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Worlds of Design: Gun vs. Sword

Lanchester’s Power [Linear and Square] Laws mean that combat in science fiction RPGs will usually be fundamentally different than combat in fantasy RPGs. Or the designer will have to somehow compensate, as in Star Wars.

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Image by Andrea Wierer from Pixabay

F. W. Lanchester, a polymath, inventor, and co-founder of operations research (a subfield of applied mathematics), examined before and during World War I the effects of melee and firepower in attritional combat. This examination was part of Lanchester’s Power Laws. Here we’re discussing how these differences mean that combat in fantasy RPGs, as compared with science fiction RPGs, will usually be fundamentally different unless the designer somehow compensates, as in Star Wars.

Lanchester calculated that in attritional melee the strength of a force is proportional to its number, because there is no action at a distance (“Lanchester’s Linear Law”). It amounts to a 1 vs. 1 environment. In an era of firepower, where military units can act at a distance, the strength of a force in attritional combat is proportional to the square of its numbers. (Hence, “Lanchester’s Square Law.”)

For example, in a melee of 5 vs 10 (or 5,000 vs 10,000), in the time it takes the 5 to inflict one damage, the 10 will inflict two damage (or 1,000 and 2,000 damage). In a firepower situation, the 5 have a relative strength of 25, while the 10 have a relative strength of 100, or 1 to 4. So in the time it takes the 5 to inflict one damage, the 10 will inflict four.

Thinking in immediately practical terms, imagine a typical sword/axe/club melee in an RPG versus a typical pistol and rifle and grenade fight today, and more in a future of blasters. (Keep in mind, the monsters we often fight are also melee weapons, in effect.) Without the effects of fantasy superheroes, the melee is man-against-man, and even a great swordsman cannot dominate a big melee. In the fight of today or the future, a man with a ranged weapon, especially an automatic weapon or an explosive-projecting weapon, can kill dozens in a short time.

A designer of a science fiction RPG faces a problem; firepower-based combat must be very different from melee combat, and probably less satisfying for the players. What can the author/designer do to solve this problem plausibly?

Star Wars compensates for this with the Jedi and light sabers. An adequately trained Jedi with a light saber can block huge numbers of blaster bolts without fail (even though it’s physically impossible if three shots are on target at the same time). He/she can use their light saber to overcome opposing armor and other factors associated with advanced weapons technology, right down to cutting through steel bulkheads. The more or less artificial scarcity of light sabers assures that few soldiers have these advantages, quite apart from the Jedi’s Force powers. Of course, Star Wars Stormtroopers can’t hit the broad side of a barn, either, nor do they use automatic weapons and explosives much.

In many ways, you can think of melee vs firepower as the difference between knife fights and automatic/semi-automatic gunfights. The movie Starship Troopers just ignores tanks and aircraft in order to provide a more visceral melee-like experience as troops fight monsters at short range and hand-to-hand. “Let’s ignore our invulnerable stuff and only bring a knife to the knife fight.” Duh. I think of E. R. Burroughs’ Barsoom stories, where many melees took place in a land with very long-range rifles and explosive bullets, because of “honor” - it was dishonorable to escalate a swordfight to a gunfight. This is one way that an author or designer can compensate for firepower: just don’t use it (except for ship-to-ship combat).

Back to fantasy. What about archery? Standard archery is much closer to melee than firepower, owing to short range, slow action (crossbows), and ammunition limitations. When English longbowmen dominated battles in the Hundred Years War*, they used a weapon that could be fired rapidly by skilled archers, yet use a large supply of ammunition because England was mobilized to mass produce (and transport) arrows. After the development of muskets, longbows would still have been a better weapon given skilled archers and a massive supply of arrows; but musket ammunition was far more compact and easily produced, and it was far easier to train a man to fire a musket adequately, than to fire a longbow rapidly.

Where fantasy moves into the realms of firepower is magic-users using fireballs, lightning bolts, and similar area effect damage spells. Which may help us understand why spellcasters can be the “ace in the hole” and can dominate a battle. Dragon fire may have similar effects.

