Recently I’ve been on a bit of a shield kick.

One-on-one with Shields: Upsetting the conventional wisdom shows a video by Roland Warzecha of Dimicator, and how he’s using a heater shield much like he uses a buckler. While he owns the fact that he’s an expert in sword-and-buckler play based on the I.33 manual, he’s pretty firm about the style and method carrying over, at least in dueling.

Viking Shield Fighting in GURPS looked a bit about the style that I’m being instructed in, and how to represent that in GURPS. I do talk a bit about using the shield, and using it to Feint and Beat (ST-based Feint), as well as mentioning modeling this as a grapple. I’m still persuaded that the give and take of grappling is the best model for this kind of thing.

Finally, I looked at the shields themselves quite a bit in Vikings, Shields, and Game Rules. That one had some mechanics, but a lot of it was covering some of the truths and myths about shields, their construction, and some overall notes on game rules.

For this post, I’m not going to claim this is exhaustive, well thought out, playtested, or conclusive.

What’s the Point of Points in Shield?

By and large, a lot (not all, but a lot) of the benefits of lugging around a medium shield accrue from the defense bonus. That gives you +2 (for medium) to all active defenses: Block, of course, and Parry and Dodge.

Block is nice, though – unless you buy Parry Missile Weapons, it’s one of the better defenses against ranged weapons. But by and large, putting 8 points into a weapon skill gets you at least +2 to hit, +1 to Parry, and +2 to anything that uses a Quick Contest of weapon, such as making feints with the weapon, and resisting all feints (the clarification/expansion is you resist feints with your best melee skill, armed or unarmed).

Now, don’t get me wrong: Buying up shield gets you these things as well: +2 to strike with the shield, +1 to Block, and (especially with the clarification from p. 100 of GURPS Martial Arts) also gives you +2 to make shield feints, and +2 to resist all feints.

Blocks are more penalized for doing repeatedly, though: -5 rather than -4 for Parry. You also have a deep incentive to buy up weapon skill: penalties to attacks are legion: deceptive attacks can soak up all sorts of high skill. Bad footing. Location penalties can get steep: chinks in armor or the eyes or eyeslits. Darkness penalties. One can probably rationalize something like up to Weapon Skill of about 36 or so if you wan to have a 50-50 chance of stabbing someone in the eye in a dark cave while giving the bad guy -5 to Parry, Block, or Dodge with a Deceptive attack.

And of course, once you have a single defense that high (Weapon Parry), it’s hard to figure out why you also want Shield of equal power. Heck, my current modern-day Paladin-to-be has Broadsword-23 with his special sword, giving him Parry-15 with just the sword, Parry-17 with a DB +2 shield, but only Shield-14, which gives Block-13 with the shield. So mostly I parry.

This is pretty much exactly the opposite to how Roland used his heater shield and how I use my viking shield, where you purposefully and actively either use the shield to keep distance and set range, or purposefully use it to deny lines, shut down attacks, and otherwise get this huge piece of mobile-but-fragile cover in the other guy’s face.

Human vs. Human isn’t always the norm

One thing to keep in mind is a comment from one of the other posts. Mike Bernstein wrote:

There’s one major point that I’ve always held onto, as it helps me maintain some of the suspension of disbelief in the fantasy genre, despite my HEMA experience. The very valid points you’ve made come from our world, where humans fight humans… not a fantasy world where your opponent might be drastically smaller, faster, tougher, larger, heavier, possessing thick leathery skin, tentacles, magical shielding, alien anatomy, precognition… so on and so forth. The openings and opportunities are different, even the psychology is different. A well-practiced feint that works on most human opponents is a gamble when you try it on something with the thought process of a bipedal lizard, or bowl of sentient jell-o that has no concept of defense.

So it might be reasonable to say that, while typical rulesets underappreciate the shield in human to human combat, getting +2 AC against something the size of an ogre with a club is a pretty good compromise when by all means something that size might just as easily shatter the bones supporting the shield. To say nothing of non-humanoids with anatomical features that could drastically impair shield defense.

I’ve come to believe that the seemingly haphazard, unrealistic use of weapons and armor in the fantasy genre is actually very realistic in a world where literally anything could be around the corner. Adventurers have to have a sort of savvy brawling, adaptable and scrappy kind of mentality, and formal training only helps so much as itäs usually completely irrelevant to your situation. There is no arms race as we know it, evolving and honing our tools and tactics directionally… just infinite influences that make it impossible to decide which direction is technologically “forward”. All those rule abstractions and anachronisms might be the only thing preserving our sanity, compared to trying to capture all of this in one enormous system.

