Though the title is Melee Academy, being able to do harm at a distance is important in many genres. However, up until the invention of the windlass, cranequin, gunpowder, and fast-discharge supercapacitor, what you’re really doing is finding ways of translating your strength into injury.

Also on Melee Academy, Ranged Edition:

Peter Dell’Orto talks about Hitting the Wrong Target at Dungeon Fantastic
Mark Langsdorf Enters a Room over at No School Grognard
Christopher Rice will be talking Ritual Path Magic at Ravens N’ Pennies

For today’s Melee Academy, I thought I’d do weapon basics using only the GURPS Basic Set and segue a bit into Low-Tech, though I’ll predict that very little of substance, rather than variety, can be done.

A lot of the Melee Academy posts play in the Dungeon Fantasy space – 250 or so points. I’m going to restrict myself to about 150 points with about 40 points in Disadvantages and Quirks (about 25% of the starting total). In fact, I’ll mostly consider something like:

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

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

Disadvantages [-35]; Quirks [-5]

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

This clearly isn’t the only or the best 150-point ranged weapons guy. In fact, there are lots of things you could choose to do otherwise. But I wanted to give an example with most of the skills GURPS Line Editor and long-time player +Sean Punch and GM recommends as Adventuring Basics. And I wanted sufficient goodness in basic stats to account for things like Per and Will being things you may need to roll against, a decent Move and Encumbrance, and enough ST and DX to be considered a well-rounded party member who has a chance to actually injure foes.  

More on that later. 

Still, you can see that the perhaps archetypical ranged weapon type, the archer, has Bow-16. Given my previous writings on the subject, that’s probably about where you’d want to be.

Of course, lose the +1 to Dodge and you can be Bow-19 and still have three points to spare. You can also ditch Combat Reflexes and Fit in favor of, say, Heroic Archer if your GM allows it. Infinite options, but that awesome Bow skill comes at the cost of being good at anything else. Because drawing out ammo and loading the bow are a combination of Fast-Draw and Bow skills, you’ll want decent levels of both.

And you need that skill, if you’re shooting a bow. Remember, with Bow-16, without aiming you can only hit the vitals 50% of the time with your foe at 7 yards. Almost certainly, then, if you want to hit to anything like distance, you need to compromise your versatility as above, or accept limitations on what you can do. Ranged attacks pile up penalties faster than anything else in GURPS.

Basic Principles of Mail-order Pain

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

The first one is, what’s your schtick? Are you a dedicated ranged weapons guy? That means you’re going to need a weapon that fires ammunition, or for which you can carry a sufficient number to make it through a combat and then recover them afterwards.

Are you using ranged weapons as an entry into melee? In that case, you have less to worry about in terms of lather, rinse, repeat, which is good. But that also means you’re going to be blowing your cash on defenses and offenses for melee, so you might not be that good at your weapon.

Bring the Hurt

There are two basic choices when it comes to ranged weapons. Those that do swing damage, and those that do thrust. From the Basic Set, here are the weapon classes. A typical value for 1/2D range as a multiple of ST is given as well in parentheses.

Thrust-based Ranged Weapons: Bolas (x3), Bows (x15), Crossbows (x20), Harpoons (x1), Knives (x0.5), Shuriken (x0.5), and Spears (x1).

Swing-based Ranged Weapons: Slings (x12 with bullets!), Atlatls (x2), and Axes and Maces (x1).

The blowpipe is the odd man out. It’s damage is fixed. Other oddities include lassos and nets, whose purpose is more grappling than injury.

There are, perhaps oddly, no real trends here. For weapons that use ammo (slings and bows/crossbows) at ST 13 without perks like Strongbow (which you should totally take, along with Arm ST 2, if you can free up 11 points) you’re looking at 1d+1 imp to 195 yards with a regular bow, and 2d pi to 156 yards with a sling.

Of course and again: unless you are taking many seconds to Aim, your practical range limit to the torso for many of these weapons will be less than 100 yards, often much less.

What’s Not Worth It?

For the dedicated ranged guy, where you intend to stay at range, certain things are totally not worth it. Bolas are only cool for the optional grapple. Knives and shuriken are neat tricks, but with paltry damage and range, are for show, not for real. Most of the rest – other than bows, crossbows, slings, and atlatls with darts – are too heavy to consider carrying more than a few of them. Five throwing hatchets weigh 10 lbs., and can only reach to 20 or so yards at 1/2D . . . though you’ll be doing 2d-1 cut  for each, which will punch through DR 4 mail and do 3 injury or more 50% of the time.

What IS Worth it?

And that’s really the trick of it when bows are concerned. If you can afford the $900 it takes to buy a composite bow, you can do 1d+3 imp, which will punch through that DR 4 85% of the time, and on an average hit will do 4-6 injury. You can also target the vitals, which pushes that to 6-9 injury (but you need the skill for it).

The other real runner up is the sling, which ramps up with your ST faster than bows. ST 13 with lead bullets is 2d pi compared to a regular bow’s 1d+2 imp, but ST 19 is a thunderous 3d+2 pi, compared to 2d+1 imp. Against unarmored folks, for average ST and higher, the imp damage type wins. For our test character of ST 13 through ST 15, the sling has a very minor injury advantage over the bow at DR5+ (both top out and do basically nothing at DR 6+).

One interesting thing about a sling: the damage really is ST-based, rather than the ST of the bow. All-Out Attack (Strong) for +1 per die or +2 damage might be available for slings (I’d allow it).

I think these two are a wash, though the availability of multiple arrow types (such as the (2) pi bodkin, as well as cutting arrows) probably edge the general win to the bow. Not by a lot, though.

Now, on the “fire and forget” end, you have some interesting choices, one of which is an atlatl throwing javelins. It hits 1/2D at 26 yds, but even at ST 13 does 2d imp at that range. All the awesomeness of the imp damage type, with the penetration of a .45 ACP. A particularly strong specimen, such as ST 17, is doing 3d imp, which is equivalent to a ST 21 crossbow (though much lower range).

Another interesting choice is the 4-lb. throwing axe. Thrown or swung in-hand, it does sw+2 cut, or 2d+1 cut for ST 13. You probably can’t carry very many, but you can wield one in each hand, chuck one, and continue. Range is less than 15 yards, which likely gives you one hit, then you’re in melee. But that first hit will do 6 injury through DR 4 mail, and probably push the recipient to All-Out Defense his next turn.

+Rob Conley reminds me in the comments section that the classic fire-and-forget tactic is the Really High ST Crossbow. It might take nine years to reload, but at thr+4, a ST 21+ crossbow is nasty. It’ll do 3d or more equivalent impaling damage, and can target the vitals. It’s an Easy skill, which means you can literally hit from 50% farther away right off the bat, and it has a higher Aim stat than any other basic ranged weapon. He calls it the Knight Killer, and he’s right. This is a weapon you give to a whole line of melee-ready friends, fire off one volley, then charge in. But that volley can be incredibly dangerous vs. any creature vulnerable to impaling damage.


Really, you’re going to want to be hiding behind someone here. Ideally a lot of someones, with Shield Wall training and Sacrificial Block. Your own #1 worry is other ranged types for the first instance, and a clear field of running that a Dodge Monkey can exploit to close within your effective range. While DF Heroic Archers can do melee combat with their bows, most real-world specimens cannot do this. So unless you’re a spear or axe guy throwing spears or axes, you’re going to lose your primary attack mode unless you are kept safe.

