Thursday, May 14, 2015

Targeting Locations: Harder to Hit the Extremities?

The other day during our game, we ended up talking about how relatively easy it is to hit the hands and feet in GURPS. A good part of this is the tactics of Rahtnar the Martial Artist, who lops off feet as the easier way to one-shot a foe.


Hands and Feet are pretty easy to hit, compared to more lethal locations. They're hard to armor. They're easy to cripple and crippling is a direct path to stunning, knockdown, and impaired (or totally ended) combat capacity.

It provokes as much bad feeling as the "I only shoot at tires" guys from Car Wars - it can feel a little cheap to everyone. Plus it doesn't always work - a mobility kill often just means an extended fight with less movement.

As a GM, it's also a lot annoying, because I end up with a large amount of partly-crippled foes to deal with. Many guys who I have to track with Stunning, standing up, changed Move, reduced combat skills, etc. A straight-up kill shot either works or it doesn't and wounds the guy. A cripple means a lot of logistical tracking.

As a player, the fact that your hands and feet are both hard to armor and easy to cripple, plus not terribly hard to target, means "better gloves" and "the best foot armor possible" trumps anything else. You get a lot of people trying to open doors with their Ham Fisted 2-granting gloves and sneak in metal-covered boots because their feet are very vulnerable and their hands are too important and they don't want to be caught in a fight with vulnerable extremities.

Putting aside game issues, it does seem like it's harder to stomp or whack a foot or hand than to get a head shot.

So what if we changed how hard it is to hit the hands and feet?

Some important notes:

- Armor assumptions are using Basic Set. It might be possible to get better armor with GURPS Low-Tech, but that's not actually germane here. Even if it was, it doesn't completely undermine the idea that these locations should actually be harder to hit.)

- Combat rules are assumed to be the core rules plus the core additions from GURPS Martial Arts.

- I'm leaving off the extra hit locations in GURPS Martial Arts, since generally I haven't been using them in my game unless an attack specifically targets them (like the Spine, vs. Wrench Spine.)

- As is often this case, this is just me brainstorming ideas. I haven't tried these yet, and they aren't a rules change for my game. They may be, someday. But for now it's just an idea.


Let's look at the locations in question.

Feet: Not that hard to hit (-4), easy to cripple (only >HP/3 in one blow), hard to armor (best low-tech armor is DR 4, and heavy and loud, 1-2 DR is more typical). Crippled foot means you fall down and your movement and actions are restricted for the rest of the fight.

Hands: Not that hard to hit (-4), easy to cripple (only >HP/3 in one blow), hard to armor (best low-tech armor is DR 5, DR 2 or 4 are more typical). Crippled hand means you can use a weapon (including bucklers) with that arm.

The Face and Skull, on the other hand, are larger than a foot or hand. You can also argue they are harder to defend as they aren't quite as mobile (they're got a smaller area they can move in without moving the whole body).

You can make the argument this should affect defenses, instead. That it is easier to Dodge with hands or feet, or that the head is usually the focus of a lot more defense. This is true to an extent, but to what extent?

Possible Rules Changes

What if you make the hands and feet as hard to hit as the Neck (-5) or Face (-5)? Or harder to hit than the Face and Neck and nearly on par with the Skull (-7)?

Hands and Feet at (-5). At this level, Hands and Feet are just as hard to target as high value targets Neck (-5) and Face (-5). The main value in going for the hands and feet is a better chance to cripple, but it's not easier than a potentially fight-ending kill shot.

Hands and Feet at (-6). At this level, hands and feet are specialized targets. They are harder than nearly all high-value targets, and only braining someone on the Skull (-7), poking an Eye (-9), or aiming for Chinks in Armor (-8 or -10) are harder. Legs, arms, and torso - all very easy places to armor up - are vastly easier targets but require substantially more damage to take out.

Another possible solution is defense:

Hands and Feet are easier to defend. Give all active defenses used to protect the hands or feet a +1.

Hands and Feet Dodge better. As above, except they only get a +1 to Dodge.

These solutions mean that it's still a good idea to aim for hands and feet on Berserkers, but otherwise, it's easier to defend.