I think this is a very good point, and while I’ll continue to try and deal with the base case of two humans dueling, exploring what happens when a dwarf, ogre, or giant steps into the combat arena, or you get dogpiled by a pack of kobolds, is likely the more important case to worry about in most fantasy games.

Attack to Defend

If you want folks to think “shield shield shield” instead of “sword sword sword,” you need to make using the shield proactive, fun, and valuable.

So what if you could perhaps make a skill roll vs your shield skill, and have that define how much defensive benefit you got? And yes, it would probably count as an attack. But since (a) the shield is meant to be used in the “off hand,” and (b) is frequently but not uniquely targeted at one guy . . . this seems like a perfect opportunity to lessen the burden by allowing this to be part of a Dual-Weapon Attack. After all, a shield is a one-handed melee weapon.

Setup Attacks

So, one way to just make this happen is to use a shield to make a setup attack, from Pyr 3/52, Delayed Gratification. You make the setup attack with your shield, which imposes a penalty to your foe’s defenses. You then follow that up and on your next attack with your weapon you gain the stackable benefit from the setup attack on your next weapon attack. There’s an issue with that, of course, but that’s somewhat resolvable.

Effects of Aggressive Shield Use

So you make a skill roll, and that should enable one or more of the following

  • You’re skillfully using your weapon to cover lines of attack. This makes you harder to hit, assessing a flat-out penalty to the foe’s attack roll
  • You’re actively warding lines and anticipating actions of your foe, perhaps forcing him into preferred lines of attack where you can more easily block. This gives you a bonus to your defense when you use your shield to counter it.
  • You use your shield to open up the foe’s defenses. This is basically akin to the setup attack above, depending on the mechanism used to mark success.
  • You use your shield to hide or cover your own lines of attack or open up the foe. This would provide a bonus to your own hit roll.

So four possibilities. All have utility and all would be fun. Making them the results of an attack-like action gives you a reason to do it.

Making Skill Matter

High skill should give more benefit than less skill, so the result should scale somehow.

How does GURPS usually handle this:

  1. Well, we could use margin of success. Just make a roll and however much you succeed by . . . means something.
  2. We could also use the “risk first, roll second” method that is based on Deceptive Attack. Take a penalty to skill, with each -2 giving either +/-1 to a defense (yours/his), or +/-2 to an attack (again, yours/his). So if you have Shield-18, you might take -4 to skill, and have a 90% chance of making that roll, which gives you, based on the options above, +2 to your defense, -2 to his defenses, +4 to your attack, or -4 to his.
  3. Finally, one could use a “damage roll” mechanic, where a successful skill check allows you to make a “damage roll” (maybe look up skill on the thrust column of the table on p. B16?) that would translate into defense and hit rolls. Probably each point of damage would be one control point, +/-1 to defense, or +/-2 to an attack roll.

Reason to Circle

Rather than decide ahead of time, perhaps this successful “Shield Employment Attack” can be reflected by points, that can be used however you’d like at any moment. So I have Shield-16, and with my medium shield I risk a roll vs 10 (-6 to my skill), and if I’m successful, I have 3 points to spend. The +2 to all defenses for having a big-ass plank in the way is inviolate.

So I’ve got my points. Note this doesn’t depend on the other guy, because you can use these points in opposition to each other. I decide to throw an attack and spend 2 of my points to give myself +4 to hit. Oops, my foe is an expert and he had 5 points to spend. He cancels out my 2 points, spends two more to give me -2 to hit and +1 to his own defense; he holds one in reserve.

The Points are Obvious

One possibility here is that how many points you have is obvious. An expert shieldmaiden with Shield-20 might routinely be wandering around with 3 points (rolling vs 14), and that level of defense is obvious to opponents. She’s well protected, and you know that there’s a certain threat to be dealt with here.

Extra Benefits to Evaluate

Or you can not have the points obvious, and is all an opponent knows is the shield is out there. But if they Evaluate, maybe it’s a Contest of Weapon skill, and if you win, you can know how many points of defensive potential your opponent has. Maybe margin of success caps how many points you’re told. So win by 10, and if your opponent is wandering around with 10 or fewer defensive points, you know it. Win by 2, and is all you can see from your evaluation is either she has 0, 1, 2 or “2 or more” defensive points.

Build up defense or Replace

If you can make shield attacks and gather points turn after turn after turn, that could get silly. No, it WILL get silly – even if you can spend points directly to cancel things out, so it’s really only the relative benefits that matter, if in the middle of combat when one guy has 34 points in reserve, the other has 29, and the GM is ready to tear his hair out to make something happen, a third party steps in . . . do the two shield wielders have a potentially 30-point advantage over the new guy? That’s just silly.