In other words, there’s rarely a pure melee or pure firepower skirmish situation in games. Yet the higher you move on the spectrum from tactical to strategic, the more Lanchester’s Linear and Square Laws take effect, even though his mathematics only applied to a specific kind of battle. I have simplified the specific circumstances of the Laws for this short piece. You can get more detail from the Wikipedia article cited above.

I’m sure readers can provide many other examples of ways authors and designers have returned science fiction skirmishes to melee parameters.

*Reference: Bernard Cornwell’s excellent historical novels about the battles of Crecy and Agincourt. The protagonist is an English longbowman.
 
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Lewis Pulsipher

Comments

Celebrim

Hero
I wonder if early D&D's outsized influence on the hobby hasn't had something to do with the issue. By the time I started in '80, it seemed like there was a clear narrative about guns being bad in D&D, with the corresponding expectation that they must be something terribly overpowered.

Could it have been that guns were originally considered 'bad' in D&D, merely for being anachronistic and contrary to genre, not overpowered? But, the general gaming community has a perception that guns to be 'realistically' put into D&D, must be wands o' insta-death?
I don't think there is anything concrete you could say about old school play, nor a blanket description you could give of the motivations. Certainly we know that Greyhawk had guns, and probably a lot of other games had guns. And the motivations of the individual tables for not embracing guns were probably diverse, and did include a desire to stay true to a perceived genre or perceived conventions of history.

I think part of the problem has to do with the fact that simultaneously our culture fetishizes guns and fears them, a situation that I think has a lot to do with the decline of practical experience with guns and particularly with practical experience of guns as a tool. I grew up with guns everywhere, but no one I knew romanticized guns either. And the only time I ever saw a gun treated as a snake that might leap up and bite you was when for safety's sake a young cousin had to be traumatized about touching guns after he got one out and treated it like a toy, and that only until he was old enough to understand and put one to practical use (which in many families, started at around age 5).

But whatever the larger cultural gestalt might have been, at least at the tables I was familiar with at the time, wanting to bring guns into a game was seen as a very stereotypical sort of Munchkinism - the inevitable thing that a player just cutting their teeth on the game would hit on as a highly original idea likely to lead to the them 'winning' the game. No guns was seen mostly as opposition to a certain immature perspective on the game: a stance that shut down attempts to overcome obstacles in ways that the player thought were 'thinking out of the box' but which were really just banal, metagamey, and attempts to win by getting the table to agree to changing the rules. The older gamer would say something like, "No guns. Gunpowder doesn't work on this world. Beside, read Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. He got there years before you did."

Realistic guns aren't the wands of insta-death that the Munchkin's imagine, but they change the game world in ways that are contrary to the Munkchkin's purposes. The characters that get the most out of guns aren't the Heroes, but the Commoners. The ordinary goblin mooks get far more out of a rifled mini-ball caplock musket or an M16 assault rifle than leveled characters ever would. As the old saying goes, "God made men. Sam Colt made them equal." And we could use more inclusive language than that probably. It's not I think a coincidence that women's suffrage and followed after the invention of a weapon that made sheer athleticism not the sole essence of military prowess. After all, the essential truth of male and female equality had been decided on in the West a good 2000 years prior, but no one ever really acted on it until a young lady could shoot the head off a fly at 20 paces. Guns might not be wands of instadeath, but by levelling the playing field they have a tendency to be anti-heroic, and play against those great ape fantasies of being all important and the center of all attention.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
If Gary thought guns were inherently bad or hated, he wouldn't have included in the 1e DMG how to incorporate Gamma World and Boot Hill into your game. And Expedition to the Barrier Peaks would have never been a thing.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
On guns in D&D, a thought I've had recently is that early D&D is based on some very bad research that got passed around from the mid-Victorian era to at least the late 1980s. Names of armour being one example, old stories about a knight needing a crane to get on his horse would be another (I recall children's history book from when I was six or seven featuring this, that was 1988/1987). The very idea that firearms were the death knell of knights in shining armour because a firearm would punch a hole in the plate and the man wearing it was relatively prevalent for a long time. So this myth gets picked up by the early gaming community, many of whom were history nerds, and the only way to make that work in game is to give guns stupid high amounts of damage, thus nobody wanted to use them.

