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”

Edit: I do a lot of GURPS writing, but my audience is now broader than it used to be. That’s all to the good, of course. But: ST is Strength in GURPS. HT is Health. DX is Dexterity. HT and DX are 10 at the average, and relate to physical and mental robustness to physical effort and injury for HT, and the ability to control your body’s motions and objects – such as weapon attacks – for DX. ST is directly related to damage – each extra point of ST gives roughly an extra point of swung weapon damage – and sets your hit points (equal to ST) and lifting capacity (a function of the ST squared). So while a T-Rex and a squirrel can both have DX 11, HT 10 (as an example), that T-Rex might have ST 50, and the squirrel ST 1 or ST 2. One can and does make die rolls against ST in some cases, and in the past, I’ve noted that it wasn’t my favorite game mechanic.

Do I still not like ST rolls?

Yeah, I still think they need to die.

But a while ago, I penned a bit on grappling at low ST that had the right kind of thing going for it.

Recently, I’ve been noodling more on this, and there are some interesting concepts that have come to me that are not giving completely stupid results when I start to apply them.

So this will be about building the idea to see what happens.

Power Ratio

The key bit for a lot of this work is the concept of power ratio, or strength-to-weight ratio. The key bit, of course, is that a lot of the performance stuff we’re dealing with here is simply a measure of how much force you can apply (a function of ST), measured against the resistance to that force (an opposing fighter’s ST, or the weight of something you’re trying to lift).

Now, ratios in games can suck. But you can turn a ratio into a sum using logarithms, and a log-based table (the Size and Speed/Range table) is at the core of scaling in GURPS. So if there were a number that related to force or weight, then a quick comparison would then give you a figure for overmatch – basically whether you’ve got the ability to muster enough force to make the job easy or hard.

HT and DX 

The short version here is never roll against ST. ST provides a modifier for what you’re trying to do. But if you’re trying to see if you have the fortitude to pick something up, or are straining at max power against something, you’re rolling against HT. If you’re trying to manipulate things with precision, that’s DX, again penalized by how hard you have to work to simply lift it.

For lifting, higher HT should

Key Numbers

Whatever scaling I decide to use, the results should make sense based on normal GURPS results. Moving around something less than your basic lift should be easy. More than 8-10xBL should be hard. 15xBL (carry on back) More than 50x Basic Lift (the ‘shift slightly’ limit, p. B353) should be impossible or close to it.

The other thing that will have to be guarded against is having HT become the primary driver of lifting power rather than ST. This would be easy to see – if the penalties for climbing up a power ratio are mitigated more strongly by increasing HT than ST, you can have a case where it’s better to be ST 10, HT 20 in terms of lifting power than it is ST 20, HT 10.


As noted before, “use what’s there” when you can. This means that if we need a log table and we can get away with it, easy modifications to the Size and Speed/Range Table are where it’s at.

That we need to go from 1xBL as easy to 10xBL as hard suggests that the usual -6 penalty for a x10 increase in difficulty isn’t enough. Since the practical range is really 1xBL through 15xBL (7 steps on the SSR table) and we want 15xBL to be really, really hard even for someone of superlative HT, having x10 be somewhere like -9 through -12 would be in the right range.

-9 per x10 is 1.5x the SSR progression. That’s OK, but if you’re going to do logs and math, at that point you might just want to say 10xLog(Weight) so you can simply push one button on a calculator.

But -12 per x10 is interesting, because what it says is that you will need some sort of boost – lifting training or such – to HT rolls in order to max out lifting ability. That’s not tragic. We’ll have to be somewhat careful, though, as the typical penalty to act under 10xBL is -4 to Dodge. Since Dodge is based on Basic Speed, which it itself (DX+HT)/4, then to get to Dodge -4 based on penalties that are applied to each of DX and HT requires around -16 in total penalties, or -8 to each of DX and HT. -9 would work as well, and -10 would be Dodge -5 instead of -4.

So the -12 scaling rate would work OK if 1xBL were a roll at +4 and 10xBL is -8. Again, that seems to not be crazy-talk. 

And going from 10x BL to 50xBL? That’s another 4 steps on the SSR table, so it’d be an additional -8 penalty . . . -16 if we pegged the scale as it was before (that puts no penalty as 2xBL, more or less, for what it’s worth).

If we want to match the current encumbrance scaling, we’d set the no penalty level to 20 lbs (1xBL) and -8 at 200 lbs (10xBL). 50xBL would be -14 on that scale. 

The two scales are incompatible. Eventually, a choice will need to be made – likely making a straight-up roll vs some HT-based formula the equivalent of “combat” ability – do what you want, in one second, with no preparation, bracing, etc. And the equivalent of an All-Out bonus (maybe, hopefully equal to the usual +4 for AoA) to add the need to brace and prepare in order to lift high weights.

HT roll as a Parry equivalent

Basing the resistance roll for lifting on straight-up HT makes increasing HT too powerful. Making it something like 3+HT/2 helps mitigate it, as well as taking the bite out of lower HT.

So if we set zero penalty at 1xBL for ST 10, that is, 20 lbs, with that same scaling, some interesting things happen. I’ll explore those at a later date. So how are the results from a consistency perspective?

