By special request!

The post on melee skill levels in GURPS broke my previous record for number of views in a day, so I guess people liked it. Enough so that the “but where’s the ranged stuff?” came as a special request, and a natural follow-on, to boot.


Ranged weapons are difficult in GURPS. Oh, sure, they’re the same skill levels. And Tactical Shooting even tells you what the typical range of skills are for guns: from “default” up to Guns-18 for “Exceptional hostage-rescue operators and snipers.”

But ranged weapons have a neat “yeah, but” to them – they stack on penalties faster than just about anything else in GURPS. The penalty for hitting a dude in total darkness with a stick? -10. Typical difficulty “just wing it” for an “impossible” task? Yep, -10, say for using a meditative skill in a combat environment. Hitting someone in the “center of mass,” the vitals in the chest, from 100 yards away? -10 for range and -3 additional for target size. The famous “head shot,” which in GURPS is the skull hit location, which contains the brain? It’s -10 at a range of 7 yards. Seven. Yards.

Note that the fact that these penalties are large doesn’t mean I disagree with them. They actually work pretty well.

Additionally, many weapons of the typical fantasy crowd can take a while to reload and re-ready for use. Even if you look at the battle with the Uruk-Hai from Fellowship of the Rings where Legolas is going all, well, Legolasy on the orcs he’s shooting about once per second. That’s roughly half the rate of a good melee guy with Skill-22 (again: starting DF Knight level), who can lay down a Rapid Strike for two shots per second at a net of Skill-18, or even less with key advantages. His range penalty is zero for melee, and always will be.

One thing about the size-speed/range table: it’s logarithmic, meaning every -6 to skill is 10x farther away, or 10x smaller in size. So a +1 bonus is actually a big deal in context – it means you can hit the same exact target the same amount of the time 50% farther away than you used to.

But the real kicker here is that there are comparatively few ways to boost your skill.

Key Maneuvers and Attack Options

Many of the options that you get for melee weapons don’t translate 1:1 into the ranged arena. For one thing, one of the more important stats you have for ranged weapons is Acc, the bonus you get to hit when you take an Aim maneuver (more below).

So, what are your options:

All-Out Attack: Your only option here is Determined, and it gives you +1 rather than the usual +4 for melee.

. . . and that’s all, at least as far as things you can do without spending extra time to do it. You can give up all your defenses for +1 with a ranged attack, but you can get +4 for AoA(Determined) and another +4 for Telegraphic Attack for melee. So given the same amount of defenselessness  you are +7 to hit advantaged in melee.

The key bit is the Aim maneuver (p. B364), which adds the weapon’s Acc, plus if you use a long-arm sling or a pistol in two hands, you can claim another +1 for your weapon being Braced.

Prediction Shot: This doesn’t help you put a projectile on target, but this optional rule (found in a few books) which allows Deceptive Attack to reduce your foe’s defenses  Dodge on ranged attacks helps a successful hit stay that way.

Some GMs and/or players do not find this realistic. So if your GM says no, you’re out of luck on this one. GURPS is a Rule Zero game.

But by and large, you are at a severe disadvantage with a ranged weapon in terms of available bonuses, and you can rapidly stack up some major penalties on your butt: most of p. B548 is one line of bad news after another.

The only other thing that might help is Suppression Fire (p. B409-410) where you can hose down a two-yard area if you can apply RoF of 5+ to it. Hit chance is 6+RoF bonus with handheld and bipod-mounted weapons, and 8+RoF bonus for vehicle-mounted and tripod-mounted ones. See below for further comment on suppression.

Alternate Rapid Fire Rule: Right now, you get a bonus to hit if you fire five or more shots (p. B373). I don’ t like that as much, because the militaries of the world have shown that firing three or four shots is a pretty good way to increase hit chances, and right now, there’s no reason to use that number. I like to change the progression so that 1-2 shots gives +0, 3-4 gives +1, 5-8 gives +2, and 9-16 gives +3, and every x2 gives +1 after that. Really, this is just shifting bonuses around, but it gives a +1 to hit for semi-auto fire at RoF 3-4, which I like. This progression also works if you use it up to 16 shots, and then revert back to the rules-as-written past that.

Second Alternate Rapid Fire Rule: Use the Speed/Range table, either giving +1 at 3-4 shots, +2 at 5-6, etc., or add 1, so a double-tap gives +1. Thanks to +Mark Langsdorf for the full suggestion, found in the comments below.

Vital Advantages
Certain advantages are key where ranged weapons are concerned, if you can get them.

From the point of view of point-efficiency, you’re buying the ability to add Acc to all shots with a handgun, aimed or no, for 25 points. Ahem. 25 points is a minimum of +6 to hit with any one skill. Acc for handguns is usually less than 3. Guns skills have pretty generous defaults, so if you’re only using the Basic Set, think hard about taking this one – it’s not worth the points. If you can convince your GM to lower the price to, say, 10 points, it becomes pretty attractive. Might even be attractive at 15 points, but not for 25. Gunslinger is also considered a cinematic advantage.

For cinematic campaigns, +Hans-Christian Vortisch‘s GURPS: Gun Fu adds some meat to Gunslinger. Ignoring the penalties for move and attack, full skill when shooting when riding or in a vehicle, Bulk penalties on foot, reduced penalties for Ranged Rapid Strike, and a whole host of other options, some of which may be available for realistic campaigns with a benevolent GM. On p. 16 of that book, the real key might be the Accessibility limitations he makes available by limiting the scope of the weapons to which your advantage applies, lowering the cost to get the benefit from this schtick.

Weapon Master
Another advantage that is recommended to cinematic games, this one helps with muscle-powered weapons, and the damage bonus it can provide is quite cool if your skill is DX+1 or DX+2. The other real benefit is reduced penalties for Rapid Strike (which you also get with Gunslinger).

Heroic Archer
This is an explicit variant on Gunslinger for Bows; the Basic Set alludes to it, and it’s spelled out right on on p. 45 of GURPS Martial Arts. For 20 points, it stacks the Rapid Strike benefits with Weapon Master, and gives you the ability to loose arrows from a bow while on the move, and disregard penalties in close combat.

Again, Mark notes that in his DF games, the ability to ignore penalties in CC means DF Scouts simply don’t need a backup weapon. They can use their bows.

Scopes and Sights
Laser Sights and Micro Reflex Sights: These boost Guns skill, not Acc, so they’re recommended acquisitions.

Bow Sights, Telescopic Sights: These add to Acc (as does Bracing a gun) and so will cost you the second required to aim.

The Basic Set restricts bonuses from aiming aids to 2xAcc; Tactical Shooting suggests max skill of 22+2xAcc. I like the second one more than the first. Of course, as Lead Playtester for Tactical Shooting, I’m very biased, but it’s a fantastic book.

Get to it Already
OK, with all that said, let’s take a stroll through the ranged weapon skill requirements. Let’s see what we can do with the same skill levels as melee. I’m not going to discuss defenses. By and large, you don’t parry or block with your weapons. You’re restricted to dodge, which has nothing to do with skill. If you’re All-Out Attacking, you can’t even do that. Note that you can parry with a bow, but it’ll likely ruin the bow. Your best defense is a big guy named Og or something. Maybe a velociraptor animal companion.

TL0 through TL4: Muscle-powered ranged weapons

Here we’re talking bows, crossbows, and slings. Acc ranges from 0-4, and half-damage range is a multiple of ST.


Unaimed Attack: A waste of time for all concerned. Even with AoA (Determined), you have a 16% chance to hit someone at two yards. If you can’t even roll if your skill falls below 3, then your max range is ten yards. Don’t bother aiming for any specific location, please. You’re going to embarrass yourself enough just aiming for “his general direction.”

