Last Tuesday we had the final battle with the rejuvenated Oni, whom we fondly called “Kim.”

It turned out to be fairly anticlimactic. We twigged early to the massive rune-laden club with the Thousand Words of Pain on it to being the real issue (and especially after several solid hits came to no good result on our part). We attacked the weapon directly, rolled really well, cut it in two . . . whereupon it exploded.

Dawn got pasted with a massive blow before that, but thanks to Ninja! Destiny/Bonus points, turned that into a miss/graze rather than an insta-kill with something like 20+ crushing damage in one blow.

After the club exploded, we had the big bad surrounded – the bane of many-on-one encounters in GURPS for the one – and more or less proceeded to pound him into jelly. As Mark points out in the comments, Shiba crippled Kim’s foot, rooting the Oni in place and allowing us to more or less go to town on the beast.

Afterwards, Cadmus cleansed the temple for an hour or two of prayer, and we went a-looting.

Staver, bored and a bit put off by all the praying (Infernal, after all) grabbed the keychain tossed to him by +Mark Langsdorf‘s new character, Shiba the Mystic Knight. He found the magical lock, turned the key . . .

. . . and the entire room burst into flames. Oops. Trapped.

That’s where we ended. We’ll see if Emily needs a new character, or is just lightly toasted.


Update. Staver survived, but pretty seriously singed. Loot was gathered, and totaled north of $25K per party member, looks like, plus some cool magic items. Big Pile of Character Points to be awarded later. Not sure what Cadmus will spend his loot on, but he has to spend it or give it away (pesky vow).

Last post of Melee Academy was on getting into CC range with a grapple in one turn. +Mark Langsdorf picked up on this and showed a higher-percentage option to get into CC that takes two turns, and by his own notes, is really good at negating the hated Defense Bonus of a shield.

Martin Leuschen made a good comment in my post, pointing out (in summary) three issues:

  1. First, low armor DR vs. weapon damage: If full armor was actually proof against most attacks, the historical grapple-takedown-misericorde combo is much more plausible. 
  2. Second, high unarmed lethality: Striking unarmed is better than you might expect, so why grapple?
  3. Third is pacing: Grappling is indeed more likely to be drawn out, so it suffers in comparison to the stuff GURPS allows to be done every round, even if in RL it usually happens in brief flurries.

These observations are well-made, and honestly Technical Grappling probably won’t help here. First, none of these correct observations really have to do with grappling, so much as grappling compared to striking, where striking is found superior in actual play relative to grappling options.

But surely there are effective ways to actually use grappling in fights?

Hard to say. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I exchanged emails about this topic, and his comments were on-point as usual:

Grappling when you need something to die now, and you have good means of making it die now, is a bad idea.

The problem I have is it’s pretty weak overall, thanks to the number of defenses the attacker gets against throws and grabs, and ability to break out of it. Judo Throw is a good example – if the attacker can’t stop you, it’s too powerful, but if he gets a defense, it generally fails. Realistically they take some setup, though, which is part of the issue. Maybe if they took a setup but where easier once you got the setup, it would be more useful.

Yeah. That starts to hit at some of the things I was realizing as I’ve been playing, even at Dungeon Fantasy point levels. But between Mark’s comments and Peter’s, there might even be some answers in there.

Stop Whining: How can it actually be done?

I think that grappling in the middle of armed combat can be effective, but you’re going to have to work it a bit. It may require a few house rules, though, as well as, perhaps, some legal but a bit munchkiny use of perks. It also might still wind up being less “efficient” or “optimal” than repeatedly striking with a maxed-out weapon skill.

Skills, multiple skills, and perks

I think one of the issues that might be at play here is that it is likely almost always a better option to have one skill that is really good than to have two that are decent but balanced. 

For grappling, I think what it boils down to is that defenses against grappling attacks are no different than any other defense. If you can do a Broadsword or Karate parry vs. a grappling attack at no defensive penalty, or more appropriately, at full defensive ability, then being relatively unfamiliar with grapples and defending against them is not a problem.

Part of this is quite simple: All armed skills are also grappling skills. You don’t need special training to grapple with a weapon, you can do so (make the grapple, that is) by rolling vs. Armed Grapple, at Skill-2. Boom. In an early draft of TG, I’d interpreted that as “treat Broadsword as a grappling skill, but at -2.”

That’s not correct; “Armed Grapple” is the ability to perform the usual GURPS grapple with a weapon. If you hit, your foe as at the usual -4 DX, and you can use any technique that you have the ability to do so using that grapple.

But perhaps a modification here would be to actually do that. Treat uses of (say) Broadsword in a grappling context as an Average technique defaulting to Skill-4 or Skill-6. That would mean using Broadsword to parry a grapple would be at -2 or -3 relative to a real grappling skill, but that a 4- or 6-point investment could make up for it.

Meh. That still wouldn’t drive wanting to branch out into more than one type of skill. Why do I care? Well, some of the earlier MMA matches were pretty one-sided, since lots of people trained in striking only, and got their butts handed to them by grapplers. The strikers didn’t know how to deal with them.

Of course, “I deal with a grappler by smashing him to the ground with my axe” is pretty effective.

One way to get around this is to do what I did for Cadmus: take your best weapon skill, or maybe both your weapon and shield skill, and default favored moves from it by buying a perk. “Judo Throw defaults to Axe” is perfectly legal (confirmed by RPK and it shows up in TG as well). The oft-seen “he slams into me and I flip him over myself with my shield” trick – I believe I’ve seen this in Gladiator, Braveheart, and in 300 – would be the perfect application of this.

Negating defenses

Of course, it still hasn’t worked out well for me in play. Peter’s point about multiple chances to defend, break free, and otherwise negate the grappler’s attack bears some consideration too.

So, what to do?

Well, if defenses are the issue, we have a few possibilities, and only one of them involves a rules tweak.

The tweak: Let Riposte stack with Deceptive Attack. It never occurred to me that this wasn’t allowed, and frankly shouldn’t break anything anyway.

OK, so clearly if the problem is that it’s just too darn easy to foil the grapple, then it’s time to start stacking up penalties. The goal here will be to follow up a weapon attack with a grapple and throw. Remember that Judo Throw can occur if you’re within a yard of your foe, that is, Reach 1. I don’t see the rules stating you must step into CC either.