If we look at 3+HT/2 for a point where you’re rolling vs a 10 (50% chance to snag something easily with no bracing or prep), going from HT 10 to HT 20 boosts that (again, for ST 10) from 30 lbs (1.5xBL) to 70 lbs (3.5xBL). That’s for 100 points. For that same 100 points, you get to 120 lbs, which is 4x higher than the 30-ish lbs. you get at ST 10. So at this juncture, it’s still more efficient to boost ST than HT.

Lifting Skill

For a boost to HT based on training, when just looking at making the lift (can you do it on that attempt), I’d probably look to the Training Bonus used in Technical Grappling. So actual lifting skill in excess of DX would grant a bonus to the roll above (in effect, double bonus to HT). 

One could/should also consider NOT making it a straight roll, so that HT 11 and a +3 training bonus for Lifting skill at DX+2 is worthwhile – it pushes you to the equivalent of HT 14, and helps out with that “but odd values of HT suck for breakpoints!” thing.

In fact, I kinda like that.

Parting Shot

The dynamics of HT and ST just got a bunch more complex. The good news of eliminating ST rolls is balanced by a whole lot of potentially suspension of disbelief generating emergent behavior as the interactions of all of this are realized. 

This is a bit of a ground-up redsign of the ST and encumbrance rules. The usual penalties and bonuses for having a certain multiple of BL for break points and its impact on Dodge could easily turn into an all-out penalty to skill as well. That would turn heavy armor from “oh, that’s heavy, it impacts my Dodge” into “that’s crippling and hits my ability to do anything to a ridiculous degree.”

Perhaps easy to fix: that weight only impacts move and dodge, perhaps, and you only suffer DX penalties when trying to manipulate the entire weight. So you might be at -4 to DX and HT trying to throw  50 lbs of armor, but no penalty to DX and -2 to Dodge while wearing it.

The next step in bringing this into an actual system for rules would be to turn this around, and instead of using a spreadsheet to look at well-paced increments on the Size and Speed/Range table, to think about setting things up in terms of penalties based on Basic Lift.

The numbers will look weird. You’ll be looking at a 12-step progression – basically twice the resolution of the usual SSR table, and that means the progression to be memorized looks like this:

0 -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7 -8 -9 -10 -11 -12
1 1.25 1.5 1.75 2 2.5 3 4 5 6 7 8.5 10

with the bolded numbers being the usual SSR table. 

It’s a fairly punishing progression. A 50-lb load against a 20-lb basic lift is -5, which will wind up being about -2.5 to Dodge. That’s higher than the roughly -1.5 it is now (it’s really -2, since you’re above 2xBL). Favoring the defense by dropping fractions will be the order of the day here – already a departure from GURPS standard procedures. That would move the Dodge breakpoints to 

-1 to Dodge at higher than 1.5xBL (that’s a break for the player)
-2 to Dodge at higher than 2xBL (break even)
-3 to Dodge at 3xBL (same as usual)
-4 to Dodge at 5xBL (harsher than RAW)
-5 to Dodge at 7xBL (this level of penalty doesn’t even exist)
-6 to Dodge at 10xBL (quite a bit harsher than the usual -4)

At least that value is independent of HT; it’s just power ratio based which is good. The ability to lift weights at a given power ratio, at least in one turn? That becomes strongly HT-based. 

What that might turn into is to leave go any temptation of inflicting injury on a failed HT roll. Instead, you’ll be saying that a successful HT roll completes the lift. A failed one (maybe fail by less than a certain margin) means you move the weight but not to the full range of motion (that might be how we get from 10xBL to 50xBL for “shift slightly”). Only on a crit fail, or some sort of double botch (start the weight moving, then fail it, then fail a DX or HT roll to keep it stable or immobile or something) might you pull something, or try and drop the weight but drop it on yourself instead.

This is how I tinker with rules when I’m in full-on tweak mode. It ain’t pretty. It involves lots of trial-by-spreadsheet and Goal Seek and trial-and-error.

It usually winds up somewhere I like (see The Deadly Spring, The Last Gasp, On Target, etc). But sometimes, it doesn’t

There’s a pretty interesting thread over on the forums where someone was asking a bunch of questions about Martial Arts and Technical Grappling. So +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I are both happy.

But one point the author makes is that if you take two fighters, one ridiculously skilled and the other not-so-much, that as awesome as their parries get, their ability to make a non-contact avoidance move never goes up. 

Partly, this is my fault, in that in TG I clarified, and +Sean Punch either agreed or let stand, that if you want to avoid a blow and totally avoid all sorts of contact, you must dodge. In fact, we clarified the hell out of it in Technical Grappling, p. 22

Dodge (see pp. B374-375)

A successful dodge means the attack failed to connect at all.
Dodging is the only way to create a “clean” miss without contact,
important if you want to avoid effects transmitted by
touch, such as some spells, electrical attacks, or cooties.

With that, though, you get the situation that bugs the original poster:

. . . all other things being equal (Say DX 12, HT 12, BS 6, Dodge 9), both Boxers in the above example can dodge the punches from a JKD Guy (Karate-14) at the same exact chance for success:

Boxing-11 guy dodges on a 9 or lower (12 or lower on a retreat)
Boxing-20 guy dodges on a 9 or lower (12 or lower on a retreat)

 So DX 12 is 40 points, HT 12 is 20. Boxing 11 is DX-1, for 1 point. Boxing-20 is DX+8, for 32 points.

Just Buy Enhanced Dodge

There is, of course, Enhanced Dodge, for 15 points per +1. Exchanging some of that extra Boxing skill for dodge would get you (say) Dodge-10 and Boxing-16. Still not too shabby, and a good, balanced fighter.

