Thursday, August 15, 2013

Melee Academy: Keeping Your Reach Advantage

This month's GURPS Melee Academy discusses reach. Here are some basics you need to keep in mind if you want to keep your reach advantage.

For the rest of this month's Melee Academy, check out:

Gaming Ballistic - Melee Academy: Reach basics
No School Grognard - Melee Academy: Using Your Friends to Keep Your Reach Advantage

In GURPS, a weapon with a longer reach can provide the wielder with some serious advantages. But GURPS doesn't make this advantage automatic, nor total, nor intuitive to get. You need to use your reach carefully if you want to maximize its benefits.

GURPS does not automatically hand small-i initiative to someone with a longer weapon. Long reach can be an advantage, but you can't fritter it away.

Take a fighter with a spear in two hands (Reach 1,2*, held at 2 in this case) versus one with a broadsword (Reach 1). If the spear fighter is 3 yards from his foe, he's able to Step and Attack. His foe, however, needs to use Committed Attack (taking two steps and a steep set of penalties), All-Out Attack (risking fatal retaliation), Move and Attack (badly limiting his attack), or attack the spear itself.

If the spear fighter does step in to 2 yards away and attack, however, he's within the reach of the broadsword fighter on that guy's turn.

The spear guy can use Committed Attack himself to Attack and Fly Out to start and end his turn at 3 yards away. All Out Attack (Long) allows for a deep lunge, but leaves him defenses against his foe if he manages to close (or just whacks your spear). But he can't just strike with impunity while denying his opponent a chance to attack on his turn.

What the hell, right? That spear's reach is no advantage at all!

Well, it is, but it's not a total advantage.

The irony of a good reach is you need to stay out of your reach to maximize its benefit. You have to keep re-establishing your reach to make it matter. Your best bet is to stay beyond your easy attack range and force him to close through your reach to get to you. And you have to keep ceding the decision to suffer that reach advantage to your opponent. If you want to keep a foe where you can stick him and he can't retaliate without taking some risk, it will take some work - and some space to back up.

If you keep closing with your foes - move to 2 yards away and attack - folks with a Reach 1 weapon can step in and attack you. This isn't unrealistic, otherwise all long weapon vs. short weapon fighters (or kickers vs. boxers, or something similar) would end in total automatic victory for the longer reach. This doesn't happen because distancing is hard to keep while being aggressive. It's easier to keep when you're backing up.

So, what to do?

Some things to keep in mind:

You need to keep moving . . .

You need to keep moving to keep your opponents closing. Your longer reach weapon is only an advantage while your opponent is moving into your reach and before getting to his weapon's reach.

You really need to play a cagey game of maneuver, and not think "I strike first because I have long reach." You don't. You just have the option of forcing your opponent to either get aggressive or cede that first strike to you. You can't blithely move forward and try to get in a strike before your opponent can do anything. GURPS uses a one second time scale, and if you want to be interposing your weapon's point between you and your foe you can't also be aggressively stabbing out with it, too. The more you make them come to you, the more your reach advantage plays into your hands.

Corollary: Retreat is useful and dangerous. If your opponent presses you, or attacks your weapon, just Retreat to add extra distance. But be wary of backing yourself into a bad spot, and be wary of foes skilled enough to sideslip and retreat forward, in order to close in on you and negate your advantage.

Or not move at all . . .

The Wait option to Stop Thrust allows you to plant your longer-reach weapon on the ground and thrust into an oncoming foe. But you can't move around and do it - you're going to end up being stationary.

You'll need to wait for your opponent to come to you, but that makes your effective effectively area denial if they refuse to take the risk of coming within your reach. Not great if you need to be aggressive or your opponent can wait you out, but excellent if your goal is to stall for time!

The other option, really, is to fight from behind friends - the true advantage of a 2-hex reach weapon is that you can attack over the heads of your 1-hex reach friends, forcing anyone who closes with them to suffer two attacks.

Threaten many, attack few. A long reach weapon will let you threaten a broad swath of hexes on a battlemap, with or without a Step. So you can effectively create an "area of attack" in front of you, where everyone has to worry that they could be your target. This limits their options - if you're wielding a Reach 2 weapon, you can potentially attack anything within 3 yards of you with a Step and 4+ with Committed Attack, Move & Attack, or All-Out Attack (either through stepping, or using Long). Opponents need to keep you under threat (to make CA and AOA risky) and avoid putting you in their side or back arc.

Done properly, you can effectively limit the aggressiveness of enemies, cherry pick vulnerable foes, and force them to adjust their battle plans to keep you under threat. You're a wide-area problem.

Corrollary: A flexible reach is better than an adjustable reach. In other words, Reach 1,2 beats 1,2*. The problem with a * Reach weapon is that you have to adjust your weapon ta specific reach.

So yes, a $900 thrusting greatsword (1.2 for swing, 2 for thrust) is a much better "spear" than a $40 spear (1,2* when used with two hands) is. Not really surprising the more expensive and versatile weapon is the better weapon, is it? If you're using a weapon with a * reach, you need to invest in Reach Mastery as soon as possible so you can re-grip it at any length as a free action. Otherwise, expect to waste time re-gripping to a shorter reach once your opponent closes, and then you'll have to stay there.


  1. I suspect that the reason there's no comments on this is that it's just that good. Really good observations and advice on this topic.

  2. What Doug said. The only nit I can find is that Grip Mastery and Reach Mastery are different perks.

    1. I fixed that. I always mix up the names on those two, no matter how many times I use them.


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