Fencing vs. not-Fencing. Hmm . . .

“Escrima uses smallsword.”

It’s interesting. This active and civil thread on the SJG GURPS forums started with a few questions about grappling, but since has narrowed its focus – the bulk of the questions being answered – to the difference between Smallsword and Shortsword.

The basic set is pretty clear – Smallsword is for light, thrusting weapons, while Shortsword is for swung and thrust. The Basic Set entry explicitly calls out escrima sticks as using Smallsword, too.

Martial Arts is pretty clear: Escrima, a style practiced, I believe, by +Peter V. Dell’Orto, is all about smallsword.

And yet GURPS High Tech, for which I was Lead Playtester, calls out batons using Shortsword. Largely because the way batons are usually employed doesn’t have the subtleties and intricacies of Escrima.

You can use smallsword to swing, though – that’s right there in the Basic Set, with the short staff, called out as doing sw and thr cr damage using Smallsword.

Shortsword also calls out police batons.

Both are . . . identical. Reach 1, 1 lb. They do sw and thr cr damage. Same cost and ST.

So clearly, this is just a skill choice. If you use Shortsword, you don’t take encumbrance penalties but don’t get the +2 boost to defenses when you retreat. If you use Smallsword, you are penalized for encumbrance on your parries (p. B208). So at Light Encumbrance, you’re at -1, and Medium is at -2, counteracting completely the extra goodies you get from using this weapon like an escrima stick. Which it is.

Both skills are DX/Average, which means that the encumbrance penalties cancel out the fencing benefits.

Other Skills

Let’s look at other swords.

Rapier is for blades longer than 1 yard, based on length, and thrust-only. Saber is for lightweight cut-and-thrust swords, so it’s based on weight, it would seem. Shortsword is 1-2 feet, Broadsword is 2-4 feet, and Two-Handed Sword if for blades greater than 4 feet in length.

Let’s look at the weapons themselves, and we’re going to use the High-Tech assumption that the weapon weight in Basic is 2/3 weapon, 1/3 scabbard.

The Rapier is thus about a 1.9-lb. sword and Min ST 9; the Saber about 1.3 lbs and ST 8. Most of the broadswords are 2-lbs (and ST 10), while some of the hand-and-a-half swords like the bastard sword or katanas are ST 11 and 3.3 lbs (that’s very high for a real battle sword, by the way).

What does that look like?

Skill ST BL Weight % of BL Weapons
Broadsword 10 20 2 10% Broadsword, Light
Club, Cavalry Sabre
Shortsword 8 12.8 1.3 10% Shortsword, Cutlass
Smallsword 8 12.8 1.35 11% Saber
Rapier 9 16.2 1.9 12% Rapier
Broadsword 11 24.2 3.33 14% Katana, Bastard Sword
12 28.8 4.7 16% Greatsword

Well. there’s no real distinction between the one-handed swords, and the two-handers aren’t much better. What if we employ the same conceit as Technical Grappling, and assume that one-handed swords are employed with half the ST score (so a quarter of the basic lift)?

Skill ST BL Weight % of BL Weapons
Two-Handed Sword 12 28.8 4.7 16% Greatsword
Broadsword 5 5 2 40% Broadsword, Light Club, Cavalry Sabre
Shortsword 4 3.2 1.3 41% Shortsword, Cutlass
Smallsword 4 3.2 1.35 42% Saber
Rapier 4.5 4.05 1.9 47% Rapier
Broadsword 5.5 6.05 3.33 55% Katana, Bastard Sword

OK, so interestingly enough, the Fencing weapons are actually heavier (barely) in terms of percentage of the ST required to use them.

So, can you fence with a broadsword? Honestly, it would appear that the answer is simply “yes.” How about the Bastard Sword? Again, probably yes, with ST 12 instead of ST 9.

There might seem to be a way to recast the ability to use a skill with a weapon as a fraction of Basic Lift. Fencing weapons would be allowed if they were of the appropriate reach and weight, otherwise, not.

9 thoughts on “Fencing vs. not-Fencing. Hmm . . .

  1. So this way fencing would be a kind of grip, similar to a reverse grip? I don't know if the fencing rules are necessary, but if they are, I like this idea.

    1. I think so, though I'd probably say something where you have to give something up. You get bonuses when you retreat, but take penalties for encumbrance. You get a bonus to Parry, but you can't swing.

      Trades like that.

    2. But you can swing with fencing weapons – explicitly with saber, implicitly for rapier and smallsword through the existence of edged rapiers and escrima batons.

