Thursday, February 13, 2014

How Much Damage to Kill in GURPS?

Riffing off some recent discussion of death checks in GURPS and how to cut someone's head off with a cutting weapon, I started to think that it would be amusing to map out the kind of damage you need to kill a character.

What's it take to kill someone in GURPS?

Basically, how much raw damage do you need to get a kill?

The Victim: Since all the numbers are linear, I'll just go with a mathematically easy HP 10. No Injury Tolerance, Supernatural Durability, or Unkillable. The victim suffers Death checks at -10 HP, and dies automatically at -50 HP.

I'm also largely disregarding armor, except for the native DR that comes with a very few locations protected by bone. It's worth noting that the locations most easy to kill someone with one shot are also the easiest to armor - Skull, especially, where it's not uncommon to wear 2-3 layers in my games (such as a greathelm or pot helm over a mail coif - if not greathelm over pot helm over coif.)

The Targets:

Here are some prime targets for forcing a kill with a single shot. Limbs and extremities can't do it, because damage is limited to below HP . . . if you want to kill someone with a limb or extremity shot you need to use the bleeding rules. It won't be quick.

Note on Terms: Damage is raw, base damage needed; injury inflicted isn't listed. Damage types are abbreviated cr, cu, imp, pi-, pi, p+, p++ below.

Torso: x1 crushing, x1.5 cutting, x2 impaling, x0.5 to x2 for piercing. Takes 20cr/14 cu/10 imp/40 pi-/20 pi/14 pi+/10 pi++ to force a death check. 60cr/40cu/30imp/120pi-/60pi/40pi+/30pi++ to kill automatically.

Good, solid choice for cutting, impaling, and the larger two piercing attacks. Easy to hit, too.

Vitals: x3 impaling, x3 any piercing, others unaffected or can't target them. Takes 7 damage to force a death check, 20 to kill automatically.

Great choice for either!

Skull: x4 for anything, native DR 2. Takes 7 damage to force a death check (7-2=5, x4), 17 damage to kill automatically.

Great choice for high damage attacks of any kind!

Eye: As skull, but it bypasses the skull DR (and it's very hard to armor the eyes in low-tech environment). Only 5 damage to force a death check, and 15 to kill automatically.

If you can hit them (-9), target them, and as a bonus you'll usually blind the guy in one eye and force some difficult knockdown rolls.

Neck: x1.5 for crushing, x2 for cutting, others same as torso. 14cr/10cu to force a death check, 40cr/30cu to kill automatically.

It's not terribly hard to hit, and it's easy to force death checks with high-damage cutting attacks (aka, most strong warrior's cutting attacks). It's easy to armor, but it's a good happy medium between the torso (easy to hit, easy to armor, needs a lot of damage to kill) and the skull (hard to hit, easy to armor, low damage to kill). It's a great choice if you can't penetrate the nearly-ridiculous skull armor my players put on their character's skulls.

How about some of the GURPS Martial Arts hit locations? Well, most of them are limb or extremity related (joints, nose, ears) or don't speed death (spine), but one does . . .

Veins and Arteries: All the relevant injury multipliers are upped by 0.5, pushing the required damage for a limb or neck down. You can even kill with a limb shot, since you don't get a messy cripple but a messier severed vein/artery. For simplicity, let's say it's just neck we're worried about. Takes 8cu/8imp/20pi-/14pi/10pi+/8pi++ to force a death check, 24cu/24imp/60pi-/40pi/30pi+/24pi++ to kill automatically. Not bad.

Also, at the GM's option Mortal Wounds doesn't apply . . . making it much easier to cause a failure on the death check!

What's the takeaway?

It depends on your weapon, and your opponent's armor, but it's not terribly had to force a death check in GURPS. It's harder but not unreasonably so (thanks to high damage rolls and the occasional 2x or 3x damage critical hit) for even a relatively normal strength guy to cause automatic death to an opponent.

For a cutting weapon, you only need 7 damage to penetrate an unarmored skull and force a death check, and only 10 to the neck or 14 to the torso. Skull is a good option if you can hit it, neck is very solid.

For a crushing weapon, think skull or neck if you can hit them - you only need 17 damage to kill a normal, unarmored guy outright automatically. A ST 14 guy with a mace and All-Out Attack (Strong) can do that with maximum damage, and even minimum damage will force a death check!

