Game design musing: Meeting weapon ST requirements (GURPS/DFRPG)

Hand-held weapons in GURPS and DFRPG have a ST requirement. The rules let Striking ST help meet the requirement. But they should give that honor to Lifting ST instead.

You: “Cool! A topic that’s both trivial and boring!” Yep. I seem to be outdoing even myself on that front here. Grognard gamers who recognize this as some long-retired, fiddly rules ephemera will be happiest heading back to the gaming table and playing things however they always have. Newcomers to GURPS/DFRPG (or RPGs), meanwhile, are encouraged to skip this because it’s terribly unimportant. (Just play the rules as they’re written, and revisit this page some day after you, too, have become crusty and weird.)

For the oddball obsessives remaining, I’ll explain why I think swapping Lifting ST and Striking ST for this most minor of purposes – “the swap”, I’ll call it – is a good idea. (As I expect that still won’t be of great interest to you, I’ll toss in dwarf jokes.)

So come on! I guarantee you this’ll be the best article that this website releases today!

Quick background

Stats for hand weapons in GURPS and DFRPG include “ST”, the ST score that the wielder must meet to use the weapon without penalties. (Like many players, I’ll call this “Minimum ST” or “Min ST” for clarity.)

Comparing a character’s ST to a weapon’s Minimum ST is simple enough, with only one infrequent detail to watch out for: some characters have a Striking ST or Lifting ST score that differs from their main ST score.

GURPS doesn’t clearly state whether Striking ST or Lifting ST helps meet Min ST. This forum FAQ item provides clarification: Lifting ST helps meet Min ST for non-muscle-powered weapons like firearms, while Striking ST helps meet Min ST for any muscle-powered weapon (swords, bows, etc.). DFRPG, meanwhile, says nothing about meeting Min ST for guns (understandably enough!), but makes clear that Striking ST helps meet Min ST for muscle-powered weapons: “Add your Striking ST… to base ST for the purposes of finding thrust and swing damage…, meeting the ST requirements of weapons, and determining the range of thrown and missile weapons.” (Adventurers p. 53).

So that’s the rule: Striking ST, not Lifting ST, helps you meet the Min ST requirement for a sword, mace, polearm, thrown spear, bow, crossbow, etc. But I’m pretty sure Lifting ST makes more sense.

Why should Lifting ST help meet weapon Min ST?

It all starts with lifting

Rule 0 of the Medieval Weapon Fight Club: You can’t wield what you can’t lift. 

If Striking ST helps meet Min ST, per current rules, then it’s possible for a character with tons of Striking ST to wield a weapon he can’t even lift. Theoretically, anyway. Let’s be honest: that weird situation isn’t going to happen in your game or mine. If it did, a tiny fix would handle it: “Regardless of Striking ST, you cannot wield a weapon that weighs more than your Basic Lift” (or something like that). In short, it’s not a thing.

Still, using Lifting ST to help meet Min ST means that, as long as Min ST isn’t set bizarrely low, then there isn’t even a theoretical need to patch this situation of “I can wield a weapon I can’t lift”.

Combat already calls on Lifting ST a lot

If you’re thinking “wait, Lifting ST isn’t for combat stuff”, well, that’s not the case. Lifting ST, not Striking ST, is the strength that matters in grappling, choking, and otherwise twisting foes into pretzels, as well as in doing violence to things in Forced Entry-type situations (a la DFRPG Exploits p. 22). The above-noted FAQ further marks it as the trait to help you heft and aim big, heavy guns. In short, Lifting ST is already important in combat.

Moving things fast is also a part of Lifting ST

The swap would appear to let Lifting ST nick one of Striking ST’s roles: moving a weight (a weapon in this case) speedily. Objections to this will probably follow the reasoning spelled out in the noted FAQ item: “The ST requirement for these weapons is primarily due to the need to use them dynamically — you have to be able to swing, thrust, or pull with great force, which is what Striking ST is all about.

That doesn’t sound unreasonable! But moving things “dynamically” is something that rules also place under Lifting ST. Under the rules for lifting objects in general, you can lift a heavy object (weighing up to 4x your BL) with one hand, but only slowly, requiring two seconds. Boost your BL so that the object’s weight is now only 2x your BL or less, and you can now lift it in just one second. In short, Lifting ST and its BL boost let you move things faster.

