Martial Arts of Yrth


by David Moore

Aside from noting that Judo and Karate "are known and taught in Sahud, but nowhere else," (p.F113) GURPS Fantasy has little to say about the martial arts. Ytarria is a large place, however, with many cultures, and not all formal combat styles are Asian. People drifting into Yrth from Earth over the last millennium, despite the efforts of the Ministry of Serendipity and their ilk, gradually import new ideas, including the proliferation of modern styles. Furthermore, the nonhuman races of Yrth have their own combat disciplines, or adapted them from observations of human styles. This article expands on the sidebar "Fantasy: The Land of Yrth" (p. MA140), adding seven new styles unique to Yrth (but adaptable to any fantasy setting).

Using styles from GURPS Martial Arts

Most of the martial arts in Yrth are imported from Earth, preserved with some alteration down to the modern day. The nation of Sahud is influenced by "samurai" disciplines like Jujutsu, Kenjutsu and Kyudo and Korean arts like Tae Kwon Do and Kuk Sool Won. However, the GM should avoid compromising the mystique of Sahud by making Sahudese styles too familiar; at the very least, the rules of formal High War tournaments should be so bewildering that even a skilled combatant may lose on a technicality. In Megalos and Caithness, traditional Western combat disciplines are ancient and refined. The knight, especially, is trained from boyhood in many different types of combat and is a truly fearsome warrior. Volker Bach's excellent articles "The Western Way of War" and "Vechte Unde Schirmen" offer inspiration for a GM or player interested in the armed combat disciplines of Ytarrian chivalry. By way of bare-fisted fighting, the Greek wrestling art of Pancratium is well-known in Megalos and a regular feature in the arenas of Christendom. In the Principality of Araterre, the preferred weapons are the Renaissance smallsword and foil; both French and Italian Fencing are available. An unarmed style resembling Savate is fought in the docks of Sauvons, either imported by late arrivals or evolving in parallel with its Earth counterpart.

Notoriously, the Assassin sect high in Western al-Haz (p.F31) utilizes the Hashishin Style; the Balikites use similar tactics under al-Garyhan (p.F78). The Kharijites and Islamic chivalric Orders (p.F30 and p.F32 respectively) study knightly arts very similar to their Christian counterparts (use Early Knightly Mounted Combat from "The Western Way of War"), while wrestling and swordplay techniques are also popular, and central to the Great Games (p.F85). The boiling pot that is Cardiel's mixed cultural heritage applies as much to combat as to everything else, as the aristocracy pursues knightly skills while local communities practice arts imported from all over Yrth, and some known nowhere else in the world. With an appropriate Unusual Background, a Cardien martial artist could justify virtually any style out the book. The Chinatown community in East Tredroy, centering on the Street of Gadgeteers, is home to a handful of schools of Kung Fu, although their students do not make their skills very public and it would be extremely unusual for any non-Chinese to be invited to study them. Nonhuman disciplines exist as well. Sylvan War Lore is, in the lands bordering on Elf territory, renowned and feared, and Neal Byles' article "Beyond Sylvan War Lore" tackles a handful of other martial arts equally within the Elven idiom. While a few orcs have the patience and aptitude to master the brutal and little-known Smasha, simple and unscientific brawling is the rule, except for the handful who have the resources to pursue human teachings.

New Styles

Ars Clemens

8 points (No Cinematic Abilities)

Developed in the 1960s by the Cardien Order of the Archangel Michael under then Prince Johannes of Alimar, this style is now taught to agents in all three national branches of the Order. Although it is formally called simply "wrastling" within the Order, its nickname -- literally "the Kind Art," a faintly ironic label coined by the Megalan underworld due to its emphasis on nonlethal but crippling attacks -- has stuck, and is used with some pride by Michaelite practitioners. The style may have been influenced by imported ideas from Earth law enforcement along with fingerprinting and other modern police techniques (see Criminology, p.F113).

Ars Clemens training has two primary aims. The first is to subdue the opponent without killing him, using grapples, locks and disarming tactics. While Yrth justice is somewhat tolerant of the death of a fugitive, it is still preferable to bring a criminal to trial. Serious injury is less anxiously avoided, since magical healing is generally available once the suspect has been pacified; knives and short clubs are taught as part of the style. The second aim is to prepare the wrastler to fight a mage or supernatural combatant without magical defences of his own. To that end, the Michaelite is taught techniques to bolster his mind against Mind Control spells, along with a repertoire of attacks intended to blind, silence, distract or inflict pain upon an opponent so as to hinder his spell-casting capability. Some familiarity with the theory and practice of magic is also offered, so the wrastler can identify and be prepared for offensive spells.

