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.