Steve Jackson Games GURPS – Generic Universal RolePlaying System

GURPS Martial Arts – Cover

Excerpts from GURPS Martial Arts 2nd Ed.

"Miyamoto Musashi" sidebar, p. 10.

Miyamoto Musashi

This legendary swordsman lived during the tumultuous times of the 17th century in Japan. His martial arts prowess and ruthlessness are legendary. More recently, he has also become famous for his work on swordsmanship and philosophy, The Book of Five Rings, which has a huge following among both martial artists and businessmen.

Musashi (his full name was Shinmen Musashi no Kami Fujiwara no Genshin), was born in the Miyamoto village around 1584. He soon developed an interest in the fighting arts, and at the age of 13, he killed an adult samurai by throwing him to the ground (perhaps with early jujutsu moves?) and then hitting him with a stick. This was but the first of a long string of victories.

Musashi dedicated his life to the mastery of fencing techniques. He lived in the wilds, a wandering ronin, learning and developing his art to maximum efficiency and defeating all challengers. Musashi favored the wooden sword, or bokken, over the normal steel blade, although he used normal katanas extensively during his life. He successfully defeated almost all enemies, from swordsmen to exotic weapon-users. Due to his skill and dedication, he became a Kenshi (sword saint).

He also proved to be a master of strategy, helping lead the army that destroyed the Christian daimyos of Shimawara in 1638. A few years after this, he became a hermit and wrote The Book of Five Rings less than a month before his death in 1645.

Adventure Ideas: Samurai or ronin PCs might encounter Musashi. Picking a fight with him will most likely be a losing proposition (see p. 88 for a character write-up). But if the adventurers behave properly and courageously, he might take a liking to them (a Very Good or better reaction roll) and perhaps even give them a few lessons. Being trained by Musashi could be worth 1d character points per month of training (he would not stay in one place much longer than this), all to be put in the Katana skill. Also, the PCs' Reputation would go up by 1 (paid for by unspent or future character points) if they let it be known that they were students of Musashi. This would gain them respect, but might also draw challenges!

"Maneuvers" preamble, p. 42.


A martial arts maneuver is a specific type of attack or defense. Maneuvers are treated like skills; each one defaults to one or more prerequisite skills, or to DX. Kicking, for instance, is a Hard maneuver defaulting to Karate-2. Some maneuvers can also default to other maneuvers (all special kicks, for instance, have two different defaults: one from Karate and another from the basic Kicking maneuver); this is a special exception to the Double Defaults restriction on p. B45. When figuring a maneuver from default level, always use the best default.

When a maneuver defaults to "any combat skill" (e.g., Feint), this means that a version of the maneuver is available for any hand weapon skill, or for any bare-handed combat skill. For maneuvers like this, a separate version is required for each combat skill (see Specialization, below). Many fighters, especially in low-point-level campaigns, will have put no points into any maneuvers except those required by their style. They can still use any of the maneuvers below at the listed defaults!

"Styles" chapter intro, pp. 70-71.

The term "martial arts" covers a huge variety of disciplines. There are many different objectives, philosophies and weapon forms. Each school, or collection of teachings and techniques, is called a "style."

Styles with a similar background may vary widely in stances, maneuvers and overall character. There are "hard" styles that work aggressively, "soft" ones that concentrate on defense, and combinations of the two. Traditional techniques compete with pragmatic, modern ones for supremacy. Some styles are designed for exercise and tournament events; others work best in the streets. And, beyond all this, each style has a specific "flavor" that individualizes it and its users.

In a Martial Arts campaign, choosing one or more styles for a PC provides another roleplaying angle. In combat, his actions will be shaped by his training. In the dojo or school, and in everyday life, his behavior will be influenced by the spiritual teachings (or lack thereof!) of his style. It will also provide guidelines for choosing skills and special maneuvers for the fighter.

This chapter describes many different styles, some historical, some futuristic and some fantastic, but these descriptions need not be set in stone. The 20th century has seen a great deal of blending between martial arts techniques, as experts seek to combine the best elements of different styles - and who knows what the future will bring? At the same time, there are so many variations within the same styles (there are probably hundreds of Karate schools, for instance), that a martial arts connoisseur could probably find fault with a general statement about any style.

Each GM should feel free to modify the style descriptions to suit his campaign and his perspective of the skills in question. And some GMs will dispense with most or all of the rules in this chapter; some players may not want to deal with the extra bookkeeping involved. On the other hand, the extra dimension added to the martial artist character should be worth it.

Each style will be described briefly, with its history and background and a general overview of its specific tactics and philosophy. The style's characteristic skills and maneuvers will be listed and described.

"Jeet Kune Do" style, p. 85.

Jeet Kune Do - 20 points/27 points

This is one of the newest styles in this chapter. It is best known for its rejection of the aesthetic considerations of traditional styles and its creator, the legendary Bruce Lee (see sidebar, pp. 11-12). Lee felt that the traditional styles were too restrictive; by following set patterns, they were easily countered. His teachings emphasized flexibility and unpredictability. Spontaneity was the only rule.

Jeet Kune Do is designed solely for combat. It combines streamlined elements from Wing Chun, other varieties of Kung Fu, and several non-Chinese styles such as Escrima and Boxing. Over the years, teachers have adopted other techniques from other styles, keeping alive the goal of flexibility. This amalgam makes JKD a very powerful style.

Furthermore, there are many legends about Bruce Lee's abilities; if they are true, he might have passed powerful secrets to a few worthy students. In a cinematic campaign, GMs can allow several special abilities.

Primary Skills: Boxing, Judo, Karate.
Secondary Skills: Body Language.
Optional Skills: Flail, Short Staff, Staff, any martial arts weapon skill.
Maneuvers: Back Kick, Ear Clap, Elbow Strike, Feint (Karate) [2 points], Hit Location (Karate) [2 points], Hook Kick, Jab, Jump Kick, Knee Strike, Riposte (Karate), Slip, Spin Kick [2 points], Spinning Punch, Stamp Kick.
Cinematic Skills: Breaking Blow, Immovable Stance, Mental Strength, Power Blow, Pressure Points, Pressure Secrets.
Cinematic Maneuvers: Sticking.

Top of page

Privacy Policy | Contact Us

Steve Jackson Games