Note: There is no Cinematic version of this martial art, even in campaigns where Cinematic styles are permitted. Although Clemens is known and feared, there are no accounts of wrastlers demonstrating superhuman feats, while the style's emphasis on simple, effective techniques precludes much in the way of enlightenment.

Primary Skills: Brawling, Mind Shield, Wrestling.
Secondary Skills: Knife, Short Sword, Thaumatology.
Optional Skills: Body Language, Boxing, Knife Throwing.
Maneuvers: Arm Lock [1 point], Choke Hold, Disarming (from DX), Eye Gouging, Face Attacks.
Cinematic Skills and Maneuvers: None.

Beserker Raging

10 points/11 points

In the sparse and bitter plains of the northern Nomad Lands, the traditions of many of Earth's tribal and nomad cultures have mixed and grown together. The renowned Berserkers, the "Bear Shirt" cult, is one of the fruits of this blend: a holdover from Viking society, influenced by Celtic and Mongolian mysticism. Animistic warriors who deliberately cultivate mindless frenzies, Beserkers believe they spiritually transform into bears when they fight, gaining strength from their totem. They see themselves as holy men in their own right, acknowledging the druids and shamans of the Nomad Lands as equals; a few genuine weres in the cult are revered as singularly blessed. The cult lies outside normal Nomad culture, kneeling to no king or chieftain and accepting no payment but plunder for their aid in battle, but are respected throughout the peninsula as honorable, courageous and spiritual (treat this is a Reputation +1 throughout Nomad Lands (large group, 3 points) and a Claim to Hospitality).

Training revolves wholly around the Beserk disadvantage, which is required to learn the style. Since a raging Beserker would never use a shield, practitioners learn to fight with swords and axes in both hands, and how to fight up close with an enemy when those weapons are lost. A knife in the boot or scabbarded on the thigh is the universal last resort, and Beserkers train to draw and attack with them until it becomes second nature, to ensure they are not unarmed while the battle-rage is on them. Finally, the Beserker learns how to harness the frenzy itself, calling upon it when needed. Some are reputed to gain terrific strength and resilience from the frenzy, even to a supernatural degree.

Advantages and Disadvantages: The Beserk disadvantage is compulsory; a PC who does not yet suffer from the disadvantage must acquire it, spending accumulated points as though buying an advantage. Toughness is a common trait. This style has no Cinematic Skills, since it is impossible for a Beserking warrior to take the Concentrate maneuver; however, at the GM's discretion, a Beserker may purchase the Hyper-Strength, Extra Hit Points, Hard to Kill or Damage Reduction advantages with the limitation "Only while Beserk" (-15%). The GURPS Celtic Myth advantage Spearman's Invulnerability (p.CM80), with the same limitation, is particularly appropriate.

Primary Skills: Axe/Mace, Brawling, Broadsword, Fast-Draw (Knife), Knife.
Secondary Skills: Axe-Throwing, Running, Theology (Nomad), Wrestling.
Optional Skills: Armoury, Boating, Swimming.
Maneuvers: Close Combat (Knife), Head Butt, Knee Strike, Off-Hand Weapon Training (Axe/Mace or Broadsword), Trigger Beserk.
Cinematic Skills: None.
Cinematic Maneuvers: Dual-Weapon Attack (Axe/Mace or Broadsword).

Dwarven Bladecraft

10 points/22 points

All young dwarves in Zarak and the Whitehoods train in the use of the axe, and most serve terms in the ranks of the guard forces that patrol the entrances. In spite of this, dwarves who focus extensively on combative skills are rare, since Dwarven beliefs place importance on creation, and battle creates nothing. The few exceptions, the "Brothers of the Blade" (although the group contains several Dwarf women), combine study of the axe's use in battle with study of the weapon itself; a Brother must create his own axe as part of his training, and practitioners often become skilled weaponsmiths. Beautiful and distinctive weapons are valued, and Brothers often carve runes and patterns onto the blades and hafts. Since warfare is not regarded very highly in Dwarf society, mastery of Bladecraft does not earn a Dwarf recognition as a High Crafter, and Brothers tend to enter weaponsmithing clans.

The style itself focuses on holding ground. The axe is used to dominate the area around the Dwarf and keep enemies at bay. Unarmed attacks and close combat training allow the Dwarf to engage an opponent who tries to crowd him without having to withdraw; these tactics are also valuable in close tunnels. Brothers subscribe to a Dwarven philosophy called "Forbearance," whose emphasis on the Eternal (the common faith of the Elder Races, see p.F37) is directed within, at enduring adversity and making the self permanent. They supplement their combat training with breathing and self-control exercises. Truly skilled Brothers are said to be capable of extraordinary feats of determination and endurance.