So the best bet is that repeated rolls like this can replace your current total, but not add to it. Either that or there’s a solid cap on how many points you can accumulate. Maybe equal to your Block skill or something.

Weapon Wards

This might even be able to be applied to weapons as well. This should be decisively disadvantageous relative to shields, but I can see doing the same sort of thing, with most weapons effectively being DB +0, but a few of them might get DB +1 or DB +2 (a weapon held in defensive grip, or a staff), while others such as knives (-1 to parry) basically come with an effective -2 to skill to get a “point” of defense.

I’m not entirely sure about this, though. It will cost you an attack, so to both ward and strike counts as a rapid strike or something. And obviously you can’t All-Out Attack to ward and attack and then spend points from that to bolster your own defenses or make yourself harder to hit (both defensive uses), but bonuses to hit or openings in their defenses seem legit.

Beat it Down

The analogy of these points to damage is deliberate. Control Points from Technical Grappling should be just as good as these defensive points, allowing huge monsters to grapple the shield and rip the shield away or otherwise just force it out of action. Even if you don’t use TG, you can just attack the shield directly, and not allow defensive points to be spent to counter this (the shield points come from it being in the way, not from being hard to grab) – you can only Block. If successful, roll the usual punch or control point damage, and you can cancel out or overwhelm their feeble shield points. This prevents a ST 8 guy with high Shield and a small board from dominating an angry troll or something. There needs to be a point where I don’t care how skillful your shieldwork is, it’s Just Not Enough (this speaks to Mike’s point in the box above).

Parting Shot

This isn’t a “do this” kind of post. It’s more musing about how to make using the shield a proactive thing, that you want to do, with concrete benefits that are tangible, fun, and useful.

I’m really, really not sure how this interacts with the rest of the system, either. This type of thing impacts Feint, Beat, Evaluate, and might even be superior to both Defensive Attacks and All-Out Defense, which would be problematical, to say the least.

It’s just when I got to wondering how to make the points in shield matter, I thought of both On Target, which makes Aim an attack, as well as Setup Attacks, which are a natural to allow and encourage with shield use. It also plays with my thoughts on looking at Mutually Exclusive, Comprehensively Exhaustive attack-defense options (that’s an old post), where bonuses to attack and defense can be somewhat interchangeable, and looking for options for each.

I also note that what I think might be the most intuitive (and in many ways, simply echoes the “generate points, spend points” methodology above) way to handle aggressive shield use is to treat it as a grapple, but with a special case of how to break it (move away, with rules on what consists of away).

Looking at aggressive shield use as grappling will be another post.

Yesterday I wrote about the construction and use of Viking shields: a roughly 30-36″ diameter shield (call it a medium shield) of very, very light construction (6-8 lbs), low face thickness (7-9mm at the thickest, including the up to 1mm of hide and glue covering, and maybe 2mm wood at the edge, with another 2mm or so of edge wrapping and facing on the edge), and sporting a buckler grip.

The shields as we use them are used very aggressively, and are considered the primary weapon. They are held out from the body with the shield arm at maybe half-extension, maybe a 45-degree bend at the elbow, and of course the shield extends half it’s diameter beyond that.

This means that with a “cooperative” opponent,  meaning one whom is using similar kit in a similar fashion, one can and does probe at Reach 2. The configuration is basically warrior (hex 0), shield (halfway into Hex 1), other guy’s shield (the other half of hex 1), foe (hex 2). The “feeling” drills require this sort of shield contact.

Shield (Buckler)

Note that the grip of the Viking shield is a buckler grip, with no strap or guige. The grip is frequently narrow enough that you can hold a spare weapon (such as an axe-haft or javelin)

Fight Defensively

One of the big things we’re trying to emphasize in how we are approaching combat is “fight to live.” While sport training tends to emphasize “first to hit” and aggressive priority on attacking in order to promote exciting behavior, winning the contest, etc, it doesn’t really take into account that if you also get spitted on a blade, that’s not so good.

Yes, that’s an overstatement. But look at how many double-kills (or double-wounds) you get in a lot of tournament fighting, and you’ll see what I’m getting at here.

In any case, the principle of the very light infantry fighting that we’re modeling here will be “fight to live.” Continue reading “Viking Shield Fighting in GURPS”

Over on the forums, there’s a thread on making Evaluate better. There frequently seems to be. Someone invoked my name somewhat kiddingly and asked if it was time for me to write Technical Evaluate.

