There’s an interesting (drink!!*) thread over on the GURPS forums about what a “miss” means. It’s called Failed Attack Rolls, and there’s a concept in there that, especially coming from the source, makes one go “Hmmm” a lot.

Let’s start with two quotes, both originating from Sean Punch, AKA Dr Kromm, the GURPS Line Editor. Also, a note: I’m not looking to quote him to fight, or to agree or disagree. The thread made me think, perhaps even to reflect (I’ve been reading Steven Brust’s “The Phoenix Guards” and “Five Hundred Years After,” so if you detect a bit of Tazendra in my statement, you’re not wrong).

In any case: I reflect, perhaps I even wonder.

The Quotes

Here’s the original note by Sean:

Mostly this. You failed at your roll to capitalize on an opening and/or seize the initiative, so you stood there doing nothing but defending. You can fix this by increasing your aggression (All-Out Attack (Determined) for +4, at the cost of giving your enemy an opening), falling back on textbook attacks when there’s no opening (Telegraphic Attack for +4, at the price of attacking directly into your enemy’s strongest defense), or learning to fight better (improve your skill, at the cost of many hours spent in the dojo, gym, kwoon, or whatever).

Missed attack rolls aren’t blows that hit with insufficient force. Too many things in GURPS (Melee spells, Contact Agents, etc.) rely on a mere touch for that to be a good ruling. Blows that connect weakly are things like successful attack rolls met by unarmed parries that prevent all damage*, and successful attack rolls met by failed defense rolls where the ensuing damage roll fails to penetrate DR.

* It’s safe to assume that in an unarmed fight, not all punches and kicks stopped by unarmed parries are warded off or blocked. Most are the blows you see sport fighters landing by the dozen in a match. A skilled fighter rolls with (not Roll with Blow – the realistic version), turns from, or otherwise minimizes the damage of these; his efforts count as a GURPS parry. These cases do result in contact under the rules.

This quote is from the first post of the thread linked in the intro, but was from a different-but-similar discussion.

Some of the responses were predictable – and not because they’re insufficiently thought-out. They’re more or less the way I’ve played GURPS for years, so I’m naturally sympathetic to the viewpoint. So sympathetic, in fact, that it’s how I run my own games.

In summary, some of the various replies:

  • Missing a roll has consequences, such as ‘weapon unready’
  • Making an attack has implications, such as when you are below 0 HP
  • Nothing in the above takes away from ‘you did do something, and it was ineffective’
  • What the heck is wrong with ‘swing and a miss?’

Sean followed up with another comment: Continue reading “Unpacking Failed Attack Rolls in GURPS”

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!