Fight Analysis: Fellowship of the Ring

I enjoyed writing my first Fight Analysis post so much I decided to follow up with another one. Same genre, broadly speaking, but this one’s a real fight scene instead of a comedy skit – in fact, the climactic duel of the movie.

Fellowship of the Ring came out 15 years ago, but still feels fresh. I think it’s the best of the Lord of the Rings films: the departures from the book are mostly improvements, at least concerning what makes for good cinema as opposed to literature, and Jackson kept his penchant for over-the-top cartoonish action and fart jokes mostly in check with this one. Admittedly, the film probably gets some extra points for having provided the initial shock of seeing Middle-Earth realized on film in a way that didn’t look like complete garbage, good work which the later films did keep up, but that is a praiseworthy accomplishment, right?

There are a couple of interesting fight scenes in the film, with the scuffle with the cave troll the big set piece, but I’ll look at just a short bit of a longer battle scene: Aragorn’s one-on-one with Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai boss. It’s got a couple of very iffy moves that require a creative interpretation, and a crazy one that you’d think Gurps, buttoned-down and reasonable in nature, would have no way to represent, but once again, Martial Arts has got us covered.

Without further ado, watch the scene. (Seriously, do, or you’ll have no idea what I’m talking about halfway through.) The action starts at about 0:05, if you’re on a really tight schedule.

1st Second

Lurtz, armed with a bow, takes the Aim maneuver. He’s been taking his sweet time, probably failing a self-control roll against Sadism to draw out the kill. Boromir is just kneeling there, completely out of it at this point, staring up the arrow shaft.

Out of nowhere, Aragorn! He’s a ranger, so we can assume his Stealth is pretty high, but still, running literally right into someone without their noticing is a nifty feat. He takes the All-Out Attack (Strong) maneuver with the flying tackle option, p. B372. Lurtz is unaware of the attack and doesn’t get an active defense.

Aragorn does 1d+1 or 1d+2 with the +2 for All-Out Attack, depending on his exact move and HP. Now, the rules don’t say that you get your Brawling damage bonus to slams, while you do get one for Sumo Wrestling, but I certainly would add it. Consider that a tiny little house rule. Lurtz does 1d-2 or 1d-1, since he’s not All-Out Attacking; Aragorn’s roll is at least twice Lurtz’s, and the Uruk goes down, throwing his bow and arrow away in the process. This is a flying tackle, though, not a regular slam (suggesting Aragorn really needed that extra yard of reach) so Aragorn falls down as well; he tries a Breakfall roll (I guess?) but only manages to roll around uselessly; he might be feeling the shock penalty from the hit he just took. Judging by how much quicker he gets up, I’m going to assume Lurtz succeeds on his Breakfall (although we don’t see it).

2nd Second

Lurtz takes the Ready maneuver and picks up a shield from the ground. You can’t actually do this from a crouch by the book – you have to be kneeling, sitting, lying down or crawling to pick something up. I’m going to assume that’s an omission though, just on the basis of common sense. Aside from people with serious joint issues, picking something up from the floor should not require you to get on your hands and knees.

Aragorn takes the Change Posture maneuver and goes from lying down to kneeling (it takes two of these maneuvers to stand up).

3rd Second

Lurtz takes the Ready maneuver, picks up a falchion, and stands up as the step portion of his maneuver.

Aragorn takes the Change Posture maneuver and stands up.

4th Second

Lurtz takes the Committed Attack (Strong) maneuver, taking two steps and swinging his falchion. He rolls at -2 because of the extra step. Aragorn parries normally.

Aragorn tries a Beat to take the Uruk’s falchion out of the action. He makes a ST-based Two-Handed Sword roll; Lurtz counters with a ST-based Shortsword roll and wins.

Beats kind of suck, which is a pity since they’re such a mainstay of cinematic swordfights, and there have been various suggestions for how to make them worthwile. I think the best is that a beat works as both a normal and a defensive feint. I would even allow a win by, say, 5+ to make the opponent’s weapon unready. One other thing: two-handed weapons should have an advantage with beats. I’d say +2 is reasonable. All that’s back in house rule territory, though!

