobility. The multi-shot capability of these weapons often means a distinct firepower advantage in close combat over someone armed with a standard bolt rifle.
Grenade pistols and launchers, meanwhile, are simple tubes with a stock or handle at the other end, somewhat resembling an old M79 grenade launcher. The grenades used in these devices are seemingly a scaled-up version of a blast shell, offering a plasma detonation that is about equal in destructive power to an M40 HEDP frag grenade. The biggest weapon currently in the howler arsenal, the multi-mortar, is the logical conclusion of this line of weaponry. Loading up six mortar rounds, the weapon can be rapid-fired to effectively saturate an area with explosions. Until the arrival of the gatling blast gun, it was the most destructive weapon a howler could use. However, owing to its bulk and weight, as well as that of the ammunition, this is typically a crew-served weapon.
In close combat, meanwhile, Red Howlers have a variety of weapons to call on, ranging from machetes and swords to giant cleaving axes, barbed spears, and halberds with a head at each end. The latter weapon is typically found among the higher castes, and is just as much a status symbol as it is a weapon. With blades for chopping, tips for stabbing, and hammerheads for bludgeoning, a skilled double-halberd user, such as a clan chief, can be a terror in close combat that is rivaled only by a howler berserker.
The typical Red Howler out for war carries a bolt rifle, a pouch of shells, a bonesteel machete, a canteen, and a bag with strips of jerky. They protect themselves with leather armor with bonesteel studs, though this is clearly more of a melee precaution. Still, some protection is better than none. The howlers in a war party will array themselves into several small groups, each one led by what could be considered a sergeant. These officers are typically clad in a bonesteel mail shirt and carry a serrated sword alongside a blast pistol or grenade pistol.
Further up the chain are the captains, which are usually part of a chieftain's inner circle. Elite fighters, they wear a breastplate made of bonesteel, and often carry more advanced bolt rifles that typically feature an over/under barrel, a blast pistol, and a double-halberd. Accompanying a captain at all times are a pair of honor guards, which are similarly-armed, and hand-picked from among the most skilled of the sergeants. Of these, a handful in any tribe will be part of a berserker lodge, casting off their bolt rifles and swords for a breastplate and a powerful axe that could cleave a human right down the middle. As mentioned in previous entries, a berserker is able to withstand a withering amount of punishment, their ability to sense pain rendered inert by the powerful cocktail of drugs they imbibe before each battle.
For mounted combat and quick raids, some tribes, particularly on the plains, have been able to capture and train large raptor-like creatures and use them for mounts. These raptor riders often utilize blast pistols and a spear that has a blast cartridge at the tip, allowing them to do extreme damage against someone they might charge into. These raptors, for lack of a better term, are, however, quite temperamental, even after their training, and it's not unheard of for a mount to kill his rider if it is wounded and enraged.
The other creature the Howlers use, often referred to simply as a war beast, is a large ankylosaur-like creature, and is also the source of the material howlers refer to as bonesteel. A strange substance that, by all rights, should be impossible, it has the strength and behavior of steel, but the weight of bone. This is what they craft their blades and armor from, but the main use of these beasts is to carry a red howler multi-mortar and its ammunition. A driver sits behind the head, directing the creature, while a gunner loads, aims, and fires the multi-mortar or gatling gun. It takes a long time to raise and rear a dedicated war beast, and as such, they are used very sparingly.
Lastly, come the chieftains. Being the top of the heap has its perks, as a clan chief will wear the best armor, carry the best weapons, and be the most skilled fighter in his tribe. Their double-halberds and bonesteel mail are a cut above anything else in the tribe, and their blast rifles pack much greater stopping power than a standard bolt rifle.
Red howler war parties typically involve several dozen howlers, a handful of sergeants, a warbeast or two, some raptor riders for scouts and quick raids, and a captain with his cadre of honor guards. A chief does not leave on a war party unless the matter is one he feels warrants dropping his tribe's entire military might on, and as such, the captain leading the war party often acts with the authority of the chief. Communications are often via dispatches sent through runners or raptor riders, and this delay in orders is one of their key weaknesses, since if a runner can be stopped, the message cannot be delivered.
