Sunday, 27 July 2014

With Your Pants Down: Why the Fighting While Seated technique isn't cinematic

Jacques-Louis David's La Mort de Marat
In GURPS, there are several stances characters can be in. They can be standing, kneeling, crouching, sitting, prone, or laying face-up. Most of these stances other than standing provide some kind of penalty to (melee) attacks and defenses. In Martial Arts, there are several techniques that allow you to buy off the penalties for using a specific combat skill from a low posture, such as Low Fighting (for kneeling) and Ground Fighting (for prone). There's also a technique for fighting while seated, called, appropriately enough, Fighting While Seated.

This technique is cinematic, since, as Martial Arts puts it, "sometimes a skilled master will show contempt for an inferior opponent by fighting while sitting down". Indeed, this must be true. Why else would you remain sitting while someone is attacking you? The posture has no benefits and no mobility, so clearly, anyone who trains specifically to fight and parry attacks while seated is foolish and simply trying to show off. This has no benefit as a realistic technique.

So, what if someone tries to stab you in the bathroom?

That's really the blunt question I have for everyone with this preconception. What if someone attempts to stab you while you are sitting in a car, in the bathtub, on the porcelain throne, or having a meal, or sitting seiza in front of your lord when someone else draws a knife and attacks him?

The common argument I've heard against this last one, by the way, is "If your lord doesn't allow you to stand up to fight the nasty man with a knife, he probably deserves to die". The trouble with this logic is that knife attacks - and all combat, really, that happens in civilian life - happen blazingly fast. You will often not realize you are being attacked until the moment comes that you have to parry, and I'm sure an intrepid reader will note that you cannot stand up until it is your turn to take a maneuver.

If you are sitting on the toilet when someone opens the bathroom stall door and stabs you in one fluid motion, that -1 to parry suddenly seems like a very big deal.

I'll be honest, this is an extremely nitpicky thing to complain about, but I feel honor-bound to challenge this idea. The idea of learning to fight from any particular disadvantageous position is not silly. It is not a commonly learned technique, and it has a niche use, but there are realistic uses for it, at least for unarmed grappling or striking styles. The fact that I have heard and seen cases of people being attacked by screwdrivers while sitting in their car compels me to educate on the subject.

Let's also not forget that one of the most famous Renaissance era knife fights, the death of Christopher Marlowe, involved someone parrying while sitting down. Ingram Frizier, Marlowe's killer, was sitting at a table while Marlowe laid on a couch. After an argument, Marlowe drew a knife and stood, attacking Frizier with the knife. Frizier managed to gain control of the knife and stabbed Marlowe fatally in the head. Frizier was later judged to be innocent, as he acted in self defense. Frizier's account of events has been viewed with incredible disbelief today, as how could someone possibly intercept a knife attack that is coming in while they are sitting down, relieve the attacker of his knife, and kill him in one or two blows? The entire thing seems very farfetched, and if it appeared as a piece of testimony in a modern court, it would likely be viewed with incredible suspicion.

The simple answer is is that people in the middle ages and Renaissance were intimately familiar with the realities of knife attack, and created entire systems of combat designed to deal with them, many of which involve grabbing and twisting knives out of the opponent's hand, sometimes from awkward positions in the midst of grappling. Fiore de'i Liberi's system of "covers" - Judo parries that lead to control of the attacking dagger arm - can be applied from any number of positions. The Judo Cross Parry on the right can be done sitting down, standing up, kneeling, or even on your back, and given the nature of knife fighting and assassinations, there are dividends in learning to do it in many of these postures. Being able to parry and disarm a knife attacker while you are immobile in any posture, including sitting, can save your life. It certainly saved Frizier's. How much would you wish to bet that Frizier, afterwards, would be very interested in studying this supposedly cinematic technique?


 -Fighting While Seated is now a realistic technique, at least when dealing with unarmed grappling or striking. Fighting While Seated (Whip) or Fighting While Seated (Two-Handed Sword) probably are still so, though.

That's about it, really. Next post, we get back to armored combat. Again.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Gadgets and Gewgaws: Miscellaneous Low-Tech equipment and rules

"But it was Egill and not a bear that was hiding in the bushes, and when he saw Berg-├ľnundur, he drew his sword. There was a loop on the hilt which he drew over his hand to let the sword hang there. He took his spear in his hand and rushed towards Berg-├ľnundur."
 -Egil's Saga, ch. 58

GURPS Low-Tech contains many amazing things, almost to the point of being, in and of itself, an educational book. Each time I read it I learn something I haven't known before. Yet in listing all the aspects of daily life, many of the things more pertinent to adventurers and soldiers have been omitted. History is filled with all sorts of little artifacts and mentions of things that warriors did to give them the edge, and I'm often asked, personally, as a GM, about getting these things. Gadgets and Gewgaws will be a listing of various rules and stats I have come up with for accessories not covered in the -Tech books.

