Melee Academy: Multiple Attacks

In GURPS, you can pack a lot of action into just a few seconds. But sometimes, you just need even more. While the various attack maneuvers let you strike a blow in the name of science (as an example), sometimes, due to a surfeit of targets or a surplus of awesomeness on your own part, you just want to hit twice.

The rules provide four options to do this (five if you count Altered Time Rate, but that’s two whole turns for 100 points, so I’ll skip that). 

All-Out Attack (Double)

The first method for striking twice is the All-Out Attack option that lets you do exactly that. Of course, like with most All-Out (Whatever), it has it’s time and place, as +Peter V. Dell’Orto ably articulated.

The good thing about this one is that it’s open to everyone. Is all it costs you . . . is your ability to defend. If you hear evil laughter in the background, your ears are not deceiving you.

When is it worth doing?

First, you have to satisfy the criteria for All-Out Attacking, which are referenced in the linked post above. Ah, heck: here they are again (but there’s also more in the post). As noted, Peter wrote this:

Yes, exactly. It’s actually a very, very useful tactic for some situations. In most, forgoing defenses is a bad decision. In others, makes a lot of sense. Off-hand, here are some where it’s a good idea:

  • attacking a foe that can’t reach you.
  • attacking a foe that can’t hurt you
  • attacking a foe that can’t retaliate (unready weapon, for example)
  • attacking from total surprise.
  • attacking when your defenses aren’t good enough to matter anyway.
  • attacking when you’re confident that your extra offense will nullify the chances of being attacked back (or attacked back effectively).
  • attacking when your allies can keep you safe from harm.
  • attacking a foe that can’t really bother with you.

So the question “Why would I ever do this?” is “Sometimes, it’s a good idea.” It’s never been a good idea to do it all the time, but that goes for a lot of maneuvers. It would only be worth getting rid of if it was literally never useful, and other maneuvers filled its niche in a superior way. It’s conditionally useful, and nothing fully replaces it.

 OK, great. So you’ve got the universe’s permission to All-Out Attack – why use Double?

Well, for one, if you’ve a lot of skill and your foe has defenses not boosted by skill, such as high-DB shields, Combat Reflexes, fencing weapons or martial arts skills that give extra-good retreat bonuses on a parry, or with high Dodge but lower skill, you can Feint-and-Attack. This is a great way to smack down defenses to a hittable range in this case.

If a foe might require a lot of individual hits – perhaps because they’re diffuse or something and the best you can do is one HP per blow, this one might be for you.

Also, if you do a whole bunch of damage and are pretty sure you can hit twice, then you’re effectively doubling your damage output. And if you’re playing a DF warrior with Weapon Master or something, swinging a sword for 3d+7 – well, sometimes your foe is just a big bag of HP, and you need to hit him a lot.

Finally, this isn’t the end-all/be-all. You can stack this with some the three other choices below, replacing one of your two attacks from your maneuver with either a DWA or set of Rapid Strikes, and then after that, add however many levels of Extra Attack you have.

When not to do it?

Any time you might need to defend, obviously. You also might need to choose a different AoA option for some reason – Long, Committed, and Strong all have their place.

Extra Attack

Unlike the other options, this one costs points. A lot of points, actually: 25 points per attack. That’s enough to buy +6 to skill even after you are in the 4 points per level progression. The other thing about Extra Attack is that it more or less limits you to one blow per limb. This is mostly clear from p. B53, and made explicit with the Multi-Strike enhancement, from GURPS Martial Arts (p. 44). For 30 points instead of 25, you can hit twice with the same attack, probably your best.

Extra Attack vs Rapid Strike

Extra Attack or even two of them with your best weapon costs 25/30 points for one, and 50/60 for two (if you can only do Extra Attack with one weapon skill, you’re back down to the lower cost). Even focusing on a single extra attack (30 points), you’re looking at giving up +7 to skill, which also brings with it a likely +3 or +4 (if your skill is odd) to Parry, which Extra Attack does not do.

So would you ever spend those points on Extra Attack instead of skill? Not really . . . if you’re a human using one weapon. And if you’re only using one weapon, you’re back down to 25 points, because you buy Multi-Strike at +20% and One-Weapon at -20%. Cancels out.

But if you have four arms, you’ll want a bunch of Extra Attacks, because the basic rules say you can get but one Rapid Strike. Oh, sure, Martial Arts says you can have as many as the GM will permit, at -6 each, but the Basic Set rules say you get to turn a single small-a attack into a Rapid Strike. Extra Attack is good at mitigating that.

If you can use Rapid Strike a lot, and even more so with Weapon Master to halve those Rapid Strike penalties (though that’s not cheap), it’s still probably better to buy skill.

Multiple Skills

The 25-30 points vs +6 to skill thing works if you have one skill. If you have two (Sword and Shield, Grapple and Strike), then getting Extra Attacks starts to look like a good deal, because you have to buy them all up to make the trade-off as straight-forward as presented.

Rapid Strike

I’ve talked about Rapid Strike and Dual-Weapon attack before, first trying to collapse them into one thing, and another recasting DWA as a Committed Attack.

