Making guns palatable in high fantasy [Design Theory]

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
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.

Humans in real life are equivalent to 0-level commoners, which means a weapon that is capable of dealing 8 points of damage on a single blow is a killing shot. I would argue that all humans on earth today are equivalent to a 0-level human. Only in this way should firearms fall into one shot is lethal, as this would also mean a solid blow with a long sword has the same lethal capability. But in D&D PCs are not 0-level commoners, nor are most of their NPC opponents, which makes firearms no more lethal than any other weapon.

My point is a 1-in-20 shot chance of killing it's target is the same as a vorpal weapon. I don't agree that a mundane (non-magical) weapon in the hands of a 1st level character should ever have a 1-in-20 chance of killing any more than a dagger should. Allowing any weapon a one-shot kill capability should cost the same, have the same amount of high magic requirement as a vorpal weapon.

I won't allow my player's 1st level characters to possess vorpal weapons, and would equally not allow them to get a mundane item that is equivalent to a vorpal weapon in killing in one shot.

So if firearms did work the way you suggest, I would house rule it that it could not, because it's an unfair and IMO unrealistic concept.

It's just a different way of modeling damage.

It's the exact same way as vorpal, and a +5 weapon property, by game rules cost 50,000 gp. Most vorpal weapons have a separate + enhancement bonus, which ups the cost to 18000+ gp's more (if it's at least a +3 weapon).

How can any GM justify a 70,000 gp magic item with one-shot kill capability in the hands of anyone less than 10th level?

This is what you are saying.
 
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mmadsen

First Post
I do find it interesting that no one has proposed making guns work differently for PCs and NPCs.
That's what I was getting at with my aside about Bilbo and plot protection. He's not the greatest wizard or warrior in Middle Earth -- in fact, he's supposed to be a bit of an Everyman -- but we follow his story because he nonetheless ends up surviving and doing great things.

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.
Realistically, the PCs simply can't fight multiple fair fights and come out ahead. They certainly can't beat the odds on a routine basis. Even a string of fights in the PCs' favor should eventually lead to defeat.

For instance, if our PCs regularly engage in fights where the odds are 3:1 in their favor, then they have a 75% chance of winning each fight -- which sounds great until you realize that they have less than a 50-50 chance of winning three fights before losing. They only have a 2% chance of winning 13 such fights.

In fact, the PCs need 18:1 odds before winning 13 straight fights is a 50-50 proposition.

Granted, we try to work around this by letting them break contact surprisingly easily, etc.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
That's what I was getting at with my aside about Bilbo and plot protection. He's not the greatest wizard or warrior in Middle Earth -- in fact, he's supposed to be a bit of an Everyman -- but we follow his story because he nonetheless ends up surviving and doing great things.


Realistically, the PCs simply can't fight multiple fair fights and come out ahead. They certainly can't beat the odds on a routine basis. Even a string of fights in the PCs' favor should eventually lead to defeat.

For instance, if our PCs regularly engage in fights where the odds are 3:1 in their favor, then they have a 75% chance of winning each fight -- which sounds great until you realize that they have less than a 50-50 chance of winning three fights before losing. They only have a 2% chance of winning 13 such fights.

In fact, the PCs need 18:1 odds before winning 13 straight fights is a 50-50 proposition.

Granted, we try to work around this by letting them break contact surprisingly easily, etc.

My adventurers are defeated all the time. PCs die, it happens. When the odds are overwhelming the PCs, they pull out of the fight - and I let them, so they can build up their offenses to try again later, or bypass the encounter if possible.

None of this is convincing me that allowing one-shot kill weapons is appropriate for 1st level PCs.
 

Hassassin

First Post
None of this is convincing me that allowing one-shot kill weapons is appropriate for 1st level PCs.

"Appropriate" implies that you value balance. In that case you probably shouldn't allow such weapons, at least without significant drawbacks. I'd note that firearms are quite expensive in most rules, whether that's "historically accurate" or not, and so not really available for 1st level PCs in any case, though your point stands.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
"Appropriate" implies that you value balance. In that case you probably shouldn't allow such weapons, at least without significant drawbacks. I'd note that firearms are quite expensive in most rules, whether that's "historically accurate" or not, and so not really available for 1st level PCs in any case, though your point stands.

I've already said further up thread that firearms with appropriate rules are fine - and of course appropriate rules don't allow it as a one-shot kill item.

Pathfinder rules on firearms are the first range increment for any firearm is considered a ranged touch attack. And with the appropriate feat or grit ability (for gunslingers) this range can be extended. In a standard game, PF has set pistols to costing 1000 gp, and rifles costing 5000 gp. However, they also allow in a more common availability setting these costs are reduced to 1/4.

