Knife Vs. Bat - A Tabletop RPG Investigation

In my hubris I have volunteered on the Waypoint discord to settle the eternal question asked in a recent question bucket episode of the Waypoint podcast - “Knife or Bat?” My method for resolving this matter is not to endanger myself or others in some dark alleyway, however, but rather to fight the only way I know…RPGs, baby!

I have chosen to begin this thought experiment with the GURPS system, 4th edition. GURPS (Generic Universal Roleplaying System) is an old, old favorite of mine, one of the first I really took a deep dive into during my adolescence. The rules are very dense, having originated with Man To Man, a tactical combat rules set for fantasy combat that got fleshed out into a roleplaying game. I fully expect it to be a bit of a slog and I plan on documenting every little detail as best I can to most accurately represent this deceptively simple scenario.

If this works out okay, I plan on trying the same fight with other systems, with a likely bias toward crunch but maybe some fun dips into rules lite and story-based games for contrast.

Some self-imposed ground rules first:

  1. The two opponents are meant to be as basic as possible. Like, no-combat-training, mundane-ass normal folks tossed into a horrible mortal conflict. I’m calling them Bat Wielder and Knife Wielder, but beyond that they are to be blank slates, empty vessels with civilian-type stats.
  2. The fight will begin at the equivalent of 25 feet away from each other in an otherwise featureless corridor. Both fighters begin aware of each other and armed with their chosen weapon.
  3. The opponents cannot run away during the combat UNLESS their fake life is actually endangered. In other words, depending on system, they won’t try to flee until their health is real low or otherwise represented as being in near mortal condition.
  4. I’ll be running each fight for myself, using Roll20 to handle die rolls and tracking things like map position (should they be part of the system used).
  5. I’ll try to record as much as I can of what occurs in text and present it here on this forum thread. Comments are welcome, though I reserve the right to ignore complaints about the inevitable errors I make along the way.
  6. I’ll try to end each fight with some thoughts on how it went, how long it took, and what I learned about the relative virtues of bats and knives.

This is a dumb idea. It is a not very productive idea. But it is my idea and I feel a need to share it with y’all on here for your entertainment and commentary.

Next post: setting up the fight in GURPS

4 Likes

No idea how gurps models movement or reach, but irl one of the bat’s advantages is reach (aside from knife being thrown, which untrained is unlikely to turn out well for the thrower). If bat wielder can’t run away, that seems biased against them.

No idea how gurps models movement or reach, but irl one of the bat’s advantages is reach (aside from knife being thrown, which untrained is unlikely to turn out well for the thrower). If bat wielder can’t run away, that seems biased against them.

There are indeed rules for reach. There are also rules for retreating defenses, which represents the ability of the fighter to give up ground in order to increase Dodge or Parry.

What if tho, knife bat?

2 Likes

In other words: this is the best idea.

4 Likes

In these debates I’ve always felt the Bat’s stand-off capabilities are underrated. I’d take the bat and hold it more like a spear to keep the knife wielder out of range.

1 Like

Ah, but how much damage can you deal simply by poking someone with the tip of a bat?

I bit poking someone with the tip of a knife is way more potentially advantageous than poking someone with the tip of a bat!

Not taking sides though, I’m just asking questions!

-Signed, Knife Council for Advocating Knives, Knifily

3 Likes

I defer to Unknown Armies’s approach: A melee weapon does damage based on weather it is Big, Heavy or Sharp.

A Bat is Big and Heavy.
A Knife is merely sharp.

Ergo: the Bat is the superior weapon in a street showdown to the death.

3 Likes

KNIFE VS BAT

GURPS 4th Edition

So, GURPS.

GURPS first edition was the first RPG I bought for myself, and the game I ended spending the most time with in high school. Its name is an acronym for Generic Universal RolePlaying System, and its premise is providing a basic system that can be used in a wide variety of settings and genres. It’s got a simulationist bent, and was the original basis for what would become Fallout (V.A.T.S. owes a bit to its optional hit location rules).

Its combat rules are quite detailed, with a prior edition having up to 56 potential steps PER TURN depending on all the optional rules and circumstances involved. I don’t know if I want to go that deep on this - I’ve not run or played 4th Edition GURPS before, and even with experience in older versions I will likely miss some stuff by accident. There are some optional rules like Bleeding which I will have to decide on a case-by-case basis (ex. Bleeding becomes a concern after a minute passes in narrative time, but combat turns are 1 second each; God help us if I reach 60 rounds).

The short version, as best I can explain, is that almost everything in GURPS is decided by 3d6 skill checks. Roll 3d6, compare the total to your skill value, and if you are equal to or less than your skill value, including a wide range of potential modifiers, and you succeed. You can score a Critical Success or Critical Failure if you roll especially low (3 or 4) or especially high (18). This includes making attacks.