You might be able to push it, though, and say that your training only gives enhanced Dodge versus melee attacks to the head and torso – the legal attacks in boxing. Bows and arrow, bullets, Muay Thai kicks to the legs? Nuh-uh. 

Maybe that’s 8 per level instead of 15, which would mean that for a very specific set of attacks, you get +2 Dodge instead of +1 for 16 points. Now you’re Boxing-16 and Dodge-11, Dodge-14 with a retreat.

That’s not bad.

Trained . . . Dodge?

Getting a bonus to dodge due to combat skill isn’t crazy talk. A precision eye for reach and distance is one of the trained skills of boxing. 

Hey, did I hear Trained Something?

Let’s see. By the usual Trained ST progression, you get +5 to your ST if you have a skill of DX+10. That will usually cost around 40 points, which is good for +5 to Dodge using my limitations above, but about +2 if you buy enhanced Dodge straight-up. 

Maybe you wind up halving the Trained progression, drop fractions, and adding it to the Melee-only Dodge above, or quartering it for all dodge. So you need to get to DX+7 in Boxing (as an example) and you can pick up +2 to Melee-only Dodge, and (or?) +1 to all Dodge. That’s a maximum of 15 or 16 points of benefit there, which isn’t overpowering.

Non-Contact Parry

Perhaps the simplest way to do this would be to just assume or declare that no, Dodge is not the only way to do a non-contact Parry. Some possibilities would be:

  • If you make your Parry by 3 or more (the equivalent of a fancy retreat), then you have avoided contact on the blow. You still take no damage on a successful parry, but if your foe is throwing Deathtouch or something, you need to either be that good, or back up, or both.
  • All-Out Defense (Non-Contact Parry). If you go full-defensive, you don’t get the +2, but your parries qualify as not making contact this exchange.
  • Telegraphic Defense – again, your parries don’t count as making contact if successful, but your next attack is at -4 due to how much movement you’re putting into your stance. This one’s pretty weak, I admit.

Parting Shot

Well, for one, I’m trying to get back into actual GURPS content posts now that VR is winding down. 

But it struck me that the poster on the thread had a legit point, and telling a player what is basically “hey, for every point you spend in Boxing, reserve a point for Enhanced Dodge” might not be well received . . . even if it’s accurate. 

GURPS already gives perhaps too little credit to overall spatial awareness for fighters crossing over disciplines. I could easily see using something like the Trained ST progression to give a skill-based bonus to Dodge, either from your best skill, or perhaps using the skill that’s thrown at you. So boxers dodge punches with their Boxing Trained Dodge, but kicks using Brawling or Karate if they have it. You’d need some sort of weapon skill to get Trained Dodge from a weapon.

But the notion of having so many points dumped into a combat skill floating some of that bonus to Dodge? Not crazed. After all, the damage bonus one gets for Boxing or Karate is up to +2 points per die of damage – the equivalent of about a 60% boost to ST. Getting a defensive benefit either in addition to, or in lieu of, the offensive boost has a certain amount of logic to it. 

Originally in Technical Grappling, Grip ST – how many dice you get to roll when you grab someone – was figured differently. During revision, it was changed, and during playtest, it was altered, folder, spindled, and mutilated.

Ultimately, I decided to go with a precise way to combine limbs when grappling. Figure out the contribution in pounds of force (represented by Basic Lift) of each limb or pair of limbs depending on bioloty, add ’em up as Basic Lift, and figure out the ST required to produce that level of Basic Lift.

The advantage here is that it didn’t produce insane numbers, and it also gave a great way to figure out the grappling power applied when you’re dogpiled by seven kobolds or something. Take their Trained ST, square each one, add that value up, and take the square root.

But ew. Hot mess at the table, with or without the handy chart.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have looked at some of this, and found a nice solution for certain parts. But ArchonShiva over at Further Up the Spire has come up with a fast way to work it. It might not be accurate in all cases, but it’s way more tractable at the table.

So go check out Manageable Grip ST in Technical Grappling and see what he’s all about.   

Had an interesting question from +Mark Langsdorf about a situation that arose in his Mecha Against the Giants campaign. 

A SM+2 mecha (6 tons, ST85, Basic Lift 0.72 tons) wanted to curb-stomp a downed giant leader. That leader is SM+4, weighs 12 tons, and is ST160. He’s also got Wrestling at DX+4, which is a +3 bonus per ST 10, or basically +30% to ST.  The giant has a crippled leg (and a wounded arm) as well. If they actually grapple, the giant will be at +2 to DX and +30% to ST or Trained ST when grapplling due to the difference in relative size modifier.

They’re using the Technical Grappling rules for extreme grappling awesomeness. 

So here’s the situation: the mecha kicks at the giant, and the giant successfully performs a one-handed grabbing parry. The question was, basically, what the hell happens, and what should the giant do next?

Grabbing Parry

Grabbing Parry was a modification and generalization of Hand Catch from Martial Arts, and has some similarities with Aggressive Parry. You defend at some significant penalties (-2 to start, and then more for what you’re trying to actually parry, and very, very high penalties if you’re defending against weapons. 

Even so, many grappling parries are one-handed, and the point of a Grappling Parry is not, in fact, to get an awesome grip. It’s to get even a 0 CP grip, so that you don’t have to make a separate attack roll to achieve a grapple on your own turn. You can proceed to improve your grip, change position or orientation, attempt a lock, etc. 

