Short post tonight, because I’m in the middle of actually writing a bit on the article on injury and healing, and I don’t want to throw off the Emporer’s groove. 

There’s a pretty fun thread over on the SJG Forums about how to account for the velocity of dodging a bullet – really, why is it a bullet is the same difficulty to dodge as a punch? 

Specifically, here’s the original question:

This was probably discussed to death years ago, but why isn’t it harder to dodge a bullet than a punch? I get that imposing a -19 penalty to dodge a bullet is basically the same as not allowing a dodge and as a result not very fun but surely there ought to be some difference.Just something that’s been bothering me lately since we’ve move from our DF game into a monster hunter one and bullet ballet is becoming a thing.

If you’ve been reading here for a bit, you’ll remember that this had bothered me before. First time it came up with a vengeance was in +Jeromy French‘s space campaign, where it wasn’t just dodging bullets, it was dodging lasers. This was judged by mid-fight as more than a bit silly.  Well, perhaps slightly less silly than first thought.

But really, out of that campaign incident and a few other thoughts along the way, I had occasion to write an article called Dodge This. It was the fifth article I’ve published in Pyr #3, and represents some fairly good rules amalgamation, with many options.

They’ve been fairly well received too.

Why bring this up? I have to somewhere between grit my teeth and smile as the thread in question features the following:

  • Post 2: I point out I wrote this already.
  • Post 3-5: Restate the usual explanations of what it means. I also deal with this explicitly, with math to back it up for those that care, in Dodge This
  • Post 7: Line Editor +Sean Punch drops by and really takes all defenses and puts them into a hierarchy that works very well, being MECE and covering the right bases. Oh, and I also propose an Evasive Movement rule in Dodge This.
  • Post 8-12 comment on how cool post 7 is.
  • Post 14 brings up how critical perception is. Oh, that gets an entire section in Dodge This
  • Post 35: suggests using the Size and Speed/Range table to figure penalties. Which I do in Dodge This
Parting Shot
Yeah, this is a bit of horn-tooting. But really, I did all the work required to get the original poster exactly what was needed. If it wasn’t precisely to taste, it could be changed, of course. But having the original rules explained, the expansion rules explained (Tactical Shooting), evasive movement, gameable ways to figure perception into the mix, and finally a systematic way to both figure out how to detect and avoid/counter incoming ranged attacks of any size and speed, up to and including 300,000,000 m/s (light speed)?
To quote the commercial, “It’s in there.” Pyramid #3/57 is $8 for 25,000 words of GURPSy goodness, every one of which is related to guns in this particular issue. So if you’re having problems similar to the original (and correct! Don’t take any of this as me disagreeing with the premise – after all, I wrote Dodge This because I agreed fully with that premise!) poster in the thread, why don’t you pick it up?
You won’t be disappointed.

Had a brief interchange (not hostile) with another gamer in a different forum. The question was on Will rolls in gaming, and I noted that in The Last Gasp, I call for a will roll if you’re wanting to do something that drains a (now much more debilitating) Fatigue Point.

To quote pieces of the article:

“To simulate this, the turn after voluntarily losing or spending a FP, or immediately after an involuntary FP loss (such as getting hit by a FP-draining spell or power), roll vs. Will+3. If you fail this check, you feel the urge to stop doing whatever it is you’re doing.”

I’d said this was optional, and of course, it is. The comment was that it needs to be optional, because in an RPG setting, he disliked forcing PCs to roll in order to be heroic.

There are several options here, of course. The first is to not make the will roll (you can insert fear checks into this as well) needed at all. You just waltz into gunfire, or sprint at full power, and (in the fatigue example) just burn your Fatigue Points willy nilly until you collapse.

That’s the way most games play – and for the reason my interlocutor mentioned. You want them to be heroic, and take risks.

The other extreme is to make the Will roll, and if you fail, you simply can’t act as you wanted. If you wanted to stand up in the face of suppression fire to blaze away at a target . . . you can’t. Wanted to make a Heroic Charge or Feverish Defense? Nope. Sorry.

A middle ground would be to have a failed roll give some sort of penalty. Margin of failure (perhaps capped?) or derived from margin is good, but then so is something like “you can do what you want, but at -4, or -10 on a critical failure.” That still preserves full player choice – you can do whatever you want, but makes certain things the easier, quicker path (thus the way of the Dark Side!). You could stand up and shoot, but the additional penalties make it less likely to work, so you’ll shift position from behind cover instead.

The one thing you don’t want to do is disrupt the game for a die roll with no bite. If you’re calling for a will roll or some agency-limiting/drama-enhancing action, it has to have consequences. That’s one of the reasons why, in The Last Gasp (same section), I note:

Don’t bother rolling if your adjusted Will is 17 or higher unless the consequences of failure are dramatically significant and the GM is fishing for the rare critical failure. A competent combatant with his weapon skill at DX+2 (+2 training bonus) will thus roll vs. Will+10 when expending FP in combat. If his Will is 7 or higher, he can do so freely. Only if he is tired, demoralized, or terrified will rolling for persistence in a combat situation be required.

While the example was GURPS, this really applies to any game. Crazy stuff can happen, and it can make good games. But bringing out the dice should either mean enabling something good, or inflicting/avoiding something bad. Otherwise, just keep moving.

As as was driving in to work, I was thinking about the relationship between ST, HP, and damage. One of the potential solutions people have talked about to bring fisticuff damage, especially swing damage, in line with firearms has been to double HP and DR scores, add a (2) to all pi damage, and call it a day.

My post today is not about that. 

It’s really just a realization that one of the impacts of having reasonable HP and mass relationships is that doubling the HP that a character has very, very much widens the range of HP scores that are game-relevant. 

If you look at most humanoids in most games (not all games, and not all humanoids, of course. This is GURPS) they’ll tend to run from the 80-400 lb range. 

Female champion gymnasts run from about 80-125 lbs. Pro jockeys tend to be in the 100-120 lb. range. So on the low end, that’s not bad. 

William Perry, Adventurer at Large

Andre the Giant clocked in at 500-650 lbs, depending on the source. So there’s an argument for going even higher.

William “The Refrigerator” Perry, an American Pro Football player, was 335-385 lbs, but could dunk a basketball and ran a 100-yd dash in about 11 sec (Sprint Move 9, or regular Move 7.5). This is more in line with a “professional” GURPS adventurer.

At the normal scale, the gymnast is going to be a low of 9HP high of 10HP. Jockeys will all fall in the 10HP range. Most men in the 150-200lbs range are all 11 HP. The Refrigerator is 14 HP. Andre clocks in at 16 or 17.

Parting Shot

Doubling the HP totals means your low end gymnast is 17 HP, but the high end is 20HP. Jockeys are still all going to be 20HP (more or less), but from 90-150 lbs (for example) you now get HP from 18 to 21, and in the adventuring range doubles (as expected).

I like that this carries with it the potential for more differentiation in a lot of things. Characters are the heart of the game, and from a “what makes for a sensible HP number for various folks” perspective, having a wider range of useful values is good.

From a damage and DR perspective, now we have the identity 20d(2) = DR 140 = penetration of one inch of RHA steel instead of 20d = DR70 = penetration of one inch of RHA steel. That keeps all of the armor and gun damage in the game where it should be.

It would provide more differentiation using The Deadly Spring for bows, too, so that you don’t have to get crazy-town increases in draw weight to increase bow penetration by a point (assuming you don’t also give arrows pi damage, which I would not), since the resolution is higher.

This isn’t something I’d just go do if I started a game tomorrow. But I couldn’t help notice that the increased resolution when translating weight (and Basic Lift, a topic of recent interest) to HP was pretty friendly.

Over on the forums, Wavefunction threw down a concept: use the cube of ST for Basic Lift, and therefore power, instead of the square.

I’m sure there are lots of biomechanical reasons for not doing this. But he noted a few advantages right off the bat, most notably that ST is equal to HP, and HP go as the cube root of mass, so that scaling the two together means if you have a ST 50, HP 50 giant, he will have the lift required to move his weight just like a human. More or less. Close enough for RPG purposes.

It also compresses the ST scale like +Sean Punch‘s recent article about log ST does. 

A quick table in the PC-centric range of ST 6 through ST 20.

So what this does is compress PC lifting strengths into the range of 9-16 instead of 8-20. Each point of ST means more than it used to, but at least within the realm of human-centric PCs, it’s not crazy-town. 

The implications on carrying capacity go way up for equivalent points in the PC range of 10+. So at CubeST 14, you’re getting maybe 7-8 points of Lifting ST as a bonus. That won’t break anything. 

Damage Scaling

The implications of this on damage scaling? Still interesting. At human ST scales, ST 16 is darn strong – equivalent to QuadST 20 – but now punches for 1d (thr-1) instead of 2d-1, and the off-the-damage-table swing base is 2d+2 instead of 3d+2.
Alternate damage scaling? Sure. If you decide that swing should be about 1.5x thrust, that pulls ST 16 down to 2d-1 swing, or about DR 6. 

If you wanted thrust damage to be related to basic lift and be quadratic in intensity, so that it scales with firearms, you could do something like “points of damage is sqrt (BL) * Constant.” If you adjust so that damage at ST 16 is 2d and ST 10 is 1d, you can see that works out OK, with CubeST 20 being something like 3d-1 swing . . . and that’s for someone that can lift nearly 3/4 of a ton, and clearly non-human.

Inclusive of Body Weight?

HP are now matched directly with mass – and that has its own value. To the point where you might be able to start doing interesting things with ST-to-HP ratio and log scores and all sorts of fun things.

A reminder based on the HP–>Mass conversion is that the assumed HP of a complex, Unliving object is 4 x cube root of weight in pounds, or 2x cube root of weight for complex, living objects. Like PCs. Turning that around, and treating HP as mass only you get Mass = 1/8 x (HP cubed).


