Rules I Don’t Use, Replace, or Revise

I used to play a heavily house ruled GURPS variant for a long time (alternate attributes, different skill progression scheme, 3-second combat turns with completely different combat mechanics, etc), but a bunch of years ago I decided to return to the roots and get some experience in running vanilla GURPS. After some games, something clicked for me, and I didn’t see a point in all of those house rules anymore – I’ve been running GURPS with very few house rules since then. I don’t think any I use are made out of whole cloth, it’s just simplifications or slight tweaks to published rules. I don’t feel “full” house rules are needed at all, since GURPS offers so many dials you can turn to get the experience you like.

There’s a whole bunch of published rules I don’t use though – but most of them are optional anyway. It would take forever to enumerate all of them because most are just small things, so I’ll just talk about a few notable ones.

The Hit Point System

I only use hit points in pickup games and other games which are intended for a “public” audience. For what I call my “private” games, I use the Conditional Injury rules from Pyramid #3/120. Actually, I’ve used a similar system in the aforementioned heavily modified GURPS variant I used to run. But Conditional Injury is much more elegant. I use such systems because I was never a fan of a death by a thousand rat bites, and sometimes they’re more survivable and feel more “heroic” than the default HP rules, both of which are a plus in my book.

I’ve developed a way to make using Conditional Injury quicker with rapid fire attacks, and I apply one other slight tweak to it: instead of using the Robustness Threshold and Wound Potential tables as published, I just use a straight SSRT progression. Most of my house rules are like that – if possible, try to find an already existing element of GURPS and apply it.

Grappling

I’ve been using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling ever since it came out, and never looked back. I even use it in my pickup games because it’s extremely simple and easy to understand. There are some situations where it takes a bit adjusting to (a couple of which I’ve outlined here), but I don’t see a reason not to use it in every game ever. Much simpler, and even cooler than the default GURPS grappling rules.

The only house rule I use was borne out of a discussion with the author – stronger characters have a bonus equal to the the ST difference on their attack rolls to break free.

GURPS Magic

Much like hit points, I only use this in my “public” games and only DF(RPG) ones at that. I vastly prefer magic as powers otherwise, taking elements from both Sorcery and Psionic Powers, though lately I’ve started experimenting with RPM a bit which I’ve otherwise avoided due to it being a completely new system and its tendency to upstage all non-practitioners.

GURPS Spaceships

While I like these rules in theory, in practice they suffer from two big problems. The first one is mostly due to my style of play – I need to flip so many switches to make the ships survivable enough and for the combat to work the way I want that I don’t feel the effort is worth it. The second problem is that the combat system is a completely new set of rules which I’ve found many players have no interest in learning.

I don’t run many games involving spaceships or other vehicles, but for when I do I’ve decided to use a modular ship construction system which is a mix of the Modular Mecha article from Pyramid #3/51 and vehicles as characters. As for the combat system – when I ran a mecha game I just treated the mecha as humans and used the default combat rules. Didn’t even bother mapping some of their stats to real world values because it wasn’t relevant. How fast can the mech run? I dunno, it has Move 6, the other mech has 5, you’re not interacting with other combatants anyway. I’ll use something similar for other vehicles if the need arises.

Oh – Conditional Injury is perfect for vehicular damage, and Mailanka has some great crippling rules on his Wiki which make it irrelevant to know which exact systems a vehicle has. He also has a great Action Vehicular Combat set of rules based on chases from Action and the Spaceships combat rules, but I don’t use those because of the same reason I don’t use the Spaceships combat system. Otherwise I would since they fit my requirements perfectly.

Cover

As written, the cover rules are very plausible and realistic. Can’t shoot a guy in a body part that isn’t exposed, and an exposed body part suffers a no greater to hit penalty than if it were targeted when its owner isn’t in cover.

Except this creates some perverse gameplay incentives that are noticeable in all but the most grounded, realistic of games. Why take cover so you can’t be hit in your torso armor, which is thicker than your face or hand armor? Why incentivize losing your arm, or skull shots by making the default, easiest target (torso) unavailable? Yes, other hit locations are harder to hit, but they offer commensurate rewards so taking anything but full cover isn’t really a win-win situation as one might expect. Especially against skilled opponents.

I haven’t done anything about this yet because the tug of plausible rules based in reality and my desire for few house rules is strong… but I might just say that any kind of partial covers gives the same penalty to hit all hit locations as it does to hit torso. Like, you don’t need to fully expose your hands and face to shoot, just partially. If your attacker suffers a -2 penalty to hit your torso, but a -4 penalty to hit your arm or a -9 penalty to hit your skull, taking cover is always a net benefit for you which is what I desire from such a defensive option. This is basically a simplification and abstraction of the existing cover rules from Basic and Tactical Shooting.

Active Defense vs Area Attacks

If you’re caught in the middle of an area attack and there is no cover nearby and your step isn’t enough to get you out of it… you’re outta luck. I mostly run cinematic games where this is completely inappropriate. So I mostly just say you can always dive for cover even when there is none… you find some microcover or whatever.

There’s another problem to this – due to the +3 to dodge while diving for cover, characters will generally always succeed at this. Yes, this makes them prone which is its own can of worms. It often turns area effect attacks into non-damaging setups for subsequent attacks. This isn’t a kind of incentive I like, but similar to cover I haven’t done anything about it yet due to my desire to keep changes to a minimum.