For impaling, vitals or eyes. Damage needed is really low for eyes, and not high for vitals.

For piercing, it's vitals or eyes, especially if you're using armor-piercing weaponry . . . slam through that DR and do x3 or x4.

So yeah, it doesn't take much to push someone to death checks in GURPS. Good think for the players it's not so easy to fail the checks.

My DF Game

The characters in my DF game have different approaches.

-Vryce generally goes for the torso, and aims for multiple hits. It's easy to hit, allowing him to leverage his very high skill and damage into a strong Deceptive Attack with no "wasted" damage.

- Honus tends to go for the body, to ensure a hit and no wasted damage. Chuck does the same.

- Raggi has a Trademark Move aimed at the Neck, and cares only about forcing death checks. He's also a user of the Great Cleave (DF11) and needs to ensure knockdown when aiming for a multi-foe hit, and Neck is a good way to do that with a cutting weapon thanks to the x2.

- Borriz smashes everything twice in the skull, turning his 2d+8 or +9 into a x4 multiplier and a fair amount of automatic kills.

- Galen shoots everything in the vitals, if they have them, and every once in a while in the eye if they don't.


  1. Are your magic-users covered head to toe in Plate Armor or something?
    I mean, with what you described, I REALLY wouldn't want to be caught in a robe with a pointy hat :)

    1. Active Defenses are critical in GURPS! Once you've been hit, armor is really only softening the blow. It's why you get potentially swingy fights . . . everything is fine until that one guy rolls that one critical hit and one-shots one of your best fighters.

    2. Hehe,

      If I ever step food into GURPS DF, it'll be with a Crossbowman wielding a siege Crossbow (ST22) using a Cranequin to reload, while hiding behind his Pavise, wearing a god damn Sallet Helmet and with some good legs to get outta there fast and in case things gets hairy :)

  2. I know this is mostly focused on Dungeon Fantasy, but the automatic death check numbers are a perfect example of how scary modern firearms can get. Many of those numbers are average rolls (or below average) for even some pistols much less rifles.

    1. Yeah, it's true. Gunfire can push you to -5xHP so easily I decided it wasn't even worth discussing. But a post about different pistols and rifles and kills might be worth doing for Doug. Even a "mere" 2d+2 pistol is only a couple of vitals shots from automatic death.

    2. Hrm. Content by bump-pass. I approve.

  3. Looking at the "hit the vitals" numbers, it really does explain why guns and GURPS are just nasty. Your bog standard .45 ACP (2d) or 9mm (2d+2) are all of a raw damage input where an average roll (7 and 9) to the vitals (x3 regardless of wound channel modifier) will cause a death check, and if you're good enough to make your skill roll by 4-6 (one hit at "made by zero," and Rcl 2-3 for typical handguns) you can put three into the vitals and pretty much expect an auto-kill.

    This can be quite challenging at range, of course! You need enough skill to eat up the range penalty (-3 for 7 yards), the vitals (-3) and rapid fire (make it by 4-6). If you have time to aim for a bit, you get Acc of +2-3, Determined +1 and two-hands for braced (+1). Net/net, with Guns (Pistol)-17-20, you can legitimately expect instant-kill 75% of the time (and at least one death roll 100% of the time) at close ranges.

    Not quite as satisfying as a sword to the neck, but the hard part at modern times is keeping you alive, not trying to make you dead.

    Also - I've never seen a fight started IN PLAY on this issue. Not once.

  4. This is a really great post for GURPS newbies and illustrates quite well the potential deadliness of GURPS combat (especially as compared to, say, D&D 4e, a fine game in its own right, albeit very different). It looks like a fun -- but possibly very nerve-wracking! -- game.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, fights really go from "fine" to "scramble" pretty quickly when something goes wrong. It's part of the fun . . . and might explain why the PCs in my game take even horribly outmatched foes seriously. It only takes one really bad sequence of rolls to change a dungeon delve . . .

    2. Indeed, when I ran my (pre-DF) GURPS dungeon bash game, the major adjustment was that fights were now primarily contests of skill to see who'd mess up first, rather than of (skill + armour + hit points) to see who'd exhaust his resources first.

      Worth noting for the gamers in modern periods that armouring the neck is very hard to do if you're trying to be subtle about it.


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