Melee Academy: Disarming (by Kalzazz)

This is a guest post by Kalzazz on the GURPS Forums. He heeded my call to arms, and contributed this post on Disarming in GURPS. I have done some minor editing for formatting and flow, but that’s all.

Disarming

This is one of those things. Yes, GURPS has rules for disarming, but I can’t offhand recall, in 15 years of playing (and DMing!) GURPS, ever actually seeing it happen.

I had to actually go and look said rules up. First, I notice that the technique can be increased above the skill, so that seems groovy, since it can always be fun to have a specialist (I next noticed no styles in MA actually had Technique Mastery for it though, I think it sounds like a valid one to me).

Then I noticed said disarming is mostly just to offset the penalties involved, less groovy:

  • You have a penalty based on size of the weapon (-5 for handguns and daggers to -3 for polearms and rifles), then a -2 if your not using a fencing weapon. 
  • The foe can defend as usual. 
  • Then they can match DX or ST based skill (against your DX or ST based skill) to keep the weapon even after you hit. (Guns however just flat DX or ST). 
  • If you are using a jitte/sai class weapon, you get +2 to the former roll 

So . . . . why wouldn’t I have seen this?

  • As a DM, I admit a certain dislike of ‘gimmicky’ rules and having enemies use ‘gimmicky’ techniques, so I tend to favor enemies that go right up next to the PCs and ‘swing for the HP’, so disarms are something I don’t really think about. 
  • If you disarm a foe . . . you still have a living conscious foe, who might well just draw another weapon and hit you with it instead. In order to pull off a disarm you needed a successful attack and a failed defense, so you could have done damage instead. 
  • The disarming rules are simple, but they aren’t something I have fully internalized either . . . also there are a few questions like ‘Lifting or Striking ST for the checks?’ 
  • Now that I have once again looked at the rules for disarms, I do remember being annoyed that defending against disarms with a gun involved straight up DX or ST (or the retain weapon technique, which goes up to stat + 5). 

Now, most of my “wouldn’t this be cool” daydreams involve “Evil McEvil tries to steal Heroman’s gun, but using his Weapon Retention skills, Heroman turns the tables and shoots Evil McEvil!” 

I have sat through and participated in enough weapon retention classes that ended with ‘and then you stun the aggressor and retreat to a safe distance to maintain control of the situation’, and the ideal way indicated to stun the aggressor is to shoot them with the weapon which you have put your good Weapons Retention skills to use to retain . . . 

Even if Heroman has maxed his Weapons Retention at Stat + 5, he is still in major trouble keeping his weapon against a true epic villain (and its not very heroic of Heroman if he prevails in the face of a garden variety mook).

What is the role of Disarming?

So then . . . . why would I want to disarm someone? 
(some of these are suggested by GURPS Forum user starslayer).

Murder is not acceptable. Murder is usually not acceptable, the drawback of disarming leaving a living foe is actually not so much a drawback when killing your foes is considered antisocial behavior. Or perhaps your foes are mind controlled or confused folks who are not actually foes!   If the enemies are likely to fail morale checks and want to disengage if you disarm them then this is a major plus. (this is suggested by starslayer).

Enemies have weapons that are awesome, and disarming is easier than killing. If your foe has some nifty weapon you would prefer not to be hit with, then you want your foe not to hit you with it. Usually this is done by hitting them until they die, however, it is easy to imagine scenarios where this is not the case. 

Nova from the cancelled Starcraft Ghost

Consider this excellent picture by Greg Horn. First off, we notice that hitting her in the face with a non fencing weapon has the same penalty as trying to hit the rifle to start the process with a non fencing weapon.

Even so, let us assume she has a helmet and that her armor is not power armor. In that case, trying to disarm the weapon (which is a big cool looking rifle, which we can assume falls safely under the things we would not like to be hit with category), requires an attack roll at -5 with our non-fencing weapon. She can defend against the attack – but holding a rifle her defense is likely dodge, and with a big rifle and armor, likely encumbered dodge. 

If we hit, we roll a quick contest of our skill vs her DX or ST (whichever is better, +2 if she holds her rifle with both hands which she likely would in a fight, or up to +5 if she has Retain Weapon). If we are skillful, we are highly likely to succeed!

On a normal attack, if we do not have a lot of ST, we would have a hard time cracking her armor, so she would likely still have her rifle on her next go and want to shoot us. So in this case, disarm was a good idea (if we can get in range of course . . . . Gun Fu has rules for disarms with guns, which might be even MORE useful!).

The foe is armed with a missile weapon. Due to the fact that missile weapons don’t get to use their skill in defending against disarms, they definitely are a good target for it. However, since Disarm is by default melee, this raises a bit of an issue of getting to melee. The old Western movie trick of shooting guns out of hands definitely has merit! 

Also notice in GURPS that a sidearm often has mediocre damage, especially against armor, but if you shoot the pistol out of someones hand, if they do not have a spare gun, they either need to close to melee (time consuming if at range) or go pick their gun back up (also time consuming). During which time you can shoot some more. 

Of course, many gun wielders (and archers) may often have extra Lifting ST for wielding bigger better weapons and lugging ammo and armor.

You have high skill and low (or irrelevant) damage. Pixie Swashbucklers could find this very useful! Disarming allows you to use DX based skill for both rolls! 

