Skill Levels for Ranged Combat in GURPS

By special request!

The post on melee skill levels in GURPS broke my previous record for number of views in a day, so I guess people liked it. Enough so that the “but where’s the ranged stuff?” came as a special request, and a natural follow-on, to boot.


Ranged weapons are difficult in GURPS. Oh, sure, they’re the same skill levels. And Tactical Shooting even tells you what the typical range of skills are for guns: from “default” up to Guns-18 for “Exceptional hostage-rescue operators and snipers.”

But ranged weapons have a neat “yeah, but” to them – they stack on penalties faster than just about anything else in GURPS. The penalty for hitting a dude in total darkness with a stick? -10. Typical difficulty “just wing it” for an “impossible” task? Yep, -10, say for using a meditative skill in a combat environment. Hitting someone in the “center of mass,” the vitals in the chest, from 100 yards away? -10 for range and -3 additional for target size. The famous “head shot,” which in GURPS is the skull hit location, which contains the brain? It’s -10 at a range of 7 yards. Seven. Yards.

Note that the fact that these penalties are large doesn’t mean I disagree with them. They actually work pretty well.

Additionally, many weapons of the typical fantasy crowd can take a while to reload and re-ready for use. Even if you look at the battle with the Uruk-Hai from Fellowship of the Rings where Legolas is going all, well, Legolasy on the orcs he’s shooting about once per second. That’s roughly half the rate of a good melee guy with Skill-22 (again: starting DF Knight level), who can lay down a Rapid Strike for two shots per second at a net of Skill-18, or even less with key advantages. His range penalty is zero for melee, and always will be.

One thing about the size-speed/range table: it’s logarithmic, meaning every -6 to skill is 10x farther away, or 10x smaller in size. So a +1 bonus is actually a big deal in context – it means you can hit the same exact target the same amount of the time 50% farther away than you used to.

But the real kicker here is that there are comparatively few ways to boost your skill.

Key Maneuvers and Attack Options

Many of the options that you get for melee weapons don’t translate 1:1 into the ranged arena. For one thing, one of the more important stats you have for ranged weapons is Acc, the bonus you get to hit when you take an Aim maneuver (more below).

So, what are your options:

All-Out Attack

Your only option here is Determined, and it gives you +1 rather than the usual +4 for melee.

. . . and that’s all, at least as far as things you can do without spending extra time to do it. You can give up all your defenses for +1 with a ranged attack, but you can get +4 for AoA(Determined) and another +4 for Telegraphic Attack for melee. So given the same amount of defenselessness  you are +7 to hit advantaged in melee.

The key bit is the Aim maneuver (p. B364), which adds the weapon’s Acc, plus if you use a long-arm sling or a pistol in two hands, you can claim another +1 for your weapon being Braced.

Prediction Shot

This doesn’t help you put a projectile on target, but this optional rule (found in a few books) which allows Deceptive Attack to reduce your foe’s defenses  Dodge on ranged attacks helps a successful hit stay that way.

Some GMs and/or players do not find this realistic. So if your GM says no, you’re out of luck on this one. GURPS is a Rule Zero game.

But by and large, you are at a severe disadvantage with a ranged weapon in terms of available bonuses, and you can rapidly stack up some major penalties on your butt: most of p. B548 is one line of bad news after another.

The only other thing that might help is Suppression Fire (p. B409-410) where you can hose down a two-yard area if you can apply RoF of 5+ to it. Hit chance is 6+RoF bonus with handheld and bipod-mounted weapons, and 8+RoF bonus for vehicle-mounted and tripod-mounted ones. See below for further comment on suppression.

Alternate Rapid Fire Rule: Right now, you get a bonus to hit if you fire five or more shots (p. B373). I don’ t like that as much, because the militaries of the world have shown that firing three or four shots is a pretty good way to increase hit chances, and right now, there’s no reason to use that number. I like to change the progression so that 1-2 shots gives +0, 3-4 gives +1, 5-8 gives +2, and 9-16 gives +3, and every x2 gives +1 after that. Really, this is just shifting bonuses around, but it gives a +1 to hit for semi-auto fire at RoF 3-4, which I like. This progression also works if you use it up to 16 shots, and then revert back to the rules-as-written past that.

Second Alternate Rapid Fire Rule: Use the Speed/Range table, either giving +1 at 3-4 shots, +2 at 5-6, etc., or add 1, so a double-tap gives +1. Thanks to +Mark Langsdorf for the full suggestion, found in the comments below.

Vital Advantages

Certain advantages are key where ranged weapons are concerned, if you can get them.


From the point of view of point-efficiency, you’re buying the ability to add Acc to all shots with a handgun, aimed or no, for 25 points. Ahem. 25 points is a minimum of +6 to hit with any one skill. Acc for handguns is usually less than 3. Guns skills have pretty generous defaults, so if you’re only using the Basic Set, think hard about taking this one – it’s not worth the points. If you can convince your GM to lower the price to, say, 10 points, it becomes pretty attractive. Might even be attractive at 15 points, but not for 25. Gunslinger is also considered a cinematic advantage.