Honorable Mention: Unavoidable Damage on Getting Your Natural Attacks Parried

I just ignore this, it doesn’t fit the kinds of games I run. Monsters cheat. Players of characters with claws and sharp teeth like it too.

Rapid Fire in Conditional Injury

There was a discussion on the GURPS Discord between Douglas Cole, fellow discordite Dingo and myself today about simplified handling of rapid fire attacks with Conditional Injury. By using those rules as published, each penetrating hit from a rapid fire attack would need to roll for wound accumulation separately, if it weren’t more severe than the character’s current wound in the first place. This results in many accumulation rolls slowing down play so we were looking at how to speed it up. Eventually, we settled on abstracting all hits from an individual rapid fire attack into a single injury and then rolling for accumulation only once using the rules already in place. Here’s how it works.

Roll damage for all hits from a rapid fire attack normally. Note the number of hits penetrating DR, and use the highest damage one to determine initial severity. If only one penetrated, we’re done. Otherwise, look up the number of penetrating hits in the Linear Measurement column of the Size and Speed/Range table, and increase severity by a number of levels equal to the corresponding value in the Size column, plus one.

This increases wound severity of rapid fire attacks by one level for two penetrating hits, two levels for three hits, three levels for five hits and so on. Once the final severity is determined like this, it is applied as a single new wound, causing at most one roll to accumulate.

This both simplifies rapid fire attacks in a very elegant way, and makes them more dangerous on average when compared to vanilla CI.


If less lethality is desired, I’d use an alternative solution which modifies the accumulation rules instead:

Roll damage for all hits from a rapid fire attack normally. If the character is not yet injured, set their wound severity to the level indicated by the highest damaging attack that penetrates DR, and consider only the remaining ones for accumulation. If the character is already injured, look at all the penetrating hits. If the highest damaging one would indicate a more severe wound than the character’s current one, set severity to that level and consider the remaining penetrating hits for accumulation. Otherwise, consider all penetrating hits for accumulation.

Now check for accumulation (if any penetrating hits remain). Out of all the hits considered for accumulation, figure out the base penalty to the accumulation roll due to wound severity based on the highest damaging one. Make an accumulation roll with that penalty, plus a penalty equal to the number of hits considered for accumulation. If you fail, increase wound severity by one level as normal.

This variant results in less severe wounds from rapid fire attacks than the first one, which may be preferred in games where rapid fire shouldn’t be significantly more dangerous than a hit with a vibroaxe, for example.

On the flipside, it’s not nearly as elegant which is why we originally discarded it in our discussion. It modifies wound accumulation rules instead of “core” CI rules. This isn’t ideal because the accumulation rules are already the least solid part of CI and something that could be thrown out entirely without loss if a better solution could be found.

Reflections on Conditional Injury Tweaks

In my previous post I’ve suggested some tweaks to Conditional Injury and now that I’ve had some time trying them out, I thought I’d share my impressions.

More Finely Grained Severity Thresholds

I’m using the variant where the default GURPS injury multipliers due to damage type and hit location are applied before looking up severity. My players were happy that there is now more differentiation between their characters, and were motivated to increase their HP scores more than previously.

However, after a while we forgot about this because we’re using an injury calculator, same as we did for the default Conditional Injury rules, so for us the benefit isn’t very noticeable. And statistically, it doesn’t really matter because the way Conditional Injury handles it by default produces the same results on average as this approach. So I can only recommend this if your group likes the additional detail and is really bothered by the original system being that coarse grained, or if they find the default GURPS injury multipliers noticeably easier to use than the Conditional Injury ones.

Injury Accumulation

The decision to use HT/2+3 instead of straight HT has proven to be a great one, as the frequency of accumulation actually happening now feels just right. On the other hand, losing FP if you don’t pass the accumulation roll by 5 or more is very easy to forget and experience has shown that it is a nice detail, but not crucial. I’ll definitively try to remember it more often because I like making FP matter.

A side benefit of this is that cyclic damage works better (assuming you just let it inflict normal CI wounds, without tracking it separately). It’s still not great, but it’s much better than with straight HT rolls for accumulation and it’s quite workable, especially if you pay attention to losing FP unless you pass by 5 or more.

Pain

Since my last post I’ve started using the pain rules from Conditional Injury instead of shock, and I can’t see myself going back ever again. I like them that much! They add a very nice effect of injuries lesser than reeling mattering more than just in that instance when you take them, incentivising the players to take care of them instead of just ignoring severity -2 and lesser ones.

But with all of the usual HT rolls made due to injuries and the extra roll for accumulation, adding another roll on top on that can be a bit too much. Which is why I do the following:

  1. roll for accumulation if already injured
  2. make a death roll if warranted
  3. make a roll to stay conscious if warranted
  4. make a single roll for knockdown/stunning and to determine the effects of pain

The roll to avoid knockdown/stunning gets +3 from High Pain Threshold which also makes sense for the roll to reduce the pain level, so they might as well be unified. The only bump in the road here are injuries to vitals and skull which apply a penalty to knockdown/stunning since that penalty should not affect the pain roll, but it’s easy enough to take that penalty into account for the knockdown/stunning part but not for the pain part. As a bennie to my players, if a knockdown/stunning roll isn’t indicated, I consider the pain roll to have been automatically successful as well. This effectively adds just one extra roll when compared to vanilla GURPS instead of two and I’ve found it a significant improvement in my games.

