A question on reddit had me thinking. It was asking about swinging a sword in a confined environment, one yard wide. Another commenter noted – and I agree – that no, you can’t swing sideways, but you certainly can use the vertical, if the ceiling is tall enough.

Then I thought:

Overhead Strike

Seen very frequenlty in sports swordsmanship such as kendo and variants, this overhead-only strike is treated – always – as a Committed Telegraphic Attack to the skull. At -7 for location and +4 for the Telegraphic and +2 for committed, The blow has the following stats:

  • Roll at Skill-1 to hit; a miss by 1 hits the torso instead (specifically the shoulders if it matters)
  • The defender is at +2 to any active defense used against the attack
  • The attacker may not parry, and is at -2 to block or dodge
  • It does normal swing damage
  • It can be used in narrow confines so long as the ceiling has a height equal to the Reach of the weapon as it’s being employed plus the height of the character

Why do this? Well, for one thing, it’s pretty common to have a set of go-to attacks. For some sports, such as kendo or my own Hwarang Kumtoogi (which adds the legs as targets and spinning strikes), target selection is very limited, and in order to score a point, you usually have to show proper spirit. It’s not enough to simply get the “blade” on someone in a notionally lethal fashion, you have to yell, and stomp, and hit a very particular area with emphasis. Also, the attack is given a lot of emphasis, so something more than Attack might be warranted.
The Committed thing is iffy, but sensible to try and cancel the -7 for hits to the skull; even so, Skill-3 isn’t awful, and you miss an awful lot in kendo. Even if you “hit,” you can miss if your target is off by a bit or your form is off. That depends on the judges, but formal scoring and matches might be on a heck of a lot smaller than -7, maybe even -8 or -9, good enough for maybe a 1″-2″ wide, 3-5″ long stripe on the forehead on the top of the helmet. Advanced judges can be that picky.
The real use here is as part of a short stable of moves that you pre-calculate in order to speed play. While “any strike, any time” has some Bruce Lee-ish charm, it’s better to pick a set of favored attacks that you tend to utilize based on the character’s personality. Mostly, you pick from that set. Sure, sometimes you go off the reservation, but mostly you don’t.
As an example, in Hwarang Kumtoogi, you have standing strikes to the top of the head (-7), forearms (treat as half the arm, or -3), and the belly (treat the target area as -2), and a small patch of protection on the throat that’s maybe 2″ x 3″ square. Let’s call that -8, and you can only thrust. Finally, you can attack the thighs (again at -3) if you strike while kneeling. You will Feint, Feint-and-Attack, or use Setup Attacks to draw your opponent’s guard off. And you may add Spinning Strike to the above. You will often use Telegraphic Attack. You cannot make Telegraphic Deceptive Attacks; the effects of all the blade movement and tricky stuff will be handled as feints. 

2 thoughts on “Overhead Attacks

  1. Nice, although when I trained kendo we really didn't do a very high overhead reach for a strike. Most "men" (skull, in GURPS) strikes had a very short movement and no backswing to wind it up, so it wasn't really telegraphic. The obvious choice, yes, but even knowing it was coming there was too much else to protect to make it easier to stop – any good position to cheat against a head strike leaves you extremely vulnerable to a cut to the body or the wrist. No real windup, though – the skilled kendoka would just snap out the shinai from the ready position with the same initial motion they'd use for throat or wrist.

    Since a point exchange ends with the first strike, All-Out Attack plus Targeted Attack (Two-Handed Sword Swing/Skull) would probably do it. You don't care if you get hit back, just that you hit perfectly and first.

    1. I'd also just note that the vertical plane isn't always overhead. You can attack with a good swing from the floor up, from along the left or right leg up, from over the shoulder down (with bent elbow and a slight crouch to generate power), etc. in fairly confined locations. You can't do wide, looping swings, but that's a subset, not the main body, of all swings.

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