Feint version

Let’s assume two fighters, both Skill-18, no Combat Reflexes, with DB +2 shields; Parry-14, or 15 with a retreat. I’m going to steal a page from Mark’s playbook – we’ll include something sneaky:

Turn 1, Step 1: Bash your foe

Your first offensive option is to hit them hard with something. This imposes a shock penalty. This is up to -4.

Turn 2, Step 2: Fake ‘im out

You’ll need to parry a blow, presumably, between your first successful attack and your Feint.

Shock canonically does not impact Active Defenses, but does lower DX and skill use. So your second step, while your foe is suffering from shock, is to Feint. This does impact defenses on the following turn, effectively translating the -4 Shock to -4 to defenses. All of them.

Step 1 and 2: Bash and Feint: If you can afford the penalties, consider doing both of these in one turn with Rapid Strike. 

Turn 2, Step 3: Riposte on your foe’s blow

OK, so your foe’s next defense suffers from your Feint. Now, on your next defense, you’ll want to parry the incoming blow, and Riposte to impart a further penalty. This won’t be much, probably only -1 or if you’re feeling lucky, -2. Still, if that stacks with Feint, that’s up to -6.

Turn 3, Step 4: Deceptive Attack on Judo Throw

Hey, look – you’ve just parried a blow, so you can employ Judo Throw using an Attack/Defense roll. Go ahead and throw in with a Committed Attack (Determined) for +2, and then lay down a -3 Deceptive Attack penalty. Your foe is now looking at -9 to defend, so his Parry is reduced from about a 15 (good luck with that) down to a 6. Even if he’s a Dodge Monkey with Dodge-15, he’s still only defending one time in 10.

So you throw him, and he has to make his HT roll to resist stun. If you want, throw him for damage, but mainly you’re hoping for the stun.

Turn 3, Step 5: Defend if he’s not stunned

He’s prone now, attacking at -4 and defending at -3. If you can Riposte on this one, you should. He might choose to Change Posture to kneeling, but if that’s the case you’re not worrying about getting hit.

Turn 4, Step 6: Nail him (this is Step 5 if he’s stunned)

You’re dealing with at least -2 (kneeling) and possibly as much as -5 (prone and suffering from a -2 riposte). Here, you will perhaps be looking at Telegraphic Committed (’cause I dont’ like to give up all my defenses) attacks to sensitive bits – choice locations like neck or skull, or chinks in armor. You can do AoA or Committed for extra damage, but personally, I think that the x3 or x4 multiplier you’ll get from locations (or the DR/2 you get from chinks) is the better bet here

Setup Attack version

For those who like Setup Attacks, from Delayed Gratification, this provides another pathway.

Turn 1, Step 1: Setup Attack

Launch a setup attack with your primary weapon. Your attack must succeed in order for the penalties to transfer, and you’re not necessarily worrying about damage . . .but you will want to leverage Riposte. Let’s say you throw that Setup as a Defensive Attack, assigning the +1 to Parry. At Skill-18, you can throw down with a -2 setup. Let’s assume your attack succeeds, but your foe thwarts the attack (though YOU might be looking at a -1 or -2 to your own next defense, since he can Riposte as well).

If you hit, then he’s suffering from shock, which doesn’t hurt his defenses, but will make him either back off or  at least succeed by less. Cap of -4 on shock means he’s still Skill-14 and Parry-14, so pretty capable.

Turn 1, Step 2: Riposte

If he attacks, parry him. You’ll be looking at, again, up to about a -3 (rolling vs 12 or 13) penalty you’re trying to stack via the Riposte, on top of the -2 from your previous setup. How does that work? With defensive attack and a Retreating parry, you can roll vs. a 13 with a -3 Riposte penalty.

Turn 2, Step 3: Judo Throw

Again, you’ve just parried a blow, so you can proceed to a Throw. Your foe is up to -2 from the setup, -3 from the Riposte, and then you can pile on another -2 from a Deceptive Attack this turn. Total of up to -7, but it takes one less turn to accomplish. Also, you’ll see that the Step 2 Riposte can be pretty even up, and you might not gain much. I’d say on the average, you’re looking at -4 or -5 here, but still.

Your foe will thus be resisting the Judo Throw at an upper end of about Parry-11 (still you only land it one time in three), but if things go well, could be looking at as low as Parry-7 (one time in six).

Parting Shot

These tactics I’m sure aren’t perfect, and other options are available. But it’s pretty clear that unless you’re facing mooks, you’re going to need to work it in order to leverage a dynamic grapple in a lethal combat situation. It’s also not clear to me that, in the end, the best strategy isn’t just to repeatedly use that optimum swing to the neck over and over and over. It’s boring as hell, but it’s efficient.

The key seems to be tweaking the rules a bit, and finding a series of moves that allow you to pile on enough penalties to make that throw irresistible. Of course, if your throw is irresistible, so is a coup de grace with a sword. The purpose of the throw, then, is likely to allow a second-line fighter to act as the finisher while he’s stunned or incapable of defending. A handy spear or poleaxe on a prone and stunned foe seems like a good way for your front-line guy to move on to the next victim.

Welcome to the second installment of Melee Academy!

Grappling seems pretty cool. The benefits for throwing someone to the ground are pretty impressive in GURPS. They have to spend a few turns getting up (unless then can Acrobatic Stand), while prone they’re at -4 on their hit rolls and -3 while defending. While kneeling, which the probably have to do to stand up, they’re at -2 to both. If you can throw them hard enough via Judo Throw, you may either stun or damage them.

But grappling in combat is harder then it would seem. For one thing, on the scale of GURPS combat, it can take a while. While a strike that successfully lands gets its damage (and attendant shock penalties) a grapple in a lethal combat “only” imparts -4 to DX, with the attendant -2 to Parry/Block and -1 to Dodge that comes from that reduction.

Part of the trick is that you have to get close – enter your foe’s hex – and stay there. Grappling is, mostly, done at Reach C, in Close Combat. That can be a very dangerous place to be for both foes.

Getting to that range can be tricky. Getting to that range without avoiding getting murderized can be very tricky.

Consider: approaching a guy with a sword, or worse yet, a sword and a knife. If he sees you coming, he can Wait, and attack you as you step to Reach 1. If you’re unarmed, or unarmored, you’ll face the dreaded “unarmed parry vs. weapons” thing, where all of his parries are automatically aggressive. He can possibly poke at you a few times if he has a long sword with Reach 1,2.

