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September 14, 2013: GURPS On Gaming Ballistic

Sean Punch
Douglas Cole over at Gaming Ballistic has an extensive interview with Sean Punch, the line editor for GURPS. Among other things, they discuss GURPS‘ strengths, weaknesses, and quirks, compare and contrast it to other systems out there, talk about realism, and discuss the Rule of Awesome. It’s a good interview; go watch it!

— Leonard Balsera

While you’re here, you should stroll around the place, check out the GURPS Melee Academy, roll around on The Grappling Mat, or brows the (incomplete but working on it) Pathfinder overview, and buy my book.

Welcome, and thanks for visiting!

  • GURPS.
    • Made worse by the incredible number of factors that GURPS has to account for. Of course the other tactical combat are just as complex and anyone who can use those on the fly wouldn’t be too concerned by the grappling rules.
    • Fourth Edition isn’t so bad; grappling is taken as an attempt to impede your foe’s movement, so it gives a penalty to his dexterity with the relevant body part, disables some of his maneuvers, and grants you options for takedowns, pinning, and dragging. Other things you can do in a grapple, like trying to disarm an opponent, are handled using the same rules as outside of a grapple. The foe can also counter-grapple you, since grapples are uni-directional, and so you can have states where one combatant has a grapple on the other, or both are grappling each other in the stereotypical “clinch”.
    • …Aaaand, since half of the fanbase seems to want more detail and realism, a new supplement, called Technical Grappling, is on the way

      We’ll see if this eventually gets more interesting

Before the thread was banished to its cage and put in the Cone of Shame, JCurwen3 asked a pretty good set of questions that I thought I’d answer here.

Question: in your post RESCALING MELEE WEAPONS, you presented the house rule (which I use and enjoy) that rescaled ST-powered damage to be sensible vs firearm damage. Using this, sw and thr damage for a given ST would be lower overall.

Would you suggest that CP values (which run off the same ST-based damage table as in Basic) are cinematic or realistic as they are? Basically, if I use your house rule on rescaling melee weapon damage, should I also use a similarly revised table for finding the CP that would be inflicted for a given ST, or are you happy with the standard CP values as is, as far as realism goes?

Also, did you ever get a chance, in playtest, to see the interaction between the rules in Technical Grappling and The Last Gasp (both the adjustments to FP recovery and the addition of AP)?

Control Points and Basic Damage

The Rescaling Melee Weapons article on the realistic scale puts swing at ST/10, so ST 20 is 2d (and thrust is 1d). That puts ST 13 at about 1d+1 for swing.
The normal progression has ST 13 being 2d-1 and ST 20 being 3d+2. A bit less than double the swing value. 
The thrust table is 1d and 2d-1 for ST 13 and ST 20, respectively.
The question is would 0.7d and 1d be appropriate to maintain the 1:1 correspondence between Control Points and injury.
Well, that would make things take a LOT longer in grappling, and TG already lengthens combats a bit by having much lower penalties than the “double CP” scale used for cinematic grappling.
Ultimately, without going too much into it, I think that having even lower CP awards might be realistic, but it will also likely be boring. I mean, a grappling match in my own Hwa Rang Do training is usually two minutes long, and that’s gone before you know it (championship matches are five minutes). I’ve heard that BJJ matches can go on longer than games of cricket (perhaps that’s being unfair). Seriously – grappling takes a long time. Too long, in most cases, to be gamed out without your other players pelting you with dice.
What I’d do is use ST/10 for Control Points on the new scale, but if you want to somehow turn CP into HP of injury, you’ll do it at a 2:1 exchange ratio. This includes setting the upper limit on injury when doing locks and whatnot. That should provide reasonable speed in actually achieving meaningful levels of control points for restraint and penalties, but not make grappling more effective than bashing someone with a sword for causing injury. Because that would be dumb.
Action Points and Technical Grappling
I write The Last Gasp quite a bit after I had already written most, if not all, of Technical Grappling. TLG was published in June of 2012, while the TG playtest and edits were complete in March of 2012. So when I wrote TLG I was definitely thinking that it would play well with the new grappling rules. Most everything in Technical Grappling is either an attack or a Contest treated as an attack – which means nonstop action will tire you out fast. You may wind up attacking to build up Control Points, and then Evaluate or Wait in order to hopefully pass the time and gain back some AP.

