Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe

Normally I review RPG materials I find especially interesting or helpful. This is not an RPG book at all - but it was an incredible source of material for GURPS Martial Arts. It's one of the best books I had access to, it's a great introduction to the topic, and points out specific resources you can use to dig deeper into specific topics. It's a book well worth reading if you have any interest in the time period, or just want a better grasp of "I hit him with my sword" means when you're roleplaying faux-Middle Ages fighting. It's later than the Middle Ages, of course, but so much of fantasy fighting is influenced by the Renaissance, or freely mixes in weapons all the way from Roman swords to late Renaissance rapiers. For those reasons, it's an excellent and informative read.

The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe

When writing GURPS Martial Arts, Sydney Anglo's The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe was very possibly the single best resource we had for European martial arts. The only the source that possibly edged it out for overall utility was Thomas Green's Encyclopedia of Martial Arts 2-book set (which, indirectly, led me to training Kachin Bando.)

Now, we did have access to a lot of the actual texts - Talhoffer, Silver, the Codex Wallerstein, Ringeck, and more. But having a book that pulled those sources together, along with many others we didn't have access to (or just flat-out couldn't afford access to), was excellent.

The book takes a look at the entire scope of the martial arts, from foot to mounted, from one end of the Renaissance to the other. It covers not just swords but also pole arms, spears, daggers, wrestling, unarmed striking, fighting in armor and unarmored, ritualized combat versus larger scale combat, and more. It does so in a very readable, well-referenced, and well-indexed way. You could pick this book up having little or no idea about the martial arts and learn a lot. If you already have some interest in the martial arts, it'll fill in a lot of gaps you might not realize existed in your knowledge. It certainly did that for me - I knew I didn't know everything, but it brought to my attention things I didn't even know existed. If what you know about swords and armor is that you hack people down with swords and never grapple in armor, this book will be a revelation and a treat. It can be a great source of inspiration for game and add verisimilitude to your descriptions of fighting.

One of the great strengths of the book is that it works to tie those sources together by time period and topic - you get Silver's look at the "short staffe" and discussions of other master's use of the staff, you get the influence of mathematics on swordsmanship tied together across stylists who espoused that, and so on. You get a look at person violence vs. war, and how that differed. Styles and weapons idea for stabbing another swordsman in the streets of London or Genoa varied from what you needed to push a rank of pikes through an enemy army. The book's look at, say, lance on foot vs. sword or jousting or even siege machines makes sense in that kind of context. It's tough when you a bring a dueling weapon to a battlefield and vice-versa. (That said, I do need to go back and give a full review to this more in-depth book on the subject of Renaissance war.)

As well, the book jumps into the controversies of the time and the biases of later historians and stylists (who occasionally saw everything before as leading up to their modern, "ulimate" style), too. It also addresses the nomenclature of the time - one section is titled "What was a rapier?" Modern readers might assume the answer is obvious, but what swords fit under what description (and what period authors felt were good terms) is a muddled and complex issue. Add in terminology of the actual styles being idiosyncratic, deliberately coded to confuse those who didn't learn from the master directly, translated and then re-translated, and you get an idea of the issue. Anglo does a great job making it as clear as it possibly can be.

Nicely, this book also addresses something often overlooked when discussing weaponry and martial arts - the social aspects. As much as you would think combat would be all about efficiency, style and social acceptibility and the law matter a lot. Sometimes it even makes that point indirectly - George Silver argued that the best self-defense weapon was a polearm called the forest bill, but socially and practically, you can see why it loses out to the vastly more portable and socially acceptable sword or a handy short staff even if it's superior to them in a fight.

The book is also lavishly illustrated - with both black and white reproductions of art and manual illustrations but also some color plates as well. Point of fact, one of the illustrations showing a swordsman losing both hands to a sword counter lead directly to Kromm and I realizing we needed a way to do that in the rule, and Extreme Dismemberment came directly from that.

The book came out way back in 2000, but I didn't discover it until 2004 when I was researching GURPS Martial Arts. I felt it was such a good resource that I bought a copy to send to my co-author so he'd be able to read and use it. Considering the budget for research materials on the book was $0 - everything came out of my profits - that's a true sign of its value to me.

It's a highly recommended read. I could go on about it all day. You can read part of it online at the HACA website. While without a doubt some parts of the book may have been overtaken by more recent looks at specific parts of the subject, consider this the best gateway to the subject that I can find.

For more reviews, please see my reviews page.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

DF Felltower NPC: Jon Blackbart

No game this week, so it's another Felltower NPC this Sunday.

