Note: for those who aren’t aware of it, GURPS Melee Academy is a great series run by a bunch of GURPS Bloggers, many of whom are also GURPS authors. The basic idea is just to offer thoughts and advice on how to do tactical combat in GURPS. This is my first contribution.
I don’t claim to be a master of combat, either in real life or in GURPS – but I still feel I’m on relatively safe ground in saying that trying to Disarm your enemy is a poor tactical choice, more often than not. People who are masters of real life combat seem to agree on this being true in real life; people who are masters of GURPS combat seem to agree that it’s true in GURPS, too. So score one for GURPS’ level of realism!
In this post, I ‘m just going to do something really, really simple: show that GURPS’s wonderfully rich combat system allows you to model fairly realistically the problems of attempting to disarm.
When is Disarming a Bad Strategy? When it’s (supposedly) just a Flick of the Wrist!
Let’s talk swordfighting. In the movies, the sword-wielding hero often seems to be able to disarm his/her foes in a single move, with just a flick of the wrist. This is an easy way to tell a story about a hero who somehow almost never has to actually harm his/her opponents.
Again, I’m no expert in real-life swordsmanship, but I still feel fairly safe in saying that this seems pretty unlikely to work against anyone who has any training.
My evidence? Look at Olympic fencing matches, or HEMA bouts between highly trained combatants. These are skilled people, and you simply never see them trying to flick the sword out of their opponent’s hands. Of course, I use the term “evidence” very, very loosely here: after all, these are highly rule-bound environments, and the rules don’t reward (or perhaps even allow?) this. But still, I think it’s suggestive: if it really were a viable strategy to try to use your own sword simply to flip your opponent’s sword out of his/her hands, without hurting them in any way, then I think perhaps this move would be part of the usual repertoire, and perhaps therefore be allowed by the sport in question. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that the reason this sort of thing is banned in fencing is that trying to knock the weapon away would mean being very brutal towards the opponent’s hand – which, in GURPS terms, is a targeted attack rather than a disarm.
In any case, it strikes me that trying to simply flip or knock the weapon out of the opponent’s hand, without attacking the hand itself, grabbing the wrist, or similar, is a pretty low-odds strategy against anyone who has any training.
How Well Does GURPS Model This?
GURPS defaults to a certain kind of realism. There are all sorts of switches you can throw to make things more cinematic, but I’m going to ignore them for now.
It turns out that basic, default GURPS rules actually reflect this really well.
Let’s say we have two highly skilled swordspeople, Mary and Pete, both of whom have Broadsword at 14 and a Parry of 11.
On his turn, Mary tries to disarm Pete using the good ol’ “I knock the sword out of his hand!” method. The rules are on p. B401, under “Knocking a Weapon Away”. It goes down like this:
- Mary has to roll to hit at -2 (So she rolls vs 12)
- If that works, then Pete tries to Parry (So he rolls vs 11)
- If the parry fails, then they enter into a contest of skills (14 vs 14)
- At this point a few things can happen:
- If Mary wins, her disarm succeeds, and Pete loses his sword.
- If it’s a tie, or if Pete wins by only 1 or 2, then Pete’s weapon will be unready.
- If Pete wins by 3 or more, the whole maneuver has no effect.
You can see the problems here.
The first problem is that, since their weapon skills are evenly matched, Mary has only an ok chance of actually succeeding in her disarm. (She’s fairly likely at least to make Pete’s weapon unready, though.)
The second problem is that even just to get to enter the evenly-matched contest of skills, Mary has already had to do all the things that would normally result in damage. Instead of damage, she’s getting a (bit) less than 50/50 chance at disarming, plus a pretty decent chance of making Pete’s weapon unready.
Under most ordinary circumstances, this probably isn’t worth it. Especially since damage in GURPS usually produces an additional benefit, namely a shock penalty.
Though it’s not hard to think of a few circumstances where it might be worth it:
- If Pete is having trouble damaging Mary for some reason – maybe he’s weak, and she’s wearing a lot of armor. Then attempting a normal hit might be a marginal strategy, and a disarm might be the better option.
- If there’s something special about Mary’s sword that makes getting it away from her a priority. In a fantasy campaign, she might well be carrying some sort of awesome magical sword that makes her invulnerable, or similar. Then the disarm might be worth the risk – or indeed the only option!
- If Mary really, really wants to end the fight without hurting Pete, and is willing to risk her life to do so. Pete might be her mind-controlled team-mate, for instance!
It’s not hard to think of other situations. But all other things being equal, trying to knock the weapon out of the opponent’s hand is probably not as good as just hitting them.
More Realistic Disarming Methods: Attack the hand! Grapple!
In reality, there are a couple of disarming methods that, while still (I think) probably very difficult and dangerous to pull off, at least seem less obviously marginal than “I’ll knock the sword out of my opponent’s hand!” These are:
- “I’ll attack the hand, and then my wounded opponent will drop the weapon!”
- “First I’ll step inside my opponent’s reach to grapple the weapon arm, then I’ll disarm him/her”.
You don’t see anyone attacking the hand in high-level fencing on HEMA fighting, but that’s not because it’s a marginal strategy – it’s because it’s prohibited, and it’s prohibited because it’s so dangerous. And though grappling-to-disarm is obviously prohibited in Olympic fencing, my understanding is that you can attempt it in HEMA, and that it sometimes works – though as I understand it HEMA grapples more often lead into takedowns, rather than disarms. (But my HEMA experience is very slim, so I could be entirely wrong here – can someone who actually knows something correct me on this?)
Either of these strategies seems better than just trying to knock the weapon out of the opponent’s hand. Still, though if you’re trying to hurt your opponent, or just trying to survive, then in reality it’s almost certainly going to be more efficient just to hurt the opponent directly.
How Well Does GURPS Model This?
Would either of these strategies be better in GURPS than just hitting the opponent, I wonder? Under what circumstances, and at what level of skill?
To make attacking the hand worthwhile, you’d need to be able to absorb a -4 penalty, which suggests that it’s a marginal strategy unless you’re working at a high level of skill – at least 15, say, if not higher. But at that level, it might be worthwhile, if you’re confident of doing enough damage to cause a crippling injury – which here would by the target’s HP/3, as per p.B421. You could also go for the arm: this would be only -2 to hit, but crippling the limb requires HP/2 damage, so you’d need to hit harder.
BUT if your skill is high enough to absorb the penalties, and your damage is high enough to make crippling the hand/limb a realistic proposition, then you’re probably better off just hitting the opponent, possibly with a Deceptive Attack to reduce their defenses. So if you just want to win the fight at all costs, then I’d say disarming-by-attacking-the-hand isn’t a great strategy, barring special circumstances.
Grappling-to-disarm is a more complex case – and it’s almost certainly a multi-second maneuver for most folks. My instinct is to say that under most circumstances it would be better simply to grapple-to-subdue, or grapple-to-make-easire-to-hit. But this is where I’m definitely going to bow out: this question is better left for those with real mastery of the GURPS combat system – particularly grappling. I’ll be interested to read around all the other Melee Academy posts this week, and see what others think!