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Arbitrary Gun Power
In Real Life, guns are effective and potentially lethal ranged weapons. A person will usually die from one (but likely more) of three things if he or she is shot.

  • Damage to a vital internal organ. Direct damage to the brain or heart usually means instant death, other organs will most likely quickly fail from the damage done by the bullet, bleed extensively, and cause all sorts of other problems. The bullet doesn't even have to hit the organ in question, as a fast enough bullet can create shockwaves that travel through your body sometimes causing tissues like organs to tear or rip.
  • Nervous system damage. Severe damage to the top third of the spinal cord, parts of the brain, and the brain stem can lead to rapid or even instant death. Breaking the link between the brain and the organs of the body can stop the heart from beating and lungs breathing or can shut down the entire body instantly leading to the rag doll effect.
  • Bleeding to death. If the bullet hits an artery, dense tissues or organs, or just simply leaves a large wound it can result in rapid death by blood loss without medical attention. Shock caused by blood loss will also settle in at some point causing further problems. And back in the day (before advanced medical technology), infections such as gangrene were also likely to kill you without some severe intervention like removing an arm or leg.

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?) note  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 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 Tools - if it makes a game Pv P 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 useful in close ranges.

This can lead to some extreme oddities, such as certain guns having wildly different damage outouts despite using the same caliber and having similar barrel lengths.

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.