If you’re a 150-point character, you might look into hiring a Guard template from Dungeon Fantasy 15: Henchmen (p. 21) with Sacrificial Block and Shield Wall Training, and (say) Spear and Shield modified to give Spear-11 but Shield-14. That will give you someone with Large Shield (DB+3) who has Block-13 and a Reach 1,2 weapon to help deter pesky melee types.

Finally, you may want to just realize that most of your fighting will be at 30 yards and less. So plan on a maximum of -7 due to range (but try and keep at least 15 yards, or -5, so you have time to run the hell away if someone starts to chase you down) and offset that with Aim if you can.

Rapid Fire specialists are expensive, though. If you need to eat a -7 from range, -3 for vitals, and -3 for Quick-Shooting (and have bought Heroic Archer, Weapon Master, or TBaM to halve that -6 to -3), and still want a 90% chance to hit, you’re looking at needing an effective Bow-27 to pull that off. Yow.

Parting Shot

A “normal” ranged weapon specialist is a hard niche to fill in GURPS at low point values. You tend to be quite the specialist, though with clever choices you can be a very, very good specialist. You’ll want to discuss this with your fellow players, though – one of the ways to get to the kind of skill (Bow-18 and higher, for example) you need to be effective, often, at decent range is to give up nearly everything else.

In practice, you will be shooting infrequently, so you’ll want to make those hits count. Otherwise, go the other way, and grab enough skill to use a heavy thrown or launched weapon that does swing damage a few times, then charge into melee.

This is a combined report of the last two sessions. On hand were +Nathan Joy (GM), +Emily Smirle , +Theodore Briggs , +Mark Langsdorf , and +Kevin Smyth.

Last time, we basically headed out for Tian, journeying north for an epic trek across the frozen top of the world. We got ambushed in a narrow passage, with a 100′ tall cliff of ice and snow to the south, and a frozen fast-moving river to the north. I recall we only had perhaps ten yards of flat ground at the bottom.

We triggered it ourselves, I recall. We thought “obvious place for an ambush,” and Thumvar, I think, was close on hand and probably caused the creature (a three-headed chimera) to trigger his trap, which was a very wide avalanche!

The avalanche raced down the cliff, and those of us in the zone beat feat (on horses) to escape the zone. Well, those of us who could not fly.

That was a bit of a tense moment. Dawn made some epic Light Walk rolls to run up the face of the tumbling snow, and Shiba and Cadmus did a lot of steering horses through a bad snowfall. All in all, we handled that well. Then we noted a horde of undead frozen guys coming for us.

This failed to impress Cadmus.

Thumvar and Staver made really short work of the chimera, since they injured its wing as it made a dive, causing it to face-plant into the turf (leaving a giant blood smear on the map) after a 30-yard full-speed stoop. Splat.

The undead? Yeah, they ran after us in clusters. Cadmus got close to each group and set them on instant-flambe with Smite. One almost dangerous moment was when one leaped up behind me on my saddle, but Shiba shot him down with his bow.

At no real point was the encounter terribly tense, but in fairness, we rolled very well, did a whole bunch of really epic stuff that worked, and we did control the encounter by triggering the ambush ourselves. Actually acted like the bunch of 340-ish point characters we were. Ultimately, the avalanche and river were likely the most serious threats here.

The next session was a whole lot of journeying, followed by a stop at a town that I will not attempt to get right. Uquiqo? Anyway, the entire thing is carved out of rock at the base of a towering ice wall. We are met, offered hospitality that we got to roleplay through (few of us speak the language), and eventually are told three or four salient facts:

  • They were surprised that we did not get attacked and eaten by a White Dragon that has been plaguing the area.
  • The flesh-destroying winter storms never come down as far south as they have at this time of the year
  • Strange black pillars and undead have been seen on the high plains; they think the storms might be related. Or we think the storms might be related.

We’re thus sure we needed to be here, since we have dragons, undead, and flesh-eating storms. Must be Tuesday.

Then a crazy old priest of the winds starts yelling at us from outside. We step out, initially thinking dragon-attack, but it’s just a torch-and-pitchforks party against us, the faithless strangers.

We try a group Intimidate, which doesn’t work very well. Cadmus, not amused at being described as Faithless, calls on a visage of Pharasma (invokes Holy Glory), which does, in fact, knock nearly all the bystanders (and Staver) either down or wobbly. The priest disappears in Body of Air. A massive warrior approaches, his guards start tossing civilians around, and we get ready for a fight.

He then has a spectacular argument (of the non-violent kind) with his wife, our host. Ah, a domestic thing. We back off, and our host sadly tells us we need to sleep outside.

Brrr. That’s going to be cold.

Cadmus starts to pray for some guidance and warmth and to make Staver smell less bad. He keeps getting distracted, though, and bemusedly walks, praying loudly and confusing the hell out of his companions, towards a cliff face, which seems to have a line through it that no one else can see.

He reaches out and touches it, and it opens, revealing a passage and tunnel to the high cliff above.

We end there, and at least we know that if God tells us to climb the stairs, paraphrasing the immortal words of Bill Murray: “We go up.”

Here was a bit cut out of the upcoming GURPS: Technical Grappling. There are several reasons.

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

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

Over on the forums, Icelander asked if anyone had ever converted slings to a system like the one I used to do The Deadly Spring:

Has anyone had any luck modelling slings in a slightly more plausible manner than the current one?Can one plug them into Douglas Cole’s The Deadly Spring in any way?
                                                                                                  – Icelander

I’ve not seen anything like that, but if I were to do it, here’s what would happen.

The key bit to model this is a calculation that would turn ST, skill, and lever arm (for sling vs. staff sling) into energy somehow. Then we could turn that fairly easily into damage.

For range, you’d take the weight of the stone and figure a velocity, and from that work out the likely arc.

We could potentially adjust penetration up slightly as a function of smaller projectile diameter, as for bullets, perhaps even using the same function (or a simplified version) of that used in my old ballistics article.

So, let’s start there . . .


The trick would really be getting some estimate of, for a given energy of impact, what armor DR could be penetrated. That would give you a baseline from which to adjust damage as a function of impact energy.

The site I usually go to for slinging seems to suggest that the staff sling (presumably a six-foot pole and a 1-yardish sling vs a roughly 1-yard sling) only increases velocity – and thus in GURPS, damage – by perhaps 10-20%. The staff seems to get longer range through the higher start point.

However, I looked around a bit, and Chris Harrison presented some numbers that suggested sling bullets could hit as fast as 90 m/s.

That’s a lot more than the 38 m/s provided by a staff sling in Richardson’s website. I will admit I find 90 m/s somewhat optimistic, but some of the ranges claimed by slingers (and the actual Guiness Book world record of over 437m with a 52g projectile from a 51″ sling) suggest an impressive ability. Using a simple trajectory calculator, this could be achieved at a 45-degree release angle at just above 65m/s (no air resistance), or as little as a 16 degree angle at 90 m/s.

Let’s assume a 50g projectile at 75 m/s, then. That’s about 140J and an effective diameter on the order of 18.5mm.

Penetration by my firearms model would be 1d (3.5pts) and the wound modifier would be north of 3.6, so if we call it 1d pi++ that probably understates the impact a bit.

Right. That guy.

I’d suggest an armor multiplier vs rigid armor, though. Probably (0.5) or even more.

For the 30-40m/s and 28g that Thom Richardson usually throws down, you’d be in the neighborhood of 1.2 points on the average; call it 1d-2 pi++

So if the higher-end limits are to be believed, against an unarmored man, you would look at an average of about 3.5*3.5 = 12 points, with an upper end on the order of 21 points, enough to reduce an average man to -HP in one shot at the extreme, and KO him on the average with a “torso” hit. That breaks the RAW max of pi++ for GURPS, though. more rationally, you’d only approach the upper end on a vitals hit. Possible that David spent a few Destiny points to buy a critical success.

