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I am currently working on an idea where a team of elite SWAT members (the group) is at the right time at a wrong place. It is a hostage situation, but something about the whole situation is deeply wrong; the purported "terrorist attack" does not fit, the opponents are much more trained and experienced, other SWAT teams are "incidentally" placed out of reach. It soon becomes clear that the attackers expected that they have enough time for their mission and are experienced enough to hold the police off. The group get the idea that their leader must have got a tip and moved a purported "training mission" unexpectedly on last notice to the area.

So what I need is a system:

  • Fast paced during action, but allows longer planning.
  • Supports automatic weapons, grenades, stun grenades, tasers whatever
  • Force multipliers for surprise, coordinated action, stunning, scouting etc. The system must be able to put the team into such an advantage that the risk of dying or traumatic injury with a lethal combat system could be negated with players who know what they are doing.
  • Should allow to handle close combat including knives and improvised weapons.

I will take the place of experienced opponents. I will inform the players about the room structure, the position of hostages and combatants etc., but leave the planning to them. The players can position themselves invisibly, but if they screw up, they must inform me ("Guard A hears metal scraping 10 meters in the northwest").

Immersion should be the most important aspect. That means the exact probability function is not important, but dice evaluation should be fast. I am not bound by a specific image (Hollywood, realistic gunfight), but the system should be lethal and therefore a punishment for any hothead and low risk for a carefully planned and executed attack.

Time granularity: Definitely not setup finished roll fail/success. Player should be able to modify their behavior inside combat, so I think we have a moderate, adjustable frame for preparation and a short one (0.2-1 seconds) per action in combat. That may sound small, but I cannot think of an extended firefight which is not lethal.

Gun details: I would like have a "standard" equipment (pistol, revolver, RPG, grenade) which is not overwhelming for a new player, nothing more. But if someone is really into it, the system could readily allow to modify and fine-tune his weapons.

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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

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    \$\begingroup\$ What kind of dice mechanics are you looking for? What levels of accuracy? (Hollywood, authentic (30% of shots from experienced nearby shooters hit..) ... ) lethality? What time-granularity are you looking for? \$\endgroup\$ – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Oct 29 '14 at 0:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ How much gun detail are you looking for? There's a wide spectrum in RPGs, from "every pistol is the same in game mechanics" to "every pistol and variation on that pistol has its own detailed stats." \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 29 '14 at 0:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I need to look up the different systems before deciding which is best. Unfortunately there are only a few RPG shops left, so it takes some time \$\endgroup\$ – Thorsten S. Nov 3 '14 at 16:32
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I've played a couple ultra-realistic shooters of this sort. Sim games in this vein used to be a lot more common than they are now. Games I've used to do this (all handle weapons and tasers and knives and all that):

Top Secret/S.I. + the Commando supplement. OK, so I'm old. But it was a great set of small unit tactics rules, hit locations, etc. Mechanic is percentile roll-under. Out of print, but hey, the Internet. I ran whole campaigns of spy/special ops stuff in this system.

GURPS - in fact, there is a GURPS SWAT supplement. Also Special Ops, also Black Ops, also pretty much anything you care to name including other actual games. GURPS is realistic with options to go from mid to high crunch. Mechanic is 3d6 roll-under. The simulationist's go-to system, and the one of these that's actually still in print. And for the players you can just give them the free GURPS Lite 32-pager so they can operate.

Spycraft - was more "for spies" but is d20-based, if you're more comfortable with that, and had plenty of support for SWAT types. I prefer Spycraft 1.0/Classic, especially with the Modern Arms Guide supplement. People tried using d20 Modern for this and Spycraft beats it hollow. I remember one RPGA adventure that was a d20 Modern swat kind of thing and I kept being like "why is this so much more awful than Spycraft?"

There are other sim games based around small-unit stuff that IMO go over the line to too much tactical detail and crunch, like Millenium's End and Twilight:2000 - those fail the "fast paced during action" test. Recon! was pretty good, a Vietnam era game with interesting rules around ambushes and stuff but overall it's a little too... Palladium-y. Wonky sprawling rules.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Ok, I unearthed Top Secret / S.I. from the Internet, the thing is not available anymore, the Commando thing I haven't found yet. It is a strange blend of D&D/GURPS (attributes, skills, advantages) and Rolemaster hit zones streamlined for action. And deadly. Overall a very good impression, thank you very much. Did you use any good house rules which can be added ? \$\endgroup\$ – Thorsten S. Nov 7 '14 at 23:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Nothing homebrew, but the stuff from Commando is significant expansion for small unit tactical stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Nov 8 '14 at 2:59
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A system which meets the listed criteria is the 4th Edition of The Morrow Project.

To use this for a SWAT-focused game does not require changing any of the system, or dropping much of the setting.

The Morrow Project itself is centered around small unit, military actions as described in the question, but in a post nuclear world. It pays loving attention to combat detail from weapon characteristics, through detailed but easy-to-track physical conditions like fatigue and blood loss.

The system uses percentile dice, so once the players are comfortable with the level of detail, it plays quickly. Characters give a "professionally-qualified" feel in play, and although very detailed, do not take long to generate.

The system is canted toward the lethal, for speed, and so superior tactics, teamwork, and gear mean the difference between life and death in the game.

Personal Experience:

My initial experience with The Morrow Project (TMP) was as a player and with an earlier edition. The game was used for one-shots and short scenarios between our gaming staples. The scenario entailed a hostage rescue in a remote community up in the mountains. The target was a fellow Project member, and the opposition were aggressive and insular hill people who had regressed socially but had retained their knowledge of guns.

The scenario started with our stealthy approach under cover of darkness [night vision googles], shifted to silent removal of the perimeter guards [knives], then location of the hostage. The hostage was too injured to travel [medic], so once secured, the mission turned into a sweep and clear of the entire compound [a whole bunch of toys + shotguns and SMGs], and a pursuit through the woods in the pre-dawn once (through interrogation) we realized we had lost one of the hill people.

Run time for all this tactical decision-making, roleplay with the hostage and prisoners, and combat was about 4hrs. I was the only newcomer to the system. Injuries were significant and grisly. One project member bled out from a stick trap to the groin, for example, another drowned in their own blood from a fat musket ball that punctured a lung and blew them off their feet. Judicious use of flash-bangs, cover, and range kept our casualties much lower than the opposition.

My experience with 4th edition is in the GM seat. I find that it is much easier to learn than earlier editions, has consistent application of its mechanics throughout, and retains (or expands) all of its earlier detail and lethality.

I have used it for short combat scenarios, dealing with locating and taking out snipers with small squads of project members, cowing uncooperative populations with superior firepower, and a sweep and clear of an abandoned building with anti-personnel mines and manned choke points. I have yet to use it for campaign play, or with people new to the idea of modern military combat simulation. The game is not forgiving of 'cowboy play.'

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