Primary Skills: Armoury, Axe/Mace, Brawling.
Secondary Skills: Philosophy (Forbearance), Wrestling.
Optional Skills: Breath Control, Karate, Language (Dwarven Runic), Meditation, Nei Tan, Symbol Drawing.
Maneuvers: Close Combat (Axe/Mace), Elbow Strike (from Brawling-2), Hilt Strike, Knee Strike, Retain Weapon (Axe/Mace).
Special: Brothers are taught to fight in close quarters and on uneven or loose ground, and may reduce penalties for fighting under such circumstances by 2. This is a special ability costing 4 points.
Cinematic Skills: Body Control, Breaking Blow (Axe/Mace), Immovable Stance, Mental Strength, Mountain Heart, Power Blow (Axe/Mace).
Cinematic Maneuvers: Enhanced Parry (Axe/Mace).

Note: A small group of Brothers focus on unarmed combat over axe-fighting. For "Handcraft," use the above, making Karate and Wrestling Primary Skills and Armoury and Axe/Mace Secondary, adding Arm Lock and Roundhouse Punch, and using the standard versions of Breaking Blow and Power Blow and the unarmed version of Enhanced Parry. Handcraft costs 12 points to learn (24 points for the Cinematic version).

Emulating the Dragon

8 points/12 points

The few who are brave or reckless enough to have observed both races and survived know that Reptile Men and Dragons appear to honor a vague kinship, although whether grounded in distant common ancestry or mere cosmetic similarity is uncertain. To a feared sect among the Reptile Men of the Great Desert, however, this kinship is far from vague: they actually worship Dragons, fanatically insistent that the beasts are the ancestors and gods of their kind. They believe that the ruined cities of the desert are remnants of a great Dragon Empire that once ruled Ytarria and enslaved the Elves and Orcs, brought low by Elvish wizardry and treachery. Their shaman-kings seek to regain some of this lost glory through fear, leading their tribes in bloody raids against the communities along the desert's border, displaying a shocking and casual violence that horrifies the survivors. There are even rumors that one or more Dragons may be in league with the rogue tribes, encouraging the worship and ensuing violence to further goals of their own.

"Emulating the Dragon" is the training the most devout warriors of the sect undergo. Eschewing weapons, the Reptile Men strive to return to the tactics of their Dragon "ancestors." Dragon warrior tactics are to close on and grapple their enemies, simultaneously biting and tearing with their powerful legs. They also seek the Dragon's traditional ability to terrify, roaring and stamping to scare their enemies into submission. Fierceness is combined with subtlety: warriors put their enemies off with slow advances and sudden attacks, or conceal themselves and seize their foes from concealment. The greatest warriors supposedly gain mystical "gifts of the Dragon," enabling them to "fly" as they leap great distances from ambush and Slam their enemies, to strike fearsome blows, or to roar with such force that their enemies are actually stunned.

Note: Practitioners of this art reject weapons, believing them to weaken Reptile Men who should rely on their own natural weapons and strength. GMs may wish to enforce a compulsory Major Vow (-10 points) to use no weapons for any Reptile Men PCs who learn the style.

Primary Skills: Brawling, Intimidation, Wrestling.
Secondary Skills: Hypnotism, Stealth, Theology (Dragon Worship).
Optional Skills: Camouflage, Jumping, Naturalist, Running, Tracking.
Maneuvers: Bite, Ground Fighting (Wrestling), Hit Location (Brawling), Rake, Scratch.
Cinematic Skills: Flying Leap, Hypnotic Hands, Kiai, Power Blow.
Cinematic Maneuvers: None.


9 points/15 points

The philosophy of the Halfling people is one of simplicity: be prudent but not profound, generous but not spendthrift, hardworking but not self-denying. Always fulfill your obligations, and know when not to take on more. Above all, try to get along; with your neighbor, the locals, and the Big People among whom you live. This philosophy extends to all parts of halfling life and is so much a part of their culture it doesn't even have a name, although it is best simply summed up as "harmony." If only the Big People could all live the same way...

The story always starts the same way. A Halfling village or community, oppressed and abused by its human rulers, prepares to defend itself, ready for the worst. One day a Halfling stranger of indeterminate age, wearing a battered blue cloak and walking with a stick, comes into town and asks for a place to stay. On the first day, he's helping out, fixing a fence or tending to a hurt sheep. By the third day, he's teaching the young men of the village how to defend themselves. He stays for a month or two, training and guiding his students, and then is gone as mysteriously as he arrived. He uses many names, but some say it's Saint Helbus, one of the first Halfling Christians and a disciple of the proselytizing St. Michael Olybrius, returned from Heaven to protect his fellows.

