Hicks: I wanna introduce you to a personal friend of mine. This is an M41A pulse rifle. Ten millimeter with over-and-under thirty millimeter pump action grenade launcher.
Hicks: [Hicks hands the rifle to Ripley] Feel the weight.
Ripley: Okay. What do I do?

The M41 is iconic. It defines the look and feel of one of the best Aliens movies out there (in my opinion), and was, at least in this scene, treated more like a character than a piece of equipment.

I recently wrote up the ammunition it supposedly fires as my April Fool’s entry for The Reloading Press. It’s described in the movie as follows:

Ripley: Lieutenant, what do those pulse rifles fire?
Gorman: 10 millimeter explosive tip caseless. Standard light-armor-piercing round, why?

Other than the weapon itself, which was made in several non-firing mock-ups and one “hero” weapon that could actually fire blanks, that’s mostly the only information you have on the weapon itself. You do see that loading a fresh magazine gave something like 95 or 99 shots.

This writeup is dedicated to +Kyrinn S. Eis who asked me very nicely to do it.

Continue reading “The M41 Pulse Rifle – stats and commentary”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Simple Range, Location, and Environment

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

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

Non-ideal conditions

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

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

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

Rapid Engagement and Targets

By and large the only other penalties that show up are 

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


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


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

Maneuver Selection

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

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

Unikitty says never AoA

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

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

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

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

Aim and Lots of Aim

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

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

The other is to simplify it and make generic categories. 

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

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

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

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

Rapid Fire

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Parting Shot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

I’m blog-stalking +Peter V. Dell’Orto these days. You should too. He’s penned a few posts on mapless combat for GURPS that got me thinking, again, of borrowing concepts from other games. In this case, the concept of Zones from Fate.

Zones are a nice, abstract way of thinking about who’s where in a narrative game. You can fight someone if they’re in your zone, you can shoot someone at a penalty across zones (perhaps; depends). But by and large the only purpose of the combat zones – and it’s a good  purpose – is to give a general narrative guideline of who’s where. Character A can act on NPCs 1 and 2. Characters B, C, and D are dogpiling Boss 3. For A to act on Boss 3, it’s more difficult.

GURPS has this too

What you say? Yes, it’s true. GURPS Action 2: Exploits, also known as the gift that keeps on giving, introduces a Range Band Table on p. 31 (in boxed text). Each band is -4 farther away than the prior band.

One of the nice underlying mathematical truths about the range bands (or just the Size and Speed Range table in general) is the fact that each step is a constant multiple of the one preceding it. This is just the nature of logarithmic tables, and for GURPS, the scale is each six steps are a factor of 10, or each step is x1.47 the one preceding it. This is usefully rounded to x1.5, but really the way GURPS does it is to have short memorizable progressions. GURPS’ favorites seem to be 1-3-10, 1-2-5-10, and the SSR progression, 1-1.5-2-3-5-7-10.

We’ll return to this in a moment.

Battles are Vector, not Scalar

One of the bits about the range bands and mapless combat is that everything is relative to everything else. If you have three groups of three people fighting (say three foolishly overconfident PCs fighting two monsters each, in separate groups), then while each group of three is in contact distance with each other, they could each be at different range bands from each other.

And just because two groups are at (say) medium range from one party, they might be at short range to each other.

So, this sort of thing is vector (magnitude and direction matter), not scalar (only magnitude).

Yummy pi, which equals 3 in GURPS

Again with the math. Always with the math . . . but if we picture a range band as a circle (or sphere, but let’s do 2D for now), then the circumference of the band is roughly 6x the distance from the center. This is exactly true if we treat the perimeter of the band as a ring of hexes (thus the phrase I’ve seen: In GURPS, pi is equal to 3).

That means that if it takes one action of arbitrary time to close from your current range band to contact distance, you can take three actions to go around contact distance at constant radius. It also means that (conveniently), you can subdivide any band into six chunks, each of which is one band smaller. It also means that much like tactical combat, you’re in a hexagonal reference system.

That means rescaling the bands from action, though. A very coarse progression would be 1-3-10 – and starting with 3, because you can, with a committed attack and a Reach 1 weapon, or a Step and Reach 2 weapon, easily fight anyone closer than that.

Bands and Progressions

So if we want to define “in melee combat distance” as 0-3 yards, for no penalty, we’ll wind up with a progression that looks like:

0-3 yds: Contact Distance (0)
4-10 yds: Close Range (-3)
11-30 yds: Short Range (-6)
31-100 yds: Medium Range (-9)
101-300 yds: Long Range (-12)
301-1000 yds: Extreme Range (-15)
1001-3000 yds: Maximum Range (-18)
3001+ yds: Beyond Visual Range (-21)

Now, this chart is human-centric, earth centric, and ground-level centric. But there’s utility here. Consider:

Mos pistol fights are in the “Close” range band. But shooting to short range is possible and you can with care and time hit at medium range. That’s 1 and 2 bands. If you consider SMGs, typical engagement distance is closer to 30yds, but 100 yds is a bit harder and 300yds is about all you’re going to want to shoot (despite both pistols and SMGs having true maximum ranges in the Maximum Range band). Rifles? 100yds is pretty routine, 300yds is used for qualification, and 1000yds starts to be the stuff of legend, with shots in the middle of the Extreme Range band being routine for the best shots. This would negate the influence of Acc, though.

One might simplify that you can extend your range by one band with an aim action, and two with two, and farther is a no-no. Or you can use the regular Acc and Aim sequences.

Likewise, you can shoot from A to O or A to B at the standard -3 per band penalty, while A to C is an additional -1 and A to D is an additional -2.

Note that it doesn’t matter what the A-O band is in the above. It could easily be A-O is Close Range as Extreme Range. As long as A, B, C, and D are in the same band, the penalties apply just as well.

Note that if you don’t want to ditch the Action range band sizes, the above penalties still work. A-B is no longer simply a range band down, but it’s still at no extra penalty, A-C is -1, and A-D is still -2.

Closing and Extending Distance

The other bit about bands that players will want to know is how long it takes to transition between them. Given the distances involved, and “typical” PC move rates in the 4-7 yards per second range, you wind up with something like this:

  • It takes about a Move action to get from Close (call it 7 yds) to Contact (around 2 yds). But it could be as little as a Step, or it could be two actions.
  • It takes about 2-3 Move actions (8-21 yds of distance) to close from Short to Close range.
  • And so on – it should take 3x more moves for each band.

What I want to do is think about the smallest ranges – Contact and Close – and then we can use the 1-3-10 progression in time to extend that.

But basically, the rule is that to move between range bands, you need to spend some time “in transition.” When you’re in transition, you’re still in your current band.

Closing distances (going from a higher band to a shorter one) requires one unopposed transition. Extending it requires three.

Unopposed transition? Yeah. Your foe can keep you at bay by moving herself, too.

So, Bob wants to attack Kara. He’s at Close range, and wants to move to Contact. He takes a Move, and it in Transition. Kara can decline the engagement by taking a Move herself, which negates the transition and sets him back to Close Range. Or she can accept it and not move, doing something else.

