Your First Ranged Combat

Thursday is GURPS Day! Welcome, GURP-aholics, this week we are slapping a six-shooter in Rex’s hand and sending him into harm’s way for “Your First Ranged Combat.” It’s what we do.

Last week, Rex got into some fisticuffs because of an attempted mugging by Big Bad Bart. This week Bart’s brother, Billy, comes looking for revenge, and he’s armed with a rifle, not a club!

The flow of ranged combat is the same as for melee combat. The maneuvers are a little different, as are some of the modifiers (see p. 27 of GURPS Lite), but otherwise it remains: if you want to attack someone/something, you…

  • ATTACK by choosing and resolving a maneuver, then rolling against the applicable skill. If you fail, you miss; if you succeed, you might hit! You’ve scored well enough to hit a target that is standing there, motionless, not defending itself. But this is almost never the case. Usually, your target has a chance to…
  • DEFEND by rolling against his Active Defense score (Dodge, Parry, or Block*). If he succeeds, you miss; if he fails, then your blow has successfully landed. Booyah! You now roll for…
  • DAMAGE by rolling the listed damage of the attack that hit and modifying for damage type.

* Dodge is by far the most common active defense against a ranged attack; see p. 28 for the few times a Parry or Block can be used.

The biggest factor in a ranged attack is often the distance between the combatants, expressed as a penalty on the Size and Speed/Range Table (explained on pp. 27-28). This penalty can be significant — hitting a target at distance in combat is no cakewalk — but, on the other hand, firearms tend to be lethal when they do hit due to both their high damage and ability to deliver multiple hits in a single turn.


As mentioned, Bart’s brother Billy was angered by Rex beatin’ the tar out of Bart last week, and he has challenged Rex to face him. After some cat-and-mouse in the tent city just outside of town, the two cowboys each turn a corner and suddenly find themselves 10 yards apart, guns drawn and ready to settle the score.

Rex has a Basic Speed of 5.5, Billy has a Basic Speed of 5.75, so Billy goes first (p. 25).

Billy’s first turn

Rex, HP: 11          Billy, HP: 11

ATTACK: All-Out Attack (Determined, +1)

Similar to how you cannot melee attack a target unless you can reach them, you can only ranged attack a target that is within your weapon’s range — though that is definitely not a problem here since both Rex’s pistol and Billy’s carbine have a range well over 1,000 yards.

Since Billy is able to act first, and his carbine can easily take out an opponent with a single hit, he gambles on an All-Out Attack, hoping to put Rex down before he can even get a shot off.

Billy’s Carbine has a Rate of Fire (RoF) of 1, so he can only fire once per turn. His Guns (Rifle) skill is 12; the range penalty at 10 yards is -4, lowering him to an 8; but the All-Out Attack gives him a +1, for a final effective skill of 9. The GM rolls an 8 on 3d6 — Uh-oh! Rex might be about to take the ol’ dirt nap.

DEFEND: Rex’s only legal defense is Dodge, which for him is a 9. He rolls and gets — a 9! He manages to juke just enough that Billy’s bullet whizzes by him.

GM: “Billy immediately raises his rifle and a shot rings out, but Rex’s erratic movement causes the shot to go wide.”

Rex’s first turn

Rex, HP: 11          Billy, HP: 11


Rex fights the urge to return fire and instead takes a second to aim his pistol at Billy. He also holds his weapon with both hands. This leaves his defenses intact, and will give him bonuses when he does ultimately fire.

Player: “I stand my ground, raise my Colt with both hands, and try to keep a bead on Billy. ”

Since all combatants have acted, the first second of combat draws to a close.


See? Pretty similar to a melee combat — the fastest character chooses a maneuver, resolves it, then the next fastest does the same, then the next, and once everyone has acted, you start back at the top of the order and repeat.

Billy’s second turn

Rex, HP: 11          Billy, HP: 11

ATTACK: Attack

Since his first shot missed, and Rex is now aiming at him, Billy chooses a good old-fashioned Attack maneuver so he will be able to defend if needed.

His Guns (Rifle) skill is still 12, and the range penalty at 10 yards is still -4, but he no longer gets the +1 the All-Out Attack maneuver gave him last turn. Billy’s final effective skill for this shot is only 8 (from 12-4), and he rolls a total of 14. He misses entirely, much to Rex’s relief.

GM: “Billy quickly fires at you with a second shot, but it, too, goes wide.”

