Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saintly Saturday: Synaxis of All Alaskan Saints

Today is the Synaxis of All Saints of Alaska (where Synaxis means gathering). On this day in 1794, Russian missionaries first set foot in Alaska. Today specifically remembers the two protomartyrs of America: St. Peter the Aleut (the first American martyr) and St. Juvenal (the first martyr on American soil). Those of you who have read this blog in the past may remember that I wrote about St. Juvenal a couple of months ago.

At that time, Gamer ADD caused me to start contemplating an FRPG setting based upon 18th century Alaska, where the colonial powers of Ruthenia and Albion vied for control over Alakshaq and the various native peoples. Here is another tremendously cool map for inspiration:

My preferred ruleset for this Gamer ADD-fueled endeavor is B/X (effectively emulated via LL). There is one major problem with this, however. While armor was still in limited use on 18th century battlefields (cavalry units still donned breast plates, for example), it was largely absent. The reason for this absence was the effectiveness of the most common weapon on 18th century battlefields — the gun.

For better or worse, D&D has never been very good at emulating the impact of the gun on combat. Even as armor technology has endeavored to literally stop bullets, soldiers on contemporary battlefields choose to go sans armor because the advantages in mobility and maneuverability outweigh the advantages of wearing armor.

As written, in D&D there are two basic mechanisms that can be used to try and emulate the effectiveness of guns: the "to hit" roll and the damage roll. In my opinion, neither works.
  • If guns have a bonus to hit, it incentivizes heavy armor — the opposite of what happened historically.
  • If guns get a bonus to damage it unrealistically inflates the damage done by guns. Question: which would you rather take a direct hit from, a flintlock gun or a sword? I am guessing that the vast majority of us would choose the gun over the sword because we would have a much better chance of surviving.
This means that if I want to use my preferred ruleset, I'd have to do some serious house rules. One possibility is to experiment with this idea, where armor = damage reduction. This way, guns could ignore certain amounts of that damage reduction. Thus, it can function as all other weapons do — the same "to hit" and same damage — while doing what guns historically did — render armor on the battlefield meaningless.

I'll end with a pair of questions:
  • What is your favorite attempt at introducing guns to D&D?
  • What is your favorite ruleset (preferably FRPG) for emulating guns?


  1. What about simply having guns ignore armor?

  2. What David said. The only problem with that is that you effectively have to maintain two separate AC values, the vs guns AC and the vs everything else AC. On the other hand, this does accurately reflect the value of mobility (i.e. dexterity) to combatants. I think "The Mighty Fortress" 2E historical book has some rules for handling guns, so that might be of value to consult.

  3. My first thought was the same as David's - have guns ignore the AC value of armor - Dex and Magic bonuses apply only.

    Oddly enough, I'm starting to read "A Mighty Fortress" as I consider what Early Modern D&D might look like with firearms, so I'll report back when I get to the section on firearms. I do remember guns used exploding damage (ie, if you roll the max damage on a dice, you get to roll the dice again and keep adding a new roll each time you max it).

  4. @David @Brendan
    My problem with guns ignoring armor is that it makes guns hyper-accurate. A 1st level fighter firing a bow or crossbow needs a 16 to hit someone in plate with no Dex bonus. That same fighter needs a 10 using a gun. I realize that D&D combat is abstract, being representative of both accuracy and the ability to do damage, but that kind of differentiation just seems way too unrealistic — especially if you consider the relative accuracy of flintlocks to bows and crossbows (where the latter are much more accurate especially at distance).

    Thanks for the suggestion — I'll keep an eye out for it.

  5. @Beedo
    Thanks...I look forward to your report.

  6. I like what I did for Old School Hack.

  7. I've switched over to a Dragon's at Dawn esque system for armorless combat settings. Basically each side rolls their hit dice + any modifiers for Str / Dex. if the attacker rolls higher they hit (roll for damage as per normal.) It can get to be a lot of dice chucking in large combats, but it's simple enough and doesn't require much modding of classes or monsters.

