Between Range and Cover and Fight

I’ve been running a Weird West game using Burning Wheel rules for 5 or 6 sessions now and we’ve had a couple of fights. In this setting, only a few characters will opt for melee in a killin’ fight - and none of the PCs will. They will (quite reasonably) go for their guns. We’ve had three very-close-range gunfights and I’ve opted to use the Fight rules for them, but they’re a bit of an awkward fit.

There aren’t any actions in Fight that you can take to reliably protect you from ranged weapon fire. You can use a physical action to go to cover, raising the Ob to shoot you, but then if the enemy isn’t coming after you with machetes you’re best off just sitting still in cover and scripting shoot shoot cock the gun shoot shoot over and over.

If I run it as Range and Cover they’ll probably start with a Maintain to grab some position dice, then just Hold Hold Hold and whale away.

My players and I don’t find it as satisfying as we’d like. I can imagine a similar situation in a medieval game if you happen to have a party that favors ranged attacks.

So my idea is to either add a couple options to Fight to allow characters to more dynamically use cover, or else make a new subsystem for point-blank firefights that restores the rock-paper-scissors guessing game that Fight features.

My current mod to the Fight system…
[li]Start off the Fight by sketching a rough map of the area where the fight is taking place with a few features that would be good cover (according to the fiction).
[/li][li]Characters can use Assess (with Perception or appropriate Wises) actions during the fight to declare cover onto the map where you haven’t drawn any to start.
[/li][li]If characters are in contact with cover, shooting them is at +1 Ob.
[/li][li]All characters with ranged weapons are assumed to be engaged at missile-range with all other characters that they can see from their position. Engagement tests are not made for these engagements (more on melee characters to follow).
[/li][li]When you script Shoot, you must script which enemy you’re planning on shooting. If you script Snapshot you can decide who to target after actions are declared.
[/li][li]You can use Physical Actions to maneuver around the area (with Stealthy, Climbing, Speed, etc.) to try to enfilade your opponent’s position. If you can move to a position where his cover doesn’t screen him anymore, then ducking won’t save him.

New Actions in Fight
[li]Duck (1 action): usable when you’re in contact with an object giving you cover. You duck back behind the cover completely for a moment. Any Shoot or Snapshot actions scripted against Duck automatically fail and the bullet is wasted.
[/li][li]Cover (1 action): usable when you’re in contact with an object giving you cover. Move completely behind that object. You can’t be shot by anyone on the opposite side of the cover until you take the Uncover action or a Physical Action to move away from the cover. You can’t shoot anyone on the other side of the cover, either. Use this action to reload or cast a spell in relative safety.
[/li][li]Uncover (1 action): usable when you’re completely behind an object giving you cover (see the Cover action above). You can shoot at enemies on the other side of your cover and can be shot at, though you still benefit from the cover Ob penalty to enemy shots.

It may not matter much in a one-on-one fight, but in a big fight I figure it will put the chaos back into the fight as some enemies are ducking while others are shooting and it’s a guessing game whose head will be up when. How does it sound?

The older editions of BW had range in Fight. 1st ed had paces, where you can literally move a certain number of paces per volley, kinda like in D&D and other war-games. 2nd ed had different range categories (if I remember correctly, only had one 2nd ed fight scene), and you had to close range category by category before you engaged in melee.

Either version of the range rules could probably be hacked back into Gold’s engagement system without too too much fuss. BWG’s Fight mechanics are vastly superior to the previous iterations, but I can see where they wouldn’t work well if all melee combatants were fighting with ranged weapons anyways. Better to tweak it to make it do what you want.

Maybe my Burning DOOM mechanics can inspire?

Double post! I’d do this:

  1. Don’t have R&C end at melee range (7 paces). Switch from R&C to Fight at a significantly longer range, say 50 - 100 paces or whatever.

  2. Sketch a map of the area and divide it into zones, like we did for SotC. Super quick. The zones don’t have to be symmetrical or evenly spaced or anything. Just lay them out in a way that makes the battlefield interesting. Name any cover you like, and players can assess for other details.