HP Lower Upper
5 11 21
6 21 34
7 34 53
8 53 77
9 77 107
10 107 145
11 145 190
12 190 244
13 244 308
14 308 381
15 381 465
16 465 562
I’d have to play more, but it seems that one could look at figures like “maximum physical capacity” as the ability to move yourself plus the ability to move stuff. That is, some multiple of basic lift plus you assumed mass for HP equal to ST. So ST 10 might have a total lift capacity of 125 lbs (the expected midpoint for HP 10 for mass) plus 15xBL (the max you can carry on your back without lifting it there yourself) for a total lift capacity of 425lbs. That includes the person.
That probably motivates some funky breakpoint behavior, so I won’t charge down that road. But it would allow some very interesting calculations based on Strength-to-Weight ratio directly. Jumping vertically would be the equivalent of throwing yourself, and ST to mass-based HP ratios could be used to determine lots of physical feat results.
Of course, you wouldn’t do math like that at the table. You’d look ST and HP up on the Size and Speed Range table (which is a logarithmic basis), and use the difference between the two to determine results – because log subtraction is division, so you’re doing easy ratios.
Parting Shot

I think the proposed rescale bears serious consideration for game balance and normalization purposes. You get more “bang” in lift terms from lower ST values, and if the GM is willing to fairly rigorously enforce ST and HP bounds (your ST should be within 2 points of your mass-based HP would be a decent rule of thumb for human normals) it should work.
Someone wants to buy ST 20 as a human normal? Lift 3/4 ton? Sure. You’re 18 HP, which means you weigh between 670-790 lbs. Oh. Too heavy? How about you clock in at a fit 325, Mr. Conan, for 14 HP and ST 16. 

In my article from the Violent Resolution series dealing with movement, I noted that in D&D, the standard 30′ move (or even the 60′ dash) is, all things considered, quite slow. It represents six seconds of movement, so is either 5′ per second, or 10′.

That’s 3.4 and 6.8mph, respectively. Or a decent walk and a moderate, but not fast, jog. Usain Bolt, my go-to reference for insane speed, can run 400m in just over 45 seconds. That’s an average of 29 feet (one standard action) per second. So at the high end, in about 8 combat rounds, a PC can cover quite a bit of distance.

Note that’s roughly 10s for a 300′ dash, too – an average time for a 300′ run is on the order of 12 to 15 seconds, or 2-3 combat rounds. So 100-150′ per round (compared with Usain’s insane 180′ per round).

All in all, it should be possible to make four actions of this type per combat round, six if you’re really good.

I was wondering how to represent this, and then I hit my old standby: HP can represent being weary as well as being hit by an axe.

What if you could burn HP to take extra move actions past the two you get by dashing?

The Dash Likes

So, here’s the basic premise. If you want to move more than your allowed dash action, go ahead. Peak human speed is on the order of 25-30mph (again, Bolt hits nearly 28mph), which is about 40 feet per second, or 240 feet in a combat round.

That’s a maximum of 8 move actions. 

How about a horse? Tops out at about 60-65 fps (44mph), which basically means six moves at 60′.

Not sure what a cheetah’s base speed would be, but she maxes out at about 600′ in a combat round (about 70mph)

Here’s my concept, quickly. Want to make a movement action (call it a sprint) beyond your basic dash? Go ahead. Make a CON save, at a base DC 10, +3 for every extra move increment beyond the first. So 6 moves in one combat round is DC 19.

If you fail, you take damage. How much? Not sure. I’m thinking 1d4 or something. Enough to worry a mage, but not a fighter, and definitely not a barbarian. Critical fails on the CON save double damage to 2d4, and critical successes might even restore HP? Maybe you get the next interval of sprinting without rolling if you keep moving.

So not a lot, but then, running flat out for six second should not kill you. And you can recover with a short rest. That works well with the HP as exhaustion/using up your reserves concept.


% Success
Con Bonus
Sprint distance CON DC -1 0 1 2 3 4 5
90′ 10 50% 55% 60% 65% 70% 75% 80%
120′ 12 40% 45% 50% 55% 60% 65% 70%
150′ 14 30% 35% 40% 45% 50% 55% 60%
180′ 16 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% 45% 50%
210′ 18 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
240′ 20 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30%

The red lines are not accessible without a special Feat. The sprint distance is for a human with a base rate of 30′. A horse with 60′ base starts at a 180′ move, and tops at 360′ without a feat. 

An Easy Target

The premise of this one is that you’re doing nothing else but running, lest it become much too powerful an option, especially for higher level characters for whom 1d4 HP is less than chicken feed. You only get to use sprinting if you’ve used all of your actions on movement (so you’re dashing), so this precludes attacking.

Maybe we could work a cheesy attack in there as a bonus action or something. I dunno. I really think this should just be “Run, Forrest! Run!”

Attacks against anyone moving faster than their dash are advantaged. Sprinting past someone should definitely provoke an attack of opportunity (probably from friends, too. Kidding. Mostly.)

You also lose any DEX bonus to AC while sprinting. Running in a straight line full tilt is not conducive to a spry (dare I say it) savvy defense.

Parting Shot

The difference between the various CON scores just isn’t that much, and so even CON 20 isn’t going to be crazy abusable. In fact, it might be too harsh, since:

4 minute mile: 132′ per combat round (40 rounds)
2.5-hour marathon: 92 feet per combat round (1500 rounds)

I’m tempted to make the damage even lower, perhaps only a point? Or maybe even

Feat: Sprinter

You are experienced and trained in making the most of a combat sprint. You gain the following benefits:

  • You have resistance against the damage inflicted by failing a CON save while sprinting
  • Out of combat, when not on difficult terrain, you roll every two minutes at 3x your normal interval, every minute at 4x, 30s (five rounds) at 5x, and every 15s (three rounds) at 6x and faster.
  • You may sprint up to 8x your base rate instead of up to 6x.
So there you go. You can now burn HP to run really fast. Fleeing has a cost, and fleeing and then turning around to fight will leave you in a worse place than standing and fighting, especially if you’re low level (where 1d4 damage is a big deal). At high level, you can go for a while, fast, without burning too many resources. A fighter with 100 HP and CON 16 can run at 10mph (a 6min mile) and pass his CON check 60% of the time – he’ll take 1-4 damage once every 2.5 rounds (15s). So he can run for about 1-4 miles at that pace. If he has the Sprinter feat, he’ll go much farther than that. He’s rolling every minute instead of every round, and taking half damage, so 20-80 miles! Very heroic – he’s an ultramarathoner.
D&D isn’t a reality simulator and I’m not trying to make it one. But humans can move a lot faster than D&D allows for if they don’t have much else going on. A proper full-on system would account for encumbrance (add the armor AC bonus to the DC? Some fraction of carried weight? +1 to DC per STR lbs carried?) and other things.
But the concept of spending HP to move farther was too interesting for me to ignore.
Swinging a sword
at an orc is all well and good, but if your friend needs help, you have to be
able to reach him. Moving to (or fleeing from) a foe, or seeking a position
that gives tactical advantage, is part and parcel of fighting. In fact, an
emphasis on footwork, distancing, and movement is one of the key parts of
combat training in many styles.

I’d love to
generalize to “most” or even “all,” but I’ve not trained in most or all styles.
The ones I’ve studied and trained in emphasized footwork and movement, and I’ve
not see that contradicted in my readings of other arts.

In the games,
movement is important because (in the simplest of terms) it’s how one gets from
fight to fight. Of course, there’s more to the game than fighting. Well,
mostly. But getting into, and out of position can matter a great deal.
In any case, we’ll
be looking at several facets of movement in the five selected games. Speed and
acceleration drive the ability to position oneself on the battlefield (or
battle map, as the case may be). The impact, if any, of posture on  movement
and action determine whether that’s important at all. Finally, we’ll look at
several types of special movement, such as jumping, sprinting, and of course,
the ever-popular chandelier-swinging.
Overland movement
and hiking won’t be treated here; while important, they’re more key to
large-scale strategic movement than the kinds of personal engagement that
Violent Resolution treats. But while hiking isn’t treated, moving around
under the influence of materialism – that is, while carrying mounds of equipment
and loot – are examined to see if, and how, the games treat movement when
loaded. With stuff.

The Name is
Bolt. Usain Bolt.

Just to level-set
things at the high end of human ability, let’s take a look not at Barry Allen,
but the real fastest man alive, Usain Bolt.
Mr Bolt can cover
10m in about 1.9 seconds, and has a reaction time before his initial sprint of
about 1/6 of a second. From a standing start, then, with no encumbrance, but
with the knowledge that beatin’ feet is imminent, Bolt accelerates at
about 2/3 of a gravity, about 6.6m/s^2. In one second, including reaction time,
he’ll cover about 2.3m. His maximum velocity during his 100m race will be just
over 27mph, or 13.5 yards/second. If we consider a six-second round common to
RPGs, including his acceleration period, Usain can cover up to about 60 yards,
or 180 feet, based on the split times in some of his more well-documented
efforts. If we allowed maximum velocity for the entire trip (a terrible
assumption given a standing start) he’d cover 240′.
That sets an upper
limit on really fast humans, or if not an upper limit (given that high-level
RPG “cinematic normal” characters can push this sort of world record), at least
set the boundaries by which things start to raise eyebrows. On the slow end,
anything less than about 20′ in a six-second round is getting quite pokey –
that’s a treadmill set to about 2mph, an easy walking pace.
Stop Right

Comparing maximum
sprint speeds is all well and good, but one of the kickers there is that such
comparisons are usually made without the assumption that someone’s going to try
to behead you at the end of your run, and that is all that
matters is how far you run during that turn – that is, it assumes that you’ll
still be running all-out at turn’s end.
For an RPG, this
is a poor starting assumption. Characters often move around the map (if one is
in use at all) like chess pieces, in discrete units. A D&D
fighter might move 60′ in one round, sit still for two more, then a 30′
move, no move, and then first a 60′ dash followed by a 30′ action. Any of the
movement contemplated in the prior example could have multiple melee attacks
and defenses in any segment that does not include a “dash” action.

This means that if
we use Usain’s notional acceleration (and again, it’s not constant – check out his velocity
vs. time graph
, reproduced to the right), ignoring reaction time, and force
him to a standing stop at the end of a six-second round, he’ll cover less
ground than an all-out sprint. If you trust my math and allow a few simplifying
assumptions (0 reaction time, accelerate at 6.6m/s^2 to max velocity equal to
2x acceleration, then maintain for two seconds, then decelerate at same rate to
a stop) this will cover about 170-175′, or about 28.8 feet per second.
Finally, the round
length is critical here! If you allow a 10 second round on the same profile,
60% of the trip is at full velocity, and you’ll cover 350′ in ten seconds – 35′
per second. If you have to start and stop in the same second, even
with Usain’s mighty limbs, you’ll cover less than two yards and
never get even close to maximum velocity.

