Thursday is GURPSDay, and after thinking about the concept of encouraging more Roll and Shout when doing Quick Contests last week, I ended on a cliffhanger saying that I thought there’d be a good way to adjudicate guns combat a bit faster.

Not much about GURPS task resolution at its core is hard. Roll 3d6 under the target number. For skills, margin of success mostly doesn’t matter, because your choices tend to be front-loaded by design.

What does that mean? If I want to chop a leg, or do a tricky blow that speeds past defenses, I declare it as part of the maneuver, and then it’s a yes/no did you do it or not, mostly.

Obviously that’s not always true, and there are a lot of cool effects where Margin of Success matters – not the least of which is rapid-fire with guns, the very case we’re discussing here. Still, my guidance when I was writing rules was to encourage front-loading the decisions.

In any case, the thing that takes the time in GURPS is – nearly always, in my experience – working out modifiers. That’s why the Dungeon Fantasy monster writeups are so cool. They list out a monster’s attack with the attack name, a flat skill to roll against. Sure, you can stack on a hit location modifier, etc. But usually you don’t. If a monster typically attacks the leg, it’ll be noted, and statted out for you. 

The goal here is to make firearms combat as similar to that as possible, where the goal is to get things “close enough to right” that there’s a balance between differentiation on the character sheet and speed of resolution. 

With that in mind, I’m going to have “penalty classes” and “bonus classes” with fixed values that approximate things that are usually done with a resolution of +/-1 to skill. The usual considerations will apply, but we’ll try and speed things up.

If this offends, just stop reading. If assessing all of this is so trivial that your whole table does it by instinct, that’s awesome. But since one of the last games I played had everything from “I’ve never played in a RPG before” to “I’ve written books for GURPS” side-by-side, it might help.


Penalties


Modifiers to skill for guns are plentiful and stack up some of the largest penalties in GURPS. The biggest two offenders are range and target location. Range can be arbitrarily high and penalties start accruing for anything at 3yds away or more. Hit location spans from -0 for blazing away at the torso to -10 for shooting through an eyeslit in a helmet. Lighting penalties also range from 0 

Simple Range, Location, and Environment

To cut down the granularity and lookups, use the following simplified tables. They are somewhat intentionally vague. The -2, -4, and -8 penalty regimes are basically the Close, Short, and Medium range bands from GURPS Action 2 (the box at the bottom of p. 31).

By and large, unless you’re dealing with characters with firearms base skills over 20, a good rule of thumb will be that a shot with net penalties (accounting for bonuses, below) eats up more than half the skill probably won’t be taken. In reality, people will often blaze away with net skill in the 5-7 range (6- being 10% chance to it, 7 being about 15%, and 8 being 25%). My experience is that PCs will usually strive for net skills of at least 12, but that’s not always practical or possible.

Non-ideal conditions

The goal here is to boil it down to three choices. Shooting inside a well-lit open room for the generic center of mass? -4 for range, no other penalties. Going for a head shot in a cube-farm? -4 for head, -4 for significant obstruction, for net -8. Between the eyes across a sports stadium in a storm? -12 for range, -8 for target, and -8 for the storm. That’s -28, and good luck with that.

Note this chart makes shooting for the vitals and the head (which of course in 4e GURPS, but not casual vernacular, the “Face” or the “Neck”) indistinguishable. Yeah. The goal here is to find an intermediate penalty and generic effect for something similar to a vitals, face, or neck shot. Vitals is -3 and x3 damage. Neck is no effect from piercing. Face has knockdown at -5, and hits use the Critical Head Blow Table, etc. I figure an intermediate penalty, extra damage, and knockdown roll for all would probably be a good blend. But . . .

If you despise the “Location” column and prefer the existing Hit Location and effects, just use them as-is. The key for the table above is that it’s fast and meets player expectations. If a player has memorized the location penalties and effects, boom. No time spent. 

Rapid Engagement and Targets


By and large the only other penalties that show up are 

  • Bulk penalties for moving and shooting or fighting in close combat. Use -2 for pistols, -4 for combat rifles, SMGs, and self-defense shotguns. Reserve -6 for full-size muskets, battle rifles, and sporting guns (long-barreled hunting rifles or shotguns used for bird hunting, skeet, etc.). While the usual penalty for rapid acquisition of targets is -2, using the bulk penalty instead is a good way to sweep up any sort of “my gun is moving while I’m trying to do stuff with it” or “I have to slew my weapon rapidly across the target” into one category.
  • Multi-target engagement is for pointing at more than one thing at a time. Two point targets on the same object, or two different targets are the same penalty: -6. Theoretically you can call it -6 for each target beyond the first, but in practice that stacks up so fast that doing more than two is impractical.

