How Observant

This came up briefly as I was discussing the Observation skill for my superhero, The Commander.

His Observation stacks up SEAL! and Ten-Hut!, and if he’s using a firearm or looking at combat details, Shooter! as well. Because his Perception is 18, this means his overall Observation skill is 29.


A skill like that, as much as his Stealth-27, defines who he is. He’s just that good at spotting things.

+Christopher R. Rice were chatting about how to handle this. I casually threw out that we should just assume that I rolled a 14. Not a good roll. In fact, a fairly poor one. But the chance of rolling 14 or lower on 3d6 is 90%. So if I roll a 14, it means it covers 9 in 10 occurances where I pester the GM for details.

We decided it was a valid way of handling things. Assume a roll of 14, note the margin of success or failure, and then look at the result. For Joe Average with no training (Observation-5), it’s failure by 9. For The Commander, it’s success by 15.

What does that mean?

Well, it means the untrained person will need to spend a very, very long time doing something, and still require things to be obvious enough to provide a +4 or +5 bonus for tactically significant, actionable detail to be relayed to the player as a simple part of the description. That doesn’t mean that he can’t take the time to look – in fact, it requires it. But when he walks into the bank, nothing strikes him as odd unless the bank robbers hiding in the crowd of people are being very obvious about it.

For the commander? He can do a task that usually takes minutes instantly (‘instantly’ doing a long task is often benchmarked at -10) and still absorb -5 in penalties. He walks into that same bank, and the GM will tell him how many people are in it, that five of them are acting out of the ordinary 7 yards away (-3 penalty) and if they’re carrying any weapons with a Holdout penalty of -2 or higher, will probably be able to tell they’re armed. This will be relayed as part of the room description.

Parting Shot

I like this, because it means that the GM and player both have a good idea of what’s going on, and the “hey, I would have noticed that!” factor is much lessened. The extra detail is cool, but also the fact that if things really are that subtle, it will dawn on The Commander over the course of 30s that something isn’t right, and by the end of that time (when he’s back up to no penalty), he’ll have processed the entire tactical situation.

It’s effectively ‘no nuisance rolls,’ but at no point cost, because instead of pestering the GM at every moment “I roll Observation, what do I see?” it’s taken as read that Threat Analysis and OODA are constantly occurring. It’s also a poor enough roll that it only comes into play when you do have a character-defining trait like that.

By setting the assumed roll not at the “average” of 11, but a lower-probability outcome of 14, it means that the GM isn’t forced to reveal every single detail of a situation. The basic Perception (10) and Observation (5) by default is low enough that the assumed roll is a failure by 4 and 9, respectively. That’s a lot of “stop, collaborate, and listen” that has to go on before details of tactical significance are provided. That’s actually normal RPG behavior – you walk in the room, and the five guys with swords screaming ‘deth to adventurs!’ get that +10 bonus and draw immediate attention (but Observation-5 guy only barely notices), but the tripwire strung right in front of the door doesn’t get seen without looking for it. Likewise with hidden doors and treasure.

And just to be clear: It’s not “never roll dice.”

It’s for the GM to say “what is the minimum level of detail I should give this player just because of his skills and attributes that he bought and paid for.” A roll of 14 sucks. I mean, not as much as 16 or a critical failure, but it’s something that you’ll get that or better 90% of the time. And the player can always ask for a more detailed search (move from passively accepting a 14 to having the GM actively make a roll). But it gives a place to start when the GM is deciding what to tell folks about the situation they just walked into.

Let’s say we’ve got bad guys in a restaurant, and our team walks in. Someone with Perception-12 and Observation-7 will only notice particular details if there are bonuses to notice such of at least +2, and if it’s something tactically significant, it will have to be +7 – basically hit-you-in-the-face obvious. The GM will tell the player that there are a bunch of patrons eating. If the player says “I look carefully around for threats as I take my seat,” he might give a +2 or +3 for taking extra time, and make a secret roll vs Observation-10, and give extra info as it merits.

For The Commander, my superhero? He gets this:

Jason Bourne: I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking.

