Pyramid #3/57 – Magic Bullets

This is an article-by-article review of Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay. While I don’t usually do this, the subject matter of this issue is just what this blog ordered, and even if one of my own articles is in it, I really think every article, and nearly every word, of this issue is worth reading. So, a series of (hopefully) shortish posts. You can find the installments on Modern Warfighter: Gear here, as well as The Devil’s Chariot, Brock-Avery Guns, Dodge This, and The Nock Volley Gun.

Magic Bullets ( +Christopher Rice )

This is all about how to kill supernatural critters. The article is basically only one section, with a bunch of sub-sections to divide it up by categories. It’s two pages long, an equipment list of a very specialized type. In fact, Chris notes that it was an Appendix Z submission that was padded out a bit to make it long enough to stand on its own, so brevity was in fact, one of the article’s mission statements. Bear that in mind when I note that certain things could have been added: perhaps, perhaps not.
Ultimately, this is a different type of article than the rest, largely because while Ken, +Hans-Christian Vortisch, and Graeme are reporting stats on real-world and verifiable equipment, +David Pulver was inventing a company with a few real-world-based guns to go with it, and I created some mechanics (which only have to feel right), +Christopher Rice is inventing stuff. He’s also playing in my sandbox, as it were – I didn’t call this blog Gaming Ballistic for nothing, and that “Doctorate in GURPS Ballistics” thing in my Steve Jackson Games author bio is only sort of a joke.

So, I’m going to do sort of two reviews. One from a game-able perspective, the other from a total “bring out your nitpicks!” perspective. I should do full disclosure, though: I playtested the article (perhaps peer-review is the better phrase), so if some of these later nits came up only now, that’s my fault for not pointing them out to Chris back then.

The Right Ammunition

Real-world .30-06 wooden training bullets. So they say.

After a brief introduction that basically notes that certain supernatural critters require just the right ammunition type (werewolves and silver, right? Vampires and wood?), the article starts right in. For simplification purposes, it notes that weight will remain unchanged unless otherwise noted, and the big difference will be cost.

Throwing realism aside, this is totally the right call. It might even be the right call in spite of any “realistic” nitpicks (oh, I’ll do that later).

Following the intro, he breaks the bullets down by payload type.


Ultimately, he treats these as a type of hollow-point bullet, complete with increased wound channel modifier, armor divisor, and increase of DR for items with DR 0. Each liquid also gets a linked effects, which is explicated in footnotes.

Irradiated Vampire-killers. Accept no substitutes.

There are nine liquids listed, from the el cheapo garlic extract to the downright spendy silver nitrate tear gas.

The only flaw that I think I’d note here is that it would have been useful to have noted which type of creatures each bullet is typically sovereign against. This is a partial gripe: he does note that asafetida is ward against spirits, and some of these are obvious or at least relatively common knowledge. “Wolfsbane” is probably not going to be used against an insane Frog Prince. Or if so, the bullet itself is likely going to do just fine.

Liquids: The Nitpick Version

The real nit here is the assumption that these bullets will have unchanged weight. Nearly every one of the loads is lighter than the copper-jacketed lead it replaces. Hell, silver nitrate has a density of 5.35 g/cc, while jacketed lead pistol bullets will tend to have a density between about 10.0 and 10.8, in my experience.

That means that to have a constant weight, they will be quite large. Probably large enough that they won’t feed in an automatic pistol or rifle, and will have to be hand-loaded one at a time. That’s not a bad thing, and in fact, adds to the drama of the moment.

The other thing about these is that unless you’re dealing with a shotgun, a bullet, especially a rifle bullet, is a shockingly small volume. As examples, to pick some common cartridges

Volume of 22mm Samaritan bullets: 12.5ml

40 gr .22 LR: 0.25 ml
230gr .45 ACP: 1.4 ml
147gr 9x19mm: 0.9 ml
180gr 10mm Auto: 1.1 ml
300 gr .50 AE: 2.0 ml (ok, that’s not so common except in the movies)
M855 5.56x45mm: 0.42 ml
7.62x39mm: 0.87 ml
7.62x51mm NATO: 0.98 ml
12G full-bore shotgun slug: 3.5 ml

Now, that volume assumes the entire thing is the projectile. If (say) 50-75% of that volume is liquid payload, there will be very, very little of it.

