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Default investigator handgun and creating murder hobos


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Greetings fellow keepers and investigators! Here's an issue that I would like your opinion on.

I prefer my CoC games without any firearms fired. But the thing is that on many occasions, violence is either the only option or the path the investigators follow because it makes them feel confident and hopeful against the inevitable madness and horror.

During my 3 year run as a keeper, I've noticed that every player in my games, acquires the .45 Automatic or .45 Revolver handgun. It's cheap, reliable, does a lot of damage (1d10+2) and in many cases, solves the problems very quickly (e.g. NPC with spells that can't utter a single syllable before getting blasted by Extreme rolled shots).

So, it has become the default weapon of choice and they rely on that a lot, thus ignoring other ways of solving problems, and actually becoming murder hobos. I once tried to give them less powerfull handguns, like the .32 Revolver (1d8 dmg), but the first thing they went out to do was to buy more .45s! Hell, one of them bought a couple in case one of the got jammed or ran out of bullets!

Some scenarios, have antagonists that are immune to mundane weapon. But most don't. And the use of guns, which is nice to have from time to time, is very common. But for me, this is something that subtracts from the actual horror experience.

Has anyone faced the same issue? What are your feelings - thoughts on the matter?

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I have two thoughts:

1) They arrive "early" or "late." And the investigation becomes about investigation rather than direct conflict.

2) Many threats of the Mythos completely nullify firearms. If your players are meta-gaming numbers, give them foes that guns can't defeat. There are a plethora in which any firearm does a single damage point to them.

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ensure you include consequences when the PCs go about murdering people - witnesses, police, revenge, trials, jail, etc. 

use monsters immune more or less to firearms, make the monsters intelligent (run/disappear rather than fight, and then come back later). 

use cultists with Flesh Ward spell.

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1 hour ago, MandilarasM said:

Has anyone faced the same issue? What are your feelings - thoughts on the matter?

I *wish* my players only used .45's (instead of Whippets, Thompsons and explosives). It's a game, so I expect them to optimize damage output.. and if an encounter can be solved with force, this just speeds it up. However, I typically:

  1. Have spell casting NPC's use the Flesh-ward spell
  2. Use monsters that can't be easily taken down with guns (or use more of the monsters)
  3. Get the PC's in legal trouble for murdering human cultists (since the cult probably has influence). Authorities might take the PC's guns away, watch them, imprison them, or help the cult hunt them down.

As a simulationist GM, I let the players try to take realistic, responsible actions (which may include excellent efforts to stay alive, and minimizing their own horror). However, there are also very realistic social consequences to firing a gun... possibly resulting in isolation from normal society and prematurely ending an investigator's career (which can add to the horror).

(doh: Mike ninja'd my same answers while I was writing)

 

Edited by mvincent
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OK, there are several consequences to violence in modern games, 'modern' in the sense of firearms being reliable, reasonably cheap to acquire, and relatively easy to use.

Firstly, we have consequences in regular society:

- headlines reading 'SHOOTOUT AT MISC U!' and accurate descriptions of the PC's given by grad students up late studying are NOT the kind of thing most investigators want in their lives;

- the police and the criminal justice system. If PC's aren't careful, they'll end up finding a sketch of their face on the bulletin board in the post office with the word 'REWARD' in large block letters above it.

Secondly, we have underworld consequences

- there's the whole vengeful relatives /cult /crime family /organization. That can become very inconvenient very quickly;

- too much heat on the PC's and suddenly underworld contacts dry up. All the sudden Master Wong, your handy-dandy mystic adept doesn't know you anymore, your sources on the street dry up, your fence [*cough*, uh, 'appraiser'] won't do business with you

Lastly we have the mystic consequences

- bad guys start being immune or mostly immune to firearms

- cultists in surplus trench armor from War One

- not to mention cultists infiltrating your barber shop for your hair sample for that ritual that you'll be the star attraction for on Sunday night

Now, I freely admit that most of my investigator characters don't feel comfortable going to the bathroom without a .45 pistol and a 12 ga. shotgun. But I can honestly say that these items have only helped against the lower tiered Mythos bad guys... cultists, Deep Ones, ghouls, etc. Once you start mucking around with Mi-Go, Hounds of Tindalos, and Colours from Space, you might as well poke them with a stick for all the good a lead-chucker is gonna do you. At some point in every Mythos story arc, all those points you put into firearms skills are gonna end up being points you needed for some method to save your sanity and your soul.