    If you want something as tad more complex you could check out "The Immortal Storm" for BECMI D&D. One of the locals the players visit in that module is Manhattan, and it contains an interesting set of rules for modern guns (and car collisions.) IS's basic gun rules are rather simple, but they get complex as soon as Weapon proficiency is added.

    Each gun has a size and an ammo size. Small guns deal damage based on the bullet size and have a set range, and large guns have twice the range and do twice the damage indicated by their bullet size, both types of gun get +4 to hit. Bullet size also determines reload time. If the to hit roll is high enough they target must roll save vs death ray or be stunned, or die (on a nat 20.) Weapon Proficiency works pretty much as per normal (increases to hit and damage,) but it also increase range of weapon and adds an aditional critical hit effect that adds a multiplier to damage.) Expert marksmen can choose to use a lower Weapon Proficiency, or take minimum damage to insure not to kill their target.

  8. My problem with guns ignoring armor is that it makes guns hyper-accurate.

    A major influence in my decision to decouple armour from "to-hit" in Chimera. The d20 roll needed to hit is your foe's movement rate, and armour absorbs damage. Some thoughts here:

    Also agree with BIUsKrEEm in that gun damage should be based on calibre. Chimera uses something like this:

    Calibre (mm) / Dmg
    1-9 / 1d4
    10-19 / 1d6
    20-39 / 1d8
    40-59 / 1d10
    60-119 / 1d12
    120+ / 1d20

    Chimera's autofire rules (not that you're using autofire for the setting above) allows for multiple damage die based on number of targets. Consider an WWII-era MG42 (7.92mm bullet). It does damage based on targets selected:

    Targets (Damage/target)
    1 (6d4)
    2 (3d4)
    3 (2d4)
    4 (1d4+2)
    5 (1d4+1)
    6 (1d4)

    Sorry for the long comment, but hoping that gets the wheels turning...

  9. To answer the second question, my favorite rule set dealing with guns is Chaosium's BRP, which is my go-to game overall: armor reduces damage rather than modifying the chance to-hit. Regarding firearms of the period you have in mind (muskets and prior), armor absorbs half the usual damage. I realize that doesn't work well with D&D-style games, though the earlier post you linked above looks like a good experiment.

  10. I had a thought:

    If a gun "misses" you but would've hit if it wasn't for your armor, then you still lose an action (or have a chance of losing one).

    That plus a light-crossbow-esque range and rate-of-fire (for old firearms) would account for everyone switching to them, and then switching to dexterity-based defensive tactics.

  11. I had a chance to skim the suggestions in A Might Fortress; there are indeed rules for exploding dice (so that a single fire arm hit could do exorbitant damage); there are rules for misfires and hanging fires on natural 1's and 2's; finally, Armor: close ranges reduce armor -5, but not less than what the unarmored person would be. I think medium range was -3, and long range -2.

    So a person with plate and shield, +2 dex and +1 magic would have AC -1 normally; against a firearm at close range, they'd be treated as AC 4. A person with plate and shield, no other bonuses is normally AC 2, AC 7 against a firearm at close range.

    I guess the assumption is damage reduction is part of the AC benefit, and close range give better penetrating power - it's a bit clumsy, though I suppose they could be calculated up front.

  12. I think a weapon vs. armor table is the way to go. It's a fairly heavy-weight change, but once embraced it makes it easy to have armor that works well against blades and poorly (or even negatively) against bullets.

  13. I think my favorite was an AD&D game I played, in which the DM had typed up entries for musketeer-appropriate firearms on the big weapon vs AC table. They all did d8 damage and had good to-hits. Worked fine. Yes, it made guns significantly more 'accurate', as in, likely to do damage.

    Of course you don't necessarily need AD&D's massive chart. Rules of thumb such as +2 vs leather and +3 vs chain or plate are easily remembered and applied. (I'd also recommend interpreting what is 'plate' broadly; pretty much whatever the top of the line protection is gets to be plate, AC3, and other forms of protection go down from there.) If you're concerned, rightly, of making historic firearms too likely to deliver effective fire, you can set short range increments and double/triple range penalties. The hit bonus vs. armor evaporates quickly when you hit medium range, but there's still nothing better than having two loaded pistols in the belt when a few enemies are breathing down your neck.