Now That's a Knife!
Modern Blades in GURPS
by Jeff Fournier
GM: "Ok, your chopper crashed and sank into the ocean. You all made your swimming rolls so you are all on the shore of the island. Because the chopper sank you only have what was on your backs when you jumped in. What are you going to do?
Players: "I'm cutting down trees with my dagger. I'm making a raft here! How long does it take?"
"We lost the First aid kit in the chopper, so I'll use my bowie knife to cut the shrapnel out of Dukes wound! What's the modifier to my First aid roll?"
"I use my knife to kill a wild pig after stalking it."
(GM checks sheet, it reads "pocket knife." GM shakes head in disbelief.)
Players: "I saw it on a TV show once! Really."
* * *
Whether or not the above has happened to you as a GM, it could in the future. GURPS has quite a few excellent rules for simulating the strengths and weakness of a great deal of different things from Guns to Vehicles and Robots. In this article we will go into some guidelines to help you "game simulate" the oldest of man's tools in some of its newest variations. It has been around throughout the ages in many forms and used for many purposes. In modern day we call it the knife.
What Is A Knife?
In GURPS terms it is a weapon of several potential basic sizes (Small and Large) as well as a further refined weapon in GURPS Martial Arts (such as the kris, parang and tanto). To break it down to its simplest terms it falls into two categories at the same time:
- It's a tool.
- It's a weapon.
It is how different types of blades, and their function in these areas, that make their usefulness far outweigh their size. A small knife may be great for light tool work but not that great for combat. On the other hand, a large knife can be useful for small tasks, it is primarily a big combat tool. It is also by their design and shape that we can find the right knife for the right job. At the end of this article are listed some example knives and their games stats, based upon the following optional category examples of basic shape for the knife's blade, size, and how it was designed to work.
Feel free to pick up a book or magazine which outlines the relative merits and shortcomings of various new blade designs. These are generalities and can be interpreted by GM's as they see fit in their campaigns. Encourage players to have their characters experiment with using different blades in game to find their strengths and weaknesses.
The spear blade is usually long and relatively narrow in width to its length terminating in a sharp point. It is usually sharpened only on one edge for its entire length. Examples exist with a sharp portion of the blade on the back side as well usually running an inch or to from the tip, not the full length (which would make it a dagger). For purposes of this article the Tanto point also resides in this category.
As a weapon it excels at the thrust (+1 to all Thrust damage, not exceeding the max for the weapon) and functions average with the cut. As a tool it has a good utility capability to pry and cut because of its strong blade, giving a +1 modifier to the penalty of -5 for a mechanic or crafter not having any tools when he makes his skill check. It is not, however, the best substitute for chopping if you do not have an axe. The best example of this blade shape would be a straight bayonet blade from any of the world wars, or the main blade on a Swiss Army knife.
A clip point ends in a sharp thin tip with a dished-out portion near the point on the un sharpened side. Examples of this would be a Bowie knife or USMC K-bar combat knife. While the blade's width and sharp point help in any chopping or fine whittling task (again a +1 bonus to the no-tool modifier on skill rolls) it is only average on combat cutting and thrusting. A good-sized clip point blade should not be underestimated in combat as it could easily fell a small tree as easily as a persons limb. It is also a very popular design for hunting knives primarily in America.
Everyone is probably quite familiar with the shape and basic function of the dagger, so it will only lightly be touched upon it here. As a hand weapon it is excellent as far as knives go, which is reflected in its GURPS stats. As a utility blade the dagger can cut, but is a poor chopper. It is very weak in blade strength due to having a second edge grind where a stout back would be to support the blade (giving an additional -1 modifier to any tool use for skill rolls). A critically failed skill check with a dagger will almost certainly result in a broken blade.
The name really says it all. In non-combat situation the use of a utility style blade should be very helpful (+2 to Skill modifier where appropriate) in any cutting task. Its edge-only blade shape makes it a poor weapon (-1 to hit and damage rolls, no Thrusting).
Larger heavy utility blades like Bolos or machetes have the ability to tackle larger tasks and in some cultures are a useful and valid weapon ( +1 Swing damage modifier but still no thrusting).
Examples of this type include a "click from the handle" X-acto type blade to a blunt sheepsfoot blade carried by sailors on board ships. Interestingly enough, the sheepsfoot blade was the only blade that some captains would allow their men on board to carry, fearing that any pointed knife would deal lethal damage instead of just a cut.
From the Stiletto to the modern Delta Dart made of poly-carbonate, this point only weapon has only one purpose: killing. The favorite of assassins for its hard to heal wound, the spike style blade is a dangerous weapon in combat(+2 to Thrust damage, No swing or cutting). The stiletto is completely useless as a cutting tool except to punch holes in things. While this might give a +1 modifier to leather-working skill, that is about the limit of its use. Any thin "point only, no edge" weapon would qualify as a stiletto blade, even some makeshift ones if they were hard and thin enough.