Closing the Distance

 A – Attacker Steps     B – Wait trigger      C  – Close Combat      D – Foe retreats

So, what to do? Well, you can try and Wait. The condition of your Wait is that you will Step and Attack to grapple. Technically, this is your attack on your own turn, and your foe does get to defend. This runs into the “unarmed parry” rule. But it does allow you to get into close combat.

However, your foe may retreat, and if your grapple fails, he’s still in perfect smackdown range. So you’ll do an obvious Wait, as shown by figure A. When your foe steps into range, triggering your Wait, you can step into Close Combat if you haven’t moved at all yet (p. B385 makes this explicit). Notionally, this box disallows the “Step and Wait” strategy, but that’s not what you’re going for here, so it doesn’t matter.

So, you can proceed from A to C by triggering your Wait – but it’s your turn, not your foe’s, so he can defend, including by Retreating (D). If he does this and your grapple has failed, he’s in perfect beat-down position with a Reach 1 weapon.

Committed Attack

You’re stepping into close combat with an angry orc with a sword. You’re already committed, and maybe fit to be committed too, so you might as well choose the Committed Attack option (Martial Arts, p. 99-100) and pick the two steps option. This allows you to follow your foe as he retreats and step back into his hex, if you absorb the -2 to hit stacked on to whatever Committed Option you’ll be using.

Make no mistake, though, this is dangerous, since while he is in Reach C for you (and thus maybe his weapons are either ineffective of less effective), he isn’t grappled yet if you’ve missed.

The Committed Attack option also allows the Wait strategy to be employed against a weapon with Reach 1,2 – but of course you will end at C instead of D, having burned your movement getting to C the first time.

Be Offensive

Another version of Wait uses Committed Attack to shoot in and grapple your foe as soon as he steps up to A. He can still defend, and he retains his step, so I’d judge this slightly less desirable, since he can step back and still have reserved his retreat.

Grappled, Now What

We’re assuming a swirling many-party melee here, not a ritualized fight in the octagon, or a 1-1 duel. So now that you’ve got him, you have more work to do.

The usual options are Takedowns and Locks. Both can usually be treated as (or actually are) attacks, so if you’re awesome you can probably Rapid Strike with them. The issue here is that it’s another skill roll, a Contest for Takedown, and an attack roll (which can be defended against) for Locks.

You can see the problem, though. You’re looking at three separate actions to get any sort of impact.

The lock options are particularly attractive using Throws from Locks, though. They inflict swing damage. If you do it right, and use Head Lock, you do swing damage to the neck. That’s pretty good, but again, takes time.

Instant Gratification

There are a couple options that seem like pretty good plays that don’t require multiple turns, but they do require a bunch of things to go right.

Judo Throw

The notional 900-lb gorilla of the grappling world in GURPS is the Judo Throw. The benefits cannot be denied. You parry weapons at no penalty. You get +3 when doing a Judo parry on a retreat, and unlike many other grappling moves, you may Judo Throw if your foe is within one yard, that is, it’s basically a Reach 1 grappling attack. Notionally, then, you parry an attack that you probably needed to parry anyway, and then make an attack roll. If successful, your foe is on the ground, and on a failed HT roll, he’s stunned. This probably ignores many types of armor, and if you’re good, you can throw for damage by targeting a location, and the head is always popular here.

Swept Away

This one is interesting, in that in one turn (but still the same number of rolls) you get the benefit of a grapple and takedown without actually having to grapple the guy. Also, if you’re strong and have Power Grappling, you can make a ST-based Sweep roll instead. This will knock someone down, but never stun or injure them, so it’s a benefit, but a limited one.

“Never Tell Me the Odds”

The struggle here is that many of these moves require several linked rolls, all of which must work in order for these moves to be effective. You must first Parry, and then make a successful attack isn’t really a departure from striking. But toss in the HT roll for stunning and your foe can weasel out of one of the big reasons to do this sort of move.

Even with proper perk selection (Judo Throw defaults to Axe/Mace, for example) and Axe-20, my Warrior Saint in +Nathan Joy‘s Dungeon Fantasy game has never really pulled off one of the cool moves. Too many things seem to have to go right.

The mix of attack/defense and Quick Contest is also interesting, since the odds aren’t exactly always intuitive. Also, sometimes you can choose between them: Judo Throw can be done after a Judo Parry by making an attack roll, but after a grapple (you attack and they fail their defense roll) you can toss someone by winning a Quick Contest.

Which do you prefer? Which should you prefer?


A contest is pretty straight-foward, and is “who wins by more.” The odds of winning a contest where both combatants are of equal skill and no modifiers (so effective skill 14 is rolling vs. effective skill 14) is basically 50%. Where margin of success matters (and it will matter a lot once Technical Grappling comes out), the odds of you winning a disparate contest (Skill-16 vs Skill-14) by the difference in skills (that is, win the above contest by 2) is also 50%. So I’ll use that 50% benchmark to give a feel for things. But basically, you’re going to be looking at the balance of skills, and the higher yours is over your foe’s (and that might be skill vs. ST or HT or best grappling skill, or something that gives each the best opportunity). Contests, then, work best when you have the advantage.

Attack-Defense Roll

It might not be strictly comparable, but what are the probabilities of an attack actually landing, taking account lowering the probability of success on the attack itself to 90% via Deceptive Attack? Well, you can see that the region of the curve that is green, giving more than 50% chance of a successful attack, seems more limited. You have to be careful though, since Active Defense scores are figured as 3+Skill/2. That is listed in the “Raw Skill” section, and you can see that at Attack Skill-20 (and a -6 Deceptive Attack), you’ll cross over the 50% probability mark at roughly Skill-19. On the flip side, you will never get where you want to be unless you start with more than 50% chance to hit.

Finally, you can see that if the foe can retreat (+1), has Combat Reflexes or Enhanced Defenses (+1), and perhaps takes All-Out Defense or has a medium shield (each with +2), that all of a sudden, scoring that hit drops below 50% at a defender’s skill of only 10 . . . because 3+10/2 + 1 + 1 + 2 = 12, the same way that a raw skill of 18 gives a defense roll of 12.

