Reply To: How accurate were early firearms?

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Hans Hellinger

One of the fundamental design decisions of GURPS 4e is that game rules need to be based around adventuring situations, because those are what actually matter for the story and because its too much cognitive load to require the GM to remember to apply a lot of different modifiers in the middle of an action scene. GURPS Tactical Shooting has a really good section by gun geeks (Hans-Christian Vortisch and S.A. Fisher) adapting those rules to less stressful situations, based on the current US consensus on performance of combat shooters. That design decision makes sense to me.

Indeed, i try to follow much of the same data Steve Jackson does, but I think Codex handles it a little more elegantly – The basic (DnD) shooting rules stay the same, but as the ‘stress load’ increases, fewer of the shooters dice are available for aiming.

In Codex, players have 3 or 4 dice to use each turn. Each die can be used to do something, this case – move, shoot, reload hide behind cover, draw a hand weapon, etc. If nobody is shooting at you, or if you are behind say, 75% cover so you don’t have to worry much about defense, you can use all of your dice for your shot, and you just keep the highest roll.

This way, it’s kind of nice because you don’t have to worry about a lot of arithmetic, don’t need to write anything down etc. You have your options literally in the palm of your hand.

Alternately if you have a faster firing weapon than a muzzle loading firearm, like say a bow, you could shoot four times instead, but there would be a higher risk of a misfire. If you shoot with 2 (20 sided) dice your chances of a misfire are always much lower, if you shoot with 3 or 4 dice they are almost nil.

Training also effects this, as for example reload times are reduced with trained abilities (Feats in DnD, ‘Martial Feats’ in Codex). Circumstances also matter a lot – aiming and having something to support your weapon on (gunwhale of a boat, rampart of a castle, branch of a tree, or aiming stake) also help a lot by conferring a ‘Free Dice’. This means if you committed say 2 of your dice from your pool for a shot, but you had the luxury of something to lean your weapon on, you get a ‘Free Dice’ so you can roll 3 dice instead and take the highest roll. Chances for a critical hit go way up, chances for a misfire go way down.

This tracks very well with historical usage- hence the ubiquity of aiming hooks on medieval firearms and the widespread use of aiming stakes in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

In 16th century England, there was massive resistance by the citizens to modernizing Queen Mary’s militia law from 1558 because of the expense of buying new equipment and firearms. The weapons men carried to show their status and gender and hunt or keep order were not the same weapons they carried to defend against a landing or march into Scotland … this explicitly came up late in the 16th century, there were protests about disarming politically suspect groups and the compromise was that they could keep their bows and bills but not pikes and firearms because the former were enough to keep order and defend themselves. I have read a series of complaints against the expense of English militia laws going back into the 13th or early 14th century.

Indeed but by that time you are taking a more or less disarmed, or marginally armed population who no longer have much experience in war and forcing them to essentially become active soldiers again. In say, the vicinity of Zurich, or Berne, or Strasbourg or Nuremberg or Lübeck or Prague, both urban citizens and rural denizens would be much more accustomed to being called up for war.

And they would also be participating in these warlike games like the Schütsenfest which confer all kinds of other (social, political, financial) benefits. So more incentive to make the investment. In every city under German town law, including the mediated territorial towns, purchasing a primary weapon, which by 1500 usually meant a firearm, as well as armor and some kind of sidearm, was a mandatory requirement of citizenship.

The cost of a sword between 1420 – 1520, at very roughly speaking between one quarter to one half a mark, was expensive but well within the budget of a mid-level artisan or a wealthy peasant (anyone owning more than two hides of land, again very generally speaking). A military grade crossbow was about twice that, and the spanning device might cost half again as much, but again not out of reach by any means. Firearms were expensive in the early 15th century but got much cheaper by the end, with a simple “Kolf” arquebus also costing about a mark in Krakow in 1505.

The biggest expense of all this military stuff was in fact armor, but that requirement was probably not as important for common soldiers by the later 16th Century in England (just guessing on that part though.