Aimed Attack: Some of these weapons you really don’t get much help with the Aim maneuver. Acc 0 is pretty pointless, but multiple seconds of Aim still count. Even so, with no special rules, you’ll aim for three seconds in order to get a bonus from +2 to +6, with the +1 for AoA (Determined). That’s a net bonus of +3 to +7, for Skill-8 to Skill-12 (and for that, you need a crossbow, the only muscle-powered ranged weapon in Basic with Acc 4). That gives you a 50% chance to hit a guy at 5 yards. Woo hoo. Maybe 7 yards if you also brace that crossbow, which will probably require some not-too-portable or decidedly anachronistic technology.

The ultimate point here is that the only viable tactic at default skill levels is to mount a crossbow to something solid like a tripod, and start aiming when your foe is at least 22 or 25 yards away, more or less. You’ll hold fire until the last moment, then try and draw a hand-held weapon before he’s on you. You must assume that your one shot will miss, and then you’ll be hand-to-hand. Plan accordingly.

Unaimed Attack: You have a 37% chance to hit someone at two yards or less. You’re still wasting time trying this.

Aimed Attack: OK, with one shot every sixth second (Draw Projectile, Ready weapon, Aim, Aim, Aim, Shoot), the net bonus of +3 to +7 (see above) brings you to Skill-12 to Skill-16. So you can hit a man-sized target 50% of the time at 5 yards for Skill-12 for low-Acc weapons, and 20 yards for crossbows. If you hold your fire with a crossbow, you can hit the vitals 50% of the time at 7 yards. More pertinently, at 5 yards, you have a 90% chance to hit the torso, so “hold your fire ’till you see the whites of his eyes” is legit, but you may not have time to get your hand-to-hand on if you don’t stop him in his tracks – and at low TL, unless you’re very strong, firing special projectiles, or he’s unarmored, the odds of doing enough damage to guarantee incapacitation are low.

Unaimed Attack: You have a 50% chance to hit someone at 5 yards. Meh. Still pointless. If you have time to Draw, Ready, and Shoot, you probably have time to Aim a bit.

Aimed Attack: Your net skill with a longbow will be Bow-17. That’s 90% chance to hit at 10 yards, which might even give you time to drop the bow and draw a sword, mace, or club. You can hit a torso 50% of the time at 30 yards with a bow, or 70 yards with a crossbow. If you have a braced crossbow, you can hit the vitals at 30 yards.

The hit chances here are enough to worry a mass of attackers, but probably not individuals. Recall that if you can see a shot coming, especially a single arrow, you can elect to Dodge, and the defense bonus of a shield helps to protect. So these strike home less often than a hit is rolled.

Unaimed Attack: Geez. Skill-15 and you can hit the vitals 50% of the time at 5 yards, 90% chance to hit the torso at only 3 yards, and 50% chance to hit a man-sized torso at 15 yards.

Aimed Attack: You’ve finally got enough skill, at Skill-18 to Skill-22, to combine targeting with range. You can project point fire to 100 yards with a longbow with 50% hit rate, or hit the vitals with a longbow (Acc 2)  90% of the time, in combat, at 7 yards. A crossbow can do it at 15 yards. The low hit percentages at range are somewhat offset by the fact that with the right perks and skill rolls (Fast-Draw, and a Bow roll for quick-ready, but at -6) you can fire quite a few arrows by the time your foe closes the distance. Still, the warning against dodge holds at all ranges – if you’re shooting at Go Go Gadget Dodge Monkey and he can see your shots coming, you may waste a lot of arrows.

Unaimed Attack: Your 50% chance to hit is now actually somewhat decent, at 50 yards, the average mook will take ten seconds, more or less, to get to you. If you make a (wise) investment in Fast-Draw, you can shoot every other second, giving likely 4-6 shots at your foe. As he gets closer, you have a 10% chance of a critical hit at 5 yards to the torso, which negates even Dodge-Monkey’s last hope. You will essentially stop missing at 10 yards (90% to hit), and be able to snap-shoot the vitals 50% of the time at 15 yards. This tactic will be valid if you are behind a melee skirmish line, providing support. You can get relatively close, and stay close, while providing precision fire.

Aimed Attack: Ah. There’s a reason Hans put this at the top tier, and now we see what it is. Even with low-tech weapons, you’re looking at effective skill of 21 to 25. That’s a vitals shot 90% of the time with a longbow at 20 yards. You can now think about targeting the skull with a crossbow 90% of the time at 10 yards, and two times in three (net skill of 11) at 30 yards. You can project fire with a longbow to a generic man-sized target 50% of the time out to 300 yards . . . so you’re finally testing, maybe, the limits of the weapon. With a crossbow you’re probably not – with reload times what they are, you might as well “fire and drop” these, and have a very high ST crossbow, aim well, and shoot for the vitals or skull at ranges in excess of 100 yards.

Prediction Shot: I’d hold that this is the first skill level where you’re probably better off using some of your “surplus” skill, if you have any after range and location, for a shot that actually lowers the foe’s Dodge. Granted, the GM must allow it, but if he does, you may wind up being better off dropping your foe’s Dodge than keeping your skill at higher than 14. Hard to say.

Cinematically high skill, but accessible for Dungeon Fantasy characters. The prototypical bowman in DF is the Scout, and with a little tweaking, you can start shooting a ST 17 bow with Skill-24 at the start of play, by piling on the full -75 points of disads, taking Strongbow, ST 14, Arm ST +1, and knocking off a point of (say) Cartography. So it’s doable. You’re also sporting Fast-Draw (Arrow)-16 and Fast-Draw (Sword)-14, so you can draw an arrow or two freely each turn. You can also get a sword ready when your foes close on you and fight at Shortsword (or broadsword, spear, or some other skill)-14, which will keep you alive but not for long at DF point levels. Good for mooks, etc. This hasn’t been required in actual play, as noted above, since getting rid of the close-combat penalties with Heroic Archer mitigates that to the point that you don’t need a backup weapon, but you will need high Dodge. Without Heroic Archer, you will want the backup, still.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto helpfully notes the following with respect to some of the gymnastics I went through to get Bow-24 out of our starting Scout:

. . . it’s a real stretch to make a starting Scout with bow-24. It’s easy to get a net 24 skill, though – Heroic Archer and Weapon Master, Weapon Bond on the bow, all 8 points from Background skills to get Bow-20, 4 points from quirks for Bow-21 (and 1 on Weapon Bond.) Buy an Acc 3 bow (longbow for 200, composite for 900) and you are shooting at a 25 skill, 22 if you Move and Attack.  

You’re just focusing on also getting a ST 17 bow, which is a terrifically hard combo to do on 250+50+5 using the Scout template and $1000 in starting cash. If you built a custom archer, you could. I’d say just worry about the skill – you’re concerned about hitting, not damage, otherwise you’d also need to start talking fine arrows, poison, bodkin points, etc. It’s kind of a departure from the point. 

So I’d just let the ST 17 bow thing go, and say a straight-up Scout from DF can get a new skill 25 if all he cares about is shooting bows, 24 if not (spend 4 quirk points on something else, or 4 background skill points on actual background skills). You don’t need to even tweak the template to do that. You only need to change stuff if you want raw skill and lots of damage, too. 