All of this is obviated if your foe has just All-Out Attacked. Then, it’s all about your skill, since your foe has no defenses. In this case, Attack-Defense rolls are where it’s at (many Contests either explicitly or implicitly will allow a roll vs ST-4 or HT even if you’ve All-Out Attacked).

What it means: Learn Hand Catch if you can!

If your foe has the space to retreat, has enhanced defenses, is carrying a shield, or all-out defending (or a combination of all of those), you’re going to want to seek opportunities to engage in contests rather than attack-defense pairs. That means you’ll want to start the turn having already grappled your foe. But to grapple, you have to contend with your foe’s sky-high defenses, right?

Not with Hand Catch (Martial Arts, p. 84). If you can get it, and if you can make the roll (Judo Parry – 7 to intercept a sword!) you can then make another roll at full skill to grab the foe. That means your foe has attacked you, you’ve parried and grappled him, and on your next turn you can Judo Throw from Reach 1, step in and do a Takedown, both leveraging the Quick Contest, which neturalizes the benefit of a lot of those defense bonuses.

The enweaponed equivalent of this is probably Bind Weapon. If you can trap the weapon (and it’s “only” at Parry-1.5 (Parry = 3 + Bind Weapon/2, or 3+(Skill-3)/2) as a GM I’d say that is a grapple. It becomes win/win. Either your foe relinquishes his weapon at any time as a free action, or he keeps it and you can proceed to resolution by Contest. The key on this one is a jitte, jutte, or sai. Check out Martial Arts pp. 67-68 for more details.

Parting Shot

It may just be that my dice have not been friendly. But even with high skill, I’ve found that some of the cool features of grappling don’t work out well in practice over the ever-popular bashing someone in the face with an axe.

The key is to try and find situations where you can leverage your foe’s actions, arm yourself with the right stuff, and partner with the right people. Throw your foe down, and have a second-ranker impale him or chop him with a Telegraphic All-Out Attack for damage. He’s at -3 to defend and maybe stunned, and that’s a great way for a second-line fighter to contribute – as a finisher.

More Melee Academy Links

Other contributions can be found:

Dungeon Fantastic – +Peter V. Dell’Orto writes about Stop Hit
Orbs and Balrogs – +Christian Blouin writes about creating and holding combat initiative
RPG Snob – +Jason Packer throws down about combat pacing
No School Grognard – +Mark Langsdorf  provides a two-turn option that gets you into close combat with a higher success rate than the one-turn option I provide in this article.

GURPS Low Tech is a pretty darn good book. There’s a lot of value there, and even more so in the three companions.

There are a few books out, such as Instant Armor, and the forthcoming Low Tech Armor Loadouts, that help whittle down the very large job of choosing armor kit. It took me a very, very long time to assemble the armor for Cadmus, my Warrior Saint in +Nathan Joy‘s game.
Along the way, I put together a spreadsheet. It took permutations of the various armor types in Low Tech, with quality and heaviness modifiers. I then sorted it by DR, and calcualted Cost/DR as well as Weight/DR. 
Here, I present the (long) table that is the summary of that work. I’ve removed enough material that you can’t do without the book (and I’m not even remotely sorry). 
Warriors on a Budget

My premise here is simple. You’re starting off and your’e on a budget. If you purchased multiple levels of Wealth or you’re an experienced adventurer looking to upgrade, you will want this list sorted by Weight per unit DR. Yeah, I’ll be doing that later. 
Cheesy Protection: DR 1-2

This isn’t really enough armor to deal with much of anything, but I suppose it beats nothing at all, and can provide much-needed partial protection against certain low-level wounds. It can also be darn protective against things like smallshot or other things that are pi- and carry an armor divisor of (0.5). So, low utility but not entirely useless.
Cheap medium and heavy leather are your tickets here for anything you’d actually want to be seen in. Straw, wood, and cane are, well, embarrassing.
Low-end Serious

At DR 3, which is just enough to more or less protect against the average damage from a 1d attack, there are a few contenders. Good Heavy Leather and Good Layered Medium Leather are nice, Cheap Layered Heavy Leather is in there, and if you must have metal armor for some reason, Cheap Medium Scale makes the list.
Decent Serious Protection
Now at DR 4-5 you’re looking at being protected vs. the average damage from a 1d or 1d+1 attack. That’s starting to get credible, and DR 5 is well worth having.
If you can get it, Cheap Mail and Plates is (by about 10%) the superior ticket to DR 4. Cheap Heavy Scale ad Cheap Heavy Mail are in there, as is Cheap Heavy Segmented Plate. Those run $100-120 per point of DR. Mail and Plates isn’t on the “too shabby” list by DR per pound, either, being smack in the middle of the pack. Cheap Heavy Mail is even better by that basis.
At DR 5, Cheap Jousting Mail is your go-to, though it comes with significant drawbacks in flexibility (it’s not). Proofed paper is surprisingly effective (if flammable, perhaps? maybe not) at this level, and Cheap Medium Plate  and Good Mail and Plates are the real winners in the “overall, some darn nice protection for $1,000.” 
Note that that is starting wealth for TL3. So you’ve just blown your entire wad on armor that only covers the torso. Better invest in signature gear or a level or more of Wealth at this kind of entry point.
Starting to Tank Out

DR 6 and DR 7 are where you start to expect to find plate armor (that was the DR of a steel breastplate in Basic, more or less) and in fact, that’s what you find. The “very best” in terms of cost per unit protection at this level are Cheap DR 7 and Cheap DR 8 plate, which become DR 6 and 7 respectively, as Cheap metal armor loses a point of DR. 
Hardened Mail and Plates is also DR 6, but will cost you $5,000 for the privilege.  Cheap DR 7 plate (that gives DR 6) is probably the overall cost/weight winner here, as is Cheap DR 8 plate (that gives DR 7) at that entry. Hardened or Duplex DR 5 plate, on the other hand, are hugely expensive at DR 6, while not-insane-heavy but still spendy could be Fluted DR 6 plate and Hardened Heavy Mail, both at 3lbs per point of DR.
You Wanna Wear WHAT?

At the DR 8 and up level, it’s all plate, all the time. DR 9 is the last place where Cheap Plate gets you to a good price point, and you’re spending $1,800 to get it. If I did the math right. Spreadsheet is kinda old. 
You Can do Magic . . .

