Over at Mailanka’s Musing, he throws down a fun post, akin to my Technical Natasha effort, describing the fight between Luke and Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.

It’s a good breakdown, and worth the read.
One thing that came up in the comments was the frequency of blade-to-blade pushing. This is, I believe, referred to as corps-a-corps in fencing and GURPS. 
It’s what happens when you get grip-to-grip, in close combat. Lacking something on your blade to bind the other, or an actual grapple, this tends to not last long, and end with no small amount of blood.

In the various Star Wars movies, though, it goes beyond that. Combatants will frequently stand blade-locked, saber-to-saber. Usually snarling. It does make for dramatic cinema, of course. All that straining. It shows up over and over, too. It was in The Phantom Menace, with an iconic scene of Maul catching both of his Jedi foe’s lightsabers on his staff-saber, and holding them there. It was in Empire, as Luke strains against Vader and Vader contemptuously shoves him away. It was in The Force Awakens. It was all over the place in The Clone Wars and even in Rebels.

We do this all the time, by the way, in Hwarang Kumtoogi, the variant of Korean sword-sport that is practiced in Hwa Rang Do. It’s very close-in work, and used to deny the advantage of reach and proper form for a strike. 

What it’s not, at least when done correctly, is an all-out strain-fest. It’s probing pushes and bumps, looking for a break in rhythm Hwarang Kumtoogi allows dropping to the knees to do leg strikes, so that’s how this usually ends.

But in Star Wars it seems more than that. It seems so much more that I would suggest it’s something perhaps even unique to Star Wars, to lightsabers, or just as a mechanical way of representing something that’s somewhat iconic to the Star Wars lightsaber fighting method.

It’s a grapple

Specifically, it’s usually initiated after a grappling parry, but can also be forced by the combatant. It binds the blades in place without the need for an actual grip, due perhaps to the interaction between the blades themselves. (Blah, blah squishy physics, blah.)

But by simulating it as a grapple, you get two key side-effects. 

  • It becomes largely a contest of strength, or control points, which are derived from Trained Strength.
  • It simulates why people don’t just back up or disengage – they cannot.

This was just a though inspired by Daniel’s post. But treating this blade bind as a grapple that you can pull off with either a dedicated attack or the grappling equivalent of an aggressive parry would pretty fairly simulate the movies, and make good use of the GURPS rules without invoking lost fingers and limbs through actual grapples, which in a light-saber context, as well as with Telekinetic force users, might be pretty stupid.

Over on Dungeon Fantastic, +Peter V. Dell’Orto has a rules thought about doing the Feint maneuver a bit differently. Go read it. I’ll wait.

His overall thought boils down to that the Feint is an enabling roll, that all you have to do is win the quick contest. High skill just makes winning that much more sure, but it is a quick contest, so not entirely sure.

Then, the next attack you throw, whatever penalties you throw at him via the usual mechanism of Deceptive Attack (usually -2 to hit for -1 to defend) are doubled, effectively making it -1 to hit for every -1 to defend.

Overall, I like this. It preserves the power of the Feint (-1 to hit for -1) but doesn’t require additional book-keeping from turn to turn. You just know that you get double-plus good deceptive attacks. All the usual caveats apply for hit location, target size, etc. So that’s business as usual, and right there, in the moment, you can just figure your attack.

Setup Attacks

Back in Pyramid #3/52, I published an article called Delayed Gratification, which introduces the concept of the Setup Attack. Basically, if you throw a deceptive attack – a real honest-to-goodness attack, that can hit and do damage – you can either take your penalty to hit this turn (which is how Deceptives usually work), or you can delay the impact, and take it next turn. And this stacks with any Deceptive Attack you might throw that turn too. This is the classic “I lead with a jab to the face, and when he raises his guard to parry the blow, I kick him in the stomach!” type stuff. The key bit here is that a Setup Attack is an actual attack. It could conceivably hit, impale, and kill your foe if you get lucky with that rapier thrust to the face. 

So, on the negative side, book-keeping. You need to remember that you deceptive-attacked last turn on that guy for -2 to defend, because it stacks with whatever you do this turn. So Peter’s option is superior from that perspective from a mechanics perspective. In a wild melee with 30 guys on the GM’s side of the screen, that’s not nothing.

Peter’s method turns the swinginess of the Quick Contest into a win/lose switch. We briefly discussed making it a Regular Contest, which he responded to (mostly) correctly as “Regular Contests suck.” Mostly because the fundamental conceit of the Regular Contest – that you must win and your foe must fail – is solid. But the best way to do it is to normalize the lower score to 10, and let the higher score float, and icky math in play, so forget it. Also, there’s a legit point that the Quick Contest is simply the right tool for the job here – you just need to be better than the other guy, and margin of success does that quite well.

