Saturday, February 2, 2013

Tactical Tips : Fighting like a man, or a woman.

For this article we'll pretend that Bob is ambushed by an highwayman (Burt). Bob has a mail shirt (DR 4/2 over torso only), a small shield (shield-14) and a broadsword (Broadsword-13) and otherwise wear heavy duty clothes (DR 1 to legs, arms, pelvis). The Highwayman wear padded clothes with hood (DR 1) and is wielding a spear (Spear-12) and has a dagger in his belt (Knife-10). For simplicity, lets assume that they are 10 yards apart in the open, in daytime, on smooth terrain, weapons ready, and both aware of each other.  

Burt, a nasty highwayman
ST 10; DX 11; IQ 9; HT 10
BS 5.25; Move 5, Dodge 7 (Light Load)

Burt knows that his advantage is the length of his spear: as long as he can keep Bob at bay (reach 2), he cannot be touched. Bob's strength is  his armor and shield:  a spear held in two hands does 1d+1 (impaling), and thus has 50% chance of scoring a 4 or less, which wouldn't penetrate the mail shirt (DR 4 vs impaling). His basic odds to hit with Spear-12 is 74%, and Bob can block with his shield (Block 10, +1 shield)  62%  of his blows. That is a combined odd to hurt Bob once of  14% in the torso. Anywhere else, the odds are 28% (slight overestimate, depending on random location of the wound).  Keeping out of Bob's sword and knocking the shield down is his best bet.

Bob, today's hero
ST 11; DX 11; IQ: 10; HT 10
BS: 5.5; Move 5, Dodge 6 (Medium load)

Bob must close in on Burt with great speed and strike before Burt can change his grip. This seems to call for a move and attack, which is less likely to succeed. Here is the reasoning: Bob has (Broadsword-13) 84% chance to strike Burt, who can parry at 9 (38%), and cause (1d+2 cut) (which is sure to go through clothes). His base attack has thus 52% of success, reduced to 24% in a move and attack action. Bob has better fighting skill, is excellent with his shield and has a mail shirt. He's got the upper hand as long as he gets passed the tip of the spear.

Please note that the concept of turn is relative to each participant. Turn 1 for Bob begins when Bob select an action, and ends when he starts another one. There is no absolute clock running, although this distinction is helpful to rule when there is more than two characters involved into a fight.

Turn 1
Bob goes first because of his higher base speed (BS). He selects a move action and close in by 5 hexes. Burt, is two hex short of being in range, decides to brace himself and calls a wait action. The wait will end if Bob gets in reach 2 and trigger an All-out Attack

Turn 2
Bob must close in by 3 hexes to be in reach 1 and hit with his sword. This calls for a move and attack action. By the time that Bob gets in reach 2 of Burt, Burt triggers an all out attack action, making it determined (+4 to hit). His net target is 12+4=16, and he rolls a 12. It is a success. Bob blocks with his shield (10+1=11), roll a 8: success! The tip of the spear deflects on Bob's shield. Bob continue his move and attack action, close in one more hex and is now in reach 1 of Burt. The attack is made at most at skills level 9 (roll: 7, success). Burt can't defend because of his All-out Attack action. The sword strike the left arm (on the location table), and cause 3 pt of cut damage. Of the 3 pt, 1 is absorbed by the clothes, and the remaining 2X1.5=3 pt is inflicted. This is not a major wound, but Burt will suffer a -3 penalty due to shock for the coming turn. 

Burt is feeling the pain but ought to do something. For this turn, all IQ and DX-based skills are done at -3. His spear, held with both hands overreaches Bob (-2 to hit), his dagger is in his belt. Changing grip on the spear or grabbing the dagger calls for a ready action. Burt is tempted to grapple Bob to bypass his shield and make his sword useless, but this requires DX to do and probably won't work. Burt calls a ready action: he drops the spear (free action), grabs his dagger and steps into Bob's hex, making them in contact (reach C). 

Turn 3
Bob and Burt are right against each other, leaving little room for Bob's swordplay (-4 to hit to be precise). However, Bob calls an attack action, take a step back (now back in reach 1), and swings once more at Burt. He needs 13 or less, rolls 14 and misses. Burt, glad to get a break, selects an attack action, steps forward to close contact, and takes a stab at Bob. He needs 10, rolls 10. Bob rolls a 10 for dodging with a retreat (stepping back 1 hex). The dagger hits the shield.