For cinematic campaigns, +Hans-Christian Vortisch‘s GURPS: Gun Fu adds some meat to Gunslinger. Ignoring the penalties for move and attack, full skill when shooting when riding or in a vehicle, Bulk penalties on foot, reduced penalties for Ranged Rapid Strike, and a whole host of other options, some of which may be available for realistic campaigns with a benevolent GM. On p. 16 of that book, the real key might be the Accessibility limitations he makes available by limiting the scope of the weapons to which your advantage applies, lowering the cost to get the benefit from this schtick.

Weapon Master

Another advantage that is recommended to cinematic games, this one helps with muscle-powered weapons, and the damage bonus it can provide is quite cool if your skill is DX+1 or DX+2. The other real benefit is reduced penalties for Rapid Strike (which you also get with Gunslinger).

Heroic Archer

This is an explicit variant on Gunslinger for Bows; the Basic Set alludes to it, and it’s spelled out right on on p. 45 of GURPS Martial Arts. For 20 points, it stacks the Rapid Strike benefits with Weapon Master, and gives you the ability to loose arrows from a bow while on the move, and disregard penalties in close combat.

Again, Mark notes that in his DF games, the ability to ignore penalties in CC means DF Scouts simply don’t need a backup weapon. They can use their bows.

Scopes and Sights

Laser Sights and Micro Reflex Sights: These boost Guns skill, not Acc, so they’re recommended acquisitions.

Bow Sights, Telescopic Sights: These add to Acc (as does Bracing a gun) and so will cost you the second required to aim.

The Basic Set restricts bonuses from aiming aids to 2xAcc; Tactical Shooting suggests max skill of 22+2xAcc. I like the second one more than the first. Of course, as Lead Playtester for Tactical Shooting, I’m very biased, but it’s a fantastic book.

Get to it Already

OK, with all that said, let’s take a stroll through the ranged weapon skill requirements. Let’s see what we can do with the same skill levels as melee. I’m not going to discuss defenses. By and large, you don’t parry or block with your weapons. You’re restricted to dodge, which has nothing to do with skill. If you’re All-Out Attacking, you can’t even do that. Note that you can parry with a bow, but it’ll likely ruin the bow. Your best defense is a big guy named Og or something. Maybe a velociraptor animal companion.

TL0 through TL4: Muscle-powered ranged weapons

Here we’re talking bows, crossbows, and slings. Acc ranges from 0-4, and half-damage range is a multiple of ST.


Unaimed Attack: A waste of time for all concerned. Even with AoA (Determined), you have a 16% chance to hit someone at two yards. If you can’t even roll if your skill falls below 3, then your max range is ten yards. Don’t bother aiming for any specific location, please. You’re going to embarrass yourself enough just aiming for “his general direction.”

Aimed Attack: Some of these weapons you really don’t get much help with the Aim maneuver. Acc 0 is pretty pointless, but multiple seconds of Aim still count. Even so, with no special rules, you’ll aim for three seconds in order to get a bonus from +2 to +6, with the +1 for AoA (Determined). That’s a net bonus of +3 to +7, for Skill-8 to Skill-12 (and for that, you need a crossbow, the only muscle-powered ranged weapon in Basic with Acc 4). That gives you a 50% chance to hit a guy at 5 yards. Woo hoo. Maybe 7 yards if you also brace that crossbow, which will probably require some not-too-portable or decidedly anachronistic technology.

The ultimate point here is that the only viable tactic at default skill levels is to mount a crossbow to something solid like a tripod, and start aiming when your foe is at least 22 or 25 yards away, more or less. You’ll hold fire until the last moment, then try and draw a hand-held weapon before he’s on you. You must assume that your one shot will miss, and then you’ll be hand-to-hand. Plan accordingly.

Unaimed Attack: You have a 37% chance to hit someone at two yards or less. You’re still wasting time trying this.

Aimed Attack: OK, with one shot every sixth second (Draw Projectile, Ready weapon, Aim, Aim, Aim, Shoot), the net bonus of +3 to +7 (see above) brings you to Skill-12 to Skill-16. So you can hit a man-sized target 50% of the time at 5 yards for Skill-12 for low-Acc weapons, and 20 yards for crossbows. If you hold your fire with a crossbow, you can hit the vitals 50% of the time at 7 yards. More pertinently, at 5 yards, you have a 90% chance to hit the torso, so “hold your fire ’till you see the whites of his eyes” is legit, but you may not have time to get your hand-to-hand on if you don’t stop him in his tracks – and at low TL, unless you’re very strong, firing special projectiles, or he’s unarmored, the odds of doing enough damage to guarantee incapacitation are low.

Unaimed Attack: You have a 50% chance to hit someone at 5 yards. Meh. Still pointless. If you have time to Draw, Ready, and Shoot, you probably have time to Aim a bit.

