Thursday is GURPSDay, and it’s time to think ahead.

We had a fun situation in this past Monday’s Aeon supers game.

We decided to use the 4-As framework to make a plan. We gathered intel, we actually guessed at what was going to happen, and we were even right.

Then we completely biffed it by exposing ourselves, which drew fire and brought down the wrath of at least a dozen, if not more, grenade-armed guards. Had it not been for a “flesh wound” Karma point, The Commander would have been killed when a limpet grendade with 20d(2) damage blew up on his back.

But we saw that coming, and I was frustrated that all of our gathering and recon did basically nothing.

This needs to be automated and mechanized – but here’s an idea that I think has been treated before in Pyramid, but maybe not like this.

Retroactive Planning

” . . . this is battle! And battle is a highly fluid situation. You . . . you plan on your contingencies, and I have. You keep your initiative, and I will. But what you don’t do is share command! It’s Never. A Good. Idea.”  – Vic Deacons, Broken Arrow

If you’ve done your homework in advance, you can engage in a bit of a “we thought of that!” retcon.

But that requires homework in advance. Planning for contingencies, as it were.

Assess, Analyze

During the Assess and Analyze phases of the mission, after you make your skill rolls to gather data and complimentary skill rolls as appropriate, you may end the session by making an Intelligence Analysis roll.

Look up the margin of success on the size (and speed range) table, with a minimum of zero. Yes, you can walk out of the planning session with nada . . . but the number you get is how many “foreseen contingencies” you can declare.

So if you make the Intel Analysis roll by 7, you get 3 foreseen contingencies. A “foreseen contingency” can be converted to a single “bonus roll” that acts just like a Tactics roll, or it can be a legit contingency as below. This choice is made during the planning phase, and is binding. No matter what, cap the number of contingencies at 3 – more is unwieldly. So if you make your roll by 10, you get up to three foreseen contingencies, plus one reroll in addition to whatever happens with the on-site Tactics roll.

Contingency Plans

Each “contingency” is a combination of people, places, and things/actions, and must be phrased that way, in the same way that a Wait is fairly well defined, but there’s wiggle room here.

People: This can be as broad as “the bad guys,” but if there’s more than one bad guy faction present, you’ll need to be specific. So “the Red team of bad guys” would be legit, as would “any one not obviously on our side.” But for the Aeon S1E9 eventuality, if we didn’t anticipate that two factions would show up (but we did!) that would not be an actionable contingency. 

Places: Where’s the thing going down. This needs to be recognizeable, but can be somewhat vague (because player/character knowledge can be fuzzy). “The ambush site” might be good enough if you’re expecting an ambush. “The black ops warehouse” from Aeon S1E9 would certainly qualify. “New York City?” Nuh-uh.

Things/Actions: This is the trigger that tells you that you’re falling into a contingency. You see the macguffin (and if you know there’s going to be a macguffin, but not precisely what it is, that’s probably good enough). Again, in S1E9 it was when the two black ops teams started fighting.

These combinations of people, places, and things must be defined in advance, and they are limited in number to the number of foreseen contingencies above – that is, one to three of them.

Saw that one coming . . . 

If one of your triggering incidents occurs, immediately make and resolve an appropriate contest of Tactics, and bank your rerolls as usual. 

You may spend them to retroactively get the following benefits, assuming you haven’t been able to explicitly get such intel already. 

If the GM wants to request an appropriate skill roll (modified by BAD if you’re using it!) that’s fair – but remember this entire concept is based around the characters having had time to develop good plans, enough that the players were able to come up with people, places, and a triggering event.

  • Local geography: Burn a reroll and you pulled searches for blueprints, got satellite data, or otherwise were able to determine what the map looks like. This needn’t be perfect information, but what there is, you have. This is one of those that will often be obtained in advance, but if the team didn’t, this lets you do it retroactively.
  • Enemy placement: Any foes not actively hiding are either located on the map, or at least given “there’s probably one or more bad guys here” markers several hexes om area. This allows some measure of avoidance to be done with careful movement.
  • Positioning: Make a new tactics roll, and again get margin of success from the size and speed/range table (size column). Minimum one, but that number is the number of unique positioning moves you can make. So if you made your roll by 5, you can locate two elements. That certainly might be “an infantry platoon at location X, and a special forces fire team at location Y” just as easly as “The Commander is here by those boxes, while Eamon is on the roof.” This does not imply that you’re undetectable in any way – just that you can “jump” your guys to an appropriate accessible location as if you’d planned it all along.
  • Stealth: With advance knowledge and planning you can force a failed Perception roll where you’re contesting it with Stealth or Camouflage. Each forced failure costs a roll (so wandering through a target zone loaded with bad guys and security cameras will deplete your re-rolls very fast). A forced failure is obvious to the person who’s bestowing or consuming the tactics reroll – you know that, save for excellent intel and tactics, you would have been spotted. This does not preclude future Perception checks by the bad guys, either . . . you get a moment’s reprieve, that’s all. You can use that to make a new Camouflage or Stealth roll to achieve a better hiding spot, or you can burst into action. Go, Leroy, go.
  • Gear: A reroll can be burned to request – with GM’s permission – a single item or group of items (a sniper rifle, or a handful of magazines of armor piercing ammo, or an electronic lockpick kit) that would help. Both the players and GM should be reasonable here. If there’s no gear to be had, you don’t consume the roll.
  • Backup: If it would be available, and reasonable, reinforcements should be allowed. These NPCs will be of an appropriate level given the quality of the requesting group. Assistance rolls or Reaction rolls are good mechanics to invoke here. Failure would mean that none are available; if that’s the case you don’t lose the tactics roll.
  • Normal Use: You don’t have to burn the tactics rolls based on foreseen contingencies. You can save them for dynamic eventualities (and you probably will want to do that).
Parting Shot

This sort of thing wouldn’t have completely saved us yesterday. We did hit on the #1 option, though – two factions would duke it out in front of us, and I had seven re-rolls that we wound up not using, or maybe we used one – but none in the furious and almost-lethal battle on the first floor.

We did, actually, do some of the above – The Commander was allowed to retroactively put suppressors on his own weapons for some initial combat volleys that came and went. 

The biggest opportunity for us was instead of being forced into action with the first failed Stealth roll (or first successful Perception check), we might have been able to choose the time and place of action

The re-roll concept for Tactics is a good one. But they very frequently go unused, either due to heat-of-the-moment, or resource hoarding. Having some things like the above to explicitly spend rerolls on – provided some contingency planning is done – is a good way to bridge the gap between player and character expertise.

There are times to All-Out Attack in melee, and even Telegraphic All-Out Attack. They are few and limited, but they exist.

Tactical Shooting would have you using AoA(Determined) every time you want to use your sights or claim an Aim bonus. +Hans-Christian Vortisch does impeccable research and he’s right – if you’re aiming, you’re not defending.

Still, the spectacular negative for not being able to avoid suddenly being cuisinarted or Swiss-cheesed means that even when people should be taking that option, they don’t, for purely game-mechanical reasons.

So, some options to tone that down. These haven’t been playtested, but I’m tossing out ideas that will make AoA a slightly more attractive option without it displacing things like Committed Attack, which sees constant use. It’s just AoA that doesn’t.
Continue reading “Alternate Defenses for All-Out Attack”

Over on the SJG Forums, user Railstar replied to a thread announcing last Thursday’s topic. It’s a valuable contribution to the discussion, so I reproduce it here:

Disarms and Reach

For GURPS at least, the Reach on Disarms is one reason to use it – because you can disarm someone from the combined Reach of both your weapons. This makes it very useful when approaching polearms, or as part of teamwork against an outnumbered opponent, or with long-weapon tactics. Simply stand out of striking distance constantly disarming until you either disarm or unready their weapon, whereupon that is the opportunity for your allies to rush in.

This can work in formation combat where spearmen with long spears stand 5-6 yards away and try to rake at each other’s spears before daring advance into stabbing distance, or in a duel with longswords where you can attempt to disarm from 4 yards away. The key advantage is you can do a disarm without being close enough for your opponent to hit.

Even an unsuccessful disarm can still be tactically useful if it provokes the enemy to rush in at you – Committed Attack, All-Out Attack or Move & Attack all lower defences, creating a window of vulnerability that you and your comrades can exploit. Meanwhile, the disarm does not require you to lower your defences at all, therefore you can still use Retreat and/or Cross Parry and/or Defensive Grip to make sure your defence against their rush is still good.