Close to Contact: this is a bit of a special case. A fighter in Transition can Attack into Contact from Close Range. Likewise the defender can Attack into Contact if her target is in Transition from Close Range too.

Escape from Contact: It only takes one Move to get from Contact distance to Close Range. Your foe, of course, can use the above to engage with you, and if he wants to Move and Attack (forgoing defenses) he can do it on one turn. This does assume the endless featureless plain, which is a bad assumption. It’s plausible to force some sort of skill test – an Evade action or something – to simulate getting out of more constrained surroundings. Or even disallowing extending the range at all past a certain band.

Boring Boring Boring – It’s about time

If you have characters at all ranges, then you can easily get situations where, for example, it takes your sniper, kickin’ out there at 500 yds from the main battle, 100 turns to get to contact distance. It will take about 70 turns to shorten to Long. Table below.

Band Distance Shorten
Contact 3 yds 1
Close 10 yds 1 3 1 s
Short 30 yds 3 10 3s
Medium 100 yds 10 30 10 s
Long 300 yds 30 100 30 s
Extreme 1000 yds 100 300 1.5 min
Maximum 3000 yds 300 1000 5 min

So instead of that, if you have some nicely discrete groups that are not engaged in turn-by-turn combat (shooting or attacking every turn, or close to it), simply compress the time scale by the amount shown above, looking at the scale of the band you want to transition to. So one 30s turn in transition, and a second 30s turn brings you from Extreme to Long range. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough.
Parting Shot
The point here is to allow either the range bands from Action, or the more hex-friendly ones here, as a half-step between mapped combat and mapless combat. Some degree of relative groupings of combatants. Some notion of how far and how long it takes to get from place to place. And something that can be drawn out on a piece of paper with a few largish hexes – one that allows placing minis or markers in zones to allow rough situational awareness.

Once again, over on the forums there’s a thread. In this case, someone created a repeating crossbow that is re-loaded using a pump-action similar to a shotgun. The design on the thread was a fairly standard design, nothing quite as elaborate as the image to the right.

So, what would I make of such a beast?

Well, compared to a regular crossbow – especially one with modern materials, you’re probably still looking at a draw length on the order of 7-11″ and not too much more. Maybe you could eke out 16″. Modern crossbows have a power stroke of 9.5 to 13″ so you’re not really losing much there. Medieval crossbows were shorter strokes, mostly – the powerful ones had steel limbs that didn’t flex much, and so might be hundreds of pounds – or even thousands – with only 6-9″ of stroke. 

Still, let’s say that we can neglect draw length or power stroke. 

So that leaves the draw weight of the thing. How heavy could that be?

The Basic Set and Low-Tech crossbows leave quite a bit to be desired from a verisimilitude perspective. But let’s assume that the work I did in The Deadly Spring wasn’t totally bogus. That means that you can span a crossbow of up to 8xBL using two hands and bracing the thing on the ground – equivalent to a Two-Handed Lift from p. B353. This seems to be “ready the crossbow in two seconds, ready a bolt, put the bolt on the crossbow,” and shoot on the fifth turn. A bow is ready an arrow, mate the arrow to the bow and draw, shoot. 

So if the lifting part is 8xBL in 2 seconds, and a bow is up to 2.5xBL in one second (slightly generous over the 2xBL from p. B353), how heavy a draw might one manage?

Certainly not 8xBL. No legs or back in use, really. Can we eke out the same 2.5xBL as a bow? Probably not. A bow can use the legs (see my longbow draw movie – it’s not great form, but it’s more than just the arms and back. You get a lot of back and shoulder in it, though.

The pump-action will brace against the shoulder, but it’s pretty much a one-handed pull with one arm, if the second hand remains in “trigger” position and you’re bracing the weapon at the shoulder the entire time. I’m inclined to say between 1xBL (seems light) and 2.5xBL (seems heavy). Let’s give it the benefit of the doubt and say between 2x and 2.5xBL.

Still, the crossbows that do thr+4 imp are the 8xBL ones. The energy you’ll get out of equivalent draw length but less force will be quite a bit less, corresponding to a damage of 50-56% of the full-power bows assuming a draw strength of 8xBL. A weapons-grade crossbow from The Basic Set that is ST 12 will do 1d+3 damage, or about 7.5 points. 55% of that is 4.1 points, or about 1d to 1d+1.

That puts at about thr+2 to thr+3 for ST 12, about where GURPS puts the pistol crossbow.

Parting Shot

So it’s a fast-loading pistol crossbow?

That seems right to me. You’re getting the same damage output of a pistol crossbow, but occupying two hands and cutting the bow-centric reloading time from two seconds to one, and avoiding (for a number of shots equal to that of the hopper) the “ready the arrow” and “mate the arrow to the bow/ready the bow” actions. 

So: stats as a Pistol Crossbow, Shots probably becomes something like 6 (reload 1 or 2/second).

Note that if you’re not using full-length projectiles, efficiency will likely be worse and it might knock the damage down to thr+1 instead of thr+2. Smaller projectiles will reload faster.

Note that dropping a 160-lb compound crossbow to 50 lbs (8xBL to 2.5xBL) using The Deadly Spring will drop the energy from 180J to 35J, and that means:

160J compound crossbow: 7.7 points of cinematic-scale damage, 5.4 points “realistic” scale
35J compound crossbow: 3.3 points cinematic scale damage, 2.3 realistic scale.

That is, at ST 10, a regular crossbow should do 1d+2, which is close to the 5.4 points on my “realistic” scale. The low-draw bow will be closer to 1d-1, which is thr+1, and closer to flat thr (2.0 points, or 1d-2) using half-weight arrows instead of the 0.1-lb projectiles assumed in the model.

So my estimate above should probably be thr and can fire every round, but loads 2 projectiles per ready maneuver (you can probably do more with Quick-Ready or some other Technique), or thr+1 with full-sized projectiles, but defaults to one per second (again, load faster with a Technique).

I have no idea why I did this. But I was thinking, probably because of my comments in my firearms-related Violent Resolution column.

But  . . . I wondered to myself if there was a way to turn some sort of real-world number into D&D damage output.

I know, I know. Why would I ever do such a thing? I had noted (complained, really) that a 9mm was 2d6, and the mighty .50BMG was but 2d12.

So . . . I whipped out solver, and it turns out if you use the energy of the bullet, and only the energy of the bullet, if you use 4 * Log (Base 5) Energy you get a number that might just equate to the maximum damage you can roll on the dice. It compresses the scale even further than the usual result, but it’s not insane.