Now look at the case of hefting one of GURPS‘ infamous slow hand weapons: a two-handed axe or a long polearm. If you merely meet Min ST, you’ll be able to swing that weapon just once every two seconds. If you’ve got lots of ST in excess of Min ST, though, you’ll be rewarded with the ability to swing that weapon every second, like any “normal” weapon. If we specify Lifting ST, not Striking ST, as the trait that helps speed up these swings, then we nicely mirror the above-noted basic rule for lifting general objects: you’re slow if your lifting ability is just up to the task, fast if you have an abundance of lifting ability.

As I see it, giving Lifting ST this role doesn’t step on the unique role of Striking ST. Letting Lifting ST help meet Min ST, even to meet the very high Min ST needed to swing a halberd with agility, doesn’t create any unusual speed in your weapon dynamics; it only allows usual speed, with heavier weapons. Striking ST remains the way to gain unusual speed, with whatever weapon your lifting ability allows you to wield handily. This, it seems to me, is how things should work.

Even overall quickness is the job of Lifting ST

Further hammering home the above: By the rules, it’s Lifting ST, not Striking ST, that affects the overall quickness of a character. I’m referring to encumbrance: when you’re being pulled down by thick scale armor and a sack of goblin heads, it’s that extra Lifting ST you bought that reduces your encumbrance from Medium to Light or maybe even None, letting your character’s body regain its unhampered natural speed. The rules give Striking ST no role in this.

It seems to me that a character’s arm, seeking to overcome the “encumbrance” of a weapon to regain the arm’s unhampered natural speed, should follow that same model. Lifting ST for the win!

Lifting ability already determines what you can throw

Thrown weapons have a ST score like any other weapon, so the swap would apply to them as well. That’s less of a change than it may appear, because rules already make Lifting ST part of throws.

Well, kind of. The rules for throwing general objects (BS p. 355) place lifting ability front and center: Basic Lift determines what you can throw, and determines the all-important Distance Modifier. (DFRPG simplifies the numbers a bit on Exploits p. 22, but it’s the same deal.) From there you get throwing distance, calculated as that Basic Lift-determined Distance Modifier times your ST. (GURPS doesn’t clarify what goes into that ST, but DFRPG does: Striking ST. So both Lifting ST and Striking ST are key components in distance.)

However, if you give that “general object” the shape of an axe or spear, the games switch to different rules: Striking ST alone affects what you can throw (via Min ST) and how far you throw it (a weapon-specific multiplier times (ST + Striking ST)).

It’s arguably unfortunate that a universal system would use two different sets of rules for the simple act of throwing things, but that’s a topic for elsewhere. The existing rules are simple enough, especially for weapons, so let’s work with them.

My point: While this article’s suggested swap doesn’t unify the two throwing schemes into one, it does bring them closer together! By making its one tiny change – use Lifting ST instead of Striking ST to meet a thrown weapon’s Min ST – what you can throw is always determined by lifting ability, and how far you can then throw it is affected by dynamic speed (Striking ST). The schemes for throwing general objects and throwing weapons remain separate, but at least take on that same core approach.

It’s hardly a change that’ll flip your GURPS world and bring Other Systems’ players running to your table, but it’s a neat bit of straightening-up all the same.

Lifting ST makes sense for muscle-powered missile weapons

Pulling back a bowstring falls squarely in the camp of lifting- and wrestling-type actions. I don’t think any persuasion is even needed here.

The case for cocking crossbows is all the more obvious. Whether hauling back a crossbow’s string with two hands (and a foot), working a mechanical lever, or slowly winding a crank, this is Lifting ST stuff all the way.

(A tangent: Just as DF/DFRPG‘s Expert Backstabbing is built as Striking ST discounted for limited use, I’d like to see Strongbow built as Lifting ST discounted for pulling bowstrings only. Something to play with elsewhere.)

Lifting ST makes sense for shield-wielding power

Well, it would, that is, if shields had Min ST scores. They don’t. But they should.

So imagine for a second that a shield had a Min ST score, like any other weapon. (And that’s what a shield is: a weapon.) With the swap, Striking ST would keep its key role of determining damage with shield bashes, while Lifting ST would help you meet Min ST. (If the swap seems at all sensible for general weapons, it should seem more so for shields: even when not being moved about, they’re held up statically to offer protection in the form of DB. Hefting and holding a heavy weight? That’s a task with “RESERVED FOR LIFTING ST” stamped all over it.)

Picture the big shields, especially double-weight dwarven shields. A shield that can weigh as much as 50 pounds demands arm muscle, and is the sort of invention you’d expect only from a race with impressive lifting prowess.

