In a melee combat, if the character aims at the hand of the oponent, does it matter if this opponent is wielding an weapon in this same hand?

I'm asking because my players started to end all of their combats with hand called shots.
Hit a hand and the combat is done, because the damage is almost always enough to make the combat hand useless.


3 Answers 3


Aiming at a hand that has a weapon, held item, or otherwise makes no difference to the penalties to hit that hand. The only exception to this are shields, which incur an additional -4.(B399)

The best way to avoid combat ending too abruptly is to use Parry/Block/Dodge and retreat as needed to avoid being hit all together. If needed, couple this with a generally higher set of defenses to avoid being hit. If using a gun, make sure to take cover and use pop-up attacks to avoid unnecessarily exposing yourself. Give the NPCs the benefit of terrain, and let them surprise the PCs if the PCs blunder into an area. Respond with hand hits of your own to cripple their hands to even the battle.

Also, don't be too nervous to slap on environmental restrictions such as bad-lighting (up to -9), heavy smoke/fog (up to -9), bad footing (-2)...etc. Make that -4 to hit the hand seem trivial next to the other penalties so that they will be so busy contending with ice and smoke that they reluctently have to go for the torso. These hazards can also make bland, run-of-the-mill combat much more exciting as well. You can bet that if they "go for the hand" every time they fight that they are starting to get bored.

Another good idea is to parry their weapon with a disarming weapon and then on the NPCs next turn disarm the PC. That will remove them from combat for a bit and help the battle lengthen.


You're pretty much correct there. A hit to the hand is a combat ender, and there isn't a lot you can do about that. However, there are a few things that you can do to help mitigate this, to some degree. One thing to remember, though, is that GURPS combat can pretty easily become a game of rocket tag. At higher point totals, most builds have one or two ways of killing an opponent in a single hit. The 'attack the hand' trick is just one way of doing that at a lower point total.


It was pretty much ubiquitous for armoured soldiers to wear gauntlets in the time when melee combat was effective. Heavy Gauntlets are listed in the standard armour tables on Basic 284, and give DR 4 to the hand. Depending on your tech and magic level, you may be able to make better, high-tech or magical hand guards for enemies that know how often your player pulls this trick.

Basket Hilt

Do a google search for "basket hilt", and check out the images page. Basically, the basket hilt is a piece of metal that wrapped around the hilt of a sword, and helped prevent your hand from getting stabbed. I can't find any official rules for basket hilts, but it would be reasonable to add an extra -2 penalty to hitting a hand so equipped, like how a shield gives an extra -4 penalty.

Situational Penalties

There are quite a few environmental penalties that can be applied in a fight that can further aid someone attempting to prevent their hand from getting injured. A table with these penalties starts on Basic 547. Some good ones that are relevant for many combats are Shock (-1 to hit for each point of damage taken last round), Close Combat (-2 if the defender is within Close Combat range of the attacker), or Bad Footing (-2 to attacks at GM's discretion). The defender can also use some situational bonuses to increase their Defense roll, like the Retreat action (+3 to Dodge, but you have to move backwards), using a shield (+DB of shield), or All-Out Defense (+2 to one Defense for 1 round). It might be tactically intelligent to have one melee combatant in the front rank, focusing on defense, while the combatant in the rear uses a reach weapon and focuses on attacking.

An enemy with a crippled hand is still dangerous

Depending on how motivated the enemies are to kill the players, they can still be somewhat effective with only one hand. The penalty for using your off-hand is the same as the penalty for striking the hand hit location, so the enemies have the same chance to hit the player's torso as the player does to hit the enemy's hand.

Honourable Combat

If mechanical discouragement isn't working well enough, then maybe roleplaying discouragement will work better. Give the player a reason to not want to cripple your opponents. For example, maybe there's an order of knights who give cool perks to their members, but joining means taking oaths to fight opponents honorably, and not try to cripple them.

Talk to your players

If none of that will work, then you may want to just talk to your players about it. Maybe point out that if they keep swinging to cripple their opponents, then maybe their opponents will do the same. After the melee fighter players get their hands chopped off a few times, they might want to make a gentleman's agreement to not purposely attempt to cripple opponents. Then again, that might be totally cool with them.

Maybe it's not really a problem?

GURPS is intentionally super harsh when it comes to melee combat. It's entirely possible to be killed in one round if your opponent rolls well, and it's easy to cripple someone. One thing that you may want to consider is if that's a problem with the game that you're running or not. Maybe it's a good thing that your players don't immediately kill every enemy that they see, and instead leave them alive to deal with after the fight. Not only that, but unless the enemies are super unlucky or the players are doing 8 damage in a single hit, the defeated enemies will be able to regain use of their hand after a few months.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. Please, add something about environmental restrictions as mentioned by JMD, so we can get the best of those two answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Josmar
    Aug 4, 2014 at 16:32

It does matter in a few ways:

  • First, if the target is armed, and the attacker is not, there are some risks and penalties which can be assessed by GM's wanting the optional realistic rules, to be found in the Basic Set, and in GURPS Marital Arts.

  • Second, some weapons may have special effects. The main types that come to mind are shields (which increase the to-hit penalty - see target Shield Hand), and basket hilts, which add DR (generally 4) to the hand. DuckTapeAl mentioned he couldn't find a rule for basket hilts. There were rules in GURPS Swashbucklers (original) and GURPS Martial Arts 4e, and I think some other world books. Basically it adds 1/2 pound or so to weight, some cost, and DR 4 to the weapon hand, cumulative with glove DR, but supposedly too cramped for metal gauntlets. I would think that could be worked around by the crafting armorer, but it might be clumsy to ready and drop. An enemy who heard of your heroes might get himself such gear.

As for the issue of aiming for the hand seeming like a problem:

  • Make sure you actually don't like this, before looking too hard for ways to discourage it. It can have several interesting points to it, for instance if some characters are doing it to avoid killing opponents for in-character reasons. It can keep interesting characters alive to be interesting in future. It can give NPC's good reasons to not kill PC's if they manage to defeat them some time, and so on.

If you do decide it's happening too much, some things you might consider include:

  • Environmental conditions which give fighters penalties to hit will make it less efficient to go for fine targeting, and can also me more dramatic and interesting in general. Darkness, smoke, rough ground (which can be created during fights by falling bodies and furniture, for example), moving ground (e.g. fighting on a moving vehicle, vessel, bridge in the wind).

  • More people wearing gloves and gauntlets.

or rule adjustments:

  • I have a house rule that defending against small targets gives a defense bonus of half the to-hit penalty, as not only is it harder to hit a small target - it's also easier to get it out of the way of an accurate attack, compared to getting your whole body out of the way. So +2 to defend against hand attacks, +3 versus head attacks, etc. This makes it a trade-off even if the attacker has such high skill that -4 isn't a big deal.

  • GURPS Martial Arts has an optional rule which allows training in specific targeted attacks, which also mentions that it is reasonable to give a defender a +1 to defend against a specific location if it has been attempted before, because it is predictable.

  • When foes see or hear about the party's tactic, they may react to counter it. If this is really getting out of hand (...), a movement option might be to hold the weapon hand back, so an attacker going for the hand needs to be able to reach the target's rear hex to hit it, unless he has used his weapon to attack or parry in the preceding turn, in which case one would only need to reach the hex where the weapon hand was for those actions. This is in line with the existing rule for striking at a weapon, but is a bit more detailed. It's essentially a "trick in combat" (which there is a section on in the Basic Set). Using that stance might give say a -1 to skill.


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