A final one is to make armoring those locations easier - but I'm reluctant to add to DR to the hands and feet. Many of the specialized threats against hands and feet, or general damage effects, are pretty low damage. Adding a couple DR wouldn't change the fundamental ease of crippling, either. It's a better solution overall if the location is harder to hit or easier to defend than easier to armor up to create an even more complete shell of invulnerability of the high-DR guys.


What about Aggressive Parry? It is also harder to hit the hand or foot - you're almost always going to be better off trying to injure the arm or leg. Use the to hit penalty (or defense bonus) listed above when resolving the strike potion of the defense. It would explain why so many aggressive parrying styles aim for the legs and arms instead of feet and hands, because your goal is to inflict damage on the easier target. -2 vs. -5 or -6 is a big jump, as is -2 vs. -4 and a +1 to defend.

I'm curious how this would work out. A -5 vs. a -4 is only a small change, but it suddenly means your options are not Hands or Feet, but Hands or Feet or Face or Neck. And it kind of feels right that hands and feet aren't easier to hit than the entire head is, especially when the head is a larger target.


  1. I'll admit that I like the increased dodge option AND the harder to hit one. the hand/fist is roughly the same size as the top of the head from the front, which GURPS usually gives a -7. If we go striclty by size and call a fist a 5" spherical target, it's -7 adjusted to -5 by being round. So -5 for a closed fist that's *not moving* seems right to me.

    Then, in terms of dodginess, if you move your entire body one yard out of line, you get +3. You can, without even moving your feet, move a fist a yard out of line. I might try playtesting something like +3 to Dodge for the hand, stacking with the +3 to Dodge by retreating a hex. Yes, this is going to be Really F**king Hard. One thing I would NOT do is give Fencing weapons extra boosts here - the hand is often presented and not moved. Parry, for example, might get +1 for the hand and another +1 for Retreat, and no extra bonus for being Fencing.

    Anyway, if you treat the feet as actually a foot long, and oblong, they're also -5. So -5 to hit the extremities, and significant dodge bonuses for hands (feet are tougher - they're harder to move well without disturbing balance) fits my idea of a thought experiment; actual values probably are too harsh with my -5 to hit, +3 to Dodge/+1 Parry for hand targeting, but playtest would suss that out.

    One thing with that is it might be interesting to tie this in with some sort of setup attack. Moving your hands out of the way that much to claim a +3 will pull your weapon out of the way for future strikes, as well as likely opening you up to alternate locations.

    1. Yeah, that does make -5 seem pretty fair.

      The upside to changing the hit location is that it's a simple change. No spillover repercussions.

      The upside to a defensive bonus is that you can apply that logic to heads on long necks (can move very easily, and claim a bonus), small weapons, fluttering wings, snapping tails - things that wouldn't be so hard to hit, per se, so much as they are easy to get out of danger.

    2. One other thing that occurred to me that I didn't mention - these penalties apply to ranged and melee attacks. So if a foot is really -4, it's easier to shoot with a gun than the face (-5) or skull (-7). Which might be true, or not, but it's an argument for using the sizes alone to determine hits, and leave defense modifiers for a fuller, more robust set of rules about focused defenses and defense vs. attack type.

    3. Im with -5 for hands and feet. Note that striking a reach "C" weapon is -5 (longer than, but thinner than, hand or foot. As a rule.)

      I like +1 to Parry and Dodge strikes to the hand or foot. Easy to remember, easy to justify, makes you really think about whether that foot strike should really be your go to attack. +3 Dodge for just the hand certainly makes sense, but starts getting fiddly.

  2. In my experience in boffer combat, trying to deliberately hit somebody's feet is very hard and very stupid. Hard because the feet are so far away from the action, stupid because they are far you have to reach and it exposes you. It slightly better with polearms but then the defense get way easy because you lose half the area in which you can jab and feint. That area now effectively under dirt.

    The hands are an easier target if you highly skilled. When the targeting rules are relaxed the best fighters can and do slap the hands of lesser skilled opponents. In general the problem is midigated by having proper hilts and guards and learning to position oneself correctly.