Aimed Attack: Your net skill with a longbow will be Bow-17. That’s 90% chance to hit at 10 yards, which might even give you time to drop the bow and draw a sword, mace, or club. You can hit a torso 50% of the time at 30 yards with a bow, or 70 yards with a crossbow. If you have a braced crossbow, you can hit the vitals at 30 yards.

The hit chances here are enough to worry a mass of attackers, but probably not individuals. Recall that if you can see a shot coming, especially a single arrow, you can elect to Dodge, and the defense bonus of a shield helps to protect. So these strike home less often than a hit is rolled.

Unaimed Attack: Geez. Skill-15 and you can hit the vitals 50% of the time at 5 yards, 90% chance to hit the torso at only 3 yards, and 50% chance to hit a man-sized torso at 15 yards.

Aimed Attack: You’ve finally got enough skill, at Skill-18 to Skill-22, to combine targeting with range. You can project point fire to 100 yards with a longbow with 50% hit rate, or hit the vitals with a longbow (Acc 2)  90% of the time, in combat, at 7 yards. A crossbow can do it at 15 yards. The low hit percentages at range are somewhat offset by the fact that with the right perks and skill rolls (Fast-Draw, and a Bow roll for quick-ready, but at -6) you can fire quite a few arrows by the time your foe closes the distance. Still, the warning against dodge holds at all ranges – if you’re shooting at Go Go Gadget Dodge Monkey and he can see your shots coming, you may waste a lot of arrows.

Unaimed Attack: Your 50% chance to hit is now actually somewhat decent, at 50 yards, the average mook will take ten seconds, more or less, to get to you. If you make a (wise) investment in Fast-Draw, you can shoot every other second, giving likely 4-6 shots at your foe. As he gets closer, you have a 10% chance of a critical hit at 5 yards to the torso, which negates even Dodge-Monkey’s last hope. You will essentially stop missing at 10 yards (90% to hit), and be able to snap-shoot the vitals 50% of the time at 15 yards. This tactic will be valid if you are behind a melee skirmish line, providing support. You can get relatively close, and stay close, while providing precision fire.

Aimed Attack: Ah. There’s a reason Hans put this at the top tier, and now we see what it is. Even with low-tech weapons, you’re looking at effective skill of 21 to 25. That’s a vitals shot 90% of the time with a longbow at 20 yards. You can now think about targeting the skull with a crossbow 90% of the time at 10 yards, and two times in three (net skill of 11) at 30 yards. You can project fire with a longbow to a generic man-sized target 50% of the time out to 300 yards . . . so you’re finally testing, maybe, the limits of the weapon. With a crossbow you’re probably not – with reload times what they are, you might as well “fire and drop” these, and have a very high ST crossbow, aim well, and shoot for the vitals or skull at ranges in excess of 100 yards.

Prediction Shot: I’d hold that this is the first skill level where you’re probably better off using some of your “surplus” skill, if you have any after range and location, for a shot that actually lowers the foe’s Dodge. Granted, the GM must allow it, but if he does, you may wind up being better off dropping your foe’s Dodge than keeping your skill at higher than 14. Hard to say.

Cinematically high skill, but accessible for Dungeon Fantasy characters. The prototypical bowman in DF is the Scout, and with a little tweaking, you can start shooting a ST 17 bow with Skill-24 at the start of play, by piling on the full -75 points of disads, taking Strongbow, ST 14, Arm ST +1, and knocking off a point of (say) Cartography. So it’s doable. You’re also sporting Fast-Draw (Arrow)-16 and Fast-Draw (Sword)-14, so you can draw an arrow or two freely each turn. You can also get a sword ready when your foes close on you and fight at Shortsword (or broadsword, spear, or some other skill)-14, which will keep you alive but not for long at DF point levels. Good for mooks, etc. This hasn’t been required in actual play, as noted above, since getting rid of the close-combat penalties with Heroic Archer mitigates that to the point that you don’t need a backup weapon, but you will need high Dodge. Without Heroic Archer, you will want the backup, still.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto helpfully notes the following with respect to some of the gymnastics I went through to get Bow-24 out of our starting Scout:


. . . it’s a real stretch to make a starting Scout with bow-24. It’s easy to get a net 24 skill, though – Heroic Archer and Weapon Master, Weapon Bond on the bow, all 8 points from Background skills to get Bow-20, 4 points from quirks for Bow-21 (and 1 on Weapon Bond.) Buy an Acc 3 bow (longbow for 200, composite for 900) and you are shooting at a 25 skill, 22 if you Move and Attack. 

You’re just focusing on also getting a ST 17 bow, which is a terrifically hard combo to do on 250+50+5 using the Scout template and $1000 in starting cash. If you built a custom archer, you could. I’d say just worry about the skill – you’re concerned about hitting, not damage, otherwise you’d also need to start talking fine arrows, poison, bodkin points, etc. It’s kind of a departure from the point. 