Which brings us to this:

A certain fantasy race rather loudly demands that we do this thing with Lifting ST

Here’s the most compelling reason for the swap: the dwarves are revolting!

No, no, I’m not referring to “beard jam”, that malodorous consequence of hasty rations-scarfing and haphazard grooming in mines. I’m talking about protests by DF and DFRPG dwarves that game rules deny them their favored weapons!

Dwarves in the Dungeon Fantasy setting are all about toughness and strength and axes and hammers, with said weapons being both a cultural thing and part of a special dwarven trait (Pickaxe Penchant). The racial template for a dwarf specifies only ST 10, but it adds miner-appropriate brawn through a respectable Lifting ST 2. That makes dwarves properly stronger than humans and many other races. It gives them the sinew they need to march up to the weapon rack, grab a heavy-headed axe or hammer, and WTF*! WE CANNA USE THESE THINGS, THEY’RE TOO HEAVY!!

*From the common dwarven interjection “What the fuþark”.

That’s right, the good smashing tools, whether one-handed or two-handed, call for Min ST 11 or higher – and by the rules, dwarves’ trademark Lifting ST doesn’t help at all with that! Sure, the penalty for the insufficient ST gets offset by Pickaxe Penchant, but that trait should let dwarves excel with those weapons, not merely compensate them for an inexplicable lack of muscle. And penchant or not, the dwarves end up gasping for breath after any battle with an axe or mace. (Ach, what if elves are watching!?) So an average Dungeon Fantasy dwarf has to downsize to a small axe or a small mace, like a human or other animal. No wonder the dwarves are up in arms (and sadly undersized arms at that).

While our bearded friends fume, a Dungeon Fantasy cat-folk, straight off the template, strolls onto the scene. This cat has speed, sure, nicely represented by Striking ST 2. But he’s slightly built at ST 9, with BL barely over half that of a dwarf. And so it is that our wronged and churlish mountain folk get to enjoy a moment of khâsmfølle* as Mister Whiskers saunters up to the “heavy metal” section of the weapon rack, apparently under the delusion that he can handle the heavy tools of an iron-blooded dwarf. He foolishly grasps an axe, and WTF AGAIN! THE BLOODY WEE MOGGY IS DOON’ IT!!

*That ineffable smug delight one feels when an elf tumbles into a bottomless mine shaft.

The problem is obvious: the rules let Striking ST help meet Min ST, meaning the skinny kitty-man can comfortably heft an axe or long axe, or for that matter a bastard sword, large falchion, glaive, heavy spear, or scythe, while the burly Folk of Durin struggle to use any of the same, grunting and sweating even more than what’s right for a dwarf.

That’s not kosher. (Under the mountains, they’re calling it the greatest affront to dwarven dignity since that documentary about the bumbling, cottage-dwelling “dwarves” co-habitating with a human princess. “‘Grumpy’? ‘Dopey’? Gnomes! Those are seven gnomes!”) Really, it’s the lightly-built cat-folk who should be limited to claw, knife, and maybe the swift weapons of swashbucklers, harrying foes through speed, while it’s the broad-shouldered dwarves who should be clobbering orcs with mass. Current rules get that a bit backward.

Handing Lifting ST the role of helping meet Min ST sets things right. With the swap, slight cat-folk will want to stick to lighter staves and rapiers, or a longsword held in two paws (though bulked-up warriors will of course have more choices). The average non-warrior dwarf, meanwhile, will still lack the power for big weapons (“I’m a forger, not a fighter!”), but will be ready and able to pick up axe, mace, throwing axe, long axe, warhammer, or morningstar when orcs invade.

And with that tiny change, our mountain kingdom uprising is over. The pleased dwarves are now using their Lifting ST to rambunctiously raise axes, maces, and celebratory 29-lb. mugs of dwarven stout. (Just don’t ruin the mood by suggesting we can now name them all “Happy”, okay?)

That goes for other “heavy” fighters too

The above sort of thing holds for barbarians. The DFRPG barbarian template offers more Lifting ST than Striking ST; the game even goes out of its way to label it a special barbarian trait. Meanwhile, the swashbuckler template pushes only Striking ST as an option.

That all sounds thematically good. There’s no problem with the templates, which clearly favor the barbarian as the maul-swinger. Similar to the above, though, I’d prefer to see Lifting ST ply the barbarian with weapons that are even more ridiculously heavy, rather than see Striking ST unlock mauls and two-handed flails for the swashbuckler.

