GM Advice: Guns and Dice

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Jan 13, 2010

Filed under: Tabletop Games 202 comments

I had an interesting conversation with my gaming friends a couple of weeks ago. They’re looking to start a game in a semi-modern setting, and were casting about trying to decide which system to use. We played a game in 2008 that used D&D modern sourcebooks, and we were all unhappy with it.

It’s mostly a problem with guns. If you’re making something modern, you have two choices:

1) Have it be fun & varied.
2) Have it make sense.

Whether or not it succeeded is open for debate, but D&D modern obviously went for #1. The game is balanced so that melee combat is useful and that the game isn’t just a huge crapshoot. This means the weapon mechanics don’t make a lot of sense, because they don’t resemble the real world. And I don’t mean they break from the real world in a few minor details. The rules can be downright silly if you try to picture the fight as it takes place. You end up with situations where you hit the bad guy with a shotgun at point-blank, and yet he still somehow has enough vigor to continue fighting or even outrun the players, simply because he’s the “boss”.

The problem is that the needs of a roleplaying game are usually completely at odds with how things work in regards to guns. If you’re going for a heroic tale of champions overcoming evil, then the presence of guns in your setting is going to work against that, because guns flatten the power curve quite a bit. In the real world, there is no such thing as game balance.

Put a sword in the hands of a couch potato and send him up against a decent swordsman. He has zero chance of success. Now give an untrained dolt a firearm and send them up against a decent gunslinger. Their chance of success is low, but it’s there. If that gunslinger is going to have many such encounters, then sooner or later the odds will catch up with them.

Consider that:

1) Guns are chaotic. Bullets don’t care how skilled you are, and anyone can get killed by a stray bullet, blind-fire, or a lucky shot.

2) Guns are binary. You’re generally either hit or unscathed. It’s easy to imagine getting through a melee battle with lots of nicks, slashes, and bruises, but still be fit enough to keep fighting. It’s absurd to imagine a gunfight where you just happen to get grazed by a half dozen bullets without acquiring a single serious gunshot wound. Even more absurd is to expect this to happen on a regular basis. This tends to negate the entire idea of a “hitpoint” system. You’re either unhurt, badly wounded, or dead. There is no place on the hitpoint scale for “Ah, it’s only four gunshot wounds, I’m still good.”

3) Guns are deadly. If you’re slashed by a sword (as opposed to being run through) then it’s reasonable to imagine that bandages could close the wound. But gunshot wounds are rarely so simple to deal with. The trauma they cause takes a long time to heal, and you generally need surgery after you’ve been shot. Again, this works against your epic tale if a member of your party needs to go to the hospital and spend a few weeks in rehab every other fight. (Assuming they aren’t killed outright.)

4) Guns are easy to use. A master swordsman can parry anything a clumsy newcomer can throw at him. You’re not going to “get lucky” and run him through with inept newbie flailing. But with guns, this is actually possible. Anyone can be killed by a stray bullet. Once you introduce automatic weapons, it becomes even more chaotic. You can be killed in a gunfight by someone who has no idea what they’re doing.

Intensive training can improve your odds. You can lean how to stand and move to minimize your profile. You can learn how to use cover. You can learn all about weapons so that you’ll be able to judge when your foe is reloading. But that just reduces your chances of being hit. Barring supernatural powers, you’ll never get so good that you can dodge bullets. Even if you’re so amazingly good that you only have a 1% chance of getting hit in a combat round, that’s not all that helpful if you’re trying to play a game where you and your friends need to survive hundreds and hundreds of rounds together over the course of a campaign.

5) Guns render melee skills obsolete. Guns are so powerful that they basically trump everything that came before. A professional baseball player might be incredibly strong and have spent most of his life learning to swing a bat with mastery, but despite all that power and training it would still make more sense for him to use a gun if he found himself in a fight for his life. Even if he’d never used one before.

Sure, you can contrive specific situations where melee makes sense, but those are rare exceptions. In anything resembling a modern firefight, a “melee guy” is just going to have to hide someplace and hope that one of those situations arises.

6) Guns overshadow their users. It doesn’t matter if you’re a sniper, if you happen to be holding a shotgun then you need to do shotgun stuff. In a fight, you are your weapon. There’s not a lot of room for different character classes from a combat sense. You sort of end up with the idea that everyone uses guns, and your character class merely determines what gun you prefer and what you do with yourself out of combat.

7) Anybody can use a gun. It might take a long time to learn to fight with martial arts or to swing a flail without hitting yourself in the face, but Greg the grocer can pick up a pump-action shotgun off the ground and suddenly become a deadly foe.

People sometime suggest that you not “over-think” the game like this. But I think that’s part of the problem with modern settings. They seem to nudge people towards the “realism” line of thought. Fighting on fantastic worlds in the past or far away or in another dimension sort of frees up our imaginations to accept new rules. But if you’re having a gunfight in present-day New York, then fantasy contrivances tend to stick out and look silly.

Wow. Tough fight. Right. Let’s use these medkits and go back and speak to the Don.

So we’re going to put bandages over our gunshot wounds and then travel across town in our bullet-riddled car and speak to the crime boss in our blood-soaked suits?

Sigh. Can we go back to playing regular D&D?


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202 thoughts on “GM Advice: Guns and Dice

  1. OEP says:

    I agree with most of your points except one. “If you're slashed by a sword (as opposed to being run through) then it's reasonable to imagine that bandages could close the wound.”

    As a physician and a martial arts practitioner I assure you that melee combat with sharp implements is a deadly affair. In real life there is no such thing as a flesh wound.

    Unless using dueling weapons such as epees, sword combat is quite lethal, or at the very least, leading to permanent injury. Even low velocity wounds with sharp implements on the extremities can lead to severed tendons and ligaments which would cause permanent injury or severed arteries leading to exsanguination and death. We frequently have to take people to surgery to repair accidental wounds from kitchen implements, never mind the results from armed combat. The trauma from knife wounds usually requires surgery as well.

    Plenty of people have died from knife wounds.

    I guess my point isn’t that guns aren’t deadly but that melee combat in RPG’s is pretty silly as well.

  2. Eric says:

    Dead on. I hated running that campaign, and in all honesty Joe’s sounds cool, but when we play I doubt it’s going to go well.

    Oep’s also got a good point.

  3. Wolverine says:

    … Semi-modern setting…
    How about front-loaded guns – they are still one shot, one kill weapons, but wildly inaccurate and take forever to reload. Add a bayonet on one, and you can use it to fire in the first round and then use it as a crappy spear.
    Also, guns and ammo should/could be expensive and hard to obtain. Plus, local law enforcement could be really allergic to them, even if you try to conceal them.
    Anyway, I think Fallout 1 and 2 had quite nice balance between guns and melee weapons, at least until you got that Vindicator Minigun…

  4. Falco Rusticula says:

    I think that in some ways melee weapons are easier to use than guns -at least in the sense that they’re more intuitive. You just have to swing your arm (or stab, if you want the blade to go in deep). Sure, that’s affected by things like the heft of the weapon (a regular axe is waaay heavier and more cumbersome than a knife), the amount of skill and strength you have, etcetera, but anyone with regular hand/eye coordination can swing a club at an opponent and be pretty sure of at least hitting them.

    Guns operate over a longer range, which would have an effect. Hand/eye coordination would be a little trickier, maybe? Guns aren’t as intuitive as melee weapons, so it could take someone inexperienced a moment just to figure out what to do.

    So, yes, it’s all ludicrous, but melee weapons have a few things going for them in real life.

  5. Alarion says:

    For that reason I like the futuristic and setting of Shadowrun – even though guns are powerful, you can get away with being hit once or twice and still be standing. Because:
    a) Most players wear high-tech cloting-armor-hybrids that are basically a bulletproof duster. So most damage is just blunt impact damage and will be shrugged off after some hours at the most.
    b) Most characters are either heavily implanted with cybery goodness or are magical (and/or nonhuman). They are simply much tougher by default, and some are quick enough to dodge some bullets (again, magic and cyber-implants).
    c) Even if someone is hurt, medicine is advanced enough to guarantee a speedy recovery. Well, not after a near-death situation, but a single gunshot can be cured quickly (again, there’s also magic).

    Of course, if you take only the basic game system and eshew the sci-fi/fantasy setting, all your points apply to this system as well. Shadowrun’s game system does nothing to help balance guns, it’s the setting that does that.

  6. fuzzyillogic says:

    I love all single points you named about guns, in a rpg campaign… suddenly players start being carefull, sneaky, diplomatic and so on. The letality of the game forces them to start thinking for a change, instead of realying on brute force to escape any situation.
    Btw, I use GURPS as a game system. IMHO, it does have a quite good balance between fun and realism when dealing with guns. And if someone wants to have “cinematic” battles, it does have plenty rules for that too (they just published a supplement “gun-fu” about using guns in a style similar to Woo movies…).

  7. froogger says:

    I seem to remember the weapons system from Shadowrun being somewhat believable. IIRC, most bullets miss, but when they do strike it’s pretty much loss of limbfunction or game over (or rather, fight over). Or am I thinking of Twilight 2000?

    Regarding nr 4 and 7: I have used shotguns, semiautomatics and all sizes of smaller handguns and have reached the conclusion that hitting anything from a distance is bloody hard. It does take practice to hit something, yes, even with a shotgun. At 30 feet I would say it takes an experienced (or talented) shooter to hit a person on first shot. Sure, it’s a whole other ballgame than melee, but add to the stress of the target firing back, moving, other combattants etc. To get close to reality, study historic gunfights like the shootout at OK Corral. There was a lot of lead missing their targets for crackshot gunslingers.

    Good luck making a sensible system :)

  8. Joshua says:

    This actually pretty well describes archery combat as well. Apart from having armor stop it, how do you get a “graze” from a crossbow bolt or an arrow shot by a longbow?

    In D&D(especially 4th Ed), HP are not only life force, but also somewhat represent luck and stamina as well. So, when that bullet grazes the concrete next to you and splatters chips up into your face, count that a “hit”. When you’re out of HP, your luck has finally ran out.

    As I said, 4th Ed tends to work along these lines which allows for abilities like Second Wind and Warlord “healing”. Our group discussed it, and we decided that meant you had to cut out a lot of gruesome flavor text whenever you scored a hit, unless it was the final one. That time you scored a hit and you ran him through? That was his last 5 HP, and his “luck had ran out” and he got skewered.

    Such logic could apply to gunfire as well, although if the game mechanics only allow you to recover HP through first aid kits, you’ll be having a little more problem.

    Good points though. I played in a couple of modern games that used guns. The most notable was Recon, a Vietnam RPG. Even a single bullet could be fatal, a whole burst definitely so.

  9. Joshua says:

    I’ll agree that guns are a lot less effective at even 1% of their maximum range. 30 feet away from someone who is dodging and firing back at you can be quite a long distance. However, at the 5 to 10′ range, guns still kind of have an “I Win” card over melee weapons. Chance of successfully hitting is much higher, and very few people(especially non-trained) are able to keep fighting after getting hit by a bullet.

  10. Fenix says:

    There’s an easy solution. Just have the setting be the very near future or an alternate but very similar universe with the only difference being someone invented high velocity impact deflectors (read personal shields).
    Things which shoot at extremely high speeds (bullets, explosions) will be absorbed by the shield… but only until it overheats and burns out in which you will need a new one (no recharge here). Until then you will be very vulnerable to bullets.
    Also melee attacks are slow enough that they don’t get deflected therefore allowing melee characters.
    I did this system with some friends and it turned out to be a fun campaign. However it required us to make up our own rules about a lot of stuff, so being of one vision is important if you don’t want anyone to resent the fact that a rule made up on the spot (because of circumstances) screws them over and feels like everyone’s out to get them… or something.
    Anyway that’s enough. Time for breakfast.

  11. SWCrusader says:

    I found that the gun combat in the old Aliens RPG was good. Damage in that game was not ‘how much you can take’ it was ‘how long do you have to get a certain level of medical care’. You could get shot, need 5 minutes to get first aid and still operate ok for a but, but unless you’ve gotten to a hospital in three hours you’re still gonner. Good system, loved that game.

  12. Ingvar says:

    If you look at systems where hit points, as well as firearms, are represented, most (if not, by any means all) tend towards not having (automatically) increased hit points with more experience.

    For the systems where I can talk with some confidence, you have the “basic roleplaying” family (Call of Cthulhu and Mutant are probably the most firearms-intensive), GURPS (where you can spend experience points on incrased hit points, but it’s still much cheaper to buy up skills) and Chill (where damage is a function of results in a table and skill, with weapons just specifying what column to use).

    Recently, I’ve mostly played GURPS and it’s definitely the case that combat is deadly. Typical HP is about 10, a .45 pistol does 2D6 of damage, having the typical result of an average, unarmored character falling over incapacitated after being hit with two shots. A 7.62mm combat rifle does 5D6+1, giving “unconcious or dead” as a likely result of a single hit.

    On the flip side, you can get pretty decent armour, so you can mitigate the risks of firearms combat, but on the whole you’re likely to keel over if you engage in it.

    In the campaign I’m playing at the moment, I think we’ve had at least one in the party knocked out and in need of some serious medical attention every single time we’ve been in a gunfight.

    No, I tell a lie, we once shot down a plane using the tail-guns of the plane we were in and the felled plane didn’t get a chance to fire at us before they were ground-bound. But in all actual exchanges of bullets, at least one in the party has ended up on the ground, bleeding profusely.

  13. Lupis42 says:

    While it’s unlikely that anyone would be repeatedly grazed by gunfire, flesh wounds (that is, wounds that don’t severely hamper and won’t kill you unless you bleed to death) are much more likely when dealing with things like modern handguns, because it’s much easier to miss major organs without completely missing the target. Taking a good hit from a sword or axe will typically maim an unarmored limb, where small caliber handguns would simply make a hole.

    The problem with modeling this is that the same small caliber handgun would immediately kill if it hits the right spot. If one is willing to accept a certain Die Hard quality, the heroes can simply keep taking flesh wounds until the enemy gets a rifle, or scores a critical hit. Of course, it still takes a few days in a hospital to recover.

    In all other respects, I’d say your analysis is flawless.

  14. PinkCoder says:

    First some spelling errors. Third paragrah: “Whether or not it succeeded it open for debate” — should the second ‘it’ be ‘is’? Point #3: “But gunshot woulds are rarely” — probably should be ‘wounds’.

    Second, I will agree with you. This is part of the reason why plain modern-day settings don’t interest me too much. I’d rather be in the far future with appropriate armor and/or shields. Or if it’s present day, at least be a super-spy with gadgets and reflexes that give the players some sort of edge. I mean, I play games to escape reality; not relive it.

  15. Joshua says:

    An additional point about guns and RPGs: in RPGs stuff has to happen. Firearms are incredibly inaccurate under real-world conditions. Soldiers will fire hundreds of rounds per kill. WWII was incredibly brutal, but your chances of surviving the war in the US armed services was a bit less than 99% (216k casualties out of 16 million service members). The majority of police in the US go through their entire career never firing a shot in anger. And so forth.

    You could make RPG rules that worked that way, but the players would never stand for it; they want to get in gun battles and hit things that they aim at. They also want to be in control of their characters actions, so that they will coolly advance under fire where in the real world it takes a hell of a lot of training and discipline to do it even some of the time.

  16. qlawdat says:

    You might want to check out Unknown Armies. Its an urban fantasy game. The mechanic is uses is interesting. You had decent odds that stabbing someone with a knife wont kill them, or even do more than a 20% of someones max HP in on hit, but then again there are those rolls that will do a TON of damage. Guns do much more damage, unless you roll poorly or miss. It uses a d100 system. Melee weapons do damage equal to the total of your roll (a roll of 19 would do 10 damage, more damage is added if the weapon is sharp, heavy, other factors so actually a knife would do 10+3 damage). Players have HP equal to one of their stats, usually 50-70. Guns however do damage equal to what you roll. The 19 you rolled just did 19 damage. The interesting thing with melee damage is that doubles do damage equal to their roll. If you roll a 33 with a knife it would do 33+3 damage.

  17. Andrew B says:

    @Fenix: “The slow knife penetrates the shield…”

    Joshua’s response on HP representing luck, not just actual health, would certainly be how I’d deal with the one hit and you’re gone aspect of combat. (As others have stated, any armed combat is actually pretty deadly.) Heck, the mechanics of D&D (no difference to being on 1HP or 100HP) almost seems to require that. If you battered me to within an inch of unconsciousness then there’s no way I’d be operating at 100% efficiency, but this is essentially what happens to our D&D characters all the time.

    As for introducing variety into your weapons and combat once guns rear their ugly head, that’s a lot harder. Black powder weapons are a fine limiter, but are also essentially obsolete by the 1800s. Perhaps you can find some reason /why/ your weapons haven’t progressed beyond this point? (Does the presence of magic render further research into them useless by its power? Modern weapons manufacturers don’t bother researching swords after all. Maybe gunpowder simply wasn’t invented as early, but other developments continued to our time line?)

  18. Chilango2 says:

    This is part of what I love about WoD. Gunfire damage is halved against vampires, which means that while concentrated gunfire is somewhat effective against them, you really want to use a sword or something.

  19. someboringguy says:

    Does anyone remember Jagged Alliance 2?That was a good system.
    As realistical as it could be, without being ridiculous.
    Damage depends (in JA2) on the area hit, like the head does the most damage, but it’s obviously smaller than the torso, so it’s harder to hit.Someone being hit may feint, or if he got hit in the leg have difficulty walking (which is translated in the game not only by showing him dragging himself about, but also by a loss of agility) or the arm, making difficult or impossible to use that arm, like it should be because of the pain.
    Also, a shot received equals bleeding which keeps draining your health and leave bloody trails on the ground making it easier for the enemy to follow you.You need to bandage the wound (no surgery, no having a part of the body paralized because of a nerve being hit) and during his/her recovery the mercenary is a lot less efficient than usual.
    So I guess, my point is, there should be a balance between realism and gameplay.Otherwise the game would be unplayable.
    Also despite the fact that the chance to hit is related to training and stats, nobody hits perfectly and someone that is a complete loser with a gun can have luck and shot someone that is more skilled than him.

  20. chabuhi says:

    I’m not so sure … maybe you could find a veteran of a modern war and study their experience for ideas of how to make it work. I know I’ve heard more than a few stories of soldiers being shot and returning to the fight.

    Body armor and cover can be used. In a protracted gunfight involving “small forces” such as police vs. gang members, it’s often a matter of attrition … in either ammunition or participants. Maybe you could introduce a roll to save against an overwhelming urge to flee.

    I don’t think “realism” necessarily has to suffer too much when RP’ing modern combat.

  21. N Cowan says:

    If it were me, i’d develop a system of cover-fire. Each “round” of combat could be opening fire, while the opposing party is ducking and reloading. Or you can try to move ahead to the next object that provides cover with your turn. Something similar to how Fallout handles turned based combat could work for PNP quite well I think. You have so many “action points” and can either seek cover, run, move closer, etc, or pop up and fire your gun. If your looking for John Woo action sequences in your PNP game, then realistic bullet physics don’t really matter; you can play it like a game based on the movie “Wanted.”

    I think overall, video games are a good source of inspiration for this kind of thing. Fallout was one example, but Ghost Recon is another good one. Bullets are usually lethal, 1 or 2 will kill you. What saves you is the strategy in using them, using cover, and knowing when to get away, or use grenades to flash out an enemy. The tension involved in these kinds of fights is always much higher than playing Quake, for example, and translates well for PNP.

    Damage is another consideration. In melee games, damage is the primary combat factor, where as in bullet based games, your primary factor is whether or not you hit the target. Therefore, you have to model the damage accordingly. Bullets can be lethal very quick, so they should have a much higher damage potential, but by using duck and cover techniques, staying out of line of sight, and using terrain intelligently, the chance of being hit decreases proportionally.

  22. C David Dent says:

    A friend and I wrote a modern combat system that modeled real-world physics and wound damages using potential energy, stoppage, and other factors boiled down to “I’m Hit”, “I’m Dying” and “Ugh!” and what we found was the best way to survive gun combat was:
    1) Don’t get hit.
    2) Being a better shot than the other guy was only marginally better for you. Being a better dodger and hider was a lot better for you.
    3) A gunshot wound will remove you from combat
    4) A lot of Gun Combat is maneuvering to get a better shot.
    5) It isn’t the size of the gun it is the layers of protection.

    We used it twice and both times the group kept saying “Too Deadly!” at some point you have to surrender to the “movie” paradigm and just have fun.

    On another note, I like how the new Dr. Who RPG has energy weapons dealing damage of “Death” which echoes the show, I suppose, but I had to laugh at it anyways.

  23. Segev says:

    In the Exalted game line, getting hit is usually pretty deadly (though sometimes not fatal), and (barring some very specific supernatural abilities) it takes a while to heal. It’s an extremely high-magic setting, however, with every PC being a practical godling with magical Essence flowing through their very souls like blood through a healthy body. They have many ways to avoid being hit…but they all cost motes of essence (think of them as mana).

    In short, what I’m saying is, what if a modern game repurposed “hit points” or “vitality” to “dodge points?” You can spend “dodge points” when you would otherwise be hit in order to just barely manage to avoid the blow.

    This has some weird implications for stats – suddenly, you might call Dex your “dodge point booster” instead of Con, for instance – and might require some rejiggering of what various stats affect so that you don’t wind up with Dex being the only one you ever need, but…well, it might help re-envision combat in a more believable fashion. It’s not a “glancing wound” with a gun, but rather a “near miss,” represented mechanically by “the bad guy hit me, but I proactively twist JUST enough…or am JUST that lucky…so it missed” points. Luck runs out, people get tired, and eventually, you’ll take it to the face. That’s when you’re out of “dodge points” and taken to whatever consequences people normally suffer for being at 0 hp.

  24. Sesoron says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the HP=luck angle. Being the protagonists of an epic story, of course the PCs have Plot Armor which will prevent them from being hit at all — a “hit” is not a bullet that penetrated their body, but a bullet that required enough luck to avoid that Fate ticked off a mark on the PC’s tally, so to speak. Only especially bad luck would cause one of the heroes to die.