If you shop at any shop with more than a few knives you will see examples of these flights of fancy in steel. Often made by custom bladesmiths to appeal to the sci-fi and fantasy crowd, these knives are a growing trend in modern blade ware. Mostly used for show or ritual purposes, these knives do not easily fall into any of the above classifications. They can have serrations (see below), but they are usually not very well-designed. Their wavy impractical blades are poor combat performers at best or unwieldy pieces of junk at worst (-1 to hit and damage). As tools they usually lack any useful cutting edge except perhaps a hook that could open a bottle top. GMs might be willing to grant a character who pulls one in a combat situation an Intimidation check with a +2 bonus to see if his opponent backs down from combat due to his fearsome looking weapon. They would probably make excellent trade goods to a lower tech society who would be amazed by their fantastic shapes. Some warriors would no doubt be known for their choice of such exotic blades, and this could be used to build a reputation and identify them in a fight.
In the past decade the modern combat knife scene has exploded with a plethora of new designs and innovations. One of these is adding a serrated edge to the otherwise straight razor edge on modern combat blades. By doing this the now wavy edge puts more blade surface area on the cutting edge of that portion, making it perform like a slightly bigger knife. Most modern users admit it to be a boon when cutting line or other space age tough materials (giving a +1 skill bonus to the appropriate mechanical skills), however it has a increased chance to snag up on something during combat (-1 on ST check to unstick a stuck impaling weapon if it has serrations). On a deep thrust you might find yourself without a weapon. Most modern combat blades come in at least two versions, with or without serrations as the buyer prefers.
During the craze for the Rambo-type survival knives of the 80s, saw backs appeared on the unsharpened back of many combat knives of the period. Even today military issue knives such as the Air Force Survival knife have this feature. The ability to use a knife as a saw is a real advantage (+1 to an appropriate skill modifier) however it suffers the same combat disadvantages as blade serrations (see above). Please note that while it is possible for a blade to have serrations and a saw back, the in game penalties as well as the bonuses are cumulative.
Beginning in the 80s with the advent of space age plastics for handles and improved steel for blades the Modern Combat Folder made its debut. With pocket carry clips (+1 to Holdout) and one-hand opening blades for ease of use, these new breed of knife took the cutlery world by storm. Touted as being foldable for carry but with locks strong enough for actual combat, these folders delivered . . . for a price. The average cost of a quality combat folder in any blade type would be ten to twenty times the price of a average quality knife! While their utility is unquestioned, they suffer from the fact that they are a folding knife doing a fixed blade's job. If ever any skill check (including Combat) critically fails while using the knife as your only tool, it has probably closed on your fingers!
Below are some examples of modern blade ware and their GURPS stats as derived from the above information added to the basic knife data from the GURPS main rule book where applicable.
Spyderco "Military" Folder (small knife)
Combat Stats: Cut SW-3, Imp Thr, Max Dam 1d+1
Skill use modifiers: +2 to skill tool modifier, +1 to holdout, -1 to Unstick from thrust
Notes: Spear point, serrated, pocket clip, combat folder.
Produced by Spyderco, the pioneers of the modern combat folder, this knife is their answer to the requests of users for a stout folding blade for military/combat applications. It comes with or without serrations as the buyer prefers. Cost is $150.
Buck 110 Folding Hunter (small knife)
Combat Stats: Cut SW-3, Imp Thr-1, Max Dam 1d+1
Skill Use bonus: +1 tool modifier
Notes: Clip point, lock blade folder.
Invented by Buck knives in the mid 70s as a folding hunting knife, the model 110 soon became the pattern all the other companies copied to grab some of its success. It was a excellent folding field knife and was very popular with Outlaw Bikers and bar room brawlers who called the knife the "Ozark switchblade," even though it wasn't. Its traditional wood and brass parts make it appealing to the eye, and its robust lock and reputation make sure it has continued to sell to the present. Cost is $39.
Timberline Spec War (large knife)
Combat Stats: Cut SW-2, Imp Thr+1, Max Dam 1d+2
Skill Use bonus: +1 tool modifier
Notes: Spear point (tanto), fixed blade sheath knife.
Pioneered by advances in metallurgy and machine technology, the Timberline company's premier knife, The Spec war, gained an immediate following in the market it was designed for. It is a nearly indestructible tool meant to take more abuse than any knife should. For the last years of the 80s and into the early 90s, practically all special warfare operators wore this knife into harms way on missions. Cost is $250.
Cold Steel Delta Dart (Small knife)
Combat Stats: Cut -, Imp Thr+2, Max Dam 1d+1
Skill Use bonus: None
Notes: Spike, non-metallic construction.
As a last ditch concealment weapon meant for deep cover or espionage, the Delta Dart (it is not weighted to be thrown, no matter what the name says) is made of a super-strong resin mixture of glass and space-age plastics. Undetectable by metal detectors and capable of piercing a 2x4, this is considered by some as the ultimate spy knife. Cost is $5.
Sicut MinTan survival knife (Small knife)
Combat Stats: Cut SW-3, Imp Thr, Max Dam 1d+1
Skill Use bonus: +1 to skill modifiers, +1 to Holdout from size/sheath.
Notes: Spear point (tanto), lashing holes, neck sheath, fixed blade.
Created by Australian knife maker Ron Spencer in 2000, the MinTan is intended to function as a emergency survival knife in a small "tobacco tin" style survival kit. With a leather neck sheath to keep it handy (or concealed) the thong that holds the knife around your neck can also be used to tie it through special lashing holes to a stick, making the blade into an impromptu spear in emergencies.
- "Knives, Military Edged Tools and Weapons," from Brassey's Modern Military Equipment, by James Marchington. 2000 Brassey's UK Limited
- Tactical Knives Magazine.
Article publication date: March 23, 2001
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