Edited by svensson
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Dear @MandilarasM,

To all good suggestions mentioned above (I will list them here for my convenience: timing, immune monsters, spells, law enforcement, social repercussions, underworld) I would add the Sanity cost. I noticed that during my games Sanity is one of the most important stats to my players with each Sanity Point valued immensely. Murdering people (especially innocent ones) should heavily affect the mental state of investigators and could correspond to a significant SP loss. It can be role-played as (mere) stings of remorse or could change the character completely (leading to some changes in backstory). Take Dostoyevski's "Crime and Punishment" and read it as a story about a murder hobo. You will find many great ideas there.

Moreover, the way one narrates these "murderous" scenes can affect your players' decisions in the future. Other than asking for Sanity rolls I do not use any mechanical devices, nor do I try any moralization or something of that sort. Maybe sometimes the mechanics of bouts of madness can help. One thing I try is to describe the facts in an extremely dry and indifferent manner, such that my players simply start feeling uncomfortable with the outcomes of their decisions. Below is a story from my experience which somehow exemplifies this approach.

Once my players' characters broke into a university office to steal some documents. One of the investigators was indefinitely insane. They failed some pushed rolls and finally, a guard caught them. He had no serious intention to harm them, but he had a gun, which was interpreted by them as an invitation to fight. They killed him quickly, before even realizing that this old man was completely innocent, just doing his job, and probably could have been persuaded to leave them. Once I finished describing that, I asked for Sanity rolls. There was one bout of madness, experienced by the insane character. The player rolled 1d10 and got 3, i.e. attack of violence! He reasonably asked his friends to run downstairs and start the automobile, while he would hide the body somewhere. When they were waiting for him in the car, they heard multiple gunshots, screaming, and splashing of beaten meat. After a minute they see their friend getting into the car, driver's seat, all covered in dripping blood, with a madman's look on his face. And he starts driving them in the unknown direction...

They not only never killed anyone since then, but never used a gun again for the rest of the campaign. I am not sure if any other method would be similarly effective.

Edited by Tranquillitas Ordinis
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Howdy-

I am currently running two masks of Nyarlathotep campaigns (wanted to run one but I had so many applicants I felt bad and decided to run two campaigns and its kicking my butt). I use the pulp rules so using guns in my campaign is cool because it is two fisted action anyway. And believe me, in MoN there is more RP then gun play believe it or not.   Still, guns are a fun thing to include and if you are using pulp rules, there is a very nifty rule for for the bad guys called "Look out Master" where the mook throws himself in front of the main boss. This has pissed my players off a number of times but they also laugh too at the poor sap that is getting gunned down.  Bottom line, run the game as you AND your players will enjoy.

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This is all sensible advice, especially the bit about inserting real-world consequences when players become too murderous or prone to gunplay. But I'll second @MandilarasM's concern: Despite the notion that in Call of Cthulhu, violence isn't a good answer, a great many of the most popular scenarios condition and encourage players to see it as a solution (in many scenarios, it is the solution). So I can advertise the game to my players at the start as, "Using violence will only get you into trouble," but then playing through

Spoiler

The Haunting, Dead Man Stomp, and Blackwater Creek

-- to name just a few common early scenario examples -- immediately demonstrates otherwise and often punishes them if they didn't load up on combat skills. I'm currently running

Spoiler

the Cult of Chaos mini-campaign Flotsam & Jetsam

for a group; good luck making it through that one without an ability to hold your own in a fight (or, indeed, without turning to violence as your solution at least once in nearly every scenario).

I've also found it's often difficult for players to detect when they are "supposed to" stand and fight, versus when they are "supposed to" surrender, versus when they are "supposed to" flee. Many modules feature a similar buildup where the scenario then "expects" one of these outcomes--are two PCs supposed to try to hold their own against four Deep Ones, or is surrender/accepting capture a better option? Many modules assume one outcome, without direction as to what happens if the PCs surrender in the former scenario or fight to the death in the latter (well, it's clear what happens there, but not very satisfying and generally not clear how the PCs should know the NPCs aren't going to fight them to the death in this case). Certainly I've found ways to get around this as a Keeper, but it often amounts to railroading a capture.

