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In Real Life, guns are deadly implements. A person will usually die from one (but likely more) of four things if he or she is shot at:

  • Shot in a vital organ (which is anywhere but your arms and legs). The brain or heart especially means death. But other organs will most likely fail from the damage done by the bullet, causing all sorts of problems.
  • Nervous system damage. Shots to the neck which miraculously don't destroy blood vessels or the windpipe could conceivably damage the spinal cord, which can easily paralyse the lung muscles causing asphyxiation.
  • Bleeding to death. If the bullet hits an artery, it will result in rapid bleeding out, without medical attention. Shock will also settle in at some point causing further problems. And back in the day (before advanced medical technology), gangrene/infection were also likely to kill you without some severe treatment.
  • Hydrostatic shock. High velocity bullets, generally rifle rounds, cause high pressure shock waves in soft tissue that can pulp flesh around the entry wound, burst organs and even cause pressure damage some distance from the wound as shock waves propagate through big blood vessels.

In entertainment media, however, the creators may arbitrarily assign any given gun more or less power than it should have, whether it is some calculable damage value (e.g., a pistol does 10 damage, a sniper rifle does 20, anything automatic does 2), or given a gun's recoil, that gun should be really powerful in a twisted sense of Newton's Third Law (the more kick back, the bigger the damage right?)[1]. Or perhaps the creator just wanted something dramatic. It may not make sense that a weeny pistol in real life is now a hand cannon, but it does look cool. But it's still absurd that there are strange cases where guns just can't seem to kill as fast as they should.

Of course, getting stabbed with a sword or shot with an arrow can be pretty deadly in real life, too. But even if you see Hit Points as an abstraction rather than a direct representation of injury, it's a little more plausible to deflect a sword slash (particularly if you have a weapon/shield of your own) than dodge a bullet.

In the case of guns gaining more power than they should have, it might be a Rule of Cool.

In cases where guns aren't as powerful as they should be, this may be due to the Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness.

But, of course, Tropes Are Not Bad - if it makes a game PVP-Balanced because of it, it sure seems much less arbitrary then. Some weapons in multiplayer first-person shooters are balanced based on rate of fire rather than caliber to avoid min-maxing: in a game, a gun that fires rapidly and does high damage will always be more widely used than a gun that does only one of the two. However, some games tend to balance that with recoil, making the gun harder to control, or accuracy, making its rapid fire only usefull in close ranges.

This may also be an attempt to add greater flavor to the game and make the player's choice of weapon require real thought. Some games have weapons which are too similar and there is thus no real difference in which one you choose. Other games have a variety of weapons which are similar, but includes one that is totally superior, to the point that there is no disadvantage to choosing the best gun every time.

Contrast Instant Death Bullet, which usually applies to guns in other fiction. Compare Guns Are Worthless.

Examples of Arbitrary Gun Power include:


Video Games

  • Red Dead Redemption features an Anachronism Stew of firearms manufactured between 1855 and approximately 1903. The game includes a few oddities, such as a Volcanic pistol that is more powerful than a Single Action Army. In real life, the Volcanic's "Rocket Ball" ammunition was pathetically underpowered and the weapon was obsolete long before the time the game takes place. Meanwhile, the .45 Colt cartridge is the weakest in the game, even though it should logically be the strongest.
    • Compared to other pistols the Volcanic is the weakest, even though they all use generic "Pistol" ammo.
  • Averted by the STALKER series, which takes a surprisingly realistic approach to its portrayal of firearms. Pretty much any firearm is capable of downing you or any other person wearing light armour. Any bullets that manage to connect will often cause bleeding, and NPCs can be knocked down and left badly-wounded when shot. It's also worth noting that damage and some characteristics (like trajectory) are determined by the ammunition type, rather than by the firearm that uses the ammunition.
  • Modern Warfare and Call of Duty World at War avert this in single-player, where a head shot with ANY weapon is an insta-kill. In normal multiplayer mode, headshots take two to three shots to kill, unless its a sniper rifle or certain weapons with Stopping Power. Hardcore mode seems to be an aversion at first glance (as you die much more easily), but this is only due to you having far fewer hit points, making bullets that might not hit the vitals act as an Instant Death Bullet as well. In both modes and all later games, melee, even if dealt to the foot is an insta-kill.
  • Most RPGs by default, because of the Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness.
    • Persona and Shin Megami Tensei in general do this so often that it's the king of Guns Are Worthless as from beginning to end...they really are. Only averted by characters that only use guns and nothing but.
      • Not when combined with status ailment dealing ammo.
      • It should be also pointed that most of the swords are legendary weapons from myths. So, yes, a Browning M2 is more powerful than the sword of Kusanagi.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has a rather annoying damage system.It can take five head shots just to remotely damage an enemy, including humans.Grenades do relative damage when compared to a sniper rifle or even a Chines.Pistol.
  • Halo's standard issue assault rifle is weaker than the melee attack you can do with it, requiring some odd 20 rounds (1/3 of the magazine) to down an Elite. However, the pistol is one of the most powerful weapons in the game, allowing for a one shot of all the grunts and two shots for Elites (the pistol/rifle comparison is at least justified; the pistol fires a very large round).
    • The sequel's SMGs got far worse. Because they're designed for Guns Akimbo, they're absolutely worthless on their own.
      • The SMG in ODST is rather odd. Despite only firing 5X23mm sub machine gun rounds, the weapon seems to drop Brute Shields just as effectively as the much larger (and logically more powerful) 7.62X51mm rounds used by the Assault rifle. This may be justified, as the SMG in ODST (as well as in Halo 2 and Halo 3) does have a faster rate of fire.
    • And of course we have the infamous Needler. This is a gun that fires shards of glass the size of your arm that stab into you and explode, and it barely hurts unless you fire practically the entire clip. Actually, most Covenant weapons are absolute crap. Apparently superheated plasma right in the face just isn't lethal for some reason.
      • The needler seems rubbish at easier difficulty levels, but came into its own at higher levels and later in the game. Brutes were especially vulnerable to it, and it is one of the few weapons that can rapidly and effectively kill fresh enemies in Legendary difficulty. It was so effective at doing this in Halo 2, that you could no longer dual wield needlers in Halo 3.
      • Covenant weapons were very effective at taking out shields of any kind, vastly more so than human projectile weapons. Not so great against armour, but fine for mopping up the soft stuff.
  • Golden Eye 1997 has this Trope all over the map. Starting with the Klobb, this is the game's weakest gun, requiring up to some three-four head shots to kill an enemy! Another oddly underpowered gun is the sniper rifle, which is about as good as picking enemies off with a silenced PP7. The KF7 Soviet is apparently weaker than the AR-33, where in fact the latter has enough penetration power to pierce people, crates, and doors. The Cougar Magnum is probably the most ridiculous, being able to shoot through bullet proof glass.
  • Half-Life and Half-Life 2 have this problem as well, namely with the crossbow, where this is one of the most damaging weapons. Also the second game's crossbow somehow has the ability to embed itself a few inches into thick concrete, despite it not being a hit scan weapon nor firing sharp bolts. It does fire red-hot pieces of rebar however.
  • Parasite Eve plays this trope straight when you attempt to increase the firing rate. Modifying a single-shot weapon to fire two rounds at once causes its bullets to only deal around sixty percent their original damage, for instance.
    • Averted, however, by the sequel, where a 9mm bullet will deal the same damage regardless of the gun that fires it. The difference between guns is weight (how much is slows you down/how long it takes to ready it), range, and rate of fire. Generally speaking, the higher rate of fire weapons, like the M93R you start with, have shorter ranges and weigh more. Single shot weapons also have a slightly better chance of a critical hit.
  • Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura. But, of course, Guns Are Worthless.
  • All the Resident Evil games do this. Realistically, one bullet to the brain ought to kill a Licker or a Hunter as well as it does a zombie, but in-game, they're just not powerful enough. Gets a little more ridiculous in the fourth and fifth games, where you can individually upgrade the guns' power by set amounts.
