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Old 07-03-2018, 01:47 PM   #1
Kilmore
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Default Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

I am not a professional GURPist. This is all my take from the Basic rules. I'm looking to have errors corrected.

My impending Fantasy campaign will have a lot of fighting in urban environments. Among these, indeed in the earliest encounters, will be battles on flights of stairs. To that end I'm trying to get good on the rules for such. The one thing assumed about the stairs is that each is 8 inches high, and 9 inches deep on the map (though actual dimensions may differ due to overhang). There are 4 stairs per hex. Different factors such as whether the stairs have vertical boards or what kind of baluster or wall they have are left open to consider different possibilities later on. The basis of much of this exposition lies in Book 2 of the Basic rules on pages 402-403, under the heading “Combat at Different Levels”.

A diagram -- https://imgur.com/jJUxg2v -- has been prepared to illustrate the positions from which combatants may face one another in this combat. All combatants are assumed to be carrying Reach: 1 weapons unless noted otherwise. Scribbled notes on the diagram tell the height of each step in inches.

Green figure “A” engaging red figure “B” is fighting at a level 2 feet above him, and is therefore (assuming the use of hit locations) at a -2 to hit his feet or legs, but at a +1 to strike his head. Meanwhile Figure 'B' is at +2 to hit 'A's feet or legs, but -2 to hit his head.

Red figure 'C' is engaging green figure 'A' in close combat with appropriate weapons. The difference between them is between a foot or two and has no effect on combat.

Figure 'A' against figure 'D' are a similar situation as 'A' and 'B', except that they are subject to whatever effects the baluster or wall may have.

Red figure 'E' is in a similar height situation to 'B' and 'D' against 'A', but also has the bulk of the stairs between him and 'A'. I suppose the easiest way to simulate this is with a blanket -3 to hit between 'A' and 'E' unless one or the other intends to simply power through the stairs. Perhaps this can be reduced to -1 or -2 if 'A' is facing and engaging 'E'.

'F' has a 4' height advantage over 'E', giving him a +2 to defend vs. 'E's -2 to defend vs. 'F'. In addition, the railing or banister has it's usual effect. 'G' vs. 'F' is at the same height disadvantage, but with the stairs between them, only wild swings (pg. 388) are possible at -5 unless 'F' is facing off against 'G' in which the penalty drops to -3. Again the baluster or wall has its effect.

'H' has a 6' height advantage over 'G', with +3 defense for 'G' and -3 for 'H'.

Combat between 'I' in his position against either 'H' or 'J' is effectively impossible with a Range: 1 weapon.

Figure 'K' is lurking beneath 'F' under the stairs. Assuming the stairway is just horizontal planks with no vertical risers, he can target the feet and legs of 'A', or more specifically Evaluate the space that 'A' occupies, quite possibly unnoticed, and stab. Even if 'A' moves, anyone entering the hex is liable to an Evaluated attack from 'K'. This attack only can target the feet or legs. Due to the nature of the space, swinging attacks are at -4 while impaling attacks are unaffected. If there's a vertical board blocking him from attacking 'A' he can attempt to attack through it, or likewise stab vertically against 'F'.

Baluster:
A baluster is the posts and railing often found beside a flight of steps. Typically, a baluster beside the stairway provides a Defense Bonus of 4 (more or less according to how heavy and ornate it is) and like a shield (B. 484) is struck if the target is missed by the margin of the defense bonus. Damage in excess of the railing's DR + HP/4 penetrates or cleaves through the railing to the target. On average the DR is 4 and the penetration threshold is 10 for a wooden baluster. Stone and iron are appropriately more.

Wall:
The baluster may be replaced with a short wall, typically of plywood or plaster. This cover provides cover for two combatants facing off on different sides, regardless of whether they are in melee or ranged combat. Use the standard rules on B. 407-408 in addition to those above.
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Old 07-03-2018, 02:29 PM   #2
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
I am not a professional GURPist. This is all my take from the Basic rules. I'm looking to have errors corrected.
This all seems more or less right. Just remember that anyone fighting on stairs might need to make DX rolls to avoid tripping since they're fighting on uneven ground (unless they have Sure-Footed (Uneven)).