Dungeons and Dragons

Getting around in
D&D5 is done by taking either a move as part of another action, such as
trying to beat the tar out of someone with an axe, or a Dash, which comprises
two moves.
Most characters
will have a base speed of 30′, which is the distance that can be covered in a
six-second round. This speed is described as the creature’s walking pace, and
that’s accurate – the average velocity here is about 3.5mph, which is a nice
steady treadmill walking pace. A dash, then, is twice that speed, 20 yards per
six seconds, or just shy of 7mph – elves can go a bit faster, at 8mph – roughly
1/3 of Usain’s top sprinting speed.
So no issues with
“too fast,” though perhaps one with too slow at the upper end. If a normal
human can walk 30′ and dash 60′, then Usain can sprint at 6x the walking pace
(!), or 3x the dash pace. It would be a small thing to allow an all-out sprint
at 4x the base rate, at some cost. Maybe you can’t do it if you’re carrying a
shield or wearing more than light armor.

The game calls out
crawling, which is moving when prone. The rules are worded oddly, but that’s
because of how they interact with terrain modifiers – they’re additive, not
multiplicative. Crawling adds an extra foot to the cost of moving a foot – in
practice, on good terrain, you crawl at half your walking or dashing pace.
“Difficult” terrain has the same modifier (adds a foot to the effective
distance per foot travelled), so 10′ of crawling (adds +10′) through difficult
terrain (adds another 10′) eats up the normal 30′ movement allowance. Other
postures such as kneeling or crouching are below the resolution of the game –
usually such a thing would be to take advantage of partial or total cover, and
that provides its own bonus and rules.

You can do a
standing long jump up to half your Strength score (so STR 10 is 5′), and with
at least a 10′ runup you can broad jump double that distance – equal to your
STR. Jumping over obstacles, you can do a running jump equal to 3′ plus your
STR modifier – so 3′ for a STR 10 individual, and 8′ for STR 20. You can
standing jump half that: 18″ for STR 10, and 48″ for STR 20 – and that 48″
vertical is actually a pretty good approximation of what people like Olympians
Karch Kiraly and Eric Sato could do. Both of those guys were in the 40″ neighborhood,
and the world record is something like 55″.
You can swim or
climb roughly as fast as you can crawl.
As for
banister-sliding and chandelier-swinging? Roll Dexterity (Acrobatics), I
suppose! More seriously, such rolls should be allowed, as even someone like
myself could do, with maybe a 15′ runup, a dive roll over a standing tumbling
mat (5′ tall) without touching it. That might, for example, add your DEX
modifier to the existing STR modifier – so that technique (DEX) reinforces
power (STR).

The encumbrance
rules are deliberately simple – in fact, they’re deliberately set at a weight
(15x your STR until you hit your limit) that won’t be troublesome, and there’s
no impact to load if you’re under this limit. A variant rule on the same page
reduces move by 10′ if you’re in excess of 5xSTR in pounds, and 20′ if you’re
in excess of 10xSTR (also, you have disadvantage to a whole passel of stuff –
attacks, physical saving throws, and physical attribute checks, which includes
all skill use).
Savage Worlds

The movement rate
in Savage Worlds is called “Pace,” and its given in units of physical inches
per second – but it’s inches on the tabletop. Savage Worlds is explicitly meant
to be played with miniatures, and so movement is measured with inches on a game
table or battlemat, and weapon ranges are given the same way.
That being said, a
scale is given: two yards to the inch. So to be equivalent with the D&D
measurement in feet, for comparison, distance moved is basically 6′ multiplied
by your Pace. The round/turn length is equivalent to D&D as well, at six
seconds each. So let’s see how movement compares.
Much like D&D,
there isn’t much inherent variability in the Pace for player characters: humans
start with a Pace of 6″, or 36′ per turn. If they run, they add another 1d6″ –
an interesting choice. On the average, then, a running character will move
about 57′ – pretty close to the D&D speed for a human using a Dash action –
but it could be as low as 42′ and as high as 72′. This makes foot races somewhat
interesting, and can actually mean that a chase between two characters of equal
ability has tension to it.

Running and moving
while crouching is given mechanical weight – half speed for
doing either while crouching, in exchange for -1 to hit such a foe with a
ranged attack. Crawling is done at a rate of 12′ (2″ on the tabletop), or 1/3
the normal Pace. In addition to either modifier, moving across Difficult Ground
is done at half speed. There is an Edge that can grant another +2 to the basic
Pace, increasing base movement to 48′ per round, and max speed to 84′. That’s
faster than most D&D characters, but still not out of bounds.

Jumping distances
are fixed – a horizontal jump of 6′ standing, 12′ with a running start, and up
to another 6′ for either one with a successful Strength roll. Swimming isn’t
explicitly treated in the rules.

Note: there’s
an erratum in my Deluxe rules hardcover, which lists Encumbrance on p. 17 in
the index; at least in my book it’s p. 49.

Each 5lbs. times
the die type for your Strength score gives a load limit, which should really be
thought of as a load increment, and passing each increment gives a -1 penalty
to Agility and Strength tests and totals. So there is a gradual decrease in ability
as you carry more weight – but it does not impact Pace. You may not normally
accept more than a -3 penalty, which means that your true load limit is
roughly 20 lbs multiplied by your die type (for a d6 Strength, your first
30 lbs. are no penalty, and you’ll hit -4, and therefore your limit, at
120 lbs.).

In GURPS your move
is equal to the truncated value of your Basic Speed (if your Basic Speed is
5.75, your unencumbered Move is 5). This gives your movement allowance in yards
when taking a Move or Move and Attack maneuver. It is, therefore, basically
equal to a character’s maximum combat speed in yards per second. Typical
unencumbered heroes will have Move from 5-8 (often 5-6), and therefore will be
able to move 15-18 feet per second. 
This equates nominally, in the six-second
rounds common to the previous two games, to about 90-110′ per D&D/Savage
Worlds combat round. This is much, much faster (by almost 50%) than either game
. . . and yet because so many actions can happen during the six full turns that
is the GURPS equivalent
time span
, from a players’ perspective it can seem like forever to reach a
fallen friend being menaced by a bloodthirsty adversary.

As noted in the
introduction, almost anything that happens on a one-second timescale is going
to be limited to about 2 yards of movement – basically 4′ of travel at 0.5g
acceleration (Bolt’s is 0.66g), and 8′ at 1g – in other words, from a yard to
two yards. One would have to accelerate at about 1.12g in order to eke three
yards out of the movement . . . which is actually a higher acceleration than
the Indy Car used to look at if a human
could outrun one
 at sufficiently short distances.
That being said,
the maximum velocities allowed in the game are really only 20% higher than the
basic movement rate, which means that in order to hit Bolt’s real-world speed
of about 13.5 yards per second, his “Basic Move” needs to be higher than
11 (!). Further, to move that quickly, the character takes a flat -4 to attack,
and no matter what other penalties are assigned, the maximum skill may not
exceed 9 (meaning you’re hitting just shy of 40% of the time in the very best
case). These maximum speeds require more than one second of movement – your can
hit your Move on your first turn, and subsequent turns thereafter you may claim
a Sprint bonus of 20% of your (encumbered) Move.
Mostly, in combat
characters will be taking a Step (1 yard) with an Attack maneuver, two Steps
with Committed Attack, or up to half your Move (mostly two steps, maybe 3 for
some) with an All-Out Attack that relinquishes all active defenses. From
that perspective, the movement rates for actual combat motion are fairly
accurate. It’s just when Move and Attack or Move are selected one turn, and
then the following turn no motion is elected, that things start to get weird.

GURPS covers
movement while in a deep crouch (2/3 normal), as well as kneeling and crawling
(1/3 normal, similar to Savage Worlds), as well as movement while lying down (1
yard/sec). Characters swim at 1/5 their Basic Move. Posture is also paired with
penalties when attacking and defending, as well as a penalty to hit you if
you’re the target of a ranged attack.

provides for special movement like jumping and sprinting was covered above, the
point-buy system that is used for character building contains enormous
flexibility to modify movement to more or less anything the player and GM can
agree on. Horses, for example (or Centaurs), will often take a level of
Enhanced Move, which basically treats the Move as an acceleration and gives you
more than one multiple for speed. So with Move 6, you can hit max normal speed
of 6 yards per second in your first turn. With Move 6, Enhanced Move 1, your
top speed is doubled to 12 yards per second, but it will take you two seconds
of acceleration to get there.

More mundane is
the direct altering of Basic Move, at a fairly low price of 5 points per
additional yard per second – and given what encumbrance does to Move, this can
be important.

The more you
carry, the slower you go, and the more seriously your Dodge score is impacted.
Your strength determines a “Basic Lift” score, and at certain multiples of
Basic Lift (1, 2, 3, 6, 10) you start to feel the impact on your Move and
Dodge. Joe Average, with ST 10, has a 20-lb basic lift – so not much gear,
really – and will take a -1 to Dodge and a 20% reduction in move if carrying
between 20 and 40 lbs. Lift is quadratic in ST, though, so at
ST 14, you basically double these amounts.

The penalty to
Move at high load-to-ST ratio can get nasty, especially when chasing down
fallen comrades. If the character is burdened with heavy armor, a shield, and a
heavy weapon, loads can hit 60-80 lbs. pretty quickly in fantasy games, and
looking at the potential gear list for US troops as deployed during Operation
Enduring Freedom shows combat loads in that same range, with
“emergency approach” loads of 110-150 lbs. depending on the specialty. Even a
ST 12 guy with a 30-lb. Basic Lift is in Medium encumbrance (0.6xMove, -2 to
Dodge) with the combat load there, and well into Heavy with the all-in loadout
(0.4 x Basic Move, and -3 to Dodge). Even the normally fleet of foot (Move 6)
is dropped to Move 2-3 at those levels, making movement only slightly (if at
all) more swift than using the Steps allowed during a Committed Attack. The
extra yard per second of move can offset this, if purchased, making it a pretty
liberating point spend.
Fate Core

The other three
games are overtly tactical. They might not be physically played on a map in
some cases, but the assumption tends to be real-world distances: inches on a
battlemat, feet or yards from a foe. At worst, one might wave the hands a bit
and declare “range bands” as Night’s Black Agents does with firearms
. Still, given that you’ve established that folks are about 300′ away
from each other, you know that it will take – depending on the game system –
20-30 seconds to purposefully cross that distance.
From the Fate Core SRD

Fate, being even
more abstract, does not have fixed units of speed or distance. Instead, it
divides the combat into “zones,” which are of a resolution large enough to
contain many fighters but small enough to meaningfully divide a large combat
space into segments.
Sound fuzzy? It
is, since it’s entirely situational, but that becomes very clear when a GM
sketches out the zones of interest on a piece of paper or VTT, or even simply
describes them for the players’ edification.
Crossing zones is
not a matter of hexes or feet of movement. It’s usually a matter of Overcoming
an Obstacle – a test against either a GM-set difficulty number or, if opposed,
the foe’s appropriate skill. This includes special movement as well – jumping
is almost a classic Overcome action.