All of this goes more or less right out the window when you can get Fortify and Lighten on your armor, and at Dungeon Fantasy prices, that’s exactly what you want to do. Very quickly, and recognizing that Nate uses some special rules to make magically-suitable armor more expensive, including requiring at least a +1 Cost Factor (+1 CF, or x2 cost multiplier) on the base armor in order to enchant it. TL4 armors in DF cost double, so they qualify.
The low-low end armors don’t seem to be worth the magic. Again, given Nate’s rules, think about:
DR 4: Heavy Leather and Medium Layered Leather play nicely with Fortify/Lighten
DR 5. Medium Scale and Layered Heavy Leather, but both aren’t as good as the mundane Mail and Plates for DR 5.
DR 6: As you might guess, take Mail and Plates and hit it with Fortify and Lighten for DR 6
DR 7: Jousting mail with Fortify/Lighten can be pretty sweet if you can deal with it being rigid. If not, Mail and Plates with Fortify +2 is still a pretty good ticket
DR 8: Again jousting mail (Fortify +2) for the win here, though DR 7 plate with Fortify 1 is runner up (though 15% more expensive).
DR 9+: Back in the all Plate, all-the-time, with magical DR extending easily to DR 12 (DR 10 plate and Fortify +2).
Remember, that if you’re in a TL4 game or you don’t get the x2 cost basis for enchantable armor, some of the Fortify 1/Lighten 3/4 will be very very attractive.

Parting Shot

What you’re looking at here, with no surprises, are variants of leather at DR 1-3, mail at DR 4-5, and plate at DR 6+. Mail and Plates, if available, is a spectacularly good balance of cost and weight per unit DR. 
Another, much more complicated, option is to optimize your kit with slightly weaker DR on the back than the front. Working within a budget, it can seem attractive for starting armor to have (say) DR 5 or 6 on your front, and maybe DR 3-4 on your back. 
That’s not wrong, per se, but you’ll want to upgrade to a more uniform level of protection, and if you expect to face swarms or magical foes that teleport (or are just very sneaky), you’ll want to protect the vitals, either through a separate pectoral piece (not mentioned in the above table) or just thickened armor over the Vitals (bought, naturally, as a pectoral anyway).

GM: +Jeromy French
Players: +kung fu hillbilly , +Joshua Taylor , +Matt Sutton

We started out with some discussion of crafting and enchanting, as our resident Alchemist managed to come up with some very Pel-centric boots that give +2 each to Stealth, Swim, and Sailor for Rogues with the right skill set (mine). Retail for 6500gp, I get it for all my money (about 3400gp)

Pirates of the Caribbean IV

We spot and are pursued by a ship which moves against the wind and can teleport. We discuss options, which are all obviated when the damn thing goes from starboard to port with no time in between.

The ghost ship rams us hard on the port side after nailing us with a few ballista shots. We fire back.

The ghost ship is quite large, and captained by Whalebone Pilk, who is apparently not only a badass, but a dead one.

We prepare for battle.The Brine Zombies that crew the ship are bloated and filled with seawater; they are thus hard to set on fire, to Gimble the pyromaniacal alchemist’s great disappointment. Also to Alejandro’s, since that means that the odds of Gimble setting Alejandro on fire have just gone up dramatically.

Pilk is weilding a harpoon; the zombies have rusty cutlasses.

Battle is Joined

Pilk opens up with leading the fray with some sort of lung-ripping spell that fatigues Alejandro and costs him -2 CON.

Pel fires off the usual two arrows, hitting minorly with one from 90 feet away. He’s safe for the moment from harassment. Malgrim invokes his Enlarge Person, Alejandro summons a wolf that starts chewing on a brine zombie (Summon Nature’s Ally).

Next round brings another saving throw to Alejandro. The last thing he remembers before falling unconscious is the pressure on his chest easing. Pel launches another two arrows, hitting with one. Minor damage.

Malgrim steps up and just brings the hurt on one of the zombies. 19 damage chops him basically in half. So we presume these guys are vulnerable to cutting damage (slashing, I think, in Pathfinder).

Skipping the play-by-play except for major actions, we saw:

  • Malgrim impaled by a harpoon, which he immediately disarmed by cutting the attached rope
  • Pel revives Alejandro with a Cure Light Wounds potion; the NPC priestess Sandra Quinn throws down for 13 additional healing for him. Should be feeling much better.
  • Gimble tosses an immolation bomb at Pilk. He rolls a 28 for his touch attack, for 8 hp, repeated for 2 rounds
  • Pel fires arrows, doing minor damage each round, mostly, until he runs out
We more or less pound on the assembled multitudes until they die. The ship, the harpoon, and that’s about it radiate magic, but by and large it was just a dogpile event. 
The two ships are sinking together until we free ours. So we escape just fine.

When last we left our heroes, we’d just had the screens fall to reveal a staggering number of new foes in the middle of this final combat of the adventure.

Dawn was stunned for a single second, we were looking at ten or so angry zombies, and a runecaster and some other BMF (an Oni) were threatening us, along with two metal animated statues (golems) with surprisingly sharp swords.

Shanking Validates Pectoral Reqiurement

Soon after we started up, as we faced the Zombies, we quite literally heard the pitter-patter of Ninja feet, and while Thumvar was able to sacrificial parry for Staver, Michel took 11 imp to the vitals pretty much right away, mortally wounding him and incapacitating him for the rest of the four hours of fighting.

Thumvar had been Great Hasted (two maneuvers per turn) late yesterday, and so things got very dead when he was around. Still, he could only save one of them.

We noted that with invisible/stealth ninja All-Out Attacking us to the Vitals from behind, we should all invest in DR 14 pectorals immediately.

Learned Prayers Make Life Really Easy Sometimes

Cadmus’ turn rolled around, and he invoked Enhanced Protection from Evil, which forces a Contest of Will+10 for Cadmus (24) vs. a Will roll from notionally each bad guy. Cadmus makes his roll by 16, and Nate more or less handwaves (or they just roll equal to skill) the opposed rolls, and that means that no “malign supernatural being,” which includes demons and undead, cannot approach within 16 yards. While it’s tough to see on the screenshot, there is basically no place within the combat map that is closer than 16 yards, so this more or less nullified most of our opposition.

The Oni freaked out a little and launched an arrow at him, which Cadmus blocked . . . but the arrow exploded into flame, setting him in fire a bit. But every ninja and all the zombie vikings burned rubber getting outside my effect radius, which they could not do. They fled at some crazy Move, too – they were Fast Zombies, but they never came into play.

