Intro: “It’s just a scrape!”
In action fiction, an endless succession of lucky nicks, scrapes, and near-miss bullet scratches keep heros nicely bloodied but not inconveniently dead. We can do the same in gaming, too. Even under a gritty combat system like GURPS‘, it’s easy to set up such hide-saving grazes to handle heroic flesh-wounds – and, as a bonus, simulate armor deflection of attacks better than 3e‘s old Passive Defense stat did.
These rules are born of some old writings, but please take a new look anyway; there’s a lot of added and updated material.
A note on PD
Old rules on this site have long suggested tossing out GURPS 3e‘s Passive Defense stat, after which 4e came along and did just that. The game is better without the problems PD causes, namely that of jacking Active Defenses up too high for comfort. So long, PD!
But aren’t we also losing PD’s legitimate purpose: simulating the deflection of a glancing blow by armor? Well, that was PD’s supposed task, but it never performed an impressive job of it. First, PD didn’t seem terribly necessary, as DR alone deflects blows just fine if it’s high enough. Which it often isn’t, true, so that’s where PD stepped in – and greatly overstepped, letting any attack glance off of armor. (Falling piano? Spang!!! Deflected.) So we needed a patch to adjust PD for high-damage blows. Further, there was no provision for skilled attackers to bypass PD by simply making straight, sure blows; PD defeated master swordsmen and bumbling novices evenly. A final complication: For some magical or other special attacks, we had to specify whether the attack ignores DR, PD, or both.
Perhaps most odd was that PD was meant to simulate deflection of a glancing blow, yet the game never bothered to define or otherwise pay attention to the concept of glancing blows in the first place. That’s something of a missed opportunity, as the cinematic staple of a “just a flesh wound” graze is important for any hero in heroic fiction, not just armored ones! It’s a given part of the hero’s day that a musket ball will barely score his left temple (“Ugh! Passing out…”), an arrow will nick his shoulder, and a fearsome duelist’s rapier thrust will miss his midsection to just slice clothes and a little skin along the ribs. Follow those lucky escapes with a quick scene of manly self-stitching, and the hero is ready for action again.
(And note: While this “luckily just a scrape” business happens an awful lot to cinematic heroes, it’s 100% a real-life thing, too! Whether you like cinematic or realistic action, it’s worth asking whether this outcome can be easily added to the game.)
Definition of graze
Let a graze be a glancing blow, or any off-center, fleeting, or otherwise unimpressive touch that doesn’t strike squarely. It happens on either of these conditions:
- An attack roll just hits (success by 0); or
- A defense roll just fails (failure by 1)
Effects of a graze
The key effects of a graze are:
- Give the defender +2 on Active Defense(s) if the graze resulted from a barely-made-it attack roll. (The reason is simple: the attack is almost a miss to begin with, requiring less-than-usual effort to deflect or dodge.)
- Halve the basic hits of a graze, as not all of the energy goes into the target.
- Double the target’s DR on a graze, as the blow strikes it at a sharp angle.
- If an attack is connected with effects other than damage (such as a resisted spell), the graze offers +2 on appropriate resistance rolls.
Example: An attack just manages to hit you (success by 0). You get +2 on any Active Defense rolls to avoid this graze. If it still hits, the blow scrapes your side or otherwise is weak. Halve its basic hits and double your DR.
Alternately, if the TH roll indicates a normal hit but your defense roll doesn’t quite succeed (failure by 1), that too means a graze. Halve the blow’s basic hits and double your DR.
Some of the above effects won’t always apply. If you’re grazed by a surprise attack, you get no Active Defense anyway, so the +2 defense bonus means nothing. If you don’t have armor, the doubled DR means nothing, but the halving of basic hits is still welcome. And so on.
For poisons and other afflictions, both the damage reduction and the +2 on resistance rolls may apply, if a glancing touch, slight nick, etc. would logically deliver less of the affliction. Use GM judgment.
Variants and Options
Additional graze effects
If you like, also add any of the below to the effects of a graze:
- Whenever a defender makes two defense rolls (such as in All-Out Defense), let a graze result on the first defense roll add +2 to the second roll. (Example: Your Parry succeeds only partly, deflecting a solid spear thrust to run along your side – which makes the spear even easier for your follow-up Dodge to avoid altogether.)
- An impaling or piercing attack delivers only cutting damage as it slides by (similar to the tip slash from Martial Arts 113). This changes wounding modifiers, and may also change effective DR for some armors.
- It should be obvious (and quickly apparent in play) that a single blow can be turned into a graze twice, once each on the attack and defense (or even three times when All-Out Defense allows two defense rolls). If you like detail (and unpredictable surprises) in combat, let the above conditions and effects stack for multiple “levels” of graze! With basic hits quartered and DR quadrupled from two “levels” of graze (barely a touch, really!), even what should have been a vaporizing attack may leave you standing.
