The “21-foot” rule and GURPS

In a comment on a previous post, +Jeromy French brought up the oft-cited statistic that if a knife-wielding assailant is within 21 feet of a person with a holstered pistol, by the time you could draw your gun and ready it, you’re likely to have been stabbed. Possibly a lot.

OK, forget reality for a moment. Is there a rule in GURPS about that? What’s the danger zone.

Well, like the original work, there are a lot of assumptions that come into play.

First, the speed of the attacker. Most human attackers will wind up Move 4-7, and 7 will be an outlier, as it requires DX and HT of 14 each, or more likely DX 12, HT 13, and +0.75 points of Move. Move 4 (Joe Average suffering -1 for encumbrance), Or Move 5 are much more likely, maybe 6.

On the defender’s side – or the gunman’s, really – you will need to Ready your weapon. For normal folks without a lot of practice, drawing the weapon takes a Ready maneuver. If you carry it in Condition Three (chamber empty, hammer, if there is one, down) it’ll take another. On the flip side, you can Draw with a Fast-Draw roll, and simultaneously rack the slide while you’re doing it, readying the gun in effectively no time.

So the attacker’s window is 0-2 turns.

If he’s faster than the gunman


He goes first. He can move and attack within his typical 4- to 6-yard range. So within 12-18 feet, he’s a threat even with the Gunman knowing Fast-Draw.

If the gunman carries with a round lowered in the chamber, it will take a second to draw the weapon, then he can shoot. This technically gives the knife-wielder two turns to close in, meaning he’s a threat from 8-12 yards.

If he decides to carry with a basically unloaded gun, the attacker gets three turns. You’re in trouble from a whopping 12-18 yards.


If the gunman is faster


The short version: subtract a second from the above.

If you’re faster and you know Fast-Draw well enough to draw and rack the slide as a Free Action, you are more or less fine unless your knifer is already in close combat with you.

If he’s more than one move away, you can even take a turn to Aim (and Brace, and AoA (Determined)) and pick up something like +4 to hit for your trouble.

Parting Shot


I guess the moral of the GURPS story is “learn Fast-Draw” if you might get caught with a holstered gun. No surprise there. The other obvious piece of advice is if you see a threat coming, utilize a Wait maneuver. Assuming that you can’t just whip out your gun for no reason, of course. That guideline applies more in real life than many games, so you never know.

But for the 7-yard rule . . . in GURPS, as long as you’re somewhat self-aware and carry your gun with a round in the chamber, you’re probably mostly safe. At 4- yards, you’re well advised to back up a bit.

Of course, all bets are entirely off if you have your weapon loaded and to hand. Then you’re still subject to the “who’s faster?” question, but if the answer is either “I took Wait” or “the gunman,” then you’re going to get a shot off at 1 yard. But beware – that 4-6yard range is still a danger zone with a drawn and loaded gun if he gets to move first!

10 thoughts on “The “21-foot” rule and GURPS

  1. And of course this assumes that your first shot is an incapacitating hit. I believe the statistic doesn't assume that.

    (And one day, "please prove you're not a robot" will be seen for the hateful biochauvinism that it is.)

  2. I think that the point of the 21-foot rule is more, "Don't rely on tricks like quick-drawing your weapon", which in GURPS is true enough for most characters (50-75 points, at the outside, who might have a 12 skill in Quick Draw (Pistol), if they're a fairly dedicated hobbyist; cops might have a 14, but it's still a case of "do you want to bet your life?"). As characters become more adventure-worthy (100+ points), the rule of thumb becomes less important to heed.

  3. I'm forced to wonder about modern police procedure. I have strong recollections of standard rules being that you don't unholster your sidearm unless you intend to use it, but then we have the modern police shows where everyone goes in with their handgun out, often braced on the back of their other hand which is holding a mini Mag-light.

    Any idea what the actual standard is in a situation where you're going in to a location with suspected armed badguys?

  4. To Jason Packer ref standard situation … call for backup

    Ref 21 foot rule … I don't think you are emphasizing the importance of 'Ready'ing your mind. The surprise factor. I feel that's the most important factor in this situation.

    Ref GURPS simulating this situation … Yes. I agree it does a good job. Surprise, Danger Sense, Combat Reflexes, Fast Draw, Dodging. etc.

  5. There's an interesting video on youtube about the 21 foot rule by an Italian self-defense guy. The way to defeat it is for the guy with the gun to fall backwards to one side. He can still shoot the guy with the knife, but the guy with the knife can't reach him without having to stop and change directions.

  6. Steve, my understanding is that in the tests that resulted in the "21 foot rule", the people knew that they were going to get rushed, they just didn't know when. So it's mostly reaction time, not "holy poops I didn't think this guy was going to come at me!"

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