I was thinking 90m/s was pretty darn optimistic, and certainly “world record” is upper end. But it does suggest that imparting such energy is feasible (and a strong bow is on that order as well).

GURPSifying the Calculations

What I might do as a start is to take the user’s ST, and increase it based on relative skill level, as I did in my article The Last Gasp through the concept of the “Training Bonus.”

You’ll see that again hopefully Real Soon Now. 🙂

Anyway, if relative skill level provides an increase in ST and a staff sling increases that further by 20%, what you probably have is something like

Damage = Constant * ST * Skill Multiplier * Staff Multiplier

So let’s say that our world record was set by someone with a sport-specific ST of 20 or so, with a 50% skill modifier, giving him a net ST 30. That’s a lot, but hey, world record.
That basically says, in round numbers, take the net ST and divide by 8 to get points of damage, or by 30 to get dice.
Let’s take a more-usual warrior type. ST 12, from a default (-30% ST!) would be about 0.28d, or 1 point on the average. 1d-3, with zero being a possibility. 
Train that guy up to DX, and you’re at about 1.4 points of damage, which is about 1d-2. Get him up to DX+4 and give him the equivalent of Arm ST +2 for special exercises, and a staff sling, and you’re ST 14 * 1.2 * 1.2 = ST 18.5, or 2.35 points, somewhere about 1d-1.
You’re not doing a lot of damage here.
Projectile Weight and Range

The thing is here, much with bows, there’s going to be an “optimum” weight stone that gets you the most delivered energy. Too heavy, and you can’t get it to max V. Too light, and you waste energy that you can’t couple into the projectile.
So if Mr. Effective ST 30 can fling a sling into the ring at 437m (475yds), figuring max range at about 16x your effective ST would be a quickie estimate.
Our typical guy at roughly ST 12? 134 yards. Practiced warrior with DX+4, Arm ST +2, and effective ST 18.5 would be just shy of 300 yds.
Parting Shots

This turned rapidly into an exercise in game mechanics. ST, skill multipliers to ST, and flat multipliers to effective ST for range.
Still, that might not be all bad. Basic Lift is related to the square of ST, and is a force (pounds). If energy is more or less a force times a distance – some sort of arc over which that force is applied – then the square root of energy is related to ST, and the square root of energy is how GURPS measures penetration. So a flat ST basis with multipliers is reasonably physics-based, and makes for easier math.
We handwave projectile size and weight quite a bit here. Still, if our ST 9 slinger vs our ST 30 slinger might be tossing stones with mass proportional to the effective ST you can deliver, perhaps. That would put Joe Casual at about 15 g (probably too light), Mr Warrior at 31g (almost exactly the historical average of about an ounce, or 28g), and Mr Expert at 50g or so. Just to figure out how much lead you have to haul around.


Bronco makes a nice point below, and if you don’t click on the comments, here are my thoughts after his note about the severity of the impact, as well as that the ancient guys would inscribe their sling stones with personal messages to their foes:

Yeah, I’d forgotten about the inscription thing. I should have linked to a picture of a missile with nose art, though a quick google didn’t find any (wrong terms, I’m sure).
Having the penetration be based on swing damage means that at an effective ST 14, you equal the penetration of a .45 ACP, and in a practical case matches a .380 ACP in both penetration and wounding.

The 50g sling stone at 90m/s can be compared relatively to a 145g baseball at 45m/s – a war stone compared to a major-league fastball. It’s got 1/3 the mass, but 2x the velocity. So the stone has 4/3 more energy but 2/3 the momentum . . . and a much smaller diameter. So the tendency to break stuff (and people) will be on that same order – perhaps a bit more by up to half, I’d hazard, but not a LOT more.

Still, getting beaned by a major-league (100mph fastball) is No Fun, and due to the smaller diameter and higher density of the stone, should be more likely to break stuff.
I think this is another case where the damage should be relatively large, crushing rather than piercing, but mitigated with a HT roll. 

GURPS Martial Arts has a neat little (highly optional) box on minute differences between melee weapons when it comes to various combat activities, such as Stop Hits, Feints, and Fast-Draw contests.

There was a question that showed up from Landwalker over on the SJG Forums about combining ‘A Matter of Inches’ (Martial Arts, p. 110) with my article on Setup Attacks from Pyramid #3/52 called Delayed Gratification.

The Setup Attack replaces the Feint mechanism with a variant on an actual attack, that requires an actual defense.

Let’s see what reviewing the box shows us, then.

Swing vs. Thrust

Swung weapons are slower and thus harder to successfully alter or recover from. This could be expressed as one or more of the following.

  1. The setup is harder to launch effectively. Take a larger penalty (perhaps an extra -1) to your hit roll
  2. The setup is easier to defend against. Your foe gets a bonus to defend against it (again, +1, but that makes it equivalent to -2 on the attack, which might be too much).
  3. The follow-on attack is harder. When you follow a Setup with a swing, you get -1 to hit.
  4. The follow-on defense is easier. +1 to defend vs. the follow-up attack, but this has the same issues as #2.
I think, overall, I like #3. The setup is whatever it is, but it’s harder to reposition quickly to get the next blow in. So if you choose to follow up a Setup with a swung attack, you are at -1 to hit.

Weapon Weight (relative to your ST)

Perfect illustration from Rimfrost

This applies to pretty much everything that would use a Quick Contest, but with Setup Attacks, the QCs become real attacks. So:

  1. Either on Setups (and defending from them; they’re not secret) you apply this same penalty or bonus directly to both user’s skill (and in this case, I’d round in favor of the defender), or
  2. Apply half the difference in penalties to the Setup Attack penalty if it’s successful. Round as you choose – if you want weapon weight to matter less, round down. If you want these differences to have more impact, round up
This one makes me more nervous, since especially with #1, this is getting perilously close to having a penalty to skill based on weapon weight for all attacks and defenses. Now, I’m not averse to that! It makes sense in a lot of ways. But you better be prepared for the consequences, as it plays directly with character conception. If “I want to use a big sword” is suddenly nerfed because you only bought enough to barely get over the MinST and now you effectively don’t have the skill to wield it like you want, that’s going to piss people off.

Weapon Weight (absolute)

This speaks to Beats and parries vs. heavy weapons. The second part can apply as-is to Setups, since a Setup is an attack. For Beats . . . let me get back to that one.

Weapon Length

I don’t think this should matter in Setups. Having a longer weapon does not allow you to draw a foe out of position better, though it might be harder to reposition after said setup due to lever arm. So maybe ignore differences within weapon reach categories, but perhaps the longer weapon takes a -1 to skill on the attack or defense for each extra yard of length or something. This might only apply to swung attacks as well; spears are notoriously fast, despite being long.

Beat It

The question of Beats on Setups is natural and interesting. It should fall out fairly easily in the execution of the attack. Instead of launching a Setup as-is, perhaps you throw a (Deceptive) Attack at the weapon itself.

So, you attack the weapon, targeting it at the usual penalties (tiny weapons are harder, longer ones easier). If you do this as a Deceptive Attack, and the penalty lowers the foe’s Parry as usual.

The defender has three choices:


He may attempt to pull himself completely out of reach. This is a straight-up dodge roll, including DB from shields, etc. as normal. If he succeeds, the attack misses completely. If he fails, the attack hits the weapon squarely. Treat this as a failed parry (below).


