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Making guns palatable in high fantasy [Design Theory]

mmadsen

First Post
Two samurai are squaring off, neither has a chance to kill the other with that first strike.
I feel like we're talking past each other, because the samurai duel is an example I made earlier, in another thread, of a similar situation where D&D's hit points don't match either reality or, more importantly, genre expectations. And, of course, the 3E version of Oriental Adventurers tried to work around this with its iaijutsu bonus damage, like sneak attack bonus damage, on a first strike off the draw.

So, again, the problem is not specific to guns; it's just worse for guns than for many other weapons. When you have a lethal one-shot weapon, like a dueling pistol or a Kentucky long rifle, and it can't kill another duelist or a deer (or a British officer), it's more jarring than if a kitchen knife can't kill someone on the first slash.

Bilbo is not worried about the spiders of Mirkwood - he knows that they can't kill him with a single chomp.
I'm pretty sure a huge monstrous spider could and would kill a first-level halfling rogue on its first successful bite. In fact, with a +9 attack bonus, it would likely hit, too.

(In fact, if we want to open a whole 'nuther bottle of worms, the problem with playing Bilbo in D&D is that he's not high-level, but he has a lot of plot-protection, which is normally implemented in D&D via high hit points.)

I love a blackpowder piece, but they were not much more effective than a crossbow - only faster.
Again, I think we've been talking past each other, because I have repeatedly made the point that early matchlock guns weren't much different from crossbows, and they could use the same stats, since armies of the time saw them as roughly equivalent.

D&D doesn't handle guns or crossbows "well" -- if you care about dueling, hunting, stopping a charge, etc. -- so the more important such missile weapons become, the weirder the game plays.

Join a recreation society - there are plenty in the US. Try blackpowder weapons, shoot some targets, get a feel for them.
What is it about blackpowder weapons that you think I'm misunderstanding?
 

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TheAuldGrump

First Post
I feel like we're talking past each other, because the samurai duel is an example I made earlier, in another thread, of a similar situation where D&D's hit points don't match either reality or, more importantly, genre expectations. And, of course, the 3E version of Oriental Adventurers tried to work around this with its iaijutsu bonus damage, like sneak attack bonus damage, on a first strike off the draw.

So, again, the problem is not specific to guns; it's just worse for guns than for many other weapons. When you have a lethal one-shot weapon, like a dueling pistol or a Kentucky long rifle, and it can't kill another duelist or a deer (or a British officer), it's more jarring than if a kitchen knife can't kill someone on the first slash.


I'm pretty sure a huge monstrous spider could and would kill a first-level halfling rogue on its first successful bite. In fact, with a +9 attack bonus, it would likely hit, too.

(In fact, if we want to open a whole 'nuther bottle of worms, the problem with playing Bilbo in D&D is that he's not high-level, but he has a lot of plot-protection, which is normally implemented in D&D via high hit points.)


Again, I think we've been talking past each other, because I have repeatedly made the point that early matchlock guns weren't much different from crossbows, and they could use the same stats, since armies of the time saw them as roughly equivalent.

D&D doesn't handle guns or crossbows "well" -- if you care about dueling, hunting, stopping a charge, etc. -- so the more important such missile weapons become, the weirder the game plays.


What is it about blackpowder weapons that you think I'm misunderstanding?
Really? You keep saying that blackpowder weapons need different rules.

They don't.

It is not 'worse for guns' - at least when you give them a decent damage and a good multiplier. In short, when you pretty much give them the same damage and crit multiplier as an axe. You get chopped with an axe, you can die. You get shot with a big soft ball, you can die.

A d10 or a d12 with a X3 multiplier is quite scary enough for blackpowder weapons - like your huge spider bite, it will put Bilbo in the ground with one lucky hit - from straight up damage from the large die, or the multiplier if you are really lucky. (For what it is worth, I picture the Mirkwood spiders as Large, not huge - but Tolkien was not trying to be a taxonomist of outsized arachnids.)

Chop Bilbo with a greataxe, you now have a half-halfling.

Shoot Bilbo with a musketoon and you have a halfling with a hole in the middle - each is equally dead.

In short - you are making things more complicated then they need to be.

If you want anything like realism from early guns - most shots didn't kill. People even survived shots to the neck. (Gustavus II Adolph coming to mind.)

Most shots that did kill were fatal days, weeks, or months after the battle - it was not unknown for a festering lung wound to kill years after it was inflicted.

And this was true for swords, bayonets, and axes - not just guns.

