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.

Just a side-note, and a thank-you.

My article, Delayed Gratification, appeared in Pyramid #3/52: Low-Tech II, this past Thursday.

I received my check in the mail from Steve Jackson Games on Saturday.

That’s fast, professional behavior, right there.

+Steven Marsh and +Steve Jackson Games are to be commended; my understanding is this kind of alacrity is the exception, rather than the rule.