Tales from the Gazebo – Guns in Games: Draw Lunger!

Guns in Games: Draw Lunger!
By Cape Rust

In the real world as time marched on, so did the advances in gun technology. Black powder and flintlocks gave way to cartridges, single shot weapons became multi-shot weapons, and things got much more dangerous to the folks or creatures who found themselves on the business end of these improved firearms. From a gaming perspective, two of the gun genres that RPGs seem to be cover are Western (American west) and Steampunk (everywhere).

Let’s start with the Wild West.

I know worldwide there were plenty of other things going on during the real world time of the American Wild West, but let’s face it, the American Wild West is cool, like really cool, like so cool that someone should make a game or twenty about it. Wait they already have, damn my slow working mind. For me, playing TSRs Boot Hill (henceforth and furthermore statements like that will be referred to as gamedropping and should be treated in a similar fashion to name dropping only with more love) was the first RPG I played that was actually designed from day one to have guns in it. Sure my GM might have added a gun or two in a few Advanced Dungeons & Dragons games, I might even remember a laser or two, but for me Boot Hill started my relationship with guns in RPGs. From a rules standpoint, games that are designed to have guns in them lay out the gun rules and there should only be a few questions. There were not many times in any of the Boot Hill games where we had to figure out if a bullet could penetrate full plate, it just never happened…  I don’t remember the rules that TSR used regarding guns, but I know they existed.

The great thing about rules is that they were made to be broken, as long as it is in the name of fun. I mention this because as a GM, if you decided to play guns by the book or RAW (Rules As Written), then they end up being no fun. The Wild West culture was shaped with the gun and stayed wild because of the gun; this has to translate into your Wild West game. The first thing you have to decide is do you want your gunplay to be more or less lethal. After you have made this very important decision, then check the rulebook for the system you are going to run your Wild West game in to see if it jives with your lethality decision. If the rules and you don’t agree, modify them – it isn’t rocket science. When or if you go this route, I recommend letting your players know what you are doing and why. They might have some good input on the issue, or at the very least you will be able to keep the resident rules lawyer at bay. If you have watched the gunplay in most westerns you can see how exciting it can be. I was watching Tombstone last night and one thing I noticed was that while the gunfight at the OK Corral was exciting, you could see just how many shots it took for each side to actually hit and or kill one another. I would say that realistic or not, this was the less lethal choice.

One thing that you as a GM have to keep in mind in a Wild West Game is ammo counts. When you are dealing with black powder guns in games, most are single shot, in western games many of the guns have a much greater ammo capacity. There are several ways to keep track of ammo that are practical and can be really cool. For your normal revolver, a six sided dice works just fine. Start the die at 6 and work your way down. The coolest way I’ve seen the round count handled was a person who cut some holes in a piece of circular wood that looked like a revolver cylinder and placed actual brass ammo casings in each of the holes. Every time a character took a shot they would remove a shell casing. This might seem like a lot of work, but little things like that really make games breathe. Best of all, touches like that get you great GM points as well.

In the real world, walk ten paces, turn, and draw or even quick draw gunfights didn’t happen near as much as the movies would like us to think, but they are so darn cool there should be plenty of them in your game. If one of these is happening and you’d rather not see your low level player get killed, a little rules bending and a fatal shot turns into a gun getting shot out of that same players hand, adding insult to injury.  Because your Wild West game will normally end up in a gun fight, make it interesting. Sure those aforementioned quick draw contests are cool, but isn’t it even cooler if right as they are about to happen a bar fight spills out into the street right between the two duelers? Or what if a local group of bandits decides to ride into town at that very moment with guns blazing? A one-on-one gun fight is cool , but try to limit those to the very end where the fate of the entire adventure or campaign hinges on the success or failure of the player character involved.

I don’t think weapons dependability is near as much of a factor in western games, as it tends to take the fun out of the whole thing. I’m not saying this shouldn’t be a factor, but much less of one than it would be with other settings. The only time I would really bring the reliability issue into play during a Wild West game would be after a jump from a cliff into a pool of water below a waterfall or in the case of unique gun designs, like one with six barrels,  a really strange caliber, or a really tiny gun.

Wild West games should never lose the wild and as a GM you have to ensure that gunplay, which is a major part of that wild, has to be interesting. Any GM can have two people draw, standing ten paces away from each other on a street. A good GM places their gunfights on the back of a stagecoach traveling at top speed on a narrow mountain path, out of control, on fire! Now that is wild.

Next week I tackle guns and Steampunk. See you then.

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