September 15, 2011

Ray Guns, Muskets, and Magic Wands

I'm torn.  I want easier attack rolls for special weapons like pistols, laser rifles, and lightning wands but the rules should be dead simple.  So, how should I handle an attack roll for firearms?  Any 0-level peasant should have a decent chance to hit a close target right?  Is armor totally ignored?  Do Dexterity modifiers to AC matter when the projectile is too fast to be seen?
Pew! pew! pew!

In Labyrinth Lord attacking with a ranged weapon is super easy and I think not all that realistic (and I'm not the only one).  Use Dex modifiers instead of Str to hit, +1 for short range, -1 for long range.  The end.  Having ranged rules that are so dead simple is a big plus at the table, but I feel like these provide a rather poor simulation for ranged attacks.  It's the range modifiers that rub me wrong.  I think those rules make sense if you are shooting into a column of troops, but shooting a single man-sized target at long range isn't that easy.
Bang! Bang!

So, what is best?  Leave well enough alone and use the same rules for firearms?  Use different rules for firearms only?  If I change ranged combat for everyone, do I change one thing, or everything, or some combination?  Maybe it would help to just list out all of the different options that I'm considering.

  • Option #1 - Change nothing.  Treat ray-guns and lightning wands like any any other ranged attack.  

Pro: Boom, done.
Con:  A goblin with a shotgun has a crappy attack roll.

  • Option #2 - Rework the ranged attack modifiers.  I think HackMaster has a nice balance of sane but simple ranged rules.  
Roll a smaller die at longer ranges.

Short Range: d20
Medium Range: d12
Long Range: d8

Fixed: Improves range one step  (One round to aim, lasts until you move)
Optical: Improves range two steps (One round to aim, lasts until you move)
Laser: +2 (can be combined with another sight)

Pro:  It feels less crappy than massive negative modifiers
Con:  I'd miss the loss of the natural 20 automatic hit.

  • Option #3 - Improved hit rolls.  Point and shoot weapons don't require a lot of training.  Shouldn't the attack roll be a lot easier than a bow or sling, especially at low levels?  I feel like a crossbow falls into this category too since the basics can be learned in a day.

Attack as a fighter whose level is equal to half your Dexterity (if your level of experience is higher, use that instead).  Amateurs may need to use the M-U or Cleric attack table until they get enough practice. 

Stationary target (or whatever else deserves a bonus): +2
Multiple shots (or whatever else deserves a penalty): -2

Pro:  That goblin with a shotgun looks more dangerous now.
Con:  Elvish archers are less dangerous than human crossbowmen.  Do I just assume that longer lifespan means higher level?

  • Option #4 - Ranged AC.  Use the attack roll from option #3, but the target has its AC modified by size.

Target Size Modifier: +/-2 per size category different from human standard
(Yeah I know, LL doesn't have size categories.  Maybe I'll use these.)

-10 Bug (<2") Fly, Flea
-8   Tiny (2"-6") Butterfly, Frog
-6   Wee (6"-1') Smurf, Rat
-4   Small (1'- 2') Cat, Imp
-2   Short (2' - 4') Halfling, Goblin
0    Average (4' - 8') Human, Elf, Dwarf
+2  Large (8' - 12') Ogre, Troll
+4  Giant (12' - 21') Most Giants, Wyvern
+6  Huge (21' - 32') Adult Dragon, Tyrannosaurus
+8  Gargantuan (32' - 64') Old Dragon, Kraken
+10Colossal (>64') Ancient Dragon, Roc

Pro:  I like the idea of AC for firearms based on the size of the target profile. 
Con:  I don't want to deal with an extra chart in combat.  Also, do dragon scales deflect bullets?

I guess that's about it.  I'm leaning toward option #3 and nothing else, but I keep changing my mind.  Anyone have suggestions?


  1. Have you considered having a proficiency bonus for certain weapons (a bit like 4th Ed. does), or having the damage dice reduce a step with range, rather than the to hit rolls?

  2. I don't have a 4th Ed. book handy. Do you mean something like this?

    hand guns/wands get +3 to hit
    shot guns +5 to hit

    That is tempting to me because it's easy. I still wish I could find an simple way to calculate a targets AC that disregards armor and/or thick hide. Shooting a knight in platemail should be equal in difficulty to shooting an unarmored man, right?

    I'm not too keen to reduce the damage dice. I'm planning to pair these hit rolls with the location/severity charts in my previous blog post. If you're saying that range should be a factor in hit location, I could be down with that.

    Thanks for the suggestions.

  3. Platemail still provides some benefit vs a bullet, just not as much as it does vs a blade. Cigarette cases and a wad of letters can save someone's life as can a helmet so platemail still mattering a bit doesn't hurt.

    Don't targets get a save vs wands typically? Are you dumping the save? If you do drop the save it changes how effective wands are relative to the target. Hit roll and save will relegate wands to second class items for sure.

    Shifting dice sizes is certainly less to keep track of than a chart of modifiers but it changes how the game feels.

  4. "Platemail still provides some benefit vs a bullet, just not as much as it does vs a blade."

    That's true. I suppose I should just leave well enough alone. I don't really want to try extricating the armor bonus from monster ACs anyhow. Too much work for too little fun.

    The wands came in as sort of an afterthought. I'm still unsure about changing the existing wands (for the reasons you mentioned), but I would like to add a number of lesser wands. Attack roll, d4 damage, limited "ammo". Rechargeable with access to laboratories.

    I'm just tired of seeing M-Us trying to use slings and daggers in combat, so I thought they could use an alternative that gives a sense of style. I'd balance the improved attack rolls with unpredictable charge capacity and a recharge cost of about 15gp per visit. Charge capacity is 2d10. The player rolls one, I roll the other secretly.

  5. I would take option 1, with special cases for weapons like shotguns that have a wide area of effect. Rifles, pistols, and ray guns can easily work just like crossbows. For shotguns, you could just treat them like dragon breath (allow a save).