At this skill level, though:

Unaimed Attack: You can snapshot the vitals (-3) 90% of the time (effective skill 14) at 30 yards. You can shoot for the eye (-10) and hit 50% of the time at 10 yards (and a miss by 1 hits the face). If you have a target 100yds away, you have a 90% chance of hitting him even without aiming. You can Fast-Draw an arrow and absorb the -1 penalty to draw and shoot a bow (two skill rolls, with the -6 halved twice for Weapon Master and Heroic Archer) at Skill-23 every round (hello, Legolas . . . where have you been all my life), which means you can do this to the vitals at 20 yards every second at a 90% hit rate, or even the brain (-7) at 5 yards. This is pretty much exactly what our favorite pretty elf was doing in Fellowship, and this is more or less the skill level to do it (note he was being attacked effectively one at a time with conveniently staggered foes). With only a few more points, perhaps +2 to +4 to skill, you can do this to the eye, like he did.

Note that Skill-24 is the cap on a weapon with Acc 1, with or without aim, using the optional rule from Tactical Shooting!

Aimed Attack: With Aim bonuses that take raw skill up to, or past, the max-skill cap suggested in Tactical Shooting (and which you should probably throw right out the window in Dungeon Fantasy), this is an effective skill of 28 to as high as 32 depending on what you’re doing. At this point, eye shots and brain shots are your go-to, since you can eat that -7 or -10 at a minimum of 5 yards, and maybe as far away as 50 yds. You can menace a foe with a 90% chance to hit with a longbow farther than the bow can shoot, so you need to start always picking your targets. For a ST 17 composite bow, you can hit the vitals (-3) 90% of the time (Bow-14) to 300 yds, which is still within your 1/2D range with 1d+4, and with the proper arrows, that could be 1d+4 (2) pi, putting 1d injury even through DR 8.

At close range, if you’re allowed a Prediction Shot, you will have plenty of skill left over to drop Dodge. At 20 yards (-6) to the vitals (-3) with a composite bow and plenty of aim (Bow-30), you can take a -6 to hit and inflict a nice -3 to Dodge and still roll vs. Bow-15, increasing your chance of a critical hit to on a 5 instead of a 4.

TL5 through TL9-ish: Firearms and railguns
Unaimed Fire
There’s not that much different with unaimed fire for any sort of weapon, with a few important exceptions:

Targeting Aids: Any aids that add to Guns skill, instead of Acc, will help you here. Most of the fancy-schmancy targeting aids are only good for +1 to Guns (though occasionally much more to Acc).

Rate of Fire: You don’t have to get  your full-auto on to make this count. With a pump-action shotgun, fully legal nearly everywhere in the USA, you can put 18 pellets into the air at once firing two shells filled with 00 or #1 buckshot. Even with the standard GURPS Rapid Fire rules, this is worth +4 to hit, and will do something like 1d+1 pi damage per pellet that hits. Not much against any sort of body armor, but that’s a huge chance to hit. Even so, typical full-auto weapons can rock out +2 or so (+3 using my alternate rule suggestion above) in spray-and-pray mode.

Magazine Capacity: The ability for a shooter to take 1-3 shots per second until his magazine runs out is a bigger deal for the low-skilled than high. Each roll of the dice is a chance to get lucky (and at low skill, that’s what you’re hoping for) and put a bullet on target.

What does this mean?

Default Guns skill is Easy, so you get a quick boost there. Mostly, this means “you miss” even at close range, as with low-TL weapons, but with a shotgun, that +4 to hit from Rapid Fire means you have a 50% chance to hit at 2 yards, which is not as uncommon an engagement range as people might think. You can, even without the shotgun, look to try and claim the +1 for All-Out Attack (Determined), and the additional +1 if you can buy a gun with a laser sight (most likely for a pistol) or collimating/reflex sight (pistols and longarms). That’s one chance in four of a hit from two yards, or about one chance in ten or fifteen at five yards . . . which happens to be the average hit chance of real-life encounters at the same distance. Note that full-auto fire from even a good SMG at this skill level will still mostly punch holes in things other than your target. Volume of fire does not make you not suck, it only makes you suck slightly less.

One point in Guns gets you DX, which is Guns (Whatever)-10 for Joe Average. Five to ten yards distance is -2 to -4 to hit, which our putative shotgunner can offset through volume of buckshot. So with a little training, you’re hitting 50-75% of the time, and a good roll can put a bunch of pellets on target (with Rcl 1, you hit with 1+Margin of Success pellets).

Why am I focusing on shotguns? At low skill (and in this case low is probably “12 or less”) that buckshot bonus is your ticket to actually accomplishing something. Even full-auto weapons of normal output (600-900 rounds per minute, or RoF 10-15) aren’t enough to get out of this hole.

You’re 90% to the torso at 7 yards with the shotgun with an AoA; 10 yards with the proper boost to Guns with the right sight. This is close-in nastiness, but for unaimed fire where you’re just banging off rounds, it’s likely your best tactic. Spray-and-pray with an SMG  or full-auto carbine is a 3-5 yard game, though a collimating sight is more likely on those, so this is the first time SMGs/rifles equal shotguns for hit rate, and both will surpass in damage. At Guns-12 and higher, you’re looking at preferring rifles and submachine guns over shotguns, finally, as offensive weapons.

Suppression Fire
One trick not mentioned yet is suppression fire, which pours fire into an area and rolls at 6+Rapid Fire bonuses to hit. This is a good way to utilize relatively low-skill fighters, though I’d probably limit the roll to 6+Rapid Fire bonuses or real effective skill+Rapid Fire – as long as your net skill to put bullets into a range is larger than the 6, use rules normally. That might even be the real rule.

This gets loving attention in Tactical Shooting, with the key bit being that near-misses can trigger Fright Checks. This is a darn good way to deny movement and keep heads down. Go read the book. It’s worth it.

Unless, of course, you want to slow down and try . . .

Aimed Fire
TL5-9 adds a lot of oomph to what you can do when you Aim, since you can get some pretty appreciable bonuses thrown in, in addition to the larger accuracy of longarms.

Targeting Aids and Scopes: This is where the real impact is made, though it can take many seconds to get there. Your typical 10x scope is a +3 bonus to Acc, and I believe that stacks with rangefinder bonuses.

Inherent Weapon Accuracy: While handguns are in the Acc 0 through Acc 2 space, much like bows (this isn’t too much a cinematic convention – a modern olympic super-expensive target bow can be Acc 4 based on shots I’ve seen myself – like putting one 8mm arrow through another at 10 yds), SMGs and rifles can push Acc 6.

Precision Aiming: GURPS High Tech introduced the Precision Aiming technique, which can exceed the usual +2 for additional seconds of aim. You still can’t, in reality, exceed the suggested cap of 22+2xAcc for any reason – that’s the mechanical accuracy of the platform in a bench-rest. But with an Acc 6 firearm, that cap is Skill-34.

Bracing: You can claim an extra +1 using a two-handed pistol stance or using a sling with a long-arm. In TL7+, this is likely “how you learned,” with that being especially true at TL8, where the odds of needing that other hand to swing a sword or control a horse’s reins are pretty low.

Rapid Fire: Well, I suppose you can still push the +2 or +3 for shooting a lot after spending three seconds to aim. It ain’t elegant, but remember that +2 is “same result at double the range,” and a good roll can hit with multiple bullets. So there might be something here. Note I’m not going to talk about it much below. Consider it an Easter egg.

So our notional Aimed Fire case will be looking at +1 for AoA(Determined), +1 for Braced in most cases, +2 for taking additional time without the Precision Shooting Technique, plus Acc and any bonuses you get for the first second of aiming with a scope.

How about our nominal combat rifle. A rifle with Acc 4 (for a carbine) or Acc 5 (for a rifle). Maybe with a x4 scope on it (+2). So with a few seconds of aim, you add +10 or +11 to skill. Higher tech weapons with computerized rangefinders and magnifying scopes built-in can probably increase this by +2 or +3 more. That means that you can (for example) roll against full skill to 100-200 yards against a man-sized target, and if you hit probably do 5d-7d of damage.

