The topic for the Feb 6 Melee Academy is “fighting people better than you.”
The topic for Melee Academy for Feb 6, 2014 will be
This started life as a not-quite joke between me and +Peter V. Dell’Orto, where we were going to talk about how to use fodder-level creatures to attempt to threaten DF-level characters and parties. He then suggested we look at it from both directions, a general discussion on how to pose a credible threat (either as a GM or player) to foes who are, well, Just Damn Better Than You.
Please think about it, and join us in posting about it on Feb 6. All systems – not just GURPS – are welcome!
Some of the regular GURPS bloggers and I have been doing more-or-less monthly features that highlight certain aspects of GURPS.
The first was called Melee Academy (click for the master link list). It was a bunch of article on fighting and fight tactics, with a focus on melee/fantasy combat.
Have you checked them out lately? If so, what are we missing?
However, and this is key: we write this stuff because we know each other, we like the system, and whatnot.
That being said: we’re far from the only ones who play GURPS, nor are we the only ones with stuff to say on the topic.
So this is an open invitation. Have you written, or seen, a good blog post that would fit into one of these categories? Yes? Let me know! If it’s yours, just hit me up with the link and note you’d like it to be hosted on one of the two pages.
GURPS 101 is designed to be introductory notes concerning everything but fighting with muscle-powered weapons. The topics can be as basic (the articles on ST and HP and the forthcoming ones on the basic stats) or advanced (“Remedial” Ritual Path Magic) as you like.
Melee Academy is all about skills, tactics, weapons, and armor in hand fighting in GURPS. While it will tend to be, I think, focused on TL0-4, there’s no reason it needs to stay that way. One thing to not do here is stuff on guns and blasters. If we start to see another good chunk of these crop up, I’ll go ahead and create
The Firing Range: how-to and how-not-to content about firearms and ultra-tech weapons for ranged combat. Lightsabers would go in Melee Academy. But again, skills, tactics, weapons and armor, talking about firearms and their higher technology brethren.
Also, if articles overlap between Melee Academy and The Grappling Mat, that’s cool. I’ll link through twice.
So . . . any suggestions or additions? Please, do pile on!
The Fine Print: There will be a bit of a screening process, though. I will likely shy away from “GURPS is broken” posts, and I’m going to focus the content on Rules-as-Published, which means if you’ve got an awesome alternate weapon skill system with a linked damage progression, that’s great, but it’s not Melee Academy or GURPS 101 (house rules are at least GURPS 201, possibly GURPS 404, that course that you tack on the last half of your senior year).
In Pyramid #3/61: The Way of the Warrior, we see a very, very focused set of articles: six articles plus +Steven Marsh‘s intro and Random Thought Table, contributed by five authors . . . and the lead article was co-authored!
That being said, this one was interesting. “How about a theme issue,” said Steven. BAM! And stuff rolled in. Lots and lots of it. The fact that we have two Martial Arts Designer’s Notes articles in here – long ones – only highlights the fun that is the other six.
This is the second issue I’ve done an article-by-article review on, and yes, that might have something to do with my having two pieces in it. Still, it’s very good, and very on-topic for me. So, here we go.
You can find my commentary on the first article, More Power to Dungeon Warriors, in the previous post.
Takedown Sequences ( +Douglas Cole )
Fortunately for me as an author, but unfortunately for me as a reviewer, I’ve got two articles in #3/61. Both are basically about GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling.
moves in GURPS, using Technical Grappling. Four sequences are presented, all starting standing and ending up in an advantaged position on the ground.
used in a BOX to highlight a new kind of combination, in this case called a Positioning Move. The combo allows moves that are usually done as one huge transition – and restricted to Posture and Position changes in various flavors – to be bought up as a Technique. GMs, as always, have final approval, and each move must be explicit. Still, it’s an interesting way to take moves that are usually done all at once and represent and execute them in one roll.
In +Christian Blouin‘s campaign they’re using Technical Grappling (which is now over 250 sales!) and this seems to lead to more attempts to do grappling-related things. I consider this a win.
One thing that came up during play was Drolf, +Justin Aquino‘s character whom I was driving for the day, was going to run by an orc, dumping him onto the ground as he did.
We debated between Hook and Sweep very briefly, but were all inclined to sweep. Still, I’ve been thinking about sweeps vs. takedowns (in TG, Force Posture Change) a bit.
Let’s step on to the Grappling Mat for some guidance:
Skill-3, Wrestling at -4 was added as a “new basic attack.”
You roll to hit with Sweep, and if successful, you roll a Quick Contest Sweep or Trained ST vs his own Trained ST, DX, Acrobatics, or best grappling skill.
If you hit, he fails to defend, and you win the contest, he falls prone. You can’t change your posture to get bonuses.
The rules are the same if you start from a grapple, but you still can’t leverage posture changes. A grapple isn’t required, though, and if you sweep someone from a grapple, the assumption is you may not retain CP (p. 19 in the Takedown Table).
Force Posture Change/Takedown
A takedown in this manner requires a grapple. It’s also a contest that is basically even up: both parties’ Trained ST, DX, or best unarmed grappling skill. However, you take penalties based on what you want to do to them, and what you do.
Throw him prone, but stay standing yourself? You’re at -4, similar to a Sweep with Wrestling. Go all the way down with him, going prone yourself? You’re even-up.
You can maintain CP during this move unless you run into impossible positions (p. 11).
You do a sweep when you want to remain standing, and want to put your foe on the ground without grappling him first.
If you have high Trained ST as your forte, you’ll roll against that in both contests, so you’d only do FPC if you really want to (a) retain CP or (b) change posture with your foe. By the way, the easiest way to retain CP while remaining standing is to ensure you have a grapple of a limb – this is commonly taught in my HRD class, and you can maintain that grapple from standing or (more likely) a crouch position.
Sweeps are really sweet when moving through a target, or if you really need that mobility. The fact that they default from weapon skill at -3 also means for warriors that have sky-high melee weapon skills (and maybe ST) but not a lot of unarmed grappling oomph they can put a guy on the ground at a decent clip. A DF character with ST 14 and (say) Melee Weapon at 20 will Sweep at 17 and have a Trained ST of 15 which isn’t too shabby.
Welcome to the August installment of Melee Academy, which as always is a fine way to celebrate the fact that Thursday is GURPS-Day.
Today’s topic was inspired by a pretty long forum thread on using reach weapons, and the impact of the Wait maneuver providing what seemed to be a sure-fire way of closing to combat range with a Reach 1 weapon. We’ll assume for the same of simplicity that Fighter 1 has a Reach 1 weapon, a broadsword, axe, or something similar, and Fighter 2 is wielding a Reach 2 weapon, usually conceived as a spear (with a thrusting mode only for imp damage, a tip slash for a small amount of cutting damage, or using the butt to smash). However, it could just as easily be a naginata (sw cut) or dueling halberd (many effective modes) or other polearm, which could conceivably have swing or thrust modes that do impaling, cutting, or crushing damage.
Still, the principles here probably can be said to apply to any reach discrepancy, whether it be our Reach 1 vs. Reach 2 (or likely 1,2) example above, but could also apply to a punch (Reach C) vs kick (Reach C,1) fight.
But before we get into that, what are the sources of reach advantage?
Weapon: The easiest way to get a longer reach is (obviously) to pick up a long weapon. Spears, polearms, some longer swords, two-handed axes and flails, and the ever popular staff all have at least Reach 2, and some are even Reach 2,3. Some pikes can be Reach 6, but those are not exactly practical adventurer-level gear.
Maneuvers: There are a few different ways of picking up an extra hex of Reach above and beyond the natural one for your weapon of choice.
All-Out Attack (Long) gives you a flat-out extra yard of reach, at the low-low cost of all ability to defend. The possibly suicidal nature of All-Out Anything has been discussed before!
Committed Attack is an interesting one, since it allows an extra step, which can explicitly be used to step into range, and then step out (called in the text ‘attack and fly out’). The trick to watch for here is that your defensive option are quite limited. To quote the text:
The attacker cannot parry with the hand(s) he used to attack, block if he attacked with his shield or cloak, or dodge if he kicked. He can use any other defense, but at -2. He cannot retreat.
So when doing this, you really need to be a bit careful, since if you declare Committed Attack and then press into someone’s Wait, you have precluded, by maneuver selection, a retreat.
Many interesting but frequently futile discussions arise when conducting thought experiments that feature two fighters on an infinite featureless plain. In our case the forum thread pointed out that if Reach 2 decides to be aggressive and attacks into Reach 1’s Wait by closing to a two-yard distance (optimum striking range for his pole weapon), Reach 1 can have his Wait trigger on Reach 2’s step, which means he can step instantly to a 1-yard distance, and attack Reach 2 first, seemingly bypassing Reach 2’s spear. Just like magic.
As Peter points out, and as +Sean Punch noted in two replies, this is somewhat reflective of the spearman being aggressive. He’s not taking the right steps that can guarantee him the first shot – largely using the Wait himself.
Who’s waiting for Godot?
For the consideration of reach, there are really four situations that can be dealt with here, looking at two combatants, flat featureless terrain. So, with that:
This one can be not terribly interesting, in a way. Both fighters are effectively immobile, unless one or both of the house-rule Step-and-Wait, or even Wait-and-Step are available. This can last a long time- effectively forever, unless some external factor pushes the decision. The Step-and-Wait / Wait-and-Step might trigger cascading waits (Martial Arts, p. 108).
Now, the Cascading Waits situation is interesting, because it largely means the more skilled fighter wins, with Reach breaking ties according to A Matter of Inches (Martial Arts, p. 110, in the box).
But there really isn’t – and frankly, I don’t think there should be – a way for the spearman to enter into a Wait (meaning it triggers) and automatically defeat the Waiting guy.
The Wait-and Step is an interesting option, basically invoking Cascading Waits any time the entering character wants. That’s cheesy, so perhaps you shoud treat that as sort of a Committed Wait, where you take -2 in the Contest to see whose Wait triggers first, and/or suffer some of the penalties associated with a Committed Attack.
Reach 2 is Waiting
Nightmare for Reach 1, and this is the way most people figure this should work anyway. The guy with the long weapon Waits until Reach 1 steps to three yards away, then Reach 2 steps and attacks. This is a nice place to use “attack and fly out,” since it puts you back to 3 hexes distance, and Reach 1 has already used his step – he may have even retreated back to Reach 4! He’s going to have to do something desperate to get inside of you – possibly a Move and Attack (max skill capped at 9) or if allowed, Heroic Charge, which still must deal with the spearman’s Wait, but if he lives, can close the distance perhaps to strike.
Reach 1 is Waiting
This is the case that bugs people where Reach 2 guy has a hard time stepping into attack range (2 hexes) without triggering Reach 1’s wait. Of course, Reach 2 gets to defend, so proper investment in Grip Mastery and/or Form Mastery, to allow claiming that +2 to Parry for using a spear like a staff helps a lot. You can use All-Out Attack (Long) to jab at your foe from a distance that he can’t reach, but it sets you up, if you fail, to receive a pretty ugly Heroic Charge or even just a Committed Attack with two steps, which will close from Reach 3 to Reach 1 to split your skull.
Neither is Waiting
Well, you don’t have to worry about triggering a Wait, so Reach 2 will want to use Attack and Fly Out a lot, to step to Reach 2, attack, and then back off to Reach 3. That forces Reach 1 to also use a Committed Attack (two steps) or All-Out Attack (Long) himself, if he doesn’t resort to Heroic Charge or the skill-capped Move and Attack. All-Out Attack will also close the distance up to half move, but we’ve already discussed why that’s a bad idea.
For the Reach 1 guy, if he’s not entering into a Wait, he’s still going to need a way to deal with moving through the threatened area, which really is the multiple-step options above, Committed Attack being the go-to here.
The infinite featureless plain with only two combatants on it? Yeah, that doesn’t happen much. The reason why some of the Wait strategies make a lot more sense in a more real environment is that all of these individual combatants are really worried about the random arrow from the small cluster of orcs downrange, or the other skirmisher running around trying to flank them. Once that wait is triggered, for example, the guy can act . . . but what if he runs into another spearman who is also Waiting, with a longer weapon, protecting his brother? Alternating who Waits and who advances might be one way of dealing with the Reach 1 guy with the uncanny ability to bypass the spear tip.
Mark lays out all of this and more in his post, where the more friends, the merrier, and he really gets into stacking the deck to the point where the Reach 2 guys are not foolish to All-Out Whatever.
Having a long weapon can be a real advantage. But it’s sort of the equivalent of a minor attack or defense bonus. It’s not the decisive fight-ending aspect, and one has to be tactically wise in how it’s used in order to keep it in the “win” column. Especially when certain weapons are awkward to use at Reach 1 (long weapons in Close Combat can get tricky, as well), some tactical effort and ideally, help from friends is a good idea. Aggressively closing the distance is not a good way for the spearman to preserve a reach advantage! Further, having a long weapon is no guarantee that a shorter-weapon guy can’t get inside your guard.
The “good” news is that Waits are obvious. So you should never be surprised when you step into range and short-weapon-guy’s Wait gets triggered. You know it’s coming, and you also know that he can close two hexes of Reach or take two steps with the right choice of maneuver. If you approach with a Reach 1,2 weapon to a Waiting foe at that distance, well, you know what you’re getting into.
Another trick here is to make that attack against you that you know he’ll get into something a bit less serious. Employ a Defensive Feint on approach (Martial Arts, p. 101), lower his attack roll, then step into range. His attack is more likely to miss, making your reduced defenses from an Attack and Fly Out less severe. Using a Setup Attack of some sort (Defensive Setup Attack?) might be an interesting option as well, but would require further house rules.
Though the title is Melee Academy, being able to do harm at a distance is important in many genres. However, up until the invention of the windlass, cranequin, gunpowder, and fast-discharge supercapacitor, what you’re really doing is finding ways of translating your strength into injury.
Also on Melee Academy, Ranged Edition:
Peter Dell’Orto talks about Hitting the Wrong Target at Dungeon Fantastic
Mark Langsdorf Enters a Room over at No School Grognard
Christopher Rice will be talking Ritual Path Magic at Ravens N’ Pennies
For today’s Melee Academy, I thought I’d do weapon basics using only the GURPS Basic Set and segue a bit into Low-Tech, though I’ll predict that very little of substance, rather than variety, can be done.
A lot of the Melee Academy posts play in the Dungeon Fantasy space – 250 or so points. I’m going to restrict myself to about 150 points with about 40 points in Disadvantages and Quirks (about 25% of the starting total). In fact, I’ll mostly consider something like:
ST 13 ; DX 12 ; IQ 11 ; HT 12 
HP 13; Will 12 ; Per 12 ; FP 12
Basic Lift 34; Damage 1d/2d-1
Basic Speed 6; Basic Move 6; Ground Move 6; Water Move 1
Combat Reflexes 
Enhanced Dodge (1) 
Disadvantages [-35]; Quirks [-5]
Axe/Mace (A) DX+1 -12; Bow (A) DX+4 -16; Climbing (A) DX-1  -11; Fast-Draw (Arrow) (E) DX+2* -14; Fast-Talk (A) IQ-1 -10; First Aid/TL3 (Human) (E) IQ+0 -11; Hiking (A) HT+0 - 12; Naturalist (Earth) (H) IQ-2 -9; Observation (A) Per+0 -12; Running (A) HT-1 -11; Stealth (A) DX-1 -11; Swimming (E) HT+0 - 12; Tracking (A) Per+0 - 12; Wrestling (A) DX+0 - 12.
This clearly isn’t the only or the best 150-point ranged weapons guy. In fact, there are lots of things you could choose to do otherwise. But I wanted to give an example with most of the skills GURPS Line Editor and long-time player +Sean Punch and GM recommends as Adventuring Basics. And I wanted sufficient goodness in basic stats to account for things like Per and Will being things you may need to roll against, a decent Move and Encumbrance, and enough ST and DX to be considered a well-rounded party member who has a chance to actually injure foes.
More on that later.
Still, you can see that the perhaps archetypical ranged weapon type, the archer, has Bow-16. Given my previous writings on the subject, that’s probably about where you’d want to be.
Of course, lose the +1 to Dodge and you can be Bow-19 and still have three points to spare. You can also ditch Combat Reflexes and Fit in favor of, say, Heroic Archer if your GM allows it. Infinite options, but that awesome Bow skill comes at the cost of being good at anything else. Because drawing out ammo and loading the bow are a combination of Fast-Draw and Bow skills, you’ll want decent levels of both.
And you need that skill, if you’re shooting a bow. Remember, with Bow-16, without aiming you can only hit the vitals 50% of the time with your foe at 7 yards. Almost certainly, then, if you want to hit to anything like distance, you need to compromise your versatility as above, or accept limitations on what you can do. Ranged attacks pile up penalties faster than anything else in GURPS.
Basic Principles of Mail-order Pain
The first one is, what’s your schtick? Are you a dedicated ranged weapons guy? That means you’re going to need a weapon that fires ammunition, or for which you can carry a sufficient number to make it through a combat and then recover them afterwards.
Are you using ranged weapons as an entry into melee? In that case, you have less to worry about in terms of lather, rinse, repeat, which is good. But that also means you’re going to be blowing your cash on defenses and offenses for melee, so you might not be that good at your weapon.
Bring the Hurt
There are two basic choices when it comes to ranged weapons. Those that do swing damage, and those that do thrust. From the Basic Set, here are the weapon classes. A typical value for 1/2D range as a multiple of ST is given as well in parentheses.
Thrust-based Ranged Weapons: Bolas (x3), Bows (x15), Crossbows (x20), Harpoons (x1), Knives (x0.5), Shuriken (x0.5), and Spears (x1).
Swing-based Ranged Weapons: Slings (x12 with bullets!), Atlatls (x2), and Axes and Maces (x1).
The blowpipe is the odd man out. It’s damage is fixed. Other oddities include lassos and nets, whose purpose is more grappling than injury.
There are, perhaps oddly, no real trends here. For weapons that use ammo (slings and bows/crossbows) at ST 13 without perks like Strongbow (which you should totally take, along with Arm ST 2, if you can free up 11 points) you’re looking at 1d+1 imp to 195 yards with a regular bow, and 2d pi to 156 yards with a sling.
Of course and again: unless you are taking many seconds to Aim, your practical range limit to the torso for many of these weapons will be less than 100 yards, often much less.
What’s Not Worth It?
For the dedicated ranged guy, where you intend to stay at range, certain things are totally not worth it. Bolas are only cool for the optional grapple. Knives and shuriken are neat tricks, but with paltry damage and range, are for show, not for real. Most of the rest – other than bows, crossbows, slings, and atlatls with darts – are too heavy to consider carrying more than a few of them. Five throwing hatchets weigh 10 lbs., and can only reach to 20 or so yards at 1/2D . . . though you’ll be doing 2d-1 cut for each, which will punch through DR 4 mail and do 3 injury or more 50% of the time.
What IS Worth it?
And that’s really the trick of it when bows are concerned. If you can afford the $900 it takes to buy a composite bow, you can do 1d+3 imp, which will punch through that DR 4 85% of the time, and on an average hit will do 4-6 injury. You can also target the vitals, which pushes that to 6-9 injury (but you need the skill for it).
The other real runner up is the sling, which ramps up with your ST faster than bows. ST 13 with lead bullets is 2d pi compared to a regular bow’s 1d+2 imp, but ST 19 is a thunderous 3d+2 pi, compared to 2d+1 imp. Against unarmored folks, for average ST and higher, the imp damage type wins. For our test character of ST 13 through ST 15, the sling has a very minor injury advantage over the bow at DR5+ (both top out and do basically nothing at DR 6+).
One interesting thing about a sling: the damage really is ST-based, rather than the ST of the bow. All-Out Attack (Strong) for +1 per die or +2 damage might be available for slings (I’d allow it).
I think these two are a wash, though the availability of multiple arrow types (such as the (2) pi bodkin, as well as cutting arrows) probably edge the general win to the bow. Not by a lot, though.
Now, on the “fire and forget” end, you have some interesting choices, one of which is an atlatl throwing javelins. It hits 1/2D at 26 yds, but even at ST 13 does 2d imp at that range. All the awesomeness of the imp damage type, with the penetration of a .45 ACP. A particularly strong specimen, such as ST 17, is doing 3d imp, which is equivalent to a ST 21 crossbow (though much lower range).
Another interesting choice is the 4-lb. throwing axe. Thrown or swung in-hand, it does sw+2 cut, or 2d+1 cut for ST 13. You probably can’t carry very many, but you can wield one in each hand, chuck one, and continue. Range is less than 15 yards, which likely gives you one hit, then you’re in melee. But that first hit will do 6 injury through DR 4 mail, and probably push the recipient to All-Out Defense his next turn.
+Rob Conley reminds me in the comments section that the classic fire-and-forget tactic is the Really High ST Crossbow. It might take nine years to reload, but at thr+4, a ST 21+ crossbow is nasty. It’ll do 3d or more equivalent impaling damage, and can target the vitals. It’s an Easy skill, which means you can literally hit from 50% farther away right off the bat, and it has a higher Aim stat than any other basic ranged weapon. He calls it the Knight Killer, and he’s right. This is a weapon you give to a whole line of melee-ready friends, fire off one volley, then charge in. But that volley can be incredibly dangerous vs. any creature vulnerable to impaling damage.
Really, you’re going to want to be hiding behind someone here. Ideally a lot of someones, with Shield Wall training and Sacrificial Block. Your own #1 worry is other ranged types for the first instance, and a clear field of running that a Dodge Monkey can exploit to close within your effective range. While DF Heroic Archers can do melee combat with their bows, most real-world specimens cannot do this. So unless you’re a spear or axe guy throwing spears or axes, you’re going to lose your primary attack mode unless you are kept safe.
If you’re a 150-point character, you might look into hiring a Guard template from Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen (p. 21) with Sacrificial Block and Shield Wall Training, and (say) Spear and Shield modified to give Spear-11 but Shield-14. That will give you someone with Large Shield (DB+3) who has Block-13 and a Reach 1,2 weapon to help deter pesky melee types.
Finally, you may want to just realize that most of your fighting will be at 30 yards and less. So plan on a maximum of -7 due to range (but try and keep at least 15 yards, or -5, so you have time to run the hell away if someone starts to chase you down) and offset that with Aim if you can.
Rapid Fire specialists are expensive, though. If you need to eat a -7 from range, -3 for vitals, and -3 for Quick-Shooting (and have bought Heroic Archer, Weapon Master, or TBaM to halve that -6 to -3), and still want a 90% chance to hit, you’re looking at needing an effective Bow-27 to pull that off. Yow.
A “normal” ranged weapon specialist is a hard niche to fill in GURPS at low point values. You tend to be quite the specialist, though with clever choices you can be a very, very good specialist. You’ll want to discuss this with your fellow players, though – one of the ways to get to the kind of skill (Bow-18 and higher, for example) you need to be effective, often, at decent range is to give up nearly everything else.
In practice, you will be shooting infrequently, so you’ll want to make those hits count. Otherwise, go the other way, and grab enough skill to use a heavy thrown or launched weapon that does swing damage a few times, then charge into melee.
Here was a bit cut out of the upcoming GURPS: Technical Grappling. There are several reasons.
- It’s a grappling book, not a striking book
- I was using Size Modifier as a direct proxy for height. That’s wrong.
- First See Rule #1.
I’m taking the really useful and fun stuff being written for Melee Academy, as well as other good posts that come my way, and collecting them under a separate page: Melee Academy.
Watch this page for new stuff that helps get people’s arms wrapped around fightin’ in GURPS, and if you see something on another page that belongs here, let me know and I’ll add it!
Right now I’ve got material from Gaming Ballistic, Dungeon Fantastic. RPG Snob, No School Grognard, and Orbs and Balrogs. I’m happy to add any relevant material as long as it gives tactical and skills related advice for combat in GURPS!