Project 2050: Guns Are Not Death-Spraying Murder Machines 5


I’m not going to claim to be an expert on guns. I’ve fired my share and had some fired at me, but I never had to use them on anyone, and I’ve only seen their effects on people a couple times. But since 2050 is set in a near-future scenario and there will be lots of guns, we need to talk about them and how they’re going to work.

Let’s first dispense with the myth that guns are in any way the sure-fire man-killers that many people fear or celebrate them being. Clearly, it would unbalance 2050 in the worst possible way if any 12 year-old kid with a Saturday Night Special was assured of blowing smoking holes in your 9th level ‘Street Samurai’ fighter with ease and impunity.

Luckily, that’s not remotely possible. Not even in the real world.

Let’s start by talking about war. The big killer on the battlefield is not small arms (i.e.: guns), it’s artillery. There’s a reason artillery is the King of Battle, and Infantry the Queen. Cannons fire big rounds with lots of explosives that cover a large area with blast effects and shrapnel. And there’s a reason infantrymen carry 200+ rounds of ammunition. There are a couple reasons, actually. The first is that infantrymen miss. A lot. The second reason is that it’s quite likely that one bullet won’t do enough damage to kill or even disable an opponent.

In 1968, Roy Benavidez was in a six-hour battle in Vietnam, which nearly resulted in his death and which earned him the Medal of Honor. When he was taken from the battlefield, Benavidez had a total of 37 separate bullet, bayonet, and shrapnel wounds from the six-hour fight, and at one point ran 80-yards after taking a rifle bullet to the knee.

So much for adventuring…

Some years ago, I saw an episode of Cops where a man was killed by a single shot from a .22 pistol at a range of several tens of yards.

And that’s just how it is. In a real gunfight, anyone can be Roy Benavidez, anyone can be the guy who got killed by one shot from a squirrel gun. It’s kind of a crapshoot.

Let’s talk for a minute about the effect of shooting on the shooter. In the movie Django Unchained, there’s a scene in which Jamie Foxx asks another character to “Tell Miss Laura ‘goodbye'”, and when the character does, Foxx fires and Miss Laura literally flies backward out of the room.

This is total bullshit. Newton taught us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Watching this scene, we see Miss Laura leave the frame as if she is yanked out of sight by a wire team of burly men (Spoiler: That’s what happened.), yet Django hardly reacts to the recoil. So, from a physics standpoint, we have two problems with this scene:

  1. Even if the bullet – a tiny metal pellet weighing a few ounces – had enough energy to fling a 110 pound person ten or more feet (it doesn’t), her body doesn’t provide enough resistance to impart that energy. The bullet would pass clean through her, leaving her standing leaking from holes on either side.
  2. If the bullet did have that much energy, the Newtonian reaction would have likewise flung Django back at opposite the angle he fired. If he weighed twice what Miss Laura weighed, he would have been tossed at least a quarter the distance.

What’s the point of this high school physics lesson? To show why guns are not a complete game-changer in 2050. They’re a weapon that can do damage, but that damage works like any other 5e damage: it’s unpredictable (within a range) and it’s seldom catastrophic.

“But,” you say. “What if I shoot the guy in the face from two feet away? Surely that will kill him!”

It may, but it may not. A few years ago a man was shot in the face with a shotgun at close range over some money owed. He pulled his coat up over his mangled face and walked to the ER of a nearby hospital. In fact, eighty percent of people shot in Philadelphia in 2016 survived their injuries.

How do guns stack up against the standard suite of personal weapons used in 5e?

Well, think back to the tiny amount of recoil Django absorbed in his arm, and the tiny bullet that passed some of the energy of that shot to Miss Laura. Now, imaging a fighter swinging a large, heavy broadsword, putting his entire arm and upper body into the effort, and the amount of energy generated. Then consider the damage done when that energy is transferred to the target along the razor edge of the sword.

Yeah, I think I’d rather be shot.

Here are the two basic rules underlying firearms in 2050 (which is to say, in 5e):

  • Guns are easy to use and do damage, but they aren’t any easier to use or more effective than any other weapon.
  • A gunshot wound can be a tiny scratch, or blow your head clean off, but most likely the damage will fall somewhere in the middle, like any other weapon.

Before we move on from the effects of guns, consider that the primary damage effect of a bullet is the how it mangles your body as it passes through. But even bullets that lodge in a person don’t penetrate any farther than an arrow or crossbow bolt. So it makes sense that bullet damage would be on par with existing 5e ranged weapons, such as bows and crossbows; weapons which are respected, but certainly aren’t considered sure-fire instant death.

Looking at the suggested damage tables for guns in the 5e DMG, we see that a pistol is rated at 2d6!?! In other words, a 9mm pistol does as much damage as an effectively swung battleaxe or being run through by a lance! Way to unbalance your mechanic, WotC!