At combat distances, aimed fire becomes positively lethal. As it should.

Pistols are in the same accuracy class as low-tech ranged missile weapons (Acc 0-2), but can usually claim the bonus for braced and maybe a laser sight. This means that net Acc is probably 1-4 . . . so you can use the descriptions for Aimed Fire right out of the box.

SMGs push the upper bound of accuracy for muscle-powered ranged weapons (mostly Acc 3-4). They may also mount scopes of typical combat power in the +1 or +2 to Acc, and snipers may well push +3 to +5 for extremes (+3 is a standard 10x scope, which is plenty in most cases). For carbines and rifles, you’re talking Acc 4-5 plus scopes and targeting aids, and likely braced for a sling.

SMGs: you can probably expect to achieve the descriptive results of muscle-powered ranged weapons at 1-3 points of skill lower. So Skill-10 with an SMG is probably as good as Skill-12 with a composite bow or crossbow.

Combat Rifles: Acc 4-5 vs the 2-3 of typical bows. Bracing is easier. Scopes are legion for another +1 to +2. So you can achieve muscle-powered ranged weapon results with skill levels 3-6 points lower than the descriptions. That means a Guns (Rifle)-12 combatant who can Aim (+5), Brace (+1 for Brace, assumes AoA(Determined) for +1), using a x4 scope (+2), and taking his extra two seconds (+2) has an effective skill of Rifle-23 before he starts subtracting for range and target. He’s 90% at 20 yds to the vitals. That’s as good as Bow-18 with a longbow, a +6 advantage over our bowman.

Hunting and Sniper Rifles: Bigger scopes (+3 or more), higher Acc (Acc 6, or even 7 if you want to pay for it). Likely using Match-Grade Ammo (+1 Acc on weapons with Acc 4 and higher) probably gives a +3 advantage in aimed fire over even Combat rifles, meaning Joe Solider with Rifle-12 with all that kit is pushing an effective Rifle-24 to Rifle-26, meaning vitals shots at 90% at 30-70yds. That may not seem like much, but that’s someone with only a few points in the skill.

TL9-ish through TL12: Lasers, Grazers, and Blasters (oh my!)
There’s actually not too much more to say about ultra-tech weaponry. The sights and scopes that are listed in Ultra Tech really aren’t that much better than some of the late TL8 scopes in High-Tech.

The big bad, though, is that lasers and other zero time-of-flight weapons are Acc 6 for a pistol, Acc 12 for most rifles, and Acc 18 for mounted weaponry. That’s a +6 skill level advantage over sniper rifles for your bog-standard laser assault weapon.

Electromagnetic weapons maybe are +1 Acc over their conventional cousins in pistol form, and roughly equivalent to +1 better for longarms.

Parting Shot
All fighters are more or less equally ineffective when not pausing to aim. There’s a lesson there.

Low-Tech weapons suffer from poor rate of fire unless proper investment in skill (Fast-Draw is one of the best points or four you’ll spend if you’re an archer, I suspect), and having enough skill to eat the Quick-Shooting penalty of -6 means you go all Legolas on someone only if you’re really very skilled.

Any sort of range penalty (and they stack up fast) makes unaimed fire mostly pointless at any tech level.

You can boost up your chances a bit by using high volume of fire (like a shotgun or full-auto weapon), but a quick analysis of the stats shows this is still a game when you’ve got only a bad guy in front of you at ten yards or less.

The name of the game in ranged weapons is aimed fire. You can even do sequential aimed shots, one per turn, using the Follow-Up Shots rule (Tactical Shooting, p. 14). At this point, high TL matters, since high Acc, scopes, and other devices become telling.

The latest issue of Pyramid, #3/52: Low-Tech II, is out. I’ve got an article in it!

Called Delayed Gratification, it’s an option for a different way of handling the Feint maneuver in GURPS, treating it as a variant of an actual attack, rather than a Quick Contest of somewhat-nebulous intention.

It’s not a long article, or particularly crunchy by the standards of The Deadly Spring or The Last Gasp.

But I think it’s a good add to the list of potential combat options for players. I look forward to hearing what people think about it.


+Sean Punch posted a blurb on the SJG Forums, and I reproduce the capsule of my article here:

GURPS offers many ways to lower your opponents’ defenses: Deceptive Attack, Feint, and so on. But if you want Delayed Gratification, try the Setup Attack. Based on realistic fighting techniques, this new combat option gives you a way to launch an offensive that may cost your opponent his Hit Points and his defenses.

My post on what guns do in GURPS and storytelling got me thinking about false precision in games that rate damage by HP ablation.

I’ll pick on GURPS, but DnD/Pathfinder is, in its way, not much different. Ironically, I don’t think people really notice as much in Pathfinder, since the entire point of an attack is to whittle away HP until the foe is Dead. Or Dying.

GURPS is a bit different, in that there are a few basically devastating outcomes (because of the one-second time scale) that don’t require HP ablation. You can KO someone with any blow to the skull, for example. Knockdown and stunning, both of which don’t necessarily require large HP subtractions. And lastly, criticals, and crippling of the limbs.

Anyway, here’s the thing. Let’s start with pistols. In common calibers, from about .380ACP to .45ACP (and maybe even including things like the .50 GI) are probably “equally ineffective” when it comes to doing their job. While the .380 is probably a bit anemic, and other cartridges like the 10mm Auto (720 J or so, 200 gr projectiles available? Ow.) are probably on the other end, there are no surefire manstoppers that achieve the goal due to size and power alone – everyone will tell you that shot placement (and a good bit of pscyhology, in addition to physiology) is at least as important, if not more, than joules, kg m/s, and caliber.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s likely, perhaps certainly – true that on the margin, higher energy and momentum and caliber are more likely to achieve incapacitation. But until you up the ante to things like a .44 Magnum (in a pistol caliber), or a .223 or similar high-powered cartridge, you’re really saying that in certain edge cases, you’re slightly more likely to get’r’done than you were before.

What I’m about to do is clearly the act of pondering doing away with Hit Points and going to a wounding mechanism based on something like a HT roll, probably penalized. Probably something like “every HP/2 of penetrating injury is -1 to a HT roll; the more by which you fail, the worse off you are.”

I’m not going to work this one out in detail. Just suffice to say: despite my endless fiddling with firearms game mechanics that are super-detailed in resolution, the world doesn’t really work that way when people are involved; even armor plate is frustratingly variable under real-world conditions.

Continuation of the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Campaign following the Pathfinder Jade Regent Adventure Path.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Theodore Briggs , +Kevin Smyth , +Emily Smirle , +Douglas Cole

This will be an abbreviated tale, but let me start with the conclusion: we played for four hours in one giant combat that involved five PCs, and no fewer than fourteen adversaries. We finished the combat in a very satisfactory manner, and play was brisk, rules disputes were minimal, and severe consequences were suffered by the PCs due to battle injuries. 
GURPS is very capable of fast, fun, detailed play. 
We started the game having just finished being attacked by two swarms of ravens after opening the unlocked door to the hall. Thumvar and Cadmus were inside the hall, having entered as part of the combat previously. I honestly don’t recall if Cadmus and Thumvar had both entered and then were attacked (I think so), or one or both of us entered, and then the other rushed in for support. 
Brother Michel, who has a strong Honesty disad, objected to home invasion throughout the session until a key bit of info was revealed. More on that later.

A word here: Honesty is an annoying disadvantage for a group of murder-hobos to have among them, and Cadmus has it too, as a temporary part of a deal with his Goddess that granted him some cool abilities after a crit on a general prayer for Smite. Michel’s player really dug into his disad here – as he should have. What we were doing inside that house was at best questionable. We suspected evil was afoot, but it was all circumstantial. There were some principles/laws/customs that would allow us to act like the vigilantes we were, but they weren’t obvious at the time. I’m not sure to what extent modern western legal theory applies in Golarion, but there’s no question we were pushing our luck, and Michel kept us . . . well, if not honest, at least informed. It was a good bit of roleplaying.