He may also flick his weapon out of the way. This is resolved as a “Dodge-based parry.”

  • Take the relative skill level of your weapon, plus any bonuses that might apply from “A matter of inches” above. Divide this by two, rounding away from zero.
  • Retreat only provides +1 instead of +3, like a Parry
  • DB from shields, armor, or anything but the weapon does not apply (a sword enchanted somehow to provide +1 DB or +1 to Parry would still count).
  • Since Dodge already includes Combat Reflexes, there’s no need to count it twice!
  • Take any adds to damage based on the weapon

Example: A ST 14 duellist with Rapier at DX+5 and Dodge-10 and a +1 due to relative ST with his weapon is being attacked by a foe trying to Beat his weapon aside. He elects to try and flick his weapon out of the way. His Relative Skill Level is adjusted up to DX+6 based on the adjustment from “A Matter of Inches,” and that is halved to +3. This boosts his “Dodge-based Parry” that is the Disengage from 10 to 13. However, his Rapier does thr+1 damage, which gives a -1 penalty, for a net of Disengage 12. If he retreats, he gains +1, giving Disengage-13.

If the disengage fails, your foe strikes the weapon squarely, as with a failed true parry. If it succeeds, the Beat is avoided.

Force on Force: True Parries

Finally, he may meet force with force by utilizing his true Parry (again, DB from shields does not count).

Successful Attacks

If the hit roll is successful, roll damage for the attack as usual. This damage will be applied to the weapon regardless of whether the defender’s parry is successful or not! That’s the risk the defender takes meeting the blow force-on-force (but see Sliding the Blow, below).

Successful Parries

If the parry is successful, the defender rolls swing-based damage, adding the largest bonus the weapon can have in any attack mode (a Halberd, p. B272, has three modes, and thus rolls sw+5, the highest mode). Bonuses from Weapon Master or other adds definitely count! A rapier, which usually only has a thr+1 mode, would roll sw+1 for absorbing damage in this case.

Subtract this roll from the attacker’s roll. Any remaining damage applies a penalty to the foe’s Parry until the end of his next turn.

Example: Our ST 14 duelist attempts to meet a naginata swing from a ST 17 foe force-on-force. The incoming blow hits the weapon, and rolls 3d+1 for 13 points of damage. The duelist succeeds in his parry, and lowers the penalty by rolling swing-based damage himself: 2d+1, and lowers it by 9! Still, the remaining damage imparts -4 to the duelist’s Parry until the end of his next turn. Additionally, the blow hits the sword, whose DR 6 lowers the incoming damage to “only” 7 points. A rapier only has 11 HP, so the sword is reduced to 4 HP, which is not lower than 1/3 it’s HP . . . but it’s getting close. One more such “success” and the rapier will be useless.

Failed Parries

If the foe fails his parry, the attacker strikes his weapon squarely. Roll damage and apply it to the weapon normally.

Also, the blow knocks the weapon out of alignment. The defender takes a -1 to Parry for every point of damage delivered until the end of his next turn. This penalty is lowered by 1 for every 2 points of ST by which the defender’s ST exceeds the MinST of his weapon (the ST Margin). If the penalty to Parry exceeds the user’s Skill/2, it is Unready. If the defender critically failed his Parry, he is disarmed.

Example: Our ST 14 duelist tries again to meet another swing from the naginata. The incoming blow hits the weapon, and rolls 3d+1 for 12 points of damage. This time, the duelist fails his parry roll, and is thus at -12 to Parry. Unless our duelist has Rapier-24 or higher, his weapon is rendered Unready. Once again, the blow hits the sword, suffering 6 points of damage, lowering the HP of his poor blade from 4 HP down to -2 HP. The sword is now disabled, and a quick check on p. B485 shows that a 1d roll is called for: a roll of 2 shows that the blade breaks at the halfway mark and is now Reach 1, instead of 1,2 . . . and now only does crushing damage. Rapiers do not parry polearms well.

Sliding the Blow

Very skilled wielders can partially mitigate the damage done by accepting a penalty to their Parry. For each -1 to Parry, reduce the damage inflicted by a successful blow by 1 point.

This will only get you so far.

Parting Shot

This suggested tweak to the rules takes Delayed Gratification, A Matter of Inches, and the various rules for Beat, Knocking a Weapon Away, and weapon breakage and slams them all together until fusion occurs.

Guess we’ll see if we have produced more energy than we used! Evaluating my own work, I think the weakest link is the disengage rule, where I wanted to have skill matter on a Dodge-type roll. That one could use some testing, and maybe tweaking.


I wrote about a logjam of GURPS that was pending, right? And Pyramid being awesome GURPSiness?

Well, check out the GURPS News. Excerpts from +Sean Punch‘s update (the text in green are his words, copied from the GURPS News) , with a focus on release dates:

With other GURPS material biding its time, it seems appropriate to remind everyone that each monthly issue of Pyramid is a bona fide GURPS supplement. Certainly, it’s sold as a ‘zine, and you can even subscribe. That doesn’t change the fact that it’s 100% official GURPS support, and enjoys the same love and attention as the rest of the game.
Which isn’t to say that we aren’t hard at work on more publications with “GURPS” on the front. Really, we haven’t been slacking off! Here are just some of the projects in the queue. As usual, this is a list of wild-eyed guesses, its order and ETAs subject to change if a butterfly flaps its wings on the Plateau of Leng:

  • Pyramid will continue, of course. Steven Marsh has July’s issue in editing, August’s well in hand, and the three after that just about filled.
  • My most recent major project – Zombies – is enjoying excellent art progress. We might even see the PDF released on e23 before end of summer 2013, though the printed version is further out.
  • Phil Masters and I have finished our review of the preliminary PDFs of his Discworld Roleplaying Game. Much of the art is in already, and the company has elevated this item to a Priority, which may well mean seeing it in 2013.
  • David T. Moore’s Banestorm: Martial Arts is very close to ready . . . in fact, the main thing left to do is decide whether we want to use that title or one that isn’t the titles of two other books mooshed together.
  • Douglas Cole’s Martial Arts: Technical Grappling is next in line for art. Advanced rules for twisting your foes into pretzels could appear before end of summer 2013.
  • Michele Armellini’s Locations: St. George’s Cathedral is getting art, too, so the Locations series might just see a growth spurt before winter 2013.
  • Bill Stoddard’s Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers – which supports both Thaumatology and Powers – also seems plausible for autumn or winter 2013.
  • David Chart’s Transhuman Space: Wings of the Rising Sun is still on target for 2013, if the art situation holds steady.
  • Hans-Christian Vortisch’s High-Tech: Adventure Guns should be out in time to let you restock your armory before 2014.
  • Dan Howard’s Loadouts: Low-Tech Armor also has art deadlines set, but currently looks more like an early 2014 proposition.
  • Ken Hite’s Horror: The Madness Dossier is in editing, so it’s a little further out than all of the above.

Needless to say, with my book finally pending, and possibly by the “end of the Summer 2013,” this is most excellent news!

There’s an interesting discussion going on over at the SJG Forums about parrying unarmed attacks with weapons.

It’s interesting for a bunch of reasons. GURPS Martial Arts has a bit to say on this subject, mostly in the text box appropriately titled Harsh Realism for Unarmed Fighters. GURPS Basic Set throws down on p. B376 and p. B379 on this subject as well, giving parrying weapons a -3 vs. anything but a thrust, and of course, if you parry an unarmed blow with a weapon and make a skill roll at -4, you do damage “as normal.”

Of course, that “as normal” is interesting. What’s normal?

