This article originally appeared in Pyramid #28

The Bigger They Are, the Harder They Fall: Q&A on GURPS Combat and Fantasy Folk, by Sean "Dr. Kromm" Punch

Q&A on GURPS Combat

This article presents a number of clarifications and answers to questions about the GURPS advanced combat system. All of these questions were originally asked on the Internet, and have been edited here for clarity and brevity. Feel free to send your questions to Dr. Kromm <>.

Active Defenses - Retreating
1. If you take an All-Out Defense, can you make two retreats instead of one?

2. If the hex behind you is uneven or partially filled - i.e., it would require more than normal movement to go into - can you still retreat into it?

3. Can you try to retreat into an occupied hex? What is the effect?

- Maxwell C. Dancer

1. No. You can only ever retreat once per turn.

2. Yes, as long as the hex is not "occupied" (i.e., filled by a character). You can retreat into the partial hexes along walls, or into brush, for instance. However, if you retreat onto bad footing, you may have to make a DX roll to avoid falling.

3. You cannot legally retreat into an occupied hex. If you try anyhow, you fail your defense roll - you bump into someone and don't move far enough to avoid the attack.

Attacking on the Move
1. Can you use a thrown weapon on a Move as easily as a missile weapon? For instance, can I run up next to a victim with a throwing axe and then throw it at no penalty? (The -2 running penalty on p. B117 is cancelled by the +2 range bonus.)

2. Does a Wild Swing during the Move maneuver have to be at a foe to the side or rear? If not, can a Wild Swing during the Move maneuver be at a foe to the side or rear? Would the penalty be -5 or -10?

3. On a Wild Swing, is the random roll to determine hit location done after the to-hit roll, or before (with the hit location penalty being added to the -5)?

4. Is it possible to do a"Wild" close combat attack (e.g., a takedown attempt at -5, or max 9) on a Move maneuver?

- Peter von Kleinsmid

1. On p. B117, it says that any ranged weapon (not just a missile weapon) can be fired at -1 while walking or -2 while running in addition to the snap shot penalty (-4). Such shots are always snap shots, just like Pop-Up Attacks (p. B116). So you can run (-2) to a range of 1 (+2) and throw the axe at -4.

2. Any attack made during a Move maneuver qualifies as a Wild Swing. You may take a Wild Swing at any single foe who is within reach of your weapon during the course of a Move maneuver. This attack is always made at -5, with a skill limit of 9. The relative facing of you and your foe is irrelevant; he can be in any hex you can reach.

3. Before. Roll for hit location, add this penalty to the -5 for the Wild Swing and roll vs. final skill, maximum 9.

4. No. The sole Close Combat maneuvers that work on the move are Flying Tackle and Slam.

Basic Weapon Damage
On my Basic Weapon Damage Chart, it lists ST 4 characters as being able to do no damage. Is this correct?

- Michael Smith

Actually, they do "0" damage, not no damage. However, this leads to weird results when they pick up a weapon that does sw+2 (for instance), because this gives 0 + 2 = 2 points of damage, while a ST 5 character (swing 1d-5) would do 1d-3 damage, averaging only 1 point of damage! The fix is to extend the damage chart:

ST Damage (thr or sw)

1 1d-9

2 1d-8

3 1d-7

4 1d-6

5+ As per p. B74

Add weapon modifiers to this damage. If the result is 1d-6 or lower, then the weapon really does do 0 damage. On the other hand, a rapier (which does thr+1 impaling damage) inflicts 1d-5 in the hands of a ST 4 being, not "0" damage, nor just a flat 1 point.

Close Combat
1. Is an attempt to pin a Regular Contest of ST or a Quick Contest of ST (it is written simply as"Contest")?

2. How about a takedown?

3. Why does the opponent not get the chance to use his DX or his Judo skill to avoid being taken down?

- Thomas Ackermann

1. A Regular Contest.

2. A Quick Contest.

3. Actually, Judo can replace ST or DX for any roll made in close combat (offensively or defensively) except for grappling for control of a weapon or trying to ready a weapon.

1. I seek clarification of the grapple in close combat. Can a fighter who is grappling another parry?

2. Can the grappled fighter?

3. What is your opinion on penalizing the ST rolls made in close combat for shock, the same way you penalize DX? That way, you could injure someone to break free of a grapple, just like in real life.

- Alistair Windsor

1. Only if he has grappled with one hand, leaving the other free.

2. If someone has grabbed both his arms, no; otherwise, yes.

3. This is not the official rule, but it is realistic; I also think that it is fair and balanced. If enough people comment favorably on it, it might even make it into the rules.

