Guns, Guns Sport, and Task Difficulty Modifiers

Thursday is GURPSDay, and a conversation on the Forums about modeling on-the-range use of Guns got me thinking about something. I suspect that it will cause a few issues when the rubber meets the road, but I also kind of like the general concepts.

Right now, there are three flavors of fighting skills. The Combat version, which might be things like Karate, Judo, and Guns. This is the stuff you use in an actual fight.

But then there are the Combat Art and Combat Sport skills for exhibition (Art) or competition (Sport). These are mostly geared to hand-to-hand combat skills, so they’re not entirely great fits. Guns Art might be trick shooting, while Guns Sport might be IPSC or IDPA (defensive and practical pistol competitions), Paintball or Airsoft, or other formalized shooting events. Guns (Combat) is basically infantry training with simunitions or live ammo, shoot-house, formation fighting, plus a lot of range time.

The thing about range time is that it’s range time. Even when it’s timed or otherwise restricted, the Drill Instructor is unlikely to toss a grenade into your firing lane, or your next-door neighbor to either try and punch you in the face or shoot you in the head.

That’s the kind of thing that is simulated by Combat skills in GURPS.

Target Difficulties

One big help was provided in GURPS Tactical Shooting by listing the kinds of modifiers that can accrue when not shooting in a real combat environment. These include

  • Up to +3 for risk factors to self, others, and stake in the outcome
  • Up to +4 for the environment. Low end is a designated but unimproved outdoor range, high end is a perfectly-lit indoor facility with lanes, seating, etc.
  • Up to +3 for knowing precisely the range and speed (usually constant and zero, respectively) of the target
This is a pretty good list, though some of these things are hard to adjudicate in play. Back before Tactical Shooting came out, I’d posited a pretty similar list. I wouldn’t endorse all of my choices from back then, but I would consider looking at those pesky ‘environment’ variables and seeing if they can be made more explicit. Because +4 is being able to shoot basically 5x farther or in a 5x tighter group relative to without that bonus. It’s the difference between a crappy snubnose and a carbine with aim. It’s huge.
But for the sake of completeness and precision, let’s see if we can break down some of the more clumpy bits. The risk factors are already in +1 increments, so moving on, starting with the Range/Speed factor.
Hitting a target is more or less knowing hold-over – where do you put the sights relative to where you want the bullet to go at a given distance. That’s given a +3 in the rules for rangefinder, and it’s a flat-out yes/no bonus. Hrm. Let’s actually leave that as-is. 
I’m tempted to broaden it a bit, and allow giving that “rangefinder” bonus for ranges where it just doesn’t matter what the range is – that is, very close range. 
What’s very close? Well, that depends on the “zero” for the gun. Ugh – that’s problematical in play, because who really wants to figure that out? But if we take a look at some ballistic trajectories, you’ll find that with iron sights zeroed at 25yds, a 9mm will rise up about a quarter inch, and then drop by that much at about 30yds. Beyond that, it’s all downhill. The 9mm has a 1/2D range of about 150yds in GURPS. 1/4 of that distance is between 35-40yds.
If we look at a .223 sighted in at 25 yds from a flat-top receiver with iron sights, with the sights about 3/4 over the bore (OK, lots of assumptions on a rifle), the bullet rises from -0.75″ at the muzzle, peaks at about +0.75″ high, and returns to -0.75″ low at between 150 and 200 yds. The 1/2D for this rifle is 600yds, and 1/4 of that is 150yds. 
So to first approximation, at distances of less than about 1/4 the 1/2D range (yeesh), you basically don’t need to know the range. If you aim directly at the target, you will hit within one inch of it. Rangefinding and bullet-drop compensation only matters past this distance.
And only while actually using the Aim maneuver or using sighted shooting. Snap shooting doesn’t benefit from this knowledge at all.
That means that aimed fire on most shooting ranges – less than about 25yds for a pistol, less than 150-250yds for a rifle (depends on caliber, config, etc), you just point at the target, carefully, and you don’t have to know anything about ballistics. 
So, we’ve got an adjustable +3 for risk factors (+1 each for three factors), a binary +3 for either knowing the range and ballistic information for your weapon/ammo combination or being at lower than 1/4 of the 1/2D range and taking an Aim maneuver . . . and up to +4 from environment. 