Conditional Injury Impressions and Tweaks

I’ve been using the Conditional Injury rules by Douglas Cole published in Pyramid #3/120 for the better part of the year now and I’m very happy how they turned out in play. Yet they are a rough diamond, and likely need some tweaks to reach their full potential. Here are some ideas inspired by my experiences.

Logarithmic Injury

A very nice property of Conditional Injury is the way robustness, wound potential and injury severity are set up, it’s a great step towards logarithmic GURPS. It works especially well in situations where there is a scale difference between combatants (for example, spaceships), you can really feel that SSRT love. The only wrinkle is the linear nature of DR subtraction in an otherwise logarithmic playing field. Without DR, we could move our rules even more in the logarithmic direction by further abstracting damage so that each attack is rated in its average wound potential, with a chance of doing enough damage to result in a potential one level higher or lower.

If we take a look at the roll probabilities of any given damage roll and how robustness thresholds and wound potentials interact, we can notice that this is what generally happens anyway. There’s about a 15-25% chance for the attack to result in a wound potential of one lever higher than its average, and the same chance for one level lower. We could convert the damage dice of an attack directly into wound potential, and handle the  chance of +/-1 level by for example just rolling 3d; a result of 7-8 or lower would indicate a wound potential one level lower, while 13-14 or higher would indicate one level higher.

But with DR, we have to make additional considerations. Looking up DR on the wound potential table and reducing the wound potential of an incoming attack by that level overstates the impact of DR (significantly in some cases, less so in others). An alternative would be to use armor as dice, another idea proposed by Douglas in Pyramid. DR would be converted to dice, those would be directly subtracted from damage dice, and if any dice remain, their average wound potential could be looked up on the table and the roll for the final wound potential made as above (or alternatively, just roll the remaining dice as damage and look up the resulting wound potential on table). A downside of this approach, if it may be called that, is that under default GURPS rules an attack can still cause injury as long as it does not strike DR of about 1.7 times its average damage. This is a departure which could be fine for some situations (firearms come to mind) but maybe not so fine for others.

… or maybe not

On the flipside, the “full” logarithmic behavior could be too coarse for application in the “couple guys swinging swords at each other” space. In a lot of games, players eke out as much ST as they can since every level increases swing damage by one, seek out fine and enchanted weapons to get that extra +1, etc. Unfortunately, anything less than +1 damage/die (which would roughly correspond to a +1 wound potential shift) is effectively ignored by Conditional Injury. To add insult to that injury, HP don’t matter outside of specific breakpoints as well. Taken together, this can be very unsatisfactory coming from default GURPS.

So if we don’t want to go on a quest for pure logarithmic GURPS, we can go in the other direction and make the mechanics more finely grained. Instead of using robustness thresholds and wound potential, we can determine injury severity based on the ratio of damage inflicted and HP of the target:

Damage inflicted in % of HPInjury Severity
10% or less-7 or less
more than 10%-6
more than 15%-5
more than 20%-4
more than 30%-3
more than 50%-2
more than 70%-1
more than 100%0
more than 150%1
more than 200%2
more than 300%3
more than 500%4
more than 700%5
more than 1000%6 or more

The benefit of this approach is that every level of HP matters, and thus every point of damage you can squeeze out has a better chance of making a difference. Injury multipliers due to damage type and hit location can either still be handled how CI proposes, or be reverted to the default GURPS behavior in which case injury severity would be looked up after any injury multipliers have been applied to damage penetrating DR.

For simplicity, every character could have a table with these breakpoints on their sheet.

Bits and Pieces

Injury Accumulation

In my experience, injuries almost never accumulate due to significant bonuses to HT in most cases. At the minimum, the bonus attained from sub-0 severity injuries should be removed. Alternatively, Douglas also has a  “save vs death” idea where he proposes using HT/2+3 instead of straight HT for some rolls, which could fit this purpose nicely.

We had a chat on this topic on the GURPS Discord, and came up with a solution I’ll try out in my campaign:

  • Instead of rolling straight HT – injury severity for wound accumulation, make a roll against HT/2+3 – injury severity (so severity -1 and lower wounds give a bonus); on a failure, your wound severity increases by 1. On success, it doesn’t, but you lose 1 FP due to blood loss, system shock etc. On a success by 5 or more, you suffer no ill effects.

This uses the same injury severity modifiers as the published version, but while they make passing the roll way too easy in that case, their interaction with the above “save vs death” roll seems much more appropriate.

Oh, I don’t really think injury accumulation should be an optional rule. I’ve already had players frustrated by not being able to cause useful injury to tough opponents due to the generousness of the accumulation rules as published, and not using them at all would only exacerbate the problem.

Healing

I’m using time-based recovery with the exception that a successful application of First Aid still reduces injury severity by a full level. In addition, I do not limit the maximum severity which can be treated with it. I have used pure time-based recovery at the start of the campaign, but that made First Aid rather useless in a cinematic game with a lot of injuries. For context, magical healing using the aforementioned time-based recovery variant is available as well albeit not as abundant as in for example Dungeon Fantasy, and there are expensive superscience medkits that reduce severity by a level (cumulative with First Aid, but only applicable once per injury).

