Applying MECE to GURPS Attack-Defense options

In my old job, there was a principle called MECE. Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. This was applied when trying to organize information that already existed into groups for later analysis. This might be a customer demographic, or slicing a business into segments based on some sort of grouping, maybe to figure out which part of a business was making money, or how.

Peter’s post on Fixed-level Ripostes got me wondering about various combinations of this sort of thing. See, a riposte trades a penalty to your defense roll for a penalty to your foe’s defense roll on your next turn. Huh. OK, well a Deceptive Attack – a core, vital part of the Fourth Edition rules, trades a penalty to your attack roll for a penalty to his defense roll . . . all on the same turn.

Those are both considered Options in GURPS. The first is an Active Defense Option (GURPS Martial Arts, pp. 124-125), the second is an Attack Option (pp. B369-370).

Well, that got me thinking. Can we invert the principle, and apply a MECE framework first, and then populate it with GURPS options second? In short, how can one modify an attack or defense roll, and what impact does it have.

Let’s start with the framework. “Modify your attack roll” and “Modify your defense roll” make two good divisions. These can either go up or down, and that is MECE. You either choose a bonus or penalty to an attack or defense.

OK, what about the effects of that modification? Well, we already have “occurs this turn” and “occurs next turn.” Good division. We can also say “impacts me” and “impacts my foe.” Finally, the impact might be “modifies attack roll” and “modifies defenses.” Let’s stop there and see if I can come up with a format that is readable that breaks that down well.

The chart is a comprehensive format, all right, but how to read it?

By the way, I acknowledge that I’ve taken Yak Shaving to an entirely new level here, in all likelihood. I had no idea that I’d wind up with so many options. Yeesh.

Modifer is “what do I do when I have the choice?” So “I get a bonus to my attack roll” is what I do (+4, for example). It impacts the defense of the foe on this very turn (+2 for his defense). That’s a Telegraphic Attack.

Some of these are nonsensical. Can I get a bonus to my attack this round that gives me a penalty to  . . . my own attacks this round? Probably not. 
Oh, and of course, I need to toss in my Setup Attacks! A penalty to hit this turn, for a penalty to your foe’s defense next turn.
That leaves a few things filled (and probably a few left out), and nearly two dozen blank spaces, which may or may not make sense. I’ll comment on a few that might, and crowd-source possibilities for the rest!
So . . . which of these might not be totally stupid? I’ll make a number for all of them, and make some comments, noting whether whatever comes out makes any sort of sense. I’ll color-code the less-desirable ones red, the maybe good ones black, and the ones I think really worthy bold.

I was doing this pretty late, so I may have reversed the “degenerate” commentary periodically. Basically, if I’m attacking, modifiers to my foe’s defenses and attacks and my defenses until my next turn make sense. Likewise, if I’m attacking, I might do stuff that impacts my own next turn. But if I’m attacking, my foe’s next turn is what’s coming next, and “this turn” doesn’t make much sense. Or maybe the other way around. In any case, only one really makes sense.
If I’m defending, I’ve already attacked. Nothing I do can impact that retroactively. But I can certainly impact my foe’s current and following attacks, following defenses, or my own next actions when my turn comes again. I try and make sense of that in my commentary below.Sorry if I have confused myself or others!