As a brief aside, the historical accuracy of some of these items is in debate, or is up in the air entirely. Cloth or leather accessories do not survive the ages well, usually rotting away to nothing, and many metal objects are unrecognizable hunks of rust. This makes it very hard to tell whether such a thing as, for instance, the Rain Scabbard, ever existed.  I, personally, am of the mindset that if an idea makes sense, someone in history, at some point, must surely have tried it. We cannot conclude such things were common in history without evidence, but fantasy worlds or historical settings are free to include them.

Sword Lanyard
$1, 0.1 lbs

A sword lanyard is a piece of string or twine wrapped around the wrist of a swordsman, in order to suspend a weapon hanging point-down from the wrist, leaving his hand free for other tasks. So suspended, a weapon can be quickly readied with a flick of the hand (+2 to Fast-Draw), but Holdout rolls are impossible. The lanyard must be re-tied to the weapon each time it is drawn (three Ready maneuvers, cut to two if a successful Knot-Tying roll is made), making it primarily useful for when preparing for an engagement ahead of time. The sword cannot be dropped, merely made unready, unless the twine is cut (-8 to hit, 1 HP, 1 DR). Any weapon longer than a Broadsword will interfere with the hand it's attached to, giving -2 to DX with that hand (-1 if the hand is participating in readying a two-handed weapon).

The lanyard is made of a piece of plant fiber twine about five yards long and can support 20 lbs. A similar lanyard can be made of chain and attached to a gauntlet ($10, 1 lbs), and is identical aside from being much tougher. A clasp to quickly detach a chain lanyard is $5, neg.

Peace Bonds
$3, 0.1 lbs

"The lad grasped the sword, drew off a step or two, snapped off the peace-strings, and drew the sword."
                        -Gisla Saga, Chapter 28

A pair of leather loops for the mouth of a sword scabbard that can slide up and around the crossguard in order to secure the sword in the scabbard. This adds an extra Ready maneuver to any draw, in order to slip the straps outwards around the crosshilt and off the sword. The extra Ready can be avoided by a Fast-Draw roll at -4. The sword cannot be drawn by anyone else while so secured, though, and it will also stay in the scabbard even if the sword is tugged or tossed, or turned upside down. Peace bonds such as these are primarily used as a statement of trust, rather than by legal obligation, showing the swordsman feels no need to (quickly) draw his weapon.

Peace Bonds, Tied
$7, 0.25 lbs

A more complicated system of tight, knotted cords or leather straps that ensure at least one knot must be untied in order to draw a scabbarded weapon. This requires three Ready maneuvers, cut to two on a successful Knot-Tying or Escape roll. Drawing the weapon is still impossible until this is done, or the cords are cut. This particular style of peace bond can be demanded by law, in order to wear or carry a sword in places such as holy ground, a designated meeting point, or in a city with restrictive weapon laws. Not all places will accept a peace-bonded sword automatically, but it certainly speaks volumes about a blade-carrier's intent.

Rain Scabbard
$10, 1.5 lb

This thick, elongated cloth bag can be tied over any weapon up to Bastard Sword lengths (4.5 feet), including a sword still in its scabbard. With the flap closed over the end, the weapon is at -2 to Fast-Draw, but it also gains +4 HT against environmental degradation. A larger version to cover greatswords, etc (up to 8 feet long) is $17, 2 lbs. The weapon can be slung on a person while in the rain scabbard at no penalty. The scabbard will protect against rain, mud, magical corrosive dust, etc, but will not protect against immersion in liquid.

Although a specialty item, the rain scabbard can be given an inner lining and specialized flap that will not leak when submerged, provided it encloses the entire weapon. Drawing or opening the scabbard will flood the contents, however. This upgrade is an additional $50 and 0.5 lbs.

Whether any such historical item of this type exists is unknown, but it would certainly be at home in any fantasy setting.

Visor Lock
$25, 0.1 lbs
(Cost multiplied by SM)

A visor lock is a small but sturdy key that slips into a visor's pivot, in order to lock the visor in the closed position, preventing it from being raised or knocked open accidentally. This can be very valuable if grappled by an opponent! Engaging it requires two Ready maneuvers, removing it requires one - but disengaging the visor lock of a resisting opponent requires a quick contest of grappling skill! (In either case, the time to ready or unready can be lowered by one second with a successful DX roll, penalized for Hamfisted.)

Without a visor lock, a visor can be raised by anyone who successfully grapples the wearer's face as a free action.