We've generally accepted that end of the knight as heavy cavalry didn't end because guns killed them too well, it ended because guns eventually made them obsolete. The changing face of warfare meant a heavily armoured man on a horse with a lance wasn't as useful as two dozen men armed with guns. Thus, the local lord hired a dozen men with guns rather than buy himself a fancy suit of armour and a trained war horse.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
I think there were more movie/book nerds that were gamers than history nerds. What I mean by that is that I'm sure at any given game table, most also watched fantasy movies, but few if any were actually history buffs. Therefore, I think a lot of these misconceptions in the community were based off of movies and books that were inaccurate as opposed to the actual historical accuracy.

For example, the super heavy armor that needed a crane is a scene from the movie Sword of the Valiant from 1984 (I'm sure there were other references as well, that's just off the top of my head). And let's be honest. Fantasy movies from the late 70s and early 80s (a huge rise in them in that period) weren't exactly known for their historical accuracy.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
“Guns vs Sword” is just such a loaded topic and I doubt there’s even a meaningful consensus on terms.

I mean, what level of tech (roughly) is permissible in your medieval fantasy game? Renaissance? Golden age of piracy? American Revolution? American Civil War? Wild West? WWI? II?

Do we need as many variations of “pistol” as we have of “sword”?

How do we consider physical space? If we can shoot a rifle at even a modest range, we’re gonna need a few feet’s worth of 1” squares.

What do you want to do about loudness? Are we firing in a cramped dungeon hall? Does that mean anything?

Or - scrapping all real world assumptions, do we go back and say “well, this is a world of classical elements, crafted by deities and molded by heroic action, so we have guns but they aren’t quite like you understand them because it’s a magical world and the rules are different”?

And then, we haven’t really even addressed their implementation as game elements. How ‘different’ should they be? How easy to use? How fair compared to other ranged weaponry? How about cover fire? I mean, yeah, we’ve talked about it some. We’ve seen some games take some stabs at it (with some real success, too). But not quite a good, easy integration into d&d.

That’s aside from the “Well, actually...” objections that are sure to arise because everyone has a slightly different take on what Should Be.

And in the end I’m just not at all sure on how to weigh in on gun vs sword. Except that I wouldn’t start with the real world comparison. I think I’d start in the game world (though I’m not even certain about that).
 

Imaculata

Explorer
I mean, what level of tech (roughly) is permissible in your medieval fantasy game? Renaissance? Golden age of piracy? American Revolution? American Civil War? Wild West? WWI? II?
I'm currently using all manner of flintlock weapons in my pirate campaign. This includes some variants that were invented over the span of several centuries, but I handwave that for the sake of weapon diversity.

Do we need as many variations of “pistol” as we have of “sword”?
I feel that we do. It is one of the first things I added when playing D20 Modern and D20 Scifi. Guns with different ammo capacity, different calibers, different range, different damage dice. An extra rule we added is that longarms are easier to disarm, to make bullpop weapons have a distinct advantage in close quarters.

How do we consider physical space? If we can shoot a rifle at even a modest range, we’re gonna need a few feet’s worth of 1” squares.
We have had to add some extra homebrew sniper rules, since the existing systems did not account for such a specialization.

What do you want to do about loudness? Are we firing in a cramped dungeon hall? Does that mean anything?
For my group I have come up with a system of weapon mods, that allow players to reduce the muzzle flash and loudness of their weapon at the cost of either damage, range or accuracy, to make their weapons harder to notice when firing. This means that when firing from a hidden position, an enemy needs to succeed on a perception check to find out where the shooter is shooting from. Louder guns with bigger muzzle flashes are easier to spot.

And then, we haven’t really even addressed their implementation as game elements. How ‘different’ should they be? How easy to use? How fair compared to other ranged weaponry? How about cover fire? I mean, yeah, we’ve talked about it some. We’ve seen some games take some stabs at it (with some real success, too). But not quite a good, easy integration into d&d.
This is a good question. In our games we allow for cover fire, but we don't really have a clear rule for it. We basically leave it up to the DM to improvize a ruling. We have added different types of ammunition as well, to add special effects to the damage that guns can do (fire,cold,radiation, armor penetration, knockback).
 

