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)

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

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Chapter 8: Combat

This one’s going to be a doozy. The Combat chapter. That which more or less defines the D&D paradigm, unless it’s the Vancian fire-and-forget magic system (which is, I believe, the single longest chapter in the book; that spell list goes on-and-on like a Journey song).

But, nonetheless, we wade into the fray like a Raging Barbarian. While combat isn’t the only conflict resolution mechanism in Pathfinder, in the few games I’ve played, it is by far the most common. The Combat chapter is 25 pages long, which isn’t that bad, really. 

I’ll cover some basics as I go, commenting on major mechanics and sections – but read the entire thing, maybe twice. A cheat-sheet wouldn’t hurt, but I bet someone’s created one already!

How Combat Works

Combat proceeds according to a very specific cycle. First determine initiative: Roll 1d20 and add any Initiative bonuses you get. You will act in descending order of initiative. However, before you get to the part where that happens, anyone not aware of his attackers gets to get ganked by the rest in the surprise round. After that, combat starts for real, round by round.

The Combat Round


Six seconds of regular time. Somewhat like GURPS, the turns are sort of interleaved, since if you throw a spell or do something that lasts for (say) four rounds, it lasts from the moment you act to just before you act the fifth time, when the effect ends. That’s a subtlety I didn’t know.

Attacks of Opportunity are a bit the odd men out, since they can disrupt normal turn order. More on those later.

Initiative and Surprise


The first round, or more precisely, before the first round starts, gives all sorts of opportunity – though brief – for havoc and mayhem. There’s a surprise round that comes first, where characters who are aware of their foes can act, while those unaware cannot. There are definite benefits to this, as well as to going first in the Initiative order: all foes are “flat footed,” meaning they lose their DEX bonus to AC (opening them up to things like Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability) and cannot make Attacks of Opportunity until they are no longer flat-footed.

Catching your foes flat-footed, or making them take on that status, is a big deal for Rogues.

During the surprise round, if you are aware of foes you can take any move, free, or standard action.

Combat Statistics


The good stuff. Bringin’ the smackdown, Pathfinder style. 

The core mechanic, no matter what Feats or other things might prove for special exceptions or modifications, is straightforward: Roll 1d20 plus a bunch of modifiers with a target number that must equal or beat your target’s Armor Class (AC). While there are lots of if/then to what you may add or subtract, this and the damage roll are the basic things you do.

This is, in its way, similar to GURPS, though it might be even fewer mechanics. GURPS has four basic mechanics: the skill test (roll 3d6 under a target number, most often skill), the skill Contest (roll 3d6 vs. a target, your opponent does the same, whomever has the highest margin of success wins), the Reaction Roll (3d6, higher is better), and the damage roll (Nd6).

Automatic: A 1 is always a miss; a 20 is always a hit, and might be a critical hit. I’m used to a natural 1 being something truly bad, but the designers (correctly, I think) decided a 1 in 20 chance for a 14th level fighter to do something crazy like lop off his own leg is kinda dumb.

Attacking: Base Attack Bonus + STR modifier (if melee) or DEX modifier (if ranged) + size modifier + range penalties (if ranged)

“Defending”: In quotes because it’s totally passive (but see below). 10+Armor+Shield+DEX+other special mods. Note that on p. 184 you can fight defensively. Declare it on your turn, and you take -4 to all your attacks in exchange for a +2 dodge bonus to your AC. More on this when variant attacks come up.

Personally, I’d shake this up a bit! I’d allow you to trade your Base Attack Bonus 2:1 for an AC bonus due to defensive dodging. So a 14th-level fighter, with BAB of +14, could trade that for +7 to AC. Of course, his three attacks are now at 0/-5/-10 . . .

Smackdown: Damage rolls are based on the weapon. Your Base Attack Bonus does not add to damage, but your STR bonuses do . . . except if you’re using a bow or crossbow. A composite bow can get a STR bonus, but not any other sort.

Again, I don’t much like this. if a bow is keyed to your STR (and it should be), then you should be able to get more damage from a stronger bow. Maybe a composite bow gets a 1:1 STR bonus, and regular bows only get half the bonus for STR or something, but if you’re STR 18 instead of STR 10, your arrows should go farther and hit harder.Granted, my biases here should be well known.

You do get extra STR bonus if you use a weapon with two hands (except a light weapon), so that’s a good thing to remember. That +4 STR bonus turns into +6 with a two-handed sword!

On the flip side, you only get half your bonus with your off-hand.