Stuff I’m Not Using

The Pain rules seem nice but I haven’t used them yet because I didn’t want to overcomplicate the introduction of a new, already complex enough system. I don’t use the Bleeding rules because they add a post-combat effect that seems more trouble than it’s worth for my campaign, and I don’t have a need for Variable Injury. I would use Deadly Fatigue, but haven’t had a chance yet.

Variable Injury could, by the way, be a useful component of a system with low damage variance. But otherwise I think it makes the system too survivable, and it’s already more survivable than default GURPS.

How to Reflect Blasters With Your Lightsaber

Despite running a Star Wars inspired game, I haven’t yet had a player or NPC use their lightsaber to reflect blaster bolts back at attackers. A player finally asked for this ability, so I went to write it up… and then noticed I already did that ages ago, but not before I was almost finished with my new writeup. And the old one was better in most regards as well! So here’s how I’d do it:

Reflect Blasters
Hard

Prerequisites: Force Sword, Precognitive Parry.
Default: Force Sword Parry-4; cannot exceed Force Sword Parry.

This technique allows you to reflect blaster bolts with your lightsaber at the targets of your choosing. On a successful parry using this technique, roll against Force Sword to reflect the parried bolts at anyone within your field of vision, applying normal ranged combat modifiers. This roll is at an additional penalty equal to the penalty of this technique, if not bought off. Your rate of fire is equal to the number of shots parried, damage and recoil are equal to those of the parried attack, bulk is -2, accuracy is 0, and the range is equal to original range of the parried attack minus the range the bolts already traveled. If a weapon inflicts a penalty to be parried with lightsabers, apply the same penalty to your attack. Target defends normally.

You may do this a number of times per turn equal to your number of attacks; each attack performed with Reflect Blasters “uses up” an attack from your next turn, but you may perform a Dual-Weapon Attack or Rapid Strike to only use up a single attack. You may not choose any maneuver on your next turn which would prevent you from attacking. Aside from the above options and Extra Attack in general, the following specialized form of Extra Attack is available to increase the number of times you can reflect blasters per turn:

Extra Attack (Accessibility, only to reflect blasters, -20%; Single Skill, Force Sword, -20%) [15].


In previous campaigns I used to allow such “attack reflection” to be used for free, not counting as your own attacks. I’ve grown to think that such usage is free lunch (an attack is an attack is an attack) so I’ve decided to try it this way. The added complexity doesn’t seem a problem, but it hasn’t been playtested yet. If it turns out too complex, I’ll likely require levels of the specialized Extra Attack to be able to do it at all.

A tweak that could be made, depending on the game, is to have targets of reflected blaster bolts not be able to defend because they didn’t expect the attack, or defend at a penalty. That would certainly match the source material, but in my game force users are everywhere and everyone knows that if you shoot a guy with a lighsaber, you’re gonna get those bolts reflected right back at you.

Gun Fu: Cover Power-Ups

There was an interesting discussion this week over on Mailanka’s Discord about gunslingers in Psi-Wars, resulting in a couple articles including one on gunslinger survivability in such games. One of the defense layers available to gunmen is cover, and thinking about using it in cinematic games inspired me to come up with the following tools of the trade.

The Power-Ups

Cover Mastery [5]

While in partial cover, your opponents are at -3 to shoot your partially exposed body parts instead of the usual -2. They are at no penalty to attack the fully exposed parts required for you to shoot, which are generally any arms and hands required to operate the weapon, plus your neck and head. You may also attain a better position by crouching or expending your step. This gives your attackers -4 to hit partially exposed parts, but you are at -2 to shoot back as well unless you brace your weapon against the cover and take an aimed attack . You also need to fully expose only your head and any hands required to operate the weapon.

When hidden behind total cover, you never get hit by overpenetrating shots. This stops working as soon as you expose yourself, even partially.

Finally, attackers are at -2 to shoot you if you’re adjacent to an ally and at least 1 yard further than the ally from your attacker. This penalty is not cumulative with the -4 penalty an attacker gets to shoot you if your ally is in the way. You also never get hit by stray shots if you are in the line of fire behind the intended target.

Statistics:

Barricade Tactics (TacShooting) [1], Cover Shooting [2], Live Cover [1], Flimsy Cover (GunFu) [1].

Covered Defense [12/level]

Each level of this advantage gives a +1 bonus to your Dodge score while you’re in cover. This extends to melee attacks as well! Most campaigns should limit this to 3 levels.

Statistics:

Enhanced Dodge (Accessibility, only while in cover, -20%) [12/level].

Eye for Cover [5]

Once per game session, you are entitled to a fortuitous piece of cover within the distance of a single Move maneuver that would otherwise not be there. The GM can refuse this if there should plausibly be no cover in the area (for example in a specifically prepared “killbox” you entered).

Statistics:

Serendipity (Aspected, only for finding cover, -70%).

Hunker Down [15]

While in cover, you may retreat without moving from your hex to dodge melee attacks from a single attacker, and you may dodge and drop against ranged attacks of a single attacker without actually dropping to the ground. If a dodge and drop into an adjacent hex would reduce damage to you from an explosion or get you out of an area effect attack, you get this bonus without dropping to the ground or moving from your hex. In addition, you never suffer from the effects of bad footing while in cover.