Jon Blackbart is a volunteer hireling - he comes for tips, which generally works out to be much more than a day's rate at a real job. Plus, there is always the chance of a big score and a big payoff. He is mostly based on the Guard template from Dungeon Fantasy 15 but he's both better and worse in some ways than that.

For more pre-made henchmen from my game, check the DF Henchmen page.

Jon Blackbart

Jon is a mystery - his background is not known, and he's quiet and doesn't talk much about himself. He's fairly grim. He may have some kind of farming background, as he handled pigs well when asked. He does have some kind of fighting background as he owns and can handle a sword well. He doesn't have any other weapon skills, though, really - no ranged weapons, no backups besides Knife (and he doesn't carry a combat-useful one.) He does wear the traditional red shirt of the local militia.

ST 14  HP 14     Speed 6.00
DX 11 Will 10   Move 6
IQ 10  Per 10
HT 13 FP 13     DR 2 (Neck 4F, Skull 6)
Dodge 8   Parry (Broadsword) 10 + 2 DB   Block 10 +2 DB

Thrusting Broadsword (15): 2d+1 cutting or 1d+2 impaling; Reach 1.

Traits: Code of Honor (Stays Bought); Fearlessness 3; No Sense of Humor; Ridiculously Thick Beard (DR 2, Face 1-3 in 6, and Neck, front only); Stubbornness.

Quirks: Delusion: My sword is Ornate; Doesn't talk much; Willing to answer to "Bort" but resents it.

Skills: Animal Handling (Farm Animals)-10; Armoury (Melee Weapons)-9; Brawling-12; Broadsword-15; Forced Entry-11; Climbing-10; Knife-11; Shield-14; Sumo Wrestling-10; Stealth-10.

Gear: Clothing; Thrusting Broadsword w/cheap glass "gem" in pommel; Heavy Leather Armor (DR 2); Medium Shield; Personal Basics; Pot Helm (DR 4); Pouch; Sack; Small Knife (tool).

This is a straight-up Mordheim mini. The GW Mordheim minis drip with personality without being cluttered with too much detail. This guy is no different. These minis are a joy to paint.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

I have a secret GURPS project

It's true, I'm working on a project. It's not so secret anymore now that Dr. Kromm mentioned it on his Livejournal weekly GURPS update.

I can't tell you much except:

- the draft is due pretty soon, so if I seem busy or I'm being on your blogs or requests for anything, that's why.

- it's for GURPS, which should be no shock (gee, a GURPS author writing a project for the GURPS Line Editor is writing a GURPS project! Gasp!)

- I can't tell you what line or topic it's for, but it's related to things I've written about being. I'm not expanding into a new line. So that cuts it down to, what, three possible lines of support? Low-Tech, Martial Arts, or Dungeon Fantasy. Or a mix. That's technically possible, too.

- I'm the sole author. I like co-authoring better for a lot of reasons (for one, I can hand off what gets me stuck) but this one has largely flown off of my keyboard and I wouldn't have needed much writing help. Editing and rules question help, yes, but not to get most of the words down.

- and that I had a goal of getting 250 new words down this morning before MMA class and instead I edited and edited and added, like, 2 new words. Sigh.

That's all I can tell you now.

I'd also like publicly resent the fact that Wasteland 2 came out yesterday and I tried it briefly last night. I got sucked right in, which tells me it has to go on the "after you've done your writing for today!" pile.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Digging further into Tactical Longsword Sport

I mentioned this morning I'd take a deeper look at Doug's post and do so comments on it here. So, here they are.

Stealing Doug's writeup, but with my own comments:

Red: Attack, a swing to the head. Maybe a Committed Attack? It would explain . . .
White: Parry [4]

White: Deceptive attack. Swing to the torso.[5]
Red: Cannot parry; must dodge. This does not go well and he's hit.

Red: The hit hasn't registered with him yet, and he's already made up his mind. Attack, Committed, to the head.
White: Drop to knees and parry [6]

Following Doug's numbers, as well:

[4] I think that attack by Red Socks that leaves his sword high can be one or both of the following:

Committed Attack (Determined)


A critical miss. Either because of a stellar parry by White Socks (maybe, probably not) or just a poor roll. One of the results on the Critical Miss table, with a roll of 7 or 13, is "You lose your balance. You can do nothing else (not even a free actions) until your next turn and all your active defenses are at -2 until then."

That squared-up stance he takes after a failed attack? That doesn't seem to be part of the attacking strategy so much as a miscue. I've seen fighters doing really well, then suddenly put a foot wrong and leave themselves unable to stop a strike.

Note that 7 and 13 say "nothing else" - so a -2 to defenses, and loss of the expected and planned for Retreat makes it a 5-point swing in defenses. Not only that, but a 7 or 13 result stops a turn dead, which means anything you intended to do after the strike that failed doesn't come off - no step, no more attacks (if it was part of a multiple-attack turn), no dropping a weapon, nothing. You just have to stand where you chose and take any counter.

