Thursday, June 6, 2013

GURPS Melee Academy: Berserker's Wingman

Welcome to the June installment of Melee Academy! For more, please check Team Tactics 101 over on Gaming Ballistic and Fundamental Tactics Principles on No School Grognard.

Berserkers can be tough opponents, but also tough allies. They're vulnerable to attack, they can often get out ahead of a defensive line, and they can't actively avoid injury.

So how can you keep your berserker buddy alive?

Defend For Him - A berserker has no defenses, but that doesn't mean he's defenseless. Not with a wingman. That's where you come in.

Sacrificial Parry - If you can get this perk, found in DF11 and Power-Ups 2, you can parry for an ally beside you.

The longer and better your weapon is for parrying, the better. For one-handed weapons, your best bet is usually a rapier (Reach 1,2). Any two-handed weapon covered by Parrying with Two-Handed Weapons (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 123) is a great choice. They generally have a good reach, solid weight to avoid breakage, and give excellent multiple parry cascades (-2 instead of -4). The king of these is the quarterstaff. +2 to Parry and the upsides of two-handed parries and Reach 1, 2 means you can cover the berserker pretty easily.

With this perk, you're going to want to stand within 1-2 yards of your berserker buddy. In general, advancing a little forward of the berserker is the best plan - you want to be within reach when he's attacked. Remember that a Move action leaves you all of your defenses intact - this is handy if your berserker can outpace your Step (which is generally pretty easy). You might want to forgo any action except moving to a good place from which to defend the berserker.

Sacrificial Block (from DF15) will allow you to stop a shield attack if it passes toward your berserker friend in your rear. You'll need Shield Wall Training to stop ones when he's to your side, but that also comes with the ability to cover him if he's to your side. A large shield and this pair of perks is your best option, really, because you can effectively intercept any attack near you or through you.

Sacrificial Dodge is your least good option. It's more properly "Sacrificial Dodge-and-Drop" and if you pull it off you take the hit and you end up prone. Pull this one out if you have to, but it's not one you want to depend on or have to use except in extremis.

Clear Attackers From Him - The fun part. Killing those who can threaten your berserk buddy.

Your goal on your own turns is to kill those opponents who can deal the most effective blows against the berserker. Who that is exactly varies. Evaluate them in light of what they can do to your ally.

Again, you want to stay close. Don't stray too far from your berserker ally to get a kill.

Given a choice of targets, leave the most offensively weak opponent alive.

Given a choice of targets, cut down the ones most able to interrupt the berserker (killing anyone attempting a Stop Thrust, for example) or able to put him to the floor (opponents reasonably capable of inflicting a crippling injury).

While it can be tempting to finish a stunned opponent, if there is an enemy that is more threatening to your berserker ally, hit that opponent first. A stunned opponent will spend the next turn on a Do Nothing maneuver recovering from stunning, so there is no attack coming from there. If there is a more threatening target, attempt to take that one down.

One thing to consider is softening up the berserker's target. You can do this the old fashioned way (attacking him to try and injure or kill him), go for a disarm (pretty low percentage, most of the time), cripple a limb, etc. - but you can also Beat or Feint. A Beat can be taken advantage of by anyone, including your berserker friend. Taking advantage of Feint requires that you both have the Teamwork perk - a smart buy at 1 point if you're planning to routinely fight as a pair. It's an open question if you can stay "formed up" when you're Berserk. You certainly can't take the Ready action needed to form up in the first place, but it's a GM's call if you stay formed up once you go berserk. If so, staying adjacent to your berserker buddy should be enough to keep you so.

Passively Block Attacks - this is simply a matter of positioning. Put yourself between foes who you can defend against but who will effectively be able to attack the berserker. If you can do so, you can prevent opponents from using Step and Attack to get the berserker and instead need to go for All-Out Attack (leaving them open to attack), Committed Attack (Extra Step), using Extra Effort for a second step, or Move and Attack (greatly limiting their attacks and weakening their defenses). This is simply putting yourself between the attackers and the berserker.