Visor locks can be broken - in fact, the duel of Jacques Le Gris and Jean de Carrouges was concluded when Carrouges smashed open Le Gris's visor with the pommel of his sword, breaking the lock that held it in place. Carrouges then finished his unfortunate opponent by stabbing him through the jaw with a dagger. The lock has DR 4, HP 6. If the visor it is attached to is struck, apply the same amount of basic damage to the visor lock. When destroyed, it ceases to function and the visor can be raised by anyone grappling the face.

Visor Bars
1% of armor cost and weight

Due to the threat posed by adversaries slipping a dagger or sword point in through the vision slit of a visor or full helmet, some visored helmets feature vertical bars arrayed over the visor slit. These bars impair vision, but provide protection to the eyes. Partial bars, like those pictured on the right, give 3/6 coverage to the eyes, but give Tunnel Vision instead of No Peripheral Vision!

Full bars are 2% of full armor cost and weight and, in addition to granting Tunnel Vision, also give -2 to vision rolls. However, they provide full protection (6/6) to the eyes.

Bypassing visor bars is impossible for creatures using same-size SM weapons, unless attacking with something like a needle. SM-3 or smaller weaponry may be able to manage it. However, normally, with full bars in place, the Eye Slit armor gap is protected by the full DR of the visor bars.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Naked Steel and Ambition Part 2: Coming to grips with your sword

In my last post, I discussed how laying hands on a sword blade wasn't as strange an idea as an average person might think.

I also mentioned two grip styles, which you can see depicted above; Battering Point and Halfswording, respectively. Battering Point is a position where the sword is held by the blade in two hands, allowing devastating pommel smashes and Hook attempts. Halfswording is the Defensive Grip from Martial Arts, applied to a two-handed sword. Both of these grip styles almost universally appear in the fighting manuals from the 15th century. I think that the handling of these grips can be improved.

There has been a lot of information unearthed from the Historical European Martial Arts crowd and archeological findings over the time since MA has been published. Our understanding of armored combat is better. We understand now that the Pollaxe and Dueling Halberd were actually more common than was thought at the time of publication, and we also have a better idea of why these alternate grip styles are so vital.

For instance, Longsword Fighting in Martial Arts states that stylists would often use Committed Attacks from the normal grip to injure adversaries 'through' armor. There have been a few tests of that concept:

They're fairly conclusive. So, how can we modify the existing Defensive Grip rules to catch up to what we've figured out about armored fighting? Let's take the two examples of alternate grips one at a time.


The Half-sword position is the classic example of a Defensive Grip, offering +1 to parry, +1 to thrusting damage, and -2 to swung damage. This is a good place to start. However, there are some parts of the implementation I must disagree with.

First of all, in order to target armor gaps more effectively, you have to take an alternate version of the Defensive Grip, which Martial Arts describes as placing the off hand 'just behind the tip' of the blade. This special, unnamed grip drops damage to thrust impaling. It also drops the sword to reach C. Is this accurate?

Ahistorical images, historical technique. (Source)
As far as I know, this supposed 'different grip' is fiction. I have never seen a halfsword technique where the hand was placed any further than halfway up the blade. In fact, I daresay that that would be uncomfortable, and it would make point control worse. Halfswording can drop almost any sword to reach C without any significant loss in thrusting power. Retaining full Reach while in a Defensive Grip, actually, is close to impossible - your sword WILL be significantly shortened. And it is certain that this "regular" defensive grip gives better point control than a supposed stance with the hand behind the tip of the sword. I can vouch personally for that.

We see this grip continually depicted over and over and over in historical sources. Rarely does it waver from being placed firmly in the center of the blade. When it varies, it is to place the hand on the ricasso, not near the tip. Always, it is depicted lowering reach, and it is depicted to aid point control, and always is the ensuing grip used for parrying weapons or stabbing into armor gaps, or grappling. These men wore voiders - little bits of DR 3 mail - that covered their armpits and the inside of their elbows. If thrust damage was really dropped that much by targeting gaps, it would be almost impossible to cripple someone by stabbing them in the armpit.

The fix:

-For swords, in addition to the stated standard effects for a Defensive Grip in Martial Arts, a Defensive Grip drops reach to C, 1, the +1 thrusting damage bonus is negated, and -2 is removed from penalties to attack gaps. These effects are mandatory and replace the 'just behind the tip' rules in their entirety. In addition, this grip gives +1 to Pummeling damage.

Battering Point

Aka, the "Inverse Grip"

Describing the Battering Point grip requires a new grip style. This style of blade-gripping is referenced in Martial Arts, but no rules are given for it. We'll call it "Inverse Grip" for genericism reasons.