Anyway, the hall was empty – naturally we suspected ninjas. They’re always there when you can’t see ’em, after all. It was on two levels, the lower hall where we’d fought the ravens, and the upper wings, which had benches and tables overlooking the lower hall. I think there may have been some doors up there.
Thumvar flew up to the balcony to check things out. Michel would not enter the building, and was down a few HP and FP for spellcasting. Cadmus went to him and provided healing (he was down 6 HP, I think), which would only take Cadmus 6 minutes to heal thanks to Flesh Wounds. So mostly fully refreshed, we . . .

. . . and then Java wigged out on me totally. Massive errors in MapTool caused by the auto-update to Java7 that are incompatible with MT build 87. I had to log out, shut down, log back on, reinstall Java6 Update 41, find that didn’t work, then get help from our resident IT gurus (actually, that may well be everyone but me in that group), and replace my mt-cfg file pointer with a direct pointer to C:blahblahJava6 instead of the generic pointer. This should also let me run Java6 only for that, and Java7 for everything else. Woot, thanks to Bruno, but when I returned to play . . .

Ninjas! Scads of them!
Oops. That was probably an interface error. No ninjas here. Move along.
Anyway, long story less long: Brody opens a door and maybe walks in.

Then a door opens, and we see a freakin’ were-bear and a few thugs. Nate is borrowing the weres from GURPS Monster Hunters, so they’re kinda badass. 30 HP and some DR.

We prepare for battle – Thumvar fast-draws his axe, Cadmus asks the blessings of Pharasma, anticipating combat, and gets his Righteous Fury on. Michel is bitterly disappointed that we’re all “GRRR!” since we’re home invaders and haven’t the right. Brody hears the commotion and begins to walk out of the room he was exploring. And then Staver draws a couple of arrows and looses them at the Were-bear. As Staver’s player stated: “Staver has the ethics of a cat.”

So battle was on for real. Michel and Staver form up to Cadmus’ left and right, Thumvar gets in the bear+2xThug’s faces at the door from which they’re emerging.

Very soon after this, more ninjas show up, Michel asks if we can all just get along, put our weapons down, and talk. A ninja attacks Michel, who’s on Cadmus’ left side and in his line of sight; he does a Shield Wall block for him. Staver’s foe starts directly behind Cadmus, unseen, and Staver gets badly murderized by one of those pop-up ninjas in their first round of combat. And in the next round, Brody gets badly, badly stabbed. Possibly mortal wound, definitely negative HP . . . 

In retrospect, this was a tough game for Kevin, and he wound up spending a lot of the game working on a replacement character in the background. Brody got it right at the beginning of a four-hour session, or maybe midway through if there were multiple stabbings involved. We were desperately trying to think of ways to mitigate the damage. I don’t think he had any spare CP to use to mitigate wounds. He didn’t have any Destiny points (borrowed from Monster Hunters), nor was he using Thief! wildcard skill to make the wound a Flesh Wound. We’d done the Tactics check at the beginning of the fight, but Brody was not in Thumvar’s line of sight, so couldn’t benefit from a bequeathed re-roll. Ultimately, he had to “just take it.” There might be a lesson here, something +Sean Punch brought up, about keeping the group more together, but maybe not. We weren’t that far apart. Just bad luck.

 At this point, critical information is revealed: Ninja assassins are considered Other. They are “kill on sight” legal, and those associating with them are brought along for the ride. This is a big deal, since it unconstrained the lot of us for full-on combat.
Without going through a blow-by blow, some of my remembered highlights and notes:

  • Righteous Fury is something I’ve mentioned before. It’s a spectacular physical power-up, and Nate has been kind and allows me to roll the three 1d6 rolls and allocate them how I like. I nearly always take the highest roll and give it to DX, the second highest and increase ST, and the lowest goes to HT. This time, I rolled 5, 4, 2, which increased the chracter’s point value by 160! ST 18, DX 18, HT 14. This gave me Axe-24, Shield-22, and with my large shield (Shield Wall negates the -2 for large shields; a wonderful perk) and Combat Reflexes, he has Parry-19 and Block-18. Shrivener, Cadmus’ named possession, does 3d+3 (2) cut damage on a successful hit. That can punch through as much armor on an average roll as a .30-06 . . .
  • His first move was possibly rules-illegal, but we let it slide. He spun and did a rapid strike, hitting first one foe, then stepping and hitting the other. Both were killed or incapacitated. I’m not sure if you can step in the middle of a rapid strike or not; the group decided on yes, but I’ve got a question out to The Powers That Be on this one. Skill levels as high as this enable some truly epic moves. If I would have had Weapon Master, lowering the Rapid Strike penalties to -3 each instead of -6, accounting for four foes per turn would not have been out of the question.

    Edit: Kromm himself commented on this: it’s legal. I paste his comment below in the post in full, since it’s just that useful:

    FYI, the step allowed by the Attack maneuver can come at any time on your turn: before the attack, after the attack, or between attacks if you have more than one. There’s nothing illegal about taking an Attack maneuver, declaring a Rapid Strike, and then attacking at -6, stepping, and attacking at -6. You can’t do this with Dual-Weapon Attack, because that’s simultaneous (and also easier, so suck it up!).

  • Thumvar has DR 14. This is a phenomenal equalizer for many things, and even with Cadmus’ power-up, I’d give mad props to Thumvar in most combat situations. His trademark is a dual-weapon attack with an edged shield and an axe, and he’ll often rack up 15+ points of cutting damage, maybe on each. He eventually wound up dispatching the werebear with two huge blows after Cadmus had crippled its leg (more on that later).
  • I may have said this before, but +Mark Langsdorf is right: if you don’t pay the low fee to silver your weapons in a DF campaign, you’re either inexperienced (me) or dumb (hopefully not me). That being said, though we’d talked about getting Shrivener silvered, we didn’t actually do it. Don’t forget.
  • Cadmus got bull-rushed from behind by the were-bear. He knocked me one hex over, but did not knock me down. Being strong and big helps a lot in this situation – I think the bear rolled 2d+something physical damage, with double-knockback for his slam. I took 4 points of damage even through DR 9, so this was a mightly blow. We started calling the were-bear Ditka or the Refridgerator after that.
  • The fight was basically over when after getting slammed, Cadmus spun and chopped at Ditka’s knee, landing the blow and doing 18(2) raw damage, which was enough to cripple the leg (yay!) but not to take it right off – between the DR and 30HP this guy was a BMF.
  • Towards the end of the fight, I tried once again to do something that was going to be a Moment of Awesome. Committed Attack (Long) to get into a Thug’s hex, use Judo Throw to toss him down, then kill him with an axe blow. Judo Throw defaults from Axe/Mace for me (that’s an allowable Technique Adaptation perk), so I had effectively Judo Throw-24 . . . and the Thug managed to make both defense rolls. Again. I have yet to pull off any nifty grappling stuff in combat, despite several attempts. Sigh.
After that, having dispatched a couple ninja, maybe 3-5 thugs, and the were-bear, everyone else started to head for the door. Thumvar, in his own moment of awesome, actually flies to the door and sizes up what equipment the fleeing foes are carrying, deciding whether or not to kill ’em all or let ’em escape by judging the quality of the plunder.
A fine way to end the night. 

In the discussion of common pitfalls in GURPS (which was really common pitfalls in RPGs in general, for the most part, some of which applied more directly to GURPS), the topic of metagaming currencies came up.