As with most
things in Fate, such things as posture will be handled by temporary Aspects
that can be invoked to represent the difficulty in crossing a zone. It
would not be out of the question for the GM to define one or more Terrain or
Environmental Aspects that would “actively” oppose movement by characters
within that zone, or treating the environment as a character, which can spend a
limited quantity of Fate Points, or accrue free invocations if the terrain
“succeeds with style” in opposing player movement.

As with everything
in Fate Core, if it’s not an Aspect, Extra, or Stunt, it’s fluff. That’s not a
slam, it’s a restatement of the Fate Fractal – you can treat anything in
the game as if it were a character. If it’s important, a character might take
the Aspect “Loaded like a Pack Mule,” which would be invoked against any
Overcome actions that involved physical stunting. On the other hand, the player
of that character might be able to invoke that same Aspect to procure a needed
piece of gear at just the right moment: “Oh, I just happened to have a spare
set of surveying tools with me; after all, one doesn’t carry this much gear
without a certain amount of preparedness and forethought!”
Night’s Black

It would be
simple, and somewhat accurate, to merely state that NBA does
not treat movement. And to a certain extent, this is true. There are no zones
discussed, as with Fate, and certainly there are no movement allowances in
yards per anything.
But that would
also be misleading, because the focus of the game is on the action thriller
genre, and from that perspective, Jack Bauer can cross LA in rush hour traffic
in as little or as much time as the plot requires. If two combatants need to be
in the same scene, they are. If they’re not and want to be, they can invoke the
rules (and that usually involves spending points from a relevant pool) to Jump
In. Movement is implied and implicit, and if you spent the points, you managed
to get where you needed to be.
In addition,
it is a thriller, and the game provides a useful mechanic
for chases. The GM establishes a Lead, and the chaser and
quarry spend points and make die rolls until the lead drops to 0, in which case
the quarry is caught – or at least caught up with – or it increases to 10, and
the pursuit is lost. This rule could also be invoked as a barrier to Jumping
In, where instead of Lead each group of fighters have a Separation, and moving
from fight to fight (or, in Fate terms, zone to zone) requires expenditure of
an appropriate total number of points or successful die rolls.

Posture is a
description, encumbrance does not feature in thrillers much. The only nod given
to special movement would be an Athletics test. Certainly difficulty numbers
might be increased for certain tests by 1 or so if the GM decided it was
dramatically appropriate because the PC was particularly burdened with gear
(specified or unspecified), but that would be an in-play determination, not
something where wordcount has been spent to draw out rules or even guidelines.
The Size of the

The size of the
fight is not the size of the tabletop or the mapboard. It’s how far the players
can cover to either engage a new enemy or come to the aid of a friend –
especially if combat happens, more often than not, at arm’s length. GURPS
movement rates in absolute time are faster, even for average characters, than
those in both Savage Worlds and D&D. But where a D&D character might
spend six seconds to move 60′, while each of his friends and allies act once, a
GURPS character with Move 5 will require four seconds to cover that distance .
. . and therefore each friend and ally will act four times. Subjectively, then,
the players may well feel that GURPS movement is slow relative to other games,
because they’re denied agency (which is shorthand in this case for ‘usefully
beating the snot out of things”) for a longer time.

In my own
experience, I found this true – movement from one local skirmish to another
seemed agonizingly slow, and at least my groups have suffered from the “rush in
where angels fear to tread” syndrome – high movement rates and widely dispersed
vectors with no thought to formations or mutually supporting tactics. Given how
GURPS can punish such action, I’m surprised we didn’t have to generate new
characters more frequently.

This can be
mitigated by ranged fire to some extent, and guns and even bows can provide a
withering deterrent for such distance-closing action. Whereas a foe can rush up
to a D&D character and be in his face pretty rapidly, the GURPS character
can not only loose arrows or shoot bullets two to four times minimum, they may
also be able to retreat while doing so, buying them more time to shoot while
still out of range. So that can cut both ways.
The more abstract
method used by Fate (and to a lesser extent, Night’s Black Agents, if only
implicitly) of dividing combat into Zones pairs well with the lack of specific
time per round. 
It requires an adept GM, but with the right focus, closing a
long distance between a fighter that prefers melee and his ranged-combat
assailant can be represented by either an appropriate number of zones of
separation, a high difficulty to cross between zones (representing all of time,
distance, and terrain), or both.
Finish Him
Always in motion
is the future, and your character won’t have one if the right movement
strategies aren’t used to defeat your foes. Whether it’s grouping together for
mutual defensive and offensive support (especially key for many-on-one fights
common to fantasy RPGs), getting into, or staying out of trouble, how the game
rules treat movement will dictate how you do it, and whether you bother to try.
A game where movement is too difficult creates a fairly static situation. Once
you defeat your local foes, you’re effectively frozen in place and, for the
time being, your game is over. A game where too much movement is allowed with
no opportunities to respond can create similar issues, where local superiority
cannot be effectively leveraged because more foes can suddenly “teleport” in
with no recourse. D&D does try to deal with this with various rules
for Attacks of
, but there are still situations where movement can occur and
the players are left thinking “but surely I could have done something.”

movement is used for critical tactical purposes in D&D,
GURPS, and Savage Worlds. It is used mostly for narrative purposes in Fate and
Night’s Black Agents. Given the intended play styles of each game, this is not
surprising. Unless you failed your perception check. Alas.
In a previous article, Violent Resolution looked at the skills used for ranged weaponry. In this column, I look at the weapons themselves.

Similar to differentiation found in hand-to-hand weapons, differentiation in ranged weapons, including the titular guns, provide a way of showing strengths and weaknesses, and providing different dramatic opportunities, within games. Most games (but not all, even in this list!) will feature the gross physical stats of the weapon: weight and cost.


GURPS is a tactically-driven game resolved with one-second rounds, and it has a fairly large scoreboard for equipment statistics. Each of them can matter in play, and are listed in weapons tables in various books, including a generic one in the Basic Set Characters book (p. 278).

Tech Level tells you when the weapon was made, and will dictate availability in some cases older items are easy to come by (the TL6 M1911 pistol is manufactured and readily available in modern-day TL8), but in other cases they are not: a high-draw longbow that might have seen use in medieval or Renaissance Europe – TL3 or TL4 – can be had, but it will be a custom job, not available off the shelf, although a high-draw-weight recurve or compound bow will be. The other part of availability is a weapon’s Legality Class, with higher numbers being more available. Restrictive governments may well disallow even LC4 weapons, permissive ones might allow the possession of LC1 military grade hardware (for reference, LC0 is banned, LC1 is military only, LC2 is restricted, LC3 is licensed, LC4 is open).

Most weapons are also differentiated by Range, which gives the distance at which a projectile’s damage falls to half its usual value, as well as the maximum range at which a shot can be attempted at all. To a certain extent, max ranges rarely matter for many firearms. Even your bog-standard 9mm pistol has a maximum range of 1,850 yards, which is enough to suffer the penalty for a shot between 1,500 and 2,000 yards (about a mile): a whopping -18 to hit. Even with plenty of time to Aim, you’ll need Guns-15 (a reasonably respectably expert skill) to be able to roll at all, and Guns-22 (bordering on inhumanly skilled; this is a good baseline for a gun clamped in a vise grip/bench rest).

Mentioning Aim segues nicely into the Accuracy stat of the weapon, which is a bonus to skill you can collect by taking a second or more to draw a bead on the target. Really poor weapons can be Acc 0 (you need to steady for two or more seconds to get any value out of it), while a quality assault rifle with a full-length barrel is Acc 5, and a sniper rifle might be Acc 6, and with +3 more for a scope with a magnification of 8-15x. Since every +6 to skill is equivalent to reducing the range by 10x, this means that a boost of +6 means you can hit as easily at 1,000 yards a target that the less accurate weapon can engage at 100 yards. Man-portable Ultra-Tech weaponry can have Acc ratings as high as 12 in the Basic Set, and the mounted versions, such as the Rainbow Gatling Laser, can go as high as Acc 18 (with an appropriately enormous weight of 70 lbs., but a maximum range of over 13 miles).

Other game-useful stats of weapons can include the Rate of Fire (shots per second), which can vary by quite a bit, from single-shot to gatling guns with RoF as high as 60 or even 100. Also listed is the ammunition capacity, which in some cases might be lower than the number of shots that can be fired in a turn!

The Glock 18, a full-automatic 9mm pistol seen used by Morpheus in Matrix Reloaded, can be in this category. It cuts loose at over 20 rounds per second, and if loaded with a standard 9mm magazine will empty it in less than one second. Extended magazines of 30 rounds were used in the movie, and even so it’ll lock open on an empty magazine in the middle of the second turn . . . probably having hit very little in the process.

The game also notes how long it takes to reload, a Bulk rating that penalizes you when shooting on the move (and a few other places), and how strong the user has to be to use it properly. An M16 can be used by someone as low as ST 9, while our machine pistol or a .44 Magnum Auto pistol both require ST 12. Finally, it lists a Rcl score (shortish for Recoil), which tells you the required margin of success to achieve multiple hits. If your final, net skill is Guns-15 and you’re shooting 10 bullets from a weapon with Rcl 2, you will hit once if you roll 15, twice at 13, and seven times if you roll a 3 (the other bullets continue downrange).

The Moose in the Room

That’s all well and good. But how much damage does it do?

In many respects, that may be all the “typical” or “average” gamer needs or wants to know. GURPS provides some of the widest variation in penetration and injury numbers of any game dealt with here. The game differentiates by raw penetration (the dice of damage, always using d6) and final injury, represented by a bullet size modifier. Armor piercing bullets or arrows, which might cut the Damage Resistance of armor worn by a factor of 2 or more, are also available.