Inverse Grip can be assumed with any sword under the same rules as a Defensive Grip, being affected by Grip Mastery the same way that stance is. Like the Defensive Grip, it requires two hands. While so gripped, Swung attacks gain +1 to damage and become crushing. Reach is unchanged. The weapon is also unbalanced, unless the wielder has 1.5 the required ST for the weapon's normal Swing. The weapon can be used with the rules under Hook if it has a crossguard. The wielder can also choose to attack for swung impaling damage with his crossguard, based off the weapon's normal Swung damage. In addition to potentially getting stuck, roll versus the weapon's HT each time an attack hits home - a failure means the crossguard breaks and the sword has -1 to Parry until it is repaired.

All attacks from this grip are (normally) under the domain of Two-Handed Axe/Mace.

A weapon such as a katana, with no pommel, or a non-sword object simply has its damage change to crushing. None of the other rules above apply, although the weapon still becomes used with Two-Handed Axe/Mace. Thus, this grip is rather pointless unless seeking to subdue a target without (as much) harm.

Try this with any kind of sword. Even shorter blades can be wielded with pommel strikes - Broadsword, Shortsword and Falchion alike could all have benefits when used two-handed to beat people over the head. May your swordpommel uproot many teeth!

Naked Steel and Ambition Part 1: Gripping a blade in bare hands?

Would you ever grab a sharp blade with your bare hands?

When an armored knight faces another armored knight, rarely does it resemble the battles so often depicted in film and television. Penetrating metal armor with a metal weapon is a near impossibility. Fortunately, as Martial Arts states, the fighting manuals from the 14th and 15th centuries have the answer to how you would use a sword to deal with an armored man.

There are two alternate grip styles that are common in these manuals. One is called Halfswording, which involves putting one's off hand on the blade of the sword, converting it into a short-ranged spear that can target gaps in armor or smash the target with the pommel, or be wrapped around the target for grappling. This is simulated by the Defensive Grip rules in Martial Arts.

The other is called the Battering Point, and it involves putting both hands on the blade of the sword, and swinging the entire thing as a mace, or as a pick, using the sharpened crossguard or the pommel as an impact surface to wound the target through their armor. As far as I know, there are no rules for this in Martial Arts. It is referenced obliquely, but no rules are given for employing it.

At this point, you may be thinking, merely from watching and looking at this, something along the lines of "How in God's name do they not cut themselves?" Or perhaps  "Surely they must have been wearing gloves, or wearing gauntlets?" Indeed, Martial Arts is no different - at two points it subscribes to the belief that doing this is somehow ill-advised. Performing a Choke Hold with an edged weapon, by wrapping it around their neck in the half-sword grip, requires a DX roll, the consequences for failure being thrust cutting damage to the wielder's own hands (Martial Arts, p69). The description for the Hook technique implies that any sane user would be wearing gauntlets to attempt to grasp the blade as described in the fighting manuals. The general omission of rules for the blade-holding grip also strike me as a result of the incredulity this concept faces from those of us who have never studied knightly martial arts. This idea must surely be fanciful, ludicrous, or insanely dangerous, so many people have told me.

Sad to say, these people are wrong. Edged weapons are not lightsabers - they do not cut from simply being in contact. The principle can be understood if you've ever cleaned a combat knife, or even if you've ever cut bread or an undercooked steak - simply pressing on the meat or bread does not cut it, it crushes it. It is the lateral motion of slicing, or sawing, or hewing that causes damage, not simply being in contact with the edge.

The secret to this, in real life, is as simple as gripping the blade like a guitar. Grip with the fingers and flat of the palm, and grip firmly, so the sword does not slide around in your hands, and you have a grip that will never cut you

There could be some argument that a slip-up in this condition could be dangerous, and could cut your hand. But could any injury sustained from the blade simply moving along your hand really take you out of the fight? I doubt any such injury would be worth more than a single point of damage. When adrenaline is going, a mere cut on your hand is a small price to pay for the tactical flexibility these stances and grips give you.

I feel that fighting manuals would not continually depict this kind of grip if it was at all dangerous to an experienced user. It's certainly no more dangerous than holding an edged weapon by the hilt is, which already places the user at risk regardless of where his hands are. The slew of accidents, minor and not so minor, that anyone who works around knives can attest to, is certainly proof of that. You could drop a sharp weapon and injure yourself, or even fall atop it, yet GURPS doesn't ask you to make a DX roll to avoid impaling yourself if you fall down while holding a weapon. Such catastrophic self-injury is best reserved for critical failures to begin with.

The fixes here are quite simple, and actually make things less complex.

-Self-injury is impossible if a character trying a blade-gripping technique or stance has combat skills and familiarity with the weapon in question. Do away with all references to it.