Bonuses

There are a few situational modifiers that give you bonuses, some of them can be quite significant. All of these assume a rapidly changing, chaotic combat environment. So while you can often be awarded significant bonuses for non-combat conditions (see Tactical Shooting, p. 9), that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Equipment



The other good stuff that adds to skill are things like laser sights and reflex sights. These adjust skill directly, so that +1 you get from a reflex sight isn’t something that changes from shot to shot. You always get it, so just increase base skill – if you can do this as a Conditional Add on an automated character sheet, so much the better.


Maneuver Selection


There’s really only one option here for ranged weapons: All-Out Attack (Determined), which gives +1 to hit. While that’s significant in terms of mathematical result (you’ve just extended your accurate fire range by 50%), in practice the measly +1 doesn’t offset the total loss of defenses. 

Also, there’s another thing you can do to hit with another +1, which is to Brace the weapon. This is two hands on a pistol, two hands plus a sling for a rifle-type weapon. This is often only available if you Aim.

Unikitty says never AoA

To encourage the use of all of these, I’m going to wrap these up into one selection: Committed Attack: Determined and Braced. If you choose to do this, you get +2 to your skill, but suffer -2 to all defenses. You can take one step as part of this, or two steps but you get no bonus to skill. 

No, it’s not realistic. If you’re doing this, by and large you’re not defending. This is clear in Tactical Shooting, and it’s based on real study of real shooters, who are not ready to fling themselves aside, parry a sword, or otherwise react to something crazy happening.

It is, however, practical from an opportunity cost perspective. In GURPS the cost of losing your defenses is gigantic. To the point where I’ve heard it articulated that All-Out Attack is something you should never, ever, ever EVER do.

So this tones it down a bit, but puts together things that often go together in practice: a determined, braced attack. Sure, you might not have the sling or two-hands for a pistol. But whatever. The point of this is fast.

Aim and Lots of Aim


Each weapon has an Accuracy statistic, which is added to your skill when you take an Aim maneuver. In practice, this is the way the monster penalties are removed, too.

There are two ways to deal with this: note the actual Aim bonus for your weapon, and keep track of it. This obviously most consistent with published rules, and if you print out a character sheet using GCS or GCA, or even just look up your gear and write it down ahead of time, that’s right there on the sheet.

The other is to simplify it and make generic categories. 

  • Pistols: +2 following an aim maneuver
  • Combat Rifles: +4 after an Aim. This includes shotguns, assault rifles, carbines, etc. 
  • Sniper/Precision Weapons: +6 after an aim
  • Recoilless Beam Pistols: +6 after an aim
  • Recoilless Beam Rifles: +12 for aiming

Got all the time in the world and a proper scope? Can afford to pick your time to shoot? Double the figures above. Got Gunslinger? Add it every shot for pistols, add half for rifles. Just note that as an all-the-time bonus to skill, because that’s how it works in practice.

Double Acc for lots of time? That seems like a lot, but you can usually hold aim for two more seconds for an additional +2, and scopes get +1 for each doubling of magnification, and common scopes give +2 (say, the x4 ACOG type scopes) or +3 (8-15x). There are even 30x type scopes available, which are almost +4. Computer targeting, which is probably available if you have effective laser weapons, can get pretty crazy too.

If you feel it’s too high, just use +50% instead of x2 for beam weapons; +9 for pistols and +18 for rifles doesn’t seem wrong. The rest are quite possible, even routine.

Rapid Fire


The final category of bonuses tend to come from rapid fire. I’ve used a couple of really nice house rules for this one, the best of which is “bonus of half the SSR for shots fired.” This has a few advantages that I won’t go into here. But it produces values that look like the chart to the right.

In practice, I’ve seen three rates of fire, using this rule or no. Single shots, three shots, and ‘full-auto.’ So you get no bonus for the first, +1 for the second. Full auto tends to be “military weapons with rifle cartridges” at +2, “SMGs and 3-rounds with buckshot” at +3 and “OMG gatling guns!” at +4.