Thinking about it, I wondered if what that would really look like is to use the rules for On Target instead. Roll an Evaluate just like rolling for Aim – a skill roll to look for an opening, followed by an effect roll to see how much of a bonus you can extract. (Note that using a skill roll for Evaluate has been examined before)

You’ll want to deal with a few considerations, though. The following musings aren’t even a teeny tiny bit playtested. I’m just rising to the bait of how to use effect rolls to replace evaluates.

The Attempt Roll

The roll to spot an opening should probably be related to weapon skill or ability to see openings – that feels like weapon-based training to me. It’s a sensory thing, so that feels like Perception. So maybe the attempt roll is a roll vs. Per-based weapon skill.

That means Joe Average with no training will be rolling against Per-5 or so, which probably means “you will never successfully spot an opening.” That might not be wrong – you’re just not going to “sneak one in” unless the foe does a committed attack or something.

What else could it be? Maybe just Perception, but I don’t think so. There’s a training component here. Tactics? Possibly – that would be a giant expansion of the skill, though, taking it into a “must have” where currently it’s more of a leadership skill.

Why not a Contest of Skills? Well . . . that’s a Feint. There’s a perfectly good mechanic in place for that already. Continue reading “Evaluate On Target”

There have been a few posts recently on the SJG Forums that have brought up Technical Grappling. While my old Blogger site had a nifty index page for all my grappling posts and their titles, called The Grappling Mat, this one doesn’t. At least not yet.

But I did want to lay down the various things I’ve written that might be helpful, so without further ado: Continue reading “Grappling Index for GURPS”

Setup

I got a Steam chat from someone with whom I regular interact over that channel. He was wondering out loud if Dungeon Grappling includes rules for kicking.

My first response was “that’s just an unarmed strike; DnD doesn’t do that level of specificity.” Fine, if unsatisfying.

Then he noted that what he really wanted to get a feel for, having been playing through Storm King’s Thunder, is why not have rules for a Storm Giant knocking a halfling across the battlefield like a ping-pong ball?

Ah! Well, yes. Dungeon Grappling does have rules for Flinging and Shoving, where you grapple someone and then you can use the rules to shove or fling them a certain distance.

Incidental Projectile

That got me thinking, though. There are of course rules for this in DnD, but not for incidental contact. You have to deliberately decide to shove your foe, which Dungeon Grappling extends to flinging.

But hrm and hrrrm, this is where game design rears its head. For whatever reason, the designers decided to make shoving a different mechanic than striking. One is a contest of Strength, the other a damage roll. There are reasons for this, of course, and those reasons are at the very least defensible.

But there’s a cost to this. An Ancient Red Dragon’s tail swipe does 2d8+10 damage from a Gargantuan creature. So 12-26 points. for a creature that might be the size and mass of a house. I’ve seen some pretty large imaginings of these guys, but even without, the basic size for a Gargantuan creature is 20′ x 20′ (or larger). So the size of a small two-car garage or so.

It would be interesting to relate size and damage to knockback power, though, so it’d be possible to have the Cave Troll knocking hobbits about.

This would mean finding a scale of damage that maps well to knockback, and a sensible mapping of such. Continue reading “The Kick is GOOD! (Casual knockback in DnD games)”

Welcome to another installment of Melee Academy! Today’s topic is “Opening Moves.”

Here are some other posts by other participants

Instead of a super-detailed, broad-brush essay on possibilities, I’m going to get specific and talk about my superhero from the Aeon campaign.

The Commander is a fun character to play. He’s got a fully fleshed out background and a fairly well-varied power set.

And yet, he’s a generalist. He’s got a bit of TK – enough for things like 5d double-knockback crushing attacks with no wounding, a TK shield, and a few other things. He’s got a lot of points in Wildcard skills, the five key ones being Fist!, Blade!, Shooter!, Ten-Hut!, and SEAL!.

Plus he has a combat suit and he’s a super-soldier, so he’s got very good stats, including ST 28 and ridiculous Will and Perception.

So for equipment, he has a battlesuit, which is really more like a soldier-enhancing skinsuit than a true battlesuit. It’s got a sensor suite which is mostly non-functional, it provides DR20 everywhere, and enhances my ST and telekinetic abilities by a tetch. He’s also got guns. He uses a REC7 carbine and a FN Five-seveN pistol, because I like both calibers.

His job, in the words of Tony Stark, is “Call it, Captain!”

That is, he’s the guy who rolls vs. Tactics-20 as combat opens, and usually has enough re-rolls to hand out (thanks to Leadership-18 or even Leadership-20 thanks to SEAL! and Ten-Hut! being complimentary skills) to tip things our way.

So his opening move is basically a Tactics roll.