    I like to treat D&D 4th Edition’s HP system like that: when you’ve lost more than half your HP, you’re “bloodied”, which sometimes has gameplay consequences, but I consider a fine metric for when you actually start taking real hits. 4th Ed also has “minions”, which are monsters that always have only 1 HP and therefore die after any hit: these monsters have no plot armor, being utterly insignificant to the story except as a challenge for the heroes to overcome.

    If we add to this an expectation that PCs will be wearing kevlar and taking cover when it’s there, you can actually have a very good and realistic combat system.

    Reintroducing melee weapons into an approximately modern setting would be a trick, though. The only rationale for that I can think of would be something magical or some sort of sufficiently advanced technology that would plausibly allow brawlers to cover the distance to a gunman without taking many hits (either to his luck or to his body). Say, for example, you’ve got some kind of magic or tech that’s capable of deflecting bullets that have been airborne for a certain (very brief) amount of time, which would effectively trim down their range to something you can cross in a round or two. If you want realism, though, you wouldn’t be able to mix guns and melee. Either it’s a situation where PCs and villains alike don’t have access to guns (either because they’re too young or in a country with stricter gun control, like Japan or the UK) or melee weapons are at best a last-ditch backup.

  25. Nixorbo says:

    Here’s the way I see it – even if it’s a “modern” D&D setting, it’s still a D&D setting, which means it’s inherently magical. Why would firearm development occur the same in a world of delayed-blast fireballs? In my modernish setting, research led away from traditional firearms and instead on enchanting objects with the ability to shoot offensive spells.

  26. kikito says:

    I think you are not being fair in comparing white weapons with guns. I can point out a lot of situations on D&D where the situations are just as silly as this (i.e. getting axed by a 300 kgs orc several times and surviving)

    Guns are binary

    Maybe simulating keblar can help, then. Or any other kind of recent body armor/helmets.

    Guns render melee skills obsolete

    I allways make the same joke: Ryu would not stand a chance against “random guy with a gun” in street fighter. Yes, you have to assume that everyone will use guns. And they will move to whatever comes next, if it’s better and they can afford it. It’s the natural weapon escalation playing around.

    If you're slashed by a sword (as opposed to being run through) then it's reasonable to imagine that bandages could close the wound.
    They might close the wound, but you would not be fit for combat during the next week at the very least. And nowadays, you would have to go to the hospital so the doctor could check those bandages.
    Granted, some bullets they make a mess of bodies as they traverse them (they “explode”). And a lot of them stay inside. But you could just turn a blind eye on those, or use them very sparsely (just like ignoring arrows poisoned with curare).

    Guns overshadow their users / Anybody can use a gun
    I agree.

    My suggestion: The only way to keep guns fun & realistic on an RPG is to throw away realism in other places. For instance, you could add “powers”. Super velocity or force fields, would render guns a lot less effective. Regeneration would handle the “deadly” part of guns.

    So – instead of “modern normal guys with guns” make it a “modern mutants/vampires with guns”.

    1. Hurm says:

      I allways make the same joke: Ryu would not stand a chance against “random guy with a gun” in street fighter. Yes, you have to assume that everyone will use guns. And they will move to whatever comes next, if it's better and they can afford it. It's the natural weapon escalation playing around.

      But people HAVE brought guns and other weapons into Street Fighter, and Ryu’s still overcome them. I think in that world, being a martial artist is on par with being superhuman.

  27. illiterate says:

    @Fenix — would you say that, indeed, the slow blade penetrates the shield ?

    @Joshua — at 5-10′ range a person with a firearm is in extreme danger from someone wielding a blade. Bringing a gun to bear can easily take more time than leaping forward and stabbing them.

  28. MrPyro says:

    The version of Star Wars that was based on 3rd Edition had some rules to cover this. You had two sets of hit-points: one was the standard D&D increasing every level HP system; the second was just equal to your Constitution score. Every time you were hit you lost HP, until you ran out, at which point you lost Con until you hit 0 and passed out. Critical hits bypassed hitpoints and applied directly to Con, making crits very dangerous.

    The flavour text for this was that HP, as mentioned by somebody else above, represent more luck than ability to resist damage. A ‘hit’ that inflicted HP damage was a blaster bolt whizzing past your head and burning off some hair, or a lightsaber cutting through a loose piece of clothing.

  29. Vladius says:

    It’s pretty much a given in any game with guns that people can dodge bullets for this reason.

    Just don’t play d20 Modern. It’s not that good of a game.

  30. Jack V says:

    I think that’s a really good description. I think most people are similar to me: when I started out roleplaying I automatically wanted to extend it to include firearms, and realised that it Just Didn’t Work.

    People might say that “it’s a fantasy, let’s pretend”, but if you do, you’ve got to realise that it will be noticeably unrealistic: some people might do that, but you’re committing yourself to not complaining if you shoot someone in the head with a shotgun and they don’t die.

    Potential fixes include:

    * Old fashion guns
    * Really good armour or supernatural dexterity
    * Accepting a game style with more deadly combat eg. really really good healing, or an expectation of running a character for a few sessions and getting another one.
    * Emphasis on tactical manoeuvring rather than incremental damage

    I played a Dark Heresy campaign which was really fun, and in retrospect, gun combat was a big part, which was resolved partly by having the heroes always have guns, and the enemies sometimes having guns and sometimes being melee monsters, and partly by being designed to be gritty, and partly by good armour, and partly by being very cautious.

    In fact, in the most fun sessions, we were barely scratched, and I think the DM felt disappointed that we’d rolled over the Really Impressive Badguys so comprehensively, but it was clear we’d done that (by part luck, part judgement) by always having the right cover and taking out the enemy before they got to us. And if someone was wounded, half the time they were out of the fight, and half the time they spent three months between sessions resting up.

  31. SiliconScout says:

    Try Boot Hill.

    It’s old west but could easily be adapted to modern rules.

    Character creation is quick, maybe 10 minutes even for a inexperienced gamer.

    Gun combat is reasonably realistic. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone take more than 4 bullets, and even then 2-3 would be grazes (Light wounds)

    Any shot can be fatal, you roll d6 1-3 is a light wound, 4-5 is a serious wound 6 is outright lethal unless your luck can save you. Shots to the head get a +1 to that roll.

    Your luck is a value between 1 and 20 IIRC and that is what you have to roll equal to or under in order to have that lethal hit not kill you. Oh yeah and you also have to explain why it wasn’t lethal, as in what happened to make that hit not hit you. Oh yeah and each time your luck saves you it drops by 1. Eventually your luck will run out.

    Very simple system, very fun game.

    Melee isn’t totally useless but it is a disadvantage unless you can get close and grappling even makes sense.

    It’s also a good thing that character creation is so quick, because if you get cocky you can easily lose a character in less time than it took you to make it.

  32. Girl Gamer says:

    There’s quite a lot of silliness in RPG rules when you really start to look at them this closely. “Oh, so if I sharpen my dagger with this magic whetstone now I’m doing fire damage? Awesome.” “Wait, what? That makes NO sense.” That sort of thing.

    If you can’t handwave it, then you need to explain it somehow or change the world so the rules work. Maybe you could do a sort of Dark Tower thing where there are only three guns in the world and your party just happens to have them and the ability to use them. It adds new layers of complexity (just where did Roland get the never ending ammo supply?), but makes other kinds of weapons useful and gives the PCs a chance to survive the encounters for sensible reasons.

    Personally, I don’t think I’d want to play in a modern setting. Near/far future, or middle ages high fantasy for me; never forgetting galaxies far far away, of course.

  33. Graham says:

    Yeah, I agree with all of those except #2, for the same reasons mentioned above. Hit points are a combination of toughness, luck, close calls, etc.

    But for those suggesting it’s a 4e D&D thing, it was actually described as such in the 1e AD&D books as well. (Possibly before then, but I don’t have those books.)

    So the only shots that really hit are:
    – crits
    – the last hit that kills you
    – in 4e, the hit that bloodies you

  34. Artillery_MKV says:

    Back in the day I really liked the Interlock system used in Cyberpunk 2020. Barring the advent of the heaviest armor and most ridiculous weapons it was fairly representative without being burdensome in ‘realism.’

    The problem with ‘realism’ in a modern game is that it leads, as you rightly point out, to less than fast flowing narrative.

    At the end of the day I’d be inclined to give up realism for story and have everyone understand that the game is working with a ‘cinematic’ treatment of combat.

    So, a light blow can instantly knock you out, but that machine gun will more than likely just graze you. Unless, of course, you got issued the red shirt for the day. Cinematic generally sacrifices NPCs to show how ‘deadly’ the situation is . . . .

  35. HgmE says:

    This is going to sound heavily critical, so I apologize in advance if I really upset anyone over this.

    You’re all (Shamus included) over thinking this. Sure, guns are very, very, lethal. But as OEP pointed out, so are any melee weapons. Firstly, I’m going to take the very annoying (but for the purposes of this argument, necessary) stance of; It’s a game.

    It’s fantasy, pure and simple. We should only be taking the weapons as serious as their setting. If you’re playing a campaign in a world that’s very serious, then yes guns (and by extension almost all weapons, blunt and sharp objects) should be very, very lethal. The reason that they aren’t is because PNP is at it’s heart a story. The good guys win, the bad guys die, and no one ever dies from blunt force trauma, sure surviving a gunshot is ludicrous, but so is casting a magic spell, or never having to repair your armor (I never noticed the “your armor degrades and becomes less effective over time” rule in D&D, but if it’s there I’m sorry I missed it).

    And what about armor? Kevlar can stop most small caliber rounds, a trauma plate can stop an ak47 round, and dragon skin (the new chain mail-esque body armor) is both lightweight and can easily stop most, if not all, types of small arms rounds. Perhaps the “boss” survived because he had some of the aforementioned items on?

    I notice that your argument seems to ignore the rampant use of guns in video games. In fact with out armor, your character can survive being shot (in the body) more than once in about 90% of games featuring guns, and still not need immediate medical care or be horribly incapacitated.

    In fact, if we’re discussing realism, how about the fact that in video games you get to try again? Even in “realistic” medieval games like oblivion, you still get to load your game should you die.

    Sorry if I really upset anyone with this, I just had to say what was on my mind.

    I do have one question for Shamus though.
    Why are you such a stickler for realism with guns in a modern fantasy setting, but don’t mind spells, dragons, magic potions, or the fact that melee combat isn’t horrifyingly lethal in a medieval fantasy setting?

    1. Shamus says:

      HgmE: It’s easy to change the rules for things you made up. It’s a bit nonsense to change the rules for stuff you didn’t. The setting is supposedly “The real world, but with magic”. It’s not unreasonable to expect that “the real world” act like the real world unless we get some sort of “magic did it” hand-wave.

      And your digression on videogames was a bit unfair. In the real world you can’t pause the session until next week. Maybe we should make a game where your character dies if you take a break from playing?

  36. If you’re looking for a good cinematic RPG, you might check out the recent reprinting of Spycraft; d20 system, and a rethought HP system separated into wounds (a small number, means you’ve actually been hurt) and vitality (iirc, a larger number, means that you’ve avoided it somehow).

    In general, the problem is that RPGs want a long story, and realistic combat makes that much less likely. Remember Bushido Blade? Realistic combat, and it was awesome, but if you died in the first five seconds of a round, you get pulled out of realism and into the game-realistic “continue.”

    Fighting on fantastic worlds in the past or far away or in another dimension sort of frees up our imaginations to accept new rules.

    Insightful. If you’ve got a group that can pull some suspension-of-disbelief, modern settings can be fun and engaging. Otherwise, simplicity (and fantasy) is good.

  37. Vegedus says:

    Interestingly, this problem is just as prevalent, probably more so, in computer games. However, it is also less serious and bother fewer people because of the context. People generally expect more realism from their roleplaying sessions where they have a GM to arbiter everything, compared to games where everything you can do is restricted to the code.

    That isn’t to say it is a problem. In some cases it can be worse, even, because games are visual. You can actually see yourself, shooting that boss in the head multiple times, without him dying. I remember Tycho over at penny arcade mentioning that the notion of being hit once with a lightsaber, without lying down and in bad need of a robot prostetic, is ridiculous. Such was KOTOR.

    In both games and roleplaying, it differs from person to person how big a problem it is. I don’t have a hard time hand waving that a critical hit from a shotgun is a blow to the stomach, hitting only non-vital organs that recover with a night of rest. I love gameplay far too much to let realism hinder it. What bothers me much, is in games like DnD where you have massive pools of HP and a character can survive several critical hits and you have to describe every one as some sort of grace. In general, describing how you narrowly dodge a hit each get repetitive. But that’s just a matter of what the HP to damage ratio is.

    And yeah, as people have mentioned, the only really effective handwave for HP, is that it’s not some concrete bodily function, but an abstract force protecting you. I like to think of HP as plot points. When you look at it, plot points are quite common in media. Many movies take place in modern settings, with firearms combat, yet the heroes always make it to the end. Why? Because they are far too important to the plot to be gunned down by a random mook. That goes for player characters too, the game is about them, after all. A hero in a movie can still die when fighting the big bad (Neo), or when heavily out-numbered (Boromir), but only if his plot points have run out. If it’s appropriate for him to die at there. You’ll never see an important character die 5 seconds into the first fight in the movies. And oddly, it seems anything unrealistic we can live with in movies, we can live with in games.

  38. Zethavn says:

    I always preferred the 1st/2nd edition d20 Starwars method for tracking your character’s general health; Wound Points and Vitality points. I like this idea so much that I adopted it for my D&D 3.5 games for a while.

    They needed something to reflect the movies somewhat; main characters rarely get hit by blasterfire, but when they do, they’re pretty much down and out. Blasters in the tabletop version typically deal about 3d6 or 3d8 damage, while low-tech melee weapons deal 1d6 or 1d8. High tech melee weapons (vibro sword, force pike, etc) typically deal 2d6 or 2d8; still outmatched by a pistol-sized blaster.

    Each and every being in the game has as many Wound Points as they have points in their Constitution score.

    Characters and many opponents also get Vitality Points, which are similar to the hit points we’re familiar with, and are acquired in a similar manner (based on class and level).
    Instead of getting shot with a blaster and dying, they “barely doge”, or get “near-miss spatter”. When you run out of VP, you start taking damage on your WP, showing that you’re tired enough to start slipping up and taking some real damage.
    Vitality Points can be recovered in a matter of minutes or hours (Healing Surges from 4e would work well here), and Wound Points typically required medical attention and possibly a trip to the bacta tank.

    A critical hit does not deal extra damage, but it bypasses VP and goes straight to WP, making critical hits much more deadly than most other d20 systems. A single crit (a.k.a. lucky shot) from a lowly holdout blaster (3d4), or even a slugthrower (2d6) can drop your high-level jedi character pretty quick. Makes for great climactic battles, too, or if you want your characters to surrender or run instead of fight.

    Incidentally, your vitality points were used to power your force abilities, which balanced out the jedi a little.

  39. Eric says:

    @illiterate: Indeed it is the slow blade that penetrates the shield.

  40. Colonel Slate says:

    I have long thought on these questions from my different RPG back grounds, I was looking implementing some type of ballistic gun weapon into my campaign, I’d like to add or give my opinion on some of your points though, please don’t take it the wrong way.

    1) Guns are chaotic. – It’s more that bullets are chaotic, but the needs of a “rolling gun battle” do indeed make the area dangerous to participants and everyone around the general area.

    2) Guns are binary, but this is rather true for the other weapons as well, swords, hit, miss, but they can be parried, which you could I a vague sense say Guns can be parried too, by armor, but that’s a different argument.

    3) Guns are deadly. This is really the only point I quite agree on, however, sword wounds are actually much more lethal than a large number of gunshot wounds, there is only a small area of the human body, mainly the upper chest, liver, and obviously the head area that have immediate and lethal consequences if they are hit. You could probably wave hitpoint loss to, shoulder hits, leg hits, more none vital areas, the guys I know might hate me, but you could get away with a crotch shot as well… All this really depends on the caliber of said weapon though…

    4) Guns are easy to use. Easy to use yes, easy to keep using no, but that depends entirely on the campaign setting. The amount of jams and misfires one would have over the course of a campaign, having not been taught care of their weapon, like care of their sword, would be enormous.

    5) Guns render melee skills obsolete. Besides the 20 foot rule, this is entirely correct, for those that don’t know, the “20 foot rule” is that if an attacker has a melee weapon within 20 feet, and you have an UNDRAWN handgun or rifle, your best bet is to fall back while drawing, though usually the melee wins this fight. That is a rather “contrived” situation, but it is indeed a situation that is rather commonly encountered and taught in self protection gun classes

    6) Guns overshadow their users. Pretty much. Though if you’re a trained “something” then in most situations you wouldn’t find yourself with a strange weapon that you have no idea how to correctly reload, how many rounds it has, what it’s effective range is, etc.

    7) Anybody can use a gun. This is true, it has been true since the invention of the crossbow, someone with minimal training to kill a knight in one shot that has trained his whole life.

    And just for me… I’m actually a ballistic specialist in my local community… Please please please stop using shotguns as an example. A standard shotgun, 12 gauge will bounce off even old knight plate mail at about 15 feet.

    Shotguns are not a combat weapon at all… even 8 gauge weapons are amazingly underpowered, anyone with even the lightest of metal body armor can stop a shotgun blast at pretty much any range after 15 to 20 feet.

    Thanks for reading my rant…

  41. TehShrike says:

    I would echo SiliconScout, and suggest that you check out Boot Hill.

    Combat is fast, and dangerous. Guns get fired, and people die quickly. Characters will die, often, unless you fudge on some rules.

    I would recommend checking out the second edition. I have a digital copy around somewhere, if you’d like to check it out. The second edition came out in 1979, I doubt you’ll find a copy in any stores :-x

  42. Rutskarn says:

    I have a few workarounds in my Apocalypse setting.

    1.) Guns are rare-ish, so a lot of fights don’t have them.

    2.) Most fights begin at melee range, so attacks of opportunity mean guns are somewhat balanced.

    3.) Even most “hits” are flavored as traumatic misses, causing disorientation and rattling the person enough that subsequent hits will be fatal.

    4.) Guns are never magic, but archaic weapons (sometimes) will be.

  43. B.J. says:

    Shamus is using the simulationist argument, which is a legitimate view. This is the same sort of argument which states that someone hit by a lightsaber should always go down, which you can’t really argue with.

    Still, everything he said about guns can also apply to crossbows. Crossbows were the easy-to-use peasant weapon that could one-shot a trained knight in plate armor. Yet crossbows have existed in D&D games since forever without breaking anything. In the 3.5E style, crossbows deal more damage and crit more often than bows but have a slower rate of fire.

    In my D&D game I ran a campaign set during the ‘precursor civilization’ period of my homebrew world that had magic-based guns. I took some ideas from D20 modern, but mostly I just took the existing crossbow stats at gave them a better rate of fire and reload speed. It worked extremely well. One of my players became a dual-pistol specialist; another used a rifle adapted with a sniper prestige class, and they were insanely deadly. There was no trouble keeping up with the fighters. In fact the guns worked out so well I worked them into the modern era of my game (discovering a large cache of the precursor weapons). The players are having fun and things are still reasonably balanced and powerful.

    So guns don’t have to break the game to be fun. Sounds like Shamus is suffering from the firearm version of “katanas are always better” syndrome. In real life you can get shot a dozen times and live, yet die from falling in the shower. It’s impossible to make an RPG that is realistic. You really need to just let the game be a game.

  44. MadTinkerer says:

    EDIT: apparently my first comment didn’t go through for some reason, so here’s the gist: Savage Worlds is good for “action movie reality” games. My friend once ran a successful Die Hard game in SW.

    Incidentally, the way the Buffy and Angel RPGs handled guns was to simply point out the way that they’re used in the series:

    1) Several guns might slow a vampire down, but even then you have to shoot it a lot. Crossbows and swords are simply more effective.

    2) Vampires don’t use guns themselves because they don’t need them. Also, if they shoot people it’s a waste of blood, right?

    So you could have a “modern” campaign where whatever you find inconvenient about the setting can be nullified by the properties of whatever enemy you invent. Maybe a psionic alien that, among other things, scrambles cellphone signals.

  45. Alan De Smet says:

    This is the clearest argument for “hit points represent ability to not get hit” I’ve yet seen.

    @Joshua: I’m with you. Sadly, WotC doesn’t seem to be consistent themselves. In this podcast they essentially ask that the GM needs to precognitive. If the wound will be healed by a cleric, make it gory. If it will be healed by a warlord, make it exhaustion. They omit what to do if a party has both a cleric and a warlord.

  46. Andrew B says:

    @HgmE: Of course, you’re right. It IS all a game, and it is all make believe. We gave up any pretence at realism the moment we had to pick a “race” for our characters and the choices were elf, dwarf or hobbit, not black, white or asian.

    The problem is that, at some point, we all come up against something which gets in the way of that willing suspension of disbelief. Perhaps we can accept orcs, but not flumphs. (Most likely because we are more used to orcs.) The problem here is that it is easier to accept the flaky rules for melee combat and spell casting (so, I take the massive fireball to the face and just carry on) because we don’t know much/anything about them in real life. But we do know that getting shot sucks, and that guns are, at their most basic, a tube with “this end towards enemy” written on them. So the suspension of disbelief is much harder to maintain, hence this whole discussion. If you can get past it without some additional rules or handwaving, good stuff. It’ll make modern campaigns much easier for you. If not, well, then you need to over think it a bit.

  47. JohnW says:

    An additional point about guns and RPGs: in RPGs stuff has to happen. Firearms are incredibly inaccurate under real-world conditions. Soldiers will fire hundreds of rounds per kill. WWII was incredibly brutal, but your chances of surviving the war in the US armed services was a bit less than 99% (216k casualties out of 16 million service members). The majority of police in the US go through their entire career never firing a shot in anger. And so forth.

    That includes all of the cooks, bakers, and candlestickmakers, though. Casualty rates among line infantry was pretty enormous.

  48. John says:

    What no comparisons to Phoenix Command? :)

    IMHO, putting together all of the good comments above maybe comes down to:
    1) Realistic combat is lethal combat.
    2) Guns make that lethality happen faster, and more unexpectedly.
    3) If you have a realistic combat, heroes will have to avoid combat as much as they can, or you’ll need to have a game which can support rapid introduction of new heroes to replace the ones that are dead or in the hospital.