  3. During the Fight scene, you can engage an opponent at any range, but melee attacks are only allowed if you’re in the same zone. Movement between zones requires physical actions to be scripted, with one zone moved per action.

Anything else you want to add would probably work, but I think that would add enough to keep the Fight scenes interesting. I expect you’d see a lot of physical actions scripted, with the PCs constantly scrabbling backwards to keep their opponents at range. It creates some interesting decisions too. Do I ditch my cover to stay back, or gamble that I can take him out before he reaches me?

I’ve said this over and over, Fight and semi-automatic firearms do not mix. So ditch Fight altogether. Just ditch it. Gone. Done.

Even in R&C, firearms are troublesome. BUT, “get to cover and shoot” is a viable shooty strategy, though it’s not undefeatable. Have you tried R&C? Have you tried different strategies?

He’s been using a house-ruled version of R&C. Rules up here.

Thanks, Kublai, for your Doom mod. So when you ran it, characters didn’t script shoot shoot shoot as much as possible? What do you think it was about your changes that got them fighting more dynamically?

Actually R&C works great, at least for this era of firearms. The PCs in my group have a mix of weapons - one prefers pistols, one likes a shotgun, and one has an expensive repeating rifle and the Eagle Eye trait. In R&C the sharpshooter tries to get up high and then holds to provide covering fire while the other two move forward as a team. It was quite satisfying.

Dean, are you suggesting SotC-style zones in addition to the mods I suggested? Zones would be interesting if the enemy wanted to close to melee, but melee enemies are pretty dynamic already. If the melee enemy wins engagement or VfP then the guy with the gun has to script avoids, blocks, shoves, etc. to get out of that situation, since the Ob to shoot the guy is very high in that exchange.

My issue, again, is that the rock-paper-scissors minigame of fight is gone when everybody has guns because there’s no counter to getting shot at. By putting in a “duck behind cover” option and mandating that you choose your target during scripting I’m hoping to ramp up the chaos again. Does it sound like something you’d want to play?

I ran a little test of this system with one of my players during a break at work, and it went great! The map was a little square with buildings fronting it on three sides and a well in the middle. There was a street on the fourth side of the square, and across the street there was a shop with a flat roof. Some barrels and a cart provided some extra cover, and one building had a balcony overlooking the square.

My friend, Doug, scripted for the three PCs in the game, John Cole, Jeb, and Edward Teach. I scripted for their three enemies, gunfighters from Black River Rail named Elmer, Oliver, and Boney. We figured this was a negotiation gone suddenly bad, so I put Elmer and Oliver in the square and Boney up on a balcony overlooking the meet. John Cole and Jeb were in the square, and Teach was up on top of the shop across the street (he has an instinct about seeking the high ground).

First Exchange. There was no Engagement roll. We hadn’t talked about whether guns were drawn yet, so I assumed my guns were still holstered except for Boney’s shotgun, but Doug assumed guns were out already. No worries.
Scripts were as follows:
Boney: shoot, shoot Teach | physical action | physical action - run to the door
Elmer: physical action, physical action - run to the barrels | cover | draw pistol
Oliver: physical action, physical action - run to the well | draw pistol | draw pistol
Cole: physical action, physical action - run to the cart | shoot | shoot Elmer
Teach: shoot, shoot Boney | duck | shoot, shoot Oliver
Jeb: shoot, shoot Oliver | physical action | physical action - run to the corner of a building

So Boney and Teach, both on the high ground, lined each other up and fired. The guns cracked milliseconds apart and when the smoke cleared Teach was badly wounded, but Boney was dead. Elmer ran to the barrels, Oliver ran to the well. Just as Oliver reached the well, Jeb fired a single barrel of buckshot, but it just kicked up mortar on the edge of the well (it missed because of the +1 Ob). Cole ran to the cart to take cover.

Elmer ducked down completely behind the barrels just as Cole started to line up a shot on him. As Oliver went for his pistol, Jeb ran toward the corner of a building.

