Tales from the Gazebo – Guns in Games: Parting Shots

Guns in Games: Parting Shots
By Cape Rust

Here we are at the end of my Guns in Games series. Rather than talking about a specific time period and the guns you might find in it, I want to finish this series by giving you, my fellow GMs, a few tips on describing guns in your games using sight, smell and feel.

Sight: visual descriptions are key to almost any successful RPG. In fact, I have met a few blind gamers who love RPGs because the GM has to take the time to describe in great detail each and every aspect of the gaming environment, guns are no exception. The setting often dictates the look of the guns or firearms in your game. If running a modern day campaign, finding images of the actual gun or an image that is close to the gun you want in an encounter should be really easy. Use your preferred search engine and type in something like “images of modern firearms.” If you have a working knowledge of firearms, then this search becomes even easier. If the people at your table are into FPSs, find out which games they play and find out which guns the game has and use that gun list as a point of reference. At the table it would sound something like this:

GM: The thug reaches behind his back and pulls out a Skorpion auto-pistol
Player: A what?

GM: You know a Skorpion auto-pistol like they use in COD
Player: You mean that nasty little full-auto thing?

GM: Yes that’s the one, and it looks even nastier when it is pointed at your character. The barrel looks about 3 feet wide and the curved magazine below it looks a little like it stretches for miles. Everything around and behind the gun blurs as you see the thugs finger start to squeeze the trigger.

You can see how describing the visuals of the gun and the situation create encounters your players remember.

Some guns are very distinctive in appearance while some are just recognizable because they are so prolific. Two of the most commonly seen rifles are the M-16/M-4 and the AK-47. The M-16/M-4 is the current issue weapon of the U.S. Military. In essence, the M-16 and M-4 are the same weapons. The M-4 is a carbine or shortened version of the M-16. The M-16 is known for its unique carrying handle and triangular front sight post. The M-4, these days, seems to be the gun that you can add almost anything to. Often the carrying handle is removed, but the weapon is still recognizable as a member of the M-16 family. The AK-47 is one of the most wildly distributed and produced gun ever. Many armies around the world use the AK-47. The large banana shaped magazine on the AK is it’s most distinctive feature, well that and it was in the hands of every Soviet soldier and is the weapon of choice for the Taliban and several other insurgent groups.

Some guns just look intimidating and as a GM you need to convey this. The red or green beam from a laser sight being placed on a PCs forehead or chest makes for a memorable scene that can easily be described. While the sight of guns can add to the feeling of an encounter, the smell and feel of guns are the icing on the cake.

If you have nothing to do with guns in the real world then this part of the article will make you seem like a seasoned gunslinger. Guns like any other object have certain scents and textures. Describing aspects like how a gun smells or feels will really put your players in the scene. Simply describing how a gun looks is OK, but why not take it a step further and give your players the full monty.

The nose knows; people often associate memories to scent and gamers are no different. Guns like bacon have smells associated with them. The oils and solvents used to clean guns are the most passive scent they have. If you have ever gotten to pick up a well cared for gun, it has a faint smell of gun oil. While subtle, this smell is important; one because it lets you know that at least the gun has been oiled and two, this smell might actually give the presence of the gun away to someone with an ability that enhances their scent. If a gun is heavily oiled, even a regular person might catch a faint whiff of it, kinda like John Matrix in the movie Commando. People who handle or clean guns have a distinct smell just after they have fired or cleaned those guns. If you don’t regularly handle guns, but have family members who do, think about how they smell just after they have cleaned a gun, it is distinct and memorable. This smell could be used as a clue in a mystery type of RPG or even in a Spy Thriller type game.

Guns all have a certain feel; customized guns feel just right in the hand of the user. Older guns made of all metal tend to have a heavy, almost earthy feel, while newer lighter guns tend to feel more like efficient machines. Semi-automatic pistols have different grip styles than revolvers and this difference in feeling might make the player feel more in-tune with whatever weapon they are using. The other thing is the feeling of the metal and even polymer components of a weapon. The slides on most semi-automatic guns are made of metal and when manipulating them, those slides have a distinct feeling. Some slides even have textured patterns on the sides to allow the user a better grip on them when they are chambering rounds. The same type of gun with two different grips can be a great clue for players to solve in that same mystery game.

Not every game will have guns but if your game does, try to incorporate some of the things I’ve mentioned in this series to make your game just a bit more interesting. No player wants to hear the guy is pointing a gun at you and it is black. Don’t make guns the focus of your game unless there is a special gun that has been stolen or there is a gun that the players have to steal to save the war or even the world. Take what I’ve discussed, lock and load and commence fun.

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