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Bolter or hellguns?
Stormbolter or hellpistol?
Stormbolter, a bolter is stronger than a hellpistol, a stormbolter is twice as strong as a bolter... Roughly.
I'm making a comparison between hell pistol and storm bolter because most dudes i've seen carrying storm bolters use it on one hand! like termies and grey knights(wrist) and comissar yarrick!
Terminators carry assault cannons in one hand.. They're not really typical.
The Bolt Pistol would be the equivalent of the hellpistol...
Anyway. It depends what you're shooting at. Against most enemies, a boltgun, hands down, it just blows most things to pieces... But against heavily armoured enemies, the hotshot lasgun/hellgun is better at penetrating armour, but does less damage when it hits flesh.
I know this sounds like I'm just elaborating on game stats, but I think, even in fluff, the Hellgun is better at penetrating armour, whereas the boltgun does more damage once it gets through the armour.
FABRICATI DIEM, PVNC
Fluff-wise, a hell pistol is just a super-charged laspistol, so it creates a bigger burn when it hits. However, the wound is instantly cauterised, so if you don't hit something vital, you aren't likely to kill the target right off.
A bolter, however, fires what are essentially rocket-propelled shaped charges. They hit the target and exploded a split second after impact, so just inside a body. So imagine a mini-frag grenade going off after being stuck into the meat of your bicep or stomach.
So on one hand, you have a weapon that will cause a nasty burn wound but might not kill or main you, vs a weapon that can blow off your arm with one shot, even if it's a pistol.
Like bolter shots for me feel like old bullets prior to nato standard rounds.... once they went through you...they blew off half your back as they exited
Yet Nato ones had a tactical advantage as in...the guy is alive and critically wounded...they need a med evac to surivive! BINGO perfect chance to take down a multimillion dollar helicopter!
Could work the same in 40k.....ok maybe on armies that give a stuff about their men!
I thought of hellguns as a sort of long-range cutting torch. They can burn through metal but they'll only give you a really nasty burn. A bolter, however, will do much more damage. If it hits your arm, you will lose the arm as will as gain shards of shell casing embedded deep in your flesh. If it hits your torso... Game over.
Stormbolter > Bolter > Hellgun > Hellpistol
And like you said, unless you are Tau, good Eldar or good Space Marines, chances are no-one will care when you go down, haha.