Cole had no shot as Elmer was still behind cover, so he hesitated instead. Elmer started drawing out his pistol, cramped though he was behind the barrels. Oliver got his gun free of the holster just as Jeb took up a position at the corner of a building.

Second Exchange.
Elmer: draw pistol, uncover | shoot Jeb | shoot Jeb
Oliver: snapshot, duck | shoot Cole | Shoot Cole
Cole: cover | assess a trough, physical action | physical action - run to the trough
Jeb: shoot, shoot Oliver | cover | open shotgun

Oliver had a snapshot scripted and he saw that Cole was going into cover, so he snapped off a shot at Jeb, but he missed. Jeb was lining up an aimed shot at Oliver, but Oliver ducked behind the well just as he fired. His shotgun was now empty! Elmer finished drawing his pistol and poked his head up from behind the barrels.

Cole collected his thoughts and remembered that there was a trough near the well and drew it in. If he could reach the trough Elmer wouldn’t be able to hide behind the barrels from him. He started running toward it. Oliver started tracking Cole as he ran across the square, but Elmer was lining up a shot at Jeb. Jeb slipped behind the building corner, though and Elmer couldn’t see him anymore.

Cole reached the trough just as Oliver fired, and the trough saved him! Elmer hesitated when Jeb didn’t appear at the corner again, as Jeb had cracked open his shotgun to reload.

Third Exchange.
Elmer: physical action - run toward the cart | shoot, shoot Jeb | physical action - finish running toward the cart
Oliver: shoot Cole | shoot Cole, duck | snapshot
Cole: shoot, shoot Elmer | snapshot | snapshot
Jeb: get bullets | load bullets, close gun | charge gun

Elmer, seeing his position behind the barrels was no good, ran across the square toward the cart. On his way he’d have an unobstructed view of Jeb, who he knew was reloading. Unfortunately for him, Cole was tracking him and fired when he was in the open (Ob 2) and downed him with a mark hit. Oliver started tracking on Cole.

Cole saw Oliver lining up a shot on him and cracked off a quick snapshot. They both hit, but Oliver’s hit was only an incidental, a grazing shot, while Cole scored a mark hit and ended the fight before Jeb could finish reloading!

I think the biggest benefit is that it quickens the pace of gun fights. It evokes close-quarters conflicts really well. Since everyone is employing comparatively slow-loading weapons, you can scale down the amount of actions needed proportionately. Melee gets screwed, but who brings a knife to a gunfight, anyways?

The players did use all the actions evenly, especially because of the Weapon speeds. I’ve also added two actions since that playtest: Evade and Take Cover (which I just added now!).

The craziest part is scripting one action at a time. But this worked really well, honestly. Suspense and chaos were retained, and the combats were sped up significantly.

(By the way, I originally wrote the rules using firearms, but at the last minute replaced them with medieval weapons. It’s easy enough to see which is which, though, right?)

Looks like a fun Fight scene! Which version of the variant rules did you use? Doom? Your original idea in the first post? Or the zoned map idea I put out?

Sounds like you ran it as just a map with no zones, all about using available cover. If that’s the way you did it, I like it! Kinda reminds me of how we used to play AD&D 2nd ed (which may or may not have been the correct way, I have no idea). Lots of tactical movement, but all narrative-based. No 5-foot-steps or any crap like that. You move in the environment, not in little squares. I like that a lot.

I used the current idea in the first post. It’s basically the original idea, but we added the difference between Cover/Uncover and Duck.

Hmmm… I like how letting gunslingers simply shoot at anybody without engaging brings back the chaos, but I think it’s kinda game-breaking when you mix guns and fists together. I understand that guns should have an advantage, but it drastically changes the dynamics of the Fight mechanics. Especially when you have magic added to the mix.

Maybe alter it slightly with the following additional engagement option:

Engage at Range
[i]You may engage at range with a ranged weapon. Doing so allows you to engage multiple opponents at the same time. Choose any number of opponents to engage. So long as your opponents are also only engaging you at range, you don’t have to roll to engage – you are automatically engaged with all your chosen opponents for the next exchange. If you are being engaged in melee, or one of your chosen opponents is trying to disengage, you must roll Perception versus your opponent’s (dis)engagement roll, and you suffer a -1D penalty for every opponent you’re engaged with beyond the first.

