Intro: “It’s just a scrape!”
In action fiction, an endless succession of lucky nicks, scrapes, and bullet scratches keep heroes cinematically bloodied but not inconveniently dead. (Glancing, “just a scratch” injuries happen in real life, too, of course!) At the gaming table, the same effect is interesting and easily handled.
The content below goes way back to the GURPS 3e days, was updated for 4e around 2009, and now gets a 2023 update for simplification and clarification.
Definition of a graze
A graze is a glancing blow or any off-center, fleeting, or otherwise unimpressive touch that doesn’t strike squarely – including the lessened blow that results from a defender partially avoiding or deflecting the force of an attack.
A graze occurs when:
- An attack roll succeeds by 0; or
- A defense roll succeeds by 0.
Basic effects of a graze
On a graze,
- Halve the basic hits of the attack (round down), as not all of the energy goes into the target.
- Double the target’s DR, as the blow hits at a glancing angle.
Example: You twist away from the Assyrian charioteer’s hurled spear, but a heartbeat too slowly (your Dodge succeeds by 0). The sharp blade slides along your chest as the spear flies past. The attacker rolls 7 basic hits of damage; halve that to 3. Double your leather armor’s DR 2 to DR 4. You take no damage!
A few clarifying notes:
- Reduced basic hits and increased DR have all normal effects.
- Aside from the noted effects, treat a graze as a normal hit. Example: A graze with a kick is still a hit, and so doesn’t require a DX roll to avoid falling.
- If no graze effects are relevant to a particular attack, ignore these rules. Success by 0 on an attack roll is a normal successful hit with no special effects; success by 0 on a defense roll is a normal successful defense with no special effects.
That’s it. Hie thee to the gaming table.
Variants and options
Even simpler grazes
The two basic effects of a graze – halve basic hits and double DR – are simple enough, but you can make things simpler yet:
- Drop the “double DR” effect. The only basic effect of a graze is halved basic hits.
Halving basic hits is essential to a graze; it’s the key effect that benefits any target, armored or not.
Doubling DR is also a reasonable and realistic effect of a hit at a glancing angle (and even appears in guises elsewhere in the system, such as the doubled DR for sloped armor in GURPS Vehicles). But it’s arguably not an essential effect. Given the way DR works in GURPS, halving damage alone makes any worn armor much more effective.
Give this variant a try if you want ultimate simplicity, or if the effect of doubled DR seems overpowered in combats involving heavy armor.
Optional graze effects
Along with the basic effects above (or single basic effect if you drop doubled DR), several other effects might accompany grazes. These are mix and match effects; choose only those that add detail you like.
An attack that results in a graze is almost a miss, which means less effort is needed to avoid or ward it off completely. An Active Defense roll against the attack is at +2.
Similarly, whenever a target has two defenses against an attack (typically from All-Out Defense), success by 0 on the first defense roll means the attack was partly avoided or warded off, warranting a +2 bonus on the second defense roll.
This effect has no significance for a target that gets no Active Defense against the attack.
If an attack doesn’t involve damage and DR but does involve a resisted effect (as with many spells), a graze allows a +2 on resistance rolls.
Reduced follow-up effects
If an attack is enhanced with poison, flame, or other follow-up effects, the GM may halve damage for these as well, and/or add +2 to rolls to resist effects, if a graze would reasonably mean a lesser dose of poison, reduced contact with the flame, etc.
Tip slashes and other special weapon effects
For simplicity, the basic rule doesn’t change the normal interplay of damage, DR, armor divisors, wound modifiers, and miscellaneous weapon effects.
Example: When an arrow with a bodkin point and an armor divisor of (2) scores a graze against DR 2, the graze halves basic hits and doubles DR to 4, which the armor divisor halves back to DR 2. Any resulting damage uses a bodkin arrow’s normal piercing wound modifier.
But you can modify or eliminate any such effects on a graze, as appropriate. Some mix-and-match suggestions:
- An impaling or piercing attack delivers only cutting damage as it slides by (cf. the tip slash from Martial Arts p. 113). This change to the wounding modifier has normal effects: it prevents impaling or piercing attacks from delivering triple damage to the vitals, removes the risk of picks becoming stuck in a target, may change effective DR for some armor types, etc.