    Now that you pointed it out. I would recommend the following.

    1) Keep the hand penalty the same. However add to the equipment list hilts and guards that add DR to any hand short in addition to the gauntlets. But in the end if the guy is that good relative to his opponent the hand/arm is going bye bye if the defense roll is not made.

    2) The feet probably to be dropped to a -5 penalty and if a foot shot is made with a reach 1 weapon, the wielder should suffer a penalty to defense for over-extension. I would say a -2. Regardless of weapons the target should get a +1 to defense as the attack will be constricted in the range of motion to similar to a telegraphed blow.

    1. Giving DR for weapon hilts, etc. is a pretty good idea.

      The defensive penalty for attacking the feet would have to be purely weapon based, and assume a vertical posture. It wouldn't make sense to give a penalty for attacking the foot with a Stamp Kick, for example, or any kick. Or for an attacker with Horizontal. Or a crouching or kneeling attacker. You'd need to apply a lot of case-by-case situations here, which might be fun for some games but I wouldn't want to make that into a core rule. But it's a good rule that you see some of in the rules of posture vs. posture in Martial Arts on p. 98-99.

      One weapon vs. feet thing I thought of later was, treat any critical miss as a full-power hit against the surface the person is standing on. Roll damage and go from there - on a stone floor, this could mean your sword takes swing damage against itself (and may break). On a dirt floor, your swing/impale weapon might bury itself and need to be pulled free. This would be in addition to whatever else happens. You could do full damage against a hard surface, half on a semi-hard, and permeable surfaces inflict CP equal 1/2 your basic damage. Whack, hit the tree, need time to pull the axe free. Whack, hit the dirt floor, and your sword has 5 CP on it and you need to yank it free next turn because you got cute and went for the foot.

      This would also explain why, generally, people don't hammer sword swings and axe blows at the feet, but you might take a quick crack with the tip of a sword, the butt end of a pole, etc. Much less risk to your weapon.

      I bet one reason you don't hit the feet with weapons is the same reason you don't kick roundhouse kick foes up against a cage or standing near a pole or wall - it's not what happens if it hits, but what happens if you don't. You might have a great shot at a leg kick but know if it's not perfect you'll ring your shin off a post or scrape your foot on a fence or thump into a wall. So, you don't. The "hit the floor" rule works well.

  3. Just a thought - A lot is going to depend on training, but in my experience it really is harder to hit the head or even torso than hands or feet.

    I've fenced (epee) and practiced Shotokan karate and tai chi.

    The first and third allow foot strikes, and in fencing I've seen them used a number of times. A foot attack will often catch someone off-guard unless they're specifically trained to recognize and avoid them. The big drawback is that moving your weapon to such a low line leaves the rest of your body vulnerable, so perhaps there should be some sort of tradeoff there to discourage overuse? An inability to parry high attacks, or the like? It's no good getting off a foot strike if you sacrifice your own head to do it. That might be a pain to outline mechanically, but it makes sense from a verisimilitude standpoint to me.

    Hand attacks also strike me as easier than head. People will reflexively try very hard to protect their heads, including sacrificing their hands. In fact, an advanced fighter aiming to hit the hand might feint to the face on purpose specifically to put the hands in the line of attack. Here I agree with the above suggestion that hilts play a defensive role; hand touches being allowed is exactly why epees have the biggest guards.

    1. Interesting. So the argument basically is, -4 is just about right for hands, and for feet, too, but only if attacking the feet incurs a defense penalty for the attacker?

    2. To be honest I don't play GURPS at all; I just read your blog for the play descriptions and thoughts on megadungeon design and other portable aspects. So I can't say that a given number is "right."

      That said - yes, something like that. Factors other than simply increasing the difficulty to hit can and probably should play a role.

      I also see, on closer inspection, that what I had to say was partially redundant with what Conley was saying above. Great minds? 8^p

    3. Well, like I said to Rob, you'd need to come up with a robust and fairly thorough system to deal with that properly - rules for concentrated defense, different defense rolls per target area, posture, etc. You'd want this to not only deal with standing human vs. standing human in melee, but every variation of attack against a humanoid target, and then account for logical spillovers to non-humanoids. Lots of work.