1. What defense is possible against a grapple attempt?

2. The Basic Set says that it is a strict Quick Contest of DX. What skills, if any, can replace DX here?

3. Can the defender retreat?

4. Can the defender use a Martial Arts Stop Hit or Aggressive Parry? If so, can he use a Combination?

- Greg Yon

1. Your "defense" is the DX roll you make in the Quick Contest of DX to avoid the grapple. Attacks fall into two categories in GURPS: those that have separate attack and defense rolls, and those that are resolved as Quick Contests. Grappling is in the latter category.

2. Wrestling, Judo and Sumo Wrestling.

3. No.

4. No.

1. The sidebar about "Instant Death" (p. B126) says that a throat cut to a helpless victim could be considered deadly. This seems a little bit unsatisfying to me. Are there any other options, such as automatic maximum damage?

2. I have the strong feeling that death rolls should be modified by the total amount of damage delivered. Again, can you suggest an enhanced rule, or are the rules good enough, in your opinion?

- Thomas Ackermann

1. The All-Out Attack rules indicate that a fighter can exceed his usual limits at times, so it would be fair to say that a lethal attack made against a totally helpless victim gets +4 to hit and +2 damage. You could also allow maximum damage; a precisely made cut is a lot nastier than a quick slash in combat. You could even have the attacker roll a Quick Contest of weapon skill (or Professional Skill: Executioner) vs. the helpless victim's HT (plus any levels of Toughness and Hard to Kill) to make a "quick kill."

2. Many people use the "house rule" that HT rolls for survival are made at -1 per roll after the first. Thus, you roll vs. full HT at -HT, vs. HT-1 at -(HT+5), vs. HT-2 at -(HT+10), etc.

1. If I hit a foe for 6 points of damage, his attack with his weapon is reduced by 6; does that mean his parry is reduced by 3, since his effective weapon skill is lowered?

2. When his HT or fatigue is reduced to 3 or less, his move is halved. Does this also reduce his Dodge?

3. If his fatigue and HT are reduced to 3 or less, is his move only halved, or is it quartered?

4. If you are stunned, but still have a (reduced) active defense, can you use a retreat?

- Maxwell C. Dancer

1. No - see "Shock" on p. B126. Active defenses are not DX-based skills.

2. Yes.

3. Move is halved, not quartered.

4. No. See p. B109. You cannot retreat while stunned.

Multiple Attacks
Can you clarify the rules for fighting with two weapons? What penalties/bonuses are there, and does a character get 4 attacks if he opts to All-Out Attack with both of his weapons?

- Steven Meers

A character who attacks with two weapons is at -4 on both attacks when doing so, and has an additional -4 on the attack made with the weapon in his off hand (for a total of -8 and -4). To buy off the -4 for attacking with two weapons, use the Dual Weapon Attack maneuver; to buy off the -4 for using the off hand, use the Off-Hand Training maneuver (or Ambidexterity). See GURPS Martial Arts for these maneuvers. If he chooses the "extra attacks" option when making an All-Out Attack, he gets one extra attack, not double his usual number of attacks. In other words, he has 3 attacks instead of two - certainly not 4! Two of those attacks are made as outlined above (i.e., at -8 and -4); the third attack can be made with either weapon, and is at -4 if made with the off hand.

In a situation where an attacker has multiple attacks, the defender may, by using the retreat option, step out of the attacker's reach in the middle of a round. Should this be possible and how should it be handled?

- Alistair Windsor

A retreat gives +3 on all active defenses vs. all attacks from one foe. One is assumed to be backing away as the foe attacks, but not fast enough to automatically avoid the attacks. As per p. B109, a Retreat does not put one out of range of multiple attacks.

Turn Sequence
1. What happens if, in the middle of combat, a character drops enough encumbrance to raise his Move? Does he move up in the combat order, or is it set when the combat starts and cannot be changed?

2. When combat first begins, what active defenses is a character who has not acted yet allowed to make? Just dodge?

- Lynette R. F. Cowper

1. Once battle begins, each character's place in the sequence becomes fixed, even if his Move or Speed changes.

2. No. Everyone starts battle with all defenses intact. The character in question may block, dodge or parry normally, provided his weapon and shield were ready when the battle started.

Unarmed Combat
What is the range of a bare-handed attack?

- Chuck Bennett

Unless otherwise specified, all bare-handed attacks (including the special maneuvers in GURPS Martial Arts) have a Reach of "C, 1." That means that they can be used on targets who are in close combat or who are one hex away.

If you are wearing hand protection (gloves, gauntlets, etc.) can you add the PD of that to your karate/judo parry instead of the PD of the location being attacked?

- Jeremy Roberts

Not unless your hands are the target of the attack. Otherwise, use the PD of the hit location being attacked. However, since a failed karate parry can get your hand cut off, the DR of those gauntlets is useful.

1. If you use your Wait to attack someone on his turn, and you hit him and stun him, does he lose his action?

2. If you don't stun him, but you do knock him back a hex and you are now outside the reach of his weapon, does he get to attack you or not?