For those reasons, the CP inflicted by the Grabbing Parry are limited to ST/2 (the assumption for unimproved one-handed ST) with no training bonus. You also don’t get any boosts for relative size modifier until after you’ve already secured a grapple.

In this case, the giant will be rolling vs a one-handed ST 80, with no training or size bonuses. That’s 9d control points. The following turn, his own turn, he’s now grappling, and all the skill and size bonuses apply.

This means:

Two-Handed Trained ST: ST 160 x 1.3 (from Wrestling at DX+4) and another 30% boost from +2 relative size modifier means his final ST vs the mecha, with two hands, is ST 208 with a training bonus of +48 (that’s separated out for a reason), for a total two-handed Trained ST of ST 256.

With a one-handed grapple, you start with ST 80, but the training bonus is supposed to be a flat add, for ST 128, and then the size boost would make a one-handed Trained ST 166.

Making the Training Bonus path dependent made sense when I wrote it, but does make the math a bit more cumbersome. 

Anyway, a successful Grabbing Parry allows an initial 9d CP (average about 31 or 32 CP), and the ST of the mecha means he’s at -1 DX for ever 16 CP applied. So the grabbing parry will, on the average apply about a -2 penalty to the DX of the mecha from the get-go.

The Follow Up

On the giant’s turn, if he can do so, he’ll want to attack with a two-handed grapple. He’s prone (but maybe he has Ground Fighting), but skilled. At worst he’s probably rolling at DX to DX+4.

But he’s got a grapple, so there’s no reason not to double the awesome and just go right for a Leg Lock. This is an attack roll with his Lock technique, which defaults to flat Wrestling. A two-handed grapple will lock the mecha’s leg and inflict 26d extra CP. That’s an extra 91 CP, making a total of about 122 CP, which will be -7 to DX from the grapple on the leg. 

With such high penalties, the mecha will be hard pressed to successful parry.

Next (or even at the same time, if Mr. Giant wants to Rapid Strike or All-Out Attack (Double) and lose his defenses) it’s in the giant’s best interests to establish a weight advantage. The giant’s weight of 12 tons much exceeds the mecha’s 0.72-ton basic lift, and so establishing a weight advantage will put the mecha at a -13 penalty based on exceeding the 16xBL threshold on p. 8.

In fact, the weight advantage is so advantageous that it’s probably a better move overall than establishing some sort of fancy-pants leg lock.

If the giant can establish the weight advantage, the mecha will be at a huge penalty to do any sort of mass-based move, or resist one – explicitly including attacking to break free. Between the CP from any sort of leg lock, plus the penalties due to the mass, well . . . the “pin” may have been removed formally, but at this point the mecha will likely be pretty helpless.

To make it worse, the giant can attempt a takedown, and since that’s a mass-based move, the mecha is still at -13 to resist it in the Quick Contest. 

Parting Shot

Ultimately, what this shows is that mass matters, and being outmassed by 2x, with another 2x difference in ST (and 4x in lifting power) means that getting grabbed by such a foe is going to render you pretty powerless to resist.

I found the same thing when grappling a guy who outmassed me by about 50% at the time, and he was certainly not double my ST either, but while I was able to grapple with him pretty effectively using skill and agility (but I wasn’t allowed to choke him out or torque his limbs, since he was a beginner), when he got on top of me by throwing his weight around, he rapidly crushed me under his weight, leaving me pretty helpless, especially since pressure point techniques and other things that didn’t rely on strength, leverage, and weight were forbidden to me.

But still: the mecha is doubly in trouble. He’s been the victim of a grappling parry by a stronger, heavier foe. If he can’t escape, either through a Change Position maneuver, or a follow-up grapple or lock, he’s rapidly going nowhere fast, even with a foe with a crippled leg.

I got a great comment on the Bow ST thing by +Sean Powell, a fellow engineer and archery enthusiast. So I decided to make a post out of my responses to his comments. My responses to his comments will be in blue italics. His stuff is in black bold.

I’ve only been the occasional GURPS fantasy player (GURPS makes a better superheroes game IMHO and there are plenty of systems for swords and sorcery

This might be the first time I’ve ever heard of GURPS as a preferred system for supers over certainly swords and maybe sorcery!

You got the math right. (Yay math!)

After all the work on The Deadly Spring, I hope I can get E = ½ F^2/K correct. J

It’s nice seeing someone use historic data to number-crunch a game for realism. (Yay game realism!)

When I did The Deadly Spring, I researched it somewhere between quite a bit and very heavily. I read scientific papers on bow physics, at least seven or eight books on making and shooting bows of various cultures, as well as empirical trials, such as the much-loved Defense Academy Warbow Trials. I even corresponded over email with one of that study’s authors. I also paid attention – even where I thought the cases were overstated – to the many articles about armor and how it’s impervious to nuclear weapons when made by the proper medieval craftsmen.

OK, I embellish. But between the stories of bows punching through battleship belt armor and someone wearing tin foil mail being impervious to a 200-lb. warbow firing a 1,500-grain arrow, I covered the gamut of bows being the deadliest weapon to not worth using if the other guy is armored at all. I wound up striking a balance that one known armor aficionado mentioned approvingly as a good one: that a strong warbow could punch through moderate mail (DR 3-5 in GURPS terms) some of the time, but not much more. This led to the 130# longbow being pegged at about 1d+1 or so, which would make it fail vs DR 5 and higher. Plate of 1mm (DR2-3) would be vulnerable to strong bows,  but 2mm and higher would basically be nearly impervious, and certainly provide massive protection against even the strongest warbows.