Here’s an intentionally busy example in which Lots of Stuff Happens, to fully explore stacking effects:
You wisely go on All-Out Defense (Double Defense) against a spear-wielding Giant who’s intent on making hero-kebab. The raging man-beast’s thrust to your torso barely hits (success by 0), so that’s a graze. You get a +2 on defense rolls vs this off-center attack. Even with that bonus, your first Active Defense, a Dodge, fails – but only by 1. It’s another graze as you manage to further lessen the blow!
You take yet another +2 on your second Active Defense. Alas, even with a +4 bonus, you run out of luck, and your follow-up Block fails completely (by 2 or more). We move on to damage.
For each instance of graze (two in this case), halve basic hits and double DR. The Giant rolls 25 basic hits; divide by 4 to get 6 basic hits, for both damage and knockback purposes. Multiply your light armor’s DR 1 by 4 to get DR 4. Net result: 6 basic hits – DR 4 = 2 hits that penetrate. These hits are no longer impaling; treat as cutting. Final damage for this cut along the torso is 3 points.
Wait, the spear was also poisoned! (Lousy cheating Giant.) The GM rules that a poor hit would deliver less venom; whatever the effects of the toxin, the two graze results let you divide damage by 4 and take +4 on resistance rolls.
Here’s what happened in descriptive terms: The Giant’s skewering thrust is poorly aimed; it ends up as a weaker – but still potentially deadly – slash along your ribcage. Prepared for the attack, you twist aside; not as successfully as you’d hoped, yet enough to further turn the stab into a touch. (With the blow so nearly a full miss, it should be particularly easy for your second Active Defense to finally nullify it; in our example, though, you fail that action.)
The scrape hits with modest force (6 basic hits), not quite enough to knock you down. Striking at an oblique angle, most of that force then slides off your armor. What’s left is still painful, as befits a “touch” from an angry Giant; it does slice the armor, and your side as well. But that cut leaves you fighting, whereas a solid strike would have run you through like a marshmallow. In addition, you receive only a fraction of the venom that a solid stab would have delivered.
Varied deflection ability
Even if PD didn’t do a great job of its intended simulation, different armors’ varied PD stats did allow a varying degree of deflection ability distinct from DR. These rules, on the other hand, tie deflection ability directly to DR.
I doubt many GMs would find a problem with that; it makes perfect sense that an armor’s deflection ability against a glancing blow would vary directly with its deflection ability against a straight-on strike. Still, if you want to in some way recreate 3e‘s separation of deflection ability from DR, here are a couple of ideas:
- Vary the DR multiplier for a graze with armor type. Use the suggested DR x2 for most armor, but, say, x3 for a type with superior deflection vs angled attacks. (Idea for recycling 3e‘s PD stats: Use (1 + PD/2) as the multiplier?)
- Vary the range of TH or defense outcomes that result in a graze. Use the suggested TH success by 0 or defense failure by 1 for most armors, but increase that to success by 0 or 1, and failure by 1 or 2, respectively, for some highly-deflecting armor. Even wider ranges are possible. (Idea for recycling 3e‘s PD stats:Use PD -1, minimum 1, as the width of the range.)
- At the risk of overdoing things, use the above two together.
What sort of armors would justify such treatment? Perhaps those with unusually smooth (even high-tech super-slick) surfaces, or surfaces that somehow offer extremely oblique angles vs most attacks. In any case, I think the core suggested rule already does a fine job of boosting armor’s value vs grazes; I would leave extras like the above as super-enhancements for magical or high-tech armor.
Notes for GURPS 3e
These rules are expressly designed for use without 3e‘s PD stat for armor, replacing that stat with something that works better. If you really want to use discretely-determined grazes, per these rules, together with old-fashioned PD, you’ll have to cobble something together. Ideas:
- Remove the PD stat from defense rolls, as 4e does. Instead, let it modify the DR multiplier for a graze, or the width of the range of outcomes determining a range, per suggestions under Varied deflection ability above.
- Remove the PD stat from defense rolls, as 4e does, except on a graze. Instead of these rules’ flat +2, add PD to Active Defense on a graze.
- Just play 3e as it is, PD and all, and add these rules on top of things!
Perhaps an easier option, though, is simply to upgrade to 4e‘s rules all around for PD-related areas – i.e., drop PD (and any auxiliary rules that reference it), and give Active Defenses a flat +3 bonus instead. You can still keep the rest of your game running on 3e rules – and from there tack on these rules for grazes, or many other rules from this site.
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 very specific, easy-to-determine conditions. Give it a try, at least in the smaller combats where you aren’t already trying to drop as many rules as possible!
The basic idea is old, but the addition of a graze offering +2 on defense roll(s), and changing impaling/piercing attacks to cutting, is new stuff. Let me know if your playtesting turns up troubles!