S'mon

Legend
An ancedotal bit - I was talking to a not-closely related relative at a family gathering who was in the armed forces at the time and had been deployed overseas. He mentioned that boot camp teaches them how to attack, but doesn't teach them how to kill people. That not being able to pull the trigger and kill a human in their sights was a big problem.
My ex's grand dad's WW2 anecdotes from the 3rd Infantry Division are full of tales of NOT killing Germans when he had the chance. I saw 'Bomb Happy' at the Edinburgh Fringe recently and it had some of that too.

But it may have been a factor of 'civilians in uniform' with enemies of a common race & culture. The WW2 Pacific Theatre, and Vietnam War, seem to have been completely different. It may also have been an ethnic-European thing,or at least common-culture thing. I don't think WW2 Japanese & Chinese had this problem.
 

Arnwolf666

Explorer
For me - and note D&D does not accomodate this well - for firearms and the like you need to incorporate cover, positioning, overwatches, and so on. Give it some elements of a chess game as combatants try to outmaneuver each other. I strongly dislike attempts to give firearms ridiculous amounts of damage; they shouldn't be much different from a sword. A solid hit from either will finish you in real life; in a game it'll probably graze you or whatever until the shot/blow which takes you down.

That's just my preference though. Other people will feel differently, which is fine.
I would be intrigued to see a system like that, although in general I am happy with pistols 1d6 rifles 1d10 I am open to what u r proposing over just giving firearms big damage.
 

Arnwolf666

Explorer
Imo what affects the gun vs sword debate the most is the HP system a RPG uses. The more tank like characters are, the less sense do guns make. Thats why D20 Games have always struggled with them.

No matter the HP, melee combat generally stays the same. Two combatants meet, one stabs the other until he dies and the winner moves on. This generally stays the same with lots of HP, only that there are several cimbat rounds until one of them dies.

On the other hand, HP fundamentally alter the way ranged weapons/guns are used. The entire point of those weapons is to kill someone from far away, but except for maybe 1st level this win't happen. The enemy will always reach you unless you have a meat shield, you will always need several shots to kill one guy and you always need to plan around melee combat.

The more advanced the gun is, the more obvious this difference between "reality" (or what people expect from reality) and the game becomes.
If you want guns you need to throw away the HP system first.
Try playing call of Cthulhu with 9 hit points against rifles that do 4d6 damage. It’s a very different experience.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Ultimately the solution is going to be to design down from guns to melee weapons, I actually mostly go ranged and then melee as two distinct categories, except ranged is dominant. Anything modern to SF, firearms will dominate; early modern to medieval-classical, fantasy, melee weapons, which is basically the historical truth of the battlefield.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I do think that the more you are dealing with something like a bullet, which flies too fast to be reacted to, the less easy it is to swallow the explanation that the character is dodging at the last minute and thus only being nicked by the attack. At some point if you mix guns and classic D&D style hit point system, it just feels like the hits should be more random and if more random then more lethal instead of concentrated around the edge of the target as they would be in D&D.
Perhaps that is how some people look at it, but to me a character with high HP isn't dodging the bullet (unless he's Neo), he's dodging the gunman. Which is really what is happening with a sword as well. Bullets can't generally change direction mid-flight, but a swordsman can certainly adjust his attack mid thrust (switching to a feint and then attacking from a new angle).

My ex's grand dad's WW2 anecdotes from the 3rd Infantry Division are full of tales of NOT killing Germans when he had the chance. I saw 'Bomb Happy' at the Edinburgh Fringe recently and it had some of that too.

But it may have been a factor of 'civilians in uniform' with enemies of a common race & culture. The WW2 Pacific Theatre, and Vietnam War, seem to have been completely different. It may also have been an ethnic-European thing,or at least common-culture thing. I don't think WW2 Japanese & Chinese had this problem.
I think what it comes down to is that people are complicated. I have little doubt that irrespective of the war, there were inexperienced soldiers who hesitated at killing, as well as those who had no such reticence. Those who study such matters may be able to suss out generalities, but those will not necessarily apply to any given individual.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
This gets to flavoring HP. Players always like the think of HP as literal "health" like the Doom guy's picture getting wounded as it runs out. Then you use bandages, and hey presto, no more bleeding wounds!