Still, we didn’t playtest it. The Last Gasp didn’t exist when I wrote Technical Grappling, and I wasn’t really free, I thought, to distribute the manuscript to let them interact together. NDA and all.

The thing I’d worry about, though, is that between keeping track of Action Points, Fatigue Points, and Control Points and Hit Points, that your players might revolt at that much resource management in one combat.

The concept of Trained ST features prominently in GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling. It’s one of the core rules concepts, and is designed to represent my personal observations that being a really, really good grappler can substitute somewhat for being really strong . . . but if you can be really good and really strong, yeah . . . do that.

The core concept – and one that appeared in print first in The Last Gasp, even though it was first written a rather long time ago in the TG manuscript – is that the more points you spend on a skill, the better you can apply your ST with that skill.

In fact, not just “better applied,” but “actually stronger.”

In short, this is one way of getting sport-specific training, so to speak, into your games.

So, we did it for grappling, and basically extended the progression you see in (for example) Wrestling, where you get +1 to ST at a skill level of DX+2, and +2 to ST at DX+2 upwards a ways. As far as DX+10.

Interesting. Well, don’t Karate and Brawling have similar bonuses?

Yes, yes they do.

So why didn’t I take the next step? Broaden the concept to include weapons skills, as well as unarmed combat. The door was open, right? All I had to do is step through it.

Well, first and foremost, I wasn’t rewriting the GURPS Basic Set. Sure, +Sean Punch let me radically muck with something by allowing me to implement Control Points – more on those later – but the basic model of the rest of the rules wasn’t jostled much. You could drop the new rules on to existing campaigns and not break anything – but if you started doing crazy stuff with weapons, you’re really mucking about with existing characters. That could be seriously non-fun.

Could it be done, though? Could one take the existing relationships between damage and ST and make it work better?

I’m sure you could. One way to do it would be to, well, just do it. But do it in a less-nasty way. If you’re in to rescaling melee damage, Then large bonuses, or percentage multipliers, on ST wouldn’t be that ugly. If at ST 12 you’re doing 1.2d (about 1d+1) swing and 0.6d (1d/2) thrust, then boosting ST by 50% when you hit DX+10 skill would give you effective Trained ST 18 . . . or 1.8d swing and 0.9d thrust (about 2d-2 and 1d respectively/more-or-less). That’s just not going to break anything.

In order to not really get melee weapons damage out of hand by just boosting it all, you’d probably want to take the thrust and swing damage table, and make an assumption such as “this is the damage you get when you get to DX+2 skill. If you have less skill than this, you don’t do as much damage.

You’d then lower the damage for lower skills, from DX+1 down to defaults on the order of DX-6. Well, you’d not lower the damage, you’d lower your (un)Trained ST with the weapon. It wouldn’t change, perhaps, the ST you use when looking at the minimum ST of the weapon (though it could), but it would give you a darn good reason to train.

What might that table look like?

If you’re into scaling (and you should be), substitute a 10% increment (rounding down to lower ST) instead of a -1. So if you were normally ST 12 with a broadsword, but only had a point in the skill, you’d be operating at either ST 9 (-3 to ST) or -30% to ST, which is ST 8. Very rapid gains for putting points into skill, and even some real benefit to the Dabbler perk, which allows raising your default level with a handful of skills. You could, of course, fiddle with this, and decide that DX or DX+1 was the assumed skill you need to get your full measure on the Damage Table. 

In fact, in order to have the progression above play well with the ones assumed for Karate they have to be different. Karate gives you +1 per die to thrust damage at DX+1, and +2 per die to thrust at DX+2.

That is a cinematically awesome effective increase in ST. +1 per die is about +30%, while +2 per die is +60%. Wow. That’s a huge bonus for only DX+2. There’s not a great way to make this neat, so you’d wind up changing the progression a bit, probably making it more gentle, for Karate. Maybe you need to get to DX+4 or something, or instead of damage bonuses, you give ST bonuses, like Wrestling.

In any case, you can see why I just didn’t go there. It’s a rewrite, not an expansion. Still, that rewrite is kinda tempting . . .

A one-hour interview with GURPS Line Editor +Sean Punch. In the interview, we cover GURPS‘ strengths and weaknesses, compare and contrast it a bit to other game systems, muse on the state of the RPG industry, discuss “realism” in games, and much more. At the end, Sean talks a bit about how to write well for GURPS, now that the pipeline seems to be open again.