Likewise with knights: With the swap, knights who invest in Lifting ST to support heavy armor also gain the ability to swing heavier weapons (an important tool for defeating other knights’ thick armor). “Fast” fighters specializing in Striking ST, meanwhile, will gravitate toward light armor and light weapons. Makes sense to me!

None of that stops us from creating unusual designs. You’re always free to build, say, a swashbuckler who’s fast and lightly-armored but who packs the power to swing a signature giant maul. GURPS is GURPS, after all. I simply suggest that high Lifting ST or full ST, not high Striking ST, would be the natural-feeling way to differentiate this design from the more conventional swashbuckler.

The swap makes for an interesting dynamic

Currently, Striking ST packs a double punch where weapon damage is concerned: it lets you swing a weapon that’s bigger and hurt-ier, and lets you swing that (or any wieldable) weapon with greater speed for greater damage. Lifting ST does nothing to help at either end.

No big deal. But I find it more interesting to let both types of ST deal damage, in sensibly different ways: lots of Striking ST to swing lighter weapons at deadly speed, or lots of Lifting ST to swing clobbering masses at more modest speed.

That doesn’t make the two equally good at boosting damage! Striking ST maintains its crown there, easily. Big weapons that benefit from Lifting ST are inconvenient weights to lug about, and often go up several Min ST points before yielding another +1 damage. Swashbucklers aren’t fools for focusing on Striking ST.

The swap is arguably a (small) simplification

There’s nothing complex about the current roles for Lifting ST and Striking ST. Still, the swap leaves us with a very simple unified mechanic: Lifting ST boosts what you can swing, thrust, or throw; Striking ST boosts how fast you can swing, thrust, or throw it. Easy.

Details fall into place neatly, as far as I can see. Continue using Lifting ST for choking and grappling (per the rules). Use Lifting ST to help meet the Min ST of a bow, crossbow, or gun (as above, lifting ability determines what you can wield). Use Lifting ST to help draw a bowstring (it’s clearly a lifting-type task). (And, hitting all the details: For beings with the Invertebrate trait, leave thrust and swing damage unchanged, per the rules, but halve combined ST and Lifting ST for purposes of meeting Min ST or drawing bowstrings.)

That’s it; there’s no “guns use this ST but crossbows use that ST” or “use Lifting ST to pull an object unless it’s a bowstring” kind of stuff. I can’t find any difficult halfway cases that get left behind, or oddities that need to be explained. (Please leave a comment if you do see some such!)

Questions!

“Doesn’t the swap change the relative utilities of Lifting ST and Striking ST?”

Yes, it does – something you’re free to ignore for simplicity. But you might consider repricing the two stats, especially if you agree with the idea of making Lifting ST the stat for hefting weapons and drawing bowstrings. That latter adds significant benefit.

How to make the change? Well, if we’re taking away a bit of utility from 5-pt Striking ST, and moving it to 3-pt Lifting ST… well, how about making each 4 points? Can’t ask for simpler than that!

That change may affect character sheets and templates, though. The dwarf template, for example, increases in value by 2 points for its two levels of Lifting ST. To keep costs even, we could reduce the template’s Resistant to Poison by two levels. (This still leaves dwarves ridiculously resistant.)

Cat-folk, meanwhile, see the cost of Striking ST 2 lowered a point per level, so we could tack something worth 2 points onto their template. (I hear a level of Acute Hearing goes well with animal ears.)

(Side note: I believe I’ve seen many comments over the years from players who think Striking ST is overpriced at 5 points per level. Those players would be pleased by the above repricing, I would think, even if we’re taking a bit away from Striking ST’s utility. Then again, I never followed the relevant discussions, so I’m not up to speed on arguments over the proper pricing of Striking ST. If you have a thought on the matter, please leave a comment.)

“Would the swap affect pre-generated DFRPG characters?”

A few, yes!

Grükuk Kzaash: This knight’s Striking ST 2 no longer lets her use an ST 16 bow; that bow will have to drop to Grükuk’s ST 14, losing a point of damage in the process. On the plus side, if you reprice the traits as above, she gets back 2 character points. (Maybe the GM would let her purchase Strongbow if there’s no scout on the team?)

Ælin Rock-Talker: Following our restoration of physical honor to dwarves, Ælin is ready to go far beyond the Min ST 8 of his toy sickle and field a real weapon with Min ST as high as 13. I get that the sickle is a druid thing, so he can keep it. But I suggest he also get a hammer (i.e., a mace) for prospecting and for bashing tougher monsters. Or ask the GM to come up with stats for a big sickle. On the downside, repricing Lifting ST would force our druid to pony up 2 character points to enjoy his improved weapon-wielding prowess.

