USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part II — The Force

The Force is one of the things that makes “Star Wars”… well, Star Wars. It’s not quite magic or psionics as seen in other works of fiction, but it’s easy to understand, and so well-known it’s even referred to outside of fantasy and science fiction (I can’t count the number of times someone has said “Use the Force” or “Jedi mind trick” without talking about Star Wars).
gandalf 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part II — The Force
This is my new favorite meme. (image: youtube.com)

Powers

In the role playing games, novels and the video games they inspired, Jedi, Sith and other Force-users have access to dozens of powers. But since this series is only focused on the original trilogy of films, there’s only about a half-dozen abilities. Most of these names come from the d6 system Star Wars RPG, where they were created.
  • Battle Meditation, which Luke does while hiding from Vader in the Death Star throne room at the end of “Return Of The Jedi.” Qui-Gon Jinn does it better in “The Phantom Menace,” but remember, we’re only covering the original trilogy here.
  • Enhanced Reflexes, used when Luke leaps out of the freezing chamber on Bespin.
  • Force Choke, Darth Vader’s favorite gimmick.
  • Force Defense, which Vader used to block Han’s blaster, and Luke used to parry the speeder bike shots on Endor.
  • Force Lightning, the Emperor’s signature move.
  • Healing, which Obi-Wan does after Luke is attacked by the Tusken Raider.
  • Suggestion (the Jedi Mind Trick), Obi-Wan’s favorite for the weak-minded.
  • Telekinesis, or as “Weird Al” Yankovic put it, “I picked up a box, I lifted some rocks, while I stood on my head.”
  • Telepathy, Luke’s message to Leia shortly thereafter in “The Empire Strikes Back.”

That’s nine Force powers. You could make each one its own Specialism, but let’s take a cue from last week, where I described The Force (or Use The Force) as a Specialism itself. Each power, then, is just a way a character can use The Force. We don’t even need to detail “power levels” or anything like that; in most of the Star Wars RPGs, there are specific rules for how much damage Force Lightning causes, or how far a message sent with Telepathy will reach.
yoda 300x152 - USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part II — The Force
Yoda’s player is making a Wits + The Force roll right now. R2-D2’s player is eating some potato chips. (image: jediapprentice.tripod.com)
But this is USR, and specifics like that are not Unbelievably Simple. Narratively, it doesn’t matter. How high does Luke leap, on a successful Wits + The Force roll? As high as the game master decides works for the story. The target number is set based on the amount of stress the hero is under, the obstacles in the way of the leap and the need for the hero to succeed (in this case, our game master, George, set it at a 7).
Another example: the Emperor rolled well on his Wits + The Force roll when attacking Luke with Force Lightning, causing enough hit point damage to knock Luke to the ground and keep him sparkling with electricity. He doesn’t need a separate listing of damage caused by Force Lightning. It’s just an effect of this particular Wits + The Force die roll.

Training

Training to gain powers is an important part of The Force in Star Wars. Since there’s only nine powers to choose from, let’s say a hero with The Force as a Specialism starts with two, and gains another after each level. You can increase or decrease that rate, of course, especially if you add more Force powers.
And then there’s the Dark Side. In the other Star Wars RPGs, you collect a number of Dark Side points each time you use a Dark Side power (here it’s Force Choke and Force Lightning), or if you do something else evil. Too many, and you’ve fallen to the Dark Side and become an NPC. You can do the same in USR Star Wars (say, a number of points equal to your Ego die value — 6, 8 or 10), or simply make it part of the story, where a character turns to the Dark Side when it’s dramatically appropriate.

A Kind Of Magic

The rules for The Force can probably be used for any other kind of supernatural power, too; because of the way combat is handled in Domino Writing-style USR, a killer fireball or a summoned mass of strangling vines is just a way to describe a successful Wits + Magic Specialism roll. Or it could be an Ego + Magic roll, to represent those characters who derive their power from their force of will.

What Force powers did I miss from our Original Trilogy list?

USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part I — Classes

Now that we’ve looked at a lot of the basics to help expand your USR games, from Specialisms to vehicles and monsters, let’s turn to settings. And if the sales charts from ICv2 are anything to consider, the most popular genre after medieval fantasy is “Star Wars.”
For Domino Writing-style USR, “Star Wars” consists of the classic trilogy (“A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return Of The Jedi”). The prequels and sequels have new ideas to offer the “Star Wars” universe but nothing as indelible as the original films. I won’t be writing much about them, though I’m looking forward to someone providing stats for Qui-Gon Jinn and Kylo Ren.

star wars general 0001 300x300 - USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part I — Classes
Everyone in this picture, too. In a few weeks there will be stats for one of them. (image: sonsofcorax.wordpress.com)

In most fantasy RPGs, a character has a race and a class. Despite appearances, that’s not the case for Star Wars, where a character’s species really isn’t that significant. A Wookiee might have Strong +2 as a Specialism, but a Rodian or Ithorian doesn’t have particularly strong “racial” characteristics. Droids, on the other hand, are nothing but special abilities. Consider Multi-lingual +2 or Computer hacking +2 (Specialisms droids from the films might have).

A character’s profession is best described using an archetype, like the ones we’ve seen for modern-day characters and in USR games like Somnium Void.

Scoundrel
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Pilot, Bargain, Hide, Charm
Suggested Equipment: Pistol, Huge debt
Note: “Rogue With A Heart Of Gold” isn’t really a good Specialism, since there probably aren’t many ways to apply the bonus this would provide if it was a Specialism. It’s a great description of the character’s personality, though.

Jedi
Primary Stat: Mind
Suggested Specialisms: Dedication, Leadership, Inspiration, Athletics, The Force*
Suggested Equipment: Lightsaber

Warrior
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Military Tactics, Terrain Knowledge
Suggested Equipment: Rifle

Outworlder
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Invent, Survivalist, Riding, Bargain
Suggested Equipment: Droid parts, All-weather clothing

Sage
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Knowledge, Reference Tools, Etiquette
Suggested Equipment: Computer

Diplomat
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Negotiate, Leadership, Languages
Suggested Equipment: none

Technician
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Hacking, Computers, Repair, Jury-Rig
Suggested Equipment: Repair tools

*A note on The Force: To simulate the Jedi or other Force-users at the most basic level, the player simply makes a Wits roll against a target number determined by the game master, depending on the complexity of the power. We’ll get into a more involved (but still Unbelievably Simple) version of The Force next time.

What classes need to be added to USR Star Wars?

USR Wednesdays: Monsters

A “monster,” in a role playing game, is any enemy, from the little goblins and huge dragons of classic fantasy, to security guards and ninja in modern games, to little robots and huge mutants in science fiction. They don’t have to be inhuman — even your evil twin is a monster, after all. Since our guiding principle in USR is to be simple and fast, let’s create an entire Monster Manual in one chart.

monster manuals 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Monsters
Like these ones, but all in one blog post. (image: dungeonsmaster.com)
This is inspired by the original monster chart, found in Scott Malthouse’s Halberd Fantasy Roleplaying, page 26. It assigns levels to monsters, to approximate their power and competence. We’ll streamline it here.

Power Level
Main Stat Die
Combat Bonus
Hit Points
Examples
I
D6
+0
5
Giant Rat, Goblin
II
D6
+1
10
Guard, Orc, Thug, Wolf
III
D8
+2
15
Ninja, Security Robot, Soldier
IV
D8
+3
20
Bear, Gang Boss
V
D10
+4
25
Ogre, Super-Soldier
VI
D10
(or D12)
+5
30
Dragon, Vampire Lord


Main Stat Die: The die used for most of the monster’s rolls. In most cases, this will be its Action stat, but a psychic warrior might have its Mind as the main stat, to better use its powers.

You can assign the other stats as needed, based on what’s appropriate for the monster (for example, the guard standing outside the emperor’s throne room has Action as his main stat, representing his fighting skills with that halberd he’s carrying. But if you’re trying to convince him to let you pass, you’ll have to decide what his Wits stat is — probably about the same as his action, a D6). In the same way, Specialisms aren’t listed for monsters, but they can be assigned as needed, probably offering a bonus of +1 or +2, like a starting hero. You might even assign a penalty to a monster’s roll, say -2 if a big, dumb ogre is trying to solve the riddle your hero has posed. And trying to play a riddle game with a normal wolf simply won’t work at all, no dice rolls, penalties or bonuses needed.