3d6 roll, if =< Skill Value with modifiers, you succeed.

Combat takes place in distinct turns representing 1 second of narrative time. Each participant can choose from a range of Maneuvers that include things like Move, Aim, and Attack.

Most combatants will be able to use at least one Active Defense if/when they are attacked during a given round, using either Dodge, Parry or Block. Dodge is based on movement speed and represents your ability to just duck or dart out of the way, Parry is based on weapon skill and represents your ability to put your weapon in the way of your assailant’s weapon, and Block is meant to represent things like shields or capes getting in the way of your assailant’s weapon. As long as you succeed at a 3d6 roll against the defense you choose, you negate/evade your opponent’s attack. Knife and Bat will not be using Block (no shields or cloaks), just Dodge and Parry.

If you fail to defend, you take damage. GURPS 4th uses Hit Points, but the specifics are far more elaborate than most Hit Point based systems. The type of damage can be things like crushing, cutting, or impaling, and those in turn can result in certain multipliers given stuff like armor. The amount of HP you have left after damage will determine how bad off your character is, and there are rules for effects like Shock, Major Wounds, and Stunning.

Also, on top of all this, there are Critical Hit and Critical Miss tables and Hit Location rules.

It’s a lot.

Let’s look at our combatants in GURPS terms. Note here that I’m sticking to my guns and using “generic average” stats, a baseline with no combat skill training, Advantages or Disadvantages. In GURPS this means these people will miss a whole lot of the time, but on the upside, they also won’t defend too great either:

Bat Wielder

ST 10

DX 10

IQ 10

HT 10

HP 10

FP 10

SPD 5

MOVE 5

DODGE 8

BAT PARRY 5U*

  • unbalanced

THRUST 1d6-2

SWING 1d6

Baseball Bat, Damage 1d6+1 crushing, Reach 1, Skill 5

Knife Wielder

ST 10

DX 10

IQ 10

HT 10

HP 10

FP 10

SPD 5

MOVE 5

DODGE 8

KNIFE PARRY 5

THRUST 1d6-2

SWING 1d6

Large Knife, Damage 1d6-2 cutting, Reach C, 1/Damage 1d6-2 impaling, Reach C, Skill 6

ST is Strength, DX is Dexterity, IQ is Intelligence, HT is health. HP is hit points, FP is fatigue points. SPD is Speed, MOVE is move. DODGE and PARRY are their Active Defenses, and THRUST and SWING determine their base damage with their weapons of choice. The Bat Wielder has “unbalanced” noted because according to the rules their particular weapon can’t parry on a turn if they’ve already taken a swing with it. Knife Wielder has no such limitation, but a lower Parry due to their weapon.

Note also that the Bat has a default reach of 1 and the Large Knife has a reach of C or 1, depending on the sort of strike its wielder makes. C is “Close” which means having to be right in Bat Wielder’s face to stab 'em for impaling damage. This will likely matter.

And, yeah, that’s a Skill of 5 for Bat Wielder and a skill of 6 for Knife Wielder - they are using the Default for their respective combat abilities. Remember what I said about them missing a lot?

Next - the dreaded actual playthrough of this scenario. Will likely have to wait until tonight, but stay tuned for some fiddly ultraviolence!

pray for me

6 Likes

You’re playing the long game. It’s not about one knockout shot. Your wear them down with jabs while keeping them at a distance until you get them on the ground, then it’s smash time!

2 Likes

But what would wear someone down if not also…a whole lotta knife jabs???

I admit there is significant risk in being so up-close, as you are vulnerable to slipping on the blood. You know, the blood they spill from all the knife-jabbing. We would not consider ourselves a wholly unbiased observer if we didn’t note that obvious fact.

-The Knife Knouncil

2 Likes

How would you jab the knife in anything if you are constantly getting pushed back by a punch in the sternum from a bat tip?

Wait…what if…bat is stabbed…

We will run our calculations.

-Knife Knabarotory

1 Like

As someone who’s never heard of GURP (but does play DnD, so has some tabletop experience), I just wanted to say you’re doing a great job of explaining all this. I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing how this plays out lol. Thank you for doing this tough but very important work

(places $5 USD on Bat Wielder)

2 Likes

If you’re jabbing with the bat wouldn’t you be risking them grabbing the end, then stabbing you while you wrestle over the bat?

Assuming you’re holding the knob end of the bat, it would be really hard for the other person to keep any sort of grip on the barrel, but I agree it could be a very effective short-term redirect.