Ouchitude: You have Hit Points. When you get to zero, you’re incapacitated. Negative and your dying, and if you get to -CON you’re dead.

Personally, I’d like to have a wider range between “I’m up and fully active!” at even but 1 HP, incapacitated at precisely zero, dying at negative and dead when you’re at -CON. 

Attacks of Opportunity

This definitely deserves it’s own space. Attacks of opportunity are ways to ensure that the nature of the Pathfinder combat round (abstracted and 6 seconds long) doesn’t engender some silly emergent behavior, such as being able to run past a fully armed and aware foe because your move is 30′ and it’s your turn and not his.

Attacks of Opportunity come in more or less three flavors

Cut-down Attack of Opportunity List
  1. Leaving (but not entering) a threatened square  (Note: the link is a great visualization of the threat area, and makes me understand it much more completely)
  2. An unarmed attack on an armed opponent.

    This is, to me, precisely analogous to a few things that will happen to you in GURPS, not the least of which is that armed parries on unarmed attacks that aren’t strikers are “aggressive,” or damaging, parries automatically.

  3. Doing something – nearly anything – that doesn’t involve keeping a wary eye and a ready weapon to your foe. This is referred to as a Distracting Act in the rules. This is where most of the persnickety rules will come in.
I’ve cut the list from the Pathfinder Reference Document down to those with a “Yes,” under Attacks of Opportunity. If it’s not in the PRD, it’s not on the list. If it’s in the PRD but doesn’t provoke an Attack of Opportunity, I cut it. I did leave some categories that are explicitly “No” in there, one of which is “Take a 5-foot Step” (not shown explicitly, it’s a No Action action).

By the way, the PRD document with AoO in there is totally pasteable into Excel, as it seems to be raw HTML. So sorting it by yes/no is a trivial thing. Recommended.

You can see that a lot of the stuff involves skill use, rooting around in your pack, and a lot of spell and magic item use. I’m tempted to over-generalize that you’re likely going to provoke an Attack if you’re not directly related to smacking down your foe, but I’m sure there are some exceptions the rule. Might want to keep a copy of the full list handy, either in hardcopy or a window link to the PRD.
How Many: One per round. That’s the “may provoke an attack of opportunity” part of the rules, even though the book and table says “Yes.” If you have the Combat Reflexes feat, you can add your DEX bonus to the number you can make (meaning it’s a pretty cool feat if foes are trying to get by you). But by and large, you get one per round.
Saving Throws: Your way of reducing an “unusual or magical” attack. It’s not Armor Class.It functions as your Base Attack Bonus against physical punishment (a lot like a HT roll in GURPS), stuff you have to leap out of the way to avoid, such as some traps (Acrobatic Dodge in GURPS? Maybe a DX roll), and mental or supernatural resistance (a Will roll in GURPS). The Difficulty Class of the task depends on what you’re doing.
Actions in Combat

You can always do one move and one standard action, or a Full-Round action. In addition, you may also perform one swift action and one or more free actions. A move action is also sort of a standard action subtype, so you can, if you like, do two of them if you don’t plan to attack.

Standard Actions: most stuff, like attacks

Move Action: If you don’t otherwise move, you get a No Action 5-foot step somewhere before, during, or after a standard action. This can be pretty key to maintaining your distance from foes.

Full-Round Action: It consumes your entire round. Well, except for swift and free actions. And maybe you can take a step – except when you can’t. This paragraph on p. 181 is both muddled and clear at the same time, which is a neat trick.

Free Action: Drop stuff, drop your concentration on a spell, drop to the floor, prepare spell components, and speak. You can do any or all of these on your turn subject to Rule Zero.

Swift Action: You only get one of these (casting a quickened spell is the only example) but it doesn’t interfere with any other actions you’re allowed to take.

Immediate Action: A swift action you can take at any time, not just on your turn. Handy. Casting Feather Fall is the only example given, but it would seem logical that reaction spells and other things would qualify.

No Action, or Not an Action: Interestingly, nocking an arrow as part of an attack with a bow is the example given here of something that doesn’t even bother talking about in the time scale. In GURPS, It’s two full seconds – one to draw the arrow, another to ready the bow! Granted that’s two of six seconds, but “not worth quantifying” is interesting. Other examples are Delay and making a 5-foot step.