So when The Commander/Jason Bourne walks into the restaurant, the GM knows to let him know which guys seem potentially dangerous, who’s armed with a gun in a shoulder holster but not that skilled in hiding it, and exits and entrances of tactical significance. He gets this all at once because he paid something like 200 points in Wildcard! skills to get it. It ain’t free, and assuming a 14 on the roll is actually a pretty unfavorable assumption, but it gives the GM something to gauge. The penalty for spotting a guy with a hidden gun (-3, say) 10 yards away (-10) in dim light (-2) is rather steep. So unless you’ve got Observation-29 (like the Commander), you won’t see that unless you look, and you will never see that at first glance unless you have Observation-18 (penalties of 15 and a roll of 3). After “taking extra time” to the tune of a +4 bonus, you might see it with Observation-14.

I wonder what other skills this would work for?


+Mark Langsdorf has an armor design system on his blog that is geared towards Dungeon Fantasy levels of cool. Good armor to match the very high damages that heroes can dish out.

Chatting with +Nathan Joy, who has played and GM’d with both Mark and myself in various games, he noted that it would be nice if Mark’s system produced a bit lower DR for the weight. 

I took a peek at Low-Tech, and that book lists DR 4 “fine mail” – the prototypical and historical value for DR for this type of armor in GURPS – as 15 lbs for just the torso. That means that covering yourself head-to-toe in DR4 mail would be about 46 lbs.

That’s about 11.5 lbs per point of DR, compared to the 6 lbs per point in Mark’s table (which, by the way, is formatted more sensibly as ‘a full suit,’ rather than making a full suit 305% of the armor value in the table as in Low-Tech).

So what if we doubled all the values? That doesn’t quite mesh with some very nice plate armor, though that might depend on how much DR it really had. Some breastplates were 3-4mm thick at the most robust part, and about half that at the thinnest. At DR 2-2.5 per mm for older steels, that’s a DR in the 6-10 range, so we benchmarked it as DR 8 weighing around 60-70 lbs. 8 lbs per point of DR seemed better and a nice value, and that was less than doubling would provide.

It was also a bit more than Mark would have liked (I shared this with him; he wrote BFA, after all), and so I tweaked it out a bit to match his expectations more.

OK, moving on to cost, looking around, again, at plate harness, we found estimates that equated to between six to twelve months pay for a skilled laborer was what harness could cost. We pegged that at between average and comfortable wealth, or, all said and done, about ten grand for a DR 8 full suit.

Then I did math. Not a lot, but I liked Mark’s low estimate of about $50-60 per point of DR for the natural hides and cloths. Again with the jiggering, if I wanted the low figure at roughly $60, and the high at $1,200, that meant a factor of 20 in cost for a factor of about 3 or 3.5 range in pounds per point of DR. Net/net, cost per point of DR should be about $1,035,000 divided by the lbs per DR to the 3.25 power.

That gives the modified table above, which I tweaked out to avoid nasty decimals.

The lighter per point of DR your armor is, the more you pay for it. If you want DF-quality armor at 6 lbs per point of DR . . . it can be had for about $3,000 per point of DR. So a DR 8 harness would cost $24,000 and weigh 48 lbs. 

That’s not crazy talk.

By eye, this table isn’t completely insane, either, compared to Low-Tech. Cloth and Silk would be about 5.3 lbs/DR for torso only, which is in the ballpark. Cost for Textiles at DR 1 torso-only would thus be about $11. DR 4 mail, torso only is 13 lbs (LT has 15) and costs $2,300 (LT has $900). Lightweight but very expensive, befitting something that was pretty darn labor-intensive.

So again, not insane. 

Looking at armor types, the natural ones are all less than $125 per point of DR. The metal ones are more expensive, with scale (small flat plates hammered out, available very early in time) costing less than the more labor-intensive mail, and still less than the finely-crafted full-plate harness.

Parting Shot

The table leverages Mark’s excellent “keep it basically simple” “Better Fantasy Armor” rules and scales it based on some real-world benchmarks (well, as real-world as 400+ year-old data can get) to achieve something that’s at least internally self-consistent. 

It can scale reasonably well, too. And if you want to find the cost for (say) casting Lighten on plate harness for 4 lbs per point of DR? Plug it into the formula, and you get a 32-lb., DR 8 harness at $91,500.