Cartridge Name D&D Damage? Roughly
.22LR 12 2d6
.380 ACP 13 2d6+1
4.6x30mm PDW 15 2d6+3
.45 ACP 15 2d6+3
5.7x28mm 16 2d8
.40S&W 16 2d8
124gr 9x19mm 16 2d8
.45GAP 16 2d8
180gr 10mm Auto 16 2d8
5.45x39mm 18 2d8+2
240gr .44M 18 2d8+2
.50 AE 19 2d8+3
M855 5.56x45mm 19 2d8+3
7.62x39mm 19 2d8+3
6.8x43mm SPC 19 2d8+3
12 Gauge Shotgun Slug 20 2d10
150gr NATO 7.62x51mm 20 2d10
.500 S&W 20 2d10
.30-06 21 2d10+1
.300 Win Mag 21 2d10+1
.338 Lapua Magnum 22 2d10+2
.50 BMG 24 2d12
14.5x114mm KPV 26 2d12+2
120mm M829-A1 39 6d6+3
16″ Naval gun 49 8d6+1
A shortbow or longbow with a good DEX will get you 1d6+4 or 1d8+4, which are 10 and 12 max damage . . .basically a longbow has the same max as a 2d6, which energetically works out fairly well, since powerful bows deliver on the order of 100-200J. So that’s not crazy-town.
Now, this is totally based on energy, and that means the big, slow bullets are worse than small fast ones. Fine – acknowledged it’s not perfect, but it’s a scale that actually fits reasonably well with d20 Modern and can be extrapolated to other weapons.

Show the Work

How did I do it?

I tried to make a .22LR 8 points (2d4), a 9mm 12 points (2d6), and a .50BMG 24 points. I used a formula to set a quantity of D = A * logB(Energy). I squared the difference and normalized it to the target squared . . . so (D-T)^2 / T^2. I also weighted the results, so the .22LR got 1000x the figured sum, the 9mm got 4000x, and the BMG got 9000x. That was to force Solver (in Excel) to give more weight to making the .50BMG 2d12 or 24 points. The energies I used were 130J for the .22LR, 585J for the 9mm, and 14,700 for the .50BMG, which assumes a man-portable 32″ barrel instead of the 43″ bbl on the machinegun (which is about 16,000J).

Solver gave an exact figure of A = 3.88 and B of 5.1. But setting A=4 and B= 5 is actually better at fitting the BMG, and puts the .22LR at the 2d6 value above. Given the energy involved, that’s probably as good as the d20 modern values.

When converting max damage to dice, I always use the largest dice I can, but don’t allow subtraction. So 19 points isn’t 2d10-1, but rather 2d8+3. That’s a quirk of mine. You can certainly convert any way you like, and 39 points could be 4d8+5, 4d10-1, or 3d12+3 easily enough. Heck, have at it and make it 9d4+3, and the 16″ Naval Gun 12d4+1 to keep the minimum damage high.

Note that the Naval Gun is just the kinetic energy. I haven’t yet figured out how to rate the explosion of 150 lbs. of high explosive inside about 2,000lbs of metal.

Bah! The Damages are Too High!

A comment on G+ noted that 3e humans only have 4 HP, which is a fair point. If you wanted purposefully lower numbers, then here are some nudges/hacks, as well as my line of thought.

I based them off of d20 Modern’s list, where a 9mm was 2d6 and a .50BMG was 2d12. The math forced the 9mm to 2d8 and put the .22LR, which I tried to make about 2d4, into 2d6.

In 5e, at least, a 1st level fighter is going to start with at least 10 HP, and you get a DEX bonus to the 1d6 or 1d8 base damage of a short or longbow, respectively. So from that perspective, 2d6 (ish) or 2d8 for a pistol is the equivalent, on the average of 1d6+3.5 and 1d8+4.5 for damage, neither of which is out of line for d20 Modern or 5e, at least.

If you lower the values to make them work for low level characters, you have the opposite problem – a high level fighter can shrug off a burst of .50BMG unless you invoke the harshest of harsh wounds rule where if you take more HP than your CON, you save or die (that’s a suggested threshold – the harshest one – from the d20 Modern SRD).

If you force the .22LR down closer to a shortbow, the formula becomes something like 2*log(base4) Energy. That makes a .22LR 1d6+1, a 9mm about 1d8+1, a 5.56mm 1d10+1, 7.62mmNATO 1d12, and a .50BMG 1d12+2.

This gives fewer categories of damage

  • 1d6+1 for .22LR
  • 1d8 for .380 ACP
  • 1d8+1 for PDW rounds and all normal military pistols (.45 ACP, 9mm, 10mm, .40S&W)
  • 1d10 for magnum pistols (.357M, .44M) and lower-powered assault rifles (4.73x33mmCLS, 5.45x39mm)
  • 1d10+1 for standard military assault rifles (5.56, 6.8SPC, 7.62x39mm, 6.5 Grendel)
  • 1d12 for battle rifles and sniper rifles from .308 to .338 Win Mag
  • 1d12+1 for .338 Lapua or .416 Rigby
  • 1d12+2 for .50BMG

While getting up close and personal in combat is a staple of the genre, so too is rendering your foe ineffective from a distance. Archers and catapults were part of the wargaming scene from which RPGs emerged from the beginning, and this trend only increased as the games turned their focus to conflicts based on firearms.

This particular column will look not at details of the weapons themselves, but will look at how the ability to use ranged weapons varies from game to game.

This will include the concept of expertise: The ability to properly employ, with skill and effectiveness, various ranged weapons from thrown rocks to machineguns. It will also deal somewhat with effectiveness, which is what happens when a ranged weapon hits (whatever that means in a game) the target.

It will also speak to differentiation, the ability for otherwise similar characters employing ranged weapons to make themselves distinct from each other. In most cases, differentiation is part of – or really a subset of – expertise, and will be treated as such.

Dungeons and Dragons 5e

In fantasy games, typical ranged weapons include thrown weapons (rocks, knives, axes, and spears being pretty popular) and muscle-powered ranged weapons, such as bows and crossbows. Modern-flavored games (and some people who enjoy late-era fantasy including musket and shot) include guns as well.

When people consider firearms, however, they’re usually thinking about games closer in flavor to Twilight: 2000 or Delta Green than The Three Musketeers, so a lot of the comparisons or analysis will borrow from d20 Modern rather than D&D5, if only because it has worked examples.

Expertise and Differentiation

The key to weapon use is “Proficiency.” If you are proficient with a class of weapons, you get to add you Proficiency Bonus (from +2 to +6 depending on your level) to your hit roll. Additionally, there are Feats and Fighting Styles (such as Archery) that can give extra bonuses (the Archery fighting style, for example, gives +2 to all ranged weapon attacks).

Pretty much anyone can use any weapon regardless of proficiency – the character is just better at it with proficiency and additional skills. This is a bit different from armor, where if you are not proficient you cannot use the protection type.

The weapon proficiencies are broad categories – Simple Ranged Weapons and Martial Ranged Weapons, for example. Regardless of category, your ability to use these weapons is based on a 1d20 roll, plus your proficiency bonus, plus a hit bonus (and in 5e, damage as well) provided by your DEX modifier (up to +5), and finally any boosts provided by magic or quality equipment.

The game makes no real distinction between aimed and unaimed fire for “everyman” actions. Feat selection can allow things like “Precision Shot” which trades a hit penalty for a damage bonus – which despite my previous sentence, can be seen as the impact of aimed fire despite not taking a formalized aiming action during your turn.

