Rules Bit (GURPS): Throw like you mean It

Intro: “You throw like a kobold”

GURPS‘ thrown weapon stats neatly spell out the best distance (Maximum Range) you can achieve with a toss. These are multiples of Strength, typically STx1.5 for heavier weapons (spear), STx1 for very light ones (dagger), and STx2.5 for middle-weight weapons that hit a sweet spot for distance (throwing axe).

Working from those stats, Conrad the Bavarian and his ST 16 can hurl a javelin 16 x 2.5 = 40 yards. In battlemap terms, that’s right off the dining room tabletop; it’s a throw that should send even the hardiest of orc miniatures fleeing to a safer distance. With some Extra Effort, Conrad could hit 45 or even 50 yards.

And yet, our human arbalest may be chagrined to compare his toss against modern track and field achievements. Übermensch Uwe Hohn hit 104.8 meters, or over 114 yards, in 1984 – a distance so great that the track and field world had to modify the javelin to fly less far or risk running out of stadium! The current men’s world record holder under the revised rules, Jan Železný, chucked a javelin over 98 meters (well over 100 yards!) in 1996; on the women’s side, Barbora Špotáková beat 72 meters in 2008.

There’s no need for a game to worry itself with accurately simulating sport throws like these. But as Conrad laments, aren’t the rules holding something back from battlemap hurlers?

One problem: True javelin throwers gain throwing speed by running. Conrad can run and hurl, of course, but the rules grant him not a yard more for doing so.

Another problem, less immediately obvious: Using a normal Attack, Conrad throws and then returns instantly to a defensive combat stance, ready to dodge knives and arrows. That sounds fine for close-in fighting, but it’s all wrong for athletes in genteel competitions, or even battlefield spear-throwers safely out of reprisal range. Distance hurlers clearly go all-out – but when Conrad throws using All-Out Attack, again, the rules give him no extra distance.

Conrad needs to run up, forget defensive caution, and throw like he means it. This rules bit doesn’t overhaul throwing rules or recreate sporting records. It merely hands fighters (or athletes!) in the game a couple of options they’re missing to go the distance.

The rule

Characters can already use Extra Effort (B357) to boost throwing Strength. Allow two more options to throw farther:

  1. Use All-Out Attack (Strong) to increase Half-Damage and Maximum Range by 30% each. Let this be identical to the melee maneuver in all other respects (damage bonus, loss of active defenses, movement allowed up to half Move, etc.).
  2. For any throw, add forward distance moved (from Step, half Move, etc.) to Half-Damage Range, and add twice that much (i.e., twice forward distance moved) to Maximum Range. (However, this bonus should not more than double those same distances with no movement.)

That’s the rule. Now grab your spear and show those jeering orcs that “safely out of range” actually isn’t.


A key point: Neither of these options makes any change to standard “I throw my spear” attacks. A GM can keep them quietly in the background until a player asks, “Can’t I get more distance by running, or throwing All-Out?”

Throwers can freely mix Extra Effort and the above two options. Apply in logical order: first boost ST for Extra Effort, then increase Ranges by the percentage bonus for All-Out Attack (Strong), and finally add the flat bonus for movement.

Note that Extra Effort increases ST directly for distance and damage purposes. All-Out Attack (Strong) boosts distance by a percentage and boosts damage per the rules for All-Out Attack (Strong). Movement boosts distance only, by a flat amount.

Variants and options

Committed and Defensive Attack

If you have GURPS Martial Arts, let throwers use Committed Attack (Strong) and Defensive Attack (see MA pp 99-100). Treat the maneuvers as written, with the following additions:

  • Committed Attack (Strong) boosts Ranges by 10%. This is a throw that’s strong but not full-power; use it when foes are near enough that they might reach you after your throw.
  • Defensive Attack reduces Ranges by 30%. This represents a hasty snap throw, useful for axing a foe that’s just beyond arm’s reach in a crowded melee.

Quick mods

If it makes eyeballing easier, add one-third to Ranges for All-Out Attack (Strong), and cut Ranges to two-thirds for Defensive Attack. This replaces percentages.

Skill and distance

Throwing skill (B226) offers a bonus to ST for distance purposes, but only with baseballs and rocks and the like. Throwing Art (same page) offers the same bonus to ST for distance purposes with any object, and also adds a separate damage bonus.

Other than those, GURPS offers no distance bonus for skill. That’s arguably odd; technique is a big factor in achieving maximum distance with any object.

For a simple solution using existing rules, take the bonus from the Throwing skill and apply it to all thrown weapon skills. For example, Thrown Weapon (Axe/Mace) grants the same bonus as the broader Throwing skill, but only with the relevant weapons. (Remember, this increases ST-based distance but not ST-based damage.) It’s a bit of a change, but it’s realistic and fun for axe-flingers.

If you’re really daring, change the bonus for skill from +1/+2 ST to a more satisfying+10%/+20% distance.

(Make percentage bonuses additive. A 30% bonus from All-Out Attack (Strong) and 20% bonus from skill combine to a 50% bonus; a 30% penalty for Defensive Attack and 10% bonus for skill combine to a 20% penalty.)

This is a simple idea that many GMs might like. I’ve placed it here under optional extra rules, though, and not under “The rule” above, as using it makes automatic changes to many characters’ throwing performance stats.

Other skills

This skill-based distance bonus makes sense for the Bolas, Lasso, Sling, and Spear Thrower skills too – again, technique matters!

Bow and Crossbow weapons, however, rely on their own inherent ST, not the user’s technique, for distance. The Net skill, meanwhile, already has its own means of adjusting range for skill. Don’t apply the above skill-based bonus to these skills’ weapons.