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Examples

    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, though, the Volcanic is the weakest, even though they all use generic "Pistol" ammo.
  • Throughout the history of the Call of Duty series, pistols compensate their small reserve ammo pool, bad range and relatively low accuracy (large cone of fire when hip-firing and no zoom when aiming down the sights) with incredible close-range firepower - even the diminutive 7.62x25mm of a Tokarev competes with the .30-06 of the M1 Garand on how few shots are needed to take an enemy down when you're within ten meters or so.
    • In Modern Warfare and World at War, in normal multiplayer mode, headshots take two to three shots to kill, unless it's 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 and anything similar to it (throwing knives/tomahawk and ballistic knives), even if dealt to the foot, is always an insta-kill.
    • The need for "better" guns at higher ranks in multiplayer, along with generally terrible balancing, also results in guns being wildly different in performance and usefulness in-game than they should be. Call of Duty 4, for instance, includes two semi-auto battle rifles under the "Assault Rifle" label, but one of them only deals damage on par with the other assault rifles because it's unlocked 20 or so levels earlier than the other. Meanwhile, Modern Warfare 2 allows the UMP - a submachine gun firing a low-ranged, high-recoil pistol bullet - to beat sniper rifles at almost any range in which the user can see the sniper because it managed to get into the game with higher damage than most assault rifles and absolutely no recoil while firing when aimed.
  • Most RPGs by default, because of the Sorting Algorithm of Weapon Effectiveness.
  • Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas has a rather annoying damage system. It can take five head shots just to remotely damage an alert enemy, including regular humans, but then you make a sneak attack and suddenly they drop from a single pistol bullet to the torso.
    • The tier system and western theme in New Vegas lead to a situation where the stereotypical cowboy weapon is better at any given level than most of the rest, especially with the "Cowboy" perk. This means a .357 Magnum revolver is more powerful than most .223/5.56mm rifles, and a .44 Magnum revolver is more powerful than both .308 rifles (as is the 12.7mm pistol, which is essentially the in-universe equivalent of the Desert Eagle).
    • On the other hand, AP rounds for the more modern rifles can ignore much more of an enemy's damage threshold than older rifles or pistol rounds (5.56mm, .308, and .50 MG AP all ignore 15; .45, .44, 45-70 Gov't can at best ignore between 4 and 6 while no 12.7mm variants have any AP properties). Still, you won't be using these rounds very often; point-for-point extra damage is objectively better than DT reduction, and these DT modifications apply even when those rifle rounds are used by pistols (like That Gun and its generic version the 5.56mm pistol, which both cause more damage per shot than any rifle using the same round).
  • 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 semi- justified; the pistol fires a very large round, but then again the assault rifle is also firing 7.62mm NATO, generally considered overpowered for the kind of close-range spraying the in-game weapon is actually used for). The melee is also justified, because you're a Spartan.
    • The sequel's SMGs got far worse. Because they're designed for Guns Akimbo, they're absolutely worthless on their own.
      • The SMG in Halo 3: 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.
    • There is also a tendency for rifles firing the same rounds doing different amounts of damage.
    • 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 magazine into a guy, at which point the shards all explode at once and are pretty much a guaranteed kill. It comes 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.
  • 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 the tiny, silenced PP7. The KF7 Soviet is apparently weaker than the AR-33, which 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.
    • Goldeneye Wii's guns tend to get better within each class as you progress rather than matching the attributes (eg., power, effective range) of the particular real-life guns they were modeled after. The AK-47 (actually an AKM, as usual) gets particularly dismal ratings, and as a class, earlier assault rifles in general receive little benefit in accuracy over submachine guns on single shot, or even handguns in the games ratings, despite the very large differences of effective range in real life (which is particularly noticeable in larger levels). A real life AKM on semi-automatic should have double the effective range of an FN P90 (Vargen FH-7) or MP7 (Stauger UA-1) and about 8x the effective range of the handguns and TDI Vector (Strata SV-400).
  • Half-Life and Half-Life 2 have the crossbow, which is the most damaging non-explosive weapon in the series despite firing tranquilizer darts in the first game and heated dull chunks of rebar in the second. And despite being fired at about the speed of a thrown baseball, said rebar is apparently able to embed itself a good foot into solid concrete.
    • The revolver is also a textbook case in all games, doing way more damage than is reasonable from a simple .357 magnum. It outperforms assault rifles, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns, and even autocannons in pure damage per shot.
    • The first game follows Punch Packing Pistol to a tee: 9mm rounds magically do more damage and are more accurate when fired out of a comparatively-tiny Glock 17 than when fired out of an MP5 for whatever reason; the only reason the latter is even of any use at all is because of its underbarrel Grenade Launcher. This gets especially ridiculous when using the official high definition pack (which can be enabled in the pause menu for the Steam version) or playing the PS2 port, where the MP5 is replaced with a Colt Commando.
    • Opposing Force's sniper rifle is incredibly powerful, behaving more like an anti-materiel rifle than the 7.62 bolt action it's supposed to be. It does more damage than the M2 Browning machine guns firing the much stronger .50 BMG round at higher velocities, and is powerful enough to one-shot any infantry unit and take down an attack helicopter in only a couple of hits.
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • This shows up in every Resident Evil game with automatic weapons. Even 5.56 or 7.62mm automatic rifles that should completely devastate an enemy in a single quick burst will require a good four or five seconds of concentrated fire to drop one mook, while your substantially weaker-in-real-life 9mm handguns do more damage per shot and your also much-weaker-in-real-life .357 or .44 Magnum revolver is a consistent One-Hit Kill. Ostensibly, this is done for the sake of gameplay balance, since if your assault rifles were as effective in-game as they are in real life, you wouldn't need to use much else.
  • In Uncharted 2, enemies can sometimes swallow three or four headshots from pistols and machine guns before dropping, but a hit from the magnum or the sniper rifle kills them instantly, even if you tag them in the foot.
    • 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...
  • 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.
    • Battlefield: 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 starting M9 pistol because—hey, it fires faster.
    • Battlefield 3 plays it a bit less straight as guns of the same caliber do the exact same damage per bullet and suffer the same damage-falloff, making the guns of the same caliber different by the fire-rate, magazine size, and how the weapon reacts to recoil... well, mostly, aside from when the guns do the same damage when despite they actually aren't the same caliber.
  • 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, machine guns, 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.
    • Within each gun category, though, aspects of this trope are averted. Handguns and SMGs available later in the game are more high-performance than your starting ones, but that's due to having larger magazine size, better accuracy, and more expansion slots rather than doing more damage per bullet.
  • 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.
    • You'd think the Soldier's rocket launcher would be hilariously overpowered because they're rockets, right? No. While a close-range rocket is very powerful (though you'd probably kill yourself too with the splash damage), shooting a rocket from long-range does a rather small amount of damage (40-50 damage). This is because of "damage falloff", so players don't just stand back and spam projectiles all day (some still do anyway, but it's not very effective).
  • 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. (But during cutscenes...) In this case, it may be as the enemies are typically demons they're 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 nine bullets in a six-gun just by being good at it. Don't ask how. Just go kill something with it.
  • 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.
  • In World of Warcraft guns, bows and crossbows of the same level are generally equal in power and choice depends on what you can get your hands on. In hands of warriors and rogues, they are next to useless (and in Mists Of Pandaria Expansion Pack, unusable at all), while when used by Hunter class they are as deadly as magic and other weapons of other classes (that is to say, still not nearly as deadly as they would be in real life).
  • 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.
  • The hunting rifle in the Left 4 Dead series is based on a weapon that should be firing the same bullets as the assault rifle, and is noted for a lack of accuracy in the real world, but in-game it's a pixel-perfectly-accurate terror that will penetrate and instantly kill as many zombies as you can line up in one shot; meanwhile the assault rifle will barely penetrate one zombie and often requires multiple bullets to put them down.
  • In Tomb Raider (2013) while bullets tear through flesh easily enough, they're apparently so weak that they're stopped entirely by metal plates, despite the proliferation of firearms being the reason heavy metal armour became obsolete in Real Life in the first place. Even weirder, mooks become magically more resistant to damage as the game goes on, though unarmoured enemies still die instantly from a headshot regardless.
    • The game's shotgun is the most jarring example. Unless the thing was loaded with a few rat-shot pellets, you really can't explain how a normal mook wearing no armor is able to take 3-4 complete shells to the chest and face.