Combat Bonus: This is used for both the monster’s attacks and defenses, and represents weapons, armor, brute strength, magical ability, and whatever else is needed. It too can fluctuate depending on the specific attack the creature is making: that vampire lord uses a +5 to lure your hero close to him, but only a +2 to throw a punch.

Hit Points: The maximum hit points for the monster, putting Power Level II and III monsters on par with most Domino Writing-style USR heroes. You can take a cue from Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition and decrease a monster’s HP to 1, if you want to have heroes wipe out a half-dozen monsters in just a few turns.

The math here is pretty easy to see, so you can create more mosters easily, though most things will fit somewhere on this scale.

Where do monsters in your game fit on the Power Level chart?

USR Wednesdays: Chases

Two weeks ago, we looked at vehicle rules — vehicles as narration, as equipment and as characters. One of the most common uses for vehicles in adventure fiction is in a chase, where one vehicle (the pursuer) is trying to catch up with another (the target), to make an arrest, to get in a shootout, or just to beat the target to the final goal.
stuntman 300x169 - USR Wednesdays: Chases
Or to make a cool getaway. (image: clockworkmanual.com).
Let’s take a page from the chase rules developed for the 3rd Edition d20 game system and track a chase in Domino Writing-style USR. In addition to the regular rules, you’ll need a piece of paper and a pencil. Draw a line and put a series of evenly spaced marks across the paper, about every inch or so. Put the pursuer at the first mark on the left (write “P” or use a miniature) and the target two marks farther along the paper (write “T” or use a miniature for it too), so there’s a mark in between them. The two vehicles will move across the line from mark to mark until they reach their goal — usually by going off the other end of the paper, or landing on the same mark.
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Like this, with a “P” and a “T.” Same idea as the picture above, but a lot less interesting, at least on paper.
Decide if the heroes are the pursuer or the target. Choose a target number based on the difficulty of the terrain (empty space is a 2, a crowded city street is a 7, lava flowing around you is a 10). Have the player acting as driver or pilot make a roll to control the vehicle (usually Action + relevant vehicle Specialism), and have NPCs who are pursuing or who are the target make the same roll.
If one group (heroes and/or NPCs) succeed at the roll, move them forward one mark. If the roll fails, the group doesn’t move.
The character who is driver or pilot is usually using his or her turn to control the vehicle, but everyone else in the party who’s in the vehicle can take a normal action, like firing the vehicle’s weapons or shooting their own guns out a window. In a game with more detailed vehicle rules, a character might spend their turn trying to repair the vehicle, or perform a scan for more enemies. If nothing else, a character can spend its turn offering support, providing a +1 to an attack roll or the driver or pilot’s control roll.

What do you do to visualize chases on the tabletop?

USR Wednesdays: Vehicles

Cars, trucks, tanks, spaceships, pirate sloops… there are dozens of kinds of vehicles in adventure fiction, and given their size and their power, it may be a challenge to see where vehicles actually fit in a role playing game setting. Here are three ways of looking at vehicles in your Domino Writing-style USR game.

1. Vehicles as narration: In most settings, a vehicle is just a means to an end, a way to get from one place to another. In a modern-day action story, the characters drive fast cars or ride in helicopters, but only because it gets them across the city quickly, and to the next story point. There’s no game rules when using a vehicle as narration; you can just say, “The heroes hop in their cars and get to the police station,” or even “The heroes get on horseback and arrive at the entrance to the dungeon in about an hour.” It doesn’t matter how fast they’re traveling, or what happens on the trip, only that they are traveling.