The disarm penalty is prohibitive when already in striking distance of your opponent; the penalty is simply too large compared to aiming for them, and so you put yourself at a disadvantage. The more reliable tactic to disarm when close is grapple (armed grapple?) and then opposed ST checks to attempt to pry the weapon from their hands. Even that is risky, best done from surprise where you ambush someone who has a weapon while you have none, but preferable to trying to fist-fight the sword-armed guy.

Actually, attacking someone’s hand is typically easier than attempting a disarm – and that has the advantage of making sure they stay disarmed. Similarly, for an unarmed option you might find that after grabbing their arm Arm Lock will be just as effective or more so than the opposed ST checks… unless you can’t afford to get bogged down grappling them. But if you’re outnumbered while unarmed by guys with weapons, you probably should have avoided this fight.

There is another benefit to disarms in GURPS; there is no DB from shields against them, so if you’re fighting against a large shield you can use this to minimise the effect of their high defences. This can be important psychologically if your opponent likes to rely on DB 2-3, as a further encouragement to push them into a rash advance.

So disarm can be very useful before closing, with room to back off, in combination with long weapon tactics. The key thing not to do is stand within stabbing distance while you do it.

Technically, even with Reach 1 weapons you could use this tactic to an extent. If you Retreat from their attack, rather than stepping forward into range to strike back, you could disarm and take another step back.

Disarms can also be a viable counter against polearms, not just using them. If our side has Reach 2 greatswords and their opponents have Reach 5 pikes, the greatswords can still attempt a disarm from Reach 7. Defensive Attack or Defensive Grip can be used to have a good Parry while still presenting a threat that the enemy has to react to, namely the threat of losing their weapons. Once the enemy with polearms step forward to attack, then unless there are supporting ranks behind them that can give the fighter with the shorter weapon an opportunity to rush in safely and move past the reach of the polearms.

Essentially, Disarms can extend your Reach and that opens up a lot of tactical flexibility.

The Melee Academy series from Thursday got me thinking of alternate mechanics for disarms in D&D. The existing one is straightforward and usable. Roll a melee attack, opposed by your foe’s Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics).

But neither of those two really speak well to a disarm. If anything, a Saving Throw is almost more appropriate, but this seems like the sort of thing that should have its basis in combat skills.

In any case: the existing rule is not horribly broken, but I thought of another way to attack it.

To Disarm using a weapon:

Make a melee attack on your foe’s weapon. The hit number is 10 + DEX bonus (you get full DEX bonus even if wearing heavy armor here) + Weapon Proficiency. If you succeed, you have either struck your foe’s weapon sharply, or used your technique to bind and strip your opponent’s weapon from his grasp.

If you hit, you and your opponent both roll damage for your respective weapons (including STR or DEX, if appropriate – DEX requires a Finesse weapon). If the attacker’s damage exceeds the defender’s damage, a disarm occurs. Ties go to the defender.

If you have multiple attacks, you may certainly attempt multiple disarms against one or more weapons.

Special considerations

  • Treat a shortbow as 1d4, and a longbow as 1d6 for the purposes of resisting armed disarming attempts. You may not use a bow to attempt a disarm without an appropriate Feat.
  • Versatile weapons can use two hands to make or resist a disarm (so a longsword can roll 1d10) if a free hand is available.
  • Extra hands beyond two add +1 to the disarming “damage” roll to either resist or disarm if they can be placed on the weapon
Unarmed Disarms

Again, make a unarmed strike to punch or a Strength (Athletics) check to grapple the foe’s weapon or weapon arm. To-hit number is still 10 + DEX bonus + Weapon Proficiency. If you succeed, you have bypassed the weapon to strike or grapple the limb holding the weapon, rather than the weapon itself. 
If you hit, you and your opponent both roll damage using one die type lower than your usual hit dice (fighters do 1d8, clerics 1d6, magic users 1d4, etc). Unarmed strikes use 1 point plus the STR bonus for damage. Grapples do 1d4+STR bonus. Monks or other characters that have learned improved unarmed strikes may roll that damage instead whether striking or grappling, if it’s better.. 
If you have multiple attacks, you may certainly attempt multiple disarms against one or more weapons.
Special Considerations
  • If you miss on the attack roll when making an unarmed disarm against a weapon, your foe may make an Attack of Opporunity against your full AC including the effects of armor. In essence, he’s defending against your attack by striking your limb.
  • Treat a shortbow as 1d4, and a longbow as 1d6 for the purposes of resisting armed disarming attempts. You may not use a bow to attempt a disarm without an appropriate Feat.
  • Versatile weapons can use two hands to make or resist a disarm (so a longsword can roll 1d10) if a free hand is available.
  • Extra hands beyond two add +1 to the disarming “damage” roll to either resist or disarm if they can be placed on the weapon
Parting Shot
I like effect rolls, and I like how the better fighter in terms of both melee skill and ability to dish out damage will tend to win here. The damage roll means that if you try and disarm a great axe with a knife, the great axe will tend to win. 
On unarmed, the reliance on hit dice tends to mean that combative classes will disarm better than non-combative ones, which I like. I backed it down one die type because having Fighters with STR 18 do 5 points while striking but 1d10+4 for grappling seemed excessive, but 1d8 isn’t so bad.
If that bothers, then drop two die types, so if your hit dice are 1d6, you drop to 1 point, just like striking, but 1d10 will be 1d6, and Barbarian at 1d12 will do a mighty 1d8 when disarming. 
I was tempted to have the Grappler Feat be dealt with explicitly here. Options might include
  • Double damage on a successful hit
  • Expanded critical hit range (that might be weak sauce unless it’s very expanded)
  • Allows -5 to hit, but +10 damage for the purposes of a disarm if you attack with Strength Athletics)
As mentioned earlier, the existing rule isn’t obviously broken. But I like the nuance that this one provides. Swinging or grabbing the weapon is an exercise is striking a smallish object with a combat blow. DEX takes it out of the way, and proficiency with the weapon is a proxy for fighting skill. Damage is the power of the hit, and grappling and like techniques are strength multipliers. 
One can also see purpose-built trapping and disarming weapons coming into play here. As an example, just playing around
Sword-breaker: This weapon may be used in the off-hand using dual-wielding rules. If a bladed weapon attack misses by less than the defender’s proficiency, the defender may use his reaction to make a disarm attempt. If the sword-breaker’s damage is double or more that of the attacking weapon’s damage on the disarm roll, the attacker is disarmed and the weapon is also broken!

This is a guest post by Kalzazz on the GURPS Forums. He heeded my call to arms, and contributed this post on Disarming in GURPS. I have done some minor editing for formatting and flow, but that’s all.


This is one of those things. Yes, GURPS has rules for disarming, but I can’t offhand recall, in 15 years of playing (and DMing!) GURPS, ever actually seeing it happen.

I had to actually go and look said rules up. First, I notice that the technique can be increased above the skill, so that seems groovy, since it can always be fun to have a specialist (I next noticed no styles in MA actually had Technique Mastery for it though, I think it sounds like a valid one to me).

Then I noticed said disarming is mostly just to offset the penalties involved, less groovy:

  • You have a penalty based on size of the weapon (-5 for handguns and daggers to -3 for polearms and rifles), then a -2 if your not using a fencing weapon. 
  • The foe can defend as usual. 
  • Then they can match DX or ST based skill (against your DX or ST based skill) to keep the weapon even after you hit. (Guns however just flat DX or ST). 
  • If you are using a jitte/sai class weapon, you get +2 to the former roll 

So . . . . why wouldn’t I have seen this?

  • As a DM, I admit a certain dislike of ‘gimmicky’ rules and having enemies use ‘gimmicky’ techniques, so I tend to favor enemies that go right up next to the PCs and ‘swing for the HP’, so disarms are something I don’t really think about. 
  • If you disarm a foe . . . you still have a living conscious foe, who might well just draw another weapon and hit you with it instead. In order to pull off a disarm you needed a successful attack and a failed defense, so you could have done damage instead. 
  • The disarming rules are simple, but they aren’t something I have fully internalized either . . . also there are a few questions like ‘Lifting or Striking ST for the checks?’ 
  • Now that I have once again looked at the rules for disarms, I do remember being annoyed that defending against disarms with a gun involved straight up DX or ST (or the retain weapon technique, which goes up to stat + 5). 

Now, most of my “wouldn’t this be cool” daydreams involve “Evil McEvil tries to steal Heroman’s gun, but using his Weapon Retention skills, Heroman turns the tables and shoots Evil McEvil!” 

I have sat through and participated in enough weapon retention classes that ended with ‘and then you stun the aggressor and retreat to a safe distance to maintain control of the situation’, and the ideal way indicated to stun the aggressor is to shoot them with the weapon which you have put your good Weapons Retention skills to use to retain . . . 

