Biological Weapon
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Basic Information

A biological weapon is one which relies on the disease causing activities of a living organism (or virus). Some writers of speculative fiction would expand the term to include the use of aggressive, non-pathogenic organisms, but that is not in scope as normally understood. Thus, the usual scope is bacteria, viruses and potentially fungi and microscopic eukaryotes.

Biological warfare may be directly targetted at enemy personnel, or may be used against industrial or economic targets - after all, a blight which destroys a enemy nation's staple crop for the year will impede its ability to make war at least as well as one that kills off its field army. A biological agent might also attack things like plastic or rubber - which could be potentially crippling to a nation's industrial base. This is more likely in recent history where natural rubbers and plastics were dominant, but may become increasingly viable as biologically produced materials come back into fashion.

Technically a biological attack may constitute a less lethal weapon1 but all biological weapons are currently classified as weapons of mass destruction and controlled accordingly, with the exception of those agents used for agricultural or environmental pest control. Correctly applied, these agents can be an effective tool of genocide.

The benefit - and drawback - of biological warfare is that it uses living organisms. Once the agent is released, it will multiply wherever it can find the means to do so (usually a host) - the user has no control over where it ends up (other than where he releases it), nor who is attacked (after those initially dosed) and this makes them something of a sword with no handle. History is littered with examples of attempts to deploy biological agents that have backfired spectacularly - most of these are to do with attempts at biological pest control, but not all. Biotechnology (or biothaumaturgy) may hold out the possibility of targetted pathogens that only infect a specific group, but that still doesn't allow for them mutating, cross-breeding2 or just having some design flaw that means they are nowhere near as specific as you thought3.


1. full source reference

Game and Story Use

  • Most RPGs handle disease very badly - and it's not a good thing to hit PCs with in gameplay terms anyway.
  • A failed attempt at biological warfare might explain an after the end setting.
  • Rage Zombies and similar things might result from (or be classed as) a biological weapon.
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