So I’d just let the ST 17 bow thing go, and say a straight-up Scout from DF can get a new skill 25 if all he cares about is shooting bows, 24 if not (spend 4 quirk points on something else, or 4 background skill points on actual background skills). You don’t need to even tweak the template to do that. You only need to change stuff if you want raw skill and lots of damage, too. 

At this skill level, though:

Unaimed Attack: You can snapshot the vitals (-3) 90% of the time (effective skill 14) at 30 yards. You can shoot for the eye (-10) and hit 50% of the time at 10 yards (and a miss by 1 hits the face). If you have a target 100yds away, you have a 90% chance of hitting him even without aiming. You can Fast-Draw an arrow and absorb the -1 penalty to draw and shoot a bow (two skill rolls, with the -6 halved twice for Weapon Master and Heroic Archer) at Skill-23 every round (hello, Legolas . . . where have you been all my life), which means you can do this to the vitals at 20 yards every second at a 90% hit rate, or even the brain (-7) at 5 yards. This is pretty much exactly what our favorite pretty elf was doing in Fellowship, and this is more or less the skill level to do it (note he was being attacked effectively one at a time with conveniently staggered foes). With only a few more points, perhaps +2 to +4 to skill, you can do this to the eye, like he did.

Note that Skill-24 is the cap on a weapon with Acc 1, with or without aim, using the optional rule from Tactical Shooting!

Aimed Attack: With Aim bonuses that take raw skill up to, or past, the max-skill cap suggested in Tactical Shooting (and which you should probably throw right out the window in Dungeon Fantasy), this is an effective skill of 28 to as high as 32 depending on what you’re doing. At this point, eye shots and brain shots are your go-to, since you can eat that -7 or -10 at a minimum of 5 yards, and maybe as far away as 50 yds. You can menace a foe with a 90% chance to hit with a longbow farther than the bow can shoot, so you need to start always picking your targets. For a ST 17 composite bow, you can hit the vitals (-3) 90% of the time (Bow-14) to 300 yds, which is still within your 1/2D range with 1d+4, and with the proper arrows, that could be 1d+4 (2) pi, putting 1d injury even through DR 8.

At close range, if you’re allowed a Prediction Shot, you will have plenty of skill left over to drop Dodge. At 20 yards (-6) to the vitals (-3) with a composite bow and plenty of aim (Bow-30), you can take a -6 to hit and inflict a nice -3 to Dodge and still roll vs. Bow-15, increasing your chance of a critical hit to on a 5 instead of a 4.

TL5 through TL9-ish: Firearms and railguns

Unaimed Fire

There’s not that much different with unaimed fire for any sort of weapon, with a few important exceptions:

Targeting Aids: Any aids that add to Guns skill, instead of Acc, will help you here. Most of the fancy-schmancy targeting aids are only good for +1 to Guns (though occasionally much more to Acc).

Rate of Fire: You don’t have to get  your full-auto on to make this count. With a pump-action shotgun, fully legal nearly everywhere in the USA, you can put 18 pellets into the air at once firing two shells filled with 00 or #1 buckshot. Even with the standard GURPS Rapid Fire rules, this is worth +4 to hit, and will do something like 1d+1 pi damage per pellet that hits. Not much against any sort of body armor, but that’s a huge chance to hit. Even so, typical full-auto weapons can rock out +2 or so (+3 using my alternate rule suggestion above) in spray-and-pray mode.

Magazine Capacity: The ability for a shooter to take 1-3 shots per second until his magazine runs out is a bigger deal for the low-skilled than high. Each roll of the dice is a chance to get lucky (and at low skill, that’s what you’re hoping for) and put a bullet on target.

What does this mean?

Default Guns skill is Easy, so you get a quick boost there. Mostly, this means “you miss” even at close range, as with low-TL weapons, but with a shotgun, that +4 to hit from Rapid Fire means you have a 50% chance to hit at 2 yards, which is not as uncommon an engagement range as people might think. You can, even without the shotgun, look to try and claim the +1 for All-Out Attack (Determined), and the additional +1 if you can buy a gun with a laser sight (most likely for a pistol) or collimating/reflex sight (pistols and longarms). That’s one chance in four of a hit from two yards, or about one chance in ten or fifteen at five yards . . . which happens to be the average hit chance of real-life encounters at the same distance. Note that full-auto fire from even a good SMG at this skill level will still mostly punch holes in things other than your target. Volume of fire does not make you not suck, it only makes you suck slightly less.

One point in Guns gets you DX, which is Guns (Whatever)-10 for Joe Average. Five to ten yards distance is -2 to -4 to hit, which our putative shotgunner can offset through volume of buckshot. So with a little training, you’re hitting 50-75% of the time, and a good roll can put a bunch of pellets on target (with Rcl 1, you hit with 1+Margin of Success pellets).