5th Second

Lurtz takes the Committed Attack (Strong) maneuver and uses his falchion to shove Aragorn (p. B372, Martial Arts, p. 112), for thr+2 cr with no wounding and double knockback. He rolls Shortsword at +0 to hit.

Aragorn tries to parry, but rolls a critical failure, and the critical miss table indicates he drops his weapon.He suffers knockback, and the GM rules he stumbles backwards several yards, hits a tree, and drops his sword from the shock of the impact.

At this point, Aragorn’s player grumbles about the ruling. The GM hesitates, because next time we see him, Aragorn’s got his sword back in his hand, only to drop it a second time. This all indicates some kind of retcon by the GM, a common enough occurence; in the fuss, Aragorn’s player ends up missing a turn. (“No, you used it to pick up your sword, remember?” the GM will insist in all innocence later on.)

6th Second

Peeved at the player and a little overexcited, the GM decides Lurtz throws his spiked shield at Aragorn. Aragorn fails his dodge roll, and Lurtz pins his neck to the tree with the shield! “Now hold on,” Aragorn’s player shouts, “where the hell in the rules does it say you can do that!?” The GM frantically leafs through Martial Arts, convinced there’s something there to shut the player up.

Boromir’s player, bored to tears by arguments over rules, says something along the lines of “Look, it doesn’t matter if there’s a mechanic for it, it’s awesome, ok? Just let’s get on with this fight.”

“You’re already unconscious and at -HP, ok? So shut up,” the GM replies, searching the book ever more frenziedly, “or the Uruk will have a go at you again.”

“There is no such rule,” Aragorn’s player insists. “I don’t even know what skill he used to attack, Throwing Art? He’s got Trained by a Master now?”

“Wrestling!” the GM shouts triumphantly, and shoves the book across the table, open to page 132. “It’s called Proxy Fighting.” This is an optional rule that permits fighters to use unarmed attacks beyond their Reach by flinging stuff at their opponents: you kick a chair at someone and treat it as a kick with a range penalty. In this case, Lurtz is using his shield to grapple Aragorn’s neck!

Aragorn’s player stares at the book, and then at the GM. “That’s the stupidest…” he begins, but leaves it at that; he knows by now not to argue.

Aragorn takes the Break Free action and the two roll a Quick Contest of ST, which Lurtz wins. (He probably gets +1 or +2 for a high Wrestling skill.) Aragorn is still grappled.

7th Second

Lurtz takes the Ready maneuver, moving a step towards Aragorn and switching to defensive grip. It’s called ‘defensive’ but it gives a normally one-handed weapon +1 to damage too, at the cost of a -2 attack penalty.

Aragorn tries Break Free again, and wins the ST contest this time. He slips out of the shield’s grip just as…

8th Second

Lurtz makes an All-Out Attack (Strong) with the Telegraphic Attack option, swinging at Aragorn’s neck. He rolls at -5 for the hit location and +4 for Telegraphic Attack, for -1 total, and he’s aiming to do +3 damage: +1 for his grip, and +2 for the maneuver (assuming ST 16 or less, but it might be more). His attack roll succeeds, but Aragorn dodges successfully at +2 for Telegraphic Attack.

Aragorn tries to get away from the Uruk and give him something to chew on meanwhile, so he takes the All-Out Attack (Strong) maneuver as well, to combine mobility and offensive power. He throws an Uppercut at Lurtz’s Vitals, with the Telegraphic Attack option. (When striking someone who’s just used an All-Out Attack, there’s no reason not to.) This is a Brawling attack at -1 for the technique, -3 for the hit location, and +4 for TA, for a total of +0. He succeeds, and Lurtz, having just All-Out Attacked, gets no defense roll.

Aragorn does thr+2 crushing, 1 point more than a regular punch because it’s an Uppercut and with +2 for the maneuver, with possibly +1 for Brawling if he’s good at it. Crushing attacks to the vitals don’t get a wounding multiplier, but even so, it’s enough for Lurtz to feel it through his layered leather corselet (or is that segmented plate?); he makes a HT roll against knockdown (because it’s the vitals). He succeeds, and is basically unaffected. Aragorn hustles past Lurtz at half his full Move.