Standard Actions


Attacks

Most of what you’ll be doing – not all of it, but seemingly most – in melee combat are Standard Actions.  Some key excerpts:

  • Armed melee attacks are standard actions with a 5-foot range, unless you have reach.
  • Unarmed melee attacks provoke an attack of opportunity which happens first, unless you have the Improved Unarmed Strike feat. Also, unarmed attacks do non-lethal damage. And not much of it at that. If you want lethal damage you can have it, but at -4 to hit.
  • Ranged weapons can be thrown five range increments or shot (like bows) 10. That means a composite bow with a 100′ range can shoot 1,000′ or about 330yds. Might be a little bit far, but not out-of-the-question far.
  • Natural attacks such as claws, bites, and tails and wings have a bunch of special caveats that bear reading if these are your attack modes, or you have, say, a Velociraptor Animal Companion that uses them.
  • Multiple attacks are full-round actions, not standard actions. So if you want to be Sir Cuisinart, you’ll give up some freedom of choice
  • It’s -4 to shoot into a melee unless your target is a lot bigger than the other. The rules say “-2 if your target is two sizes larger,” but I’d just say it’s -4 plus the difference in size of your target relative to the foes around him. That scales both ways.
  • This is where Fighting Defensively (mentioned above) is mentioned
  • Roll a 20 and you might have scored a critical hit. Note that some damage types, like a Rogue’s sneak attack, are not multiplied, so read carefully
Magic Items and Casting Spells

Both are standard actions, mostly, and mostly they both provoke attacks of opportunity. Highlights
  • Spell-Triggers, Command Word, and Use-Activated items don’t count as activation; they’re standard actions, I think, but don’t provoke Opportunity attacks
  • “Did I break your concentration?” See Chapter 9 for the Difficulty Class of things that can interrupt you
  • Spells cast as a standard action take effect as immediately as a sword thrust to the guts, which is to say right the heck away.
  • Get thwacked while casting and the DC is 10+damage+spell level. 10 points of damage casting a level 4 spell is a DC 24 check. Yow.
  • Casting on the Defensive: Huh? I’m not sure this is well defined.
  • Touch attacks with a spell are considered to be armed and thus don’t provoke Attacks of Opportunity. Hmmm.
  • You can hold a spell if you don’t want to use it right away, but your hand is now a live wire, and the spell will hit what you touch
Splitting Full-Round Actions

Good for self-consistency, you can split a full-round action into two standard actions, one at the end of Turn A, and the other standard action as the first one of Turn B. This doesn’t apply to Full Attack, charge (why not?), run, or withdraw.
Total Defense

This must be what “on the defensive” means? Anyway, +4 dodge bonus to AC in exchange for, I think, not being able to attack. This can’t be combined with fighting defensively. If you allow the 2:1 exchange I suggest above, this needs to be “adds BAB to AC as Dodge bonus.” This suggests that if anything, maybe the “exchange ratios” need to be more like 1:4 and 1:2 instead of 1:2 and 1:1.
Other Stuff

Without going into details, using a special ability is basically attack-like, move is a standard action, drawing or sheathing a weapon is a move standard action, but may be combined with a move if you have a BAB of +1 or higher. 
Full-Round Actions

Skipping the gory details, if you’re attacking a lot, it’s Full-Round. Some spells are full-round actions. Stepping through difficult terrain is too. One fun one is the Withdraw option, which is running the hell away from combat (2x distance). Not sure what that’s all about, other than the free “you can leave your current hex w/o provoking an attack” thing.
Miscellany

Lots of other descriptions follow, and they’re worth reading, of course.

Injury and Death

Ah, the “what are Hit Points” discussion. Here we go. The short version is as long as you have 1 HP left, you’re fine, good to go, have at ’em. Get to 0 HP and your disabled, go negative and you’re KO’d, and hit a negative HP total equal to your CON, and you die. Rapid transtion from “fully capable” to “deader than hell.”

A massive damage optional rule that says if you take 50HP or half your HP in one blow, whichever is more, you’re dead.

At 0 HP, you’re staggered, can only take one move action, no standard actions without injuring yourself (and thus KO)

If you’re dying, you drop unconscious and lose 1 HP per second until you die or stabilize, but this HP loss is the result of a failed Constitution check, DC 10 plus your negative HP total. If you succeed or roll a 20, no HP loss this turn. Fail, and lose 1 HP. You can be stabilized permanently using magic (any healing stabilizes you) or making a DC 15 Heal check.

Dead, well. Fairly self explanatory.

Natural Healing


1 HP per level per 8 hours of sleep at night. Ability score damage also recovers at one point per ability score per night. Nonlethal damage heals at 1 HP per hour per character level. You get better from a bruisin’ pretty quick at high level, eh?