Still, one thing he’s found himself doing up until last game is to open combat by taking his rifle, and using his Extra Attack to Aim and Shoot in the same turn (this is a staple of combat using my On Target alternate rules, and makes for cinematically great gunmen). He did this vs. a few different foes in the last two games.

The thing is, in no case has he actually injured anyone with his rifle firing normal ammunition. In more than one case, the bullet was either stopped by magic or powers, or outright dodged by people with way too much jink in their junk. In a few other cases, the bullets ping off of armor or force fields.

But in every case, it revealed quite a lot about our foes – it was (as much as I hate to use the word) literally reconnaissance by fire. The dodge-masters reveal themselves when a single shot of 6d pi damage comes their way (I aim for the leg. Honest.). The armored guys just stand there and take it. The powered guys will do everything from an aggressive power block/parry (melting the bullets out of the air with a flame blast or something) to plucking the bullets out of the air like freakin’ Neo.

Again: that tells us how we have to fight them. And how fragile they are.

Parting Shot

I’m tempted to use this more deliberately; bring a magazine of pistol ammo (because if they just wind up being a normal human criminal in spandex, it’s less lethal) with a variety of bullet types in it. A regular bullet, maybe a low-penetration version to test for speed, a rubber/plastic to check for ability to affect metal (we fought a ferrokinetic last game). That sort of thing. Heck, an under-barrel shotgun loaded with special birdshot might be useful here too. 

The point isn’t to kill or even injure the bad guys. It’s to make them tip their hand. After that, the team can assess what’s going on and try and deal with it. We almost lost a PC last game to a super-speedster that could succeed a Dodge roll by 5-10 even when rolling a 16 on 3d6. We got lucky, in the end, but a way to see how amazing this guy was at dodging would have driven our tactics.

Some games the bad guys will be obvious, or at least tactics and threat levels will be accessible through common knowledge. Everyone knows Orcs are strong and stupid. Goblins are weaker, but quick and prone to multiple attacks and gang tactics. Feral Kobolds are weak but employ pack grappling tactics backed up with knives. Lots of knives. 

But if you don’t have time to work that out in advance, or you meet a monster with which you’re not familiar – getting some way to assess capabilities is a good idea.

My article in this latest issue of Pyramid, The Broken Blade, presents an alternate framework for weapon breakage based more or less on looking at the HP of the weapon in question. In fact, the basis for the calculations I did was to (say) compare the HP of a sword (2-4 lbs of steel) to some figure of damage that would approximately 1.44 times that number if it were to risk breaking that sword.

1.44 times what? Well, that’s the cube root of 3, or the HP of an object that weighs three times that of the weapon.

Anyway, I wanted something that would take that “three times the weight of the parrying weapon” rule from the Basic Set, and make that something where it was related to the raw damage coming in. In melee combat, at least, an extra point of Strength is an extra point of swing damage, and a half-point of thrust. That settled the basic principle.
Continue reading “Shields Will Be Splintered (Shields in The Broken Blade)”

Over on the SJG Forums, user Railstar replied to a thread announcing last Thursday’s topic. It’s a valuable contribution to the discussion, so I reproduce it here:

Disarms and Reach


For GURPS at least, the Reach on Disarms is one reason to use it – because you can disarm someone from the combined Reach of both your weapons. This makes it very useful when approaching polearms, or as part of teamwork against an outnumbered opponent, or with long-weapon tactics. Simply stand out of striking distance constantly disarming until you either disarm or unready their weapon, whereupon that is the opportunity for your allies to rush in.

This can work in formation combat where spearmen with long spears stand 5-6 yards away and try to rake at each other’s spears before daring advance into stabbing distance, or in a duel with longswords where you can attempt to disarm from 4 yards away. The key advantage is you can do a disarm without being close enough for your opponent to hit.


Even an unsuccessful disarm can still be tactically useful if it provokes the enemy to rush in at you – Committed Attack, All-Out Attack or Move & Attack all lower defences, creating a window of vulnerability that you and your comrades can exploit. Meanwhile, the disarm does not require you to lower your defences at all, therefore you can still use Retreat and/or Cross Parry and/or Defensive Grip to make sure your defence against their rush is still good.

The disarm penalty is prohibitive when already in striking distance of your opponent; the penalty is simply too large compared to aiming for them, and so you put yourself at a disadvantage. The more reliable tactic to disarm when close is grapple (armed grapple?) and then opposed ST checks to attempt to pry the weapon from their hands. Even that is risky, best done from surprise where you ambush someone who has a weapon while you have none, but preferable to trying to fist-fight the sword-armed guy.