I admit this seems an edge case, as usually people who want to have high skill with a weapon also desire to have the ability to hit like a truck.

Or when facing foes ‘Only able to be harmed by Foozle’, and you are not the one with Foozle (hopefully one of your friends has Foozle).

Because it could be cool. Being cool is always a valid reason, and a DM could certainly grant a bonus to an intimidate check. Since disarming can often be harder than ‘hit them till they cease functioning’, I would totally go with that. And it is much easier to use social skills on people after you disarm them than after you kill them.

As a DM, it could be fun to spice things up! Believe it or not, I do not actually try to kill my players (or their characters) too much: I try to give them fun fights. 

Enemies using something off the wall like trying to disarm them could be cool. Also seeing their favorite sword being disarmed from them would in many cases be scarier than just taking the HP loss. Some players like giving their characters a veritable arsenal, so disarming them just gives them a chance to show off with a new weapon. As a DM I think I should try this out.

Settings where magic/psi is tied to objects. This one immediately calls to mind Harry Potter, where wands were extremely important, and lo and behold: Expelliarmus was a thing (the disarming spell).

Fire Emblem is another setting where mages use items to fling magic (though they usually carry backups, but in a serious fight you could do well to take out your foes favorite tome).

Winning the battle of public opinion is critical. In full 4 color supers/full gritty supers (where (suggested by starslayer), this can be a thing. I have been watching the old He-Man cartoon, and he seems kind of like a Super, and he definitely is a major disarm fan. 

My recollection of Smallville: Superman doesn’t lose his skills when affected by Kryptonite, just his Strength, so he could well try to disarm Kryptonite away from someone even when he can’t hit like a truck.

Disarming Thoughts

So there you have it, thoughts on Disarming by a moderately experienced GURPS DM / player who would never in a million years have thought about writing about Disarming (or thought about writing about GURPS period), but really does enjoy discussing blog posts with authors such as Douglas Cole in the GURPS forum. 

So when the gauntlet is thrown, I decided “why not take a shot at it?” Hopefully these will help spur some thoughts.

The Disarm mechanic is dead simple, so there is no reason there not to use it, and I think could well add some fun to the game when used . . . . but does seem to take some mental contortions to figure out when it should be used. 

 I would love to see more topics on such things in the future, especially Setup Attacks, as I really would like to see more discussion of them and when/if they should be used!

Also I think no post about disarming should be complete without mentioning it is often a cool thing for Samurai to do, and Samurai are cool, and Doug likes Samurai and GURPS, so hopefully mention will come up!

2 thoughts on “Melee Academy: Disarming (by Kalzazz)

  1. There is certainly some disarming in the movie that samurai still is from. I think the second thing Yojimbo does when he comes to town is lop off someone's arm.

    As for Technique Mastery, you're correct, no style has Technique Mastery (Disarming) – not even styles meant to deal with armed opponents. It's not a high-percentage move to try to remove a weapon with skill instead of deal with the opponent as a whole. It's probably a valid choice, and it's certainly an appropriate choice for movie-inspired fencing. Grand Disarm is there for a reason. It's probably an approach best left to Zorro and for use against foes there simply to make you look good.

  2. TheOneronin here.

    I really like the feedback and analysis present in this melee academy article, and generally agree with all of the thoughts presented here, with a few small exceptions.

    Granted, scenarios where disarms would be the go-to tactic are going to be rare and genre dependant. But what I see as the biggest discourager from disarms is the mechanics that surrounds disarms and related combat rules.

    The scenarios where disarms should be the go-to technique are actually pretty easy to come across if you are playing a modern setting game. If an unarmed PC is facing one or more armed opponents and cannot simply run away for whatever reason, disarms SHOULD be the order of the day. Here are some reasons why they are not:

    -It is easier mechanically easier to stun/cripple/debilitate your opponent with punches/kicks/etc. than to pull off an attempted disarm. GURPS is guilty here, as are a handful of other games I’ve played. PCs are efficient, if nothing else, and in combat, they will tend to use the most efficient means to come out victorious. If it is easier/faster/more efficient to knock your opponent out with a punch to the face or break his wrist with joint lock than to try and disarm his weapon, PCs will almost always chose the former over the latter.

    -A disarmed opponent is not significantly less of a threat than an armed opponent. Again, this often shows up in GURPS, but more so when you are dealing with weaker opponents armed with small weapons (DX 10 gang-banger with a knife) than with tougher opponents (ST14, DX12 Knight with two-handed sword). A disarm that results in minimal threat reduction is just a wasted action.

    -Weapons are not significant DEFENSIVE threats. Of all of the games I have played, GURPS makes the best effort to translate “punching at a guy holding a machete is BAD” into actual mechanics, but it still falls relatively flat. Not only does the armed person HAVE to succeed on a Parry to have a chance to do damage to an attacker, but then you still have to roll against your skill with a penalty. If that roll is successful, then the armed person can damage the attacker. Given that in GURPS defenses will most likely be lower than offensive skills, and given that often times, the PCs will be more skilled (sometimes significantly so) than their opponents, the chances of suffering damage when punch a guy with a knife are VERY low…almost negligible. IRL, throwing a punch at a guy with a knife is a good way to get cut/stabbed.

    So even in real life scenarios where experts agree that getting control of and/or removing the weapon from an attacker should be the primary focus, most games have mechanics that encourage the players to do exactly the opposite, and rewards them for it.

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