    • And a little less ridiculous thanks to the free aiming system and hit zones on enemies. You couldn't take headshots with anything other than a magnum pistol in the oldschool titles, all other guns (save for the odd lucky shot) would be pointed at center mass.
  • In Uncharted 2, enemies can sometimes swallow three or four headshots from pistols and machineguns before dropping, but a hit from the magnum or the sniper rifle kills them instantly, even if you tag them in the foot.
    • In Uncharted, we also have the minigun mooks that can eat several rockets from the RPG, the most powerful weapon in the game (excluding the miniguns themselves, which just aren't practical). These rockets can kill the other mooks in one hit, but they don't really phase the minigunners. And later in the game, rockets kill the tank in 3-4 hits. Fighting just two guys will use more precious rockets then fighting a main battle tank! Drake calls them mutants. Perhaps there's some truth to that...
    • See also: Timesplitters. In fact, damage in Timesplitters is just plain hilariously random. Being shot by the exact same gun can do a sliver of damage the first time, and flatline you the second. And due to the way 'character abilities' work when turned on, gets absolutely crazy with high-stamina enemies/characters, even human ones. Giant louts like Hector Barbosa can take a full auto magazine to the head then punch you to death while you reload, while little girls like Viola and Krayola will wilt if clipped in the hand.
  • The Turok series fan favorite Mag 60 fires 3 bullets per tap in primary burst-fire mode. Does maybe 10-15 points of damage, a full load will barely kill a purim or another player in deathmatch. Move into alt-fire, however, and you charge up and use 15 at once, which does nearly double damage what 15 normal shots would do on the same creature in the same location. Damn near instant kill on small enemies (removes limbs, decapitates, EXPLODES IN HALF), one or (but usually) two to down a purim, aiming center mass and then firing upon a purim puts a truck-sized hole in its stomach on the second shot. The first time you see this in action, even you will stare as incredulously at it as he does. Typically most weapons follow this format, with alt-fire using more ammo but being stupidly overpowered for what it fires, especially the rapid-fire weapons.
  • In the Jak and Daxter series, it's partially justified, since what you're shooting usually has super-strong armor.
  • In Battlefield 1942, machine guns such as the BAR were treated as video-game-style assault rifles, meaning that they had weak power but were automatic... and they were the primary weapon of the assault classes. Historical standard-issue rifles were wielded only by engineers in the game. Fixed machine guns were laughably weak and whoever used them stood straight up, exposed to enemy fire. The only instant kill shot was a sniper headshot. Presumably, these were all Acceptable Breaks From Reality, but the Forgotten Hope mod made weapon damage and weapon assignments much more realistic and historical, and was generally well-received.
    • Bad Company 2, on top of somewhat deadlier weapons overall, has a Hardcore mode similar to the Call of Duty examples at the top of the page.
      • True to the trope, though, the M93 machine pistol still does less "damage" per shot than the M9 pistol because--hey, it fires faster. There are probably other examples, too.
  • Of course, the Rainbow Six series averts this entirely. Rifles and shotguns are almost guaranteed to kill or wound operatives. If they're wearing heavier armor, they can absorb a few pistol and SMG rounds, but only once or twice, and if you're lucky.
  • In City of Heroes, the Assault Rifle and Dual Pistol powersets run on this trope. Not only can Badass Normals and Squishy Wizards sustain multiple gunshot wounds with no lasting damage, your own guns will barely even affect NPCs that are four or more levels above you. They are also no more powerful than any other Blaster powerset, including Sonic Screams, Ice Blasts, and Archery.
  • In Resonance of Fate, most of the handguns you get do about 5-6 damage a bullet. In later chapters, you'll be facing enemies that have multiple thousands of health. Really, at that point you can be filling the enemies with so much lead that it makes up 98% of their body composition and they still have over 80% of their health remaining. On the other hand, machineguns, which you will be relying on to do most of the damage, can't kill enemies at all by themselves, because their damage is magical self-healing "scratch damage" that only becomes real damage when the target is later shot with a handgun.
  • Subverted in Secret of Evermore with the Bazooka. With the most powerful ammunition, it does more damage than anything else sans using the charge-up move with the best sword in the game.
  • Completely averted in Dwarf Fortress, thanks to the game tracking individual organs. The most common causes of death are the heart being torn apart, the skull being forced out the back of the deceased's head, or bruising the lungs, which causes suffocation.
  • Surprisingly, given the cartoonish/sci-fi nature, averted to a large degree in the Endless War series of flash games. Though all people can endure far more damage than in real life (excluding future energy weapons, only explosive weapons and the AW Magnum will ever kill a healthy opponent in 1 shot), relative to the other guns, damage is appropriate. Guns are not balanced, large machine guns shoot quickly, yet are quite powerful, so there is little reason to choose other guns other than for sniping. And the machine guns, rifles, etc. of each country will have different levels of effectiveness based on their Real Life counterpart. That said, despite people being capable of fighting after taking multiple large-caliber machine gun shots to their center mass, they will always go down in just one katana or scythe/fire-axe swings, though these weapons are really only feasible in about one mission apiece where there is sufficient cover or your mutant character is fast enough to get up close to the enemy before them spotting you and gunning you down.