That's a long buildup to this question: What are good scenarios to run that involve no assumed violence on the part of the investigators, that have at least a moderate degree of survivability, and that are set in the 1920s? (I know there are Modern scenarios that do this well, but I prefer to run Call of Cthulhu in its classic era.) Running these kind of modules early would seem to do a lot of the legwork toward training players away from becoming Murder Hobos.

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I suppose one option is make it a supernatural campaign as opposed to a cthulhu campaign. Ghosts, haunts, poltergeists etc might all have their place in such a campaign even a haunted or bad  place....evil genius loci sort of thing might be the focus of a session or short campaign. Bullets won't stop a ghost but uncovering an ancient wrong and the atonement or righting of that wrong might do so. Plenty of library use, maybe geology and anthropology use - maybe the players have to enact an ancient Hopi ritual to rid a mine of the ghosts or bad spirits that are preventing work ?

Maybe archeology rolls reveal it's an ancient burial site and the players end up supporting the Hopi to have it delared a sacred site and work has to stop entirely....not the outcome the mine owners were after if it was them that hired the investigators in the first place 😄

Edited by Agentorange
typos
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I found it very odd for this issue to come up.  The only time combat has become primary in the games I have run is when the were expected to.  Down Darker Trails, Delta Green and Actung! Cthulhu.  I am not familiar with most of the adventures you listed and never ran F&J so I may just have been lucky and dodged the bullet.

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23 hours ago, Joe Kenobi said:

That's a long buildup to this question: What are good scenarios to run that involve no assumed violence on the part of the investigators, that have at least a moderate degree of survivability, and that are set in the 1920s?

I can think of Crimson Letters (Keeper's Rulebook), Paper Chase and Edge of Darkness (Starter Set), Missed Dues (Keeper Screen Pack), Saturnine Chalice and Dead Light (Dead Light and Other Dark Turns), The Crack'd and Crooked Manse (Mansions of Madness), Spirit of Industry (New Tales of The Miskatonic Valley), Whispers of Harlem (Harlem Unbound), Scritch Scratch. These come to mind in terms of what's available for 7e that I've read, but there probably are more, and even more if you begin counting previous editions and such (althought I've heard that the scenarios from the first editions of the game had a problem structuring resolutions outside of combat.) 

Edited by AlonsoAguilurk
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Thanks, @AlonsoAguilurk! That's a helpful list. I've run Edge of Darkness and Dead Light, and played in Missed Dues; you're right, those definitely fit the bill. And I have copies of Crimson Letters and Whispers of Harlem by virtue of owning their respective books, but admit I've never read through those scenarios specifically. Will definitely give them a closer look!

The others I'll have to look into--though while I've heard great things about Crack'd and Crooked Manse, I've also heard to expect it to result in a TPK (not sure the veracity of that intel?).

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Something else I think should probably be said in this thread...

**After the players have been duly warned, it is perfectly OK to follow through with your veiled threats**

We're not playing Kingdom Hearts here. This is Call of freaking Cthulhu. In CoC there is no 'win', there is 'stave off the inevitable darkness for one more day'. If you wanted a happy ending, you should be playing My Little Pony.

The first SAN check when Detective Gunhappy Browning realizes that the cultist just took a 12 gauge slug to the chest, giggled and kept coming at him should be 2/1d10. You know, just to let the PC's know you're serious...

That isn't to say that you should be out there trying to kill characters, but if you play all the way through Mountains of Madness or Horror on the Orient Express and nobody died or isn't in a permanent catatonic state then you're doin' it wrong.

Edited by svensson
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1 hour ago, svensson said:

Something else I think should probably be said in this thread...

**After the players have been duly warned, it is perfectly OK to follow through with your veiled threats**

We're not playing Kingdom Hearts here. This is Call of freaking Cthulhu. In CoC there is no 'win', there is 'stave off the inevitable darkness for one more day'. If you wanted a happy ending, you should be playing My Little Pony.

The first SAN check when Detective Gunhappy Browning realizes that the cultist just took a 12 gauge slug to the chest, giggled and kept coming at him should be 2/1d10. You know, just to let the PC's know you're serious...

