I was going to post this one today. But after 36 hours traveling and very little sleep, I realized that I had it wrong. At length.

I’ll be revisiting this, most definitely. But I will say this:

I was going to set up “believable” as an overall goal that people who clamor for “realism” actually want.

After thinking about this a lot, I don’t think it’s true

I think believablility is a bit like “rule zero,” which can vary in expression, but is basically what I’m getting at here. Playing RPGs is supposed to be fun. (What I refer to as the Wendler-Dell’Orto Rule of Awesome is a corollary to Rule Zero: To enhance fun, be Awesome.

So, “realistic” isn’t really properly substituted by “believable,” as I originally was going to write. You can have perfectly believable games that are, nonetheless, over-the-top if the consequences of what happens are self-consistent and well explained by in-game or metagame logic.

I think what I realized in contemplating believability is this: If the game and situation is not believable, you probably aren’t going to be playing for very long, if at all. Rules arguments, boredom – all can be consequences of unbelievable games.

As an example: I played in a DnD 3ed game in grad school. My archer (1st level) was shooting at a bad guy. I hit, but didn’t do enough damage to kill him. Bad guy was able to cross what seemed to me to be a ludicrous amount of terrain on his turn, hit me, and kill me. Boom, dead.

I had a real problem with that. My character just stood there for probably six seconds while this guy, arrow sticking out of him and all, closed the distance and put an end to me.

Now, there are probably many things I did wrong. At the time, I was still a GURPS and WEG Star Wars guy (now I’m like 90% GURPS, 10% Pathfinder, but only as a player). So there are probably things I could have done to make that not happen. Maybe shoot and then move backwards.

But it just seemed unbelievable, and thus not fun, and really not Awesome. I didn’t play DnD again for years.

I suspect many game-digressions where rules and outcomes are in dispute can be put down to believability-clash – also known as expectations mismatch. This isn’t always willing in-game immersion. It can be “you’re disrupting my solo-narrative with shared-narrative” too.

But I digress. For now, I’ll leave realistic and cinematic and what axes they’re on to another time.

But for the moment: a game that wants to be successful, and sufficiently immersive to be definitely fun and potentially awesome had better be believable.

I am not a fan of ST rolls as skill tests in GURPS. Quick Contests or Regular Contests . . . meh, at best.

ST is not like IQ, DX, and HT, which are all fairly well described in game mechanical terms as to what they do, though in a way they do it a bit too well. ST is extrinsic to the game, not intrinsic. It is tied to real-world parameters through Basic Lift. It’s totally easy to imagine what ST 45 looks like. You may have even seen an animal that strong (if not presently, maybe a T-Rex or something). You have certainly seen or heard of machines that are many times stronger than a human, and so could be rated with ludicrously high ST skills and be both realistic and believable.

So I would propose the following (in less-specific terms) were I looking at revising.

All rolls should be based on DX or HT.

DX is when you’re using ST for fine control over something. HT is when you’re exerting yourself against another or against your own physical limits. There are a few ways to do this.

But in either case, your ST really should be used to calculate Basic Lift, and from there figure out what you’re doing in terms of a Object Weight-to-Basic Lift ratio. That’ll give you a bonus or penalty.

As examples:

Throwing a shot-put as far as you can, not caring where it hits. It’s a 16-lb cannonball, so the Basic Lift to weight ratio for even “Joe Average” is more than 1 (1.25). The world record is something like 75 feet! That would probably be a DX roll to perform the motions, and a HT roll to prevent injury. Yes, two rolls. The HT roll would be optional if your adjusted roll is (say) 19 or more; you’re just not exerting yourself hard enough to injure yourself. The DX roll might be required to earn any bonuses to skill or ST from skill (such as the “training bonus” that appeared in The Last Gasp . . . and you’ll see it again in Technical Grappling!).

Weight Lifting: This is very nearly a purely HT-based roll, where you are basically moving the weight up and down until your ST falls low enough (due to local depletion of FP – or AP, really) that you really are pushing high multiples of your effective Basic Lift.

When you think of it already, this is more or less what happens – with both thrown non-weapons (DX-based roll to hit, p. B355) and weapons (DX-based skill roll to hit). Range is a multiple of your ST (seems linear, right?) but the distance modifier based on ST-to-Weight ratio is best described by a power law (about 0.44 x Ratio^-0.8, if you must know. R^2 = 0.987).

A force-to-weight ratio is an acceleration. That is, in most circumstances, ALL you need to know to establish maximum range. If you apply your skill correctly (DX or skill roll), you can achieve both range and accuracy. If you push yourself too hard, you can injure yourself.

