Technical Grappling: Trained ST and Striking

The concept of Trained ST features prominently in GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling. It’s one of the core rules concepts, and is designed to represent my personal observations that being a really, really good grappler can substitute somewhat for being really strong . . . but if you can be really good and really strong, yeah . . . do that.

The core concept – and one that appeared in print first in The Last Gasp, even though it was first written a rather long time ago in the TG manuscript – is that the more points you spend on a skill, the better you can apply your ST with that skill.

In fact, not just “better applied,” but “actually stronger.”

In short, this is one way of getting sport-specific training, so to speak, into your games.

So, we did it for grappling, and basically extended the progression you see in (for example) Wrestling, where you get +1 to ST at a skill level of DX+2, and +2 to ST at DX+2 upwards a ways. As far as DX+10.

Interesting. Well, don’t Karate and Brawling have similar bonuses?

Yes, yes they do.

So why didn’t I take the next step? Broaden the concept to include weapons skills, as well as unarmed combat. The door was open, right? All I had to do is step through it.

Well, first and foremost, I wasn’t rewriting the GURPS Basic Set. Sure, +Sean Punch let me radically muck with something by allowing me to implement Control Points – more on those later – but the basic model of the rest of the rules wasn’t jostled much. You could drop the new rules on to existing campaigns and not break anything – but if you started doing crazy stuff with weapons, you’re really mucking about with existing characters. That could be seriously non-fun.

Could it be done, though? Could one take the existing relationships between damage and ST and make it work better?

I’m sure you could. One way to do it would be to, well, just do it. But do it in a less-nasty way. If you’re in to rescaling melee damage, Then large bonuses, or percentage multipliers, on ST wouldn’t be that ugly. If at ST 12 you’re doing 1.2d (about 1d+1) swing and 0.6d (1d/2) thrust, then boosting ST by 50% when you hit DX+10 skill would give you effective Trained ST 18 . . . or 1.8d swing and 0.9d thrust (about 2d-2 and 1d respectively/more-or-less). That’s just not going to break anything.

In order to not really get melee weapons damage out of hand by just boosting it all, you’d probably want to take the thrust and swing damage table, and make an assumption such as “this is the damage you get when you get to DX+2 skill. If you have less skill than this, you don’t do as much damage.

You’d then lower the damage for lower skills, from DX+1 down to defaults on the order of DX-6. Well, you’d not lower the damage, you’d lower your (un)Trained ST with the weapon. It wouldn’t change, perhaps, the ST you use when looking at the minimum ST of the weapon (though it could), but it would give you a darn good reason to train.

What might that table look like?

If you’re into scaling (and you should be), substitute a 10% increment (rounding down to lower ST) instead of a -1. So if you were normally ST 12 with a broadsword, but only had a point in the skill, you’d be operating at either ST 9 (-3 to ST) or -30% to ST, which is ST 8. Very rapid gains for putting points into skill, and even some real benefit to the Dabbler perk, which allows raising your default level with a handful of skills. You could, of course, fiddle with this, and decide that DX or DX+1 was the assumed skill you need to get your full measure on the Damage Table. 

In fact, in order to have the progression above play well with the ones assumed for Karate they have to be different. Karate gives you +1 per die to thrust damage at DX+1, and +2 per die to thrust at DX+2.

That is a cinematically awesome effective increase in ST. +1 per die is about +30%, while +2 per die is +60%. Wow. That’s a huge bonus for only DX+2. There’s not a great way to make this neat, so you’d wind up changing the progression a bit, probably making it more gentle, for Karate. Maybe you need to get to DX+4 or something, or instead of damage bonuses, you give ST bonuses, like Wrestling.

In any case, you can see why I just didn’t go there. It’s a rewrite, not an expansion. Still, that rewrite is kinda tempting . . .

5 thoughts on “Technical Grappling: Trained ST and Striking

  1. In fact, not just "better applied," but "actually stronger."

    How is it different, though? If I'm "actually stronger" only when grappling with specific skill paths, how is that not just another way of saying I have strength but it is "better applied"?

    It's a quibble, but maybe a serious one. I'm a real "Strength is a trained skill" kind of person in the real world, and I recognize when raw muscular strength encounters trained strength in its element it's hard to see the difference. A much-stronger friend always says I feel stronger than him when we grapple – am I actually stronger, or just making better use of what I've got? I'm probably measurably stronger but only doing a very specific thing.


    A zero-point at DX+2 is kind of hard to wrap my head around – until you're really, really well practiced at someone, you can't even leverage what you've got? You'd effectively set a floor at DX+2 for everyone.

    I'd set it at DX, personally.

    I do like the idea of swapping in what's effectively per-skill levels of Striking ST instead of per-die bonuses for skill.

    Sounds like time for a Pyramid article. I should do my "Stripped Down Combat System" one, but I have to either playtest it or run DF, and DF is more fun.

    1. I'm quite OK with "better applied" and "actually stronger" being munged together. I remember initially grappling with a guy who was bigger and stronger than I was, but it was his first time or two. I more or less owned him. Once he figured out just a few simple things, he quickly passed me, and after he got GOOD at it, I only won when I got lucky or seized a moment.

      Agree about DX+2 being too far into the skill progression, you may be right, and I mention that as having DX or DX+1 be the take-off point. That's what we do in TG, after all: you get full ST at DX and below for Wrestling, and you start getting bonus ST from there.

      The reason I knocked it down to DX+2 is that there's already a bit of a discussion about how big weapon damage gets, and how fast. If weapon damage were lower (like the suggestion of ST/10 dice for swing damage floated here and elsewhere), then getting big bonuses to ST from skill are not only more palatable, I think they'd be required.

      I certainly have fleshing this out for Pyramid on my list. 🙂

    2. I probably overachieved on setting the base to DX+2, and while there are cases where that's appropriate, the base GURPS rules, with a +30% bonus to ST at DX+1 for Karate and Brawling, and +60% at DX+2 are even more extreme than my "realistic" ST boost that you get at DX+10 (!!) with grappling.

      I'm actually contemplating a "From Peter's Perspective" post where I go through all of the reasons why the generous ST/damage scale is, by and large, a total non-problem.

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