This is my first video interview ever – not just for this blog. I will be attempting to add useful content to this post over time, including (eventually) a text transcript of the entire thing, since I find it entirely annoying when I have to play a video to get good content. So stay tuned.

Oh, and at the end, Sean throws down a bit of a challenge, which I will gleefully take up when I’m better at this: a panel discussion featuring more than one key player in the GURPS space. As was said about the Six Million Dollar Man, “we have the technology,” and there’s no reason such a good idea should go to waste.

I provided Sean a list of questions ahead of time, but other than a few moments where I forgot that the interview is not about what I have to say, I mostly let him talk. Here are some notable moments, messages, and themes:

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Sean for giving me so much of his time to conduct this interview!

Again: in case you missed the embedded link, here’s a full-text transcript and an MP3 file of this same interview.

 Links to GURPS various style guides and templates, from the Wish List:

I never regret talking to +Peter V. Dell’Orto. Today were were chatting over Skype, and in a few short moments, a few things he said triggered a flow of ideas that will result in me revamping a long-pending Pyramid article. The article covers three topics. Well, maybe four. Has to do with weapons, using them and misusing them.

I’ve got the core of an idea, but the implementation required too many “well, this is necessary complexity. Trust me!” moments. Peter’s been on me for this for a bit now, and while the rules as written do work, something’s always nagging me that they could work better.

Now, I think, borrowing from a few other concepts already in the article, they will.

I’d say you can’t put a value on that, but you can: about $250. Maybe less once I strip out all of the truly unnecessary stuff out of the article. But in the end, it will provide a level of simplicity relative to what’s there now that will make the article much, much more likely to be actually used in play.

The moral of the story here is simple: Find a constructive critic who will help you pare your work down to bare, pure elements. Find a principle or three, and stick to them.

Three that I’ve learned from Peter?

1. The Rule of Awesome. Live by it.
2. Make sure it works in play. Correlary: If it’s not a problem in an actual game, fuggeddabouddit.
3. Extra die rolls must perish in flames

The third one might be suspended in certain circumstances, such as when you can write a MapTools macro to take a few easy inputs and resolve many rolls automatically. But even so, the dice are there to facilitate the story and to keep things uncertain and risky. Stock option theory tells you that the value of a choice which is absolutely certain is zero. Same thing with dramatic storytelling, and why when (say) +George R R Martin kills off main characters in Book 1, it makes you sit up and take notice. All of a sudden your choices are far more important.

Anyway, I got a page of short notes and a real sense of how the new section is going to turn out. If nothing else, I have to wonder if I need to excise that new bit, plus one more rule, and just send it in. The other bits can wait.

I really can’t do much better than what +Sean Punch wrote in summing up my book, so I’ll just quote it:

Without fine technique,
Strength and flexibility
Are empty treasures
                        — Some hack

Some of the greatest warriors of myth and legend were famed for their aptitude at grappling. Almost every historical culture had a patron god of wrestling (from Hermes to Hanuman) and accounts of heroes adept at the art (Herakles managed to strangle a dragon). Prior to the age of gunpowder, no professional soldier went into battle without some training in what to do when the hostilities moved to very close quarters indeed. Even today, policemen and soldiers learn to grapple, if only because that’s the most instinctive form of combat for human beings.

Despite all this, RPG protagonists tend to avoid holds, throws, and locks in favor of flashy strikes. In GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling, Douglas Cole redresses this imbalance by expanding GURPS Martial Arts in ways that make grappling as exciting – and often as deadly – as gunslinging, swordplay, and fisticuffs. Inside you’ll find the new concept of Control Points (CP), which quantify your ability to twist and mangle your foe . . . and once you rack up enough CP, you can cut loose with all kinds of new combat options, perks, and techniques, whether your goal is to restrain your rival, incapacitate him, or brutally snap his neck.

This supplement contains all the rules and abilities you need to handle every kind of grappling, from ritualistic sumo to scrappy street fighting. It also covers the use of hardware, whether that means exploiting a police baton for extra oomph in an arm lock, entangling your opponent in a net or a kusari, or restraining a captive with rope or handcuffs. It offers optional “harsh realism” rules for everything from body weight to the effects of clothing and sweaty bodies on getting a firm grip. It even has something for fighters who aren’t ordinary humans, addressing Size Modifiers and superhuman abilities, and presenting grappling styles suited to bears, canines, constrictor snakes, and felines.