The grim truth is that most deaths were horribly delayed - infection, peritonitis, and loss of lung capacity.

You want realistic anything? Play something else.

I just assume that a weapon is a weapon - a tool designed for killing people.

In the real world axes were more lethal and easier to use than swords - swords needed training. An axe is likely a lot closer in lethality to a gun up into the 17th century than any sword.

The warhammer developed to penetrate armor.

The basic poky stick (i.e. spear, pike, lance) was the basic weapon for most of history - including the early twentieth century in the person of the bayonet. Good for standing off an enemy, at least until they get within its reach.

None of these need special rules, except for the long spears. The game does not really need or support such complication.

Clear enough now? If you are going to 'fix' one thing then fix all, don't concentrate on a single weapon, thinking that it is likely the only one shot, one kill weapon.

D&D also does not have proper rules for duels, be it with claymores, pistols, or katana. Oriental Adventures did try to address this, turning the samurai into a professional duelist.

It is also worth mentioning that the only known duel between a westerner and a samurai did not go as some might think - the samurai cut the Portuguese nearly in half, but it didn't much matter, since the samurai had been run through at the same time.... Neither had any defense for the other's attack, with tragic results. Again, dead is dead.

The Auld Grump
 

gamerprinter

Adventurer
I can see the logic of saying that all weapons are equally unrealistic, but I don't think they really are, because single-shot guns, which should work for dueling, hunting, or breaking the enemy line, simply don't work plausibly if that first and only shot has no chance of killing the opposing duelist, the deer, or the enemy officer.


The problem, as far as realism is concerned, is not that guns are insufficiently deadly; it's that they can't kill in one shot. (The only time they can kill with one shot is when the target is "weak" enough to be guaranteed to die in two shots.)

This stands out, because (a) period guns only had one shot, and (b) guns should be able to stop some troops closing to fight hand-to-hand.

D&D has never been about realism. As soon as one of my players goes on any kind of physics tangent regarding falling damage, guns, anything. I tell them to stop. What happens in real world physics sometimes is found in the attempt of a given mechanic. But it never truly follows physics, rather how best to represent something in a game. It's not about a realism.

Magic isn't about realism. Heck basic hand-to-hand combat in reality is different than a game. Some people die after one stab. Some people are stabbed a dozen times and live. No mechanic can duplicate that. So why pretend that it could. Realism is never the issue in an RPG...
 
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Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
It is also worth mentioning that the only known duel between a westerner and a samurai did not go as some might think - the samurai cut the Portuguese nearly in half, but it didn't much matter, since the samurai had been run through at the same time.... Neither had any defense for the other's attack, with tragic results. Again, dead is dead.

As I recall, there were reports of about a half-dozen duels that ended similarly, leading to special laws regarding duels between Eastern & Western warriors, including the use of Eastern proxies for Westerners, and vice versa, so that the participants would be matched by style...
 

mmadsen

First Post
You keep saying that blackpowder weapons need different rules.
We're definitely talking past each other, because I have not said that blackpowder weapons need different rules.

Here's what I have said:
So, again, the problem is not specific to guns; it's just worse for guns than for many other weapons. When you have a lethal one-shot weapon, like a dueling pistol or a Kentucky long rifle, and it can't kill another duelist or a deer (or a British officer), it's more jarring than if a kitchen knife can't kill someone on the first slash.
[...]
Again, I think we've been talking past each other, because I have repeatedly made the point that early matchlock guns weren't much different from crossbows, and they could use the same stats, since armies of the time saw them as roughly equivalent.

D&D doesn't handle guns or crossbows "well" -- if you care about dueling, hunting, stopping a charge, etc. -- so the more important such missile weapons become, the weirder the game plays.

What is it about blackpowder weapons that you think I'm misunderstanding?
Again, what is it about blackpowder weapons that you think I'm misunderstanding?


If you want anything like realism from early guns - most shots didn't kill. People even survived shots to the neck. (Gustavus II Adolph coming to mind.)

Again, we're talking past each other, because I've been quite explicit that real guns aren't hyper-lethal, and the solution is not to make guns do more damage in the game.

The problem, as far as realism is concerned, is not that guns are insufficiently deadly; it's that they can't kill in one shot. (The only time they can kill with one shot is when the target is "weak" enough to be guaranteed to die in two shots.)

The distribution is wrong. Death shouldn't arrive on the nth shot, with no deaths on the first shot and death guaranteed by the n+1th shot.