That isn't to say that you should be out there trying to kill characters, but if you play all the way through Mountains of Madness or Horror on the Orient Express and nobody died or isn't in a permanent catatonic state then you're doin' it wrong.

I dunno, I think killing players off or driving them permanently mad in each adventure  is what gives CoC a bad rap with many other players. I approach GM'ing Pulp CoC from a Brandon Fraisure The Mummy perspective. Have fun, the players are the heros and like the mummy movies or Indiana Jones, nobody should die or go mad.

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1 minute ago, sgtscott658 said:

I dunno, I think killing players off or driving them permanently mad in each adventure  is what gives CoC a bad rap with many other players. I approach GM'ing Pulp CoC from a Brandon Fraisure The Mummy perspective. Have fun, the players are the heros and like the mummy movies or Indiana Jones, nobody should die or go mad.

But 'The Mummy' and 'Indiana Jones' franchises aren't Call of Cthulhu, they're pulp action /hardboiled noir.

Now, if those are the games that you want to play, awesome. Do your thing. I can think of much worse rules sets to base your game on than CoC, which does such a great job of capturing the 20's and 30's.

But CoC isn't pulp. CoC is as dark as midnight in a coal mine. Call of Cthulhu is the realization that the Earth is doomed and there is nothing whatsoever that Mankind can do about it. Call of Cthulhu is Horror with a capital **eek**!

If you're playing pulp, then yes there's a whole bunch of Deus in the machina. Incredible escapes, cliffhangers, two-fisted action are all part and parcel to the genre.

But if you're playing CoC, then death and catatonia get increasingly likely as the campaign goes on.

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Every group is different. The game supports a wide variety of different play styles. Characters don't need to die for there to be suspense. In fact, I'd argue that character death is an out. It relieves tension that could continue. If you really want to scare someone, keep them alive. I've also found that skirting the fine line between madness and lucidity over a long period of time can invoke quite a bit of stress.

Nobody here is wrong, but there is variation in style that can result in cosmic horror without the need for character death or madness.

10 hours ago, svensson said:

That isn't to say that you should be out there trying to kill characters, but if you play all the way through Mountains of Madness or Horror on the Orient Express and nobody died or isn't in a permanent catatonic state then you're doin' it wrong.

I disagree with this. The alterations needed to play MoM or HotOE, or ANY campaign, less lethally are there. Some players find character death boring. If you play it according to the RAW, sure. But I don't think I've run a single scenario according to the RAW. And my players have fun. Are we "doing it wrong?" Why should other people have to play your way? I think you understand this. You've pointed out that you think it is ok for people to vary their game play. Yet, you're also coming back to this idea that there is a "right" way to play? It's contradictory. It is ok for you to allow people space to play the game the way they want. And allowing them space does not mean asserting that there is a "right" and "wrong" way to play it.

Edited by klecser
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It may also be worth looking at firearms laws for the time and place of the adventure. Particularly if they're centered around Lovecraft Country in the 1920s, Massachusetts' laws are going to require investigators to associate with authorities in order to carry firearms other than rifles or full-length shotguns. Chapter 172 of the Acts of 1906 required authorization from a justice, mayor, or board of police for a person to carry a loaded handgun (either semi-automatic or revolver). Carrying one without a permit was punishable by a year in jail. In 1911, "loaded" was removed, so carrying any handgun without a permit was worth a year in jail. In 1922, "unnaturalized foreign born" were legally ineligible for permits. By 1927, the penalty for possession of a handgun, machine gun, or sawed-off shotgun, loaded or unloaded, without a permit could be as high as five years in state prison.

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HP Lovecraft wrote a few gun solves the problem stories - my favourite is From Beyond, in which a single shot stops the horror.

Of course there are plenty of horrors which can't be hurt with human weapons, like Cthulhu himself. 

I think if they are getting a bit too handy with the weapons, try them on something like Stephen King's Tommyknockers, in which say an entire town comes under a malign influence, or maybe an encounter with hordes of horrible rat like creatures which feature in a few cthulhu stories. 

 

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On 4/23/2021 at 12:16 AM, MandilarasM said:

Greetings fellow keepers and investigators! Here's an issue that I would like your opinion on.

I prefer my CoC games without any firearms fired. But the thing is that on many occasions, violence is either the only option or the path the investigators follow because it makes them feel confident and hopeful against the inevitable madness and horror.