In short, another way to phrase this: The bonus for All-Out Attack (Determined) might be considered as +4 up to 1/4 of 1/2D range, but +1 beyond that. If you are within the 1/4 of 1/2D (I hate typing that!), then you’ve already eaten the rangefinder bonus; if you’re past that range, you may still claim it if you actually do know the range.

This is where I’m going to deviate from the very big bonus for being on an outdoor range vs a perfectly lit indoor range with air conditioning, etc. That’s because a lot of this stuff is factored in to other penalties: good lighting is assumed. Wind isn’t explicitly, but is only usually figured in when using optional rules like Time of Flight from Tactical Shooting, but again, lack of wind (or at least no severe winds) is probably assumed.
So I’m going to break that usual +4 allocated to environment a bit differently:
  • +1 for a high-contrast “shoot me here” target, including bulls-eyes and concentric rings
  • +1 for an isolated and comfortable shooting position. At a table, your own lane, etc.
  • +1 for target moving predictably or not at all.
  • +1 for no target movement at all (so that stacks with the above); you only get this if the target is stationary, unmoving, and there’s zero chance of any moving air disturbing the shot
This lumps in “moving target” with “wind,” which is sorta true if you wave your fingers at it a bit.
The net result of this is that plinking at garbage at 20yds on an outdoor range with a pistol will definitely get you:
  • +3 for no risks
  • +3 because you don’t even need to know the range
  • +1 for no movement of the target at all but being outdoors.
You might be able to claim isolated and comfortable if you have pre-built or pre-prepared shooting positions, but shooting at junk is probably not worth the “screams I’m a target at you” bonus. So definitely +7, maybe +8, not +9 or +10.
Known ranges, brightly contrasting targets, prepared positions, unmoving, but outside. +9.
Going through a one person shoot-house with live ammo? I’d give +2 for no risk to self or others, but dock the final +1 because of the time pressure, which gives a stake in the outcome. A proper shoot-house will be close range, so you’d probably claim the +3 for known or irrelevant range . . . but by and large you’re not going to be taking Aim maneuvers in these. If you did, you’ll nail it. Indoor shoot-houses with unmoving targets will qualify for the +2, but manikins in clothing aren’t high-visibility targets and there are often “decoy” no-shoot targets too. 
Net benefit +4 for most situations, +7 if you get to aim, though you may run out of time. Probably TDM of +4. If the situation is made purposefully stressful – people shouting at you, setting off firecrackers, or whatever, that might drop down to +2 (for unmoving targets) because you’ve tricked yourself into believing that there’s a risk to both yourself (though not a risk of harm, but a risk of failure) and to others (you can’t shoot the good-guy dummies!).

Note that this doesn’t account for time taken for target discrimination and Identify-Friend-or-Foe activity. If you don’t have to make that choice and pick from targets, you can probably go very quickly and very accurately. Proper realistic training tries to get down as low as possible here.

Wow, that’s a lot of bonuses available, even for somewhat stressful activity! Surely that will produce hit rates that are far, far too high!
Yes. But . . . 
Combat is a Very Hard skill

The second half of this is to recognize that combat skills are very hard. Oh, sure . . . shooting is fairly easy. It’s mechanical, it doesn’t involve gross body movements for the act itself, and pointing a weapon and pulling the trigger are extensions of each other.