Apropos of Nothing: Smite and Protection from Evil are just “I win” buttons in this context, It turned what should have been a frantic, desperate fight which was made worse by our neglecting anything resembling a fight plan or tactics into a near walk in the park. I’m sure Nate is thinking about nerfing some of these abilities either now or in the future.

Thumvar Makes Like John Henry

Cadmus slowly moved to the Coi pond to extinguish himself, Thumvar basically pulled out his flail and started pounding the crap out of our two golems. This was vastly aided, and a life saved, perhaps, by two pieces of unfortunate golem luck:

The first biff chopped into the golem’s leg; the second managed to unready a weapon, which wound up saving Dawn from a serious injury later.

In any case, without a blow-by-blow, Thumvar beat the tar out of these guys while Great Hasted. It was a fairly mechanical task, and Thumvar was perfectly designed for it.

Serious Flaws Revealed in the Undead

Then between Dawn and Staver, they double-teamed the runecaster, with Staver doing his usual Heroic Archer bit, and Dawn providing great help by decapitating the guy.

At that point, with the runecaster’s expiration, all the Zombies up and died all at once. This was noted as a serious flaw in the design of these undead servants.

I’m not Dead Yet

The last credible threat was the Oni, who went by name of Kimandatsu. He couldn’t get within 4 yards of me, which was enough to bring him within Cadmus’ Smite range. That would have gone better had Cadmus not been on fire, and he had to roll himself into the Coi pond to put himself out.

That worked, and he was able to get in one or two submerged Smites – 2d irresisitable burning damage within a 4-yd radius; the biggest benefit there was snapping “Kim” out of invisibilty, which led to most of us trying our luck at killing him.

I think most of us managed to get a small piece of him, whereupon Thumvar finished up with the iron statues, Heroic Charged over to us, and hit the Oni for 18 cr damage.

He died, fell over, froze the pond, and then shortly after, called us fools and woke up.

Next adventure, we shall remember sooner that we are in possession of a Demon-killing sword of awesome power.

“Dawn Triumphant,” by Emily Smirle

Cleavage Rules the World

One bit of inside joking: the new character that replaced Brody is a transcendantly good looking ninja
nymph. Who stores various items, including a six-foot staff, in N-space. We unanimously decided that she’s pulling all of this stuff out of her cleavage. This led to a bit of joking about this (literally) stunningly good looking (stripper) ninja babe riding into combat on a dinosaur wielding a demon-killing flaming sword. One of our players (Emily aka Bruno) sent out a picture.

We decided the fact that Dawn must hide all that ninja stuff and draw it from her ample bosom was the best excuse for the Cleavage Window ever.

Parting Shot

This was a fight we should have probably lost. Badly. And we still might, and we did lost Mark’s character to an unfortunate early-game shanking incident. But we should have been pretty systematically disassembled, I think, just based on crappy tactical choices alone.

But Cadmus’ Protection from Evil (Enhanced) is just an “I win” button. Smite is just about as bad. That is actually a bit of a complaint, and Nate and I mulled on how to nerf it a bit.

We’ll see what happens for the rematch. Dawn will employ her sword to better use, I can likely keep Kim away and occasionally Smite him, Thumvar will do his usual damage, Staver may or may not help, given that these stupid demon critters tend to be stubbornly resistant to impaling damage.

We shall see.

A recent post in the forums, which started off with a link to this very blog – specifically my old post on how ST rolls are problematic in GURPS, brought up a very interesting edge case that I really wish had come up explicitly in the Technical Grappling playtest.

It has to do with scale.

The Issue

Take a ST 1 or 2, DX 10 snake that is trying to make a Constriction attack against a ST 1, HT 10 pixie. Many of these contests will pit ST for the attacker against the ST or HT of the defender, whichever is better.

Huh. ST 1 or 2 will always roll vs. HT 10, and so the extrinsic nature of ST bites you hard here, since you’ll never have a creature contest like this end poorly for the HT 10 pixie. This is especially interesting since ST 2 vs. ST 1 is the same ST ratio as ST 20 vs ST 10.

The Solution

GURPS has buried within it in a few places a recommendation to re-scale oddball ST values centered around 10 for places where things get weird. So ST 1 vs. ST 1 or ST 2 vs. ST 1 would turn into ST 10 vs. 10 or even ST 20 vs. ST 10, which re-centers the contests around the norm of 10, which turns the equal-ST contest into something appropriate.

OK, so boom, rescale. We’re good, right?

Well, perhaps good enough, but in keeping with the concept of “ST rolls must die,” here’s another way.

Power Ratio Table

What we’ll do is take a look at the ratio of the Basic Lift of the two combatants, and assign a modifier based on that ratio to one or both of the combatants. Thus, Contests of ST (or ST-based skill) vs. the best of ST or HT will mostly turn into a Contest of DX (or maybe HT)-based Skill vs. HT, but with a modifier to ST.

This is basically the same as “normalize the defender’s ST to 10, and take that as a penalty

Another way to go – though similar – is to just take the ratio of the stronger to the weaker. Unfortunately, the math is a little ugly.

1. Take the log10 of the ratio of stronger to weaker. Call that PR
2. Modifier = PR * (9.5+10.8*PR)

That produces something like this:

I’d probably just modify the skill of the attacker – if he’s stronger (he’s on the favorable end of the ratio) he gets a bonus. If he’s on the weaker end of the ratio, he gets a penalty.

Snake vs. Pixie Revisited

The ST 1, DX 10 snake vs. the ST 1, HT 10 pixie is now at a 1:1 ratio, no penalty or bonus, and this becomes DX 10 vs. HT 10 (the fact that the snake is using Constriction Attack would probably be treated as a ST multiplier of some sort in this case).

This would be the same math you’d do for a ST 50, DX 10 giant putting the squeeze on another ST 50, HT 10 giant.

Icky Math. Why did it have to be Icky Math?

I just banged this out because I wanted to preserve the +1 bonus for each +1 to ST in the regime of most PCs. I could probably find a nicer functional relationship between the ST Ratio, BL Ratio, or Log of one or both of those ratios if we don’t want a +1 to the slightly stronger guy for each +1 to ST vs. a ST 10 baseline. We might also invert that, where you might get slightly more of a penalty or bonus from ST10 (no bonus) to ST 20 (currently +10 relative to a ST 10 guy).

