Intermediate Ranged Combat

Happy Thursday, GURPalonians! Welcome back to “New to GURPS.”

This week, we take another peek at Ranged Combat, the art of making things dead from afar (here are the first two, from the “basic” series).

Last week’s post ended with the frequently beleaguered Kerna in melee combat, handily defeating a bandit thug who then, let’s say, surrenders and is taken off to the healers in chains (by some convenient NPCs).

Picking up from that moment (though I’ll still use “first turn” below to avoid confusion), she scans the battle for her next target. The GM asks for a Perception check, thinking to himself that a success will reveal the enemy in front of her, a success by 4 or more will also reveal the bandit on her rear flank who is taking aim with a bow. She rolls an 11, a success by 1.

GM: “Scanning the chaotic skirmish, Kerna, you note that the fight seems to be going your way — your men are fighting well. There is, however, a bandit archer 10-15 yards in front of you who remains unengaged. He is drawing a fresh arrow from his quiver, and seems unaware of you.”

Player: “I want to cast an Explosive Fireball at the ground at the archer’s feet.” (One of the advantages of Explosive Fireball over Fireball is that it can be aimed at a particular hex instead of an individual target, and still deal damage to everything in that hex. This gives a +4 to hit.)


Bandit 1’s first turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 12          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12


MANEUVER: Ready/Fast-Draw (Arrow)

As this exchange opens, Bandit 1 is unaware of Kerna (12 yards apart), but Kerna is unaware of Bandit 2 (8 yards apart).

Both bandits have a slightly higher Basic Speed than Kerna, and thus go before her.

The “shots” value for a regular bow (p. 275) is “1(2)” (p. 275), meaning it takes two Ready maneuvers to reload the bow, something like: Turn 1, fire (Attack); Turn 2, grab the next arrow (Ready); Turn 3, nock the arrow and draw the bowstring (Ready); Turn 4, fire (Attack) — so basically, attacking every third turn. The Fast-Draw (Arrow) skill can be used to eliminate the “grab the next arrow” Ready maneuver if successful (otherwise, it’s just a normal Ready).

Bandit 1 rolls 3d6 against his Fast-Draw (Arrow) skill of 11, and succeeds with an 8 — the arrow is instantly in his hand. He chooses the Ready maneuver this turn to nock it and draw back his string.

GM: “The bandit archer deftly plucks a fresh arrow from his quiver, nocks it, and draws back the string.”

Bandit 2’s first turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 12          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12

MANEUVER: Ready/Fast-Draw (Arrow)

Bandit 2 is pretty sure that Kerna has not seen him. He is hoping for an easy kill, and rolls 3d6 against his Fast-Draw (Arrow) skill of 11, but fails with a 12. He uses the Ready maneuver this turn to pull a new arrow from his quiver.

GM: Since Kerna is unaware of Bandit 2, the GM obviously doesn’t narrate his actions to the player, just kind of quietly rolls an “extra” 3d6 (most GMs are pretty sneaky that way).

Kerna’s first turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 12          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12

MANEUVER: Concentrate (Explosive Fireball)

Confident that the bandit archer hasn’t yet seen her, Kerna begins putting energy into an Explosive Fireball spell — she plans to build it up over the full 3 turns (p. 247), putting 2 Fatigue Points in each turn.

At the end of her turn, she rolls against her Explosive Fireball skill of 13 and succeeds with a 10 (p. 240). The spell is cast successfully, and she wills her first 2 FP into it, lowering her FP from 12 to 10.

Player: “I concentrate and summon a tiny ball of flame in my right hand.”

With all three characters involved in this exchange having gone, the first second ticks past.

Bandit 1’s second turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 10          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12


With a target in his (metaphorical) sights, Bandit 1 plans to Aim for 2-3 seconds before firing an arrow at one of Kerna’s fellow patrolmen, 25 yards away (which is a -7 to hit, p. 550). Aiming this turn gives him a bonus equal to the Accuracy of his weapon, in this case 2 (for a regular bow).

GM: “The bandit holds his drawn string, staring intently across the clearing at the back of your compatriot Orville, currently in a hand-to-hand fight against a smaller bandit.”

Bandit 2’s second turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 10          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12


With his arrow now in-hand, Bandit 2 nocks it and draws back his string with a second Ready maneuver. He will be ready to fire next turn.

Kerna’s second turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 10          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12

MANEUVER: Concentrate (Explosive Fireball)

Kerna sinks another 2 FP into her fireball, now at a total of 4 points. She lowers her FP from 10 to 8.

Player: “I continue to concentrate, and put more energy into my fireball.”

Bandit 1’s third turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 8          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12


Unaware of his impending, fiery doom, Bandit 1 continues to Aim. This turn he gets a further +1, bringing his total bonus to 3.

GM: “The bandit continues holding his draw, a grimace upon his face.”

Bandit 2’s third turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 8          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12


The range penalty for being 8 yards away is -4, so Bandit 2 Aims this turn to offset that by half with the Accuracy bonus of his regular bow (2).

