Thursday, September 1, 2016

What's the Deal With the Beam Weapons Skill?

In Comparison. How GURPS Handles How To Fire a Gun.
When it comes to the skill to use conventional guns, GURPS is not only well covered it's also pretty well conceived. In practice it's actually several related skill specialties and, for the most part, broken down by how you use a given fire arm. For example Guns (Pistols) covers hand guns, Guns (Rifles) covers long arms, Guns (SMG) cover rapid fire long arms that fire pistol caliber projectile while there's even some odd ball weapons covered like Guns (Gyroc) which are gun shaped rocket launchers! The list of specialties covered by Guns is further expanded in other GURPS works such as the Guns (Wrist Gun) specialty introduced in GURPS High-Tech.They also have really generous defaults off of each other. Basic guns types like pistols and rifles default off of each other at -2 and even weapons that are covered by the skill yet are operated fairly differently from normal guns (like the previously mentioned Gyroc) still only default at -4. Minor differences between guns that use the same skills are handled by Familiarity penalties, -2 for different caliber, -2 for the type of action and -2 for the type of grip.

Of course, while leap and bounds better then how most RPGs handle guns... There are still a few problems with it.  When it comes to pistols and rifles being separate skills, it does make some sense... but then there's Guns (SMG) which... well... doesn't. Is it do to their form factor? Well, no. SMGs are really no different then rifles and there are a good deal of carbines that are on par with SMGS in size but they still use the rifle skill. Is it that they can bust fire? Well automatic rifles can also burst fire but they still just use Guns (Rifle). If any thing it should be treated as Guns (Long Arm Burst Fire) skill and a separate Guns (Pistol Burst Fire) skill for auto pistols. Guns (LMG), Guns (Shotguns) and even Guns (Gyroc) also start to break down if you really look at their purposes for existing.

Thankfully the Grey Tiger himself, Hans-Christian Ortisch (Go read his blog!),  came from mount on high and delivered us gun skill salvation with the Pyramid 3/65 Alternate GURPS III article Alternate Guns Specialties and Techniques. Han's article greatly condensed the Guns skill into just three specialties based on how the weapons are used, LAW, Long Arm and Pistol He then gave us the new Guns techniques  Burst-Fire and Payload Warhead which covers the differences between burst-fire pistol, rifles and SMGs and semi-auto versions as well as how to handle shotguns firing buck-shot and grenade launchers and Gyroc guns firing explosive shells. Finally he even described an even more detail break down of guns based familiarity penalties and changed the defaults between the Guns specialties from -2 to an all around -4 -which I personally stand by since it matches my own experiences. I have much more trigger time with rifles so when I try to fire a pistol off my rifle default I can really feel the difference. So, all in all, he took the fundamentally good base-line idea of how the GURPS Guns skill worked and cleaned it up a tad, making it not only less bloaty but far more realistic, and made it much, much better for it.

Ok Great... But Now What?
So I know what you're thinking. You thought that this post was going to be about why I don't like the Beams Weapon skill, not how GURPS handles the normal Guns skills. And you're right, Alternate Guns Specialties and Techniques already fixed my issues with the Guns skill. However this example is my set up for what I find wrong with how GURPS handles the beam weapon skill as well as how to fix it.

Also I should point out, especially after Han's article came out, I don't actually hate the skill per se, just how its handled versus the base line way the Guns skill is handled is what makes it odd to me. 

How GURPS handles Shooting and Why I Think It's Odd.
The Beam Weapons skill in many ways mirrors the way the Guns skill works. It's an easy DX based technological skill but there are only 3 listed specialties Pistol, Projector and rifle and the defaults are rather hash between them compared to those in the Guns skill at -4 across the board. While I get the -4 default for Beam Weapons (Projector)... Why the hell does Beam Weapons (Pistol) and Beam Weapons (Rifle) also default off of each other at -4 when they do so at -2 under Guns? While I'm actually ok with the -4 default, as I said before, but since we're comparing main basic set RAW here and the Alternate Guns Specialties article was years off... it just strikes me as odd. A possible explanation for the logic behind this decision can be found  in this post by GURPS High-Tech co-writer and forum regular safisher. He suggested that the extra -2 between Beam Weapons was do to the -2 for different caliber familiarity penalty just being subsumed under the skill in general buuuut as an other forum regular, lwcamp, rebutted here and here ... this doesn't hold too much water. A familiarity penalty can be bought off with only a few hours of trigger time while default can only be bought off with with character points or spending around 200 hours of training time! This makes it much, much harder for a future shooters to cross trains for no good reason!

This is really my main grip with how the skill works. It  just doesn't make any sense why Beam Weapons are penalized like this.

Also going in at a base line RAW angle again, this skill has a lack of coverage though this isn't too big of an problem and it's actually  an easy fix. We already got the  RAW examples for the Guns skill showing you can just add in more specialties if you need to, much like what I did in last GURPS day post with Beams Weapons (SMG) and Beams Weapons (LMG). While in so far as I know no GURPS supplement has added any further Beam Weapons specialties, I don't think against the spirit or word of the rules to do so.

Ok, Mr. Never Written An Award Winning RPG System Before, How Would YOU Fix It?
Like with the Guns skill, the basic structure of the skill isn't the issue, it's just some of the odd choices chosen in how the different specialties interact with each that is. So fixing this skill isn't going to be too hard. In fact I got three different solutions for you, each steps a little father from RAW but I think  you also get better results the farther away you get from RAW.