Hopefully that would give nicer math. Naturally I’d see if I can use the Size and Speed/Range table here, since my thoughts on that are well known.

But that should help with normalizing oddball ST scores to the more 10-centric HT and DX. It also gets rid of a direct ST roll, and that makes me happy.

I wrote The Last Gasp in order to put lulls and flurries into combat, among other things. I wrote Delayed Gratification because I didn’t really like Feints much, and introduced the Setup Attack as a notional replacement or supplement.

But I was thinking about Feints and Waits (next week! Melee Academy is May 9!) partially as a response to the conversation that +Justin Aquino started in this thread. Then I started thinking about boxing, kendo, and other situations where there are lulls and flurries.

I’ve noted in the past that Aim is a bit deterministic. Evaluate suffers from a bit of the same problem – you get up to +3 from doing it, and then you’ve evaluated enough and you’re done.

Is there a way short of “I’m so exhausted I have to stop and recover” to model two fighters circling, probing, looking for an opening? What happens when they do that? Well, their weapons don’t become unready, certainly, unless something is truly biffed, maybe. No blows are exchanged. But in the end, when the probing is done, one fighter has detected (or thinks he has detected) an opening.

Hmmm. That sounds an awful lot like what a full-round Feint might be.

A related diversion:

A long time ago (over a year), +Sean Punch  who has a knack for rules tweaks (and he should, it’s his job) threw down casually a post he wrote in ten minutes, that gave an idea about what he called Combat Openings. I dropped him an email asking if he’d mind if I reposted it in full. Naturally he said yes.

Combat Openings

Optionally, on each turn before you attack your opponent, roll on the Hit Location Table (p. B552). The resulting body part is currently a “target of opportunity” for you. It’s presented boldy and easier for you to hit: halve the penalty to hit that location, rounding in your favor, if you deliberately target it right now. The torso can’t be a target of opportunity – if you roll 9-10, roll 1d on the following table instead.

1 – Your foe’s weapon isn’t ideally placed to defend against you. If you attack his weapon right now (to grab it, disarm, etc.), you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. If you try an unarmed grab, his defense can’t injure your hand even if he parries with a weapon. If he’s unarmed, treat this as a presented hand.

2 – Your foe isn’t watching your off hand. If you attack with that hand right now, you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. This includes shield bashes! If you try an unarmed punch, his defense can’t injure your hand even if he parries with a weapon. If you’re using a two-handed weapon, these benefits apply to a blow with the pommel. If you’re grappling him with both hands, treat as 3.

3 – Your foe isn’t watching your feet. If you kick him right now, you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. His defense can’t injure your foot, even if he parries with a weapon. 

4 – Your foe isn’t controlling distance or position well. If you grapple him right now, you have +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. If you try an unarmed grapple, his defense can’t injure you even if he parries with a weapon. If you’re already grappling him, treat as 5. If he’s grappling you, you have +2 to break free instead. If both conditions apply, you may choose one option.

5 – Your foe is momentarily off-balance. If you make a knockback-only attack (like a shove) right now, you get +2 damage for knockback purposes only. If you try to knock him down with a move that uses a Quick Contest (like a takedown or a Sweep), he has -2 in the Contest instead. If either is an unarmed move, like a barehanded shove or a sweeping kick, his defense can’t injure you even if he parries with a weapon. If he’s on the ground, treat as 3.

6 – No special effect. Somehow, your foe is watching everything and presenting nothing!

These effects only apply to your attacks on that one foe. Nobody else on the battlefield is affected by these roll(s). To take advantage of this turn’s opening, you must act now; you cannot try another attack first, much less wait until a later turn.

Pretty neat, I thought.

Put it Together

What if, instead of the usual Contest of Skills where if the attacker wins, he gets his margin of victory as a straight-up defensive penalty to his next action, we did something else. First, let’s redefine what a Feint is. It’s a deceptive motion used to try and goad or lead your foe into providing you an opening. Feint is such a good name, but I really ought to come up with something else, for clarity. I’ll call it a Probing Feint, with many apologies to those who have ever been probed.

I’m going to throw down a concept, and then pick it apart afterwards.

Probing Feint

This represents deceptive footwork, clever movement of the body, or shifts in posture (but not GURPS Posture), distance, or weapon position designed to draw your foe off guard.

Probing Feint is an Attack Option. Meh. It should probably be what it says: a type of Feint.

Roll a Quick Contest of your weapon skill vs. the best of your foe’s weapon skills. If you win, roll 1d and consult the following table:

1 – Hit Location. Roll the hit location table. Strike that target using grappling penalties, or grapple at no penalty. If Torso is rolled, strike at +2 or grapple at +1 to hit.
2 – Weapon Position. If you attack his weapon, you are at +1 to hit and he is at -1 to defend; if you try and knock it away, you are at +3 in the Contest.
3 – Off hand. See Sean’s #2.
4 – Foot blind. See Sean’s #3.
5 – Distance or Position. You gain an extra yard of movement if you step; if your foe retreats, his bonus is reduced by 1. If you attack to grapple, you do so at +1 and your foe is at -1 to defend.
6 – Balance . See Sean’s #5

If you win the Contest but can’t take advantage of the opportunity – or choose not to – you may treat your maneuver as if you took All-Out Defense.

Margin of Success

Sean’s concept is something that’s meant to provide an extra incentive to vary things up. My version takes his concept and alters it a bit, possibly for the worse. His version usually gives +1 to hit and puts the foe at -1 to defend against a particular kind of attack. That’s sort of the equivalent of a +3 sh) on an attack roll. Pretty light, and you might not be able to take advantage.
Maybe instead of the +1 to hit/-1 to defend thing, we allow a flat adder of margin to the next attack, which can be used as you like – any defensive penalties would come from Deceptive Attack using that bonus. That would provide a variable and potentially large – but aspected – bonus.
Defender Success

Maybe if the defender makes his skill roll, he gets a bonus to his defenses except for the opening. If he makes his roll and loses the contest, perhaps it converts to a +1 to defend for every 2 he makes the roll by (again, excepting the hole in his defenses that the Probing Feint revealed). If he makes his skill roll and wins the Contest, he gets a bonus to defend against everything from that foe. Maybe something like +1 if you make it at all, and for every 4 full points more, you get another +1. So if the defender makes his skill roll by 8, he gets +3 to defend against his for. 
More importantly on this one, his foe knows this. He can see that his opponent is that well protected, has good defenses, isn’t off balance, etc. Some reason not to just wade in and trade blows.
Rapid Strike

Maybe this only makes sense as part of a Rapid Strike. So you Probe at -6, and if you see an opening in the defenses, you can leverage it.
Or maybe you go the other way, and if you win the contest by more than 6, you can convert the hole immediately to an attack by accepting -6 to your bonus. So you roll the Contest and win it by 8. Rolling 1d6 you get a 2. You may immediately attack his weapon at +2, which you may use to cancel out the normal -4 for striking at a weapon a bit, or use it as a -1 Deceptive Attack.