That's wrong for any weapon, but it's especially jarring for one-shot weapons. It breaks expectations -- both realistic expectations and action-story expectations -- when, say, a hold-up is a guaranteed non-issue, or a duel can't kill either party, or a hunter can't take down common game, or a sniper can't take out an officer.

In other areas where this problem is too jarring, we add coup-de-grace rules, or sneak attack bonus damage, or iaijutsu damage. I don't think those are a perfect fit for ordinary gun-fights, but they point to some other places where hit points and expectations don't match up well.


D&D has never been about realism. As soon as one of my players goes on any kind of physics tangent regarding falling damage, guns, anything. I tell them to stop. What happens in real world physics sometimes is found in the attempt of a given mechanic. But it never truly follows physics, rather how best to represent something in a game. It's not about a realism.

The issue doesn't have to revolve around gritty realism at all. The same issues stand out if we set our expectations by Hollywood action movies.

This isn't some gun-nut debate about .45 ACP vs. hollowpoint 9mm +P+ loads. This is about how what happens in the game world doesn't feel right to perfectly normal people playing the game. They may not be able to put their finger on exactly what's "unrealistic" about it, but it feels wrong.

Some people die after one stab. Some people are stabbed a dozen times and live. No mechanic can duplicate that. So why pretend that it could.
Of course there's a mechanic that could duplicate that. A simple save-or-die mechanic would duplicate that. It might have other problems, but it would duplicate that perfectly.
 
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Glade Riven

Adventurer
Well, whoever has these expectations of "guns and realism" issue with the game, I've never met them. The advocacy for that in the arguments showing up in this thread is by proxy. The complaint about guns almost always comes back to "it doesn't fit my idea of high fantasy" not "it breaks my suspension of disbelief."
 

ValhallaGH

First Post
Well, whoever has these expectations of "guns and realism" issue with the game, I've never met them. The advocacy for that in the arguments showing up in this thread is by proxy. The complaint about guns almost always comes back to "it doesn't fit my idea of high fantasy" not "it breaks my suspension of disbelief."
This. It keeps coming back to this. People don't dislike the mechanics of guns, they dislike the very concept of firearms in their games.

The reasons they give vary but none of them I've come across have cited suspension of disbelief, realism, or similar points.
 

Hassassin

First Post
Well, whoever has these expectations of "guns and realism" issue with the game, I've never met them. The advocacy for that in the arguments showing up in this thread is by proxy. The complaint about guns almost always comes back to "it doesn't fit my idea of high fantasy" not "it breaks my suspension of disbelief."

Clearly there are some here who disagree. I think it's more accurate to say that there are many complaints about guns and people have their own versions of some.

For me it's mostly about the mechanics not supporting central tropes that recur in novels, movies and TV shows with guns. The Mexican standoff and the pistol duel are probably the most important ones.

Edit: And yes, [MENTION=1645]mmadsen[/MENTION] helped me "put my finger on it", thanks!
 



KiloGex

First Post
Also, historically firearms made armor less useful, so that might influence their adoption in a fantasy setting.

Exactly why I think Pathfinder did it right with giving firearms touch attack for their first range increment.

My only issue with guns in D&D has been their cost. However, that can be easily changed by the GM as firearms become more commonplace.
 

gamerprinter

Adventurer
Of course there's a mechanic that could duplicate that. A simple save-or-die mechanic would duplicate that. It might have other problems, but it would duplicate that perfectly.

Well of course, most anything can be made into a workable mechanic. I'm just pointing to the existing rules in various editions of D&D, and that rule doesn't exist in RAW. It could be, but it's not.
 
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gamerprinter

Adventurer
The problem, as far as realism is concerned, is not that guns are insufficiently deadly; it's that they can't kill in one shot. (The only time they can kill with one shot is when the target is "weak" enough to be guaranteed to die in two shots.)

The distribution is wrong. Death shouldn't arrive on the nth shot, with no deaths on the first shot and death guaranteed by the n+1th shot.

That's wrong for any weapon, but it's especially jarring for one-shot weapons. It breaks expectations -- both realistic expectations and action-story expectations -- when, say, a hold-up is a guaranteed non-issue, or a duel can't kill either party, or a hunter can't take down common game, or a sniper can't take out an officer.

In other areas where this problem is too jarring, we add coup-de-grace rules, or sneak attack bonus damage, or iaijutsu damage. I don't think those are a perfect fit for ordinary gun-fights, but they point to some other places where hit points and expectations don't match up well.

