Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Attacking Through Occupied Hexes Weirdness

GURPS has always had rules for attacking through occupied hexes.



The rule goes all the way back to Man-to-Man, p. 30 (sidebar).

In Man-to-Man, you had all of two Reach 2 one-handed weapons - the bastard sword (counting both variations as one) and the rapier. The other 2- and 3-hex weapons? Polearms of all sorts, two-handed axe/mace weapons, staves, and spears.

These days with GURPS, you have a lot more options for Reach 2+ melee weapons, from edged rapiers to whips and kusari and two-handed weapons wielded in one hand by overstrength users.

Let me just say I never really loved this rule.

It makes a lot of sense for certain circumstances:

- formation fighting.
- pole arms held in two hands.
- thrusting attacks with the same.

It makes a little less sense for others:

- random melees where fighters just happen get between a friend with a long weapon and a foe.
- swinging attacks.

And almost no sense for others:

- long flexible weapons.
- tight quarters.

I just don't find it plausible that you can freely attack through your friend's hexes, without penalty to you or penalty to them, with any long weapon. The line in the books is "You may attack through friendly characters at no penalty (this is a basic part of your training with any long weapon)." With a polearm, I can buy that. With a staff, maybe. But a rapier? Did they teach stabbing past friends?

What about the person being attacked past? It seems like if I said, "I'll stab people from behind you while you fight. You've never had someone do that, but don't worry, it's part of my basic training with my weapon." It seems like it would interfere with you at least a little, or I'd have to limit my actions to things that I was sure wouldn't have any chance of interfering. If I did that, why am I at no penalty?

We've ended up with results I find really hard to believe, myself. This are these old favorites:

- Formation Fencing. Front rank, heavy fighter with a large shield, high DR, and a Reach 1 weapon. Behind him, a light fencer with a Rapier with Reach 1,2. Stand behind and stab away!

- Unlimited target selection. You can strike with a halberd held at Reach 2 and swing and hit the vitals of a person in front of your friend. Heck, you can strike his foot if you wanted! Hard to suspend disbelief moments include successfully stabbing past your SM+1 friend with his large shield into a human-sized target's eye in a one-hex-wide corridor.

- Perfect coordination. I've only seen this a few times, but it's a highlight reel replay. Front guy goes. Back guy goes, then steps back, leaving a clear hex. Front guy gets attacked and, if necessary, Retreats into the vacated space he senses is open. If he doesn't need to Retreat, the back-ranked fencer dude does Committed Attack to get two steps, and steps, stabs, and steps back. Full defensive flexibility is assured, without any wasted time coordinating with each other!

- Feint from cover! This one is especially technically possible if you treat "Feint" as an optional use of an Attack. You can stand behind your friend and Feint against people in front of him. After all, you can feint against anything you can reach to attack, and if the attack is at no penalty than the feint is, too. Now just imagine it as a Beat. It's plausible that an attack from a second-rank fighter is trickier to stop because you can't read as much body motion (he's obscured by his friend), but equally the second-rank fighter has many less options for trickery because your opponent must be aware of what you're doing to fall for it.

- Far Side, Close Combat. This one is standing behind your friend who is in close combat, and attacking into close combat to hit the person in front of him. Makes sense when the target is larger, sometimes when they are the same size, but it's just weird when you Rapid Strike with feints and slashes at a guy who is choking your friend that you're standing behind.

I've generally ruled in a mishmash fashion. Basically, no penalty to hit, but lots of situation rulings to keep people from stabbing the vitals, chopping up foes with torso slashes with one-handed long swords, and so on.

New Rule?

But what if I just changed the basic rule? Here are several ways to change it.

Long Weapons and Occupied Hexes

You can attack through a friendly-occupied hex with no penalty if you have a long weapon held in two hands that has Reach 2 or more. Not all hit locations will be valid targets!

Slightly more complex versions:

One-Handed Penalties: As above, but one-handed weapon with Reach 2+ can also attack through friendly-occupied hexes, but suffers a -4.

Thrusting Only! As above, but you can only use a thrusting attack. (Great for spears, pushing with staves, etc., and makes reverse-gripped greatswords work really well from the back rank of a melee!)

Thrusting preferred! As above, but thrusting attacks are unpenalized. Swinging attacks are more awkward, and do -2 damage or -1 per die, whichever is worse (note that is functionally identical to the penalty for long swings with All-Out Attack (Long))

Harsh Realism: It's not easy to attack past your friends, if you haven't trained with each other to do so. Attacks through friendly occupied hexes are at -4 if you want to avoid inconveniencing your own friend, or you can attack without the penalty but if you miss or your target Dodges, you are considered to be Striking Into Close Combat (p. B392) against your friend! The Teamwork perk - if you both have the same one and are formed up - negates these penalties. (Best combined with another of the options above - thrusting preferred or thrusting only.)

