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Innate Attacks, Wuxia, and You

While it would be a stretch to even call it "common", many over-the-top wuxia martial-arts campaigns will feature characters with Innate Attacks. GURPS Fourth Edition takes the position that while certain abilities (focused uses of strength, hypnotic misdirection, etc.) can be learned as skills, the ability to physically harm someone without striking them is always an advantage. Although the line between "esoteric skill" and "exotic advantage" can certanly become blurred at times, I agree that drawing the line at causing damage or telekinetic effects makes sense.

With Innate Attack being so inexpensive, though, it's tempting to charge an additional Unusual Background to try to keep it from dominating the game. However, I don't think that's necessary. Innate Attack is cheap because skills and weapons -- which magnify your damage and/or let you deal it at range -- are cheap. It's hard to charge a lot for a 1d impaling attack when knives are freely available.

No, Martial Arts is right in suggesting that Trained By A Master should cover any Unusual Background here, as long as (1) the campaign allows for such things and (2) the Innate Attack does not make the character's normal attacks pale in comparison.

The first consideration is important, and will usually lead to the GM either allowing or banning Innate Attacks completely. There may be times when a middle ground is called for, however -- if even the greatest martial artists and old masters consider the "flying fists" or "hand of death" the stuff of legends, it should require an additional Unusual Background (perhaps one for each ability!) to learn. This reflects the surprise value that such an attack will have, along with the ability to "get away with murder" because no one believes that such a thing is possible.

The second issue is at least as important, and comes down to issues of damage and range. If unrestricted, Innate Attack can easily overshadow any mundane attack through sheer scale; a 1d impaling attack is no worse than a knife, but a 10d impaling attack will make its user's martial arts skills pale in comparison. Even worse, if such attacks are allowed, they will quickly become the only traits a fighter will ever want to buy. Why sink hundreds of points into ST and skills when dozens of points will give you eye beams that can pierce metal? So Martial Arts suggests keeping the damage of a character's Innate Attack comparable to that of their unarmed attacks.

My approach to this is to limit the damage that can be done by Innate Attack to the character's basic Swing damage, since that's comparable to their best unarmed attack (which will be based on Thrust.) In addition, Range cannot exceed STx15/STx20, comparable to a normal bow, in most games. (Some games may call for wuxia masters who can kill a man from miles away, but not most.) Finally, all Innate Attacks must take the Costs Fatigue limitation, which represents the effort required to channel one's chi and makes it clear that these are signature attacks, not replacements for mundane abilities. The fatigue requirement can be waived by the GM if desired (q.v., Soul Blast), but this should be done sparingly.

Cyclic toxic attacks require their own rules, more fitting to the "hand of death" approach. They must always lack range and be resistible. The per-cycle damage can range from 1 point to basic Thrust damage (instead of Swing). There are two ways to set the maximum number of cycles; use whichever is the most generous for any given attack. (1) The attack can have up to Will/2 (round up) cycles. (2) The maximum possible damage cannot exceed four times the character's maximum Swing damage (the equivalent of a critical hit to the skull with a flawless attack).

Note that these suggestions do not interact with the Supercharged enhancement for Striking ST in any way. Any game which allows that enhancement also allows characters to purchase unrestricted Innate Attacks by definition, so no guidelines are needed.


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