The style, in keeping with halfling philosophy, is simple and economic. The opponent's height and strength are used against him, and the halfling's natural stealth and grace are exploited to effect. The weapon of choice is a walking stick, around two feet in length, which is used both in attack and defense, striking at the wrists and ankles to disarm and incapacitate. Slings and a variety of thrown weapons are also used. The master himself is supposed to be capable of outlandish feats, knocking over armored men and disappearing entirely from view, but he rarely remains in one place long enough to teach these highest disciplines.

Primary Skills: Judo, Short Staff, Stealth, Throwing.
Secondary Skills: Acrobatics, Hypnotism, Philosophy (Harmony), Sling.
Optional Skills: Bow, First Aid/TL3, Herbary.
Maneuvers: Arm Lock (Judo or Short Staff) [1 point], Disarming, Hit Location (Short Staff) [2 points], Off-Hand Weapon Training (Short Staff).
Cinematic Skills: Invisibility Art, Light Walk, Pressure Points, Push, Throwing Art.
Cinematic Maneuvers: Roll With Blow.

Imperial Battle Wizard Training

5 points/6 points

The Imperial Legion makes extensive use of wizards, healing the fallen, affecting the battlefield and directly attacking the enemy with magic. These wizards are much of the reason the Imperial Legion is so effective, and much of the reason the Megalan Empire has managed to remain so large and powerful. Ideally, these wizards are kept behind their infantry's lines, shielded from direct attack and somewhat protected from archers and enemy wizards. With a responsibility somewhere between artillery pieces and battlefield tacticians, they should have little call to engage in direct combat with the enemy.

Nevertheless, before covering military theory and war magic, all wizards are required to do "basic training," learning at least the shield, sword and spear their fellow soldiers use. On top of this, Legion wizards are trained in resisting invasive mind control magic, and in holding their concentration under distraction, keeping their minds on their spells while dodging attacks. Advanced training includes combining spells and weapons in one-to-one combat. Veteran Imperial Battle Wizards have been known to join warlike Mage's Guilds or form schools of their own, passing on the techniques pioneered by the Legion's trainers (see Peter V. Dell'Orto's "Martial Arts for Mages" for more on magical combat training).

Primary Skills: Mind Shield, Shield, Shortsword.
Secondary Skills: Tactics, Thaumatology, Wrestling.
Optional Skills: Broadsword, History (Optional Specialization: Military History), Riding, Savoir-Faire (Military), Spear.
Maneuvers: Concentrate While Defending [2 points].
Special: Imperial Battle Wizards may buy combinations (p.MA54) incorporating spells. Unless learned to a high enough level (generally 21+) that it can be cast instantly, the spell must be the first maneuver in the combination (after a turn spent concentrating). The Concentrate maneuver cannot be incorporated into combinations except in highly cinematic games. This is a feature, costing 0 points.
Cinematic Skills: None.
Cinematic Maneuvers: Simultaneous Spell Attack.


8 points/15 points

Brought over to Yrth by Egyptian bedouin, Tahtib is an ancient stick-fighting form practiced by the nomadic tribes of the Wazifi steppes. The tahtib or asaya is a long wooden staff, used by herders to control sheep or harding, which is turned to defense against wild animals or bandits when the need arises. Generally fought on foot with a four to six foot long staff, the style also teaches practitioners how to fight on horseback with an eight to twelve foot long pole. Both types of combat emphasize movement, with opponents circling one another constantly, keeping their exposed sides out of reach and trying to find openings in one another's defenses. Quick, light, misdirecting attacks are interspersed with more powerful blows, seeking to knock an opponent over or disarm him.

Tahtib is also a form of dance, essentially a ritualized combat fought with light staves, accompanied by the tahvol drum and the oud reed pipe. The dance can be performed wholly co-operatively, usually to a script in which one combatant "wins" the duel, or competitively, with the emphasis on technique and style rather than on landing blows. Either way, the dance is taken seriously among Wazifi tribesmen, as a social and competitive exercise. Raqs al-Asaya, a related "women's dance" performed with a short shepherd's crook, is performed purely for entertainment (use Broadsword Art, Dancing and Sex Appeal).