Turn 4
Bob knows that overcoming Burt is a matter of time. He calls another attack action, make a step backward and swings. He rolls 8, a success. Burt needs to defend, his dagger's parry is very bad (7), so he decides to dodge the blow while yielding one yard (Dodge 7+3=10). He rolls 15. The sword hits the left leg (15) with 6 points of raw damage (1 absorbed by clothes, 5*1.5= 7 pt, but because this is more than HP/2 in a limb, Burt takes 6pt., the leftover point is lost). The cut is deep: it is a major wound and cripples the leg.  Burt barely passes his HT check and avoid being stunned. He is shocked (-4, maximum penalty) and falls down due to his leg wound. His HP is down to 1, which makes him reeling (1/2 move and dodge). Burt takes a All-out Defense action and beg Bob for mercy (free action).

Turn 5
Bob is not a murderer, takes and Evaluate action and asks Burt to drop his dagger (free action). Burt selects Do Nothing and drops his dagger (free action). This combat is over: 5 seconds of fury.

Burt is in danger of bleeding to death. He will bleed 1 HP per minutes unless he succeeds HT rolls (-1 for severity of the wound). It is unlikely to stop on its own BEFORE he runs out of blood to bleed (Three successive HT-1 check, or one critical success). So it is time to try a little tourniquet, untrained in first-aid, his default skill is IQ-4, or 6. He rolls a 16. Critical failure: he gets 1 HP of damage trying to stop the bleeding. Bob can try as well and rolls a  9, success. The bleeding stops and Burt is back to 3 HP. He acquire the disadvantage Lame (bad leg). Had Bob not tried to save him, he would have died in anywhere between 3 and 10 minutes (likely). With no clean bandages, his infection roll is HT+3, and he rolls 13: barely succeeding. He will not get an infection from the wound (the GM should do this in secret). Finally, his wound will leave a permanent crippling of his leg (had he succeeded another HT roll, the crippling would have been temporary). Burt, pondering  about all this senseless violence, is permanently lame and should consider a new line of work (1/2 movement, ugly limp, -3 to all rolls where a leg is needed).

That was short and brutal. But hey, in AD&D, Burt would be dead by the time this fight would be considered over.

Lessons learned 

  • Being good at one active defense is very useful. 
  • Getting good at one weapon is important.
  • Burt was outmatched, he should have known better. He probably should have not gone into full attack, this gamble wasn't worth it. He must make use of surprise and terrain if he wants to stand a chance.



  1. The best lesson from this combat? All Out Attack, however tempting, is to be used sparingly - on opponents who are already reeling or otherwise impaired, or from a position of surprise. They're very tempting to new players (+4 to hit! or Attack Twice!) but bloody examples like this one should serve to sober them. GURPS is a very unforgiving game, and the combat is very much an attempt to simulate the grim reality of melee combat.

    And as one GM to another, I look forward to the day when you crank up the complexity and include things like Flurry of Blows, Deceptive and Defensive Attacks and the fatigue-draining but awesomeness-inducing Extra Effort rules. The nuances that will open up will turn the raw exchange of blows into the rapier duel scene from The Princess Bride.

  2. If the hero was actually Sir Bob, would he have been within his right, according to the Chivalric Code to judge and execute Burt, for this poorly planned attack?

  3. As Jason puts it above, the real crime was the full attack. I so yes, death is an appropriate consequence.

    1. I'd have been lenient if he was a first-time offender.

  4. I think you are overstating the Shield's Block score. Basic block is 3+Shield/2 = 10 for Shield-14, +1 to all defenses for the DB of the shield. So his block is 11, or 62% chance, rather than 15, whihc is 95%.

    1. Quite right, and thanks for catching this. I knew about this rule, but missed it as I was writing the post. You'd need Shield-24 to get there!

    2. It's one of those odd deviations from "3d6, under your effective skill" that creeps into the game from time to time. 3rd Edition had more of these that have since been written out of the game, for which I am grateful.

    3. You can ATTACK with Shield at full skill, but ALL defenses are 3+Skill/2, and Shield is no exception. . . unless you use TBone's FEND rules.

  5. I like it. Some quibbles, though. I hope you don't mind, and these may come across as harsh. They aren't meant to, I just automatically go into "peer review mode" and try to fix stuff.