Statistics:

Enhanced Dodge 3 (Accessibility, only while in cover, -20%; Counts as a retreat, -50%) [14], Sure-Footed (Any kind of terrain while in cover) [1].

Seek Cover [2/level]

Each level of this advantage gives a +1 bonus to your Move score on any turn when you’re either entering or leaving cover. Most campaigns should limit this to 3 levels.

Statistics:

Increased Move (Accessibility, only on a turn entering or leaving cover, -60%) [2/level].

Bits and Pieces

Some other perks and techniques could be very useful to gunmen exploiting cover to its max:

  • Battle Drills (TacShooting) – Useful for halving the penalty for shooting through friendly occupied hexes. If you also have Cover Mastery (or just Live Cover), the net result penalty is reduced by an additional 2 points.
  • Bend The Bullet (GunFu) – Allows you to ignore the penalty for shooting at targets behind cover, perfectly fitting with the theme of knowing all of its ins and outs.  
  • Cool Under Fire (GunFu, TacShooting) – Removes the -2 penalty to pop-up attacks but is included in Gunslinger.
  • Entrench – See below.
  • Ground Fighting (Martial Arts) – Shooting skills don’t suffer a penalty for attacking when lying on the ground, but many cover opportunities require taking such position and this technique could be used to offset the -3 penalty to defend in those cases. To compensate, buy it as an average technique, and base it either on a shooting skill or Acrobatics.
  • Standard Operating Procedure (Back to the Wall) (GunFu, TacShooting)
  • Standard Operating Procedure (Move Under cover) (TacShooting)

New Technique

Cover Shooting, Average

Prerequisite: any shooting skill
Default: prerequisite skill; cannot exceed prerequisite skill+2.

Offsets the penalty for shooting without bracing and aiming from medium or heavy cover (see Tactical Shooting p. 28).

New Perks

Entrench

You gain the following benefits while in cover:

  • +3 to Will rolls against losing your aim when injured
  • you don’t suffer from shock penalties on aimed shots
  • when suffering knockback, you don’t get knocked back at all if you pass the DX roll to remain standing

Live Cover

Attackers are at -2 to shoot you if you’re adjacent to an ally and at least 1 yard further from your attacker than the ally. This penalty is not cumulative with the -4 penalty an attacker gets to shoot you if your ally is in the way. You also never get hit by stray shots if you are in the line of fire behind the intended target.

Conclusion

These features could be incorporated into several different gunfighting styles. I can imagine both a longer-ranged “sniping” style where the gunman takes a covered position and doesn’t leave it except to retreat, and a shorter-ranged one where the practitioner rapidly moves from cover to cover.

Eye for Cover could seem at a too deep discount since aspected Serendipity is generally published as -20% and double-aspected (which this would fit) as -40%. Yet 9 points seems too expensive to me because cover is generally plentiful in most environments, especially for cinematic shootists who are able to eke it out where normal men couldn’t, so it seemed more appropriate to price it the same as a Gizmo.

 

Play Report: Mob/Horde/Swarm Combat

Yesterday I ran a game of my Alternate Star Wars campaign where the party was traversing a spaceport infested with rakghouls (fast, nasty, infectious space-zombies). I wanted to throw a lot of them at my players so I looked around at various “horde” rule offerings. They started in GURPS Horror and were expanded upon in GURPS Zombies, but over at gurpsshooting.blogspot.com there’s an interesting article on Tactical Swarms, where the author took the materials from Horror and Zombies and adapted them for his own needs in modern gunfighting combat. I liked it a lot and used some of it in my game.

At first, I threw four swarms of six rakghouls each at the party, so what would be a total of 24 individual combatants otherwise. Inspired by tactical swarms, I increased the swarms’ effective skill depending on the number of constituent units, but instead of a flat +1 per unit after the first, I used the SSRT. My initial feeling was to read the number of rakghouls in a pack as linear measurement and use the corresponding SM bonus, but seeing 2 individuals would’t get any bonus I increased the bonus from the table by 1. I also decided to read in-between values opposite as to how the SSRT usually works, using the lower instead of the higher breakpoint. With that, a full pack of 6 rakghouls or one with 5 got +3 to skill, which dwindled down to +2 at 3-4 and +1 at 2. I liked those numbers.

Also inspired by tactical swarms, I rolled vs HT for the rakghouls if a major wound was indicated, “killing off” a unit in the swarm on failure. I did the same without a roll if they suffered a reeling or worse injury. The primary reason for automatic elimination at a reeling injury was simplification – I didn’t want to bother with parts of the swarm getting slower than the rest, even if the rakghouls themselves were tough enough to continue fighting in such a state. I may reconsider this in the future, eliminating units in such, thematically speaking “resilient” swarms (maybe indicated by having High Pain Threshold) automatically only on a full-HP or worse wound. As for the reeling condition in such cases, I would either ignore it entirely for the sake of simplicity even though it would give the swarms an advantage, or maybe reduce Basic Move of the swarm by an eyeballed value for each reeling constituent, down to a minimum of 1/3. Reduction by 1 in 6-unit swarms seems fine, but mobs of 3 or even 2 units could get slower. I think I’d be fine with ignoring it, because swarms generally consist of relatively weak opponents anyway.

Now, both the tactical swarm and Horror/Zombies rules also track total swarm HP and “dissipate” it once it reaches a certain threshold, but I use Conditional Injury so that was one less statistic to keep track of. I could imagine running it like that even in games that otherwise don’t use it, just paying attention to individual major, reeling and full-HP injuries.

When it came time for my swarms to join the melee, the Horror/Zombie rules for making a single rapid-fire like attack per swarm with recoil 1 and RoF equal to the total number of attacks the swarm’s constituents would otherwise have worked quite well. I went with the victims defending as against separate attacks and not against a single rapid fire attack with multiple landed shots, because my initial impulse was “swarms are abstracted, player characters aren’t”. I learned after the fact that this is how Horror/Zombies does it as well, though I could still see it working the other way without causing problems. 

Having swarms of 6 units proved very pleasing because 6 opponents can encircle and attack a single victim at reach 1 anyway. I did experiment a bit when it came to grappling however, because Basic indicates that at most 3 combatants can effectively grapple a single target. So I decided that the first 3 attacks that landed were grapples and the rest were strikes; this worked quite well. I use Fantastic Dungeon Grappling so I could repeat this even after the initial grapple was established, whereas it would likely have to be more complicated with the default grappling rules.

At a later point during the game, I attacked the party with a single 6-unit security droid swarm plus an individual much tougher droid. Combining all the security droids’ attacks into just one with a very high RoF worked out very well. I used the rapid fire skill bonus based on half the SSRT as (I believe) proposed by Douglas Cole, which threw a small wrench in my gears – I calculated the skill bonus due to swarm size according to the full SSRT bonus, but the rapid fire bonus equal to half that. This took a bit more cognitive effort than I’d like so I’ll be considering alternatives. If I went with the full SSRT bonus a squad of 6 shooters with rapid fire weapons could easily get +8 or more; I’m not really sure if that would be too much or not, so I’ll need to playtest it. Another alternative would be to take the greater of the swarm size bonus and a rapid fire bonus like this instead of adding them up.

And then… one of my players threw an ion grenade in the middle of the swarm. Anticipating situations such as this, I played around with swarm formations, or rather “packing densities”. A 6-unit swarm could occupy what’s usually called a 2-hex radius in GURPS, so a single empty hex and all of the hexes surrounding it. In case of smart adversaries they’ll likely want to spread out a bit to minimize area effect and explosive damage. So that’s how the droids were positioned, with 1 empty hex between each of them. I figured the average distance from the center of the grenade was 3 yards, applied the appropriate bonus to the resistance roll (effect similar to warbler/strobe from Ultra-Tech, but disables droids), and then looked up the Statistically Speaking table on GURPS Zombies page 113 to see what fraction of the swarm would resist. And lo, all but 2 droids in the swarm dropped in electric spasms! I think that having to open the PDF and find the table took me the same time as rolling for each droid would have, so I’ll be able to save some time here by  putting that table in a convenient spot to look it up. I definitively recommend it for use in scenarios like these.

Getting back to packing densities and the area occupied by swarms, I’ve had success in changing those during swarm movement in situations where they had to squeeze through tight corridors or between obstacles. MapTool makes it very practical with four different predefined token sizes. And if you force a swarm to assume a tighter formation to get through a choke point, you’ll have a fine opportunity for more effective area attacks. I was also reducing the size of swarm tokens as their constituents were getting eliminated, which was very fun for my players. So that’s definitively something that’s interesting to play with for both tactical and illustrative purposes.

I haven’t tried swarms containing more than 6 units, but I think I’d tweak those slightly. Instead of making a single rapid fire attack, they could make multiple depending on their size, to spread the love among player characters. I could even see doing this for 4+ unit swarms if they intend to grapple; one attack would be performed by the 3 units grappling the target, and another by the rest striking it.

That’s it for now, I’m looking forward to further experimenting with this in my upcoming games. The rules presented in Horror, Zombies and Tactical Swarms are very good, especially if combined with Conditional Injury and Fantastic Dungeon Grappling. And facing players with screaming hordes of enemies was immensely fun.

Telekinetic parries in GURPS

Since I’m currently running a Star Wars game, my players naturally asked how they could parry incoming attacks using telekinetic abilities. My original hunch was that you could simply parry with Telekinesis as with a weapon, maybe requiring a perk to do so. However, it turned out that Telekinesis has a lot of caveats in this regard, given how it works with requiring Concentrate maneuvers from the user but performing its own Attack, Move and Attack or other maneuvers.

After doing some research, I discovered that Psionic Powers (pages 8-9) explicitly makes TK eligible for power parries using standard rules for those. This also has a few caveats: merely reducing incoming damage by a bit in most cases, and it being possible to do so only once per turn.

That didn’t seem satisfactory for my game (Force users should be able to completely deflect blaster bolts, etc.), so I looked further and was reminded of this excellent Krommpost. Based on that, I’ve built the following ability for my campaign:

Improved Telekinetic Parry

7 points for level 1, plus 2 points for each additional level

You may use this ability to telekinetically parry incoming attacks as if by an invisible, indestructible limb. Calculate your Parry score as (DX or any unarmed combat skill + Force Talent)/2 + 3, applying any relevant modifiers such as the bonus from Combat Reflexes. You may perform additional parries during the same turn at a cumulative -4 penalty. Trained by a Master halves this. Note that in order to parry firearm attacks you must succeed at a Precognitive Parry roll. Each parry attempt costs you 1 FP.

To parry attacks directed against other characters, you must take the Sacrificial Parry perk. Then you may parry attacks targeted at anyone within the reach of this ability.

At level 1, your reach with this ability is equal to your normal punching reach (C for SM +0 characters). Each additional level increases your SM by +1 for this purpose only, increasing your reach as per Size Modifier and Reach on B402. For example a SM +0 character would have a reach of 10 yards with this ability at level 8.

If parrying explosive attacks that detonate on impact, a successful parry sets them off 1 yard away from you, plus one yard per point of your margin of success. This may not exceed your reach, so a SM +0 character with just one level in this ability will detonate explosions in their own hex.

In order to use Improved Telekinetic Parry, the ability must either not be an alternative ability, or you must have had it active on your turn before attempting a parry.

Statistics: Extra Arm (Costs Fatigue, 1 FP, -10%; Force Extension, +50%; No Signature, +20%; Shield Mount, -80%; Force, -10%) [7]. Further levels add a level of the Long (Shield Mount, -80%), +20% enhancement [2/level].


I took the liberty of applying the Shield Mount limitation both to the Extra Arm advantage, and to any levels of the Long enhancement applied to it. Long is a rather expensive enhancement at +100% per level, but in my opinion most of this value comes from granting a large bonus to swing damage, followed by being able to strike, grapple, or manipulate objects at range. A character benefits from none of those with Improved Telekinetic Parry so I consider it a fair deal.

The cumulative penalty for subsequent parries could also be reduced with a Weapon Master specialty covering telekinetic combat, but since Force users in my campaign only take Trained by a Master I didn’t mention that in the writeup. Similarly, Parry Missile Weapons is not used in the campaign in favor of Precognitive Parry, but could be used with this ability as well.

New technique: Sweeping Slash

Recently a player in my Star Wars campaign asked if there was a way they could attack several foes near them at once, or rather if there was a better way of doing it than with Rapid Strike. Cleaving Strike from Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups came to mind immediately but I had a couple problems recommending it. Firstly, I’m personally extremely averse to All-Out Attack and almost never do it as a player. Cleaving Strike is therefore dead to me, so I can’t in good conscience recommend it to anyone else. Secondly, I really think that Force-users leaping around with lightsabers should be capable of doing something like that without remaining defenseless. So I came up with this:

Sweeping Slash (H)

Default: Any Melee Weapon skill -6; cannot exceed Melee Weapon skill.

Prerequisites: Unique Technique (Sweeping Slash) perk and one of Weapon Master or Trained By A Master (or alternatively ST 18+ for non-force weapons)

This is a special use of the Committed Attack maneuver. You attack up to three opponents adjacent to each other in a line within your reach with a wide swinging attack. All attacks must be with the same swung weapon. You may move two steps (before or after the attack, or split between both), you may not retreat, and all of your defenses are at -2 until your next turn. Unlike with a normal Committed Attack, you may parry with the weapon used to attack.

Additionally, if using a non-force weapon, at least one of the following conditions must be met by each attack in the sequence otherwise all subsequent attacks are lost:

  • you miss your foe
  • your foe retreats or dodges
  • you knock your foe back or down
  • you hit a limb or extremity with enough damage to dismember it
  • you kill your foe

As a minor consolation, foes struck with non-force weapon suffer a -1 penalty to DX and HT rolls made to avoid falling down due to knockback and to avoid knockdown/stunning.


This is essentially a bit more cinematic version of Cleaving Strike optimized for force weapons (but usable with any swing-capable melee weapon). Retaining most of the defensive penalties of Committed Attack colors this as part of aggressive styles without going too far with an All-Out Attack. I have built the technique using the technique design system from Martial Arts as follows:

  • A base penalty of -6 for a triple Rapid Strike with Trained by a Master or Weapon Master (and the same reasoning for high ST being equally valid as in Dungeon Fantasy)
  • Benefit: being able to parry with the attacking weapon, -1
  • Drawback: targets must be adjacent to one another, +1
  • Drawback: the conditions which must be met in order to not lose subsequent attacks for a non-force weapon, +1
  • Benefit: penalty to victim’s DX/HT rolls vs knockback and knockdown/stunning, -1

All of these come down to a default of -6 and the technique is Hard because it enables multiple strikes. I chose Committed Attack as the base because such a move without that kind of drawbacks would essentially be a rather cheap way to buy off the Rapid Strike penalty, especially since we use the house rule where each point invested in techniques counts double.

I am currently not counting the Unique Technique perk required for this technique against the limit of style perks. Doing so, or on the other hand completely dispensing with the perk wouldn’t be a big deal.

Grappling techniques in Fantastic Dungeon Grappling

GMs using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling (FDG for the remainder of this article) in games other than DFRPG or even GURPS Dungeon Fantasy often encounter questions about using various grappling techniques from Basic Set and Martial Arts. Having a technique-happy player create a grappling character for my recently started campaign, I had to answer many such questions myself, so I decided to take a look at all techniques presented in Martial Arts. In this article I will address how those techniques could be treated under FDG as well as how to improve them.

Arm or Wrist Lock, Choke Hold, Finger Lock, Head Lock and Leg Lock are all treated the same way in FDG: grab the desired body part (or just the torso, if the extra -2 to DX for grabbing a specific location is of no concern to you), generate CP, and then convert those CP to damage via Injure the Foe. Any differences originally present between them are below the resolution of FDG.