But by and large, I would, almost always, rather look at even Contests of ST as opposed DX or HT rolls, with ST-to-Weight or ST-to-ST ratio as a modifier.

Ah, yes. Cabaret Chicks on Ice.

The joke-title for GURPS Low-Tech for quite a while on the SJG Forums.

Recently, since it seems like forever (but only seems that way) since my manuscript went into the queue in production and saw the rough PDF go around, I’ve been going crazy waiting for the Big Damn Ogre to get out of the way. -)

It’s my own fault. I pledged too.

But to pass the time, I’ve been leaking content here and there. Mostly nothing too revealing. I don’t want to overstep my bounds, nor give away too much from the book. It’s a book covering a lot of rules, and if you give away the rules, you give away the game.

Still, I did reveal one or two more concrete hints, such as a discussion on whether the damage from throws and locks was too high relative to the ease of obtaining a grapple.

I also posted something that was in an original draft, and then cut, because, well, it doesn’t have much to do with grappling.

The Secret Diaries of Technical Grappling• The generic penalty for kicking (-2) assumes a torso level kick – presumably the lower torso. Instead, you may kick anything at SM-4 and lower at no penalty, and each SM higher at an additional -1. Kicking to the head is thus -4, while stomping a grounded foe is not penalized!

One of the OTHER reasons this didn’t work is that SM does not equal height, which was how I was treating it. Still, what this does is say for human-sized critters, you can do whatever you want at knee level and down at no penalty to DX, from hips to knees at -1, abdomen and groin at -2, chest at -3, and head at -4.

This was even there in the first place to give a counter and reason to not grapple: avoiding being curb-stomped.

There is also some commentary about stability, but that is in terms of “if you are in an unstable posture, and someone’s exerting control over you, you’re easier to take down.”

And another rule, fun for people who really want to get to the point:

Impaling
Weapons capable of impaling damage can also be used to
control an opponent. If an impaling object is left inside a foe
(either voluntarily or by getting stuck, see Picks, p. B405), it is
considered to have inflicted CP equal to basic damage. These CP
may not be spent, but impart active and referred control, and
definitely allow actions such as Shoving People Around (p. 00)
and Force Posture Change (p. 00)! You may also use Inflicting
More Pain with Locks (p. 00): Roll a Quick Contest of Trained ST
vs. HT, adding half the original injury as a bonus to your Trained
ST. Apply pain using the full margin of victory!

Edit: Since people are visiting this page again, I thought I’d expand the hint to include the entire thing, just to show a bit more about what’s under the hood. 


But for those not familiar, here was the playtest announcement for the book:

GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling puts the current grappling rules in an arm bar until they bang on your desk in submission! The supplement introduces a few new rules that allow grappling to be treated as a continuum of control rather than being “grappled” and “not grappled,” and seeks to find pressure points in the rules for posture and position.

It explains how to model increasing control over an opponent, a different approach to grappling with different parts of the body, and a completely new top-to-bottom take on grappling with weapons. It adds new perks and techniques where appropriate, and revisits existing rules to ensure compatibility with the new ones!

Why pimp the book when there’s really no telling when it will come out (again: Big. Damn. Ogre)? It’s come up a few times on the forums recently, so I was in a TG frame of mind.

What’s going to be in it?

  • A bunch of stuff on strength and how it impacts grappling ability/skill
  • New variable-effect rules so you can achieve a sucky grapple, or a great one. 
  • Lots of detail on posture and position; it’s important in real-world grappling, and it’s important in the new rules
  • An entire chapter on grappling with weapons
  • it revisits, where appropriate, virtually everything in the Basic Set and GURPS Martial Arts to make sure it’s compatible
  • Includes some lenses and styles. Including styles for snakes, cats, dogs, and bears.
I’m looking forward to it seeing publication. But the title of this post? Recently, because there’s lots of discussion on fighting and combat on the SJG Forums, and most fighting and combat involves grappling at some point, my book has come up a lot, usually with me saying “Oh, yes . . . that’ll be covered in Technical Grappling!” 
So one poster referred to it as Cabaret Chicks on Ice Strikes Back. Which I thought was awesome.

Added: I posted another leak  for some rules on disarming. They’re not much of a rules extension from the current ones, but take the same principles and make them cover more stuff.

All GURPS damage has three parts to it, even if much of the time they’re implicit.