Even if Heroman has maxed his Weapons Retention at Stat + 5, he is still in major trouble keeping his weapon against a true epic villain (and its not very heroic of Heroman if he prevails in the face of a garden variety mook).

What is the role of Disarming?

So then . . . . why would I want to disarm someone? 
(some of these are suggested by GURPS Forum user starslayer).

Murder is not acceptable. Murder is usually not acceptable, the drawback of disarming leaving a living foe is actually not so much a drawback when killing your foes is considered antisocial behavior. Or perhaps your foes are mind controlled or confused folks who are not actually foes!   If the enemies are likely to fail morale checks and want to disengage if you disarm them then this is a major plus. (this is suggested by starslayer).

Enemies have weapons that are awesome, and disarming is easier than killing. If your foe has some nifty weapon you would prefer not to be hit with, then you want your foe not to hit you with it. Usually this is done by hitting them until they die, however, it is easy to imagine scenarios where this is not the case. 

Nova from the cancelled Starcraft Ghost

Consider this excellent picture by Greg Horn. First off, we notice that hitting her in the face with a non fencing weapon has the same penalty as trying to hit the rifle to start the process with a non fencing weapon.

Even so, let us assume she has a helmet and that her armor is not power armor. In that case, trying to disarm the weapon (which is a big cool looking rifle, which we can assume falls safely under the things we would not like to be hit with category), requires an attack roll at -5 with our non-fencing weapon. She can defend against the attack – but holding a rifle her defense is likely dodge, and with a big rifle and armor, likely encumbered dodge. 

If we hit, we roll a quick contest of our skill vs her DX or ST (whichever is better, +2 if she holds her rifle with both hands which she likely would in a fight, or up to +5 if she has Retain Weapon). If we are skillful, we are highly likely to succeed!

On a normal attack, if we do not have a lot of ST, we would have a hard time cracking her armor, so she would likely still have her rifle on her next go and want to shoot us. So in this case, disarm was a good idea (if we can get in range of course . . . . Gun Fu has rules for disarms with guns, which might be even MORE useful!).

The foe is armed with a missile weapon. Due to the fact that missile weapons don’t get to use their skill in defending against disarms, they definitely are a good target for it. However, since Disarm is by default melee, this raises a bit of an issue of getting to melee. The old Western movie trick of shooting guns out of hands definitely has merit! 

Also notice in GURPS that a sidearm often has mediocre damage, especially against armor, but if you shoot the pistol out of someones hand, if they do not have a spare gun, they either need to close to melee (time consuming if at range) or go pick their gun back up (also time consuming). During which time you can shoot some more. 

Of course, many gun wielders (and archers) may often have extra Lifting ST for wielding bigger better weapons and lugging ammo and armor.

You have high skill and low (or irrelevant) damage. Pixie Swashbucklers could find this very useful! Disarming allows you to use DX based skill for both rolls! 

I admit this seems an edge case, as usually people who want to have high skill with a weapon also desire to have the ability to hit like a truck.

Or when facing foes ‘Only able to be harmed by Foozle’, and you are not the one with Foozle (hopefully one of your friends has Foozle).

Because it could be cool. Being cool is always a valid reason, and a DM could certainly grant a bonus to an intimidate check. Since disarming can often be harder than ‘hit them till they cease functioning’, I would totally go with that. And it is much easier to use social skills on people after you disarm them than after you kill them.

As a DM, it could be fun to spice things up! Believe it or not, I do not actually try to kill my players (or their characters) too much: I try to give them fun fights. 

Enemies using something off the wall like trying to disarm them could be cool. Also seeing their favorite sword being disarmed from them would in many cases be scarier than just taking the HP loss. Some players like giving their characters a veritable arsenal, so disarming them just gives them a chance to show off with a new weapon. As a DM I think I should try this out.

Settings where magic/psi is tied to objects. This one immediately calls to mind Harry Potter, where wands were extremely important, and lo and behold: Expelliarmus was a thing (the disarming spell).

Fire Emblem is another setting where mages use items to fling magic (though they usually carry backups, but in a serious fight you could do well to take out your foes favorite tome).

Winning the battle of public opinion is critical. In full 4 color supers/full gritty supers (where (suggested by starslayer), this can be a thing. I have been watching the old He-Man cartoon, and he seems kind of like a Super, and he definitely is a major disarm fan. 

My recollection of Smallville: Superman doesn’t lose his skills when affected by Kryptonite, just his Strength, so he could well try to disarm Kryptonite away from someone even when he can’t hit like a truck.

Disarming Thoughts

So there you have it, thoughts on Disarming by a moderately experienced GURPS DM / player who would never in a million years have thought about writing about Disarming (or thought about writing about GURPS period), but really does enjoy discussing blog posts with authors such as Douglas Cole in the GURPS forum. 

So when the gauntlet is thrown, I decided “why not take a shot at it?” Hopefully these will help spur some thoughts.

The Disarm mechanic is dead simple, so there is no reason there not to use it, and I think could well add some fun to the game when used . . . . but does seem to take some mental contortions to figure out when it should be used. 

 I would love to see more topics on such things in the future, especially Setup Attacks, as I really would like to see more discussion of them and when/if they should be used!

Also I think no post about disarming should be complete without mentioning it is often a cool thing for Samurai to do, and Samurai are cool, and Doug likes Samurai and GURPS, so hopefully mention will come up!

Welcome to another session of Melee Academy. This cross-blog event is open to all who want to write about the topic chosen, in any system. If you have something to say, write it, send me a note, and I’ll add it to the list.

Today’s Entries

Melee Academy: Disarms in Four Systems

Taking your foe’s weapons away is taught in many real-world martial arts styles. It’s presumed – correctly – that a disarmed foe is simply much less dangerous than an armed one.

In my experience, though, disarms are rarely used in RPGs. Sure, there may be mechanics for them, but for whatever reason, they’re just not done.

Why Disarm?

The first question, regardless of the game, is why disarm a foe?

  • Reduce their threat to you. This may seem obvious, but it also might not be that way, depending on the game system. If the majority of a foe’s threat comes from weapons, taking those weapons away can make a big difference in the outcome. Examples where this is probably true include D&D, where the base unarmed damage is only 1 point (plus STR bonuses). A game where it may or may not be true is Fate, where the “disarmed” temporary Aspect may or may not really impact the outcome (Thor is going to be impressive with or without Mjolnir). 
  • Reduce their defenses against your attacks. Obviously, this only matters in games where weapons play a role in defense. If taking their weapons away means that their limbs are no longer effective for defending against your attacks, this can also be decisive.
  • Impress them/Intimidate them. Sometimes you can disarm someone just to rub their nose in the fact that you can. If the goal is not to kill or injure them, but to influence someone else’s behavior, or if you need them alive, casually taking weapons away is a good way to force a gut check.
  • Killing is bad: In the classic murder-hobo mode, foes are largely for killin’. So are innkeepers, animals, the town guard, orcs, half-orcs, someone in a fair fight, or was going to start a fair fight, or if there was a woman involved. (Thanks, Jayne). But in many less constructed environments, or where the town guard are all Level 15 Champion Fighters, random death and destruction might not be the best plan. Taking lethal instruments away from all parties can keep repercussions to a minimum.
  • Change the terms of the fight. This wraps up many aspects of the above, but if a foe is a weapon fighter that hasn’t invested in other skills, taking their weapon away – if you can – will change the fight, perhaps dramatically. A gunslinger that forgot or chose not to invest in fisticuffs will be a very different threat (or none at all) once that pistol or rifle is safely on the ground or in the chandelier. A weapon fighter who suddenly finds themselves weaponless, grappled, and on the ground might just give up. You might rather fight with Weapon B than Weapon A (due to your skills) but can’t (due to his weapons) – you like the knife but he has a morning star and dagger. 

So there are lots of reasons why you might notionally like to take a weapon away from a foe. But does the game enable it? It is too difficult, too time consuming? A bad idea all around? Or a instant “I win” button?

Let’s take a gander at a few games and see.

Dungeons and Dragons, Fifth Edition

In DnD5, disarming is an optional rule consigned to one paragraph in the DMG. The short-short version is you make a melee attack, and your foe rolls a contest of Strength (Athletics) or Dexterity (Acrobatics). If you win, you disarm them. You can gain disadvantage on your roll if your foe’s got a two-handed weapon on the defense, and size matters – the target has advantage if larger, disadvantage if smaller.

For humans, then, you’ll be rolling 1d20 + STR bonus (or DEX with a Finesse weapon) + Proficiency bonus against the best of 1d20 + STR or DEX bonus + Proficiency if you have such with Athletics or Acrobatics. Plus Proficiency again if you have Expertise in one or both of those skills.