Argua: This barbarian’s Lifting ST now raises her effective ST from 21 to 22 (!) to meet weapons’ Min ST, should she ever want to use something other than her beloved axe. If you reprice, though, she needs an extra character point to pay for the improvement.

Miao Miao: Under current rules, this cat has the martial brawn to wield a mace, maul, or two-handed flail, with power to spare! With the swap, though, her weapon choices are limited by her ST 10. That just meets the Min ST of her rapier, so there’s no immediate problem – and if you reprice, Miao Miao gets back 4 character points!

Samar Alqatil: This fanatical holy warrior won’t be pleased to hear that her Striking ST 2 no longer aids her in wielding heavy weapons against devils. But she only brandishes a mundane broadsword anyway, not even challenging her base ST 13, so she keeps on fighting as she is. And if you reprice, she’ll be delighted to get back 2 character points – enough for, say, another two levels of Resist Evil.

“Okay, say I did this thing. What will it mess up?”

Uh, nothing? It’s a tiny tweak; your biggest risk is disappointment when little or nothing changes. The swap makes no difference to characters who don’t have the Lifting ST or Striking ST traits. It may not even matter immediately to characters who do (like Samar Alqatil above).

If you decide to reprice the traits, you may have to adjust a couple of PCs’ values by a point or two. That’s the sole hassle of this trivial change; there’s nothing else to do.

Summary

It makes more sense to let Lifting ST, not Striking ST, help meet weapons’ Min ST. This change meshes well with existing rules for lifting, moving, and throwing weights. It reasonably extends Lifting ST’s existing combat uses to tasks like drawing bowstrings. It enhances an interesting distinction between attacking with mass vs speed. It pleases dwarves (and dwarf PCs’ players) mightily. It makes sense all around (or so I claim).

It’s also trivial, probably affecting very few characters in your game. Fortunately, it’s a hassle-free change; the only question it raises is whether you want to reprice Lifting ST and Striking ST to an even 4 points each (a pricing change that some players may prefer).

And that’s the pitch. If none of my yammering compels you to embrace this most inconsequential of quests, feel free to ignore it. No one will mind. (Well, except that clan of dwarves, glaring at you as they reach for their weapons. Just small weapons, fortunately. Axes and maces are for cat-folk swashbucklers, not dwarves, right? : )

4 Comments

  • DW

    For what it’s worth, the Huge Weapons (ST) Perk is essentially +1 Striking ST for meeting weapon ST minimums only. So that suggests you could make the change you want by making Striking ST and Lifting ST both 4 pts/level and it would be Rules As Written:

    nuLifting ST = Lifting ST +1 [3] & Huge Weapons (ST) [1] = [4]

    nuStriking ST = Striking ST +1 (does not effect ST for weapon minimums -20%) [4]

    or

    nuStriking ST = Striking ST +1 [5] & Quirk: -1 to ST for minimum ST for weapons [-1] = [4]

    I’m suggesting treating the reduction in cost for Striking ST as a limitation because that keeps other versions of Striking ST (single attack, backstabbing, etc.) functionally the same.

    • tbone

      I think that’s great, and that anyone reading this article might really like your approach. I thought about that a little – an approach for groups that want to stick to RAW, but give (for example) dwarves the option of using Lifting ST instead for meeting weapon ST, through a perk or something – but decided to avoid exploring too many tangents. Mainly because I think an all-out universal swap would be the “right” approach (GURPS 5e, maybe? : ).
      But for a group that does want to allow either approach, I think you nailed it!

  • Matthias von Schwarzwald

    What about max ST? If Atomic Steroid Man’s Lifting and Striking ST differ, which determines the lightest stick-type object he can pick up to add a dozen dice to his combat damage?

    • tbone

      I briefly considered the matter of Max ST, and set it aside because it seemed to me there wasn’t anything to address. Although maybe I have that wrong…

      My thought: Swapping Lifting ST for Striking ST as the ST that helps meet weapon Min ST doesn’t have any bearing on Max ST. That is, if a mace has Min ST 12, then whether its wielder has ST 12+, or ST 10 and Lifting ST 2+, or whatever, none of that changes Max ST, which is 36, for sw 6d+1 dam. So anyone with (ST + Striking ST) of 36 or more swings the mace for 6d+1 dam.

      I don’t think my suggested swap makes any change in that. But maybe I’m missing the point?

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