  • Averted in Bushido Blade, with the one boss character who has a gun. Get shot, and it kills you dead. But then again the swords work the same way; take a hit that would kill you in real life, you're dead.
  • Team Fortress 2 has this a lot, but it provides very well balanced game play. Because the game is HP based, damage is calculated through a complicated series of formulas based on certain variables, allowing for every weapon to do different damage. For example, a headshot with the Sniper's Sniper Rifle would normally automatically act as a critical hit (which does more damage than any class has total health), and kill the target instantly. However, if you take the Heavy (who has the highest health of all the classes) and equip him with the Fists of Steel (a melee weapon that, when active, reduces damage from non-melee attacks by 40%), you'll reduce the damage enough for the Heavy to (rather unrealistically) survive the headshot, even without an overheal.
    • A more hilarious similar example is a headshot with the Huntsman. It's quite entertaining to see the Heavy running around with three arrows stuck in his head.
  • The Devil May Cry series is a huge offender in this regard. A shot from one of Dante's handguns is about as powerful as a mosquito bite. Of course, he wields two, they can rapidfire, and they can be charged, but as far as raw damage goes you're better off marching up to the enemy and slashing it to death.
    • In this case, it may be averted as the enemies are typically demons which are highly resistant to small arms even when shot in the head. When you have to overcome their healing, slashing them up with an enormous sword would likely be more efficient.
  • Borderlands has an extremely wide range of damage dealt by similar guns that fire the same ammunition, although this is occasionally justified by the elemental damage that many deal. However, player characters can take skills that let them do more damage with certain weapon types, and even increase magazine sizes in various weapons, including revolvers. That's right, you can somehow store seven bullets in a six-shooter just by being good at it.
  • Jagged Alliance 2, especially the 1.13 mod, tries to avert this in every opportunity.
    • The same bullet fired from different weapons causes different amounts of damage, depending on the size of the weapon. Although the damage values are assigned arbitrarily, 9mm parabellum SM Gs cause more damage and have better range than pistols firing the same round. Therefore, while 7.62mm NATO sniper rifles may kill a target with a single head shot, 7.62mm NATO machine guns can turn the target into a bloody meat bag if fired in full auto at close range.
    • A single weapon can fire many different types of ammunition, especially in the 1.13 mod. For example, a 12 gauge shotgun can fire 00 buck(wide pellet spread, used against unarmored targets), slug(single chunk of lead, used against unarmored targets) or even flechette shells(armor piercing).
    • Even the theoretically toughest mercenary(we're talking about tougher than Arnold here) cannot stand more than four shots from a 9mm parabellum pistol on the chest without protection, as he will be incapacitated and eventually bleed to death. Untreated wounds may cause exsanguination, and if a major artery is ruptured(usually depicted as a critical hit), this may happen in a matter of minutes, or less than 10 turns during combat.
    • Bullets striking body parts cause a permanent decrease in performance depending on the body part that was damaged. Enemies shot at the leg fall down and waste valuable time trying to get up. Hit the arm and the enemy drops his/her weapon.
    • Although body armor can protect vital organs from being damaged, the kinetic energy of the bullet is still absorbed by the body mass, so bullets blocked by body armor cause severe fatigue and decrease the combat performance of the unfortunate target, and may cause the target to faint. Also, bullets may seep through openings and hit the body(defined as a chance based occurrence), as it happens in Real Life.
    • Heavily wounded enemies lose morale and may try to flee from the battlefield, spouting words like "They told me to join the army, not this shit!" Bullets flying over the head or barely missing also causes fear, forcing the target to crouch or go prone. In the 1.13 mod, machine guns and automatic weapons may perform suppression fire, intimidating the targets and preventing them from firing back.
    • Finally, bullet wounds take a lot of time to recover from, unless you go to a specialized hospital or use the ultra rare regeneration booster. By the time a wound is treated in a hospital, your team of elite mercenaries can destroy dozens of enemy squadrons, so being shot at is more than a minor inconvenience.
  • In the Valkyria Chronicles series, engineers' pistols do slightly less damage shot-for-shot than scouts' rifles, which in turn do far less damage than shocktroopers' assault rifles, including headshots. While this could be explained by the caliber of the weapon, the fact that lances, which are essentially the series' rocket launchers, do little damage to infantry units can only explained by this trope. Lancers are the primary anti-tank unit in the game, and they'd be overpowered if they could also take out infantry just as easily. It's still a bit amusing to see a unit get blasted at point-blank range by a lancer, lose about a fifth of their HP, then get right back up as if nothing happened.
  • In World of Warcraft a gun will usually be about as powerful as a bow of the same level. And both are less powerful than melee weapons and spells.
  • The assault rifle in Deus Ex was seriously underpowered, despite being chambered for 7.62mm NATO, a rifle cartridge that was considered excessively powerful for the purpose it was being used for. The pistol on the other hand, can mean a One-Hit Kill with a Boom! Headshot!.