The issue you’ll run smack into here is that the Strength table gets pretty egregious about punching through armor at values that PCs have access to (and should). Lots of proprosed solutions for this, including dropping damage to a fraction of ST, as in my rescaling from very, very early in my blogging career. All of them nerf ST penetration one way or another.

What about different Tech Levels? TL4 to TL8 has a 3.25x difference in monthly pay, and materials and production methods get better. So divide, which means our DR 8 65-lb plate would be about $2,900. That is, again, not insane.

I’m sure there are issues here, but for a quick conversation, I like where it ended up . . . but since you can still swing at ST 17 for 3d with a broadsword, some method of dealing with that issue is recommended. 

As a GURPS player, I both love and hate Danger Sense.

It’s a great “get out of jail free” card to have in your pocket, in that you notionally get warning (or at least a die roll) to see bad things coming. It should make you hard to ambush, hard to sneak up on, and hard to get hit with random acts of God and man without at least having the chance to get out of the way.

So I love it, and there’s enough realism there in terms of sensory fusion that the concept doesn’t bug me.

But I hate it too. Mostly because it’s a passive ability that is so very, very easy to to forget. “What about my danger sense!” is bad enough in its way. It means potentially haranguing the GM about it whenever it might come up.

It’s also burden-shifting. Really, this sort of passive ability is in the GM’s hands nearly all the time. So it’s shifting workload to an already laden individual.

And after a long workday, with a few glasses of wine in me . . . Danger Sense just ain’t on my mind. So it winds up being points wasted, because it’s either used too much (and is annoying), or not used at all (because one forgets), or is a burden on the GM who has to play it for you, and then gets yelled at when yeah, the Perception roll fails and you really don’t notice the lecherous werewolves with guns* coming for you.

And with all the mechanical improvements that have come about since 2004, I have to wonder if Danger Sense is really necessary anymore.

Active abilities – even raw, naked metagame abilities – are nice because they are completely above board. I spend a character point or bonus point or wildcard point or luck point or a re-roll based on a high tactics skill, and the bad thing that was about to happen  . . . doesn’t. Or does, but doesn’t fall squarely on my shoulders as it would have.

There are a lot of things where you could use them much like buying successes. You step from behind the pile of crates, and the GM says “you are spotted by the guard.” And that’s because he’s rolling Per+10 because it’s close range in plain sight. You’ve got two choices: spend 1 metagame point to have him reroll that Perception roll (plain sight – you’re still toast), or right the heck then, you spend 2 or 3 such points and you get a funny feeling and “rewind” to before you stepped out from behind the crates to begin with.

The sniper shot that would hit you? Spend a point and get a reroll, or two or three and you just duck.

There are so many good metagame currencies that exist now in GURPS that I have to wonder if the passive ability that is Danger Sense is really needed anymore. I know my current supers character in +Christopher R. Rice‘s game, Ian “The Commander” Owari, has Per-18 and Danger Sense and what we just realized should have been Tactics-22 or even Tactics-27 in a firefight. But we forget a lot of the passive abilities, and rarely use the active re-rolls from Tactics, because we get swept up in the moment for one, and metagame “oh no you didn’t!” moments can be jarring for players and GMs alike.

But lacking this sort of foresight (or Foresight, from Pyr #3/53) is a big deal to the character concept. And having it be an actively managed pool of ability would be much easier for all of us than the passive, in the background Danger Sense.

*That’s from an old phrase I used to use when describing how to do interval training. Run for 60-120 seconds like you’re being chased by . . . 

Thursday is GURPSDay, and it’s time to think ahead.

We had a fun situation in this past Monday’s Aeon supers game.

We decided to use the 4-As framework to make a plan. We gathered intel, we actually guessed at what was going to happen, and we were even right.

Then we completely biffed it by exposing ourselves, which drew fire and brought down the wrath of at least a dozen, if not more, grenade-armed guards. Had it not been for a “flesh wound” Karma point, The Commander would have been killed when a limpet grendade with 20d(2) damage blew up on his back.

But we saw that coming, and I was frustrated that all of our gathering and recon did basically nothing.

This needs to be automated and mechanized – but here’s an idea that I think has been treated before in Pyramid, but maybe not like this.