2. Vehicles as equipment: The flexibility of Specialisms in USR means it’s easy to make a vehicle a piece of gear, just like a weapon or a special tool. Some characters who are closely linked to their vehicles might include the vehicle as one of their Specialisms (for example, Han Solo with his Millennium Falcon +2, or Jack Sparrow and the Black Pearl +2). A game master could provide a vehicle as equipment if it’s going to be integral to the story, and more than just narration; for example, the Enterprise could be a +2 Specialism to everyone on the “Star Trek” crew. It wouldn’t be a Specialism just for Kirk or Picard, because all of the heroes in the adventure make use of the Enterprise — as a weapon, as a research station, as a place of healing, and so on. Of course, Han Solo and Jack Sparrow have plenty of adventures not on board their ships, but no one else in their stories is so connected to those ships as they are.

Millenium falcon 300x198 - USR Wednesdays: Vehicles
There it is, the classic starship the “+2.” I mean Millennium Falcon. (image: wookiepedia.com)
Like weapons and armor, vehicles can be classified as “light” +1, “medium” +2 or “heavy” +3. A +1 vehicle could be a motorcycle or a horse, while a +2 would be a car or space fighter (an X-Wing or Viper), and a +3 vehicle could be something massive, like a semi-truck, a tank or the Enterprise itself.

Also like weapons or armor, you don’t need a separate Specialism for Pilot, Driver or Vehicle Gunner, unless that’s really a core element of a character. The vehicle Specialism includes its flying and shooting capabilities.

The Specialism would be used in any situation the vehicle could provide help — winning a race, carrying a heavy load, or firing its on-board weapons. If the vehicle is seriously damaged, it ceases to be a usable Specialism, until it’s repaired.

3. Vehicles as characters: Some settings are all about their vehicles: Mad Max, Mobile Suit Gundam, even Transformers. In those settings, the single bonus a Specialism provides doesn’t really offer enough to accurately represent the vehicle. So you can add more statistics to a vehicle, like top speed, armament, and maneuverability. Rules for that are in Somnium Void, starting on page 23.

We’re taking a week off from USR Wednesdays next week, but we’ll be back after that for a look at more genres.

How do you use vehicles in your game?

USR Wednesdays: Settings

By my count, USR has led to more than a dozen separate games, many found on RPGnow or on the creator’s own website. Here’s the list I have:
  • Anthropomorphic by Jay Murphy (animal people)
  • Beyond Fear by Scott Malthouse (cosmic horror/Cthulhu)
  • Blood And Silk by Shenron (samurai)
  • Ghostbusters by Shenron (um… Ghostbusters)
  • Go Wherever by Scott Malthouse (stonepunk among other ideas)
  • Halberd by Scott Malthouse (fantasy)
  • Halcyon Fantasy by Scott Malthouse (old school fantasy)
  • It Came From VHS! by Scott Malthouse (80s action)
  • Masquerade of the Sundered Sky by Scott Malthouse (gothic horror)
  • Sominum Void by Scott Malthouse (space opera)
  • Swarm Of Barbarians by Peter Segreti (Ancient Rome)
  • Tequendria by Scott Malthouse (Dunsany fantasy)
  • Fear & Loathing by Jay Murphy (gonzo adventure)
  • Sword & Sorcery by Jay Murphy (Conan-style fantasy)
  • Cyberpunk by Scott Malthouse (cyberpunk)
  • Moldvay Era by John Yorio (old school fantasy)

I also have a Western game that I don’t have an author credit for, and there’s a character sheet for USR Traveller farther down the USR Google+ page.
usagi 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Settings
Rabbit bodyguards, Drakkar cage fighters, drug-addled journalists… they’re all possible with USR.
It’s exciting thinking about all the opportunities for games that are in these rules sets — combining them, too, gives us Shadowrun (Cyberpunk plus Halberd) or Usagi Yojimbo (Blood and Silk plus Anthropomorphic). I wanted to create this list to have a running total of all the USR rules sets in one place, and to spark ideas for settings that are “missing.” I’ve touched on superheroes in my last few blog posts, but haven’t created a full setting. We have Ghostbusters, but what about Star Wars (including all the eras of the story)?
I hope this list is an inspiration to you to find these games, try them out, and offer your own contributions to a future edition of the list. I’ll be working on some settings, too…
What genre should be developed into a new setting next?
(image: usagiyojimbo.com)