So pretty much even-up in terms of allowable bonuses. Two fighters of equal level and stats (or if pitting STR vs DEX, but with similar bonuses) will likely claim the same primary attribute bonus and get to add proficiency. Watch out for Bards and Rogues (double proficiency) with expertise in Acrobatics or Athletics. But if you can find a foe without the ability to add proficiency to his defense, you will probably pick up a 10-30% advantage in a disarm attempt.

Is it worth it? In D&D5, probably, if your foe relies on weapons. It eats up one attack, carries no inherent downside. Unarmed damage (assuming you’ve removed their only weapon) is 1 point plus the STR bonus, so if your STR 16 Orc with a battleaxe did 1d8+3 (4-11, average 7.5) on a hit, he now does 4. Given that fighting in D&D is often a mutually ablative war of attrition, this very much throws the odds in your favor. Throw them prone, and they’ll hit you less, too.

Impressing them depends on the feel of the game, but might give advantage on an Intimidation attempt with GM agreement. No real ability to alter defenses (because it’s all about your Armor Class). So really, disarming in D&D gives you more chances to hit him and reduce his HP than you’d have otherwise. It won’t work vs. creatures that can’t be disarmed, of course – that’s not system dependent, it’s just obvious.


Taking a foe’s weapon away in GURPS can potentially be a big deal. It can be a “swingy” game, where one hit can alter the tone and outcome of a fight. I wrote about it in more detail in a prior Academy: Unarmed vs. Knife – Technical Disarms

Removing the foe’s weapon matters most when your foe is really counting on the bonuses it gives. A long stick allows swing damage, where unarmed tends to be thrust. Swords and knives can give the cutting and impaling injury modifiers to wounds. Firearms can be particularly dangerous, because nearly all of them in modern games can threaten to hit you three times or more, with injury per shot in excess of 2d, sometimes a lot more (a modern battle rifle may well be 7d for three shots, and it only takes one to kill you). On the other hand, if your ST 30 ogre punches for 3d-1 and kicks for 3d, having a stick in his hand for 3d or 3d+1 doesn’t matter much . . . though 5d+3 cut for a swung broadsword (if not more) is certainly scarier than 3d cr, both can take Joe Average out of the fight in one blow. The second is more likely to kill him outright, of course.

On the defense, this is mostly an issue with melee weapons. But it’s a real issue, because if the fighter is depending on a weapon parry afforded by high skill, removing the weapon usually forces the contest to a secondary choice . . . or Dodge, which you never run out of in most games.

Modern GURPS games are more likely to feature the “killing is bad” outlook, and taking a lethal weapon from the foe and then subduing them (both probably best accomplished with Judo or Wrestling) is a good way to keep the law looking the other way.

Mechanically, there are a few ways to go using the Basic Set.

  • You can grab the arm or hand and force them to drop it by winning a regular contest of Strength
  • You can grab the weapon itself, and take it from your foe by winning a regular contest of Strength
  • You can strike at a weapon to knock it away by first striking his weapon, and then winning a Quick Contest of ST or DX-based weapon skills.
  • You can put him in an arm lock, and do enough damage to cripple the arm or hand; at that point, he’ll drop anything in it.

Regular Contests tend to be time consuming. You have to succeed in your ST roll, while your foe must fail his. This will only be practical if you vastly outclass your foe in ST. You also need to be skilled enough to seize your foe, which given penalties for such of -2 to -4, typically, may be rate limiting.

Knocking a Weapon Away (the third option) favors high skill again, but the foe gets their best of ST or DX and weapon skill. The Disarming technique can help an attacker; Retain Weapon helps the defender.

Arm Lock is one of the better bets here, as you can raise Arm Lock to Wrestling or Judo +4, and the defense is a parry (often low). From there, you are again contesting Arm Lock or ST vs your foe’s ST or HT in order to do damage equal to margin of victory.

All of these, of course, might take multiple seconds (Knocking a Weapon Away does not), and the foe tends to be a threat to you during all of them. Many players just opt to smash the opponent hard in the face instead.

Technical Grappling

My book, GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling adds the option to disarm a foe by causing pain instead of crippling damage. The arm lock requirements are still there, but it’s a bit easier to force the HT roll that makes them drop stuff. You must be willing to deal with Control Points, of course.

David Pulver Weighs In
An important issue in any “disarm” attack rule is not just the ease of making the disarm but the ease of _recovering_ from it. 

Example: if the game mechanics give two equal fighters a 50% chance of succeeding with a disarm to knock a weapon away, but allow a disarmed fighter to pick up their dropped weapon 100% of the time with a single action (or worse, a free or move action), then disarming is a bad tactic. 

If the disarm rules, however, cause a weapon to fly some distance away, or the rules for retrieving a dropped weapon mean (for instance) that a fighter must take multiple actions, or put himself at risk (kneel, lose his defense, whatever) to recover that dropped weapon, a disarm is viable. 

Likewise, a disarm may be viable parrying with a weapon is important in the rules (as it is in GURPS) and by disarming a foe you reduce his defense and can either follow up while it is reduced, or an ally can. 

GURPS generally makes disarming viable because its second-by-second time scale, separate active defenses, and posture rules all mean  fighter is at risk if he takes time to recover a dropped weapon. 

Some other game systems, like D&D, may not have this same vulnerability, relegating disarms to special cases (“I disarm the foe’s magic sword, and my friend, next in combat sequencing, picks up that sword for himself!”) 

Night’s Black Agents

As always, Night’s Black Agents is about on-screen awesome, rather than pure skill levels. To disarm a foe, you make an attack against their weapon, which is at an additional difficulty, usually +3, which makes the required difficulty 7 on a 1d6.

That target means that in order to succeed, the player will have to spend from their general point pool. This can be by Shooting a weapon out of their hand, using Weapons to make a disarm, or with Hand-to-Hand to twist it out. 

You’ll need to spend enough points to buy the success you want, though if you roll a natural 6 on 1d6 you will often succeed regardless of opposition. Conditionally, if you shoot it, you disarm them but the weapon is damaged. If you use weapons, you automatically disarm them if your weapon is heavier (and it still works if you roll a 6 with a lighter weapon). With Hand-to-Hand, again you take it with no fuss and no muss if you roll a 6, otherwise, you have to win a contest – basically, the Hand-to-Hand contest allows a grapple, but you still have to win another contest to take possession of the weapon.

The requirement to spend so many points means that a disarm is a moment of high drama and spotlight time, since the typical points in an important combat skill for a fightin’-focused agent is likely at least 8, possibly higher, such as 12. But that means that a certain disarm might well run you your entire pool at one go. You’ve used up your camera time, bub.

Fate Core

As one would imagine, disarming in Fate Core will be Creating an Advantage. If you succeed, you get to create an Aspect to invoke, while if you Succeed with Style, you get to invoke it twice.

For this one, however, as a stunt, I would probably create a removable aspect that denied the weapon to the other party, or negated his own weapon if that was an aspect.

As an example, if you Disarm Inigo Montoya, who has the Aspect “Sword of the Six-Fingered Man,” then until Inigo succeeds on an Overcome, with active opposition from his foes, he cannot reclaim, and thus invoke, that Aspect.

For a more mundane effect, or as an add-on, if you are using Weapon Ratings, then the extra +3 you get for the effect for a sword (as an example) is no longer available. 

Parting Shot

If someone’s shooting at you, GURPS generally has you shoot them back. Likewise with weapon vs. weapon – it’s usually fairly high percentage to just attack them directly.

Now, if you have mad unarmed combat skills, no weapon, and your foe’s armed . . . well, you can either disarm them or (more intelligently) run the hell away. Or you can, again, punch them in the face, or perhaps do a Sweep, which will put them on the ground for -4 to hit and -3 to defend.

Disarming is thus reserved for very strong creatures with natural weapons (teeth and horns) that also mostly bite to grapple rather than strike.

For PCs, you need to also be willing to spend  few turns on the disarm, in many cases. Players in my experience generally make the calculation that it’s better to incapacitate by striking than muck about with grappling and disarms.

D&D is a bit better. It only burns one turn, and while it still favors the skilled (that’s a feature, not a bug), it’s a good way to pivot the fight to ones favor.

Night’s Black Agents is neither easy nor hard; it is expensive in terms of spotlight time, which is the game’s true currency. This makes a Disarm something you do when you’re feeling like being awesome and the results are worth the high resource use.