-At the GM's option, if a character has no combat skills or is unfamiliar with a given weapon and has a hand on the blade of any sort, roll a DX check after each combat turn in which the character used the sword to parry or attack. Failure means 1 point of cutting damage to the hand. Palm armor protects normally. This can add up over time (consider crippling the hand if aggregated injury exceeds HP/3), making halfswording for a complete novice a bad idea.

In the next post on Naked Steel and Ambition, we'll cover the two types of grip and how to make them more true to the 15th century armored combat paradigm in GURPS rules. Until then, may your hand feel nothing but firm steel!

Monday, 5 May 2014

Help, I Can't Hold My Sword: A short post on gauntlets

One more post on the nature of armor, then we'll move on. I swear.

This is another short one. Let me quote from Low Tech: Instant Armor: "Enclosed mittens and gloves protect vs. cold, heat, contact poison, etc., but give Bad Grip 1(p. B123). (Gauntlets lack this note – they’re open-palmed, negating both the benefit and the drawback.)"

Let's briefly discuss what this means. First of all, this means that anyone using mittens or low-tech gloves effectively has a -2 to their combat skills involving anything but unarmed striking, since that's essentially what Bad Grip does. -2 might not sound like a whole lot, but remember, 3d6 is a bell curve. For a user with skill 12, this drops his chance to hit by 24%! Wow. That's abysmal, especially in armored combat where tough hit locations will be targeted all the time.

Well, you can use gauntlets to get around this, as stated. However, note what that note says. All gauntlets are completely open palmed... and the benefits of having gloves on are negated. That means your gauntleted character has bare skin in contact with his blade. He is vulnerable to frostbite, burns, contact poison smeared on a doorknob...

Take a look at that image at the top. There are curiously few images available of modern reproduction gauntlets on the underside; I suppose this is because it isn't very photogenic. Even so, if you google 'gauntlet' you can easily note how leather gloves are almost universally a thing worn underneath them, often affixed permanently to them. Would a contact poison get through these gloves? Are they so whisper-thin that they do nothing against cold?

Even if you wear leather gloves under your gauntlet, Low Tech will tell you the same thing - Low Tech gloves give Bad Grip 1. I guess it's a choice between frostbite and not being able to swing your sword.

I understand low-tech gloves and mittens having Hamfisted. That makes perfect sense. I have a pair of kevlar gauntlets for swordfighting training, and I could end up standing there for a few minutes if I really tried to take my keys out of my pocket without taking them off first. However, Bad Grip is extremely excessive, especially for a leather glove. Even a mitten will do many things to you, but I highly doubt that it will subtract 24% from your chance to hit.

If this was true in reality, the instant someone put any kind of leather gloves or mittens on, their combat performance would measurably and noticeably decrease. Instead, when I put those kevlar gloves on, my performance improves. My hand-sweat is no longer interfering with the operation of my waster. These gloves have no high-tech grippy bits, they are completely smooth on the underside aside from a machine stitching line. And they're not exceptionally well fitted for me, either.

So, how do we fix this? Very simple:

-Gloves and gauntlets of any type do not give Bad Grip if they provide only DR 0 or DR 0*. Any palm armor that provides DR 1 or higher provides Bad Grip 1.

-Gauntlets do not protect the palm by themselves, but can be combined with other armor. If your gauntlets have a built-in leather glove, as most do, buy the glove as a Combination Gadget with the gauntlet. Otherwise, simply wear gloves under your gauntlets. 'Gloves' and 'Gauntlets' are separate armor location (hand front, hand back, you could think of it) and do not incur a layering penalty.

-Ordinary Low-Tech gloves give Hamfisted 1 if worn alone, unless they are made Expensive as per Low-Tech - in which case they provide no penalty.

-The total amount of Hamfisted for gloves and gauntlets cannot exceed Hamfisted 2.

I'm not, myself, entirely convinced that DR 1 on the palms automatically drops combat performance so much, but really, at some point, this becomes a gripe against Bad Grip rather than against Low-Tech armor. Perhaps in a future post I will cover my 'never-ever disadvantages' and how to improve them.

For now, though, may your grip on your sword be ever secure!

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Iron Joints: Why giving full rigid DR against joint locks makes absolutely no sense

"When I see that with the sword I could do nothing to you, instantly I use this catch from grappling, so that I believe and see and feel that your armor will be worth nothing as I force you the strong Lower Bind."
 -Fiore de'i Liberi
I'm here to talk about arm locks. Specifically, how they work versus rigid armor, in GURPS.

In GURPS, arm locks are protected against by rigid DR. To quote Martial Arts: "If you win, you inflict crushing damage equal to your margin of victory. The target’s rigid DR protects normally. Flexible armor, including natural DR with the Flexible or Tough Skin limitation, has no effect."