1 Like

The Map: I made an alleyway that’s about 60 feet long and 15 feet wide. In GURPS thats 20 hexes long and 5 hexes wide (3 feet per hex).

Bat Wielder and Knife Wielder begin 24 feet apart (8 hexes).

KNIFE VS BAT

FIGHT!

Turn order in GURPS is based on the Speed of the characters, and in this case they tied with a 5. We resolve the tie with a die roll - even Knife goes first, odd Bat goes first. Bat wins this roll.

TURN 1

Bat Wielder chooses Wait. They announce they will All-Out Attack (swing for the fences) if the Knife Wielder gets within reach.

Knife Wielder has to consider their options carefully. They pick Evaluate, which grants them +1 to Attack roll on their next turn only, and which only allows a Step (a 1 hex move).

TURN 2

BW goes for a Move maneuver, letting them go 4 hexes, putting them 2 hexes from KW.

KW is gonna try to get in Close (the same hex as BW), so they take All-Out Attack which allows them to move up to half their Move and then STAB at +4 to hit! Gasp!

They roll a 6! HIT!

BW tries to Dodge, which is by far their best Active Defense. They also chooses to Retreat as part of this, moving them out of the shared hex with KW and gives them a bonus to Dodge. He rolls and gets a 10 - Dodged!

TURN 3

At this point, having discovered the magic of All-Out Attack, BW uses it to get that +4 bonus. Note that in Tactical Combat in GURPS 4th Edition (a more detailed version using the hex map), they cannot use the Step BW gets to move backward, BUT BW can use it to get at KW’s front-left so they move 1 hex to go there. It occurs to me belatedly that Facing matters in Tactical Combat, oops. I, uh, rotate Tokens to represent orientation.

Look, it’s a work in progress.

BW rolls a 13, which is a Miss.

Due to Facing issues, KW decides to use the Step they get from All-Out Attack to rotate themselves leftward. Still choosing the option that gives +4 to hit, but they have to use the “cutting” slicing action instead of stab due to needing its Reach of 1.

KW rolls a 12 and misses.

TURN 4

BW chooses All-Out Attack to rotate toward KW…

13, Miss. Exciting stuff.

KW goes for a stab again, All-Out Attack movement into Bat’s hex.

13, Miss. Oh My God.

TURN 5

BW steps back and swings All-Out….

Input lag results in two rolls, but it’s fine because they’re both Misses.

KW closes, All-Out stabs.

9, a Hit. Before we get excited, BW Retreat Dodges.

BW rolls 11, Dodges, but only Barely. They are also have their back to the wall!

TURN 6

BW stays where they are and All-Out Attacks - now, as I type this again, I consider trying a different Maneuver but I’ll save it for KW after this roll.

11 is a no hit.

KW decides to, uh, get to Close and use the “Double” option for All-Out Attack, letting them make two attempts to stab at their regular attack skill.

They get a 15 and a 12, both Miss. Note that if KW rolls 16 or higher, they Critically Fail, which would at least be interesting.

TURN 7

BW sidesteps one hex and tries Feint, cuz why not at this point. It could make KW easier to hit.

This is a Quick Contest of Weapon Skills: BW rolls a 10, KW rolls a 6, the Feint fails.

KW keeps on BW, moving into Close again for a +4 stab.

  1. Come On KW. Get It Together.

TURN 8

BW sidesteps the other way to get at one of KW side hexes! I’m so smart! Oh, wait, they’re both facing each other’s side, which would make BW’s attack a Wild Swing at…-5. All-Out Attack doesn’t help, so…fuck it.

14, hey a Critical Miss! (sorry bat fans but I’m past an hour here)

Roll an 11 - BW DROPS THE BAT!!! How Can They Wield?!

If it was a cheap weapon it’d break. I’m tempted, but no, let’s say this is a solid metal bat that stays intact.

KW is facing a wall and their foe is unarmed. They spend their turn on Move to rotate around to face BW’s side and get back in Close. I’d have them Ready and rotate once to pick up the bat that fell, but that seems against the entire premise.

TURN 9

BW spends their turn picking up the bat with Ready, and takes their Step away, turning to face KW and feeling embarrassed. Turns out you can change Facing if you Step, so remember that.

KW uses Evaluate - sort of like Aim but for Melee. They size up BW and get a +1 to their next attack against them. Also take a Step into BW’s hex.

TURN 10

BW tries All-Out Attack with the +4 option.

12, fuck a miss. Why did I volunteer to do this? What is the value of my time?

KW All-Out Attacks with +4, goddamnit.

14 you piece of shit learn how to fight….

Ahem.

TURN 11

BW opts for Move to get some distance, backing up 2 hexes.

KW steps forward to slash.