Fate Core? It’s one possible interpretation of the Create an Advantage task, just like doing a Judo Throw might be a possible interpretation. Success on a throw might be that the foe gets the Aspect “Flat on your Back!” while succeeding with style might either give two invocations of that same aspect, or perhaps two different ones: Flat on your Back! and Oof! Where’d my Lungs go? The defender might have to Overcome both in order to be back on his feet. With the Disarm, I’d probably tag the foe with the problematic “disarmed!” aspect until he can get the weapon back – if he can at all. 

I got some fast and valuable comments yesterday on the post on initiative and the OODA loop that I want to tackle in the harsh light of day, so to speak

As always, the commenter’s thoughts are indented, purple, and italicized.

Also note that alternate initiative concepts have been done before. +Christopher R. Rice did one on Reordering Initiative in a prior Melee Academy post, and +Peter V. Dell’Orto followed up with a spin-off concept over on Dungeon Fantastic. Both are worth reading.

I first want to deal with Raymond’s comment, because it gets to a bit of what I was thinking, and why. It’s the OODA loop part of the discussion.

I think the simplest change would be to allow the “initiative order” to change—currently it stays in Speed-order regardless of what happens. If you allow it to change, I would re-order someone when they act on a wait, and probably on certain “aggressive” defenses (like Aggressive Parry or Grapple responses like Arm Lock/Throw), which would make things make more chronological sense. I would also allow it to be changed on an Evaluate or Do Nothing maneuver. Doing so would mean that sometimes a guy ends up acting twice before another one, but that’s not necessarily unrealistic.

Changing the initiative order – which is currently descending order of Basic Speed, ties go to DX (I’ve also seen ties go to skill, but that’s into house rule territory), and further ties broken by something else – is fraught with peril in GURPS. So I’d not do that.

Kromm Speaks: 

Agreed. If the order is always ABCD ABCD, then everybody gets a “reset” after all possible rivals have had a chance to act. Unrealistic? Maybe, but GURPS is a game and fairness trumps realism for the majority of the customer base. 

If it’s possible to end up with ABCD DCBA, then A could get pounded on six times instead of just three times, B could get attacked four times instead of three, C would have to deal with just two possible attacks, and D would be free to All-Out Attack without consequences. This evens out after several turns . . . but there won’t be several turns if C and D are aggressive, especially if C and D are on the same side: A acts, B acts, and then C and D beat the jelly out of A and B using unanswered All-Out Attacks that saturate defenses. 

To make this work, you would have to rewrite much of the combat system. You would have to posit a universal turn and define what occurs at its outset — not just initiative rolls, but also duration countdowns and defense refreshment. This would insert bookkeeping phases between bouts of action. You would have to consider declarations, so that D’s intent to All-Out Attack has an effect, and/or make acting first a significant advantage. And so on. You would end up with a game that’s far more like a tactical boardgame or a wargame than like an RPG that prioritizes the Rule of Cool and player agency.

Beyond that, there’s the fact that some characters pay serious points for Altered Time Rate and Extra Attack so that they can gain benefits that the luck of the dice could give to anybody. So those traits would need rewriting, too, and there would probably need to be a “realistic” version of such abilities . . . which would then become the gimme trait that the Speed attribute is in the Hero RPG. So rewrites would spread to the character-creation rules. While a few diehard realism nuts like that idea, they aren’t even close to the majority.  

While I agree that having a fast, prepared guy go twice before another can react is not unrealistic, that’s not really the problem I’m trying to get at here. The key for me is offensive/aggressive action as opposed to defensive/reactive action. This is “what maneuvers will I use?” rather than “do I go first?”

The conceit or general idea here is that even if you’re the quickest (in speed order, which speaks to a point below), if you’re not mentally prepared to attack, then the more-aggressive options will not be on your list of things to do.

Kromm Speaks Again 

It’s worth pointing out that though Basic Speed is (DX + HT)/4, it *is* meant to represent mental preparation as well as reflexes. There are a lot of places in the rules — starting with “Mind vs. Brain” (p. B296) and treated in much more detail in GURPS Bio-Tech — that suggest that DX is partly or wholly a mental attribute, and represents the “acting” side of the brain rather than the “contemplating” side. The fact that so many IQ-based skills are floated to DX for action tasks is a further hint. I’m not sure I could successfully argue against a claim that DX and Basic Speed calculated from it are measures of aggressiveness and preparation. 

Honestly, I think that an Action Points system (now who do we know who has written one of those?) is the optimal way to handle ebb and flow. More prepared fighters have more AP. More aggressive fighters tend to spend more AP per turn, and if there’s a cap on how many you can spend per turn, they might have a higher cap. People who run out of AP can’t do as much. But everyone spends what AP they have *on their turn,* any refresh happens *on their turn,* and turns always cycle in the same order to remove a bookkeeping headache. The effect of taking two turns in a row, or taking and holding the initiative, comes from outspending your foe in AP, either on a per-turn basis (higher cap) or in absolute terms (more AP).

Initiative is such a loaded term for RPG use, that perhaps I should use a different one. Aggressiveness, perhaps. You may go first, but if your aggressiveness score is lower than your foe’s, you’ll take more defensive-oriented actions. Evaluate. Wait. All-Out Defense (Parry, Dodge, or Block). Or if you are going to attack, it will be a Defensive Attack. You’re more worried about him hitting you than you are about hitting him. 

So to the direct point: no, I’d never rearrange turn-order in the middle of the fight, because GURPS turns are not “second 1, second 2, second 3” on an absolute basis. Though sometimes I wish they were.

So, on to another commenter’s notes, with occasional reference to the prior issue and comment as well . . .

First, adding another die roll–especially one with so many potential modifiers to be calculated on the fly–could serve to bog down play.

This is absolutely true. The key, always, for new die rolls is whether they actually improve the game. Where possible, roll once strategies are better than “roll each turn,” if nothing else, it reduces book-keeping.

This is an issue particularly if you’re suggesting new initiative rolls before each round, which I assume is the case in light of your goal of simulating the ebb and flow of combat.

I could see a roll each round, but thinking about it, that means every character and NPC will face an extra die roll each round. That’s less cool than I’d like. That observation makes me think that a re-roll should be a side effect of an Evaluate action, or occasioned by a mid-combat Tactics or Leadership roll. Or even a Wait that is not triggered. This may not improve your situation, of course!

Or perhaps the penalties and bonuses for intimidation, wounds, stunning, etc. are enough to achieve this; it just seems a little luck (the die roll) would be welcome as well.

Many of the permanent  bonuses for things like combat reflexes will be fixed factors, serving in their own way like the permanent initiative bonus you get in D&D. The ebb and flow for wounds and stunning should provide the adjustment I need.

Again, as this idea develops, what I think would be useful is an Aggression score. If I did it right, it would be centered around zero, so that unless you had a positive Aggression number for the fight, your choices would be limited. 

Oh, but that goes against player agency! Yes it does, so instead of “you can’t do that” you’d wind up saying “do what you want, but pay for it.” So maybe if the normal bound of aggressiveness is -8 to +8, that you take a penalty to any aggressive actions equal to (say) twice the difference between your aggressiveness and the guy you’re fighting. His total is -2, but yours is 0? He is at -4 if he tries an Attack, Committed Attack, or All-Out Attack. If he chooses Defensive Attack or All-Out Defense, he’s fine.

Some of this could actually be a good thing. GURPS has so many options that having guidance as to what you’d do is not a bad thing, especially for the GM who might be controlling many characters. Oh, Bog the Barbarian’s aggressiveness is 6 this round, and his foe is at -2. Another All-Out Attack (One Foe) for him! Or something like that.

Secondly, besides “quickness of mind” and experience (tactics, combat reflexes), a characters quickness isn’t really considered, marginalizing a character’s attributes. An easy way to work it into the formula is to simply add a character’s BS to the initiative roll as well.

I disagree here, in that quickness is accounted for in the turn order itself. A fast character with a (perhaps temporarily) low aggression score might well act first and nail his foe with a Defensive Attack. This will impose shock penalties and such on his foe (lowering Aggressiveness) and provide a bonus to the successful attacker (raising his Aggressiveness). His foe, who goes after him in the turn order, may wind up facing a case where that first defensive attack puts him back on his heels, restricting his actions.

Turn order, and striking first, still matter here, I think.

Third, the influence of leadership makes sense, but would you add it in the case of single combatants?

No, I probably wouldn’t. A Will roll (or a Will-based weapon skill roll) might be the better call here, or even Tactics. I’ve written about other things that Tactics might be used for before.

And if one character were being ganged up on, would you still use leadership for the “gang,” with none for the “gangee?”

