Cover to Cover

12-Apr-13 – 01:35 by ToddG

Caleb’s blog post yesterday about IDPA’s cover rule led to a back channel discussion between the two of us about the use of cover in a competitive venue. While I could just complain about the way IDPA’s approach to cover has evolved over the years (I began shooting IDPA in 1997 and I’m member number 1313), that would be like kicking a sick dog. IDPA knows its rules need to be reworked and a new rulebook is expected by the end of this year.

cover-1Instead, I want to address just how difficult it is to have a “cover rule” to begin with. This isn’t just an academic thought. When SLG and I wrote the draft rules for KSTG (Kinda Sorta Tactical Game), coming up with a functional rule about use of cover was probably the single biggest hurdle we found. Why?

The very first thing you learn (or should learn) about cover in a decent tactics class is that use of cover is situational. While there are some consistent concepts to keep in mind there are very few hard rules and even those have exceptions. A few lines in a rulebook cannot hope to encompass everything there is to know and apply when it comes time to put a barricade between you and the thing you’re shooting at. More importantly, a universal “cover rule” cannot account for the huge variation in shooting positions and prop setups from all the matches at all the clubs for all the years the game is being played.

Next you have to keep in mind what is going to be happening in the game environment. A lot of “cover rules” are based around traditional cover techniques used when slowly searching around corners. But those techniques aren’t always the best approach in the middle of an active ongoing two-way exchange of gunfire. Applying “slowly pie the corner” rules to “hurry shoot him now!” situations is fraught with fail. It’s also worth noting that many of those rules get trapped by a square range foundation of static targets… it’s a lot easier to set up at a perfect angle to a target frozen in place than it is to one with, let’s say, legs and feet. Or a mobility scooter.

The major decision that needs to be made is whether you’ll have a subjective cover rule or an objective one.

cover-2IDPA has a subjective rule: the Safety Officer makes a judgment call as to whether he thinks you’re using cover within the rules, primarily related to whether 50% of your torso is “behind cover.” The problem with this is that it’s impossible to be perfectly consistent. I’ve watched SOs make wildly different calls based on little things like where the SO was standing or how fast the shooter transitioned from target to target. That’s not a slam on the SO, it’s just very hard to do that kind of trigonometry in the blink of an eye while you’re also supposed to be enforcing safety.

The alternative is to use an objective rule, such as a fault line. At first glance fault lines sound smart but they’ve got their own significant pitfalls. The biggest problem is that a fault line pretty much requires the shooter to be watching his feet instead of watching what’s happening downrange… it’s hard to imagine something less realistic than that. Since most shooting positions involve more than one target down range, you’re also stuck with either lots of different fault lines at every corner or simply giving people the most generous fault line and letting them use cover really poorly.

At the inaugural “beta test” KSTG match, the rulebook specified a subjective standard very similar to IDPA’s. The one major change we made from the IDPA approach, however, was to eliminate the warning that IDPA SOs give shooters. Our thought process was pretty simple there: there is no warning in a fight; if you step out too far and catch a bullet in the nose that’s going to be your only warning.

Suffice to say that our intensely debated and carefully calculated cover rule was an utter failure. Without the warning, competitors — all of whom were experienced IDPA Master-class shooters — gobbled up penalties like candy. Go figure, these seriously competitive type-A personalities weren’t happy about that. And that raises an important point about rules in a game: no matter how “real” you want it to be, the game still has to be enjoyable. Take away the fun and no one wants to play anymore.

So fast forward to 2011 when a small group of us began running KSTG matches at the NRA Headquarters every month. Knowing that the old subjective rule was a failure we decided to use fault lines. And for the past year and a half, we’ve been using those fault lines. And for the past year and a half, they’ve been rubbish.

  • As mentioned above, it’s just stupid to be watching your feet when you’re supposed to be shooting a threat.
  • At first we set up fault lines that forced people to use tight cover… and there were tons of penalties and the people were not happy. Now we’re using very generous fault lines that barely constitute using cover in the first place.
  • Laying down dozens of fault lines for a match is annoying at an indoor range. It would probably be doubly so outdoors on grass or broken ground.

So there we have it. IDPA’s approach is bad. The alternative is bad. We haven’t been able to come up with a better idea. Please help.

Train hard & stay safe! ToddG

  1. 27 Responses to “Cover to Cover”

  2. A long time ago somebody told somebody to stop trying to “game” everything. The persons response was, “haters gonna hate.” And today their is USPSA and IDPA.

    By Matt S. on Apr 12, 2013

  3. Paintball guns mounted near the targets that fire 1 shot per second 1 foot away from the cover?

    By Nate on Apr 12, 2013

  4. I think you nailed it with this: “IDPA’s approach is bad. The alternative is bad. We haven’t been able to come up with a better idea.”