I'm with Morrus, I much prefer the 5E style of HP as "stamina" where you are running down and getting sloppier. A high level character is more alert, has better instincts, and superior situational awareness to avoid being genuinely injured. This is why you heal to full with resting.
That's not just new to 5E, I'm pretty sure that Gygax made roughly the same justification back in the day.

The problem is that things like falling damage end up feeling rather ridiculous for high level characters. So a lot of it comes down to what you want hit points to represent, which necessarily involves choosing which parts of the game won't be so well represented.

All that said, I do think that hit points, as warty as they can be, are practical. They allow the game to proceed with very dramatically different scales of monsters.
 

MGibster

Explorer
I remember reading something about the ridiculousness of hit points in regards to Palladium Fantasy (which isn't D&D of course) written in to one of the gaming magazines in the 1980s. It had something to do with a PC deciding to just throw himself on a grenade because he had enough SDC* to absorb all the damage. The reply was something along the lines of, "If the PCs do something that should logically just kill them then just let them die." And I think that's good advice. A dagger might only do 1d4 points of damage but if a PC wants to use one to kill themselves I'm going going to roll for an attack and let him whittle away at those hit points.
 

Hussar

Legend
/snip

As Morrus said upthread, there's this myth we have as gamers to make guns more lethal by comparison than swords, and that's not really as true as people assume. We look at what a 9mm FMJ round does to a clay block and compare that damage to the damage of driving a knife inside it and make that assumption. Fair, but a bit misplaced. There are people who have survived two dozen knife wounds, and people who have survived over a dozen bullet wounds. And there are people who died from one knife wound and people who have died from one bullet wound. There are so many factors, it's just easier to treat them pretty close to the same (just assign a reasonable damage value of the weapon).
Fair enough. But a 9mm pistol round isn't exactly the standard here is it? As soon as we go to long gun rounds, I don't care how strong you are, a .308 round is a HELL of a lot more damaging than a knife or a sword. And, 7.62 mm (close enough to .308) is pretty standard for military grade rifles in a lot of the world. Even 5.56 (NATO) rounds are devastatingly effective.

And, that's not even getting into heavier caliber weaponry.

Frankly, I think this is where the problem lies. Swords and knives, sure, they can kill you. But, if I'm in plate armor, you can bang on my breastplate until the cows come home and all you're really doing is making noise. OTOH, 7.62 mm will blows nice neat holes through that armor and nicely shred the juicy meat bag underneath.

The problem is, we accept a completely abstract combat system in fantasy, but, as soon as we get into modern weaponry (never minding SF weapons which should be even more effective), suspension of disbelief gets a lot harder because a lot of us know what these weapons can do. Unlike swinging a sword, there's lots of us here who actually have fired firearms.

Or, to put it another way, if knives and swords actually were equivalent to firearms, why have they been more or less completely replaced as the weapon of choice?
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Fair enough. But a 9mm pistol round isn't exactly the standard here is it? As soon as we go to long gun rounds, I don't care how strong you are, a .308 round is a HELL of a lot more damaging than a knife or a sword. And, 7.62 mm (close enough to .308) is pretty standard for military grade rifles in a lot of the world. Even 5.56 (NATO) rounds are devastatingly effective.

And, that's not even getting into heavier caliber weaponry.

Frankly, I think this is where the problem lies. Swords and knives, sure, they can kill you. But, if I'm in plate armor, you can bang on my breastplate until the cows come home and all you're really doing is making noise. OTOH, 7.62 mm will blows nice neat holes through that armor and nicely shred the juicy meat bag underneath.

The problem is, we accept a completely abstract combat system in fantasy, but, as soon as we get into modern weaponry (never minding SF weapons which should be even more effective), suspension of disbelief gets a lot harder because a lot of us know what these weapons can do. Unlike swinging a sword, there's lots of us here who actually have fired firearms.