In any case, the fact that we could turn Joules of energy into something that could be calibrated against firearms to some extent (take a 11.43mm bullet like a .45ACP with 475J, basically 2d penetration, and compare with an 11m arrow with 160J, and tell me how any arrow will do more than 2d penetration?) made for a nice well-supported touchstone.

I’m not a terribly strong person being a desk-jockey with arm-chair spread but it takes a fair amount of conditioning for me to maintain strength to draw my bow consistently.

The need for sport-specific exercise, as well as technique, is frequently present in the real world, but hard to model fairly in GURPS. Can be done, though, as I hope my article showed.

Very few other recreational archer I meet can consistently draw my bow even if they are very good shots with lighter bows. (They also think I’m nuts) and the ones who can already shoot ELB or self-bows.

Yeah – I’ve heard too many stories of guys that can bench press 350lbs that can’t draw a 100-lb. bow, even though ST 14 probably accounts for the ability to do both. Again: sport-specific. Pushing vs. either pulling or pull/push. I bet the archer couldn’t press 350 either. Apples and oranges.

Having read the accounts from Crece, Agincort, Poitiers and the Mary rose find along with others I don’t think that the Mary rose held an atypical selection of archers.

Me either, but the Mary Rose had a few hundred bows, and there were, what? 5,000 bowmen at Agincourt? So not truly representative. But on the other tentacle, to reach out to the 230yds that was “within bowshot” enough to be militarily significant at Agincourt, you need a strong bow.

My spreadsheet puts a 130# bow firing a 0.2-lb arrow (about 1,500 grains) with a max range of about 245yards. A 100# bow firing an 1,150-gr arrow will reach to just shy of 230-yards.

A 915-gr flight arrow would (by the same sheet) reach to about 265 yards, but be basically no threat to anyone on an armored region (I suspect 1d+2(0.5) would be about right for that, good for harassment but not a threat to an armored foe with more than DR 3).

Still, it supports the notion that at least a ST 14 (98-lb) bow would have been somewhere between the minimum and a decent average for the “fire at 230 yards” to have the equivalent meaning as “fire for effect.”

If the Mary Rose held typical archers and the typical archer could pull in the 160-180 lb range then we as modern men are WEAKLINGS! I only know 1 or 2 modern archers who can draw in that range consistently and they aren’t really that strong at other tasks. Meanwhile the people I know who are generally strong can span my bow a few times but not hold it without shaking and they aren’t capable of drawing the historic draw weights.

I suspect that when you have about 800,000 men available (population of England in 1400 estimated to be about 2.5 million people) getting 5,000 archers that can draw strong bows is not a problem when your national policy reflects the need. That is a very specific kind of strength, and given the “train his grandfather” trope, I suspect that kids started on light bows and drew progressively heavier ones.

The human body is very good at repetitive exercise, and this is the sort of thing that should respond well to modern training methods – if we didn’t care about skeletal deformation and out-of-balance musculo-skeletal development!

It seems the only way to draw and shoot bows in that poundage is to develop a special dedicated set of muscles (not just generally strong) and that set of dedicated muscles comes from a lifetime of bow training.

Yeah, this!

Which leaves us with: Historically the solution may be ‘trained strength’ even if that does not fit with game mechanics and game balance as easily… BUT you might consider access to certain regional/society/racial perks (Born Welsh or Raised in Mongolia)that could reduce that cost or provide a cumulative bonus if maintaining historical accuracy was very important to you.

Trained ST as it’s given in Technical Grappling and to a lesser extend in The Last Gasp is a full-body strength that is basically the ability to apply leverage, force, and weight dynamically against a resisting opponent. That’s why the +50% (ish) boost to ST requires you to get to DX+10 in order to leverage that.

Drawing a bow is not quite so dynamic. You don’t have to worry about being picked up and thrown suddenly, or doing it on the move. You set up, plunk your arrows into the earth in front of you, and fire one every ten seconds (!) in a lather, rinse, repeat motion, in order to replicate battle tactics (not FRPG fighting!) as described at Agincourt, Crecy, and the like.

As such, the Technique-based logic that makes drawing a heavy bow a matter of fairly mild point expenditure makes sense to me. The ONLY thing it applies to is . . . drawing a heavy bow. Not lifting your friends to safety, climbing walls or a rope, wrestling, or swinging a sword. Nor does it impart hit points. So if all of that is 10 points per level, then the ability to pull a bow of a given power is going to be much less than that. If you can pull a bow but not even carry heavy weights (Lifting ST at 3/level) then at the lowest you’re dealing with about 1/level (a -60% limitation on lifting ST) and at most you’re talking 2/level (-60% on Striking ST).

I like the idea of cancelling skill penalties when drawing heavy bows rather than boosts to ST, though, since it preserves the maximum amount of the RAW and tends to avoid arguments about what else ST might be good for. It’s good for one thing: cancelling penalties. This would include penalties to hold a bow at full draw, though – something that is touched on in The Deadly Spring when it comes to aiming a bow.

(This reminds me of a deleted scene in the movie Gladiator, where the Emporer is monologuing in front of a guy who he’s going to execute, all the while his archers are behind him with shaking arms and full-drawn bows, looking really panicked about it.)