This allows the game to make very fine distinctions based on real-world numbers if you’re willing to do the math (disclaimer – I wrote that one), and it can provide such minor distinctions as the difference between a 9mm pistol (2d+2 piercing damage, for 9 penetration and 9 injury on the average) and a .45 ACP (2d large piercing damage, also written pi+, for 7 penetration but 10.5 injury – again on the average). So your 9mm penetrates better, but your .45 ACP wounds better.

Damage can get almost egregiously high. A typical assault or battle rifle will do between 5d6 and 7d6 damage per bullet that hits. A .50 BMG (a machinegun bullet used for long-range sniping and on lightly armored vehicles) would do about 6dx2. The Soviet-era 125mm tank cannon (the D-81TM Rapira) clocks in at 6dx33(2) huge piercing incendiary, with the (2) being an armor divisor. Mostly you will not be shooting that at people (though you may use the HE round, which explodes for 6dx6 crushing explosive damage and tossing 6d+1 fragments about the landscape).

The end result of this range of damage is that it’s just not that hard for any PC that can get their hands on firearms to have the capability to render an unarmored foe really, really dead with one successful round of fire. Three rounds semi-auto with a 9mm pistol to a non-vital area will average 27 HP of damage, enough to force a death check on an above-average hero with 13 HP. Upgrade that to even a semi-auto in .223, and that’s 52 HP (still not auto-death for an average 10 HP guy). On the other end, the anemic .25 ACP only does 1d pi-, which means the average penetration is but 3.5 points, and that’s halved for injury, so 1-3 HP per shot to a non-vital area (vital areas overwrite bullet size modifiers; you get the same x3 to injury for shooting someone in the vitals with a .22LR as with a .50 BMG).

Damage isn’t everything, of course. The player character still has to put lead on target. But with a wide set of differentiation possible by equipment selection, many with game-mechanical effects, the choice of hardware can matter, and small levels of differentiation can be had for players that care. If they don’t care, then using the limited selection of weapons – or even a reduced set of them – from the Basic Set Characters book will be fine, or even further reduced: Pistols are Acc 2, 2d, and damage is halved at 100 yards. Rifles are Acc 5, 6d, damage halved at 500 yards. Shotguns are Acc 3 and 2d but fire nine pellets at a time, and damage is halved at 50 yards. It doesn’t have to be detailed, but if detail is desired GURPS has your back. In spades.

Bullets . . . lots of Bullets

Even if you’re happy with the equipment lists, there are treatments available for many types of ammunition. Conventional ammo is of course provided for, but hollow point (increased wounding, decreased armor penetration), armor piercing (increased armor penetration, often decreased wounding), explosive, incendiary, rubber bullets, dragon’s breath, and in at least one supplement, silver and wooden projectiles are all given specific treatments. You can even get custom-loaded match-grade ammunition and gain mechanical benefit. Or load “duplex” rounds which fire two smaller bullets from every trigger pull. Or, always a crowd pleaser, saboted ammo with ridiculous penetration and velocity. If it’s been done in real life, or been thought about, it’s probably been represented in GURPS.

Equipment Lists

Not only does the basic book have a reasonable list of equipment, there are volumes – multiple sets of them, actually – dedicated to statting out weapons from various eras, countries, and Technology Levels. Three hardbacks (Ultra-Tech, High-Tech, and Low-Tech, in publication order), plus a plethora of books in digital format, most of which are written by Hans-Christian Vortisch (and if you’re looking for a guy to write about guns, this is the guy).
These books sell quite well, and they often carry detailed descriptions about who manufactured the weapons, in which services or actions they saw use, and sometimes notes about famous people who used them, or movies in which they appeared.


A short story, and pretty much the polar opposite of GURPS.
Fate does not inherently provide for differentiation based on equipment. Aspects can be invoked that are weapon-ish, of course. Stunts are the best way to drive differentiation that is related to character concept, but as with all of Fate, if it’s not codified in an Aspect, Stunt, or Extra, it carries no inherent mechanical weight.

That being said, Equipment Aspects are real things, and powerful if you’re willing to spend the points. Since an Attack roll involves both a hit and damage roll, spending a Fate point to invoke an appropriate Aspect will give both an increased ability to hit as well as increasing damage (it’s an opposed roll with stress and consequences based on margin of victory).

Equipment Extras might give a boost to damage. Creating an Advantage might be used to Aim – each successful advantage might give +2 shifts to hit (but not damage) or damage (but not to hit), and success with style might allow invoking both at once, or two of each.

But overall, there are no hard and fast rules or exceptions for ranged weapons in Fate. If you have the Shoot skill, you either have or can use a gun (and likely bows and crossbows too). If you have the right Aspects, you may invoke them, or have them invoked against you. I suspect that the #1 cause of running out of ammunition in Fate games is an foe invoking a firearm-related aspect to force his opponent’s gun to run dry.

There are no lists of equipment in Fate Core or Fate System Toolkit.
There are lists and extra Stunts and specific rules for firearms and other projectile weapons in genre treatments based on the Fate rules, such as Nova Praxis, a sci-fi game using the customized Strands of FATE system.

Night’s Black Agents

As with Fate, NBA is a strongly narrative game where the characters and their abilities drive the story, not the props and their stats. Certain weapons do get better or worse attributes, but these situations are somewhat limited. There are no equipment lists per se in NBA . . . but for a narrative-heavy, gear-rules-light game, there are a surprising number of ammunition types with game-mechanical effects. Hollow point, dragon’s breath, depleted uranium, and armor-piercing ammunition are given some love, with special focus on silver, silver nitrate, and special wooden projectiles, for obvious blood-sucking reasons.
So by and large, NBA has mechanics only where the Bond- , Bourne-, and Batman-esque hunters can look cooler by pulling out some fancy ammunition to make for a moment of coolness in the narrative. It uses semi-defined range bands for all weapons (not too far wrong; it’s a simplification used in GURPS too in some games) as Point-Blank (face to face with the target), Close range is in the same room, Near range is something like 30-40m, Long is up to 100m, and Extended depends on the weapon – rifles and assault rifles can shoot to 500m, while purpose-built sniper rifles can shoot to 1,000m. Speaking of purpose-built, the game limits pistols and shotguns to Near range, and rifles to Long range, unless you spend a few Shooting points to make it happen.

Ammunition either doesn’t run out or runs out when dramatically appropriate.


Relatively speaking, larger and more powerful weapons get minor bonuses to the standard 1d6 roll for damage. A small pistol such as a .22LR does 1d6, a 9mm pistol or 5.56mm assault rifle does 1d6+1, while the .50 BMG might do 1d6+2. All firearms get +2 to damage at Point-Blank range, and +1 at Close range, so most combat firearms will do 1d+2 within a room, against Health pools that (for bad guys in the ‘mook’ to ‘bodyguard’ range) will be 3-8 until the foe starts taking wounds.

The variability is thus low, with small pistols doing (at Close range) 2-7 points, and giant anti-materiel rifles up at 4-9 at the same range.

Dungeons and Dragons

The latest edition of D&D is parsimonious with stats that differentiate weapons, while still allowing differentiation where it matters to the game. The Player’s Handbook gives cost, damage and damage type, weight, and some notes, such as if the weapon needs to be reloaded (as with crossbows), counts as a heavy weapon, has a range beyond which shots suffer Disadvantage, and so forth.
The d20 Modern variant, as one might expect, gives more stats for firearms: it uses a range increment instead of a range maximum, includes a statistic for rate of fire (single, semi-auto, or automatic), and tells you how many shots are in a magazine, belt, box, or cylinder.

Bring the Hurt

There is relatively little differentiation in damage with firearms in d20 Modern, though perhaps more than in NBA. A small revolver like a .22LR will do 2d4 damage while the mighty .50BMG does 2d12, roughly 3x as much. Bows will either do 1d6 or 1d8 plus any attribute bonuses, and for a DEX 16 character with a +3 bonus to Damage (in 5e) that means 4-9 points from a shortbow, or 4-11 points for a longbow. That’s not that different than a small pistol (2-8 points) and a standard 9mm one (2-12 points), which isn’t too far wrong for injury, if not penetration.

There’s no great way to represent armor-piercing weapons in the PHB or the d20 Modern SRD. House rules would be easy to come by – lowering the AC of the target by a few points (but not below that given without any armor at all) would work. Bullets like hollow-points similarly might add a point or two to the foe’s AC if he’s wearing armor at all, but if it hits, might either add a point or two do damage, or increase the die type (I like that one) by one step.

Savage Worlds

Much like D&D, Savage worlds keeps its differentiation by stat block short and sweet. It gives a unique range (in inches, since it’s based around a tabletop with miniatures in the rules text), damage, rate of fire, cost, weight, and shots (which corresponds 1:1 with the usual magazine capacity). Some weapons have a minimum Strength die needed to use it, and many firearms have special properties, most often negating points of armor rating (AP 2 seems common) or restrictions on being able to move and fire (Snapfire Penalty).
Rate of Fire and Damage

Savage Worlds allows multiple shots on a foe, each using a Shooting die (up to the weapon’s RoF, usually 1-4) for each attack, which may be at different targets. Full-auto attacks are the same way, rolling Shooting dice equal to the RoF, but more bullets are expended (each burst uses bullets equal to RoF; an RoF 2 weapon can shoot up to 4 bullets, while RoF 4 is up to 16).

Damage is by weapon type, with a .22LR doing 2d6-1 and a Barrett .50 BMG doing 2d10. Each damage die can “explode” if it rolls its maximum value on a particular die. That’s a range of about 1.5x accounting for exploding dice.

Finish Him: The Purpose of the Numbers

Really, in this group of game systems there’s GURPS, and then there’s “everyone else” in terms of how detailed and differentiated a weapon’s stat list can be. GURPS goes out of its way to provide differentiation and mechanical support for very (very, very, very) fine resolution in why a player might choose to pick one weapon over another. The (endless and eternal) debate over the 9mm vs the .45ACP that has been waged for years can be waged in GURPS as well. The 9mm has more penetration, while the .45ACP does more injury.