Why not grab a copy today?

Thus far, it would seem that at least 84 people have grabbed a copy. For that I am grateful!

It’s been more than two years since I got the contract. But it’s out!

I can’t think of a better GURPS Day present, of course.

I’ll be doing a lot of Technical Grappling related posts in the coming days, and I hope that you guys all enjoy the book.


So, now that I’ve regained my composure after some gratuitous fist-pumping and victory dancing, I am quite pleased to see that not only are we likely poised for a return to GURPS releases, but that my work was chosen/available to be that first release.

There are some interesting factoids and stories to tell about this manuscript, but I’ll not do that now. One thing I will say is that I’ve got roughly 5,000 words of designer’s notes ready to go, and they will appear in due course, either in some formal venue or on this blog. There will be some good stuff in there, including some content that was removed solely for wordcount reasons, not because they sucked. Well, there will be some of that too.


GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling
Available as an e-book on e23!

Written by Douglas Cole * Edited by Jason “PK” Levine

GURPS Line Editor: Sean Punch
51 pages. PDF. * Price $9.99 * Stock number 37-1644
Always Available – Click here to buy!

Master Grappling . . . or Face Defeat!

The canny warrior knows that grappling is fundamental to fighting. Any melee – from a brawl to a swordfight – could suddenly move into the clinch. Some fighters even specialize in such tactics!
This is a hard subject to get a hold on, however; volumes have been written about leverage alone. GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling brings this depth toGURPS. Expansions to the GURPS Basic Set and GURPS Martial Arts rules include:

  • Trained Strength. Discover how technical proficiency complements raw power.
  • Control Points. Transform grappling from an all-or-nothing affair to a matter of degree.
  • Position Revisited. Achieve leverage by jockeying for not only posture, but also facing and orientation.
  • Armed Grappling. Control and entangle your foes with a surprising variety of melee weapons.
  • Combat Options. Narrow your focus with the One Foe option, exploit Committed Attack to force a posture change, pass a limb to trap your opponent, and more.
  • Techniques. More than 30 of them – some new, some modified. Use an Escaping Parry to break a clinch, or Change Position to establish a weight advantage.
  • Fighting Styles. Learn Jacket Wrestling or Shuai Jiao – and distinguish between between bear and lion attacks – with six classic styles plus four specifically for animals.

Whether your campaign features athletes wrestling for prizes and honor, lawmen who must control and disarm suspects, or historical warriors trained to fight to the death, Martial Arts: Technical Grappling will add detail and realism to your battles.
This supplement requires GURPS Martial Arts for GURPS Fourth Edition.

You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done.
-Kenny Rogers, “The Gambler”

+Peter V. Dell’Orto recently ran a truly epic Dungeon Fantasy combat. Something like 15 hours and 90 or so combatants. It was tense and interesting the entire time. He followed up the play report with a note on how he balances encounters (hint: he doesn’t), and as I read through both wonderful posts, I had a thought occasioned by the recap of what could have gone wrong, and right:

After the fight Dryst’s player and I talked about it as we cleaned up (me my minis, maps, and PC; him, wiping the battlemat for me.) Had Christoph the Scout also been there, or if Borriz was there, or Honus – basically, if there was just one more PC-level delver – the fight would have been much shorter. Or if Dryst had just a few more paut potions or a bigger power item. Or if Galen had a spare bow once his broke, instead of needing to waste turns scrounging up a tiny shortbow to plink with. We both figure the fight would have been much shorter and lopsided in favor of the PCs.

But had the PCs been a smaller group – say, had Dryst and Honus smashed the door guards with ease a few sessions back and managed to force the door and get into the temple – it would have probably been a TPK.

Each of these things is effectively a “what if,” where the decision was made (actively or implicitly) to press on and keep fighting, to engage or fall back, based on a series of events.

It occurred to me that (bear with me here) my wife and I were encouraged to come up with a highly specific “birth plan” for my daughter, but when something that was not on our expectations list occurred – my daughter reacted in utero to some external stimuli by flipping on her head and thus presenting a breach birth – our only recourse was to basically chuck the plan and improvise. That worked out well for my daughter, but for adventurers (ah ha! he returns to the point . . . ) this doesn’t always go well.