Kerna’s third turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 8          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12

MANEUVER: Concentrate (Explosive Fireball)

Kerna sinks 2 more FP into her fireball, bringing it to the maximum total of 6 points. She lowers her FP from 8 to 6.

Player: “I pour the last bit of energy into my spell, and now hold a pulsating fireball. Next turn, I attack!”

Bandit 1’s fourth turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12


Still thinking he is about to bring down another guardsman, Bandit 1 Aims for his final turn. This brings his total bonus to 4 (further aiming will confer no more bonuses).

GM: “Arm beginning to tremble, the bandit archer smiles wickedly as he prepares to loose his arrow at Orville’s back.”

Bandit 2’s fourth turn

Kerna, HP: 13 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12

ATTACK: All-Out Attack (Determined), Hit Location: Vitals (-3)

Bandit 2 is prepared to fire, and chooses the All-Out Attack (Determined) maneuver for a +1 bonus to hit, since losing his active defenses this turn shouldn’t be an issue. He specifically aims for Kerna’s vitals.

His Bow skill level is 14, with a penalty of -4 for being 8 yards away, a penalty of -3 for targeting the vitals, a bonus of +2 for Aiming one turn, and a bonus of +1 for an All-Out Attack (Determined).

14 -4 -3 +2 +1 = 10.

His effective skill for this shot is 10, and he succeeds (barely) with a 10. Kerna gets no defense at all!

DAMAGE: The damage for a regular bow is thrust+1, so 1d in this case (the archer is using a ST 12 bow, and the thrust damage for ST 12 is 1d-1). The bandit rolls a single die and gets a 5. Subtracting Kerna’s DR of 4 leaves 1 point of penetrating damage, and the wounding modifier for the Vitals is x3 for impaling damage (p. 399), so the final total injury to Kerna is 3 points.

Note that, for a character not wearing any armor, this arrow would have inflicted 15 points of damage, taking all but the hardiest of fighters almost immediately out of the fight. This is why armor can be so very important… it keeps your squishy bits inside where they belong.

GM: “Kerna, just as you prepare to launch your fireball, you suddenly feel a sharp pain in your back and the wet creep of blood. Please make a Will roll.”

If a character is injured while holding a spell, she must make a Will roll to avoid it going boom in her face (pp. 240-241). Kerna rolls 3d6 against her Will of 12, and succeeds with an 8.

GM: “You manage to maintain the spell safely in your hand, but take a total of 3 points of injury from the arrow now lodged loosely in your back.”

Kerna’s fourth turn

Kerna, HP: 10 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 11          Bandit 2, HP: 12

ATTACK: Innate Attack (Projectile)

Knowing that the bandit she can see is about to fire at the oblivious Orville, Kerna decides to risk taking an extra second before turning to face her new attacker. She proceeds as planned, and throws her Explosive Fireball at the hex where Bandit 1 is standing.

(Note: The original sheet for Kerna did not include an Innate Attack skill, so you may need to download the most current version).

Kerna’s Innate Attack (Projectile) skill is 15, with a penalty of -5 for being 12 yards away, and a bonus of +4 for targeting a hex instead of an individual. (Her High Pain Threshold advantage keeps her from suffering the -3 shock penalty this turn from the arrow damage she took).

15 -5 +4 = 14.

Her effective skill for this shot is 14, and she easily succeeds with an 11. The bandit never sees it coming, and gets no defense. (Ouch.)

DAMAGE: As it was built up over three turns and has 6 FP put into it, the damage for this fireball is 3d6. Kerna rolls and gets a total of 11. Subtracting the bandit’s DR of 2 (leather armor) leaves 9 points of penetrating damage from burning, so the bandit’s HP are lowered from 11 to 2. This is a major wound (over half his HP from a single attack, p. 420), so he makes a roll against his HT of 12 and fails with a 15. He suffers Stun, drops his bow, and falls prone.

I was picturing the bandits as wearing mostly leather armor, so this would likely not apply, but note that there are rules for catching clothes and other flammables on fire, p. 434.

GM: “Kerna’s fireball streaks across the field of battle and explodes directly at the unaware archer’s feet. He is immediately engulfed in flames, and collapses to the ground screaming. A nearby guardsman hears his cries and quickly moves towards him.”

Bandit 1’s fifth turn

Kerna, HP: 10 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 2          Bandit 2, HP: 12

MANEUVER: Sizzle (Do Nothing)

While still conscious, Bandit 1 is severely wounded and still smoking, and must choose the Do Nothing maneuver because of his Stun. At the end of his turn, he makes another HT roll but fails again with a 13, failing to shake off the Stun.

GM: “The bandit was severely wounded by that blast, and seems dazed. He sees the guardsman rushing towards him and weakly holds up his hands in surrender.”

Bandit 2’s fifth turn

Kerna, HP: 10 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 2          Bandit 2, HP: 12

MANEUVER: Ready/Fast-Draw (Arrow)

Seeing now how tough Kerna’s armor is, Bandit 2 tries to quickly Ready another arrow. His plan is to Aim as long as he can, and try to target the chinks in her torso armor (-8 to hit, p. 400), which could halve her DR from 4 to 2. He rolls 3d6 against his Fast-Draw (Arrow) skill of 11, but fails again with a 13. He uses the Ready maneuver this turn to pull a new arrow.