Regarding One-Shot Kills:
Thing about items/abilities that bypass hit points and becomes a 'one shot kill', it does come in game, but usually at quite some cost. An assassin can do it, but then you don't get to play a caster or fighter, unless you use lots more levels so you take enough rogue to qualify for the prestige class. It comes with a class/level/feat cost - actually quite expensive.

Pathfinder has the Ninja, but it's Assassinate ninja trick is a 10th level ability at minimum. Even more expensive.

20th level rogues have an assassinate like ability at 20th too - but then that's 20 levels of cost.

Vorpal weapons are +5 magical weapons, not including it's actual enhancement bonus - a very, very expensive sword. And you still have to confirm a critical hit, on a beings without immunity to crits.

So if you introduce a single weapon, that anyone can have that might require exotic weapon proficiency that offers a one-shot-one-kill capability. It's now very cheap too achieve the assassinate ability. You don't have to leave your class, your concept, or anything except possible one required feet that a 1st level character can take - that's way too powerful.

Technically speaking a lucky shot by an untrained person (0 level commoner) wielding a knitting needle could bypass your armor, even your notice and pierce your heart, kidney or brain. If you allow firearms to have one-shot kill capability, then you have to allow all weapons that capability, because no matter unlikely it would happen, by the effects of 'reality' it could happen.

This would mean that vorpal weapons, expensive feat/class choices to achieve a one-shot kill capability is a waste of time, because anybody can win an encounter with a one-shot kill, and I think this would largely diminish my game.

One shot kill firearms should be expensive magic items like vorpal swords, otherwise it unfairly imbalances the game in a huge way.

And a sniper could by the rules easily take out that guard with a one-shot kill, as long as the guard was a 0-level warrior. If he's got less hit points that the amount of damage your weapon causes - he is dead. It's easy to one-shot killing any NPC as long as they don't have many hit points.
 
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ValhallaGH

First Post
Vorpal weapons ... still have to confirm a critical hit, on a beings without immunity to crits.
Ah, the misunderstanding of Vorpal.
Roll a 20. Roll again, and if that hits then the thing's head comes off. Period.
"But, constructs and undead are immune to critical hits!"
Vorpal isn't a critical hit. It's a magical effect that triggers on a natural 20. The only thing immune to Vorpal is a thing without a head or, like the Lumi, those which are specifically immune to vorpal. Now, many things don't care if they lose their head, but they do lose it.

The other one-shot kills? Save or Die spells.

Still, valid conceptual points. Making firearms into save-or-die weapons and not doing the same for everything else is a serious imbalance.
 

gamerprinter

Adventurer
Ah, the misunderstanding of Vorpal.
Roll a 20. Roll again, and if that hits then the thing's head comes off. Period.
"But, constructs and undead are immune to critical hits!"
Vorpal isn't a critical hit. It's a magical effect that triggers on a natural 20. The only thing immune to Vorpal is a thing without a head or, like the Lumi, those which are specifically immune to vorpal. Now, many things don't care if they lose their head, but they do lose it.

The other one-shot kills? Save or Die spells.

Still, valid conceptual points. Making firearms into save-or-die weapons and not doing the same for everything else is a serious imbalance.

I'm quite aware that vorpal is an arcane weapon property - it's magic. In our game you still have to confirm the natural 20 vorpal shot, it isn't automatic for us (we consider that too powerful). I misremembered we house-ruled that.

As long as a firearm's possible one-shot kill effect is equivalent to the cost of having to take a prestige class, 10th level or more in a class, or the capability to cast a Save or Die spell, which is never a low level spell - it's fair.

For a mundane firearm to be allowed to one-shot kill at 1st level for possible one feat, or possibly no cost beyond the weapon and the bullet is not even a reasonable consideration.
 

ValhallaGH

First Post
Adressing Issues

I do find it interesting that no one has proposed making guns work differently for PCs and NPCs.
A major purpose of hit points is to provide some plot protection for the characters - PCs and important NPCs. If you're willing to use that concept directly then you can have a weapon do dX damage to things with HP and everything else makes a save versus death. That's basically how minions worked in Spycraft. And this works equally well for knives, swords, firearms, guns, and catapults.