During my 3 year run as a keeper, I've noticed that every player in my games, acquires the .45 Automatic or .45 Revolver handgun. It's cheap, reliable, does a lot of damage (1d10+2) and in many cases, solves the problems very quickly (e.g. NPC with spells that can't utter a single syllable before getting blasted by Extreme rolled shots).

So, it has become the default weapon of choice and they rely on that a lot, thus ignoring other ways of solving problems, and actually becoming murder hobos. I once tried to give them less powerfull handguns, like the .32 Revolver (1d8 dmg), but the first thing they went out to do was to buy more .45s! Hell, one of them bought a couple in case one of the got jammed or ran out of bullets!

Some scenarios, have antagonists that are immune to mundane weapon. But most don't. And the use of guns, which is nice to have from time to time, is very common. But for me, this is something that subtracts from the actual horror experience.

Has anyone faced the same issue? What are your feelings - thoughts on the matter?

There is no getting around the fact that the USA is a gun culture, and the M1911 is a readily available handgun in the 1920s.  Gun permits and laws are managed on a state-to-state basis in the USA.  The NFA is the only major firearms legislation (passed in 1934) that potentially affects gun ownership in the period.

So really, this is actually a discussion about stopping CoC murder hobo-ism.  And yes, murder-hoboism is a huge RPG problem that detracts from the whole game, potentially completely ruining campaigns, so how do you stop it happening?

Some suggestions:

Murder is bad for your mental health.  Instantly lose 1d6 SAN for killing human beings with a gun.  Even drawing a gun can be cause for a 0/1 SAN loss for all involved.  Double the penalties for shooting an innocent party, and double it again for shooting women and children.

Introduce sympathetic NPCs who are reliable and helpful to the players.  Even make ordinary people in the street "kinda nice and helpful" for the most part.  Make the players feel invested in the community at large, as then humanity seems more "worth saving".  A lot of the murder-hoboism is created by the failure of GMs to invest the players with the sense that their character is part of a world that is worth saving, and where violence has deeply undesirable consequences.  Imagine a CoC environment where the police are gruff but helpful if you go around solving crimes without shooting anyone.

Give players dependents and jobs.  NPCs who need them, and to whom they have a huge emotional connection.  If they plan to get trigger happy, remind the player that if their character shoots someone, that the consequences for their family, their job, and their credit rating will be alarming.

Shooting guns at people is a crime, and belonging to an insane cult is not a crime in the USA, in fact freedom of religion is protected under the US constitution.  Even if you can prove that the insane cult is involved in multiple homicides, you will still have trouble getting a court not to convict your vigilante actions if you go around shooting people. Criminals use guns to solve problems, not law abiding citizens.  Ram that fact home.  Send offending characters to jail and even the electric chair.  Even ownership of certain handguns can be used as evidence of criminal intent, despite what the laws say.

Introduce a 15-30minute (1d4+2x5min) response time for armed police to respond to a phone call by conscientious neighbors about "shots fired" within any urban area.  Double the response times for rural areas, and only if there are multiple shots fired.  Realistically, rural communities are a lot less worried about gunshots, generally assuming someone is out shooting pests or some-such.  Of course don't tell the players anything about these rules.

Murder-hobos will become well known to law enforcement, and will engender major law enforcement investigations, and likely result in the players being gunned down by Federal Agents with brownings and thompsons.  Live by the gun, die by it.

Make guns more trouble than they are worth.  De-escalate the use and availability of guns. 

Have the police confiscate firearms used at crime scenes, and then press charges etc. 

Remind the players that their characters are civilized people who don't need guns.

Restrict professions with firearms skills.

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23 hours ago, Darius West said:

Introduce a 15-30minute (1d4+2x5min) response time for armed police to respond to a phone call by conscientious neighbors about "shots fired" within any urban area.  Double the response times for rural areas, and only if there are multiple shots fired.  Realistically, rural communities are a lot less worried about gunshots, generally assuming someone is out shooting pests or some-such.  Of course don't tell the players anything about these rules.
 

I think that is a bit too non-realistic in all except decent sized towns.  In the 20s something like 1 in 10 households had a phone in the US (even though in scenarios it seems like everyone does) and I guess that the poorer areas of town are likely to be lower than that. Also police response in very rural areas is likely to be quite a bit slower than that. Although a single rural policeman confronting a gun-happy PC group might be interesting.  Even if there is no immediate confrontation there is likely to be a much higher police presence in the area after a dead body is found and the police are likely going to be talking to outsiders, as well as town-dwellers.