I'm not sure it's RAW, but any attempt at a swinging attack through the balustrade will be virtually impossible, except for short swings which perfectly parallel the individual balusters. Thrusting attacks should be easier but still carry a penalty.

Assuming typical balusters are 4" apart and are ~36" high, let's call that Size -8 by width, Size -2 by height. So, it seems fair to assess a -8 penalty for swinging attacks and a -2 penalty for thrusting attacks. But, anything wider than 4", like a large man's fist, isn't going to go through the gap regardless of the attack type.

For Area or ranged weapon attacks, assume that the balusters provide about 25-50% cover for the lower portion of the body, more or less if the attacker is below or above the target.

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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
Green figure “A” engaging red figure “B” is fighting at a level 2 feet above him, and is therefore (assuming the use of hit locations) at a -2 to hit his feet or legs, but at a +1 to strike his head. Meanwhile Figure 'B' is at +2 to hit 'A's feet or legs, but -2 to hit his head.
Yep, per RAW. The fighters might also have penalties to defense rolls as well.

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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
Red figure 'C' is engaging green figure 'A' in close combat with appropriate weapons. The difference between them is between a foot or two and has no effect on combat.
I believe that's correct, especially if they're grappling. (But, if B is also attempting to attack A he's got the problems that B is in his way - use the Striking into Melee rules to figure out the potential nasty effects.)

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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
Figure 'A' against figure 'D' are a similar situation as 'A' and 'B', except that they are subject to whatever effects the baluster or wall may have.
Nothing in Basic Set rules regarding this, but I think you're right.

Note that if D were to move one hex to the right, while A stays where he is, either A or D will get a bonus for attacking B from a side hex, depending on B's facing.

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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
Red figure 'E' is in a similar height situation to 'B' and 'D' against 'A', but also has the bulk of the stairs between him and 'A'.
E has the benefit from attacking from a side hex, which limits A's attempts to attack and defend.

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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
'F' has a 4' height advantage over 'E', giving him a +2 to defend vs. 'E's -2 to defend vs. 'F'. In addition, the railing or banister has it's usual effect.
At this point, don't forget weapon Reach. 4' of vertical height + 3' of horizontal distance = 5' of linear distance. That means that E & F will need weapons with Reach 2+ to attack each other, unless they're using ranged attacks.

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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
'G' vs. 'F' is at the same height disadvantage, but with the stairs between them, only wild swings (pg. 388) are possible at -5 unless 'F' is facing off against 'G' in which the penalty drops to -3. Again the baluster or wall has its effect.
Same problem as E & F, above. Unless they're using pikestaffs or something similar they can't touch each other. Additionally, were any character on the staircase to use a melee weapon with a Reach greater than 1, as GM you can penalize use of that weapon in cramped conditions, unless they're thrusting or swinging directly along the line of the staircase.

People adjacent to the staircase face no such problems, assuming that they have sufficient open space around them.

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Originally Posted by Kilmore View Post
Figure 'K' is lurking beneath 'F' under the stairs. Assuming the stairway is just horizontal planks with no vertical risers, he can target the feet and legs of 'A', or more specifically Evaluate the space that 'A' occupies, quite possibly unnoticed, and stab. Even if 'A' moves, anyone entering the hex is liable to an Evaluated attack from 'K'. This attack only can target the feet or legs. Due to the nature of the space, swinging attacks are at -4 while impaling attacks are unaffected. If there's a vertical board blocking him from attacking 'A' he can attempt to attack through it, or likewise stab vertically against 'F'.
The guy hiding under the stairs is going to have a serious disadvantage making any sort of melee attack through the stairs, even with an open staircase, except, maybe, for grapples to his opponent's ankles.

For a simple grapple or thrust melee weapon attack, I'd give a -2 penalty due to the width and length of the gap (~12" x ~36"), plus the usual penalties for cramped quarters or a crouching or kneeling position, and hit location modifiers to attack the leg or foot.

But, against that, you get a +4 bonus to attack from an unexpected direction and your opponent might not get a defense roll if you attack from the rear.