USR Wednesdays: Superheroes part 1: Tiers

There are some basic superhero rules in Domino Writing-style USR, mostly to emulate “elite” characters, like demigods in a fantasy world, or comic book super characters in a setting where most costumed heroes are a little more down to earth (think of Batman in Batman or Detective Comics). But with a few alterations, USR works just find for a bigger variety of superheroes (think of Batman in Justice League of America).
There are five tiers of characters in super hero comics:

  1. Non-powered characters, the supporting cast of superhero comics (Mary Jane Watson, Jim Gordon).
  2. Street-level heroes without many powers, like the 1930s/1940s pulp heroes (the Shadow, the Phantom) or characters like the Punisher or Luke Cage.
  3. Standard superheroes, which range from the low end (Robin, Dazzler) to the “average” hero (Spider-Man, the Flash)
  4. High-powered heroes, like Superman and Thor
  5. Cosmic entities that have power beyond what a USR character normally would have (Bat-Mite, Silver Surfer).

So, how to show that difference in the USR rules? First, select your basic character tier, then allow everyone at that tier and above to use the superhero rules (stats of d8, d10 and d12, and rolling twice, using highest result).
For each tier above or below the basic tier, award an additional 2 Narrative points.

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A nice variety of heroes: Tier 2, Tier 2, Tier 3, Tier 3, Tier 4, Tier 2. In the back? Probably Tier 4.

Let’s take the Avengers, specifically the movie version that’s pretty close to the comics, and is really well-known. They’re standard superheroes, so they start with stats of d8, d10 and d12. We’ve already stated that Thor is high-powered, so he starts with those high stats, and an additional 2 Narrative Points to represent his additional Asgardian awesomeness.
On the other end, Nick Fury fights with the good guys, but he’s no match in terms of raw power. We’ll make him a street-level hero. His stats are d6, d8 and d10, but he also gets 2 additional Narrative Points to help bring him level with Captain America and the rest.
Next week, we’ll look at Specialisms and other elements of the genre you can bring to your USR superhero gaming.

(image: screenrant.com)

USR Wednesdays: Miniatures Rules

Rules light games are known for being played “theater of the mind” style: everything is described by the GM and the players, including the stuff more crunchy rules sets use miniatures and maps for, like combat positioning and movement. Instead of moving a small plastic figure six spaces, then counting another few spaces to make sure your character is in range of a target, you just say, “I’m near the door, can I hit him?”

But if you’re like me, and you want to use all the miniatures and maps and terrain and stuff you use in other games and have spend years collecting — and at the same time you want to play USR — you need another option. So I’m borrowing from my own Microlite 20 rules for USR miniatures rules.

IMG 3877 300x225 - USR Wednesdays: Miniatures Rules
A recent game – elves and humans vs wolves and rats standing in for wolves.

If you have miniature figures (about 1 inch or 25 to 28 mm tall) to represent the characters and their enemies, you’ll need a ruler or a battle map covered in spaces (squares, hexes or 1 inch measurements). One space equals 5 feet or 2 yards, and the average human-sized character and monster moves 6 spaces per turn, even diagonally. This is the character’s movement rate.

Small characters (like halflings or gnomes) move 5 spaces per turn, while characters wearing heavy armor (splint mail, banded mail, half-plate, full plate) move 1 space less each turn. On older-style (i.e. OSR) maps, where one space equals 10 feet, the average character moves 3 spaces per turn.

Characters can move through the same space as another character or enemy, but cannot end movement in the same space as another figure. Rubble, darkness, heavy growth and other difficult terrain “costs” 2 spaces of movement per space moved by the character. Moving up and down is the same as moving horizontally (a character does not have to “spend” extra movement to climb or fly). Moving just 1 space is considered a “free” action, as long as the character does not move any farther that turn.

If there’s a question whether a character could see an enemy to hit it, draw an imaginary straight line from the center of the attacker’s space to the center of the target’s space (or one of its spaces, if it takes up more than one space on the map). If there is no major obstacle or enemy in the path, the character can make the attack. Allies of the attacker do not block its path. Characters can attack through windows and other partial obstacles at a -1 penalty to hit.