The basic roll applies anywhere within the weapon’s range, which is a property of the weapon, not the user. All shortbows can fire to a range increment of 80 feet, maximum 320 feet, while a throwing axe will hurl out to a max of 60 feet. Your attacks have disadvantage if you extend the range past the first range increment. Beyond that, you’re out of luck: Strength or skill cannot extend this reach. For firearms, the premise is the same – the 3.5E-based d20 Modern has a 9mm pistol’s range increment at 30 feet, while a 7.62 caliber battle rifle is 90 feet. As the maximum range of a 9mm pistol is on the order of 5,000 feet, and the max range of a 7.62x51mm rifle is on the order of 13,000 feet, the rough tripling of increment is about right, even if there are on the order of 150 increments contained within the maximum real range of these weapons. In games derived from d20 Modern, the penalty is -2 per range increment, to a maximum of five increments for thrown weapons, and ten for firearms.

Importantly, though, most hot combat does not occur at the range of a mile – that tends to be the realms of dramatic narration or even “out of combat combat,” – volley fire and precision single shots that take rather longer than a combat round in D&D to line up. From that perspective, the 900-foot maximum normal range (at -10 to hit) of a d20 Modern battle rifle isn’t too terribly wrong (though another 1.5-2x wouldn’t exactly hurt, either).

There will be several potential forms of differentiation in a D&D-based game. The first is the usual proficiency bonus for classes that focus on fighting. A modern equivalent of the Archery Fighting Style would be another good way to go, giving a bonus with all or particular types of ranged weapons. The other is of course proper selection of Feats. Sharpshooter would be a good choice, allowing trading skill for damage, while others such as Crossbow Expert could be modified to pertain to handguns or longarms. Games that are brought forward in time based on D&D 3.5 and 5e would invoke (perhaps custom-designed) feats based on weapon type (perhaps there’d be a Shotgun Master feat, paralleling Crossbow Expert, or even Close-Quarter Battle Fiend, which would give a boost to the utilization of long weapons at less than, say, 30′ range, or allowing firing with full accuracy after movement).


Assuming a hit is scored, damage is then rolled. An arrow from a shortbow hits for 1d6+DEX Bonus in 5e, a longbow is 1d8+DEX Bonus. For firearms, the damage is a flat roll: 2d6 for a 9mm pistol, 2d10 for a 7.62 battle rifle round, and 2d12 for something as large as a .50 BMG. In a game like D&D5, where high level characters have many hit points, this requires firm adherence to the notion that HP represent ablation of grit, luck, and skill – because a normal human getting hit squarely with a .50 BMG will usually end up in more than one piece, killed almost explosively.

There are a few “massive damage” alternate rules, many of which allow a character to take a hit from even a .50BMG and not be instantly killed. The 50HP threshold that is the default rule, and even the 25 + 2 x Level or HD rules allow a 2d12 hit to not trigger the threshold in either case, making such wounds (or at least one) eminently survivable. Only the alternative where your massive damage threshold is set equal to your CON will allow a single shot from a rifle to drop a character in one hit. Games where a single hit is supposed to be a threat may wish to invoke this threshold instead of others that might be suggested. Cinematic games will go the other way.


Much like any other combat activity, ranged attacks are handled by a Conflict, usually of a skill such as Shooting against a defensive skill – perhaps Athletics. The basics are no different from any other conflict – part of Fate’s appeal – and the particulars of the weapons are optional detail via Extras.

The thing about Fate and the way it handles mechanics-based activities is that “shooting” can be used for, potentially, any one of the four major action types – Overcoming an Obstacle, Creating an Advantage, Attack, and Defend.

While most will think of shooting as an Attack, if you are, for example, shooting out a light source in an Evil Overlord’s lair, you will probably be Creating an Advantage, rather than Attacking. So it’s important to remember with Fate that while you will likely be basing your roll off of some version of shooting skill, defensive rolls might be against Notice or Stealth as easily as Athletics – it depends what the scene calls for. A contest of fast-draw might be an opposed attempt to Create an Advantage as well.

The basic question in Fate is “what do you want to do,” not “what game mechanic are you utilizing.” The skill set listed in Fate Core is also only a recommended list, and is often customized for individual games – Fate wraps an appropriately-scoped skill set around a genre, and doesn’t force-fit a singular skill set to all genres.

While the analysis in Violent Resolution is, in the end, about game mechanics, the overall purpose of the game designer’s intent for any given game is important, as well. Fate keeps things high level by design.

Expertise and Differentiation

Expertise is going to be based on your skill level with the relevant category, in this case Shooting in Fate Core. The four available tiers for starting characters in Core (from +1 through +4) actually provide significant differentiation in expected result, as a +2 shift relative to a foe in a contest is a dominating one. Considering the centralizing tendencies of 8dF, even a one shift difference is a strong one.

The other side of the expertise coin, rather than base skill, will lie in Aspects and perhaps most importantly, Stunts. These are infinitely variable and based on dynamic discussion between the GM and player(s). Some good examples can be found in the link:

  • Scope User. You know how to use a scope. +2 to create advantages with Shoot related to aiming while using a scope or laser sight. (adapted from http://dfrpg-resources.wikispaces.com/Stunts)
  • Rain of Lead. +2 to create advantage rolls with Shoot when you create an aspect relating to suppressive fire. (adapted from Spirit of the Century SRD, §6.15.2)
  • Sniper. Once per scene, you may make an attack with Shoot from up to ten zones away, provided you have a sniper rifle and scope. (Peter Blake)
  • Shot on the Run. Once per scene, you may move one zone, attack with Shoot, and then move one additional zone, provided there are no situation aspects restricting movement. (Peter Blake)
  • Trained As a Unit/Team Player. You were trained alongside the rest of your unit, and now that unit is like a single organism. +2 to create advantages with Shoot whenever working with another character who is from the same unit as you and who also has this stunt. (A similar stunt could exist in many other skills.) (adapted from http://dfrpg-resources.wikispaces.com/Stunts)

So despite a high-level viewpoint that the system could be considered mechanically coarse, if you want your character to be distinctive even within a specialty, it can be done. Four Special Ops soldiers, each with +4 in Shooting, could be differentiated as a sniper, suppressive fire expert, CQB master, and a grenadier simply by choosing the right Stunts and Aspects.

Expertise (given by your skill level) and differentiation (what Aspects and Stunts you have on your sheet relevant to ranged weapons use) in Fate are really part and parcel of the same thing. In fact, the differentiation is the key bit, unique to each character, and built right in to the design process.


As noted in a prior column, there is no inherent differentiation between fists, arrows, and .50 caliber bullets where wounding is concerned. Such differentiation is the realm of “house rules,” though such rulings, rather than rules, are officially sanctioned and may be critical to the feel of a particular genre. There are plenty of ways to differentiate between weapons, including minimum shifts on a hit, adding to the shifts on a hit – perhaps randomly, perhaps as a fixed value, or the nature of the Aspects assumed when Consequences are taken.