Film

  • In The Matrix, Trinity's relatively weak (in real life) Beretta pistol somehow has the ability to make an agent {{[[[Blown Across the Room]] fly about 10 feet}} when shot point blank. In fact, in that whole lobby scene, most of the guns got an upgrade in power.
  • In The Dark Knight, the rocket launcher the Joker uses against the police escort for Harvey Dent, is actually hilariously underpowered. The explosions when it hits something are comparable to a medium sized can of oil (which it most probably actually is), giving a car hit in the back with it a slight push forward and setting the tires in fire. An actual RPG-7 is designed to blow up tanks and wouldn't have left anything that could still be identified as a car, probably destroying the vehicles in the back, front, and at the sides as well.
  • Tends to happen often in those ridiculously violent yes strangely bloodless 1980s films likely due to Moral Guardian overseers appalled at the graphic violence of the 70s exploitation flicks. Falling onto something? Always lots of blood. Ventilated with a chain-gun at close range? Ragdoll dance then fall down with neat little 1cm holes in your shirt.
    • Likely due to pragmatism: It's easier and cheaper (and safer) to rig a makeup effect for one massive wound, than to have a dozen squibs detonate on a stuntperson or actor in sequence. 70s films did it, but 80s films tended to have bodycounts one or two orders of magnitude higher. More recent films avert this because CGI blood effects don't have the same limitations.
  • Last Man Standing, an American remake of Kurosawa's Yojimbo, has Bruce Willis' Sanjuro-analogue armed with a pair of what appear to be normal automatic pistols that nonetheless strike with such incredible force, his victims are literally hurled dozens of feet through the air, sometimes while being folded in half, othertimes turning full flips midair. The guns have only normal recoil, as well, despite apparently firing full cannonballs at people.
  • Ditto the final scene of The Quick and the Dead. Sharon Stone shoots Gene Hackman so hard in the head, he is flung a good thirty feet backwards, flipping through the air.
    • It is especially odd since the rest of the movie mostly averts this trope, with one other notable exception when someone has a 4 inch hole blown through their head. Being a Sam Raimi movie, the level of realism isn't necessarily consistent.
  • The Spanish film, 800 Bullets includes a scene where the Badass Grandpa blows up a backhoe with one shot from a lever-action rifle.


Tabletop Games

  • Mutants and Masterminds: the granularity of the damage system means that all pistols do about the same amount of damage and howitzers do the same amount of damage as Batman's punch.
  • In d20 Modern, a Tec-9 fired semiautomatic was one of the most damaging pistols in the game. And, of course, due to Critical Existence Failure, mid-to-high-level PCs could absorb multiple rockets to the face, drop grenades at their own feet, and generally laugh off the consequences.
    • And in Spin-Off D20 Future, weapons stop getting better at PL 7 (out of 9). PL 8 and 9 weapons get cooler descriptions, but identical or slightly worse damage for some reason.
  • In Sci-Fi RPG Traveller, crossbows have better damage than any slug pistol, better range than any energy pistol, and better accuracy than any rifle - some of the deadliest weapons of the Space Age!
  • Carefully averted in GURPS. The penetrating power of firearms is calculated by a function of square root of the kinetic energy of the projectile or the cube root of the energy of an beam weapon (the exact formulas are a secret). Damage is usually limited by the HP of the target.
  • Explicitly the case in In Nomine, which deliberately reduce the effectiveness of guns, because swords and powers are more genre appropriate.
  • Warhammer 40000 generally averts this, with the basic infantry only being able to take one wound. They will only be wounded if they fail a strength roll against them (which means the enemy did hit them, but only non-fatally.), and possibly an armour save (which either means their armour was pierced, or they were struck in a place where the armour couldn't protect them.). Infantry that can take more wounds are possibly very Badass non-humans, except for the cases where they aren't, which is where the trope is played straight from them just being, well, Badass.
    • Its Spin-Off, Dark Heresy, is similarly lethal. The weakest pistols in the game are very likely to kill or mortally wound players and NPC's alike. Fully-automatic weapons just add on more regular hits and high level weapons can turn Player Characters into a red paste.
  • Averted in the tabletop tactical miniatures game Phoenix Command, and averted hard. Vast numbers of firearms are lovingly simulated in all their little minutiae... rather pointlessly, because getting shot anywhere tended to put you out of the fight and unarmoured combatants had a pretty good chance of dying as soon as they hit combat. Overpowering weapons for cool points was simply unnecessary: guns simulated realistically are lethal.
  • Played straight and averted in Feng Shui. A regular shot is an Instant Death Bullet for the regular Mook, but protagonists (PCs and relevant NPCs)suffer reduced damage, just like the movies.


Webcomics

Notes

  1. Recoil is a tricky business, as the amount you feel depends on a number of factors. Two different rifles can have two different perceived recoil forces despite firing the same round.
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