Why am I focusing on shotguns? At low skill (and in this case low is probably “12 or less”) that buckshot bonus is your ticket to actually accomplishing something. Even full-auto weapons of normal output (600-900 rounds per minute, or RoF 10-15) aren’t enough to get out of this hole.

You’re 90% to the torso at 7 yards with the shotgun with an AoA; 10 yards with the proper boost to Guns with the right sight. This is close-in nastiness, but for unaimed fire where you’re just banging off rounds, it’s likely your best tactic. Spray-and-pray with an SMG  or full-auto carbine is a 3-5 yard game, though a collimating sight is more likely on those, so this is the first time SMGs/rifles equal shotguns for hit rate, and both will surpass in damage. At Guns-12 and higher, you’re looking at preferring rifles and submachine guns over shotguns, finally, as offensive weapons.

Suppression Fire
One trick not mentioned yet is suppression fire, which pours fire into an area and rolls at 6+Rapid Fire bonuses to hit. This is a good way to utilize relatively low-skill fighters, though I’d probably limit the roll to 6+Rapid Fire bonuses or real effective skill+Rapid Fire – as long as your net skill to put bullets into a range is larger than the 6, use rules normally. That might even be the real rule.

This gets loving attention in Tactical Shooting, with the key bit being that near-misses can trigger Fright Checks. This is a darn good way to deny movement and keep heads down. Go read the book. It’s worth it.

Unless, of course, you want to slow down and try . . .

Aimed Fire

TL5-9 adds a lot of oomph to what you can do when you Aim, since you can get some pretty appreciable bonuses thrown in, in addition to the larger accuracy of longarms.

Targeting Aids and Scopes: This is where the real impact is made, though it can take many seconds to get there. Your typical 10x scope is a +3 bonus to Acc, and I believe that stacks with rangefinder bonuses.

Inherent Weapon Accuracy: While handguns are in the Acc 0 through Acc 2 space, much like bows (this isn’t too much a cinematic convention – a modern olympic super-expensive target bow can be Acc 4 based on shots I’ve seen myself – like putting one 8mm arrow through another at 10 yds), SMGs and rifles can push Acc 6.

Precision Aiming: GURPS High Tech introduced the Precision Aiming technique, which can exceed the usual +2 for additional seconds of aim. You still can’t, in reality, exceed the suggested cap of 22+2xAcc for any reason – that’s the mechanical accuracy of the platform in a bench-rest. But with an Acc 6 firearm, that cap is Skill-34.

Bracing: You can claim an extra +1 using a two-handed pistol stance or using a sling with a long-arm. In TL7+, this is likely “how you learned,” with that being especially true at TL8, where the odds of needing that other hand to swing a sword or control a horse’s reins are pretty low.

Rapid Fire: Well, I suppose you can still push the +2 or +3 for shooting a lot after spending three seconds to aim. It ain’t elegant, but remember that +2 is “same result at double the range,” and a good roll can hit with multiple bullets. So there might be something here. Note I’m not going to talk about it much below. Consider it an Easter egg.

So our notional Aimed Fire case will be looking at +1 for AoA(Determined), +1 for Braced in most cases, +2 for taking additional time without the Precision Shooting Technique, plus Acc and any bonuses you get for the first second of aiming with a scope.

How about our nominal combat rifle. A rifle with Acc 4 (for a carbine) or Acc 5 (for a rifle). Maybe with a x4 scope on it (+2). So with a few seconds of aim, you add +10 or +11 to skill. Higher tech weapons with computerized rangefinders and magnifying scopes built-in can probably increase this by +2 or +3 more. That means that you can (for example) roll against full skill to 100-200 yards against a man-sized target, and if you hit probably do 5d-7d of damage.

At combat distances, aimed fire becomes positively lethal. As it should.

Pistols are in the same accuracy class as low-tech ranged missile weapons (Acc 0-2), but can usually claim the bonus for braced and maybe a laser sight. This means that net Acc is probably 1-4 . . . so you can use the descriptions for Aimed Fire right out of the box.

SMGs push the upper bound of accuracy for muscle-powered ranged weapons (mostly Acc 3-4). They may also mount scopes of typical combat power in the +1 or +2 to Acc, and snipers may well push +3 to +5 for extremes (+3 is a standard 10x scope, which is plenty in most cases). For carbines and rifles, you’re talking Acc 4-5 plus scopes and targeting aids, and likely braced for a sling.

SMGs: you can probably expect to achieve the descriptive results of muscle-powered ranged weapons at 1-3 points of skill lower. So Skill-10 with an SMG is probably as good as Skill-12 with a composite bow or crossbow.

Combat Rifles: Acc 4-5 vs the 2-3 of typical bows. Bracing is easier. Scopes are legion for another +1 to +2. So you can achieve muscle-powered ranged weapon results with skill levels 3-6 points lower than the descriptions. That means a Guns (Rifle)-12 combatant who can Aim (+5), Brace (+1 for Brace, assumes AoA(Determined) for +1), using a x4 scope (+2), and taking his extra two seconds (+2) has an effective skill of Rifle-23 before he starts subtracting for range and target. He’s 90% at 20 yds to the vitals. That’s as good as Bow-18 with a longbow, a +6 advantage over our bowman.