Grabbing a specific hit location can be improved as a targeted attack with a grab, for example Targeted Attack (Wrestling Grab/Face), while applying injury would require its own targeted attack, e.g. Targeted Attack (Sumo Wrestling Injure the Foe/Arm).

Throws from locks are, as per the example given for a neck lock under I Grapple His Face! on FDG p. 8, simply damaging takedowns. They can be improved as, to give an example, Targeted Attack (Judo Takedown/Neck).

Targeted attacks for grabs use the grappling hit location penalties found at the start of FDG p. 3, which are half of the standard hit location penalties. Those for inflicting damage of any kind use the standard ones. Note that unlike the original grappling techniques, these targeted attacks may only remove half (round in your favor) of the hit location penalty. If closer resemblance of the original techniques is more important to you than systemic consistency, you could allow for these targeted attacks to improve their penalties fully, but this moves FDG away from its concept that grappling should function in the same way striking does.

Hand Catch and Hand-Clap Parry simply become Grabbing Parry as presented on FDG p.3. Improving them would be a separate hard technique for each hit location being grabbed (weapons would count as one).

Armed Grapple is unchanged. It is in fact the Armed Grappling Attack on FDG p. 2 and can be improved as a hard technique. The penalties for grappling a specific hit location can additionally be bought off via targeted attack, for example Targeted Attack (Axe/Mace Grab/Neck).

Bind Weapon is treated as a Weapon/Shield Bind from FDG p. 3 and requires no improvement.

Entangle and Hook are Armed Grapples (above) with a whip or a hooked weapon, respectively, using Long-Distance Grapple from FDG p. 3.

Handcuffing can be treated as grappling the hands, with the extra -2 to penalties using those limbs remaining in place even if you switch your grip to other body parts. The victim should also be flat out unable to take specific actions depending on the position you cuffed them in; while they may be able to wield a weapon at -2 if you cuffed their hands in front of them, they should not be able to do so at all if you cuffed their hands behind their back, for example. Similar GM discretion should be exercised while  handcuffing; you should only be able to cuff a person behind their back if you’re standing in their rear hex. All other special considerations from Martial Arts should be disregarded (yes, the victim can parry your attempt to attach a cuff to an inanimate object – by yanking the chain). To remove the handcuffs, the victim must use the Escape skill. Handcuffing can be improved via Targeted Attack (Judo or Wrestling Handcuffing/Hand).

Judo Throw is treated as an attack on the turn immediately after a successful parry but as a quick contest after a grapple in Martial Arts, even though Basic Set treats it as an attack in both cases. DFRPG follows suit so this move does not require any special treatment under FDG. You may want to decide on how to treat a damaging throw, because it does not exist in DFRPG and it works differently between Martial Arts and FDG. The former assigns an additional -1 penalty to the attack roll and thrust-1 damage without bonus for skill, while under the latter as per Kiss the Wall on p. 8 there is no attack penalty but it does thrust-2 damage with the standard FDG high skill bonus. I would recommend the FDG approach.

Leg Grapple is simply a grapple targeting a leg.

Neck Snap, Wrench Limb and Wrench Spine lose their special status of being ST-based techniques and become simple cases of causing injury to a specific hit location after a grapple. They can be improved with, for example, Targeted Attack (Wrestling Injure the Foe/Neck).

Sacrifice Throw… mechanically speaking, I see very few cases where you’d want to use this technique instead of a normal All-Out Attack judo throw. Maybe you’re counting on your opponent parrying instead of using any other defense, or maybe landing on top of them is of critical importance to you. A deceptive attack judo throw from an All-Out Attack (Determined) is strictly superior otherwise. If you wanted, you could transfer the special effect of this All-Out Attack variant into FDG verbatim and it would work without issue. The downside is the added complexity which you probably don’t want if you’re running FDG in the first place, especially since you can increase your skill (to perform deceptive attacks, for example) via CP expenditure. So unless you’re really into the details, just do a normal judo throw with the desired attack options.

Scissors Hold is just a case of grabbing the opponent by their leg(s) using your own, and can not be improved other than via Targeted Attack (Wrestling Grab/Leg). Use the same posture restrictions as in Martial Arts.

Sweep becomes the iconic example of Sweep the Leg! from FDG p. 8. It can not be improved and does not take any kind of penalty to its attack.

Trip works as described in Martial Arts. It is not really a grappling move, but I’ve included it here for the sake of completeness since it’s a technique for the grappling skills.

Backbreaker is covered under I Grapple His Face! on FDG p. 8.

Binding should be treated similar to Handcuffing. If using cuffs, the only difference is you can also target the victim’s feet. If using a rope, you can also target their arms and legs, but the victim automatically removes the rope from all bound hit locations if they reduce their CP to where they no longer suffer any DX penalty. The exception to this is if you bind all of their limbs; they can then only get rid of the bindings using the Escape skill. Binding can be improved via Targeted Attack (Judo or Knot-Tying Binding/Arm, Hand, Foot or Leg).

Piledriver is just a variant backbreaker targeting the skull instead.


And that covers all of the grappling techniques from Martial Arts. It just shows how Fantastic Dungeon Grappling is both streamlined, flexible and comprehensive.