But what would happen if we just made  Guns into a DX/VH skill and assumed that the “sport” or “art” versions simply benefit from the Task Difficulty Modifiers above?
Firstly, the relative change between 1 point in a DX/E skill and 1 point in a DX/H skill is -3, since 1 point gives you the skill at DX+0 for DX/E and DX-3 for DX/VH.
Hey, that’s already the difference between Sport and Combat skills. So no real change there, other than you never have to buy the skills separately. If you want to judge yourself on following the rules of a particular shooting sport? Buy Games skill for that competition style’s rules.
All of a sudden, that first point in Guns for Joe Average gives you Guns-7 rather than Guns-10 . . . but thanks to the TDMs for shooting carefully on an indoor range, the base skill there will likely be Guns-17 for a start, +2 for Acc, +1 for more aim, and another +2 for All-Out Attack with two hands on the pistol. So one shot ever few seconds has total “positive” modifiers starting at Guns-22, and at -4 for 10 yards and -1 for “torso to head” on the paper will be “on paper” basically every time with a net skill of Guns-17.
Head shots at 10 yds is -4 for range, -5 for head for 22-9, or Guns-11, or about 2 in 3 in the head area. Skull would be 1 in 3.
What if you’re putting – as I have with an XDM in .40S&W – 15 rounds into less than 2″ at 5yds? -2 for range, -8 for a 2″ hole. Net skill needs to be on the order of 16 to do this reliably. Bonuses for that gun was Acc3, +2 more for careful aim. AoA(Determined, Braced) for another +2. +10 for TDM. 
Skill +7 (Aim and Brace) +10 (TDM) – 10 (Range and size) = 16 implies I have a minimum of Guns-9, which is DX-1 or 4 points in Guns at the DX/VH level.

Edited to Add: A comment over on Google+ by the esteemed (well, by me at least) +Luke Campbell notes that the +3 that you get for “inside a certain fraction of the 1/2D range” is already included in the Acc stats of line-of-sight beam weapons. This is precisely true, and it’s true at all ranges, not just at “point blank.” A useful addition.

Parting Shot

In practice, it means world-class Guns skills are going to be harder to achieve. Getting to Guns-18, “exceptional” hostage rescue operators and snipers, can be pretty trivial when you’re sporting DX 12 to DX 14 for an athletic combatant and only need DX+4 or DX+6 on an Easy skill to get there. DX is its own reward, but even DX 10 and Guns-18 is 28 points.
Granted, the switch-over to DX/VH only adds 12 points to that calculus, so Guns-18 and DX 10 would be 40 points, and DX 13 (SEAL template) and Guns-18 is a 60+28 = 88 point investment. It does mean that you will be spending 8 points to get to DX level in a combat skill instead of 1 point, which makes it cooler to be a high-skill guns guy.
It means that with lower skills, you need more bonuses. Aim, brace, and any TDMs you can eke out. Less frantic gunfights, with more time for move and cover. You’ll need to do it, because otherwise you’ll just miss.
It also means that “no TDM for combat” can be relaxed a bit. A sniper might . . . might . . . claim the +1 for “no risk to self,” but I doubt it. At short range, though, you will often get the benefit of the “point blank” bonus (also the range-finding bonus) of +3 when you Aim above and beyond the firearm’s accuracy. 
That range might be a tetch high, though. Having the +3 be available with almost any Aim maneuver with a pistol means that the Aim gives most modern guns +5 or +6 at close range . . . and the net result of that is simply to return skills to where they were before the switch to DX/VH.
But it also means that you don’t have to invoke crazy penalties to get hit rates in tune with actual observed gunfights. A point or two in Guns (Pistol) with a DX 10 or DX 11 police officer (or a point in Guns (Rifle) and a DX 10 recruit) is Guns-7 to maybe Guns -9. At five or seven yards with unaimed fire you’re down to a net skill of Guns-5 or Guns-6, and not much more than that with sighted shooting for AoA(Determined, Braced), hitting maybe 25% of the time even when the lighting and footing is good!
You start to use your sights and take an Aim, and your natural Acc combines with point-blank for about +5, with AoA(Determined/Braced) for +7 total, on top of Guns-5 or Guns-7, and your net skill for the torso is Guns-12 to Guns-14. Vitals? Guns-9 to Guns-11.
Again, for street-level shooting, that’s quite good.