9th Second

Lurtz spins around and takes a step, back into close combat with the cowardly human. He takes All-Out Attack (Strong) again, and opts to take one of his hands away from his falchion and execute a Shove with it. This takes an attack roll with just DX, assuming they don’t train Sumo Wrestling at Isengard, but, again Lurtz uses TA; with a shock penalty of -3 or so, he rolls at an approximate +1 total. Aragorn doesn’t get a defense roll, because he went All-Out as well on his last turn; if he hadn’t, he would still defend at -2 because Lurtz is coming at him from a side hex.

Lurtz does thr+1 cr (including +2 for the maneuver) for no wounding and double knockback. He rolls enough to cause 1 yard of knockback – or rather, knockforward, because that’s the direction Aragorn gets shoved. He rolls DX at -1 for one yard, and fails. He goes flying.

Aragorn knows he’s about to get hacked to pieces soon. He takes the All-Out Defense maneuver, for +2 to Dodge, and rolls one yard farther away from Lurtz.

10th Second

Lurtz is just about to swing, when Boromir’s player interrupts. “You know, he did that shove last turn? That means he had to take his hand away from the falchion. He was in defensive grip before, so the weapon’s unready now.”

The GM is a little bit ashamed for having snapped at the player earlier, and agrees. “Yeah, you’re right. He takes the Ready action, back into a two-handed grip like before.”

“Oh great,” Aragorn’s player grumbles. “Now you remind us, when I’ve wasted a turn on All-Out Defense. I could’ve taken a Change Posture.”

“Hey, at least he’s not pulling another Jackie Chan stunt,” Boromir’s player helpfully replies. The GM glowers.

Aragorn takes All-Out Defense again, rolling around some more.

11th Second

Lurtz takes an All-Out Attack (Strong) once again, and makes an attack roll, at -2 for his grip. He succeeds. Aragorn rolls Dodge, at +2 for All-Out Defense and -3 for posture, making for -1 total. He succeeds, and Lurtz’s falchion plows into the soft topsoil.

Aragorn takes the Committed Attack (Strong) maneuver with the Telegraphic Attack option: he rolls (a ‘step’), and tries to kick Lurtz’s weapon away. This is a Disarm with the Brawling skill, but using a leg instead of a hand. Now, Disarm and Kicking are both legitimate Brawling techniques, each one defaulting at -2, and as per Martial Arts, p. 64, you just add those two penalties together: Aragorn attacks at -2 for a kick, -2 for a non-fencing Disarm, -4 for posture, and +4 for TA, or -4 total. I would also apply another rule here, though: Using Your Legs (Martial Arts, p. 79) gives -2 to DX but +2 to ST for grappling with the legs. I would add that same +2 to Aragorn’s ST for the purposes of Disarm here, even though he’s not using a grappling skill to do it.

The two fighters roll a Quick Contest of ST. Lurtz gets +2 for a two-handed grip, and Aragorn might get +2 for using the legs. Aragorn wins, and the falchion thumps to the ground.

12th Second

Lurtz takes what looks like a Do Nothing maneuver. The GM is stumped, vacillating between different options.

“Come on,” Aragorn’s player goes, “Call it. That’s what you always tell us when one of us holds a fight up like this.”

“Yeah, fine, he takes Evaluate.”

“Why not just kick Aragorn back,” Boromir’s player suggests, “or better yet, doesn’t he have a knife, or some kind of backup weapon?”

“No,” Aragorn’s player yelps, “but I do! I have a Large Knife, why didn’t I think of that before?”

Aragorn rolls Fast-Draw (Knife) and succeeds. He pulls out a big curved knife, and takes the Committed Attack (Determined) maneuver to thrust at a random hit location: -4 for posture, +2 for maneuver. Aragorn succeeds. Lurtz tries a Wrestling parry (you can see his hands coming down to try and stop the knife) but fails.

The hit location roll comes up 6 or 7: Lurtz is hit in the right leg, right in the middle of the quadriceps. Aragorn rolls damage normally, but the wounding modifier is reduced to 1 because of the hit location.