A revolver hurts as much as getting stabbed through by two longswords!

2050 is going to run small-caliber pistol damage down to a reasonable 1d4. Because why should a pistol do more damage than a dagger? Especially considering that a ‘dagger’ in D&D terms is like a combat knife on steroids. Our position is that a 9mm bullet – which is the size of an almond – driven by the amount of explosive in a cheap firecracker can’t possibly do any more damage than a heavy 8-inch stabbing blade driven by the strength of the average person.

At this point, we’re going wrap up on this discussion of guns, their physics, and their potential damage within the 5e system. But in order to make the 2050 gun mechanic work – and work well – with 5e, we still need to talk about range and accuracy.

In the meantime, here is the constantly changing 2050 Guns chart. And don’t forget, if you have any questions, comments or concerns, please leave us a message here or on FB. You guys are already making a difference, and making this a better product!

2050 Guns
NameCostDamageWeightPropertiesExample
Simple Firearms
Small Pistol5 gp1d4 piercing-Ammunition (range 25/75), reload (17 shots)Glock 9mm
Large Pistol10 gp1d6 piercing-Ammunition (range 30/100), reload (10 shots)HK45
Rifle, hunting15 gp1d8 piercing-Ammunition (range 200/600), reload (5 shots), two-handedRemington Sendero 700
Shotgun, pump20 gp2d4 piercing-Ammunition (range 10/40), reload (4 shots), two-handedRemington Model 870
Martial Firearms
Submachine Gun30 gp1d4 piercing-Ammunition (range 25/75), reload (30 shots), burst, automatic (30 shots)MP5
Rifle, automatic40 gp1d6 piercing-Ammunition (range 100/300), reload (30 shots), burst, automatic (30 shots), two-handedM4 Carbine
Shotgun, automatic50 gp2d4 piercing-Ammunition (range 10/40), reload (10 shots), burst, automatic (10 shots), two-handedSaiga-12

5 thoughts on “Project 2050: Guns Are Not Death-Spraying Murder Machines

  • Scott

    With the shotguns, I would have the damage variable, depending on the ammunition; after all, 00 buckshot shells do a lot less damage than solid slug or explosive shells; also, most times a shotgun, with non-slug shells, is used because it’s easier to hit a target with a spread weapon than single-target; so, for D&D, it woulf have a bonus to hit, depending on the spread. Perhaps a shot-shell would give a +2/+4 bonus to atl, 15 ft eng, and 10ft spread at range, but have a smaller die of damage (1d6/1d4), whereas a slug shell would have no bonus to atk, but do 1d8, with a 40/50 ft range and no spread.
    Just my $.02.

    • Matthew Stanford
      Matthew Stanford

      Shotguns are an odd duck, and I went back and forth on how to spread out their damage. In the end, I opted for the simplicity of assuming 00 buck in a 12 gauge shell as the “standard” and based my ranges off of that. Ultimately, I kept asking myself what the advantage of a solid slug would be when some type of rifle may do just as much damage with a better accuracy.

      Now, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to use a slug, and we may include a suggested rule for that. Like firing a magic arrow changes the damage from a bow, perhaps there can be some other ammo types that affect the numbers, but are more expensive (or more illegal).

      I did consider having shotguns administer a sort of AoE, and I haven’t ruled it out yet, but I do worry about bogging combat down too much if someone wants to use a shotgun.

    • Shawn
      Shawn Post author

      Hi Scott!

      First, thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

      Putting slugs aside, the thing about shotguns is that they’re not particularly effective more than a few meters away. Shotguns fire a large number of tiny pellets, so unless you choke the shot down to where it covers a couple of square inches, you’re spreading the pellets over too large of an area to really cause much damage. And even if you do choke down the shot to keep the group tight, the pellets won’t maintain enough energy out past a few meters to do significant damage. Shotguns were, after all, designed to take down birds on the wing.

      This reminds me of the ‘Penny Dropped Off the Empire State Building’ episode of Myth Busters. They found that the terminal velocity of a penny was about 60 miles an hour, and that at that velocity a penny didn’t have enough mass to do any damage at all: It wouldn’t even break the skin. They proved it by building a compressed-air penny cannon and shooting Jamie in the ass. He yelped, but came away with a slight bruise. Even if you fired that penny (or a shotgun pellet) at a much higher initial velocity, it doesn’t have enough mass to maintain its speed (and therefore its energy) against the resistance of air. That’s why they lose the ability to do significant damage very quickly.

      So, this is why we aren’t too concerned about the need for a mechanic for the spread of shotgun pellets. This, coupled with the complexity of having the GM/PCs implement that mechanic, is leading us to think we’re going to keep it simple.

      Thanks again for reading!

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