+Peter V. Dell’Orto has an interesting note today about the challenges of the Retreat defensive option when using mapless combat. It’s worth a read.

I was intrigued by the option of just always giving people the benefit of increased defenses, the +1 for retreating for a parry/block, or the +3 for Dodge (or parry when using Karate, Judo, and Boxing).

Doing this will slow the game down, because there will be fewer hits and more trading of blows. Of course, I wrote The Last Gasp explicitly to slow the game down – or at least encourage pauses between frantic bits of action.

But these blog pages have seen a great deal of dialog on the subject of Evaluate, as well. In particular, the GURPS 301: Evaluate segment of Melee Academy.

Rereading my own work, I really like the idea of boosting basic “I’m standing there” defenses so that that “whoever attacks first is likely to win” flavor is diminished. In fact, one of the concepts that has been floating around for a bit is “Fully Enabled Defense,” which has you roll against full skill (or really, Skill-4) for defenses. One potential downside about that (which as Tbone notes is also present in every other contest or test of skill in GURPS other than those rolled vs half-skill, like parries) is that above Skill-14, defenses go up fast. 

Which brings me back to Evaluate. If you have naturally high defenses just by standing there, then some sort of Evaluate mechanic will be required before you start swinging.

In my suggestion to make effect rolls for Evaluate you’d want to double them (use swing instead of thrust) if using FEND type full defenses.

In any case, I think the base concept of increasing defenses at least for the first blow in a fight makes some sense, and for mapless combat, higher defenses also make sense since the players and foes will always take care to optimize their actions, and there’s little that’s obvious to stop them. 

Leveraging Tactics to back someone into a wall or on to difficult terrain would make a good alternate play here, too.

In any case, I like effect rolls, and I like the concept that you can start with higher defenses, but also with more opportunities to lower those defenses.

Setup Attacks are a deliberate opportunity to throw a blow that causes an opening. Treating Evaluate as an attack would allow “seeing what’s open” and then throwing an immediate attack as well at -6 to each while retaining defenses (or you can just Feint and Attack, if you don’t wish to retain defenses, or Feint, and then Attack, if you don’t mind taking two turns).

Based on my work with On Target, I’d probably not make the default of the Evaluate Per-based anymore, or allow DX or Per, which ever is better, for Evaluates. Looking for an opening is such a basic part of fighting that I’m not sure Per would be the right call here. 

Parting Shot

More on this later, perhaps. Suffice to say:

Peter’s comments about higher defenses in general are intriguing

I don’t necessarily care for a reasonably skilled warrior having a 50% chance (ish) to avoid an attack. Skill-12 is Parry-10 with a retreat. AoD, however, pushes this to Parry-12, for 75% effectiveness. That suggests something to me. again more later.

Defenses are on the rapid part of the bell curve in general. They tend to range from 7 to 11 for many characters, so small swings have big results. This probably makes for good games

Evaluate and target searching, either on attack or defense, is underutilized.

I like effect rolls, and I think bringing one into the Evaluate sequence would be a good way to increase the usage of that maneuver – it works very well in play for Aim, and it should have an equal impact for melee.

So I think there’s something here, but the Skill/2 type defense exists for a reason and has survived 30 years of play and playtest. I don’t think that’s just sacred cowishness.

In GURPS, you can pack a lot of action into just a few seconds. But sometimes, you just need even more. While the various attack maneuvers let you strike a blow in the name of science (as an example), sometimes, due to a surfeit of targets or a surplus of awesomeness on your own part, you just want to hit twice.

The rules provide four options to do this (five if you count Altered Time Rate, but that’s two whole turns for 100 points, so I’ll skip that). 

All-Out Attack (Double)


The first method for striking twice is the All-Out Attack option that lets you do exactly that. Of course, like with most All-Out (Whatever), it has it’s time and place, as +Peter V. Dell’Orto ably articulated.

The good thing about this one is that it’s open to everyone. Is all it costs you . . . is your ability to defend. If you hear evil laughter in the background, your ears are not deceiving you.

When is it worth doing?


First, you have to satisfy the criteria for All-Out Attacking, which are referenced in the linked post above. Ah, heck: here they are again (but there’s also more in the post). As noted, Peter wrote this:

Yes, exactly. It’s actually a very, very useful tactic for some situations. In most, forgoing defenses is a bad decision. In others, makes a lot of sense. Off-hand, here are some where it’s a good idea:

  • attacking a foe that can’t reach you.
  • attacking a foe that can’t hurt you
  • attacking a foe that can’t retaliate (unready weapon, for example)
  • attacking from total surprise.
  • attacking when your defenses aren’t good enough to matter anyway.
  • attacking when you’re confident that your extra offense will nullify the chances of being attacked back (or attacked back effectively).
  • attacking when your allies can keep you safe from harm.
  • attacking a foe that can’t really bother with you.


So the question “Why would I ever do this?” is “Sometimes, it’s a good idea.” It’s never been a good idea to do it all the time, but that goes for a lot of maneuvers. It would only be worth getting rid of if it was literally never useful, and other maneuvers filled its niche in a superior way. It’s conditionally useful, and nothing fully replaces it.

 OK, great. So you’ve got the universe’s permission to All-Out Attack – why use Double?

Well, for one, if you’ve a lot of skill and your foe has defenses not boosted by skill, such as high-DB shields, Combat Reflexes, fencing weapons or martial arts skills that give extra-good retreat bonuses on a parry, or with high Dodge but lower skill, you can Feint-and-Attack. This is a great way to smack down defenses to a hittable range in this case.

If a foe might require a lot of individual hits – perhaps because they’re diffuse or something and the best you can do is one HP per blow, this one might be for you.

Also, if you do a whole bunch of damage and are pretty sure you can hit twice, then you’re effectively doubling your damage output. And if you’re playing a DF warrior with Weapon Master or something, swinging a sword for 3d+7 – well, sometimes your foe is just a big bag of HP, and you need to hit him a lot.

Finally, this isn’t the end-all/be-all. You can stack this with some the three other choices below, replacing one of your two attacks from your maneuver with either a DWA or set of Rapid Strikes, and then after that, add however many levels of Extra Attack you have.

When not to do it?


Any time you might need to defend, obviously. You also might need to choose a different AoA option for some reason – Long, Committed, and Strong all have their place.

Extra Attack


Unlike the other options, this one costs points. A lot of points, actually: 25 points per attack. That’s enough to buy +6 to skill even after you are in the 4 points per level progression. The other thing about Extra Attack is that it more or less limits you to one blow per limb. This is mostly clear from p. B53, and made explicit with the Multi-Strike enhancement, from GURPS Martial Arts (p. 44). For 30 points instead of 25, you can hit twice with the same attack, probably your best.

Extra Attack vs Rapid Strike


Extra Attack or even two of them with your best weapon costs 25/30 points for one, and 50/60 for two (if you can only do Extra Attack with one weapon skill, you’re back down to the lower cost). Even focusing on a single extra attack (30 points), you’re looking at giving up +7 to skill, which also brings with it a likely +3 or +4 (if your skill is odd) to Parry, which Extra Attack does not do.

So would you ever spend those points on Extra Attack instead of skill? Not really . . . if you’re a human using one weapon. And if you’re only using one weapon, you’re back down to 25 points, because you buy Multi-Strike at +20% and One-Weapon at -20%. Cancels out.

But if you have four arms, you’ll want a bunch of Extra Attacks, because the basic rules say you can get but one Rapid Strike. Oh, sure, Martial Arts says you can have as many as the GM will permit, at -6 each, but the Basic Set rules say you get to turn a single small-a attack into a Rapid Strike. Extra Attack is good at mitigating that.

If you can use Rapid Strike a lot, and even more so with Weapon Master to halve those Rapid Strike penalties (though that’s not cheap), it’s still probably better to buy skill.

Multiple Skills

The 25-30 points vs +6 to skill thing works if you have one skill. If you have two (Sword and Shield, Grapple and Strike), then getting Extra Attacks starts to look like a good deal, because you have to buy them all up to make the trade-off as straight-forward as presented.

Rapid Strike


I’ve talked about Rapid Strike and Dual-Weapon attack before, first trying to collapse them into one thing, and another recasting DWA as a Committed Attack.

The basic premise of Rapid Strike is that you can accept a -6 to skill (which is a lot) in order to attack twice. You have to be good to do this. The odds of hitting more often striking twice with a -6 vs. once at flat skill only favor two attacks at skill 20+, and probably 22+, because at 20, the -6 gets you to 14, which is a crit on a 3-4, but your higher skill is a crit at 6.

