Guns are a tough nut to crack in game design. Where as melee weapons are easy to model with a simple attack / defense mechanic, guns present unique challenge. This challenge doubles if you want to make them passingly realistic and doubles again if you want guns and melee weapons to work in the same game.
A Problem of Caliber
The big difference between melee weapons and firearms is the range possibilities with guns. All melee weapons have the same basic mechanic – move the weapon towards the target as hard and fast as you can. The size of the weapon makes a bit of difference to the damage or the reach but from the game designers point of view, they are just variants on a theme.
Guns on the other hand range from single shot .22 Derringers to belt fed .50 caliber machine guns. Not to mention Flintlocks and similar black powered weapons. Each gun has its own mix of range, power and reloading times and whilst all are potentially fatal, the energies involved vary immensely.
Throw in rates of fire and things get really complex. An M-16 can empty a 30 round magazine in about three seconds. For a game based on six second combat rounds this means an assault rifle can deliver enough power to kill 30 people in half the time it takes to make a single attack with a sword. Consequently, in any vaguely realistic game, a firearms verses melee fight there should be no contest which makes game balance very difficult.
Bullet Deadliness Quotient
Fundamentally the question is how deadly should guns be? A cinematic game normally involves lots of flesh wounds for the hero but an even vaguely realistic setting puts any gunshot wound as potentially fatal. For a universal system which hopes to address a wide range of game styles, this is a big decision.
As my personal aim is to use firearms in post-apocalypse and Lovecraftian horror games, I’m interested in a level of realism in the guns. This leaves scope for the development of a much simplified system for more cinematic settings whilst still fulling my desire for a game where it matters what caliber of gun you fire.
“Shoot as fast as lightnin’ but it loads a mite slow”
Replicating the reloading of modern military firearms with their magazines is easy in a game but modeling the process for older or more basic weapons is much harder. Traditional RPGs, players simply state they are reloading and that’s it. For slower weapons, this could mean several rounds of doing nothing.
The 6d6 RPG card based approach offers a different way of tackling this. Because it involves moving physical objects around, this enables a more natural, flexible, engaging system that keeps the players involved whilst reloading.
Stack ‘Em High
The underlying mechanic is a Stack – a pile of cards. At the top is the gun card, underneath are the ammunition cards. For a belt fed machine gun, this would be a single card but for a six shooter it would be six individual bullet cards. When the gun is fired, cards are removed from the stack. To reload, the cards need to move from the deck to the stack.
For unskilled characters, this is a two step process. They use one Flow to move a bullet card from the deck to the pool and another to move it from the pool into the weapon. This represents approximately 36 seconds to load a 6 shot revolver which sounds like a long time but for an unskilled person under fire, fishing loose rounds out of a pocket, it is in the right ball park.
However characters with the relevant skill, either specific expertise in the gun or (possibly) a ‘Fast Reload’ feat, the bullets can be moved straight from the deck to the gun. This halves the reload time.
For magazine or belt fed guns, the supply of ammo is represented by a single card. This can be moved from the deck to the gun in one round for the unskilled or half a round for skilled characters. This approach gives skilled characters a suitable advantaged over unskilled characters and modern, magazine based weapons an advantage over older weapons.
It also gives a basis for modeling black power weapon. Rather than having to move a single round into the gun’s stack, additional cards can exist for each step of the process. Cards for ‘Swab Barrel’, ‘Load Powder’, ‘Load Ball’, ‘Tap Down Ball & Powder’, ‘Prime Pan’ and so on will each have to be ‘loaded’ into the gun. These cards add nothing to the damage of the gun but if the gun is fired without all the relevant cards being present, the shot just fizzles out.
Slow loading loading firearms (and game mechanics) such as this are unlikely to have a wide appeal, but as I design the 6d6 RPG, it is a good exercise to push the limits of the system. If I want it to be a universal system, it needs to be adaptable.
Single, Double & Full Auto
Classic wild west era pistols, are single action which means they need to be cocked between each shot. Double action weapons don’t need be but each shot fired requires a pull of the trigger. Automatic weapons fire multiple shots per pull of the trigger. These three different gun systems need to also make their mark on the game.
With single action guns, they card rotates after each use making them usable only once a round unless Flow is used to ready them again. Double action and automatic weapons do not rotate and stay in your pool after use. This allows the guns to be fired as many times in a round as the character wants as a series of distinct attacks. This sounds powerful (and is) but after the first or second shot, the character will be down to using only the gun card’s dice. Their skill cards will have been used up in the first shot or two making the later shots highly inaccurate.
The difference between fully automatic weapons and double action weapons is that the automatic weapons fire multiple rounds per attack. With each round adding to the attack, a five round burst coupled with skill in the weapon can make a realistically devastating attack on a single target. However, in trying to hit multiple targets in a round the shooter will quickly run out of skill cards, just like with a double action weapon, but they can rely on a pray-and-spray approach.
One aspect not yet explored is how recoil will be incorporated. For fully automatic weapons this is important and helps balance out the effects of a pray-and-spray shooting style.
Work in Progress
All these rules are still very much under development and have been subjected to only the briefest of testing so far. Experience tells me they will change notably in the next few weeks but I’m confident that the basics are in place and, most importantly, that the 6d6 RPG can handle it.
Image Credit – Ammo by Magnoid – CC-BY-SA-2.0