GM: “As you begin turning to face your new attacker, you see another bandit archer some 10 yards away [note: it’s actually 8] pull a fresh arrow from his quiver.”

Kerna’s fifth turn

Kerna, HP: 10 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 2          Bandit 2, HP: 12


Wheeling to face her attacker (I find strict tracking of character facing too fiddly, even in “advanced” combats, but there are optional rules for it on pp. 386-387 if you like), Kerna sees the bandit 8 yards away. Knowing it would take her at least 3 turns to reach him (as her current Move is 3 hexes per turn, due to the Encumbrance of her gear), instead of moving this turn she attempts to snatch the throwing axe from her belt and hurl it at him.


Player: “I pull the throwing axe from my belt and get ready to hurl it at the bandit archer.”

Bandit 1’s sixth turn

Kerna, HP: 10 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 2          Bandit 2, HP: 12

MANEUVER: Do Nothing

Bandit 1 is effectively out of the fight. He is surrendering, and an NPC guardsman is securing him.

Bandit 2’s sixth turn

Kerna, HP: 10 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 2          Bandit 2, HP: 12


Bandit 2 uses a Ready maneuver to draw back his bow and prepare to fire next turn, hoping he can avoid any incoming attacks in the meantime.

GM: “The bandit archer pulls back his bowstring and prepares to fire.”

Kerna’s sixth turn

Kerna, HP: 10 FP: 6          Bandit 1, HP: 2          Bandit 2, HP: 12



Kerna’s Thrown Weapon (Axe) skill level is 14, with a penalty of -4 for being 8 yards away, leaving her an effective skill of 10. She rolls a 9, a potential hit!

DEFEND: Bandit 2 rolls against his Dodge of 10 and fails with an 11. Boo-yah.

DAMAGE: Kerna’s throwing axe has a listed damage of 2d+1 cut, and she rolls a total of 9. Subtracting the bandit’s DR of 2 leaves 7 points of penetrating damage, and multiplying by the wounding modifier of 1.5 for cutting damage brings the total to 10 points of injury, lowering Bandit 2’s HP from 12 to 2. This is a major wound, but he succeeds on the roll against his HT of 12 with a 7 — he does not suffer Knockdown and Stunning.

GM: “Kerna, your throwing axe spins towards the archer and embeds deeply into his chest. Through sheer force of will he manages to stay on his feet, but the wound is clearly deep. With a shout of pain, he lowers his bow, turns, and attempts to flee.”


At this point, combat time would again end and the story continue narratively. The bandit’s Move has been reduced to 3 due to his injuries (p. 419), so he and Kerna are now moving at the same speed — she can’t easily catch him. Other guardsmen, though, wearing lighter armor, could catch him if she wanted (he only has an 8-yard lead), or she could order her own archers to take him down, or she could choose to let him go — whatever the player wants to do.

Once again, Kerna has proven herself a badass, suffering only a light wound while adding two more bandits to her ever-growing list of defeated enemies!

Still, the life of an adventurer is a dangerous one, and ya never know when you’ll find yourself full of holes. Next week, we’ll take another look at recovering from all that pesky damage. Hope to see you back!

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  1. Hmm, I don’t think so… p. 235 says:

    “Tell the GM what spell you are casting, then take Concentrate maneuvers for the requisite number of turns (see Time Required, p. 236). At the end of the last second of concentration, make a success roll for the spell.”

    • Ok. I was looking at Missile Spells on p240 that says:

      “To cast a Missile spell, you must concentrate for one second. At the end of your turn, roll against your skill with the spell…

      On a success, you may invest one or more points of energy in the spell, to a maximum number of energy points equal to your Magery level. The missile then appears in your hand, “charged” to the desired level….

      On your next turn, you have three options with your missile: make a ranged attack with it, hold it, or enlarge it. If you opt to enlarge your missile, you must concentrate for another second. At the end of your turn, you may invest more energy in the spell – anything from one point to points equal to your Magery level. This does not require a skill roll.”

      To me, I’ve always seen Missile Spells as following this while other, Regular and so on, spells work they way you have highlighted.

  2. Shouldn’t part of Bandit 1’s clothes have caught on fire? After suffering three points of damage from a single Burning attack, he would start to take 1d-4 Burning damage per second and be at -2 to DX (Campaigns, 434). This would almost certainly influence both the bandit and the nearby guard to act differently.

    Granted, Bandit 1 *did* surrender pretty quickly after getting hit by the Explosive Fireball, but highlighting the above side-effect of the damage type would help highlight why utilizing a particular damage type matters.

    If what I have said is part of the Advanced rules, then feel free to ignore me. Also, other than clearly being made out of leather, the description of the bandit’s armor is not otherwise, so it very well might be all-encompassing to the point where clothes worn underneath might not get licked by the flames.

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