Ironically, the answer to “which is better” in GURPS is actually quite clear: take a .40S&W. Due to mechanical breakpoints, it does more penetration than the .45ACP, but retains the x1.5 size modifier because the 10mm/.40 bullet sits exactly on top of the differentiator between pi and pi+

But why? Players vote with their dollars, and books full of guns with slight differentiation sell well enough that they keep being funded. But further than that, a character’s kit is often a plot point and a mechanism for narrative differentiation as well as characterization. These things matter to the characters and the players, and GURPS gives a very large number of mechanical handles to provide those talking points.

The Warrior, not the Weapon

The other games are not “worse,” in this respect. They are “less,” in terms of what differentiation they can provide from a “number of hooks” perspective, but in the case of NBA and Fate, this is mostly brushed aside in the focus of the rules – providing just enough mechanical hooks that it’s the character shining, using the gear as a spotlight with which to look cool. From that perspective, the focus is on the shooter, the warrior, not the weapon, in most cases. Though, of course, sometimes the weapon does deserve special focus – The Golden Gun is right there in the title, a pair of pearl-handled revolvers can make quite the statement, and, of course:

“Six men came to kill me one time. And the best of ’em carried this. It’s a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun … This is the best gun made by man. It has *extreme* sentimental value … I Call Her Vera.”

                                          -Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin), Our Mrs. Reynolds (S1E06)

Enough is Enough

The other games provide stats where it matters to the games they play. D&D is mostly about HP ablation, and so while one could give a .50BMG 20d6 or 6d10 damage (and perhaps one should) compared to a 9mm’s 2d6 or so, being able to do that turn after turn with barely a pause will radically change the feel of the game. Savage Worlds, as usual, straddles an intermediate zone between resolution and Spartan rules-keeping, with enough meat to allow some differentiation, but not a lot – most of the weapons are functionally identical within a class
This is not an uncommon event, even with as high a resolution system as GURPS, of course. Sometimes, why one person chooses a Springfield XDM in .40S&W where another chooses a Walther PPQ comes down to personal aesthetics and feel, not mechanical stats. The character likes it because he likes it, not because of some obvious mechanical advantage that would make one stupid to choose anything else.

“In war, three-quarters turns on personal character and relations; the balance of manpower and materials counts only for the remaining quarter.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte (Observations on Spanish Affairs, Aug 27, 1808)

Napoleon’s quote is stolen here for a reason, but mostly as a jumping off point. The mightiest weapons and the most efficient logistics train mean nothing if a soldier – or an army – will not fight when told to fight, persist in their mission even in the face of their own doom, and withdraw in order rather than flee in terror on command. This holds for armies and battalions, but also for small units as well. Or, as our buddy Thulsa Doom summed up:

Thulsa Doom: Ah. It must have been when I was younger. There was a time, boy, when I searched for steel, when steel meant more to me than gold or jewels.

Conan: The riddle… of steel.

Thulsa Doom: Yes! You know what it is, don’t you boy? Shall I tell you? It’s the least I can do. Steel isn’t strong, boy, flesh is stronger! Look around you. There, on the rocks; a beautiful girl. Come to me, my child…
[coaxes the girl to jump to her death]

Thulsa Doom: That is strength, boy! That is power! What is steel compared to the hand that wields it? Look at the strength in your body, the desire in your heart, I gave you this! Such a waste. Contemplate this on the tree of woe. Crucify him.

In short, that which gives Conan his power is his moral courage, not his weapons or perhaps even his physical strength. That in the end, two had the heart to stand against many.

As one would imagine, fear and courage – the will to fight – can occur at all parts of the story, and the fight. At the beginning – when fighting is either decided upon or left behind. The middle, in hot combat or cold slaughter – who will maintain their composure, stay in formation with shields locked? Will fear of death and pain cause the heart to break and the will to leave the fighter with palsied hand? Or will (laying about me with the quotations) they stand as Ulysses: “One equal temper of heroic hearts, Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Do any games support this mechanically? Not terribly well, at least among the core rules of the books presented . . . with one notable exception, and perhaps one honorable mention.

Calling All Monsters

One thing that seems to be generally true is that morale checks are mostly for NPCs. The players are given the choice of when their paper men stand and fight, press on, or run in terror in most games. This isn’t always true, but in most cases, it is.

But the fact that each PC has a human mind driving it means that the mechanics must carefully consider (or choose another method) just how the moral component of fighting is imposed.

Beginning, Middle, End, Surprise

Just to keep it simple, I’ll try and canvas the rules books (core rules, though mention might be made of older editions or supplements which I’m familiar) for the right keywords, such as “flee,” “morale,” “fright check,” and “disengage.” But I’ll be looking for four items:

  • How does a potential combatant decide to start a fight, engage in violence, and what kind? This is the beginning. 
  • How much persistence does a combatant show during the fight itself? If an ambush fails, will the fighter engage, or flee? This is the middle. 
  • When things go poorly, shields are splintered, and the battle turns against them, do they stand and fight, withdraw in order, or flee in terror, shedding weapons and defenses behind them? This is the end. 

  • The tentacled horror leaps from its dark perch. Arrows or bullets fell a hero with no warning and no mercy. The odds tip suddenly against the heroes, and it’s fight or flight – how does the game handle surprise? 

Dungeons and Dragons

Let’s reach back for a moment to older editions, and note the Gygax, with his wargaming background, was quite aware of a long history of morale-style rules for our four contingencies – Peterson mentions them in several places in Playing at the World, and such subsystems existed for each phase of combat. Chainmail gave a morale score; and it’s worth noting the entry for Morale in Basic D&D, quoted from the D&D Wiki in full:

Morale (Basic D&D)

Some enemies or NPCs will try to disengage from combat. This is not part of the actions, but is used to determine behavior of NPCs.
It is generally checked by a 2d6 roll against the monster’s morale score:

  • When a group tries to evade an encounter. 
  • Every five combat rounds while chasing. 
  • During combat, when a targeted creature takes 1 point of damage. 
  • During combat, when a creature is reduced to 1/4th of its starting hitpoints 
  • During combat, when the first death on each side takes place (regardless of which side gets the fatality) 
  • During combat, when only half of the creatures of their group is free to act 
  • When a creature is affected by a weapon master’s despair effect 
  • When a creature is affected by a magical item or spell that requires a morale check. 
  • When a PC’s retainer is ordered into danger while the employer remains in safer surroundings. 

The following bonuses apply:

  • If monsters have killed at least one enemy without taking casualties themselves, +2 bonus. 
  • If monsters have killed at least one enemy but have taken losses, +1 bonus. 
  • If monsters are on the receiving end of magic and have no magical abilities, -1 penalty. 
  • Other optional penalties may be applied, but the total bonus or penalty should be within +2 and -2. 

This is a lovingly detailed system. It’s simple mechanically (roll 2d6 vs a morale score), and has a clear list of items to check, some before combat (or even dictating if a monster will avoid a fight), many during combat, and some afterwards. It even covers gently “leading from the front,” as ordering a hireling into danger while staying safe causes a morale check. The shock of violent death forces a check, no matter what side the casualty happens on.

That’s a hefty importance placed on morale, especially in games where bringing the treasure home, not defeating the guardians, is where you get experience. Of course, there aren’t three morale rules for every one combat rule . . . but at least they’re there, and they lay down some great ground rules as to when other games might think about who plans on dying today.

D&D Fifth Edition

The Player’s Handbook makes no mention of morale in its index. The Dungeon Master’s Guide, however, does cover it succinctly on p. 273. Much like Basic D&D, the morale rules require a simple test to see if a creature or group flees. In the new edition, it’s a DC 10 Wisdom saving throw (so even with Wisdom 20 and a +5 bonus, there’s a 20% chance of failure here on a straight roll). The conditions include being surprised, being reduced to half the original HP, or having no effective way to hurt the other side when his turn comes around. There are also group conditions, such as when a leader drops or sufficient casualties are taken (the book gives half; this is a huge number for real life, not so much so in RPGs – decimate meant to kill one in ten, after all!).

There are no real rules for creatures gearing up to attack, or receive an attack from, a foe or group of foes. This is somewhat understandable, in that this is often situational and always up to the GM whether an adversary will attack or not. Still, the GM will need a feel for whether even a mountain lion will decide to pounce on a group of foes instead of a single, weak-looking future meal.

The few conditions that are listed invite more. Animals would probably need to make a morale check – likely at Disadvantage – upon being hit with a fireball. The guidelines present are leading enough to allow for improvisation, and since every creature has a Wisdom score listed, the Saving Throw can be calculated easily. Some monsters may have saving throws that are higher than their stats might indicate, but you’ll need the Monster Manual for that detail.

Since a morale check is made upon suffering surprise, the possibility that a PC group waits in ambush, wins surprise, and gets in one turn of furious action which causes their foes to break and run is a real possibility if the GM chooses to play it that way.

Savage Worlds

Looking up morale and surprise in the core rules shows that there is a small section on morale tucked inside a section on mass combat. When an army loses a token (a slice equal to 10% of the largest army) the side makes a Spirit check modified by circumstances. Failure means an orderly retreat. Rolling 1 or less is a disorganized rout.

Surprise is really a function of initiative, and who acts when. The consequences of being surprised are usually dire enough in any game that being on the receiving end of a full turn of woe and carnage is enough punishment.

It would not be difficult to scale the morale table down to character scale. As creatures and characters get taken out or surprised, calling for a Spirit roll would not be out of the question. Fail the roll, and perhaps you’re Shaken. Since movement is one of the primary things you can do when Shaken, the logical course here is run and hide. Unless you’re a PC – more on that later.

Night’s Black Agents

Jason Bourne does not run away. Dracula might pause to regroup, but again, the cadre of “blood-sucking fiends from beyond the grave” (Pike: BtVS movie) isn’t likely going to be frightened into much. Besides, the wound system is coarse enough that if you go “unconscious” from wounds you might well have panicked and fled, rather than been filled full of holes. The details (and the broad strokes) are left up to the GM and players . . . but a powerful mechanic that in a real way represents “hit points of fear” is found in the Stability score.

The score is 4 for free and in some games might be capped at 12. It represents willpower and self-possession, as well as resistance to mental attacks and psychological trauma. One of the few games that deals with the murderhobo trope directly: NBA in “BURN” mode you lose 1 stability point (or a rating point in an interpersonal ability) for every human being you kill.

Stability tests have a standard difficulty of 4, so succeeding in one without a point spend is 50-50. Failed tests that rub up against mental phobias or quirks might compel even a PC to flee. Spending yourself negative can leave you Shaken, Shattered, or Incurably Insane. Night’s Black Agents plays mind games for keeps.