If it’s truly a gang, as opposed to a unit, perhaps leadership might not apply. But certainly a lower Aggressivness score would be appropriate if you’re being dogpiled. That being said, using the tentative ideas on an aggressiveness number above, it might be that a strong, skilled, Overconfident PC has full choice of maneuver in that situation. And there are going to be cases where dropping back and trying to defend is a terrible idea – taking the fight to the enemy is the right call. I’m not sure that’s something that you want to interfere with that much.

It would seem to emphasize the nature of initiative you’re trying to recreate.

Lastly, it seems that modifiers can potentially add up to a point where the roll of a single die wouldn’t matter. Do you think making the roll 2d6 would randomize initiative too much?

You may be right. the modifiers I tried to sketch out go from -7 to 14 with a 1d6 roll. With a 2d6 (and penalties/bonuses from -8 to 8), then the values go from -6 to 20, with a potentially much wider range for a particular fighter. I’m not sure that’s a good thing either. I would tend to want who has initiative to initially be determined mostly by the fighter himself, and then by the circumstances. The large range in a 2d6 or other roll doesn’t speak to me as favorable, but it’s the sort of thing that only playtest can tell.

Parting Shot

Ultimately, the concept here is to use something that measures the ebb and flow of the fight. What you don’t want to do is track it every single round. Getting wounded or driven back, or seeing a friend disemboweled should drive a change in Aggressiveness. But not something you fiddle with every turn. That way lies GM and player frustration.

What I would want to do is have a badass-o-meter ranking that helps the GM and player decide what tactics (specifically: maneuver selection between AoA and AoD, in the usual five steps) are on the table for a given exchange. This might even include something like “if Aggressiveness drops below -5, the combatant will seek to withdraw.” That’s something that is right now (usefully) left to GM fiat in most cases, but guidance is a good thing.

You can also differentiate fighting styles this way. Overconfident? Berserk or Combat Fury? Combat Reflexes? Fearlessness? Yeah – Aggressiveness likely goes up. Pacifism? Easy to Kill? Lower.

You might also use that sort of aggressiveness tally as a good way to gauge fear checks and pre-combat posturing. Think the muster of the Uruk-Hai in The Two Towers. Having that many orcs screaming for blood with high aggressiveness numbers is going to make for a very intimidating initial encounter. Until you get the “If it bleeds, we can kill it” rationalization going on. (Though that only worked out well for Ah-nold, in the end . . . )

Finally, a counterpoint on fair and unfair and realism and game-balance, from a professional instructor for firearms, self-defense, and use of force. He addresses the topic that it’s possible to go first (or not go first) and have a whole bunch of people pound you into a wet prune before you get the chance to go again.

Shawn Fisher speaks: 

Generally, this is not unrealistic. Is it unfair as hell? Yes. That’s why striking first is such a huge advantage. It sucks to get pummeled and never be able to seize the advantage. GURPS bakes in the first strike as a power you buy at character creation, and also through various stunning effects from hit locations and damage. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it’s equally possible to play without that. Instead, as you point out, you may be buying the right to strike first most of the time, but not all the time. As it is there is no ebb and flow, just first strikes all the time, if you choose. This is also the problem, if you will, of omniscient PCs who know where the enemy is, know the ammo count in their guns, know the ranges and mods and calculate them perfectly to avoid wasting a shot, etc. Can you critically fail Basic Speed? No. You can invest in DX and HT, which are uber important in combat and the by product is you get to whack the guy first. Every time.

This is why making a roll works. FWIW, I think even a (1d/2, or something) would be fine. That way Move 6 guy is probably safe from Goon with move 5, but not necessarily. He could roll 1 and get an order of 7 and the Goon could roll 3 and get 8. The ads might be +1/-1 for Combat Reflexes or Combat Paralysis, and that’s it.

Big follow-up post for me, with no fewer than seven people’s ideas being represented, including myself. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed compiling it!

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and running up to next week’s Melee Academy topic on disarming, my friends and I are passing back and forth videos of violence. This led to a discussion of movie violence vs. real-world violence, and the differences between the two. The discussion came up for GURPS, largely because it has the depth of detail  that allows the discussion to be had at all.

Suffice it to say that when you look at real-world violence, one of the things that seems quite apparent is that “roll for initiative,” or “make a morale check!” isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the law.

This leads me to wonder if in more gritty games, it would be a good idea to separate Initiative and Speed. You still go in speed order, but there’s a moral/aggression factor that is different than who’s quickest.

What’s this?

Again, in movies, you see a lot of well-balanced fights. Two fighters trading blows more or less equally. You also see a lot of “this is the hero’s moment to shine!” fighting, where the Director, acting as GM, has decreed that the Mook is Just Going to Take It. If you’re watching the movie Equilibrium, this can be between the same two characters, in different parts of the movie. 

I won’t spoil it. But go watch.

In the real-world, what one tends to see other than in very circumscribed situations is that one fighter has the initiative, and the other reacts. This can change – and it’s often the goal of the one that doen’t have the initiative to make it change – during the fight.

GURPS “initiative” is really the order in which actions are declared. But fast on your feet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re controlling the course of a fight.

In the real fights I’ve seen, usually there’s someone who’s driving the action. They make a series of All-Out or Committed Attacks. The other guy is back on his heels. He’s either making Defensive Attacks or even taking All-Out Defense. 

This continues until the fight is over, or initiative somehow switches.

What are the rules supposed to do?

I got a note from Kromm on this one, which is worth reposting here to see just how far I’m going to deviate from the rules as they’re supposed to be:

“Surprise Attacks and Initiative” (p. B393) was *NEVER* intended to be used when two mutually antagonistic parties can see the other before hostilities begin! An initiative roll for partial surprise is made only in the two situations spelled out in paragraph 1 of those rules:

  • A party on alert (the “defender”) is engaged by a previously unseen party (the “attacker”). The defender was expecting hostilities but not necessarily from the attacker, who only just appeared. The initiative roll determines if being initially unseen gives the attacker the edge (attacker wins) or if the attacker fails to account for the prepared defense — in effect, the *defense* is unseen — and suffers a reversal (defender wins).
  • Two sides that were previously unaware of each other suddenly come into contact. The initiative roll determines who gets organized first and does something about the hitherto unknown threat. 

If the defender wasn’t expecting hostilities, there’s no roll at all that’s total surprise.

If each party could see the other before anyone got violent and each recognizes the other as hostile, there’s no roll — that’s standard combat, and who acts first is a function of the combat sequence.

Corner cases where two parties sight each other but don’t immediately go to fighting are best resolved by treating everyone as having taken a Wait and using “Cascading Waits” (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 108).

An Initiative Number

I’m wondering if this could be represented by some sort of initiative number. If as a fighter your initiative number is lower than your foe’s, you may only choose defensive attack or All-Out Defense. This is a variant on Untrained Fighters from GURPS Martial Arts (box on p. 113).

Rolling for Initiative is actually a thing in GURPS, as part of Partial Surprise (p. B393). The guidance for total and partial surprise is deliberately vague; there’s room for fiat and interpretation here. But some good examples for triggering it for the purpose of looking at initiative using the alternate rules would be:

  • An aggressor makes a successful Intimidation check
  • A defender is ready for trouble but fails a Perception check
  • During a fight, someone gets punched
  • A leader fails a leadership test
  • A fighter sees one of his side get thwacked hard
Looking at the YouTube stuff, you will often see that one fighter starts to dominate, and the other gives up. I saw this personally in several fights I’ve observed – at some point, one of the combatants just rolls over and gives up. You see this all the time in dominance displays in animals, of course.
Roll the Bones

Let’s use the same 1d6 roll from Partial Surprise. I’ll change the modifiers a bit:

  • If you have Combat Reflexes or Enhanced Time Sense, you get +2
  • The winner of a Quick Contest of Leadership gets +1 for their side (only one group qualifies here)
  • A successful Leadership roll by the side’s leader gets +1 (both can qualify for this)
  • If you have one point in Tactics, you get +1 for you
  • If you or your side are victorious in a Quick Contest of Tactics, your side gets +1
  • If you or your side are victorious in an Intimidation Check, you get +1
  • If you got hit last round, you’re at -1; if you were hit and injured you’re at -2; if you failed a Fright Check, you’re at -4, unless you were also . . .
  • If you were stunned, you go last, but you might figure the number in case one has to decide between multiple people who’s the least last
  • If you have to attack through a forest of high-reach weapons, you’re at -1 per each hex of Reach you’re down on your foes. Knife vs Reach 3 polearm? Yeah, -3.
  • If you don’t see any good way to hurt your foes (look! a shield wall! crap!) you’re at -1
I was just rattling off a bunch of modifiers, but let’s see if we can sum up.
  • Some advantages and disadvantages will give you permanent bonuses or penalties for the roll (0 to +2)
  • Leadership, Tactics, and Intimidation will impact the roll (0 to +4, perhaps)
  • Your perception of your ability to hurt your foe will impact the roll (0 to -2)
  • If you believe your foe can hurt you or just did, this will impact the roll, perhaps severely (-4 to +0)
  • If you think your side is winning or losing, that will impact the roll (-2 to +2)
I’d call for a re-roll of the dice if the “lower” initiative person actually manages to land a defensive attack against his foe – that’s a morale turning point that should be recognized. The total bonuses/penalties above could conceivably stretch from -8 to +8 with a d6 for randomization, so that’s a range of -7 to 14; plenty of room for all sorts of wiggle and interplay.
Parting Shot
This is just another aspect of morale in gaming, but with mechanical weight. The fact that you might “go first” because your fast, but be limited to less-aggressive options because you’re afraid or uncertain is just part of real fighting.
Now, stuff like this is a huge denial of agency to PC types. This restricts maneuver choice in GURPS to a degree that is intermediate between “you’re stunned, you must choose Do Nothing” and “you’re not stunned, do whatever you want.” It may strike people the wrong way.
That being said, such options do exist elsewhere – if you want to Aim and you’re using the rules from Tactical Shooting, you must All-Out Attack. I allow for a Committed Aim in On Target (Pyr #3/77), but defenses are always compromised.
The inability for an aggressor to choose Attack rather than only Committed or All-Out is maybe taking things too far, but again, usually one is either pushing the defender, getting pushed oneself, or has disengaged and is circling. 
Tying initiative and aggression to a Contest of Wills might be fun, too, where if you win the contest by a certain amount, you roll iniative and the winner will likely attack. Tie, and keep circling. 
It would involve more Intimidation, Tactics, Leadership, and evaluation engagement, which is good. 
It could also be something that’s just applied to NPCs (though I’m not a huge fan of such asymmetric rules, they have their place), which would give a “tide of battle” feel that is a real thing in conflict, but doesn’t jump out organically from the rules as they are now.
Over at The Dragon’s Flagon, the wayfarer penned something about grappling. Naturally, since I’ve had a few things to say about it myself, I was drawn in as the proverbial moth to the flame.

He’s writing a “fantasy-heartbreaker” RPG. What is that? I had to look it up, and found this definition over on The RPG Museum:

“A fantasy heartbreaker is, essentially, a Dungeons & Dragons knock-off. Ron Edwards coined the term to describe a species of games published in the RPG boom of the 1990s, long after their purported innovations could be considered original. The term usefully describes games which are mired in preconceptions arising from the D&D paradigm. A criticism of the term is that it implies dismissal of the idea you can make “D&D, but better,” which might be a desirable goal for some designers.” 

Here speaks Ron Edwards: “The basic notion is that nearly all of the listed games have one great idea buried in them somewhere…. That’s why they break my heart, because the nuggets are so buried and bemired within all the painful material I listed above. – Ron Edwards, 2002”

So  he’s making a D&D-like system that is a variant on the standard. Some examples from reading his combat overview:

  • The Combat Roll inflicts damage, capped at a maximum, based on margin of success (the degree to which the combat roll exceeds the Armor Class of the foe).
  • You can optionally apply your combat rating to defend instead of attack. This can be thought of as either soaking potential damage, or getting out of the way/parrying more effectively. The result is the same – either less or no damage on a one-for-one basis.
  • He’s got some very interesting combat options built in – forcing movement on the battlefield, or using a long weapon to keep a foe at bay (this is a very useful addition, in my opinion).
  • All of the combat options are usable by anyone. I like this – fighters can do fighty-stuff better, but anyone can try. That might be my GURPS showing – or my WEG d6 Star Wars – but it’s my favorite option setup in RPGs.

OK, so grappling. Here we go. I will likely refer frequently to my post on Rules for Grappling Rules, which still stands up well as a good way to think about designing a grappling system, or an RPG subsystem in general.

Goblins and Greatswords: Grappling made simple(ish)

Right away, we have this:

The first phase of a grappling attack is resolved with standard combat rolls.

In short: Yes. Grappling is combat, likely older than using striking or weapons in most worlds, and the more natural form of fighting and playing. Not having to break out a new system to do something this basic is a key part of making grappling not relegated to something that is a disruption in game flow.

A defender may be either unarmed or armed.  (Included in standard G&G combat, if I haven’t mentioned it already, is a rule that attacking unarmed against an armed opponent incurs a -2 penalty to AC; thus grappling an opponent with deadly weaponry is more hazardous than grappling an unarmed one.)

You’re signing up for increased damage against you (lower AC on the attacker’s part) if you grapple someone armed. Hrm. Interesting.

Both combat rolls have their normal effects, inflicting damage if they exceed the opponent’s AC.

This is interesting, and avoids one of the classic grappling traps: that attempting a grapple is always a really poor tactical choice relative to bashing someone with an axe (this is the Make it Interesting sub-point of my article). A grappling attack does the usual damage (if desired) if you exceed the foe’s AC; if you don’t but still beat his combat roll, you can get a grip with no damage. Presumably, if the player wants to, he can exceed the AC and elect to do no damage to the foe.

So you never have to choose between bashing your foe with an axe or grappling – you can always do both. That sidesteps the “pointless” question.

The question I’d ask is: why not, in this case, grapple every turn? Other than a slightly lower AC, what are the down-sides? 

The answer may well be “there are none,” which will see combatants locked in close combat more often than less – this strikes me as an entirely plausible outcome. 

Holding on to an opponent means that the combatant is maintaining its grip on the opponent and avoiding the opponent’s attacks.  One common tactic is to hold the opponent from behind, or in the case of a larger opponent, to climb on and cling to its back.  While holding, the grappling character’s combat rolls against the opponent are made at +2, while the opponent’s combat rolls against the grappler suffer -2.  Additionally, attacks by other creatures or characters against either grappler or grappled are made at +2 to the combat roll, as their ability to dodge and parry is limited.

So AC doesn’t change (unless the grappler is unarmed fighting an armed foe, at which point he’s at -2 to AC). He gets his die rolls altered, giving +2 to his combat roll (which is the same as +2 to damage so long as AC is exceeded). The defender has his die rolls lowered. So he’s less likely to fight back by about 10% for hit, and will do two points less damage than otherwise.

There are some “Rule Zero” interpretations allowed, too:

At the GM’s option, holding onto certain opponents may render some attack forms impossible and others more likely to succeed.  For instance, a grappled medusa may be unable to turn and use her gaze attack on the grappler, but the grappler would be extremely vulnerable to the bites of the writhing snakes on her head.

Every round, a new combat roll is made (is this done on each combatant’s turn, one roll per turn, or is the rolling per round, simultaneously? Ah, from the examples, it looks like the contested combat rolls are made simultaneously, as in “how effectively did the combatants face each other this round?” Interesting.

If a grappled character wins a combat roll, he can grapple back or break free.

What can you do?

So you’ve grappled your foe. What can you do?

The basic one is the overpower, which is a 1d6 contest modified by Might (good, Strength gets an influence) and the combat rating (that represents skill). If you win, you can do extra damage, reduce your foe’s damage, move the foe, or break free. 

Solid options there; you can only pick one per round, and a new Overpowering roll is made each round.

Personally, I’d consider this one a point of departure from the “use what’s there” rule. I’d have to see how it plays (1d20 rolls may well be too swingy and allow too much damage potential than 1d6). The basic combat contest is both players roll 1d20 plus bonuses, and margin matters. An Overpower contest is both combatants roll 1d6 plus bonuses, and margin matters. 

The Overpower contest clearly favors skill and might, and will be less swingy than the normal contest. 

Again based on the examples, though, you do both. You get a combat roll as usual, and an Overpower contest every round. I’m really not seeing a good reason not to close and grapple here!

Other possibilities once you’ve got a grapple include disarms and tackles. You disarm by winning two “reduce damage” Overpower actions in a row. Tackling (or pouncing) adds +2 to an initial grappling attempt. 

There are rules for dogpiling and grappling multiple foes at once, as well.

Parting Shot

Overall, the Goblins and Greatswords grappling rules virtually beg you to close in and come to grips with your opponent. Of course, if you’re weaker and less skilled, this will not go well for you. If you are stronger and more skilled, it will. This will be a go-to strategy for the bigger, nastier foe. 