This means someone with DR 6 plate armor on their arm thus has DR 6 effective versus an arm lock. Even a Throw from Lock might not break his arm - the plates on his arm somehow bind together in a manner that prevents his elbow ligaments from shattering.

Yet at the same time, a Choke Hold has no such restriction! It's not stated in the Basic Set, nor in Martial Arts, that rigid armor protects against choke holds. This means that the best option against an armored man when you are unarmed isn't to break his limbs, it's to choke him out, even if he has a rigid gorget!

I ran into this problem facefirst when trying to come up with a way to run a powered-armor wrestling tournament in GURPS. Worse, I had several people tell me flat out that this behavior made perfect sense to them, and that my fighting tournament consisting of people in rigid power armor complete with full-enclosing helmets and neck protection would involve lots and lots of choking. I still can't figure that one out.

The problem is, and this may be somewhat obvious to you if you have considered the basics of fighting a well protected man in armor, is that you can only be invincible if you completely restrict your own mobility. For your armor to have no weak points or gaps in coverage and still allow you to move is impossible. Thus, your joints must be hinged and mobile. This means that that mobility can be abused. Likewise, it means the gaps in your armor can be thrust into. Your best chance against a man in armor is not to punch him, but to grapple him and break his limbs, and then finish him with a knife - and indeed, many medieval duels went exactly this way.

Then we have the continued absurdity that rigid DR of any source applies, so an Ultra-Tech combat hardsuit would provide DR 75 (or more, depending on TL) against arm locks. Apparently, making a protective garment more resistant against gunfire also makes it protect your joints better. Who knew?

Compare and contrast this with the historical record. We have many, many, many examples of arm locks being a thing in armored fighting, sourced from the fight-books of medieval swordfighting and grappling masters. For example, Fiore de'i Liberi, a 15th century Italian knight, discusses armored swordfighting at length. In his system, one-handed arm locks are often used to secure a positional advantage to stab at the enemy's armpit. While it is true that many of his images depict men in what appear to be chainmail, many are in plate as well, and it seems that these techniques are intended to work against men who are in rigid or soft armor alike. There is no mention of the techniques being different for a man in rigid armor.

It is also stated, here and elsewhere, that all combat in the European systems springs entirely from grappling. All the basics are contained in grappling, and grappling is taught first. The grappling holds in Master Fiore's system involve many bone-breaking locks, including quite artful examples of the Throw from Lock technique. These techniques are not specifically part of 'unarmored fighting' - they are intended to be used against a wide variety of targets. The fact that identical moves show up in both the unarmored and armored segments of different manuals is proof of that. The left image is from the fechtbuch of Hans Czynner, and shows a knight snapping his opponent's arm over his shoulder in order to make a dagger fall free. The same elbow-breaking attack shows up in Fiore's Art of Abrazare, on the right, against an unarmored opponent, and in several other fechtbuchs.

Then we have other armored fighting manuals. The image I chose for the start of this page is slightly annotated with a pair of arrows showing the direction of the technique. The image is from the Talhoffer fechtbuch - a very well illustrated depiction of a variety of duel-centric combat. This is nothing less than an Armed Grapple arm lock - done against a man in armor! Why would you take your sword out of action to establish an arm lock if some form of damage was not going to be done to the opponent by it?

Now, does all of this mean that rigid armor offers no protection against joint manipulation whatsoever? No, not at all! I think a rigid plate might very well offer some protection against a violent elbow jerk, especially if the armor is sized and shaped for a specific user's range of motion. After all, the plates will, at the very least, grind against one another when being moved in a direction that they are not designed to go. However, this DR, if it is used, should never, ever be based on the armor's ability to sustain physical punishment. Otherwise complete absurdities occur, like a suit of mithril plate armor giving near-immunity to joint abuse.

Iron Joint Rules

"Iron Joints" is the proposed name I have for the very simple rule replacement that fixes these issues. It goes thusly:

-The maximum DR value for an ordinary piece of rigid armor versus locks of any kind is DR 2, providing some slight resistance. Expert Tailoring (Low-Tech p110) can raise this by +1 to DR 3, and Masterful Tailoring can raise it by a further +1 for a total of DR 4, when being worn by the user they are sized and fitted for. Being shaped and sized for a specific user alone means the armor can better resist unwanted dislocations.

-Magical spells, enchanted armor of specific types, or high-tech systems (such as a power-armor locking device that detects unwanted pressure and seizes the offending limb before the occupant can suffer damage) may be able to grant additional DR on top of this, either all the time or situationally.

-Rigid armor defends against a Choke Hold or Strangle normally. Before you can choke out someone wearing armor, you'll have to crush the armor against their throat. This is as hard as penetrating the armor, and should naturally be given full DR.

