GM Advice: Guns and Dice

By Shamus
on Jan 13, 2010
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

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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A Hundred!A Hundred!2202 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?

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  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”.

    • 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.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boot_Hill_%28role-playing_game%29

    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?

    • 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.

    http://www.peginc.com

    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:

    @Joshua
    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.

  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:
    http://www.thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/explaining-hit-points.html

  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”
    “how?”
    “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) http://www.pbphouse.com (/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.

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