Now, if you have Weapon Master, which halves your RS penalties to -3 each, the transition point is a skill of 17+ where you go ahead and strike twice.

Of course, that’s just for hits. The damage output turns to favor Rapid Strike (on an undefending target) at Skill-16 without WM, and only Skill-12 with it!

How does this work? You have a damage output of 100% on any given successful blow. So your damage per strike is your hit probability times your damage. I use 100% for convenience here. But for RS, it’s the probability you hit once, times the damage output (100%), but you add the odds that you’ll hit twice, and if you do, you add another 100% damage. So basically, the odds you hit at least once, plus the odds you hit both times.

The damage per turn argument can be strong; you’ll hit more often with a single strike but the increased chance of hitting twice really ups the return on your investment. You still need Skill-21 without Weapon Master to make it worthwhile from a damage perspective.

In either case, once you hit a net skill of 16, any surplus skill you might have goes to Deceptive Attacks, which lower your foe’s defenses.

Rapid Strike with ranged weapons probably seems the same as melee, but the often humongous penalties you take for range really put the emphasis on “shoot once, shoot well.” If you’re at 30 yards for a -7 penalty, that basically comes off the top. So your break-even with the -3 (Gunslinger) is Guns-24 (!), while with mundane skills it rockets to a pretty inhuman 27.

Rapid Strike does not come with the baggage of not being able to use the same weapon twice, so you’re good here so long as your weapon doesn’t become unready.

Dual-Weapon Attack


As noted above, I have a thing about Dual-Weapon Attack. Not sure why. It just seems like it serves the same purpose as Rapid Strike but invokes a whole host of special rules.

But no matter. It requires you to use a weapon in each hand, and is -4 per attack. You do get -1 to your foe’s defenses, which helps that blow strike home.

DWA is a good technique if you routinely carry two weapons (or a weapon and shield) that can and maybe should be used independently. DWA allows you to preserve your defenses and is stackable with all the various attack maneuvers, including one of the two of an All-Out Attack (Double).

You’re better off DWA over even a single attack for hit probability at Skill-18, and per-turn damage output at Skill-14, both easy reach of even moderate-point adventurers.

DWA has some nice features for ranged weapons, too, since some special attacks let you DWA with two arrows at once with one draw. Technically it’s twice the mass and should probably be -1 per die to damage, but who cares because Legolas is awesome, right?

Parting Shot


You’ll want to throw multiple attacks when you can, especially in melee. “When you can” will mostly be when you have pretty high skill, or decent-to-high skill plus an advantage like Weapon Master.

The All-Out version is risky, of course. Leaving yourself defenseless is a bad idea unless you know you will be unmolested, or are sporting so much overall DR that you can ignore stuff.

DWA makes a great go-to tactic if you build your guy around that. An edged shield plus a balanced weapon makes for a great combo, but since you really do want both skills at 14-18, you’ll want to ensure you don’t waste points to get there. Alternately, for the two-weapon set, a pair of shortswords lets you dump all the points in one skill.

The high cost of entry of Rapid Strike (-6 per extra shot) means that unless you have points to burn on Weapon Master, you do this when you’re so good nothing else matters. And if you have enough points for WM, you’re awesome anyway.

Finally, Extra Attack. If you’re not using the extended Rapid Strike rules from Martial Arts, this one’s good if you want to exceed the normal maximum for attacks per round (the multi-limbed creature is the go-to example here) or you have many different skills and you want extra attacks with all of them.

Arm Lock as a combat technique has had a long and somewhat storied history in GURPS. As a result of a Forum thread (that I’m not going to link to here; it’s not the point) I went back and looked at commentary and execution on the technique since 4e came out in 2004.

It’s worth looking at – what actually happens in this technique.

Arm Lock in the Raw


So, firstly, I want to note that the use of standing arm locks has a long and well documented history. The pictures to the right are from Fiore, I believe (I really need to get the original works on that one). 

All of them invoke the same basic principles: put the joint in a position where further motion is injurious, and apply leveraged force such that your foe has very limited ability to actually apply his strength, both due to unfavorable angles as well as the position of the muscles and joints being difficult for the locked person to apply significant muscular force. Some of these moves are quite painful as well, though pain can be ignored and doesn’t impact everyone equally.

There are two ways to apply an arm lock in broad strokes – offensively and defensively, and this is reflected in the GURPS rules for applying them. In nearly every case, you first must be in contact, if not control, of some part of your opponent, most often the arm (but a shoulder lock can cut that pretty finely at times).

The broad strokes are basically

  • Make contact with the limb and secure a grip
  • Move either yourself, your foe, or both into the proper position; this can be quite dynamic depending on what both of you do
  • Apply force to the joint. Slow force will usually produce discomfort, then pain, then a break or (more likely) a dislocation. Fast “vibratory” force will break or dislocate the joint pretty instantly. 

There is often movement associated with such locks. This is both for positioning, as in step 2 above, or to get the heck out of the way of a return strike. You can see in the six images to the right that in five of them, the unlocked arm is basically out of play (the bottom left is a maybe/maybe not). The other option is some sort of leg stomp, though the availability of that move will vary widely depending on what both fighters are doing. No guarantees it can be done.

Defensive Standing Arm Locks with the Basic Set and Martial Arts

Some say this is the primary way that this technique is used in GURPS, and I won’t necessarily disagree. The basic pathway here is straight-forward:

  • Parry an incoming blow with Wrestling or Judo (or another skill if you have the right gateways, such as Technique Adaptation) when your foe throws his attack. This happens, obviously, on your foe’s turn.
  • On your own turn, step into close combat and attack using Arm Lock; your foe defends as usual. If you succeed, his arm is trapped and locked. This counts as being grappled.
  • Your foe may try and break free, but you’re at a significant advantage (+4 because he’s locked, and you’re at +5 if you have him with two hands), and every failed attempt nets another penalty.
  • On the turn after that, if you want, you can rock his world. Apply pain or injury, try a throw from a lock, or whatever. This is almost always a Quick Contest, but that may depend on the technique you use. You get ST bonuses for Wrestling and such, but it doesn’t look like the +4 for Arm Lock and +5 for grappling with two hands applies here – that’s only for breaking free. The injury is based on the Quick Contest, with damage equal to margin of victory
  • If your foe is standing, you can also employ the ridiculously nasty Throws from Locks (Martial Arts, p. 118). It’s resolved as a quick contest; win it and do swing crushing, plus damage bonuses for Wrestling if you have them, to the limb. This can include the neck, if you have him in a Head Lock. That damage is swing, x1.5 for hit location. It’s basically like hitting him in the neck with a shortsword in terms of injury, and flexible DR is not effective here. Yowzers.
Instead of injury, you can also apply pain with locks, which will impair him as well as hurt his ability to break free.
The real hell about this “defensive” arm lock is that while it does require a Wrestling or Judo Parry, there’s no additional penalty associated with this. You parry, and the next turn you can slap on that lock maneuver by rolling what is often (if you’re wise) your unarmed grappling skill +4 or +6 (the +6 is for those with GMs that don’t beat you with their +Peter V. Dell’Orto ‘s DMG for asking for Technique Mastery on Arm Lock, and allow it).
So let’s look at how that works, with a focused build:
Mr. Lockenkey: ST 12, DX 12, Judo-14 (DX+2), Arm Lock-18 (DX+6).

For 4 more points and GM permission, pick up Technique Mastery (Arm Lock) [1], Arm Lock-20 [2 more], and Power Grappling, which is so evilly useful I suggested eliminating it in TG.

We’ll put him against an unspecialized but not-sucky fighter.

Mr Dodeca: ST 12, DX 12, Combat Skills-12, HT 12.

Since we’re basing this fight on a defensive Arm Lock, I chose Judo. You’ll see why in minute. 

If he can, Mr. Lockenkey goes first and takes All-Out Defense. Technicall this would count as “Turn Zero,” and I’m granting him the benefit of that move, since that’s the way I’ve actually seen Arm Lock experts (in GURPS) behave.

Mr Dodeca [starts his turn] steps into close combat to punch (punches are Reach C!). He will hit 75% of the time.

Mr. Lockenkey actually hopes Mr. Dodeca does hit, and when he does, he does a Judo Parry, +2 to Parry for the All-Out Defense, and +3 for a retreat, because that’s one of the real benefits of Judo. His Parry is 15, so barring a critical miss, he’s going to successfully parry. He is now at Reach 1.

