Thursday, December 2, 2021

Close Combat Defenses - Basic Set vs. Martial Arts

The Long Weapons in Close Combat rules in GURPS Martial Arts are a gamechanger.

In the Basic Set rules (and as far as I can tell, in DFRPG), your close combat defenses pretty much run as follows:

- Parry with a "C" reach weapon or bare-handed
- Dodge

You can Retreat to aid those, if possible.

That's it, per B391-392.

Nothing in Basic Set says you get your normal defenses on the second someone steps into Close Combat with you. Nor does it say that if you Retreat you get your full, normal defenses.

If you add in the rules in GURPS Martial Arts, things change for the defender a lot.

With those rules in play, the defender, per GURPS Martial Arts. p. 117:

- defends normally against attacks when the attacker initially steps into close combat;

- can start a turn in close combat with a foe, Retreat against that same foe's attack, and claim full Parry as if neither was ever in close combat;

- can Parry with a Reach 1+ weapon with a penalty depending on the maximum reach of the weapon used;

- can Parry with a "C" reach weapon or bare-handed with no additional penalty;

- can Dodge.

This is a dramatic increase in ability. Now, your two-handed sword wielding Knight is only at a -4 to Parry in close combat, not unable to, and is at a net +1 to Parry if they can retreat (ignore the -4 and take the +1). That's not nothing to a starting Knight, but it's still not bad - Two-Handed Sword-20 and Combat Reflexes is Parry 14, so a 10 . . . where in Basic Set (and DFRPG) you'd have no parry and be forced to Dodge. Against unarmed foes, too, instead of just getting out of their way if you can, you also get a very solid chance to stop their attack and wound them in the process.

Jumped by a Demon From Between the Stars? Parry on a 14 or less turn 1, 10 or less turn 2+, assuming you can't Retreat. Maybe hack its arm off on each one of those.

Without the rules from GURPS Martial Arts? Dodge and Retreat if you can . . . and just Dodge if not. If you pull that off, your foe just misses and isn't carved up on an armed parry.

Big difference.

Don't think I'm saying the rules in GURPS Martial Arts aren't good, logical, sensible, and defensible. I think they are all of those. But they do really tilt the playing field heavily to the defender. The attacker gives up a lot to get to close combat, and to attack in close combat. Unless the defender chooses to stay there or is completely unable to move away with a Retreat, the attacker gains little in return except the ability to attack with a "C" reach weapon.

In a game like DF, where PCs skills are very high - a low fighter weapon skill is an 18, and 20 is entry-level for a lot of templates - the penalties involved just aren't a big deal.

I've, anecdotally, seen PCs stay in close combat and melee with Reach 1 and Reach 1,2 weapons because they wanted to be in that hex no matter what . . . shrugging off a -2 or -4 to Parry as the cost of doing business. This is especially common when the damage penalty for using a weapon in close combat is forgotten . . . which happens often. It rarely is self-enforced. So generally, a Reach 1,2 weapon is -8 to hit, -4 to parry, no penalty to damage in practice.

Keep in mind, therefore, that implementing these rules makes for a very big change. Know it when you choose to do so!


  1. I never liked that defenders get their full Parry when a foe enters CC with them or they Retreat from CC. But I've never been able to successfully argue for "half penalties on entering and Retreating" which would be my preference.

    "The attacker gives up a lot to get to close combat..."

    Kinda yes, kinda no. In my experience they aren't giving up anything they actually had, or they are quite happy simply throwing a few penalties on the foes they CC with. Either the attacker has no way to attack at Reach, because they're an animal/creature with only CC capacity, or they are really optimized to get into CC and stay there.

    1. I get your point, but they gain very little (or nothing) and it is harder to get where they need to be, thanks to Retreat and Step from opponents with Reach 1+ weapons. It's practically more difficult to fight at C than at 1.

    2. Largely only because your enemy will stay at Reach 1. From CC, if they Retreat, you follow with a Step. If they Step back, you Retreat with a forward Slip. If you want to take the fight to where you're Zweihander armed foes are the most uncomfortable, you do have to fight to stay there.

      But the only reason it's harder to "stay in CC with a foe that doesn't want to be there" is because they //keep trying to leave//. It's no easier to keep a Reach 1 foe at 2 or 3, or a 2-3 for at Reach 1.

      Having built and played a few CC fighters over the years, it ridiculously easy to stay in CC if you're dedicated to it. And completely unprepared foes do not like it one bit.

  2. I had no idea how big a difference those MA rules would make before I started using them. All dumb young me could think of was "yay, realistic!" but I ended up totally nerfing both PCs and monsters that focused on Reach C weapons and unarmed attacks: knife guys, karate guys, tooth-and-claw guys. I've never played DF but I think if I were to run it, I'd run close combat the Basic Set way to give Martial Artists and bestial monsters like werewolves. For a more realistic game, though, those MA rules make a lot of sense.

    1. I hear you. Coming from a game primarily about armed human-like vs. armed human-like, it didn't make a big difference to implement them. It has made a big difference in DF.

      I have a ruling in DF Felltower that most monsters (but rarely animals) treat their attacks as strikers. So do all unarmed types with Trained By A Master. That evens things up a bit. However, it wouldn't really be necessary to do that if we played by the Basic Set or Exploits as written (ignoring the FAQ Kalzazz mentions.)

  3. I've always used this rule.
    From the FAQ. It says it is from Basic Set, though yeah, I don't see it

    1. Same. I've used that for years, but I don't see anything in Basic Set that backs it up. As rules go, it's a middle ground between the Basic Set / DFRPG rules and the GURPS Martial Arts rules.

  4. DFGPG Exploits 51 states that retreating out of close combat "lets you try
    any active defense". The paragraph is almost the same as what is in basic but specifically mentioning "any active defense", so I assume that was the original intention.

    1. It probably is - and it's a good catch. The question is, does that apply to both when someone enters, and any time you leave, close combat? A plain reading implies it is, which means cutting off retreat is critical for close combat attackers.

      Unfortunately that also comes with the usual baggage of Retreat in my games - reluctance to play without a map where people can ensure they have Retreat room, and reluctance to play combats off-map quickly if they may come with an inability to ensure Retreat.

      Is the a DFRPG FAQ I don't know about, by the way? I don't see one.

    2. I found two posts by Kromm that seem relevant here, using a Google search that turned up DFRPG posts from the forums:

      The first isn't clear if that means you can retreat and thus get full long-weapon defense . . . but it's quoted as if you can't.

      The second has an example at the end which never includes "Retreat, and thus defend with your long weapon" as an option. It doesn't explicitly reject it, but it doesn't include it, either.

    3. Nice find Joseph! Hmmm.

      And nice* finds Peter. That makes me think that Retreat was always meant to give regular defenses, it's only against an attack as someone enters CC that bears the brunt of CC penalties.

      .* But also mildly infuriating. Kromm once argued to me that ISAR wasn't designed to force Close Combat on newby Players who might not know how to handle it... but here he is all but extolling that as it's virtue. *sigh*


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