In order of how it’s applied, which is our first point of potential controversy!
1) Armor divisor. Yes, on a hit and a failed defense if one is allowed, the first thing you probably do as ask “how much armor, if any, is facing me.” If the answer is zero, you don’t do any math, and proceed directly to step 2. But the first thing you do is check to see if whatever DR (Damage Resistance) you’re facing, and reduce or increase it based on the type of attack you’re making. This can be a property of the damage type (some armors get altered stats vs. crushing, piercing, cutting weapons) or a property of the weapon itself (magic or high tech armor divisors, blunt tips or soft construction)
2) Basic Damage. This is the raw oomph of the attack. As discussed in a few places, this can be looked at as a raw ability to penetrate armor. I will assert that it is not yet a measure of wounding and injury. Yet. Basic damage is calculated as a function of the square root of Kinetic Energy for guns, the cube root of KE for most beam weapons, is optionally sqrt(KE) for bows (The Deadly Spring) or uses the strength plus adds model (thrust and swing) of melee weapons and muscle-powered ranged weapons.

3) Wound type, depth, and size. Finally, we get to put the hurt on. The damage here is given its true type, and some sort of multiplier is applied. Tiny bullets that are also slow get pi-, and injury is half penetration. Cutting weapons increase damage by 50%, while my least-favorite damage type, impaling, gets its penetration doubled for injury.

These three things are very, very useful, and have pretty good definitions, for firearms especially. But before we do that, why three? Why not just combine either the first and second two numbers? So instead of a gun (again, best maps to these three) that does 4d (2) pi-, which penetrates like 8d but wounds like 2d, why the frack don’t you just have something like 8d {4} – and note the curly brackets.

That’s Dougish? Hamptonian? I like Hamptonian. That’s Hamptonian for “what is in these brackets refers to wounding.”

Anyway, that might mean “roll 8d for penetration, but divide penetration by 4 for injury.”

You could also just write 2d (4), with the conventional sense used in GURPS, for “this will do 2d injury, but divides any armor by 4.”

Both have a nice symmetry and sensibility to them. So why make things more complicated? As +Peter V. Dell’Orto likes to say, “Where’s the Awesome?”

Back to guns, because they map well. Each of these things represents a very distinct set of properties.

Let’s start with #2. The raw damage (penetration) rating of a gun – or more exactly, it’s projectile – is determined as a function of only two things: the kinetic energy of the bullet and its caliber. If you fire a 10mm diameter chunk of anything with 720 Joules of energy, you’re going to get about 3d+1 damage (the official formula used by +Hans-Christian Vortisch and +David Pulver might come in at 3d; regardless, given those two things, that’s what you get).

But what if that projectile is made of tungsten carbide? Or generic copper-jacketed lead? Or hell, maybe it’s a frozen 10mm marshmallow.  What if, instead of a blunt pistol bullet, it’s shaped more like a spike than an ogive? If the projectile is strong enough to survive delivering it’s own energy content (this may be, after some analysis, why the real-world data for the 55gr 5.56x45mm only penetrates 5d instead of the 5d+1 or 5d+2 my calculations suggest . . . the energy it carries is enough to overwhelm the cohesion of its component materials, so it can’t effectively deliver all them joules. Certainly it can’t be because my Excel spreadsheet model is wrong. Nah.)

That’s where #1 comes in. It can separate out the effects of hardness and geometry from raw energy. Because you might want to do that, since energy is a useful thing to know, especially when it comes to breaking up homogeneous objects.

OK, you’re through the crunchy shell. Now you’re in the chewy center. If that projectile fragments, or just pokes a thin hole, it might pass through a body without doing much permanent damage . . . or the wound could be terrible and grotesque (and if you’re read DiMaio you’ve seen some gross stuff) because the energy is all used to destroy, rather than stretch, heat, or harmlessly displace tissue.

So some sort of efficiency factor that gives the size of the wound channel relative to energy content is useful. This is especially true when you relax our caliber restriction. If you have a high-energy, high caliber weapon that penetrates like 4d, and a finned, hardened, skinny dart, that also penetrates like 4d, but really is 2d(2), the first might be something like 4d pi++, where it wounds like 8d. The second might even be 2d (2) pi-, where it destroys objects like 2d (due to energy dump if it doesn’t blow through), but in humans, really only delivers a 1d wound.