    Side thought: if your game is more of a serial story, with “episodes” that happen with months of downtime in-between, then the trip to the hospital might not be as big a deal.

  49. krellen says:

    Even back in old 3e D&D (and thus, d20 Modern), hit points are explicitly described as representing a combination of luck, toughness, skill, fatigue, and supernatural protection. It’s up to the DM and players to sort out which combination makes the most sense for their campaign. In a fantasy campaign, focusing more on toughness and skill might make sense, while in a modern setting you’d want to rely more on luck and fatigue.

  50. Sven says:

    To add my own two cents into this discussion, I have to mention an RPG called Millennium’s End. It was set in the modern day – no magic, no fantasy, just straight-up real world roleplaying.

    The shooting system was revolutionary in that it used a system of transparent overlays that you would put over sketches of figures in different poses. You would center your aim point on the person right where you were aiming at them and then roll, if you succeeded by enough you hit where you were aiming. If not, there were other dots around it that represented missing by certain amounts. You find that dot and determine the hit location. If that dot is outside of the body map, you missed.

    There was no rolling for damage, bullets did damage by what caliber they were no matter what gun they came out of. They also did a LOT of damage. If you were shot in the head or face by pretty much anything, it was time for a new character.

    The effect was that players did things like put their hands up when a gun was on them, dive for cover when shooting started, kept their heads down when covering fire was coming their direction, and all sorts of other behavior that you never seem to see in roleplaying sessions.

    We played that game for years and it is still one of our most successful campaigns.

    The moral: don’t be afraid to make guns deadly.

    1. Nice! Sounds like fun. Did the game ship with a large collection of sketches?

  51. Rhykker says:

    Don’t have time to read all ~50 comments, and this was probably brought up, so let me just add my thoughts to support the issue.

    Although I agree with most of what you said, I differ only in that I don’t believe Hit Points have to represent wounds.

    I see d20 Modern as an action movie, with the PCs being the John McClain’s of the world. John McClain may receive a bullet or two toward the end of the movie, but generally, he gets “lucky.” He just miraculously avoids being shot by always having the right cover.

    Every time a PC takes damage, I consider this to be one of those lucky evasions. Let’s call them Heroic Parries (HP). Eventually, your luck will run out, or you’ll be too exhausted, get sloppy, and get hit — that’s what happens when your HP gets low, and you start taking “real” damage.

    (If don’t quite recall, but doesn’t d20 Modern uses Vitally Points and Wound Points, or something? Did they screw that up as well?)

    I still don’t find d20 Modern fun, for all the other reasons you highlighted (namely, it’s all about guns, and You Are Your Weapon (great way of putting it, by the way)).

  52. Mario says:

    I think Oep is right. You greatly underestimate what a sword can do. Even if it doesn’t cut an artery, it could cut a tendon and in that case you’re pretty screwed.

    Moreover, bandages don’t “cure” the blood loss, and infections were one of the most common cause of death, back in the days. So even if someone wasn’t hurt enough by a sword, didn’t lose too much blood, could die anyway days later from infection, or may need to have the limb amputated because of the gangrene (ew..).

    The fact that most of us ignore such things make the old rpgs so “realistic”, but if you look closely you’ll notice that they have similar oddities.

    On the other hand, bullet wounds are not always lethal. It depends on many, many elements.
    The shape of the bullet, the speed, the distance, the entry point, if it has a jacket or not. Every single factor could completely change the result. Small bullets, with hollow point, at high velocity without a jacket could still be pretty lethal. The same bullet at lower speed or with a metal jacket could be almost harmless (yes, full metal jacket bullets make less damage because they penetrate without spreading).

    And even if it’s easier to shot than to wield a sword, it’s much harder to keep a gun functional. Most of the m16 used in vietnam had huge maintenance problems that eventually lead them to jams. Regardless of what videogames made us think, it’s almost impossible to use a sniper rifle without appropriate training. And even a burst with a ak-47 is less dangerous on medium distances than shot with a shotgun, since the burst is less accurate and the bullets are usually one apart from the other, and the buckshots are usually of pure lead (wich is way more dangerous of the ak-47 rounds).
    And you have to work really hard to narrow the dispersion pattern of your shots.

    Finally, as a matter of fact, it’s pretty easy to drive away from a gunfight, provide you have a safety car nearby (as you always should, ask the Don!).

    So, I think, even if you have a point, your analysis is a bit inaccurate..

    Edit: In the time I thought, translated, and wrote my post, 40 comments sprung out… gee… :-)

  53. BK says:

    Just one thing on d20 Modern (I’ve played it once, so I can’t otherwise comment on balance/realism)…did you folks remember to use the massive damage rules? (They trigger far more quickly than those in D&D 3E.)

  54. Adam says:

    Unless your setting requires the party to be members of a mercenary group or some such, it’s very unlikely that they would be toting guns around anywhere:
    1) The police might not think too highly of a group of heavily armed civilians walking through town
    2) Travel would be hindered, trying to take your guns on the plane? Better declare and check them.
    3) Guns have tactical disadvantages (such as being loud and not leaving a lot of survivors). Maybe the party is trying to capture the boss and bring him to justice instead of just kill him.
    4) There are already groups of heavily armed people out there (SWAT team, national guard, secret service), what niche is the party filling that these existing groups wouldn’t?

    I’d venture to say that one of the reasons to play a modern setting game is to take advantage of modern life (looking stuff up on the net, hacking, easy travel to exotic locations, international intrigue). Carrying around guns with the intention to kill 50 baddies for their loot isn’t something modern civilization expects.

    To sum up, make the players (and the villains) fit in with the modern world. Pickpockets will likely only carry pocket knives and the players might have concealed blades or other inconspicuous weapons. Make encounters happen in areas where assault rifles wouldn’t work. Make weapons illegal, extremely expensive, and difficult to carry with you.

  55. 1d30 says:

    It’s my opinion that melee combat can be just as deadly as a gunfight. A brawler can still be a danger to a shooter if he’s in melee range. But if he needs to close distance with the shooter he will die, period.

    Second, you have to be a swordsman of mythic, superheroic proportions, fighting a completely raw newbie, to have no chance of being killed. Even an expert will take the occasional smack, especially if the newbie is willing to expose himself to attack by the master. In fact, someone trained in your martial art is easier to fight than someone using a different style.

    Third, training with a gun is so much easier because you don’t need whole-body training to shoot someone. You just need aim (and be able to handle your gun mechanically). To learn swordsmanship you’ll spend a heck of a lot longer just to achieve newbie status, while you can get that with one trip to the range.

    That said, the benefit afforded by a pole weapon or long blade over an unarmed attacker is enormous. It’s as much as the benefit of a pistol-wielder over a spearman, or a long rifle wielder over a pistol wielder. But if you’re inside the longer reach of the other weapon things get more unpredictable.

    Original D&D was a better abstraction of melee combat, but later editions freaked out and it’s basically an anime RPG now. Consider using B/X D&D, remove the magic, add guns and explosives.

    Or, use Shadowrun. Again, remove the magic and possibly the cyberware, use as-is. Guns are quite deadly but with good armor you can see more drawn-out shootouts. Automatic weapons and explosives still destroy everything though.

    Or, use an espionage game. They can be unrepentantly harsh with combat mechanics.

  56. Jack V says:

    And to further echo the points a couple of other people made:

    1. Sword fighting is probably unrealistic in many (but not all) of the same ways, even if it’s to a lesser extent. Surviving being hit with a bullet is unrealistic to us. But in fact, surviving being hit with a sword is pretty unrealistic too, we just get used to it by playing 1st level characters who MIGHT die, and then making them better and better.

    2. Another option is to liken the game not to the real world, but a specific genre, like an action film. A world where Conan shrugs off wounds from foot-soldiers, but can be killed by 50 foot-soldiers or one other expert. But that’s not enough to justify the hit-point system by itself: not all films map onto a “take more and more damage until you finally pass out” model.

  57. Graham says:

    @BK (#54) –

    Good point. The massive damage rules (take Con damage or more, make a Fort Save or die) make things nice and lethal, usually.

  58. Eric says:

    @BK: yeah we did, and the players came close to dying at times. The battles in modern d20 just play out awkwardly, whether or not it’s because it’s set in modern times or just a bad system I don’t know.

  59. GTb says:

    Shadowrun is my “favoritest” rpg system ever, but the fully automatic firearm rules have never made sense. At least not up to 3.0. I haven’t played the new edition(s) yet.

    I ran a heavily modified D20 modern game for my crew a couple years go and while it started out with everyone having a pretty good mix of characters, by the end of the game it was 5 fast heroes with guns. (highest AC bonus and highest dex for ranged weapons) Which was sort of disappointing, but telling I think.

  60. 1d30 says:

    Also, everyone who complains about how unlikely a “graze wound” is, even cloth can snag a blade or arrowhead. Perhaps the arrow wasn’t as precision-made as you thought or it was slowed down a little by a gust of wind?

    If you’re wearing armor, a straight solid hit might be slowed down enough to stop but it would still impact, possibly breaking bones or causing internal injuries. A piercing or slashing attack may penetrate and cut you but still be slowed down by the armor enough that it’s only a minor hit.

    Finally, you could actually just get a glancing blow or a graze even if you’re naked. It’s unlikely, because the outline of your silhouette is much less surface area than the entire rest of your silhouette, but it can happen.

  61. Shawn says:

    I will, shockingly enough, reiterate the Savage Worlds pimpage above. There’s a reason why several of the SW settings are set around the era of flintlock guns (50 Fathoms, Pirates of the Spanish Main, Solomon Kane, Sundered Skies, etc etc) as mechanically that’s the last time guns and melee were a decent mix. If you tried to make a kung fu fighter in Weird Wars II, it would not be pretty.

    For Clockworks we had the advantage that our main melee character is an 8 foot tall troll who is largely bulletproof, but the system very clearly leans towards the guy with the sawed off shotgun compared to the guy with a bastard sword.

  62. Axcalibar says:

    d20 modern bills itself as more like an action movie with larger than life heroes. It’s fantasy, but not medieval fantasy. For realistic gun combat, we have Aces and Eights.

    On the hit points/damage issue, I refer you to:

  63. Lazlo says:

    An inexperienced melee fighter can hit and kill an experienced master swordsman – first, he sneaks up behind him…

    And therein lies the big difference in my mind. Shooting someone is a mostly uncontested action. When you shoot, it’s a matter of your skill vs. environmental factors such as the inaccuracy of your weapon, range, cover, speed, etc. The skills of the target (beyond the ability to use tactics and strategy to maximize those environmental factors) play no part. Contrast this to melee combat, where there is a huge potential to parry or dodge. So, while you can decrease your chances of being hit by increasing your skill with a sword, increasing your skill with a firearm confers no defensive advantage at all (well, maybe… if you can draw, aim, and fire accurately in .5 seconds, while facing an opponent who takes a second to draw, two seconds to aim, and can then fire semi-accurately, there’s a very good chance that the opponent will not actually have the opportunity to shoot. go to youtube and search for IPSC El Presidente, and ask if a novice would have a chance of not dying before pulling the trigger.)

    So I think a realistic system can be fun, so long as you understand the paradigm. If your players want to use the tactics of revolutionary war British with modern firearms, they will be slaughtered, and that’s accurate and appropriate. If they realize that guns force you to replace “parry” and “dodge” with “cover” and “hide”, it can make things better. If it’s all about the tactics of maintaining cover while forcing your opponent to give up his.

    I kind of like that GURPS has a “tactics” skill. You wouldn’t ask a player to describe in detail how he’d use a sword that his character is a master of but he’s never seen in his life, instead he’d just say “I’m parrying”. Similarly, you shouldn’t ask the player to be a tactician, he should just say
    “I’m trying to shoot him while avoiding getting shot”
    “I’m using tactics!

  64. toasty says:

    You make a lot of fair points about the realism of guns vs. swords, but I honestly just enjoy smashing people with swords. :p

    Having said that, I’m running a play by post game at (shamelessplug) (/shameless plug) with the Fireborn System which is, I’ve been told, similar to Exhalted. (As for the game, look under masterofweirndess’ games, that’s my moniker there). The way guns work is they do a LOT more damage than swords and knives, but they can be dodged just as easily. Also, because of the way melee combat works, a skilled melee combatant will be only equal terms as a mook with a gun in terms of damage with their respective weapons. Furthermore, the game being an urban fantasy set in 2004 London, guns are rather hard to acquire. Sure, the PCs can get them, but if someone ones an MP5 they will have to spend a lot of resources and a lot of time to acquire their desired tool.

    Oh, and if you get shot, its a bitch to get healed. Treatment involving skill checks and even then, huge penalties to skill checks (and everything in the game, even combat, is basically a skill check) until your wound is “healed” and that can be a while.

  65. Martin says:

    I wish to disagree strenuously with the idea that realistic gun combat is somehow a quantum more deadly than realistic old-school melee combat. The difference is more along the lines of “People don’t care as much when old school melee combat is misrepresented.”

    Let’s say we have some snooty DnD fighter PC gets bushwhacked in the outhouse by revolutionary peasant with a pitchfork hiding in the pit. Even a first level fighter would almost certainly survive and be capable of getting up, grabbing his sword (of course he takes it to the bathroom, he’s a PC), and slaying said peasant. He’ll probably make his save vs. filth fever too. If the fighter is moderate to high level, 1d6 damage and a DC12 fort save doesn’t even really qualify as inconvenience. In either case, a cleric can make these kinds of setbacks go away pretty easily.

    This is all acceptable in DnD. In RL, our hero is probably immediately incapacitated and will die horribly from infection over the next few days.

    DnD, when it says HP also represent “luck and grit,” has the right idea for implementing cinematic adventure. (The implementation suxors though. In DnD amazing luck staying alive has the same game mechanics as being able to keep going after being solidly whacked with a halberd.)

    In any even moderately cinematic modern game with gun combat, you need rules to represent cinematic convention. Rules for when the hero bends over to tie his shoe just as the sniper fires. Rules where John McClean can be beaten to within an inch of his life in one scene, hobble to the next, and be as able to fight as ever, with just some interesting cosmetic enhancement. Rules for being able to dodge like a madman through a field of suppressive fire. Rule for being shot and taken out of a scene, but revived and ready for the next. (I will note that GURPS, my modern system of choice, has options for all of these.)

    If you want gritty realistic adventures, however, one solid hit from a gun or a sword will take you out for months, if it doesn’t kill you quick (if you’re lucky) or slow (if you’re not).

  66. Jabor says:

    This whole “hit points is about avoiding almost-hits rather than taking them to the face and shrugging them off” thing reminds me of Shamus’ earlier post on lightsaber battles in video games.

  67. rlor says:

    When we play modern settings, we just use the Whitewolf system (Hunter primarily). Fairly lethal there if you’re just a normal human with human capabilities (you can’t soak lethal damage).

    As for the D20 method, an even CR human fighter can relax in peasant clothing and survive a critical hit from a colossal dragon clawing him or charge attacking him, or heck a swarm of meteors slamming into him, which makes about as much sense as walking away from a tractor trailer truck hitting you at 70 mph. It’s more of the HP system’s fault for abstracting damage. Players are just conditioned to say “hey my character can survive a 1 ton object moving at 120 mph” because the GM said it was a dragon’s claw but will get annoyed that a < 1 lb object moving at 800 mph fails to drop a guy because it was described as a bullet. So to me it's more of a perspective thing.

  68. John Lopez says:

    As an alternative to dumbing down firearm rules, you can use a different mechanism to keep characters alive: fate points (or whatever you want to call them).

    The basic idea is that such points allow the players to bend the rules and change outcomes they don’t like. This makes the “lucky” part of D20 style hit-points explicit and allows for deadly firearms and other weapons to be modeled accurately, while giving the player an “out” when things go badly.

    Different games implement such points in different ways, but I find that separation of concerns cleans up combat systems and makes the amount of grittiness easy to dial up and down without breaking the combat system (simply give fate points more or less often).

    Combat is deadly (even unarmed martial arts used in anger can kill easily). Your RPG doesn’t have to be, even with a realistic base. Just admit that your characters are exceptional in a different way than sheer toughness and hit points because they are the stars of the show.

    Note that fate points are not exclusively “get out of death free” cards. In most systems they can be used to make any situation better. I like them because they expand the player’s narrative choices beyond their character’s direct actions. Having the players contribute to the story line turns out to be a good thing (with the provision that the GM gets to determine how many fate points you burn for your proposed alterations).

  69. On realism–
    I think people feel more strongly about the deadliness of firearms because they’re more used to firearms and the wounds they cause than they are used to swords. It’s harder to suspend disbelief in people shrugging off bullets than shrugging off sword cuts because people have a lot of experience–generally second hand via TV and movies, but still–with what bullets are supposed to do.

    For the people who wonder why people want to worry about realism in bullet wounds while accepting magic, that’s a category error. If you define a world as having magic, there is magic in that world; ideally that magic should behave consistently in some way. Having the magic won’t lose suspension of disbelief. The magic behaving in ways that kind of magic isn’t supposed to probably will. If you have name magic where everything is fundamentally defined by its name and magic is based on manipulating that, and you learn a bad guy’s true name, people will go “what the?!” if it turns out this has no effect.
    If you define a world as having firearms, there are firearms in that world; by default they should act like firearms. Suspension of disbelief will fail from them behaving in ways firearms are not supposed to behave. So yeah, worrying about realism in a fantasy game is perfectly reasonable.

    Of course, you may not want to worry about realism. If you want to have firearms and not worry about realism, a friend of mine swears by a game called “Feng Shui”, which is totally intended for cinematic “John Woo” kinds of games. It’s cinematic to the extent that there’s a minor, I believe commmon, power that lets you never run out of handgun ammunition, which defines the power as meaning you always reload in moments the camera is off you. Camera angle shifts to show the mook being hit by your bullet, you’re implicitly reloading.

    Personally, I’m fine with fairly deadly firearms–deadly if only because they have both range and a high rate of fire and are hard to, for instance, parry. I play GURPS, so both firearms and other weapons are fairly deadly. And yes, I’ve noticed that in campaigns with firearms the players work particularly hard to try to make sure they do their more deadly fighting as ambushes and other surprise attacks. Seems reasonable.

  70. VeliciaL says:

    This reminds me of a quote about guns I heard a while back: It’s not the one with your name on it you should be worried about, it’s the one labeled “To whom it may concern”.

  71. It’s pretty obvious from this post that you don’t know much about real world combat of *any* sort, Shamus. Swordfighting (or other martial arts) aren’t the cute game that they look like in fencing and boxing matches where you’re only allowed to hit certain parts of the body and people are trying to score points rather than seriously injure each other. Guns are *not* some sort of super-devastating ultra weapon that *anyone* can use effectively. They take just as much training as any other kind of weapon, especially AT RANGE, which is where they add the most combat advantage. Unfortunately, AT RANGE, you need to be ACCURATE in order to hit anything.

    I think Deadlands is one of the premiere systems that handles gun/melee combat simultaneously and does both well, and that’s because it doesn’t use the ridiculous “hit point” system that D&D is wedded to. It’s not the rules for handling guns or melee that make the fights ridiculous, it’s the silly system for handling INJURIES that does it.

    1. Shamus says:

      “It's pretty obvious from this post that you don't know much about real world combat of *any* sort, Shamus.”

      Seen a lot of action, have you?

      I NEVER claimed that guns were something that anyone could use effectively. Only that anyone could use them and hope to accomplish something. i.e. An 80 year old woman is a LOT more dangerous with a gun than a sword. The delta between a commoner and a hero is a lot smaller with firearms in the picture.

      In any case, are you actually making the case that guns DON’T flatten the power curve? Or are you just nitpicking points not germane to the discussion because I didn’t learn to swordfight before I wrote the post?


  72. Legal Tender says:

    What if the objective of the game is not for any particular character to stay alive ’til the end?

    Let me explain:

    1. It seems to me the majority agrees on the potentially deadly nature of a gunfight. Taking part in one doesn’t mean you will get hit but if you do there is a very high probability of dying, being crippled.

    2. Melee with white weapons is your best chance in a close-quarters ambush-like situation. That and the added survivaility that comes with having a bowie-knife weapon as a backup (if in an away-from-civilisation setting)means everybody should be carrying one. Just for that one time when…

    3. No amount of training can guarantee you will be successful in any one gunfight. See Special Forces in any of the current armed conflicts going on in the world right now. It just hits the fan sometimes.

    4. Same as above for equipment. It does confer a tremendous advantage but despite the casualties they’ve caused so far we still haven’t come up with anti-IED armor. It just hits the fan sometimes.

    The above leads me to believe that casualties should be expected whenever the setting tends to be more simulationist than normal.

    That said, why not make the game revolve around a large organisation that can replenish foot soldiers when needed (a syndicate, an army, a mafia family, etc) and make it clear that there is a very high chance a player’s character WILL bite it eventually.

    Take Black Hawk Down (the movie, I didnt read the book(s)). Almost all the heroes died and it never stopped being epic whenever one of them went down. They just kept fighing because that’s what they had to do. Some of them got reinforcements and had a better chance of making it out alive but some didn’t and that was the bitter end for them. Same for the bad guys, they were getting slaughtered at times but they kept at it til the end.

    In my opinion, it is this very sense of impending personal doom that could make a game of this sort much more engaging while bypassing the whole argument of what a specific stat should or should not do, what types of damage are more deadly, etc. The big drama is in the conflict the characters are a part of, not necessarily in each and every little action each character takes during their time as agents in said conflict.

  73. Scourge says:

    Vampire the Masquerade made it actually pretty decent in that regard.

    Vampires, what you play usually as the PC, have resistance against bullets since they are.. well.. undead. They have no living organs anymore so the damage a bullet wound causes is pretty insigificant, compared to a human that is.

    Human NPC’s however have no such protection and guns work very very well on them. Just like swords, although these are better against vampires again since they can’t resist that.

    Ghouls, humans that are vampire slaves, can resist bullets a bit better I think.

    Overall pretty decent.

    I guess the overall part of the balance is to make it fun for the PC’s while not making them overpowered or to easy. *shrug*

  74. Sean Hagen says:

    Colonel Slate hit it right on the head with the 21 foot rule. If you have an undrawn sidearm and your opponent has a knife, you’re pretty much hooped. Especially if they are proficient at throwing said knife. There was an episode of Criminal Minds that had the sheriff of a Indian reservation town who only used a knife, and in the episode climax, he managed to do quite a bit of damage with it, despite going up against three or four ( not at the same time ) dudes with guns — I think one or two even had shotguns or automatic weapons.