Shooting a firearm or similar weapon through the stairs would just have the usual modifiers for cover, plus reductions in damage for penetrating the stair treads. (And, subsequently, the damaged parts of the stairs will count as uneven ground due to the bullet hole and associated splintering.)
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Old 07-03-2018, 03:07 PM   #3
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

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Originally Posted by Pursuivant View Post
I'm not sure it's RAW, but any attempt at a swinging attack through the balustrade will be virtually impossible, except for short swings which perfectly parallel the individual balusters. Thrusting attacks should be easier but still carry a penalty.
GURPS Underground Adventures has a couple paragraphs on this on p12, the short of which is that if there's not clear room for your attack mode you're penalized as if in close combat. It references Martial Arts p117, which might just be covering those close combat penalties - there's a cat laying on my hands so I can't reach the book right now.


If you've only got Basic and thus don't have access to those penalties, I'd suggest that if the stairwell (or any other corridor) is neither wider nor taller than your weapon's maximum reach, just say no to Swing attacks. Note that narrow stairs can have good overhead clearance.

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But, against that, you get a +4 bonus to attack from an unexpected direction and your opponent might not get a defense roll if you attack from the rear.
What +4 bonus?

You can choose to do a Telegraphic Attack for +4 (and +2 to enemy defenses, if they get any) and you can choose to do an AOA for +4. (And those are stackable.) But I'm pretty sure there's no +4 bonus for an unexpected angle of attack. That would be pretty bizarre as a bonus to attack rather than a penalty to defend.
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Old 07-05-2018, 01:41 PM   #4
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

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There's a cat laying on my hands so I can't reach the book right now.
They do that. On Purpose.

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If you've only got Basic and thus don't have access to those penalties, I'd suggest that if the stairwell (or any other corridor) is neither wider nor taller than your weapon's maximum reach, just say no to Swing attacks. Note that narrow stairs can have good overhead clearance.
I'd slightly disagree. Most two-handed swinging weapons are held relatively low and close to the body. For example, two-handed sword use starts from a stance where the hilt of the sword is roughly at groin level.

Unless you're going for A-o-A (strong) Telegraphic attacks at maximum reach, making yourself look like a stereotypical barbarian hero on the cover of a fantasy novel in the process, it is possible use Reach C,1,2 melee weapons in somewhat cramped quarters, and even use them to make effective swing attacks! Just make sure the weapon's tip doesn't go much above your head, and that you keep your swinging attacks in the more or less vertical plane (like chopping wood).

The exceptions are that purely swinging weapons where the weapon's length is longer than the narrowest dimension of the space will have problems. You have to choke up on the shaft and even then you've got a lot of excess pole sticking out behind your body. That seriously messes with your ability to attack and defend, especially if you're on a slope or a staircase where the ground is higher behind you, forcing you to hold the weapon with the head facing downwards.

At that point, you're pretty much limited to thrusts, and you'll have a hell of a time getting your weapon around corners. Using a pikestaff in a realistic cave setting isn't recommended!

Many years ago, my local SCA group used to put on demos at gaming cons, showing that it is possible to effectively use a two-handed sword, or a dueling glaive, in your stereotypical 10' wide x 10' high corridor, or even your OSHA minimum 3' x 7' high corridor.

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Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
You can choose to do a Telegraphic Attack for +4 (and +2 to enemy defenses, if they get any) and you can choose to do an AOA for +4. (And those are stackable.) But I'm pretty sure there's no +4 bonus for an unexpected angle of attack. That would be pretty bizarre as a bonus to attack rather than a penalty to defend.
That's what I meant. I was thinking of the +4 for AoA, since there's no need to defend if you're attacking from below and behind your foe.
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Old 07-05-2018, 02:10 PM   #5
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

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Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
It references Martial Arts p117, which might just be covering those close combat penalties - there's a cat laying on my hands so I can't reach the book right now.
Luckily for me all my books are also in pdf... so if I can access the intrawebs, I can access mine books.

