In defense of the cinematic (Damage and Quick-Shooting Bows)

I do a lot of posting about “realistic” stuff, and increasing the verisimilitude and simulationism achievable – hopefully at minimal cost – for GURPS.

An example – instead of being able to accelerate from a standing stop to full Move in one turn, if you halve your acceleration (so on turn one, Joe average can go 2 yards, on turn 2, he can move 5 yards) it actually makes a huge difference in the ability for not unusual guys to break the 100m dash record.

That being said – there’s a reason to use a bunch of cinematic rules (and some of RAW falls in that category) even in otherwise realistic games.

That reason is, quite simply, player engagement.

Real might just be boring

Consider a fantasy archer. His ability to influence a combat in a game is basically in proportion to his ability to do two things: the first is do damage where no one else can, the second is to plain-old contribute to bog-standard combat. For most cases, it’s the second one that will come up most often. This means that to have fun with a character that has sunk, in all probability, a crazy amount of points in Bow (frex) to be good at it, he wants to be effective.

But typically, without lots of “cinematic” skills, you draw an arrow, ready a bow, and then either shoot, or aim. You can, with the right skills, Fast-Draw that arrow, as well as Quick-Shoot the bow, knocking (nocking?) two seconds off of a typical 2-3 second pause between shots.

For this archer, effective means projectiles on target, and fun means you want each shot to be meaningful. While “damage per seccond” really has no place in GURPS, you do have certain expectation that shooting once every third turn or so will be fun.

So the payoff for going less than 1/3 as often as the other guys better be huge (I might not hit every round, but when I do, you’re *going down*).

Makes up for three seconds of loading the thing

Part of this is the frenetic pace of GURPS combat, with none of the normal lulls that would make that time to draw, nock, aim, and fire disappear into a few turns of “I evaluate!” or “I step back and catch my breath.”

But the RAW make it pretty darn attractive to “hit hit hit hit hit hit hit hit-with-extra-effort! hit hit” as a melee fighter. Possibly with worrying about deceptive attacks, hit locations, wounding modifiers, or whatnot. And if you’re really good, doing it all more than once with Rapid Strike.

Compared to all that, “I ready my arrow; I aim. Still aiming. OK, now I shoot!” is boring and relatively speaking, unhelpful, especially in a DF context.


So even though (for example) bows might be darn powerful when compared realistically to a 9mm pistol or even a .45 ACP (2d+2 pi and 2d pi+), as your ST 15 composite bow (1d+4) imp will penetrate as well as the .45 – and wound better! – both guns can shoot three times per turn, only reload every few turns. A guy with a sword and good skill can swing twice for 2d+1 cut, which is more damaging than the .45 as well.

Finally, speaking of melee and muscle-powered ranged weapons in a world of guns

Seriously: if you’re going to spend the time and shrapnel addressed to occupant to get up close and personal with a bunch of guys with killer hardware. If that’s you schtick – you might as well be able to punch through body armor while you’re at it. Because most of the time you’ll get messily eviscerated on the way.So once you get there, you’re going to deserve to be able to rip the guys arm off and beat him to death with it, powered armor or no.

Is it realistic? Hell no. But it’s fun. And I strongly suspect that this is a case where the payoff of all that risk to get next to the guy dual-wielding MP5SD5s with drum magazines, your reward should not be “and then you break your sword and your left hand on his trauma plate.”

Sure, I totally get why that’s not realistic. Hell, I’m a card-carrying member of Realistic University, maybe even on the faculty. But when I play in a game where RAW is not altered to make such thigns stupid . . . I have a really great time

One thought on “In defense of the cinematic (Damage and Quick-Shooting Bows)

  1. If you're familiar with the gamist/simulationist/narrativist theory, this sounds like a defense of using a gamist perspective when that's what's most fun. I can't argue with that.

    If you're not, briefly, D&D 4.0 is built with the gamist perspective in mind: everything is balanced, every rule is written with playability in mind, it's not that far off from pen'n'paper WoW (which isn't a bad thing or a good thing). White Wolf games are built with the narrativist perspective in mind: let's run everything on a stripped-down set of rules that may require adjudication on the fly because our players come to the table with a story to tell and the whole point is to help them tell it. Frankly, GURPS is the closest I've seen to a game built for simulationists: here's how to model the fluid dynamics of dry and wet sand, and here are the stats for your shovel and your bucket, now go nuts in your sandbox. Typically, I love this about it, but you're right: in a more cinematic genre, one needn't be punished by verisimilitude for bringing a katana to a gunfight.

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