    I think that is partially because of popular media ( movies and tv, mostly ), people have forgotten how dangerous bladed weapons are. I’ve seen plenty of movies where the hero ( or teammate of the hero ) is slashed by a knife, and I’m wondering how they’re able to continue. Especially if it’s a cut to the abdomen. All those precious internal organs ( that you’d really like to stay ‘internal’ )? Yeah, there isn’t too much separating them from the outside world.

    Another thing to consider is going into shock. Your brain is an amazing thing. The only problem is that if you overload it, it tends to BSOD and shut down. Case in point: I recently got my ears gauged ( pierced with a big needle, 4 gauge in this instance ). It didn’t hurt too much, but after wards I nearly fainted from the shock. I’m pretty sure the main reason I nearly fainted was because my brain was screaming “WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED TO MY EARS?!?”. Regardless of how you get hurt ( bullet or blade ), the average person will probably start going into shock.

    But going into shock isn’t really a fun game mechanic. “Okay, you’ve been shot, and now you’re in shock. You faint, fall over ( fracturing your skull ), and start bleeding out. Start rolling to see if anyone manages to get you to a hospital in time.”

    We are squishy squishy flesh bags.

  75. HeadHunter says:

    I must disagree with some general principles you base this whole thing on, Shamus. Meaning no disrespect, but I’ve heard this sort of thing before, from gamers with no actual training or combat experience.

    1) Swords are deadly! Ask anyone who does Iaido about the ability of a sword to cut things. As OEP said in the beginning, a slash can cause serious or fatal injury – but one thing a good sword can do is cut right through an extremity. If your arm is cut off or you take a serious leg wound, you’ll likely die as quickly as a gunshot wound to the torso. You’ll certainly be out of the fight at any rate. Not to mention, decapitation is a possibility.

    2) Guns are not “easy” to use! Most of the people who make this claim have never fired a gun in their life – or if they have, it’s casual shooting against paper targets.
    Paper targets don’t shoot back,, as they always say. An unskilled and untrained individual with a firearm is more of a risk to themselves than anyone else – and going up against a trained gunman, their chances of success are every bit as low as an equivalent melee encounter. I’ve often said that the safest place to be against an untrianed person with a pistol is wherever they think they are aiming – because that’s where the bullet is least likely to end up.

    Having a gun in hand does not give the novice the discipline and coolness under fire he will need to survive a gunfight. The “lucky shots” you speak of are as likely (or unlikely) as they would be in a melee.

    There’s one thing a gun will do more often than a sword… and that’s miss. Oh, and jam – and if you have no training, a jammed firearm becomes a poorly-balanced club.

    3) Guns do not render melee obsolete! Most gunfights take place at very close range – and nearly all shots beyond close range are misses. That’s why so many rounds are fired in wartime for every kill.

    At close range, I’d rather have my katana than a pistol, especially against an untrained gunman. If he’s within 10 feet, he’s one step and a swing away from being killed. Try aiming at a moving target less than 10 feet away, it’s harder than you think. Especially when that target is moving in to kill you.

    Consider one other thing: It’s difficult to block a sword with a pistol.

    I wouldn’t underestimate the lethality of a firearm in anyone’s hands, but I fear you underestimate the effectiveness of a melee weapon in the hands of a trained fighter at typical encounter ranges.

    Now, if you’re talking about a skilled gunman versus a trained swordsman? My money’s on the gun – but that’s not the argument you are trying to make.

  76. Chuk says:

    GURPS is my favourite for “realistic” gunfire. There are lots of optional rules to tweak it into more resembling how you want to play. Usually if I’m running a game with guns in it it’s going to be more “action movie” than “real life”.

  77. Jattenalle says:

    Here’s a thought for you Shamus.
    Take what you wrote and reverse it, Guns = Melee weapons and vice versa.

    The exact same things apply.

    In a good session every battle should be just hard enough. Realistically, the players are NOT going to die.
    If you put them up against master sword fighters will the player party of level 1 noobs prevail? Of course not.

    As you point out any moron can pick up a gun and fire it, with a chance of getting a lucky shot off.
    Let’s say the player rolls a 1 and the NPC rolls a 20 (disregard modifiers…) the NPC will hit the player badly, no matter if it’s a gun or a sword.

    If the PC roll a 20 and the NPC roll a 1 the NPC will miss, regardless of if it’s a sword or a gun.

    I fail to see any problem.

    Roll 10 vs 10 and it’s a hit in a non-lethal area (Arm, leg, sides, etc) in a real world those wounds might still be lethal, regardless of if it was caused by a gun or a sword. In the game setting that’s X points off of your health (Which btw is a flawed system in and off itself, i can take quite a lot of small tiny cuts without going down. They don’t “add up”)

    Anyways, I guess my question is: Why do you expect so much detail when dealing with guns but not when dealing with melee weapons, magic, bow/arrow?

    And wouldn’t it be fair to assume that whoever spent years honing his or her skill as a mage, capable of flinging balls of fire around would be more than capable of conjuring a ball of fire that hits in your general area?
    Are you familiar with burn wounds? ;)

  78. Sekundaari says:

    You could just take the “and dice” part off the title. These kind of things are exactly why I enjoy Flashpoint (by BI) and ArmA far more than e.g. the CoD series. They get even better with the corresponding hardcore mods, I hear. With those, wounds will cause blackouts, and the blood loss will kill you unless you can get it bandaged.

    I agree that firearms are difficult to represent in an RPG. A movie-hero approach sounds the best to me, in reality there are few heroes who fight dozens of fights and win every time. If someone does that, the fights probably won’t be very interesting.

  79. rbtroj says:

    Not to start a flame war, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that pretty much none of the commenters (so far) are combat, weapons, or ballistics experts or whatever they claim to be. I always love posts like these because they inevitably lead us to fantasy land where everyone wants to blind each other with their wealth of knowledge about thus and such. I’m no expert either, but since we’re pretending to be bad-ass military special forces types here, I’ll just argue this:

    1. Guns are deadly – on balance, far more deadly than swords. Don’t care who’s wielding what. The gun IS the great equalizer.

    2. Shotguns ARE absolutely combat weapons. Birdshot might bounce off medieval armor, but I betcha a sabot slug cuts right through it.

    3. I’m an ass. There, I said it so you don’t have to.

    Whatever your nitpicks are about guns in the real world, the fact is that they are notably more difficult to work into a game system that is meant to depict a realistic setting.

    Sorry for being such a jerk, but I just get so irked whenever Internet Expert Syndrome rears its absurd head.

    We now return you to your friendly game discussion already in progress.

  80. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I like systems like Warhammer Fantasy or Dark Heresy to represent the deadliness of combat. Be it melee, or with guns, or arrows. You only have a handful of “Hit points” (up to 16, if I remember right), and most weapon do 1d10+something of damage, reroll the dice on a 10 .

    I even made the combat even deadlier when I GMed, allowing players to roll an additional phantom dice for damage for every 20% they roll below the success required.

    Phantom dice is my name for: an additional dice that you roll, but you don’t add. You simply take the best.

    The assassin in our group always tried his best to have 140% chance of success on every attack. He ended rolling 5d10. Which means often he’d get 10s, and re-roll. and re-roll… up to 20-something damage. Against a 11-hit point ennemy, that ends up combat quickly.

    But the tables also were turned on them, and they knew I wouldn’t spare them if they acted stupid.

    To be honest, Melee can be quite useful in Dark Heresy, even with basic swords (well.. mono-sword, at the least). My players and I realised it when they got attacked by ennemies with automatic weaponry. They managed to use flash grenades and engaged the soldiers in melee. The rule say only pistols are allowed to be used while engaged in hth combat.

  81. Brandon says:

    > In any case, are you actually making the case that guns
    > DON'T flatten the power curve? Or are you just nitpicking
    > points not germane to the discussion because I didn't
    > learn to swordfight before I wrote the post?

    > Sheesh.

    I think this is one of those cases of cold, unfeeling text coming across more harshly than the intent behind the words. I get the feeling Jennifer meant to issue a casual admonishment, not to “put you in your place”, so to speak.

    I believe that firearms do flatten the curve a little, but not much at all. In real life no form of fighting or combat outside of strictly controlled boxing or martial arts tournaments has much of a curve to begin with. As others have mentioned, we’re more amenable to non-fatal melee wounds because we see those more in media. I know someone who works in a hospital and he says the worst injuries (not to indicate these are common, though) that come into the ER are the ones where a couple kids decide to sword fight with “real” swords. It turns out gaping blade wounds are a lot harder to deal with than most non-fatal gunshot wounds.

    If you are willing to put aside the effects of going into shock (this is an area where conditioned, fit professionals have a real advantage over the general populace), for both melee and firearm combat you need to basically have minor wounds and dangerous wounds. Minor wounds hurt. They slow you down. They don’t usually kill unless you simply bleed out because you have too many or you don’t get care quickly enough. A bullet that blows through your outer thigh will slow you down and put you at risk of bleeding out, but you could still manage to take some folks down with you before you’re on the ground, and if you react appropriately once you’re on the ground you may be able to stabilize yourself long enough to hold out for care. Dangerous wounds most likely WILL kill you, if not right now, very soon. A dagger square in the gut may not drop you right that second, but in a couple more you’ll be down with massive internal bleeding and/or with some kind important organ failure. In these latter cases care usually comes too late and the victim is not in any situation to stabilize themselves. Assistance will always be necessary for there to be any chance of survival.

    If you view this as a game mechanic, every non-fatal wound does damage and adds a negative modifier to subsequent player actions. Every wound bleeds, causing minor damage every round until the injury is addressed and the player is stabilized (negative action modifiers would persist, however) or until the character dies of massive damage. A dangerous wound basically does enough damage to put the character out of combat (helpless), but if help is close enough to externally stabilize the downed character there is a chance of survival.

    Also important is to keep in mind how dodging works. You don’t dodge in response to an attack coming in. You dodge in a proactive attempt to make yourself harder to hit. Combat is likely to be a little faster in play, but paradoxically feel slower until it’s over. There will be fewer out and out attacks and more attempts to dodge and stay in cover. There will be more misses. Hits will be a big deal. Even a trivial wound will cause consternation because the character will have a negative modifier and start taking small amounts of damage every round. From the first hit the pressure will then be on to end or escape combat and seek care. Dangerous wounds should be uncommon, but expected. As such, open fights are likely to be less common.

    A realistic combat would have shorter rounds than D&D’s 6 seconds. In 6 seconds a fight may simply be over. I think GURPS 1 second rounds are too short and make it hard to visualize what’s actually happening. I like 3 seconds. That gives you enough room to advance strategies and more meta-level actions, but it keeps everything from getting too granular or too general.

  82. Susie Day says:

    Watch a few episodes of 24 … Jack Bauer and friends are either never hit (even though it’s practically raining bullets) and when they are (or receive any other sort of major wound), they completely recover within a couple episodes.

    This is absolutely a fantasy setting – but it’s fun. I think, as others have said before, that the key to using guns in a modern game setting is to change the ‘feel’. Even more than in medieval games, the players are going to have to be either not involved in as much fighting (gasp!) or be such a heroic figure that bullets don’t touch them, and they have a huge amount of stamina that they can shrug off bullet wounds, torture, radioactivity .. you know, all the stuff that would normally kill you.

    If you want to play a realistic game, why are you getting into ‘hundreds of gunfights’? I would think you would have been picked up by the police by now, or assassinated :-)

    I’ll also agree with you that we are able to put aside this sort of problem in a medieval/fantasy setting because few of us have any actual experience with what it would have been like to live back then, and none of us have actually lived in a world with magic bouncing around.

    Just remember, there is no friendly fire in D&D.

  83. Macil says:

    I don’t have too much to add that hasn’t already been said.

    This all seems contingent upon context. The type of combat, as well as the setting, seems irrelevant to me, whether it is melee, ranged or magical or technological. Game mechanics (should) depend on the type of experience players want to have and will vary greatly depending upon that experience.

    Do you want to play a Matrix-style game, where players are literally dodging bullets? Do you want to be action-heroes like Bruce Willis or Arnold, who always barely escape certain death? Maybe anime characters who frequently shrug off bombs and bullets? Or perhaps more of a real-world-simulator with such realistic rules that even minor wounds can become infected and kill you?

    Without knowing what kind of story/experience the players are after, recommending or finding a PNP system would be extremely difficult. Dare I say, it would be a very “hit or miss” affair.

    P.S. — Take a look at Wushu for an upside-down RPG-system that rewards players for describing their actions:

  84. Monkeyboy says:

    My $.01

    Anyone carrying a weapon, guard mook or PC, is probably going to have some familiarization with it.
    Any modern game not set in parts of Africa or Western Asia will have body armor and military style rifles rare, expensice and probably controlled by law.
    Jamming depends a lot on the weapon modern pistols and revolvers almost never jam.
    If you go the “hit is a hit” route and not “hit means your luck runs out” route, then make guns harder to get a hit with. Most police shootouts happen within 7 feet, and even then there are a whole lot of misses due to stress and dodging.

    So the PC in NYC is not going to have a M-4 carbine and armor, but an illegal pistol stuffed in a pocket and should be hoping he doesn’t have to pull it in a “fair” gunfight.

  85. Sean Riley says:

    I’ll second the recommendation for Unknown Armies. It’s the best take on gun violence, and violence in general, I’ve seen in an RPG. The book is worth reading if only for the wonderful opening to the combat chapter, which reminds the player that every person you’re facing down in combat had a father, and a mother as so many do. That every time you go into combat it is your choice to do so. I actually have a personal rule for running Unknown Armies: It should always be possible to complete every campaign without killing anyone. Maybe that’s the best solution, maybe it’s not. But it should always be the players’ choice to do so, not the GM’s.

    My only issue is the 4th point you’ve brought up: Every time you bring out a sharp instrument, or a big heavy dull one, there’s a chance it can kill your opponent. It’s always a chance, even if it’s a far lesser one than with guns. Qlawdat didn’t mention two extra rules that do represent this.

    First: Knives cut. Every time you’re in a fight against someone with a sharp instrument, you take 1hp on every swing, even if they miss. Why? Because frankly, even if they’re not getting in good shots, they’re likely to nick and scratch you everywhere. Knives cut.

    Second: A roll of 01? Kills. Every time. Even if you’re barehanded.

    That means that every time you go into combat, there is a 1% chance that every swing you make will instantly kill your opponent… and vice versa.

    Hence, go into combat with great hesitation.

    (I love Unknown Armies.)

  86. asterismW says:

    @ 77: “Consider one other thing: It's difficult to block a sword with a pistol.”

    And it’s all but impossible to block a bullet with a sword. At near point blank range? Yeah, I’d take my chances with the gun.

  87. Chargone says:

    Worth noting that if you let a trained swordsman within 10 feet of you, and all you’ve got is a gun? you’re dead. if you’re lucky, you might manage to shoot him as well, but you’re dead. (that 10 foot distance probably gains or looses a couple based on the weapon in question, but still). This is because a lunge from that range will spit you faster than you can line up and pull the trigger.

    Also, the odds of an untrained guy picking up a gun and actually Hitting anything at any significant distance are really, really low. even with muzzle loading smooth bores, notorious for being inaccurate to begin with, green troops were incredibly likely to end up shooting Over the enemy in large enough numbers to have a noticeable effect on the outcome of a volley compared to experienced troops with the same equipment. (it should be noted that most training in that era was all about rate of fire and march speed, mind you)

    Pistol ranges are a lot shorter than most people tend to think, too.

    Then there’s the fun of such things as Grenades and RPGs.

    that said, take a look at the Action! system.

    the ‘Eric Flint’s 1632’ book contains stats for various vehicles from carts and buggies to big rigs and buses (though not trains in the ‘sample vehicles’ list), and weapons ranging from… well, there’s a nice cross section of medieval and modern, (including a machine gun!) but the emphasis is on various black powder weapons.

    There’s even artillery in there.

    it’s a ‘realistic’ setting, so if you get hit, you’re basically dead, (you do have HP, but that has more to do with how quickly you bleed out from a serious wound if not treated than how much damage you can take before being out of a fight)… the point in the exercise is to not get shot at in the first place.

    (good advise when one of the more interesting weapons is a powder barrel. 18d6 of damage. i don’t remember Exactly, but i think most characters have HP in the 9-12 range. standing next to an exploding powder barrel is a guaranteed kill)

    while the weapons have accuracy modifiers, for the most part your odds of hitting are dependent on your skill stats, and your odds of avoiding being hit have more to do with taking cover effectively than anything.

    not sure if it quite satisfies your requirements, mind you.

    and it is pretty realistic. played out a duel with it once. highly skilled old man vs well trained, but inexperienced, young woman. many rounds of the woman being unable to hit the old guy, and getting hit, but not badly, then she actually Does hit him… and Accidentally staves his head in <_< character creation takes a long time. resolving a round of combat can take a while sometimes. this seems to be consistent. several rounds of not doing much to each other, then someone gets an edge of one sort or another and it's all over.

    ok, lost track of exactly where i was going with this, but whatever :)

  88. OEP says:

    I think a lot of us are missing the point of the post which is that guns are a lot more deadly in the hands of amateurs than than weapons that require more skill like swords and what not.

    I agree with this point. Crossbows were the same way. It took a lot less time to train a competent crossbowman than a longbowman.

    And frankly in the context of rpg’s we aren’t sniping at 1000 yards, we are usually 10 feet away with a pistol or shotgun. And in this setting, guns are easy to use relative to a melee weapon.

    My point was not nitpicking at the original post but to point out that melee combat mechanics in rpgs are just as unrealistic, but that we as a society lack the context to realize that.

    Gunshot wounds still routinely happen so people do have an appreciation of the lethality of guns despite Holywood. But we lack that appreciation of melee combat, especially with edged implements because hardly anyone can viscerally understand how ridiculous the concept of a broadsword causing a “flesh wound” is.

  89. David V.S. says:

    Headhunter already said what I would. And I’ve done plenty of sparring with swords, and handgun use.

    To paraphrase his points…

    (1) If the guns are not drawn, “melee range” is quite a bit larger than most people think and a gun-reliant combatant will always lose. This is why cops with guns still fear criminals with knives.

    GuyA has no melee experience, has not yet drawn his handgun, and is within ~20 feet. GuyB has a knife and experience using it. Then GuyB will close the distance and in a flurry of cuts be victorious. Even his first few cuts will halt GuyA’s attack with enough trauma to stop GuyA’s intentional arm movements.

    (2) Shooting a paper target with a handgun is surprisingly easy. Everyone I have ever taken to the shooting range for the first time was pleasantly shocked by how accurate they were. But the ease of aiming when calm and concentrating means nothing in an actual deadly encounter.

  90. HeadHunter says:

    @88: “And it's all but impossible to block a bullet with a sword. At near point blank range? Yeah, I'd take my chances with the gun.”

    My point is, the swordsman doesn’t have to block a shot that misses.

    Anyone that can keep their cool to fire an accurate shot at point-blank range when someone is rushing them with live steel is almost certainly a trained and experienced gunman. Such an action requires overriding the brain’s natural self-preservation instinct to disengage and flee.

    And even if you do manage to hit someone who’s close enough to swing, he’s still quite likely to connect if he has any experience with blades. So the guy you’re killing might still kill you. People don’t take “turns” in real life.

    Aiming takes time. You’re betting you can do it in less time than someone can take one step and swing. That takes training, wouldn’t you agree?

    (Just for the record, I’m a former infantry officer, Expert Rifleman and Sharpshooter with a pistol. I’ve got professional security experience and Kendo training. So my understanding of the matter doesn’t just come from movies and games).

  91. Rick says:

    >In a fight, you are your weapon.

    Good point. A gun pretty much trumps all the fancy stuff — which is why a clumsy drug addict can still rob a bank or hold someone hostage.

    (Same thing with trying to make Star Trek an RPG. Phasers don’t do hit points of damage — they evaporate you, or they miss.)

    To put it simply: Guns are interesting in real life, but boring in a game setting. I’ve yet to find a way to work guns into a game that didn’t seem silly.

  92. roxysteve says:

    BK said on January 13th, 2010 at 1:02 pm:

    Just one thing on d20 Modern (I've played it once, so I can't otherwise comment on balance/realism)…did you folks remember to use the massive damage rules? (They trigger far more quickly than those in D&D 3E.)

    You nailed it, BK.

    This is the first thing I always ask when engaging in the “guns don’t do enough damage” debate.

    I recently ran a demonstration/into game of “Conan”, and announced up front that we *would* be using the massive damage rules (which are more than twice as “punitive” as those in D&D 3.5). When I was asked why, I simply said: “If you chop someone’s head off with an axe you want him to die, don’t you?”

    Everyone was most surprised to find out that during combat people were *not* “dropping like flies” as predicted by one gloomy player (the same one who two days before had been bemoaning the fact that a D20 Modern headshot wasn’t automatically fatal for high level bad guys).


  93. Argonnosi says:

    Didn’t read all of the comments, so if this was broached already, meh:

    So, the problem is you don’t feel that your epic rpg meshes well with guns. That’s quite alright, don’t play an epic rpg in settings that have guns. Play Cyberpunk 2020 or Shadowrun, games in which death from a few bullets to the anywhere (unless you have decent armor, and even then) is only a couple of dice rolls away. If you keep the cyberware low key in either system then the mortality rate goes even higher.

    I think the issue is that DnD was never really meant to be Hot Rods & Gun Bunnies, but the folks at WoTC wanted to prove that it could be everything, and the truth is that the themes don’t really map.

  94. Scipio says:

    Guns do flatten the power curve… but is that a bad thing? I’ve always been annoyed that PC’s in most fantasy games (once they level up a bit) can laugh in the face of squads of low level opponents. Having guns means that angry townsfolk or lowly goblins can still be a threat to the PC’s.

    Of course, guns also make it easier for PC’s to die. As several other posters mentioned above, the most palatable solution IMHO is to have fate or hero points to avoid death or massive injury. It’s much easier to suspend disbelief if your opponent’s weapon jams just as he lines up on your character than it is to accept that your character took a full burst of .50 cal bullets and kept on going.