There is, notionally, little distinction between ranged and melee combat in GURPS, in that in both the attacker will roll 3d6 against an adjusted skill, and if the defender is aware of the attack, he gets an active defense. One of the key bits that makes ranged weapons different in practice is that they are among the most heavily penalized skills in GURPS. The typical penalty for fighting in a room, hand-to-hand, without a single photon in it (total darkness, or being blind) is -10. This is also the penalty for shooting a man-sized target at 100 yards.

Against those penalties are set significant equipment and action-related bonuses. A decent gun (say, a full length M16) will give +5 if you take a turn (one second) to Aim. Focusing only on your shot, and taking a few more seconds, putting the weapon on sandbags or using a really good sling can give another +4 combined. A scope can add yet more (a 10x scope is +3). So that 100-yard shot will be at a net of +2 to skill if you take four or five seconds to make that happen.

The high resolution that is brought to bear, so that every choice is given high agency, is both the benefit and the bane of GURPS (the um and the yang of it in Korean terms). There are many ways to lump this together and make such choices easier for the players (range bands, packages of stuff to do all at once, etc.). But these have less to do with the character-facing items on the sheet than choices available to all those who would employ ranged weaponry to do others harm.

In fairness, my biases as a GURPS author, and one very much interested in the representation of ranged weapons in RPGs in particular, are on full display in this section. I own that – but there’s definitely more than one way go to here, and I’ve had as much fun doing West End Games’ Star Wars RPG as I’ve had with GURPS. I appreciate GURPS as providing a level of detail and resolution for this type of play, a style I enjoy very much.

Expertise and Differentiation

The way to demonstrate expertise within the framework of the GURPS system is by choosing the right skills to do the job. Most things a character bent on causing others harm wants to do will have a particular skill associated with them. Archery will use the Bow skill, while a crossbow uses the unsurprisingly-named Crossbow skill. Firearms will use Guns or Gunner depending on how the weapon is employed, and within (for example) Guns there are required specialties – Rifle, Pistol, Shotgun, Submachine Gun, Grenade Launcher, etc. Related skills may have strong defaults, such that (for example) if you know Guns (Rifle) at 14, you also have Pistol and Shotgun at 12.

While the fine resolution is perhaps the default of the game, there are numerous ways to bring that up to a less-differentiated norm. Wildcard skills cluster related skills and specialties together, and there are some good consolidations of Guns skills in particular suggested in an article in Pyramid Magazine (Pyramid #3/65).

GURPS specifies a lot of activities through the assignment of penalties: Shooting at the head is -5, being in close combat is at a penalty equal to the weapon’s Bulk rating (or -2, whichever is worse), and taking two shots at two different targets, each of which is at -6. If a character is supposed to be good at some aspects of shooting but not at others, there exist ways to fully or partially compensate for this by buying off penalties through the use of Techniques – a small point investiture relative to a full level in the skill (though having more than two or three is inefficient).

As with the Fate example, you can have a Close Combat Specialist, who has bought off the usual penalties for shooting on the move, a grenadier with high levels in Grenade Launcher (and maybe some explosives), a suppressive fire expert with high levels of Gunner instead of Guns, and a Sniper who has purchased the Deadeye perk as well as taken levels in Precision Shooting or (more likely) Targeted Attack, allowing you to buy off half the penalty to shoot at a particular location. For Gun Fu awesomeness, you can purchase Gunslinger, which halves penalties for Rapid Strike (more than one shot at different targets, or purposefully different locations on one target – such as the Mozambique Drill), or other high speed, low drag abilities.


Assuming your foe doesn’t dodge out of the way, in GURPS getting hit by gunfire can be pretty spectacularly fatal. If a typical hero has 12-15 HP (and Joe Average has 10), that’s looking at unconsciousness after 4d worth of damage on the average, death rolls starting after absorbing the average roll on about 8d. Absorbing 24d worth of hits (again, on the average) will kill any normal person.A pistol bullet might do about 3d of injury to a non-vital area per shot. A rifle will do about 5d-7d, while a big machinegun bullet like the .50BMG is rockin’ at 18d injury per hit. To a non-vital area.

Quantifying this in dice rather than points is something I find useful to show the impact of different projectiles, which show much, much more extremes in GURPS than many other games, and certainly more than all of the others considered here. GURPS rolls the dice to determine points of penetration, subtracts armor if present, and then applies modifiers for location and wound size. Talking about this in dice is a bit of a personal quirk.

Hit the vitals or skull? Pistols will hit for 8-9d, rifles at 15-20d, and a single .50BMG to the vitals is about 36d. Better wear those ballistic inserts (which, by the way, will stop about 10d worth of before-armor penetration; that .50BMG will average about 7 points penetrating causing about 10 points of injury, or a still-likely-fatal 21 points to the vitals).

You can also choose to simply adopt real-world tactics: shooting from behind hard cover, from ambush, or heaven forbid, not getting into gunfights at all.

Night’s Black Agents

Resolution of gunfire or any other ranged weapon in NBA has pretty much the same mechanic – roll 1d6 and hit if you roll above a target number that is often 3 or 4. It would be somewhat fair to say that gunfire is one of the assumed methods of communication, but it would be equally fair to say that no method of violence is mechanically privileged or penalized over another.

Expertise and differentiation

To first order, skill in using ranged weapons will mostly fall under Shooting (personal firearms, bows, and crossbows) or Weapons (most melee thrown weapons). Skill levels are deceptive in Night’s Black Agents, since they are more about spotlight time looking good than a mathematical simulation of every shot made and scored. Chewbacca may only appear three times on screen with his bowcaster – but when he does, something’s going to die.

The point expenditures are still somewhat functionally equivalent to skill, and allow a character to look good on screen more times per scene than another with fewer allocated or spendable points. If your agent has a Shooting (or other relevant) skill at 8 or higher, there are also special move she can do, such as suppressive fire, a sniper shot, or extra attacks.

Since any character with the right number of points in Shooting can use any ability, mechanical differentiation is low . . . but NBA is not about mechanical differentiation in most cases. If the agent is a sniper, then she will use the Sniping option, and never Suppressive Fire. A CQB specialist may well use extra attacks and called shots a lot, but not sniping or suppression. Differentiation is a matter of choices made in what your agent looks coolest doing, and that’s a matter of background and characterization.


Any mention of vampires and guns must
include an image of Kate Beckinsale

It is relatively likely that an agent will hit what she’s aiming at. If your bad guys are capable of making General Ability spends of their own, it is nearly certain that your agent will also be hit at some point. Perhaps often.

When considering arrows and guns, even a Health of 8-12 can only make it through a couple of “hits” before wounding and unconsciousness are a real threat. At 1d6 or 1d6+1 per hit, two hits risk being Hurt, and four risk being Seriously Hurt – the kind of wound that hospitalizes you.

NBA is a game of dramatic tension, and that tension isn’t going to be the type that lasts over hours of monotonous exchanges of fire. It will be short, sharp conflict, and then victory, retreat, or death.

Savage Worlds

All of the games presented here except for GURPS lump most, if not all, ranged combat into a single skill, and Savage Worlds is no exception: like Fate and Night’s Black Agents, Savage Worlds uses Shooting to cover nearly all forms of ranged combat.