Mr Lockenkey [starts his turn] having parried Mr Dodeca’s punch, steps back into Close Combat to roll his Arm Lock-18, unpenalized, He chooses to make this attack Deceptive at -2, for -1 to his foe’s defense. 

Mr Dodeca has Parry-9 or Dodge-9. Depending on his skill, he may well elect to retreat, giving him a net (including the -1 for Deceptive Attack) Parry-9 with Wrestling, Sumo Wrestling, or Brawling, or Parry-11 with Boxing, Judo, or Karate. Dodging, he’ll be at Dodge-11.

Mr Lockenkey will capture the arm 2 times in 3 against a fighter that isn’t trained in one of the superior retreating skills, or 1 time in 3 against a foe that dodges or is trained.

If the arm is not parried, they are now in close combat, and Mr Dodeca can just punch, and Mr. Lockenkey’s defenses no longer benefit from the +2 for All-Out Defense, dropping him to Parry-13, still a successful Parry (and thus an opening for an Arm Lock) five times in six.

Let’s assume Mr. Lockenkey successfully captures and locks the arm, using both hands to do so.

Mr Dodeca [starts his second turn] now is in an Arm Lock. He must attempt to break free, using a Quick Contest of ST. He is ST 12. Mr Lockenkey is also ST 12 . . . but gets +5 for grappling with two hands and an additional +4 for having a lock on Mr. Dodeca. This is ST 12 vs. ST 21, and Mr. Dodeca has a 2% chance of breaking free. This is basically hopeless, and should not be attempted.

Mr Dodeca’s only opportunity here is likely to try and punch Lockenkey in the face or body. Per Martial Arts, p. 119, all attacks, not just the ones with the grappled body part, are at -4 when you are grappled. So he’s starting at Skill-8. He may well want to go Committed Telegraphic here, to bring that up to Skill-14, or even All-Out, for Skill-16 – targeting the face to try and force a knockout or stun. The only other option is to either AoA(Double) to attack and break free (but it’ll still be ST 12 vs ST 17). He AoA’s to the face for the attempted stun. 62% chance to hit, less the 50% chance Lockenkey gets for his Judo Parry-10 (no retreat, no All-Out Defense). So about 1 time in 3, Dodeca will hit the face. He will roll 1d-2 for damage, and 1/3 of the time, no damage will result. 2/3 of the time, enough injury will be done to invoke a shock penalty and stun roll, which will (again) only fail 1/3 of the time.

So, let’s see: 62% chance to hit, 50% chance to fail the defense, 66% to roll enough damage to cause a stun check, which fails about 25% of the time. Chance of success: 5%. Still better than the 2% chance of winning that quick contest, though.

Mr. Lockenkey [starts his second turn] is now able to apply injury via a quick contest of Arm Lock vs. ST or HT, which in this case are both 12. On the average, Lockenkey will, on the average do 6 points of damage, which is neither crippling nor a major wound. Success by 7+ will be both.

At that point, Dodeca is at -4 to ST and DX for breaking free in addition to -4 to DX for being grappled. He’s basically toast. Lockenkey will cripple his arm eventually (likely next turn).  

Lockenkey could also have invoked Throws from Locks, which is again Arm Lock-18 vs. Dodeca’s omnipresent 12. Swing damage of 1d+2 will result – actually less damage on the average than the lock., and here Wrestling at DX+2 would increase this to 1d+4, which on the average would cripple the arm.

Offensive Standing Arm Locks


Basically, this is the same thing, but first the aggressor has to grapple the foe. Not grapple the limb, but the foe. It’s perfectly cool to grapple the torso on your first turn, resist his breaking free (he’s at -4 to DX for being grappled, you’re at +5 to ST for grappling with two hands), then use Arm Lock to capture the arm (again, he’s at -4 to DX for being grappled), then injury as usual. It takes an extra turn for the attacker.

Ground Fighting


To do this well, you obviously need the Ground Fighting technique (MA, p. 73) and spend th 5 points required to buy it off completely. You also want Wrestling rather than Judo or Sumo Wrestling in this case. You won’t be doing a ton of retreating, and that ST bonus is sweet sweet goodness.

Here, you grapple your foe (likely on the torso), and perform a takedown, which is skill, ST, or DX vs. your foe’s skill, ST, or DX. In the example above, that’s Judo-14 vs 12, winning about 2/3 of the time. Once you both are on the ground, unless your foe is similarly trained, he attacks at -4 and defends at -3, while you attack at no penalty and defend at -1. Combined with the generic -4 for being grappled, and a downed foe attacks at -7 and defends at -5, which is a whole lot to overcome – even Skill-18/Defense-12 becomes Skill-11, Defense-7.

Parting Shot


This workup obviously doesn’t touch much on Technical Grappling. I’ll save that for another post. The differences are subtle but important, and worth going over in detail.

Ultimately, against a less-skilled foe, especially an unarmed one, the Judo Parry/Arm Lock combination is really, really dangerous. Where it falls down a bit is against weapons. Not a knife or Reach C weapon, since that will follow the pattern above (though only Judo defends at no penalty vs. weapons). The smart Reach 1 fighter (such as with a sword or mace) will keep his distance, likely using a combination of Wait and Committed Attack (Two Steps) to keep the Arm Locker from stepping into close combat to grapple with him and lock him up. Attack from Reach 1 and then step back to Reach 2, and he’ll have to do a Committed Attack (Two Steps) to chase you down. If you take two steps, attack at Reach 1, and back off to reach 3. Now even if he parries you, he can’t close in and lock you up without a pretty hairy move. Plus, of course, successful active defenses against Mr. Lockenkey do damage to his limbs unless he’s smart and wears armor on his arms.

Which he’d better if he want to try this sort of tricksiness in lethal combat.

The other thing that Dodeca and his like can do is bring friends. Note that even in the most advantageous case, Lockenkey is in close combat with Dodeca for at least two turns, inviting indefensible attacks from the rear, or forcing him to use movement or drop hands from his grapple to defend. You can only parry once per limb, so it’s possible to saturate defenses to the point where Lockenkey has to release his kraken or take hits.

So, I made a small error in my original sheet yesterday, but I’ve replaced it with the right math. I also upgraded the sheet to show the relative delta in absolute percentages from any given choice to the best choice for that defender. 

That’s what led me to conclude, basically, that there really is an answer to the question of “what’s the optimum deceptive attack” strategy. There’s one caveat, though, which I’ll throw out in the beginning as a clause.

Provided you don’t know the defensive skill of your foe, the best strategy overall is to Deceptive Attack with “surplus” skill down to a level of 16.


What is “surplus” skill? Well, like mentioned in A Surplus of Awesome, you can hit important stuff, target limbs, Rapid Strike, and other things. Once you’re done that, it’s time for Deceptive Attack.

The Math


My original calculation was 

Hit chance = P(Crit) + (1-P(Crit)) * P(Hit) * P(Fail Defense).

This was a mistake. This does reduce to 

P(Crit) + P(Hit)*P(FailDef) – P(Crit)*P(Hit)*P(FailDefense)

What this should really be is the probability of a crit, plus the probability that a non-critical hit strikes home. That should be [P(Hit) – P(Crit)], since (1-P(Crit)) includes misses as well. 

So that means

Hit Chance = P(Crit) + [P(Hit)-P(Crit)]* P(FailDefense), or
Hit Chance = P(Crit) + P(Hit)*P(FailDefense) – P(Crit)*P(FailDefense), orHit Chance = P(Crit) * (1-P(FailDefense)) + P(Hit)* P(FailDefense)

So in my formulation, I’m subtracting a smaller number from the total, by the amount of P(Hit) times the last term in the maroon equations. That will be a small reduction for large skill (where P(Hit) is close to 1), but can get significant at low skill. 

In any case, it’s fixed now, so the numbers should be basically right.

Taking Completeness to New Idiotic Heights


So I’m going to start at a skill level of 13 and go up by 2 through skill 23. 

I’m not going to focus on the actual percent chances to hit much, but I’ll give some examples of the charts. 

Skill 14

You can see for Skill 14, there are only really three levels for DA. None, -1 to defend (-2 to Hit), and -2 to defend.

Based on the “pure” answer of what’s the best choice for any given defense, you can see there’s no one best answer. The odds of getting a hit in at all depend on how much skill your defender has.

If you know what that is, of course.

