In response to reading this article, headlined “Roman sling bullets used against Scottish tribes 2,000 years ago were as deadly as a .44 Magnum”, I was thinking about slings in RPGs.
I've often thought that sling bullets are woefully nerfed in many RPGs, especially D&D. In D&D 5E, for instance, they're only 1d4, while a short bow is 1d6 and a long bow is 1d8. For comparison, daggers are 1d4 and longswords are 1d8. In OD&D using Greyhawk's “Damage Done by Weapon Type” table sling stones are 1d4, and the same in B/X D&D's optional “Variable Weapon Damage” table. AD&D has sling bullets as 1d4+1 and sling stones as 1d4. D&D 3.5E has them as 1d4. So the D&D editions pretty consistently have it as 1d4. Definitely nerfed. Except in 3-book OD&D and B/X D&D without the “Variable Weapon Damage” table, where all weapons did 1d6 damage.
In Savage Worlds slings are Str+d4, while a bow is 2d6. For comparison, a dagger is Str+d4 and a long sword is Str+d8. Nerfed.
In RuneQuest 2E they are 1d8, similar to a Composite bow at 1d8+1 and broadsword at 1d8. In Elric! (a member of the Stormbringer line of games, appearing between 4th Edition and 5th Edition, but the rules were substantially equivalent to Stormbringer 5E; It is relative of RuneQuest mechanically, part of the Basic Roleplaying (BRP) family of games) a sling is 1d8+1, similar to a Desert Recurve Bow at 1d8+2, and a broadsword at 1d8+1. So in the BRP games they are not nerfed. In DragonQuest their Damage Modifier is +1, while a dagger is +0, a long bow is +4 and a broadsword is +4. Nerfed.
In Talislanta 4E a sling's Damage Rating is 4, as is a dagger, while a long bow and broadsword are 8. Nerfed.
In Hero 5E, sling damage is 1d6+1, same as a medium bow or a light long bow, while a medium long bow is 1 ½ d6 (that's 1 and ½ d6) and a heavy long bow is 2d6. A dagger is 1d6-1 and a broadsword is 1d6+1. Note that strong enough characters add damage to this based on how strong they are. Not nerfed.
In GURPS 4E, damage is based on your strength, and the only dice used is d6. We'll use an average Strength 10 character as an example. Their Thrust damage is 1d-2 and their Swing damage is 1d. An opponent's Damage Resistance (DR) is subtracted from the rolled damage and any damage left is multiplied by a modifier for each type of damage. Piercing damage has a ×1 modifier, cutting has a ×1.5 modifier, and impaling has a ×2 modifier.
So, sling damage is swing piercing, and the damage for that for our average character is 1d. A longbow is thrust+2 impaling. and the damage for that is 1d, and whatever makes it past DR is doubled. A regular bow is thrust+1 impaling, and the damage for that is 1d+1 (minus DR) ×2. A dagger is thrust-1 impaling, so that is 1d-3 (minus DR) ×2. A thrusting broadsword is swing+1 cutting (1d+1 (minus DR) ×1.5) or thrust+2 impaling (1d+2 (minus DR) ×2). I think that's nerfed a little.
(I'd like to note that when actually playing GURPS I think this is simpler to do at the table than it sounds like. The damage values for each attack is figured out at character creation :-)
In The Fantasy Trip, which like GURPS only uses d6, slings do 1d-2, small bows do 1d-1, longbows do 1d+2, daggers do 1d-1, and broadswords do 2d. A little bit nerfed.
In Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM) 2nd Edition Revised, slings are not listed, but a long bow does 5 damage, a longsword does 10 damage, and a dagger does 5 damage. In BESM 3rd Edition, an average person has an Attack Combat Value (ACV) of 4 and a Damage Multiplier of 5. Each weapon has a Level, which is multiplied by the Damage Multiplier and added to the ACV for the final damage. Slings are Level 1 (1 × 5 + 4 = 9), as are daggers. Longbows are Level 3 (3 × 5 + 1 = 16), as are longswords. Definitely nerfed. (It is the same in BESM 4E.)
