What good is a point in Karate in GURPS? Kromm speaks

I don’t usually just nab content from other places, but +Sean Punch has done all aspiring GURPS martial artists a great service and codified in detail the timeless question of “what good is it if I buy a point in Karate, when I can punch at DX and Karate actually lowers my hit chances!”

As he says, the differences at low levels are “subtle but real.”

You can find the originating thread here.

Kromm Speaks

Remember to use the higher of DX or skill. Going by the Basic Set alone, doing all the math to express things relative to DX (drop fractions at the very end!), and putting the benefits of Karate in boldface, the real progression is this:

  • 0 points (DX only): Punch at DX for thrust-1; kick at DX-2 for thrust; armed enemies who parry your unarmed strikes attack your limb at full skill; parry unarmed attacks at DX/2 + 3, or DX/2 + 4 if retreating; parry weapons at DX/2, or DX/2 + 1 if retreating; cannot attempt Back Kick, Elbow Strike, Jump Kick, Knee Strike.
  • 1 point (Karate at DX-2): Punch at DX for thrust-1; kick at DX-2 for thrust; armed enemies who parry your unarmed strikes attack your limb at skill-4; parry unarmed attacks at DX/2 + 3, or DX/2 + 5 if retreating; parry weapons at DX/2 + 2, or DX/2 + 5 if retreating; Back Kick at DX-6, Elbow Strike at DX-4, Jump Kick at DX-6, Knee Strike at DX-3.
  • 2 points (Karate at DX-1): Punch at DX for thrust-1; kick at DX-2 for thrust; armed enemies who parry your unarmed strikes attack your limb at skill-4; parry unarmed attacks at DX/2 + 3, or DX/2 + 5.5 if retreating; parry weapons at DX/2 + 2.5, or DX/2 + 5.5 if retreating; Back Kick at DX-5, Elbow Strike at DX-3, Jump Kick at DX-5, Knee Strike at DX-2.
  • 4 points (Karate at DX): Punch at DX for thrust; kick at DX-2 for thrust+1; armed enemies who parry your unarmed strikes attack your limb at skill-4; parry unarmed attacks at DX/2 + 3, or DX/2 + 6 if retreating; parry weapons at DX/2 + 3, or DX/2 + 6 if retreating; Back Kick at DX-4, Elbow Strike at DX-2, Jump Kick at DX-4, Knee Strike at DX-1.
  • 8 points (Karate at DX+1): Punch at DX+1 for thrust+1; kick at DX-1 for thrust+2; armed enemies who parry your unarmed strikes attack your limb at skill-4; parry unarmed attacks at DX/2 + 3.5, or DX/2 + 6.5 if retreating; parry weapons at DX/2 + 3.5, or DX/2 + 6.5 if retreating; Back Kick at DX-3, Elbow Strike at DX-1, Jump Kick at DX-3, Knee Strike at DX.

Adding in the Martial Arts rules gives you a bunch more techniques (almost none of which default to untrained DX). You also get to parry with the legs or feet, and may parry grappling techniques with “counters” that don’t require a free hand. And you can dive, sideslip, and slip as well as or better than an untrained person can retreat.

Parting Shot

 The benefits of Karate don’t fully augment the default “go ahead and strike at DX” expected success levels until you spend 8 points in it. At that level, every single thing you can do can be done better with karate than with straight-up DEX.
At four points, you are equal or better in all the things. You attack at the same relative skill level (DX) with Karate, but do more damage. All of your parries, especially when retreating, are better.
At lower levels, the benefits are things you can’t even try without the point in the skill (Back Kick, Elbow Strike, Jump Kick, Knee Strike) and vastly improved defenses vs. weapons and when you can retreat.
So what does a point in Karate get you? It gets you options. One of those options is “not getting dead,” due to higher defenses right out of the gate.

10 thoughts on “What good is a point in Karate in GURPS? Kromm speaks

  1. Even minimal Karate increases your capacity to defend yourself by granting better retreats (which translate into better parries vs. a single opponent, as well as better dives, slips, and sideslips in close quarters), the ability to counter grapples "hands free" and at least attempt an effective elbow strike or back kick against someone who has grappled you from behind, the option to parry low-line attacks by jamming them with a foot, and far superior parries and less risk vs. weapons (which might not be realistic, but we're arguing effectiveness here, not realism). Given that the usual sales pitch for karate courses is "self-defense," this focus makes sense. Outside of Cobra Kai, I've never seen a martial-arts school sell itself to ordinary Joes on the strength of "beat the snot out of people after just one course," as much as Ed Gruberman might like that. I think the problem is that a lot of gamers are secretly Grubermans and only want to hear about the offensive side of things. Most reputable schools teach you how to avoid a fight*, block a few punches, and get away from someone who grabs you, which even a point in Karate will help you do.

    * If you let people use the better of Tactics or IQ-based Karate to recognize and avoid bad situations, then 1 point in Karate gives you IQ-2 vs. the average Joe's Tactics default of IQ-6, which is still way, way better.

  2. My murder hobos would often take brawling, karate or judo skills and then do everything in their power to never be in close combat where the skills might be useful.

    To put it another way, we never noticed what is being talked about because it never actually came up.

    1. Entirely fair. One of Peter Dell'Orto's best posts is entitled "Has that problem come up in actual play?" http://dungeonfantastic.blogspot.com/2013/02/has-that-problem-come-up-in-actual-play.html

      It's quoted here often, and elsewhere, for a reason.

      Still, the desire to have something going on with unarmed combat is a frequent thing – even in your own players case – and the net/net of it seems to be "your first four points in a Hard unarmed combat skill are there for defensive benefits, mostly, not offensive ones."

      That's not a terrible thing to know, even if you never want to use the skill.

    2. Indeed; while making characters within a modern military context (like one I totally swear I'll run soon…), I wouldn't pass up on my Combatives training, even if I fully intend to use every bullet in my arsenal to make sure I don't end up there.

  3. I’m confused about the ability to use DX to parry with Karate(1); is that stated in the rules? “Your Parry score is (skill/2) + 3,
    rounded down.” (BB203) How does this translate into DX/2+3 to parry with Karate? Nothing seems to indicate in the base rules you can use any of the special rules underneath Karate unless you are using the Karate skill (Extra damage, Retreat bonus, Parry weapons) to pull off the attack/defense.

    That being said, I’d LOVE for this to be the case; I just know my group would rules lawyer it to death and I’d prefer to have a valid page number/rule other than “Kromm said so.”

    Please help me understand!

    1. The key seems to be his statement that if rolling vs DX would give you a better score vs. your skill, you can do that, and still retain the benefits of skill. I’d have to look to see if that’s stated somewhere explicitly (“better of DX or skill” may or may not show up word for word in Characters or Campaigns) or if it’s an interpretation that avoids the “why am I worse with punching when I spend a point in something than before” Murphyism.

      1. I can see how allowing use of DX for punching/kicking might work since under weapons it says Karate/Brawling/DX as the skill used to hit. I’m just not clear where the stretch for allowing straight DX for a parry comes in, since it seems tied to the named skill in all the descriptions. If you’ve got anyway of nudging Kromm for an answer to this, I’m sure it would be appreciated by the masses 🙂

  4. Well that’s what I get for not searching the PDF before posting a comment.

    BB370: Grappling (For Judo/Wrestling): Roll against basic DX or a
    grappling skill to hit.

    BB376: Parry Unarmed: You can use Boxing, Brawling,
    Judo, or Karate skill – or DX, if higher
    – to parry with one hand.

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