Stability might refresh automatically between adventures, or might require some purposeful narrative downtime. You can also be helped along by friends with the Shrink skill. But ultimately, there’s an impressive list of things that trigger stability checks, and most of them involve violence, horror, or horrific violence, or violent horrors. The impact of these things can last well beyond a particular fight.


The primary vehicle for morale in GURPS – at least on the “oh God oh God we’re all gonna die!” end of things is the Fright Check (p. B360). But the book takes some small pains to remind the reader that Fright Checks are for unusually frightening events, not run-of-the-mill blood and violence, depending on the campaign. One of the reasons for this is that for the truly frightening event, the Will roll is capped at 13, leaving 14 or higher a failure (about one failure in six). Mechanically, you make your will test, and if you fail, you add that margin of failure to a roll on 3d6, and consult a fairly extensive table. Recall the average of 3d6 is 10.5, and the table shows results totaling from 3 to 11 being various versions of “frozen in place,” which goes by the technical term of Stunned in GURPS. After that, though, things get ugly. Vomiting for tens of seconds, aquiring mental quirks and disadvantages, losing Fatigue Points, fainting, or even being scared into total panic, catatonia, or a coma (the probability of those results is low unless your Will is modified to lower than 3 and you roll badly a few times).

The real meat to “morale” as GURPS would define it will lie with the Disadvantages a character carries. “Disadvantages” are things that flesh out your character by restricting your choices when faced with certain events. Sense of Duty (Companions) prevents you from ditching them. Sadism means you’ll indulge in cruelty when you can. Honesty (which should best be thought of as “Law Abiding” rather than the more mundane use of the word) means you’ll need to make self-control rolls to break unreasonable laws.

For the purpose of combat and staying in it, there are many that might apply. The lists and notes below are not comprehensive; they’re illustrative.

Bad Temper might force you to start a fight, while Berserk will make you attack anyone around you until you are felled if your condition is triggered. Bloodlust will eventually land you in jail or dead, as you will go for (perhaps unnecessary) fatal blows, even to the point of not accepting surrenders or taking prisoners. If you suffer from Combat Paralysis, you tend to freeze up in combat and other stressful situations; fail a HT roll (not Will!) and your body will not obey your instructions when you tell it to fight. Cowardice can lead you to refuse combat or even risk-taking; it can also provoke strong reactions in others. Fanaticism gives you unwavering dedication to a country, organization, religion, or philosophy.

One of the more interesting ones is Pacifism, which of course rather limits your options in a fight. Some flavors include Reluctant Killer (you’re not prepared to kill those you recognize as fellow ‘people’), Cannot Harm Innocents, Cannot Kill, Total Nonviolence, and a perpetual favorite of mine in days past: Self-Defense Only.

Note that Pacifism (Self-Defense Only) makes an interesting combination with Bloodlust if the GM allows it. You never strike first, but when you do strike, you finish the foe, if you can, every time. I played a character with this combination in college, and it was a lot of fun, and you could get the conversations between hated adversaries that you will see frequently in fiction and cinema but rarely in RPGs, where talking might be seen as an inferior option to impaling.

There are others. Some supplements, notably Hans-Christian Vortisch’s GURPS Tactical Shooting (for which I was Lead Playtester, and also a friend of the author), go out of their way to note that combat can be pretty horrific, and suggest Fright Checks be made for “coming under Suppression Fire (pp. B409-410); being the target of a near miss (by 2 or less) from any attack; being in the blast zone of an explosion (2 x dice of damage in yards); suffering a wound (even a grazemay set some people off); or seeing an ally incapacitated or killed.” All of these could be extrapolated to gritty fantasy easily.

The mechanical support for the “stunned” condition (you can’t act and defenses are at -4 until you snap out of it) means that it can be applied evenly to PCs and NPCs alike.


Fate has one of the most interesting mechanics that deals with morale that I’ve encountered, in that it’s one of the only games that provide direct mechanical support in the form of a game benefit for giving up and conceding a fight.

More on that in a bit . . . but it’s one of the unique elements of the Fate combat mechanics, and it’s a great selling point for it as a narratively strong game.

Getting into a fight is also going to be narrative choice, but avoiding one might be an interplay between Aspects – and avoiding a fight is a good example where an Aspect might come up directly, or even be played against a character. Thor has endless opportunities to go head to head with Loki in Thor, The Avengers, and Thor 2 (also jokingly called Loki 1, Loki 2, and Loki 3 with no small amount of truth). But in many cases, he does not – he talks, persuades, taunts, captures, and even partners with him. Drama, yes – but perhaps a good instance of a Compel (accepting a Fate point to have an Aspect used against you). A more direct use of the Aspect might be a predatory animal with the Aspect “Hungry, not stupid.” She’ll pounce on and kill prey separated from a group, but will not jump into the middle of a group of armed, dangerous, and noisy foes.

The very nature of the “damage” tracks for Fate in terms of Stress and Consequences can lead naturally to non-fatal outcomes to conflicts. As one or both build up, there will come a time when enough is enough. At that point the most interesting of the positive-feedback mechanics present in Fate comes into play.

I give up!

If you’ve had enough of a fight, you can concede. If you concede, you get Fate Points, the metagame currency used to regulate the use of Aspects to get extra shifts in a contest (that +2 you get is a big bonus). The more consequences you took in the fight, the more you get. So there’s an increasing incentive to bow out somewhat gracefully as the fight goes against any given combatant. Also, a written rule of conceding a conflict is that you avoid the worst potential outcomes. You’re left bleeding and unconscious on the field, or taken prisoner instead of killed. You leave your fallen nemesis alive to baste in the shame of his defeat . . . but take his prized heirloom weapon.

You may well see that foe again, of course.

Fear and Panic for Thee, Not for Me

Wargames are easy. If the 501st Motorized Rifles roll poorly on a “gut check” or some such and don’t act that turn, you can curse their hopelessness, send them back to Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy next season, and generally carry on with the rest of your units. The morale rules are usually clear, evenhanded, and are part of the game, rather than seen as interrupting or diverting it.

For NPCs, random die rolls for morale allow a broader spectrum of reactions to events. Sometimes foes will break and flee, sometimes they’ll stick to a fight. Sometimes your retainers will break and flee. All of that is well and good.

But tell a player that his character is frozen in fear and you may just get the stinkeye. Suggest that the six players about to attack the slavering gorignak-beast are starting to feel damp around the collar (and maybe breeches) and you’ll get cursed at for railroading. Force a character to run in fear mid-fight? Inconceivable!

Some of that is overwrought, and deliberately so. But RPGs put the decisive agency – the game equivalent of sovereign franchise, or the vote – in the hands of the players when it comes to their characters’ actions. If they want to fight until they’re dead, they can do so. If they want to just walk right in over the Dread God’s Threshold, they can do so.

The best mechanics and support will support a few concepts, I think.

Anything Can Be Attempted

The old adage that defines the RPG as a unique experience must still hold. No matter what, unless trumped by some other factor, agency should still be retained overall. Immediate gratification may be lost. In GURPS, if you get scared, you may well be mentally stunned, unable to take positive action (you have to take the Do Nothing maneuver, and active defenses are at -4). But once you break out of it . . . you can do what you want until the next cosmic horror emerges to make you soil your shorts.

Hindrances not Prohibitions

Games that permit action of any sort, but penalized or otherwise modified make for nice, evenhanded application. If you decide that failing a Scary Movie Check in your house-ruled GURPS game is the same as being “Grappled by Fear!” and assign -4 to both DX and IQ (and therefore -2 to Parry and Block, -1 to Dodge, and -1 to Basic Speed) then the characters that have high enough skills can still be Awesome and succeed despite their fear. Other characters or NPCs might decide that they’ve had quite enough, thanks. Or, even better, that -4 will have to be offset by All-Out Attacks or other things that will likely simulate Fight or Flight! behavior through emergent choices.

I’m working with GURPS here, but one could easily assign temporary Aspects in Fate, assign Disadvantage or a flat -4 penalty in D&D5, or increase target numbers or assign penalties in Savage Worlds or even Night’s Black Agents. It doesn’t matter – the important thing is to give the PCs hills to climb, and let the behavior emerge. High enough penalties will generate the response of “I can’t do anything useful here, at all. I might as well make a strategic withdrawal.”

So long as those penalties are evenhanded and the mechanics for both their imposition and removal are clear, things should go well.

Positive Feedback

Quite simply: Fate has it right. There are tangible and direct inducements to conceding or withdrawing from a conflict.

Now, not all systems have such strong metagame currency as Fate. But Savage Worlds has its bennies, D&D has (for some classes) superiority dice, GURPS can have luck points or bonus points for some genres, and spending points is the entire rules mechanic for GUMSHOE. Any of these or variations can be utilized if desired to create an actual incentive for not fighting until your foes or your party are all incapacitated.

Finish Him

The moral may be to the physical as three is to one, but it certainly doesn’t play that way most of the time at the table. It should be possible to run off an adversary – or at least some adversaries – by a fusilade of near misses, some convenient planted nearby explosions, and a clear path for them to run away. Mostly, that would be resolved in most games as “a bunch of misses for no damage, an explosion for no damage, and who cares about an escape path!”

With the right emphasis, “initiative” becomes a lot more than who goes first. The shock of contact and pressure of wounds may well cause mental capacity loss, which will be met by even decent troops falling back to blunt-instrument responses. Keep them guessing, pressured, and disoriented, and magic swords and repeating weapons will be forgotten. Disciplined fire will give way to blazing away with autofire. Carefully planned attacks and techniques might still happen, but they can only happen via an all-out telegraphic attack that gives bonuses, or tactics will be adjusted because the party is all rolling with disadvantage.

Tip your hat to the moral, and see what the physical can do in duress. If nothing else, it’ll make for great stories.

+Harold Bauerle had an interesting comment/idea in response to my post yesterday. He posited . . . well, I’ll just quote his idea in full:

Totally off the top of my head, but what if there was a stat whereby if you fired too many shot with a weapon it became Unready, and would need to be Readied again before being used?  This would be like Firing until the recoil pulled the gun completely off-target and out of control.  Handling, or something?  Or maybe based on Bulk?

This has some interesting  concepts attached to it. What I’d want is for even a good shot to have the potential to render the weapon Unready, but a bad miss having a higher chance.