Hunting and Sniper Rifles: Bigger scopes (+3 or more), higher Acc (Acc 6, or even 7 if you want to pay for it). Likely using Match-Grade Ammo (+1 Acc on weapons with Acc 4 and higher) probably gives a +3 advantage in aimed fire over even Combat rifles, meaning Joe Solider with Rifle-12 with all that kit is pushing an effective Rifle-24 to Rifle-26, meaning vitals shots at 90% at 30-70yds. That may not seem like much, but that’s someone with only a few points in the skill.

TL9-ish through TL12: Lasers, Grazers, and Blasters (oh my!)
There’s actually not too much more to say about ultra-tech weaponry. The sights and scopes that are listed in Ultra Tech really aren’t that much better than some of the late TL8 scopes in High-Tech.

The big bad, though, is that lasers and other zero time-of-flight weapons are Acc 6 for a pistol, Acc 12 for most rifles, and Acc 18 for mounted weaponry. That’s a +6 skill level advantage over sniper rifles for your bog-standard laser assault weapon.

Electromagnetic weapons maybe are +1 Acc over their conventional cousins in pistol form, and roughly equivalent to +1 better for longarms.

Parting Shot

All fighters are more or less equally ineffective when not pausing to aim. There’s a lesson there.

Low-Tech weapons suffer from poor rate of fire unless proper investment in skill (Fast-Draw is one of the best points or four you’ll spend if you’re an archer, I suspect), and having enough skill to eat the Quick-Shooting penalty of -6 means you go all Legolas on someone only if you’re really very skilled.

Any sort of range penalty (and they stack up fast) makes unaimed fire mostly pointless at any tech level.

You can boost up your chances a bit by using high volume of fire (like a shotgun or full-auto weapon), but a quick analysis of the stats shows this is still a game when you’ve got only a bad guy in front of you at ten yards or less.

The name of the game in ranged weapons is aimed fire. You can even do sequential aimed shots, one per turn, using the Follow-Up Shots rule (Tactical Shooting, p. 14). At this point, high TL matters, since high Acc, scopes, and other devices become telling.

22 thoughts on “Skill Levels for Ranged Combat in GURPS

  1. I don't know how realistic it is, but just on a "less tables to remember" basis, I prefer to use the speed/range table for calculating RoF bonuses. The easy way is to just give +1 for 3 shots, +2 for 5, +3 for 7, etc. The slightly more complicated way is to add 1 to the preceding bonuses, so you get a small bonus for double-tapping. YMMV.

    1. Have you tried this in actual play? I am quite intrigued by this concept, but wonder if it breaks down at all, especially at high RoFs. I do like the alternate idea of giving bonuses at 3-4 shots too, but this idea is quite elegant.

    2. It's better than the current system, but still a little wobbly at the high end IMHO.

      Current ROF/Bonus/Proposed ROF


      You still only get a +17 to hit when you fire 1600 rounds, which doesn't quite solve the "just use ROF to deal with long turns and VRF weapons in Spaceships" problem, but for most land-based games it ought to be significantly better.

  2. I've built, played, and seen played enough DF Scouts to realize that spending points on melee weapon skills is a near complete waste of time. Scouts can already use their bows in close combat (unless they're grappled), so there's almost no point in dropping their deadly weapon in order to pull out an inadequate weapon. It might make sense to learn Fast-Draw (Two-Handed Sword) and Staff and then whip out a staff to get the good parry, but its usually better to just Move and Attack and shoot the bastard.

    Also, you should note that Prediction Shot explicitly only reduces Dodge, so Scouts have to use Ranged Feints (if allowed) or movement to get around shields.

    1. The scouts in my game haven't needed melee weapons skills much, but they've used them. Could be different circumstances of the game – it's not uncommon for me to have situations where melee is the only way to go (tight tunnels) or the only viable option (no magical arrows and critters that need magic to hit) or the only offered option ("He challenges you to a knife fight.") Several of those have come up in my DF game. I'd say in my experience the scouts should always choose the bow unless they have no other option. As the GM, I just hit them with enough stuff that sometimes melee is the only option.

    2. Yeah. I don't actually use that in my games – it's so rare that you can justify it, and mostly scouts in my games try to shoot people who aren't looking at them in the first place. But it's an option against a single attacker. Deke and then shoot.

  3. I think the comparison of +1 for AOA with ranged vs. +8 for melee is unfair. Telegraphic Attack is a great option but it increases the odds your opponent will defend, so it's not a free +4. Melee defenses are also superior, you can Dodge, Parry, or Block melee (and thrown) weapons, not just Dodge (vs. modern weapons) or Dodge or Block (vs. missile weapons).