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If you've only got Basic and thus don't have access to those penalties, I'd suggest that if the stairwell (or any other corridor) is neither wider nor taller than your weapon's maximum reach, just say no to Swing attacks. Note that narrow stairs can have good overhead clearance.
That's a good off the cuff ruling. I'd allow for half-damage swings if the corridor were between half to full length of the weapon. No swings if it were under half the length of the weapon.




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Originally Posted by Pursuivant View Post
Many years ago, my local SCA group used to put on demos at gaming cons, showing that it is possible to effectively use a two-handed sword, or a dueling glaive, in your stereotypical 10' wide x 10' high corridor, or even your OSHA minimum 3' x 7' high corridor.
One - The SCA isn't 'real' combat. It's Sport versions of the melee skills, which means you aren't doing full power strikes.

Two - You can still thrust with no penalty in a corridor, even under the harsh rules in Martial Arts and Underground Adventures.
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Old 07-05-2018, 02:33 PM   #6
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

In a castles the tower stairs are usually counter clockwise.

This gives a defender, fighting backwards up the stair, more room to swing their weapon and allows them to use the central column for cover... while an attacker is hampered in their swing and has less ability to hide behind the column.

There a,so often is an odd step, higher or lower than the rest. A defender familiar with the stair knows about it, an attacker may not.

One - The SCA isn't 'real' combat. It's Sport versions of the melee skills, which means you aren't doing full power strikes.

...and of course it’s impossible to even attempt full power attacks for demonstration purposes.

Any SCA fighter who picks up a random stick is automatically limited to swinging it half speed, regardless of circumstances. This also makes them poor baseball players.

Last edited by tanksoldier; 07-05-2018 at 02:37 PM.
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Old 07-05-2018, 09:37 PM   #7
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

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In a castles the tower stairs are usually counter clockwise.
I recently saw a video by a medieval fighting expert – I think it was Matt Easton – claiming that the clockwise/counterclockwise design of tower stairs as a tactical consideration is a myth; in actuality, both orientations are common.

BUT... whether that's true or not, I'd make it true in a game world! A scenario involving tower stairs, with some simple rules for how a spiral staircase affects melee, sounds fun.
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Old 07-06-2018, 02:55 PM   #8
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

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One - The SCA isn't 'real' combat. It's Sport versions of the melee skills, which means you aren't doing full power strikes.
While SCA fighters are trained to pull their blows, they ARE capable of launching full-power strikes, and occasionally do so. The bigger problems with the style are the restricted target areas, lack of close-combat or grappling techniques, lack of training in properly parrying "live steel" weapons, and polearms and other mass weapons which can be a bit lighter than their live steel equivalents.

The bigger problem for a fight in a narrow corridor or staircase is the lack of space. Although, if you use a low stance and a low guard, you can deliver a decent vertical strike with a two-handed sword or dueling glaive (i.e., nothing more than about 5' long) the recovery for the next strike or defense will be a problem.

That's why I suggested that Telegraphic or All-Out (Strong) attacks either shouldn't be allowed or should have greater penalties, in such conditions. Or, to make it simpler, rule that any attack made without using a Defensive Grip will take (additional) penalties.

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Two - You can still thrust with no penalty in a corridor, even under the harsh rules in Martial Arts and Underground Adventures.
Then RAW are wrong.

If you've got a long "pole weapon" and you've "choked up" on the grip, you'll have a lot of the haft behind you. That "extra" length will get in your way in close quarters.

I'd suggest that you need a horizontal distance of (weapon length + 3') between you and your target, and you and whatever obstacles are behind you, in order to effectively use a polearm or spear in a narrow space. Anything less than that gives you a -3 penalty to hit or to defend per missing foot of distance, assuming the GM allows the attack at all.

If you choke up on the weapon, so that you can strike a nearby opponent, you're effectively assuming a "Defensive Grip." In any case, the minimum space required to use your weapon doesn't change.

If you've got rising ground behind you, like if you're defending a staircase using a spear, you'll have additional problems since the weapon's haft will bang against the ground, limiting your angles of attack and defense against opponents who are at the same height as you are (e.g., fliers, or people thrusting or shooting at you from a balcony that overlooks the stairs). In cases like those, double penalties for lack of space and give a further -3 penalty per yard of ground rise behind you.