I’d want high Rcl weapons to have this problem more than low Rcl weapons.

Heavy weapons (physical weight) should resist this more (but that’s in Rcl, I think), and bulky weapons might go either way. Harder to get off target, but also harder to bring it back? Hrm. A Ready is a Ready, so that probably won’t work well.

I’d like to make determination not require extra rolls. That might mean using one of the d6s from the usual 3d6 hit roll as the determining factor. Maybe a red Recoil die, though this mechanic can get quite clunky. 

So let’s assume we take one of those d6s. High rolls are more likely to trigger an “off-target” response. High RoF (as expressed by a bonus) should make this worse, so we’ll add the RoF bonus to the die. 

Low Rcl should be “better” than high Rcl. So maybe there’s a target of something like if the total is 9-Rcl or higher, you have to spend a turn readying. If you Brace the weapon (+1 to skill) you can add this as well.

So if you are firing a Rcl 2 weapon at +0 bonus for RoF, you will never have to spend a turn readying the weapon.

Occasionally, Rcl will drive a Rcl 3 weapon off target (roll a 6 against a 9-3 target).

Firing a Rcl 2 weapon at RoF 12 (+2 RoF bonus) would trigger at 7+, so a 5 or 6 on the chosen die would cause a forced Ready.

A MAC-11, at RoF 20 for a +4 bonus, is Rcl 2 (Target 7) will force a Ready on a 3 or higher, or 66% of the time. 

Can you fire an Unready weapon? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you can only use Suppression Fire with an Unready weapon, which will cap skill at a pretty low level. Perhaps you take an additional penalty of -2 or -4 or something, so that even a gigantic RoF bonus won’t give you a 50% to hit.

Parting Shot

This is deliberately incomplete, in that I haven’t dealt with mounted weapons or other stabilization, looked at the interaction of sights (especially those that add to skill rather than Acc) and other concerns.

What I like about Harold’s suggestion, though, is that the forced Ready maneuver has just the right feel to me. 

Over on the SJG forums, there’s an interesting (if long) debate over the observation that all things being equal, it’s always better to fire lots of bullets at a target than just one, or even a short burst.

The Example

For example, let’s take a 500-yard shot, made by someone with Guns(Rifle)-13. That might seem a low score, but it’s probably not.

500 yards is a -14 range penalty, so you will need to rack up some serious bonuses even to have a chance of hitting.

So we’ll give our shooter a decent rifle – say the Barrett REC-7, from Tactical Shooting, and we’ll slap a 10x scope on it. That’s a 6.8x43mm SPC cartridge, Acc 4, +3 for a scope, 780-yd 1/2D range. It’s also got RoF 12, which at full tilt will be good for a +2 bonus.

So, no matter, what, we’ll have our shooter Aim for three seconds (+4 for basic Acc, +2 for extra time, and another +3 for the scope), as well as Brace (+1) with All-Out Attack (Determined) for another +1. Total bonuses are +11, which brings the odds of hitting, neglecting Rapid Fire, to a net penalty of -3 including range and accuracy, for a final hit chance of 50%.

Lean on the trigger, though, and you collect the +2, which boosts the hit roll to 12-, which is a 75% chance of hitting at least once. The Rcl of the rifle is 2, so you actually have a 50% chance of hitting twice, 25% chance of three hits, 10% (ish) of four.

Waste Not, Want Not

Note that in terms of efficiency, single shots will hit a net of 50% per bullet. For autofire, if you do a weighted average (for this given example) of number of hits, it works out to about 1.6 hits per attack, that is, if you roll a 12 or 11, you hit once, 10 or 9, twice, etc. If you take the probability of any one roll times the number of hits for that roll, then add ’em up, you get about 1.6 hits. So autofire on a per attack basis is more than three times more effective on a per-attack basis.

The cost of that, of course, is that you spend 9-12x more ammo to get there. So our single-shot weapon will be using 2 shots per hit. Our autofire weapon is using 5.5-7.5 shots per hit. That is, by the way, at about 18 rounds per pound of this ammo. So 1/3-lb of ammo per hit.

OK, so there’s a trade-off, and a tangible one, assuming you care about running out of ammunition. In my own games, that has not once been an issue. +Peter V. Dell’Orto, whose character sported a TL8-9 version of the REC7 used in the example, solved this problem with a ST 17 (or so) character using 100-round drums of ammo – you’ve got about sixteen dead guys (or at least hit guys, at 6d per hit) per reload. For a rifle with a 25-round magazine, you’ve got 12 dead guys (or at least hit guys) per reload. Not really rate limiting. In +Mark Langsdorf‘s Mecha Against the Giants campaign, he had to take fairly drastic steps to force ammunition supply to be an issue. All you have to do is build your guy assuming magazines weigh 6-lbs each instead of about a pound.

So What’s the Problem?

No, the real issue is that the autofire bonus is not offset by any sort of “my weapon is jumping around like a ferret on crack” effect, and the trade off in ammunition expenditure doesn’t hold in check behavior not seen in the real world. (But see below for more on this.)


What would this look like? More importantly, how can we smoothly transition from “short, controlled bursts actually do work well” to “you’re shooting mostly at the sky” without tedious and math-intensive crank-turning?

The answer, from a GURPS RAW perspective, almost has to involve Rcl . . . but before we go there, how else could it work?

Break Up the Rolls

Well, for one, the first shot or burst of shots – probably up to the four shots you get with Rapid Fire that don’t give a bonus – shouldn’t be any different than direct fire at a point target. After that, you could either apply scaled penalties, or more likely treat all remaining shots using the Suppressive Fire rules, or alternate rules.

So for any given attack, you’d make one roll for the first number of shots up to 4 (the point after which bonuses kick in), and then treat shot 5 and onward using the suppressive fire rules.

The advantage here is that firing short, controlled bursts or autofire has roughly the same chance of hitting for that first few shots, but after that you’re really in suppression mode, and odds are your hit chances go down rapidly. In our example above, the first four shots are treated as Guns-10, while after that, the remaining 8 shots (RoF bonus of +1 using RAW) are treated as a Suppression Fire attack with a net roll of 7 – 6 + the RoF bonus.

Basically the feel here is “fire the first four shots as you like; after that, you’re just hoping to get lucky.”

Is that perfect? Nope. High rate of fire bursts with stabilized weapons – or even radar-steered weapons – should probably have a much higher cap, even beyond the +2 bonus you get for a mount. Things that let you do “eyes-open” correction, probably including a Reflex sight, should probably raise the skill cap. It might be interesting to use, instead of a flat 6, something like the weapon’s base Acc-1 – taking into account that a lot of vehicle-mounted weapons will be fired as All-Out Attack (Determined), plus Braced.

So a mounted M2HB would fire at 6+RoF bonuses, while a Maxim Mk1 would fire at 5+Bonuses, and if you mounted up a low-accuracy SMG or high-accuracy pistol with Acc 3, you’d be shooting at 4+RoF bonuses.

The bit in Ultra-Tech about active targeting adding Acc? That’ll work too, and add ALL of Acc, including Aim/Scope bonuses. So your computer guided M2HB is 11+RoF bonus. But since the first four shots are fired using point-target methods, that’s really a 11 cap if you’re filling the sky with ..50BMG under radar guidance, mechanical control, etc.

Still, most normal humans won’t have to worry about that.

Other Gun Control

There’s also an alternate rule in Pyramid #3/65: Alternate GURPS III assigning a -2 penalty to autofire (making it a Technique), which would fix this case, and all guns with cyclic, or full-auto, rate of less than 950 rounds per minute (RoF 15), which is where the +2 cutoff sits. That’s probably good for most guns, except for high-cyclic weapons such as the MAC-11 or Glock 18 (both with RoF 20). Of course, neither is famous for controllability in full-auto fire.

Thing is, though – there’s zero disincentive to mash the triggers on these weapons. RoF 20 gives you a whopping +4 bonus on a Rcl 2 weapon. That is, on the average, you’ll hit three times instead of one, all other things being equal.

This doesn’t really help with “more bullets are better” as the general rule, it just moves the scale down.

Rcl Adjustment

The other possibility would be to do something with Rcl. For example, Rcl is the listed value on any given table plus (say) half the RoF bonus you get for Rapid Fire (round UP). So a Rcl 3 weapon fired with an RoF bonus of 1 or 2 would turn into Rcl 4.

For our example, firing at RoF 5-12 (+1 or +2 bonus) would push our REC7’s Rcl to 3 instead of 2. That wouldn’t change the +2 bonus you get for rapid fire, but it would mean you only get 1.2 hits per RoF 9-12 burst instead of 1.6. Adding RoF bonus to Rcl directly will drop that to one hit per burst. That’s still twice as effective per attack, but it’s five times less efficient in terms of ammo expenditure.

That might work OK, as a quick and dirty.

Other Considerations

I think several people have proposed this, but having the Rapid Fire bonus scale with half the Size and Speed Range Table bonus for the number of bullets fired is probably a better progression than the one on p. B373, based on how GURPS works.

The other thing to consider is that lots of unskilled folks really do just hose down the area with a wild spray of bullets. They don’t hit much either – at least not intentionally. Again, that’s why I favor the suppression fire rules.

In fact, that might be a nice consideration. Unless you do an All-Out Attack (using the rules that sighted shooting must be All-Out, from Tactical Shooting), or an optional allowance of a Ranged Committed Attack, you must use suppression fire if firing at RoF 4 or higher.If you use sighted shooting or aim, you get that first four rounds as direct fire on a point target.

Parting Shot

I don’t think I solved the problem here. But I definitely agree that it causes some unusual behavior. Trained troops are taught to fire short, controlled bursts, even with tripod or other mounted weapons, if I’m not mistaken. GURPS rules tend to push you to full-auto whenever you can pull it off, which leads to the interesting observation that given a Vickers Mk I.303 machinegun (Acc 6 – but go ahead and mount a scope on it) and an AI AW (Acc 6, +3 for a scope), your better bet for ‘sniping’ is the machinegun, because the AI only has RoF 1, while the Vickers is 10, for a bonus and likely an extra hit, or at least hitting more often.

Fixing Rcl doesn’t offset the bonus RoF gives you. Treating the first few shots as aimed fire (and no RoF bonus for it) and everything else as “hoping to get lucky” is probably the most satisfying, but it does require an extra roll.