If you’re fighting yourself, let’s say with stats in the 10-12 range, you’re probably looking at a base Dodge of 8 to 9. That could be as low as 6 (due to Committed Attack’s -2 to Defenses) or up to 12 or 13 (Combat Reflexes and a Retreat). Parry will start at about 10, and with a medium shield, Combat Reflexes, and a retreat can be up to 14, but as low as 8. So defenses will be from a low of about 6 to a high of 14 . . . and that’s on one foe. His maneuver choice means his actual effective defense can change turn to turn as well.

Given that, you’re either at full skill or -2 to hit for a 12, but how to choose? 

Let’s look at the relative matrix. I’ve color coded the differences, taken in absolute terms from the optimal choice. Green is less than a 5% difference between the cell in question and the “best” cell for that row, and red is larger than a 20% difference. 

What you see here is a bit differently put. While the very best choice changes a bit, you can see that it can be an actively bad idea to do heavy Deceptive Attack vs. inferior foes. In fact, vs. Joe Average and his Dodge-8 and likely Parry-8 (Weapon skill at DX 10), you are worse off than optimal (which is no DA at all) one time in 4-5 tries.

Shooting down to 12 isn’t a bad choice either here, though again it’s not optimal against very bad or very good foes. 

Still, the surprise here is that if you’re not fighting a total incompetent, you will not be overly penalized in total hit chances by any level of DA that you can throw, but by and large either 14 or 12 are your best choices. 

In fact, the one that’s either the best choice or within 5% of the best choice (making no difference more than 1 time in 20) is no Deceptive Attack at all. 

You can get to this by math, too: take the average deviation of all the potential trials listed. The lowest deviation is no DA for skill 14 and 15. Now, that heavily weights Defense 17+, which is “fishing for critical hits and defensive critical misses” territory, but it does it equally, so I’ll call it indicative.

Skill 21

This skill level is good but not the top you can get to in a starting DF character if you optimize a bit, and not even close to the top if you’re into Monster Hunters or (god forbid) Black Ops. 

You can see from a pure math perspective that which is the “best” strategy changes quite a bit depending on your foe’s skill.

Anything from no DA to the most DA you can throw is viable at some point in the spectrum, and someone with Skill-21 has a base Parry-13, likely with CR, maybe some enhanced defenses as well, perhaps enchanted armor? Parry 17 is not out of the question here, but that’s still not completely in the “crit fishing” range. Still, what about if you don’t know your foe’s defenses?

The situation here becomes cooler, in a way, with regimes of “it’s stupid NOT to Deceptive attack” as well as “you’re DAing too much, silly man.”

DAing down to 15 is either optimal or within 5% of optimal i the largest range of circumstances. Lacking other information, it’s the best option in many cases, and a pretty good option in nearly all cases.

Even the one cell that’s not green is only “not green” by 0.3%. Going down to 13 gets you very little, and only against a select few foes. Choosing 17 against middle-ground foes is actually a poorer choice, but it’s good against those of much less or much more defensive ability.

Now a Bunch of Tables with Few Comments.


Rather than comment on each, I present Skill 16 through Skill 22 counting by 2, then jump to Skill-30. 

0.00% means that’s the best result you can get for that row. 

In all cases, the average result is best to DA down to 16. There are areas where DAing down to other values are locally best, but you have to know your foe’s defenses precisely in order to get this result in many cases. Since even lousy foes can be lower in active defenses by 2 without actively giving them up (Committed Attack, being grappled by RAW, being in several postures, even -3 for lying down, -4 for stunned) and can eke out +3 for retreating Dodge, and with the right mundane advantages and equipment can pretty easily hit +4 to Parry, you’re really dealing with a range of defenses on any given foe that’s around 5-8 wide. So Defense-10 can vary between Defense-6 and Defense-14, though honestly it’s really smaller than that unless you’re dodging, at least on the high end. 

Parting Shot
There are limited ranges where more DA than the 16 global best average answer are appropriate (and by the way, if your net skill happens to be odd, you want 15, not 17). If your foe is sporting a defense value of 7 + half your skill, you maximize your chances by going all the way down to 10. (You of course, give up increased chances of critical hitting, and increase your chances of missing entirely). But in every case, your odds have been increased by . . . 1%. You will take advantage of that extra optimal hit chance one blow in 100.

The sweet spot for DAing down to a skill of 12 is about 4.5+ Skill/2. So for a good warrior of Skill-16, if your foes are in the 12-13 defense range, this is where you want to be. 

Note that in an equal battle . . . this is where your foes will be. Parry starts at 11 with Skill-16, and with a retreat, combat reflexes, or just a medium shield you’re in the “go down to 12” category. So if you’re willing to give up crits and you’re fighting a foe basically as skilled as you are, this is your target. However, this will only make a difference about one time in 16 relative to the critical effects you give up by doing this from Skill-16.

If your foe is half your skill, DA down to 14. But again, you’re looking at this making a difference from between one time in 25 to about one time in 50. 

If your foe’s defenses are equal to your skill, buy down to 16 and no further. You’re crit fishing here, and buying down is actively bad. If your foe’s defenses are even one less than half your skill, again, stay at 16 – the biggest impact to your hit chances here is your own lowering of your base chance to hit. They’re so hopeless that them making a defense roll will be an active surprise.

But as the graphs show, all of this is at the margin. +Peter V. Dell’Orto summarizes some of the benefits and pains of maximizing critical hits and minimizing critical misses in one of his posts on the thread that spawned all these charts. Those can be inflection points in fights, and so they’re more important than raw “did I hit him with this particular blow” might show!

What the heck? Why do all this?

Honestly, my curiosity got piqued. Peter’s been playing DF for years, and literally wrote the book, along with +Sean Punch, on Martial Arts. I’ve heard varying opinions on this issue from lots of people, and even some charts, but nothing quite as comprehensive (or iterative) as I did here. I thought the color coding of marginal benefit was illustrative.
And they key, as always, is knowledge. If you know your foe’s defenses and the only goal is maximum chance of hitting per blow, there probably is a numerically best answer. But a few things did surprise me.
The easy answer to “what to do with skill less than 16” is “nothing.” Swing away, but don’t waste time on DA. Note that’s NET skill. If you have Skill-14, but win a Feint in a duel and then have to attack a superior foe . . . you might well want to DA to 14 or 12 on top of a Committed Attack. 
But Deceptive Attack is what you do when you’re awesome, either permanently or temporarily. 

A thread on the forums made me break out Excel again so I can look at the “optimum” one-one-one level of deceptive attack for all combinations of DA and defense level.

The answer is darn complicated, turns out.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

This is the example Cadmus faces when he’s got his Righteous Fury on and is swinging with Axe/Mace-24. You can see that how much Deceptive Attack he throws – after accounting for lots of other choices like targeting foe’s important bits – depends hugely on his enemy’s skill level. Note that the formatting lies a bit – if your net skill is better than 16 and your foe sucks, by all means drop it to 16. You have nothing to lose.

That “go to 16” plan looks good (within 5% of the best choice, or itself the best choice) up to the point where my foe is sporting a defense roll of about 16 or more. Of course, that’s a shield, a retreat, and Dodge-11 (+2 shield and +3 retreating dodge) or Parry-13 (+3 for a medium shield and a +1 retreat). That’s Skill-20 for my foe, so he’s a real champ – Cadmus’ level.

Point is, “how much do I DA” is actually a non-trivial question in many cases. Well, not for the case of skill 14 or less, for which the answer is simple: don’t do it.


Note that I included my spreadsheet for download if you want to poke.

Once again, my creativity is roused somewhat by a thread on the forums. This one’s on snakes and grappling.

One might imagine that I have something to say on this, being the GURPS grappling guy. One would be right.

The Raw Way (mostly)


If you have a snake that attacks by constriction, you have a snake that wants to make grappling attacks. While RAW I believe can be construed to allow a torso-based grapple if you have Constriction Attack and Double Jointed (see Martial Arts, p. 116), I would smack such legalisms on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

The snake first bites to grapple. This is a grappling attack with the mouth. You have to look for it, but a bit is a one-handed grapple (MA, p. 115 in the box for Teeth). You attack at full location penalties. If your foe fails to defend, you have him by the mouth with the equivalent of one hand. You also do thrust-1 damage. The foe is, technically, “grappled” at this point, and at -4 to DX . . . but the one-handed nature of the attack makes it easier to break free.

The next chance you get, you can follow up with the body grapple, and this one is at full ST, considered a two-handed grapple. I don’t know offhand if real snakes let go with the mouth once they have constricted the prey, but in any case, I’d just treat the snake as having its full ST.

Once that grapple occurs, the snake will apply his Constriction Attack, using the Bear Hug technique (MA, p. 117) to crush the foe to death. If the foe is too large to simply crush, the snake will suffocate if it can.

Seems to me that many snakes will actually buy a Combination (MA, p. 80) to bite and grapple with the torso as a bought-off Rapid Strike. I’ve seen video of ball pythons doing their thing, and that “bite and wrap it up” thing is fast.


Technical Grappling


There’s actually an entry on p. 44 for Constrictor Snakes. Bite to grapple and do thr-1 Control Points (1d-1 for the python in the Basic Set). Follow up with another grapple (using the snake’s inherent Wrestling skill, which is not bad) using the body, but Constriction Attack does double the usual CP for that creature’s ST. Since a python is ST 13, that’s 2d CP, which will get even a reasonably strong adventurer in trouble in a few seconds.

Once enough CP are accumulated, the snake will begin the process of spending them to crush the victim, then re-acquiring them through a grapple, then spending them for more crushing.

This is not the most elegant mechanic, though it does the trick. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I did come up with a better one. Hopefully one day it will see daylight.

Condition-Based TG


I introduced a quick-and-dirty alternate for using Control Points but not bringing in all of TG late in July called Condition-based grappling, which took a concept that could have been done better in the DnD Basic Rules (5e) and did in GURPS what I thought could have been done (and maybe will be or has been in the PHB and DMG; we’ll see when they come out) in that system.

In any case, it’s easy. Roll for the bite. Assess CP. As soon as you can, roll for more CP by attacking with the torso. When you have your foe Restrained, start crushing.

Parting Shot


The condition-based grappling could use some expansion for stuff that’s not just holding on and applying penalties. The Control Point mechanic can be leveraged in a few easy ways to execute various grappling techniques without the detailed tracking that the full system has.

But all in all, snakes and other grappling monsters – such as something with, say, ST 21 tentacles with gripping mouths on them! – can and should be terrifying in GURPS. Right now they can be somewhat meh.


I think that TG really shines for such critters. That ST 21 bite will do 2d CP right off the bat, and that tentacle with Constriction Attack will accumulate 4d CP with every attack (and it may well AoA(Double) for 8d CP each turn; an average of 28 CP per second), which is enough to hit the max CP threshold for most creatures. With the right skills, that is a huge amount of crushing damage every turn.

Anyway, the rules are a bit scattered for both RAW and TG; you have to look through three books (or at least two, Campaigns and Martial Arts, with the third being Characters) even in RAW.

Maybe something to add to +Mook Wilson‘s handy new GM Guide. Or volume 2 . . .



It’s generally found, I’ve noticed, that not too many people take the Evaluate maneuver in GURPS combat. At “only” +1 per turn, by and large it’s a less desirable option than whacking away at your foe with your weapon of choice. 

Since many fights seem to involve a lot of circling – which could be cascading Waits, could be Evaluates, likely a bit of both – but GURPS fights largely don’t, Evaluate gets left by the wayside.

I tried to rectify that somewhat in The Last Gasp, since taking Evaluate was tagged as a “Recovery Action,” something that gave you a bonus but also let you recover Action Points. 

Still, a recent discussion started by +Jason Packer made this assertion:

Assertion: The Evaluate maneuver is utterly useless if your skill exceeds that of your opponent, and is dubious at best if your skill exceeds 10. 

It spawned a healthy number of posts, and so today’s Melee Academy open panel was born. Many posted either on G+ or in the comments section of the announcement post, but I’ll summarize them here, plus throw down my own ideas.

In addition, dedicated posts were made by some of my fellow travelers:

Comments and G+ Posts.

So, here we go:

Entirely different way of going about it: allow combatants to take Enhanced Defenses, Extra Attack, Peripheral Vision, increased weapon skill or other appropriate Advantages with the modifier Requires Evaluate, which states that the advantage in question is only available if you’ve Evaluated as your most recent maneuver. To encourage Evaluating, make the modifier generous: Takes Extra Time is only worth -10%, but in these cases it’s probably worth -20% to -50%. How useful is Peripheral Vision if you can neither attack while using it nor gain the benefit out of combat (unless you’re wary enough to proceed down the hall at a stepping rate, which is… actually fairly realistic)? Not nearly as useful. The ability to effectively defend your own sides, or just defend better overall, while you accumulate an Evaluate bonus will make it appealing in situations where you’re against a better/many opponents.

Varyon

I like the idea of having certain abilities with Requires Evaluate (maybe even allow abilities that are more effective the longer you Evaluate). Some additional options:

  • When using The Last Gasp, ape a bit from All Out Defense and give Evaluate 1 free AP for making defenses.
  • When using Setup Attacks, on any successful defense against a Setup you get a bonus to your MoS equal to your current Evaluate bonus. This is really just an extension of the rules from MA100.
  • Allow combining Evaluate and Wait into a single maneuver – if your Wait can only be triggered by a specific target, and a full round passes without your Wait being triggered, the Wait is retroactively an Evaluate instead.
  • Allow Evaluate to accumulate up to a +5 bonus.
  • Allow Evaluate to negate at least some of the penalties of a Runaround Attack or similar.

+Dustin Tranberg

  • +1 on all attacks vs that foe until your next turn
  • +1 on defenses vs that foe until your next turn
  • Perception/Observation roll to notice something interesting about his/her style/gear/behavior 

My expectation is this would make Evaluate very popular for one-on-one duels, and not so much for melee free-for-alls.

+Joseph Mason

First, what is someone doing when they evaluate a target? Watching them closely, effectively “aiming” there weapon? If that were all, I almost feel that it would be easier to defend against… and we already have this effect with telegraphic attack.

If they are watching a foe, looking for an opening, what does that mean? Is an “opening” something that is easier to hit, or harder to defend against (or both)? And isn’t the latter is already handled better by deceptive attack or a feint?

I kinda feel like evaluate is a special form of “Wait”. Just the trigger is an “opening” which GURPS doesn’t currently have (to my knowledge) any mechanical definition of. One way to do this would be just get rid of Evaluate all together and give a +1 to hit per turn of Wait (max +3), till the wait is triggered. (Ranged 1-hex waits, already work this way IIRC).

Another option is to make Evaluate the inverse of a Feint. Have a (per-based?) melee combat skill vs enemy combat skill (to not be obvious?) and give the MoS as a bonus to hit on the following turn. My fear is that this would not help the low skill attacker that RAW Evaluate might currently be working for.

 +Cole Jenkins

  1. Combine Evaluate with Wait. Your triggered maneuver must be an Attack or All Out Attack on the evaluated foe but it gets the bonus from turns spent Evaluating.
  2. Instead of +1, the first turn gives you a training bonus based on your best melee or unarmed skill. This is analogous to the Acc. from an Aim. 
  3. The bonus also applies to your next active defense against that foe as well as your next attack. Or maybe half the bonus. 
  4. You may use the rules for contests of wills while also evaluating.

+Justin Aquino

my bit of  heresy – build it into Feint. Evaluate is an option instead of taking advantage of a successful feint. The idea is that evaluations happen while performing various routines to probe the opponent’s capabilities.  

When the players makes a Feint, his comparative margin of “success” is an unknown value (he could have even failed, GM may hint it went well or poorly – no exact values). Maybe the GM uses a face down playing card. The player has the option to take advantage of it as a feint or as an evaluate. He only knows when he decides on using it up as a penalty to defenses but not when he uses it as a bonus to the evaluate.  

The Information Asymmetry removes the Certainty the game has that is not found in most realistic combat. 

Ballistic’s Loaded Chamber


With all that input under the hood, I’m going to riff off of the work I did for Technical Grappling, plus a bit of a general rule that I think contains wisdom, but you be the judge:

  • Gamers like to roll dice.
  • GURPS has a perfectly good mechanism for resolving conflict already
  • Effect rolls are cool.

What should Evaluate be?


Pretty clearly, weapon skill should matter in spotting openings. And it’s a pretty good bet that spotting an opening involves Perception in some way.

I’m going to eschew the obvious and see where it takes us: I’m going to make it not a quick contest, but an an attack-style action.

Declare an Evaluate. Roll Per-based weapon skill as an attack. If your attack roll succeeds, you are, at the very least, at +1 to defend against your foe’s next attack (if he throws several blows, you only benefit on the first one). If you fail, you get no bonus. If you critically fail, your foe may defend as normal, but if he succeeds, he gets his margin of success as a bonus to his next attack. If you critically succeed, your foe gets no defense against your effect roll (below).

Your foe makes an active defense using his best weapon skill (much like a feint), or shield if it’s better. You may also roll 3+DX/2 if it’s better. Anything that adds to active defenses, such as Combat Reflexes (you’re an experienced fighter and good at hiding your motions) or even the DB of a cloak or shield (it hides your actions) also provides a bonus. This can include billowing robes or a hakama, if you believe the stories that it hides your footwork. Further, the GM may give a bonus equal to half the usual penalty given by Physiology Modifiers, p. B181 . . . but treat machines based on how similar they are to humans. A humanoid robot might be at +1 because it doesn’t have the usual tells, but still employs familiar guard stances. Something that looks like an Imperial Torture Droid or Lightsaber Drone would be “utterly alien” and get +3 to this roll.

If the defense works, then the attacker has managed to disguise his motions or otherwise hide what his intentions are.

I see no reason not to allow the usual “deceptive attack” type -2 to skill for every -1 to the foe’s defense.

If the Evaluate succeeds and your foe fails to disguise his intentions, you may make an effect roll. I’m going to say base it on Per-based Tactics (!), which in many cases will be Per-6 unless you’ve spent points. However, we’re going to used “Trained Tactics,” which gives a progression like that found in Technical Grappling as a bonus, and in kind to the ST bonuses you get for Wrestling. +1 at DX+1, +2 at DX+2, +3 at DX+4, +4 at DX+7, and an additional +1 for every 3 points of skill thereafter. Look up this number on the thrust column of the Damage Table (p. B16).

So warrior might be:

  • DX 12
  • Broadsword-14 (DX+2; +2 Training Bonus)
  • Per 12
  • Shield-12 (DX+0; no bonus; DB2 shield)
  • Per-based Tactics-10 (for one point)
  • Combat Reflexes for +1
  • Evaluate skill: Per-based weapon skill: Evaluate-14
  • Evaluate Defense: DX-based would be 12; Parry-based would be 13; Block-based is 12.
  • Effect roll: based on Tactics-10 plus the training bonus for his sword: Tactics(Per)-10+2, for 1d-1

Make your roll, and you get to roll and keep that as bonus points to spend against your foe. These points may be spent!

  • Spend 2 points for an extra +1 to defend against a foe’s attack (this adds to the basic +1 you get for making your Evaluate roll)
  • Spend 1 point for a +1 to strike your foe
  • Spend 1 point to cancel out accumulated points your foe may have on you

Repeated Evaluates may accumulate, but never more than the maximum possible roll. In the case of our example warrior above, he may never “bank” more than 5 bonus points.

Parting Shot

  • This visual probe and bonus might replace, to some extent, Feints – especially if the game also uses my Setup Attack option from Pyramid #3/52 (Delayed Gratification). 
  • Evaluate might make an interesting alternative to All-Out Defense in some cases. You can trade those points for bonuses to defense that can exceed those of AoD.
  • It’s easy to see how two evenly matched opponents might spend a few turns Evaluating and counter-Evaluating in order to avoid getting lopsided bonuses stacked against them.
  • There ought to be a way to combine this with a Wait; maybe treat it as a Telegraphic Rapid Evaluate (WTF?) and treat it as a -2 penalty to Evaluate roll, and your foe defends at +2, but you also enter a Wait state while you’re evaluating, and so can pre-empt your opponent’s move if your Wait is triggered. So it’s harder to pull off (because you’re telegraphic your evaluate, and Wait is always obvious), but if it works, you not only may preempt your foe’s move, you get bonus points to spend on your own attack before you spend them on his defense.
  • There’s a naked return to the “Tactics can be used in Personal Combat” flavor of the skill description, by using it as the basis for an effect roll. Joe Average has Per-based Tactics-4, which means that most often, you’ll have to wait six seconds for a measly +1. Assuming you can do it at all. But you do get that +1 to defenses, which might be worth it if you’re punching at DX, or using a weapon at default.

Bah! Bah! Too complicated!


Sure, it’s different. But I like attack and defense rolls, and I like effect rolls. Giving skill points to spend is novel, true, but I like how you can use it to help outguess your foe’s next move, either by allowing deceptive attacks or better defenses.

Characters who are serious about fighting might be Per-based Tactics of 14-16 and have training bonuses of +3 to +5 pretty easily. Such a beast, with an effect roll of 1d+2 to 2d, will do terrible things to foes if given a chance to stare them down. Pure weapon fighters, with high relative skill but not-great Tactics will be more usual, with +3 for Training Bonus (DX+4 skill) not uncommon, and Per-based tactics ranging from 4-6, making the effect roll based on about 1d-3 or 1d-2. Not huge, but not bad either (up to 3-4 points).

The other options that have been listed are good stuff. Christian’s Serendipity Engine is particularly cool, and the specificity of the opening, and the speed with which it’s generated, make for great flavor. It might even be possible to combine the two methods: roll randomly for what’s open and denied, but provide several options from which the player can choose to spend his bonus points.

I picked Tactics because of the phrasing about Personal Combat, and to prevent a typical warrior from being a death god just by being Johnny One-skill. Studying fight Tactics is worthwhile, and it might even be interesting to model “he fights by Tournament rules” as a big bonus to defend against Evaluates.

Anyway, I like the attack/defense roll as part of GURPS. And I like effect rolls. This is an attempt to force Evaluate into that mold as an alternative to the interesting options provided above.

Over on the forums, a poster was asking about single use versions of skill and asked about Break Free, as an action after a grapple. Naturally Technical Grappling came up, and aesir23 pointed out that Break Free was a technique that could be bought up with Technique Mastery.

Honestly, I’d forgotten about that.

But it’s true, and my reply engendered this thought: what is the best way to be a striker, but also shed grapples like a fiend?

The Basics


A couple things to think about here. How you fight, and what you have to be good at to get out of a grapple.


What kind of striker are you?


Obviously you have three options. Boxing, Brawling, and Karate. As +Sean Punch points out, the best way for a striker to shed a grapple is to not get grappled. This is simply a good Parry or Dodge, and includes hands-free counters to such moves, which are cool (TG, p. 22).

If you’re going to focus on getting out of grapples, though, there is Brawling, and then there’s Karate/Boxing. Brawling has a lot of grappling-oid stuff thrown in, and uses the Average progression for Trained ST; Karate and Boxing use the slow progressions. So Brawling is better for the sake of shedding grapples as a striker.

How to break a grapple?


Break Free in Technical Grappling (TG, p. 35) is no longer a contest of skill. Instead you attack the grapple itself, which requires a skill roll, penalized for being grappled, followed by an effect roll – basically a kind of roll for damage – which is also penalized for the quality of the grapple being maintained on you. 

All things being equal, though, you need to be both skilled and strong in order to break free. So as high a skill to get out as possible, and that skill is either DX or a “real” grappling skill. Then once you succeed in that skill roll, you need to have as high an effective ST as possible, to get the best possible effect roll.

The Cheat


OK, it’s not really a cheat. An Exploit, maybe. But one fully enabled by the rules – if you can convince your GM to do it.

The Combination of Awesome


The rules already endorse things like “Judo Throw defaults to Shield” or “Judo Throw defaults to Axe/Mace” as a Skill Adaptation perk, again if you can convince the GM it’s OK. The one you want here is “Break Free defaults to [My Striking Skill of Choice].”

Break Free, of course, is a kind of technique-that-isn’t, much like Judo Throw. it’s a skill that defaults to your DX or grappling skill, and can’t be increased beyond that skill . . . again, just like Judo Throw.

The trick comes in where you toss in another perk, this time Technique Mastery, which allows skills such as these to rise to up to Default+4.

The key, then, to shedding grapples with a one-skill wonder is to pay these 2 points, and then max out your Break Free technique for another 4 points. 

So now you’re at Striking Skill + 4 for the purposes of Breaking Free only. This will definitely impact your Trained ST.

Karate or Boxing


Let’s assume a reasonably competent warrior. We spend 30 points on ST 13, 40 points on DX 12, and score Karate-16 or Boxing-17 for another 20 points. Toss in 6 more for getting to skill+4 at Breaking Free and you’ve just sunk 96 points into ST, DX, and one skill. Of course, striker or grappler, you’re going to want ST even higher than that if you can afford it. But for the sake of this example, I’ve just burned nearly 100 points to create my one-skill wonder.

He’s got either

  • ST 13, DX 12, and Boxing-17 (DX+5), Break Free-21 (DX+9), or
  • ST 13, DX 12, and Karate-16 (DX+4), Break Free-20 (DX+8)

Karate


Let’s start with the more likely of the two for many games. The Karate Kid has ST 13, and well more than the Karate at DX+1 required to give him his +2 per die bonus to ST, yielding 1d+1 punching damage. Karate uses the slow progression, but his Break Free still gives +2 to Trained ST, yielding Trained ST 15 and 1d+1 CP removed on a successful Break Free. That’s not bad at all. The high base Karate skill gives Karate Parry-11, Parry-14 if you retreat, and no extra penalties vs. weapons, but you take penalties if you’re encumbered.

Boxing


Honestly, not much different than Karate. The Boxing Boy has ST 13, and also earns +2 per die bonus to damage, yielding 1d+1 punching damage but only 1d kicking. Boxing uses the slow progression, but his Break Free still gives +2 to Trained ST, yielding Trained ST 15 and 1d+1 CP removed on a successful Break Free. That’s not bad at all. The high base Boxing skill gives Boxing Parry-11, Parry-14 if you retreat. No encumbrance penalties (handy if you’re fighting in armor or just heavily laden), but penalties to defend against weapons or kicks. 

Brawling


Brawling is interesting because while it’s less “sophisticated” than the other striking skills, it’s an Easy skill, and also uses the Average progression. That same 20 points in Brawling gives Brawling-18 (DX+6) and Break Free-22 (DX+10). You punch and kick at +1 per die, which is a punch at 1d, but DX+10 on the Average progression is +4 to Trained ST, which is 1d+2 CP removed per successful attack.

Striking Summarized


All of these guys are one-trick grapplers, able to shed grapples with aplomb. They can absorb some pretty hefty DX penalties due to being grappled and still have a 16 net skill (handy for the 6 or less to critically hit). Even the Karate Kid can get hit with -4 to DX and do this, which is a fairly good initial grapple (the point being to shed them as soon as they’re applied). The Brawler can absorb that same -4 to DX and lay on a Deceptive Attack for -2 to hit, -1 to your foe’s defenses. Since your foe will need to do something like 8 CP to inflict this much of a penalty, which requires Trained ST of over 17 to even think about doing in one round, you will have a credible defense against that first grapple.

Limited, but very credible.

Real Grappling for Real Defense?


The other way to break out of a grapple is to actually have a grappling skill, of course. The best bets here are going to be Wrestling (good for locks and throws from locks, plus your basic grapple and takedown stuff), or the much ignored Sumo Wrestling.

The interesting thing about Sumo, of course, is that it’s primary bonuses are to slams and shoves . . . which are strikes, not grapples. That makes it an ideal pairing for a striking skill, and it also uses the fast progression for trained ST, which can add up darned quick.

Still, given “only” 26 points to spend between striking and Sumo . . . is it ever “better” to split your points?

Let’s see.

How Much Sumo?


Well, that will depend on the striking skill it’s paired with. Boxing and Karate both hit Trained ST 15 with the perks applied, and that requires DX+2 in Sumo, or Sumo-14, for 8 points. That leaves 18 for the main skill, which can only really use 16 of them. Boxing-16 or Karate 15. Toss in an extra point into the pool, and with Technique Mastery and Break Free at +2, you even get another point of Trained ST. 

So for 97 points, you can get

  • ST 13, DX 12, Sumo Wrestling-14, Break Free-16, Boxing-16. Trained ST 16, 1d+1 CP.
  • ST 13, DX 12, Sumo Wrestling-14, Break Free-16, Karate-15, Trained ST 16, 1d+1 CP.

Why would you ever do this? You’ve lost 5-6 points of the ability to break free!

I won’t argue dual-skill is better, but it certainly does give some options. For one, Sumo is a prime skill for takedowns, sweeps, shoves, and slams, all of which will be rolled considering Trained ST 16 and Sumo-14. That +2 Training Bonus adds to slam and shove damage too. It also gives an opening to grappling-based position changes, using your Trained ST to try an obtain a favorable arc within a grapple to strike (slither into your foe’s side arc, and nail him at -2 to defend etc.) – which requires a grappling skill. It also gives access to Escaping Parry at 8-, which isn’t great, but you can’t even try it with a striking skill. Likewise for Grabbing Parry, which would set up a Grab-and-Smash rather well, turning an excellent CP roll into an even higher striking damage roll. 

Finally, if you just need to grab someone, you’re not half-bad at it. Sumo Wrestling-14 and 1d+1 CP is nothing to sneeze at, and if bludgeoning someone into pudding isn’t a desired outcome (say, you’ll get arrested, or you’ve got an ally you need to subdue but not damage), your next best option after striking is . . . DX 12.

Parting Shot


If all you really care about is breaking free of a grapple, then the one-skill wonder is probably your best build. With Break Free at anywhere from 20-22, you’re very, very good at this, and if your striking parry fails, you will have a great chance of removing significant control each turn, though you can never really establish much on your own (DX 12, 1d CP instead of Sumo-14, 1d+1 CP).

The “balanced” build sacrifices a bit of striking (but not much; just a point) for a lower roll to Break Free, higher CP if you do break free, but a much more rounded set of combative options.

But Maybe Not


Skill Adaptation requires a lot of judgment, and allows taking some core moves and shifting skills with them. With Skill Adaptation (Break Free defaults to striking skill X), you’re basically saying “thanks to this perk, I have none of the usual weaknesses for being a striker.” It would be – and maybe should be – well within the GM’s perview to say “nope, nope, nuh-uh” and just declare that you can’t have this. 

Another way to go is to require this perk more than once, and limit it to specific moves, under the model of Clinch (Martial Arts, p. 51). This allows grapples, but only of the head, neck, or torso of a standing opponent. 

So it would be pretty reasonable to have strikers be good at breaking certain kinds of grapples. Say, you can only use it once on initial contact – sort of an extended version of a parry/sprawl defense. It would be reasonable to be very good at, for example, breaking free of a clinch.

That being said, it would also be kosher to say that your attempts to break free of grapples represent strikes with the elbows, knees, and head that loosen the foe’s grip. Not enough to cause damage, but not requiring a whole body of skill to do it.

Technique Mastery is a definite border case. It’s allowed right there in the rules for Judo Throw – which is so close to the forbidden “core use of the skill” that it’s questionable in its own right. +Peter V. Dell’Orto points out that unlike the Perks version of this ability, it calls out that the technique you’re mastering requires that you “specialize in a technique – commonly a kick or throw – that’s part of your style and appears in Chapter 3 (the GM may make exceptions).”

The fact that Break Free defaults to DX or skill and can’t be improved beyond skill would seem to indicate that it’s in that restricted category . . . but Judo Throw is the same way.

Ultimately, though, what this perk does if you allow it is for five points, you can ignore up to -4 to DX from grapples before you suffer ill effects for applying your ST to get out . . . but note that your ST is still affected by the control points. If you’ve got 8 CP applied to you, you’re usually -4 to ST and DX. This will leave your Break Free at full skill, but you’re still -4 to ST, which is -2 to Control Point rolls. 

That ability to apply full DX against a foe that’s grappling you is somewhat worrisome, though, and did not enter the discussion during playtest (I checked).

In retrospect, I might disallow Technique Mastery on any ability that is so core that it’s usually “defaults to skill, can’t be improved beyond skill.” That includes Judo Throw, Break Free, punching (but not kicking), and Bear Hug, 

Change Position (TG, p. 35) and Force Posture Change (p. 35) would seem to qualify, but they always take penalties due to what you’re doing, and buying off penalties (but still not exceeding base skill) would seem OK here.

The Sprawling Parry would also seem to qualify, but it also seems to me very much like something you can practice. The fact that it defaults to parry at no penalty is likely due to the fact that you’re giving up a lot with the posture change, which is a form of built-in retreat. So I’d allow this one.

Ultimately, as mentioned before, this provides a ludicrously easy way to avoid a core weakness of being a one-trick pony. All strikers would be fools not to take it, which means it’s likely a crock that shouldn’t be allowed. 

That’s not where I thought I’d wind up with this one, but chatting with Peter has convinced me of the truth of it.

I hope that Melee Academy attracted lots of posts today, and so I’ll list them first.

Melee Academy: Dealing With Superior Foes (Dungeon Fantastic)

Melee Academy: Outgunned, Outmanned, and Outmaneuvered – Now What? (Ravens ‘N Pennies)

Next Academy: PCs against really bad odds. (Virtual Table Topping)

Melee Academy: Hero System Style (RPG Snob)

TL;DR


Today’s Melee Academy is about fighting superior forces, and how to pull it off.

It’s possible to sum this up quickly, I suppose. With truisms (no less true for being simple) like “run away!” or “Don’t fight them at all” or “gank ’em from behind” or “engage in asymmetric warfare, pitting your strengths against their weaknesses.”

All true.

Never engage in a “fair” fight if you can help it. Hit ’em all at once, and from behind if your game of choice has facing. Make sure they can’t hit you if you can.

Surprise! You suck!


Still, it bears breaking down a bit more than that, and taking a bit of a tour. One thing to consider is whether you knew you were outclassed from the get-go, or stumbled into it with a painful “snickt.”

If you knew ahead of time, then you’d best have planned ahead, studied your foe, and cataloged known and probably weaknesses, as well as strengths to avoid facing directly.

If you find yourself outclassed by surprise (“Who knew this foppish innkeeper was a Level 20 Warrior/Bard? He hit Gromlik really really hard. Did you see his head bounce off that stone wall?”), then you may be set up for some painful (and potentially fatal) object lessons. Learn quickly, and react even faster.

Consider your Inferiority in Detail

There are lots of ways to be inferior. Stepping back to my imperfectly remembered D&D days, or even better, yanking off the Pathfinder book from my shelf, what might happen if Pelagiyel, my old 6th Level Rogue, happened to really irk, say, 15th level fighter?

Well, Ms Fighter (let’s call her Nonac, in honor of +Kenneth Hite‘s nairabrab warrior) might be sporting STR 18, DEX 16, CON 14 even without magic. That puts her in full plate with AC 22 and a two-handed weapon. Those with more experience than I have tell me that she can do three attacks at 1d12+24 each, plus more with cleave feats, or one big one at 3d12+27, and that with a +1 Greataxe. That’s 46 for the single hit, to about 90 damage for the triple. And with a Basic Attack Bonus of +15 for level, +4 for STR, +4 more for specializing in Greataxe, +1 for magic, that’s a minimum of +24 on the first shot, and +14 on the last. Minimum. I know I’m missing ancillary +1s, too, so I’m guessing that Pel has a 90-100% chance of taking enough damage in one attack by this guy to kill him deader than hell.

Pel might get one shot, at about a 25% hit probability, and if he’s lucky will do 7 HP of damage, or 21 if he crits. Even on a surprise attack to the back from point-blank range using Deadly Aim and Point Blank Shot with Rapid Shot, he probably can’t eke out more than 50% of his foe’s HP in one turn. Assuming he hits and crits twice.

Meanwhile, Nonac can Cuisinart poor Pel into the next dimension probably without resorting to using any feats, which of course he would do, if nothing else than to put this upstart wannabe Rogue in his proper place (which would be in hell, a point we covered nicely already). I’m reliably told that Feats are the real damage source for high level fighters.

This is a situation where your foes are, well and truly, just better than you. While there might be a way for Pel to score a victory, I strongly suspect it will be a moral one. Say, taunting the fighter from high atop a castle wall. Even so,

I’m sure if I get that wrong, helpful advice will follow shortly!

(And in fact, check out Valeros, the 12th level iconic fighter from the game. He’s even more impressive than I show above.) For a more experienced victim, look at Merisiel, the 7th level iconic Rogue.

What if you aren’t totally outclassed


Perhaps there can be more nuance to it. While I’m sure Pathfinder can have plenty of nuance, I’m not expert with it. I’ll stick to something I know better for this: GURPS.

There are many ways that you can be outclassed, so let’s cover some of them.

He has more skill than you (on the attack)


In GURPS, skill comes with a lot of benefits. Obviously, it means he can hit you easily. It also means that he can beat your defenses by virtue of deceptive attacks if he’s pretty good and you are adequate, or if you’re awesome and he’s godlike. As an example, my old Warrior Saint Cadmus had something like Axe/Mace-20. Not too shabby, and it gives him a base Parry-13. (Plus bonuses from Combat Reflexes and defensive bonuses from shields put him at Parry-17).

So he’s good. But what if his foe is better? Two-Handed Sword-30, for example, with a native Parry-18 as well. He can swing for the neck (-5) and do a deceptive attack at -10 (-5 to Cadmus’ defenses) and still net Sword-15 against Parry-12. Against someone with lower skill and worse armor (maybe Sword-16 and a +2 DB shield, plus CR to be nice) the native Parry-14 is all of a sudden Parry-9, which is going to hurt.

The way to beat this one is to try and see to it that either he can’t hit you (get him from range with a spear or bow), or it doesn’t matter if he does hit you, such as with enough DR to simply sit there and take it. Beware this strategy against real foes in high-end games like Dungeon Fantasy, though – Camus has DR 12 and has been tagged through it before!

He can splatter you like a water balloon


A foe swinging a big weapon, or one that if he hits you can kill you dead, needs to be dealt with from range, or non-physically. A parry might break your weapon. A failed Dodge is the end of you. Keep your distance, and bring friends to attack from behind.

You can’t punch through his armor


Victory isn’t always death. Can you grapple him or entangle him so that he can’t use his weapons or attacks? Are there chinks in his armor that you can punch through (there may not be). Are there attacks you can throw that take away this advantage, like Corrosive attacks?

What about that ‘take his advantages’ thing?


Absolutely. Disarming a foe is often rather useful; some are one-trick ponies. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have been rediscovering the folly of weapon fighters who don’t know how to grapple, and a weapon fighter, taken down and put in a joint lock, usually will break as fast as the next guy.

Bring friends. Lots of friends.


Even superior defenses can be swamped (in GURPS). Many attacks that can’t be ignored will eventually bring things down to the point where Dodge is your only option. With enough room to maneuver, getting behind your foe makes it impossible for a foe to defend, or even know an attack is coming.

Using Feints, Beats, or (even better) Setup Attacks (from Delayed Gratification, Pyramid #3/52) to open up your foe for a neighbor’s attack. A perk or power-up that transfers the full benefits of a Setup Attack to both you and your friend (say, Teamwork (Setup Attack)) would be a big help here.

Exhaustion is your Friend


If you’re using Action Points (The Last Gasp, Pyramid #3/44) you can follow a strategy of wearing your foe out (if you have higher HT and Action Points than he does) by swamping him with blows that he might be able to defend against, but has to expend resources to do so.

If you have Fatigue Point based attacks, so much the better! Many critters that can’t be hurt directly can still be laid low, or even killed, through making them so tired that they either pass out (at which point their ability to attack and defend is rather moot), or they actually take HP of damage and you exhaust them to death.

Deny them Perception


One way to equalize the odds, to an extent, is to remove their ability to see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense you. Darkness, fog, blinding lights, shrieking noise or explosions can disorient and stun.

Stunning Victory


Speaking of stun, a stunned foe is -4 to defend, and also can’t attack you. Canonically, I think they drop a grapple too.

Parting Shot


Clearly, all of this comes back to the TL;DR part above. Hit them where they can’t defend. Don’t get hit yourself. Drop mountains on their head and don’t engage at all. Run away. Shoot ’em in the back if you can from range, or stab ’em there from surprise while distracting them from the front.

The key is to figure out what their weaknesses are, and attack them. Avoid their strengths. If you want real-world examples, well, we have a couple raging insurgencies right now. Look at any guerrilla war for examples, and look at how a team of six heroes, like Navy SEALS or SFOD-D soldiers, can wreak bloody havoc on a foe much larger (though of course, individually, far less skilled).

And finally, don’t fight a physical foe if you can challenge them mentally. Put ’em to sleep, mesmerize them, mind control them, distract them with the illusion and pheremones of a Monster of the Chosen Gender.

You can’t always run away. But you can try and not be an idiot and bring a knife to a gunfight.

The topic for the Feb 6 Melee Academy is “fighting people better than you.”

Got advice for Pathfinder? GUMSHOE? FATE? Have at it, just define all terms for those who might not be that familiar, and throw down how to go after bad guys who one on one can kick your butt.
Bring friends?
Attack from stealth?
Nuke ’em from orbit?
Taunt them a second time?
I don’t know . . . you tell me.