How I'd run it? Harsh Realism seems like the most fun. "Don't worry, I'm sure I won't miss and then roll a 9 or less, I swing my sword for 4d+12! Oh, he Dodged." The simple one is "two handed weapons, thrusting preferred.

It's probably easy to see this as "nerf the swashbucklers," but it's not really intended to be that. It's more like "close the weird reality-warping loophole that swashbucklers have been slashing through" more than anything else. And it might just be easier to have set yes/no rules (two-handed only, thrusting only) or easy to remember options (two-handed only, harsh realism) than to make ad hoc rulings each time about the validity of cutting off the tentacle that's grappled your friend from the far side or stabbing past your friend's arm and shield and into a foe's eye without bothering your friend.

I'll have to see what my players think, of course, but they might like a clear set of "yes" and "no" over a lot of case-by-case maybes.


  1. I'd probably go with "One-Handed Penalties, Thrusting Preferred!". So swinging an edged rapier through a friend's hex is -4 to hit, -2 to damage, but stabbing with it is only -4 to hit and stabbing with a greatsword is unpenalized.

    It seems like the best mix of "small departure from the current rules" and "doesn't break suspension of disbelief," for me anyway. Others may have different opinions.

    1. I kind of like that as well - allows it, but priveleges the kind of weapons and attacking style you'd actually want to use if you are friends with your friend.

  2. Heh, maybe you treat the interloper as a Tower Shield. +3 DB to the defender?

    1. Too many weird cases result. What if the defender isn't defending? Does that stack with DB? If the foe makes a defense by the DB of the "tower shield," does that mean you hit your friend? Can you take extra penalties to avoid it ala Deceptive Attack?

  3. Whatever is simpler. It gets annoying playing with characters with super-high skill because to balance things you have to pile on the minuses. But I agree that the back-rank fencer shouldn't be able to strike any target and remain protected.
    It should be like the second-rank spearmen in a formation- overhead strike, probably Committed, only able to strike upper body if you're going "over the shoulder" of someone in front of you (head, face, eyes, throat, vitals) and there should be a penalty.
    So the "Harsh" one giving -4 seems right. Use Committed or AOA to reduce it.
    At some point "Teamwork" should require Absolute Timing, if you want to be able to dance around skipping back and forth into hexes while your comrades strike around you.

    1. It's not about high skills, though - "no penalty" versus "-4" versus "you can't do it" is about reasonable facsimiles of realistic results. No matter how good someone is, is it reasonable to say you can stab with a rapier from behind your friend and hit someone with no more difficulty than your friend not being there? How about when swinging? How about with a whip? Etc.

      I think you're thinking Altered Time Rate, maybe - Absolute Direction doesn't give the possessor any kind of reflexes or ability to predict or coordinate movements with another. It's a 2 character point internal clock. 5 points if time travel doesn't disrupt it. Teamwork (Martial Arts, p 52) requires that people be formed up - Retreat is already out of the question if you take that approach. Otherwise you're always breaking up the formation.

  4. I very much like the "Harsh Realism" option, since it seems fun to play with - but I also like the options that differentiate between implausible attacks (e.g. swinging a greatsword through your friend's hex) and plausible ones (e.g. thrusting a spear through it).

    I want to say "combine them!" but that starts to add too much complexity.

    Does anyone else like "Harsh realism + Thrusting preferred?" That would keep things pretty simple, while acknowledging many of these considerations.

    1. I threw that in as an option, although generally I'd rather not have people make the choice - it'll slow things down as people decide, argue, etc. of the best choice.

      I'll probably argue for "One Handed Penalties, Thrusting Preferred." Still lets crazy weapon masters do crazy stuff, but it's really just a pass for thrusting pole weapons and two-handed swords.

  5. Marko cant get past derg the halforc barbarian but he spots an opening between derg's legs and fires his bow from ground level hitting their opponent in the ankle...he uses derg as his shield while indulging in targeted shots to avoid injuring derg.

  6. Kneejerk reaction as someone who doesn't use a hex grid or therefore tactical rules for the Prohibition Mob Game: NO, YOU CAN'T MAKE ME, THE AMBIGUITY IS JUST TOO MUCH *rabid frothing at the mouth and wild gesticulation*

    1. I can see how tactical combat rules would be less useful when you're not using tactical combat. :)


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