    For a game, you want a clear-cut rule the competitors can follow and SOs can call. Real-life cover isn’t clear-cut at all, because your choice isn’t between perfect cover and no cover at all, but between varying degrees of cover — which is usually just concealment anyway.

    Honestly, all we really want is for competitors to make an effort to slice the pie, rather than run into the open, but we need to draw the line somewhere — figuratively, if not literally — if we don’t want the line pushed further and further until there’s no line at all.

    By Isegoria on Apr 12, 2013

  5. My immediate thought was identical to Nate’s. I’ve been pondering this since KSTG started and haven’t really come up with anything…

    By MichaelH on Apr 12, 2013

  6. I’ve been thinking about this since I started shooting IDPA. I’ve been called for cover calls for not being close enough to the barrels (today tactically we teach students not to crowd cover to be at least three steps away when possible to help avoid ricochets off the cover), and for the fact that the SO didn’t think my torso moved enough to be slicing the pie when shooting through windows. Nether time could the SO explain I exposed too much to the threat under the rules. I have had the privilege to shoot alongside an IDPA DM who claimed at the National Championships he disagreed with a cover call only to hear from another competitor say he thought the call was golden.

    So I’m waiting to see what the tiger teams have come up with. Hopefully they’re smarter than me.

    By RSA-OTC on Apr 12, 2013

  7. For a major match, or a fixed training course, you could set up sensors to define a boundary a set distance past the edge of a barrier. Break the plane, get a penalty. Industrial optical sensors are reliable.

    Club/low-budget matches & training is a harder problem…

    By peterb on Apr 12, 2013

  8. The paintball idea, while it sounds good, is unworkable. First, shooters would need to wear full face protection instead of simply eyepro and earpro (and most full face protection is incompatible with common hearing protection, to boot)… plus the obvious safety concerns if someone is hit in the hand or gun and it drops, etc. Second, the shooter’s size could play a part in if or where he’s hit. Third, if the round goes past the shooter it endangers everyone uprange. Fourth, setting one up at every single point of cover would be time consuming and expensive. Fifth, you still have the issue of multi-target arrays… you’d have to set the paintball up to engage on the deepest target meaning poor use of cover would still be possible for the earlier ones. Finally, like any downrange equipment, there would be a substantial risk it would get shot.

    Many of the same problems arise when you talk about sensors. Also, most motion-type sensors aren’t refined enough that you ding someone for moving 12″ from cover (every single time) while making sure they’re not dinged for moving 11″ from cover (every single time). You also run into a problem if some skinny dude figures out what “too far around cover is” and you’re twice as wide… or you set it for the guy as wide as a house and then all the normal sized people can lean far around the corner without penalty.

    Not that we considered those options previously or anything. :-)

    By ToddG on Apr 12, 2013

  9. I was just pondering the question of different body sizes/shapes. Did you decide it was more fair to try to control the percentage of the shooter’s body that’s exposed, or the amount of the shooter’s body that’s exposed? You can make good arguments both ways.

    By peterb on Apr 12, 2013

  10. peterb — It has to be percentage. Otherwise, you get someone who’s wide and might not be able to engage the threat at all (which is a bad tactic) or someone who’s very narrow who can stand far away from cover (also not a good tactic).

    By ToddG on Apr 12, 2013

  11. I was going to second the paintball gun but make turrets out of them. And then I read Todd’s post.

    By Edwin on Apr 12, 2013

  12. Actually, there’s no requirement for the warning in IDPA. If they’re violating cover when they fire, it’s a procedural…period. If they’re slow, there’s a chance for the SO to yell a warning before they fire the shot.

    By Laughingdog on Apr 12, 2013

  13. In my clubs “Outlaw CCW” match the cover rule (which I wrote) is pretty simple.
    If you engage a target while exposed to an unengaged target and cover is available, you get the penalty.
    Unengaged means no rounds in a scoring zone of the target.
    Exposed to a target means an entire A zone is visible.
    Cover is available when it is between you and the target or within 3′ laterally.

    Basically you can be a little sloppy on your cover shooting at one target, but you’ll get busted if you get sloppy enough to expose yourself to two targets.

    It’s still subjective, but when someones caught it’s an egregious act and they rarely complain because they knew they were sloppy.

    That’s the short version.

    By JodyH on Apr 12, 2013

  14. Oops, I meant to say “Exposed is when any portion of the A zone is visible” not all of the A.
    We get away with this because it takes a lot of C’s to neutralize a target in our scoring system.

    By JodyH on Apr 12, 2013

  15. What about a peice of 1″ PVC pipe, or a piece of wood with beveled edges, with a sandbag or tape holding it down? The shooter could feel this line with their foot, rather than be forced to look directly at it, as with normal fault lines.