For hand weapons, you could easily see the use. If you’re trying to overwhelm the armor of something, having it hard, perhaps magically hard, will amplify the basic energy you can put into swinging a weapon. If you are ST 14 (about twice as powerful as an average schmo in GURPS), and swing a 2-lb. stick where most of the weight is in the head, you can write down something like “swing 2d” on your character sheet. If that weapon head is concentrating force into a tiny area, like a pick or war hammer, you could perhaps note that by giving it an armor divisor. So the war hammer might do 2d (2), which is kinda a lot, but you could also impart fractional armor divisors if you love math and hate your fellow players. Or if you use a computer. But when that pick sticks into you, if it’s really long, you can see that might be awful. If it’s maybe short and pyramidal, it might punch the armor fine, but not reach deeply enough inside you to really rock your world, internal-organ-wise. (This is unlikely to be true, since your ribcage will deform under impact, allowing the beak to reach the center . . . unless you are deforming more armor to do that, in which case the wound could be very shallow.)

If you put an axe-head on it, you can see that spreading out the force into a long line will be bad for penetration, increasing the effect of armor. That might be an armor divisor of (0.75) or something. Perhaps even more, like (0.5). But you can also see that the wide wound will be truly awful on an unarmored person.

I personally think that having both armor divisors and wound severity modifiers makes a lot of sense, and that both are useful. Certainly, if one were to ever come up with a meta-system that integrated hand weapons, blunt trauma, bullets, bows, sharp sticks, and harsh language into one black box that output GURPS weapon stats, I could see a real utility to allow more moving parts rather than fewer, both for nuance as well as resolution.

The spy creeps through the building, making no noise whatsoever. Even ninjas would have marveled at his stealth, cunning, and patience. At last, he enters the room containing his prey. He extracts his silenced pistol, levels it at his target’s head. He will destroy the man, and sneak out the way he came, no one the wiser.


The custom-tuned 9mm pistol is well balanced in his hand, and he gently squeezes the trigger.

BLAM! The 130 dB noise that results is as loud as the percussion section at a symphony, a jackhammer, or a pneumatic drill. The entire house wakes up, the spy is caught and executed on the spot. His sponsoring organization goes down in a terrible scandal.

At that point, the spy’s player starts pelting his GM with dice and beating him with hardcover copies of the Basic Set. The supporting cast, who helped get that spy into position, are looking at him with that sort of flinty gaze that promises the GM will be footing the bill for pizza, chips, and soda himself for a while if he wants to keep the group running.

This actually happened to me, sort of. I was running an adventure I called OMEN TOWER, which was an adventure I’d written for a Black Ops campaign (and turned into my first prospective e23 supplement, but that is a tale of misery and woe I will not repeat at this time) involving sneaking into a Chinese Army base that was the site of a Grey weapon’s manufacturing plant. My wife’s character opened up with a .300 Win Mag or .338 Lapua Magnum . . . some monstrously powerful rifle . . . that had a “silencer” on it. I knew that most such devices would take the report of such a weapon and tame it by 20-40dB. But magnum rifles like that are still very loud, especially if it’s pointed at you!

So, I put my own expectations on the gun and the noise. My players had theirs – strongly informed by Hollywood. They were so upset with the resulting consequences that they agreed to stop the mission and RESTART the entire thing, with the now newly available “Anti-Noise Active Suppression System” provided by the Tech Ops that actually WERE Hollywood “silencers” instead of real-world suppressors.

And everyone was happy.

******

I tell this story because it struck me as pertinent:  A commenter posted that he thought Jeffro’s review of The Deadly Spring was off the mark when Peter linked to it in a post recommending my blog to others (thanks, Peter!).

That made me think of the above story, because what Jeffro is saying (I think), is that TDS is just too complex and fiddly to use at the gaming table. It breaks his own expectations for the amount of work he’s expected to do in order to provide a good, fun story to those around the table.

In fact, I agree with him completely. The Deadly Spring is not meant for at-the-table use. It was originally slated as a 2,500-word article that did the same thing for bows as my guns article did, and how hard could that be, really?

Well, 11,000 words later, I found out. And I built a spreadsheet, so no sane person would have to suffer like I did (and like Steven did in reading and editing the thing) to create such things.

What was the end result? An article that, as the review says, allows you to go through iterative gymnastics to maybe design a bow that shoots an arrow that does 1d+1 imp. Um, so? Well, that bow is probably a 150-lb bow (ST 17 or so?) firing an arrow that weighs as much as some hamburgers (about 0.2 to 0.25 lbs; 1500 grains!). OK, blah, blah, realism; blah blah effectiveness of guns vs bows.

But again: I agree with him. From a narrative purpose, if you will accept all the crap that comes with a semi-realistic bow with cinematically high armor penetration (but you still need a few seconds to draw, ready, and shoot an arrow, and the Acc isn’t that good, but the range penalties are large), then having penetration be cinematically high relative to a 9mm pistol which can fire 3 or more times per second, is easier to aim, and can fire for six rounds or more (and by that time, someone’s dead)? Sure, let the bow guys have their fun, and it’s way easier to just look up “thr+2” and know your thr damage is 1d+2 with ST 17, giving you 1d+4.

