Saturday, July 9, 2016

Fundamentals: A Comparison of Ranged Weapons

A bow with a bayonet, am I right?
So, following up on yesterday's post on melee ranged weaponry and the typical pros and cons of each category, I decided to double down and compare the admittedly much shorter list of ranged weapons, including the thrown variants of many melee weapons. Let's take a look and see how they typically compare.


The one and only.
Blowpipe is a hard difficulty skill. I recommend this skill for somewhat experienced players that understand the applications of poisons and the stealth advantage of the weapon.


A very small weapon with a very low signature. This weapon pairs well with a character that has a good investment in stealth and/or camouflage skills. Applying special follow-up venoms to the darts is also a possibility if you want to attempt a non-lethal takedown. The ST requirement is so low, it is next to impossible to make a reasonable character that can't use it. It is one of the few weapons that can be fired one handed. The weapon is also very cheap.


The elephant in the room is the abysmal damage, and the damage is constant, so no matter how high you raise Striking ST it will not get any better. In a straight fight, all things being equal, a Blowpipe user is not going to win a duel with a swordsman, though, like I said, using a Blowpipe is not about using the weapon on a level playing field. Additionally, for a sneaky weapon, it has a surprising amount of bulkiness, making sneaking it into a location clandestinely a little challenging. Even though it can be fired one handed, it does require two hands to reload, so if firing from a precarious posture (like, I dunno, balancing on a tree branch, or hanging off a ladder) you have one shot before you need to go someplace safe to reload. Because most toxic effects of darts are blood agents, being able to hit unprotected spots means a large skill investment is probably necessary.


Patagonian, I believe. 
Bolas is an average difficulty skill. It isn't very complicated, but I recommend maybe just a modicum of GURPS experience before trying it out, or if you are adventurous, go ahead and try it anyway.


Bolas can ensnare a target on any successful hit; it even works on a parry. Damage being incurred is irrelevant for this effect. They also have a decent bulk value. They are also very quick to "load," fast-draw can potentially allow one attack a turn.


Bolas can be fragile, and carrying several backups can be expensive and cumbersome. Accuracy is not especially good either, so high skill is somewhat important.


With a price like that, it better be
Bow is an average difficulty skill. It is among the standard ranged weapons for low-tech, and is a pretty good choice for almost anyone who doesn't care about fancy gimmicks over plain reliability.


Bows have much further range than most ranged weapons, and they have very high accuracy. They have pretty inexpensive ammunition in arrows, and arrow choices have a decent variety of effects.


Good bows can be expensive, and they have nasty bulk penalties. Bows are somewhat fragile and easily broken if an adversary makes a point to attack it.

Neither Here Nor There, But Interesting

Bows all have an ST requirement, but it doesn't actually have a bearing on damage. Bows have ST built into them, so being stronger than a bow's minimum never actually makes it better, this means that potentially you might need to buy replacement bows if your ST increases quickly.


This, by the way is how you are meant
to hold a cloak in GURPS.
Cloak is an average difficulty skill. It is called a "ranged" attack, but really, you can't throw one that far. I think this is a good choice for someone that has used a shield before, and likes the benefits, but wants to try something slightly different.


A cloak can be used as a melee weapon to allow grappling at a slightly longer distance, or at one extra step, it can be thrown like a bola to ensnare a target.


It has a very paltry range as a ranged weapon, some melee weapons have a better reach. Cloaks are also very fragile, so an opponent deliberately damaging one can and will probably mess it up.
I don't know anything about crossbows,
but this looks kinda neat.


Crossbow is an easy difficulty skill, and is another safe choice for beginners.


Crossbows do pretty healthy damage, decent Accuracy, and have great range, ST requirements aren't terrible, and they work similarly to the bow having built in ST prerequisites. One special feature of a crossbow is that with an inexpensive, and not especially burdensome tool, the Goat's Foot, one can fire a crossbow rated at a much higher ST. They also have many options in terms of special bolts, similar to the regular bow.


Among ranged weapons, Crossbows have the worst reload times. This is especially exacerbated if using a Goat's Foot for a very high ST Crossbow.


This looks nicer than the typical
lasso I see in cartoons.
Lasso is an average difficulty skill. It has a bunch of edge case rules that make it tricky for an absolute GURPS novice, but a lot of interesting utility as well.


A lasso, specifically a Lariat has pretty favorable rules for putting a foe into an immobilized state, especially if you can get the rope around your opponent's neck.


This might be a minor point, but the exact rules to using a Lasso are pretty fussy, and require a bit of upfront work, or a good memory for rules. I guess if you are focusing on a character who's image depends on a lasso, it's the least you can do to remember a page of special rules for your weapon right? Also, while an opponent is ensnared, you are occupied, and must take ready maneuvers every turn to keep her that way, so using a lasso either depends on teamwork, fighting one-on-one, or good timing. Also, a lariat being just a rope is easily damaged by cutting weapons.


As the Roman's do.
Net is an average difficulty skill. Of the "supporting" ranged weapons, this and the bolas seem like the best for beginners.