When I wrote The Deadly Spring, I pegged the strongest bow that humans pulled at about 200 pounds draw. I saw lots of bows in history in the 170-190# range, but not much more than about 200#. Mongol composite bows of as much as 165#, the strongest bow on the Mary Rose was about 185#.

OK, that was the strongest bow. Great. Well, if we tag bow draw weight to basic lift, putting a 200# bow drawn to about 30-32″ at (Lifting) ST 20 made some degree of sense. Well, if we do that, it naturally puts a ST 10 bow at a factor of 4x less, so a ST 10 bow would be a 50-lb. bow, that is, something eminently suitable for hunting animals.

That all seemed to fall out quite nicely, even putting a 20-lb. kid’s bow at ST 6 or so (and ST 8 bow at about 32 lbs, which would be the women’s Olympic norm).

Still, that has the interesting and unwanted side effect that to draw what seems to be a moderate power warbow judging (perhaps wrongly) by the samples reconstructed from the Mary Rose (the average was what by this scale would be a ST 17 bow), one has to be extremely strong. ST 17 is 1d+2 thrust and 3d-1 swing as raw damage, so our hero would do 1d+3 imp with a “regular” bow and 3d+1 cut with an axe, or 3d with a broadsword.

That’s serious hurt.

Really? ST 17?

Well, not entirely. The Strongbow perk lets you draw that bow with “only” ST 15 if you have your Bow skill at DX+2. You can also justify 2-3 levels of the perk “Special Exercises: Arm ST” as a dedicated archer. That brings your overall ST requirement down to 4-5 levels below the draw requirement, or ST 12-13.

Not unreasonable, but if we assume that a 175# bow (about ST 19) isn’t that rare, it means there were a whole lot of ST 14-15 (plus Strongbow plus special exercises) people were kickin’ around England in Ye Merrieye Oldee Tymes.


There are a couple ways to go about this one, though, if you don’t care for this outcome.


Not everyone that is good with a bow is good with a really powerful bow. You could be relatively weak but not practiced in the art of, well, pulling really strong springs. It should be possible to be DX+Lots in bow skill but not necessarily be able to pull a hugely powerful bow.

Note: the following options are a bit stream of consciousness, and not ordered by preference. They’re just coming out as I type. If this were a published article, I’d pick the best options and cull the rest. 

One possibility is to allow multiple levels of Strongbow. Each point doubles the bonus for getting to DX+2 in Bow. So 5 points would give you +5 to the ST of the bow you can draw at DX+1, and +10 at DX+2. So a ST 10 archer with DX+1 skill could draw a ST 15 (113#) bow, and DX+2 could draw a 200# bow (!).

The downside of this is that for a relatively low cost (DX+2 is 8 points, and 5 points for Strongbow 5) you put a 2d-1 base damage bow in the hands of just about anyone (2d regular bow, 2d+1 longbow).

Of course, that’s 2d+1 imp every second or third round. For the same 10 points, your ST 11 guy does 1d+1 cut every round by swinging a shortsword, and 1d+3 cut with an axe. That’s not hugely imbalanced, considering ranged attacks require a much higher skill for equal effectiveness.

I suspect allowing just this won’t break anything.

Drawing Powerful Bows

There are two mentions of this in the Basic Set, as mentioned here by +Cole Jenkins, and one in Low-Tech on p. 75. This seems to supersede p. B270 but frankly does so in a confusing way due to the problems talked about in Inefficient Springs, below.

So let’s use the usual rules for doing things at lower ST than required: -1 skill per -1 ST and a fatigue penalty at the end of the battle. So a ST 12 (reasonable) archer pulling a ST 17 bow will act at -5. But they’ll be aiming (+2 or +3 to hit) for at least 2 seconds (an extra +1) and shooting at an area, not a point target. While you might traditionally go for +4 to hit a hex, you might also say that a battle line might be +10 to hit, if you’re just launching into a 50yd x 100yd box. So even someone using a bow at DX+2 (call it Bow-12) at 250yds (-13) would be at a net flat skill. Sure, you’re not Robin Hood, but Henry V is thought to have had a million arrows on hand with his forces at Agincourt.

Shoot all you want, miss some, no problem. Just drop an arrow into the box 75% of the time every six seconds or so.

Inefficient Springs

Drawing an overstrength bow seems like a good idea in GURPS, and if you assume that you can simply pull the thing back to full draw and you just get inaccurate and a bit tired, you’re good.

But I suspect that’s not how it works. You’re as strong as you are, and if you can’t exert 145# of force come hell or high water, you can’t pull the bow back to full draw. For a basically linear bow, like many self-bows (but not recurves, reflex bows, or compound bows), the linear spring assumption where draw force is a constant times draw length isn’t spectacularly awful, and is close to correct.

That means that if F = K x D (K is constnant, D is draw length), then normally you’d put energy into the bow equal to roughly half of F x D, assuming that F is the max force at the full draw.Or F squared divided by K.

But if you’re only strong enough to draw the bow halfway back (D/2 and F/2) then you’re putting energy into the bow equal to F-squared / 4 K.

So drawing a full-strength bow halfway back is not the same as drawing a bow of appropriate poundage the entire way back. In fact, it’s got half the energy, or roughly 70% of the penetrating power (b/c GURPS does penetration with guns as sqrt(KE)).