Savage Worlds is designed around miniatures combat (though it has advice on playing without them), unlike the more abstract Zones of a Fate game. As such it provides a list of penalties to be assessed for Range, Cover, and Illumination, though the list is quite short and general (by design). Firearms that fire many projectiles may get multiple attacks, represented by the number of Shooting dice you get to roll when making an attack.

Expertise and Differentiation

Skill and effectiveness in Savage Worlds is driven in part by simply being a Wild Card, and gaining the benefit of the Wild Die. It is also driven by the size of the die being rolled, with a d6 considered Average, and the highest die type being a d12. So die size is one axis of difference between characters

The other, more flavorful axis to make characters distinct is that of Edges. Combat Edges, in particular, allow specialization where a character is better than his peers at doing certain things.

Awareness can also be a good Edge – and truthfully, if there’s one skill, edge, ability, or point sink I will make regardless of game system or genre, it’s whatever stands in for Perception or awareness in the game. But that’s me.

Savage Worlds has a lot of supplements, and the prospective GM can draw Edges from many of them (helpfully collected here). Being good at suppressive fire or being fast on the draw are examples, but many others exist or can be created.


Weapons are not strongly differentiated in Savage Worlds, with most pistols doing 2d6 and a .50BMG doing 2d10. But Extras are up, down, or out, so the question is mostly if the damage is enough to deliver a wound, which against an average guy is rolling 9 or higher (Shaken plus a Raise). From that perspective, one hit from a pistol will render a foe Shaken, and two will take them out. One shot from a rifle (2d8) will, on the average, take out an Extra . . . and SMGs and assault rifles have rates of fire of 3, so bringing the pain on an Extra (or even a Wild Card) has a very real chance of a one-shot, taking the target down and out of the fight. To that extent, getting hit once by a .50 BMG or a 5.56 in the chest is probably “spectacularly messily dead” vs “likely dead when he bleeds out,” and is dramatically equivalent.

An aside: having damage/injury variable from very low to very high with a goodly amount of randomness is probably a design feature, not a flaw. Especially given how many scary wounds are actually survived, and how incidences of what should be minor injury can result in terrible consequences. So if I pick on games for giving a low upper bound on damage for vehicle-killing rounds such as the .50BMG when they meet a human target, you will not see me do likewise for a minimal lower bound. Grazes do happen.

Finish Him

Of the five games presented here, GURPS is the standout for the level of resolution that can be (and honestly, usually is) provided in terms of distinguishing between characters, weapons, and abilities within the already-narrow specialty of shooting holes in things. The ability to resolve with high levels of verisimilitude anything from a 1,000-yard headshot to a furious exchange of unaimed and inaccurate gunfire at a few yards distance plays right down the middle of the game’s strong suit. That it can also be expanded or blurred to handle high-action genres such as Monster Hunters (related to the series of books in spirit, but not a license), using Gun Fu rather than Tactical Shooting – each of which tunes the game to allow particular types of awesome makes it a very versatile tool if you are inclined to accept the game’s paradigm. The downside, as mentioned earlier, is that in order to offset the very large penalties that can stack up for range, target location/size, and environment, a character either needs to be ridiculously good, or take many turns lining up each shot – this can be quite frustrating to those looking to act every turn. On the flip side, it’s hard to get disemboweled with a sword from 50 yards away . . .

The other games paint with a broader brush. Fate can be surprisingly and delightfully crunchy, with the open-ended nature of Aspects and Stunts countered by the very well-defined mechanical support provided to invoking them. While Fate Core provides a scant paragraph on differentiation through equipment, the Fate System Toolkit and various worked examples allow as much tweaking as an individual game requires.

D&D treats ranged weapons like any other in most respects. Damage is similar to melee in most cases, and a relatively short unpenalized range is offset by the fact that in many of the standard environments where ranged combat is used (dungeons, unsurprisingly) the range is plenty long enough to span the dimensions of nearly any room. If the party is fortunate enough to perceive a threat at range, in a wilderness or larger internal cavern, the stand-off provided by bows and crossbows can be very handy. A melee Great Weapons Master and a ranged Sharpshooter can enjoy the same benefits (-5 to hit in exchange for +10 damage) . . . but our sharpshooter can do it from full range without suffering Disadvantage. While ranged weapons may not be preferred over melee (and neither are superior to many forms of spellcasting), they aren’t gimped either.

Night’s Black Agents paints with a very broad brush, with agency and differentiation provided largely via point spends and characterization, rather than detailed lists of skills, maneuvers, or equipment. While there are plenty of rules for common combat actions (Called Shot, Sniper, Disarms, etc.), they are kept firmly within the narrative basis for the game.

Savage Worlds splits the difference a bit. Deliberately aimed at “roll and shout,” the game uses easy to remember game mechanics (such as NBA or D&D) but also has a small list of commonly-assessed penalties (such as GURPS). Weapon damage is enough to threaten any character, and one can expect to see movie-like behavior when engaging foes: Extras drop in two shots with a pistol, or one with a larger weapon. The autofire rule hearkens me back to WEG d6 Star Wars: you have so many dice, spread ‘em around as you like. Easy to remember and to play.

In all cases you can design and play an effective combatant with ranged weapons, though each game provides a very different user experience. Depending on what game style you enjoy, you can definitely find a home that you want to live in; likewise you may well find that there are those that are anathema. More so than melee, the game design choices strongly influence how a scenario plays out, and how it feels from, to borrow a Night’s Black Agents term, a player-facing perspective.

I’m stealing +Christopher R. Rice‘s name for gear and tools entries. ‘Cause it’s awesome, and that’s key.

The Alien Menace game is on hiatus, but one day I’ll get back to it. When that is I do not know, but I swear I should be able to start it up again, and I need to play GURPS again. It was also a really fun campaign idea, even if I did trap myself a bit.

But forget that, let’s talk weapons.

The XM8-Derived Primary weapon

I like weapons, and for the game, I wanted to have a slightly-futuristic feel to it. There seems to be a good argument that the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge is frankly the wrong tool for the job the way that many of the countries want to use it. Fashionably-short barrels which cut enough velocity from the usually 4g projectile that the terminal effects drop off pretty hard, pretty fast.

However, no one can really deny that a short, handy, accurate weapon is a good thing.

So, I decided that my future space commandos would sport a bullpup version of the XM8 rifle. The XM8 has a lot of the things I’d want in a platform: piston driven, modular, etc. I also love bullpup rifles, the look, the feel, and the way you can get a ridiculously short weapon with a long barrel for accuracy and velocity. If you look at the old Bushmaster M17S, you’ll find the overall length of the weapon is 760mm, while the barrel is about 550mm. The variants of the full-sized M16 (A1, A2, A4) are 985-1010mm, but the barrel is 510mm. So 40mm more barrel, but 250mm less length.


I also like the concept of an intermediate cartridge. The 6.8x43mm SPC is my current choice. It’s not quite as long-ranged as (say) the 6.5mm Grendel, which has a very long aspect ratio and a longer cartridge. I’m sure other intermediate rounds (anything between 6-7mm, really) could fit the bill. But I’m familiar with the 6.8 and it also has a nice, even damage rating of 6d, so yay.

