Thursday, April 18, 2013

GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Picks

For the previous entry in this series, see GURPS Weapons & Tactics: Flails.

Another weapon with some special implications for its use are picks.

What do picks have going for them?

They're Axe/Mace weapons - they're covered by Axe/Mace, which includes a wide variety of weaponry - axes, maces, unbalanced clubs, and the pick itself. So using a one-handed pick doesn't limit your choices of other weapons. A two-handed pick, the warhammer, is covered by Two-Handed Axe/Mace, which lets you use all sorts of high-damage two-handed weaponry like long and great axes, mauls, and scythes.

Swing/Impaling - Swinging damage is the best raw damage a muscle-powered weapon can get. Impaling is possibly the most lethal - a x2 injury multiplier after armor against the face or torso, x3 against the vitals (a mere -3 to hit). While it's weaker against limbs and extremities, the easiest target to hit in the game (torso, -0) is all you need to inflict x2 damage past DR. This makes the pick pretty effective for moderate ST attackers, although for high-strength opponents it's a real fight-ender, and they're less likely to worry about getting stuck (see below).

But it's not all fun and games.

Parry 0U - picks are unbalanced, so you either need to Defensive Attack in order to retain a chance to parry, or choose between attacks and parries. This isn't a huge issue, though, because if you're doing it right, your pick will spend a lot of time inside your opponent. You will really want a weapon or shield in your off-hand, to provide some defense either after a failed attack and, especially, after a successful attack.

Slow attack cycling - you can't attack every turn with a pick, not if you hit anyway. Why? You need to re-ready if you actually bury it into someone. Well, this is one thing I think is the main upside to a pick:

Free damage.

Would you like some free damage?

One often-mentioned downsides of the pick is that they can get stuck in a foe. In fact, you end up only attacking ever other turn.

Turn 1: Swing and hit with the pick, penetrating DR and inflicting injury.
Turn 2: Attempt to pull the pick out.

This is a feature, not a bug. That second turn you are inflicting damage for free - no roll "to hit," just a ST check to pull it out.* That's right, you inflict full damage going in, and half damage coming back out without having to get past his DR or defenses again.

Not only that, but if your opponent wants to move away from you on his turn, you roll a Quick Contest of ST with him. Win, and he can't move. Lose, and he takes your pick with him. On a tie, it comes out for your free damage and you don't need to spend the turn pulling it out.

Occasionally it'll get really stuck, and won't come back out. But that's not that common, and you could easily carry two if you want. Or if you really care, you can drop the weapon as a free action - while it's still in your opponent. This is good if you have a backup weapon and you really need to Retreat, move away, or keep yourself free to act.

So pretty much, if you beat your opponents defenses, you get to either inflict 1.5 times the damage you got past his armor in the first place. ST 15 guy with a pick does 2d+2 impaling - average 9. Against mail, that's 5 points past the DR and does 10 injury. On the way out, it'll do 5 more.

Does this hamper him in any way? Yes and no. There aren't a lot of specific rules to deal with this. It's reasonable to treat it as a grapple of the hit location (torso usually), and have it inflict the usual -4 DX penalty for that.

If you go for a pick, recognize the issue above - free damage, but you can't act freely every turn. What's worked for me in the past is:

- use Feint. This is a one-blow fight ender, if you do it right and roll well (that "average damage" hit against mail is 15 injury against vitals, followed by 8 more on the way out - and max is 30 and 15!), so make sure it's going to get in there. Consider Committed Attack (Strong), too, for the extra damage since you get it on both ends (it says half damage coming out, not "half damage minus" anything.)

- Customization is a good idea, too - adding a hammer head to the peen means you can use the weapon as a hammer and only bust out the pick when you really need it.

- don't waste your time attacking randomly. Aim for the torso, or the vitals, or that's it. Don't fritter away your damage striking the limbs.

- if you really want to keep your opponent on a leash, don't pull the pick out. Make your opponent try to pull it out on his turn.

* Over on the SJG forums, I suggested a patch for this that makes it work better outside of the normal range of ST scores - roll damage again. If you equal or exceed the damage you inflicted the first time, you pull it back out. If not, it's stuck. If you roll less than 1/4 of the damage needed to pull it out, it's really stuck (you can retrieve it after the battle.)