Retroactive Planning

” . . . this is battle! And battle is a highly fluid situation. You . . . you plan on your contingencies, and I have. You keep your initiative, and I will. But what you don’t do is share command! It’s Never. A Good. Idea.”  – Vic Deacons, Broken Arrow

If you’ve done your homework in advance, you can engage in a bit of a “we thought of that!” retcon.

But that requires homework in advance. Planning for contingencies, as it were.

Assess, Analyze

During the Assess and Analyze phases of the mission, after you make your skill rolls to gather data and complimentary skill rolls as appropriate, you may end the session by making an Intelligence Analysis roll.

Look up the margin of success on the size (and speed range) table, with a minimum of zero. Yes, you can walk out of the planning session with nada . . . but the number you get is how many “foreseen contingencies” you can declare.

So if you make the Intel Analysis roll by 7, you get 3 foreseen contingencies. A “foreseen contingency” can be converted to a single “bonus roll” that acts just like a Tactics roll, or it can be a legit contingency as below. This choice is made during the planning phase, and is binding. No matter what, cap the number of contingencies at 3 – more is unwieldly. So if you make your roll by 10, you get up to three foreseen contingencies, plus one reroll in addition to whatever happens with the on-site Tactics roll.

Contingency Plans

Each “contingency” is a combination of people, places, and things/actions, and must be phrased that way, in the same way that a Wait is fairly well defined, but there’s wiggle room here.

People: This can be as broad as “the bad guys,” but if there’s more than one bad guy faction present, you’ll need to be specific. So “the Red team of bad guys” would be legit, as would “any one not obviously on our side.” But for the Aeon S1E9 eventuality, if we didn’t anticipate that two factions would show up (but we did!) that would not be an actionable contingency. 

Places: Where’s the thing going down. This needs to be recognizeable, but can be somewhat vague (because player/character knowledge can be fuzzy). “The ambush site” might be good enough if you’re expecting an ambush. “The black ops warehouse” from Aeon S1E9 would certainly qualify. “New York City?” Nuh-uh.

Things/Actions: This is the trigger that tells you that you’re falling into a contingency. You see the macguffin (and if you know there’s going to be a macguffin, but not precisely what it is, that’s probably good enough). Again, in S1E9 it was when the two black ops teams started fighting.

These combinations of people, places, and things must be defined in advance, and they are limited in number to the number of foreseen contingencies above – that is, one to three of them.

Saw that one coming . . . 

If one of your triggering incidents occurs, immediately make and resolve an appropriate contest of Tactics, and bank your rerolls as usual. 

You may spend them to retroactively get the following benefits, assuming you haven’t been able to explicitly get such intel already. 

If the GM wants to request an appropriate skill roll (modified by BAD if you’re using it!) that’s fair – but remember this entire concept is based around the characters having had time to develop good plans, enough that the players were able to come up with people, places, and a triggering event.

  • Local geography: Burn a reroll and you pulled searches for blueprints, got satellite data, or otherwise were able to determine what the map looks like. This needn’t be perfect information, but what there is, you have. This is one of those that will often be obtained in advance, but if the team didn’t, this lets you do it retroactively.
  • Enemy placement: Any foes not actively hiding are either located on the map, or at least given “there’s probably one or more bad guys here” markers several hexes om area. This allows some measure of avoidance to be done with careful movement.
  • Positioning: Make a new tactics roll, and again get margin of success from the size and speed/range table (size column). Minimum one, but that number is the number of unique positioning moves you can make. So if you made your roll by 5, you can locate two elements. That certainly might be “an infantry platoon at location X, and a special forces fire team at location Y” just as easly as “The Commander is here by those boxes, while Eamon is on the roof.” This does not imply that you’re undetectable in any way – just that you can “jump” your guys to an appropriate accessible location as if you’d planned it all along.
  • Stealth: With advance knowledge and planning you can force a failed Perception roll where you’re contesting it with Stealth or Camouflage. Each forced failure costs a roll (so wandering through a target zone loaded with bad guys and security cameras will deplete your re-rolls very fast). A forced failure is obvious to the person who’s bestowing or consuming the tactics reroll – you know that, save for excellent intel and tactics, you would have been spotted. This does not preclude future Perception checks by the bad guys, either . . . you get a moment’s reprieve, that’s all. You can use that to make a new Camouflage or Stealth roll to achieve a better hiding spot, or you can burst into action. Go, Leroy, go.
  • Gear: A reroll can be burned to request – with GM’s permission – a single item or group of items (a sniper rifle, or a handful of magazines of armor piercing ammo, or an electronic lockpick kit) that would help. Both the players and GM should be reasonable here. If there’s no gear to be had, you don’t consume the roll.
  • Backup: If it would be available, and reasonable, reinforcements should be allowed. These NPCs will be of an appropriate level given the quality of the requesting group. Assistance rolls or Reaction rolls are good mechanics to invoke here. Failure would mean that none are available; if that’s the case you don’t lose the tactics roll.
  • Normal Use: You don’t have to burn the tactics rolls based on foreseen contingencies. You can save them for dynamic eventualities (and you probably will want to do that).
Parting Shot