1) Can’t a low damage roll alone define a graze? (“You rolled a 1; your blow is off-target and just scrapes the Orc’s hide.”) Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that. DR handles the results accordingly: a high-basic-hits “straight-on” blow gets past DR, while a low-basic-hits “glancing” blow is defeated by it.
These rules’ definition of a graze does add a little zest, though. Specifically:
- There’s the possibility of really bringing down damage, beyond a low damage roll alone. That, plus the DR boost, can let a PC survive a real heaping handful of dice. (Remember: the more the damage dice, the more likely that the roll will end up close to average, rarely ever yielding that heroic low roll that saves the PC’s skin.)
- With these rules, a graze is dependent upon skill, as it should be! Skilled attackers will usually strike solidly, while clumsy ones will often hit poorly for less damage. Meanwhile, skilled defenders will usually avoid all of a blow, while clumsy ones will often take it at least partly on the chin. All of that is good news for PCs, who are typically skilled fighters surrounded by clumsy foes!
2) It should go without saying, but using these rules’ version of armor deflection, there’s no need to adjust results for damage level in the way that 3e had to adjust PD protection for high-damage attacks. Boosted DR alone handles all of our concerns: A glancing sword blow will likely bounce off of plate mail’s doubled DR, while a cannonball graze will still shred the armor (and probably the wearer) thanks to damage that’s fearsome even when basic hits are halved and DR is doubled. Nice and neat; no extra steps needed.
3) Original old rules used the term “glancing blow” for the effect being simulated here; I switched to “graze” for its shortness. Another good term would be simply “near miss”, assuming the actual meaning of the term (i.e., a hit!) and not the colloquial opposite meaning (a miss).
4) Early rules used the below as the determinants of a graze:
- An attack roll fails by 1; or
- A defense roll fails by 1
That double use of “fail by 1” is clean and easy to remember. It also has an advantage in “balance”: Turning an attack failure by 1 into a graze is bad for the defender (as it would have been a clean miss without the graze rule), but turning a defense failure by 1 into a graze is good for the defender (as it would have been a solid hit without the graze rule). The two together leave combat balance unchanged.
Similarly, using the alternate determinants
- An attack roll succeeds by 0; or
- A defense roll succeeds by 0
is also clean, and preserves combat balance.
So why change things in these rules to “attack succeeds by 0, defense fails by 1”? It’s only 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 under these rules), while you should have to clearly fail a defense to be hit at all (even if weakly under these rules). Those are the expectations set by GURPS. Contrary to that, the above two alternatives have the effect of changing either some “failed” attacks into weak hits, or some “successful” defenses into partial defenses, respectively.
That nod to expectations aside, I personally prefer the alternatives above for their neatness and balance! Feel free to use either; you need only justify the first variant with the explanation “a weak hit counts as a ‘failed’ attack”, and the second variant with “partially avoiding damage is still a ‘successful’ defense”.
5) A graze can apply to slams. A target that partially avoids a slam gets to halve knockback and any damage. The slammer, meanwhile, would logically lose only half the momentum he would lose on a direct slam.
(What would be the effects of a graze – i.e., that fine border between success and failure – on other actions like grapples, takedowns, etc.? I leave that to readers’ suggestions.)
If a vehicle does the slamming, a graze is a sideswipe. A simple, single graze is still a fairly nasty hit where multi-ton vehicles are involved. A fairly light car-on-car sideswipe, involving lots of scraping and swerving and maybe a flying hubcap or bumper, but not much worse, is simulated by two or three “levels” of graze (for 1/4 or 1/8 damage, x4 or x8 DR, etc.).
6) Changing topic but still speaking of cars: The idea to multiply DR for a graze is the same concept that Vehicles applies to sloping armor. A graze is a hit that strikes armor at a sharp “slope”.
7) How would you intentionally scrape a target with a graze? I don’t know; -2 TH? Or maybe -2 TH per level of graze if you want to really finesse things (i.e., -6 TH for a whisper of a hit: x1/8 damage, x8 DR)? Should you miss with this tricky attack, I can see the blow going either way: 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 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).
What do you think, rules hackers?
8) I don’t have rules for the oft-discussed “draw cut”, a long slice with a sharp weapon. One common and easy idea holds that, for game purposes, this is just one descriptive version of a normal attack. On the other hand, if you do want to game it as a separate entity, my off-the-top-of-the-head take would be that it’d offer superior damage (a higher cutting multiplier?), for some weapons – notably, those both long and particularly sharp. But I’d also award armor a multiplier – say, the same DR x2 used in these rules.
The reason I bring this up as a tangent is simply to note that the above “draw cut” resembles an intentional graze!
Take these rules to the game table for a little extra simulationist fun. Watch the nicks, scrapes, and flesh wounds pile up! Let me know how it works for you.