    Film 
  • In The Matrix, Trinity's relatively weak (in real life) Beretta pistol somehow has the ability to make an agent fly about 10 feet when shot point blank. In fact, in that whole lobby scene, most of the guns got an upgrade in power.
  • Tends to happen often in those ridiculously violent yet 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.note  70s films did it, but 80s films tended to have bodycounts one or two orders of magnitude higher. Later 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.
  • The Spanish film, 800 Bullets includes a scene where the Badass Grandpa blows up a backhoe with one shot from a lever-action rifle.
  • The guns in Django Unchained seem to deal whatever damage makes the coolest shot at the time. During the final showdown, Django shoots Lara Lee and the body is thrown clean out of the room in a different direction entirely, while another victims merely drops to the floor where he stands.
  • In Dead in Tombstone, the power of Guerrero's Hand Cannons varies greatly. Sometimes a shot from them is enough to blast someone backwards through a closed door, and at other times a head shot leaves nothing more than a gentle spray of blood on a window.

     LARP 
  • Otakon LARP has guns, fists, swords, ki blasts… All damage is dealt to players in HP. Items and buildings or Mechas can have Structural Hit Points that are damaged by guns.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mutants & 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.
    • One notorious example is the FN 5.7mm round. For no discernible reason, it was given the highest damage of any pistol round, equal to that of a .50 Desert Eagle.
  • 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!
  • Explicitly the case in In Nomine, which deliberately reduce the effectiveness of guns, because swords and powers are more genre appropriate.
  • 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.
  • The Old World of Darkness used this trope but not as flagrantly as many Role Playing Games. All guns were fairly lethal, though a bit less so than real life weapons. Additionally, a weapon's lethality was more like real world lethality than many games. Velocity and caliber, not rate of fire, dictated damage. Supernatural creatures only resisted firearms by virtue of their powers, not because the guns themselves weren't deadly. Finally, a shot with more successes was a more well-placed shot and rolled more dice for damage. It was still extraordinarily difficult to kill anyone instantly with a handgun, however, regardless of how many successes the attack rolled since the damage dice would usually reduce this to a survivable but deadly level.
  • Spycraft has it both ways. Most gun damage is based on the bullet used (a few minor variances are there, but one or two points is reasonable, especially if moving to a longer barrel). But there's the feat 'Style Over Caliber', which lets someone with a .22 holdout pistol deal more damage than someone wielding a 9mm combat handgun.
    • The Spycraft-derived d20 Stargate game mostly stuck with fairly constant damage within weapon classes, except for the Dragunov sniper rifle, which somehow gets stuck doing less damage than a 9mm pistol and has the shortest range of any rifle-calibre weapon.
  • Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth features both a 1911 pistol and a Model 1917 revolver, with the revolver being more powerful. In reality both guns fire the same .45 ACP round. The fully-automatic Thompson uses the same round. None of these weapons share an ammo pool.
  • Explicitly averted in kill puppies for satan. The rulebook notes that game rules for guns are never particularly realistic and refuses to give any specific rules, instead offering some real-world information on guns and their effects. Essentially, the GM is supposed to wing it if the PCs insist on using guns.
  • Present in Iron Kingdoms. Whether you're using a gun or a bow is almost irrelevant; range varies widely and they're all in the same Power range, so whether the gunner or the archer is more effective depends on the skills of the wielder more than anything else.

    Webcomics 

All Or Nothing ReloadsGuns Do Not Work That WayArtistic License - Gun Safety
Almighty IdiotPowerBadass
All Swords Are the SameRole-Playing GameArbitrary Headcount Limit
Anti-Frustration FeaturesAcceptable Breaks from RealityArbitrary Headcount Limit
Guns Do Not Work That WayGuns and Gunplay TropesBang, Bang, BANG

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