Non-lethal damage my ass. This is something GURPS gets right, I think, though the frequency of taking such lethal injury from some blows, like punches, is too high.

*****
I’m going to break this one into two parts, due to length. More on Combat later!

In my writeup of Cadmus, +Mark Langsdorf and I had a brief interchange about combat vs. non-combat healing. Cadmus is very, very powerful as a healing machine assuming that he has time to recover. The combination of Lay on Hands (Empathic Faith Healing) and Flesh Wounds (rapid wound recovery means he can bring a party of five adventurers from 0 HP to 15 HP each in about two hours.

But that’s two hours. Two. Hours. 120 turns. Pretty much a “Frederickburger” situation if you’re in combat.

That’s where the Clerical magic comes in. Poof, here’s a few dice of healing right there in the middle of combat. A virtual reset button, which is a big deal.

If you can lay on hands in hours, what are the ways to buff one or more of your party members using Powers?

So: here’s a challenge! Post some builds of powers that would make sense using Divine Favor so that a Warrior Saint or Saint can provide combat-useful healing in a challenging DF environment.

+Antoni Ten Monrós: I’d be particularly interested if you’ve thought on this.

The First Answer
Based on some interactions in the comments below, my instinct is, at the same level as you can take Lay on Hands (Divine Favor 8), you can just get Ranged Healing (Healing [30], with Faith Healing [+20%], Ranged [+40%], and Divine [-10%] [45], or 9 points as an LP). This lets you fling a spell-like healing effect by burning FP and making a hit roll. The better way is probably as a Malediction, which at its cheapest is a +100% for -1 per yard of range, and that’s 63 points (Divine Favor 10, 13-point LP) and will cut significantly into combat utility.

Challenge Expanded!

Go ahead and throw down your most potent healing builds, both in-combat and out-of-combat. Ritual Path Magic, regular GURPS Magic – you name it. Just note the build, the amount of healing, and what the limitations are!

Cheat: Power Investiture/Magery


One quick way to get this done is to buy Power Investiture 1 (10 points) and since you are not studying magic, buy Major Healing directly. It’s a Very Hard skill, so with IQ 12 (Cadmus’ level), Power Investure 1 (adds to skill), you will want to spend 12 to 16 points to get IQ+1 or IQ+2, which should net a Healing spell at 14 or 15.

That still winds up on the order of 25 extra points to get healing in there. If you’ve already got Divine Favor 8 and Lay on Hands, the Ranged Healing option above is cheaper.

In many ways, Cadmus, my Warrior Saint in +Nathan Joy‘s Dungeon Fantasy game has been an experiment. He was my first DF character, well, ever. He used new rules – Divine Favor – rather than the standard magic system. I also solicited and accepted a lot of steering on how I put him together.

Now that 280 starting points has grown to 330, with many sessions under my belt, what would I do differently? Are there general theories that emerge?

Divine Favor

First, while I was told that initially I’d be ‘the backup healer,’ I was also steered to a level of oomph in those abilities that really equaled ‘a redundant primary healer.’

By and large, this is a good thing. DF games are notoriously violent, and if your primary guy goes down due to, say, a ninja sword in the back, you need someone who can step up. Or a metric crap-ton of potions.

Also, I don’t know if I’ve just rolled well, Nate’s been kind, or what, but the General, Specific, and Learned Prayers that Cadmus has brought to bear have been really, really fun. Of course, they don’t always work (General and Specific prayers; LPs always work), but when they do, they’re an immense power multiplier.

Once you hit Divine Favor at level 8 to 10, you can really bring on some major mojo.

Anyway, let’s look at Cadmus, who will grow soon to 330 points.

Not that kind of Paladin . . .

Brother Cadmus (313 points)

Age 28; Human; 6’1″; 200 lbs.; Solidly built, friendly looking, moves with purpose.
ST 14* [40]; DX 13 [60]; IQ 12 [40]; HT12 [20]. Damage 1d+1/2d+1; BL 39 lb; HP 14 [0]; Will 14 [10]; Per 12 [0]; FP 12 [0]. Basic Speed 6.25 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0]; Block 12 (Shield)†; Dodge 10†; Parry 13 (Axe/Mace)†. Unspent Points: 2

I’m not sure I’d change much here. The biggest thing that I’ve found is in the Move stat, where more is better. Being the last one to the fight, or being unable to reposition yourself quickly, is a real drag. Especially when faced with fellow compatriots who can act at range or fly.

