Saturday, April 18, 2015

Ways to Differentiate Melee Weapons In GURPS

Expanding a little bit on my "pointed swords relatively poor at thrusting should just do less impaling damage" idea buried in the comments on Thursday, here are some ways to make weapons functionally different. As in, ways to let them reflect relatively small changes in weapon design that can have a material difference on how they fight in battle.

Pretty much there are a few ways you can differentiate muscle-powered melee weapons on the actual tables - among them damage, damage type, reach, ST, cost, weight, parry. Buried in the weapon descriptions, though, there are more. All of these examples come from GURPS Low-Tech. This isn't exhaustive, or in order.

Throwability: Can you throw it effectively? That's such a big change it changes the name of at least one weapon (the Throwing Axe.)

Chinks in Armor: Some weapons target weak points well. The estoc and stilleto ignore -2 of the penalty to attack such weak points.

Fragility: Weapons made of fragile materials, such as the tebutje or macauhuitl, which wear out quickly against DR 2+.

Inflicts Defensive Penalty: The shotel is -1 to Parry or Block because its curved tip lets it stab around shields and parrying weapons. The entire category of flails does this too, to a lesser or greater extent.

Gets Stuck: Picks, barbed weapons, and most swing/impaling weapons have this feature. They go in, and do extra damage on the way out.

Hard to Disarm: Rondel daggers get this one - they're designed to pair up with locking gauntlets so you can't drop them or have them disarmed easily, so they resist disarms.

Armor: Some weapons have built-in armor, usually in the form of hand protection - the cutlass and pata have this.

Good at Disarms: Technically a table note, like Gets Stuck. But some weapons are especially good at disarms, and ignore the inherent penalty for using the move.

Remove Foe's Options: Partisans (and boar spears) have a crosspiece to let you ignore the optional rules for foes running up a spear (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 106).

Extra Attack Modes: For these, see LTC2. Some weapon variations have more ways to strike you due to hammer heads on the peens of picks and axes, axe heads on the backs of picks, spiked tips for stabbing, etc.

That's not an exhaustive list, but coupled with basic changes to the weapon, such as giving a sword bad at impaling lower basic damage (so it's functionally bad at impaling), or an excellent parrying weapons a Parry bonus, and so on, you have a lot of options to make weapon variations vary. And those matter a lot in combat, which is yet another thing I like about GURPS.


  1. Some weapons really are just better versions of others, all told.

    The cutlass has the same ST as a shortsword, is used with the same skill as a shortsword, does the same damage as a shortsword, and has added functionality in the form of built-in brass knuckles and hand armor. All that and it's $100 cheaper rather than $100 more expensive - no reason to ever use a shortsword in any TL that allows cutlasses (like DF).

    1. If you're using Low-Tech, it's $100 more expensive. The explanation being the Basic Set price is a discount thanks to mass production. If you're using the Basic Set weaponry for DF, yes, it's a better deal than a regular shortsword. If you're using LT, it's pricier for the extra benefits.

    2. I've long considered simply switching their prices around; $300 shortswords, $400 cutlasses.

      Glad to hear about the price difference in Low-Tech.

  2. Good follow up, Peter, and expands more on the post I published yesterday forking off the same discussion.

    One of the strengths of GURPS is that it does allow us to take minor construction details and give it a chance to have a real impact on the weapon's combat performance. This lets us have a clash between two different swordsmen (for example) play out differently for each and whatnot, and also lets players who are fans of "this particular sub-type of this weapon" have something to feel unique - something I touched on in an earlier post (Specialized Sticks, I think).


    1. I just saw your post on this, too.

      Although there isn't much play in damage stats for GURPS weapons, it's quite possible to set all pointy blades on a continuum of thr-2 to thr+3, depending on size and blade/tip design, and do the same for cutting. It might not be a bad thing to say broadswords are all thr+1/imp, and better thrusting ones or two-handed ones are usually +2, and two-handed better thrusting ones are usually +3. Shortswords with thr+1 make them a good stabbing option for a great discount in cost and weight, then, since you're only trading off some cut damage. Better cutting weapons with weaker stabbing could follow the falchion example, trading one point of impaling for one point of cut. And then smaller bennies can add differentiation for especially unusual designed.

    2. Aye, probably a good convention. "Can Thrust" is thr, "thrusts well" thr+1, "thrusts poorly" thr-1, etc.

      Oddly, I've largely left GURPS weapons untouched so far. I think I've only made like one custom one, and it was just to play with the design mods Low Tech (?) introduces.

      Speaking of thrusting bonuses, what's your take on bayonets being better spears than spears? HT gives a generic Thr+3 for all types, while a basic spear is Thr+2. I thought maybe the +3 includes the automatic "fine" mod we get at TL7+ (since I first saw Bayonet listed in SEALS, which is TL7), but HT applies it to any and all.

    3. That's a question for Shawn or Hans or Kromm. SEALs in Vietnam would absolutely include the bonus for fine quality, and you can see that as it's a slightly better knife than an equally sized good-quality knife. But I can't speak authoritatively to its stats elsewhere. In my own games, I assume it includes the +1 for fine already.

    4. I've handled quite a few bayonets and any of them made at TL6 or after should qualify as fine at the GURPS resolution. I would say that if it was important enough that spears and bayonets coexisted in a higher tech setting, you could impose a penalty of -1 for awkwardness bought off with a technique . I don't know if its accurate, bayonet fighting is more a matter of familiarity than lack of technique but it wouldn't seem unreasonable to me.

      Long guns though different than spears in handling really are not that less efficienct, they are less nimble and might be shorter (which is handled by reach) but the mass and clubbed buttstock makes for a highly efficient weapon in itself and a match for a spear in many ways other than reach.


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