  1. I get a bonus to my attack this turn in exchange for a likely bonus to my foe’s attacks against me on his next turn. This one doesn’t make sense, since “foes’ next turn” is too far away to matter. This one’s right out.
  2. This one is interesting, in that it’s like a Telegraphic Attack, but instead of being easier to defend against on this blow, it would make your next blow easier. If I did this, it’d be something like “you get +4 on your attack, but your foe is at +4 to defend for your entire next turn.” This still seems like “bad idea” to me.
  3. A bonus to my attack roll that modifies the foe’s attack on his upcoming turn. Maybe a different kind of Telegraphic Attack, that isn’t easier to defend against, but makes me easier to hit – maybe “Predictable Attack.” +4 to my hit roll this turn in exchange for +4 to his hit roll next turn. This invites abuse, I think. Probably a bad idea.
  4. A bonus to my attack roll this turn that probably provides a penalty to my own hit rolls on the following turn. “Unbalancing Attack?” If I did it, it’d be something like +2 to this attack, in exchange for -4 on your next one, maybe even a -4 to DX instead!
  5. A bonus to my attack now that impacts my defenses on my following turn, of course negatively. Seems a lot like #4, and maybe make them degenerate: that -4 to DX also gives -2 to Parry and Block, and -1 to Dodge.
  6. A bonus to my attack that modifies my attacks this turn? The only thing I could think of here is (say) shifting bonuses or penalties between multiple attacks in some way. So instead of Rapid Strike being -6/-6, you can throw one at -3/-9. That might allow a -6 attack to the vitals, followed by a -9 to the torso. 
  7. A bonus to my own defense that gives my foe a bonus to his attacks next turn? Sounds complicated. 
  8. Likewise here, a bonus to my defenses that gives my foe a bonus to his defenses . . . actually, maybe this one isn’t so bad.
  9. Degenerate with #7
  10. Degenerate with #8
  11. A bonus to my defense that likely gives my next attack a penalty to hit? That one might actually be worth looking at. I put myself in a good position to defend against one blow, which puts me in a bad position to attack the following round. 
  12. Likewise, a bonus to my defense right now that puts me out of position to defend well the following turn. The key to both 11 and 12 would be some sort of exchange rate like +2 this round, but -6 to hit or -3 to defend the following. Against all foes, probably.
  13. I think this one’s degenerate with #14.
  14. This one I like. I take a penalty to my attack rolls, in exchange to a penalty to my foe’s attack rolls on his turn. I call this Evasion, and I’d probably make it something like a penalty to hit and to Parry/Block (but maybe not dodge?) in exchange for a penalty to hit for my foes. This one makes a lot of sense when considering dodging firearms and lasers.
  15. A penalty to my own attack this turn that gives me a bonus to hit the following turn? Huh, some sort of wacky setup, but seems rife for abuse. I can’t hit the brain this turn, so I’ll take a penalty to hit this time, and be even more accurate on my next attack. Nah.
  16. Hard to imagine something that I take a penalty to my attack roll, my defenses this turn are fine, but my following turn my defenses are impaired.
  17. A penalty to attack rolls in exchange for a bonus to my defenses. Well, since the only way to get a +2 to your defenses is to go All-Out Defensive, allowing unlimited trades is a bad idea. Maybe something like -4 to attacks in exchange for +1 to defend, a full-power bu wild version of Defensive Attack, which exchanges damage for defense. I suspect this was considered and rejected during the Martial Arts drafting process. 
  18. I take a penalty to my own defenses to make my foe miss me next turn. This one might have value, since not having to defend at all has benefits in some cases. 
  19. Degenerate with #18
  20. Degenerate with Riposte
  21. A penalty to my defense in exchange for being better able to hit next turn? Hrm. Maybe to cancel out penalties, but never raise your skill higher than base? I defend, but I’m lining up my blow better – not to make it harder for my foe to defend, but offset penalties for footing, darkness, or location.
  22. A penalty to my defense this turn in exchange for a bonus to my defense next turn. Hrm. Setup Defense?
  23. This one can’t happen. By the time you’re defending, your attack this turn is over.
  24. This one would only make sense in terms of penalty shifting. Where instead of taking 0 for your first parry, -4 (or whatever) for your second, you could take -2 for your first parry, -2 for the second, -8 for the third. Or -4 for the first, -2 for the second, -6 for the third, reserving bonuses to potentially needed further parries on a given turn. I kinda like this one.  
So, only two that really might be worth looking at hard, another ten that might bear going “hmm…” before accepting or most likely rejecting, and an about even dozen that probably are rejectable as either nonsensical or rife for abuse.
Shaved the yak pretty fine there. If you got to this point, you get a digital cookie.

17 thoughts on “Applying MECE to GURPS Attack-Defense options

  1. For modes #2 and #4 I think I would prefer something that left the attacker unready, like a non-Defensive Attack with a Great Axe. A way to use too heavy of a weapon without the FP cost, perhaps?

    For #6, being able to redistribute attack penalties seems like a Bad Idea. Given a choice of one attack at 17 or one at 12 followed by by one at 16 I know which I'd chose.

    #17 is very like Defensive Attack. Degenerate with the AoA and Defensive Grip line.

    #23 can happen if you are Waiting. Maybe leaving an obvious opening as a setup in some way?

    Brain too fried to continue…

  2. #2 is bad. It's a big bonus now (+4 to hit) for a minor problem later (+4 to that guy's defenses next time, if they even matter). It's perfect for fights vs. multiple opponents where you won't keep hammering one guy until he drops. Hit mook A at +4, if he survives he's got +4 to defend against you – big deal, you're killing his friend next turn anyway.

    This one and others have a problem of getting a bonus now for no significant cost later. Just in general, you want to ask, is this a "downside" that doesn't really impact me if I choose to fight someone else or I win on my turn? Do I get to decide this? Most combat options in GURPS either limit you now (Telegraphic Attack, Deceptive Attack, RS and DWA, Stop Hit) for a bonus now, or limit you now (Feint, Riposte, Setup Attack, Stop Thrust) for a bonus later. They don't often limit you now for a penalty later, because that's not a real tradeoff – you can always do something else the next turn and not suffer from the penalty.