To avoid calculating attack ranges each turn, melee attacks must be made against an enemy in a space adjacent to the character. Thrown and short-range weapon attacks can be made against an enemy up to 10 spaces away. Long-range weapon attacks can be made against an enemy up to 25 spaces away.

There you have it, simple rules for miniatures. I’ve used them in several games I’ve written over the years, and they seem to be a good starting point. A character with a high Action stat or Specialisms related to agility and dexterity might move a space faster, and the difficult terrain and obstacles rules could get much, much more detailed (Action rolls to move through terrain? 1/4 cover?).

Do miniatures play a part in your USR games?

USR Wednesdays: Social Combat

Given the history of RPGs, finding ways to use the “Action” and “Wits” stats in USR is easy; Action  is everything from acrobatics to yo-yo tricks (admittedly, the latter is not a common Specialism…). Wits can handle research and the supernatural, like magic and psionic combat. Ego, or social skills, are less used in role playing. A character may need to roll to intimidate, seduce or seek information listening to rumors. But the number of times Ego is used compared to the other stats means Ego almost shouldn’t even be a stat. Let’s change that, and give debaters, manipulators and schemers a chance to fight the good fight.

cersei lannister - USR Wednesdays: Social Combat
Social combat can be just as interesting when fought by a master.
(image: celebdirtylaundry.com)

The Song of Ice and Fire RPG, and my other game, Microlite 20, have rules for social combat. For ease of use, it’s basically like standard combat, except with different Specialisms in play. In fiction, social combat is usually over much quicker than battle, so each character begins with “social hit points” equal to the highest value of his or her Ego stat (i.e. 6, 8 or 10). Each attack and defense uses Specialisms like Bargain, Stir up trouble, Stubborn or Immune to her charms.

There’s no equivalent to weapons or armor, though one Ego roll can affect the next. For example, befriending a powerful political family can help quell (or stir up) a rebellion. Allow players to describe what their characters are saying in the conversation. If it’s convincing or inspiring, grant an extra +1 to the roll.

Make a simple Wits roll as initiative, to represent the planning of meeting times and places that best suit the character’s goals. Social combat usually “heals” immediately after the combat ends. Just like standard combat, a character that loses all of his or her social hit points is defeated, but this doesn’t have to mean death or unconsciousness. Instead, political foes can be humiliated, and enemies can be outwitted (it’s much easier to trick an ogre than to try and cut it to pieces). Adventures can be just as exciting, and a lot less hazardous to life and limb.


What are the best Specialisms for exciting social combat?

USR: Archetypes: Modern-Day Heroes

Last time we looked at the classic fantasy races and classes. Now let’s move into modern-day action and adventure settings. Everyone’s human (usually), but the range of skills heroes need to succeed is bigger. These archetypes cover a lot of ground; a sneak, for example, can represent a James Bond-style spy, a Jason Bourne-style secret agent, or even a Jake Gittes-style private eye.
fbi - USR: Archetypes: Modern-Day Heroes
Or these dudes. (image: YouTube)
Diplomat
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Charm, Negotiate, Language, Leadership, Etiquette
Suggested Equipment: none
Entertainer
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Art (music, oratory, writing, etc.), Charisma, Athletics, Hundreds (Possibly Millions) Of Fans, Target Of Paparazzi
Suggested Equipment: Musical instrument
Gadgeteer
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Repair, Invent, Hacking, Works Best Alone, Focused On The Task At Hand
Suggested Equipment: Miscellaneous Gadgets, Tools
Pilot
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Driving, Flying, Repair, Adrenaline Junkie, Team Player
Suggested Equipment: Vehicle (if there’s more than one character with a vehicle in the party, maybe they have one big vehicle, like a space cruiser)
Researcher
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Knowledge (in one topic), Dedication, Bravery, Support Of A University or a Military Organization
Suggested Equipment: Computer, Library Of Books
Sneak
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Move Silently, Sleight Of Hand, Hacking, Disguise, Hide, Spot Clues
Suggested Equipment: Lock Pick (possibly an electronic one)
Soldier
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Intimidate, Leadership, Toughness, Military Tactics
Suggested Equipment: Guns, Knives

Which archetypes are best for the modern world?