The advantage of the Setup Attack is not one with Game Design logic, but rather emergent behavior in play. It’s a real attack. It’s easy to envision, easy to play, your foe has to potentially spend a defense, or expend a retreat, to deal with it. It’s not a position shift or a fake-out – it’s an honest to God punch to the face, leg, or whatever. Plus, it preserves the net power of the Feint by allowing the two deceptive attacks to stack, which can give the same -1 to defend for every -1 you take impact of a feint if you can stack deceptive attacks on each other. It also allows you to do things like take a -6 deceptive attack THIS turn, and then if that’s successful, to use thatat -6 to attack (say) the neck at -5 and be at a net +1 to skill. It lets you do more with your skill more reliably, but at a slower pace, than if you had to deceptive attack and attack on the same turn, or trading zero damage for the feint with a single strike the following turn. 

Downside? You can only do this with Defensive Attacks if you want to preserve your defenses turn-to-turn with U-Parry weapons.

Parting Shot

Ultimately, both Setup Attack and Peter’s Alternate Feint can easily co-exist in the same game. They work differently, represent different things, and don’t step on each other’s toes. 

I have previously seen griping about Feints, both from a “they suck!” and a “they’re too awesome!” perspective. Plus Peter’s note that “they’re too swingy!”

Both his and my options address this somehow, by tying them ultimately to the attack roll. I tend to prefer the attack/defense mechanic for most things, and both Peter and I have discussed a “No Contest” variant of GURPS where we try and eliminate contests in favor of attack/defense rolls everywhere. That never got off the ground (busy, and uncertain gain for a lot of work).

But I like the Alternate Feint mechanic he’s proposed. It gets the swingy out of it by making it a binary yes/no, but preserves the effects of the option by doubling down on the Deceptive Attack bonus. It’s a form of Delayed Gratification that I can get behind, and I think it coexists well with the Setup Attack option I wrote a ways back.

A question on reddit had me thinking. It was asking about swinging a sword in a confined environment, one yard wide. Another commenter noted – and I agree – that no, you can’t swing sideways, but you certainly can use the vertical, if the ceiling is tall enough.

Then I thought:

Overhead Strike

Seen very frequenlty in sports swordsmanship such as kendo and variants, this overhead-only strike is treated – always – as a Committed Telegraphic Attack to the skull. At -7 for location and +4 for the Telegraphic and +2 for committed, The blow has the following stats:

  • Roll at Skill-1 to hit; a miss by 1 hits the torso instead (specifically the shoulders if it matters)
  • The defender is at +2 to any active defense used against the attack
  • The attacker may not parry, and is at -2 to block or dodge
  • It does normal swing damage
  • It can be used in narrow confines so long as the ceiling has a height equal to the Reach of the weapon as it’s being employed plus the height of the character

Why do this? Well, for one thing, it’s pretty common to have a set of go-to attacks. For some sports, such as kendo or my own Hwarang Kumtoogi (which adds the legs as targets and spinning strikes), target selection is very limited, and in order to score a point, you usually have to show proper spirit. It’s not enough to simply get the “blade” on someone in a notionally lethal fashion, you have to yell, and stomp, and hit a very particular area with emphasis. Also, the attack is given a lot of emphasis, so something more than Attack might be warranted.
The Committed thing is iffy, but sensible to try and cancel the -7 for hits to the skull; even so, Skill-3 isn’t awful, and you miss an awful lot in kendo. Even if you “hit,” you can miss if your target is off by a bit or your form is off. That depends on the judges, but formal scoring and matches might be on a heck of a lot smaller than -7, maybe even -8 or -9, good enough for maybe a 1″-2″ wide, 3-5″ long stripe on the forehead on the top of the helmet. Advanced judges can be that picky.
The real use here is as part of a short stable of moves that you pre-calculate in order to speed play. While “any strike, any time” has some Bruce Lee-ish charm, it’s better to pick a set of favored attacks that you tend to utilize based on the character’s personality. Mostly, you pick from that set. Sure, sometimes you go off the reservation, but mostly you don’t.
As an example, in Hwarang Kumtoogi, you have standing strikes to the top of the head (-7), forearms (treat as half the arm, or -3), and the belly (treat the target area as -2), and a small patch of protection on the throat that’s maybe 2″ x 3″ square. Let’s call that -8, and you can only thrust. Finally, you can attack the thighs (again at -3) if you strike while kneeling. You will Feint, Feint-and-Attack, or use Setup Attacks to draw your opponent’s guard off. And you may add Spinning Strike to the above. You will often use Telegraphic Attack. You cannot make Telegraphic Deceptive Attacks; the effects of all the blade movement and tricky stuff will be handled as feints. 

My article in this latest issue of Pyramid, The Broken Blade, presents an alternate framework for weapon breakage based more or less on looking at the HP of the weapon in question. In fact, the basis for the calculations I did was to (say) compare the HP of a sword (2-4 lbs of steel) to some figure of damage that would approximately 1.44 times that number if it were to risk breaking that sword.