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On 5/4/2021 at 8:06 PM, andyl said:

I think that is a bit too non-realistic in all except decent sized towns.  In the 20s something like 1 in 10 households had a phone in the US (even though in scenarios it seems like everyone does) and I guess that the poorer areas of town are likely to be lower than that. Also police response in very rural areas is likely to be quite a bit slower than that. Although a single rural policeman confronting a gun-happy PC group might be interesting.  Even if there is no immediate confrontation there is likely to be a much higher police presence in the area after a dead body is found and the police are likely going to be talking to outsiders, as well as town-dwellers.

Look, agreed, but remember that the 1920s is the age of the pay phone in a way we can barely understand in this age of pocket communications.  Ringing the police from a pay-phone would mean contacting the operator who in most cities wouldn't charge you anything for emergency phone-calls as they were a public service.  This was possible from corner stores even in poor neighborhoods, and likely the shop proprietor would do it automatically if they heard shooting, unless they had a damn good reason not to, such as being stood-over by the local mobsters.

I agree that rural response times would be slower, but not within earshot of a rural town's main street.  So the figures I offer are based on the idea of someone getting in their flivver and driving to tell the sheriff, which is unlikely to take more than 3 hrs round trip, and much less the closer to town they start from.  Obviously the further away from civilization a character is, the more plausible getting away with gun violence becomes, but then, so do the chances that the people you will shoot at will have the means, motive and opportunity to shoot back. 

The aim IS to make the response times punitive, so guns become less useful and palatable as an answer to problems.  Trading a little realism to end murder-hoboism seems like a reasonable trade-off to me,  as seriously, what is less realistic than murder-hoboism?  VERY few people irl resort to anything approaching such behavior, and they normally wind up arrested or shot pretty quickly.

 

Edited by Darius West
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14 minutes ago, Darius West said:

The aim IS to make the response times punitive, so guns become less useful and palatable as an answer to problems.  Trading a little realism to end murder-hoboism seems like a reasonable trade-off to me,  as seriously, what is less realistic than murder-hoboism?  VERY few people irl resort to anything approaching such behavior, and they normally wind up arrested or shot pretty quickly.

 

QFT

"Perfect timing" is another example of a common RPG element that is completely unrealistic, yet we all agree to suspend the realism sometimes, because the story might be more interesting.

Edited by klecser
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7 hours ago, Darius West said:

Look, agreed, but remember that the 1920s is the age of the pay phone in a way we can barely understand in this age of pocket communications.  Ringing the police from a pay-phone would mean contacting the operator who in most cities wouldn't charge you anything for emergency phone-calls as they were a public service.  This was possible from corner stores even in poor neighborhoods, and likely the shop proprietor would do it automatically if they heard shooting, unless they had a damn good reason not to, such as being stood-over by the local mobsters.

I agree that rural response times would be slower, but not within earshot of a rural town's main street.  So the figures I offer are based on the idea of someone getting in their flivver and driving to tell the sheriff, which is unlikely to take more than 3 hrs round trip, and much less the closer to town they start from.  Obviously the further away from civilization a character is, the more plausible getting away with gun violence becomes, but then, so do the chances that the people you will shoot at will have the means, motive and opportunity to shoot back. 

The aim IS to make the response times punitive, so guns become less useful and palatable as an answer to problems.  Trading a little realism to end murder-hoboism seems like a reasonable trade-off to me,  as seriously, what is less realistic than murder-hoboism?  VERY few people irl resort to anything approaching such behavior, and they normally wind up arrested or shot pretty quickly.

 

If there was a major outbreak of criminality someone would have rung the church bell out sounded an electric fire siren (invented in 1869). Local police and citizens militia would respond in minutes.

Remember 1920s was only 55 years after the end of the US civil war, plenty of expert military experienced survivors had personal memories of having to defend their town and homes from raiders. Anyone who thinks someone in their seventies is too old to pick up a gun never saw my grandpa shoot. 

The response time would be less than today. And nobody would care if some dodgy strangers ended up dead.

Edited by EricW
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