Getting out of a net is really difficult except at high levels of DX. Compared to other support ranged attacks, a Net tends to have a decent range. They are also pretty easy to throw only requiring a single maneuver. Nets have diffuse injury tolerance, so completely destroying one is difficult.


The Large Net is very heavy, and the Melee Net, though not as heavy, is still substantial. While difficult to destroy entirely, it does take damage easily from sharp weapons.
Surprisingly effective.


Sling is a hard difficulty skill. I think this one is a hidden gem that doesn't especially stand out as great at first, but it has a lot going for it.


This is one of the few swing damage weapons that have a substantial range, meaning this weapon gets strong much quicker than the typical bow and crossbow. It is also especially easy to improvise a sling and its ammunition. The weapon is really light and it doesn't cost very much.


The weapon having a low minimum strength means it has a very low max strength roof as well... Perhaps an SM+1 sling would be better? It is also a hard difficulty skill and Accuracy is just adequate, so it is expensive to be very good at shooting long distances.
Converting thrust to swing increases
damage considerably.

Spear Thrower

This is an average difficulty skill. Don't confuse this with Thrown Weapon (Spear). This is using a tool, (like an Alatl) to launch a spear. I'd recommend learning Thrown Weapon (Spear) first if that is an avenue you want to take, and then maybe investing in spear thrower later, unless you really know what you are getting into.


It can fire pretty fast, and it can go further than just throwing a spear. It also converts the thrusting damage to swinging damage, meaning it is a lot stronger than throwing a spear. Low minimum ST means it is accessible to less muscley characters. The atlatl is not a very expensive or heavy weapon either. Accuracy is also good if used with javelins.


Carrying a bunch of spears just to launch them is heavy and expensive. The range is not especially good. The low minimum ST means a very low damage cap again, which makes it hard to take advantage of the generous swing damage.

Thrown Weapon

Improvised Weapon (Pizza Cutter)
All Thrown Weapon skills are easy difficulty. This almost feels like a bad idea, but I'm going to try covering all the Basic Set specialties in one heading. Some of these I think are decent, some not so much. Let's take a look.


This weapon has an ok range, and very good swing damage. Most have ok accuracy. The biggest difficulty is that carrying around a lot is heavy and expensive. Remember to salvage thrown weapons.


Almost like a spear, but a little different. This has a tether and can be pulled out to similar effect as a swung pick, meaning it takes a little bit of extra time to use, but the damage is pretty good, and you won't lose your weapons as easily.


Knives are light and cheap, so you can carry a lot, but they do very little damage. They also have a very low minimum ST so it is hard to ever reach a point where they can do tolerable damage. They also have 0 Accuracy which is fine if you are throwing them off the cuff.


A lot of the same pros and cons that apply to knives also work for shurikens, with the exception that shurikens do slightly less damage, but have better accuracy, costs, bulk, and weight. If choosing between the two, I'd say Shuriken is superior.


Thrown spears have good accuracy and passable damage, with an ok range. Like other big thrown weapons though, carrying several around just to throw can be a big hassle.

Other Thoughts

I underestimated the length of this post I think, it turned out very long. OH WELL! Just wanted to play video games this morning. I like the idea of having a short at a glance for weapons because I have players that have chosen weapons before because it sounds cool. and then are disappointed that the results aren't what they want, like thrown knives bouncing off of everything and whips taking bunches of turns to use. I hope this will work.


  1. So, have you read "The Deadly Spring" yet?

    1. I have not, but I heard some mad bantz about it. I read it was mostly a detailed system for translating realistic bow specs into GURPS stats, which although an interesting curiosity, isn't something that's particularly useful to me.

    2. Hah, I feel you there :) I used it once to get stats for a hand-spannable "city guard" crossbow and that's about it. You've got a good overview article here, btw. One thing I'd add in is that though throwing weapons are kinda hefty (generally), they serve the dual purpose of often being decent melee weapons, so you can carry just, say, two of the same weapons and have the potential to exploit different tactical situations as a result. Axe/Mace and Thrown Weapon (Axe/Mace), for example.

      Now, of course, I *must* link this:

    3. That is a good point. If you don't need to pull out a bow, crossbow, etc, to do a ranged attack, that can save a precious second in a pinch.

    4. Or several, if you've got it stowed and unloaded in some fashion. It's been a while since I've used bows in game, but the model I've used requires four seconds to get an arrow out from a bow already in your hand (or such about). Draw arrow, knock, draw, loose.

  2. One benefit of being a knife thrower is that knives are virtually e-ver-y-where. With enough training/experience, eating -1 or -2 to Skill due to attacking with an improvised weapon means you're never unarmed while in a kitchen. Then, there is the "Improvised Weapons" Perk that wipes away the Skill penalty entirely.

    Also, depending on your level of investment (including Weapon Master and Striking ST) and quality of carried knives (Signature Gear helps big time), doing anywhere from 2d to 4d impaling to the Vitals/Skull/Eyes is certainly respectable.

    1. Sure... but you are going to need a Ton of Striking ST and skill to be doing that often. It's not impossible, but it's not easy.


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