  1. And Picks get even more fun in Technical Grappling:

    Weapons capable of impaling damage can also be used to control an opponent. If an impaling object is left inside a foe(either voluntarily or by getting stuck, see Picks, p. B405), it is considered to have inflicted [FNORD] equal to basic damage. These {FNORDS] ay not be spent, but impart active and referred control, and definitely allow actions such as Shoving People Around (p. 00)and Force Posture Change (p. 00)! You may also use Inflicting
    More Pain with Locks (p. 00): Roll a Quick Contest of Trained ST vs. HT, adding half the original injury as a bonus to your Trained ST. Apply pain using the full margin of victory!"

    1. I was hoping you would chime in on this, with that comment. :)

    2. I don't know about Technical Grappling. What's an "FNORD"?

    3. A fnord:

    4. Douglas I would like if you could build on this by incorporating CP into the ST contest to pull the weapon free.

      Wounds should effectively grapple a weapon with CP. Even cutting weapons if they slice deep enough.

      Weapons can have Control Resistance perhaps. Rolling CP higher than the CR should cause it to get lodged.

      Count it as an attack so that Escaping Parry can reflect pulling the weapon free of the move.

      As for person who wants free, unarmed combat skills let you roll a torso parry against grappling.

      Someone who stubs daggernthen twists blade with rapid strike should not have full ST damage. It shod be penalized by CP.

      You mention that grapple with cutting weapon does half as much damage as CP.

      I suggest we invert that: hacks/slashes should inflict half the CP of the damage rolled on the body, but in turn the body inflicts the same amount of CP on the weapon and hand wielding it.

      It slides free if it is less than Control Resist. Naked is +1 and if oil is +4 then blood should be +3.

      So cutting should only get stuck when you roll 8 or more basic damage. 8/2=4CP -3=1 CP.

      Damage coming out should be equal to the CP.

      Trying to escape should allow an aggressive parry to stick it further in but only as a weapon grapple.

      Twisting the knife should only be allowed as a weapon grapple. You can't gain momentum for a swing after all. Striking needs space to wind up

  2. In fantasy and ultra-tech games, picks get a little worse. The greater prevalence of Unliving and Homogeneous foes (at least, compared to historical settings) makes Impaling damage a lot less useful.

    1. That's where adding a hammer head helps - it gives you another option for dealing with Unliving or Homogenous foes. Don't bring a pick to an axe fight, basically. For clearing out corporeal foes with vital spots, or human-like opponents, it's very effective.

      Ultra-tech games aren't really a big concern of mine. If you're using ultra-tech melee weapons, you're looking at an entirely different set of weapons, both within some weapon categories (vibro-whatevers) and outside them (force swords, monowire whips, etc.) That's a series for someone writing Ultra Tech Fantastic. ;)

    2. Closest I've got to ultra-tech melee is the Steel Arenas in Reign of Steel - where the weapons are things like chainsaws and big blades, and Performance is nearly as important as Two-Handed Axe/Mace skill.

    3. My weapon of choice: the Martel-de-Fer; AKA pick + hammer-head + spear-head. This basically makes it good for nearly any occasion. Use the spear-head for tip-slashing (for cut), or to bypass the Unbalance. Use the hammer-head when you don't want it to stick.

    4. I generally prefer a dueling pollaxe with a spiked head: chop with the axe head, bash with the hammer head, stab with the spear. But I usually play medium strength characters who are likely to have their pick stuck in Team Evil.

      A dueling glaive with a back hammer head is ahistorical, but also very nice.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. This makes me think that other impaling weapons should also do damage when they come out. Such as bolts from crossbows. How about arrows, these are piercing right?

    1. Add "barbed" if you want them to do damage when pulled out.

    2. Even non barbed should do somendamage pulling them out unless you pass a surgery skill roll. I think only pros can remove them without inflicting more trauma.

      Barbs should inflict a skill penalty and get a damage bonus coming out.

  5. Are bodkins Pi instead of Imp?


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