8, HIT! WOW.

BW tries Retreat Dodge because why not.

13 OH SHIT A PALPABLE HIT!

DAMAGE IS….0.

logo

Fuck You GURPS.

Anyway, Cutting damage has a minimum of 1 damage, which is multiplied by 1.5 after armor (which BW has none of) and…rounded down? So 1 HP. BW has 9 HP. I imagine it’s a shallow cut on their forearm. Could roll for Hit Location but…maybe not.

TURN 12

BW All-Out Attacks with +4.

12, which is a miss.

KW All-Out Attacks with a step into BW’s hex.

9, hit.

BW tries Retreating Dodge, but gets a -1 due to Shock from the damage they took last turn.

Rolls a 9, Dodged.

TURN 13

BW All-Out Attacks with +4, sidestepping a bit.

The roll is a 9 which is a HIT.

KW tries Dodge, not retreating because they plan on trying to get in Close again.

11, Fail!

BW does 5 CRUSHING OH SHIT THAT’S HALF KW’S HP

That means not only is KW down to 5 HP, they have taken a Major Wound. They need to roll vs HT to avoid getting worse effects and conditions.

They get a 12, which means they fail and they are Knocked Down and Stunned - this is bad news for KW!

From the GURPS text:

Stunning: If you’re stunned, you are -4 to active defenses and cannot retreat, and must Do Nothing on your next turn. At the end of your turn, attempt a HT roll to recover. If you fail, you’re still stunned and must Do Nothing for another turn. And so on.

KW must Do Nothing on the ground and then roll HT at the end of this turn. 11, oh no, they still Stunned!

IS THIS THE END OF KNIFE HOPE?

TURN 14

BW viciously assails the fallen foe. There’s not apparent bonus for them standing over a prone enemy? That seems to be represented by the penalty to KW’s Active Defenses? I dunno. All-Out Attack, using the +4 option.

He rolls an 11. He missed. Why.

KW Does Nothing. HT check to snap out of it…

  1. Still Stunned, lying there as BW hits the sidewalk next to him!

TURN 15

BW keeps with All-Out Attack.

  1. So, at this point, I’m asking myself - why is this so hard to do? There’s a person lying on the ground. You have a bat. You focus your attention, your muscles tense in preparation, you bring the bat down heavily…and Miss them twice in two seconds? Maybe you retire. Maybe you quit.

But Not Bat Wielder. They Wield Bats.

KW Does Nothing then tries to un-Stun, the poor bastard.

10, finally! They can act in the next round and are no longer Stunned. Still prone, though.

TURN 16

BW is going to try something risky. They’re going to Evaluate and back up a little, hoping a +1 makes the difference in the next turn. I know some of you want BW to press the attack, to keep trying, but I have to get this +1. Let me have it.

KW uses the Change Posture maneuver to stand up. Bloodied but unbowed.

TURN 17

BW Evaluates again. They Step back one Hex. Trust me on this. That’s +2 now instead of just +1. It can go up to +3. We’ll see how KW does this turn before deciding on Evaluating again.

KW decides to All-Out Defend. +2 to Dodge. They can also move up to half their Move rounded down, so they brashly close the distance - can’t stab if you’re not up in BW’s face!

TURN 18

BW decides it’s time to go for a home run, applying +2 on top of the +4 to from All-Out Attack. They can’t Step after All-Out Attack in the Tactical Combat rules, so they stay where they are.

BW rolls a 9, which is a hit.

KW uses Dodge with their +2 - 9, success! KW has gambled and won.

KW can now All-Out Attack and get Close. +4 Stab.

8 is a hit, BW tries Retreat Dodge.

11, BW ALSO Dodged! How dynamic.

TURN 19

BW goes for All-Out Attack again. 10 is a miss.

KW tries something sneaky - Evade, which is a move through BW’s hex to end up behind him. This is a Quick Contest of DX. Both of our champions fail their DX checks. KW gets stuck in BW’s hex.

TURN 20

I’m in my second hour of this. Taking a break.

Current situation: Bat Wielder has 9 HP, Knife Wielder has 5 HP.

WILL KNIFE RECOVER? WILL BAT BASH?

STAY TUNED

5 Likes

I think I grasp maybe 75% of what’s going on, and boy this does NOT enamor me towards GURPS one bit, but I sympathize with the pains of play-testing encounters solo. I await the conclusion with bated breath!

4 Likes

Its a Lot to Process.

I may try breaking up the text with images I made from screenshots.

Later. My brain hurts.

2 Likes

This reminds me of why I stopped using GURPS for my games. I do, however, appreciate and respect the dilligence and time spent breaking this all down for the thread.

4 Likes