- Attacks lose special armor-piercing abilities. In the above example, the bodkin arrow would lose its armor divisor and would get resisted by DR 4, not DR 2.
- A hollow-point bullet fails to expand, negating that particular damage modifier.
Keep on keeping on
Where it would matter, a graze doesn’t stop like a solid hit; the weapon or missile continues sliding or flying past with reduced force. That creates the possibility of hitting another target; see Hitting the
Wrong Target (p. B389) and Striking Into a Close Combat (p. B392). Other effects:
- When a slam results in a graze, effects such as halved damage and doubled DR apply to both attacker and target. The attacker continues on, losing only half the speed he would normally lose. (This also applies to a grazing vehicle collision – i.e., a sideswipe.)
- A graze that continues past its target to strike another target delivers only half basic hits.
- A missile that continues past its target on a graze loses half of any remaining range.
- A glancing hit may send a missile on an unpredictable ricochet. If the outcome might be of interest, roll 1d: on 1-2, the missile veers about 60° to the left of the target; on 3-4, it continues in a straight line past the target; on 5-6, it ricochets about 60° to the right of the target.
A result of graze on a grapple achieves a weak grip. Halve the grappler’s ST for follow-up actions where meaningful, or give the target +5 to Break Free or otherwise resist follow-up actions, as appropriate. For simplicity, though, assume the grappler can automatically establish a proper, full-strength grip on his next turn (if he can keep hold until then).
Similarly, a graze with an entangling weapon like a lasso or net means a poor or partial bind: the target receives +2 on rolls to get untangled.
On a graze with bolas, the weapon strikes a glancing blow with normal graze effects but does not entangle.
While a glancing hit is still a hit, for some purposes it may occupy a nether region between a proper hit and a miss.
Using GM sense and the above effects as guidelines, rule on cases as appropriate (and if interesting). For example, you might rule that a grazing kick does carry a missed kick’s risk of falling down, but at +2 to the DX roll. Or that a hurled flask with a chance of breaking upon hitting a target has a lesser chance of breaking upon a graze.
You can get even more creative, taking “graze” to mean “any less-than-complete success” that’s interesting and appropriate.
Example: An ogre attempts to grapple a PC with two hands. If the attack succeeds by 0, or the defense succeeds by 0, the GM can call this a two-handed grapple that achieves a weak grip, per the option above – or could creatively rule that it’s a solid grip, but with only one hand.
Whichever effects you’ve brought into play, let them stack where reasonable. (They should usually stack without problem!) Examples:
- When the attack roll and the Active Defense roll each indicates a graze for half damage and double DR, consider the result a touch that quarters damage and quadruples DR.
- If the above attack also delivers a resisted electrical shock effect, the first graze result would add +2 to resistance rolls and the second graze result would add another +2.
- Let’s mix a bunch of options: Just in time, Conrad the Bavarian sees the assassin’s crossbow bolt whizzing in! Fortunately, it’s not squarely on target (attack roll succeeds by 0); it’ll only score his side, not pierce his heart. Conrad gets a +2 to dodge that off-target missile… but fails. The missile’s basic hits are halved from 10 to 5 for the graze. Conrad’s durable outlander hide (DR 2 with the Tough Skin limitation), doubled to 4, reduces that to 1 – which further becomes cutting, not impaling, damage, and so remains a 1-point scratch… but Conrad feels the burn of poison! Time for an HT roll, with the GM kindly allowing +2 on the roll for a lesser dose…
- That bolt would have flown another 400 yards had it missed Conrad; instead, its half-spent momentum will now take it only another 200 yards. Except… oops, it manages only several yards before solidly thwocking into Lester (Hitting the Wrong Target, p. B389), a lad currently working toward his Untamed Savage certification as Conrad’s squire. The weakened missile’s basic hits are halved, so even with the impaling multiplier it likely won’t take out Lester – but there’s that poison to worry about. Let’s hope the GM will allow a +2 on resistance again, for some of the poison having been lost to Conrad.