Actually, attacking someone’s hand is typically easier than attempting a disarm – and that has the advantage of making sure they stay disarmed. Similarly, for an unarmed option you might find that after grabbing their arm Arm Lock will be just as effective or more so than the opposed ST checks… unless you can’t afford to get bogged down grappling them. But if you’re outnumbered while unarmed by guys with weapons, you probably should have avoided this fight.

There is another benefit to disarms in GURPS; there is no DB from shields against them, so if you’re fighting against a large shield you can use this to minimise the effect of their high defences. This can be important psychologically if your opponent likes to rely on DB 2-3, as a further encouragement to push them into a rash advance.

So disarm can be very useful before closing, with room to back off, in combination with long weapon tactics. The key thing not to do is stand within stabbing distance while you do it.

Technically, even with Reach 1 weapons you could use this tactic to an extent. If you Retreat from their attack, rather than stepping forward into range to strike back, you could disarm and take another step back.

Disarms can also be a viable counter against polearms, not just using them. If our side has Reach 2 greatswords and their opponents have Reach 5 pikes, the greatswords can still attempt a disarm from Reach 7. Defensive Attack or Defensive Grip can be used to have a good Parry while still presenting a threat that the enemy has to react to, namely the threat of losing their weapons. Once the enemy with polearms step forward to attack, then unless there are supporting ranks behind them that can give the fighter with the shorter weapon an opportunity to rush in safely and move past the reach of the polearms.

Essentially, Disarms can extend your Reach and that opens up a lot of tactical flexibility.

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!

Welcome to another session of Melee Academy. This cross-blog event is open to all who want to write about the topic chosen, in any system. If you have something to say, write it, send me a note, and I’ll add it to the list.

Today’s Entries

Melee Academy: Disarms in Four Systems

Taking your foe’s weapons away is taught in many real-world martial arts styles. It’s presumed – correctly – that a disarmed foe is simply much less dangerous than an armed one.

In my experience, though, disarms are rarely used in RPGs. Sure, there may be mechanics for them, but for whatever reason, they’re just not done.

Why Disarm?

The first question, regardless of the game, is why disarm a foe?

  • Reduce their threat to you. This may seem obvious, but it also might not be that way, depending on the game system. If the majority of a foe’s threat comes from weapons, taking those weapons away can make a big difference in the outcome. Examples where this is probably true include D&D, where the base unarmed damage is only 1 point (plus STR bonuses). A game where it may or may not be true is Fate, where the “disarmed” temporary Aspect may or may not really impact the outcome (Thor is going to be impressive with or without Mjolnir). 
  • Reduce their defenses against your attacks. Obviously, this only matters in games where weapons play a role in defense. If taking their weapons away means that their limbs are no longer effective for defending against your attacks, this can also be decisive.
  • Impress them/Intimidate them. Sometimes you can disarm someone just to rub their nose in the fact that you can. If the goal is not to kill or injure them, but to influence someone else’s behavior, or if you need them alive, casually taking weapons away is a good way to force a gut check.
  • Killing is bad: In the classic murder-hobo mode, foes are largely for killin’. So are innkeepers, animals, the town guard, orcs, half-orcs, someone in a fair fight, or was going to start a fair fight, or if there was a woman involved. (Thanks, Jayne). But in many less constructed environments, or where the town guard are all Level 15 Champion Fighters, random death and destruction might not be the best plan. Taking lethal instruments away from all parties can keep repercussions to a minimum.
  • Change the terms of the fight. This wraps up many aspects of the above, but if a foe is a weapon fighter that hasn’t invested in other skills, taking their weapon away – if you can – will change the fight, perhaps dramatically. A gunslinger that forgot or chose not to invest in fisticuffs will be a very different threat (or none at all) once that pistol or rifle is safely on the ground or in the chandelier. A weapon fighter who suddenly finds themselves weaponless, grappled, and on the ground might just give up. You might rather fight with Weapon B than Weapon A (due to your skills) but can’t (due to his weapons) – you like the knife but he has a morning star and dagger. 

So there are lots of reasons why you might notionally like to take a weapon away from a foe. But does the game enable it? It is too difficult, too time consuming? A bad idea all around? Or a instant “I win” button?

Let’s take a gander at a few games and see.


Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition

In DnD5, disarming is an optional rule consigned to one paragraph in the DMG. The short-short version is you make a melee attack, and your foe rolls a contest of Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics). If you win, you disarm them. You can gain disadvantage on your roll if your foe’s got a two-handed weapon on the defense, and size matters – the target has advantage if larger, disadvantage if smaller.