So if you do (say) 1d+3 with a ST 17 bow at full draw, and 1d+1 with a ST 14 bow at full draw, you will not do 1d+1 with a ST 17 bow being drawn by someone of ST 14 – it should be more like ST 12, for 1d. Probably a nice -1 per die damage penalty would work here. So if you take a very strong bow that you can only pull as ST 12 (1d for a regular bow), you’ll hit for 1d-1 instead.

Strongbow II

Another way to go with Strongbow is to treat it like a Technique. You normally take a -1 penalty to skill for every -1 ST you have. Use Strongbow to buy this off.

This would allow a ST 10 person to draw a ST 20 bow at full skill for 10 points, because you’re buying off a -10 to skill. This is a restated variation on an idea presented here.

That nicely uses the Technique rules (used for buying off penalties to skill), doesn’t require a huge investment in ST other than that required for character concept, but gives a minor cost to pulling a powerful bow. It also decouples skill at hitting point targets with the ability to pull powerful bows – maybe a feature, maybe a bug. If you have ST 12 and 5 points in the Strongbow Technique, you can fire at full skill a bow up to ST 17. Not extra skill, but full skill.

Going Non-Linear on ya

Another way to go would be to consciously couple skill and the ability to draw a powerful bow, such that you could keep archers’ ST in the 10-14 range but still hit a ST 18 bow. That would basically allow Strongbow to scale more. +1 to ST for each point of relative skill from DX to DX+3 (say), so that at ST 14 (2x in basic lift) and DX+3 (12 points expended, or +4 lifting ST for bows only) plus the Strongbow perk to represent pulling powerful bows (and what you might get for spending the points in Bow and ST to pull it to begin with) you could basically have a strong guy pulling a 160# bow, or an average one pulling a ST 14 (100#) bow, generally considered an entry-level warbow.

Trained ST

I’d be remiss if I didn’t just say “treat Strongbow like Trained ST,” which would allow up to +5 to the ST for pulling a bow at DX+10 – but that has the undesirable side-effect that you have to get to DX+10 to pull a heavy bow.

So anyone that can pull a ST 15 bow with only ST 10 raw has Bow-20? Really?

No. Much as I loves me my Trained ST, this one doesn’t work. Or rather, doesn’t work as the only solution. This couples well with Strongbow as a perk (see what I did?) for spending the 40 points in skill for getting to DX+10, but not as the only way to get there.

Parting Shot

I think overall I prefer Strongbow II and the extra damage penalty of -1 per die for shooting a bow in excess of what you can draw.  It plays well with the rules, gives an incentive to meet or exceed the ST of a bow you’re pulling, and doesn’t make archers even yet more painful to play than they already are.

I’m actually a bit surprised I didn’t do this on Thursday when I talked about Lifting ST and Striking ST and ranged weapons. But it came up tangentially on a thread on the forums about powerful warbows and how pulling a high ST bow couldn’t have been that unusual if states could field thousand of archers, and one ship had 200+ bows with draw weights ranging from 100-185#. (That would be the Mary Rose, of course.)

But what about Trained ST?

The concept of Trained ST for bows already exists in a limited form in the form of Strongbow. It’s a perk, and you get +1 to your ST at DX+1 and +2 at DX+2.

Trained ST uses this progression (well, that and more) already to extend the bonuses for Wrestling, going up to ST+5, or ST+50% if you like to level things up.

What I’d do is simply eliminate Strongbow, and make your ability to draw a bow follow the fast progression of Trained ST.

Stretton and his 200# bow

So your ST 12 archer could pull a bow of up to ST 17. This is basically “sport-specific ST” and I personally think it’s quite realistic.

The use of “Arm ST” to push bow draw weights up might want to be curtailed. Maybe not, though. It’s somewhat expensive at 5/level, and does represent a real thing. It’s also often capped at 1-3 levels, but it would let you take a ST 10 guy and let him draw a ST 18 bow if you get three levels of Arm ST and are at DX+10.

I’m not sure that’s a real problem, though. Yeah, your bow, which can only do damage once ever second-to-sixth turn in any sort of game where Fast-Draw and Quick-Shoot are not options, is your primary attack mode. You’ve invested (say) 20 points in ST, 40 points in DX, another 40 points for DX+10 in Bow, and 15 points in Arm ST – so you’ve just spent 115 points for the privilege of drawing a ST 20 bow, which does 2d-1 raw damage. Nice, but not world-shattering.

In a recent thread on the SJG Forums, forumite Kenneth Latrans notes he does not like that The Deadly Spring used Lifting ST instead of Striking ST for bows, which he describes as a “striking-related action.”

I’ll admit I was quite deliberate about putting Lifting ST in place of Striking ST. For real warbows, like the one pictured here (a 170# bow being bent by Joe Gibbs ST 18 by TDS), drawing the bow is a slow pull (though for a 170# bow, that guy pulls it back like it’s nothing).

Still . . .

Why I’m wrong

Let’s start off with Devil’s Advocate on myself. If Kenneth would have said “using Striking ST for damage-related action,” I’d probably nod my head and say, “yep, that’s a valid game design call.”

In GURPS, Lifting ST is the ST you use for encumbrance, which is valuable as heck in the games I’ve played and GM’d, and at 3/level, is probably worth it even without drawing bows and grappling thrown in.

But “you pay 5/level for the things you need to do damage,” which includes firearm ST scores, is a fine game-mechanical rule, internally self-consistent, and a good way to go.

