Open floor

Here’s a question. Have any of you run a futuristic game that did not use any form of projectile weapons (firearms, lasers, blasters, et al)? I’m considering running a game where guns (of any stripe and design) are either non-existent or strictly prohibited. Keep in mind, however, that I don’t want to design a non-combat game, merely a game where combatants have to rely primarily on hand-to-hand combat.

I’ve certainly run adventures before in settings where guns are scarce or missing, such as Victorian England or in similar gothic European settings, but I was wondering if anyone has any idea of how much enjoyment can be sucked from a futuristic setting without modern projectiles. Any thoughts, ideas, comments, observations, criticisms, wisecracks?

8 thoughts on “Open floor

  1. Dune’s emphasis on knife fighting would be a good precedent. All you need is a Personal Shield MacGuffin that makes ranged weapons irrelevant while being ineffective against slow moving melee weapons. Note that in Herbert’s book, shield/knife fighting was its own discipline and a combatant fighting without a shield would find himself completely out of his depth until he got used to the tactical differences.

    I would avoid an overly technical description of how it works– just build it in as an axiom of the setting and leave it at that.

    I think this is a good premise for a game setting– especially if you have good melee rules.

    (I think this would work really well with GURPS Space. I have never gotten the hang of the 3e/4e ranged weapon rules, but the derivative “Man-to-Man” stuff is very playable– in fact, it is the default “core” rules element of the game from which all of the other wacky stuff derives.)

  2. Oh, you know I hadn’t even thought of Dune. You’re right, that might not be a half-bad idea for a hand-to-hand model. I haven’t gotten far enough along to know if I’ll want to use the personal shields, as I’m currently thinking of merely relying on true “fighting” (as in fists, martial arts, etc). I’ve been really curious about whether anyone else has been running games in that milieu, and I have to admit the Dune analogy is an excellent example.

    At the moment I’m thinking of using Savage Worlds, not only because I like the system but also because I want to try out all these new books. Though I do still have all the GURPS books, so perhaps when I get around to writing it up I’ll do it for all three generic systems – GURPS, Savage Worlds, and True20.

    First though, I’ve got to nail down the real layout and flavor of the setting. Something I still don’t have a real grasp on.

  3. Also, both Traveller and Firefly have a nobel culture that practice dueling (with swords!) as a way of handling various sorts of insults.

    But it sounds like you’re going with something deeper and wilder with a fist-only universe. Maybe combat occurs primarily in a bizarre Extradimensional realm (Cyberspace? Jump-space? Psi-space?) Though there were plenty of guns in the Matrix series, it was primarily martial arts that won the fights….

  4. To be honest, I have no idea what the world around the idea is going to look like yet, so it really could be anything at this point. I was really just wondering why every Sci-Fi game seems to have a lot of the same trappings, and how you could go about changing those in a logical and textural way.

    Even though everyone loves the various projectiles that come with a Sci-Fi game (needlers, lasers, etc), the fact is they’re extremely deadly and anyone getting hit in the myriad of firefights that break out in those games winds up spending a lot of time in sickbay; or else, the game has to have some miraculously powerfully advances in medicine that border on the magical. It’s almost as if the entire genre (particularly where RPGs are concerned) is flooded with a Wild West mentality.

    I decided I wanted to go a different direction. I figured why not build a game that included combat but stripped out all those projectiles. The backend of that thinking, of course, is what happens to the game without those projectile weapons? Does it detract from the game? Will players not like it as much?

    Your example of the Matrix gives me a lot of hope actually. Not only was that a cinematically interesting setting, but I think any group of players who looked to that as an example of the kind of combat that might ensue would be well sated.

    Coincidentally, I pulled out the Sci-Fi Gear Toolkit last night and by page 7 was already reading about the kind of personal shields they used in Dune; with a number of fairly basic and flexible ways of portraying them!

  5. I personally thought that the way that David Lynch portrayed them in his Dune movie was really cool. Shield equipped men were surrounded by this brown-gold blocky crystalline stucture than morphed its shape as they moved. They also made Tron-like boink sounds when things glanced off.

    Asimov’s shields from Foundation were invisible-ish glows that sparkled when hit by blaster fire.

    My Traveller game has projectile weapons, of course, but I avoid firefights as much as possible due to the death rates. Traveller and Firefly are definitely Westerns in space….

    I think you’ve got a good idea… if you find yourself narritivisticly working around the premises of a setting in your game, then why not switch to a setting whose precepts support the kind of story you want to make from the outset? That kind of consistency should be something that adds to the game, not detract from it.

  6. That’s really one of the things I was thinking about Jeffro. How do you create a futuristic environment that’s not so lethal yet fun to play?

    I suppose, in a way, it’s a backwards way to design a campaign setting, because you’re intentionally limiting yourself in order to create a slightly less deadly game rather than creating the atmosphere you want first. Nonetheless, I think it’s a more practical way to approach designing an environment when you know up front you don’t want a certain element.

  7. Make the guns less effective. Take Star Wars as an example. How many blaster shots were fired off in Ep. 4-6? And just how many struck our heroes?

    (I don’t recall an exact number, it was something less than 4 hits right?)

    It seemed like most stormtrooper takedowns were by ambush and melee, too.

    Ranged weapons are usually more powerful, quite accurate, less easily blocked, and get more shots off before the enemy closes to melee range. We need to eliminate the huge benefits in each category.

    Your combat system can make ranged combat less effective by applying a second chance of failure that isn’t present in melee combat. Perhaps an armor roll that works like a saving throw after the attack succeeds.

    Give plenty of cover and concealment opportunities and use healthy sneaking and ambush rules to mitigate the range benefits of firearms.

    Firearms can have ammunition that’s difficult to acquire and the skill to use them can be more expensive to learn than melee skill. Explain that the skill includes bundling weapon maintenance with weapon use, so melee weapon skills are easier to handle.

    Don’t explain these things right off. You don’t necessarily want NO firearms, right? You just don’t want every fight to end on the first turn when everyone blasts each other away. So build or choose a rule set and setting that encourages melee combat as the combat choice. You don’t need personal shield generators.

  8. And I just realized that wasn’t what your blog post was about.

    I think enjoyment can be had as a result of interesting choices on the part of the players. If you have a blaster that has seven shots left and a sword, you’re left with a meaningful choice as to which to use.

    Enemies who do use projectiles become more horrifying, more important.

    I think Gamma World is a good example but there are so many different takes on the setting. The most restrictive versions where technology was not easily gained, was poorly understood, and was quickly expended would fit your model. So would Dune I suppose.

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