Getting the Drop

By Bryant Durrell.

I recently watched The Killer again, and I noticed something; John Woo characters spend an awful lot of time getting the drop on each other and it's treated as a significant advantage. However, I'm not at all sure Feng Shui supports this. Let's look at an example.

A Killer gets the drop on a Maverick Cop. The Cop shrugs, and starts to get out of the way. The Killer fires; the Cop active dodges and all of a sudden the Killer has to beat a 17 on his Outcome. This is hard, and even if he manages it he won't do that much damage.

Some GMs may want to deal with this on a case by case basis; this is fine, of course. However, here's a suggestion on how to do it.

Getting the drop on someone is a Guns stunt, with a Difficulty generally equal to their Dodge. The target can certainly Active Dodge if they like. Once you have the drop on your target, you gain +5 AV for the next shot. You may also pick up the aiming bonus if you don't fire right away.

Using the previous example, the Killer now has an AV of 20 on the Cop; 23 if he gets to spend time aiming. This is a problem the Cop will have to take very seriously; we're talking 15-20 damage depending on how big the gun is and whether or not it's a signature weapon. On the other hand, it's not going to be an instant death situation, which is as it should be.

Note that two characters can also get the drop on each other... which is great. We've all seen this one. And if they spend time aiming, they'll both know that if either one shoots there's gonna be some serious carnage going on.

We also have the interesting situation of the named character with a lousy 12 or so Guns AV who becomes suddenly a lot more threatening if he can get the drop on a PC. This is a cool way to raise the tension level in an otherwise mundane scene. "We shoulda killed that bastard when we had a chance..."

Problem: I've just postulated a mechanic that will give the average Killer a +5 AV bonus every time he fires at a single opponent at the cost of 1 extra shot. Bad Idea. I think, however, that it's not very easy to use this stunt in the middle of combat because firefights are exceedingly distracting; GMs should assign a nasty difficulty modifer to the stunt if someone's trying it in the middle of combat.

Further, and this is well-supported by the genre, most distractions will be significant. At the very least, any attempt to distract the person who's got the drop on your friend should cancel any aiming bonus they picked up; any major distraction will give the poor target a chance to get out from under (the target might need a stunt, or it might be an automatic success, depending on the situation).

One mechanical way to handle this, thanks to J. D. Wiker: have the person with the drop make a Willpower check to see if they get sufficiently distracted when something happens. The Difficulty for the check is equal to the victim's Passive Dodge.

And of course, Martial Arts types should be able to pull this sort of thing off as well, although perhaps less often; this would be the familiar knife at the throat tactic.

Last modified: November 30, 1996; please send comments to

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