It could be all sorts of things, but the real question seems to be “thrust, swing, or some fraction thereof?”

Go read the thread to see the diverse opinions.

Now I’ll add my own. I think an interesting way to go would be to take the damage of the blow being attempted (based on the attacker’s ST), and apply that damage based on the wounding modifier of the weapon being struck.

So if you’re throwing some sort of uber-kick that does 2d-1 cr base damage (no modifiers for boots, fist loads, etc) and you’re parried by a sword, you should probably take 2d-1 cut to your foot or shin (but how to decide?). If you’re parrying a punch, you probably are dealing with his thrust damage.

Most parries that aren’t purposefully Aggressive Parries don’t move much, and so I’m not sure the defender’s ST should figure in that much.

Anyway, +Peter V. Dell’Orto seems to use swing. I’ve also seen thrust and thrust/2 in the past!

Lots of options for interpretation on this one, it seems. What do you use?

Update: Kromm Speaks!

The back-from-vacation +Sean Punch weighed in with the intent of the rules at the tail end of the thread linked above. The compilation of several clarifying posts:

The intent of the rule is to use the damage of the attack being parried. The weapon might be some Swiss Army knife with 100 attack forms, but the attacker has to pick one before rolling to hit. Use the damage of that attack form.

Those who dislike the size of the damage – and I agree it’s excessive – might want to reduce Parrying Unarmed Attacks (p. B376) to a special case of Hurting Yourself (p. B379). First, don’t limit self-inflicted damage to target DR. Second, change damage type to that of the edge of whatever you’re parrying (cutting for anything with a swing cutting attack, crushing for just about everything else, and possibly burning or corrosion for energy swords), and remember that minimum damage is 1 point if the type is anything but crushing. Finally, apply any armor divisor on the weapon.

This is strictly a replacement for Parrying Unarmed Attacks (p. B376). Parrying Unarmed (p. B376) wouldn’t change, because that’s about mistiming a parry with your body and placing a body part directly in the path of a full-powered attack.

He notes in response to a question: “Is it the damage of the attack being parried or the damage of an attack chosen by the defender with the parrying weapon?”

Sorry, I mushed together parrying an attack and being parried. However, I’d let the defender choose. Sure, most parries are edge-on, but one can stab a foe in the wrist to check his unarmed attack.

When challenged that this seemed an awful lot like an Aggressive Parry

Note that all armed parries vs. unarmed attacks are “aggressive” by default. That’s why they do damage. Agressive Parry is only a distinct technique for unarmed fighters, in the rules as written.

This is not new. +Peter V. Dell’Orto makes this exact point in a post from over six months ago.

A retroactive (and oft-repeated) introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0. Prelude
1. Introduction
2. Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

4a. Skills (Appraise – Heal)
4b. Skills (Intimidate – Use Magic Device)

5. Feats

6. Equipment

7. Additional Rules

8a. Combat (Part 1)
8b. Combat (Part 2)


Now we get to the thing that makes the Dungeons and Dragons games somewhat unique, I think – the magic system. Or if not unique (lots of games have magic, and lots do it differently, better, or both), then perhaps it’s that .love it or hate it, the Vancian magic system is a staple of the genre, and Pathfinder builds off of that tradition. This chapter gives the rules for the magic system for those characters who can cast spells. This includes Wizards, Sorcerers, Clerics, Rangers, Paladins, Druids . . . just to start. It’s also possible for some non-casters to pick up some spells too: Rogues can pick up some minor magic, and I’m sure that option exists with the proper Feats allowed.

Casting Spells
Well, first you have to pick one. Knowing it is only enough if you’re one of those classes that can cast any spell they know at any time (subject to the limits on number of spells of a particular type they can cast per day). If you can’t just make stuff up that way, you must memorize, in advance, a number of spells based on your level and class. You can memorize multiple copies of a spell (again, subject to the limits on number of spells at a given level), but for these types of spellcasters, knowing “Wrigley’s Destroying Club” isn’t enough – you must memorize it ahead of time.

Concentration (and Distraction)

To cast a spell, you concentrate on it, subject to distraction. Though the key bit is delayed until rather later, the spell is most often cast right at the instant before your turn comes again – that is, you declare you cast the spell, and right before your turn comes again, your effect occurs. This allows every Tom, Dick, and Hairy to try and disrupt you. 
Distraction can come in many forms, and this section hits all of them. Injury, being grappled, getting slammed with a spell your own self, getting jostled or otherwise shaken-not-stirred, getting tornadoed, or being entangled. You can also “cast defensively,” which means that if you pass a DC 15+2*Spell Level check, you don’t provoke Attacks of Opportunity. Implicit here is that casting spells do provoke such attacks.

Most disruptions simply trigger a check with a DC proportional to the amount of disruption, and each disruption method has its own calculation. Check the handy table on p. 207, or the Pathfinder Reference Document, of course.


You can also use a spell to disrupt another caster. You have to delay your action with a Ready, and when your foe casts a spell, you can make a Spellcraft check at DC 15+your foe’s spell level. If you succeed, you may cast the freakin’ exact same spell being flung at you as a counterspell. Otherwise, you might try Dispel Magic, but that doesn’t always work (some spells can’t be vamoosed by dispel magic, but that’s a spell-by-spell thing). Given how few spell slots you get per day (and maybe if you’re always resting and renewing, this isn’t an problem), I would wonder how often counterspells get used.
Spell Failure

If a spell fails, by and large it just fizzles. No big deal other than the wasted slot and turn. No apparent backfires, dimensional warps, or generally icky consequences. Of course, if you’ve just lost or wasted one of the three memorized spells that makes you a unique special flower, well, that might piss you off a bit.
Special Spell Effects

The key bit here is the (brief) description of what spell bonus types stack and don’t. Dodge bonuses, circumstance bonuses (?), and racial bonuses seem to stack, but most other bonuses and penalties do not, and you only take the worst one. I could see this particular rule being roundly ignored. It’s equal opportunity both ways – since penalties stack as well – and would simplify game play.

Also here is a quick discussion of resurrection, which is the re-merging of the departed soul (literally departed – it goes on vacation on some other plane of existence, and you’re leaving it a voice mail to come back to work) with the body of the fallen. If he doesn’t want to come back, he doesn’t have to. And if enemies want to keep him away, there are ways of either trapping or warding the soul . . . or you can just filch the body, since you need it for the spell!

Multiple Spell Effects

This entire section made me want to dig out my +3 Red Pen of Editing, and write “stop being so wishy-washy” over and over. This little section is in rather desperate need of a few examples. Generally, if you’re providing different types of effects (like a DEX buff and a STR buff, or Enlarge Person and a CON boost or something) things probably go to plan. You can’t give multiple stacking spells of the same type: Two +1 boosts to STR are just +1, and a +1 and a +2 only gives you the benefit of the larger one. Finally, if you cast a series of spells with similar effects, usually it’s the most recent one that applies.

It also throws you under the bus with nice vague advice like “sometimes a spell can make another spell irrelevant!” Gee, thanks. This section is basically some vague GM guidelines, and there aren’t many nuggets here.

Spell Descriptions

At over 100 pages, Chapter 10 is the largest chapter in the book, and it’s “nothing” but spell after spell. So in Chapter 9, we break down the content of the spell descriptions, and what they mean.

School of Magic

Most belong to one of eight schools.