    One other point: if PC’s have access to guns, they (at least mine do) gravitate towards the biggest and baddest ones. Every shadowrun character wound up toting around sniper rifles, gatling guns and missile launchers. Those type of extreme weapons exacerbate the problems that normal guns bring up. So having a situation where high powered weapons are illegal/hard to find/hard to reload is a good idea.

  95. Hygelac says:

    Guys and gals: Shamus is right. Guns are deadlier than swords. I am already aware that you all know Aikido, kendo, kung fu, and probably some capoeira to boot, and you would totally kill me every time with your super sweet samurai swords even if I had three uzis, a sniper rifle, and was sitting at a howitzer. No one is saying that bladed weapons don’t leave horrific injuries; they do. Can I think up specific circumstances where I’d rather have a katana than a magnum? Sure I can. I can also think up circumstances where I’d rather have a naginata than a grenade or a set of brass knuckles rather than access to a Predator drone. Doesn’t mean the brass knuckles match up in “deadliness.” Just saying.

  96. HeadHunter says:

    It’s got far less to do with the weapon than with the combatant’s experience and training.

    If you have an experienced gunman vs. an experienced swordsman, I’d tend to favor the gunman in most circumstances.

    An inexperienced gunman vs. an inexperienced swordsman? It all comes down to luck, honestly. Neither fighter knows how to use the weapon properly, and the only people who think guns are “easy” to just pick up and use in a fight are those who’ve never done so.

    So the only remaining scenarios are those where one party is experienced/trained and the other is not. I think you all know how most of those are going to turn out. Sure, the untrained guy might get lucky – but luck has absolutely nothing to do with the weapon in hand, unless we’re talking about enchanted weapons… and those don’t sound like they have a place in a “realistic” game setting, do they?

  97. Blake says:

    The other problem is that in melee combat it’s much harder to end up with a 10 vs 1 problem that you could get with guns.
    Like lets assume both swords and guns are lethal in this setting and all the NPCs are really badly trained and need to roll > 39 on 2D20 to hit the player.

    In melee combat the player can basically take out each in turn, one at a time and have a decent chance of survival.

    In ranged combat all the NPCs can shoot every turn meaning the PCs chance of surviving is far far slimmer.

    *decides to run the numbers with NPCs needing >95 on D100 and the player will always hit once per round if the NPC misses*

    Chances of surviving melee combat (20vs1, 1 at a time): 0.3405616263

    Chances of surviving ranged combat (20vs1, all at once): 0.0000209873

  98. =Dan says:

    I don’t know if you’ve heard of it but there is a alternate/modern world game called Millennium’s End. System treats guns fairly realistically, the PC’s work for a mercenary organization called Black Eagle/Black Eagle and campaigns range in type from Navy Seal ops to gang warfare. I have a friend who runs a session at every DunDraCon (convention in San Ramon, CA during President’s Day weekend). If you can find the materials it is a worthwhile system, however it does use an overlay to determine hit or miss. And combat is incredibly deadly…

  99. sithson says:

    I didn’t read thru the 100 comments but has any one talked about starwars saga edition?

    The way they do damage is fairly intresting, and could be considered realistic. Basically, its hit points as normal, except that if you deal damage = to the characters for defense then they take a condition track penalty. Certain talents can drop you more than one and you only have five. Its not impossible to hit some one with a high powered hit, with special modifiers that can take out the “boss” in one hit. I could see guns as using these kind of special rules. You should check it out shamus.

  100. Maldeus says:

    I admit I only read the first thirty comments, but I once developed a system to handle gun combat in a post-modern setting. It was more cyberpunk than modern, granted, but depending on the details of the campaign you’re running, it could work.

    Regardless, the idea was stolen from an online novel I read, where guns are incredibly rare because they’ve developed drones that can detect them, so instead all the gangsters learn martial arts and…

    …Wait a minute…

  101. Denubis says:

    @froogger, I’ve got a tech demo (effectively) of aces and eights that does a really good job of simulating gunfights. You’ve got a plastic overlay and a target silhouette and there are all kinds of determinants for choosing where you hit. It’s also slow, a whiff-fest, and painful. But realistic :)

  102. ehlijen says:

    Guns are the ‘best’ (for a very specific meaning of the word, which by the way has nothing to do with the alignment name it’s derived from) way to turn untrained people into dangerous foes:

    -Guns provide their own strenght, the strenght of the user becomes irrelevant. Sure, the recoild might knock them over, but the bullet will still go somewhere and potentially kill. The crossbow started this trend by being one of the first weapons that hit equally hard regardless of the user’s own strenght.
    -Guns are ranged weapons. It’s much easier to avoid melee weapons than ranged weapons.
    -Many guns can be concealed in a way most fantasy weapons can’t.
    -Automatic guns allow a even an untrained commoner to fill an area with more bullets than a level 20 archer with rapid shot can.

    So, yes, they do flatten the power curve. The only reasons crossbows haven’t already done so in dnd is the fact that dnd has bumped everyone’s hitpoints to ridiculous levels and given most other weapons a way to benefit from character advancement (going off 3.5 here, don’t play 4).

    My advice for ‘realistic’ modern games with guns: Set the story in a country/region/city with strict gun control laws. Make that one bad guy with an illegal revolver the ‘boss’ compared to his baseball bat armed pals.

    Even if the players than gain access to illegal weapons, there’ll always be the ‘can we afford to get caught using these’ question to add something to the game.

  103. felblood says:

    I’ve read all 104 posts, though I skipped the second half of several posts that I found to be irrelevant or simply inane.

    I’m sure there are more of them now, mostly from people throwing their hat into the ring for the guns versus swords debate, round 9 million. I’d do my part to represent Parker-Planas Kenpo-Karate in this, but it’s off topic I know it’s pointless and demeaning to participate in this sort of internet pissing contest, and I’d only really be repeating what I learned from my master.

    Back on Topic:
    As a GM who has run into this problem, I’ve found the best solution to this kind of problem is to run the game under some form of realistic grim-and gritty rules until one of the PCs dies. This will usually be the first round of the first battle.

    Once that’s out of the way, you retcon that player’s death, and nobody will complain about realism for the rest of the campaign.

    The only trouble is, they go right back to playing their rookie cops as fearless machines, who feel no pain.

    Edit: What!? #105? Nobody posted in the hour it took me to read all that?

    My faith in humanity is less eroded than it might otherwise have been.

  104. Joshua says:

    Just like to note that a lot of the “swords are way deadlier than guns within 10-20 feet” arguments are based around the idea of an experienced swordsman versus a inexperienced/offguard/both gunman. If you equalize those odds, and stick two people of equal competency in their weapons who both have their weapons drawn, are both aware of each other, and they are at least 10′ away it is my *opinion* that the person with the gun has the advantage.

    Basically, if both people were starting at a line 10′ apart with their weapons pointed at each other, and the ref said “fight”, who has the advantage? Can the swordsman win? Yes. Do they have the same odds as the gunfighter? I think not.

  105. Will says:

    It really doesn’t matter if swords are deadlier than guns or not; the simple fact that guns are the preferred weapon of our time shows irrefutably that they are a superior weapon.

    Is it because they’re deadlier? Easier to use? Who knows, who cares. It doesn’t matter. Both will kill you, both are dangerous, but guns are better at it than swords are, that’s why we use them.

  106. Ace Calhoon says:

    So like the tag on the front page says, I’m not reading all the comments :-P Apologies if this doesn’t add anything new.

    What I find interesting in all this is that we seem to have found a kind of uncanny valley when it comes to weapon realism. If you stop and think about it, I’m pretty sure that you’ll agree that getting hit by a battle axe should take someone out of the fight just as quickly as a gun shot. And if you stop and think about it long enough, I’m sure you’ll agree that the number of arrows that are required to take a human out of a fight is relatively low (if not in fact one).

    What’s interesting isn’t the difference in realism (if indeed there is one), but that the reaction to the difference is so clear. I guess that we’re distant enough from medieval weaponry that we don’t bat an eye when a “boss” humanoid takes dozens of arrows and a concentrated beating from a variety of melee weapons, but we DO notice when someone casually walks away from a shotgun blast. Chalk it up to gun safety lessons, I guess.

  107. Will says:

    Exactly Ace; almost no-one alive has ever witnessed a serious fight with swords, bows and the like, and certainly no-one alive has ever witnessed the results of such a fight in the fifteenth century. Swords and Arrows are alien, forgotten things to us, so they don’t really have a ‘realism’ to break.

    Guns on the other hand, are something we’re all familiar with. Many of us have seen, either first or second hand, the results of a gunshot wound, or possibly even seen someone actually get shot. We all know that if you get shot, you’re down for the count (there are exceptions, but not many.)

    I feel i should also add that the superiority of guns over swords is less to do with guns in and of themselves and more to do with the superiority of ranged weapons over swords. As the English showed rather conclusively; trained men with Longbows will go through most forms of infantry and cavalry like a hot knife through butter.

    The reason for this should be ovbious to anyone with a brain.

  108. CrushU says:

    Good lord that’s alot of comments.

    Within 10 feet, guns lose their efficacy. Anyone sufficiently motivated can simply tackle you at that range, not even talking about what someone trained will do. It’s BEYOND that range that they become deadly.

    About people saying guns are innaccurate: Well… To be honest, I’m not sure about real guns, but I have at least played paintball. :P They manufacture the markers to be intuitive, that is, a better than even chance you’ll hit whatever you’re trying to point at while holding it. I have a hard time believing they don’t do the same with bullet-using guns. Combat stress does effect this, and is one of the chief reasons WHY they’re made intuitive: Pointing at something is pretty simple.

    Deadliness of melee weapons: Actually, we’re very fragile beings. Even unarmed combat will tend to screw us up, ESPECIALLY against someone trained in how to break a person. Swords are one *GOOD* hit, one kill, armor and your opponent’s ability to deflect/avoid your attacks mitigate this. Replace Swords with Any Weapon Ever. Including Fists. Someone mentioned a ‘grazing’ outer thigh shot. Here’s a secret: There’s a nerve there; If it’s hit/severed/etc, it FUCKING HURTS, and your entire leg goes numb. From a kick/punch/unarmed, you’re stunned at least, and more likely falling down (unless you’ve specifically trained to avoid this consequence.) From a sword, you now cannot walk without medical attention. Ditto for a gunshot. And that’s a ‘grazing’ wound!

    (See the tv show Leverage for semi-realistic portrayals of when guns are and aren’t effective. No shootouts there.)

  109. KennyCelican says:

    OK, posting after reading 88 posts (all that were up when I started writing). If I reiterate any later posts unintentially, apologies.

    First, I’ll say I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment about modern settings pushing people toward ‘realism’. As many have noted, our thoughts on non-gun weapons are unrealistic, but we don’t get caught up in it. It does not shake our suspension of disbelief.

    Based on a conversation I had about this exact topic, I think it extends beyond guns. The entire modern setting is one we’re so familiar with that most of the stock RPG conventions don’t work. People don’t walk around with weapons, except maybe concealable ones. “Kill them and take their stuff” is never appropriate in the civilized world, even when dealing with unquestionably “Bad Guys”.

    Realistically, most of modern life is designed to prevent the possibility of ‘adventure’. The portions of the world where RPG style ‘adventure’ is still something that happens to people are, frankly, not civilized. The reason we as a species and society have done that is simple; combat and adventure are dangerous. IF you play a non-fantastic modern game, and you’ve worked around the limiters, but you’re still going to have combat, it needs to be potentially lethal OR players need to accept a level of unrealism in combat.

    The only remaining ‘realism’ comment would be on the idea of guns being a leveler. Professional modern combatants are still more dangerous that non-combatants, and it’s rarely because they have special weapon skills. It’s because they know how to react in combat situations, because they’re reacting rather than thinking and acting. That aside, what guns DO is make ‘safe’ individuals ‘unsafe’. In a non-fantastic medieval setting, a palsied grandmother or a four year old aren’t dangerous to the town watchman in hard leather armor. They just don’t have the strength to put a bladed weapon through the armor to his delicate bits. Add guns, and EVERY person capable of picking up a gun is suddenly able to do lethal damage to a street cop. To some degree, modern soldiers are actually more lethal than medieval ones not because of the guns, but because a medieval soldier looks at a toddler with a sword and reacts ‘non-dangerous’, whereas a modern soldier looks at a toddler with a gun and reacts ‘dangerous’.

    Regarding game systems, I have a fondness for guns in my storytelling, so I’ve tried several systems and mixes, and can make a few recommendations.

    First, an athlete with explosives is WAY more dangerous in d20 Modern than anyone with a gun. Guns can miss. Explosives are AoE. Boom.

    Second, if you’re looking for realistic combat system, dig up one of the old Tri-Tac games. IIRC, those include original Stalking the Night Fantastic, Morrow Project, and a few others. Hitting people with guns is kinda hard, especially if they’re not static targets. With one (attacker) roll to hit and one (GM) roll for location, you detailed damage information. One example would be a single mini-gun round that went through a character’s forearm, severing both bones along the way, but missing any arteries. Boom, no more (usable) arm. There is ALSO a HP system, but it’s for ‘systemic’ damage, in other words how much ‘shock’ a character can take. Enough flesh wounds you pass out from shock, but a single wound to a vital and you go bye-bye. Still, might be hard to find.

    For adding guns to a fantasy setting, I found using d20 Modern gun statistics with 3.5 worked fairly well, especially when the only weapons using d20 Modern massive damage rules were guns. Effectively, anything with a normal mortal CON stat stood a good chance of just falling over dead when shot with any of the guns in the game. What made it more fun was that the players didn’t KNOW that; all they knew was that occasionally opponents would fall over dead after being shot for relatively ‘minor’ damage. It worked pretty well for the ‘steam-punk’ / ‘Final Fantasy’ feel I was going for; guns didn’t do massive damage, they just had a chance of killing things. Against, say, a uber-high-con monster or the undead, you really WANTED that melee weapon. Then again, you don’t EXPECT your rifle to be useful against Godzilla or Dracula, do you?

    Riffing on the Dracula comment, however, I’ve proven the effectiveness of guns and preparation in the World of Darkness. A character I played was a Mage by genre, an assassin by training. Suffice to say that between situational combat modifiers and magical bonuses, I would typically be pulling out whole handfuls of damage dice when the time came to lay out hurt. Guns CAN be lethal in any venue, and they have the ‘reach out and touch someone’ effect, which gives them an edge over melee weapons. Note that most fantasy role playing severely limits the damage potential of ranged weapons, mostly as a balancing factor.

    As a counter-argument to THAT, I’ve recently been working on a far-future game where all the PCs are all stronger, faster, smarter and more durable than human, along with the elimination of human tendencies towards shock and the addition of regeneration. Game-system wise, the players are creating characters using d20 Future, and I’m creating the ‘racial’ stats and gear using Mutants & Masterminds. The combat system is M&M as well. The M&M system treats damage as something a character resists; if you make the roll the hit was inconsequential: it bounced off your armor (armor gives damage resist bonuses) or something similar. If you miss the roll by a little, it’s a flesh wound; you’re at penalties to everything, including future damage resistance. If you miss the roll by a fair margin (CON, iirc) you’re dying or dead, and the difference between those two is a pretty fine line. There is no HP mechanic at all. Now, I balanced PC racial CON+Resist bonuses vs. weapon damage to make it so PCs are able to take a massive amount of beating before falling over, but that’s the ‘feel’ I wanted. I think if you used the M&M system with normal ‘modern’ characters, you’d wind up with a realistic ‘feel’, including the ‘missed / grazed / dead’ damage levels, but without giving up the possibility of ‘cinematic’ fights, wherein a PC or ‘Boss’ can soak up a great deal of punishment before being killed, but can still be taken down by a gunshot to the face; ‘face’ implies ‘no armor bonus to resist’, and most resistance would be Armor based, not CON based.

    Just my, um, WAY more than 2c worth. YMMV.

  110. silver Harloe says:

    “Worth noting that if you let a trained swordsman within 10 feet of you, and all you've got is a gun? you're dead. if you're lucky, you might manage to shoot him as well, but you're dead. This is because a lunge from that range will spit you faster than you can line up and pull the trigger.”

    Wait, why does he get to have his sword drawn and have gauged his attack before I get to aim?

    Actually, from what I remember of my fencing experience, I can lunge about 6 feet, and hit someone with the very tippy tip of my weapon. If I want to “spit” someone at 10 feet, I need to do more than a single lunge. I have to basically get within 4-5 feet if I want to put my weapon through them in a single lunge.

    I’ve taken a knife 2 inches into my gut before. It was unpleasant, it was incapacitating once the shock wore off and I started to feel my gut again (about 2 minutes). It rendered me unwilling to bend above the waist for a week. But it was also pretty much non-fatal. Though the doctor at the ER warned me that I was lucky that it wasn’t angled more upwards (piercing my diaphragm) or even a little deeper because if I opened any part of my digestive system, I’d leak that junk into my insides and it would be nearly impossible to clean up (they always leave this out of gut wounds in the movies. they can kill you from internal poopy leaks).

    In any case, the point is that a “tippy tip” wound from a sword has some possibility of killing you, but not immediately and I can tell you that the shock-masking-the-pain effect would allow you to complete an action such as “pulling a trigger” before it got to “I’m going to lie down now”. So the swordsman had better be closer than 10 feet or be able to run about 5-6 feet so they can score a “real” pierce with their lunge while I’m aiming and shooting.

    By the way: don’t aim your first shot. Just get some noise going and lead in the air. Just in case your opponent is untrained, this will totally blow their cool.

  111. Nathan says:

    You know, I really think it is foolish to condemn D20 Modern combat as not making sense. I know Shamus plays D&D, and D&D combat has always been just as “nonsensical” as anything you might see in D20 Modern, for the exact same reasons.

    For one, swords are deadly. They really are just as deadly as guns. Humans are fragile creatures, and even minor wounds can kill. I find it pretty hard to argue that a wound from something like a mounted knight’s lance or a heavy greataxe blow would be anything but extremely severe. The normal assumption for a “hit” from either weapon (the equivalent to the direct bullet hit spoken of in Shamus’ post) involves either being impaled or dismembered, and it is hard to imagine someone fighting on after suffering such a wound.

    For another thing, there are plenty of extremely lethal things in D&D that are treated as being far from lethal due to game mechanics, and I don’t think guns are any more extreme than them. After all, in 3.5e D&D a massive Great White shark only does 2d6+7 damage, around the amount of damage a d20 Modern rifle can deal and an insignificant amount of damage to high level characters, even though real world Great White sharks are infamous for their ability to rip a human being apart in a single bite. Potentially lethal things like being bitten by a crocodile or being gored by a bull only deal 1d8+8 or so damage in that game, even though such injuries have killed countless (experienced and trained) people in the real world. Imaging what it would actually be like for a human being to be chewed on by something like a Colossal dragon or to be punched by a stone statue the size of the Statue of Liberty completely shatters any illusion of survivability, even though D&D characters endure such injuries all the time (if you assume a “hit” implies a full-force impact, though even a glancing blow from such an attack seems like it would be quite lethal). I have no idea why modern guns would cause the D&D style of combat rules to break down when things like that do not.

    Also, I would really disagree with the ideas that “guns make the character” and “anybody can use a gun”. For one, it may be faster and cheaper to train a person how to use a gun than to train a person how to be a master swordsman, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a huge difference in ability between a total novice in either discipline and an expert in either discipline. Whether you are talking about real life or fiction, you can’t say that any guy with a sniper rifle is the same thing as a trained military sniper, or that any guy with a pistol is the same thing as James Bond. You can’t even say that anyone with a gun can be assumed to be skilled with it (the foolishness and ineffectiveness of the “gangsta” style of shooting a handgun one-handed, sideways, and not bracing for recoil is rather legendary, and I have heard of people doing even more stupid things with a gun).

  112. Shamus said:

    “In any case, are you actually making the case that guns DON'T flatten the power curve?”

    Not in the way that you think. There isn’t really a “power curve” in real-life combat because you don’t NEED a lot of POWER to take someone down. (In fact, a lot of firearms possess features that intentionally cut back the “power” of the weapon in order to cause more damage. This is what soft or hollow-point bullets are supposed to accomplish, and why armor-piercing rounds are actually less effective when the target isn’t wearing armor–it punches right through causing only superficial harm unless it happens to hit something REALLY vital.) This idea that more power = better is a mistake that people make all the time. (They also make the converse assumption, that people can’t take much punishment and go down easy, all the time too. The truth is a *lot* more complicated than this.)

    If you’re going to argue that an untrained 80-year-old with a gun is “more dangerous” than the same untrained 80-year-old with a knife, then consider this: someone who gets the drop on you with a knife can slit your throat and you’ll bleed out very quickly indeed and likely go into shock so fast from the blood draining that you won’t be able to do anything. Someone standing in the same position with a gun will quite likely have to empty an entire clip into you and even then may very well not cause enough damage to prevent you from turning around and returning the favor–unless you get lucky and nail them in the heart (which STILL may not be enough–people have had a hole put in their heart and survived before). It takes time for the lungs to fill with blood, time for a ruptured liver or spleen or gall bladder or stomach to kill.

    And if you’re wondering about my sources for all this: personal experience and close friendships with lots of medical professionals who have worked in emergency rooms. Heck, I know from *personally* hacking up half a dozen dead bodies a week the kind of freakish circumstances and injuries you can get and what kind of blows it takes to inflict serious injury on a human body. (Ask me about disarticulating a knee joint sometime.)

    I’m a fan of a degree of simulated realism in game combat, not *actual* realism, which is why I like Deadlands: because ALL the weapons are *potentially* deadly, but if you’re intelligent your life and death aren’t hinging on a *single* die roll the way they do in a lot of games. (This is due to the use of fate chips.) I just get torqued up when people start making all sorts of broad statements about what effect this or that weapon has on combat. In the end, the only deadly weapon is man himself.

  113. ehlijen says:

    The advantage of guns has nothing to do with whether they might be more dangerous or more effective. The advantage of guns is simply that the energy they utilise to inflict their damage is stored in the gunpowder and releasing it does not drain the bearer’s energy reserves as much as inflicting similar damage with a sword or bow would do.
    Guns are less tiring to use and suffer less when used by tired soldiers.