Ultimately, though, I wanted an advanced-ish weapon that could be given out. Fortunately, I’m not the only one with such ideas, and a quick Google search for “bullpup XM8” provides much inspiration. I particularly like the one highlighted to the right by PatTheGunartist.

The bog-standard weapon is basically something like a 16-18″ barrel in a bullpup. It probably looks something like the one above. That’s the C version, for carbine. The S version is “short,” which is probably cut down in both stock and barrel, and loses a bit of accuracy and damage in exchange for lighter weight, lower bulk. The SW is a support weapon, which is a bit heavier and uses 100-round drums and a heavier, longer barrel. The DMR is a semi-auto-only Designated Marksman’s Rifle, accurized. It probably has a 24″ barrel or something like that – bullpups can have very long barrels and still be handy. If, for example, you made a rifle as long as the M16A4 but in an M17S frame, the barrel length could be something like 31″ (likely more than you need).

So that’s the set of primary weapons.

The Thor PDW

I completely stole this likely-impractical but ultimately very cool PDW by Pascal Eggert. It’s got a pretty unique C-shaped magazine, but it’s also a very compact weapon. Plus: super-cool looking. I gave it the full benefit of the doubt in stats, but did it also in 6.8×43 SPC for ammo compatibility. You lose a few points of damage for increased ammo capacity and lighter weight, but not that much lighter. It’s a good compliment to a very large weapon, like a grenade launcher or sniper rifle.

Other Guns

The Barrett XM500 and MP7 are both real guns, ported over to my fictional Oliver Industries or whatever – I basically took the entire H&K weapon catalog and said that all of these weapons are really made by Oliver Indistries, my Patron in the game. Maybe there was a merger.

The PDW at 3d(2) is an assault rifle like penetration but in a pistol-sized package. Not sure if any of the characters took one; the bad guys have tended to require bigger guns than this. Same thing with the Kahr concealable pistol, which again is the last-ditch category.

The Weapon Chart

Parting Shot

I wanted to give the guys a bit of hypothetical weaponry that was fun enough to want to add to a character sheet, but no so crazytown that the players would balk at being supplied with weapons that could not be manufactured in the time frame of the campaign.

Thus far, they’ve had fun with it and used the weaponry to good effect. I hope to start up the game again at some point.

Until then, enjoy the hardware.

Some of the recent threads and comments about armor as dice have led me to think about alternate ways to get what I want out of Armor as Dice – less variable penetration so that if you armor rated for X (and GURPS defines X as 3.5 points per die for both penetration and resistance), and a bullet hits you with basically less energy than X, it won’t go through.

Some of these distinctions don’t seem like much, or important. And to a certain extent, they’re very much not. If you have (say) a DR 8 bullet resistant vest, in theory it should be proof against a .45 ACP (2d pi+) but not a 9mm (2d+2 pi).

Turning to AnyDice (and we’ll be doing that a lot this post) we see that the .45ACP will punch through DR 8 with 1 point or more of damage potential remaining just over 27% of the time in round numbers. The 9mm, which should always go through, will go through 58% of the time.

This is very easy to rationalize. Poor angles, uncertain coverage, and other variables make armor less certain. The tendency to treat an armored vest as if it fully covers the entire torso (a legit simplification) makes the push to make every thing just work out neatly less mandatory.

Still, players buy armor to buy protection, and some armors really are that good. The “solution” tends to be “if you want full protection in a gamist manner, buy DR6 per die of protection you want.” Thus, if you want to be fully protected vs. that 2d or 2d+2 bullet, buy DR 12 and DR 14 respectively, which will increase the weight of that armor piece by about 70%.

OK, fine, but I am going to press forward and solve the non-problem anyway, because though there are many instances where you can rationalize the roll, there are others where you can’t.

Armor as Points, Penetration as Points

Armor as Dice has gotten plenty of love elsewhere. But there’s another method discussed in Armor Revisited (Pyr #3/34), which inverts the method: instead of listing Armor as dice and keeping the damage as dice, express the penetration as a fixed number, and go with variable injury.

So instead of 2d, a .45ACP handgun would have a pentration rating of 7, a 9mm would be 9, a 5.56x45mm might have a 17, and a .50 BMG would be something like 40-46 depending on the barrel.

So the effect is the same. Compare Penetration to DR, and if Pen is higher, it goes through. This also allows either using HP or “Mass-based” HP as a blow-through threshold as a number read right off a character sheet, precalculated before play starts for the mass-based number.

So, for a straight-up, GURPS standard application, subtract DR from PEN, and then roll injury dice. Roll 1d for every 3.5 points of penetration that get through would be the most straight-forward conversion, though “divide by 3 or 4” would be easier in play. Remainders might just be adds. Actually, rolling 2d per 7 PEN, and converting so you always roll two dice might not be that bad.

So a notional M4 carbine might do 16 penetration, and impacting DR 10 would have 6 remaining penetration points. Injury results, and you roll 1d+2 (average 5.5) or 2d-1 (average 6).

A tank cannon that usually does 6dx20(2) would convert to 420(2), and faced with DR500 would be 420 PEN – 250 DR (thanks to the armor divisor), leaving 170 PEN left. Against machines, maybe you don’t roll, maybe you convert to 2dx24 or even 3dx17 if you want some randomness.

Explode it!

But what if you want even more random injury – because injury is far, far more variable than penetration?

I’ve recently been exploring the Savage Worlds system, which features exploding dice. Called an Ace in the game, if you roll the highest value on your die, you get to roll it again, and add it to the prior roll. Leading to the unusual circumstance that you can’t roll a 6 on an exploding d6. But nevermind that.

An exploding die is basically a geometric progression. It’s the average value of the die (3.5 for d6), multiplied by 1 + the probability that you get to roll again (1/6) + the probability you get to roll a third time, fourth time, etc.

In short:

and in this case, a = 3.5 and r is 1/6. If we were rolling a d8, a would be 4.5 and r is 1/8.
So our average values for exploding dice would be 
Of course, GURPS only uses d6, so a more useful table would be 
And one of the very interesting things here is that the first four values are of great interest to GURPS players, since they represent typical wound multipliers for crushing (Never), just under +1 per die (6), pi+ or cut (5-6), and imp or pi++ (4-6).
So you could replace damage multipliers with exploding dice, and each die explodes separately. So your .45 ACP that does 2d pi+ could legitimately roll a 2.
They All Explode!

If one really got enamored of exploding dice due to the variability, I’d simply apply a -1 per die to all damage, and let all d6 explode on a 6. That doesn’t quite balance out. It’s a 1.2 multiplier for the explosion, but -1 per die is x0.71, for a net of a 15% loss in damage.
In any case, you’ll wind up converting any penetration that gets through DR to dice. Exploding dice. So the injury can be pretty variable.I’d convert at 4 points per die.

