Script: What's the point of martial arts styles?
GURPS Martial Arts is one of my favorite GURPS books. In my opinion, it’s a must-have supplement that greatly expands your combat options – and it’s also a very entertaining read even if you’re not planning to use the rules. For example, I learned a lot from the martial arts styles section. Speaking of styles, I often see people asking the following questions – “What’s the point of a style? Why can’t I simply buy the skills and techniques? What does it even do?” These questions can be heard from both new and more experienced players, and in this transcript, I will try to explain why styles exist, what they do, and why you might or might not need them.
Let’s take a look at one of the styles I made for my games – the Metered Style. This is actually a conversion of a monk style from Dragon Magazine #337. As you can see, the style costs 4 points. These 4 points are composed of 1 point in each of the style’s skills – Karate, Meditation, Poetry – plus the Style Familiarity perk for this style. This is how it works for all styles – the cost equals the number of skills + 1. However, some styles might have cinematic or imbuement skills – in that case, the appropriate prerequisite advantage, such as Trained by a Master or Imbue, must be bought by the character, but they are not included in the style’s cost. So, to buy a style, you buy at least one point in each one of its skills and get the Style Familiarity perk. You do not have to pay the style’s cost in addition to all this!
Now, what’s the difference between being proficient in a style and simply buying these skills not as part of the style? That’s the Style Familiarity perk, and it’s quite an interesting one. It can be found both in GURPS Martial Arts and in GURPS Power-Ups 2: Perks. This perk gives you four benefits:
1. You can buy the style’s perks, learn cinematic skills if you meet their prerequisites, buy optional traits of the style that might be off-limits to other characters, and improve the style’s techniques. Basically, Style Familiarity acts as an Unusual Background of sorts. You should remember that even if a technique exists, your GM might not allow improving it unless you learn it as part of a style. Some perks, as you might know, provide significant benefits, so GURPS Martial Arts suggests limiting characters to purchasing only one combat perk per 20 points in combat skills. However, with Style Familiarity this limit is expanded. In addition to these “general” combat perks, you can buy one perk of the style per 10 points you have in the style’s techniques and required skills.
2. You’re familiar with the style’s culture and don’t suffer the -3 for lack of Cultural Familiarity when using such skills as Connoisseur (Weapons), Games, Savoir-Faire (Dojo), or Teaching to interact with co-stylists.
3. In most settings, you have the equivalent of a 1-point Claim to Hospitality (p. B41) with a school or instructor.
4. If your opponent has studied one or more styles and you have Style Familiarity with them all, you may reduce the defense penalty from his feints and Deceptive Attacks by -1.
In terms of mechanics, that’s it. If your GM simply allows taking whatever skills, techniques, and perks you want, then there’s not much point in a style. However, if your GM is more strict with limitations, then styles become more important. For example, the Metered Style that I showed as an example has two Combination techniques. Anyone can try to use a combination – it’s just a specific Rapid Strike, after all, but only those who have learned the Metered Style would be able to actually improve it past its default. The same applies to optional traits – see Defensive Metered Foot and Offensive Metered Foot? These are combat abilities that I created with advantages – I would not allow them to be taken without the Style Familiarity perk. While I actually strongly dislike Unusual Background, I am okay with using Style Familiarity as a limited UB, if I am running a game where I want to limit access to certain traits. After all, it’s just a perk that also has some additional benefits.
But even if your GM does not care about limiting access, martial arts styles can serve as something of a template. If your player asks you what skills, techniques, and traits he should get to be, for example, a master of Kusarijutsu, then you just point him towards the Kusarijutsu style.
If your GM limits the options, then styles become important. A combatant using style #1 will feel much different from combatant using style #2. What I really like about the styles is not only these mechanical benefits, but how much they enhance worldbuilding. By creating styles, you can really make, for example, a human swordsman feel different from an elven swordsman, even though they will look the same superficially. You get a feeling of how a character from a certain culture would fight, what weapons and techniques will be used, etc. I just think that styles do a very good job at enhancing the flavor.
And that’s it. I hope I cleared some things up. Also, I hope that now you will want to populate your setting with different unique martial arts styles!
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