Grand Unified Smackdown Theory (Part 1)

Over at the GURPS Forums, there’s a really interesting (well, interesting to me) thread asking the question if basic melee weapon damage is too high (what you look up on p. 16 of the GURPS Basic Set).

I think the answer is “yes.” In fact, as part of my “Armor Revisited” article I had originally written about a page explaining why, how, and how I’d fix it. But I cut it out since it opened up a few cans of worms, potentially, that didn’t need opening.

Still, it was Just Sitting There, so I posted it on the forums, and now I post it here (this will make my musings in Part 2 of this topic a bit more cogent, I hope).

I note that JCurwen3 posted that he used it in his games, and finds that whatever cans were opened, they might have been more Whup-Ass than worms.

So:

Rescaling Melee Weapons

While firearms are explicitly on an energy-based scale that doubles penetration for every quadrupling of energy, melee weapons do not scale this way, and the raw damage rises much faster, making high ST unrealistically effective when applied to hand weapons and muscle powered ranged weapons.

For an alternative take that scales the same way as firearms, consider rescaling thrust and swing damage. A cinematic scale would have thr equal to ST/10, and swing equal to ST/5; a more realistic one might have thrust as ST/20, and swing as ST/10.

Oddly Small Damage Increment Table

Roll one off-color die, and adjust the number rolled to the table value. The Notes entry shows where rules of thumb can be used to more quickly interpret the roll of the odd die. Each entry is scaled to give an average result consistent with a fractional d6.

Roll on 1d6
Dice Average Damage 1 2 3 4 5 6 Notes
0.1 0.35 0 0 0 0 1 1 1d/5, drop fractions
0.2 0.7 0 0 1 1 1 1 1d/5, round normally
0.3 1.05 0 1 1 1 1 2 1d/4, round normally
0.4 1.4 0 1 1 2 2 3 1d/2, drop fractions
0.5 1.75 1 1 1 2 2 3
0.6 2.1 1 1 2 2 3 3 1d/2, round normally
0.7 2.45 0 1 2 3 4 5 1d-1
0.8 2.8 1 2 2 3 4 5
0.9 3.15 1 2 2 4 4 6
1 3.5 1 2 3 4 5 6 1d6

Implications for Play

Using the “realisitc” scale with ST/10 for swing damage has many repercussions, which must at least be considered before adopting these rules.

Devalued ST

ST is “the attribute that you use to buy damage” in GURPS, with a healthy side-order of “lifting heavy stuff” and “more HP.” The realistic scale requires ST 20 to do 1d thr and 2d sw, and probably calls for a price break. HP are 2 points each; Lifting ST is 3 points per +1 ST, and Striking ST 5 per +1.

HP and lifting are as valuable as ever; reducing Striking ST to 2 per +1 ST in realistic campaigns, with overall ST at 7 points per +1 ST, seems appropriate.

Hand Weapon Damage

Weapon damage is lower, and thrust weapons in particular will have limited penetration capability. This takes what was the historically preferred method of punching through heavy armor and nerfs it further. To compensate, add a (2) armor divisor to weapons with a sharp, narrow penetrating surface. Consider optionally allowing a still more impressive construction, buying a fine (hardened) penetrating point that gives a (3) for ¥4 cost. This would not be available for arrows (see The Deadly Spring, Pyramid #33, for suggestions concerning bows and arrows).

Armor

With most hand weapons using the realistic scale, personal armor just got a whole lot more valuable at low DR, especially using the revised armor weights from GURPS Low Tech. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it might make a campaign world more closely resemble what we know about our historical real one . . . on didn’t need to lather on 80 lbs. of mail, leather, and plate to protect against basic cuts from swords, or long-range shots from flight or hunting arrows.

Character Differentiation

With thrusting damage at ST/20, and swing at ST/10, there will be very little differentiation between average, fairly strong, and even very strong characters. Weapons rated at sw+2 or sw+3 (maces, axes, and falchions, for example) have their damage almost all defined by the weapon, not the user.

Consider treating the “adds” as an indicator of the power of the lever arm being applied. Treat each +1 as adding +1/3 to a ST multiplier – a sw+2 weapon instead multiplies ST by 1.66. A ST 14 warrior swinging a falchion (sw+2) will do damage as ST 23.2, or 2.3 dice.

One would thrust using the same calculations: a short spear thrust by the same warrior for thr+1 imp would multiply ST by 1.33, for ST 18.6; damage would be ST/20 (2), or 0.9d (2) imp. Note that same spear using the Damage Table (p. B16) would do 1d+1 imp, an average of 4.5 points of penetration. Even the realistic scale here will do 6.3 points, thanks to the armor divisor.

Coup de Grace

The changes to melee damage on the realistic end would bring GURPS damage on the hand-to-hand scale more in line with firearms damage. For a character to do as much damage with a punch as with a 9mm pistol would now require about ST 52 . . . well into supers territory. Even a strong character with ST 20 (1d thr) will be out-penetrated by a .22 LR (1d+1 pi-). For those who want a more realistic scaling for penetration, this may be more satisfying.