Some of these stats aren’t precisely accurate, but by and large, this isn’t a bad set. Will-14 has been a real blessing (so to speak), and the only other thing I might recommend here is more Perception. I’ve found the same thing in Pathfinder, but you can never really have too much Perception. Also, my previous analysis of HT suggests that there are real benefits to HT 13 or 14.

Points gained/needed: Maybe 20 between Per and HT. I could potentially trade the 15-20 non-optimal points in skills I found below for some benefits here.

Social BackgroundEdit

TL: 3 [0].
CF: Inner Sea.
Languages: Taldane (Native/None); Trade Speak (Broken/None). [0]

The only weakness here has really been languages, but that’s not his niche. No changes.

AdvantagesEdit

Combat Reflexes [15]; Divine Favor 8 [45]; Learned Prayer (Final Rest) [1]; Learned Prayer (Flesh Wounds) [4]; Learned Prayer (Righteous Fury); Learned Prayer (Protection from Evil, Enhanced) [7]; Learned Prayer (Lay on Hands) [8]; Learned Prayer (Smite); Striking ST 1 [5]; Trading Character Points for Money $2,500 [5].
Perks: Named Possession (Axe, “Shrivener”); Shield-Wall Training; Shtick (Beings killed cannot rise as Undead); Skill Adaptation (Judo Throw defaults to Axe/Mace); Suit Familiarity (Armory/TL3); Weapon Bond (Axe/Mace) [6].

Combat Reflexes is worth it for the defenses alone if you intend to be on the front line – and that’s where Cadmus winds up, especially once we lost Gareth, the other heavy hitter. Thumvar, the Gargoyle Knight, is a front line all by himself at times, but if you’re going to step up, not only is CR worth it, but enhanced defenses in general are a good idea.

I make near-constant use of all of my LPs, with the possible exception of Final Rest, but at only one point, it’s great color, and makes total sense as a paladin of Pharasma, Mistress of Graves, Lady of Fate, and all around chick who hates the undead.

Everyone should look hard at getting a Named Possession. They’re just that awesome.

The only “meh” has been Judo Throw defaulting to Axe/Mace. As I’ve noted before in a few places, this just hasn’t worked for me at all. Notionally, it should be awesome. Parry with the axe, and then next turn you throw your foe to the ground, at which point either you or a second-line guy can murderize him. In practice, not so much. It’s not a BAD use of a point, but it hasn’t worked out well.

Points gained/needed: Maybe one or two points. No more, and not worth fiddling with.

DisadvantagesEdit

Code of Honor (Pharasmic Code) [-10]; Honesty (15 or less) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Ameiko Kaijitsu) [-2]; Vow (Own no more than horse can carry) [-10]; Selfless (12 or Less)*; Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism)*.
  • These advantages were gained in play; Pharasma blessed Cadmus with Righteous Fury and Enhanced version of Protection from Evil, and Cadmus gained Selfless and Ritualism.

Quirks: Does not put himself in the lead role willingly [-1]; Follows an escalation of force (knobbed club, hammer, axe) , kills grudgingly [-1]; Very competitive, but doesn’t start competitions [-1]; Loves to gamble [-1]; Not evangelical; helps people meet their fate, but doesn’t push or preach [-1]

Code of Honor has worked fine, and ties in with my Divine Favor. Selfless and Ritualism were fun, as has been Honesty. The quirk of escalation of force? Yeah, that hasn’t worked out. At all. But it’s only one point, so it’s not a character-changing event. It’s just not appropriate for Dungeon Fantasy, where most disagreements are settled with lethal force from the get-go.

Points gained/needed: Pick a new quirk other than force escalation.

SkillsEdit

Animal Handling (Equines) (A) IQ-1 [2]-12; Armoury/TL3 (Body Armor) (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Armoury/TL3 (Melee Weapons) (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Axe/Mace (A) DX+5 [20]-18‡; Bow (A) DX-1 [2]-13; Carousing (E) HT [1]-12; Climbing (A) DX-1 [1]-12; First Aid/TL3 (Human) (E) IQ [1]-12; Gambling (A) IQ [2]-12; Heraldry (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Hiking (A) HT-1 [1]-11; Holy Warrior! (WC) IQ-1 [12]-11; Observation (A) Per-1 [1]-11; Polearm (A) DX+1 [4]-14; Riding (Equines) (A) DX-1 [2]-13; Savoir-Faire (High Society) (E) IQ [1]-12; Shield (Shield) (E) DX+4 [12]-17; Shortsword (A) DX [2]-13; Stealth (A) DX-1 [1]-12; Swimming (E) HT [1]-12; Wrestling (A) DX-1 [2]-13.
Techniques: Arm Lock (Wrestling) (A) [2]-15; Armed Grapple (Axe/Mace) (H) [0]-15; Armed Grapple (Polearm) (H) [0]-12; Disarming (Axe/Mace) (H) [0]-17; Judo Throw (Axe/Mace) (H) [0]-17; Targeted Attack (Axe/Mace Swing/Neck) (H) [3]-14; Trip (Wrestling) (H) [0]-9; Wrist Lock (Wrestling) (A) [1]-14.
  • Conditional +2 from ‘Striking ST’.
† Includes +1 from ‘Combat Reflexes’. ‡Conditional +1 from ‘Weapon Bond (Axe/Mace)’.