  114. Ger says:

    The first rule of a knife fight is someone is going to get cut. Period. I agree with your assessment overall, however, you drastically underestimate the gulf between real world fights with weapons and fantasy.

    The most realistic combat system for a tabletop Ive ever seen involved charts. There was no hit points. If you take a wound, after armor, you reference the chart with how much damage it did. You take the effects. At low end they involved lots of bleeding, shock, trauma, and lowering of fighting ability. At the high end they where instant kills.

    Characters died by a hit that kills or bleeding out. An early solid wound could ruin a characters ability to keep fighting. A guy in a bar could kill you by slipping a knife between your ribs, no matter who you are.

    Furthermore Guns can be highly dangerous to their own users. The type of the firearm also has an effect. In ye old west you put a revolver that kicked like a mule in the hands of someone that didn’t know wtf they where doing? Put a shotgun in someone’s hands that doesn’t know how to use it. They’ll break something!

    I mean I get what your saying. Their a credible threat in that a loaded firearm without a safety pointed at you can kill you. Even if it’s the only shot they fire.

    Your definitely right though. Guns play havoc with a games balance.

  115. Nick says:

    It has been mentioned before, but wouldn’t gun combat be very similar to archery combat, most of the variables are there: range, accuracy, weapon complexity (longbow vs crossbow), projectile lethality (bodkin vs broadhead), projectile speed. how are these currently handled in D&D now?

  116. SatansBestBuddy says:

    I’ll just throw a random suggestion onto the pile and say that one of the better rules to alter is “time.”

    If your PC’s can move like they’re freaking Neo, then guns are suddenly both highly effective to use yet still surviable when they’re being used against.

    Or just take guns out the equation entirely, having a setting where gun laws are incredibly strict, and all guns are hardwired to the people who bought them, meaning if a boss with a gun is killed the players can’t loot it.

    Setting would be the easiest to deal with, but messing with the laws of pyhsics is always fun.

  117. Will says:

    Actually ehlijen, the advantage of guns over melee weapons is the same as that of ranged weapons over melee weapons. With a blade, i can threaten anyone in arm’s reach. With a gun, i can threaten anyone i can see.

    That is a very major increase in the amount of territory i can threaten at once. Pass me an assault rifle and i can now not only threaten everything i can see, i can also fire quickly enough to take down multiple enemies who are charging me (the weakness of a Crossbow; slow firing speed.)

    Guns combine the advantage of range with the advantage of using gunpowder rather than the wielder’s strength with the advantage of ease of use with the advantage of high rate of fire. That’s alot of advantages to pile into one weapon. And if we throw in armor piercing rounds, then that’s another advantage. And the advantages just keep piling up.

    Blades are deadly; the fact that modern soldiers are given knives and trained in close combat fighting with their knives proves that. But when i’m holding a rifle, i threaten a much wider area than when i’m holding a knife, and here’s the kicker; i can use both.

  118. Mike S says:

    Jennifer Snow said:

    “If you're going to argue that an untrained 80-year-old with a gun is “more dangerous” than the same untrained 80-year-old with a knife, then consider this: someone who gets the drop on you with a knife can slit your throat and you'll bleed out very quickly indeed and likely go into shock so fast from the blood draining that you won't be able to do anything. ”

    Wouldn’t someone decent enough with a knife to just slit your throat be decent enough just to point the gun, at roughly the same distance, at your forehead and pull the trigger?

    I agree with the recent post that within a certain range, melee weapons are likely as deadly, if not more, than certain firearms. However, firearms/ranged weapons in general just up the effective “you might die in a quick, unpleasant manner” range by a very substanial amount.

  119. Matt P says:

    @ Joshua-with-the-face re: arrow lethality: from what I understand (bear in mind that I am a weapon noob with just a squidge of military history reading) arrows were less deadly in many ways.
    For starters, they had less penetrative power, which was one of the reasons armour hung around until guns emerged. Yes, the arrow might still punch through, but it would have lost a lot of its force. The same goes for bone. Now obviously a sharp thing hitting bone is enormously painful. But what can make bullet impacts so disastrous is when they shatter bone or deflect off it and pinwheel all over the place. This creates more damage. Arrows, on the other hand, IIRC, might puncture bones but would never actually break them open into little pieces of shrapnel. All this made internal injury much easier to deal with.
    Moreover, bullets deform inside the body, creating jagged wounds that are nastier to deal with. I can’t say for sure regarding arrows, but my assumption would be a relatively clean wound.
    Then there’s the training difference. Longbows really did take some training to be even minimally effective with. (Crossbows were easier though.)
    There’s also the speed of loading. A gun basically comes kitted out with its bullets. Assuming you’ve got your gun in its holster with the magazine in the gun (a reasonable assumption for basic “ready for battle” mode) you only need to draw it, release the safety and pull the trigger. Takes time, but not that much. With a longbow also in its ‘holster’ the drawing takes longer, the lining up takes longer, a single arrow needs to be selected from behind and drawn along the bow, then you need to aim.
    All these factors give guns greater, ‘unbalanced’* lethality.

    *Versus other weapon groups.

  120. B.J. says:

    I’m suddenly reminded of the story where the college kid found a robber in his garage and killed him with a katana. The first swing nearly took off the guy’s hand, the next was across the chest. The burglar snuffed it soon after.

    The kid wasn’t some fifth degree kendo master or anything either. Just a guy who liked swords.

  121. Will says:

    I would be highly doubtful of that story; actually decapitating a person is actually a -lot- harder than you’d think. The spine is quite hard to sever even when the person you’re trying to decapitate is being executed.

    One of the reasons why the Guillotine was invented was because unlike a man with a big heavy axe, it did decapitate someone in a single strike more often than not.

    Also, your average college kid with a Katana probably owns a knock-off piece of shit with an edge so blunt you’d be better off trying to cut somone with a fish.

    But then again, Katanas can cut through tanks. So who am i to argue?

  122. ehlijen says:

    In the special edition the Ewoks use Katanas to cut off the chicken walkers’ legs…and darth Vader uses a curved lightsaber :p

  123. GTb says:

    holy crap. I bet Shamus wasn’t expecting this kind of debate. Nerd blogs are fucking awesome!

    I just wanted to put that out there. I wish he had forums for exactly this kind of thing.

  124. Melf_Himself says:

    1) A lot of what you’ve said applies equally well to ye olde bow-and-arrow. And for that matter, fireballs and such.

    2) ‘Hit points’ are arbitrary and could be used to represent more than just getting hit, e.g. luck/skill at avoiding blows/endurance

    3) The “wtf @ guns” problem is not unique to DnD, lots of games allow you to get hit by bullets multiple times. But is it really a problem? Games are supposed to be zany and not make much sense. Board games are no exception – it’s not like people are upset about the lack of realism of walking past some dude’s house and having to pay rent every time (Monopoly).

    4) Two ways to make the general OP-ness of crazy abiltiies (i.e. guns, or magic) work towards enhancing fun:

    a) ‘Left 4 Dead’ style – one side has guns, the other side has numbers and melee

    b) ‘Demigod’ style – you have critters that can get mowed down by crazy AoE abilities, but also uber godlike types that are immune to said abilities and can only be hurt by, say, some magic sword or whatever. Jobs for everyone to do. (notice I avoid referring to retarded ‘holy trinity’ designs, which aren’t fun)

  125. I think a lot of you are missing the point – it’s not ‘guns are irrevocably better than swords’, it’s ‘guns are associated with more lethal combat, so ruin our suspension of disbelief in a system like d20 which is built for heroic endurance combat’

  126. Zaxares says:

    @Will: Actually, that claim about katanas being able to cut through tank armor is a myth. The Mythbusters tested a variant of that rumor (about Japanese soldiers being able to cut through the barrel of a machine gun with their katanas) and even using katanas made with modern alloyed steel, and a rig that could swing the katana at more than several times the speed and strength that would be possible from a human being, the blade would snap or bend when trying to cut through a few inches of steel. Considering that tank armor can be MUCH thicker than that, the myth that katanas can cut through tank armor is false.

    Anyway, back on the main topic… For modern-era games that involve firearms, I typically rework the standard AC rules so that armor gives damage reduction instead of improving your AC. Modern body armor can actually do quite a decent job of protecting you from bullets. (It’ll still hurt like hell when they hit you, but they’ll probably save your life.) The enemy still has to roll to hit you, but if he does, whatever damage he deals to you is reduced by whatever body armor or protection you’re wearing.

    To compensate for this, body armor is frequently hot (which results in you having to make Constitution checks), heavy (Strength/Con checks), and reduces your movement. Also, different types of armor (ballistic vests, platemail) have different types of damage reduction against different types of damage, so it’s nearly impossible to have a ‘one-for-all-situations’ armor on.

  127. Will says:

    @Zaxares, my “Katanas can cut through a tank” comment was intended to be sarcasm.

  128. rofltehcat says:

    I’m not very experienced with roleplaying but I think part of the problem is, that (at least in our sessions) running speed, distances and agility reduction by body armor seem to be not so important as they might be in real life. Maybe it is just my GM/group, but here is an example:
    “Well, you are roughly here.”
    “Ok, I run behind our target person.”
    “You close up and are now at this position.” (moves the orange colored dice roughly 3 cm forward on the paper)
    later in the game:
    “The enemy charges you. He is roughly there. What do you do?”
    “I fire my gun at him.”
    “Ok, next round. The enemy is in melee range and slices at you” (The black dice covered nearly 10 cm inside one round while under fire.)
    But I guess forcing the whole thing on a grid could also make things a bit strange and take some of the dynamic out of it? “I’d like to move to this other cover and then shoot at the enemy but I can’t shoot if I move more than 4 squares.”

    But I often like to think of melee vs. guns like in the movie Equilibrium: The guns guy is heavily armed and armored but slow. He has the range advantage but as soon as the fast, lightly armored melee (that is good at utilising cover, he won’t be hit very often but maybe a bullet barely stopped by his thin kevlar vest) is near, his assault rifle will be disarmed and it will be pistol-kung-fu or pistol vs. sword where the melee is stronger but the guns guy isn’t destroyed instantly because the body armor can take some hits/slashes (unless it is at a weak spot).

  129. Mario says:

    I just wanted to add something on the guns about the accurancy. Even in “fantasy” worlds as videogames, the gameplay statistics for an average player of fps show that it’s really hard to have more than 30% of hits.
    I think that that is an accurate estimate of the odds of hitting somebody (not mention kill him).
    So you should count that a shot hit the target only if the dice is over 14 at least.

  130. Ingvar says:

    Jennifer Snow @ #114:

    The primary reason for frangible bullets (hollow-points and what-have-you) is to maximise energy delivered into the target, not to lessen muzzle speed.

    If a bullet goes straight through, it doesn’t (much) matter if it’s landing 1 inch or 100 feet behind the poor shot-through sod, it’s going to hurt about as much.

    But, if you have a bullet that turns into itty-bitty fragments that stay within the body, the bullet that would previously have just about made it through is going to hurt a hell of a lot less than the bullet that only slowed down a little bit.

    But, yeah, messy. All kinds of weapons leave a rather horrible mess, be they melee or ranged.

    [ and, for what it’s worth, I do have at least a limited experience of firearms, comes with having spent a while in an army ]

  131. OEP says:

    Wow, nothing like the internet to bring out the pedant in everyone (myself included).

    It seems that many people are picking straw men in the original post and arguing themselves blue.

    -I think it is pretty clear that the power curve in the original post is not referring to kinetic energy but rather to relative power in terms of combat.

    -While the umpteenth posts about how your samurai skillz can beat their gunslinger skillz in your expert opinion are quite entertaining, I think history will argue against that. Guns>>swords. End of story. Otherwise the claymores the army use would go ching! as opposed to boom!. And the samurais would still be around…

    -The whole “expert” vs “nonexpert” thing is fairly suspect as well. There are millions of people who have experienced lethal armed combat with guns in the world. I doubt anyone can say the same for swords. To extrapolate a bit here, I know how different an actual fight was from competition sparring. Do you really think swordfighting is the same as kendo/fencing/etcetera? Are you willing to bet your life on it?

    -Lethality. My only bone of contention with the original post was the implication that edged combat was less lethal. I do not believe that to be the case. But gun combat is extremely lethal. The luck factor is even more in play as even extremity wounds can easily lead to death from exsanguination or shock.

    -See, I waxed pedantic again.

  132. kat says:

    Wow. That is a lot of comments.

    On the off chance someone reads this far:

    I did a fair bit of research on this when I was setting up for my comic (in which one of the gangsters is a knife-fighter) and was pleasantly surprised to find out how lethal he was in specific situations. Street combat happens in close range, most of the time, and your average gang member hasn’t had anything like weapons training. He doesn’t even go to a gun range. He just waves the gun in the general direction of his target and hopes, because that’s what they do in the movies. So someone with a passing familiarity with knives (more or less necessary if you intend to cut anyone but yourself) has a pretty damn good chance against him, and — as mentioned — knife wounds can be quite unfortunate, as they tend to bleed. Heavily. Unstoppably. No matter where on the body you’re hit.

    It’s “contrived circumstances” — except, realistically speaking, an awful lot of the gunshot battles in the US today happen between drug dealers and street gangs….

    The point here isn’t really whether guns are more lethal than swords or knives, though (since the only possible answer is “it depends….”) The point is how to break it to a group of players used to combat-heavy fantasy games that if they do the same thing in a realistic setting, they’re dead.* And there really isn’t an easy answer to that one. Guns are the great leveler, something that as a woman I have to say I quite appreciate: you don’t need strength, you just need skill, and even then you can probably do some damage with the “point and pray” method. The only sane answer is to stay the hell out of combat when you can, and spend a lot of time covering your ass when you can’t.** If they don’t like that, do see if you can’t nudge them towards street fighting and urban combat, where you will have a lot of untrained fighters and close combat to make things more interesting.

    And remember — at close enough range, a gun is nothing but a really crappy club….

    *Yes, realistically they were dead in the fantasy campaign too. Not the point.
    ** Yes, this is the only sane plan for combat in any setting. See note #1.

  133. TehShrike says:

    I feel really bad adding a comment onto this massive pile… but here goes.

    After reading this post by Shamus yesterday, I wrote up a post on the first campaign I ran. It was in a wild west setting, and we were using a gun combat system that made getting shot a very dangerous issue.

    I changed some stuff up to try to turn the PCs into movie-style heroes – you can read the post here:

  134. Matt P says:

    @ phobiandarkmoon: You’ve got a point there. Certainly my little arrows vs bullets editorial followed the wrong thread. I suppose what I was trying to say before I lost the plot and geeked out was that it’s more believable to have excuses for why an arrow might be ‘just a flesh wound’: perhaps the armour deflected or ablated it; maybe you just got one through the arm; it might have stuck itself on a rib; etc. All these cases just seem less lethal than a bullet tearing through your body. Whether they are or aren’t I shouldn’t have speculated: the point was it sure seems like your chances are better at shrugging off an arrow.

  135. Will says:

    It would be safe to say that edged combat is less ‘lethal’ in that one man with an assault rifle can do a hell of a lot more damage to the people around him than one man with a sword.

  136. Eric says:

    @ Jennifer Snow If I can get close enough to slit your throat with a gun, I’m not going to have to empty an entire clip to kill you. It’s going to take one shot to the dome to finish you, the only way you could possibly survive short of a miracle, is if I was using a .22, and even that is highly unlikely given today’s modern guns.

  137. When Shamus said guns “flatten the power curve”, he meant the distinction between
    untrained–>slightly trained–>moderately trained–>expert–>godlike
    was reduced. I’m convinced this is true. People are emphasizing too much the “completely untrained vs. expert” part of that range. But RPGs normally will be oriented to people who can be considered “foes”, but who just aren’t as awesome and special as the PCs. Take for instance, street gangs or rent-a-cops. Not untrained, but not that good.
    If one of the great swordsmen of the day finds himself fighting a number of guardsmen or street toughs, it is pretty plausible that as long as he can avoid being surrounded, his awesome defensive swordplay (and perhaps shieldwork) can keep him alive while he kills or incapacitates fair numbers of them. This remains potentially true when arrows are involved–arrows go fast, but they’re not *instant*. You *can* block an arrow with a shield.

    If one of the great gunslingers of the day finds himself fighting a number of average cops or a well armed street gang, he needs to take cover real fast. Because he may be faster with his gun than they are, and more accurate, but by the time he’s dropped a couple of them the lead is going to be flying in his direction in largish quantities and chances are he’s going to get holes in him.
    Similarly with guns, the distance in lethality between “very good” and “godlike awesome” is smaller. Two “very good” swordsmen or martial artists probably can’t take one “godlike awesome” swordsman or martial artist. But two “very good” gun users can very likely take down one “godlike awesome” in a face-to-face situation. At least one of them may die in the process, maybe both, but they probably will nail “godlike awesome” to the wall.

    These two situations aren’t the same. It’s not about relative lethality, it’s more about the potential for defense. That’s one reason I like GURPS, actually–medieval style combat isn’t that lethal for skilled swordspeople in GURPS not because sword wounds won’t kill them but because they are good at parrying, blocking and whatnot. If one person is dealing with enough foes that he runs out of defenses, he is in deep trouble. So with gun combat, the major difference is that you *start* in deep trouble because you can’t parry guns (unless you’re in melee combat range, in which case you don’t parry the bullet, you whack the gun out of line).

  138. OEP says:

    To take an example to the extreme.
    How dangerous is a toddler playing with a machete? When you approach said toddler to remove him from the dangerous situation, are you in fear for your life?

    What if he were playing with a semiautomatic pistol?

    As numerous accidents world-wide attest, guns are quite lethal even in the most inexperienced hands, intentionally or not.

  139. Bret says:

    Ah, nerd debates. These are fun.

    Haven’t read everything and I’m in no way an expert, so I apologize if I’m wrong, but, well, a few (probably inaccurate) points.

    1) The sword arguments in swords versus guns seem mainly to be saying it’s better to have a sword you’re very good with and the drop on a guy than have a gun you suck with in the holster. Probably true. Also, not saying much. Seems if you’re equally good (or bad) with both a gun is by far the better bet.

    2) Heard good things bout shotguns regarding the killing of people. I am not inclined to doubt on the statements of one person, even if D20 modern agrees with him. (That seems to be one of the more common complaints about the system, really. It make shotguns worthless.)

    3) The whole “Fighting off tons of dudes with a sword? Not sure how accurate it is, but I remember a bit in Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser where the former of the two central characters, a seven foot tall barbarian badass, reflects on tales of heroes of old, men who fought off ten men at a time. and how that’s obviously rubbish if the ten aren’t idiots, and you don’t have a wall at your back.

    So, yeah. Bad odds seem pretty bad either way.

    Back more on topic: One game I remember with more lethal gu nfights?

    X-com. Pretty much one shot, one guy dead, assuming you hit and no-one’s in power armor. And it’s still very fun.

  140. HeadHunter says:

    “Guns>>swords. End of story. Otherwise the claymores the army use would go ching! as opposed to boom!. And the samurais would still be around…”

    Historically speaking, the end of the samurai caste had nothing to do with the effectiveness of swords compared to guns. Samurai were forbidden to carry swords by the Meiji government. If they were so ineffective, why would they be outlawed?

    It seems to me, from everything that I’ve read, that a unit of samurai with katanas was still more effective in combat than a unit of ashigaru with muskets. Some people may not think it would be so, but history speaks for itself in that regard.

    The primary advantage of guns over other weapons is not a matter of lethality – it’s one of portability (and perhaps concealability).

    No one’s saying “Guns are less lethal”, we’re simply disagreeing with absurd remarks like “Guns render melee skills obsolete” (and to a lesser extent, quotes like “guns are easy to use” and “anyone can use a gun”, when they pertain to actual combat).

    1. Shamus says:

      If guns don’t render melee obsolete, why do we waste money giving ALL our soldiers guns? Just give the big guys clubs or something.

      I mean, melee is still viable in modern combat, right?

      The point was that in any setting that works like the real world, there would be no sense in building a character around melee and expecting to have a place in every battle. You’d end up waiting and waiting for one of those moments where you were against someone with no training, with their weapon holstered, at less than twenty feet, and whatever other advantages people keep handing to the melee fighters to justify them not getting shot to hell in the first round.

  141. Eric says:

    @headhunter: take a unit of samurai against a unit of navy seals, who do you think is going to win?

  142. Eric says:

    Shamus stop using logic, your starting a dangerous trend.

  143. 1d30 says:

    Headhunter: Cite a source. Give a scholarly source published in actual dead-tree print, one written by an author who wouldn’t be laughed out of the room by his peers.

    (That part is an easy, minimal requirement.)

    The account should be of a battle between a unit of samurai fighting a unit of musketeers, where neither is entrenched, neither has a strong knowledge of the battlefield, both are equally competent and equally rested, and both knew of the existence of the other at the same time (though an ambush is an acceptable circumstance).

    (That second requirement will be harder to fulfill, but it assures no other influences but the equipment used. If you can come up with a battle where one side has an advantage, I’d still like to see it).

    If you can’t come up with a lopsided battle account by a printed historian, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You have never seen a battle between samurai and musketeers.

    That is all.

  144. Jeff says:

    This is why for our games with guns, we use Shadowrun.

  145. HeadHunter says:

    Shamus: That’s why infantry soldiers still receive bayonet training and hand-to-hand training. At close range, your rifle is inferior for shooting, it’s better for stabbing and buttstrokes… in other words, it’s a melee weapon. One end becomes a spear, the other, a club. Standard rifleman equipment – because sometimes, guns don’t render melee skills obsolete.

    Whatever point you were originally trying to make is impeded by your rather broad original statements. We all agree who’d win on equal footing… but that’s not what you seemed to be saying. You make it sound like any old joe with a gun is a credible threat to a trained melee fighter. You play up the lethality of the gun, dismissing all of the complications that arise from its untrained use, all the while overlooking the dangers the opponent’s weapon and skill in using it.

    You talked about blade injuries being easy to treat as if all one needs to do is tie some cloth around them. Without direct pressure, a laceration or incision of that size is going to bleed significantly. Anyone who’s ever needed stitches should be able to imagine how much more severe a sword wound would be, compared to the kitchen knife or broken glass.