14 thoughts on “Grand Unified Smackdown Theory (Part 1)

  1. Heh. I'd posted this completely to the SJG Forums (as per the link) quite a while ago.

    I think I'd had it in the original draft of Armor Revisited from Pyramid #3/34, but when I had some people (Peter Dell'Orto among them) comment on the article, we quickly realized that if you did what I suggest, you'd need to:

    1) Have armor divisors (or multipliers) on nearly every weapon type

    2) Need a way to figure the very real damage caused by non-penetrating injury due to blunt trauma

    3) Massively revamp the post-armor wounding multipliers, since, all things considered, getting hit with an axe and having it do about 4d damage (probably knocking you out, possibly killin' you dead dead dead) probably isn't too far wrong. But chopping through DR 14 plate armor IS far wrong. So cutting probably needs to be something like a base of x2 instead of x1.5.

    4) Then you have to think hard about how damage type stacks with location again, and ensure that it all makes sense.

    5) You have to reprice ST to account for the fact that you're no longer buying +1 swing damage for each +1 ST. You're buying +1 base damage for every (more or less) +3 ST. That probably means "Striking ST" is now about 1/level, "Lifting ST" is probably still worth 3/level as it is now, and HP are probably worth equal to more. Let's say equal. 2/level. So ST would cost about 6/level instead of 10 (5/level would appeal to the pentophilic).

    I was asked for something at the time that was a page or two for the Alt GURPS issue, and given the issues above (and I'd already had the two pages that you liked) I shelved it, rather than dealing with the five issues above all at once.

    Pricing traits also gets into a sticky issue: Thou Shalt Not Nerf Existing Characters. It's not exactly a commandment, but some of the feedback to The Last Gasp was "I can port this directly into my game!" If I radically change the value of core attributes, what weapons work in a role and what don't . . . I've ruined people's fun until they start a new game with new expectations.

    That being said, my current project can be said to deal with a few of the issues that were raised above. The excerpt above and the new concepts would play well together, I think.

    1. I think the above is what stops me from getting too worked up about this issue. If you do find a way to make it all work, I'm curious, but as it is, it seems like a heck of a lot of effort for a relatively small gain. Indeed, the gain is only worth it in some relatively rare games anyway–once you allow Weapon Master, all bets are off and it's somewhat pointless to talk about whether a sword can cut through armor or not when you are granting near-mystical damage bonuses based on skill!

    2. Valid point. Weapon Master can be handled with the regular "ST-multiplier" rules, but with the edge-protection rule, plus other things toned down, you're still going to be barely punching DR 5.

      That being said, I fully acknowledge that some things might need to be tweaked, and WM and injury are two of them. When all is said and done, you may be right that as soon as you turn on the cinematic switches (though these also apply to armor), the rejigger for "realism" doesn't matter much!

      When it doesn't serve the narrative, it's not as worthwhile. I do find that a solid basic rule that fits realism at least keeps it believable in all regimes.

  2. My house ruling:

    (1) (0.5) armor divisor to most cutting/swing weapons
    (2) mail is flexible; modify flexible DR rule so that per 5 points of unstopped cutting damage = 1 point of blunt trauma as well.

    Guy swings a 2d poleaxe or great sword at DR 4 mail. On average it takes 7 damage; armor has 4 x 2 / (0.5 divisor ) = 8. Poleaxe stopped but damage for knockback and 1 point of blunt trauma.

  3. Under Character Differentiation you posit that a .33 additional multiplier for each +1 to base weapon damage from weapons made sense, giving a sw+3 weapon a x2 multiplier to ST. What then of negative modifiers? thr-1 is a very common weapon damage, and at the extreme end, the small knife has sw-3, which would lead to a multiplier of 0 if we go in the opposite direction.

    Along those same lines, if the multiplier for swung weapons is due to the length of the lever, why would you give the same multiplier bonus for thrusted weapons, where leverage doesn't enter into the calculation?

    1. Great questions!

      As for the negative numbers, his is what happens when I try and make it EASY. If you don't mind the math, use each +1 or -1 as a boost or penalty of 1/3.5 = 28%. That way, sw-3 is an 86% reduction in effective ST. You could also apply these one-way, so that -1 is x.72, -2 is x0.44, and -3 is x0.14. Yet a third way to go is to use each +1 as a quarter-die, plus or minus, instead of a third. This will mean it takes a sw+4 instead of a sw+3 weapon to double damage (and thus quadruple energy!), which may not be a bad thing.

      For the thrust question, which is a very good question: I did mean to scale them up. It wouldn't be "lever arm" so much as it would be "big ass weapon with a lot of oomph behind it, so that you can efficiently deliver a good blow."

      Another way to do this that just occurs to me would be to look at how the imp ratings of weapons go: from about thr-2 to thr+3. Take a look (I haven't yet) and I bet they correlate to weapon mass, with a side-order of efficiency and maybe 1H vs 2H use. Perhaps we can derive a good percentage ratio for thrusting that is independent of any game-stat numbers.