This sort of thing wouldn’t have completely saved us yesterday. We did hit on the #1 option, though – two factions would duke it out in front of us, and I had seven re-rolls that we wound up not using, or maybe we used one – but none in the furious and almost-lethal battle on the first floor.

We did, actually, do some of the above – The Commander was allowed to retroactively put suppressors on his own weapons for some initial combat volleys that came and went. 

The biggest opportunity for us was instead of being forced into action with the first failed Stealth roll (or first successful Perception check), we might have been able to choose the time and place of action

The re-roll concept for Tactics is a good one. But they very frequently go unused, either due to heat-of-the-moment, or resource hoarding. Having some things like the above to explicitly spend rerolls on – provided some contingency planning is done – is a good way to bridge the gap between player and character expertise.

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

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

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

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

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

Target Difficulties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parting Shot

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

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

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

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

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

I was chatting with +Peter V. Dell’Orto and +Tim Shorts last night online, walking them through the basis of my Heretical DnD project. 

We were talking about the consequences of taking wounds, or having had your Stress Points worn down. Just brainstorming in an idle fashion, tossing out ideas, and someone, I think Peter, mentioned that if things were in a really bad way, that you could pick up Stacked Disadvantage.

Hmm, we said. What would that be? Well, probably taking the lowest result of more than 2d20. But does that look interesting compared to regular Advantage/Disadvantage?

Turns out it does.

Really Disadvantaged!

The first question is whether stacked disadvantage has enough mechanical utility – does it actually drop the chances of being successful by enough to matter?

Turns out it does.

I’ve created two new categories of being disadvantaged, called “Stacked Disadvantage” and “Tim Shorts.” The first is lowest of 3d20, the second is 4d20.

You can see from the probability of exceeding a given difficulty number that the Stacked Disadvantage is significantly less favorable than picking the lowest of 2d20, and the Tim Shorts level approaches the actual probability of Tim rolling higher than a 1 on any important combat task.

So that’s one way to look at it. Another is to look at the equivalent probabilities of meeting or beating a target number – basically take all the modifiers that go on either side of the equation and make it 1d20>N. So if you normally roll 1d20+5 vs. AC 16, this becomes 1d20 greater than or equal to 11 (which should be, and is, a 50% probability).

That chart shows what simple mental calculation shows too: the odds of rolling a good roll with Stacked Disadvantage are really bad.

Risk Assessment

Finally, another simple way to get a feel for what’s going on here is a risk-based one. What number can you expect to roll under X percent of the time? That’s a way of asking how concentrated towards the bottom of the target number range the dice will be, and as you can see, it’s pretty ugly.

Again, as you expect, with a straight-up roll, half the time you’ll roll 10 or less, and 90% of the time you’ll roll 18 or less. That’s a boring flat distribution, but that’s 1d20 for you.

The rules-as-written disadvantaged mechanic concentrates it more tightly. you’ll be rolling 10 or less 75% of the time, and you have only about a 5% chance to roll 16 or better.

Stacked Disadvantage has 90% of your rolls being 11 or less. And 19 times out of 20 your best roll can only be a 12. Note that rolling 1d20+5 vs AC 16 only really requires an 11, but that means Stacked Disadvantage takes that chance to pretty low – about 12% in fact.

Equivalent Penalties

One last way to look at this is that given Disadvantage, Stacked Disadvantage, or Tim Shorts, what’s the equivalent penalty?