    I just think you made some overly broad generalizations in your original post and that they don’t seem to be based on anything other than an idea of what weapons and combat are like. You want a realistic portrayal of guns in your gaming system but seemed to lack a realistic notion of how they work or why other weapons are still effective and in use.

    @146: Do you know what an “ashigaru” is? I’m talking about the difference between trained swordsman and levied peasants with guns. If you need a source to know who’s going to win that one, I’ll have to start by citing sources that give you the basic terms you clearly don’t yet understand. Start with Steven Turnbull’s work, unless that’s not “scholarly” enough for you.

    Again, let me remind you that Shamus’ original claim is that any old mook with a gun and no training renders melee skills obsolete. I’m simply refuting the claim that inexperienced shooters are any comparison to trained swordsmen in battle.

  146. Eric says:

    @Headhunter let’s make it fair and put some sword swinging mooks up against some gun slinging mooks, and think about what happens. It’s a little stacked in the comparisons for the melee side since they are always master of their disciplines. Every example that has ben given has only worked under the right conditions.

  147. Maldeus says:

    Samurai were bowmen more often than they were swordsmen. I really doubt they would’ve lasted long against muskets if they tried to engage in melee.

    On a slightly tangential note, I have come to the conclusion that the average gamer nerd is more deadly in battle than the average gangster.

  148. HeadHunter says:

    @ Eric: The original post seems to claim that guns are some great equalizer that “renders melee skills obsolete”. Those are Shamus’ words and that implies that he feels that an unskilled gunman would be superior to a skilled swordsman. That’s why I’ve tried to debunk that notion.

    Unskilled melee vs. unskilled guns? That comes down to luck – and as I’ve said before, luck isn’t a quality of any weapon that isn’t enchanted.

    @ Maldeus: Actually, by the 16th Century, Japanese metallurgy and armorcrafting was advanced to the point where samurai armor could deflect or stop a shot from an arquebus. So I wouldn’t underestimate their survivability – they saw continued use throughout the wars for unification, in spite of the presence of guns.

    @ Shamus: The reason we’ve mentioned the limitations that have been brought up is that they typify most of the actual lethal confrontations of the modern day.

    Unless you’re on a battlefield, most firefights will take place at very close range – within a room, an alley, the yard of a house, etc. In those cases where firefights do take place at long range, most of the shots fired are going to be misses. Again, history shows how many thousands of rounds were expended in wartime for each kill.

    Even trained gunmen don’t walk around with their weapons drawn unless they are expecting a confrontation. And even then, they are in a “safe carry” – they don’t aim unless and until they have something to aim at.

    A gunfight where one side has their weapons drawn and aimed at long-range targets who are unaware that they are in mortal peril is called an ambush and even in a game, things go differently than a normal firefight.

    I’m not handing anyone any advantages that don’t exist in a typical domestic combat situation. Field warfare is a little different, and games have mass combat rules for that.

    1. Shamus says:

      HeadHunter: The key is to take all of these situations and apply them to the fights we see in a tabletop game.

      “The original post seems to claim that guns are some great equalizer that “renders melee skills obsolete”. Those are Shamus' words and that implies that he feels that an unskilled gunman would be superior to a skilled swordsman. That's why I've tried to debunk that notion.”

      Guns are the great equalizer. And they do render melee SKILLS obsolete-

      Wait, I just realized we’re probably talking past each other here. When I said “melee skills”, I was talking about SKILL POINTS, not actual training. As in: Why would you expend skill points (or whatever this game has) stacking melee ability when a huge majority of your combat will be spent on guns?

      An unskilled shooter isn’t always superior is a trained swordsman, but he often is (at the right distance) and the fact is that even under less-optimal circumstances he’s a FAR bigger threat with a gun than with a sword. If you are playing that swordsman and you want to get through a campaign of fighting these idiots, your survivability goes way, way down once your foes have guns.

    2. Shamus says:

      I can’t believe you guys are talking about Samurai when clearly none of you have read Dr. Humphrey J. Poncebottom’s three-volume series, “The Adzuki Bean and it’s Effect on Swordsmanship Training in Feudal Japan”

  149. Nick says:

    @OEP, A toddler would not have the strength to pull the trigger on a standard pistol.

  150. Sekundaari says:

    Not to mention all the ~3500 sources he cites.

  151. The Jake says:

    I have not read all of these posts(holy crap that’s a lot). I ended up stopping just after the fifty mark. I am merely going to bring up a few games that do high lethality in combat. the entire ORE(One Roll Engine) line is/can be incredibly lethal. the best example is Godlike, but Wild Talents and Reign are both very “realistic” in the sense that combat is a very lethal affair.

    no I would like to go into this idea of “realism” that is the simulationists holy grail and battle cry. I must say I do not get it. I used to think that what people meant when they said “realistic” was in actuality “plausibility”, but as I have gone along I see that this is not the case. my personal preference is very highly cinematic combat(preferably with Wagner playing in the background, where the heroes(I use the term in it’s loosest manner) wade through the villains/antagonists/bystanders/there great aunt Milly with nary a thought. the reason I go for this approach is that I find it very interesting to allow my players to be the biggest fish in the sea, once they realize that is not a challenge any more, then the real questions come forth. what do you do hen you have everything you want? but that really doesn’t answer the question of what the hell is “realism”? I just don’t get it.

  152. Abnaxis says:

    Hokay. I was reluctant to post, since I was thinking that 150+ posts meant it had been debated to nothing already. Seeing Shamus as the last one up, I’d say this isn’t the case…

    What you’re getting at is really an issue of balance, I think. Something we take for granted in a fantasy setting (which drive me NUTS!) is that you can get smack around with a melee weapon and still survive. Now, as I mentioned it has always seemed nonsensical to me to have an eight pound greatsword that somehow doesn’t kill the guy on the other end when you score ten hits on him, especially when it’s swung by a guy who can hold five hundred pounds over his head who is proficient in its use.

    Problem is, it’s exceptionally hard to balance a system that is binary, “you get hit you’re dead.” To get something easily playable, you have to turn off you brain when combat comes around to make it interesting. Problem is, this is hard to do in a modern setting, since it
    s what we know the most about. Further, while you could hypothetically make a setting where it worked in fantasy-land or future-land where you can use plot devices to bring back the dead, that doesn’t work in a modern-day setting with no magic. Well, either that, or try to make a game where there is next to no combat.

    What would be a really interesting exercise is figuring out a design to get around these pitfalls. I’ve been working on that one for a while, and any day now I’ll actually get around to publishing my ideas :). Just have to figure out how to make a blog…

    On a side note: I know I have brought it up a few times, but the best system I have seen for realism is Control. It doesn’t do much to deal with the balance issues I brought up, but it’s the most sensible system I have seen and it’s pretty simple. Worth a try, if you’re going for a modern game.

  153. Joshua says:

    Thought occurs to me that one of the reasons that we accept melee combat as being less lethal is not just that it’s in a more fantastical setting, but that most examples of this fighting that we read or see in tv/movies has these types of “flesh wounds”.

    The protagonists are constantly getting scraped up, cut, bruised, etc., but rarely put in positions where they need serious medical attention(unless they’re mortally wounded).

    However, there’s a lot fewer examples of protagonists taking gunshot wounds and just walking them off. They’re there(maybe in Westerns?), but seem a lot less frequent.

    That’s just a guess, anyways.

  154. SeekerOfThePath says:

    Actually, we have been discussing melee vs. guns in real world with my friends just few days ago. One conclusion: (hand)guns are not binary.

    Most people who are hit by handgun continue to fight for some time often without even realizing they’ve been hit – adrenaline kicks in immediately suppressing the pain. Gun wounds are small, so chance of hitting something important is low. Also bullet is small and tissue is soft, so there is only small “punch” (changes with body armor, which spreads the energy over area, resulting in rather large force).

    Basicly, the only instant kill is head or upper backbone being hit, heart is also quite good bet. If you hit any other important organ, foe will continue to fire back at you for some time. Even after a major artery is hit, human can live for few minutes before bleeding out to unconsciousness and then death.

    Long-term, gunshot wounds need to be attended to, but that’s because there’s high risk of inflamnation, which is deadly. Also, most gun wounds leave permanent after-effects – pain, mobility loss etc..

  155. Mario says:

    I lost some of the discussion and don’t know if it has already been said, but I would say that to give a sense to melee skill points in a rpg you could play in closed enviroment, like a building, or a suburb, or favelas (if you want to play in south america) or caves (afghanistan), so in every room melee and armed combat would neutralize each other.
    Make a game about counter terrorism or infiltration, require the use of non-lethal force to capture instead of killing enemies.

    By the way, I thought about what I and everybody was arguing about the original post, and I conclude that the problem is we may have perceived that the complaint about the realism was unfair, and tried to point out that even an old style classic rpg could either be fun or realistic, but no one seem to complain about all the thing that are un-realistic in that one.

    p.s.: I’m a lawyer and I had to study forensic medicine and practice it too, that is why I was a “bit” bitter in the other comments. I hope I didn’t bother you too much with my haughtiness…

  156. Dogs in the Vineyard Shamus, I’m amazed no one mentioned it.

    Much better than Boot Hill for survivable, long term campaigns with guns (and magic, as much as you want).

    You can run Firefly with it, even.

  157. rlor says:

    In a study from The Journal of Trauma they looked at the mortality rate of gunshot victims in Seattle and it was around 22%. As in only 22% of the people shot died. So based off that study, you have a pretty good chance of surviving being in a real life shooting.

    While I imagine some of the victims were cops wearing kevlar, I’m just guessing that you could up your survival greatly by investing in protection (from a simple kevlar vest to some cutting edge military-grade experimental protection). While few people would have access to the high end of that level of protection, few people in a D&D world have access to a +5 fullplate of awesomeness either yet the PCs always seem to get their hands on it. Even if you don’t let them have the best of the best, most anyone with a little bit of money can get their hands on kevlar clothing. At which point you can start rationalizing how the person is surviving multiple hits on their body. Or its at least as easy to rationalize that as some fighter in D&D being able to partially parry and dodge every hit being surrounded by attackers.

  158. HeadHunter says:

    OK Shamus, I can see what you were getting at then – I guess we were talking past each other after all.

    Strictly in gaming terms, the only answer I could offer is “depends on your game”. Do you want a game where guns are not the be-all-end-all of combat? IMO it’s more fun if they’re not the only option (and I’ve tried to show why I feel that in itself wouldn’t impact realism or plausibility).

    As Mario said, what you want then is a game system (or at least a campaign setting) where melee skills have at least as much use as they do in the real world. It doesn’t have to be a chanbara kind of RPG, it could be as simple as a setting where guns are hard to get and/or there are serious consequences for possession – or one where most encounters take place more in an urban combat setting than the field of battle.

    I wish I could recommend such a system or setting – but sadly, my tabletop group dissolved years ago and due to families, job schedules and relocation, getting together to play pen-and-paper isn’t likely to happen again anytime soon for me.

    But I do appreciate the suggestions others have made – I like reading through the systems and seeing how they handle stuff.

  159. HgmE says:

    If we’re discussing the viability of melee in a game setting where there are guns. I can see a few perfectly reasonable ways to make both types of combat effective. Yes, guns are very, very lethal in combat but so are swords and the like but this is a game and games have rules.

    1) Initiative. A melee character with a quick reflexes can close to melee range (and maybe even get a good hit in) before the gun wielding character has a chance to attack.

    2) Stealth. Guns are generally very noisy, so, unless you’re handing out silencers to your entire party a heavily fortified location will require some stealth, and guns just aren’t viable.

    3) Guns are weapons, just like daggers. Maybe have guns deal far more damage but make it a static number, whereas melee damage can be augmented or increased based on the strength/speed/skill of its user. (A pistol can’t “hurt more” if wielded by a skilled user, it’s just more accurate. where as the stronger a person is, the more damage they’re going to do with a hammer.)

    4) Protection is key. Sure, no one should be able to survive a shotgun blast at point blank range, but a forceful sword, axe, or spear hit will also kill you. A little armor goes a long way to increasing the PC’s (or NPC’s) survivability in combat. A modern day setting should have modern day armor, armor that can soak most forms of small arms fire without killing the wearer.

    5) As Dr. Mcninja once said “The problem with your gun is that you have to point it where you want to send the bullets and I can see that.” As easily as it is for PC’s to dodge sword swings in a medieval setting, PC’s can dodge guns (not bullets, guns) in a modern one.

    6) Guns Misfire, Backfire, have dud rounds, jam, and need to be reloaded. Swords are very, very, reliable in this regard (depending on how realistic you want to go with this).

    7) Guns are expensive, and so are bullets. I’m just roughly pricing of the top of my head, but these figures are fairly accurate. A desert eagle pistol costs upwards of $900 dollars American, whereas a cold steel claymore costs around $400. This isn’t including bullets or magazines, (things PC’s will be needing quite regularly). And this isn’t even for military grade firearms, which probably cost in the thousands (if not tens of thousands).

    Sure, there are a lot of advantages to using guns over melee in a real world setting. But this a PNP RPG here. Surely suspension of disbelief can carry you here. After all, it already got you through fighting dragons, magic spells, and surviving melee combat while being hit. (this last bit isn’t a personal stab at Shamus [I like the guy, I really do.] just more of a suggestion to gamers in general.)

  160. Shimmin says:

    A couple of points (already mentioned in one way or another) seem important to me.

    Firstly, gun damage is independent of the user. Effectively, it has a fixed Strength instead of using the character’s stat, and a high fixed Strength at that. They’re going to do a lot of damage. So twenty goblins with even just handguns present as a much bigger threat than twenty goblins with slings or shortswords.

    Secondly, guns remove character autonomy more effectively than melee weapons (or even primitive ranged weapons). As people have said, you can parry or duck a blow, roll with a punch, which are skill-dependent – but all those are basically impossible against bullets. Similarly, given a bit of dramatic license, characters can dodge or deflect an arrow or spear. It’s much harder to accept people doing those sorts of things with firearms. So the direct defensive options are much reduced (basically armour or luck). What you have to use is indirect defence – not being seen, cover and timing.

    I’d argue that they actually make for a different kind of battle, in the same way that magic is (at least in the older D&D games) a different type of challenge. You generally don’t overcome magic with AC and weapon skills and high hit points; you use spell resistance, counter-magic, tactics (scattering, disrupting casting), or take out the wizard first. Similarly, while you CAN beat traps with high defences and resilience, the smart way to fight them is detection, deactivation or avoidance. So you could say that the smart thing to do is (as people have mentioned) not to get into a gun battle at all – you might win, but it’s the wrong strategy. If you do get into one, you overcome it by using different tactics – duck and cover, attack enemy morale.

    In that model, melee skills aren’t exactly in direct competition to ranged combat skills. Their primary use isn’t as backup in a gunfight, it’s in other situations. You might use them for taking out sentries, or where you can ambush enemies effectively and outmatch them (because picking guns in that scenario actually hurts your chances), or where you just can’t take or use guns. Consider them as more like Find Traps or Persuade or whatever, a different skill set, just one that happens to be occasionally useful in the same situation as ranged combat skills.

    After all, an ICBM is way better than a handgun, but you don’t take one on a dawn raid.

  161. 1d30 says:

    Headhunter: I’d agree that in your example, with trained samurai wearing the best armor of the day, fighting peasant levies with smooth-bore (quite sad, really in general) muskets, the samurai are pretty well favored.

    But that’s not the deal here with modern firearms. A musket is very different from even a hunting rifle of today. And sure, I’d agree that we have better armor today.

    But by including the armor you’re giving the samurai an extra advantage. The armor of their day could stop a bullet (as in Europe with the “bullet-proof” mark). But if you’re going to give the samurai excellent equipment that had been developed over more than a thousand years, why leave the peasant levies with equipment developed over less than a hundred?

    At that point you might as well be giving the samurai Platemail +1 and Katana +1 (everyone knows Katanas Are Better) and giving the peasants rocks to throw. The period saw the end of its knighthood, party because of social changes, partly because the technology of the gun was making the expensive training and social support of the noble warrior class prohibitive.

    I think for a modern game we have to assume that the quality of the equipment on both sides is equal. That is, if it’s acceptable to wear armor in the street then both or neither will be wearing the best armor available. And if it’s acceptable to carry a large weapon, the swordsman will have a big katana and the gunman will have an assault rifle firing armor-piercing rounds.

    If we start giving concessions, like the swordsman has armor but the gunman doesn’t, or the swordsman has a big weapon but the gunman has to make do with a pistol, we’re not talking about the circumstances of the game anymore.

    So apples to apples here: a unit of US infantry fighting a unit of their identical twins. Exact same equipment: no weapons other than guns and bayonets – except one side has no bayonets and the other has no bullets. They face off across a football field. There are no exits. I think it is obvious who will win this fight with zero casualties and who will be mown down to a man.

    Furthermore, you cannot argue that it is easier to become a master swordsman than to become a master gunman. There is a reason why armies have switched to guns and bullets (though they do still retain melee fighting training and equipment). There is a reason you don’t see a patrol moving house to house wielding swords and leaving their guns at home.

    Here I am arguing on the Internet. And it’s not because I care, particularly, because honestly this doesn’t matter a bit. Turns out I came back to comment because I don’t like Headhunter’s attitude. Oh well. Serves me right for reading Internet comment threads.

  162. Daimbert says:

    I think HgmE finally hit on the big limiting factor for guns in a modern setting: ammo. Guns can be pretty powerful, but they take ammo. The worse you are at shooting, the more ammo you’re going to burn, which means you have to have it. If you don’t have decent melee skills and you run out of ammo against a melee opponent, you’re probably dead unless you can run really fast.

    Essentially, though, guns are easier to use effectively than melee weapons are. I would say that a strict melee character shouldn’t last long in a modern setting where guns are common, while a strict gunslinger character probably will. There are just too few cases where melee can outshine a gun that it’d be too hard for a melee character to set them up enough to survive, whereas the gunslinger has an easier time playing to their advantages.

    But the real change in mindset might really be this: in modern settings, you had better be at least good at BOTH ranged (guns) and melee (hands, blades, etc), because there are going to be situations where you’ll need to rely on the one that you didn’t focus on. That’s less important in fantasy realms because ranged weapons are a bit less effective. And especially if you let magic take on the ranged component.

    Well, that’s a quick thought anyway; there is room for disagreement on that. Although it seems reasonable based on what I’ve seen: you don’t need ranged abilities on your melee chars in the games I’ve played, but in modern you probably will need both, in my opinion.

  163. Eric says:

    1d30 and Daimbert hit the proverbial nail on the head. 1d30 elaborated much more than I could on headhunter’s examples.

  164. Shimmin says:

    Possible options to consider for your games:
    * decide that melee is less valuable, and either don’t build characters around it, or simply make those skills cheaper to “buy” in whatever way suits the system. It’s easier to build a competent melee character, because that competency is less valuable; and they can remain useful by using the freed-up skill points (or whatever) on other abilities. I might say, don’t let them use these for firearms skills, though – it should be a way to make melee characters viable, not to make it easier to kick ass all round.
    * decide that it’s not worth building characters around melee – just like it’s not usually worth designing a character around Swim and Climb skills in D&D, or purely on Divination specialisation. Let that part of the game be a minor part – and if and when melee DOES come into play, anyone who’s invested in that skill set will completely dominate, just like the expert swimmer in an underwater encounter.

  165. HeadHunter says:


    “But if you're going to give the samurai excellent equipment that had been developed over more than a thousand years, why leave the peasant levies with equipment developed over less than a hundred?”

    Because that’s how battles were fought. They didn’t wait around for the other side to get an “equal advantage” – they fought with whatever they could afford to bring.

    Again, we were comparing unskilled shooters with skilled swordsmen right from the start. Hence my disagreement with the underlying principles that guns are “Easy to use” or that they “level the playing field”. If those claims were right, this would be a “fair fight” anyhow and the outcome could go either way. It didn’t.

    “I think for a modern game we have to assume that the quality of the equipment on both sides is equal. That is, if it's acceptable to wear armor in the street then both or neither will be wearing the best armor available.”
    Is that how it is in your games? Are the opponents as well-trained, well-equipped and equally skilled as the players? Because, if that’s the case, people are going to be rolling new characters as often as the players mow down their enemies.

    Fact is, opponents in games are seldom equal to the players in terms of skill or equipment, unless they’re the “boss”. So I fail to see how your example is applicable to the issue we are discussing.

    Truly, I don’t much care if you like my attitude. If you can’t defend your position on the matter, then “opinions” aren’t material to the issue.

    1. Shamus says:

      HeadHunter: When I said “level the playing field” I was talking about the same thing as “flattening the power curve”. “level” in this case meaning “to make less steep” not “perfectly even”. The idea is that guns reduce the delta between the PC’s and whoever they’re fighting in terms of power.

      More broadly, to everyone still following this: I keep seeing the same points being made on both sides, with tempers rising. This is a sure sign we’re talking past each other:

      1) I say guns are an equalizer

      2) Someone comes up with a scenario where, with the right training and at the right distance, and with a certain set of starting conditions, a swordsman can beat a shooter.

      3) That person then declares that they have disproved my assertion that guns are an equalizer.

      Are we talking past each other? Where is this disagreement coming from?

      It looks like everyone is attacking the assertion that “guns are a magical win button and you can’t ever beat someone if they have a gun”. I would agree that this is a ridiculous claim. But I never made that claim and if people think I did then I was either unclear or they misunderstood me. At the risk or reiterating yet again, guns close the gap and add chaos. Anything that adds chaos will favor the weaker side, which is almost always the NPC foes.

  166. Daimbert says:


    If you’re doing a comparison between melee and guns, and you are doing that by talking about cases where they are paired up against each other, then putting the combatants on a level playing field is REQUIRED, even if that isn’t what generally happens. And, straight up, a gunman will have a better chance against a swordsman ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL. The swordsman can win, but they need to start up with a set number of fairly rare circumstances in order to do so.

    Basically, if your comparison of battles is going to even matter, then it at least has to tell us things that carry across in general.

    Additionally, your example seems to be artificially inhibiting the gun side to make your point, since those were peasants with no training and inferior equipment. Bows and arrows can and have beaten simple one-shot muskets. What about repeating rifles? Would the samurai have a chance then?