      Thanks for taking the time to read the article, and repost the question (Jack hit me up by Private Message at the SJG Forums, and I asked him to repost here so I could answer more publicly).

    2. I like this answer, because it dovetails nicely with my own ideas. I looked at the crude +4 = +1d in GURPS and immediately determined that .25 was going to be easier for players to deal with than .33 or .28. Interestingly, this reduction actually helps with the higher end corner cases – for example, the Gada (sw+6, ST min 16). The weakest of wielders has a standard GURPS swing of 2d+2. Adding the bonus gets us 4d. Using your original rules, the same individual gets 16×3/10 = 4.8 dice. Using .25 gives us only 16×2.5/10 = 4d, back where we started. Still pretty damned nasty.

      As for the mass : bonus relationship, it doesn't really hold for two-handed swords at any rate:

      +1: 2-5 lbs
      +2: 5, 7 and 10 lbs
      +3: 4-7 lbs

      Some crushing, some impaling, maybe that has some impact on the breakdown?

  4. Just discovered this via TBone's Games Diner.

    I've seen two good suggestions from the Games Diner and I'm curious as to your thoughts:
    1. Remove swing damage. Swung weapons just get a multiplier/damage-add based on the person's arm length plus the lever arm and balance/unbalance of the weapon.
    2. Instead of fiddling with ST-to-damage tables, just make the easy calculation of ST 1 = 1d basic damage, ST 2 = 2d, ST 3 = 3d. Lots of table lookups disappear, and much of the math is made easier. Might be useful to add a note saying to reduce rolling into 6dxN groupings. It also means that armor values have to be boosted, but that's actually another simplification, as the variable armor from Pyramid 3/34 would make the math easier with straight dice subtractions first; and closer to matching the bullet-stopping power of bullet-resistant vests.

    1. I've seen two good suggestions from the Games Diner and I'm curious as to your thoughts:
      1. Remove swing damage. Swung weapons just get a multiplier/damage-add based on the person's arm length plus the lever arm and balance/unbalance of the weapon.

      I don't think this fully works in a system, like GURPS, that thinks about pretty detailed modes of weapon usage. There are times (say, in a corridor) that you can only usefully thrust, and you can't swing. So you're already in a place where you'd be adjudicating "how much damage do I lose by not being able to swing."

      My note above suggests treating swing as a multiplier on thrust (basic damage), which I think works OK. I suggest x2 for ease of use, but if there's better data out there as to how much the force really increases, that would be useful.

      2. Instead of fiddling with ST-to-damage tables, just make the easy calculation of ST 1 = 1d basic damage, ST 2 = 2d, ST 3 = 3d. Lots of table lookups disappear, and much of the math is made easier. Might be useful to add a note saying to reduce rolling into 6dxN groupings. It also means that armor values have to be boosted, but that's actually another simplification, as the variable armor from Pyramid 3/34 would make the math easier with straight dice subtractions first; and closer to matching the bullet-stopping power of bullet-resistant vests.

      I like that article. 🙂 No bias here, of course.

      Having ST 1 be 1d instead of ST 10 would get pretty hairy pretty fast, you're basically throwing a whole lot of dice around. That being said, it gets out of the "Oddly Small Damage Increment" trap that I have with tenth-dice that I resorted to in this post.

    2. Making swing just 2x thrust _might_ work for humans with typical-length arms (it might work out that way for all I know). But it definitely breaks down when you look at some not very extreme cases:

      1. Fantasy dwarf/gnome who is as strong or stronger than a human, but has shorter arms. Or any small but strong creature (badgers, wolverines). Or an alien with short but powerful arms. In all these cases, swing damage probably should not be a straight 2x of thrust.

      2. A super-strong human-sized being (like a robot or comic book super) swinging a telephone pole as a baton. Here the extra swing damage would come from being able to carry and use the long/heavy weapon, not the basic thrust damage.

      3. A typically-human-strong being with very long arms (Plastic Man) swing a fist. It might be that swing damage comes out to 3x or 4x thrust damage, but that should really be represented as a damage multiplier or add based on lever arm.

  5. Making swing just 2x thrust _might_ work for humans with typical-length arms (it might work out that way for all I know). But it definitely breaks down when you look at some not very extreme cases:

    I'm sure that's true. My modus operandi is to ensure it works for humans first. We would also need to understand what fraction of swing damage comes from the arms (very little, I'd guess – you get it from the legs, hips, and torso) that would not be covered by increased Arm ST, which is already in GURPS. If most of it does come from the arms, they might just have high Arm ST, but reduced swing damage!

    For the weapon/leverage based stuff, they would still get the basic boost for swing, and an additional one for wielding a heavy, long weapon (reach and adds/multipliers to basic damage).

    I'm not sure what extra lever arm without the extra ST would do. The torque required to swing it increases, so the velocity of the swing would go down. That would require some physics, which I and a few others are playing with in the background. 🙂

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