    You would have to be wary of making it a trip hazard, for safety concerns, but that would depend on exactly how you decide to make the “speedbump”

    By Will H on Apr 12, 2013

  16. Participate in recreational shooting events, have fun, smell the fresh outdoor air wafting through the burnt powder. Enjoy.

    Happy shooting, dv

    By dustyvarmint on Apr 12, 2013

  17. You could rest a stick at waist/knee height at the edge of cover. If you knock over the stick, you’re breaking cover, otherwise you’re fine.

    Or leave it as subjective, but lessen the penalty. Like .5 or 1 second per target you expose yourself to. Just enough that there’s not an incentive to game it, but it’s not *that* big of a deal if the RO calls it wrong.

    Think in football… only time people really get pissed off at a ref for a pass interference call is when it impacts a scoring play. If it just gives you 15 yards in the middle of the field on first down, you still try to avoid it but you don’t freak out about it.

    By ford.304 on Apr 12, 2013

  18. Okay, no really – the fully automatic paintball sentry gun is CLEARLY the way to go here.

    By Billy on Apr 12, 2013

  19. JodyH — explain that to me in more detail. When you say cannot be exposed to the A-zone do you mean the target being engaged or the next one? As I’m reading (or misreading) you, shooters have to pepper the C-zone before moving farther around the corner.

    By ToddG on Apr 12, 2013

  20. Will H’s comment about the 1″ PVC pipe was considered by us, too (we run a Winter Indoor Practical Pistol League), and was discarded for the same reason. We finally settled on cutting pipe foam insulation lengthwise, and taping the strips on the floor (Painters’ Tape!) for fault lines and shooting boxes. Shooters don’t have a “feel” for it, though.

    Next year, we’ll tape some lathe strips under it for the “feel.”

    By Mike on Apr 12, 2013

  21. Say you’re behind a wall and are going to engage multiple targets.
    As you slice around you see all of T1 and engage = no penalty.
    You slice around and see T1 and only the C or D-zone of T2 and engage T1 = no penalty.
    You slice around and see T1 and the A-zone of T2 and engage T1 = penalty.
    You slice around and see T1 and the D-zone of T2 and engage T2 = penalty.

    Basically the only time you get a cover penalty is when you can see the A-zones of two or more targets and there’s cover available.
    It’s still a subjective call but it’s a much easier call for the RO to make because the difference between “go” and “no go” is pretty significant unless you have overlapping targets.
    The downside is there’s really no penalty for engaging a lone target and not using cover, but we fix that with stage design.

    By JodyH on Apr 12, 2013

  22. I also meant to add that you you get the penalty for engaging out of order (the engage T2 before T1 scenario, despite only seeing one A-zone).

    If cover’s available and you shoot a target while exposed to the A-zone of an unengaged target, you get the penalty.

    By JodyH on Apr 12, 2013

  23. Jody — Thanks for the clarification.

    KSTG has an “out of order’ rule as well as a prohibition against crowding cover. But it’s the other part (how much you’re exposed to the target you’re engaging) that we’re trying to solve.

    By ToddG on Apr 12, 2013

  24. Shot a tactical match years ago, motion activated paintball gun aimed low torso works awesome. But it did mean people crowded cover

    By Rob E on Apr 12, 2013

  25. My first thought to deal with the inaccuracy of motion sensors is to string a chalk line instead(hard to deny breaking a plane with a hot pink line on you), but that still doesn’t solve the issue of it needing to be a percentage because of different body sizes.

    By scjbash on Apr 15, 2013

  26. Anything that literally blocks movement (line, piece of wood, etc.) won’t work because often shooters move to a position of cover, shoot, and then move on to the next position. Something blocking their way would be a hazard.

    By ToddG on Apr 15, 2013

  27. Without sophisticated mechanical help cover has to be subjective. You should consider taking steps to acknowledge that subjectivity so you can limit its impact rather than pretending that it doesn’t exist.

    Consider having the shooter define their own strike zone, so to speak, before the stage. The shooter shows their specific SO what being “in cover” or “out of cover” looks like. The SO can correct them or demonstrate or whatever if the shooter is trying to get some kind of gamey advantage.

    Although a given shooter’s idea of cover might provide some slight advantage in a competitive sense, I think you get a fairer comparison by reducing surprise penalties. A hard ass SO will also find himself confronted by the need to defend his or her interpretation *before* the stage starts rather than haggling over a penalty.

    By Rob J on Apr 17, 2013

  28. More and more, I find my self siding with the fault-line “solution”. From my experience in local club IDPA, there are largely two types that show up, the tactical scenario training guys and the gamer guys, who just want to get the best score they can according to the rules. The fault-line removes the subjectivity while still maintaining a sense of use-of-cover, which will make the gamer guys happy and the scenario training guys will still move cautiously, pie slowly and maintain good cover discipline like they always have, with little concern of winning.

    By BRGHM on Apr 24, 2013

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