When to use it
This is one of the small combat realism tweaks I like: It’s great if it adds effects you’re looking for, yet harmless if you ignore it. It can be added to any combat with little effort; effects take place only on specific, easy-to-determine conditions.
The basic workings of this article stretch way back to my gaming in the 3e days, but in this 2023 update I’ve changed the dice roll conditions for determining grazes (see reasons below) and simplified things by turning all but the most basic effects into options.
I’m taking pains to avoid the term “near-miss” in this text, as it’s confusing. Purists will maintain that a near-miss is a hit that was nearly a miss – i.e., a graze or other hit. But the masses appear to prefer the opposite sense of a miss that came near to being a hit.
Where I need a synonym for “graze”, I guess I’ll go with “almost-miss”. It’s not in the dictionaries, I know, but it’s unambiguous and, hey, maybe it’ll catch on.
Grazes and the dice
What dice outcomes should indicate a graze? I’ve bounced among a handful of takes. For many years, I offered the following as my favored conditions:
- An attack roll succeeds by 0; or
- A defense roll fails by 1
Why these? The logic is to preserve the GURPS definitions of success/failure that players have come to expect: you should require a clear attack success to hit at all (even if weakly), while you should have to clearly fail a defense to be hit at all (even if weakly). Those are arguably expectations set by GURPS.
It works, but here’s what I don’t like about it:
- The pair of conditions biases outcomes against the attacker. For some attack roll successes and some defense roll failures, the conditions take what would normally be solid hits for the attacker and turn them into weak hits.
- The mismatched conditions (“…by 0” and “…by 1”) just feel clunky.
The first of those isn’t necessarily bad! Given the frenetic pace and lethality of many combats in GURPS, you might appreciate how these outcomes slow down the speed at which hit points get chewed up. Still, it does represent a change.
By contrast, these methods preserve balance:
- An attack roll succeeds by 0; or
- A defense roll succeeds by 0
- An attack roll fails by 1; or
- A defense roll fails by 1
With the first set of conditions, some attack roll successes change from a solid hit to a weak hit, but some defense roll successes change from no hit to a weak hit. With the second set of conditions, some attack roll failures change from no hit to a weak hit, but some defense roll failures change from a solid hit to a weak hit. Either way is net-neutral for attacker and defender alike.
Of those, I’ve come to like “attack roll succeeds by 0 or defense roll succeeds by 0”, and so have adopted it for this article. It’s not biased toward attacker or defender, it’s easy to remember, and it looks good.
Most of all, “attack roll succeeds by 0 or defense roll succeeds by 0” meshes nicely with an unwritten meta-rule I’ve been increasingly leaning into over the years: whenever it’s possible, meaningful, and interesting, interpret a “success by 0” result as some sort of lesser success, success-with-consequences, or neither-success-nor-failure. This updated graze rule pairs well with that.
To double or not to double
Up above, “double DR” is presented as one of the basic effects of a graze – and is quickly followed by the option of dropping that effect.
To be honest, I’m feeling this close to dropping “double DR” from the basic effects to begin with, and moving it to the options to be added.
Multiplying DR is a perfectly reasonable and realistic effect of a graze, and I like it. But in, say, the low-tech/fantasy scenarios I usually play in, the combination of halved basic hits and double DR is powerful; it’s very often an automatic “no damage”. (The attack’s secondary effect of knockback remains unchanged, but GURPS is a bit stingy with knockback to begin with; halving basic hits generally makes it completely moot.)
The above isn’t necessarily bad. And to be sure, when the attack is an ogre’s club and the defending DR isn’t stout plate, even the power combo of halved basic hits and doubled DR can fail to keep a PC unscathed. So for now, I’ll leave “double DR” as a basic effect while I continue experimenting. (If a computer were handling the numbers, I think I’d like grazes to divide damage by 1.5, not 2, and multiply DR by 1.5, for a combined effect that’s not so powerful – a notion that gets some support from research into angle of attack and armor penetration, as noted here. But I don’t want to work those numbers at the table.)
