The Last Gasp – Designer’s Notes

Thursday is GURPS-day, and so here’s today’s entry:

This one isn’t really navelgazing. I wrote The Last Gasp for a few specific reasons, and I thought I’d share a bit of how the article came about.

First, I’ve been a bit – frustrated is too strong a word – but at least a bit twitchy about the perceived, and maybe acutal, need to do something every damn turn in GURPS combats. There are relatively few incentives to evaluate, pause, or otherwise keep your distance from your opponent once a fight is joined.

Sure, you can use a Wait and Evaluate strategy before you really close to your desired striking range. But once you get within your range, there’s really only a few instances where taking even one turn to gather your wits is a decent thing to do.

The first is to interrupt death spirals of various kinds. If you can back off for a turn after getting thumped, you avoid the shock penalties that only show up for one turn after a hit. Another that can go for a while is to recover from stun. Others can be picking yourself up after a takedown, throw, or other “you fall down” result. Re-readying a weapon might count.

Maybe it’s because I suck, but when I used to spar, unarmed, long staff, twin midstick, double sword, long sword, or short-and-long (we do cool sparring in Hwa Rang Do), you would fight, break, fight, break, etc. Even in grappling, you occasionally pause – sometimes in an advantaged position, sometimes just holding your foe at bay.

Why pause? Sometimes, it’s looking for an opening. A series of feints and tests to get your foe to flinch and open up his guard.

But sometimes, you’re just freakin’ tired. You need a few seconds to gather yourself together, or throw your next combination. This produces what I’ve heard of as “lulls and flurries” in combat. A clash of arms (or legs, teeth, pointed sticks . . . ).

So, I wanted to do this, and I wanted it to it organically, arising from the rules. I also wanted to mimic one more thing I saw in real life. Before a tournament, I’d always, a month or two before, really ramp up my interval training, because how much wind you had really mattered in the two to five minute matches we’d do for grappling. We now do continuous sparring with takedowns and lockouts in HRD, and I have to imagine that your fitness level would be key there too.

So I wanted to have fitness matter. Call that “Note 1.”

The other thing I noted was that spending fatigue wasn’t that big a deal. Sure, once you got down to FP/3 you started having real issues. But until that, no big deal. In the DF game I play with +Nathan Joy  Cadmus has HT 12, so I basically have 7-8 FP I can use in Extra Effort before anything happens to me, and if I can chill out for an hour and a half I’m ready to rock.

Same thing with long-distance GURPS running, or magic, for that matter. It all recovers at 1 FP per 10 minutes (modified for Fit, Very Fit, Unfit, etc.) until you start losing HP.

But many of my friends who run marathons can take three weeks to recover from that kind of strain. Maybe (probably?) that’s losing HP. But you’re sore and stressed for a few days after a good weight workout too, and that’s not HP of damage.

So Note 2 was “losing FP should be easily recovered at first, but losing lots of FP should take a long time to recover, maybe as much as weeks.”

Naturally, my thoughts turned to the Size-Speed/Range Table at this point. I’d had a geometric progression going where every FP took a certain multiple (constant multiple) longer to recover. It was +Steven Marsh who suggested the leveled structure that eventually appeared in the article, which was a way, way better solution than what I’d had.

For the short-term fatigue thing, though, my initial thought was “you spend an action point every time you roll the dice.” Even then, I wanted something that was going to be simple to track in play. I wound up with something fairly similar, but the “per die roll” thing had a certain amount of compelling to it.

Then, of course, I had to consider movement. That was – and is – a bit of a sticky there.

Edit: Fortunately, +Jason Packer has provided a helpful chart covering AP costs through Move 18. Thanks, Jason!

Point costs were also tricky. Fortunately, I had a very capable group of people who were well-disposed to playtesting my ideas: I recruited from the Technical Grappling playtest list, and got great advice. I didn’t always follow it – author privilege – but it was really great seeing a PT report of a boxing match, as an example, and seeing the “standing eight-count” be an important recovery strategy.

Anyway, there are more details in there. I tried to cover short and long distance running and lifting weights in an early draft – those didn’t work out as clean as I’d have liked – but all in all, I think it’s a nice addition. I’d love to play a game in which AP are used.

Which reminds me: +Peter V. Dell’Orto loves to remind me by direct word and indirect role-modeling, that it’s not cool to harsh on people’s fun. The box in the article noting that it’s smply Cruel and Unusual Punishment to make a GM track APs on fifty mooks? Yeah, that’s inspired by my thought of what Peter would say if I told him that this was how all games needed to run. Thus, I worked out a simple 1d6 style roll that would dictate NPC mook actions but, on the average, work out to the same number of actions and lulls as if you were managing your AP one by one.

14 thoughts on “The Last Gasp – Designer’s Notes

  1. I love The Last Gasp, and I'm the kind of GM that would totally enjoy that level of detail, but I'm not aware of many players who would put so firmly on the Awesome side of the ledger as me.

    Any chance you've come up with good ways to indicate, on a character sheet, where the breakpoints are for each fifth of FP? I'm picturing something like the damage track used in Shadowrun where it breaks down the penalties you take visually based on you marking off the Will or Body damage you've taken.

    1. Short version on this one is "not yet," but something that would automatically print out for indication would be useful. What might also be useful would be a cribbage board or something equivalent that might have numbers and penalties on it. Since each person would have a different set of numbers, you'd want a bit of aut0-calculation.

  2. I think the whole Last Gasp deal was something that I really enjoy seeing in a lot of the discussions with GURPS, though depending on the audience it has usually turned into one of the contributing factors that have separated those very passionate about it, and those simply not interested.