      I wouldn't call fencing a kind of grip so much as a kind of stance and possibly a difference in focus. Fencers would use a narrow stance better suited to quick movement forward or back, so they get a better retreat but take encumbrance penalties on every parry. Non-fencers have a wider stance and a more solid stance, so they aren't penalized by encumbrance but can't integrate defensive movement into their parries as well as fencers do.

      Seems pretty workable to me, and in a hypothetical 5th edition, would let the designers collapse a bunch of the weapon tables.

    3. Be careful with describing fencing in terms of stance or grip – western sport fencing stances and Filipino stickfighting stances aren't the same in terms of width or facing, but both use the same skills in GURPS terms.

      It's a fighting style, when it comes right down to it. GURPS assumes that Fencing skills place a great reliance on mobility and movement than non-fencing skills do, and that they generally use a relatively light weapon to do it. They often have a very weapon-forward posture (although, not always), they sometimes have a different stance, and so on.
      It's more like a cluster of traits, that, given enough together, makes Fencing and the upsides and downsides of it a better representation of the feel of fighting with that weapon than a non-Fencing skill does.

      When assigning it out, it's probably easiest to say "would armoring up severely detract from my ability to execute with this weapon?" and if it is yes (because you depend on mobility and distance changes, say) it's probably worth considering if fencing is the way to go. Because that's what the game effects are – you get a better benefit from Retreat, and a better response to multiple attacks, and trade that off against an Ecumbrance penalty and real issues with chain weapons (unless you're using the appropriate rule from Martial Arts).

      Also, I did Kali Silat (at least, that's what the guy who learned it, learned to call it from the guy he learned it from), but honestly if I showed you tapes of Escrima, Arnis, and Kali and you could pick out which was which without recognizes a stylist or style logo I'd be surprised. They have more similarities than differences in my opinion.

    4. Mark: I said trades "like" that, not "exclusively that." I can easily see a case where you have a weapon you can poke with but not easily swing about and retain a defense bonus for always having a weapon between you and the foe. If you're swinging it around, edged rapier or no, you may still get mobility bonuses, but not a DB due to "there's always a weapon between you and your foe."

      So, and I'll admit I was trying to get the post out and was more brief than usual, what I'd do is list out potential benefits of a skill or method. Increased bonuses on a retreat might be paired with encumbrance penalties to defenses. A Defense Bonus in exchange for reduced ability to use certain attack modes. that sort of thing.

  2. A reasonable distinction between fencing weapons and non-fencing weapons is that the center of mass tends to be further back. If you compare a 3' axe, 3' baton, and 3' rapier, the axe may have a center of mass 6" from the tip, the baton (a simple rod) has a center of mass 1'6" from both ends, and the rapier probably has a center of mass 6-12" from the grip.

    What this does mechanically is mean that the weapons have different moments of inertia for a given weight. A high moment of inertia means that moving the tip of the weapon (either swinging to attack, or parrying) will be slow but powerful; a low moment of inertia means that moving the tip is fast but weak.

    1. Maybe we should take mass moment of inertia into account somehow? George L Turner goes into this in his Dynamics of Hand-Held Impact Weapons. I've been using the formula in that book for determining apparent mass of swung weapons for melee damage, but it should be possible to figure out something for ease of maneuverability as well. Ultimately, though, this is for GURPS, where you might want to have your ST 10,000 super pick up a lamppost and fence with it.

    2. If you consider an idealized hammer (weightless shaft), idealized rod (even weight distribution over its length), and smoothly tapering triangular blade (weight drops linearly with distance), of mass m, length L, in gravity G:
      The hammer requires mLG torque to hold perpendicular to the ground, and has moment of inertia mL^2.
      The baton requires (1/2)mLG torque to hold perpendicular to the ground, and has moment of inertia (1/3)mL^2.
      A non-idealized hammer would add the baton formula for the haft and the hammer formula for the head, so if mass is 30% haft/70% head, it's 0.85mLG torque to hold perpendicular and 0.80mL^2 moment of inertia.
      The triangular taper requires (1/3)mLG torque to hold perpendicular to the ground, and has moment of inertia (1/6)mL^2.

  3. One thing to consider is that the fencing styles are traditionally for duelists and bravos, where retreating from a blow is usually an option, while the more "military" broad sword and shorts sword skills are for folks fighting in formation or on horseback.

    Burgton d'Metropolis has plenty of mobility in his honor duels, but Marcus Canus has to hold the damn scutum wall.

    It's not the whole difference, but it's part of it.

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