For humans, then, you’ll be rolling 1d20 + STR bonus (or DEX with a Finesse weapon) + Proficiency bonus against the best of 1d20 + STR or DEX bonus + Proficiency if you have such with Athletics or Acrobatics. Plus Proficiency again if you have Expertise in one or both of those skills.

So pretty much even-up in terms of allowable bonuses. Two fighters of equal level and stats (or if pitting STR vs DEX, but with similar bonuses) will likely claim the same primary attribute bonus and get to add proficiency. Watch out for Bards and Rogues (double proficiency) with expertise in Acrobatics or Athletics. But if you can find a foe without the ability to add proficiency to his defense, you will probably pick up a 10-30% advantage in a disarm attempt.

Is it worth it? In D&D5, probably, if your foe relies on weapons. It eats up one attack, carries no inherent downside. Unarmed damage (assuming you’ve removed their only weapon) is 1 point plus the STR bonus, so if your STR 16 Orc with a battleaxe did 1d8+3 (4-11, average 7.5) on a hit, he now does 4. Given that fighting in D&D is often a mutually ablative war of attrition, this very much throws the odds in your favor. Throw them prone, and they’ll hit you less, too.

Impressing them depends on the feel of the game, but might give advantage on an Intimidation attempt with GM agreement. No real ability to alter defenses (because it’s all about your Armor Class). So really, disarming in D&D gives you more chances to hit him and reduce his HP than you’d have otherwise. It won’t work vs. creatures that can’t be disarmed, of course – that’s not system dependent, it’s just obvious.

GURPS

Taking a foe’s weapon away in GURPS can potentially be a big deal. It can be a “swingy” game, where one hit can alter the tone and outcome of a fight. I wrote about it in more detail in a prior Academy: Unarmed vs. Knife – Technical Disarms

Removing the foe’s weapon matters most when your foe is really counting on the bonuses it gives. A long stick allows swing damage, where unarmed tends to be thrust. Swords and knives can give the cutting and impaling injury modifiers to wounds. Firearms can be particularly dangerous, because nearly all of them in modern games can threaten to hit you three times or more, with injury per shot in excess of 2d, sometimes a lot more (a modern battle rifle may well be 7d for three shots, and it only takes one to kill you). On the other hand, if your ST 30 ogre punches for 3d-1 and kicks for 3d, having a stick in his hand for 3d or 3d+1 doesn’t matter much . . . though 5d+3 cut for a swung broadsword (if not more) is certainly scarier than 3d cr, both can take Joe Average out of the fight in one blow. The second is more likely to kill him outright, of course.

On the defense, this is mostly an issue with melee weapons. But it’s a real issue, because if the fighter is depending on a weapon parry afforded by high skill, removing the weapon usually forces the contest to a secondary choice . . . or Dodge, which you never run out of in most games.

Modern GURPS games are more likely to feature the “killing is bad” outlook, and taking a lethal weapon from the foe and then subduing them (both probably best accomplished with Judo or Wrestling) is a good way to keep the law looking the other way.

Mechanically, there are a few ways to go using the Basic Set.

  • You can grab the arm or hand and force them to drop it by winning a regular contest of Strength
  • You can grab the weapon itself, and take it from your foe by winning a regular contest of Strength
  • You can strike at a weapon to knock it away by first striking his weapon, and then winning a Quick Contest of ST or DX-based weapon skills.
  • You can put him in an arm lock, and do enough damage to cripple the arm or hand; at that point, he’ll drop anything in it.

Regular Contests tend to be time consuming. You have to succeed in your ST roll, while your foe must fail his. This will only be practical if you vastly outclass your foe in ST. You also need to be skilled enough to seize your foe, which given penalties for such of -2 to -4, typically, may be rate limiting.

Knocking a Weapon Away (the third option) favors high skill again, but the foe gets their best of ST or DX and weapon skill. The Disarming technique can help an attacker; Retain Weapon helps the defender.

Arm Lock is one of the better bets here, as you can raise Arm Lock to Wrestling or Judo +4, and the defense is a parry (often low). From there, you are again contesting Arm Lock or ST vs your foe’s ST or HT in order to do damage equal to margin of victory.

All of these, of course, might take multiple seconds (Knocking a Weapon Away does not), and the foe tends to be a threat to you during all of them. Many players just opt to smash the opponent hard in the face instead.

Technical Grappling


My book, GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling adds the option to disarm a foe by causing pain instead of crippling damage. The arm lock requirements are still there, but it’s a bit easier to force the HT roll that makes them drop stuff. You must be willing to deal with Control Points, of course.

David Pulver Weighs In
An important issue in any “disarm” attack rule is not just the ease of making the disarm but the ease of _recovering_ from it. 