    I think everyone in this thread agrees that under some circumstances — equipment, armour, situation, etc, etc — melee will beat guns. The main argument, though, is that in modern those become really rare, requiring a lot of effort to set-up. Which means that either you be really good or you use guns, at least as an often-used secondary. And then it seems to call into question if there is any reason other than characterization to not make guns your primary.

  167. silver Harloe says:

    quoth Shamus, “Anything that adds chaos will favor the weaker side, which is almost always the NPC foes.”

    Aww, your campaigns aren’t about the scrappy, weaker heroes overcoming the bad empire’s superior force through wit and moral superiority? Much sadness.

  168. Joshua says:

    And if, all things being equal, guns will work much better than swords, why would the average character dedicate themselves to learning skills that would only rarely be the optimal choice?

    As a side note to this, a lot of swordfighting training would teach you techniques to use against other swordfighters and melee combatants- how to block, how to get around an opponent’s block, how to block an enemy trying to get around your block, and so on. If almost all of your enemies carried guns, the times where a melee weapon would be useful would require far less dedication to studying an ancient art.

    I think a few others have mentioned that if melee fighters are desired to be a playable option in a PnP game, there has to be story-based reason. Either the zombie hordes make limits of ammunition and reloading an issue, common enemies require blessed/silver/etc. weapons of some kind to kill(and it’s easier to just make a sword than a ton of special bullets), or perhaps even visibility is an issue(constant fog or darkness, tunnels, etc.). But in a modern, non-magical setting, melee weapons will tend to be less useful than a firearm in a majority of situations.

  169. HeadHunter says:

    Shamus: Perhaps it’s just because I’m operating under traditional definitions of “level” and “equal” – that being, equivalency. If I misunderstood and you meant a more colloquial use, I can only apologize for reading you too literally.

    Daimbert: “If you're doing a comparison between melee and guns, then putting the combatants on a level playing field is REQUIRED, even if that isn't what generally happens.”
    But I was addressing the initial assertion, which seemed to imply that an amateur with a gun could be the equal of a skilled melee fighter. Perhaps that wasn’t what Shamus meant, but I hope one can see how easily those words can be so interpreted. Even I noted early on that guns are superior when all things are equal – but things so rarely are.

    I merely wanted to dispel some conventional notions that Hollywood has put into the minds of people who are seldom personally familiar with combat, weaponry and medicine. It’s OK for games to diverge from the real world, but if you’re looking for authenticity, the stuff in TV and movies goes out the window.

  170. Joe says:

    I am really impressed that this topic could actually create a debate. I honestly saw the exact same problem that Shamus has pointed out. I felt the only answer was to change the rules of what a gun does just like D&D did for melee weapons.

    I didn’t read a lot of these posts, but someone did manage to bring up the great point. Even a bad hit with a blade will often cause permanent damage and quick death. So really if we already decided getting hit with a huge war axe doesn’t kill you why can’t a gun be treated as less deadly too? In the end its really up to the DM to make everything work.

  171. Knightofhope says:

    You know, I don’t like dumping my opinion off when I strongly disagree nor do I like spend a lot of time arguing with a lot of other people so I’ll just respectfully give my few points of contingency and agree to disagree:

    1. Lots of heroes existed that used guns in history. ( IE they do not necessarily overshadow the caliber or the skill of an individual. )

    2. Guns have not always been deadly and even deadly weapons do not guarantee success.

    3. There are already magics and monsters that exist in D&D that could not logically coexist with humans because they are too ‘deadly’. However, despite this, the game still holds together in a believable way.

    Due to these and a few other reasons I personally don’t have any problem with there being some guns around in my campaigns. If anything, ranged weapons always prove to provide a false sense of security to the player characters anyways. The more difficult it is to challenge your party, the more rewarding it is when you do it effectively.

    Also, some of us are just tired of regular D&D. We’ve been saying let’s get back to regular D&D for a long time and every time we do our story telling gets a little less interesting. We might as well throw the books out the window and just take turns saying what we want to do and how we attempted to do it if the rules are going to keep us from being creative and having fun.

    Anyways, rant over. Thanks for giving my opinion a looksee. Hope you enjoyed it.

  172. OEP says:

    “@OEP, A toddler would not have the strength to pull the trigger on a standard pistol.”

    The trigger pull weight of pistols vary quite a bit. And the fact that toddlers have accidentally killed themselves and others gives lie to your assertion.

    Again, everyone seems to be picking straw men from the original post to fence with.

    The internet is amazing, ain’t it?

    Shamus casts Summon Pedant XXII
    critical success!

    I will throw in another bit of pedantry from my corner.

    The main differences between melee weaponry and firearms are the following.

    1) Potential Energy – melee weapons can only transfer the strength of their user. A weak user = a weak attack. Guns transfer that nifty little explosion in the chamber. Guns will kill you even if a 5 year old is shooting, the same is not true for melee weapons.

    2) Zone of Lethality/Range – need I say more? Well as a pedant I must. A swordsman has a zone of what? 5 feet around him? A gunman’s reach is a wee bit longer. A wee bit.

    3) Rate of fire – A semiautomatic weapon can be emptied filling the air with almost 20 projectiles, each potentially deadly up to a significant range.

    All fun stuff.

    Ultimately what I am saying is that my dad can beat up your dad. Or is it that batman can beat up doctor doom? I don’t know. Or a “trained swordsman” can beat “blah blah gunman”

    And yes, an amateur with a gun is more dangerous than an expert in melee weapons.
    Good grief.

  173. Abnaxis says:

    May I divert the discussion a tad? Beyond the debate on whether a swordsman can beat up a gunman, we all agree that HP in PnP games in general lead to some goofy stuff, whether it’s surviving a shotgun to the face or a greataxe to the spine. Right? Has anyone come up with a viable alternative to “Oh well, just ignore that for the sake of the game”?

  174. HeadHunter says:

    Well, OEP, if we’re going to be pedantic…
    “melee weapons can only transfer the strength of their user. A weak user = a weak attack.”
    You do understand that a knife is a lever? Certainly strength is a factor, but the blade itself increases it.

    As for toddlers accidentally shooting themselves? That’s just another thing that shows how an untrained shooter can often be more danger to themselves than anyone else. Let’s not compare accidents to “lucky shots”, for obvious reasons. ;)

  175. Maldeus says:

    This debate has got me wondering, what’s the highest number of comments Shamus has ever gotten on a single blog post?

  176. OEP says:


    I accept your pedant challenge. Actually I understand what a lever is (a machine that moves a load around a pivot using a force). A knife is a wedge, not a lever. It is neither class 1 (crowbar), class 2 (like a stapler), or class 3 (like tongs). The fulcrum point on a knife or sword is external to the device. So while your arm is a lever while you use that knife. The knife is not. The amplification of force is due to the fact it is a wedge, concentrating force along a narrow line. A long weapon like a sword can amplify the lever effect of your arm, but it is still not in itself a lever.

    Your post did not dispute anything I said. The fact remains that regardless of amplification, there still must be force to begin with.

    And untrained shooters are not just a danger to “themselves”, they are a danger to everyone around them. Accidental deaths from gunfire are just as often involve killing someone other than the person holding the gun.

    To end this, I know what your point is. I don’t necessarily disagree with it. And I don’t think what you have so laboriously and argumentatively stated necessarily disagrees with the original post in any significant respect.

    I even agree quite handily that melee combat is quite deadly and have stated so.

    So what the hell are we arguing about?

    Oh yeah, tis the internet, where we all devolve into jackasses.


  177. Knightofhope says:

    Hmm. I’m just glad my disagreement was so well accepted. o.O Hope noone thinks I’m a jackass. > . >

  178. Maldeus says:

    @Shamus: Wow. And here I was entertaining the dream that we might be within grasp of breaking a record.

  179. Microphobe says:

    I know N+1 readers have responded at this point, but as a man who has been developing a pen and paper RPG in a post-modern setting for the last two years, I disagree on all points. I am not trying to put you down, I am just trying to point out how these problems are approachable in a gaming environment.

    1) Guns are chaotic. Yes, but no one in their right minds would like to play a game where anyone can get killed as a completely random happenstance. Have you ever played an FPS where you get ambushed on all sides and have to take down all your assailants before you get shot the F*@! up, without knowing where the next bullet is coming from? (Gears of War, I’m looking at you.) Frustrating at the least.

    2) Guns are binary. So are Hit Points, in the traditional D&D sense. I have never liked a system in which if you have 1 or more HP, you are perfectly fine and can attempt any action, but when you drop one point you are unconscious and dying. In the system we are writing, we have a shorter health bar, with more realistic damage penalties, but we still exaggerate how much it takes to take someone out (on the heroic side of things).

    Also worth noting on the same point, melee damage, even bare hands, can be just as deadly. A man in a nearby city to me was punched in the face once and buried the next day (seriously). A knife wound can be just as damaging as a bullet on the same place as the body. “Hit or Unscathed” are real life conditions, and are detrimental to gameplay.

    3) Guns are deadly. There’s a reason swords, axes and spears ruled the battlefield for millenia before guns came along. They are deadly, too.
    To be honest, damage codes for games are hard to write. First you have to realize that you are summing up human life in the simple metric of how easy it is to end, then you have to figure out how quickly each weapon can do it. Not an easy task, if you’re basing each weapon on fact, like I am. Wikipedia articles are surprisingly unhelpful.

    4) Guns are easy to use. When I used to participate in Live Action Combat Groups (I won’t call them roleplaying, because it was just fighting with padded swords), one proven adage was that anyone could be stabbed in the back. Since we were playing with one-hit kills, this resulted in a lot of untimely deaths for more experienced combatants. The point is, in a large enough gunfight, anyone can be shot, and in a large enough skirmish, anyone can be stabbed.
    Also, Automatic Weapons are highly illegal, and illegality has an important role to play in any near-modern setting.

    To counterpoint your point on Intensive training, Cover is an important part of any gunfight. Getting behind something will help you immeasurably when bullets are flying. For melee fighters, getting within melee range will provide similar cover (enemies shooting into melee have the same penalties as full cover, and if they miss they roll to hit the other guy), and fighting stance bonuses help with actual melee combat.

    5) Guns render melee skills obsolete. Okay, this may seem like a contrivance, but if (in our system) you are within melee range of a melee fighter and are armed with a gun, you are at the melee fighter’s mercy (kinda).
    But how many movies have you watched where the bad guy has a gun pointed at the good guy less than arm’s reach away and you scream at the screen JUST HIT ‘IM! A gunner should be smart enough to stay outside of a melee dude’s threat zone, I say (and our system supports that, don’t you fear).

    6) Guns overshadow their users. Yes, I agree. BUT so do melee weapons. An axe-user, and handed a knife? What a pity those overhanded chops don’t do anything. Spear to sword? Maybe, but don’t try to use both hands! Hahaha!

    7) Anybody can use a gun. Anyone can use a knife, as well. Greg grocer can find a small, sharp object almost anywhere, which can do deadly damage to anyone, especially those not looking…
    To be honest, I’ve fired a gun (after years of melee practice) and hitting a target more than a few feet away from myself was hard. No really, I could not hit a motionless target I spent more than a few seconds aiming at only 15 feet away. But, then again, I have notoriously bad aim, so you might be able to add a few feet to that…

    Okay, so despite ragging on you, Shamus, I hope I might have perked your interest about our upcoming game, Seasons Pass, set in the near future. Any questions, my email is up in my name above…

  180. Rosewire says:

    If you’re interested in a somewhat more realistic take on guns in rpgs, I’d recommend checking out R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk 2020. Its a brutal, vicious system where its really really easy to die when the guns come out. Its still not perfect, but its pretty good.

  181. Arquinsiel says:

    Summon subsidiary pedant!

    OEP: “2) Zone of Lethality/Range ““ need I say more? Well as a pedant I must. A swordsman has a zone of what? 5 feet around him? A gunman's reach is a wee bit longer. A wee bit.”

    There is a limit, but it’s a lot longer than you would think. Generally speaking you have a four foot blade and a two foot arm (rounding a bit….). This gives you a six foot reach assuming you are stationary. With a proper lunge I’ve seen many a fencer make that a ten foot reach. With a bit of recklessness and over-extending (not really a problem if you hit in a fencing match, lethal in a real fight VS multiple opponants) I’ve seen people ballestra for fifteen feet or more on occasion. Of course, style comes into it a lot here. Foilists are more likely to be able to do this than Sabreurs are for example. Of course, trying it in a real fight or against a gunman will likely get you killed, but oh well….

  182. OEP says:

    @Arquinsiel – …longer reach…

    I was making a general estimate, but I can see your point. Although I think counting fotwork is not that helpful, since both melee combatants and gunslingers are able to move. So let’s say a 6 foot zone from your center of mass wherever that might be.

    /end nitpicking

  183. Joshua says:

    I would also disagree with footwork, because the time it takes a swordsman to make that lunge is more time than it takes the gunman to pull the trigger. Once again, all things being equal, because allowing for an exceptional swordsman who can move rather quickly also allows for an exceptional gunman who can respond to the movement immediately and fire.

  184. 1d30 says:

    Additionally, we can ignore the “if the gunman has a holstered weapon” because if he has a holstered weapon then so does the swordsman. And it takes just as long to draw a gun as it does to draw a sword.

    (At this point, HH will arrive with several anecdotal points about how you can draw a sword faster than a gun, probably referencing Japanese swordsmen even though plenty of cultures have swords, possibly mentioning an author he may or may not have read who may or may not have written something relevant, but certainly in a very condescending manner that makes it look like he said something worthwhile and definitely impresses all the Internet Ladies he is trying to attract by outperforming us all in this post-caveman genetic fitness contest)

  185. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Wow,how did I miss this one?

    Anyway,its not true that guns are binary.I remember a report of one robbery that ended in a gunfight where 2 of the robbers sustained numerous wounds(I think about 5 each),yet still were returning shots.The gunfight lasted for hours(and this is against policemen that were trained in using firearms),and were finally subdued by one of officer who himself had several gunshot wounds.

    And the warstories Ive heard from my father and his friends…Only in fiction is every single bullet fatal.In real life you can be peppered with gunfire,and still stand,walk,run,fight,for hours before loss of blood makes you weak.

    Also,if guns make melee obsolete,why is knife combat being trained in most armies?

    As for the system that may support this,why not try shadowrun?Sure,it does require lots of d6s,but it is pretty good for dealing with rains of bullets.Each shoot starts out as deadly(unless you dodge,that is),and only by luck(which is why the party has the combat pool),and with armour/implants can you make it survivable.The best thing the system offers is that PCs are heroes,and therefore can manipulate their luck(with dice pools),thus are above average people when doing outstanding things.

  186. Monsieur Vatel says:

    There are two solutions to the gun problem. One is the superhero/scifi realm, where everyone can be assumed to be packing enough power armor and forcefields or invulnerability so that a few hundred bullets or laser blasts would only slow them up a bit.

    The other is the Call of Cthulhu approach, which is basically that guns are about as lethal in-game as they are in the real world (except against your enemies). Which affects the sort of game that CoC is: combat is something that people tend to avoid, and the “drama” of the game most often comes from timely application of non-combat skills like Pilot Aircraft, and magical combat.

    It also encourages/forces the players to come up with more creative solutions to problems, which is something a certain class of roleplayer enjoys above simulated combat.

    All of which is to say, if you want to run a “traditional” roleplaying game in a modern setting, you have to either adjust your players expectations of how to behave, or how things work in the real world. Maybe both.

  187. I used to play d20 modern quite a bit and I really enjoyed it. But my friends and I (mostly the one guy) changed or modified much of the rules. Also we merged the White Wolf Vampire and Werewolf concepts into the d20 rule-set. Which meant that guns kind of made a rough amount of sense (when you are a vampire or fighting some guns just don’t impact as much). Besides, you do have to sort of think of it as an action movie or comicbook.

  188. Zak McKracken says:

    Most has been said already, but here’s my two cents:

    1. The article is quite correct. Guns are a problem
    2. Melee weapons are also more deadly than D&D would have you think. They’re just further away from what the average D&D player knows, so fewer people are objecting. In fact even nowadays a crossbow bolt is more dangerous for someone wearing a bulletproof vest than a small caliber round.
    3. The first few generations of firearms had lots of disadvantages. Heavy, impossible to conceal, hard to handle, slow to reload, inacccurate, low bullet speed.
    4. Even in actual wars (e.g. WWI) a lot more shots were fired and a lot less hits occurred than the average action-movie-goer would think. There were more injuries than casualties.
    5. Actual gun combat is probably much more about duck & cover than anything else

    I think firearms can be made to work in RPGs based on these things:
    1. cheat slightly on the long-term consequences of gun wounds (armor, shields, ways of healing, magic?)
    2. Decrease the hit rate of guns compared to swords. They should probably keep the “ciritcal hit” ability, though, so people are still scared of them.
    3. Gunfight ability should be as much about aiming as about finding cover and realising someone’s about to shoot at you or reload.
    4. Further adding the disadvantages from point 3. above, plus maybe limiting availability of gunpowder and bullets, guns can become something else than the dominating kind of weapon. They’d be scary, they’d offer a chance to score a quick hit, but after the first shot (and anytime outside of battle, they’d just be a burden for their bearer. Kind of like the magicians’ fireball. very mighty indeed, but if he blows it or you get to him before he casts it, the caster will be easy to deal with.

    The details (and how far you go away from reality) are probably personal taste, but that’s the general direction I would go in.


  189. This is why most “modern” systems usually do something like:

    A) Rifts. Lasers and such. M.D.C. armor, aliens, demons…

    B) Shadowrun. Cybernetics and mutants.

    C) Heroes Unlimited/Champions/Marvel/etc. Yeah, there’s guns, but there’s superhumans.

    Then again, how much sense does HP make even in ancient contexts? Almost EVERY hit from a bladed weapon and most hits from heavy or spiked clubs should be lethal. 1D4 damage for a sling? My ass.

  190. AfterShave says:

    The game Eon (Swedish game) has a combat and damage system that makes sense and is incredibly deadly. If you’re hit it’s either a minor cut/bruise/puncture or it’s serious damage that breaks your bones/pierces internal organs/incapacitates you from pain.

    There’s also no real HP in the regular sense. You have Trauma, pain, blood loss, bleeding(which determines blood loss) and exhaustion.
    Every hit that causes a single point of trauma after you’ve taken more than usually around 6-7 points of it can kill you, blood loss also causes death.
    The same goes with pain and unconsciousness.

    The system works well, is believable and varied, but it takes quite some time to resolve combat.

    In this game, almost every weapon is as lethal as a gun.

  191. Rich Leathley says:

    I like a lot of the comments that have been made. I love the idea that injuries have to be treated in a certain time (first made ridiculously down the post list!) it can make things… interesting :)

    Right down to my tup’pence worth…

    Well it amounts to guns are dangerous and they should be treated with respect! Guns = horrible debilitating wounds. One bullet can and will put you down.

    I’m advocating making close combat dangerous (as indeed it should be), but guns more so to represent their ability to ‘reach out and touch someone’.

    I really do enjoy good games where a hero gets stuck in and lets a hero be a hero (a hero is very rarely ‘a grocer’ – though I have played a 14 year old boy and an accountant amongst others) but guns need to be treated with respect.

    I think in a modern environment guns are (and should) be available, but to use them recklessly invites all sorts of trouble. Even in situations where gun-play is common place (such as a war-zone or a gang heavy environment) there are rules, and even though minor transgressions can be carefully glossed over, a huge fire fight is going to attract attention PCs don’t want.

    Basically it boils down to (in no particular order):

    1: The best defence for gun combat is don’t be shot!
    2: The second best is, if your shot make sure you’ve got serious armour.
    3: The third is make sure if you are hit you can take a large amount of kinetic energy hitting you.
    4: Like so many things, never enter a fair fight. Plan, plan, plan! (actually this maybe 1, but excreta occurs, often…)

    PCs don’t tend to treat guns with the respect that they deserve. I’m not advocating gibbing players left right and centre, but there is a place for roleplay in all of this. A small amount of ‘fudging dice’ (in PCs favour by GMs) may be needed to make a system fair but it will let a hero be a hero while standing up to the evil (or whatever) menace. Less Rambo 3, more Metal Gear Solid (et al)…

    …Though I love Rambo 3…

  192. Phntm888 says:

    First of all, I’ll readily admit I didn’t read everything (mostly the most recent comments), and I’m not going to weigh in on the real world physics of guns vs melee, but I’ve found one fairly simple game mechanic fix to having guns in, well, any setting that makes guns just as deadly as melee weapons. It may have been mentioned, but Star Wars the Revised Core Rulebook used a system of Vitality Points and Wound Points. Wound Points equaled your Con score, and Vitality Points went up by level like Hit Points. Basically, since all combat (except for lightsaber and the occasional melee) happens at range with guns, and characters very rarely wear armor, they divided the two. Basically, VP represented close misses and the wearing down of your character, whereas WP represented actual hits to your person. When you ran out of VP, you started taking WP damage, or a crit would apply damage directly to WP. And with most guns doing 3dX of damage, you did not want to take WP damage.

  193. Roninsoul7 says:

    There have been a LOT of answers to this question.

    First and foremost, a game of any type has to be fun.

    Second it doesn’t have to be realistic to be fun, though that can help in some situations. To expand, realistic is having your players do their character’s taxes in real time without die rolls, which can be fun if you’re a math wiz and like that sort of thing, but most just don’t.

    Third, combat of any sort is deadly. It takes four pounds per square inch of pressure to shatter a grown man’s kneecaps, be it with a punch, baseball bat, or infant’s rage, the result is a permanent limp without major surgery. The only way to mitigate combat being this deadly is to do what the militaries of the world trains it’s soldiers for, to kill the other side in such a way as to limit their ability to fight back. Ie. sneaking up behind someone and slicing their throat, shooting them from a sniper’s nest, moving to high ground surrounding an open field and waiting. Any way you look at combat though, the minute people start being hit, they break bones, lose teeth, traumatize tissue, etc.

    That all being said, everyone’s opinion varies, but in the end what we all agree on is that it is a game. We play games to get away with things we can’t in real life (John Doe is a grocer, will never get the chance to put down a major evil that bedevils the world, but his character does) so just do the best at telling a fun story.

    Realism would demand real world heroes, and looking anywhere but the police, firefighters, military leads to a drought of heroes.

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