    Don't forget to mention Block under your low-tech missile weapons – you can dodge that arrow, but also Block it. Shields are critical if you aren't armored enough to ignore arrows.

    1. It's unfair and it's not. At the skill levels that require Telegraphic Attack (low), neither party is going to have an effective defense at the same time as they're attacking – the high incidence of AoA on both sides will mitigate against the following math.

      Dodge will be your go-to in all cases, if you preserve it, and probably (but not definitely) you're looking at Dodge-7 through Dodge-10. At default skill levels (Skill-5 or Skill-6), you can use a Telegraphic All-Out (Determined) to get to a hit chance approaching 80-90% before defenses are figured. Against similar skill levels (assuming Dodge-7 or Dodge-8), a retreating Dodge gets you to Dodge-12 or Dodge-13, which will only allow one hit in four or five. So net hit chance is about equivalent to an undefended skill of 6 to 8. That winds up being roughly equivalent to an undefended snapshot with a gun or bow, but if you can still do Dodge (or block) you're dropping down into single-digits. So your point is well taken, that the bonus from melee is not as important as the raw numbers work out – but because of the defenses.

      If both parties are All-Out Attacking, that changes the calculus quite a bit.

      Your point about Block is on-target, and I need to look at the rules again. For some reason I thought it was quite difficult to Block missile weapons.

    2. Okay, that's true. But I'm not thinking "what about his skill?" but "what about mine?"

      A fight between Skill-5 or Skill-9 guys is funny, but rare, so I was thinking purely from the perspective of what my guy can do, not "he can't do much back anyway so I may as well Telegraphically AOA." If that's the case, it's worth wondering about AOA (Double) – when is that better than a +4 to hit?

    3. The calculus on that question – AoA (Double) versus AoA (Determined) – definitely comes down to outcomes. If it's enough to hit once, then two attack rolls is pretty sweet. If your skill is sufficiently higher than your opponent (probable, since you're AoAing on the assumption he won't hit you) then a double might be a feint and an attack, to get an even higher result than +4.

  4. I'd like to see a post by you, Doug, on the Rapid Fire rules. You allude to a couple of alternatives here, but I'm wondering how well those hold up under scrutiny (and play). Rapid Fire (both semi- and fully automatic) seems very powerful even under current rules while being vastly more playable than the 3rd Edition rules (which I thought were painfully slow to roll out).

    For example, you could address when to actually use Suppressive Fire, when it's best to use short, medium, and max RoF bursts, etc. From experience, guns like the MP-7A1 are practically useless unless fired on automatic (by useless, I mean unlikely to drop an opponent in 1-2 attacks). But with a 9 round burst, for example, they can be incredibly potent, particularly when combined with intentional aiming for Vitals or with the High Tech rule (1 in 6 hits is Vitals).

    Anyway, something to ponder…definitely fits with the theme of this blog! 🙂

    1. This does seem worthy of further attention.

      Quick question on context: your reference to the MP7A1 – is that your personal experience in the real world, or personal experience carrying one in play? Seems like a play reference.

      With damage of 4d+1 pi-, it will penetrate armor well, but wound like a small pistol round. The key here will be shot placement, since a shot to the vitals replaces the x1/2 damage multiplier from the small round with a x3 for location.

      I could see expanding on Rapid Fire a bit, as well as dredging out some alternate rules for the masochistic I came up with once. 🙂

    2. That's definitely a play reference! And yes, you nailed it on the head–the pi- modifier of x1/2 gets replaced by the x3 from Vitals and makes it a decidedly deadly weapon. The campaign was a Fallout/XCOM post-apoc alien invasion, and the PC that had the gun actually rarely aimed–he did a lot of Move and Attacking and bought up the CQB technique from High Tech. His Guns (SMG) was about 15, and that was often sufficient at the ranges at which he would shoot things (plus, he often got +1 to +3 from ROF).

      One thing you could discuss is how machineguns should be used differently from assault rifles in terms of automatic fire. You could also look at the…oddity (?? perhaps)…of a full auto spray and pray having a higher chance to hit at long range than a similarly aimed single shot (what I mean is when you Aim and then get a RoF bonus on top of that…technically, nothing in the rules prevents that, though I think Precision Aiming is limited to single shots…if not, that's kind of humorous and should lead to the invention of full auto sniper rifles!).

  5. I talked a little with Doug over this via e-mail, but my biggest problem with low TL ranged weapons has not been regarding the realism, but rather with the "fun factor." A melee fighter will get a chance to roll at least once every other round (with an axe) or every round (swords), but an archer, if competent, every few rounds (assuming you are smart and aim). So you have players who generally get to do something every round, while others will not.

    Suggestions on this?

    Thoughts that I have (not necessarily right ones): You could reduce range penalties, you can make the Bow skill cheaper, could increase AoA to +2, you could force melee fighters to pause every 4-5 seconds or suffer fatigue, enforce Situational Awareness from Tactical Shooting (for melee), or any other ideas and do any of the these work?