So, Jeffro’s expecations are (a) don’t let the crunch interfere with the story, (b) keep it simple and fast, and (c) let people have their proper fun; don’t penalize a player based on expectations clash.

My purpose in writing the rules was to be able to model bows better (it started during the Low-Tech playtest, where I had like a three-line set of equations that worked, sorta, but only within the case of wooden self-bows, and there were some oddities that cropped up even then), and get them scaled more properly vs. firearms (which you should be able to easily do, since you know the energy and diameter of the shaft).

That sort of thing, though, is best kept off the table.  I still may wind up taking up the challenge on the wish list (Low-Tech: Archery) at some point, since it should be fairly straight-forward to execute. That might meet Jeffro’s needs: it would have columns for cinematic damage, realistic damage, AND a number based off of thr+N for those who want to do it that way. Perhaps.

The other thing to do is look at your expectations and assumptions.

Are the players going to load up with Heroic Archer, Weapon Master (Bows), Strongbow, and Special Exercises (Arm ST +3)? With an enchanted Elvish Longbow of Smiting firing Puissant arrows also enchanted with Penetrating Weapon? If that’s the case, well, “realistic” bow damage based on the square root of kinetic energy just ain’t the point, now, is it?

If your goal is to ensure that if you put a warrior in a full-faced helm and high-quality “double-mail” or some such and want him to look like a well-protected porcupine (safe, uninjured, but looking a lot like the shields at 2:59 in this clip from 300), then you’re going to want to ensure that the damage for powerful bows is on the right scale with the armor used.

Back to the silenced firearms thing: I’d pitched the game as “realistic” Black Ops. That meant “only” 350-400 points instead of the 800-1000 required in Fourth Edition to mimic the original 3e templates (Start at this post, and go from there). But as you notice, 300-400 points is well into the Action or Monster Hunters territory; realism just ain’t really in it. Gritty, yes, sure – can be done.

My players took one look at their abilities, and said “this is Jackie Chan meets the X-Files” and well, they probably weren’t wrong. I’d know better now, and I believe that Black Ops should be a spin-off of Monster Hunters, rather than a stand-alone.

So they had characters that could pull off amazing stuff, and a background of super-science tech in the game as well. Hollywood Silencers are appropriate here, not my realistic silencers.

As a final nod: two of the best treatments of suppressors in GURPS both came from the same author: Hans-Christian Vortisch. First, in GURPS Modern Firepower, and then recreated for Fourth Edition in GURPS High-Tech (pp. 158-159), where I’m pretty sure Hans wrote the suppressor part.

The blank slate.

I have made several references on my Facebook page to a writing project that has . . . not been going well.

Over the holiday, I prepped to visit my in-laws. They live about an hour west, so pretty close, but for reasons that will become clear, it’s not a “let me zip home for a moment” kind of trip.

I downloaded my project, and the inevitable pair of spreadsheets that I work from, onto a flash drive.

I then promptly left it on my kitchen table as we left for the overnight stay. Laptop? Check. All previous progress on this work? Crap. Sitting on the table.

So once we got there, and Short Stack (the cute little girl in my profile pic) was happily playing with her cousins (all five of them), I opened my wife’s dv6 . . . and faced a blank slate (“tabula rasa” for those not a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or Latin.)

What happened? Unburdened by my previous work, I solved the mechanics problem that had been plaguing me for so very, very long.

Sometimes it’s good to start fresh. This can apply to game mechanics, a writing project, or letting go of an argument. It was a good lesson to re-learn.

I love tinkering with rules and mechanics. The things I’ve published have all been basically tweaks to the rules and mechanics of GURPS. I did do one for Frag, once. (Huh . . . all my old articles are available as free samples. Weird.)


But why? The system is pretty darn cool as it is. It’s a freshly-cut Christmas tree, and you can put whatever lights and ornaments you want on it. You have to choose carefully, though. The box of stuff that comes with GURPS will overload any tree. And you’ll lose the specialness of a particular arrangement if it’s ornaments and glitter crowded and overlapping from base to star.

And yet, I write rules. Some of them are really complicated. Some seem that way, but are pretty workable in play.

I write rules in service of narrative. No, really. Why else would you do it? The old Star Wars RPG by West End Games was (and is!) one of my favorite treatments of Star Wars. Ever. It took five minutes or so to make a character (just pick out a template and assign the dice pool the GM gives you), and was able to help steer stunningly playable narrative that just felt like Star Wars. You just needed a ‘blaster,’ or maybe if you were badass, a ‘heavy blaster.’ If you wanted to call it a DL-44 Heavy Blaster Pistol, well, fine. Who cares? Much like Episodes IV-VI, it was all story, flash, and fun, and point-five past lightspeed and stupid comments about making the Kessel Run in less than some number of parsecs. And Han shooting first.

That didn’t mean they didn’t publish weapon, gadget, and especially starship expansions. They did, and I greedily consumed them. But mostly it was flash, and the most fun was had with my group back in college (with me as player) and in grad school (this time as GM) was heavy on plot, and a lot of “roll and shout.” And whip out lightsabers. Any game is made better with lightsabers.

OK, enough Star Wars – but how can someone as detail oriented as I am just love the hell out of such an almost aggressively non-simulationist game? Expectations. For a grounded/realistic game, you’re going to want to ensure your players’ expectations for a believable outcome do not clash with what the results of the game mechanics bring. The outcome must be plausible, believable (not necessarily realistic), and rare events must be, well . . . rare. Or at least something that happens due to good planning (like the nifty rules for “Tactics Re-rolls” on GURPS High Tech  p. 60 of GURPS Martial Arts) or the various versions of luck, such as Destiny Points from Monster Hunters or the Advantage of the same name in Basic.

So the bow design rules were targeted at having a weapon of choice for punching through armor be a gun, not a composite bow. It was not hard to match Strongbow, Arm ST+2, and a Composite Bow with (say) ST 13 to have an effective ST 17 and thr+3, for 1d+5 damage . . . about as much penetration (and injury, though that bothers me not at all; arrows are nasty) as a .40 S&W.

The Last Gasp came from a desire to have lulls and flurries in GURPS combat. But I wanted it playable, so my first thought was “you have to spend a point every time you roll dice.” That didn’t quite work out, but what did come out – Action Points where most normal actions were 1 AP, “All-Out” actions were 2 AP, and various other actions were fairly simple – is intuitive enough that everyone who’s tried it (and written me back to comment) has enjoyed the feel. Once I had Action Points, though, Fatigue Points needed to recover more slowly. That, however, is worthy of its own post.

Technical Grappling? That one was inspired by a desire to have the quality of a grapple not be fixed (currently, a successful grappling attack inflicts -4 DX. Period.), ensure that strength was restored to it’s real-world importance, and allow grappling matches to have all the wonderful color and flavor that hand-to-hand striking and armed combat currently enjoy thanks to Sean and Peter’s GURPS Martial Arts.

What does that have to do with expectations? I studied Hwa Rang Do at the Minneapolis Academy for about ten years. We did serious grappling for eight or nine of them. And the rapidity and finality of “you’re grappled, you’re Arm Locked, you’re crippled” that fell out of certain applications of the existing rules just wasn’t right for reality, and strained suspension of disbelief in any realistic game. Not all grappling combats go like Black Widow taking on a bunch of guys in Iron Man 2. So I came up with an idea. That led to more thoughts. Then a system. Pretty soon, I had enough that I wanted to do a proposal, and after some back-and-forth emails, I had a contract.

So: Whom do I serve? I serve storytelling. I serve telling a believable narrative that allows (but never requires) people to have their characters enter the story in a meaningful way. Granted, I’m a geek with a rather technical background, so frequently that means math as the basis for what I do. I collaborate with people who smack me around when that math needs to be done mid-play, though.

Keeps me honest. We all need that.

I speculate that GURPS (and maybe The Fantasy Trip; I wasn’t around for that one) started with a fairly generic view of damage that incorporated penetration, blunt trauma, injury, and a certain amount of gamist fun. GURPS High Tech introduced the dependence on the square root of kinetic energy as a “damage” scale by giving the general rule of 20d = DR 70 = penetration of one inch of armor steel. I’m not sure from whence that one came, but I suspect David Pulver provided it to Mike Hurst

All of a sudden, you had two different progressions for damage, and some projectiles (bows) were on the ST-based scale, while the more-easily-quantified set (guns) were on another.

Sometime around the year 2000, I started fiddling with Excel’s solver. I thought that if I could find enough penetration data, I should be able to take a priori data about projectiles (specifically bullets) and turn that into GURPS stats. The result got me a mention on TV Tropes (look for Arbitrary Gun Power), and was published in 2002. But it worked fairly well, and got me noticed by a few other gamers

Anyway, THAT little adventure got me to notice that while firearms matched penetration of armor with known and quantifiable data – in this case the mass, velocity, and caliber of the bullet (from which you derive kinetic energy and momentum – that and cross-section are all you need to derive basic damage/penetration and a wound channel size modifier), weapons on the melee scale (things that you look up as “thr+2” or “swing+3” on the Damage Table on p. B16 of GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition) got pretty high penetration numbers pretty fast. Maybe too fast.

I once again scored a mention in TV Tropes by nearly breaking my brain (and Steven Marsh‘s sanity) figuring out how to do for bows and arrows what I did for guns. It was phenomenally more difficult. 

OK, so I’ve covered arrows and bullets. What about sling stones? Swords? Maces? Polearms? Pointed sticks? 

Um . . .

My previous post was an attempt to show how you could at least get the scaling of melee weapons right, where every doubling of ST also doubles penetration.

What you say?! GURPS ST measures applied force, and it goes as your ST score squared (Basic Lift is measured in pounds of force). Energy is force times distance, and if distance is more or less related to how far you can move your body (push-pull-twist-turn!), then doubling force should double deliverable energy, quadruple force is quadruple energy, etc. Then when you put this on the same sqrt(KE) progression as guns, you can arrive at a nice progression where ST 10 is about 1d, ST 20 is 2d, ST 40 is 4d, etc.

Hey, that’s damn playable. Even for me.

Well, that’s penetration, great. But injury? GURPS as-is is probably more right than wrong here when it comes to squishing meatbags. People are notoriously fragile (and strangely and unpredictably robust as well). 

So then you get into wounds, penetrating trauma, blunt trauma, and other things.

Fortunately, GURPS already has the tools required to handle this.

It has a basic damage number that should be used to represent penetration.

It has damage type and damage size modifiers that I’d personally apply a bit differently (maybe that’ll be Part 3), but basically are a “wound channel severity” modifier. 

It has armor divisors to represent something that penetrates better (or worse) than the raw energy might otherwise indicate.

With those things in mind, the only thing that’s really missing is a better way to represent blunt trauma and other non-penetrating injury.

Were I to start from scratch, I’d try and figure out:

Penetration rating, probably mainly based on energy. This would be GURPS’ “basic damage,” but possibly on a new scale. I like the “ST equivalent” number from the last post, since many weapons just act as lever arms, multiplying force. Multipliers are also nice because they allow the quite-simple “add +1 per die” type math, which is even easy in play.

Blunt Trauma rating, probably based on momentum and impact force. I think this is mostly what is done for hand weapons now, implicitly.

Armor Penetration modifier based on shape, hardness, or other factors. This is the source of my assertion that impaling weapons (a damage type I loathe) should probably get a (2) armor divisor, due to all their force being concentrated on a tiny, hard point.

Wound/Injury modifier based on the size and depth of damage. If I were really good, you’d incorporate some sort of “you have to achieve so much penetration before you can get to a Vitals type location.” That would help scale certain effects where you really NEED to go deep (Giganotosaurus hunting! Or a Frumious Bandersnatch)

I’d also have blunt trauma (including punches) be resisted by a HT roll, possibly influenced by skill. During the writing of The Last Gasp, one of my helpers ran a boxing match, and we decided that a HT roll to avoid actual HP of damage (but preserving the AP loss damage causes) from punches would make a LOT of sense, since even with boxing gloves, a typical 15-round boxing match as played in GURPS would kill both fighters. Extending this to all blunt trauma wouldn’t be too much of a leap, and if there were a penalty to HT rolls based on the rolled damage or something, that would keep maces and staffs scary. Alternately, padded hands might do the trick for bonuses to HT. People CAN get killed in fights, after all. They just usually don’t.


None of this is to say “GURPS is broken, wah!” It’s the best playable simulation out there that you can nod your head and say “yep, I get that” for most things. But when the tool of choice for penetrating DR 8 plate armor is “give me a sword” rather than “give me a spiked warhammer” (this one, not that one) or “grab me my gun,” then some head scratching might be in order!

The key in all this is to keep it fun and playable. All this crap needs to be subsumed into a table and calculated but once, during character generation or on obtaining the item the first time, and then never again. Even as ugly as The Deadly Spring was, the math is all in a spreadsheet (generously provided by Steven along with the issue of the magazine!) done up front.

Over at the GURPS Forums, there’s a really interesting (well, interesting to me) thread asking the question if basic melee weapon damage is too high (what you look up on p. 16 of the GURPS Basic Set).

I think the answer is “yes.” In fact, as part of my “Armor Revisited” article I had originally written about a page explaining why, how, and how I’d fix it. But I cut it out since it opened up a few cans of worms, potentially, that didn’t need opening.