  • Abjuration: protection spells. Some such spells, especially if multiple spells are laid on top of each other, are detectable by Perception.
  • Conjuration: Movement and alteration of living creatures and some objects, I think. There are subschools which are pretty descriptive. Calling spells brings a critter to you from another plane. Creation forms magical constructs that disappear when the spell is over. Healing conjurations make you all better. Summoning brings a pre-existing creature or object to you, which goes back to where you sent it when killed or dismissed. Finally, Teleportation spells are when you’ve got to move it move it, and instantly transport things from place to place.
  • Divination: See secrets, know the future (the GM’s bane), find hidden things. 
  • Enchantment: Mind-affecting spells that change how the subject views you (charms), or force behavior (compulsions).
  • Evocation: boom sticks. Creating and manipulating magical energy, often in highly visible ways to cause damage.
  • Illusion: deceiving the senses of others. There are several kinds of illusions, such as figments (false sensations), glamers (glamour? altering how something looks, tastes, feels, etc.), and others. You’ll generally treat an illusion as real unless you take the time to interact with it, whereupon careful study might reveal and dispel it – that’s a saving throw.
  • Necromancy: Dead things, Mikey. Dead things. The undead, manipulating the forces of life and death.
  • Transmutation: Changing the properties of a thing or person from one form to another. This can inlcude polymorph to change your own body or that of another. There’s a very large block of text here on polymorph, so if that’s going to be your thing, you’d best read it.
Mostly these are fluff text that carry no game-mechanical interaction about the spell itself, but it does say that they can give interaction info on how it plays with other spells. 

Spell components can be a big deal. You can’t cast a spell if you can’t fulfill the requirements! Verbal components require that you be able to speak clearly, as if on stage or giving a lecture. Somatic components are hand gestures (I had always thought they could be full-body movements. Guess not!). Material components are consumed in the casting, but the game says don’t bother to track them unless they carry a cost. Interesting. Focus is new to me, but it’s basically a non-consumed prop that helps cast the spell. Divine Focus is basically a holy something. It might be a sprig of a holy plant for druids and rangers, a holy symbol or reliquary for a cleric.
Casting Time

As mentioned earlier, some spells can be cast in a standard or swift action (which presumably mean they take effect right as you cast them), others are full-round actions (they go zap right before you take your next turn), others can take minutes, which means you get to take ten combat rounds to do this. Better have efficient friends. Or cast out of combat. You only make decisions about range,target, area effect when the spell takes effect, not at casting.

Provides some pretty concise definitions and advice on ranged spells. Personal (you only), touch (up to six people using a full-round action might be allowed by some spells), then Close, Medium, Long, and Unlimited. Except when range is just expressed in feet. Most ranges seem to extend a bit with caster level (+5, +10, +40 feet per two full caster levels).
This section goes on for a bit, talking about rays, cones, spreading fogs, etc. It gives templates for various lines, cones, and radius effects, but the entire section is worth noting. 
Oops. Failed Saving Throw.


Most of the duration rules are straight-forward. One cool bit is that touch spells can be held for the entire duration of the spell, which means if you can cast some nasty fire-hand spell for a minute, you can set people’s face on fire for ten rounds. Not too shabby.
Saving Throws

Some spells can have their effects reduced or even eliminated with a saving throw (some spells are no-save allowed, though). The DC is 10+Spell Level+any applicable bonuses, which for dedicated spellcasters are going to be in the +3 to +5 range. So probably DC 15 and higher, by and large.
Spell Resistance

Basically AC for spells. You have to overcome this if your target has it – 1d20+Caster Level vs. your foe’s Spell Resistance, 
Arcane Spells

I will have to admit that at this point, my brain just started shouting out “my God, the tedium!” I know that these rules are core to a caster’s mission in life. How they prepare spells, what the limits are to casting, how they’re recorded in the spellbook, etc.

But the writing is terribly terribly dull. For a book filled with iconic characters, I really wish they’d have used them more to provide flavor and examples.


Preparing Spells

You must rest for 8 hours, and then take 15 – 60 minutes to prepare your slots. Somewhere buried in there (Prepared Spell Retention) it gives what is a pretty good explanation for this “memorization” thing. You are actually effectively partially casting, and then “hanging” the spell, subject to finalization and execution later.

I should note that the new(ish) GURPS magic system introduced in Monster Hunters – Ritual Path Magic – has something very, very like this. You take the time and energy to cast a spell into a focus, called a charm or dweomer, and then when it’s time to cast the spell, you crush or otherwise activate the item. Spells can take a long time to prepare, and the ability to generate a monster (ahem) spell repertoire is limited to your magic power and really how much time your friends will let you spend muttering incantations before you head out to kill stuff.

If you’re playing a wizard or sorcerer – or any spellcaster, since the rules for Divine spellcasting are best summarized as ‘exactly the same thing, with this small handful of changes – you will want to read these rules a few times, and discuss them with your GM to see if he has any house rules to (hopefully) smooth things along in game.

Short version though. You rest for the night (8 hours), you spend about an hour to prepare stuff. If you’re disrupted in your rest you either need to make it up or prepare fewer spells. It seems to take roughly 60-90 seconds per spell regardless of level (about an hour, maximum of 40-60 spells total memorized, ish).

You can leave spell slots open and prepare them later. If you are facing a journey where you can make frequent stops of about an hour, this might be the best way to ensure you don’t leave yourself utterly without the ability to be flexible. It still takes at least 15 minutes to get this done, and you may not abandon a previously memorized spell in this process. You may only fill an empty slot.


The rules put a lot of thought into the wizard’s spellbook, which is exactly 100 pages, no more, no less. Each spell, from zero-level to 9th level, is one page. Magical writing is a sort of personal arcane shorthand that has as much to do with how your character interprets magic as with any sort of formalism. Thus, it takes a bit to unravel another wizard’s shorthand, which is why it takes so darn long to read them.

It’s a neat trick – DC 20 + the spell level.

You can also prepare a spell from another person’s book, but you have to make a Spellcraft check (DC 15+level) to do it. Copying a spell is a similar check, but it costs a bunch of money: square the spell’s level x 10 gp (5 gp flat cost for 0-level spells). You must be writing in solid gold ink or something – or the ink itself is magical. Still, as they say in my neck of the woods, that’s ‘spendy.’

You can sell a spellbook as loot for half the gp cost of all the spells it contains. The spellbook of a powerful caster that might have 4 spells per level x all 10 possible levels of spells is worth about 5700gp. Not bad as treasure.

Divine Spells

Pretty much just like Arcane spells, but you prepare them at a time of your choosing instead of right when you wake up. Also, any spell slot of appropriate level or higher can be used to cast a healing (or inflict harm) type spell, so you don’t need to prepare those in advance, per se, but you will need to decide what you need to give up as you go. This also works for summon nature’s ally if you’re a druid.

Special Abilities

Some abilities mimic that of spells in certain ways.
Spell-like Abilities are not exactly spells, but duplicate the function of a spell and are definitely magical in nature. You can just ‘turn them on’ with a standard action with no verbal, somatic, material, or focus requirement, and they do not provoke Attacks of Opportunity. However, they can be dispelled and don’t work in areas that disallow magic. 
Supernatural Abilities cannot be disrupted in combat – so they’re wicked cool – and thus aren’t subject to spell resistance or dispel magic, but they don’t function in antimagic areas.
Extraordinary Abilities may look like spells and feel like spells, but they’re not. They’re not magical, can’t be dispelled, don’t suffer the effects of antimagic or dispel magic . . . basically they break the laws of physics for reasons that are not magical or anything. 
Parting Shot

While this chapter is critical to understanding and playing spell-users in Pathfinder, it’s quite a slog to get through. Still, while there are many rules, there seem to be relatively few special cases, so once you assimilate the laws of magic, so to speak, you should be good to go for the rest of your Pathfinder career – unless other books that aren’t the Core Rulebook change that!

