Thursday, December 18, 2014

Melee Academy: Unarmed vs. Knife

The is (was?) a whole thread about this over on the SJG Forums. I saw the title, and emailed Doug and said, "That's our next Melee Academy." But I haven't read the thread itself. I wanted to basically put forward the tactics I've seen work in play when forced to fight unarmed versus a foe with a close combat-capable weapon and the intent to use it.

Unfortunately for this post, I also got a sudden, huge, last-minute influx of good paying work, which killed the free time I'd budgeted for a page reference and turn-by-turn tactical description. But this still might help, so I'm posting what I have.

These assume Basic Set and Martial Arts rules. If you use Technical Grappling, some of these options will work very, very differently. Lucky for you, Doug has you covered over at Gaming Ballistic.

The basic tactic for unarmed vs. knife is pretty much:

- Don't get hit.
- Defend if you do get hit.
- Grapple the weapon arm. Per B371, this makes it impossible to strike with the weapon in it.
- Arm Lock (if you can) or strike (if you can't). Don't let go of the arm.

Don't Get Hit

Goal number one, avoid getting hit in the first place. There isn't a lot you can do to ensure this, but if your skill is better you can try this one:

Defensive Feints

If your skill is much, much better (think, 10+ skill points) than your opponent, consider this option. Use Defensive Feint to lower the chances of being hit. Hopefully, this forces your opponent into a normal, non-Deceptive Attack, or possibly even a Telegraphic Attack. Then you can use your effectively improved defenses.

Otherwise, All-Out Defense is your friend while you just pray the guy rolls an 18 on his attack.


All-Out Defense is probably the best option to start with. The unarmed fighter will want to All-Out Defend (Increased Defenses) for a +2 to Parry if intending to use the Parry to set up an Arm Lock. +2 to Dodge is also good if you have a superior Dodge and intend to set up your own grapple later. Double defenses (use Dodge first) is also a good option.

Retreat is tough, because you want to avoid getting hit but you don't want to stray any further from the foe than you can. A weapon gives him a reach advantage (in Tactical Combat) so you will want to stay close so you can attack when your turn comes around.

Eventually, though, you'll need to stop using AOD and start attacking.

Grapple the Arm

There is a -1 penalty to eat up when you grapple the arm (and -2 for hand), but you need to - just like in real life, in game, you'll want to immobilize the weapon.

Feint, then Attack

If you think you've got superior skill to your opponent, use Feint to lower his defenses. Use Beat if you think your ST+skill and you successfully used Parry to defend against his weapon.

In any case, when you attack, use Deceptive Attack aggressively. As in, drop your skill all the way down to 10. You can afford to miss but can't afford to be parried since that will result in a free chance to cut you. Once you've got it, look at Arm Lock or using strikes (I like Knee Strike here) to disable your opponent or remove the weapon. You no longer need to worry about being weapon parried, because you've got the arm.

Ultimately, though, none of these are optimal - it's a case of "X-1 vs. X" and, surprise surprise, you're better off being the X not the X-1 in that equation.

That's the basic cycle I use. Avoid getting hit, Feint is you think you have the skill edge, use Deceptive Attack aggressively to ensure you only hit when you've stomped his defenses down, and hold to the arm and do violent things to your opponent.


  1. That's a good point about using Deceptive Attack aggressively. I hadn't considered that. Of course, your defenses are really what determines whether or not you can afford to miss; can you reliably survive another turn of being attacked? But it's important to keep in mind.

    Another true thing: kicking out-reaches many knives. I think this makes Retreating more palatable, especially for a skilled Karateka who can use unpenalized parry +3 to achieve what might be a reliable defense roll. In that case, missing is absolutely preferable to getting parried.

    1. You're right about some kicks, although with C,1 reach knives being the most common (in my experience), it's a tough bet that you'll be able to leverage that. Still, you need to keep an eye on every advantage you can, and if someone comes with a Reach C dagger by all means kick the guy.

      This really is one of those cases where the usual "make sure you hit" advice isn't useful - you can't afford to hit unless you can assure you won't be parried.

  2. Some missing considerations...

    1) attack might work best as defensive attack. In MA it doesn't hampergrapples at all. Free defense bonus. In technical grappling you have a penalty to control points though, and I don't think grapples prevent the knife from attacking, just make it more likely to miss due to DX penalties. If you reduce skill below negative 5 (all out telegraphed attacks are skill 3 and can still hit) attacks can't be attempted.

    2) spend FP on Frantic Defense to get a +2. This appears to ignore the "effort can't create skill" problem.

    3) as long as your opponent is only attacking once a turn (not doing rapid strike or all out double) consider a cross parry. It gives a +2 to parry.

    4) if GM is using low line parries an range C knife is -2 to parry attacks aimed at legs. Consider kicking the leg. -2 to defend is effectively a +4 to skill spent on deceptive attack.

    5) use gladiators rule to get +1 to parry with lead hand. It will make it easier to hit but is advantageous of they are just going for torso or face.

    6) circle toward the side he is not holding knife in. If you get in opposite site hex he will have penalties to attack you with the knife.

    7) try contest of ST to make him drop knife


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