The Basis for Doing What I did

Pulling bows is slow. Grappling can be a lot of steady pressure. Being strong has real merit, and for grappling at least, it’s the kind of strength that matters. I know a guy who could defeat my arm bar by simply lifting my entire body off of him with one freakin’ arm.

But with drawing a bow over at least a second, that seemed like Lifting ST to me.

Plus, of course, is that Striking ST is 5 points/level, and that +1 to ST gives you +1 swing damage, right off the bat. That’s the GURPS currenty: one point of ST gives you an extra point of swing.

For bows, though, and other thrust-based weapons (and that includes Control Points from Technical Grappling), each 3 points get you a half-point of increased damage, so for equal currency, so to speak, it’s 6 points per level . . . so swinging with a weapon (striking damage) and shooting with a bow or grappling are about he same. So that works there for me.

Between biomechanics and game mechanics, I like Lifting ST for bows and grappling.

Parting Shot

The middle ground would be interesting though. Striking is a fast twitch, and there are several ranged-weapon related activities that work with Striking ST, the way it’s described.

  • Punches and Melee Weapons: Yep. I’d add Trained ST as well, of course.
  • Quick-Shooting Bows: You have to draw and release within one second. This is the opposite of the slowish pull seen when you draw big bows, More like plucking a string, but with 100-200 pounds of force.

This would favor “regular” ST for dungeoneers, for example. You’d want lifting, grappling, swinging, and quick-shooting. That says “Striking ST” for me. But if you had a bunch of extra Lifting ST and wanted to take a Ready maneuver to pull the bow instead of a Quick-Draw, you could combine that with whatever other perks and Trained X abilities you wanted. Slow and heavy, or fast. Or just by regular ST and have at.

Once again, my creativity is roused somewhat by a thread on the forums. This one’s on snakes and grappling.

One might imagine that I have something to say on this, being the GURPS grappling guy. One would be right.

The Raw Way (mostly)

If you have a snake that attacks by constriction, you have a snake that wants to make grappling attacks. While RAW I believe can be construed to allow a torso-based grapple if you have Constriction Attack and Double Jointed (see Martial Arts, p. 116), I would smack such legalisms on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

The snake first bites to grapple. This is a grappling attack with the mouth. You have to look for it, but a bit is a one-handed grapple (MA, p. 115 in the box for Teeth). You attack at full location penalties. If your foe fails to defend, you have him by the mouth with the equivalent of one hand. You also do thrust-1 damage. The foe is, technically, “grappled” at this point, and at -4 to DX . . . but the one-handed nature of the attack makes it easier to break free.

The next chance you get, you can follow up with the body grapple, and this one is at full ST, considered a two-handed grapple. I don’t know offhand if real snakes let go with the mouth once they have constricted the prey, but in any case, I’d just treat the snake as having its full ST.

Once that grapple occurs, the snake will apply his Constriction Attack, using the Bear Hug technique (MA, p. 117) to crush the foe to death. If the foe is too large to simply crush, the snake will suffocate if it can.

Seems to me that many snakes will actually buy a Combination (MA, p. 80) to bite and grapple with the torso as a bought-off Rapid Strike. I’ve seen video of ball pythons doing their thing, and that “bite and wrap it up” thing is fast.

Technical Grappling

There’s actually an entry on p. 44 for Constrictor Snakes. Bite to grapple and do thr-1 Control Points (1d-1 for the python in the Basic Set). Follow up with another grapple (using the snake’s inherent Wrestling skill, which is not bad) using the body, but Constriction Attack does double the usual CP for that creature’s ST. Since a python is ST 13, that’s 2d CP, which will get even a reasonably strong adventurer in trouble in a few seconds.

Once enough CP are accumulated, the snake will begin the process of spending them to crush the victim, then re-acquiring them through a grapple, then spending them for more crushing.

This is not the most elegant mechanic, though it does the trick. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I did come up with a better one. Hopefully one day it will see daylight.

Condition-Based TG

I introduced a quick-and-dirty alternate for using Control Points but not bringing in all of TG late in July called Condition-based grappling, which took a concept that could have been done better in the DnD Basic Rules (5e) and did in GURPS what I thought could have been done (and maybe will be or has been in the PHB and DMG; we’ll see when they come out) in that system.

In any case, it’s easy. Roll for the bite. Assess CP. As soon as you can, roll for more CP by attacking with the torso. When you have your foe Restrained, start crushing.

Parting Shot

The condition-based grappling could use some expansion for stuff that’s not just holding on and applying penalties. The Control Point mechanic can be leveraged in a few easy ways to execute various grappling techniques without the detailed tracking that the full system has.

But all in all, snakes and other grappling monsters – such as something with, say, ST 21 tentacles with gripping mouths on them! – can and should be terrifying in GURPS. Right now they can be somewhat meh.

I think that TG really shines for such critters. That ST 21 bite will do 2d CP right off the bat, and that tentacle with Constriction Attack will accumulate 4d CP with every attack (and it may well AoA(Double) for 8d CP each turn; an average of 28 CP per second), which is enough to hit the max CP threshold for most creatures. With the right skills, that is a huge amount of crushing damage every turn.

Anyway, the rules are a bit scattered for both RAW and TG; you have to look through three books (or at least two, Campaigns and Martial Arts, with the third being Characters) even in RAW.

Maybe something to add to +Mook Wilson‘s handy new GM Guide. Or volume 2 . . .