Very easy, very simple, and easily slapped on to any game. Another step forward in the strive to make interesting armored swordfights in GURPS. Happy snapping!

Super Edge Protection Part 2: Newfangled high-tech armor

In my last two posts, we discussed the Super Edge Protection system I designed, where armor is given an Edge Protection (EP) value in addition to its DR. This allows people to be hurt without their armor being penetrated, which was before a physical impossibility. Similar to the problems I outlined in the foreword, high-tech armor in GURPS is extremely binary - either a few points of damage get through an armored vest when its wearer is shot, or nothing gets through at all.

It's true that high tech flexible armors have higher DR values, so it's possible to suffer blunt trauma if riddled with submachinegun fire while wearing a kevlar vest, unlike the low-tech armor, where any significant amount of blunt trauma is a physical impossibility. However, in GURPS, a character can receive three high-damage rounds of 9x19mm Parabellum to the sternum and suffer only 3 points of damage - and a character in trauma plates can be shot repeatedly in the chest over and over and never suffer any ill effects, at least not until the trauma plates break (if you're using the optional degradation rules, that is) and they're shot 'for real'. But shouldn't someone who receives a powerful shot to the solar plexus feel some ill effects? Surely, all that energy from the bullet can't simply "go away".

So, could high-tech armor benefit from the SEP approach?

SEP was designed to remedy a deficiency in low-tech armor, not the high-tech stuff we use today, and because of this SEP doesn't immediately transfer well to high-tech armor. This is for a simple reason; the DR values of the low-tech armor are too low, allowing a spear to penetrate well made chainmail or plate armor often in the hands of a strong user, which is physically absurd when one thinks about it. A metal weapon cannot easily penetrate metal armor without serious positional advantages. However, the DR values for modern, high-tech armor given in the GURPS sourcebooks are spot-on accurate, and calibrated to be almost exact with regards to the item's defensive abilities versus small arms fire, so 'adding on' EP to the end of the scale wouldn't make sense.

For instance, an M16 does 5d6, and a regular SAPI (2000 era) combined with an Assault Vest, both from High Tech, gives DR 35 (12 for the vest + 23 for the plates). Thus, it is completely proof against 5.56mm fire, which can do 30 damage maximum. Barring any critical hits, the vest will resist the first shot, and probably several shots after that. However, it won't resist 12.7mm fire (6d6x2)! This is perfectly in line with the real world, so taking a multiplier of the armor's DR would make the vest far too strong and let it shrug off threats that it realistically can't handle.

So, we're going to have to go back to something more similar to the original GamesDiner approach, where we take a certain fraction of the armor's DR and replace it with EP. But before we do that, let's pose a question: How much blunt trauma will an average user really suffer in a modern ballistic vest? This is something that is a field of emerging research, and I am continually shocked by how many of my fellow civilians do not understand how serious of a problem blunt trauma through armor still is, even in a modern context.

BABT and You

Source (p435)
The process of suffering blunt trauma through modern ballistic armor has been termed BABT, which stands for Behind Armor Blunt Trauma. It is a very new field of study, by definition not having existed until ballistic armor came into wide usage, and so we don't have a huge amount of data on it yet. However, the basic facts are known and have been shown in both studies and in real field service and experience.

The easiest way to understand this is to think of a piece of armor as a soccer net. A ball (the projectile) is kicked into the net, and the ropes, weaved together in a latticework, catch and spread out the energy of the ball. What would have snapped a single line is caught and stopped by many spreading the energy out between them. None of the energy of the shot has simply "gone away", it has simply been spread out. It's possible for a well made net to spread things out so much that a person standing behind the goal wouldn't take any injury even if the soccer ball were to contact his body, but it's no guarantee - after all, soccer balls come in at varying amounts of force.

Most modern vests - whether rigid or soft - are required to display some resistance to blunt trauma. Yet there are many times even well made vests are hit by a square shot and their wearer has suffered injury, sometimes even death. Occasionally a shot into soft armor will be 'stopped' but still penetrate into the wearer, like on the image to the right, which would require surgical removal of the bullet and vest. Rigid armor cannot have this happen, but is still only somewhat better on the blunt trauma front. A 2006 study reported that at close range, an average 7.62mmR bullet versus a trauma plate presents a 50% chance of serious rib fracture and internal bleeding - the image at the start of this section illustrates x-rays of their human substitute as he is hit.

I'm not kidding when I say that sometimes being shot in a modern vest, even a rigid vest, can be the equivalent of getting smashed in the gut with a mace.