The “I feint, then my foe goes, then I go and take advantage!” thing has never rubbed me right, and I know I’m not alone. The reason, I’m sure, that Sean did it as the first thing you can do during each round is to identify something you can leverage right then.

So maybe the right thing to do is to use this as an Aspected Wait. If you win the Contest, you declare a Wait, and if your foe triggers it, you get to leverage the hole in his defenses. 
Now this, in turn, would only make sense if you’re standing outside the striking range of your weapon. In fact, in Hwa Rang Do Gumtoogi (weapon fighting with swords, either long, short and long, or double short), we used to say that if you were in a certain distance – likely between Reach 1 and Reach 2 – if you weren’t either hitting the other guy at Reach 2, you’d better be closing to Close Combat! So perhaps this should only be used from a Reach at least 1 greater than the maximum of your weapon. I can use the Rapid Strike version to take a Committed Attack with the Long option if I really rock out, or I can take a Wait and leverage the defensive hole if my foe closes in. If I choose to do so, I can convert the Wait to All-Out Defense instead, since I’ve been reading the guy.


Christian reminds me below that I totally left out what might be the best fit of all: Evaluate. Where right now, it gives you a simple +1 for sitting there staring at the battlefield for a moment, there’s every reason to allow it to have even better results. Whether it’s a Perception-based Skill roll, or a flat skill roll, or a contest of skills as I lay down below, triggering this off of an Evaluate makes a lot of sense.

It would be interesting to allow repeated uses of this too – once you’ve picked out an opening in your foe’s defenses, if you keep winning the contest (or he keeps failing his skill roll, which might obviate this entirely) you might get more and more opportunity to exploit that hole.

Parting Shot

Even if what I have here in particular isn’t exactly right – and I know it’s not – I feel like there’s something here. Some combination or modification of Feint, Wait, Evaluate, and maybe even Rapid Strike.
What’s missing, of course, is that GURPS combats take damn long already. You’d need to be pretty happy with doing not much but waiting for your opening for second after second, while other people might be doing stuff around you. That gets boring, and probably the above might just become a lot of crap no one bothers with. 
Still, the overall feel of it seems right – and I have to wonder how it would play in something like +Vaclav Tofl ‘s gladiator game, where the cautious probing – or even showboating while doing so – is a key part of the game.
In a frenzied battle, this wouldn’t happen, and GURPS default combat would be the norm. That also seems right to me, especially combined with The Last Gasp’s Action Points, which would encourage a few frenzied seconds of action, then backing off – if you can – to catch some wind and look around.
Game Timing and Fight Timing

Some of this gets down to a very simple principle, though, which +Peter V. Dell’Orto will have already started typing a response to by the time he gets down this far. While it might be realistic to have two fighters (or twenty…have you seen how many foes he had in his last session?) staring at each other, not trading blows, but making subtle motions and deceptions to try and force a mistake, unless everyone else on the battlemat is doing the same thing, and unless the flurries that come when an opening is found are decisive, the end-of-game report on five blogs will be “we spent an hour rolling dice and not finding openings. This game sucks.”

It’s a hard thing. You want to have a reasonable shot at capturing the detail of combat, since your character’s life is on the line. But if you really map it out, a three-minute round will not have 180 blows exchanged most of the time. A quick peek at a boxing forum shows heavyweight matches typically varying from 30-60 punches per round, with notable excursions to 100 or more. And a lot of those are probably probing jabs (Defensive Attacks), often done as Rapid Strikes, or more likely as Defensive Setup Attacks.

So really, having a mass melee over in fifteen seconds probably isn’t “real.” But it certainly is more fun than standing around a lot, especially when you’re rolling for 20-40 Draugr or something.

We picked up from +kung fu hillbilly‘s new Pathfinder campaign with +Matt Sutton joining us (apparently he’d been there all along, but he’s a Dwarf, so we apparently never looked down).

We started to wander out to hide in a tree by the exit, only to find our way blocked by a 25-odd foot bear. An angry bear. We started to fight, and Alverior ( +Douglas Cole ) tried to back off to get more room to use his bow, provoking an attack of opportunity. The bear hit him, and he went from 8 HP down to -1 in one blow, like the good first-level practice dummy he is.

Fortunately, the party consists of two clerics, who healed Alverior up right quick. We proceeded to turn the bear into a chopped up pincushion, Kalyl hit him with a few ice balls (earning him the nickname “Snowball”), and Breg hit him with a ball of acid. Naturally, we managed to nearly completely block the hallway with it’s corpse. Oops.

The next morning, we woke, chopped off a bear paw for evidence, and the winter witch and Kalyl ( +Jeromy French ) and Breg Stonebeard ( +Matt Sutton ) traded barbs over whether or not to allow the Goblins to come back to their cave, and then cave it in. I think Berg noted that he had an issue with a Goblin lady, who strongly resembled Kalyl. Alverior backs off to let them have their holy war.

We go back to the Goblin camp, show off our paw, get a necklace of teeth and fingerbones that is supposed to convince the humans that war is averted, and head back to the human settlement.

We showed them the evidence, got offered jobs, refused them, got a 25gp payout, and that was that.

Alverior seems to be a nice fun potential character, once he gets out of the “one-hit wonder” status that is first level.

I completely forgot to snap a screenshot of our characters all trapped behind the token of the bear, which completely filled the 10′-wide corridor. We had a wee bit of an “oh, crap, now what?” moment when we realized that killing the prey right there in the corridor might have rendered us incapable of stopping the war between goblins and humans . . . on account of a giant bear ass in the way.