Shotgun Rules

Have you ever tried to write your own tabletop roleplaying system, or perhaps a board game? If you have plenty of patience it’s fairly easy to put something together that works, although “fun” takes a hell of a lot more effort to achieve. A basic rule set is actually surprisingly easy to throw together, but that must then be followed by testing said rules until you hate them to make sure that they absolutely work, and while you might say “the simpler the better” sometimes the simple rules are the easiest to get drastically wrong, and you end up patching over the open crack with specific rules.

At least that has been my experience of game design, others may differ. There’s one particular example I want to pick on here, and it’s one you may have already guessed if you read the title, and didn’t just dive in without looking.


Guns are a fairly simple arrangement: accuracy and damage a must, with options on shots per round for automatic guns, if you want to get really specific then you can consider shots between reloads (or magazine size if you prefer) and that’s about it. With those considerations in mind you can very quickly create rough approximations of your basic gun-list from most games:

  • A Pistol is an all-round option, balancing accuracy and damage. A player particularly good with guns might be able to dual-wield pistols with little sacrifice in accuracy.
  • Assault Rifles and SMGs reduce in accuracy but gain in overall damage output. You might translate that into multiple attacks per round or a single damage increase. There’s also the option on “spray and pray” rules where a player can attempt to hit multiple targets at a heavy compromise to accuracy and/or damage.
  • Sniper Rifles are incredibly accurate at long ranges. If you have critical hit rules you might consider increasing the damage a sniper can do with a critical hit, or possibly reduce the amount of times a sniper can fire to compensate for the high damage output.

A fairly broad look at the options perhaps but it’s simple enough that most rule systems will be able to create something recognisable with those guidelines in mind. Dungeons & Dragons frequently includes a modern weapon section in which damage variation is determined by the size of dice used, creating a higher element of chaos. Savage Worlds gives guns a rate of fire statistic which show how many shots can be taken in a round and how many targets can be fired at, imposing penalties at longer ranges, where the Battlestar Gallactica RP gives every gun a range increment statistic that makes hitting harder the further away you are. Some systems also give you the option to aim a shot, increasing accuracy, but usually at the expense of other options or movement.

All of this falls apart when it comes to shotguns.


Now in theory it’s not too bad a deal,right? Combine rules for multiple targets and accuracy over distance, should all work fine, right? Well the problem with shotguns is that you attack over a fixed area but deal less damage over distance, up to a point at which hitting at all becomes almost impossible. Now, if your target is right in front of you that target takes phenomenal damage, but you can hit almost no one behind that target, so turning it into an area of effect attack isn’t really an option.

Individually, each of these rules is easy enough to put together, but the problem is not each rule, it’s all of them put together. Simplicity is at the very core of a well-executed rule set, and managing this amount of complexity once or twice in a player’s turn is frankly unreasonable, especially when other people are waiting to take their – far quicker – turns. Now, no ruleset is entirely accurate, but it’s hard to find anything close enough to the mark.

In computer games life is made a great deal easier, all of the calculations are done in an instant for us, because as powerful as the human mind is it has a great deal more to do than work out how to use your invisible shotgun. Even in computer games though they have a serious balancing issue, often they’re either the best or worst guns in the game by a discernible margin, or have such an incredible difference in power over range, you’re often better off swinging a big stick. Even then those shotguns tend to be unrealistic because of the balance issues. Scroll down to the bottom of this article archived from Kotaku to read more, or just google “Shotguns in games” and take note of how quickly the matter of realism and balance pops up.


The best rules I have seen come from Savage Worlds itself:

Each weapon has a short, medium and long range. In most instances they impose a penalty on accuracy but the damage remains constant (value determined by dice roll). In the case of shotguns however, the accuracy increases owing to the spread of the pellets, but the damage reduces, from 3d6 at short range (six sided dice for those unfamiliar) to 2d6 at medium and 1d6 at longe range. This is as close as I have seen to a true depiction of a shotgun’s capabilities as any, but it still lacks major elements like collateral damage, and falls apart past long range.

So I ask you lovely people, what rules have you encountered for shotguns that worked well without interfering with the flow of the game? Have you found a method that works for you, or have you created something similar to any great success? Join me in the comments down below or on Facebook.

One thought on “Shotgun Rules”

  1. I remember when you and I went through a few iterations of Shotgun rules for the Borderlands RPG. What did we use in the end? I know one of our gripes was the area effect, the cone of the shotgun, plus distance in determining how many people get hit.

    I’ve seen those Savage Worlds rules in other games, particularly the World of Warcraft RPG they published years ago, with their Blunderbusses. In the end you used a single roll and diminished damage over the distance. If I’m not mistaken your single attack roll also got penalties depending on the distance to determine how many targets you hit or not. But I need to confirm hahaha


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