Now, any of that could have resulted from the parry if White rolled a critical success. It just goes to demonstrate that GURPS is positing dice rolls giving results, not necessarily saying the rolls individually tell the whole story. Aparry that doesn't look so good but which is good enough, and then which causes the attacker to be unable to respond effectively (in other words, Critically Miss and have bad stuff happen) can be a Critical Success. Probably a Critical Failure, though.

Or, it could be a Riposte Martial Arts, p. 124) - taking a slightly riskier defense to leave the attacker open. Although I'd say it doesn't really resemble what fencers call a riposte. It does fit into the GURPS terminology, however - Riposte as a term of art, describing game effects. That's iffy because White Socks doesn't seem to be taking a risky defense to open up Red Socks to retaliation, nor does it looked like a rushed defense (another way to be taking a GURPS Riposte.)

[5] This can also be a Counterattack (Martial Arts, p. 70). It's something you see a lot in sword manuals - the parry-counter, the masterstroke that delivers a blow while leaving you covered completely and your foe open, the immediate response. Counterattack is one of those techniques you need to train to have it matter (a quirk of the Deceptive Attack rules - if it was not so, it would either just be DA or be better than it), but it fits the style of German longsword really well based on the manuals. And clearly, how it's fought in modern reconstruction.

In any case, it's clearly a Deceptive Attack - probably through sheer speed, as the retaliation from the parry of the high-line strike is instant and fast. It's nothing "cute" but just hard to stop. That, per What Is . . . a Deceptive Attack? (Martial Arts, p. 111), is a wholly valid explanation for a DA.

This is a good split-second to remember when you deal a potentially fatal blow in GURPS combat - unless your blow is so good, so well-placed, so effective that it makes the attacker unable to retaliate, you might still die. If you hit someone with enough damage that they will certainly die (from bleeding (p. B420), from lack of medical care, from eventually failing a death check) but they make a check to not be stunned and stay conscious in the meantime (or, luck forbid, act simultaneously with you) and kill you dead too.

I've had occasion (funny) moments when someone death a death-check causing blow, the "dead" person made the check, remained unstunned, remained conscious, and then acted with great consequence. While the players in my DF just go for torso shots not to "waste" damage, in my more gritty games you'd see a lot more arm and legs shots (yes, and eye shots) aimed at making retaliation impossible.

Don't forget Dying Actions (p. B423), too - if you're using them, the person might just get that blow in after failing a death check. If you killed your foe with a Committed Attack or All-Out Attack, well, you might just get to chat about it while you're walking down the long white tunnel together.

By the way, GURPS doesn't allow this exactly, but I do like the idea of dropping to one knee in lieu of a step back for a Retreat with a Parry. Take a knee, take a +1, and hope you don't need to move. It looks cool, too. It just sucks when you're kneeling and his buddy attacks, hammering your in your new, lower-defense posture.

Finally, I'm surprised Doug didn't highlight Setup Attacks, which also might explain the progressive opening of Red Sock's defenses. Perhaps the Setup Attack forced him into a limited line of attack, which made for an easier followup the next turn by the eventual winner?

It's All Fun and Games

None of this is a knock on the fighter we've been calling Red Socks. This is clearly some high level swordsmanship on both sides. But when you cut down to fractions of a second of movement, even a tiny error can cause a loss. I'd say most fight losses in high level combat sports result from one person's small error. We're simply taking an excellent slow-motion look at a combat sport exchange and showing what it could represent in visualization of game effects and what it could be modeled as using GURPS.

It's rare to get such a good example of concepts built deep into GURPS, so you'll have to forgive Doug and I for posting incessantly about it for a couple days. I promise I'm done with that one exchange.

Ironically, I don't do this kind of breakdown with MMA. This is because MMA is my sport - I have fought, I still train as if I might fight again, and I work on it constantly. So I don't really look at fight video and think of it in game terms, I think of it in application to what I do and how I can utilize or counter what I see. It's just not where I keep my head when I watch fights.

Incidentally, all of this reminds me of why you don't see this stuff in the movies - it happens too fast, the moves are too subtle and then too explosive. It's stunning in its execution but mostly unless it's slowed down you can't even see it happen. To an untrained eye the full speed stuff isn't going to look cool, anymore than watching high-level grappling is as entertaining if you don't know enough to spot all the stuff that's going on.

Technical Longsword Sport

For those of you who may have missed it, Douglas Cole took my post yesterday, and extensively analyzed the 2-second exchange of blows I highlighted.