Rex’s second turn

Rex, HP: 11          Billy, HP: 11

ATTACK: Attack

This is where Rex hopes his moment to aim proves its worth. His pistol has a Rate of Fire of 3, so he can fire three shots this turn (the full Basic Set uses slightly different rules that allow even weapons with extremely high Rates of Fire to resolve with a single dice roll, but for now we’re still sticking with Lite).

Rex’s Guns (Pistol) skill is 13; the range penalty at 10 yards is -4, lowering him to 9; but aiming for one turn gives him a bonus of his weapon’s Accuracy (+2 in this case), bringing him up to 11; and he gets a final +1 for bracing his one-handed pistol in two hands (all of these modifiers are discussed on pp. 26-28). His final effective skill is thus 12 (that is, 13-4+2+1).

The results of his rolls (rolling once for each of the three shots) are 12, 9, and 11 — three possible hits!

DEFEND: Billy’s only legal defense here is Dodge, which for him is 9. The GM rolls three times, once for each shot, and gets 11, 7, and 15. He did manage to avoid one shot, but the other two struck home. Ouch!

DAMAGE: The damage for Rex’s pistol is listed as “2d+2 pi” (the “pi” stands for piercing, which has no damage modifier). He rolls 2d6 twice and gets 5 and 6. Adding two (remember, the pistol’s damage is “2d+2”) brings the final damage to 7 and 8.

Applying the first hit (7 points of injury) lowers Billy’s Hit Points from 11 to 4. This is a Major Wound (loss of more than 1/2 a character’s HP from a single injury; see p. 30), so the GM rolls 3d6 against Billy’s HT of 11 and succeeds with a roll of 10 — Billy remains standing (though gravely wounded) after the first hit.

Applying the second hit (8 points of injury) lowers Billy’s Hit Points further, from 4 to -4. This is also a Major Wound, but this time the GM fails the roll with a 13 against Billy’s HT of 11 — Billy falls down prone, drops his rifle, and is stunned. He is also at -4 to all skills from the shock penalty (p. 30), and must make a HT roll at the start of his next turn to remain conscious. Billy is in rough shape!

GM: “Rex quickly fires three shots at Billy. The first hits him squarely in the belly, but he manages to remain standing; the second misses entirely; but the third hits him in the chest and causes Billy to fall to the ground, dropping his rifle. Blood clearly stains his shirt.”

Because Billy is so severely wounded, on his back in the dirt, with no ready weapon with which to fight back, the GM decides to come out of combat time. Billy remains on the ground, bleeding from his wounds, barely conscious and largely at Rex’s mercy. The story continues as usual.

As you can see, firearms can be lethal in GURPS! Billy’s carbine is a good example — on a successful hit, it does 5d pi damage. That’s an average damage roll of 17.5, which will put all but the toughest character well below 0 HP in a single shot, and once you’re injured that badly it’s hard (though not impossible) to stage an effective comeback.

So, we’ve now covered making a character, skill use, melee combat, and ranged combat. I hope you’re feeling more comfortable with the rules so far, and realizing that they’re nowhere near as obtuse as some people seem to think. Remember, there are more combat examples elsewhere on the site if you want even more.

Just a couple more posts in the basic series, then we’ll be moving on from GURPS Lite to the full Basic Set. Feel free to let me know what you think of the series so far!


  1. Loving the series. So far, both of these combat examples, as well as the examples you’ve had on the site for a while, are over in just a handful of turns. Is that typical?

    • Hiya, Colin. Glad to hear!

      I feel like I trim my examples a bit, but not by a huge amount. I would guess that in my home games and cons, most one-on-one encounters resolve in 5-6 exchanges; super tough boss-type fights, maybe 10-15.

      Writing examples is disproportionately time-consuming, but the nice thing is, you can assign whatever dice roll makes the point you need to make, the “random” part isn’t truly random. Where in an actual game you might have an opponent dodge three attacks in a row and parry a fourth, in an example you can just cut out the three superfluous ones and get to the one that matters.

      • Tweaking the example rolls makes a ton of sense. My questions was actually coming from not having run GURPS games with much combat in the past, but having seen combat in systems like D&D. I’m trying to calibrate my sense of pacing for when I GM.

        • Colin, also keep in mind that each combat round is just one second long. When in doubt I tend to keep the action straightforward, brief, and urgent to reflect this.

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