    Primarily speaking, GURPS is great because it mimics so much of "the real world" due to the fact that there has been a LOT of research put behind the system, details that you hit spot on in the discussion above. At the same time, some people simply want to get around the table to roll some dice and be with friends.

    I have been reading some cool books on this topic, though where it leads me to think in the regard of the post is that if a mechanic needs to help us promote a key behavior in a game, the behavior needs not be with the Game Master, as we already know how it is supposed to behave.

    Instead, the action points can simply be rewarded to the players (who are in essence the core of the story in my book), by taking something out of the normal "I am going to die unless I keep swinging" to thinking "If I sit back and think, I can potentially get a better advantages."

    Psychologically, the player does not see much beyond their choice that turn. To promote the above behaviour, we as a game designer/game master need to decide what advantage can we give to a player to make them think/feel that waiting on their turn will allow them an advantage in a combat situation.

    As a player, they are not typically connected to their PC outside of a pair of choices each second. Only by providing a systematically profound advantage for the player that they can easily soak in can it really work.

    That being said, I feel that possibly providing a "point" reward pool that for each second/action a player waits, the more points/options they can use later on in the combat to make things a bit better down the road.

    These points would of course be used only during that combat, and the points can be spent to provide temporary quirks, advantages, or modified dice rolls in that one combat situation.

    The GM should not have to keep track these same resources unless it is a significant NPC, and even then it should be something that players can easily keep track of.

    This of course would need to be playtested, though I feel it provides something similar to how the system for "Purchasing Dice rolls with Points" could work in a short encounter like this, and provide players with a means to get reasonable temporary benefits in combat (including buying off fatigue for "taking a breath" from that one encounter and the like).


    1. One of the things the article promotes is extreme fitness. Most characers of "normal" HT (and therefore 10-12 AP) can probably attack and defend for about four seconds before they risk FP loss. More fit characters, either with higher HT or more AP, can do so longer, and follow a strategy of exhaustion of your foe, with ever-increasing penalties to ST, DX, IQ, and HT for your foe. That's one of the things I was going for, and speaks to your "reward the PC" comment.

    2. You know, I don't think I've ever taken Fit or Very Fit for a character before. They're advantages that I just never seem to notice. Combat Reflexes, High Pain Threshold and the Hard To twins get plenty of attention, but fitness falls by the wayside. I'll have to investigate them further, as I'm sure I'm missing out on some good stuff.

    3. See the whole Fit tidbit is something that many people do not really consider unless they are working on a Barbaric character in the first place, primarily because from what I have seen it can really push the "Berserk" disadvantage to some pretty insane extremes.

      That being said, I am unsure of the whole tidbit with Fit being promoted would really work. In many of the games I have attempted running, players would often overlook advantages such as Fit for the same reasons Jason pointed out too, in addition to that fact, players more times than not already assume their characters are pretty fit to begin with (even despite them taking penalties to such a stat).

      The reason why DnD was so popular was the fact that it was relatively easy to understand the scope of one's character through equipment and HP. Stats didn't matter all to much once the equipment started getting to a high enough level, with most of the physical stats being the only real limiters.

      In GURPS, players have ST which determins HP, though they don't realize how vital the HT stat is until they start having to make health rolls. At that point, they have a sudden realization that their character will very much die if they aren't careful, or even worse, will realize it once they fall prey to impulsive combat death spiraling.

      In such cases, I find that I either have to "reward" players with said advantages, provide common sense, or provide a means for the players to manage a resources that they can then use when the time comes. This is primarily due to the fact that HT just doesn't see much use in GURPS (which I think is a core of the problem of what you are facing).

      I have always been of the mindset of making my players more powerful, just for the sake of enjoyment (I typically prefer the cinematic level of play than the realistic) though I know many others are not as familiar. And with that in mind, I will try my best to recommend templates for players to build from so that they know what to expect and know that I had intended for the players to be fit to face key situations. Though more times than not, I would simply just do without it as it was something players typically didn't want to keep track of.

      For some reason, players like abilities that enable them to actively modify their rolls in a game as apposed to passively through initial purchase of stats long term. That could simply just be the type of gamers I play with, but could also be something more. YMMV.

  3. Just gotta say… BattleTech does the "Last Gasp" stuff pretty well. Played a game last weekend and my Jenner was running hot for much of the game– oscillating at the -1 MP -1 to-hit range. At one point, I decided to unload everything… and that put me at enough heat to shut me down for a turn.

    1. I'd been thinking along similar lines (though without the shutdown) when I was trying to figure out if there was a way to streamline the process. I'm going to keep the Battletech way of doing things in mind.

  4. I had not noticed in my first read on Action Points just how quickly you can run out of them if you take a full move in a single second. Average fantasy character, with a move of 6 would use up 83% of his move to take a full move, or 8 AP. Combine that into Move and Attack and he's just burned 9 of his probably 12 APs, and will need to take four or more turns, on average, of just doing nothing to catch back up, very likely many more if he's forced to defend every turn.

    1. The rules on p. 9 can coexist with each other. If you want to go from a standing stop, move, and come to another standing stop, you can use the first paragraph rules. The Acceleration-based rules mean you spend AP to get yourself going, and then basically spend nothing until you try and slow down.

      More realistic rules would not make this free – you'd have to make a Running roll (likely a technique based on HT rather than the skill it is now). But for the typical period and distance of GURPS combats, likely 30yds or less, "free" is probably the right call.

  5. On Jason Packer's helpful chart, shouldnt the AP cost for Move 11+ be adjusted for the fact that you have a 2 hex step, and so get the first 2 hexes "free"? For Move 11, that brings max speed down from 90% to 81%, and saves you an AP (havent checked every level, but I suspect it saves you at least 1 AP at every level).

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