So, (and I fully expect +Mark Langsdorf ) to jump in here with more: this is his forte) how many parties have a list of things, if-then statements, that can take a turn for the worst or a twist of fate and prevent them from spiraling into TPK?

I suspect very few.

What questions should you ask?

Let’s Start with the Spectacularly Fatal

Well, one thing you can be sure to ask is what happens if any given party member is one-shotted into incapacity by some beast. Given the lack of redundancy in many roleplaying parties skill sets, this could range from trivial (we had four melee fighters, three front-line capable and one second-ranker; now we have two and one, respectively. OK, keep going) to catastrophic (we are being attacked by a diffuse swarm only affected by magical fire, and our only party member capable of producing explosive magical fire is now a pile of steaming viscera).

The party really should have some plan in mind when one of the niches that are carefully preserved by DF templates is no longer filled. This could be a fighting (or screaming) withdrawal, a concentrated effort to get the party healer to the downed foe, or launching bottles of paut and Greater Healing at the guy with a sling. Whatever works, use it – but have a plan.

War, HUH! What is it good for?

The other thing that’s often (and entertainingly) left undecided in DF and standard popcorn fantasy (and I say this very fondly) is some sense of why the battle is happening. In Peter’s case, his players deliberately set out to pick a fight with a known numerically superior foe – the newtmen – in order to make subsequent delves less dangerous, and perhaps allow them to concentrate on the Lord of Spite. Either/or is bad enough, but both/and has been figured to be pretty fatal.

So this group went looking for a fight, and found one. It was almost more than they could handle, but it turned out OK.

Still: how many fights does your party get into that are basically without any sort of strategic goal? What are you trying to do?

  • Take and hold a particular area of ground?
  • Destroy and/or kill a particular adversary?
  • Survive, or otherwise get out of the encounter alive?
  • Thin out resistance, and therefore maybe not have to fight to the last man?
  • Simply traverse an area which may or may not have live and hostile opposition in it?

Huh. Lot of options here other than “fight a pitched battle to the last man standing.”

The fourth one is really interesting, because it gives the option to spread the conflict over many battles, each of which is hopefully fought on the PCs terms. You enter the room, hopefully surprise the foe, engage in a few rounds of totally one-sided combat, and then do a fighting (or magical!) withdrawal.

Who bothers to use invisibility as a planned “let’s withdraw from combat” strategy, rather than a “let’s get into position so that our pitched battle ends favorably?” Heck, I know I’ve never really thought this way, but perhaps I should.

Resource Management

Healing, magical spells/fatigue, expendables. All of these are held as a resource pool and used up in any given delve or fight. I know in our current DF game that +Nathan Joy  runs, one of the things we used to do when we had a “real wizard” is to have Mark blow through Brother Michel’s FP reserve for magical spells, and then he’d fall back and become a second-line melee fighter.

Why the hell would we do it that way, especially regularly? Well, sometimes there’s no choice. Lots of foes, nowhere to run to, etc. But we should have always been looking for a way to keep the spellslinger in the game. That includes fighting defensively, strategic withdrawals and pauses, etc.

Furthermore, as Peter’s “the Scout’s bow broke” example shows, many PCs are one Disarm or critical failure away from pretty much being totally useless. If Cadmus, Pharasma forbid, drops his axe, he has gone from a pretty good fighter (he’s good, but he’s no Thumvar) to flailing away with his fists, a Judo Throw he can’t use because it defaults to Axe/Mace, or a shield bash. He has no backup weapon, and his learned prayers, while mighty against the undead, don’t do squat vs. an irritated drunk orc.

So, what’s your party’s plan if the Scout runs out of arrows (unlikely with a cornucopia quiver), their weapon breaks, or you find yourself facing a foe where pi and imp attacks suck? What happens if your line fighter drops his primary weapon? What’s the plan when your magic user is down to their second-to-last bottle of paut, or the group healer is gutted or tired?

Don’t have one?

Maybe you should.

Now ev’ry delver knows that the secret to survivin’
Is knowin’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
‘Cause ev’ry fight’s a winner and ev’ry fight’s a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”
-Ken’i R’grs, “The Delver”