The good Lord made man free, Samuel Colt made 'em equal.
Okay, so I've been following the discussion of science fiction games over at Grognardia and one thing that keeps popping up again and again is something along the lines of "Weapons in science fiction/modern settings are so much more deadly than ancient weapons."
Now, I've got some thoughts about that, and since that's what blogs are for, instead of randomly harassing folks in comments I figure I oughta put this here thing to other uses besides game recounts. So here's a rant/rebuttal/manifesto/what have you.
The thing about firearms is this, their REAL advantage over other ways to inflict most dire and lamentable travail upon thyne fellowe creatures is in ease of use.
The damage done by a bullet is not appreciably greater than getting hacked with a broadsword, it's just that one needs the user to be in good physical condition and well trained to use the sword, while you merely need to be shown how to disengage the safety and pull the trigger with a firearm.
Only someone with a lot of muscle can use a sword or club effectively, which puts such weapons generally in the hands of active, healthy adults, usually male. A ninety year old granny or a nine year old child can wound or kill someone with a gun. (This is a legitimate reason to be concerned about them in real life, and I'll say right now I have no wish to trivialize such things. I'm talking about RPG's though, where "Lead soldiers leave behind no lead widows or lead orphans." as H.G. Wells once said at the dawn of wargaming as a hobby.)
The damage done, however, is largely the same, and you're just as dead or wounded if you get shot as if you get stabbed or slashed with a blade.
Okay, some hypothetical interlocutor might say, what about range? A sword you need to get up close, you can take someone out at 20 paces with a pistol. Well, I just bundle that into ease of use, again.
Think of the damage a longbow can do to someone, at a heck of a lot longer range than most handguns. (Rifles are another matter.)
Again, longbow users, like the famous English longbowmen who made Agincourt such a bloodbath for the French, had to train all the time to just be strong enough to pull the thing. There was a royal decree stating all able bodied men in England had to practice with a longbow. I can't cite so take with a grain of salt, but I recall reading that the top bowmen of the time would develop this super massive gorilla arm on one side of their body, just from practicing with the longbow.
Furthermore, the longbow was only *really* effective in battle when used in big groups, throwing up those hails of arrows the movies seem to have fallen in love with depicting. In other words, a mighty thewed yeoman with a longbow probably has as much chance of putting an arrow through a target as someone with modest training with a gun can put a bullet through it, with similar results.
I guess what I'm reacting to is this assumption that a gun is some kind of alpha weapon, probably fueled by countless films and TV shows, where the hero points it at a mook and the mook is guaranteed to fall screaming over the railing to his final reward in the great stunt man's crash pad in the sky. I think there's also this tendency to assume an evolutionary progression with technology.
I'd be willing to go out on a limb and say most technological innovation does the same thing it's predecessor did, only faster and more easily. A washboard and a bucket of soapy water will get your clothes as clean or cleaner than a washing machine, but you don't have to work as hard to do it. A plane and a horse will both get you from New York to LA, but one takes hours and the other takes months. Etc. Etc.
A brief digression on futuristic weapons leads me around to the same point. If you're going for "plausible", then what you're probably gonna end up with is just more slug thrower type weapons. They've worked for centuries, and there's little reason to stop using them, unless something amazingly better comes along. They'll probably have improvements in targeting, user recognition, lighter materials, and the like, but they're still all about slamming a pebble into a body with enough force to cause massive tissue damage and shock.
If you wanna get more far out, with stuff like blasters and laser weapons, again I submit that being cut in half with a laser (which is probably how it'd kill you. A laser wielder would have to wiggle the beam around to do the tissue damage even a .22 bullet would do.) is about the same crimp on your day as being cut in half by a katana (or even a laser katana, if you're into animé).
Just getting shot gun style with such a weapon would just leave a nice, self cauterized hole in you, without any of the kinetic dumping a slug or sling stone does. Energy weapons might be worth taking seriously if they dumped enough heat into you to cook you, but in that case I'd just treat 'em like a fireball spell or dragon breath and be done with it.
So long story short, a firearm is not more potent at inflicting grievous wounds than a sword, axe, or bohemian ear spoon. It just takes less trouble to do similar amounts of damage. If you can handle a player character taking a blow from a two handed sword and blithely fighting on, then a few shots in the gut with a Colt 1911 shouldn't phase you either. Heck, it works for John Woo...
So if I were putting pistols into a Labyrinth Lord game, for example, I'd probably just give 'em a little bit of stepped damage based on caliber. Say d6 for low caliber (.22 and up), d8 for medium caliber (.38 and up), and d12 for heavy caliber (.45 and magnum loads), and then assign ranges as appropriate.
Most pistols have about a 30-50 ft. range. Long arms probably triple that, and can be much more accurate. There's plenty of resource out there in gaming land about guns and their ranges. (I'd probably tag Palladium system games especially for this. Them dudes love love loved their firearms. All you need is a feet/meters number and you're set, tho.)
Finally, I'd allow any class to use 'em. (If you wanted you could have clerics abstain, but frankly a bullet's about the same as a bludgeoning weapon when you get right down to it. No sharp edges here to get the cleric in dutch with their deity. ) Heck, I'd salt a few pistols in with my monster encounters. Give a Flumph a glock and they're not so ridiculous now, are they?
And that's that, figure out a cost for 'em based on their rarity in the game world and you're done.
(The above section is an attempt to follow Joesky's Rule and add something useful to the rapid fire verbiage. I figure if I can get someone out there to have their wizard pull a heater and pop a cap in some bugbear's hairy @ss, I'll have contributed.)