Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Gutshot Rules: Retaliation Shots

Most of the time when you're working on a game as big as Gutshot, you don't exactly remember when and where certain rules came from. In the case of the Retaliation Shot, however, I remember when, where and -- most importantly -- why this rule came to be.

I recollect that it was a relatively mild summer evening in 2003. Paul Mauer and I were standing outside Midnight Comics in Houston, Texas. It was probably nearing 1 a.m. We had just finished running one of the highly successful playtests with the group known as the Midnight Riders. Now, the store was in its second location next to the Laser Quest and we were standing outside discussing and debriefing that night's game.

I couldn't tell you exactly which game it was without diving back into my notes, but it was probably somewhere around game four or five: Buzzard Bait at Buzzard Point! or Bloodbath in Rio Gato! Even though the night air was relatively cool (for Houston in the summertime, that is), our discussion had heated up.

You see, we had a problem. More than that, there was something seriously broken in this version of the game. Right now, the "Rifle is god," as Murphy had put it. Under that draft of the rules, there was no reason on earth to select any other weapon but the rifle: it had range, it had a 15-shot magazine, and it dealt a wicked load of Damage that was only topped by the super-deadly shotgun. And we had another problem: because of our random initiative system, it was possible to die before you had a chance to fire your weapon, even when someone was shooting at you. In an IGOUGO game, you can't really do much until it's your turn (after all, it is I go, you go... you know?).

I also recall that Rio Gato was the game where it really came to head about how I was adamant that you could not split your movement: In other words, you can't move half, shoot, then finish moving. You need to move/attack or attack move. But that's another topic for another time.

The fact is, Paul and I were hot and upset because we each had different ideas on how to handle the dying-before-you-move and the rifle problems. We each suggested and then shot down each other's ideas until, at last something emerged: a slight break in the armor of the IGOUGO rule allowed for the person who is being shot at to instantly shoot back. Suddenly a light went on over our heads. This resolved the first issue, and (as it would turn out), this small change made the games deadlier and move faster.

I went home and wrote up some notes about the proposed change, and after much mulling it over, decided to call this mechanic the Retaliation Shot. Here's the actual text of the rule that wound up in the Gutshot Core Rule Book:

10.5 Retaliation ShotIn general, when someone purposefully shoots at you, you may instantly shoot back with any ready weapon (see below). This return fire is called a Retaliation Shot and it is the only time you get to pull the trigger during someone else's Action.
A ready weapon is a weapon that is loaded and in your hand at the moment you were shot at. This includes all derringers, pistols, rifles, shotguns, and sawed-off shotguns. You may not draw the weapon or pick it up off a shelf (as in a siege situation). It must be in your hand, ready to be used when someone purposefully targeted you.

There's some more text to explain certain limitations, of course. You can't use melee weapons, Two-Gun Shootists only get one Retaliation Shot, the weapon must have ammo in it, and so forth. The book also stresses that this is an optional shot. When someone shoots at you, you don't have to shoot back. Why wouldn't you, you might ask? Obvious things come into play: the shooter is out of range (he's got a rifle and you've got a pistol), or you just don't want to waste the bullet. I've also seen players balk at taking the shot if they can only hit their target with Boxcars. After all, statistically speaking, you've got as much chance of rolling Snake-eyes as you do of rolling Boxcars.

And trust me, that does happen!

Another interesting thing came out of this rule: We decided that all Damage is applied at the end of an Action. "This means that it’s possible for someone to shoot you and do enough Damage to kill you, yet you would still get to retaliate.  And if ya do enough Damage to him in return, you might even take yer killer with yuh! Honestly, we’ve seen it happen plenty of times."

We quickly realized that this helped us recreate one of the classic elements seen in countless Westerns: Someone is blasted away in a hail of bullets, only to turn and manage to squeeze off that final, heroic shot at his killer, taking that varmint with him! It's classic, it's dramatic, and we love seeing it in a game.

So, this one night of bashing ideas back and forth with each other really helped shape Gutshot and turn it into the game it is today.

Mosey on back Thursday and I'll tell you 
how we finally solved the "Rifle is God" problem.

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