This method of looking at it has its limits. Your odds of rolling (say) a 20 are only 5% with 1d20, and saying that you are at -1 because your success chances go from 5% to 0.012% really, really understates how unlikely the die is to come up 20 on all three (or four, if you’re Tim) dice. But the depth and breadth of the valley of doom is illustrative of how deep in the trouble pool you are.

Parting Shot

Stacked disadvantage may well have its place in the pantheon of elegant but effective mechanics. And that, of course, means that stacked advantage has its place too.

As much fun as it is to bust on Tim for the frequency of his rolling a 1 at exactly the wrong time, in reality, going to the fourth d20 doesn’t really buy you much. Unless the player is attempting a ridiculously easy task – rolling with proficiency and/or expertise and an attribute bonus against a DC 10 or lower target (so net difficulties of 3-5), there’s so little probability of success that the GM might as well say “nope, can’t roll.” Also, the difference between lowest of 3d20 and 4d20 isn’t that much: never more than the equivalent of another -2 tossed on top of everything else. 

So I’d leave the “lowest of 4d20 “level behind, but Stacked Advantage and Disadvantage may well find their way into my stable of things to use when GMing 5e.

Oh: I don’t expect I’m the only one to think of this (and in fact, Peter was the one that did), but it seemed cool enough to write up anyway.

Follow-up and Commentary

Well, this looks like it’s going to be a popular post, or perhaps notorious. I’m getting a lot of feedback, especially on Reddit, but it’s good stuff.

1. Stacked disadvantage is meaningless; Disadvantage is bad enough
Disadvantage pulls in the median by 4 (as you note); stacked yanks it down two more, from 6 to 4. That’s not that big of a deal.
However, what Stacked does do is pull in the tail further. The 90% for Disadvantage relative to a straight roll drops from 18 down to 14, and then Stacked drops it further down to between 10 and 11, which is about the same oomph as Disadvantage.
Beyond Stacking once, I agree: no profit in it.
2. Why not do advantage too?
A good question, and while I address it in my closing, a G+ commenter made a great point:

Also is the stacked dis/adv something that the DM holds onto until times where it is called for(kind of like handing out inspiration) or is it something that is always in play? If it is always in play I think it can really break the game once you start building characters to take advantage of the rule. Right of the top of my head I could build a straight up human variant barbarian who would have stacked advantage on almost, every attack. I think this is the reason WotC decided to not make dis/adv stackable right out of the gates.

Yes, quite – I’d not considered that one fully. That point about a double-stack adv/disadv by character design is a good one. My mental image was that this sort of thing would be only applied based on conditions. So that (for example) if you were, um, grappled AND on ice, yeah, that’s doubly sucky. 

But the probabilities invert for advantage, and you’d be rolling 10+ 95% of the time, and a 20 about 19% of the time. The good news is that that sort of skew is still inherently capped at 20, which is the awesome part of the mechanic – no automatically rolling a 40 or something.
3. You’re going to turn the game into 3e/Pathfinder (or GURPS, for that matter)
I think that rolling 3d20 and picking the lowest (or highest) doesn’t run into the Death by Modifier problem that some don’t care for in games that feature a heavy dose of such things. GURPS is a bad one about this, to the point where I wrote a post about trying to cut down on modifier-driven game delay. Pathfinder does have a component of bonus-hunting to it, and furthermore, the bonuses get very large.
I don’ t believe this to be the case for this method, because it still is contained within the core concept of “bounded accuracy” in 5e. The worst you can roll is a 1; the best is a 20. No matter how many stacked ads/disads you do, that’s still true.
It does compress the probability distribution a ton, ’tis true. But modifiers are still there, and if you’re a high-level character with STR 20 and +4 for proficiency, even with stacked disadvantage you roll between 10 and 29 . . . though 90% of your rolls will be from 10-20  (and half of them will be 10-13). So it’s a real crimp in the style of a high-level character, but you can still thump a guy with chain mail and a shield 22% of the time.

A question on reddit had me thinking. It was asking about swinging a sword in a confined environment, one yard wide. Another commenter noted – and I agree – that no, you can’t swing sideways, but you certainly can use the vertical, if the ceiling is tall enough.

