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Old 07-14-2010, 04:41 PM   #1
vicky_molokh
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Default Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

Greetings, all!

It has been said that what other games call a backstab is a Telegraphic Targeted Attack to the Vitals in GURPS. However, I noticed the peculiarity of backstabs in other games: backstabbing requires a dagger, and not just any weapon. I've seen this rule in action in such games as Hexen, Arcanum, Thief, some interpretations/incarnations of D&D, and Warcraft.

Now, what is the reasoning for making daggers special - whether it is realistic, or some sort of cliché. Whether the former or latter, I would be interested in reading what makes it so.

Thanks in advance!
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Old 07-14-2010, 04:51 PM   #2
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

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Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
Now, what is the reasoning for making daggers special - whether it is realistic, or some sort of cliché. Whether the former or latter, I would be interested in reading what makes it so.
In the video games lots of weapons have special properties, this has as much to do with interface as anything else. What version of D&D only allowed backstabs with a dagger?
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Old 07-14-2010, 04:57 PM   #3
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

I always figured in those other things it was a game balance thing.

Thieves in these games don't do a lot of damage, they don't tend to be very strong, and their weapons don't tend to do a lot of damage. Mages, Warriors, and Clerics all can do lots of damage in combat.

So the backstab is a mechanic to give thieves extra damage in order to balance out the other classes. If anyone could backstab for the extra damage, then the Fighters, Clerics, Mages would also backstab...thus keeping the Thief at a lower damage amount than the other classes.

I don't think this is about in game justification, it is about meta game balance issues.
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Old 07-14-2010, 05:20 PM   #4
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

(using AD&D 2nd Ed as reference)

In the olden days, damage rolled was factored in mitigation (DR in GURPS). Armor represented both total glancing hits and those hits that were dead on but too weak to penetrate. The damage roll mechanic was supposed to account for some of the remaining mitigation.

A backstab was supposed to be a targeted attack where the victim is 'surprised' and cannot react to the attack and it is hitting his 'chink in the armor' and piercing something he finds useful to stay alive with (vitals).

The weapon choice had to be something light, stabby, easily concealable and useful at close quarters (presumably while the other hand covers the mouth or throat to stifle any screams of agony).

The thief's weapon selection in the olden days was limited to a short list of pointy weapons for the afformentioned backstabbing or club-like weapons for less leathal mugging and civilized criminality. The thief class could not learn to effectively use other weapons.

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Old 07-14-2010, 05:23 PM   #5
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

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Originally Posted by sir_pudding View Post

In the video games lots of weapons have special properties
Yep. It's a way of keeping everything relevant. While some video games have power hierarchies, most play an extended game of rock-paper-scissors: Gun A is damaging and accurate, but slow; Gun B is fast and damaging, but inaccurate; Gun C is accurate and fast, but low-damage; Gun D is damaging, accurate, and fast, but runs out of ammo after one blast; Gun E is none of damaging, accurate, or fast, but has some quality that makes it unique, like bouncing shots off walls or leaving behind persistent goo. "Can backstab" is just one of those Gun E properties, intended to make daggers cool when swords and bows are available.

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Originally Posted by sir_pudding View Post

What version of D&D only allowed backstabs with a dagger?
None that I know of. The restriction has always been "a weapon that thieves can use," and thieves have always had access to more than just daggers – clubs, quarterstaffs, shortswords, etc. In the very earliest incarnations, all weapons did 1d6 damage anyway . . . dagger or halberd, it wouldn't have mattered.
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Old 07-14-2010, 05:40 PM   #6
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

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Originally Posted by sir_pudding View Post
In the video games lots of weapons have special properties, this has as much to do with interface as anything else. What version of D&D only allowed backstabs with a dagger?
Some of the 2.5ish ones - probably AD&D with some of the bells and whistles from the many system-expanding books they had a time. I can't be more precise because I never GMed any D&D, and only vaguely know the system.
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Old 07-14-2010, 05:44 PM   #7
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

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Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
Some of the 2.5ish ones - probably AD&D with some of the bells and whistles from the many system-expanding books they had a time. I can't be more precise because I never GMed any D&D, and only vaguely know the system.
Seriously sounds like somebody's whacked out house rule. You'd have to ask them.
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Old 07-14-2010, 05:48 PM   #8
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

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Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
Some of the 2.5ish ones - probably AD&D with some of the bells and whistles from the many system-expanding books they had a time. I can't be more precise because I never GMed any D&D, and only vaguely know the system.
No in 1.0, 2.0 and 2.5 you could use a short sword to back stab with.
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Old 07-14-2010, 06:18 PM   #9
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

In AD&D 1.0 you could only Backstab with a club, a dagger or a sword. Sword included short sword, broad sword or longsword. The Thief could also use darts and slings, but wasn't allowed to Backstab with them. The way the Thief entry reads is like these weapons are very special, but it's really only the melee weapons he can use. However, multiclassing with Thief/Fighter didn't change this weapon restriction.

AFAICT Backstabbing didn't exist in D&D Basic, and only gave double damage in D&D Master editions. In AD&D 2nd Edition, the list expanded to include any weapon a thief could use, and that list was somewhat expanded. Backstabbing changed to Sneak Attack in 3rd and later editions, which differed significantly.
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Old 07-14-2010, 07:45 PM   #10
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Default Re: Backstab Technique: DFish games and reality...

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Originally Posted by vicky_molokh View Post
Greetings, all!

It has been said that what other games call a backstab is a Telegraphic Targeted Attack to the Vitals in GURPS.
Actually, there are lots of things that could be done in GURPS to model a "backstab"/"sneak attack" (a surprise attack, perhaps restricted to "from behind" but possibly not, that is more effective than a vanilla attack, which may or may not only be available to attackers with special training), because GURPS has a lot higher resolution in combat than most of the games that feature such a thing.


Among the possible elements:
Almost All-Out Attack option (the advantage of surprise means you don't have to worry about defense, so you can concentrate on maximizing your effectiveness)
Telegraphic Attack (the advantage of surprise means you don't have to worry about the opponent defending, so you can concentrate on maximizing your effectiveness), using the bonus to offset penalties to strike a vulnerable location
Use of Power Blow skill (the advantage of surprise means you can take extra time setting up) by someone with an appropriate Weapon Master advantage.

Note that nothing prohibits using all these together: a "backstab" could involve setup with Power Blow skill (damage adds to next attack), followed by All-Out Attack (Strong) using the Telegraphic Attack option to target the Vitals.

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However, I noticed the peculiarity of backstabs in other games: backstabbing requires a dagger, and not just any weapon.
Others have debated whether this restriction is common, but certainly GURPS can (with somewhat more flexibility) do something like it. While the thief may be skilled in multiple weapons, they may only have Weapon Master (Knife), and so only be able to use Power Blow with weapons that use Knife skill. So, they could still get some "backstab" like effect, but they'd only get the maximum effect with Knife-type weapons (including the dagger.)
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