So just write down the bonus you get for whatever maximum rate fire you can eke out. It, again, makes things simple: Single shots and double-taps are no bonus. Three-round or four-round bursts are +1. Then you need to write down your personal value for “many shots.” That’s it. Yes, this ignores things like Fanning and other high-speed semi-auto stuff, but I’ve never seen those used in play. Others’ may have, so YMMV.

This again takes the existing GURPS rules for RoF and tweaks them, but this one is for the better, I think. The progression above fits better with how GURPS calculates weapon fire spread.

Posture


GURPS posture penalties are really designed around melee fighters. It assigns a -4 to attack from lying down, and no penalty to attack while standing.

Ranged modifiers require a bit more parsing. There are no bonuses or penalties for Attacking due to posture. Defenses are as-written. Target applies to attacks against the torso, groin, or legs (not skull, face, or arms) from most angles.

So pretty much you can just simplify and say that shooting a non-standing target is at an extra -2 for normally unpenalized attacks, but vitals and head are the same penalty, so you might as well shoot head. That turns the three-stage hit-location into

  • -2 Torso on prone foe
  • -2 Arms on prone foe
  • -4 “Head” on prone foe, and don’t bother with vitals
  • -8 Skull on prone foe

Being prone makes it easier to brace, but that’s not really reflected in the rules anywhere. I’d personally allow a two-handed firearm to claim the +2 for Committed and Braced without a sling while prone.

Parting Shot

This short checklist is designed to be fast and get you in the right ballpark. It’s supposed to blaze past the “fiddle” and get you to rolling dice. It’s a blend of generic difficulty modifiers and categories of “close enough.”

This one isn’t fiddly realism. It’s a close-enough blend of enough divisions to provide distinction between skill levels and weapon types, with enough consolidation that the GM and novice players can not have to figure penalties for each individual attack. 

Consider that for range bands, mostly players and bad guys tend to cluster in groups for range. “Punching in the face, with interspersed gunfire” is no penalty. Can close distance with a move at 15 feet or so is actually about the typical distance for low-light noir conflict. Within a small room? Also common. Beyond that tends to be “supporting fire” in the games I’ve played. So once you establish a range band, exceptions will tend to be only made for “crazy guy is running in to use the melee weapon he paid a lot of points for.”

The rest? Few enough choices to matter. Distraction level/environment is like BAD (Basic Abstract Difficulty) from GURPS Action, and will tend to apply to everyone.

Quickly, though, it should be as fast as the following. 

  • Range band (and that will tend to be ‘in close combat’ and ‘everyone else’)
  • Distraction and environment (open, moderate, hard, what are you thinking?)
  • Bonus: Maneuver (regular or committed for +2 attack and -2 to all defenses)
  • Bonus: Number of Shots (one, three for +1, many for usually +2 or +3)
  • Bonus: Aim (single bonus or double for all-the-time-you-need shots)
  • Hit location (torso, limbs, x3 damage, x4 damage/chinks)

The first two (bold) more or less applying to everyone in the combat at once. The Aim option only applies to those that wish to burn a turn aiming. The rest are individual choices, and will tend to have favorite choices by player. Higher skill guys will tend to shoot for the vitals/head (-4) using three shots (+1) when they can, etc. Sure you can mix it up, but skilled fighters tend to be trained fighters, and training often says “do this this way every time for best effect.” 

The key is to avoid analysis paralysis. Enough choices to be interesting, minimal look-ups and calculation (including ‘how far away am I from target X? How about target Y?’) in play. 

A good rule of thumb here is if the net skill drops below 6-8, just switch over to suppresion fire, and roll vs. 6+RoF bonuses and force Fright Checks on targeted foes. PCs in my experience won’t shoot with skill less than 8, and frankly would prefer 10-12 if they can get it, and 13-16 otherwise!

If by the time you get to the end of this post, your eye is twitching like Donkey from Shrek, go ahead and use the full-on rules. That’s what they’re for. But the level of abstraction above isn’t that high, and the number of choices has been – usefully I think – cut down to a bare minimum. 

You can also employ variable resolution here. Particularly important scenes that had a lot of planning go into them, or are the climax of a long series of intel gathering, tactical planning, recon, and then execution can use the full-on rules, which will tend to maximize the players advantages in training and equipment and skill. 

But for “someone pulls a gun and starts blazing away!” random violence, the quick-selection rules above are probably where you want to be.

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