What is a metagaming currency? Well, I’ll pick on GURPS, since I can think of a few:

  • Luck can be use X times per hour/day/game session. It allows you to reroll certain bad die rolls, or try and improve on good ones. 
  • Tactics success can allow the equivalent of Luck rerolls, a certain number of times per battle
  • Destiny or Bonus points, discussed in GURPS Monster Hunters at least, and I give them a nod in The Last Gasp, again give you “good stuff,” much of it being Luck-type re-rolls, and you get a certain number per game based on the number of points you’ve invested in (for example) a Wildcard skill
I’m sure there are others.
Whenever I think about metagaming in this context, my thoughts always turn to D-Day, and Band of Brothers. If the PCs are going to cross the bullet-swept beaches of D-Day in the opening scene of your adventure, you’re either going to want to start off with . . .

“OK, you guys just landed on the beach, saw most of your comrades in arms brutally murderized, but have managed to come through relatively unscathed. Now, we begin with . . . “

 . . . or you’re going to want to have some sort of ability for the PCs to avoid random death. I am utterly convinced that by dint of skill, behavior, a knack for making the right call under pressure, certain soldiers (it’s most obvious in war, I think) are “lucky,” but it’s such a repeated kind of luck that it’s probably not actual luck. Well, most of the time.

How to represent that? GURPS does it through a very specific set of metagame currencies, purchased as advantages or bequeathed by certain kinds of skills. I find this kind of metagaming helps with immersion, rather than harms it. When you do things like use such things to make a fatal bullet wound a scary close call (a “graze”) – but you have a limited supply, so your luck can indeed run out. I think it makes for the right kind of resource-management type of decision that is perfectly in keeping – in the outcome, if not strictly by method – with good roleplaying.

We use Destiny points in +Nathan Joy‘s GURPS DF: Jade Regent game, and they significantly aid fun. Honestly, Pathfinder itself, with the flat probability distribution of the 1d20 die roll, could probably benefit from such a thing. Maybe 1 “re-roll” per session every 4-5 levels or something (I may very well find exactly this exists, but I haven’t come across it yet).

In short: bring on the metagaming management of resources to help the players influence their own story. I love it, I love it, I want more of it. 

+Hans-Christian Vortisch dropped me a note on another forum he and I share, which basically (my words, not his) said “um, you were lead playtester on Tactical Shooting, lasers aren’t that different from guns, and your long-winded post is why I wrote Tactical Dodging in the first place.”

He’s right, and it’s a valuable addition to the conversation.

Tactical Dodging: from GURPS: Tactical Shooting, p. 17

The key bit here is that the GURPS Attack maneuver, the one that allows a real defense, may not be combined with certain things – notably Aim. If you want to use the sights, or go beyond that and even Aim, you must do All-Out Attack (Determined), which fixes the problem right there by disallowing a dodge.

The Tactical Dodging heading has a section Restricted Dodge Against Firearms that has very explicit rules about what maneuver choices will enable a follow-on dodge, and ties in to perception and situational awareness – you have to be “watching” your attacker in order to Dodge.

There are some neat rules here that +Peter V. Dell’Orto would describe as “roll-heavy” (correctly) that I can think of for how many targets you can be aware of.

+Christian Blouin made an interesting comment on Google+ in response to my Shoot/No-Shoot post.

He said:

I was toying with the idea of asking players what would be their next action before resolving the current one. Cancelling their decision on the following turn would impose a “Do Nothing”. Maybe a tactics check could allow to avoid the Do nothing. I think that this may minimize the fine tuning, and favour players who can anticipate the battlefield more.

This is interesting. I wrote up a reply, then decided to make an entire post about it. Then Windows ate my reply. Sigh.

Here’s the thing:

This is really interesting, but as +Peter V. Dell’Orto would say, it really needs to be tried in play.

I can see a few issues that leap out:

  • Once you set your first two actions, really is all you’re doing is choosing your next action on your turn, then resolving the one you chose last round. 
  • Is the GM going to choose in advance for all his NPCs? How will he keep track of this?
I can see a few really neat benefits to this, though. There is real uncertainty on a real battlefield. You don’t know, really, where your foes will be, what they’ll be doing, with perfect fidelity. This means you have to guess. Will they Move? Attack? Defensive Attack? If you’re shooting ranged weapons, there may be some uncertainty about the range, and therefore the penalties. You won’t know if they’ll be in hot combat with a friend, or hiding behind a rock.
I was pondering a combat example. Let’s say I’m playing Cadmus, my Warrior Saint from +Nathan Joy‘s DF game. 
We’re attacked by a bunch of henchmen. Say six or eight. There are four of us PCs. As per usual, we scatter to the winds to fight. While we might assume that in a turn or two, we’ll be fighting two foes each, we have no idea. We have to start by deciding several seconds ahead, what we’ll be doing. 
Cadmus will assume these guys come to him, and so his first second’s choice is Wait (triggered by foe coming into range, where he’ll do an attack), and then assuming he’ll be facing one or two more, perhaps he’ll  . . . well, what will he do? 
Do we have to really get specific? Or just choose a maneuver class? I could say “He’ll Attack” next round, and then when it’s my turn, choose that I’ll Rapid Strike so I can engage multiple foes. Or, do I have to guess in advance that I’ll be using Rapid Strike?  Let’s assume that I have to choose more precisely.
Cadmus will assume that he’ll be attacked by 2-3 people, basically assuming that our foes will split evenly. So his two maneuver choices are Wait(Attack), then Attack(Rapid Strike). 
Rats. These are Evil Cultists. They hate Warrior Saints. One each go for my three companions, five for me. Cadmus swats the first one down with his Wait, but he’s still about to be dogpiled by four more. When his next turn comes, he chooses Defensive Attack as his posture for his FOLLOWING round, and honestly, would prefer Defensive Attack for the current round too. But his chosen maneuver, which he must execute, is Attack (Rapid Strike). 
So, he can do that . . . OR he can take a penalty to all his skills this turn and change his mind. Maybe he uses the rules for Pop-up attacks or something, changing the mind counts as an extra action (like a mental Ready maneuver). Maybe it’s another -2 (like pop-ups or opportunity fire) to -6 (like Rapid Strike). 
I can see that the uncertainty about the situation – choosing your FOLLOWING move rather than your current one, could be really fun.
Or it could suck. 
Not sure.
Were I playing with my Action Point concept from The Last Gasp, it would be interesting to have changing your mind cost you AP, either in addition to or in lieu of, a skill penalty.
Anyway, enough for now. Christian’s thought was intriguing – but definitely would need a playtest!

The recent post and discussion on dodging lasers in GURPS has led to further thoughts.

One of the things that happens in real target shooting, and presumably it can happen in combat too, though it would be under considerably more stress, is a shooter knows he’s off target. His breathing is wrong, he feels a sneeze coming, he sees the target jink, or he’s otherwise pointing at air.

I always thought that this would be a natural use of the Precision Aiming technique, which is covered in GURPS Tactical Shooting (p. 26-27).

In fact, there would be an interesting way to adjudicate aiming in general, which will add die rolls, but perhaps make a trade-off in narrative fun. We’ll see. Consider this somewhat stream of consiousness – so it may wind up all a bad dream.

The way I shoot, you line up your sights on the target, and when you’re where you want to be, you squeeze the trigger. The key being “where you want to be.” There’s no set time for this. Sometimes you’re right on and it happens quickly, and sometimes you’re not, and you keep aiming. Sometimes, as you start to pull the trigger (especially for single shots), you know you’re off, and you relax and don’t shoot.

Maybe what you need to do is something like this:

All of this assumes you can see the target.