    1. I want to say the reasoning behind this, to some extent, is that with enough skill and with Arrows being piercing can make a fairly substantial impact in a game that normally doesn't require a Spear or rather large weapon.

      Either way though, I would imagine this being the case with unarmed combat situation as well. People who play archers don't typically want to think about aiming each action, reloading their arrows, or whatever, just the same as "Monks" don't want to think about losing their arms when they try to parry or dodge armed attacks.

      If I recall though, some of the books go into detail about the cinematic bits of this, saying that realistic combat may not be in everyone's bag, and in such cases it is ideal for players to have up to 3 "enhanced" actions or having advantages that allow for quicker aiming.

      On the flip-side of things, considering most games that are "on par" with that of DnD tend to be 250+ character points, which ideally are high enough level to allow for very focused skill in such skills. Realistic games will more times than not be on the standard side of things ranging between 100 to 150 points. Please correct me if I am wrong here as I am going simply by what I have read. My limited experience tends to reinforce this.

    2. If you have some of your combats start at ranges of 50+ yards, then the archer gets to take his attack every 3 actions and the melee fighters get to take actions after the archer has shot 4-5 times. That seems pretty fair to me.

      Heck, even at short range, I've seen plenty of instances of the melee types spending 2-3 rounds trying to close 10 yards (at move 3 or 4 in heavy armor) while the archer has already fired twice.

      I guess I don't see the problem. If you're playing a realistic game, either the archer engages at long range and gets several rounds of play devoted solely to him, or it's reasonable that people don't use longbows when clearing houses. If you're playing a cinematic game, the Heroic Archer is shooting every round and is actually making more attacks than some of the melee fighters, because he can attack any foe within 50 yards while they have to spend actions moving if the opponent is more than 5+ yds away.

    3. In a few ways here, Mark has the right of it. My analysis of "how far away can you hit a target of certain difficulty" is one way to stack up the numbers. But honestly, in most Fantasy games, the odds of engaging a target starting at more than, say 30-50 yards away is pretty low. In all of the fights we've had in Nate's DF game, where Mark and I are both players, the longest range that we've ever engaged at was something like a few dozen yards, as a bunch of viking mooks charged us from a riverbank. I don't remember the exact range, but if it was more than 30yds, I'd be surprised.

      In most cases, then, where you're bringing a longbow to a fight (rather than a BATTLE), your range penalties probably aren't going to be much more than -7, and often more like the common firearm distances of -3 to -5.

      From the point of view of the Dungeon Explorer, then, you have:

      * Mark's aforementioned DF trope, where you can Fast-Draw an arrow, Quick-Shoot a bow, buy off the penalties, if any, for such moves, and shoot at unmodified skill (before range, darkness, and target size penalties) every round, possibly twice or even more. You can use Ranged Feints (see Martial Arts) or Prediction Shots to lower your target's defenses/dodge (respectively). You won't likely be facing penalties much more than -5, and you'll have Heroic Archer and Weapon Master (Bow) to eat up lots of other penalties. If your foe enters your hex . . . it doesn't matter, since you don't face close combat penalties with Heroic Archer. You can even strike with your bowstaff if you must!

      * If you're in the equivalent of a dungeon crawl in a more reality-based game than DF, your notional strategy will be more like the fight that was had with the Cave Troll in Fellowship, where Aragorn, Boromir, and Legolas waited behind a locked door, shooting arrows through it as they came in. After that, it was melee city, except for the guy who'd snuck Heroic Archer in under the GM's nose. The best strategy here is to pack a really, really strong Xbow, fire it once at close range, and then Fast-Draw a melee weapon.

      * For outdoor realistic action, the archer trades off being immune to swords because he's a quarter to half a football field away for shooting less often, and missing a lot. Bows are mostly battlefield weapons(lots of archers firing at lots of people, effectively using suppression fire and Rapid Fire to get a few hits in), not close-combat ones. There is almost certainly a place for archers in fights (rather than battles) in games, but you're going to have to put a lot of points into your Bow skill to make it worthwhile, or set it up where you have a small horde of NPCs who's job it is to load crossbows and hand them to you!

  6. What about applying Limitations to Gunslinger to reduce its cost? For 25 CP, it covers a very wide range of gun types, and IIRC Sean Punch has stated in the Forums that it is quite reasonable to apply a -20% or even -40% Liimtation to it, so that it covers a narrower range of guns.

    1. It's buried in the post a bit, but that's discussed in there:

      "On p. 16 of that book, the real key might be the Accessibility limitations he makes available by limiting the scope of the weapons to which your advantage applies, lowering the cost to get the benefit from this schtick."

      The key bit is "accessibility limitations," which is EXACTLY what you describe. My primary point is that you want to slam at least 40% limitations on it before it even starts to compare positively with other ways of achieving the same goal (notably, +lots to skill).

      But yeah, at 40-60% worth of limitations (or just "lower the cost, already") it starts to look attractive enough to maybe take.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *