I’ve got another article in this month’s Pyramid magazine. Called “Dodge This,” it was the result of a long series of discussions between me and +Peter V. Dell’Orto about dodging firearms and bullets. It was somewhat a reaction to my experiences which led me to write The Occasional Silliness of Dodging Lasers, and the follow-up on “Lesser Silliness.”

Peter and I went back and forth quite a bit on structuring the article, and while I did a lot of the number crunching (it’s what I do), Peter is really good about making sure that things work in play. He’s also a big fan of minimizing the number of rolls and contests, so that play is minimally disrupted. So the article, though he basically said “it’s all you” and gave me sole credit, is as much his as mine.

With that, here was a quick summary of the issue that Ken Peters threw down on the GURPS Forums. I need to take the time to go over the entire issue myself and make my own comments. But in the meantime, I leave you with his words:

Modern Warfighter: Gear Slowly but surely you’ll be getting an entire book out of this 🙂 This article covers the non-weapon gear for a modern warfighter that currently doesn’t have an entry in the gear books. It also goes into some detail on military uniforms (I kept this very generic and rules legal) because that’s actually a rather interesting subject all by itself (this is kept very generic and I avoided US-centric absolutes when possible).
More information on body armor that extends Tactical Shooting? Check pp. 8-9 
Need stats for the Switchblade missile/UAV? That’s on p. 13 under Loitering Munition.
Curious about those barricades you see around bases and embassies? On p. 14 they are described under Multi-Cellular Defense Barriers.

What are the stats for modern FROG gear and other infantry uniforms? Check p. 8 easy peasy.

Canine tactical harnesses? See p. 11 my friend. I got it all covered.


The Devil’s ChariotThe very image of badass Russian hardware for decades: The Mi-24 Hind. Han’s left no detail unmentioned in this article, especially for applying this vehicle to a GURPS Actioncampaign.

The article covers the Mi-24V in detail, including information on the electronic warfare systems, what you can attach to the hardpoints, the flight controls, and even the seat layout (no graphics, unfortunately).

The guns obviously get the Han’s level of detail and there NINE new weapons with full stats and background information provided.

Curious as to what was contained on the survival gear of the crew? Did you know it had 20 water-purification tablets? Well now you do, because Hans has listed everything (with High-Tech page references). 


Eidetic Memory: Brock-Avery GunsThe manufacturer may be fictional, but the guns have detailed backgrounds and at least one is listed for every major era of play. The grave gun was particularly interesting and I had to look it up (yes, they really existed). A good example of how to take a theme and apply to something that is usually considered just an appliance.
BTW the mention of Transient Lunar Phenomena was pretty interesting. Need to see if I can get a database of those locations 🙂

Dodge ThisDouglas “Crunch King (in training)” Cole wrote this article to address the common question of “why is it so easy to dodge ranged attacks in GURPS?” After all, even in Rifts you have that -10 to dodge and that’s hardly a paragon of realism!
Well, he breaks it down for you. So complete is the article that I don’t really know what else to say. IF a player ever gripes about the dodge rules, especially the notes from Tactical Shooting, I’ll just print this off and hand it to them without saying a word. Maybe a grunt of command to actually read the entire thing.
What’s also interesting is that he extends the rules for Parry, Block and Dodge to cover all sorts of ranged attacks (and not just thrown weapons) – even spells!

The Nock Volley GunSometimes seen, never really described, this article is about a particularly interesting historical weapon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nock_gun). That alone isn’t very exciting or novel, but what sells it are the optional rules that really spell out why this thing remains a historical artifact 🙂
I found the rules regarding the insane muzzle blast of this gun to be particularly noteworthy!


Magic BulletsNeed to put a diamond shard in your bullets to hunt that monster? This article has you covered, my friend. Obsidian cored rounds with a wolf tooth enamel coating? It’s just an order away!

This article extends the already voluminous list of “special loads” for bullets as seen in HorrorMonster Hunters, and Pulp Guns.

Random Thought Table: Make Each Shot CountHere Steven discusses using ammo itself as a pacing mechanism instead of just a largely forgotten bit of character sheet accounting. As he notes, many people approach this from a video game perspective where acquiring ammo is something you can do at a dead sprint with daemons spitting blood a footstep behind and you can casually load it even underwater or while on fire.

IMO this is one of the best Random Thought Tables in a long time, and I’m sure there will be a lot of GMs who get their eyes opened to these types of game balancing and plot pacing concepts.

Ballistic’s Report


I had a good time writing my own article. I won’t say that it just fell together, but Peter’s influence made itself felt in an entirely productive way. Not only did knowing I had a prospective co-author mean I buckled down and got my stuff done (I’m better with a deadline), but I sort of had to ask myself WWPD as well as WIWIP (would it work in play) more often than I usually do.

That probably means I asked it just less than I should.


I tend to write as a menu of options, fully endorsing what I feel is a core GURPS concept: “pick the rules you want, toss the rest.” Some of my options you might not like. Great! Ignore them. I write a lot of my rules articles to address issues that I see that bug me, but they might not bug everyone.

That Ken really liked my article is very gratifying, and I think that one of the reasons this article works (and rereading it, I do think it has a lot of goodness to it) is that it directly addresses an issue that, quite seriously, had every single player (including my wife) groaning about how unrealistic it was to just keep dodging laser beams. No amount of “but you’re dodging the line of fire” was going to make up for that.

So I knew there was something there, and the article on MECE applied to attack and defense rolls cinched it up: there were several options that might get it done.

From there, it was a matter of some clarifying discussion with Peter, a first draft, and then my usual suspects did the proofread and comment. I found so much utility in my Technical Grappling playtest that I try and hit up some of them, plus a few others, as often as I can to ensure I don’t miss important bits.

If you haven’t read the article, I’d certainly appreciate it if you would! If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts – even if you thought it lacking.

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:

Attributes [120]
ST 13 [30]; DX 12 [40]; IQ 11 [20]; HT 12 [20]
HP 13; Will 12 [5]; Per 12 [5]; FP 12
Basic Lift 34; Damage 1d/2d-1
Basic Speed 6; Basic Move 6; Ground Move 6; Water Move 1

Advantages [35]
Combat Reflexes [15]
Enhanced Dodge (1) [15]
Fit [5]


Disadvantages [-35]; Quirks [-5]

Skills [35]
Axe/Mace (A) DX+1 [2]-12; Bow (A) DX+4 [16]-16; Climbing (A) DX-1 [1] -11; Fast-Draw (Arrow) (E) DX+2* [2]-14; Fast-Talk (A) IQ-1 [1]-10; First Aid/TL3 (Human) (E) IQ+0 [1]-11; Hiking (A) HT+0 [2]- 12; Naturalist (Earth) (H) IQ-2 [1]-9; Observation (A) Per+0 [2]-12; Running (A) HT-1 [1]-11; Stealth (A) DX-1 [1]-11; Swimming (E) HT+0 [1]- 12; Tracking (A) Per+0 [2]- 12; Wrestling (A) DX+0 [2]- 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

So, you want to hurt people from a distance? That’s smart. Sometimes that “up close and personal” thing gets nasty. Still, you’re going to have to decide a few things.

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.

Tactics


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.

Parting Shot


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.

  1. It’s a grappling book, not a striking book
  2. I was using Size Modifier as a direct proxy for height. That’s wrong.
  3. First See Rule #1.
I also found this excised portion of the rules terribly complicated, and we ditched the concept of grappling “regions” of the body in favor of using regular hit locations. All in all, it was a good cut, but see later for why I even bother to bring it up now!

Continue reading “Falling Down – head kicking for fun and profit in GURPS”

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and because of a quick trip back and forth to California from Monday through Wednesday, I’m a bit behind. Life gets that way.

Over on the forums, the poster known as mehrkat made the following remark. It struck a nerve with me in a good way, so I repeat it:

I admit I don’t take “canon” very seriously. Canon is my world specific. I toss stuff out at random at my whim which is definitely encouraged by GURPS. But I would absolutely consider something in Pyramid to be assigning it “official” status.

Well, YES. THIS.

 Writing for GURPS is kinda hard. The system itself isn’t that difficult – there are really only a few core mechanics. But depending on your interest, you’d best be at least passing familiar with what has been done on the subject you’re interested in. Even if you’re trying to cover new ground, it’s often a good idea to know what toes you’re stomping on.

Looking at my own works, for example:

Ten . . HUT!: Well, this provides finer gradations in Military Rank. Most useful if you’re actually building a character, so while it can be applied to existing games, once the dude is written, there’s probably not much point.

The Big Guns Thing: Can be used as a drop-in for any weapon, even in 4e. It also has a bunch of (then) house rules for injury, some of which are now more-or-less canonical in 4e, some not.

Armor Revisited: Optional rules, can be done in any game, even retroactively, and dropped if you don’t like ’em. So this one’s portable.

The Deadly Spring: Sort of like the guns article, in that it can be used retroactively (it’s a design system), but it mucks with the stats of a common muscle-powered ranged weapon, and if your GM goes on a “realism” kick, might nerf your concept. Also, you might want gonzo bows for Dungeon Fantasy. So YMMV.

The Last Gasp: Yeah, this one has real potential to make character concepts play very, very differently. It makes HT really important. Even more important than usual! This one probably needs to be adopted at the start of a campaign – or at least with careful consideration.

Delayed Gratification: I wrote this article so it could be dropped into an existing game. So this one’s portable.

Technical Grappling: a rewrite and expansion of grappling rules, but it is not fully compatible with the existing rules. It has an entirely new mechanic to represent how well someone’s being grappled, and so it’s not something that can be easily meshed with (say) people writing Pyramid articles referencing grappling. You’ll need to say “well, using the existing rules, this weapon does armed grapples like [blah], but if  you’re using Technical Grappling, treat this as a Flexible, Flail, Impaling weapon for grapples, and if you hit, it also inflicts 2d+2 Control Points!”

The other reason it’s hard is that, well, it’s not fiction. It’s technical writing to a very specific style guide. There’s a WYSIWYG template with the proper SJG styles, and using them can be hard to master. The formatting used to write up (say) Advantages, Templates, martial arts styles, or whatnot are quite specific, and can be easy to get wrong. They’re quite picky about pesky things like grammar and stuff.

It’s every bit as technically precise to write for Pyramid as it is to write an e23 supplement. The nice thing about it, though, is that it can be as short or long as you’d like. Well, if +Steven Marsh accepts it. My shortest for GURPS was probably Armor Revisited at about 1,700 or so words. My longest, never to be repeated on pain of death and mockery, was The Deadly Spring, at a mind-boggling 11,000. For what it’s worth, every word in Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja, including the index and table of contents, pull quotes and marketing pages, is about 14,000 words. So Deadly Spring is basically as long as a full e23 release.

That’s a GURPS supplement, right there. On a subject so esoteric that I doubt it would merit a full release – but because there’s Pyramid, it doesn’t need one.

Lastly: if you do want to write for GURPS, you want to start with Pyramid. I’d probably target something on the order of 3-5 pages in the magazine, or about 2,500-4000 words. Long enough to show you can do it, not so long that it’s a huge risk to print.

But make no mistake: GURPS is Pyramid, and Pyramid is GURPS. Grar!

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!

Welcome to the third installment of Melee Academy!

Today we’re going to deal with team tactics. While +Peter V. Dell’Orto is throwing down with a post on how to keep your berserker buddy alive to rage, maim, and kill with proper gusto, I thought I’d approach this from a back to basics type philosophy. That is, basic questions, probably obvious . . . but given session reports like this one over at Bat in the Attic, and a few of our own games playing through Jade Regent using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy in which most of our party (usually to the accompaniment of both in- and out-of-character derision by +Mark Langsdorf ) seems to just love going haring off on their own.

Still, the game’s designer is on record in this very blog stating:

Keeping everyone together is to some extent my fault, making it a real GURPS issue. I’ll just say it: I think that the PCs should stick together, tactically and dramatically. After 34 years of gaming, I’ve met almost no GMs who can handle split groups well, and even fewer players whose characters run off on their own for valid reasons such as “self-sacrifice” or “advancing the story” rather than lame ones like “hogging the spotlight to show off.” Under my tenure, GURPS has definitely moved toward a game in which your PCs need to be mutually supporting teammates.

So if +Sean Punch has built this into the game, what does that imply?

Well, this is Melee Academy, so let’s start it out with the obvious.
Protect Each Other
This seems obvious, but it’s not always, because you often need a Perk or two to get the most out of this in certain circumstances.
Still, the timeless classic of putting the “squishies” behind a wall of heavily armored friends is timeless for a reason. This is probably true for low-power characters, but can also be true when the disparity between DR of the front-line types and those not on the line gets large. 
Cadmus, for example, just upgraded his armor. Again. For about $40,000 (!), he’s now sporting DR 12 on his head, neck, and torso, and DR 9 everywhere else. It’s a heavily enchanted (Fortify +2; Lighten 3/4) suit of plate armor of various thickness (heavy on the head/neck/torso, medium everywhere else), with another enchantment on his shield (Light large shield) that now gives DB +4. He’s very well protected (but not as much as Thumvar, who has at least DR 14 in places).
Fact of the matter is, you have to be a hero to punch through us. But if you can threaten us, you are likely to make squashy puree out of second-line types if you can hit them.
Anyway, so position yourselves so that the bad guys have to get through you to get to them. And “them” might be your handy thief, the ever-popular spellcaster, or the Cleric types (or as +Emily Smirle‘s infernal scout Staver likes to call them, “God-botherers”) who might either patch you up after, or deliver a really handy world-shaking miracle.
So, how to do it?
Again, this probably seems obvious, but it’s worth repeating. First, stay close enough together that one of the first things you can do, within one or two Move actions (or zero to one, ideally) is to form a line of battle. If you’re only four PCs, that might not be much of a line, but hey, couldn’t hurt. If you’re the classic 6-8, or have henchmen to bring your party from a few PCs to a respectable 6-8, you can do some interesting things.
Here’s but one example of a cluster of seven warrior types. I’ve got two bowmen on the flanks, a strong front line with a left-handed shield user on the left, a right-hand shield user on the right, a two-weapon guy in the middle of the front line. Behind them on the flanks I literally have two spear-carriers, but with only Reach 2 weapons (Reach 3 wouldn’t be out of the question). 
The black lines are the spear’s reach; the red are the areas protected by shields (left and right) and by a Sacrificial Parry from the two-weapon guy.
Anyone stepping to the front line will be open to two attackers; any doofus stepping up front-and center will be hit by five. Plus any incidental ouchitude delivered by the bowmen, who really ought to be well back, enough to be more than a Move or two away, so they can’t get ganked. With a (forthcoming!) modification to something I forgot while typing this, the center line is covered with two shields and a substantial ability to sacrificial parry into five hexes from our dual-weapon wielder. 
But you can see that anyone approaching from the front is going to have a bad time. The spear-types could easily be wizards or priests or anyone who can’t stand toe-to-toe with a fighter type, but can carry a long weapon.

Is this the best way to fight? The only way? Certainly not! It is probably suboptimal in all sorts of ways – but it probably beats running off alone far, far more often than not.

How else can you rely on your friends

One simple way is to just realize that GURPS has pretty specific defense avenues. You can’t parry on the side hex opposite your weapon if you have a one-handed weapon, nor can you block on your off-shield side. This means that even if you can’t get around to the coveted rear hex, you can limit the defenses your foe can bring to bear.
In the example to the left, the two-weapon fighter can parry on either side (red). The one-weapon, no-shield knight can only defend on her right side and front hexes (will be fixed), while mister hammer-and-shield can block on his left, parry on his right (and both in all the front hexes). If two-swords can capture Mr. Shield’s attention, the knight can step up and attack where the guy can only parry if he can get to a flank hex. If that hammer is a U weapon, that might be a big deal – if he’s attacked with it, he can’t parry! And if he’s parrying, he can’t attack. 
(There are ways to beat this, of course).
So, we’ve thus far touched on how to form a line of battle, how to deny approach to your squishies, in a way, we’ve talked about using reach weapons to stand off and threaten from afar, and how to use positioning to attack areas and hex-sides that your foe can’t easily defend. Also, staying close to a friend with Shield Wall training, Sacrificial Block or Parry, you can leverage their superior defenses if you’re busy concentrating on a spell or something.
Soaking Defenses

Another reason to stay close is that in many games, multiple defenses are penalized, with the basic penalty to Parry being -4 per additional, and -5 per extra block (Dodge monkeys rejoice – you can do that all you want). Also, you can only retreat once per turn, which means that the +3 to Dodge or +1 to other Active Defenses, once used, is lost.
If our Dual-Weapon attacker above launches two attacks, and his foe blocks and parries, that means that when our knight lunges in with a Step and Attack (or perhaps better, a Committed Attack with two steps to reach the side hexes), that the defender’s second parry might well be at -4 for being the second parry (if he gets one at all), and another -2 for a side hex.
If you use the rules for Setup Attacks from Delayed Gratification, this can get even more fun, since one of the options allows you to launch an attack that penalizes the defenses against only an attack thrown by your companions.
Finally, if one person can grapple or disarm the foe, or even unready his weapon momentarily – that’s a great opportunity for a friend to rush in and finish the job.
Compensate for Weaknesses 

A classic problem with long reach weapons is what happens when your foe gets inside that reach. If  you’re wielding a long spear that’s Reach 2,3 and your foe steps into Reach 1, or heaven help you, Reach C, you can be in big trouble. 
But if you’ve got a huge armored meatshield in front of you?
Not so much.
Same thing goes for non-DF ranged weapon users (Scouts can use their bow in close combat, so they really don’t need much of a protector). Having someone there to keep goblins off you as you draw, nock, and loose your arrows can be a wonderful insurance policy.
Catch Your Breath
Sometimes the bad guys get a good one in. Maybe it’s just a single blow, but you’re suffering from shock penalties. Maybe you’re knocked down or (even worse) stunned. If you’re off in the wild blue yonder all by yourself, well, GURPS is a game filled with death spirals, and it’s been nice knowing you.
Unless you happen to have a friend nearby. Hey, he can go All-Out Defensive and keep the bad guys away until you pass that HT roll to snap back into the fight.
Parting Shot
This little treatise is less how to use team tactics as it is why you would want to, and what you can attempt to do when you actually group up.
Can this go wrong? 
Well, yes. 
Any sort of area effect attack can rock your entire party’s world. Fireball, explosive attacks, cones, not to mention higher TL issues like grenades or spraying fire.
Also, if you’re fighting many-on-one, like a typical D&D monster encounter, it may well be that the best call you can make is to spread out and come in from all sides (still, the Protect Each Other advice probably applies).
GURPS is a game that can significantly reward team play, but you do have to stick to a few basic rules.
  1. Stick together 
  2. Have a plan on how to get together and stay there
  3. Know your capabilities – if you go advancing at faster than the pace of your slowest, you break the line
  4. Don’t be stupid. Running off by yourself? Usually a bad idea; leaving a hole in a carefully sculpted defensive structure? Often even worse.

+Jon Couts messaged me the other day about a question regarding The Last Gasp.

Turns out he’s running an arena combat with the rules, and he allowed me to link to it.

Click the picture to go to the play-by-post arena combat!

Thanks to Jon for giving the rules a try.

I might suggest he try Delayed Gratification (Setup Attacks) instead of the existing Feint rules in a future combat and see what he and his players think . . .

The important thing to me is that AP allowed the spearman to exhaust her foe, and drove some decisions on the part of the knight that he’d rather not have made. Good HT to aid recovery and shake off the impact of injury for AP reduction was a big deal. At times, skill drove the battle; at other times, fitness. A nice mix, I think. Jon also notes that by the end of the fight, Sir Mander’s ST was low enough that he was getting an extra -1 to use his axe because he didn’t meet it’s Min ST. The Last Gasp gives a small bonus to low min ST weapons in that way. If he’d been using a small axe he’d have been fine.

Welcome to the second installment of Melee Academy!

Grappling seems pretty cool. The benefits for throwing someone to the ground are pretty impressive in GURPS. They have to spend a few turns getting up (unless then can Acrobatic Stand), while prone they’re at -4 on their hit rolls and -3 while defending. While kneeling, which the probably have to do to stand up, they’re at -2 to both. If you can throw them hard enough via Judo Throw, you may either stun or damage them.

But grappling in combat is harder then it would seem. For one thing, on the scale of GURPS combat, it can take a while. While a strike that successfully lands gets its damage (and attendant shock penalties) a grapple in a lethal combat “only” imparts -4 to DX, with the attendant -2 to Parry/Block and -1 to Dodge that comes from that reduction.

Part of the trick is that you have to get close – enter your foe’s hex – and stay there. Grappling is, mostly, done at Reach C, in Close Combat. That can be a very dangerous place to be for both foes.

Getting to that range can be tricky. Getting to that range without avoiding getting murderized can be very tricky.

Consider: approaching a guy with a sword, or worse yet, a sword and a knife. If he sees you coming, he can Wait, and attack you as you step to Reach 1. If you’re unarmed, or unarmored, you’ll face the dreaded “unarmed parry vs. weapons” thing, where all of his parries are automatically aggressive. He can possibly poke at you a few times if he has a long sword with Reach 1,2.

Closing the Distance

 A – Attacker Steps     B – Wait trigger      C  – Close Combat      D – Foe retreats



So, what to do? Well, you can try and Wait. The condition of your Wait is that you will Step and Attack to grapple. Technically, this is your attack on your own turn, and your foe does get to defend. This runs into the “unarmed parry” rule. But it does allow you to get into close combat.

However, your foe may retreat, and if your grapple fails, he’s still in perfect smackdown range. So you’ll do an obvious Wait, as shown by figure A. When your foe steps into range, triggering your Wait, you can step into Close Combat if you haven’t moved at all yet (p. B385 makes this explicit). Notionally, this box disallows the “Step and Wait” strategy, but that’s not what you’re going for here, so it doesn’t matter.

So, you can proceed from A to C by triggering your Wait – but it’s your turn, not your foe’s, so he can defend, including by Retreating (D). If he does this and your grapple has failed, he’s in perfect beat-down position with a Reach 1 weapon.

Committed Attack


You’re stepping into close combat with an angry orc with a sword. You’re already committed, and maybe fit to be committed too, so you might as well choose the Committed Attack option (Martial Arts, p. 99-100) and pick the two steps option. This allows you to follow your foe as he retreats and step back into his hex, if you absorb the -2 to hit stacked on to whatever Committed Option you’ll be using.

Make no mistake, though, this is dangerous, since while he is in Reach C for you (and thus maybe his weapons are either ineffective of less effective), he isn’t grappled yet if you’ve missed.

The Committed Attack option also allows the Wait strategy to be employed against a weapon with Reach 1,2 – but of course you will end at C instead of D, having burned your movement getting to C the first time.

Be Offensive


Another version of Wait uses Committed Attack to shoot in and grapple your foe as soon as he steps up to A. He can still defend, and he retains his step, so I’d judge this slightly less desirable, since he can step back and still have reserved his retreat.

Grappled, Now What


We’re assuming a swirling many-party melee here, not a ritualized fight in the octagon, or a 1-1 duel. So now that you’ve got him, you have more work to do.

The usual options are Takedowns and Locks. Both can usually be treated as (or actually are) attacks, so if you’re awesome you can probably Rapid Strike with them. The issue here is that it’s another skill roll, a Contest for Takedown, and an attack roll (which can be defended against) for Locks.

You can see the problem, though. You’re looking at three separate actions to get any sort of impact.

The lock options are particularly attractive using Throws from Locks, though. They inflict swing damage. If you do it right, and use Head Lock, you do swing damage to the neck. That’s pretty good, but again, takes time.

Instant Gratification

There are a couple options that seem like pretty good plays that don’t require multiple turns, but they do require a bunch of things to go right.

Judo Throw


The notional 900-lb gorilla of the grappling world in GURPS is the Judo Throw. The benefits cannot be denied. You parry weapons at no penalty. You get +3 when doing a Judo parry on a retreat, and unlike many other grappling moves, you may Judo Throw if your foe is within one yard, that is, it’s basically a Reach 1 grappling attack. Notionally, then, you parry an attack that you probably needed to parry anyway, and then make an attack roll. If successful, your foe is on the ground, and on a failed HT roll, he’s stunned. This probably ignores many types of armor, and if you’re good, you can throw for damage by targeting a location, and the head is always popular here.

Swept Away


This one is interesting, in that in one turn (but still the same number of rolls) you get the benefit of a grapple and takedown without actually having to grapple the guy. Also, if you’re strong and have Power Grappling, you can make a ST-based Sweep roll instead. This will knock someone down, but never stun or injure them, so it’s a benefit, but a limited one.

“Never Tell Me the Odds”


The struggle here is that many of these moves require several linked rolls, all of which must work in order for these moves to be effective. You must first Parry, and then make a successful attack isn’t really a departure from striking. But toss in the HT roll for stunning and your foe can weasel out of one of the big reasons to do this sort of move.

Even with proper perk selection (Judo Throw defaults to Axe/Mace, for example) and Axe-20, my Warrior Saint in +Nathan Joy‘s Dungeon Fantasy game has never really pulled off one of the cool moves. Too many things seem to have to go right.

The mix of attack/defense and Quick Contest is also interesting, since the odds aren’t exactly always intuitive. Also, sometimes you can choose between them: Judo Throw can be done after a Judo Parry by making an attack roll, but after a grapple (you attack and they fail their defense roll) you can toss someone by winning a Quick Contest.

Which do you prefer? Which should you prefer?

Contests

A contest is pretty straight-foward, and is “who wins by more.” The odds of winning a contest where both combatants are of equal skill and no modifiers (so effective skill 14 is rolling vs. effective skill 14) is basically 50%. Where margin of success matters (and it will matter a lot once Technical Grappling comes out), the odds of you winning a disparate contest (Skill-16 vs Skill-14) by the difference in skills (that is, win the above contest by 2) is also 50%. So I’ll use that 50% benchmark to give a feel for things. But basically, you’re going to be looking at the balance of skills, and the higher yours is over your foe’s (and that might be skill vs. ST or HT or best grappling skill, or something that gives each the best opportunity). Contests, then, work best when you have the advantage.

Attack-Defense Roll



It might not be strictly comparable, but what are the probabilities of an attack actually landing, taking account lowering the probability of success on the attack itself to 90% via Deceptive Attack? Well, you can see that the region of the curve that is green, giving more than 50% chance of a successful attack, seems more limited. You have to be careful though, since Active Defense scores are figured as 3+Skill/2. That is listed in the “Raw Skill” section, and you can see that at Attack Skill-20 (and a -6 Deceptive Attack), you’ll cross over the 50% probability mark at roughly Skill-19. On the flip side, you will never get where you want to be unless you start with more than 50% chance to hit.

Finally, you can see that if the foe can retreat (+1), has Combat Reflexes or Enhanced Defenses (+1), and perhaps takes All-Out Defense or has a medium shield (each with +2), that all of a sudden, scoring that hit drops below 50% at a defender’s skill of only 10 . . . because 3+10/2 + 1 + 1 + 2 = 12, the same way that a raw skill of 18 gives a defense roll of 12.

All of this is obviated if your foe has just All-Out Attacked. Then, it’s all about your skill, since your foe has no defenses. In this case, Attack-Defense rolls are where it’s at (many Contests either explicitly or implicitly will allow a roll vs ST-4 or HT even if you’ve All-Out Attacked).

What it means: Learn Hand Catch if you can!


If your foe has the space to retreat, has enhanced defenses, is carrying a shield, or all-out defending (or a combination of all of those), you’re going to want to seek opportunities to engage in contests rather than attack-defense pairs. That means you’ll want to start the turn having already grappled your foe. But to grapple, you have to contend with your foe’s sky-high defenses, right?

Not with Hand Catch (Martial Arts, p. 84). If you can get it, and if you can make the roll (Judo Parry – 7 to intercept a sword!) you can then make another roll at full skill to grab the foe. That means your foe has attacked you, you’ve parried and grappled him, and on your next turn you can Judo Throw from Reach 1, step in and do a Takedown, both leveraging the Quick Contest, which neturalizes the benefit of a lot of those defense bonuses.

The enweaponed equivalent of this is probably Bind Weapon. If you can trap the weapon (and it’s “only” at Parry-1.5 (Parry = 3 + Bind Weapon/2, or 3+(Skill-3)/2) as a GM I’d say that is a grapple. It becomes win/win. Either your foe relinquishes his weapon at any time as a free action, or he keeps it and you can proceed to resolution by Contest. The key on this one is a jitte, jutte, or sai. Check out Martial Arts pp. 67-68 for more details.

Parting Shot


It may just be that my dice have not been friendly. But even with high skill, I’ve found that some of the cool features of grappling don’t work out well in practice over the ever-popular bashing someone in the face with an axe.

The key is to try and find situations where you can leverage your foe’s actions, arm yourself with the right stuff, and partner with the right people. Throw your foe down, and have a second-ranker impale him or chop him with a Telegraphic All-Out Attack for damage. He’s at -3 to defend and maybe stunned, and that’s a great way for a second-line fighter to contribute – as a finisher.

More Melee Academy Links


Other contributions can be found:

Dungeon Fantastic – +Peter V. Dell’Orto writes about Stop Hit
Orbs and Balrogs – +Christian Blouin writes about creating and holding combat initiative
RPG Snob – +Jason Packer throws down about combat pacing
No School Grognard – +Mark Langsdorf  provides a two-turn option that gets you into close combat with a higher success rate than the one-turn option I provide in this article.

This post was spawned in the same discussion +Peter V. Dell’Orto references in his recent entry on the Shield Wall question. This isn’t more about Shield Wall, but more shields in general.

After I started on this, I figured some of my fellow bloggers would like to try, so I contacted Peter, Mark, Jason, and the GM of my DF game and invited them to share GURPS-day by writing on shields, or on a Melee Academy in general.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto also wrote about shields over at Dungeon Fantastic.
+Mark Langsdorf contemplated DF Knights over at No School Grognard
Jason +Jason Packer hefts two-handed weapons at RPG Snob.

Maybe if the Melee Academy becomes popular, we’ll see more.

I’ve personally found that the +2 or +3 DB provided by a shield is pretty valuable, but then, Cadmus is also decked on in DR 8 on my torso, DR 8 or 9 on my head, and enchanted mail on my arms and legs. He needs better gauntlets and sollerets instead of boots, though.


A lot of this discussion and my thoughts on shields depends on the point values for the campaign. Chinks in Armor is a -8 penalty to hit for the torso, -10 elsewhere, and a foe attacking them doesn’t negate the bonuses from your own Active Defenses at all. In order to cancel the +2 or +3 DB of your shield, you need another 4-6 points of skill. So to halve (not eliminate unless you’re using the optional, non-DF rules from Low-Tech about missing bits of armor IF they exist) DR and make it as if you were not wearing a shield, our notional Swashbuckler has to be able to net a 12-16 skill while eating 12-14 points of penalties. That’s Skill-24 to Skill-30, or DX 14 to DX 18 and DX+8 to DX+16 relative skill. If we split it down the middle, and say DX 16 (120 points) and DX+10 relative skill (40 points) you’re talking about someone who’s dropped 160 points into the ability to do what he’s trying to do. If you’re talking about the conventional chinks rules and plate, you’re still facing DR 3. If you’re NOT, you’re probably facing DR 4, since no one but an idjit will fail to have mail in his gaps! So our hero will want enough ST to get by that, so he’ll want to be reasonably strong – say ST 13 and 2 pts of striking ST. A fine rapier is doing 1d+3 imp there. Not bad . . . but another 40 points that you don’t have to spend on being anything other than a Rapier artist. Of course, Inigo Montoya (and Zorro!) might suggest that if the answer isn’t “the pointy end goes into the other man” then you’re asking the wrong question.


Armor/Shield guy, if he’s built on an equal point drop (200) will want to be just as strong if not more so. Let’s pick ST 15 and Striking ST+2. That leaves 140 points, with which we buy DX 13 (60 points) and DX+10 in both Shield and Axe (’cause it’s cheap to buy), for Axe-24 and Shield-24. That’s Parry-17 and Block-17 with the DB +2 shield and $1900 worth of armor (the money left over after subtracting, more or less, an axe and shield from the cost of a good rapier). Absorbing the deceptive attack still leaves him with a 95% chance to block or parry.


Hell, is all this proves is that aiming for chinks in armor is great if you outclass your foe by quite a bit, or you can arrange something where you’ve burned lots of parry and block. Runaround attacks are never going to be better than -2 (or if you can move to the unshielded side, effectivley -4) which still puts the guy above at Parry-15 or Block-13, which is still five successes in six. Shields provide a buffer against your foe’s notionally higher skill, and allow you to take maneuvers that sacrifice a Parry defense either completely (if you don’t, for example, have a Dwarven Axe, but rather just a regular-old axe), or help eat the penalties you get to your defenses when absorbing a Committed Attack.


Farther down at the 100-150-point end of things (the kind of point drops above are usually suitable for 250-point DF type . . . or more) one might be hard-pressed to use skill to ignore armor. At this “middle henchman” point level (say 125 points) your ability to play the games above might be pretty limited. You can throw down DX+2 and DX 16 (and nothing else) for Skill-18. You could also do DX 12 (40 points) and drop 40 points into Rapier (DX+10) and still wind up with Rapier-22 and have another 40 points to spend, whether it be ST 13 and maybe Shield at DX+3 (for a buckler) or a left-hand dagger skill for two-weapon fighting (Skill-15). Or a few other skills or advantages that don’t make you a one-dimensional combat monster. If you are all-combat, all the time, ST 13, DX 12, IQ 10, HT 10 (that’s one that would be well worth 20 points for HT 12), Rapier-22 and Main-Gauche-15 is no slouch. 

And don’t neglect other ways, though more expensive, to boost defenses. The +1 to all defenses you get from Combat Reflexes is nice, as are the various Enhanced Defenses advantages. But it’s just darn hard to beat tossing in that +1 to +3 bonus for just picking up the damn shield (presumably assuming you’ve spend a point in Shield skill, but I don’t know if that’s just common sense, or an actual rule).

But the chinks penalties are fixed, and Deceptive Attacking enough to negate the shield bonus is as expensive as ever. You are basically looking at 50% chance to hit if absorbing -8 for torso chinks and -4 for a -2 Deceptive Attack from Skill-22, and only a -2 to the defenses of the other guy: straight Block, Parry, or Dodge accounting for the impact of a DB+2 shield.

I don’t think it’s an uber-strategy, and would revert back to “everything has a counter.” It would be interesting to see, from in-play experience, where the kind of “I can negate your shield and armor based on my own awesome finesse!” is actually true. My gut tells me that this strategy depends upon outclassing your foe (being either higher point value, or simply far higher points in combat skills) rather than skill-uber-alles in many, most, or all situations. For example, if social conventions rob you of both shield and armor, well, that DB+2 doesn’t do you much good. That’s not exactly “rapier beats shield and armor,” though. It’s “your point expenditures are now as useless as Magery 8 in a No Mana Dammit Zone.

Then there’s the fact that a shield, DB or no, can do things that parrying cannot, like effectively block flails and (in some cases) missile weapons. All things considered, I like the shield game-mechanically; it’s a great addition to your defensive repertoire, and does things that simply pushing weapon skill can’t do well – or at all.

Thursday is GURPS-day, and so here’s today’s entry:

This one isn’t really navelgazing. I wrote The Last Gasp for a few specific reasons, and I thought I’d share a bit of how the article came about.

First, I’ve been a bit – frustrated is too strong a word – but at least a bit twitchy about the perceived, and maybe acutal, need to do something every damn turn in GURPS combats. There are relatively few incentives to evaluate, pause, or otherwise keep your distance from your opponent once a fight is joined.

Sure, you can use a Wait and Evaluate strategy before you really close to your desired striking range. But once you get within your range, there’s really only a few instances where taking even one turn to gather your wits is a decent thing to do.

The first is to interrupt death spirals of various kinds. If you can back off for a turn after getting thumped, you avoid the shock penalties that only show up for one turn after a hit. Another that can go for a while is to recover from stun. Others can be picking yourself up after a takedown, throw, or other “you fall down” result. Re-readying a weapon might count.

Maybe it’s because I suck, but when I used to spar, unarmed, long staff, twin midstick, double sword, long sword, or short-and-long (we do cool sparring in Hwa Rang Do), you would fight, break, fight, break, etc. Even in grappling, you occasionally pause – sometimes in an advantaged position, sometimes just holding your foe at bay.

Why pause? Sometimes, it’s looking for an opening. A series of feints and tests to get your foe to flinch and open up his guard.

But sometimes, you’re just freakin’ tired. You need a few seconds to gather yourself together, or throw your next combination. This produces what I’ve heard of as “lulls and flurries” in combat. A clash of arms (or legs, teeth, pointed sticks . . . ).

So, I wanted to do this, and I wanted it to it organically, arising from the rules. I also wanted to mimic one more thing I saw in real life. Before a tournament, I’d always, a month or two before, really ramp up my interval training, because how much wind you had really mattered in the two to five minute matches we’d do for grappling. We now do continuous sparring with takedowns and lockouts in HRD, and I have to imagine that your fitness level would be key there too.

So I wanted to have fitness matter. Call that “Note 1.”

The other thing I noted was that spending fatigue wasn’t that big a deal. Sure, once you got down to FP/3 you started having real issues. But until that, no big deal. In the DF game I play with +Nathan Joy  Cadmus has HT 12, so I basically have 7-8 FP I can use in Extra Effort before anything happens to me, and if I can chill out for an hour and a half I’m ready to rock.

Same thing with long-distance GURPS running, or magic, for that matter. It all recovers at 1 FP per 10 minutes (modified for Fit, Very Fit, Unfit, etc.) until you start losing HP.

But many of my friends who run marathons can take three weeks to recover from that kind of strain. Maybe (probably?) that’s losing HP. But you’re sore and stressed for a few days after a good weight workout too, and that’s not HP of damage.

So Note 2 was “losing FP should be easily recovered at first, but losing lots of FP should take a long time to recover, maybe as much as weeks.”

Naturally, my thoughts turned to the Size-Speed/Range Table at this point. I’d had a geometric progression going where every FP took a certain multiple (constant multiple) longer to recover. It was +Steven Marsh who suggested the leveled structure that eventually appeared in the article, which was a way, way better solution than what I’d had.

For the short-term fatigue thing, though, my initial thought was “you spend an action point every time you roll the dice.” Even then, I wanted something that was going to be simple to track in play. I wound up with something fairly similar, but the “per die roll” thing had a certain amount of compelling to it.

Then, of course, I had to consider movement. That was – and is – a bit of a sticky there.

Edit: Fortunately, +Jason Packer has provided a helpful chart covering AP costs through Move 18. Thanks, Jason!

Point costs were also tricky. Fortunately, I had a very capable group of people who were well-disposed to playtesting my ideas: I recruited from the Technical Grappling playtest list, and got great advice. I didn’t always follow it – author privilege – but it was really great seeing a PT report of a boxing match, as an example, and seeing the “standing eight-count” be an important recovery strategy.

Anyway, there are more details in there. I tried to cover short and long distance running and lifting weights in an early draft – those didn’t work out as clean as I’d have liked – but all in all, I think it’s a nice addition. I’d love to play a game in which AP are used.

Which reminds me: +Peter V. Dell’Orto loves to remind me by direct word and indirect role-modeling, that it’s not cool to harsh on people’s fun. The box in the article noting that it’s smply Cruel and Unusual Punishment to make a GM track APs on fifty mooks? Yeah, that’s inspired by my thought of what Peter would say if I told him that this was how all games needed to run. Thus, I worked out a simple 1d6 style roll that would dictate NPC mook actions but, on the average, work out to the same number of actions and lulls as if you were managing your AP one by one.