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D&D 5E Why do guns do so much damage?


Oh dear, the "what is HP" again...

A level 5 characters with a decent con score can jump off a 50 foot building every day with no long term consequences.

You absolutely can dodge more bullets than axes. People pray and spray all the time. You don't dodge a bullet by ducking out of the way of the bullet, you do so by keeping under cover and moving quickly and unpredictably so that your foe can't shoot effectively at you.
That's how it would normally work.
However D&D doesn't have a duck and cover system nor let you move much while being shot at.

The D&D combat system is poorly suited for guns. Especially higher penetration rifle bullets. It's best options to simulate them are high damage, ignoring AC, or saving throws.

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Crown-Forester (he/him)
The bullet is harder to dodge. Because it's faster.
You can dodge fewer bullets than axes before you die.

HP isn't meat points. HP is "Avioding death" points. Bullets are so fast you lose options to avoid death by them.


HP is an abstraction. HP ≠ Injurious capacity. Relative Dmg ≠ Relative lethality if you are struck with the weapon.

If I am cut in half with a katana, I die. If I get hit by a gun's bullet through any of various major organs, I die.

Guns have a lot of ways of killing me, and are much harder to dodge. I can dodge them a certain number of times reflected by my class and my Constitution, but eventually, I tire out and can't dodge bullets or get lucky enough that they aimed poorly, and I get nicked in the arm. I'm bloodied.

If I keep fighting without some rest and healing, I'll likely get hit in a more lethal location quite quickly. This is reflected by the amount of HP damage I'm taking from the gunfire.

I understand the OP's confusion though - D&D uses the term Hit and Damage in jargony ways, and CRPGs have primed us to think that hit rate = whether I impact or not, and damage dealt = once I impact with weapon, how much that afflicts the target.

Really, HP is like a fifth wall of defense. You've got your AC and your three saves to protect you by reducing or entirely mitigating the effects of an attack. But once you've done that, your HP is your bucket of luck, fortitude, reflexes, and willpower to survive what otherwise would be the end of you. I used those terms quite purposefully: in 5e, those are saves you roll, but you should also consider how they play into your HP. Fortitude of course is the most aligned with HP as it's reflected by your Con score. But think also of HP as your ability to dodge, your ability to push through the pain, your ability to stand firm against pushes and bludgeons. It's your ability to say to the God of Death, "not today."


Pedantic Grognard
your HP is your bucket of luck, fortitude, reflexes, and willpower to survive what otherwise would be the end of you. I used those terms quite purposefully: in 5e, those are saves you roll,
No, they aren't. In 3e, they're saves you roll; in 5e, you have six saves, and every single one has the same name as an ability score.


Firearm damage is still hard to quantify in modern times (see; Hydrostatic shock debate) and it's certainly not as simple as a small hole through an object, even with the most basic projectiles.

If looking at it from a purely game-balance perspective then outside of a white-room firearms have quite a few drawbacks ie; zero possibility of stealth and potentially seriously consequential noise levels, consumables, temporary blinding in darkness, vulnerability to moisture, very slow reload, etc. There are quite a few reasons/situations for a player to be happy they have a non-firearm ranged weapon.

Yeah, the increased damage isn't necessary but it isn't that far out of line either imo.


5ever, or until 2024
Velocity can matter, kinetic energy causes damage beyond the “hole” but it’s not symmetric.

it’s armor though. That’s what made renaissance firearms a thing. Next came massed muskets and ease of use, after armor was not a thing.


Pedantic Grognard
AC measures how you manage to avoid losing hit points. Hit points, however, are not simple meat resilience.

I mean, let's go back to the words of the original author of D&D, in the 1st edition Player's Handbook, on p.34:
Let us suppose that a 10th level fighter has 55 hit points, plus a bonus of 30 hit points for his constitution, for a total of 85 hit points. This is the equivalent of about 18 hit dice for creatures, about what it would take to kill four huge warhorses. It is ridiculous to assume that even a fantastic fighter can take that much punishment. The same holds true to a lesser extent for clerics, thieves, and the other classes. Thus, the majority of hit points are symbolic of combat skill, luck (bestowed by supernatural powers), and magical forces.
Gary Gygax's logic applies with the same force in 5th edition, where it's now moved up to roughly five warhorses (a 10th level fighter with a 16 Constitution has 94 hp, five warhorses combine for 96).

Our 10th-level fighter with a 16 Constitution can survive a Str 10 character successfully hitting him an average of 37 times with a hammer, 26 times with a spear, 20 times with a longsword, 17 times with a halberd, 14 times with a greataxe, or 13 times with a a maul. There is no way that actually represents full-strength contact to flesh even a large minority of the time. Thus damage inflicted by a weapon does not necessarily reflect what a full-strength hit would do to flesh.

Rationalizations can be invented to taste to follow. Maybe it's a lot easier for defending characters to minimize the amount of actual damage done to them by a longsword hit (by twisting away after contact or the like) than by a bullet, so longswords do less damage because they score more glancing blows.

But, whatever. Since we're dealing entirely in rationalizations at this point, you can prove anything you like; you can demonstrate that flintlock bullets should do 1d6 damage, or that they should do 2d12.


Guns wound moreso through hydrostatic pressure than the actual wound channel. That's why with a lot of high-powered guns you have huge exit wounds.

In the end, its all arbitrary. Modern guns tend to be more convenient and take less skill than weapons like swords to use effectively and be deadly. Older guns, like muskets, are basically just louder and smokier crossbows with longer range.


HPs and damage are an abstract in D&D and as @Minigiant stated, AC is one way to avoid damage.

Guns do more damage than sword as guns ARE BETTER at killing people than swords, that is why we invest so much research in guns last 500 years and not so much in melee weapons.

And as we want to have simple and uniform system in 5E for attacking and dealing damage, simplest way to describe that one weapon is more efficient at killing than another weapon is to have that weapon deal more base damage.

Now, if you want to have a system that has 5 different damage effects vs 4 different types of armor, that is great and there are system out there for it. But 5E is not one of those.

Best that we have here is 3 types of weapon damage; B/P/S and possible resistance/immunity to it.


It's basically the inverse of the guy at the gym fallacy.

You know how martial combatants can't do anything cool or interesting because most game designers can't fathom feats of physical excellence?

Well for guns it's the opposite. Designers are beholden to the pop culture idea that a gun is a magical death beam that either misses with a blaze of sparks even when striking hay bales and water, or it does grievous almost always lethal injuries. It doesn't matter that a gun should have the same arbitrary reckoning for damage as every other weapon, it's got to be super murderful because BLAM BLAM PEW PEW.

Logan story short: game designers need a diet heavier in Jet Li and Jackie Chan and lower in Johns Wayne, Woo and Rambo.

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