Of course, it's possible to get lucky and get off with some minor bruising. And there seem to be far more bruises than rib-smashing impacts with regards to pistol rounds versus pistol vests, for example. A study on police officers who were shot primarily with pistols shows that serious injury only occurred in about 15% of cases. Yet we must consider it a very real possibility, and we also must consider that many shots in an average police gunfight are at an angle or wildly off-center, so many of the results in that study will have been glancing hits to start. Even those officers that were not seriously hurt were often knocked down or spun around.

In addition to all of that, military forces on the ground have for a long time known that being shot is not a pleasant experience. One soldier reported that being shot in his side SAPI was as painful as being stabbed. Other soldiers have been recorded falling in momentary pain and shock after being shot, only to immediately get back up. While it's true soldiers have reported rounds bouncing off their vests without anything more than discomfort, it's fairly clear that it's a roll of the dice as to how bad, and how painful, a given impact will be, and whether you'll be able to stay standing at the end of it.

It's for these reasons I think that ballistic armor in GURPS, whether rigid or soft, should never leave you with the ability to simply "laugh off" bullets. Ballistic armor gives you a much better chance of survival, and often means you can get right back up again, but being shot often makes one fall down and scream in agony even the same.


So, how do we adapt the SEP system in such a way that blunt trauma through ballistic armor is simulated, even if only roughly? Fortunately, a rough implementation is very easy to put into practice:

-Flexible ballistic armor has 2/3rds of its DR converted into EP (round up). This would render a DR 12 vest into DR 4, EP 8. This means a major wound is possible if higher than average damage is rolled, but not on the average roll.

-Rigid ballistic armor, like a trauma plate, has 1/3rd of its DR converted into EP (again, rounding up). This would render a DR 35 trauma plate into DR 23, EP 12.

-When dealing with combined forms of armor, such as a trauma plate inside of an assault vest, add the EP values together and compare the remaining damage to the EP after the shot contends with each layer's DR separately. This is to make sure that different layers of armor actually work together properly to help stop shots, as otherwise each layer would break in sequence instead of working together to absorb force.

Example: Fred the Infantryman is shot for 30 damage in the vitals, close to maximum damage! He is wearing an assault vest (DR 4, EP 8 and a SAPI plate (DR 15, EP 8). The shot first contends with the trauma plate, which subtracts 15 points of damage, leaving 15 left over. Then the shot contests with the vest, which subtracts 4 points of damage, leaving 11 left over. The remaining 11 is compared to the total EP value (8+8, for EP 16). Since the damage is less than the combined EP from all layers of his armor, the shot does not penetrate, and the 11 points of damage are converted to crushing. Fred is saved from a killing shot.

To show why doing it the 'regular' way won't work, consider: If the layers are treated separately with regards to EP, the SAPI plate absorbs 15 points of damage, and then compares the remaining 15 with its EP of 8, which means the trauma plate breaks. The remaining 15 points of damage are then compared to the assault vest's DR 4, EP 8. The remaining 11 points of damage breaks through the vest as well, killing poor Fred. This is at odds with reality, as even the original SAPI, working in concert with a ballistic vest, can easily stop a 30-damage shot.

-When dealing with alternate DR values for different attack sources, apply the same rule to them. For instance, an assault vest would have DR 4 against a knife attack or a swung mace in regular High-Tech rules, so under this rule that would become DR 1, EP 3, allowing an 'average' knife attack to be shrugged off, but little else.

-Stab vests and other melee resistant armor should use the regular SEP system, treating themselves as cloth armor, unless the GM wants to avoid extra complexity. This is because DR 5 is too low to represent how an average stab vest functions - a GURPS character can break that by rolling max damage, when many real stab vests are capable of handling things off the end of the scale. If the GM desires to avoid excess complexity, simply treat them as flexible armor, as found here.

This system has the very nice effect of neatly simulating how armor behaves when struck by a threat too intense for it. In regular GURPS, a DR 12 pistol vest knocks off 12 damage even from rifle rounds, when in real life, a pistol vest confronted by a rifle round stops very little, if any at all, of the incoming round's velocity before it breaks. Here, it would only knock off 4 points of damage, with the majority of the vest's potential going to waste - this means a pistol vest will not help you survive against rifles!

This approach still has the same problem as the original low-tech SEP system, as it's still a bit too easy to kill someone through armor. Sadly, without changes to the injury rules, it's difficult to give an armor wearer a major wound that means he will fall to the ground for a moment without risking killing him with several shots. This means a story like that of Paul Ray Smith is very hard to duplicate - for a man to take 13 rifle rounds to the chest and back would require all of them to roll low damage, which is possible but unlikely.

Still, I think this system makes gunfights more interesting when armored soldiers cannot simply shrug off being hit. I am still working on these rules, and welcome any feedback or commentary on how to simulate BABT easily in GURPS. Keep on firing!