Example: if the game mechanics give two equal fighters a 50% chance of succeeding with a disarm to knock a weapon away, but allow a disarmed fighter to pick up their dropped weapon 100% of the time with a single action (or worse, a free or move action), then disarming is a bad tactic. 

If the disarm rules, however, cause a weapon to fly some distance away, or the rules for retrieving a dropped weapon mean (for instance) that a fighter must take multiple actions, or put himself at risk (kneel, lose his defense, whatever) to recover that dropped weapon, a disarm is viable. 

Likewise, a disarm may be viable parrying with a weapon is important in the rules (as it is in GURPS) and by disarming a foe you reduce his defense and can either follow up while it is reduced, or an ally can. 

GURPS generally makes disarming viable because its second-by-second time scale, separate active defenses, and posture rules all mean  fighter is at risk if he takes time to recover a dropped weapon. 

Some other game systems, like D&D, may not have this same vulnerability, relegating disarms to special cases (“I disarm the foe’s magic sword, and my friend, next in combat sequencing, picks up that sword for himself!”) 

Night’s Black Agents


As always, Night’s Black Agents is about on-screen awesome, rather than pure skill levels. To disarm a foe, you make an attack against their weapon, which is at an additional difficulty, usually +3, which makes the required difficulty 7 on a 1d6.

That target means that in order to succeed, the player will have to spend from their general point pool. This can be by Shooting a weapon out of their hand, using Weapons to make a disarm, or with Hand-to-Hand to twist it out. 

You’ll need to spend enough points to buy the success you want, though if you roll a natural 6 on 1d6 you will often succeed regardless of opposition. Conditionally, if you shoot it, you disarm them but the weapon is damaged. If you use weapons, you automatically disarm them if your weapon is heavier (and it still works if you roll a 6 with a lighter weapon). With Hand-to-Hand, again you take it with no fuss and no muss if you roll a 6, otherwise, you have to win a contest – basically, the Hand-to-Hand contest allows a grapple, but you still have to win another contest to take possession of the weapon.

The requirement to spend so many points means that a disarm is a moment of high drama and spotlight time, since the typical points in an important combat skill for a fightin’-focused agent is likely at least 8, possibly higher, such as 12. But that means that a certain disarm might well run you your entire pool at one go. You’ve used up your camera time, bub.

Fate Core


As one would imagine, disarming in Fate Core will be Creating an Advantage. If you succeed, you get to create an Aspect to invoke, while if you Succeed with Style, you get to invoke it twice.

For this one, however, as a stunt, I would probably create a removable aspect that denied the weapon to the other party, or negated his own weapon if that was an aspect.

As an example, if you Disarm Inigo Montoya, who has the Aspect “Sword of the Six-Fingered Man,” then until Inigo succeeds on an Overcome, with active opposition from his foes, he cannot reclaim, and thus invoke, that Aspect.

For a more mundane effect, or as an add-on, if you are using Weapon Ratings, then the extra +3 you get for the effect for a sword (as an example) is no longer available. 

Parting Shot

If someone’s shooting at you, GURPS generally has you shoot them back. Likewise with weapon vs. weapon – it’s usually fairly high percentage to just attack them directly.

Now, if you have mad unarmed combat skills, no weapon, and your foe’s armed . . . well, you can either disarm them or (more intelligently) run the hell away. Or you can, again, punch them in the face, or perhaps do a Sweep, which will put them on the ground for -4 to hit and -3 to defend.

Disarming is thus reserved for very strong creatures with natural weapons (teeth and horns) that also mostly bite to grapple rather than strike.

For PCs, you need to also be willing to spend  few turns on the disarm, in many cases. Players in my experience generally make the calculation that it’s better to incapacitate by striking than muck about with grappling and disarms.

D&D is a bit better. It only burns one turn, and while it still favors the skilled (that’s a feature, not a bug), it’s a good way to pivot the fight to ones favor.

Night’s Black Agents is neither easy nor hard; it is expensive in terms of spotlight time, which is the game’s true currency. This makes a Disarm something you do when you’re feeling like being awesome and the results are worth the high resource use.

Fate Core? It’s one possible interpretation of the Create an Advantage task, just like doing a Judo Throw might be a possible interpretation. Success on a throw might be that the foe gets the Aspect “Flat on your Back!” while succeeding with style might either give two invocations of that same aspect, or perhaps two different ones: Flat on your Back! and Oof! Where’d my Lungs go? The defender might have to Overcome both in order to be back on his feet. With the Disarm, I’d probably tag the foe with the problematic “disarmed!” aspect until he can get the weapon back – if he can at all.