Or, to put it another way, if knives and swords actually were equivalent to firearms, why have they been more or less completely replaced as the weapon of choice?
Couple things. A 7.62 IS a .308 for all intents an purposes, just like a .223 is a 5.56. I’m being pedantic, I know lol

Also, a .308 isn’t more damaging than a sword, or axe, or mace. As Morrus was inferring, and I was also saying, there are a lot of factors. Location being one of them. A sword can take your head off (or another limb). A .308 can shatter bones and cause a wound channel bad enough you might as well have had your head decapitated, but it isn’t more damaging.

The armor thing certainly is a worthy topic, and one we’ve all had. With that, I’d say because we already ignore how a bodkin arrow or spear or thrusting sword make mail armor obsolete, (we still give the target full AC value), then it’s not unfair to do the same with firearms. Well, in 1e Gygax accounted for it, but we quickly found out how most gamers ignored that chart. Therefore, it’s fair to assume players shouldn’t get caught up with firearms either if they want to be consistent.

And if you do want to account for it, just give a bonus to hit against armored targets.

For you last question, it’s because you need way less training with a firearm, and you have a much greater effective range. That’s said, when I was in the military in the 90s, we were still very much trained in hand to hand combat with things like bayonets because you run out of ammo
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
I think modern weapons are largely overrated in lethality compared to melee weapons. I blame pop culture and media representations. For example, in the Vegas shooting (5.56 cal used), there were 58 killed, and 422 wounded by bullets). In D&D terms, the victims were all commoners. So what would be the damage range for a weapon that when a successful hit is made, 15% or so die? Is it more than a sword?
 

S'mon

Legend
Heavier high velocity rounds, especially rifles, just ARE a lot more deadly than arrows or melee weapons. One big reason seems to be that stabbing & slashing weapons slide through flesh - the flesh has time to 'get out of the way' - while high velocity bullets tear and destroy it. At the higher range bullets impart huge amounts of energy, far more than a physical blow could.

Now, no weapon instantly/quickly kills people most of the time until you're getting up into stuff firing .50 long ammunition like the Browning .50 machine gun and Barratt .50 sniper rifle - knife & sword wounds don't; arrows certainly don't; bullets don't. Hollywood certainly massively over rates the lethality of all weapons. That doesn't mean some aren't more lethal than others.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
The problem is that things like falling damage end up feeling rather ridiculous for high level characters. So a lot of it comes down to what you want hit points to represent, which necessarily involves choosing which parts of the game won't be so well represented.

All that said, I do think that hit points, as warty as they can be, are practical. They allow the game to proceed with very dramatically different scales of monsters.
I agree that hit points are quite practical.

That said, I think that most issues with HP go away if we simply reframe how we look at them.

Hit points (IMO) are essentially akin to the resilience that important characters in a story have (aka, plot armor). If you're watching TV or reading a book, and an important character falls off a ledge and plumets to their inevitable demise, there's a nearly 100% chance that the character will survive. To the point where that old trope has been a cliche for years now.

Generally speaking, it's not really an issue unless you're expecting HP to model reality or there's metagaming involved.

In the former, a high level character is among the great heroes, like Hercules or Odysseus, so expecting realism is arguably about having mismatched expectations. If Hercules or Odysseus tumbled off a cliff you can bet either one would walk away from it.

As for the latter, it can be an issue if players of high level characters have them behave as though they were aware of that plot armor, but outside of perhaps comedy, we'd balk at any writer that had a character behave in such a manner (throwing themselves off cliff after cliff because "I've got the hit points". In that case it isn't the HP system that is at issue, but rather the player's metagaming.

I remember reading something about the ridiculousness of hit points in regards to Palladium Fantasy (which isn't D&D of course) written in to one of the gaming magazines in the 1980s. It had something to do with a PC deciding to just throw himself on a grenade because he had enough SDC* to absorb all the damage. The reply was something along the lines of, "If the PCs do something that should logically just kill them then just let them die." And I think that's good advice. A dagger might only do 1d4 points of damage but if a PC wants to use one to kill themselves I'm going going to roll for an attack and let him whittle away at those hit points.
This brought to mind an episode of MASH where a grenade gets tossed and (IIRC) Col Potter throws himself on the grenade. There's a tense moment, but the grenade is a dud, and everyone is okay.