Now, one thing that does not change here is the base damage. The kinetic energy of the bullet is determined, more or less, by the energy of the powder behind it, and the distance it moves down the barrel. So since caliber and energy don’t change, neither does the GURPS damage. However, the light weight will probably make the ballistic coefficient go lower, which will drop both 1/2D and Max range.

Kate Beckinsale. Just because.

What I’d do as an alternate rule here is say that such funky additives, against the right creature, allow the bullets to work like bullets, maybe with the pi size reduced one step, or even just breaking even. So instead of spirits or supernatural creatures just being irritated at you for shooting them with pesky widdle bullets (how cute!) they will have their usual impact. Hell, even if your .45 ACP does pi- instead of pi+, if the trade-off is “does damage at all” then it’s worth it.

One interesting tidbit, though, is if you can actually make these loaded, lighter bullets, they’ll be fast. A .45 ACP that replaces half its volume of lead core with silver nitrate will only mass 175 grains or so. In GURPS, that’s not worth anything. My calculated 1/2D and Max ranges drop from 290yds to 215yds and 1740 yds to 1470 yds, respectively. A water-filled bullet would be 145 yds and 1190 yds.

Is all that crap worth it?

No. No it is not. It adds book-keeping and math for no real good purpose, while the existing “keep it all the same, charge more, and treat them as hollow-points with extra badness vs. the right critter” makes it a decent choice. The only fault, again, is that these odd loads are the same as JHP bullets (though they cost more) even though they’re very sub-optimized for killing people, rater than supernatural critters. The only real change I’d recommend to Chris’ work is to knock down his bump-up of wound type for regular Joes. Keep the (0.5) armor divisor, but do not increase the wound type against flesh-and-blood. Do whatever you want for the thing it is supposed to be bad for. Increase the wound modifier, add linked effects, etc.

Special Metals

Five alternate metals, with different costs for the bullets. In this case, not bothering with the slight changes in weight-per-shot is totally the right call, and the increase in cost for the inner core of the bullet is quite reasonable. Nothing to gripe about here.

Special Minerals

Some of these are just fun. He notes that the hard part of this is to get the inner core into shape, since you can’t pour it into a mold.

Do you know how hard this is to machine? Do you?

True, true, but most modern bullets’ cores are swaged into the jacket, not poured or cast. Still, that’s a true deep-dive nitpick, and others can probably nitpick my nitpick, noting that cast copper or other solid bullets are exactly that: cast. They are in fact, poured into a mold. So what’s the right call? Keep it simple. This is a game.

As almost the last sentence, he notes that with the right gemstone, you can use these as a mana reserve making it available as a spell arrow.

Explosive fireball bullets? Yes, please!


I’m pretty sure that all of this is more-or-less borrowed from the existing rules from either High-Tech or Loadouts: Monster Hunters, both of which would have had good reason to do these. I know we discussed new rules, and we then said: “Waitaminute, these surely have to exist already.” And so they did.

Windham-Pryce. Rogue Demon Hunter.

The footnotes for the wood items (seven of them) follow the advice I have for liquids, making it very, very obvious what the appropriate target of each wood type is.

As a note, I always thought that a shotgun-launched saboted wooden stake would be the best use of modern firearms vs. vampires. A shotgun chambered for a 3.5″ shell could probably fit a 1/2″ diameter, 2.5″ long wooden dowel, which you could bore out and fill with silver or lead to increase the mass, and thus stability. That seems to me a non-trivial anti-vampire projectile.

Plus: shotguns. Coolness delivered by pump-action. Even Wesley says so.

Ballistic’s Report

Despite my nits – and most of those are confined to liquid-filled projectiles – this article is well done, and all about the fun. A lot of supernatural creatures need to have significant resistance against modern firearms to pose a challenge (See Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy, p. 25), and thus conversely need a weakness to make it more interesting. After the right level and success at Hidden Lore or other research, being able to determine that one particular type of material or spell can be speed-delivered at 1500 fps might make a fun climax.

As such, this article delivers. If its not 100% accurate where ballistics are concerned, well, a lecherous werewolf (with guns!) isn’t exactly 100% realistic now, is it?

3 thoughts on “Pyramid #3/57 – Magic Bullets

  1. Dagnabbit. I really wish I had added some notation on what ammo affected what supernatural critter best. I pitched this as a Appendix Z, but was later asked to expand it. I really should have added then in then. Thank you for the review, Doug! 🙂

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