Gun Versus Pistol

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There is a disconnect regarding Wildcard skills, one which causes many people to underestimate or misunderstand their utility. I can trace this to the somewhat awkward description in GURPS Characters, which implies that a Wildcard skill is just shorthand for other skills -- an accounting method to save space on a character sheet.

Wildcard skills are intended to be broad brushstrokes of competence, however. The intent is not, "This skill replaces these twelve other skills," but, "This skill is what you roll against when doing anything in its baliwick." Can you substitute Detective! for Politics? Not normally, no. But if you're rolling to determine which senators gain from the death of a congressman, either skill will do just fine. The relevant question isn't what skill you'd normally need to use -- it's whether what you're doing falls under the intent of your Wildcard skill.

The most common manifestation of this disconnect is the argument for taking Guns (Pistol) over Gun! skill. To wit:

"Why buy Gun! skill? It's way more efficient to just raise your favorite specialty, like Pistol, up to a ridiculously high level and default all the other guns off of that. A DX 14 character can buy Guns (Pistol)-21, which gives him the other Guns skills at 19 or 17, for the price of Gun!-14. And Gun! doesn't even let you make any shots you couldn't make with Pistol skill already!"

All 100% true, of course. If your only concern is the ability to fire a gun, then you're far, far better off taking Guns (Pistol). However, here's a partial list of the things you can do with Gun! skill, none of which would be covered in any way by Guns (Pistol):

  • Fast-draw or quick-sheathe your gun
  • Pistol whip an enemy
  • Reload the gun faster by quick-drawing ammo
  • Make a tactical assessment of the threat level in a firefight
  • Notice something odd about the weapons your foes are using
  • Track down nearby gun dealers and shooting ranges in any city
  • Make an Acrobatic Dodge against incoming fire
  • Recognize a gun from the sound of it being reloaded
  • Field-strip and repair your friend's gun
  • Pick up an alien blaster rifle and instinctively know everything necessary to use it at no penalty
  • Know exactly where to shoot on a 2004 Toyota Camry to disable the lowjack system without hurting the car
  • Fashion a magazine of silver bullets with garlic oil loads
  • Use your gun to be far more intimidating than an untrained person pointing a gun would be
  • Fast-talk any gun enthusiast
  • Conceal a gun on you or spot a concealed gun on another person
  • Recall the metallurgical breakdown of each model made by every major firearms company
  • Gauge how skilled someone is by how they hold their gun

Oh, and you can shoot people, too. That is why you pay over three times as much for a Wildcard skill. Not for impossible abilities, but for an unlimited number of appropriate possible ones.


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