Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gutshot Rules: Knocking the rifle off its throne

As I said last week, we solved one of our biggest problems in the first draft of Gutshot by arguing... er, discussing & debating outside Midnight Comics one night after a game. We invented the Retaliation Shot as a mechanism to solve one of the biggest problems we were having in the game: The fact that, because of our random initiative system, it was possible for you to die without ever firing s hot in self defense.

The Notorious Midnight Riders -- our first
long playtest that helped shape the game
into what it finally became.
Reaction to that rule has been mixed, with most of it being positive. There are a small, vocal group of people out there who don't like it at all. Of course, these are the same people who would prefer that everyone write down their actions and display them at the same time and then act them out simultaneously. In other words, these are old-schoolers from the "orders" style of gameplay used with armies and divisions. This is absolutely, 100% not the type of game we wanted to make. Gutshot is a skirmish game, and that sort of detailed order-giving has no place in the undisciplined, wild-n-woolly world of Western gaming.

Another group that dislikes this mechanic is people who have never actually played it. Although we've written and re-written it more than once, it just doesn't sound like it will work as well as it does when you just read the words. It seems a bit... odd, or different to them. When they play it, though, most of them join the the people who love the Retaliation Shot because it does a whiz-bang job of fixing the imbalance caused by our chaotic initiative system.

Taking the rifle down a notch or two
From Bushwhacked in Beaver Creek!
But back to the rifle. As I said Tuesday, with the way the first draft of rules was written, there was no reason on god's green earth not to choose the rifle as your primary weapon. It had damage, range, and held 15 rounds. By any reckoning, it was the weapon to beat.

So, we had to do some things to make it a more balanced weapon. The first thing we did was eliminate the "to hit" bonus at point blank range. The rationale behind this is sound, but most people don't like it: We figure that if you're bringing a rifle right up to a fella with intent to shoot 'em, they will grab the barrel and try to shove it away or dodge it in any way he can. It's a simple idea, but it helps a lot.

The next thing we did was more severe: we made it impossible to draw and fire a two-handed weapon in the same Action. This had a profound effect on the game. Suddenly rifles and shotguns -- still the most powerful death dealers in terms or range and damage, respectively -- were more unwieldy than the nimble Colt revolver or the sneaky Derringer.

This was an amazing change to the game balance, and the point at which we realized -- over the next four or five playtests with the Midnight Riders -- that we were really on to something great! Suddenly the combat was more balanced and players had a reason to think about their weapon choices. Now we could turn our attention onto other issues.

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