3. How about if you swing at him and he does a retreating defense which puts him out of range?

4. Can you use a Wait to delay a slam attack?

- Maxwell C. Dancer

1. Yes. If he is stunned, his turn ends.

2. If he has movement remaining, he may continue to press his attack. However, if that means that he has moved more than 1 hex (i.e., taken more than a step) toward you, then he must choose an attack option (All-Out Attack, Wild Swing) that allows him to move more than 1 hex while attacking.

3. He may still attack, but with the same restrictions noted in answer #2.

4. No. Slam is not an attack, it is part of a Move maneuver. Since a Wait only allows you to delay an Attack maneuver - not a Move maneuver - you cannot use Wait to make a slam.

If Fighter 1 uses a Wait to interrupt Fighter 2 midway through an action, is it legal for Fighter 2 to change his action halfway through his turn in response to this?

- Alistair Windsor

Yes. If the player of Fighter 2 says "I do [action]," and the player of Fighter 1 uses a Wait to interrupt him, then when Fighter 2 says "I do [action]," [action] does not immediately occur. Instead, Fighter 1 sees him about to move and interrupts him. Once the interruption is over, Fighter 2 still has an action coming to him. However, since he has only declared it, not taken it, and since declaration has no special meaning in GURPS, he is free to revise his plans to account for the interruption.

Q&A on GURPS Fantasy Folk

1. Are the Giants from GURPS Fantasy Folk stronger than their size might suggest?

2. At what point does it become impossible for a human to parry a Giant-sized weapon?

- Peter Brodt

1. Actually, they're a whole lot weaker than their size would suggest! A believable 15' Giant would require a ST of about 70 (not 25) to be viable, if you stick to real-life biophysics. Since Giants are intended for fantasy games, where we're permitting magic and dragons, we can ignore biophysics and choose a ST that makes them slightly more balanced and affordable as PCs.

2. Given that the range of human-sized weapons useful in battle goes from 1 lb. (knife, stick) to 12 lbs. (maul, halberd), and given that GURPS assumes that humans can always parry other humans, there seems to be a factor of about 12 allowed for in the parrying rules. I'd rule that you may not parry a weapon that is more than 12 times heavier than your own; so a Giant-sized maul (30 lbs.) could not be parried by a weapon that weighs less than 2.5 lbs. Treat a Giant's fist as weighing ST/5 lbs for this purpose.

Why is it that Dark Elves do not bear a negative reaction modifier for bad Reputation? It seems to be indicated that they would suffer such a penalty; the racial description states, "others mistrust them because they're Dark Elves."

- Pan

It's not obvious that a Dark Elf is a Dark Elf - Dark Elves are just ordinary Elves with weird politics. Most characters will only be able to tell a Dark Elf from any other Elf if they observe his Intolerance disadvantage.

Radicals (to whom the quoted statement refers) have a -15-point Social Stigma because they have come out and revealed to the world that they were formerly Dark Elves, meaning that "real" Dark Elves hate them for breaching secrecy, while others distrust them due to their former political allegiances. Note that this Social Stigma serves the same purpose as a Reputation.

1. Dolphins have ST 16/14. The 14 is because of the "No Fatigue Bonus" limitation on ST 15+. Could you please tell me what will happen to the fatigue score if the player buys down ST?

2. If a race has a racial cost break on ST due to "No Fine Manipulators," does this cost break also apply to the ST purchased by the player?

3. Centaurs (and other hybrids) determine cost of ST by finding ST for both halves and then averaging it. Fine for starting. Upper-body ST has -5% limit from No Jumping Bonus, lower-body ST has -40% limit from No Fine Manipulators. If the answer to #2 is yes, and since all ST adjustments by players are made to both halves of split ST simultaneously, does cost of ST get a break of -22%?

4. If a race has "Natural" ST of some amount, what costs do they use when raising their ST attribute?

- Armin Sykes

1. Personal ST modifiers are always "stacked" on top of racial ST and fatigue scores. A member of a race with ST +6, but -2 fatigue like this (racial average 16/14) would have ST 15/13 for -10 points, 14/12 for -15 points and so on.

2. Yes, I suppose that it should.

3. No. Although this would be mathematically consistent with my answer to #2, it would also be annoyingly complex for the 75% of GURPS players who use only pencil and paper. Personal ST increases are bought at full cost by members of a hybrid race, and raise both ST scores by the same amount. For example, a member of a race with ST 13/26 (upper-body ST 13, lower-body ST 26) goes to ST 15/28 for 20 points (+2 ST). For justification, assume most players will be raising ST to improve the most useful aspects of both halves, and so will be working around the limitations; a limitation that doesn't really limit you isn't a limitation.

4. Personal ST adjustments are always full-fledged ST. Since personal ST adjustments affect ST for jumping, skill and fatigue purposes, they don't qualify for the "Natural" limitation.

Article publication date: March 24, 1998

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