I led the post from yesterday with a quote from the movie Independence Day.

That naturally got me thinking about the movie, which I really think is one of the better popcorn movies out there. It’s a classic example of the explosions and victory school of film-making.

There are of course so many plot holes and implausibilities in this movie that one might just toss it in the bin along with Snakes on a Plane as essentially unwatchable (My wife and I were really looking forward to this one, for all the reasons you’d expect. Well, one reason: Sam Jackson saying “I want these MFing snakes off my MFing plane.” We tried . . . we did . . . to watch it, but had to turn it off when the snake bit the stacked woman in the restroom on the nipple).

Shall I toss off a few?

  • Will Smith had it right, in a way. Why come 90 billion light-years to start a fight. Unless their hyperdrive systems are so effortless in terms of energy input so as to make that journey trivially, there’s no reason to come and conquer Earth
  • Systematic city-by-city destruction using the wall-of-flame cannon, rather than, say, biological warfare or something. 
  • The power of the portable Apple computer. 

I’m sure there are tons more, and we can amuse ourselves in the comments endlessly.

Nonetheless, I loved the movie, and place it in the same category as, say “Broken Arrow” for “guilty pleasure movies,” that aren’t really terribly good but are a hell of a lot of fun

But, how about for gaming?

Just kinda winging it, we have an intro section where we get introduced to some of the characters, and that is probably not exactly perfect for gaming. I tried “the PCs meet each other bit by bit” once, and it was a nightmare. I had to resort to a total railroad “you guys all need to be in the same area, so go there” heavy hand of the GM moment. Not the best.

Then, of course, there’s the scene where the aliens are attacking, which is a nice “you survived the apocalypse” moment that provides both the actual apocalypse as well as some convenient opportunities to deprive the party of some gear, and some thrilling heroics.

Then there’s the finding of Area 51 and all of the old alien technology, which provides the inspiration for the big climax. We also have the inevitable “conventional methods will not impact the aliens” moments where proxies are killed and exposed to nuclear explosions to prove just how badass the PCs will have to be to pull this off.

Then there’s the planning montage, followed by the actual plan, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?, and the final victory.

Assumptions and Genre

Welcome to Earth, motherf**ker

The tech assumptions are pretty straight-forward. The “good guys’ have access to military level hardware where needed (not that it does any good), decent command and control supplemented with Morse code. The bad guys have access to their exosuits, which seem to only provide environmental protection, since Will Smith was able to KO an alien by frackin’ punching him in the face. 

They have contragravity, FTL travel, and blasters. Apparently, however, they are regressed to TL7 or so in computer technology, which the PCs can take advantage of.

The genre is pretty clearly a cross between Action and Monster Hunters (or maybe just Monster Hunters: Bug Hunt). The PCs are all pretty damn capable and action-hero worthy. Plus, of course, one of them is the President of the United States. Who flies a jet into action. Hell, I’d vote for that guy.

What doesn’t work about this

I think that on several levels, this movie would fail as a direct translation to an RPG campaign. There aren’t really enough PCs with active roles (that’s typical of this type of movie; you really only get two or three characters in focus, usually a pair of dudes and a love interest or two as regrettable window dressing).

Also, too much of the movie is exposition and doesn’t really involve the PCs as the go-to party, and the situations are such that at least the players I’ve had would get themselves utterly killed. That first raid on the big mother ship that Will Smith and Harry Connick Jr. partake in? Oh, yeah. TPK city (and when you think of it, this particular raid’s end was basically “Oh, one player bought Luck, the other Didn’t Get the Memo and gets to write up a new PC).

What works?

The general outline of the “plot” isn’t awful. The threat is detected, and the apocalypse can either happen on-screen as part of the first scene, or actually off-screen, and the PCs can be together from the get-go, but in a “too late to die stupidly” way.

The plotline can be stretched into a reasonable campaign, by avoiding the Deux ex Machina of the Area 51 already having most of the answers and a conveniently captured starfighter. The PCs can capture aliens, grab tech, set ambushes like some sort of mashup from Red Dawn meets Aliens.

The big climax might be different, but blowing up the bad guys just as their unleashing their superlaser does have a certain cache to it, one has to admit.

Parting Shot

I think the upshot of this is that I want to write Monster Hunters: Alien Invasion.

Seriously, other than the magic part, this is nearly tailor-made for this sort of high-action, popcorn cinema type of campaign. Certainly, you could play it with a Sidekicks level of PC, but that just means you buy that book, which is already conveniently provided for you. All the groundwork is done for you, and Aliens and Ultra-Tech substitute quite nicely for demons and magic in the role of plot obstacle.

Heck, I wonder if this is just Too Simple for e23, and should be reduced to Pyramid instead. If only I had a bunch of vacation time coming up . . .

A retroactive (and oft-repeated) introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)


When last we left our heroes, we were just finishing up the section on recovering from wounds in the Combat chapter, with some snarky notes on so-called “non-lethal” damage. Ah, well, Pathfinder isn’t the only game to make that mistake, and so we continue.

Movement, Position, and Distance

The game first drops something that’s not really a surprise, but is one of those “oh, OK, then” moments. It basically requires, or at least strongly encourages, miniatures and a mapboard to play, and even gives you the desired scale of the minis: 30mm.
In any event, the game is resolved on a square grid with 5′ squares, and you basically take your move, modify it for your size and any special encumbrance you have, and divide by 5′, and you get that many squares. For most PCs, that number is likely six.
Diagonal movement counts 3 squares for every 2 squares traversed, but it’s broken up as your first diagonal only costs 1 square, but your second – no matter where in the sequence it comes – counts as 2 squares. So net/net, you pay the right amount. Don’t do the “1-2-1-2-1” thing through difficult terrain, though – if you’re doing that, move costs are doubled, so each diagonal costs you the full 3 squares, rather than something staggered.
Moving Through a Square

Now we get into special case land. It’s probably wise to note down the things your character will expect to do a lot, and jot down the rules. You can always move through a friend, unless you’re charging. You can’t move through a foe, unless he’s helpless. Or big. You can’t put two critters in one 5′ square, again unless he’s helpless. If you’re trying an “overrun,” you can try and move through hs hex, but it might backfire on you. You can move through a foe’s hex if you’re using acrobatics, or you’re fine, diminutive, or tiny. 
Got that? Oh, well, sometimes it’s wrong, but exceptions will be noted.
Critter Size

While big guys are easy (they fill their squares, so stay out), you can jam 4 Tiny guys, 25 Diminutives, or 100 Fine nasties in one 5′ square, and by and large they can’t reach into adjacent squared to attack, so they have to enter your hex, provoke an attack of opportunity, live through it, and then crawl up your pant leg.
The only other thing to note about large guys is that using natural attacks, instead of weapons, they threaten not just the ring of squares 10′ away, but the adjacent squares as well. Take note, be warned, etc. You’re not safe one square away from these guys.
Combat Modifiers

