Roleplayer #12, December 1988


The biggest changes in Basic Set (Third Edition) involved firearms damage. Here is a recap of some of these changes, along with the Shot and Immediate Action rules from High-Tech.

Limitations on Damage

The amount of damage the limbs can take is limited; damage over HT/3 on the hands and feet, or HT/2 on the arms or legs, is lost.

For a single blow to the torso, impaling or bullet damage of more than HT is lost . . . it just goes "through" the victim and is wasted. For the head or vitals, damage over HT × 3 is lost.

Beam, fireball or lightning attacks do double the above maximum damage to torso, head or vitals.

However, there is no maximum damage for injuries to the brain. There is also no maximum damage cutoff for weapons doing more than 15 dice basic damage; such huge weapons do so much damage going through that any "wastage" is moot.


Shot comes in many sizes. 20th-century standard loadings run from dust shot, at 4,665 pellets to the ounce, to 000 buckshot at 100 pellets to the pound. All shot can be assigned to one of three categories:

1) Buckshot has 1/3-inch or larger pellets, used for combat and big game; 2) Birdshot has 1/10- to 1/3-inch pellets, used for birds and small game; 3) Smallshot has less than 1/10-inch pellets, used for target shooting, pest control and non-lethal riot loads.

A load of shot begins to spread as soon as it leaves the muzzle. No two pellets have quite the same initial energy, mass or ballistic coefficient. This increases the likelihood that something will hit the target, but decreases the amount of energy that will be delivered. The amount of damage depends on how much of the shot hits the target and the retained energy of each pellet at that time. Retained energy decreases faster with shot than with single bullets. Smaller projectiles lose energy to atmospheric resistance faster than larger ones.

Shot loads are +1 to the base skill of the firer, but the maximum Acc bonus is 5 (with a smoothbore) and may be less, depending on the weapon. 1/2D for smallshot is 25 yards; Max is 150 yards. Birdshot and smallshot have both 1/4D and 1/2D. 1/2D for birdshot is five yards; 1/4D is 10 yards; Max is 50 yards. 1/2D for smallshot is three yards; 1/4D is six yards; Max is 20 yards. Most materials get a +1 to DR at any range. (The GM is the authority on what materials – soap bubbles, glass Christmas tree ornaments, typing paper – do not get the bonus. Human flesh does, except for the eyes.)

Damage from Shot Loads

Any smoothbore gun can fire shot loads. Use the gun's basic damage as for a single bullet, but roll separately for each die of damage to determine penetration against DR. Bonuses and penalties are applied to any damage that gets through the armor.

Example: A smoothbore with damage 2d-1 hits, with a load of shot, a man in leather armor (DR2+1 because the attack is with shot). Each damage die is rolled separately, giving two 1-die attacks. The first roll is a 4. One point of this damage gets through to tissue. The second roll is a 5; two points penetrate the armor. Now the -1 to damage (because the gun did 2d-1 basic damage) is applied. The human tissue also has the +1 to DR, so only one point of damage is done to the target. This is a correction to pp. 11-12 of GURPS High-Tech.

Rifled guns are not effective with shot loads. The spin imparted by the rifling opens the patterns and makes them very irregular. After the smokeless powder revolution (about 1890), most rifled guns have too small a bore and chamber for an effective load of shot. Shot damage from a rifled gun depends on bore capacity. Use this table:

Up to .25 – smallshot only, damage 1d-5
.25 – .35 – smallshot or birdshot, damage 1d-2
.35 – .45 – smallshot or birdshot, damage 1d
.45 – .65 – smallshot, birdshot or buckshot, damage 2d-5

The greatest possible Acc with a rifled gun firing shot is 3; the greatest Aim bonus is 1.


NameDMGDamage Modifier
Pistols, .40 – caliber× 1× 1.5
Pistols less than .40 caliber× 1× 1
20th C. (FMJ)× 1× 1
20th C. rifles (SP)× 1× 1.5
pre-20th C.× 0.5× 2
20th C. .22 LR× 1× 1
Smoothbores (ball)× 1× 1
Smoothbores (shot)× 1× 1
Smoothbores (slugs TL6+)× 2× 1
Armor-piercing× 2× 0.5
Hollow-point× 0.5× 2.5

Note: The bullet, not the gun, is what determines damage. Changing the type of bullet for the gun can change the damage. The Damage Modifier is applied to whatever damage gets through all of the target's DR.

Immediate Action For Revolvers and Multi-Barrels

If a revolver malfunctions, the user can always hope the problem was with the ammunition and pull the trigger again, rather than taking immediate Action to fix the gun. Similarly, the user of a multi-barrel gun can try to fire another barrel.

If the malf was the result of a critical failure, the GM already knows what is wrong with the gun, and can play it accordingly. Otherwise, the GM should immediately roll against the weapon's Malf number, minus 2 For weapons with no Malf number, roll against a 15. A "failed" roll (greater than the Malf number) indicates a true malfunction; the next bullet or barrel won't work either. A successful roll means the next shot can be fired normally.

(Back to Roleplayer #12 Table of Contents)

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