“Why did I say I was stabbing him?” Aragorn’s player asks himself out loud. “Why didn’t I swing? I always forget stabbing is so lousy in this game: less damage, and it’s no better and usually worse than cutting when it comes to the wounding modifier, unless you hit the torso or vitals. And those are always armored, so you’ll end up doing less injury anyway!”

“Or the face,” Boromir’s player adds as though someone were listening, “you get a better multiplier on the face.”

House rule: impaling and piercing attacks get their normal wounding modifier on the limbs. Yeah, they might overpenetrate and end up causing just a narrow wound channel with no major blood vessels damaged, but you can say the same for the torso or the face. There’s just no justification for a knife in the leg being only as harmful as a punch or a kick!

13th Second

Lurtz is unimpressed with the above jeremiad, and goes for his favorite maneuver, All-Out Attack (Strong), combined with TA again. He fires off a Brawling punch to the face: +1 for last turn’s Evaluate, -5 for hit location, +4 for TA, and Martial Arts, p.99, adds -2 for a reach C attack against a foe who’s lying down: that’s -2 total, plus his shock penalty, which might well be as high as -4, the maximum. Nevertheless, Lurtz succeeds.

Aragorn defends at +2 for Lurtz’s TA, -3 for posture, and an additional -2 for choosing Committed Attack on his last turn. He can’t parry at all, so he must dodge, at -3 total. He fails, and takes a solid whack in the face: thr+2 (-1 for a punch, +2 for the maneuver, and +1 for Brawling at DX+2 or more), or probably about 1d+3. Aragorn suffers a Major Wound, and because of the hit location, he gets -5 to his HT roll against knockdown and stun. He fails. He’s now stunned, would fall down if he weren’t down already, and he loses his grip on his weapon; normally, this would mean he drops it, but in this case, the GM rules it’s still stuck in the Uruk’s leg. Aragorn takes the Do Nothing maneuver, because he has to. He then rolls HT again, to shake off the Stun, but fails.

14th Second

Lurtz takes the All-Out Attack (Determined) maneuver, diving into a kneel and grappling Aragorn with both hands by the torso. Kneeling this way does not require Change Posture (Martial Arts, p.98). He rolls Wrestling at +4 and succeeds. Aragorn can dodge at -4 for stun and -3 for posture, for a total of -7. That’s not going to happen.

Aragorn takes Do Nothing again. At the end of his turn, he rolls HT again, and fails, again.

15th Second

Lurtz takes a Change Posture maneuver to get up, dragging Aragorn up with him.

Aragorn takes Do Nothing, rolls HT again, and fails. He is not getting his points’ worth from his HT score here.

16th Second

Lurtz takes the All-Out Attack (Double) maneuver to bash Aragorn twice.

He starts with a Head Butt in the face. He rolls Brawling at -2: -1 for the technique, -5 for hit location, and +4 for TA (again). He succeeds, and Aragorn defends at -4 (-4 for stun, +2 for TA, and -2 for the grapple), or rather, doesn’t. Lurtz deals thr cr damage, including +1 for Brawling. Aragorn must now make an extra knockdown roll: succeed or fail, he’s still Stunned, unless he fails by 5, in which case he’s knocked out. He doesn’t, though.

Next, Lurtz punches Aragorn in a random hit location, while holding on to him with the other hand. This is a TA again, for +4 to hit, and a success. Aragorn fails to defend again at -4, as above. The strike lands on the torso, and since it’s not a major wound, Aragorn doesn’t need to roll against knockdown again.

At this point, Aragorn’s hurt himself with the initial slam, and taken two punches and a headbutt, for about 4d+4 crushing total if Lurtz has ST 15 or 16. Even with, say, DR 2 on the torso, Aragorn’s probably taken about 14 points of injury by now, so he’s got to be close to zero Hit Points. He’s not there yet, though!

Aragorn takes the Do Nothing maneuver, and rolls HT. He succeeds! He can act normally on his next turn.

17th Second

Lurtz pulls the knife out of his leg with a Ready maneuver. The GM imitates his thrashing and roaring to great effect.

Aragorn takes the All-Out Defense maneuver, rolling away from Lurtz.

18th Second

Lurtz licks his own blood off the knife.