Though injury might be variable, it would be easy to make blowthrough not be that way. So if you were shooting with a firearm with PEN 25 at a person with DR 8 and a blowthrough threshold of 11 (maybe he weighs about 180 lbs), you’d have 17 penetrating damage, or about 4d+1 injury.
But what happens downstream? The bullet loses a flat 11 going through the guy, and stops in the DR 8 armor in his back. 
Let’s say it was an AP bullet at 25 PEN. So DR drops to 4, and so does blowthrough, dropping to 6. So the bullet punches through the DR on both sides and the guy, with 11 remaining to threaten others.
You then make a choice – do you apply the full amount (PEN 25 less DR 4) which is PEN 21, or 5d+1 to your foe, or limit it to blowthrough, either 11 or 6. 
This might call for revisiting the pi ratings of some rifle rounds – the 7.62x51mm bullet that we’re more or less simulating here can have a pretty impressive temporary cavity, which can cause some odd effects. But if it doesn’t hit anything vital, the AP bullet might just zip on through, with something like a 2d+3 wound. 8.4 damage on the average, about a pistol-sized wound.
Bullets that (say) tumble and fragment might expend a lot of energy blowing through, etc. But that’s a detail best left to other rules.
Parting Shot

We’re borrowing a mechanic from another game here (Savage Worlds, but other games have had exploding dice before SW), so one has to be careful. 

Still, it’s a better fit – isolated to effect rolls, and applied to something that’s highly variable, an injury roll – than the D&D Advantaged mechanic is to the GURPS space. 

The impact on actual damage rolled isn’t that high – a 20% boost in damage if you let the dice explode infinitely, but honestly if you let the die explode 3 times (providing a potential 4x damage multiplier at the high end) you’re already averaging the 4.2 that is the asymptote. Since that’s the same as a brain hit (x4), you might as well cap it at 3 extra rolls per die. 

I think this might be fun at the table. The fixed (or partly variable; I’d suggested something like a varability of about 1/5 before) DR and PEN values would make some sense. If you made a PEN of 18 into (say) 14+1d, and/or DR the same kind of treatment (though it might depend on the armor), you could account for “no way in hell” penetration values as well as some degree of random for both injury and penetration. Exploding dice are icing, since it takes fixed penetration, and gives back randomness to it without changing the number or distribution of dice you roll. 
Seems like with a good code base, such as the free-form stuff you can write in MapTool, this would be invisible to the user, even including variable penetration, armor, and exploding dice. 
The big issue I have in play with Armor as Dice is I like to let the players roll their damage, and by letting them do that, I must give them intel on the armor rating in dice of the enemy. That’s less fun, because it kills tension.
Fixed PEN values would pose the same problem, though. It would add a little high-end variability on the injury side, which is good. 
Ultimately, what we’re doing though is converting a fixed PEN-DR to injury. If you’re really doing it with a computer, the GM might as well double the penetrating energy (so in our example above, 24 PEN – 8 DR is 16 Penetrating Damage) and just roll 1d(2xPEN) or 1d(1.5xPEN) if you’re in (say) Roll20. That allows for grazes and lucky vitals hits, and the right kind of arbitrary where you can get a .50 that just wings you, or makes your head assplode. With rolling many dice, you get a mean effect that may or may not be swingy enough.
But I will say this in passing; while armor as dice does have some nice effects, it also has some drawbacks, so YMMV. For every case where you say “My vest should stop a .45 ACP cold!” you can find a case where your angle to the shot wasn’t right and it misses the primary protection. That might be best modeled as a clean ‘no DR!’ case, though. In that sense, the Rules-as-Written are no loss. The player gets to roll his damage (and players like effect rolls), and the GM can keep DR and injury hidden, if she wants.

Shotguns are an interesting beast in any game, and GURPS is no exception. A while back – Jan 2014 –  I posted some alternate stats for shotguns, using my ballistics program. Some recent questions on that particular post – over a year ago, plus the fact that actually shooting shot from a shotgun, as opposed to slugs, plays into recent questions on multi-projectile rapid fire.

First, what’s going on with my rescaling

The figures of interest for shotshell include the number of physical pellets in a shell, and the energy of each pellet. The calculations follow the usual pattern – but you run into scaling issues as the pellet size drops.

Down below 4mm or so, the scaling of the penetration with pellet diameter may produce non-physical results. The pellet diameter gets pretty small for some of these.

In any case, the issue that you run into is that the rules as written provide for dozens to hundreds of pellets with relatively poor penetration and damage capabilities. The way that I deal with the wounding is that the small pellets have a terrible wound channel modifier – much less than even a pi- (0.5 WCM) would give you.

The trick that I use is to collect pellets into groups – each of which brings the wound multiplier up to a “full” 0.5. So if, for example, Steel #2 shot has 141 pellets, but each one only will do a wound that would scale as a 0.15 instead of 0.5 for wound channel. So I collect the pellets into groups of 3.33 pellets each, bringing the RoF from 141 down to 42. 

Now, collecting the pellets like this doesn’t change the penetration score – though perhaps it should. The penetration ranks at about 2.23 points.

Now, for very small pellets, there really should be an exemption to the rule that any piercing weapon does at least 1 pt of damage. So I’ll make one. This changes the math a bit in terms of mapping damage to dice:

1d: 3.5 pts
1d-1: 2.5 points
1d-2: 1.67 points
1d-3: 1.00 points
1d-4: 0.5 points
1d-5: 0.17 points

In this case, it doesn’t quite make the cut for 1d-1, but instead ranks at 1d-2, but if you roll a 1 or a 2, you don’t do any damage.

That makes 1d-2 pi-, but with “only” 42 shots. Still, each pellet should have somewhat reduced ability to penetrate armor, if not flesh. Adding an armor divisor equal to the ratio of the collection factor for wound channel might work, but would require playtesting.

This brings the example steel #2 shot to 1d-2 (1/3) pi- with RoF 42. That’s a +4 bonus to hit instead of the usual +6.

No funky rules – if you hit, you roll 1d-2(1/3). The max penetration you can roll is 4, which means that DR 2 is completely proof against this small shot. On a hit on unarmored target, injury will be 0 to 4 penetration, halved. So maximum of 2 points per hit, but if you have DR 1, you will still take 1 point per hit.

Parting Shot

Using the table that I created in the previous post, and the new rules, smallshot is only dangerous at close range and against unarmored targets – more or less just as it should be. The collection of wound channel mods into groups helps tame (a bit) the RoF issue where the smallest shot (#9 lead shot) has over 700 pellets in it. +9 bonus more or less, I think. But with the downscale in wounding, 730 turns into 73, which is still +6. With 1.07 penetration per hit, that’s about 1d-3 as well

That puts #9 lead shot – a pellet 2mm in diameter, compared to 8.4mm for 00 buckshot – at about1d-3(0.1) pi -, with a +6 bonus to hit due to number of pellets. Even DR 1 will repel the shot completely (and truthfully, even DR 0.3 is enough), which again means that unless you’re in “boom-stick” range (half of 1/2D? quarter of 1/2D?) which is something like 5-10 yards, you’re probably safe.

Again, as it should be.