If you’ve got ideas or play experience using different numbers, let’s hear ’em!
The many optional effects above repeatedly call on +2 bonuses for dealing with non-damage effects of grazes: +2 to resist a spell or poison, +2 to escape a net, and so on.
It’s come to my attention that p. B378 grants a +3 bonus on rolls to resist appropriate non-damage effects when Half Damage range is an issue. So for persnickety neatness, I should probably go with +3 as well. But, nah, I think I’ll stick with my +2. I invoke that bonus for quite a few things up above, including an optional +2 on active defense to avoid a graze, and I like the simplicity of using that same easily-remembered bonus for nearly all options. A humble-looking +2 is plenty generous as it is, I think.
Tangent: As a personal quirk, I like even mods all around. That is, an odd mod is of course fine when there’s good reason for it (and there are plenty of situations in which we want that minimum ±1). But if there’s no pressing reason for a ±3 or a ±5, I prefer consolidating a whole bunch of mods to ±2, ±4, and so on. (Even some ±1 mods could be enhanced to ±2 just to make them more interesting.)
There’s no meaningful reason behind that preference, I know. But if nothing else, even mods do halve neatly when a situation calls for a reduced mod. (I do invoke a suggested +5 up above as the bonus to break free from a tenuous grapple, to match existing instances of +5 mods in rules related to breaking free. I think I’d prefer turning all of those into +4, though.)
My twee aesthetic preferences aside, feel free to change some of this page’s +2 bonuses (especially to resist non-damage effects) to +3 if you’d like to honor the precedent set by the Half-Damage range rule.
Ways to graze
“Wait – aren’t glancing blows already handled by low damage rolls?” That’s a reservation I’ve heard over the years – and it’s reasonable. “You rolled 1 dam? Okay, your swing is off-target, just scraping the orc’s hide. He snarls and strikes back…” It’s an intuitive interpretation of low damage rolls that you’ll see GMs and DMs and Referees and Storytellers invoke at gaming tables everywhere. It meshes especially well with games that use GURPS-like reductive armor, which can realistically nullify low damage rolls entirely.
If the “low damage roll” approach is your way of handling grazes, or if you simply don’t bother thinking about such details, you’ll get no argument from me!
So why this article? It’s a deliberate shot at handling grazes differently, to address a few dissatisfactions.
First, under normal rules, the occurrence of low damage rolls is completely dissociated from the solidness of the hit. Call it a quirk of GURPS and countless other RPGs, but whether a 1d damage roll is inflicted by a master duelist precisely planting his rapier with TH to spare, or whether it’s dealt by a flailing klutz who barely tags his target through dumb luck, there’s no difference in the damage roll itself. Either case yields the same chance of throwing a 1 (or a 6, or anything else).
This rule changes that. Attacks with a good chance of hitting – thanks to high skill, careful aim, favorable conditions, whatever the causes – will often hit solidly, while attacks with a good chance of missing – due to poor skill, wild swings, bad conditions, whatever the causes – will often connect weakly even when they do hit. (“Weakly” and “solidly” here refer to whether halving of damage and other graze effects kick in. A “solid” hit might still roll a 1 on its damage die – but that’s an artifact of how games like GURPS handle damage rolls, an issue of its own.)
This rule further extends that to defense, too: a high defense score can expect to evade many attacks entirely, while a poor defense score may have to count a lot of partial evasions among its limited defensive successes. (This is particularly good for PCs, who are typically high-defense characters surrounded by lower-defense mobs.) These are effects that I like.
In addition, many damage rolls simply don’t yield graze-like results on their own. In a quirk of RPGs’ use of more dice to model higher damage, the amount of damage greatly changes its variance. A damage roll of 1d has crazy variance; it’s just as likely to yield a one-point scratch of damage as it is to yield six times that damage. Conversely, a roll of many dice is very unlikely to stray far from its average – and simply can’t yield damage below a fairly high minimum. Similarly, a damage roll with few dice but a high add, like 1d+4, can’t deliver anything less than a serious wound, let alone a 1-point scratch. The graze rule helps out here. It won’t bring 10d cannonball hits or 2d+7 longsword strikes down to the “just a scratch” zone, but it can create survivable almost-misses much more readily than “pray for a low damage roll” alone can.
