5712 in-depth character profiles from comics, games, movies

Hand-to-hand combat scale


Game system: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game

Our article about strength levels in super-hero comic books was more successful than expected. And, as it occurs, it is possible to explain hand-to-hand combat proficiency levels in roughly similar terms.

So let’s see if that interests people as well.


The basic concepts

The character profiles on writeups.org normally include at least one set of tabletop RPG game stats (usually, the DC Heroes RPG).

Now, like with our strength article, we’re not going to fully explain the concepts, for brevity’s sake. But some of the numbers can serve as a rough 1-10 scale of proficiency with hand-to-hand combat. This is an important number, since traditional super-hero action involves a lot of biffing.

When talking about hand-to-hand combat skill, we’re chiefly concerned about:

  1. How hard the character is to hit in a brawl (their ability to dodge, block, sidestep, parry, etc.)
  2. How good the character is at hitting other people in a brawl (particularly people who are good at dodging, blocking, etc. etc.)

In practice, it can be a bit involved. A big guy whose speed belies his bulk (as is traditional) could be easy to hit, but adept at using their speed to hit others. An acrobat or an expert in a “soft”, defensive martial art could present the opposite case. But here we’re gonna stick with simple cases.

The numbers

Example DC Heroes stats block (partial)

The two numbers in simple cases are:

  1. The number next to the “Dex:” attribute (short for “Dexterity”, as his traditional in RPGs).
  2. The number next to “Martial Artist:” in the Skills section can be used instead, if it’s higher than the DEX (averaging it with the DEX, *if* Martial Artist is higher, more or less works)

In actuality, the use of the Martial Artist is more complicated than that, but never mind that for now.

As an aside “Martial Artist” doesn’t mean that the person is trained in kung fu. It just means that the person has a certain skill level in unarmed combat. They might be an experienced barroom brawler, or even just plain fast and aggressive.

Statistically speaking

These numbers are probabilistic. So, for instance if Amazing Adam has a DEX of 05 and Blazing Bob has a DEX of 04, it doesn’t mean that Amazing Adam will always vanquish Blazing Bob in a boxing match. It means that Amazing Adam is observably better than Blazing Bob at hitting people and not being hit, and is more likely to win.

This is like a survey. If Stupendous Susan has a 75% of winning the election to dogcatcher, it doesn’t mean that she *will* win because 75 is a big number. It means that she has a 75% chance to win, and a 25% chance to lose. It’s a roll of the dice. Literally so, since this material is for a tabletop RPG.

So a DEX 03 vs. a DEX 07 character will be overwhelmed, but strangeness *could * happen. The DEX 03 character could do something nonsensical and unexpected and catch even the DEX 07 person flat-footed. It’s not common, but it does happen in a melee.

And remember, this number is about offensive and defensive acumen. Other factors such as sheer strength, sheer mass, resolve, etc. also play a critical role in close combat.


The scale

Here are some roughs definitions of the numbers.

01 The person is extremely bad at fighting, quite possibly due to a handicap, old age, being completely out of shape or being very young. A random adult on the street can likely fight them off.

02 An average, mostly sedentary adult – but not sick or in terrible shape. This person likely has minimal or no hand-to-hand combat experience.

03 A person with training and/or experience with hand-to-hand combat, who likely can defeat or fend off a person with a 02. A common value for criminals, soldiers, police officers and the like.

04 We’re entering expert territory. This corresponds to a well trained person with relevant experience. An experienced but not spectacular boxer or martial artist, or a tough guy who’s won a lot of bar brawls, or a highly trained Special Forces soldier will often have a 04.

05 Low cinematic  level of competence. It is possible for a real person in the real world to fight that well, but it *is* impressive and it’s more like a brawling scene you’d see in a relatively realistic movie. Defeating multiple ordinary opponents is feasible. A boxing champ may have this score.

06 In real-world terms, a master of hand-to-hand combat. Not an uncommon number for action heroes, minor characters in martial arts video games, and the like. They’ll dominate any brawl based on skill, and can defeat a small group of street toughs. Jean-Claude van Damme in many of his 1990s action movies operates at this level, as does Snake-Eyes in Larry Hama’s classic G.I. Joe comic books.

07 Fists of fury. Probably the highest level possible in the real world, and a common number for two-fisted four-colour  comic book heroes. The character can clear a roomful of opponents with just their dukes. That may in fact still work even if said opponents are armed. Bruce Lee in most of his movies operates at this level, as do many two-fisted Golden Age  super-heroes.

08 High cinematic level of competence. That’s roughly the level of Wildcat (Ted Grant), an old-school super-hero whose traditional schtick  is his boxing skill. Many characters in brawling video games, and many heroes of “wire fu” fantastic martial arts movie, may have a 08.

09 This is a world-class grandmaster even in a world of super-heroes. This person can engage even superhuman fighters with good odds of winning. Daredevil (Matthew Murdock) at his height, ninja master and all, would be a good example.

10 Comic book great-grandmaster. Batman (Bruce Wayne) in most versions, or the Bronze Tiger (Benjamin Turner) at his height would be good examples. This person can confidently wipe the floor with *scores* of ordinary mooks, entire teams of experts, and low-end superhumans. They are practically undefeatable, even if their opponent is much stronger and heavier.

11 As with any good 1-10 scale, this one can be cranked up to 11. This is the “best fighter on Earth, even though we’re talking about a ludicrous super-hero world” level. In the Marvel Universe, that means Shang-Chi (the Master of Kung Fu) or Captain America (Steve Rogers) ; in the DC Universe that means Lady Shiva, Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) and Richard Dragon.

12 Definitely, overwhelmingly superhuman. Examples include the very best fighters in brawling video games where the characters are obviously superhuman and can destroy a large car in seconds (say, Ryu in Street Fighters), or Wonder Woman (Diana of Themyscira), or the Batman of the 853rd century using ultra-advanced alien martial arts from the far, far, far future (and probably cybernetics and genetic engineering).

+ A handful of characters have even higher scores. The traditional example is Karate Kid of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who can demolish high-tech tanks with unarmed blows or take on Superboy, because…. Because. Just nod and roll with it.

To go further, the master shall tread the one true path, and learn the DC Heroes RPG system (by, say, buying the Blood of Heroes: Special Edition book ).


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