Two of my favorite gunfights in film are the end of Way of the Gun and, well, pretty much any scene from the John Wick movies. I love how Way of the Gun’s finale really cares where the characters are relative to each other and what they do tactically to gain the advantage on each other.
I also love how John Wick doesn’t care about any of that.
A Plan is Just a List of Things That Don’t Happen
If you’re trying to emulate Way of the Gun, knowing where characters are is essential. It’s a game of cat-and-also-cat where Ryan Phillipe is in this fountain here, Benecio del Toro’s behind this pillar over here, James Caan is on the second floor looking out through this window there, and this goon’s on the corner of the cantina right here. How do you move so you can reach the money without getting shot, and how can the opposition move to trap you as you try?
Another thing Way of the Gun does well is it makes the conflict about an objective, not simply wiping out the other side. Because positioning matters, they make where and what the objective is (a giant bag of cash) matter as well. It’s a great scene to study if you’re trying to build an interesting setpiece for your game.
Be Seeing You
You don’t need map and minis to game a John Wick-style gunfight. Each dead minion (sometimes 2 or 3 at a time) happens in these atomic vignettes that are rarely meaningfully connected to the last. Even when John Wick fights Cassian, the scenery is less important than the moves and countermoves in play. Sometimes what the location is will matter, such as “a walkway between two racks of throwing knives”, but positioning doesn’t.
What you want is a way to kill goons quickly, sometimes multiples at a time, but to have this back-and-forth between your hyperskilled PC and named NPCs.
What would you use to run these different kinds of gunfights?