When you Aim, go ahead and roll some dice. Maybe you always use the Precision Aiming technique (but I don’t think so), but I think it’s just a straight-up DX-based skill roll. If you succeed in your roll, you get +1 Acc. If you succeed by a bunch, you can get even more, up to the Acc of the gun.

If you want to shoot go ahead. If you hit, great, you shot, you hit, fine.Maybe it’s actually this roll, the aiming roll, that you have to trade off in order to get the Prediction Shot bonus that penalizes your foe’s Dodge score.

So, what if you fail? Maybe you can make a Precision Aiming roll, and if you succeed, you don’t fire. Your margin of success might tell you how much of your Acc bonus you retain.

That way, it’s not “I will fire every three seconds,” which is basically how it works right now. Sometimes, you might get a very rapid sight picture. Sometimes, you have to work at it.

Today’s game started out after we’d been attacked by some sort of acid ooze in the previous game. Naturally, we were immediately attacked by a giant wasp on a narrow set of switchbacked stairs.

Cadmus, usually the shield and magic axe guy, decided to play with his dueling poleaxe (spear tip, hammerhead, axe blade) instead. That’s trading Axe-19 for Polearm-14, but a 2-yard reach. We shall see.

First round, our Knight (also a gargoyle) flew off the stairs, took a Wait maneuver. Then the wasp flew some huge amount of hexes right at Cadmus, who managed to parry him aside with his polearm. That triggered Thumvar’s Wait, and he got in a good thwack. Brother Michel the Cleric/Mage stepped right behind me, which irritated me until he tapped me on the shoulder and casts Walk on Air. “Walk after him, just don’t fall.”


Cadmus steps up into open air, stabs, but the thing dodges. Then Staver, our Infernal Scout, does a ranged Feint and Attack at the things wings, makes the Feint by 14, and destroys them. Crunch, splat, Fight over.

Well, that fight. Two ninjas were naturally hiding in the shadows climbing the suporting timbers of the switchbacked stairway, the way ninjas do.

The less ethical among us (Staver and Brody, our thief) shoot first. Brody chucks a knife at one (Knife Throwing: the art of skillfully discarding a perfectly good weapon), which causes his target ninja to have to make a Climb check to not fall. He makes it. Nimble little bastard.

Staver drills his target with an arrow for 10 impaling. Target also fails to fall. Maybe he’s got some armor, ’cause 20 injury if he don’t, and he didn’t die.

The rest of us non-perceptive folks notice something’s up. Literally. 10 yards up, and enmeshed in the support structures for the stairs.

Thumvar flies, Michel puts himself close to a wall, goes defensive, and ponders what spell to hit them with. I Walk on Air halfway to the ninjas. Brody drops to the ground beside Staver, but would have biffed the landing except for a quick Thief! point. He plucks an arrow from Staver’s cornucopia quiver (infinite arrows) . . . and realizes that with -8 for cover and -4 for range, he doesn’t have the skill to hit them. Oops.

Staver’s turn again, and she sinks an arrow into the boards; -8 for cover is a lot.

The ninja’s try to Stealth out, one succeeds, disappearing into the woodwork. The other does not, and Thumvar fast-draws a hatchet and chucks it at him. Crazy Dodge-monkey gets out of the way. This left Michel little to do, with 10 yards of distance between him and his hidden foes, so since he hadn’t set anything on fire for a few hours, he went with that option, casting explosive fireball.

Cadmus continues walking through air and chops at the neck of his foe, who dodges. The way Ninjas do. Despite missing, he cuts through the support pillar ninja-boy is standing on, since his axe does 2d+3 (2) cut, and rolled 14 penetration. He fails to fall, pesky ninja. The stairs also fail to fall. But are weakened.

I just wanted to say that running through the sky to stab ninjas is really where I want this game to go, and I’m happy we’re partway there already.

                                                                                    — +Nathan Joy 

Cadmus’ foe turns to try and fast draw his sword and stab him in the throat.  Cadmus notices that the thing has black feathers and a yellow beak. Ravencraeg is apparently pretty literal. Cadmus tries to aggressively parry the sword, hoping to chop it in half. He makes the parry, but only by the margin provided by his shield (DB+3), so no dice.

Thumvar flies over and buries his axe into the bird-ninja of Alcatraz, killing him.

The other one is nowhere to be found. Boo! for alert foes.

We bring the body down, and search him, finding two potions, and three more stoppered vials. Plus 10 yards of spider silk rope, a short sword, blowgun, some daggers, and a lightly armored black garment. Ninjas have good loot.

Cadmus remarks we should probably get to the big ol’ doors before archers arrive at the arrow slits – which would make our lives generically difficult. This goes more or less unnoticed. Due to shiny potions and stuff. One’s a blur potion, the other a potion of Insignificance, that makes the eyes just slide off you, not noticing your presence.

Staver (Greedy) searches the wasp’s nest for treasure too. She discovers that wasp’s nests are kinda gross. The GM allows a roll vs. Naturalist (Scout!), Staver biffs it, spends a Scout! point to make the roll, and finds out that wasp’s nest paper makes good field-expedient gauze/bandages for first aid. +2 HP to first aid attempts.

Which, given we keep spending time NOT getting to the doors, I believe we’ll need presently – but it turns out I’m wrong. We swing open the heavy door, and . . .

. . . are attacked by a huge swarm of Ravens. Two of them, actually.

We back off a bit, and Brody tosses an exploding egg (nagateppo). This blinds one swarm.

The swarm attacks the rest of us. Large-area injury is resisted by the average DR of the whole body, so Cadmus is DR 6. So Thumvar and Cadmus, the best protected of the group, flail around being pecked, but that pings off the armor. We kill a few. Michel tosses a Stunball at our feet, which kills most of them, stuns a few of us (including Michel, caught in his own spell), and destroys one of the two swarms. We pause for a moment as the other swarm wakes up and starts coming for us. Thumvar is totally coated in massive amounts of plate, so he’s safe. I’m only threatened if they roll a 6, so I’m 85% safe. We keep swinging at it as we make time for the mage to wake up and kill the swarm with another spell. Michel rolls a lot of 14s.

Eventually we do enough damage to the final swarm to disperse it. Cadmus heals Michel, he recovers fatigue, we eat roast raven, and that’s the session.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Emily Smirle +Theodore Briggs +Kevin Smyth +Douglas Cole


Not much to report this time. Lots of combat, mostly melee. We got caught off-guard by the wasp, who was fast enough to be on us before we could declare and trigger Wait maneuvers. Vulnerable wings made for a relatively easy fight.

The ninjas were more fun, but mostly they just hung out in the rafters, with only one trying anything. 

The ravens were more annoying than dangerous, since those of us in the fray were wearing enough armor to render them ineffective – but 1d6+1 pi++ every round with no hit roll and no defense is bad mojo unless you happen to be slathered in head-to-toe armor. Which Thumvar and Cadmus were. It did get a bit tedious, though – still a better alternative than what would have happened with my old kit, which maxed out at DR 6, which would have given me DR 4 instead of DR 6 for average protection, and that would have let a lot more damage through. As it was, I could just ignore them.

Still, one of the fun things about GURPS combat is the tactical choices, and swarms, while very nasty, don’t really allow for that. You basically do 2 HP per attack per turn, or 1 HP for pi or imp weapons. It’s really a matter of “I hope that you brought explosives, fire, concussion, or other area effects.”

Which we did. QED. 

GURPS Basic Set covers the question of how high your skill levels should be with the Choosing Your Skill Levels box, on p. B172. Some other resources (GURPS Tactical Shooting, Guns Skill Levels, p. 42) also throw down what the right skill levels are for various archetypes.

But let’s, as Jeffr0 put it, tear down the fourth wall for a moment.

Forget what skill levels mean. What can you do? 