1.44 times what? Well, that’s the cube root of 3, or the HP of an object that weighs three times that of the weapon.

Anyway, I wanted something that would take that “three times the weight of the parrying weapon” rule from the Basic Set, and make that something where it was related to the raw damage coming in. In melee combat, at least, an extra point of Strength is an extra point of swing damage, and a half-point of thrust. That settled the basic principle.
Continue reading “Shields Will Be Splintered (Shields in The Broken Blade)”

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!

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.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto has an interesting note today about the challenges of the Retreat defensive option when using mapless combat. It’s worth a read.

I was intrigued by the option of just always giving people the benefit of increased defenses, the +1 for retreating for a parry/block, or the +3 for Dodge (or parry when using Karate, Judo, and Boxing).

Doing this will slow the game down, because there will be fewer hits and more trading of blows. Of course, I wrote The Last Gasp explicitly to slow the game down – or at least encourage pauses between frantic bits of action.

But these blog pages have seen a great deal of dialog on the subject of Evaluate, as well. In particular, the GURPS 301: Evaluate segment of Melee Academy.

Rereading my own work, I really like the idea of boosting basic “I’m standing there” defenses so that that “whoever attacks first is likely to win” flavor is diminished. In fact, one of the concepts that has been floating around for a bit is “Fully Enabled Defense,” which has you roll against full skill (or really, Skill-4) for defenses. One potential downside about that (which as Tbone notes is also present in every other contest or test of skill in GURPS other than those rolled vs half-skill, like parries) is that above Skill-14, defenses go up fast. 

Which brings me back to Evaluate. If you have naturally high defenses just by standing there, then some sort of Evaluate mechanic will be required before you start swinging.

In my suggestion to make effect rolls for Evaluate you’d want to double them (use swing instead of thrust) if using FEND type full defenses.

In any case, I think the base concept of increasing defenses at least for the first blow in a fight makes some sense, and for mapless combat, higher defenses also make sense since the players and foes will always take care to optimize their actions, and there’s little that’s obvious to stop them. 

Leveraging Tactics to back someone into a wall or on to difficult terrain would make a good alternate play here, too.

In any case, I like effect rolls, and I like the concept that you can start with higher defenses, but also with more opportunities to lower those defenses.

Setup Attacks are a deliberate opportunity to throw a blow that causes an opening. Treating Evaluate as an attack would allow “seeing what’s open” and then throwing an immediate attack as well at -6 to each while retaining defenses (or you can just Feint and Attack, if you don’t wish to retain defenses, or Feint, and then Attack, if you don’t mind taking two turns).

Based on my work with On Target, I’d probably not make the default of the Evaluate Per-based anymore, or allow DX or Per, which ever is better, for Evaluates. Looking for an opening is such a basic part of fighting that I’m not sure Per would be the right call here. 

Parting Shot

More on this later, perhaps. Suffice to say:

Peter’s comments about higher defenses in general are intriguing

I don’t necessarily care for a reasonably skilled warrior having a 50% chance (ish) to avoid an attack. Skill-12 is Parry-10 with a retreat. AoD, however, pushes this to Parry-12, for 75% effectiveness. That suggests something to me. again more later.

Defenses are on the rapid part of the bell curve in general. They tend to range from 7 to 11 for many characters, so small swings have big results. This probably makes for good games

Evaluate and target searching, either on attack or defense, is underutilized.

I like effect rolls, and I think bringing one into the Evaluate sequence would be a good way to increase the usage of that maneuver – it works very well in play for Aim, and it should have an equal impact for melee.

So I think there’s something here, but the Skill/2 type defense exists for a reason and has survived 30 years of play and playtest. I don’t think that’s just sacred cowishness.

A while ago, I took a stab at a Grand Unified Beat theory – basically a system for resolving beats that blends well with a bunch of other work, specifically working from the notion of building on Setup Attacks from Delayed Gratification, which I was poking at pretty hard at the time.

OK, but on a re-read, this is really fiddly. Not surprising – my desire to cover obscure circumstances or to add flavor can mean I drown the GM in modifiers.

Much like the Rules for Grappling Rules post, if we’re going to try and unify this and make it nicer, I need to follow my own advice.

Use What’s There

Rule #1 is simple – use existing mechanics where possible. If I can, I need to ensure that the usual flow of attack declaration, resolution, defenses, etc. is unchanged if it can be. Just more interesting outcomes. Use as few rolls as possible, and make the results intuitive to the user.

So, on the attacker’s side there’s an attack roll, and if successful, a damage roll. I’m going to take a page from the way we play online, though, for one small deviation that will hopefully have a lot of oomph to it: always roll damage with the attack. “I roll vs. a net of Broadsword-13 to hit, doing 2d+2 for 9 points cut if successful.”

On the defender’s side, there’s skill, a defense roll, and the ST rating of the weapon itself. Continue reading “Grand Unified Beat Theory 2”