“Uh, what,” Aragorn’s player states; not even a question.

“He’s initiating a Contest of Wills!” the GM answers (Martial Arts, p.130). “Will you accept the challenge?”

“No thanks?”

“Okay, roll Will to avoid getting drawn in anyway!”

“Are you just pulling out rules from that book at random?”

“Roll the damn dice.”

Aragorn rolls Will and succeeds; he can act normally. He eases away a step and takes the Ready maneuver.

19th Second

“Fine, fine, Ready, whatever,” the GM mutters. “He throws your own knife at you!”

“Again with the throwing.”

Lurtz takes the All-Out Attack maneuver. He rolls Thrown Weapon (Knife) at -1: +1 for the maneuver, and -2 for range. He succeeds.

Aragorn parries with his longsword.

“Wait,” Boromir’s player interrupts. “You lost that sword about an hour ago, before everyone else left to get coffee!”

“Yeah,” the GM joins in, “you’re unarmed!”

“No,” Aragorn’s player retorts, “Look at where I crawled! I told you, I’m taking the Ready maneuver, what did you think I was doing here in the same hex where my sword fell? Lighting my pipe?”

“Huh, I didn’t notice that,” the GM replies. “Well, that’s cool.”

Aragorn takes -3 to his parry for posture, but he succeeds. Then, he takes the Change Posture maneuver and gets up into a crawl.

20th Second

Lurtz picks up his Falchion again with a Ready maneuver.

Aragorn takes Change Posture and stands up.

21st Second

Lurtz takes the Attack maneuver, and swings at Aragorn; no modifiers, and a success. Aragorn parries, again with no modifiers, and likewise succeeds.

Aragorn also takes the Attack maneuver, with Rapid Strike, delivering two blows at Lurtz.

“Now let’s see if those points I put into Weapon Master are worth anything,” the player says and makes an attack roll at -3 for Rapid Strike, halved from -6 for Weapon Master. It succeeds. Lurtz parries, retreating, at +1; he also succeeds.

“Here comes another!” Aragorn swings again at -3. Lurtz parries, still enjoying the +1 from his retreat, but now at -2 for parrying with the same weapon a second time: -1 total. He succeeds.

22nd Second

Lurtz takes the Attack maneuver again, and makes another swing at no penalty; Aragorn parries.

Aragorn goes for Rapid Strike again, swinging twice at -3; Lurtz retreats again, and makes both Parry rolls, the first at +1 and the second at -1.

23rd Second

Lurtz tries to end this quickly, and goes for All-Out Attack (Strong) again, but this time he fails his attack roll. He’s clearly outclassed when it comes to swordplay, dominant as he was when fighting barehanded.

Aragorn takes All-Out Attack (Strong) too, with Rapid Strike. His first blow hits, at -3. The hit location roll comes up an 8: the right arm! Aragorn’s player makes the damage roll with a murderous gleam in his eyes: with a longsword (sw+1 cut), ST 15 (sw 2d+1), All-Out Attack (+2), Weapon Master, and a high Two-Handed Sword skill (+2 per die), he does 2d+8 damage, with a wounding modifier of 1.5. It takes 8 or 9 points to cripple Lurtz’s arm if he’s got HP in the 15-17 range, and twice that to dismember it: almost a given, with Aragorn’s damage roll. And dismember it he does! Lurtz only takes those initial 8 or 9 HP, though; the excess is lost once the arm is crippled. Lurtz must make an immediate knockdown roll, but he succeeds.

Before this, Lurtz has been slammed, punched, and stabbed in the leg. Assuming DR 3 on his torso, he’s taken about 3d injury before getting his arm cut off. All in all, he’s walking around with about 19 points of injury now: clearly in the negatives.

“You know what,” Aragorn’s player says, “I’m stabbing him in the vitals with the next one.” This is an attack roll at -6: -3 for Rapid Strike, -3 for the hit location. Aragorn succeeds. In two hands, the longsword stabs for thr+3 imp, which is 1d+4 with Aragorn’s ST, increased to 1d+6 for Weapon Master and 1d+8 for All-Out Attack (Strong). The damage that goes through Lurtz’s armor is tripled for a hit to the vitals: 26 points, give or take.