Option One: The RAW Approach. 
This one is really simple and stays close to RAW if that's an issue. Basically, just add specialties to the skill as  you need or want them and change the defaults to -2 between similar weapons (like pistols and rifles) and only use the -4 for weapons that are really different (like the projector).

Option Two: The Han's Approach. 
Keep the three specialties and the -4 defaults and just use the Burst-Fire Technique to differentiate semi-auto and full auto beam weapons. Wow, this was pretty simple, in fact... Its pretty much how the Beam Weapons Skill works as it heh.

Option Three: Now For Something Completely Different. 
Drop the beam weapons skill all together, just drop it. This is my personal preference and I really don't see why beam weapons that are fired like guns need to be treated as a separate skill from Guns. Just use whatever version of the Guns skill you prefer (hint, it should be the one from Alternate GURPS III heh), treat the differences between projectiles and the different types of beam weapons as having -2 in familiarity penalties ( -1 for different "calibers" and another -1 for the "feel" between them being different) and that's it. This options not only fixes the problem but helps keep skill bloat down AND(!) saves you a few CP in the processes.

Beam (Weapons) Me Up Scotty
In closing, GURPS, as a whole, does a lot right and gets closer to just about any other RPG I've ever seen to matching reality while still being actually playable. One of the things I love about most about it is that even when there's something that you find off or odd, it usually super simple to just swap out the parts you don't like and slap in something new that you do without it effecting the systems over all structure. Trying to do this with a system like D&D can be done but it usually either takes a lot of work making sure any change you do doesn't up set the balance or you have to just wing it and hope for the best.

But still, it does make me wonder what happened with the Beam Weapons skill. Was it written by a different writer then who did the Guns skill? Was it written before the Guns skill was and they never went back to fix it? Was it just some legacy baggage or was there an honest well researched reason for it? I'm legitimately carious and I'd like to know.

Also on this note, I'm actually also carious about how well the various melee skills hold up. Anyone with some good training in sword fighting and the like want to take a crack bring the melee skills under the knife and maybe pulling a Han's style tweaking?

Well, hope you guys find my tweaks helpful. If you use any in your games I'd appreciate some feed back. Did they work as intended? Did they make things easier or did it make a mess of things? The more data I can get back, the better my rules tweaking with become.


  1. My current thinking is that it should be Guns (Beam X) at something like -2 or -3 from the stock gun skill it compares to. Beam Pistol is Pistol-2. I've never used them in game, though. The biggest difference in real terms between a laser gun and a bullet gun should be one of trajectory - lasers (plasma beams, etc) are 100% flat so there should be some difference.

    Or maybe that's just effectively familiarity? Guns (Rifles) does beams as well as bullets; you just have different familiarity based on which direction you're adapting from.

    Don't know, I will have to think on it some more - GDI has at least two beam weapon types in use in the Second Tiberium War, so I'll need to make a decision anyways.

    I'm a big fan of Alt GURPS III's method of doing weapon familiarity. I had at some point jotted down a to-do to clean it up, but then I discovered the Pyramid article and all was good.

    As for the melee skills, it just so happens I have talked about it a few times:

    I've had a TODO to break down the striking skills and offer a simplified model, but I have not gotten a chance to do so. I think a fair bit of that was driven by creating a few martial art "styles", which was something I've been meaning to do more of but haven't had the time yet.

    1. Ah, good stuff. I'll have a look at those posts when I get home from work tonight.

      From my understanding, I'd say that difference between shooting a bullet and shooting a photon is better handled by a familiarity penalty then a default penalty.

      While like most people I've never fired an actual laser weapon(sad face) before, a while back I was playing with my cat with a laser pointer and it downed on me how easy it was to point and aim. I then got thinking about how easy it would be to go from firing a gun to firing a laser and it struck me that hardest thing would be over coming your base firing instincts but that can be countered by a few hours of training.

      To give you an idea of how instinctive this stuff gets, I've always shot in the waver stance and it's been so ingrained that the moment that someone hands me even a nerf gun I go right into it. It's not something I think about, I just do. Well the last time I went shooting with my friends they were getting into buying body armor and were learning to fire in isosceles stance. They got me to try it (not that I can afford to by body armor anytime soon heh)and holly hell was it hard to do. Not because the stance its self was difficult, it was that I was fighting with my own muscle memory. I would pick up a gun and go right into the weaver automatically and when I started having to think about it... it felt off... it felt weird. But after I put about an hour into it started to feel... well I wouldn't say natural yet, but I wasn't fighting with it anymore. So this is kinda set up I imagined myself going through if someone ever threw me a laser gun. It would be hard as hell at first as I keep fighting with my instinct to compensate for bullet drop but after I get past that it probably wouldn't be any harder then firing a normal gun.

    2. Definitely give those a look!

      Yeah, the flat shooting is pretty instinctive. Pistol translates over pretty easily because most pistols I've fired shoot pretty flat. Rifles, not so much. Sighting apetures probably help the process - if all you have is a tube with a dot in it, the answer always becomes "put dot on guy".

      Which reminds me, one of my to-dos has been the WH40k lasgun, which does indeed tend to have just a tube for a sight..., actually, you're always going to "shoot low" if your sight is on top of your weapon...

    3. Lasers actually have that one covered, you can actually uses the lasers actual lens as a sight letting you literally look down the barrel! This is part of why their Accuracy is so high.

    4. Ah! Yeah, it has been a while since I've read those entries.