The basic premise of Rapid Strike is that you can accept a -6 to skill (which is a lot) in order to attack twice. You have to be good to do this. The odds of hitting more often striking twice with a -6 vs. once at flat skill only favor two attacks at skill 20+, and probably 22+, because at 20, the -6 gets you to 14, which is a crit on a 3-4, but your higher skill is a crit at 6.

Now, if you have Weapon Master, which halves your RS penalties to -3 each, the transition point is a skill of 17+ where you go ahead and strike twice.

Of course, that’s just for hits. The damage output turns to favor Rapid Strike (on an undefending target) at Skill-16 without WM, and only Skill-12 with it!

How does this work? You have a damage output of 100% on any given successful blow. So your damage per strike is your hit probability times your damage. I use 100% for convenience here. But for RS, it’s the probability you hit once, times the damage output (100%), but you add the odds that you’ll hit twice, and if you do, you add another 100% damage. So basically, the odds you hit at least once, plus the odds you hit both times.

The damage per turn argument can be strong; you’ll hit more often with a single strike but the increased chance of hitting twice really ups the return on your investment. You still need Skill-21 without Weapon Master to make it worthwhile from a damage perspective.

In either case, once you hit a net skill of 16, any surplus skill you might have goes to Deceptive Attacks, which lower your foe’s defenses.

Rapid Strike with ranged weapons probably seems the same as melee, but the often humongous penalties you take for range really put the emphasis on “shoot once, shoot well.” If you’re at 30 yards for a -7 penalty, that basically comes off the top. So your break-even with the -3 (Gunslinger) is Guns-24 (!), while with mundane skills it rockets to a pretty inhuman 27.

Rapid Strike does not come with the baggage of not being able to use the same weapon twice, so you’re good here so long as your weapon doesn’t become unready.

Dual-Weapon Attack

As noted above, I have a thing about Dual-Weapon Attack. Not sure why. It just seems like it serves the same purpose as Rapid Strike but invokes a whole host of special rules.

But no matter. It requires you to use a weapon in each hand, and is -4 per attack. You do get -1 to your foe’s defenses, which helps that blow strike home.

DWA is a good technique if you routinely carry two weapons (or a weapon and shield) that can and maybe should be used independently. DWA allows you to preserve your defenses and is stackable with all the various attack maneuvers, including one of the two of an All-Out Attack (Double).

You’re better off DWA over even a single attack for hit probability at Skill-18, and per-turn damage output at Skill-14, both easy reach of even moderate-point adventurers.

DWA has some nice features for ranged weapons, too, since some special attacks let you DWA with two arrows at once with one draw. Technically it’s twice the mass and should probably be -1 per die to damage, but who cares because Legolas is awesome, right?

Parting Shot

You’ll want to throw multiple attacks when you can, especially in melee. “When you can” will mostly be when you have pretty high skill, or decent-to-high skill plus an advantage like Weapon Master.

The All-Out version is risky, of course. Leaving yourself defenseless is a bad idea unless you know you will be unmolested, or are sporting so much overall DR that you can ignore stuff.

DWA makes a great go-to tactic if you build your guy around that. An edged shield plus a balanced weapon makes for a great combo, but since you really do want both skills at 14-18, you’ll want to ensure you don’t waste points to get there. Alternately, for the two-weapon set, a pair of shortswords lets you dump all the points in one skill.

The high cost of entry of Rapid Strike (-6 per extra shot) means that unless you have points to burn on Weapon Master, you do this when you’re so good nothing else matters. And if you have enough points for WM, you’re awesome anyway.

Finally, Extra Attack. If you’re not using the extended Rapid Strike rules from Martial Arts, this one’s good if you want to exceed the normal maximum for attacks per round (the multi-limbed creature is the go-to example here) or you have many different skills and you want extra attacks with all of them.

4 thoughts on “Melee Academy: Multiple Attacks

  1. The more I think about it, the lamer Extra Attack seems. Isn't it true that "Dual" Weapon Attack is functionally a Quad Weapon Attack if you have four arms? I thought I read somewhere that it's an attack with each limb.

    1. I don't think so. The text in the Basic Set and Martial Arts limit the attacks to two at once.

      Extra Attack comes into its own with multiple skills required, or many limbs that you want to strike with at once. One-trick (or one weapon) ponies will not benefit, but characters with many different skills probably will.

  2. DWA allows an attack per arm or Weapon Mount, as discussed by Kromm here:
    (Don't get me started on the implications of Telekinesis with Area Effect… you get an attack for every weapon you can pick up in your area, which could be ALLOT)

    This entry would have benefited from references to Combinations, and the techniques that essentially give a free attack. Spinning Attack gives a free (higher risk) Feint along with your attack. Hand Catch is a free Grapple Attack during your defense, and Aggressive Parry gives a free Attack during your defense. (And if you want to include DF, there is also Interdiction)

  3. There is another way you can make extra attack appealing: alternate abilities. I was writing up a dragon, and it had a 50 point breath weapon, so I just took claw/claw/bite (extra attack x2) as an alternate ability. You generally can't take skills as alternate abilities.

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