For example, if you're using a 12' pike to defend a 15' corridor, you can thrust without problems since you have sufficient clearance behind you. But, if an opponent gets within your guard and you have to choke up by 3' to get the pike point between you and him, you will have a -9 penalty because you've effectively only got 12' of space to maneuver a 12' long weapon.

If you were using the same 12' pike to defend an 18' staircase, you're sufficiently far down the staircase that you're 15' away from your foes, and there is 3' of staircase rise behind you, the same conditions apply, but you have a -3 penalty because of the staircase behind you interfering with your ability to move the weapon.
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Old 07-06-2018, 03:29 PM   #9
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

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BUT... whether that's true or not, I'd make it true in a game world! A scenario involving tower stairs, with some simple rules for how a spiral staircase affects melee, sounds fun.
The legend is that the Kerr family of Scotland, noted for their unusually high percentage of left-handed fighters, built the staircases in one of their castles in a counterclockwise direction.

If both fighters are right-handed, it makes no difference if you're attacking or defending on a clockwise or counterclockwise (as seen from the bottom) spiral staircase using a sword and shield. In either case, you'll have a wall to protect your non-shielded side (inside for the attack, outside for the defender) while you can deliver overhand, underhand, or reverse-handed blows. The only real limitation is your ability to deliver blows swung in an arc more or less horizontal to the unshielded side of your body. Additionally, low ceiling height will mess with your ability to deliver overhand blows.

If you're a right-handed fighter using a short polearm or spear and right-hand leading stance, the attacker might have a slight disadvantage since more of his back is exposed, which limits his ability to defend. This is easily corrected by reversing stance so that the left hand leads.

In all cases, the big deal when fighting on a clockwise spiral staircase is that a right-handed attacker's stance tends to force him to the inside of the staircase, where the treads are narrower and the risk of tripping is greater. Same thing for a lefty on a counterclockwise staircase.

There's also the issue of familiarity, since there were no building codes for castles. (Other than who could build them and where, and how big they could be. Kings objected, usually violently, if their vassals started erecting unpermitted fortifications . . . especially if they could house an entire army.) If you train to defend staircases in a particular castle, you'll be more familiar with them.

If you want to get all fiddly with rules, assign a -2 penalty for fighting on a spiral staircase, which can be negated with the Surefooted (Spiral Staircase or Uneven) perk. The GM can also require periodic DX rolls, possibly at a penalty, if you're fighting on slippery (i.e., bloody, damp, oily, or slimy) stairs or if you need to clamber over a fallen body.

Finally, many fighters (both right- AND left-handed) aren't used to fighting lefties. Apply a +1 bonus to attacks if you're a lefty fighting an opponent who isn't familiar with fighting lefties, until your foe can make an IQ-based weapon skill roll to adapt. Treat experience fighting all manner of left-handed foes as a Style Familiarity perk.

Last edited by Pursuivant; 07-06-2018 at 03:33 PM.
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Old 07-06-2018, 03:31 PM   #10
Ulzgoroth
 
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Default Re: Exposition on a battle on a flight of stairs, using the GURPS rules

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Then RAW are wrong.

If you've got a long "pole weapon" and you've "choked up" on the grip, you'll have a lot of the haft behind you. That "extra" length will get in your way in close quarters.
You've made a very generous expansion of evileeyore's brief statement. Especially so since 'choking up' on the grip is your own injection to the subject. Weapons, as you surely know, have minimum reach, and there are specific rules (not, by the way, Defensive Grip) if you're looking to employ it at a shorter distance.
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I'd suggest that you need a horizontal distance of (weapon length + 3') between you and your target, and you and whatever obstacles are behind you, in order to effectively use a polearm or spear in a narrow space. Anything less than that gives you a -3 penalty to hit or to defend per missing foot of distance, assuming the GM allows the attack at all.
This is, in fact, vaguely reminiscent of the full rules - but not particularly necessary to the discussion that was taking place.
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