Then I thought:

Overhead Strike

Seen very frequenlty in sports swordsmanship such as kendo and variants, this overhead-only strike is treated – always – as a Committed Telegraphic Attack to the skull. At -7 for location and +4 for the Telegraphic and +2 for committed, The blow has the following stats:

  • Roll at Skill-1 to hit; a miss by 1 hits the torso instead (specifically the shoulders if it matters)
  • The defender is at +2 to any active defense used against the attack
  • The attacker may not parry, and is at -2 to block or dodge
  • It does normal swing damage
  • It can be used in narrow confines so long as the ceiling has a height equal to the Reach of the weapon as it’s being employed plus the height of the character

Why do this? Well, for one thing, it’s pretty common to have a set of go-to attacks. For some sports, such as kendo or my own Hwarang Kumtoogi (which adds the legs as targets and spinning strikes), target selection is very limited, and in order to score a point, you usually have to show proper spirit. It’s not enough to simply get the “blade” on someone in a notionally lethal fashion, you have to yell, and stomp, and hit a very particular area with emphasis. Also, the attack is given a lot of emphasis, so something more than Attack might be warranted.
The Committed thing is iffy, but sensible to try and cancel the -7 for hits to the skull; even so, Skill-3 isn’t awful, and you miss an awful lot in kendo. Even if you “hit,” you can miss if your target is off by a bit or your form is off. That depends on the judges, but formal scoring and matches might be on a heck of a lot smaller than -7, maybe even -8 or -9, good enough for maybe a 1″-2″ wide, 3-5″ long stripe on the forehead on the top of the helmet. Advanced judges can be that picky.
The real use here is as part of a short stable of moves that you pre-calculate in order to speed play. While “any strike, any time” has some Bruce Lee-ish charm, it’s better to pick a set of favored attacks that you tend to utilize based on the character’s personality. Mostly, you pick from that set. Sure, sometimes you go off the reservation, but mostly you don’t.
As an example, in Hwarang Kumtoogi, you have standing strikes to the top of the head (-7), forearms (treat as half the arm, or -3), and the belly (treat the target area as -2), and a small patch of protection on the throat that’s maybe 2″ x 3″ square. Let’s call that -8, and you can only thrust. Finally, you can attack the thighs (again at -3) if you strike while kneeling. You will Feint, Feint-and-Attack, or use Setup Attacks to draw your opponent’s guard off. And you may add Spinning Strike to the above. You will often use Telegraphic Attack. You cannot make Telegraphic Deceptive Attacks; the effects of all the blade movement and tricky stuff will be handled as feints. 

Since my original forays into tinkering with the combat and narrative mechanics in D&D5, I’ve written a combat simulator to look at how quickly two combatants can drop each other using my rules assumptions, including for armor.

I’ve found out a few things, which have sent me back to . . . not the drawing board, but the tinker board, at least.

Why all this effort? Mostly for fun. I’m not sure I’d run a game this way . . . but I might. And if the rules work out as fun and usable as they appear to be, perhaps there’s a product in the future. Stranger things have happened.

On Your Mark, Set . . . Calculate!

The first thing I did was to start simulating this stuff using Excel as a Monte Carlo engine. Tens or even hundreds of thousands of attacks, looking for the average time it took to drop a foe, relative to the usual way.
As an example, if you take the rules as I noted them in a prior post, with a base stress threshold of 6+DEX Bonus+Proficiency Bonus, so that your Stress Threshold is 10 and your Impact Threshold with a shield is 14, then you wind up having two first-level fighters each take about four attacks to bring each other to zero stress points . . . but the average number of hits you need to kill the foe goes up with my system. So if two first-level guys fight until they start taking wounds, it’ll take about the same time. If they fight until they die, it’ll take longer, with a lot of fighting after the first sword hits flesh.
Here’s the simulator so you can try for yourself. Feel free to suggest modifications.
What about higher level characters? First-level guys are pretty fragile. And they have more stress points by virtue of carrying a shield (20) than they do from their rolled HP+CON bonus (12) assuming STR 16, CON 15, DEX 14.
How about the upper end of the +2 Proficiency tier? How about a Mountain Dwarf 4th level fighter, with STR 18, CON 18, DEX 14 (Tavern Brawler Feat)?