In HarnMaster, weapon impact (damage) for Melee weapons has three Aspects, Blunt (B), Edge (E), and Point (P). A dagger's impact is B 1, E 2, P 5, while a broadsword is B 3, E 5, and P 3. A Missile weapon's impact depends on the type of missile weapon and the range: short, medium, long, and extreme. Slings are Short 4, Medium 3, Long 2, and Extreme 2. Shortbows are Short 6, Medium 5, Long 4, Extreme 3. Longbows are Short 8, Medium 8, Long 6, Extreme 5. Nerfed. I'll note that these weapon or missile impacts are added to a Strike Impact is decided by a table indexed by how well the attacker did on opposed rolls of attack skill against the defender's skill in Block, Counterstrike, Dodge, or if the defender ignored the attack. For Melee attacks this can result in the defender having blocked the attack, either the attacker or the defender fumbling or stumbling, the defender gaining a Tactical Advantage (a free action), or either or both having made a Strike, which generates from 1 to 4 d6s. For Missle attacks this can result in a Miss (with a chance to hit an adjacent combatant, a Wild (a fumble roll), a Block, or a Strike, which generates from 1 to 3 d6s. The Armor Protection value is subtracked and the result is the total Effective Impact, which is then referenced on the Injury Table to determine where the on the body the injury is and how serious it is. There are no Hit Points like D&D or Wounds like Savage Worlds. Instead the character accumulates injuries like “1 Minor Slash Left Upper Arm, 1 injury level”. The total injury level determines the difficulty of the character staying conscious and penalty to any skill roll. Some of the injuries may immediately kill the injured character.
In West End Games' D6 Fantasy, attributes are measured in d6s and 2D is an average human. Bow and sling damage and melee damage as d6s added to a number of d6s determined by your Strength Damage, which is determined by your Physique attribute or Lifting skill (both measured in d6s), drop any adds, divided by 2. So our average human's Strength Damage is 1D. Then longbows add +2D+2, shortbows add +1D+2, and slings add +1D. For comparison, daggers add +1D and broad/long swords ad +2D+2. So, nerfed, although it is hard to make precise distinctions at this level of resolution.
Tunnels & Trolls only uses d6s and weapons are measured in “Dice + Adds”, that is the number of d6s to roll and the number of points to add to the dice total. The common sling is 2d. A very light self bow is 2d, a light self bow is 3d, a medium self bow is 4d, a heavy self bow is 5d, and a extra-heavy self bow is 6d. These all have increasing Strength Required to use the weapon. For comparison, a Dirk is 2D+1 and a broadsword is 3d+4. Nerfed.
In Dragon Warriors weapon damage has two parts: an armor penetration die (measured in dice: d4, d6, d8, etc.) and damage points. The armor penetration die is rolled against the Armour Factor of the defender's armour: a Gambeson has an Armour Factor of 2 while Plate has an Armor Factor of 5, and the attacker has to roll higher than the Armour Factor to inflict damage.
A sling has Damage (d6, 3 points) while a Bow has Damage (d6, 4 points). For comparison, a dagger has Damage (d4, 3 points) and a sword has Damage (d8, 4 points). Slightly nerfed.
When I GM games that I think nerf slings, like D&D, I often use a house rule that sling bullets are higher damage than sling stones, and more similar to the damage of a short bow, 1d6, for example. I may have been underestimating them and should consider them closer to a long bow, 1d8, as Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying (BRP) variants (RuneQuest, Elric, Stormbringer) do.
Classic Traveller's Supplement 04 Citizens of the Imperium (1979) has a section on bow weapons, on p. 16! A sling does 2D wounds and a long bow does 2D wounds also. For comparison, from Book 01 Characters & Combat (1981) on p. 47 on the “Range Table” (?) dagger, blade, cutlass, and sword all do 2D wounds. Not nerfed.
Cepheus Engine (C1, C2) doesn't have slings, but a bow is 2D6. Sword of Cepheus, the fantasy variant, has sling as 2D, short bow as 2D, long bow as 3D, dagger as 2D, and sword as 3D. Maybe a little nerfed.