That said, if the player throws his character on grenade after grenade, I'd agree, just let them die.

Back in the day, when we were playing 3rd edition, we ended up with a very high level party (somewhere around 25 I think). We came across a group of powerful creatures who had opposed us for much of the campaign. They offered to allow us to be reborn as one of them, and offered us a rusty dagger. And that's the story of how, one-by-one, each character of a epic level party slit their own throat. Self inflicted TPK. The DM still likes to trot that one out when he's in the mood to gloat.

Fair enough. But a 9mm pistol round isn't exactly the standard here is it? As soon as we go to long gun rounds, I don't care how strong you are, a .308 round is a HELL of a lot more damaging than a knife or a sword. And, 7.62 mm (close enough to .308) is pretty standard for military grade rifles in a lot of the world. Even 5.56 (NATO) rounds are devastatingly effective.

And, that's not even getting into heavier caliber weaponry.

Frankly, I think this is where the problem lies. Swords and knives, sure, they can kill you. But, if I'm in plate armor, you can bang on my breastplate until the cows come home and all you're really doing is making noise. OTOH, 7.62 mm will blows nice neat holes through that armor and nicely shred the juicy meat bag underneath.

The problem is, we accept a completely abstract combat system in fantasy, but, as soon as we get into modern weaponry (never minding SF weapons which should be even more effective), suspension of disbelief gets a lot harder because a lot of us know what these weapons can do. Unlike swinging a sword, there's lots of us here who actually have fired firearms.

Or, to put it another way, if knives and swords actually were equivalent to firearms, why have they been more or less completely replaced as the weapon of choice?
A near miss is still a near miss, whether it's from a .308 or a .22. That's what I'd argue is the case for a high hit point character facing off against someone with a modern military rifle. You might be getting peppered with debris as the rounds shred through anything around you, but you haven't actually been hit until you're reduced to 0. I could totally see a rule that makes stabilizing a character brought to 0 with such a weapon more difficult.

There were weapons even before modern rifles that were designed to kill an armored opponent. Warhammers and the like. No standing around all day against those weapons. You could always bring back the old weapon vs armor charts if that sort of thing interests you, but it's not my thing.

That said, some games like Stars Without Number do go a more realistic approach. More advanced weaponry will typically ignore less advanced armor. High powered weapons are likely to put a low level character on the ground in one shot. Even high level characters probably can't handle more than 2 or 3 shots. Truly powerful weapons, like those mounted on a starship, will outright kill most characters unless the GM rules otherwise. Of course, the game makes it possible to resuscitate dying characters with med patches or psychic powers (unless the GM rules that the character is beyond saving), and also makes rolling up replacement characters fairly quick. Obviously, SWN assumes a less heroic tone by default.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
The new Star Trek Adventures game has an interesting asymmetry to range vs. melee combat which is I think designed not to be realistic, but rather to justify genre expectations <...>
STA and the other Modiphius 2D20 games are 100% aimed at genre emulation more than any kind of simulation of "reality." For instance, Stress and Wounds, which are common to all 2D20 games, are quite clearly set up to feel like a fairly pulpy action show and in STA you have to take Threat to make lethal attacks. STA's starship combat is really quite good, too. It "feels" like starship combat in the shows.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
I agree that hit points are quite practical.

That said, I think that most issues with HP go away if we simply reframe how we look at them. Hit points (IMO) are essentially akin to the resilience that important characters in a story have (aka, plot armor). <...>

Generally speaking, it's not really an issue unless you're expecting HP to model reality or there's metagaming involved.
I agree, the real issue shows up when people start meta-gaming Hit Points. Falling I think is one of the worst examples in D&D, though, because of how much experience people have IRL with it (alas, I have a lot of experience with falling, and the injuries to prove it). I agree with you that in many ways "plot armor" would make a fall not lethal, but it's not something that one would blithely laugh off either, but that's exactly what a high level fighter type can do. The issue here is not that other things aren't analogous, such as getting stomped on by a dragon, but because it starts to hit the "uncanny valley" and rub against the secondary reality people are trying to build in the game. Metagaming this is so bad because it exploits a strange aspect of the rules.
 

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