Let's say in a classic fantasy medieval world there are two warriors fighting, one with a spear and the other with a sword or one with a halberd and the other using martial arts with bare hands.

I usually use simple rules for melee combats, ignoring the range of the weapons, but in some cases the difference between the range of the weapons is too big or the player wants to do some special move and asks to take that into account.

I've read the advanced combat system, but couldn't understand exactly what is the rule for this. How can the warrior with the halberd attack the martial artist if he is in close range? And how can the warrior with the sword pass by the spear to get close to his enemy?

The question involves GURPS - 3rd and 4th editions, I don't know if there's a difference between both in this matter, but if there is I would like to know how it works in each one.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I moved away from GURPS years ago because of the fragility of PCs and the shallowness of the skill system (i.e. while there are a lot of skills, how to use the vast majority of them was up to the GM), but I'll see what I can do about concocting an answer. Don't hold your breath; it may take a while. :-) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 18:31

2 Answers 2


My answer will focus on 4e, since it's the current edition, and since it has a higher support in terms of FAQs and general clarifications, because it's somewhat more streamlined/cleaned up, and finally because I stopped engaging with over a decade ago.

Long-Reach PoV

If the Halberdier is in Close Combat (i.e. same hex with the enemy), he needs to step back before attacking. All characters normally are allowed to take a one-hex step before making an Attack and other minimal-mobility combat manoeuvres. He can also use Retreats to get a semi-free step as part of a defence roll (after taking Manoeuvres that don't prohibit Retreats). Finally, as a last resort and a rather advanced-rules option, he can opt to attack at a penalty (see Martial Arts page 69 for this Technique).

If he's attacked while already in Close Combat, then his options involve Dodging, or Retreating with a Parry (or, if he has the traits required to wield a Halberd and a Shield/Buckler/Cloak at the same time, with a Block). There is a certain peculiarity of the order of operations in GURPS, especially as clarified by Martial Arts and Kromm's statements for the FAQ, that mean that a defender is treated as outside Close Combat if he took a Retreat (note: I can't guarantee this worked the same in 3e).

Short-Reach PoV

Now, a warrior with a short weapon deals with a somewhat different situation. If the Halberdier is not taking a Wait, she can just run up to him past his Reach and attack on her own turn - either by using Move and Attack, or All-Out Attack combat manoeuvres. A third option is All-Out Defence (Dodge), which also allows a half-maximum move, forces you to forego your attack until your next manoeuvre, and provides a defence bonus. All three have drawbacks, but typically allow crossing 3-5 hexes for a typical character, which should be enough to go from 'beyond even his range' to 'within even her range' (I'm assuming Reaches of 3 and 1 respectively here).

If he is taking a Wait, then he has the advantage of getting a chance to attack her first before she comes within her sword's Reach. This is the benefit long weapons offer. She may defend against his attack in accordance with the defence permissions of his combat manoeuvre: no defence on All-Out Attacks; a limited defence choice between a Dodge and either a Block or a Parry with the non-attacking arm's weapon on a Move and Attack (Block only if using the Basic Set), defence with benefits if using All-Out Defence (Dodge).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Of course, balanced against that is that some (most?) long weapons require a Ready after an attack of parry. Look for the U(nbalanced) note in the weapons table in Basic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Dec 26, 2019 at 14:28

The Advanced Combat System makes combat not just a question of distance between two fighters, but a whole situation of where everyone is, which direction they are facing, where walls, fallen bodies, and other obstacles are, and so on. It makes combat into a full interesting tactical boardgame. It seems to me pretty hard to do justice to more than a one-on-one duel in wide open flat ground, without getting out the hexmap and counters.

Close range means the opponent is standing within a foot or two, so a halberdier would typically want to have his halberd readied at one-hex grip, then Step & Attack to back up to one-hex reach and attack. If his opponent grapples him, he'd need to break free, or resort to a knee strike or head butt or something, bash with the pole, or drop the halberd (or let go with one hand) and fight back with hands and/or a dagger or something.

Typically the halberdier would want to start out combat outside his own weapon's reach, and start using Evaluate and/or Feint as the opponent approaches, then Wait and attack as opponents come within range, and/or use allies and terrain to keep themselves out of attack range.

Someone with a shorter weapon trying to get in range to attack may try a variety of techniques. Having an ally draw the longer weapon's attack while All-Out Defending, and then another fighter advances to close the gap using Move or Move and Attack can work well. If outnumbered in open terrain, so can surrounding the longer-weapon user to have one ally rush in from behind the longer weapon-user's facing. Another option is trying to strike at the longer weapon to disarm or damage it, depending on where the longer weapon is being held.


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