Now, this sort of thing is only going to please the crowd that really wants their low-level PCs to be kinda bad – the kinda bad that you see in real-world even report stats. And moving Guns to DX/VH when freakin’ Judo and Karate are DX/H? Maybe that’s just crazy-talk.
The thing that offsets the two is that you can make an All-Out Telegraphic Attack for +8 to skill when you’ve got melee. When push comes to shove, you can add huge values to your skill in a pinch. Both guns and fists suffer the same level of target penalties – shooting and punching the face are both -5.  And more importantly, range penalties are dreadfully high, and occur on every shot greater than 3yds.
So why make guns harder then they already are? It’s a valid question. I’m not sure I have an answer.
What I’ve tried to do here is two-fold
  1. Make explicit the Task Difficulty Modifiers for guns, which is really breaking down the environmental bonuses to the same level the already-explicit rangefinding and risk bonuses are.
  2. Get rid of the need for Guns Sport (or even Guns Art) as a thing by making the provision of sport/art use simply part of the TDM assignment.
That second piece gets rid of the usual argument (well, it’s an argument I’ve seen before) that many or even most shooters are using Guns Sport because they only train on the range. And so when they get into combat, they’re really operating at a -3 to their skill all the time anyway because the conditions are so unlike range shooting.
I think that may all well be true, but the usual operating GURPS mantra is that the skill represents adventuring usage. The hardest part about shooting in combat is the combat itself. The risk to life and limb. 
I’m sure that I and lots of other people that can put 15 shots of 9mm into a 1.5-2″ hole at 10yds would see huge degradations in accuracy in an actual combat situation. Badly. I think the modifiers above do a credible job of unifying the presence/absence of stress and the assuredness with which you can blaze away at a target range.
I don’t know, however, if my players would stand for it. I suspect not. Eh . . . a lot of what I do on the blog is just a design exercise anyway. This one probably achieves its goals, but I’m not sure it fits well within the larger GURPS framework.

I should also add that this kind of thing will make hash out of cinematic shoot-em-up games, as it’s designed to detract from the “Everything is Awesome!” nature of easy-high guns skill (see what I did there, Bad Cop?). As a design exercise, then, we’d need to see what would be required – and that might just be “tons more points” to make cinematic shooters properly affordable. 

On the other hand, with the relative ease of instant death (or at least instant incapacitation) available slinging around 3d to 7d pi damage with a large ammo capacity available, making heroes work for hits a bit more (and thus distinguishing even more from mooks, who really won’t be able to hit squat) might not be awful.

It also means that using suppressive fire even for low RoF weapons may well be the default usage . . . and that’s not wrong, is it?

5 thoughts on “Guns, Guns Sport, and Task Difficulty Modifiers

    1. I certainly didn't speak to Guns Art, because it's such an edge case in a way that Guns Sport (range shooting, Airsoft) is not. But thanks for the comment – I'm less worried about the micro impact (I think the rules I present work OK, though I'd want people to see where it breaks) than the macro one – if I say that Guns is a DX/VH skill because "it's combat," then why is Judo or Karate or Broadsword not a DX/VVH or something because it's also combat.

      The other way to go would be to simply apply a -3 "you're in combat" stress penalty to all use of combat skills due to fear and stress. Advantages that let that be bought off might be available, etc.

      But in terms of verisimilitude, it seems to be OK to first blush.

    2. I'm a bit late to the party, but as you mention "GUNS" includes combat usage. That'll be for people who learned to shoot in stressful conditions to begin with. Most civilians, who aren't clutch, just learn GUNS (Sport), and will always be shooting at -3 until they learn nerve enough to overcome (and thus buy off the penalty, like Pee Kitty has on his blog for Combat Art/Sport v Combat Skill)

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