I am fine to allow a weapon that falls under those rules described. They aren't currently considered one-shot kill weapons, and they should remain.

I allow firearms in my game - primitive firearms for some games, and modern firearms for others. And some settings, especially with an older timeline base (which fits most of my settings) no guns at all.
 
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Hassassin

First Post
I've already said further up thread that firearms with appropriate rules are fine - and of course appropriate rules don't allow it as a one-shot kill item.

I think you may have missed my point. You say "appropriate", and seem to mean "balanced", yes?

Not everyone cares about balance, but there are definitely ways to balance kill effects. Cost is one (cf. scrolls of disintegrate), but more extreme solutions like having *every* weapon be "vorpal" might work too.

However, if you don't want you guns/weapons to work that way, why should anyone try to convince you otherwise?
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
I think you may have missed my point. You say "appropriate", and seem to mean "balanced", yes?

Not everyone cares about balance, but there are definitely ways to balance kill effects. Cost is one (cf. scrolls of disintegrate), but more extreme solutions like having *every* weapon be "vorpal" might work too.

However, if you don't want you guns/weapons to work that way, why should anyone try to convince you otherwise?

Balance is a part of 'appropriate', yes, not exclusively though.
Nobody is trying to convince me to change the gun, I don't think. The disccussion is simply Mmadsen's comment earlier up thread that he felt that somehow the rules for guns didn't sit right for him, as he thinks that guns should be able, however slight, to kill in one-shot.

All my counterpoints involve other means of one-shot kills in game, the costs for such abilities/magic items as they exist now, and how they are 'balanced' because of those rules. One-shot kills are available in game, and those things that do that now come at some (quite a bit) of cost, whether in gp, feat tax, forced to be a certain class (assassin, etc.)

I'm simply trying to explain how allowing one-shot kill items that don't come with some kind of balancing cost, are over-powered, and rightfully within existing rules isn't allowed.

Make guns one-shot kills if you want. Nothing wrong with that for your game (anyone's) but trying to point out 'logically' that this should be allowed as a standard rule, is what I'm arguing against. Just pointing out the weaknesses in his arguments is all I'm doing.
 

mmadsen

First Post
Humans in real life are equivalent to 0-level commoners, which means a weapon that is capable of dealing 8 points of damage on a single blow is a killing shot. I would argue that all humans on earth today are equivalent to a 0-level human. Only in this way should firearms fall into one shot is lethal, as this would also mean a solid blow with a long sword has the same lethal capability. But in D&D PCs are not 0-level commoners, nor are most of their NPC opponents, which makes firearms no more lethal than any other weapon.
It's actually not true at all that "realistic" humans are 0-level commoners, and that one shot from most weapons should take them out. Realistic combat is not hyper-lethal. Ordinary people can and do survive multiple stab wounds and gun-shot wounds.

From a realism perspective, the problem is not that a high-level D&D fighter can survive a dozen sword cuts and spear thrusts but that he cannot die by any one attack.

Again, my point is not that guns should be more lethal than other weapons. My point is that D&D-style hit points lead to jarring results, when neither duelist can die from a pistol shot, the deer has no real chance of dying from a gun's single shot, or the enemy officer can't be sniped.

My point is a 1-in-20 shot chance of killing it's target is the same as a vorpal weapon.
I am not recommending that you take your current D&D and introduce "vorpal" guns that cost less than a mundane crossbow and are simple to use.
 

Janx

Hero
My adventurers are defeated all the time. PCs die, it happens. When the odds are overwhelming the PCs, they pull out of the fight - and I let them, so they can build up their offenses to try again later, or bypass the encounter if possible.

None of this is convincing me that allowing one-shot kill weapons is appropriate for 1st level PCs.

um, a 1st level PC holding a longsword or better has a 1H1K weapon against level appropriate threats. Anything 1HD or less has a chance of dying if he hits it and rolls high enough.

Where I suspect the concern is that at higher levels, a fighter's ability to 1H1K an NPC diminishes because his single attack's damage maximum does not scale with the enemy HP at comparable levels.

I acknowledge that the rules give fighters multiple attacks which WOULD give increasing amounts of damage as you level up, just as rogues get BackStab dice added to make their hits more lethal as well.

But in the world of a fighter with a sniper weapon (bow, crossbow, gun), he's pretty much limited to 1d8 or so. Which is pretty unsatisfying as a sniper weapon.

I'm not sure this is a gun problem. Just a design trait that ranged weapons don't scale damage up enough to simulate a sniper situation where a single shot needs a chance to kill or seriously injure a target.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
um, a 1st level PC holding a longsword or better has a 1H1K weapon against level appropriate threats. Anything 1HD or less has a chance of dying if he hits it and rolls high enough.