It's good stuff - both his eye for technique in the real world and how this all looks when the dice hit the table in a game.

Technical Longsword: GURPS gets it right

I have some more comments on the video, and his post, but I also have work, so it'll have to wait for tonight!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Longsword Sport

So one of my friends sent along an excellent video about modern longsword competition.

Here is the video on youtube.

And here is the article.

It's pretty inspirational stuff for two-handed sword fighting. It gives you an idea of:

- how fast an exchange of blows is.

- how you can parry, attack, then parry in fractions of a second for each movement - especially check out this bit here, which makes the whole article for me.

- the sheer maneuverability of a two-handed sword. Lots of systems rate big swords as slow, clumsy hacking weapons. This is a good demonstration of something we found researching Martial Arts - the people who used such weapons in combat rated them highly as defensive, fast weapons.

How would Longpoint style fights look in GURPS?

This style of fighting would best be represented with either Two-Handed Sword Sport, or a style that teaches both Two-Handed Sword Sport and Two-Handed Sword. Most of those blows look potentially lethal and hard, but there is also a sports targeting aspect and safety restrictions that might hamper you in a fight, so Sport makes sense as a separate skill you'd learn. They don't seem to judge the blows on artistry alone, making Two-Handed Sword Art a bit unlikely. You can check out Art vs. Sport vs. Combat skill in the GURPS Martial Arts Designers Notes. You'd want Games (Longsword) as well, since understanding the written and unwritten rules and scoring system of a sport is critical to doing well in it. Knowing the history of the sport would help, too.

Just based on that one source (the video description), and the Longsword Fighting style from p. 180 of GURPS Martial Arts, you could make this fairly stripped down ring-ready version.

Longsword Sport

Skills: Games (Longsword), Two-Handed Sword, Two-Handed Sword Sport.
Techniques: Counterattack (Two-Handed Sword).
Cinematic Skills: Power Blow.
Cinematic Techniques: Timed Defense (Two-Handed Sword).
Perks: Grip Mastery (Longsword).

Optional Traits
Advantages: Enhanced Dodge; Enhanced Parry (Two-Handed Sword); Weapon Master (Two-Handed Sword).
Disadvantages: Delusions; Obsession (win tournaments).
Skills: Broadsword; History (European or German).
Perks: Weapon Bond.

I didn't list Targeted Attack, because it's not clear from the video what the valid targets are. I'll have to do a lot more reading to sketch out the rest of this. An enthusiast (or a PC, who reasonably expect to take this and use it in real fights) would do well to also learn Longsword Fighting, with its mix of strikes, grapples, armed, and unarmed techniques.

What this reminds me of a lot is full-contact and real-contact stickfighting. I did a lot of stuff copied from the Dog Brothers back in the day - my first experience with grappling and groundfighting, actually, was learning to do a fang choke (a stick-assisted choke) and a figure-four arm lock with a stick (aka a Kimura.) The guy who plays Chuck Morris in my current DF game once cracked me so hard it spun my fencing mask around and dented it so deeply it was hard to remove it. Ah, good times. In any case, it looks similar in some ways, although the Dog Brothers scoring is, uhm, broader and cruder. This doesn't look like a sport where parry-takedown-choke would win.

The scoring system is reminiscent of kendo - just hitting isn't enough, but the quality of the strike, the timing of the strike, and your demonstrated skill in execution and control are all important - although it clearly differs in many particulars.

I only wish more of this stuff was going on and was more widely available back in '04-'05 when GURPS Martial Arts was coming together. A lot was out, but the full wealth of manuals, practical feedback from sports competitors, and so on just wasn't as plentiful as it is now, 10 years on. Ten years earlier than that, even a smaller fraction of the material would have been available. The internet has made available an explosion of good research material and historically rigorous re-enactments and testing possible. And, naturally, competitive games based on it all. It's worth looking to see if someone has taken your favorite gaming weapon and tried it out with historically-based techniques or turned it into a contact sport. It really helps visualize what you are doing in play, and appreciate the skill and beauty of martial skills in action.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Chainmail Ogre Mercenary Mini

Here are some closeups of that Chainmail-line Ogre Mercenary I used as a cave giant in my game on Sunday. I can finally show them off because the players have seen this guy in person.

The chainmail line is very 2D. Even this guy is very flat front-to-back. The upside is that I could make him fit easily on a battlemap without a giant base.

You can probably see pretty easily that I didn't do all that much blending on this guy. Colors tend to start and stop abruptly. Honestly, I just got tired of painting him at some point, did some touch work to make him look good enough, and stopped. Still, he's a pretty good paint job and I expect if I need more giants in the future I'll bust him out again.

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Click on any of those for a larger version.
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