It works pretty well for missiles, too - there is a steep penalty for shooting through occupied hexes.

Leave a clear target - the berserker is going to need someone to kill on his turn. So leave him a clear target, especially one that won't take so much running that he'll get too far away from your passive and active protection. So do your best to set up a clear channel for him to advance through and attack.

This can be tricky, and it's wildly situation dependent. But ideally, you want to leave a target that is:

- relatively close to the berserker - within 1/2 Move, so he can all-out attack. Beyond that range the berserker must take a Move action or attack with a ranged weapon (20+ yards away). Since your goal is to keep the berserker close, you want to leave someone alive for him to attack within 1/2 move.

- easy for the berserker to kill, disable, or stun on his turn, so as not to suffer retaliation.

- isolated, yet in line with the next turn's potential target.

Remember, your overall goal is to win the fight, not shunt the berserker off into a tactically unimportant flank. That'll do if you want to preserve the berserker at all costs, but not if you're just trying to use him most effectively.

What Berserk Isn't - Berserk puts a character into a battle frenzy, and limits his actions. But there are some things it isn't.

A berserker is not automatically battle-blind. It's often proposed as being such, but nothing in the text says a berserker loses any use of Tactics, clever strategy, etc. The actions of the berserker are highly limited, but within those limitations they can do smart things. Remember, a beserker gives no thought to defense, but it says nothing about giving no thought to his offense. Ignore the guy attacking them to kill a different (but more vulnerable) target, choosing the most effective attack option against the targets presented, choosing the best path of movement that still allows for an attack. Remember that with multiple targets within reach of an All-Out Attack, nothing says the berserker must attack the closest target. It just says ". . . you must make an All-Out Attack each turn a foe is in range." So if a tough target is next to you and a totally sweet target is slightly further, and you can reach that second target, he's valid. The berserker is berserk, but hasn't become mindless or stupid. Just frenzied.

Also note that Berserk is quite different and separate from Bloodlust. With Bloodlust, you need to go for a killin' shot and put in an extra shot to ensure a downed foe is dead. Berserk on its own lets you change targets (subject to the limits noted above), snap out of it after a foe is downed, and says nothing about pounding a downed target to make sure he's dead. If you've got Bloodlust and Berserker, you'll suffer both limitations - and your tactical choices will be pretty small.

Finally keep in mind a berserker who runs out of enemies might not snap out of it, and need to be put down. But that does not mean they attack close friends before distant enemies. So it's not unsafe to stand close to one, although you aren't going to get any direct defensive support.

Think of yourselves as a team - it's not what your berserk buddy does on his turn, or you on yours, that counts compared to what you manage together.


  1. One additional useful way of supporting the berserker is to follow him around and heal him. Beserkers sometimes get hurt, and while they don't fall down immediately, they can slow down and become less effective. Having the band's cleric on hand to provide healing is great.

    Another great option is to throw a lot of defensive buffing spells on him. Bruno's insane minotaur berserker Mrugnak became a lot more dangerous with a Blur 5 on him - opponents needed to use Telegraphic just to get back to their normal hit ratios and couldn't target vulnerable bits as easily, and going for some other target than the blood-crazed berserker wasn't really a valid option.

    I'd say those are obvious recommendations, but I lost track of the number of fights in which the other PCs just let Mrugnak run off unsupported, so I do think people need constant reminders.

    1. Pointing out the obvious isn't a bad thing.

      Healing - yeah, of course!

      Blur - not always obvious, but yeah, anything that makes the berserker either harder to hit or harder to damage is a good idea. Their lack of defenses means it's got to be passive harder to hit - Blur, Invisibility (better in regular GURPS than in DF), Blackout combined with Dark Vision on the berserker, etc. Fog plus Water Vision is another good one, or Smoke and Air Vision. Lower the chances of him being hit without lowering his chances of hitting, and you're in good shape.

      These aren't as obvious as they might seem, which is why it's very useful to bring them up.


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