    Dagger isn't a skill. It's Knife.

    Turn 1, Turn 2 etc. is a bit deceptive - there is no overall turn or round in GURPS. Your turn starts with your action and ends just before you take your next action. So really, it's not Turn 1, it's Bob's Turn 1 and then Burt's Turn 1. It's a subtle difference but I've so many people over the years (myself included) stumble over when a turn is, and when it ends, so it's best IMO to make it clear right from the start.

    Also, a Wait action requires you decide on the trigger/reaction. So Burt really needs to say he's going to All Out Attack on Bob if he comes within range.

    "His spear, held with both hands overreaches Bob (-2 to hit), his dagger is in his belt. " I'm not sure what "overreaches Bob" means or what -2 to hit is coming from. If he's got a spear held at reach 2 and Bob is at reach 1, he needs to back up to strike or change his grip; he can't attack, nevermind at a -2. He'd get a -4 if he was attacking over Bob at someone else, according to B388. I can't think of another rule that would apply here and give a -2.

    On turn 3, Burt steps back into reach C to stab at Bob, correct? It doesn't say so, but he's not equipped with a reach 1 weapon so he needs to.

    Turn 4 has: "The sword hits the left leg (15) with 6 points of raw damage (1 absorbed by clothes, 5*1.5= 7 pt, effective 5 because it is in a limb)."

    To cripple a limb takes more than HP/2. So he takes 6 damage, and he's got a crippled leg. A better way to state this is change the last bit to "7 pt, but damage greater than HP/2 is lost, so Burt takes 6." Longer, but more accurate - the extra damage is lost, not limited.

    "Burt barely passes his HT check and avoid being knocked down." Well, yeah, but he's going to fall down. You can be really specific by saying "Burt barely passes his HT check to avoid Knockdown and Stun, but since his leg is crippled he falls anyway!" At least he's not stunned, which in 4e is really bad.

    "full attack" and "full defense" aren't GURPS terminology, so you might want to refer to them by their terms of art - All-Out Attack and All-Out Defense.

    "Bob is not a murderer, takes and examine action" - what's an examine action? Do you mean Evaluate? Wait would probably be smarter, so he can attack if Burt tries any funny stuff. ;)

    Finally in the epilogue, you might want to (or not) discuss the HT roll to see how lasting that crippling injury is.

    Hope that helps. I'm enjoying these posts so far. I just want to help make them right.

    1. Hello Peter, thanks a lot for your comments. I've fixed the write up. Here are my comments on some of your comments:

      1) Your comment on when a turn begins/ends answered many of my questions. Thanks.

      2) -2 to attack an opponent in reach 1 with a grip set to reach two comes from Martial Art p.117.

      3) Examine was really meant to be Evaluate.

      Again, thanks for the feedback.

    2. No problem, I'm happy to help.

      As for #2, MA117 is Long Weapons in Close Combat. Those rules only apply in C, not at reach 1, which is where the action takes place. If he was in C, it would be -4 to skill, -2 to parry.

      It's an interesting and possibly plausible rule for taking shots at a closer target without re-gripping, though. I'll have to think that through more. But as written, he can't do what you're suggesting he could do.

  6. Very nice write up!

    A couple of notes:

    Turn 3 states that the two characters are hampered in Close Combat by -4, however, Burt was stated to switch to his dagger in "Turn 2", which means he's only at -1 in Close Combat.

    As an addendum to Peter D's notes on turns, you state in "Turn 5" that the action is over in 5 seconds. It's actually been 10 seconds, with each of your "Turns" being 2 seconds each.

    1. Thanks! I clarified Turn 3 accordingly. As for the turn length, Basic p.363 seems to suggest that each turn is 1 second.

    2. No, you're correct. Each person's turn is 1 second, and the overlap (although you largely resolve them in sequence). So this is the timing:

      Burt turn 1
      Bob turn 1
      Burt turn 2
      Bob turn 2
      etc. out to Bob turn 5.

      That's 5 total seconds of time.

      Take look here:

      and here:

    3. Blast! I had a niggling at the back of my head saying "overlapping" and Peter is dead on the money. GURPS turns are completely self-contained for the individual. I never did find the FAQ particularly clear on this, mind you - This is the best explanation that I've seen thus far from the GURPS forums.

      My Bad on that!