Lurtz makes a HT roll against death first, because he’s below -1×HP now, maybe even at -2×HP. He succeeds. Then, he needs to make a knockdown roll at -5, for a major wound in the vitals. He succeeds again! You wouldn’t guess from their stringy hair and wonky teeth, but Saruman’s breeding program has produced some mighty fit specimens.

24th Second

It’s not over yet – Lurtz’s HT roll extravaganza, that is. The trifecta is complete when he follows up his death save (that’s what I call it) and his knockdown roll with a HT roll at -1 or -2 against unconsciousness. This, too, he makes! Lurtz can fight normally on his turn. What does he do?

Lurtz executes a grab (p. B370): this is a Wrestling attack at -4, and another -4 for shock; Lurtz takes Telegraphic Attack as well, of course, for +4, so the total comes out -4. He succeeds, wrapping his mitt around Aragorn’s blade, and taking a step forward into close combat.

“He steps up, pulling your sword away from you!” the GM says with fervor in his voice.

“Doesn’t away from me mean into him?” Aragorn’s player replies. “I just put it through his liver.”

“Yeah,” the GM retorts, stone-faced. “He’s plunging it deeper into himself, because that’s how little he cares. He’s hissing and growling at you all the while.”

Aragorn tries to pull his weapon free: this is a full-turn maneuver, and requires a Regular Contest of ST. Aragorn succeeds, but so does Lurtz, so the grab stays.

Now, I have no respect for the Regular Contest. I just think it’s a bad mechanic, any way you spin it. Here’s my house rule for Regular Contests: don’t. Just use a Quick Contest, and if you want to know how long the contest drags on (getting it over with in one second is a bonus, not a bug, in combat, so don’t), assume it takes 10 rolls, minus the winner’s Margin of Victory. That’s it!

25th Second

Lurtz makes another HT roll to stay up, and succeeds. Then he tries to wrest the weapon away again, but this time, his ST roll fails, and he loses his grip.

Aragorn takes the All-Out Attack (Strong) maneuver. “I’m finishing this!” the player announces. Aragorn targets the neck, at -5. He hits, and Lurtz’s dodge roll fails. Aragorn’s sword does 2d+8 damage again, doubled for a hit to the neck. That’s 30 points on average, putting Lurtz at -3 or -4×HP. He needs to make two HT rolls; a failure by 1 or 2 would be just a mortal wound (p. B423), but Lurtz either fails a roll by 3 or more or he fails both of these rolls. Either way, he’s deadMartial Arts states on p. 138 that death from a neck wound represents total or partial decapitation; the GM errs on the side of awesome.

“His head comes clean off,” the GM says, “flying off into the underbrush, and his body goes down like a bag of laundry.”

Finally,” is all Aragorn’s player has to say.

“How about me?” asks Boromir’s player.

“You?” the GM sneers. “Oh, did I forget to mention those were poisoned arrows? Yeah, you’ve got, what, six dice of extra toxic damage at this point. You’re out.”

Boromir’s player just stares.

“I rush up to him,” Aragorn’s player says. “Do I roll Diagnosis? I’ve got Pharmacy (Herbal), I might be able to cure him.”

“No,” the GM replies, “don’t bother. He went for the ring; he knew something like this would happen. Just play out his last words.”

Boromir’s player’s fine, though: it was his own fault for losing his shield in the first place, and making a combat character with no ranged weapon skills: you’re just a target if you can’t shoot back, anyway. He’s already thinking about his next character: he wants to be a ranger, too, all sneaky sniping. Too bad about all that cool backstory he came up with: his dad going crazy running the city, the son trying to prove himself worthy to be a leader, all that good stuff. Maybe he could just recycle that into the next guy? And the name, Boromir, he really liked that. Would the GM be pissed off if he just changed it a little for his next character, this ranger guy, also a son of the Steward of Gondor?

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2 thoughts on “Fight Analysis: Fellowship of the Ring

  1. Brilliant. Thank you for the excellent write-up (of probably my least-favourite fight scene in the film, but we can’t have everything).

    Liked by 1 person

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