Here’s where things get interesting. I’ve bolded the ones I’ve never made a roll against that I recall. There’s basically 20 points of more or less wasted stuff on there, and I don’t think I’d have put points in Bow if I’d have made the character before I did my analysis of useful levels of skill with ranged weapons. Throwing axes are better for the kind of thing Cadmus would be doing.

The Armoury skills might come in more handy during the long trek north over the ice that we face as the next step in our Journey. But the rest should have been traded for another level of Holy Warrior, which would have cost 12 points but given me another much-needed Destiny/Bonus Point. Those are gold.

So there are 15-20 points here that could be adjusted for better stats, or re-invested on other skills. Holy Warrior-12 is probably worth it for the Destiny Point alone.

EquipmentEdit

1× Hip Quiver ($15; 1 lb) containing 20× Arrow ($40; 2 lb)
1× Fine Composite Bow (ST 13; $3600; 4 lb).
1× Named Possession (Shrivener): Axe (Hilt Punch; Weapon Bond; Hammer; Dwarven; Penetrating Weapon (2); Bane (Spirits, Demons, and the Undead); Defending Weapon +1 (Bane). $10,475; 4.5 lb). [25 Energy unspent]
1× Poleaxe (Spear; $150; 10.5 lb).
1xMail, Plate, and Leather Armor Panoply

1× Boots, Leather ($80; 3 lb; DR 2)1× Cloth, Padded Undersuit (Full Suit, Ornate (x2 cost), Lighten 3/4); $375; 12.4 lb; DR 1*)1× Gauntlets, Medium Segmented (Reduced Cost (-20%); $72; 2.4 lb; DR 4)1× Heavy Mail Armss and Legs (Ornate x2 cost; Lighten 3/4; Fortify +1); $3668; 20.25 lb; DR 6/4*)1× DR 7 Plate Corselet (Torso; TL4 x2 cost; Lighten 3/4, Fortify +1); $6150; 18 lb; DR 8)1× DR7 Plate Full Helm (Padding;TL4 x2 cost; Fortify +1; Lighten 3/4); $1845; 6.75 lb; DR 8);

I’ve got zero complaints about my kit. Shrivener, my Named Axe, is a thing of beauty and awesomeness. My armor could use new boots and gauntlets, but it cost me about $12,000 and was obtained fairly recently in play. DR 8 or so is great to have, and we recently came into enough money ($27K or so) that I could upgrade further if required.

The poleaxe has never seen use. Partly that’s because I couldn’t mentally justify the image of lugging a nine or ten foot pole around in some Highlander-like space. It’s a battlefield weapon, not a dungeon one. Even a dueling poleaxe (Reach 1,2 rather than 2,3) while interesting, isn’t worth the time it takes to switch weapons in most cases.

The bow? Nice, but I’m not skilled enough with it to make it worthwhile, and ST 13 is only 1d, and even with bodkin points for 1d(2) pi it’s not that impressive.

Ballistic’s Report

By and large, Cadmus is and remains a good character. When he gets his Righteous Fury on, he’s a credible front-line combatant, though not as optimized for mayhem as Thumvar. With some time to spare, he can bring some really useful powers to bear, especially out of combat, via his prayers.

But I probably have something like 15-20 fairly non-optimal points in skills that just don’t see much use. In a DF game, that’s really to be avoided. Lesson learned!

Going forward, some of the concepts in +Antoni Ten MonrósSaintly Power-Ups will make for serious consideration. The one where you can have two learned prayers active at once? That’s serious stuff, especially if you want to do Righteous Fury and either Guide My Hand (Cadmus doesn’t have it, but it’s basically Weapon Master), which catapults you to an instant front-line meat cleaver, or something else like Protection from Evil.

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?

Contests

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.