The nice thing here is that you don’t give anything up, ever, by attempting the grapple. You still make your combat roll every turn against your foe, with the usual results. The grapple contest is a bet that closing with your foe and engaging in the 1d6+Modifiers roll will, on the average, work out better for you than it will for him. It’s a layer of flavor that stacks with, rather than replacing, the basic combat set.

Two options that might be added here are the “throw the foe to the ground” option – some sort of positional advantage – as well as the option to deny actions to the foe. 

That second one might be implicit in “reduce damage,” though. If I basically use a victorious Overpower roll to limit the damage done to me by a grappling foe, he’s basically wasting his turn each time. The 1d6+Bonuses type roll seems to be on the order of 1d6+1 to 1d6+6 in the examples, so a good fighter might basically inflict the equivalent of -10 to damage (which is also -10 to a combat roll, sorta, due to margin of success) each round – that’s a lot of useless flailing on the part of the foe.

Are there reasons to avoid grappling? Sure, especially if you are lower in Might (the STR equivalent), and your only weapon is a largish one (only small or natural weapons can be brought to bear in an Overpower contest). 

This, right there, gives mechanical support to using two weapons of dissimilar size in a fight as emergent behavior. Neat.

I think the real innovation here is making grappling additive, rather than a replacement, for the regular combat sequence. That’s clever.

I’m blog-stalking +Peter V. Dell’Orto these days. You should too. He’s penned a few posts on mapless combat for GURPS that got me thinking, again, of borrowing concepts from other games. In this case, the concept of Zones from Fate.

Zones are a nice, abstract way of thinking about who’s where in a narrative game. You can fight someone if they’re in your zone, you can shoot someone at a penalty across zones (perhaps; depends). But by and large the only purpose of the combat zones – and it’s a good  purpose – is to give a general narrative guideline of who’s where. Character A can act on NPCs 1 and 2. Characters B, C, and D are dogpiling Boss 3. For A to act on Boss 3, it’s more difficult.

GURPS has this too

What you say? Yes, it’s true. GURPS Action 2: Exploits, also known as the gift that keeps on giving, introduces a Range Band Table on p. 31 (in boxed text). Each band is -4 farther away than the prior band.

One of the nice underlying mathematical truths about the range bands (or just the Size and Speed Range table in general) is the fact that each step is a constant multiple of the one preceding it. This is just the nature of logarithmic tables, and for GURPS, the scale is each six steps are a factor of 10, or each step is x1.47 the one preceding it. This is usefully rounded to x1.5, but really the way GURPS does it is to have short memorizable progressions. GURPS’ favorites seem to be 1-3-10, 1-2-5-10, and the SSR progression, 1-1.5-2-3-5-7-10.

We’ll return to this in a moment.

Battles are Vector, not Scalar

One of the bits about the range bands and mapless combat is that everything is relative to everything else. If you have three groups of three people fighting (say three foolishly overconfident PCs fighting two monsters each, in separate groups), then while each group of three is in contact distance with each other, they could each be at different range bands from each other.

And just because two groups are at (say) medium range from one party, they might be at short range to each other.

So, this sort of thing is vector (magnitude and direction matter), not scalar (only magnitude).

Yummy pi, which equals 3 in GURPS

Again with the math. Always with the math . . . but if we picture a range band as a circle (or sphere, but let’s do 2D for now), then the circumference of the band is roughly 6x the distance from the center. This is exactly true if we treat the perimeter of the band as a ring of hexes (thus the phrase I’ve seen: In GURPS, pi is equal to 3).

That means that if it takes one action of arbitrary time to close from your current range band to contact distance, you can take three actions to go around contact distance at constant radius. It also means that (conveniently), you can subdivide any band into six chunks, each of which is one band smaller. It also means that much like tactical combat, you’re in a hexagonal reference system.

That means rescaling the bands from action, though. A very coarse progression would be 1-3-10 – and starting with 3, because you can, with a committed attack and a Reach 1 weapon, or a Step and Reach 2 weapon, easily fight anyone closer than that.

Bands and Progressions

So if we want to define “in melee combat distance” as 0-3 yards, for no penalty, we’ll wind up with a progression that looks like:

0-3 yds: Contact Distance (0)
4-10 yds: Close Range (-3)
11-30 yds: Short Range (-6)
31-100 yds: Medium Range (-9)
101-300 yds: Long Range (-12)
301-1000 yds: Extreme Range (-15)
1001-3000 yds: Maximum Range (-18)
3001+ yds: Beyond Visual Range (-21)

Now, this chart is human-centric, earth centric, and ground-level centric. But there’s utility here. Consider:

Mos pistol fights are in the “Close” range band. But shooting to short range is possible and you can with care and time hit at medium range. That’s 1 and 2 bands. If you consider SMGs, typical engagement distance is closer to 30yds, but 100 yds is a bit harder and 300yds is about all you’re going to want to shoot (despite both pistols and SMGs having true maximum ranges in the Maximum Range band). Rifles? 100yds is pretty routine, 300yds is used for qualification, and 1000yds starts to be the stuff of legend, with shots in the middle of the Extreme Range band being routine for the best shots. This would negate the influence of Acc, though.

One might simplify that you can extend your range by one band with an aim action, and two with two, and farther is a no-no. Or you can use the regular Acc and Aim sequences.

Likewise, you can shoot from A to O or A to B at the standard -3 per band penalty, while A to C is an additional -1 and A to D is an additional -2.

Note that it doesn’t matter what the A-O band is in the above. It could easily be A-O is Close Range as Extreme Range. As long as A, B, C, and D are in the same band, the penalties apply just as well.

Note that if you don’t want to ditch the Action range band sizes, the above penalties still work. A-B is no longer simply a range band down, but it’s still at no extra penalty, A-C is -1, and A-D is still -2.

Closing and Extending Distance

The other bit about bands that players will want to know is how long it takes to transition between them. Given the distances involved, and “typical” PC move rates in the 4-7 yards per second range, you wind up with something like this:

  • It takes about a Move action to get from Close (call it 7 yds) to Contact (around 2 yds). But it could be as little as a Step, or it could be two actions.
  • It takes about 2-3 Move actions (8-21 yds of distance) to close from Short to Close range.
  • And so on – it should take 3x more moves for each band.

What I want to do is think about the smallest ranges – Contact and Close – and then we can use the 1-3-10 progression in time to extend that.

But basically, the rule is that to move between range bands, you need to spend some time “in transition.” When you’re in transition, you’re still in your current band.

Closing distances (going from a higher band to a shorter one) requires one unopposed transition. Extending it requires three.

Unopposed transition? Yeah. Your foe can keep you at bay by moving herself, too.

So, Bob wants to attack Kara. He’s at Close range, and wants to move to Contact. He takes a Move, and it in Transition. Kara can decline the engagement by taking a Move herself, which negates the transition and sets him back to Close Range. Or she can accept it and not move, doing something else.

Close to Contact: this is a bit of a special case. A fighter in Transition can Attack into Contact from Close Range. Likewise the defender can Attack into Contact if her target is in Transition from Close Range too.

Escape from Contact: It only takes one Move to get from Contact distance to Close Range. Your foe, of course, can use the above to engage with you, and if he wants to Move and Attack (forgoing defenses) he can do it on one turn. This does assume the endless featureless plain, which is a bad assumption. It’s plausible to force some sort of skill test – an Evade action or something – to simulate getting out of more constrained surroundings. Or even disallowing extending the range at all past a certain band.

Boring Boring Boring – It’s about time

If you have characters at all ranges, then you can easily get situations where, for example, it takes your sniper, kickin’ out there at 500 yds from the main battle, 100 turns to get to contact distance. It will take about 70 turns to shorten to Long. Table below.

Band Distance Shorten
Contact 3 yds 1
Close 10 yds 1 3 1 s
Short 30 yds 3 10 3s
Medium 100 yds 10 30 10 s
Long 300 yds 30 100 30 s
Extreme 1000 yds 100 300 1.5 min
Maximum 3000 yds 300 1000 5 min

So instead of that, if you have some nicely discrete groups that are not engaged in turn-by-turn combat (shooting or attacking every turn, or close to it), simply compress the time scale by the amount shown above, looking at the scale of the band you want to transition to. So one 30s turn in transition, and a second 30s turn brings you from Extreme to Long range. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough.
Parting Shot
The point here is to allow either the range bands from Action, or the more hex-friendly ones here, as a half-step between mapped combat and mapless combat. Some degree of relative groupings of combatants. Some notion of how far and how long it takes to get from place to place. And something that can be drawn out on a piece of paper with a few largish hexes – one that allows placing minis or markers in zones to allow rough situational awareness.