Roleplayer #9, March 1988

Three New Ways to Knock 'Em Down!

Bleeding, Suffocation and Knock-Out Damage


From the hilltop, young Squire Delevan could see his valiant knight, Sir Bertram the Bold, standing amid a boiling mass of foemen. With each mighty swing of the knight's sword, another ruffian fell, until only Sir Bertram and a lone bandit remained standing. The knight swung, his broadsword crashing down upon the ruffian, cleaving him nigh in twain. But as the blackguard fell, he found the strength to throw one final blow at the victorious Bertram, catching the knight in the vitals, grievously wounding the brave chevalier.

Delevan knew he must rush to Sir Bertram and administer first aid, if the knight was to survive his wounds. But Delevan was hungry, and with the ruffians dispatched, he sat down for a sandwich before undertaking the long walk down the hill to where Bertram lay, unconscious among the fallen bandits . . .

A wounded character ought to bleed to death if left untended, but Squire Delevan knew that there is no provision for this fact in GURPS. At least, not until now. The following optional rule allows GMs to incorporate bleeding into their campaigns, giving characters with First Aid something to do after a fight:

A character wounded by any sort of attack – except burns – may continue to lose HT due to bleeding. At the end of every minute after being wounded, the victim rolls against HT, taking a -1 penalty for every five points of damage he has taken. If the character fails this HT roll, he bleeds for a loss of 1 HT. On a critical failure, he bleeds for 3 points of damage. If he makes the roll, he does not bleed this minute, but must continue to roll every minute. On a critical success, the character's bleeding stops completely. Similarly, a character stops bleeding after three consecutive normal successes on the bleeding HT roll.

If another character makes a First Aid roll to help his wounded comrade, or if a wounded but conscious character makes a First Aid roll on himself, the bleeding stops immediately. One First Aid roll may be attempted per patient per minute; this roll comes before the bleeding roll; once first aid has been successfully administered, no more bleeding rolls are made. It is possible, if a successful First Aid roll is made within the first minute after the wound was delivered, that there will be no HT loss due to bleeding.

Note that it takes only one minute to apply pressure or a tourniquet in order to stop bleeding. Once bleeding has been halted, the character administering first aid may spend thirty minutes to treat the victim for shock. To do this, he must keep the victim warm, comfortable, calm and still; at the end of thirty minutes, he makes another First Aid roll. If he succeeds, he has alleviated the victim's shock and restored a single HT-point of damage. If he has proper equipment – usually a medical kit – he may also perform basic field surgery to heal additional damage appropriate for the Tech Level of the campaign. See p. B111.

Burns and similar wounds do not bleed significantly because the damage sears the wounded flesh, cauterizing the wound and preventing blood loss automatically. Thus, no bleeding rolls are made for this type of wound. Examples of this type of wound include fire and electrical damage, laser fire, and chemical burns.


It is possible to render a victim unconscious or even dead without inflicting significant HT damage. To do this, you must suffocate your victim by cutting off the flow of oxygen to his brain. This may be done either by preventing the victim from breathing, or by restricting the flow of blood (and thus oxygen) to his brain.

While struggling, a character can "hold his breath" – that is, survive without damage while no fresh oxygen is reaching his brain – for a number of turns equal to his HT. (If the character is not resisting in any way – a feat which requires a roll vs. IQ, modified by Strong or Weak Will – he may lie passively in the grip of his assailant, holding his breath for HTx4 turns.)

Once the character is "out of breath," he loses one Fatigue point per turn. When he runs out of Fatigue, he falls unconscious. If his assailant continues to restrict the flow of oxygen to his brain, he will die in four minutes, regardless of his current or starting HT. If his assailant releases him, he will regain consciousness when his Fatigue reaches 1, as described on p. B117 – usually ten minutes later.

A victim may be suffocated to unconsciousness or even death in a variety of ways. You may hold his nose and mouth shut by hand, cover his face with a pillow or other suitable object, or constrict either of his carotid arteries (which may be found on either side of the throat, just below the hinge of the jaw). None of these methods inflicts any HT damage on the victim – they simply induce brain death.

If you attempt to choke him to death by squeezing his trachea, you do inflict HT damage, as described under Choke or strangle on p. B100. At the same time, you are also suffocating him, as described here – so he may pass out from lack of oxygen before you actually crush his windpipe. The difference is that by simply suffocating him, you will not harm him in any lasting way; by choking him, you are inflicting potentially fatal HT damage on his trachea.

Knocking Someone Out

From time to time, adventurers need to knock an enemy out without killing him. Up till now, GURPS characters have had to simply beat him up until he fell unconscious – hardly appropriate when you need to silently dispatch a guard before he can sound an alarm. The following rule makes it possible to render a foeman unconscious with a single blow:

Any crushing blow to the head or vitals may knock a character out from shock. Whenever a crushing attack strikes either of these hit locations – whether through a random hit location roll or a carefully targeted attack – the victim makes an immediate HT roll, taking a penalty to the roll equal to the amount of damage delivered by the blow. If he makes this roll, he remains conscious and may fight on; if he fails, he falls immediately unconscious, regardless of his current HT. Thereafter, he makes a roll against basic HT to regain consciousness, once every minute.

It is possible, though unlikely, for a blow which does no HT damage to knock a character out. This can happen when a crushing attack which does 1-1 or less damage hits the head or vitals. If the attacker rolls exactly zero points of damage, the victim makes a roll against his unmodified HT to avoid falling unconscious; if he fails, he is knocked out, even though he is not significantly wounded. If the blow does "fewer than zero" points of damage – a 1-3 attack which rolls a 1 on the damage die, for example – there is no chance that the victim will be knocked out.

This rule gives a crushing blow to the head two chances of knocking a character out: in addition to the chance described above, any blow to the head doing more than 1/2 the character's basic HT will immediately render him unconscious, without any HT roll, as described on p. B95. When specifically aiming for the head or vitals, remember to subtract the hit penalty – -5 for the head, -3 for the vitals – from the attacker's Skill roll. Also, remember that the head has a natural DR of 1, but any damage to the head which gets past its natural DR and that of any armor is doubled.

If a character is trying to knock an enemy out without seriously injuring him, he may want to pull his blow. Any player, at any time, may declare before he rolls to hit that his character is pulling his blow. To do this, he announces how much damage he intends to do, in terms of a die roll. For example, Bill Crimson, who fights with a quarterstaff, wants to knock out his opponent without seriously hurting him. He announces an aimed shot for the vitals, and declares that he will pull his blow, doing 1 die of damage, rather than his normal 1+2.

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