Still, it was Just Sitting There, so I posted it on the forums, and now I post it here (this will make my musings in Part 2 of this topic a bit more cogent, I hope).

I note that JCurwen3 posted that he used it in his games, and finds that whatever cans were opened, they might have been more Whup-Ass than worms.

So:

Rescaling Melee Weapons

While firearms are explicitly on an energy-based scale that doubles penetration for every quadrupling of energy, melee weapons do not scale this way, and the raw damage rises much faster, making high ST unrealistically effective when applied to hand weapons and muscle powered ranged weapons.

For an alternative take that scales the same way as firearms, consider rescaling thrust and swing damage. A cinematic scale would have thr equal to ST/10, and swing equal to ST/5; a more realistic one might have thrust as ST/20, and swing as ST/10.

Oddly Small Damage Increment Table

Roll one off-color die, and adjust the number rolled to the table value. The Notes entry shows where rules of thumb can be used to more quickly interpret the roll of the odd die. Each entry is scaled to give an average result consistent with a fractional d6.

Roll on 1d6
Dice Average Damage 1 2 3 4 5 6 Notes
0.1 0.35 0 0 0 0 1 1 1d/5, drop fractions
0.2 0.7 0 0 1 1 1 1 1d/5, round normally
0.3 1.05 0 1 1 1 1 2 1d/4, round normally
0.4 1.4 0 1 1 2 2 3 1d/2, drop fractions
0.5 1.75 1 1 1 2 2 3
0.6 2.1 1 1 2 2 3 3 1d/2, round normally
0.7 2.45 0 1 2 3 4 5 1d-1
0.8 2.8 1 2 2 3 4 5
0.9 3.15 1 2 2 4 4 6
1 3.5 1 2 3 4 5 6 1d6

Implications for Play

Using the “realisitc” scale with ST/10 for swing damage has many repercussions, which must at least be considered before adopting these rules.

Devalued ST

ST is “the attribute that you use to buy damage” in GURPS, with a healthy side-order of “lifting heavy stuff” and “more HP.” The realistic scale requires ST 20 to do 1d thr and 2d sw, and probably calls for a price break. HP are 2 points each; Lifting ST is 3 points per +1 ST, and Striking ST 5 per +1.

HP and lifting are as valuable as ever; reducing Striking ST to 2 per +1 ST in realistic campaigns, with overall ST at 7 points per +1 ST, seems appropriate.

Hand Weapon Damage

Weapon damage is lower, and thrust weapons in particular will have limited penetration capability. This takes what was the historically preferred method of punching through heavy armor and nerfs it further. To compensate, add a (2) armor divisor to weapons with a sharp, narrow penetrating surface. Consider optionally allowing a still more impressive construction, buying a fine (hardened) penetrating point that gives a (3) for ¥4 cost. This would not be available for arrows (see The Deadly Spring, Pyramid #33, for suggestions concerning bows and arrows).

Armor

With most hand weapons using the realistic scale, personal armor just got a whole lot more valuable at low DR, especially using the revised armor weights from GURPS Low Tech. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it might make a campaign world more closely resemble what we know about our historical real one . . . on didn’t need to lather on 80 lbs. of mail, leather, and plate to protect against basic cuts from swords, or long-range shots from flight or hunting arrows.

Character Differentiation

With thrusting damage at ST/20, and swing at ST/10, there will be very little differentiation between average, fairly strong, and even very strong characters. Weapons rated at sw+2 or sw+3 (maces, axes, and falchions, for example) have their damage almost all defined by the weapon, not the user.

Consider treating the “adds” as an indicator of the power of the lever arm being applied. Treat each +1 as adding +1/3 to a ST multiplier – a sw+2 weapon instead multiplies ST by 1.66. A ST 14 warrior swinging a falchion (sw+2) will do damage as ST 23.2, or 2.3 dice.

One would thrust using the same calculations: a short spear thrust by the same warrior for thr+1 imp would multiply ST by 1.33, for ST 18.6; damage would be ST/20 (2), or 0.9d (2) imp. Note that same spear using the Damage Table (p. B16) would do 1d+1 imp, an average of 4.5 points of penetration. Even the realistic scale here will do 6.3 points, thanks to the armor divisor.

Coup de Grace

The changes to melee damage on the realistic end would bring GURPS damage on the hand-to-hand scale more in line with firearms damage. For a character to do as much damage with a punch as with a 9mm pistol would now require about ST 52 . . . well into supers territory. Even a strong character with ST 20 (1d thr) will be out-penetrated by a .22 LR (1d+1 pi-). For those who want a more realistic scaling for penetration, this may be more satisfying.