Sport throwing skills

GULLIVER and GULLIVER LITE present a complete reworking of throwing in GURPS 3e to accommodate any weapon or object with any type of throw, even recreating sporting results in fair detail. A key feature of the rules is skill-based distance bonuses for all thrown weapon skills, and even greater distance bonuses for specialized sport throwing skills.

It’s all beyond the scope of this article (and the interest of many players); see those resources and Sports throwing skills in COSH if you’d like to tinker. But below are a few extracted notes.

A combat throwing skill is an “all-round” skill emphasizing flexibility in any situation. A sport throwing skill, on the other hand, prioritizes certain goals (such as maximal distance) at the expense of other capabilities. Build a sport throwing skill by combining some of the properties below, balancing advantages with disadvantages:

Advantages for sport throwing skills
  • Distance bonus from skill (or a big bonus if you’re already giving a bonus to all throwing skills)
  • Additional distance bonus for special conditions (e.g., increased bonus from All-Out Attack (Strong), etc.)
  • Reduced penalties for throwing on the run
  • Special techniques with unique effects (e.g., the sliders, curveballs, etc. of baseball pitching)
Disadvantages for sports throwing skills
  • Penalty to hit targets (e.g., track-and-field javelin throwing, which strives only for distance)
  • Penalty for encumbrance (athletes don’t train in armor!)
  • Extra preparation before throw (requires Ready maneuver)
  • Optimization for flat throws or for high arcing throws (skill penalty for Range greater than Half-Damage, or for Range less than Half-Damage, respectively)
Other tweaks for sports throwing skills
  • Twirling routine in place of the usual Step or half Move (e.g., discus throw, hammer toss, etc.), allowing extra distance per “running” while staying in place

There you go. Mix and match the above, and you should be able to recreate any sort of sport or other specialized throwing skill.

Designer’s notes

Distance and damage

Extra distance with a throw can only come from extra speed. That, in turn, means that extra distance from any source should also mean more damage.

You can tinker with that idea if you like. But for simplicity, and to avoid messing up game balance between throws and melee attacks (which normally gain no damage bonuses from skill or movement), this article’s rules assume that only Extra Effort, All-Out Attack (Strong), Committed Attack (Strong), and the Throwing Art skill boost damage (per their respective GURPS rules), while movement and other factors boost only distance.

Beating records

This article doesn’t attempt to recreate actual sport results, or even real battlefield throws that may have been measured and recorded. But with more options to play with, characters can at least try to approach record hurls. To go for the gold, make sure to take advantage of these:

  • Start with all the ST you can muster.
  • Use Extra Effort!
  • Use All-Out Attack (Strong).
  • If you allow distance bonuses for skill, add the bonus.
  • If you’re using a special sport skill, add in its effects.
  • Run! Use the half Move allowed by your All-Out Attack. You’ll get even more of a distance bonus if you run at full Move, but that’s tricky; the throw becomes a Move and Attack (B365), so you lose the All-Out Attack distance bonus (and take a skill penalty too).

Let’s put an example to work:

Eager to try out those new options, Conrad makes another running heave with a javelin. Say he boosts his ST 16 by 15% through Extra Effort, achieving ST 18. He starts with a reasonable 18 x 2.5 = 45 yards. There’s no one swinging axes at Conrad today (it’s a weekend), so he throws defensive caution to the wind and uses All-Out Attack (Strong) for a 30% distance bonus, achieving 58.5 yards. Finally, his full Move of 7 (twice the half Move he ran) adds to Maximum Range, for a net 65.5 yards.

Let’s calculate once more, this time letting Conrad use the skill bonus option. Our Bavarian has no special sport skill, but we’ll say his Thrown Weapon (Spear) skill is good for a 20% distance bonus. That and his All-Out Attack bonus combine to a 50% bonus, boosting distance from the starting 45 yards above to 67.5 yards. Add 7 yards for movement to get a final 74.5 yards.

There. 74 yards and change is much better than Conrad’s by-the-book 40 yards. It’s no record, but it’s not embarrassing, either!

If you really want to experiment with athletic records, work with all the factors listed above. To build an Olympic hurler, combine good ST (probably not as high as Conrad’s, but perhaps with extra arm ST or Striking ST), plenty of Will (and good coaching) for optimal Extra Effort, a very high level in a distance-maximizing sport throwing skill, and high Move.

Wrapping up

Although the core rule offered here is short and simple, there are plenty of options and side ideas to consider. A simulation-friendly game like GURPS makes throwing an unusually rich topic!

So. Does any of this go the distance in your games, or should it all be given the heave-ho?

Version history: See Games Diner Site Updates.


  • Wyrd

    Is that the rules assume you are trying to hit a target. There should be an extra bonus of some sort when you are just going for distance.

    • tbone

      I agree. In one sense, I’ve already addressed the issue by suggesting we use running and AOA (Strong) to boost distance. Doing this does require a trade-off vs accuracy, in that the thrower is giving up the +1 TH bonus he could have taken for AOA (determined). (Adding more TH penalties for movement while throwing further enhances the tradeoff between distance and accuracy.)

      Also, while this article doesn’t go into great detail, I also game distance-based sports throwing skills as having a) built-in extra bonuses on distance, counteracted by b) built-in TH penalties. I think that’s a great way to differentiate, say, military Thrown Weapon (spear), whose practitioners presumably train in both distance and accuracy, from athletic Javelin Throwing, whose practioners relentlessly strive for nothing but distance, and who might never attempt hitting targets.

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