Primary Skills: Staff, Two-Handed Sword.
Secondary Skills: Brawling, Dance, Polearm, Riding, Staff Art.
Optional Skills: Animal Handling, Broadsword, Musical Instrument (Pipe or Drum), Singing.
Maneuvers: Feint (Staff) [2 points], Horseback Fighting (Staff or Polearm), Jab (Staff)*, Riposte (Staff)*, Spinning Attack (Staff)**.
Cinematic Skills: None.
Cinematic Maneuvers: Enhanced Parry (Staff), Whirlwind Attack (Staff).

*These maneuvers can only be used when using the staff as a thrusting weapon. Jab functions as per the boxing maneuver, inflicting one less damage than usual for a thrusting attack.
**As Spinning Punch, using a staff.

New Maneuvers

Bite (Average)


The basic bite attack. Note that humanoids must grapple enemies with both hands before biting them. Muzzled or snouted quadrupeds (the Horizontal disadvantage) or creatures with long necks can bite without grappling as a standard Close Combat attack as a zero-point feature. Damage is per the chart on p.B140, calculated for half the attacker's ST, or as per the Bite or Sharp Teeth advantage. Brawling adds its usual damage bonus.

Concentrate While Defending (Hard)


Cannot exceed Will+1

A spellcaster or psionic taking the Concetrate action may use this maneuver in place of his Will to try and maintain concentration if he is forced to make an Active Defense.

Hilt Strike (Average)

Boxing-2, Brawling-2 or Karate-2

Cannot exceed prerequisite skill level

The attacker punches his opponent with his weapon hand. The hilt makes the punch awkward, but hard. Damage is thrust-1/crushing, plus any bonuses for skill. Basket hilts are specially designed for this maneuver: roll at +1 (without exceeding the prerequisite skill) and inflict thrust/crushing damage. This is a Close Combat maneuver.

Horseback Fighting (Hard)

Weapon Skill-2

Prerequisite: Any one-yard or longer weapon Weapon Skill

Cannot exceed prerequisite skill level

This is the skill of wielding a weapon from horseback. As per p.B136, the attacker suffers a penalty of -2 if his relative speed is 6 higher than the target; trained horseback fighters may use this maneuver instead. Note that infantry are also at a -1 to defend against a horseback attacker, who in turn is at +1 to defend against infantry.

Rake (Hard)


Prerequisite: Claws, Sharp Claws or Talons

Cannot exceed Brawling

This is a powerful claw attack using the legs. The attacker must first Takedown or Slam his opponent and then grapple him with both hands, holding him down as he uses his legs to tear at the opponent's body. At the end of the attack, the attacker is prone, and must either take a turn standing or continue fighting on the ground. Damage is for a kick attack+2.

Scratch (Hard)


Prerequisite: Claws, Sharp Claws or Talons

Cannot exceed Brawling+1

This is a claw attack calculated to inflict minimal damage but draw as much blood as possible, usually to demoralize an opponent. It cannot be used against an opponent wearing armor. Roll damage normally for a hand attack; if any damage penetrates natural DR (from fur, hide or Toughness), then blood has been drawn. Regardless of the roll, a scratch never inflicts more than one point of real damage. System effects of bleeding vary at the GM's discretion. A heavily bleeding enemy or his allies may need to make Fright Checks. A scratch aimed at the Head (-5 to hit) causes blood to pour down the target's face, inflicting a vision penalty of -3 to -6. The victim should make HT rolls for blood loss per p.B130; damage from this maneuver inflicts a -1 per 3 hit points lost, not 5.

Trigger Beserk (Hard)


Cannot exceed Will+3

A character with the Beserk disadvantage may take the Concentrate action and use this maneuver in place of his Will to deliberately go berserk. Regrettably, it is of no use in trying to snap out of it . . .

New Cinematic Maneuver

Simultaneous Spell Attack (Average)

Spell Level-3*

Prerequisite: Any offensive spell; must specialize

Cannot exceed prerequisite skill level

As per p.B146, spells take affect at the beginning of the turn, the caster having finished concentrating the turn before. The mage may then take a normal action on the same turn, including Concentrating on another spell or making an attack. With this maneuver, unleashing the spell and attacking occur simultaneously. Unlike Dual-Weapon Attack (p.MA57), this maneuver does not give the caster any additional actions, but the simultaneous attacks divide the target's attention; his resistance and Active Defense rolls are both at -1. Spells learned to a high enough level to cast instantaneously may be cast with this maneuver, allowing the wizard to simultaneously attack and cast every turn.

*Note that this maneuver must be learned to be attempted; the wizard cannot simply roll against the default. The technique requires specialized training and practice.

Article publication date: February 18, 2005

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