  4. I like the -5 or -6, they are small targets. Maybe increased defense for hands only, they are relatively easy to move, feet can be as well, but that opens a huge can of worms (if kicking requires a DX roll, does dodging against a foot blow as well?)
    it's a complex issue but I agree that right now the foot chop is way too easy, especially for reach 1 weapons. If it was that easy, wouldn't most weapon systems target them? (other than knife fighting, where you expect to be in close).

    1. Yeah, like you say - a big can of worms. What else deserves a defense bonus? Do they get that bonus against ranged attacks, too?

      It's possible to split the two - hands at -4, feet at -5. Or -5 and -6.

      A mere additional -1 to hit the feet seems like it wouldn't faze an attacker, though, but it suddenly means you are choosing between high-value killing locations vs. a potentially easy cripple that may or may not finish the fight. Any blow hard enough to exceed DR and do more than 1/3 HP in a single blow is a serious amount of damage vs. Face or Neck.

      I like the additional downside I put in above, too - critical misses hit the floor for damage to the weapon (or CP against a soft surface) in addition to the listed effects.

    2. I like the added downsides, but would not limit them to thrusting weapons. Swiping at the foot sends the tip of a sword swinging at a hard surface if you miss. You'd very likely damage it if you miss. Axes, picks, spears, are more likely to be stuck than break, which can be a lot worse. You can still slash with a sword that has the point broken off.

    3. I wouldn't limit them to thrusts, either.

  5. Funny you should post, as I was thinking about this just the other day. Back a few years ago I took a shot at house rules for hands. In a nutshell: -7 or -8. It's roughly the sameish size as "Skull", but is a bit more mobile, defending without a "dodge". However, it tends to be a more available target, especially the dominant hand.

    As to it having to compete for "head", well there's a reason the head is such a valued target in unarmored combat (more damage), but is quickly armored up otherwise. I'd rather the deciding factor be contingent on opportunity cost: Higher damage potential on head for sameish hit chance vs ability to overcome DR, compared to lower DR and a potential fight ender with a much lower cripple threshold on the head.

    This plays into one of the problems with GURPS combat, is that attacks (limbs really) kind of inhabit a superposition during a turn because nobody really wants to track that. In reality, if I take something like a briquet and attack at you in a weapon-forward stance, my weapon hand/arm is going to be much easier to hit than my rear arm (which may well be tucked away behind me and in that case not even an allowed hit location. Similarly, how I'm holding my two handed sword at the moment will dictate which of my arms or hands is easiest to hit. GURPS doesn't really track that, though it would be fairly simple to do in game, on the fly, if wanted with a bonus or penalty on top of the generic hit location.

    1. It is worth noting, however, that I never put these in play. When playing S&S games, my warriors typically targeted the torso, or occasionally the head. Personally, I prefer the neck, for that sweet sweet x2 damage bonus (which I'm going to address in a future post, now that you've inspired me to actually get around to)

    2. IIRC (I don't have my old books nearby) there used to be a higher chance to hit the front arm randomly. There are other small effects that reaching out to attack someone does, too, in terms of attacks on your weapons. But generally, it's ignored, because it's a ton of complexity to deal with. There are rules for stances in Gladiators, though.

    3. Ah, Gladiators - yet another expansion book I own but have yet to read! I will have to check into their stances section if I find time this weekend. I can see how the random bonus to hit would be somewhat simulationist, but it really isn't all that valuable to implement. Quite possibly Evaluate covers this - timing and all.

  6. Hands aren't so hard to hit in actual melee. People have a habit of getting them in the way of things trying to poke into their guts or slice them up. Certainly tricky to shoot at them but a fight but not all that hard to slice or hack off. It is a trickier target agaisnt skilled opponents but unskilled and desperate people will put them in the way of harm.

    1. Well, I didn't say that they are hard to hit or easy to hit. Just considering if -4 to hit is fair or not, or if they should be harder to deliberately target, and if so, how to do that.

    2. -4 feels steep for GURPS would be nice to have veteran characters with maybe it isn 't too big.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.


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