Well, the hits per kill are now within a few tenths of each other – about 13 attacks to fell an equivalent foe by RAW, and just shy of 12 with the new method. So the new rules has fighting to the death about equal, but the defender will take “real” wounds in about half that time. That assumes chain mail and a shield with a 1H weapon like a sword or axe.
Crank it up? Lower end of +5 proficiency – 13th level. Now we add two attribute score increases, bringing both STR and CON up to 20 (!), and the Alert Feat for that lovely +5 to initiative. We’ll ignore magical weapons for the moment, but we will give our dwarf plate armor. We leave DEX alone because it’s capped at +2 DEX bonus because of the heavy armor.
Fighting our prior 4th level character, he’ll be wounded in 5 attacks and dead in 9 in the new system (and 8 in the old). He’ll threaten the 4th level character (cost him stress) every time, threaten an impact 80% of the time, and 82% of his impacts will actually cause wounds once stress is depleted. 
Against an equal foe, by RAW it’ll take about 30 attacks – and with three or four attacks, that’ll be 7-10 turns. With the new rules against a guy with a shield and plate, it will take 16 hits to lower stress enough to wound him, and a further 8 hits to drive him to his wound maximum of 25 (and thus kill him). The skillful fighter will threaten his foe 90% of the time, but strike home only 35% of the time – the double proficiency bonus from weapon and shield (or two weapons, if you allow it) drops the number of “you were good enough to bypass his defenses” hits down by half. 
If the foe puts down his shield, the hits required to wound drops to 12 (reduced by 25%) and the hits to kill down to 18; the impact rate goes up to 60%! Shields matter, as they should. But they don’t dominate the results.
Thus far, I remain pleased with how the combats aren’t that long – or indeed that different at least on equal foes. 
Oh, but what about a 4th level fighter who decides to challenge a 13th level one? 17 hits to wound, and 26 to kill. By RAW, it would take 56 hits to kill, so the playing field is much more level here, but since our 4th level character will be dead in three rounds, our 13th level warrior will have plenty of time to recover his breath. 
Armor Again

The only thing that makes me think a bit more is that even against fairly run-of-the-mill STR values (say a 1st level fighter’s ST 16, with a +3 bonus), you’re looking at 4-11 points of damage, against 1-10 points of armor. That really only protects you a tiny bit, and even with plate blows are not terribly likely to “bounce.” I think that’s as much because my armor is always 1dX rather than (say) 2d(X/2). Or even upping armor values a bit, but honestly, the current system works well enough.
Parting Shot

Like this, but for my rules

I’m sure that I could tweak it up more. But honestly, the values seem to be not-awful and really what it needs now is to be honest-to-goodness playtested. 

The other thing it could probably use is a purpose-built character sheet, which displays the appropriate thresholds and even has some of the key rules, such as an Impact being allowed to be taken as stress if you can absorb 2x the damage roll.
Also, right now, you still have to take the entire damage roll as stress – armor doesn’t mitigate that at all. The point being that “I take the blow on my armor” isn’t really the choice that you make. 
It could be, though! That wouldn’t be hard to re-jigger, merely adding a few other if-then statements so that (for example) you can turn an impact into stress by taking twice the actual injury (so go ahead and roll armor) – but that could get recursive and slow down play. So I think I like it as-is, but would welcome other perspectives or actual play results.
But I think what I’ve got here is a real start at a replacement that makes short and long rests make utter and total sense . . . and wounds be quite serious.
Next up, injury and recovery. 
Because as much as D&D is a resource management game, we need to account for potions and spells. And the assumption that you recover (for example) 10% of your wound maximum every week needs to be reflected in magical spells and potions. 

There are times to All-Out Attack in melee, and even Telegraphic All-Out Attack. They are few and limited, but they exist.

Tactical Shooting would have you using AoA(Determined) every time you want to use your sights or claim an Aim bonus. +Hans-Christian Vortisch does impeccable research and he’s right – if you’re aiming, you’re not defending.

Still, the spectacular negative for not being able to avoid suddenly being cuisinarted or Swiss-cheesed means that even when people should be taking that option, they don’t, for purely game-mechanical reasons.

So, some options to tone that down. These haven’t been playtested, but I’m tossing out ideas that will make AoA a slightly more attractive option without it displacing things like Committed Attack, which sees constant use. It’s just AoA that doesn’t.
Continue reading “Alternate Defenses for All-Out Attack”

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.