I’m assuming you will buy and use GURPS Martial Arts here.
Lets focus on a generic melee skill for a moment. Maybe it’s Axe/Mace, maybe it’s Broadsword.

Attack: This is default value for an untrained person. You suck. You suck so hard it takes a Telegraphic All-Out Attack (+8 to your skill, but +2 to defend against, and you can’t use your own defenses for the rest of your turn) to even get you to Skill-13. You may not use Deceptive Attack at all. Feinting is a waste of time for all concerned. If you thrust for the vitals, you will have a 50% chance of doing so, after which you will stand there with a “kill me” sign on your chest. If you try and hit someone in the head (-5) with that same berserker combo, you will succeed 25% of the time. Well, you’ll throw “a blow good enough to hit” that often; your foe will still defend.

Defense (Parry or Block): Bwa ha ha! Sorry, did you say parry? Your base defense on this one is 5 (3+Skill/2, drop fractions), and you’ll note most of that comes from the 3. If all your stats are 10 and you’ve no encumbrance, your Dodge is higher at 8, and at least with a retreat you can boost this to 11. You’ll be hiding behind a shield (for the Defense Bonus, DB), and probably choosing between All-Out Attack and All-Out Defense a lot.

Attack: This is what happens when Joe Average puts one point into the skill. You can do better than 50% chance to hit the torso with a Committed Attack, at least. The All-Out Telegraphic suicide attack at least gets you to Skill-17, which means you could hit the vitals 90% of the time with a thrust. At least you’re aiming for something important. You’ve got a 75% chance to bust someone in the face using that same move. You still are precluded from making real use of Deceptive Attack.

Defense: Still only a 7 for Parry (or Block using Shield, though you’ll pick up DB for many shields). Not great odds, but maybe with a retreat (+1) and a defensive attack (+1) carrying a medium shield (+2) you can eke out a 62% chance of defeating your foe’s attack. That’s at least better than 50-50, but not something to bet your own life on. You have very little margin against skilled foes.

Attack: Notionally the baseline for a professional, your raw hit chance is finally larger than 50%. You no longer need to stack several unattractive options to even have a chance of hitting your guy. You can do Committed Attack (Determined) and have a 90% chance of hitting his torso. You have a better than even chance with a Telegraphic Attack to the face (Skill-11), and you can finally look at the Brain as a viable target (AoA+Telegraphic for +8, Brain at -7, for Skill-11), or consider Committed Attack (Determined) to the vitals at Skill-11 and preserve your defense. You can target arms and legs (-2) at 50%, and this is the first fight-winning strategy that emerges without real penalties. You can hit arms and legs with a Committed (Determined) attack 75% of the time, even.

Defense: Your Block/Parry is now 9. Notionally, you now have the wherewithal to attempt a Riposte (and take -1 to your defense for -1 to your foe’s next defense), but I wouldn’t. While attacking cautiously as above, you will deflect 80% of blows (assumes a DB+2 shield). All-Out Defense for +2 precludes the Defensive Attack, but with the retreat and shield you’re at 90%.

You will still largely be choosing between “effective attack” and “effective defense,” but at least now effective means “pretty certain against lesser foes.”

Attack:  OK. Now we’re talking. We’re not talking too loudly, since you still can’t hit someone in the face more than 50% of the time without resorting to Attack Options, but you can thrust to the vitals at 62% and give up nothing on the attack, or take a small penalty to defend (CA) and be at 83%. With an AoA(Determined) you can even go Deceptive, and inflict -2 to your foe’s defense and still hit 90% of the time. Better be sure he’ll go down with that blow, though.

Defense: Raw Parry and Block is now 50% (Parry/Block-10), and with the right set of options and Advantages, can start to get serious. Combat Reflexes, Enhanced Parry, Defensive Attack (+1) or All-Out Defense (conctrated) for +2, a DB +2 shield and a retreat (+1) and you’re adding a whopping 6-7 to this raw 10, giving you an “I’m doing nothing else but defending” total of 16-17. Effectively, at this point, lacking a skilled opponent or critical hit, you’re barely touchable if you go All Turtle, All The Time. At this point, especially if you have that shield and can give ground, you can Parry or Block over 80% of strikes and still have a viable offense. Your foes really have to ponder Deceptive Attacks of their own, or hope for criticals, because getting through your defenses is going to be a neat trick.

I’d call Skill-14 “entry level ass kickers.” You no longer suck.

Attack: Ah. Sweet victory. This is an utterly achievable skill level for entry-level DF characters. The Knight can get there pretty fast, and even well beyond given things like Weapon Bond and Balanced and choosing DX over ST, you can easily push a single skill to 22.

Still, at Skill-18, you can now hit the Brain better than 50% of the time, and use a Committed Deceptive Attack to the Vitals (!) to give -2 to your foes defenses and skewer him 83% of the time. Might want to only DA down to Skill-16, though, to preserve the extra chance for a critical hit. You can target arms and legs and either hope for the 10% chance to crit, or “only” accept a 90% chance at hitting and impart -1 to the foes defenses. Leg-chopping for fun and profit is viable here. More importantly, on really tough foes, you can target Chinks in Armor, dividing DR by 2, at 50% success rate . . . more with various Attack Options stacked up.

Defense: Base Parry/Block is 12, and you’re probably sportin’ Combat Reflexes too. You’re now looking at base Block/Parry with the +2 DB medium shield of 15 – now your foes have to start throwing Deceptive Attacks just to think about getting to you. And that’s without you really trying hard. With the right kit (such as a +3 DB shield) and Defensive Attack (+1), you can Riposte with a net defense of 14 and bequeath your foe -2 to defend against your own next attack, reserving your offensive bonuses for target location or soaking other penalties.

Attack: I bypassed Skill-22, which is totally cool, and the Dungeon Fantasy Knight, with the right kit and choices of stats, can start there. But I like Skill-24, because with it, you can take a -10 to hit for -5 to their defense and still rock their torso 90% of the time. But at this skill level, you should be thinking (a lot) about chinks in armor (-8), the brain (-7), and really think about crippling arms and legs, or hands and feet. You can to this and still hit them with up to -4 penalties to defend. You have so many choices here that you may not need to make them, and your defenses will be so high that accepting the defensive penalties from Committed Attack is par for the course.

Defend: Your base Parry/Block is a mighty 15. Toss in Combat Reflexes and a DB+2 shield and you’re at Parry/Block of 18. Back up and you’re at 19, Defensive Attack and you’re at 20. Yow. You’re going to be Riposting. A lot. Why wouldn’t you? Sure, against tough foes with Skill-18 throwing -2 or -3 Deceptive Attack penalties at you, you’re down to a measly 12 or 13, but right back up there with a little cautious fighting.

So, there we go. Clever GMs will find ways to make high skill not matter (such as high DR, or if the PC is silly and combines all that skill with ST 8 or something) in all circumstances. For “real” fighters, you’ll want to be in the Skill-14 to Skill-18 range, which gives a nice sliding scale of offense and defense. For real badasses, you’re going to want to be Skill-20 or higher. I just loves me the -10 Deceptive Attack for -5 to defend, though.

Also note that in grappling, many techniques make use of Contests of Skills, rather than attack/defense rolls. I have never really sat down and worked through the math of that the way I have with attack/defense. Perhaps that will be a subject for a future post. I bet the results are different in important ways.

Edit: A very, very late add, but over at Renovating the Temple, +Patrick Halter has published a nice analysis of how much Deceptive Attack you should take given attacker and defender’s skill. While there are some edge cases, being deceptive down to the 14-16 range is rarely stupid, if occasionally not precisely optimal. It’s nice work, with a fairly easily understood graphical presentation. Nice work.