The idea being that you get the best of both worlds. Important characters cannot be killed with a single shot. Unimportant characters can. And the players never know who is who.
Can this be abused? Yes. Does it require GM adjudication? Absolutely, but the readers are probably GMs and the game will certainly have a GM, so there is no problem with that. Is it quick, clean and simple? Simple, possibly quick, but not very clean. It's clunky game design but the underlying issue is that no single elegant solution works broadly enough to satisfy everyone, especially in the D&D damage model.*

*Classic Deadlands may have the best Firearms-related damage system, ever. And it applied equally to all weapons and creatures, making it possible (though obscenely difficult) to kill a bull elephant using a .22 pistol. It was still clunky, but it was fun and indirectly allowed for differentiation between extras and 'tagonists.
 

gamerprinter

Adventurer
I do find it interesting that no one has proposed making guns work differently for PCs and NPCs.
A major purpose of hit points is to provide some plot protection for the characters - PCs and important NPCs. If you're willing to use that concept directly then you can have a weapon do dX damage to things with HP and everything else makes a save versus death. That's basically how minions worked in Spycraft. And this works equally well for knives, swords, firearms, guns, and catapults.

The idea being that you get the best of both worlds. Important characters cannot be killed with a single shot. Unimportant characters can. And the players never know who is who.
Can this be abused? Yes. Does it require GM adjudication? Absolutely, but the readers are probably GMs and the game will certainly have a GM, so there is no problem with that. Is it quick, clean and simple? Simple, possibly quick, but not very clean. It's clunky game design but the underlying issue is that no single elegant solution works broadly enough to satisfy everyone, especially in the D&D damage model.*

*Classic Deadlands may have the best Firearms-related damage system, ever. And it applied equally to all weapons and creatures, making it possible (though obscenely difficult) to kill a bull elephant using a .22 pistol. It was still clunky, but it was fun and indirectly allowed for differentiation between extras and 'tagonists.

In my games PCs and NPCs are in an equal opportunity situation. If a PC can take a feat, magic item, spell, class, level in anything, so can an NPC. Most NPCs my PCs fight in combat are higher level than they. My adventurers never have a specific advantage, except their luck in rolls, and level in creativity in bypassing my encounter. And they usually do fine.

If I dimished the challenge in some way, my players wouldn't feel as heroic.

But I've also stated that 0+ level NPC classes exist as nuisances as part of a larger encounter and sniping a guard with a single shot, single hack can and does happen. Not any major NPC.
 


mmadsen

First Post
The complaint about guns almost always comes back to "it doesn't fit my idea of high fantasy" not "it breaks my suspension of disbelief."
I wouldn't claim that there is exactly one complaint against guns in D&D. Certainly many people don't want guns in their Tolkien-esque high-fantasy game or even in their Howard-esque sword & sorcery game -- while others do want guns in their Burroughs-esque sword & planet game or their Heavy Metal-esque post-apocalyptic game.

If you haven't heard anyone complain about how guns are "unrealistic" in D&D, perhaps you have noticed how many people want house rules to make them more lethal, to make them bypass armor, etc. Those rules may or may not be a good idea, but certainly many people find something off-putting about how D&D handles guns.

The complaints aren't purely against guns though, because they're often about, say, city guards with crossbows who got the drop on a high-level PC, where the crossbows are a quasi-medieval stand-in for guns -- and the high-level PC is not the least bit scared of taking a few crossbow bolts.

And yes, [MENTION=1645]mmadsen[/MENTION] helped me "put my finger on it", thanks!
You're quite welcome, [MENTION=6675228]Hassassin[/MENTION].

Thing about items/abilities that bypass hit points and becomes a 'one shot kill', it does come in game, but usually at quite some cost. [...] If you allow firearms to have one-shot kill capability, then you have to allow all weapons that capability, because no matter unlikely it would happen, by the effects of 'reality' it could happen.
I haven't been making a recommendation for how to handle firearms in D&D. Or, rather, my recommendation has been to handle them just like crossbows and to accept that they don't feel like guns much of the time.

If we were starting from scratch, and we wanted to make firearms no more lethal than they currently are yet dangerous from the very first shot, we could give them a small chance of killing (or disabling) their target with each hit instead of knocking down the target's hit point total.

Since gamers who have grown up with D&D-style hit points often have trouble grasping a weapon that isn't especially lethal but can kill with one shot, let's imagine a small-caliber pistol with a 1-in-20 chance of killing its target. Does it generally kill its target on the first shot? No, not even close. Would you be scared to take a single shot from it? Yes, definitely. How many shots does it typically take to drop someone? There isn't a good answer for that, because the distribution isn't clustered around a single mean, median, and mode. Half the time the target survives 13 shots before succumbing, but the average number of shots needed to drop a target is 20, and each shot is equally likely to finish the job.

It's just a different way of modeling damage.
 

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