Gun Fu: Die Hard

Happy trails, Hans!

‒ John McClane in Die Hard (1988)

John McTiernan’s Die Hard (1988) is the ultimate action movie for the festive days. Like most such films made in the 1980s, it ticks many boxes of the genres covered by GURPS Gun Fu. NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) is the ultimate badass in both body and spirit, and the shooting shown is in the same vein ‒ “Yippee ki-yay, motherfucker!


Of the many shootouts in the film, I would like to take a closer look at the penultimate one, to see how it would play out in GURPS terms.

Watch just the scene here (the action starts at 2:05). Stop reading if you want to avoid SPOILERS.

Round per Round

Prelude: Detective John McClane has finally cornered “exceptional thief” Hans Gruber on the 30th floor of the Nakatomi Tower in Los Angeles, California. John McClane is an investigator (GURPS Action 1: Heroes, pp. 12-13). Gruber holds John’s wife Holly Gennaro McClane hostage, pointing his H&K P7M13 semiautomatic pistol in 9×19mm Parabellum (GURPS Tactical Shooting, p. 56) at her head. Eddie has an H&K MP5A3 submachine gun in 9×19mm Parabellum (GURPS High-Tech, p. 123) in his hands. Unbeknownst to Gruber and Eddie, John McClane has taped his Beretta Mod 92FS semiautomatic pistol in 9×19mm Parabellum (High-Tech, p. 98) below his neck, butt up (Gun Fu, pp. 42-43). It is loaded with his last two rounds. [It is unlikely that he has the Weapon Bond perk (Gun Fu, p. 23) for this, since it is his issue weapon and in later films he uses different handguns, which he probably would not if he had bonded to this. Note that it has an elongated slide release for easier operation with the left hand.] John McClane and Gruber stand about 4 metres apart; Eddie is some 2 metres to his right. This is Close Range (Gun Fu, p. 7). It is fairly dark, for -2 to Vision (Tactical Shooting, p. 18). John McClane has broken the ice and the men laugh, mostly at each other. Gruber has raised his gun theatrically before dropping it down to shoot John McClane.

1st Second: John McClane, Holly McClane, Gruber, and Eddie have all taken Wait manoeuvres; John McClane will draw his pistol as soon as Gruber takes his attention off his wife, Holly McClane will act as soon as she sees an opening, Gruber will shoot as soon as his speech is over, and Eddie will bring up the submachine gun as soon as John McClane makes a wrong move. This is a Cascading Waits situation (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 108): In order to find out who acts first, they have to roll a Quick Contest. John McClane rolls against Fast-Draw (Pistol); +1 (Combat Reflexes) +Basic Speed +2 (no Move required). Holly McClane rolls against DX; +Basic Speed +2 (no Move required). Gruber rolls against Guns (Pistol); +Basic Speed +2 (no Move required). Eddie rolls against Guns (SMG); +Basic Speed +2 (no Move required). John McClane wins the Quick Contest and acts first. At his turn, John McClane takes a Ready manoeuvre to draw his Beretta Mod 92FS semiautomatic pistol with his left hand from behind his shoulder while shouting “Holly!”; -1 (taped to shoulder) to Fast-Draw (Pistol) skill. He fails, meaning he needs this turn to draw the pistol; it needs no further readying since the Beretta Mod 92FS is a double-action pistol (High-Tech, p. 82) that can be fired immediately. At her turn, Holly takes an Attack manoeuvre and with her left hand shoves Gruber’s right arm holding the pistol out of alignment, while taking a Step to the left; -2 (arm hit location) to DX roll. She succeeds and Gruber fails his Dodge roll. This does no damage (p. B372); instead of knocking Gruber back, it knocks his arm back ‒ resulting in his shooting arm being Unready. [This is not in the rules but realistically explains what happens.] At his turn, Gruber takes a Ready manoeuvre to bring his arm back down. At his turn, Eddie takes a Ready manoeuvre to bring up the submachine gun. [This is both realistic, since bringing up a long arm held loosely below the hips to a firing position takes a bit of time ‒ although not necessarily a full second ‒ and cinematic, since it allows the McClanes to act without interference. The rules actually do not require this, which is a possible oversight.]

2nd Second: At his turn, John McClane takes an All-Out Attack (Determined) manoeuvre and makes a Ranged Rapid Strike (Gun Fu, p. 10) by firing two one-handed (Tactical Shooting, p. 11) sighted (Tactical Shooting, p. 13) shots with his pistol, one at Gruber on the left, one at Eddie on the right; +0 (range) +1 (All-Out Attack) -6 (Ranged Rapid Strike) -2 (darkness) = -7 to Guns (Pistol). John McClane has the Gunslinger advantage (Gun Fu, pp. 15-16), which makes this considerably easier, halving the Ranged Rapid Strike penalty, for a total penalty of -4 to Guns (Pistol). The shot at Gruber is a torso shot, the one at Eddie a headshot, the latter taking an additional -7 (skull hit location). John McClane succeeds the first roll and Gruber fails his Dodge roll. Gruber takes 2d+2 pi damage (average 9 points). He has less than 1/3 his HP left and reels back from his wound (p. B419). The major wound requires a HT roll to avoid unconsciousness (p. B420), which he makes. John McClane succeeds the second roll and Eddie fails his Dodge roll. The shot hits Eddie in the skull for four times 2d+2 pi (average 28 points after penetration) damage; Eddie is at -1×HP or less. This major wound to the skull forces an immediate HT-10 roll to avoid knockdown and another immediate HT roll to avoid dying. Eddie fails either or both of these and collapses. [Why does John McClane take the more difficult but also more effective shot at Eddie rather than Gruber? He might have wanted to ensure that he hit Gruber, who was holding Holly hostage, while the shot at Eddie was less important. This does not square with the facts, though: precisely because Gruber held Holly McClane he would have needed to make sure he was no longer a threat ‒ the reason why hostage rescue units always take headshots (Tactical Shooting, p. 15). Also, Eddie held a submachine gun and continued to be a severe threat even after Gruber’s demise. The answer lies in the genre conventions (Gun Fu, p. 9): Eddie is “cannon fodder” (p. B417) while Gruber is a “named enemy” who still has his “dying action” (p. B423).] At her turn, Holly McClane takes an Attack manoeuvre to Break Free (p. B371) from being grappled by Gruber; this requires a Quick Contest of ST between Holly McClane’s ST-4 and Gruber’s ST. Gruber wins. Gruber staggers out of the window, still holding on to Holly McClane’s arm …

3rd Second: At his turn, John McClane takes a Ready manoeuvre and blows the smoke from the muzzle of his pistol.

In the film, the scene is 6 seconds long, as it cuts between showing the various characters, although much of the action evolves simultaneously.


The preliminary banter is not entirely useless. It lulls Gruber and Eddie into a kind of false security, although they are still wary of John McClane. The GM could allow an Acting roll that saddles his audience with a penalty in the Cascading Waits situation.

Bringing a long arm up into a shooting position takes longer than a handgun. GURPS currently does not make this distinction except in Fast-Draw situations. When the weapon already is in the shooter’s hands, the game assumes that it does not matter. This is a workable simplification in many situations, except in those in which it does matter.

In fact, it does not only take longer than a handgun, it does take considerable time when combat rounds are measured in seconds. Requiring a Ready manoeuvre is not unreasonable at all, and requiring a DX roll modified by Bulk to avoid that might work quite well.