Where I suspect the concern is that at higher levels, a fighter's ability to 1H1K an NPC diminishes because his single attack's damage maximum does not scale with the enemy HP at comparable levels.

I acknowledge that the rules give fighters multiple attacks which WOULD give increasing amounts of damage as you level up, just as rogues get BackStab dice added to make their hits more lethal as well.

But in the world of a fighter with a sniper weapon (bow, crossbow, gun), he's pretty much limited to 1d8 or so. Which is pretty unsatisfying as a sniper weapon.

I'm not sure this is a gun problem. Just a design trait that ranged weapons don't scale damage up enough to simulate a sniper situation where a single shot needs a chance to kill or seriously injure a target.

Then create some kind of assassinate mechanic that applies to someone who is not an assassin. House rule it. That seems perfectly reasonable way to fix that issue - if that's what you think your game needs to be improved.

For example, I have been trying to work out some kind of Iaijutsu combat that isn't precision damage, rather some kind of dueling mechanic, where two opponents replace initiative with some kind one-strike kill mechanic between two katana wielders. With a successful roll of the dice, the attack is equivalent to coup de grace without the opponent being helpless.

However, this would work only in a duel situation, not in normal combat.

Perhaps houserule a coup de grace opportunity when an opponent does not see you (a sniper in hiding), after a round or two of study, roll against a 'flatfooted AC' is successful by 10 or more on the dice - assassinate.

I just don't see it necessary to make this a hard fast rule for the standard game. For a house ruled game anything should be possible.
 

Glade Riven

Adventurer
Do you mean that most of those are supported by D&D gun mechanics?

Otherwise that's just a list of more ways in which the mechanics don't support what some people may expect.
Let's find out...

Abnormal Ammo? Check. (Pathfinder, Iron Kingdoms, even certain d20 Modern Suppliments)
Accidental Aiming Skills? Check (can happen d20 crits on anything with 2 HD or less)
AKA-47? Check (Iron Kingdoms)
Ammunition Backpack? Check (you can put ammo in your backpack - or even a bag of holding.
A-Team Firing? Check (play experiance, poor rolls leading to lots of misses)
Almost Lethal Weapons? Check (Hit Points; mooks with low HP to start die fast and quick, PCs survive a few flesh wounds)
Anti-Air? Any range weapon counts
Armed Altruism? Look, if the players want to give their weapons away...
Armor Piercing? Check (d20 Modern, Iron Kingdoms)

Skipping forward to some more applicable...

Bizzare and Improbable Ballistics? Roll a d20
BOOM! Headshot? Oh, look, you crited.
Bullet Catch? I think there's a monk feat for that.
Bullet Dodges You? Someone failed their d20 roll
Bullet Proof Vest? Huh, I wonder what AC is for...
Bullets do not work that way? Neither does any other weapon in this game, so why are guns special?

I could keep going on and on, but in a d20/D&D campaign I played in, almost every one of these tropes came into play for one reason or another. In some cases, the rolls determined that a trope needed to be played off of to explain what happened - like in the second session of the game where my elf paladin kicked open a door and the 8 or so orcs with shotguns and readied actions fired...and missed.

But we've gone off into a rather absured tangent from my original post, which is not helping. Or maybe it does, since it shows that us nerds will still spend time arguing about the nature of guns in the system whether or not they are ad-hoc magical in nature or not.
 

mmadsen

First Post
But we've gone off into a rather absured tangent from my original post, which is not helping. Or maybe it does, since it shows that us nerds will still spend time arguing about the nature of guns in the system whether or not they are ad-hoc magical in nature or not.
If your question is, how do I make guns palatable in my high-fantasy D&D game?, I think there are two main issues: (1) How do you make guns fit the fantasy genre? (2) How do you make guns feel like guns in the game?

Your suggestion to make guns work magically, rather than scientifically, still leaves them feeling out of place in a Tolkien-esque setting, but weird guns probably work just fine in other sub-genres. It depends on your group's tastes, but you may get better results by removing other Tolkien-esque trappings, too. If you're on a desert planet with no dwarves or elves, the guns may feel less out of place.

You don't seem concerned about guns feeling like guns, but it certainly matters to some, and I don't think D&D handles western-style gun-fighters well.

As I've said elsewhere, I think an experienced gun-fighter should stand head and shoulders above the average person in a gun fight. He just shouldn't do it by shrugging off gun shots.

If you didn't know how D&D worked, but you knew that a 4th-level character was supposed to be a hero, you wouldn't immediately define him as able to take four times as many bullets, +20% accuracy, etc.

He would be awesome by almost always hitting, even while shooting blindingly fast and getting shot at. Ordinary city-slickers might have a 1-in-20 chance of hitting, while he'd have a 19-in 20 chance of hitting.
 


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