At the start of every new exchange, you may re-choose which opponents you are engaged with without penalty, so long as you remain engaged at range. You may choose to not engage opponents that you were previously engaged with for an exchange, if you wish.[/i]

Or something like that. Too wordy, I know. Basic idea is that all ranged combatants are engaged with everybody on the battlefield, but if you are engaged in melee, or trying to snipe down that guy who’s trying to escape, you have a decision to make: do you want to remain engaged with everybody, but suffer an engagement penalty that will probably put you at a disadvantage, or do you want to single out and focus on your quarry? You could mix it up too. Focus on that guy who’s charging you with a machete, but keep an eye on his boss at the same time, for a meager -1D penalty to engage. Should work well, I think.

Doug and I talked about it, but we haven’t playtested a scenario with mixed melee and ranged. If there were enough combatants who wanted to do melee I’d just run it as a standard Fight where you need to engage each target before shooting them, but if there’s just one or two who want to go to melee I think we can handle it. We talked about having the melee character script a physical action to move into melee with his target. If he makes it there and his target hasn’t scripted physical actions to escape, then they roll an engagement roll immediately, even if it’s in the middle of an exchange. They then finish the remaining volleys with whatever they had scripted.

We think this could work out well because there’s a tradeoff. The knifeman has to waste a couple actions moving into contact and potentially getting shot doing it, but then he’ll likely catch the shooter badly scripted for a sudden melee. If he can win the engagement roll he’ll have a couple actions where the shooter probably isn’t avoiding or blocking or otherwise scripted for melee, so he do some damage. If the shooter can survive the rush, he’ll have a chance to script better or win a VfP to get out of that situation.

But it does need playtesting, of course!

Just wanted to pop in and say that I really liked this variant ruleset for ranged weaponry. Seems exciting, chaotic, and deadly.

Is there a “formal” write-up that we could do so I can have it on hand?

Thanks! I’d be happy to do a formal write-up after I playtest it a few more times. Or you could playtest it and let me know how it goes! I don’t know that it’ll be super-useful for people using the default Medieval setting, since using bows in Fight is pretty onerous (5-7 actions for nock and draw!), but there do seem to be a decent number of people playing mods that use modernish guns.

You know, I did have another idea somewhat similar to this. It would be a drastic change, and would require some thought to work it out, but how about ditching the engagement round altogether.

Have Engage, Disengage, and Vie for Position be scriptable actions. These three actions apply to ranged and melee engagements. Allow multiple engagements, but you must engage each separate target in turn. If an opponent engages you in melee, you are automatically engaged. If an opponent engages you in ranged combat, you must script engage to fire back.

You wouldn’t have to script Physical Action to move around before engaging, so long as your opponent is on the battlemap and is reachable in a single action. Simply script Engage, and it counts as your physical action, causing your location to change. If your opponent is behind cover or hard to reach, you might have to use a Physical Action first.

It would require the GM to write up three new additions to the Fight action matrix. Engage vs. Strike, Engage vs. Block, etc. But I think it would work fine.

The drawback to doing this is that the first action of the first volley of a Fight would be “wasted” with an obvious script. Maybe allow one free engagement roll before going to scripting sheets.

I dunno though, as this would change things quite a lot, there would probably be too many unforeseeable problems that would pop up.

I’m also interested in this notion of “engagement zones” that Dean mentioned. It seems like an excellent way to give some reality to the fight area without resorting to cumbersome hexes, minatures, and the like.

The engagement zones are something that could be easily modded into regular fantasy BW Fight scenes. I do agree now that for Ten’s purposes, he’s better off without them, but if you’re interested in exploring the engagement zones idea, we can start another spark thread for it. The idea is really really similar to how combat works in Spirit of the Century, which is a system I am very familiar with, so I could help you whip up a combat mod for it real quick.