Howler combat doctrine is largely dependent, again, on the environs of the tribe that is fighting, but the tribes all share some tactics. Howlers will typically try to pin their opponents down with steady volleys of bolt fire, aiming to envelop their foes in a pincer. Plains tribes, meanwhile, will often use raptor riders to bait an opponent into a carefully-laid ambush, while a tribe in the jungle might force an enemy into a trap zone. Mountain howlers, on the other hand, often make liberal use of explosives to trap an enemy in a pass, allowing their gunners to rain bolt fire and blast grenades down on their heads.
It is doubtful that these tactics might work on a platoon of Colonial Marines, but against untrained colonists is another matter. It is for this reason that expeditions are routinely told to not engage and chase lone howlers, both to avoid a potential ambush and to keep from giving the tribes a reason to massacre the colonists.
(Note- This was meant to be a separate post. However, anti-spam measures decided this was a double-post)
-XS-2020 "Praetorian-Killer" Combat Exosuits-
A recent creation, this latest model of the combat exosuit was created to combat large extraterrestrials such as Harvesters or advanced stages of Xenomorph XX121. Nicknamed the "Praetorian-Killer" by those that developed it, it is more than adequately equipped for such a task, with a number of offensive and defensive options available to its pilot. It is for this reason that mercenary security forces deployed on LV-538 often try to have at least one such suit deployed, as it enables them to engage pathogen mutants at engineer sites or howler patrols with a dramatically-reduced risk of severe injuries or worse.
The first iteration of the suit, which is available for purchase by mercenary groups like the Iron Bears, comes equipped with a minigun on each shoulder, allowing the exosuit to release a torrent of high-caliber armor-piercing shells downrange, shredding almost anything caught in their path. Should an enemy get within striking distance, however, the Mk-1 also possesses a heavy riot shield on its left arm, and a large club in the other that delivers both a crushing blow and a powerful electric shock. This has the added benefit of preventing acid blood bursts in close quarters.
The pilot, meanwhile, is protected with full NBC shielding inside their compartment. The alloys used in the construction of the suit's armor plating are also treated to be resistant to molecular acid, taking far longer to burn through than comparable untreated materials. The armor is also proof against most small arms fire, blades, and projectiles, and gives any group with access to one a considerable firepower advantage.
The Mk-II variant, which is currently available to only the Colonial Marines, eschews the riot shield in favor of additional firepower, replacing it instead with a 40mm grenade launcher that can hold up to 18 grenades, typically HEDP proximity bombs. It can also be loaded with firebomb grenades, shrapnel grenades, or tungsten buckshot rounds, essentially turning the launcher into a giant shotgun that will reduce anything in front of it to hamburger meat in the blink of an eye. One of the miniguns is also removed, with a phase plasma pulse cannon replacing it. This scaled-up version of the XM99A Phased Plasma Pulse Rifle takes inspiration from plasma caster weapons recovered from dead Yautja, and is placed on a swivel mount on the shoulder that allows it to follow the movement of the user's head and deliver powerful charges of burst plasma with devastating accuracy at almost any range. As the mounting is above the pilot's actual head, this weapon does not carry the same risk of the pilot from blowing their brains out as a normal salvaged shoulder cannon would. Use of the plasma blaster has to be limited, however, as it puts a strain on the hydrogen fuel cells used to power the suit. The new crystal-carbon armor plating is lighter than the previous iteration's armor as well, giving the suit improved mobility.
As with any exo-suit, the primary weaknesses of the Praetorian Killer are with its mobility compared to that of a human, and relative difficulty with extremely rough terrain. It can still go many places that an APC or tank cannot, however. The other problem is that once an exosuit is toppled, getting it back up is next to impossible without another suit or a winch. Despite this, however, the firepower and protection these suits provide is almost unparalleled, and for many mercenary groups stationed on LV-538, the Praetorian Killer remains their trump card against Red Howler incursions.