The game differentiates mechanically between cover and concealment, which should please my infantryman friends. However, the flat distribution of die rolls makes this interesting. Wait and see.
For Cover, you basically pick a corner of your own square (naturally the most advantageous one), and if the line from that corner to any corner of your foe’s occupied squares passes through a wall or other hard obstacle, then your foe has some sort of cover.
If the entire foe is occluded, you can’t attack him at all. If up to 50% is covered (partial cover), your foe gets +2 to his AC, and if from 50-99% is covered, he gets +4. There are some picky rules about half-height obstacles, and covered foes can get bonuses to Reflex saves (+2) under some circumstances. There’s also improved cover which can give +8 to your foe’s AC, but that’s GM discretion for things like arrow slits.
Note that what full cover does, effectively, is make your foe 20% more difficult to hit. 
For Concealment, you’re more or less using the same resolution mechanics, but when you’re done, a concealed foe rolls d% and you miss 20% of the time, or 50% of the time if you’re shooting into a totally concealed square that contains your foe but you can’t see him.
That’s not quite the same as “you’re 20% more difficult to hit,” since that AC adjustment can take you from (say) hitting 50% of the time to hitting 30% of the time. With the “you miss 20% of your hits,” you’d go from hitting 50% of the time to hitting (50% hit rate x [1-20% miss rate] = ) 40% of the time.  If you were hitting 80% of the time, you’d be down to 64%, but if you only had a 20% chance to hit to begin with (say, 1d20 vs AC 17) then rather than it being basically impossible for you to hit (1d20 vs AC 21) you could still roll a potential hit 20% of the time, but 20% of those hits would convert to misses – a 12% net chance of success.
So concealment is similar in resolution but less harsh mechanically.

In melee combat, if you and a friend are threatening the other guy from opposite sides, you’re flanking him, and you get +2 to hit. Pretty sure that if you and a buddy are flanking a foe, you get to apply your Sneak Attack damage, so ths one’s pretty key. 
Note that just being “behind” someone doesn’t seem to qualify (at least, not at this point in the rules). You need to be splitting his attention between two people.
Special Attacks
The last sprint to the finish contains a bunch of special attack types, including Aid Another, Charge, Combat Maneuvers, Feint, Mounted Combat, Throw Splash Weapon, and Two-Weapon Fighting.

Aid Another: You and your buds can make attacks vs AC 10, and each one that succeeds can give a designated friend either +2 to his hit roll or +2 to his AC, and those adds stack. 
Charge: Near as I can tell, using a full action you can travel up to 2x your normal move, but only in a straight line unhindered by any obstacles or difficult terrain. You need to end in attack range, whereupon you get +2 to your hit roll and -2 to your AC. You may only attack once. If you’re using a lance (pay attention, knight wannabees) while mounted, you do double damage by default. If you’re charging a group of guys with braced weapons, you’re going to be on the receiving end of said double damage.
Feint:  As +Fred Brackin pointed out many moons ago, this important special attack, if successul, denies your foe his DEX bonus on the subsequent turn. Since lots of nifty Rogue and certain Archer abilities are keyed to “your foe loses his DEX bonus,” this is a great way to benefit from things like Sneak Attack without having to flank or stealth your way into place. It’s Bluff on your end, vs. 10+BAB+Wisdom modifier, or 10+Sense Motive bonus if it’s higher.
Mounted Combat: Mounts have some nice features. They act on your Initiative, and when they move (and ergo, you go along for the ride), they use up their own move action, not yours. That being said, you only ever get one attack while mounted if you also move, but you may still charge, and if you’re striking down at a foe, you get a +1. You can still hack away with multiple attacks if you only take your five-foot step, though.
Throw Splash Weapon: The Alchemist’s favorite. You can toss something that does a bunch of nastiness and it will do direct damage to whomever it hits as a ranged touch attack and splashes everyone within five feet of that individual. You may also target the vertex of a square at only AC 5. You lose your chance to do direct damage, but hey, AC 5, and you splash the four squares attached to that vertex. Your GM will afterwards keep proper separation between his NPCs; or the PCs will do likewise if they’re on the receiving end of this. 
Two-Weapon Fighting: The Ranger’s fave, basically anyone can do this, but the penalties can suck. If you have a light weapon in your off hand, it gets better, if you have the Two-Weapon Fighting feat, it’s better still, and if you combine ’em, you can attack twice at only -2 each. Since that’s only a 10% loss to success chances, unless your chances of hitting are worse than 25%, you will want to use two weapons if you are only -2 to hit. If you only have Two-Weapon fighting, you are at -4 to each attack, and so you make one attack if your chance of success on a single attack is worse than 50%. Your odds of missing with both double-weapon attacks are larger than your odds of missing with your single shot. On the high end, swing twice, always. Untrained, it’s never better to use two weapons without the feat unless you effectively can’t fail. That’s not a sophisticated damage per attack round analysis, though, just a “don’t miss” one. Properly, you’d take the weighted average damage of one hit vs. the weighted average (at reduced hit chance) of two, which can have two hits, one hit, or none. Not in the mood tonight.

In the comments section, +Fred Brackin does a pretty good job of demolishing Two-Weapon Fighting as a good plan. While the straight-up to-hit odds sorta favor you in the first analysis as above, he does a better calculation vs a typical armor class in terms of damage over ten rounds. He also makes the point of what you give up to get this two-weapon ability by selecting a feat, as well as the AC bonus from a shield. Plus, two-handed weapons like greatswords kinda rock. Scroll down and read the whole thing, and you might come to the conclusion that two-weapon fighting is a waste of time!

Combat Manuevers

This deserves its own section. You can do one of these using your Combat Maneuver Bonus, equal to your BAB+STR modifier+any special size modifier, and bigger is better. On the Defense, your target number benefits from both STR and DEX, and once again size helps.
What can you do?
Bull Rush: As part of a standard action or charge, you can try and push a foe straight back without doing any harm. This is football. You can theoretically even bull rush two or more foes, if you can absorb the -4 penalty per critter, but you get a new roll each time.
Disarm: Doing this provokes an attack of opportunity. But the value is obvious if you can pull it off. If you win, he drops one item of your choice; win by 10, and both hands are empty. Fail by 10 or more, and you disarm yourself. Oops. If you managed to do this while unarmed yourself, you can take the weapon from him and keep it, automatically. 
Grapple: Provokes an Attack of Opportunity. If you win, you change his state to grappled. He can’t move, is -4 to DEX, and -2 to all attacks that don’t involve breaking the grapple. See p. 567. Actually, don’t. See here instead (this online rules stuff is kinda cool at times). From grappled, you can also Move him, damage him with an unarmed attack, pin him, or even tie him up. Go go gadget bondage!
Overrun: This is one way to move through a foe’s hex without his permission. He can get out of the way, which lets you pass. If you win the maneuver check, you go through, win by 5 or more, you knock him prone.

Sunder: Break his stuff! Make an attack on his weapon, and you can damage or destroy it.
Trip: An attempt to knock your foe prone from up close, as opposed to an accidental/extra-good result of an Overrun. 
Special Initiative Actions

There are a few things you can also do with turn order.
Delay: This voluntarily sets your initiative to a lower number than what you rolled for the rest of the combat. You can do this multiple times, reducing (but never raising) your Initiative number.
Ready: Prepare to take a specified action at some time between your initiative count and your next turn. This one also resets your initiative count, but only (I think) if you actually interrupt another character with your action. So you have Init 17, and you’re waiting for that spellcaster to poke his face out of cover on Init 8 to shoot him with an arrow. He pokes out on his turn, and you shot him in the face. Your Initiative is now effectively 8.1 – you go right before the wizard, for the rest of the combat.
You can attack spellcasters to distract them, you can ready counterspells, and you can also ready weapons against a charge – and you go first, assuming your reach is longer than his . . . 
Parting Shot
And that’s the combat chapter! I’ve already learned some new things, so it was definitely worthwhile. Still a lot of special cases, which you can and should avoid by Being a Better Player. A bit of pre-prep in a game as rules-exception heavy as this one can go a long way.