Finally, the “a graze is just a low damage roll” interpretation doesn’t allow for other graze effects suggested above: enhanced DR for the glancing angle, a defense bonus when evading an almost-miss, the change from impaling/piercing to cutting damage, the chance of ricochets, and so on. Offering these options is another point of this rule.
Let’s acknowledge one more way of gaming close-call grazing attacks: the cinematic “flesh wounds” rule (p. B417). However massive the attack you’ve suffered, just pay a character point and presto, that .338 sniper rifle round scored a 1-point furrow on your hero’s bicep instead of blowing a 9d+1 dam hole through his torso. This rule is a great way to inject a cinematic graze just where the story calls for it, and I thoroughly approve. But again, this article is intentionally trying for something different: a purely mechanical way to generate those grazes, just as they happen in the real world without cinematic license and without the expense of character points (an option we sadly don’t get in reality).
Summing up: It’s fine to call low damage rolls grazes or to invoke special cinematic rules to get the effect. The intent of this page’s rule is to offer a different way to address glancing blows and other grazes, by deliberately defining the condition and modeling its effects. As with all such offerings, toss it into your GM toolbox if and only if you want it.
Taking the hit
Leaping about like a desert rat to fully dodge blows can be tough, especially for tank-like warriors weighed down by heavy plate. Fortunately, simply lessening the blow can be enough for a tough fighter!
A detailed treatment of “rolling with the blow”-type actions is beyond the scope of this article, but a simple take might draw on this graze rule:
- When making a Dodge, a fighter can elect to catch an attack at an angle or otherwise “roll with” it. This is slightly easier than fully avoiding the attack: take +1 on Dodge.
- A failure on the Dodge roll results in a normal, full-force hit.
- A success on the Dodge roll avoids some of the force, turning it into a graze. (Exception: a critical success avoids the attack entirely.)
It’s an interesting option for a fighter who’s confident in her ability to absorb lessened blows. (Compare this with the Roll with Blow technique on Martial Arts p. 87. They’re similar concepts, but that technique is about “catching” a crushing blow while moving away from it; this article’s rule is about intentionally taking an attack of any type, but at a partially deflecting angle. Both are interesting options.)
How would you intentionally scrape a target with a graze? I posed the question in this article way back when, but never had a need for an answer and so never pondered it much. Call it -2 TH? With maybe the option of an even more precise “just the barest of touches” effect: -2 TH per “level” of graze (x1/2 basic hits, x2 DR, etc.)? Whatever the skill penalty is, I picture a failure with this tricky attack as sending the blow in either direction: completely off-target, or back in the solid, on-target direction. Call it 50/50…
Why would you want to do this? I don’t know, other than as a way to make full-strength but less harmless blows in sport combat. Hmm, perhaps this action should default to Sport/Art combat skills, meaning a real blood-n-guts fighter is more likely to fail (and thus whack Little Johnny with a full-power blow). All very interesting… but then again, “pulling your punch” has always been an option in the game, so I’m short on specific good uses for intentional grazes.
I’ll note that the oft-discussed “draw cut”, a shallow but long slice with a sharp weapon, is sort of an intentional graze. A common (and easy) interpretation holds that, for game purposes, a draw cut is just a descriptive version of a normal edged weapon attack. That’s fine, but if I were to try modeling this attack as a distinct thing, I might call it an attack that delivers low basic hits and multiplies DR – an intentional graze of sorts – while also yielding an extra-high cutting damage multiplier for sharp weapons, especially long blades.
I’ve mentally played a bit with draw cuts along those lines, but never introduced a specific rule at the table. You?
Take this rule to the game table for a little extra simulationist fun (and even narrative fun by invoking a heavily used fictional trope). Let the nicks, scrapes, and flesh wounds pile up. “It’s just a scrape!” can turn a giant’s PC-pulping blow into a heroically survived tavern tale.