    1. #14 is good, and we can use that in that thing we worked on and then forgot to keep working on.

      #24 sort of makes sense, but it's going to slow defense selection down to a crawl. People will want to fully calculate their defenses, then decide which penalty to take, and need to track which ones they used.

    2. Yeah, a lot of these are more on the lines of "yes, one can conceive potentially of an action that fits these criteria, but game mechanically, they come with little trade-off."

      #2 I put in red for that exact reason.

      The key would/will be to come up with reasonable consequences for each move that actually provide a downside. The format I used only talks about attack/defense roll levels, but you can also trade damage, global penalties to DX, falling down, weapon or shield unready, etc.

      Some of those already exist in the game, of course. Defensive Attack trades damage for a bonus to defense if you're attacked.

      Agree on #14. 🙂

      How I'd see #24 being used would be to use pennies or something, and just put them away as the saved bonus is used. I agree that any sort of out-of-the-moment calculation has the potential to require being hit with someone's DMG to speed things up. Where I think that this one would be valuable is when being attacked by several critters, one of whom is scarier than another. You want your GOOD defense to come when you choose, not by virtue of who attacks you first.

    3. If you want to save your good defense, then Dodge the weak attacks. Playing with parry penalties on the fly is terrible from a speed of play perspective, but it also messes with the "hordes of weaklings soften you up for their boss" and the "the cleric contributes to combat by forcing the bad guy to Parry, opening him up for the knight" tactics.

      I'd focus on turning #14 into some kind of combination of the Defensive Feints and Set-up rules. Which actually almost writes itself: attack at a penalty and the defender has to succeed his defense by more than your penalty or half of the unsoaked penalty applies to his attack rolls next turn. It's simple and straightforward, so you may not like it Doug =), but I think it works.

    4. Defensive Attack trades damage for a bonus to defense if you're attacked.

      True, but it's trading a benefit you might need later it for a penalty now, not a benefit now for a possible penalty later (which you can decide not to suffer, basically).

      For #24, I get the "save the good parry for later" but realistically, can you do that? Can you realistically prioritize a good version of a defense? How do you parry poorly now and then better later?

    5. Oh, and on #24 – the implication in re-arranging is that you have multiple parries to choose from – a best one, a not-as-good one, a worse one, etc. and you can pick one. The real intent of the cascading penalties is that the more you have to parry, the harder it is – it's the doing it multiple times that's hard, not that you have a -0, a -4, a -8, etc. and you decide which one to use.

    6. One thing that I want to make clear is that this breakdown doesn't make things good or bad. There just all the possible options for trading attack and defense penalties. The right questions to ask as we go down the list of "blank" options are:

      1) Can one picture a move or action that might actually have this effect? If it's totally bunk, stop here.
      2) What's the right game-balance to ensure that there are no "I win!" buttons that have a poor risk-reward ratio (meaning no risk, high reward, why would you ever NOT do this?)
      3) Making it gameable enough that if it's more complex than usual, the complexity is accepted/inflicted only on the person wanting to use the option. So if I like the option to move around defensive penalties a la #24, it must not slow down play due to calculation (that imparts pain to your fellow players). It must not make the GM do extra work (all bonus/penalty is managed by the player). If one can manage that, then the rule makes sense . . . but the REAL desire would be that when the GM uses the rule as he's running 30 mooks, the additional book-keeping is basically painless.

      From that point of view, even Setup Attacks are a problem. They make the GM have to track things from turn-to-turn. This isn't unique to Setups. Lots of moves, like Feint or even throws from locks or swinging a weapon that becomes unready after use, require tracking turn-to-turn. But it's less desirable than the Deceptive Attack "calculate now, forget it later" approach.

      I do not favor complicated in-game solutions. I don't mind complicated out-of-game underpinnings (a la Deadly Spring), but in play, you rolls your dice and kills your orcs.

    7. Peter: "I get the "save the good parry for later" but realistically, can you do that? Can you realistically prioritize a good version of a defense?"

      I'd say it makes perfect sense in the context of focusing on one opponent at the expense of paying less attention to another. In fact, if you wanted to be brutally realistic about it, you might *require* folks to "iterate" their defenses based on how much attention they were paying to the attacker.

    8. Martin, the penalty might need to be greater for "I'm going to use a half-assed parry on this guy, so I save all my loving for this other guy" than would be the case if you just parried the first guy with full intent, and sucked up the -4 (or -2 or -1 depending on weapon type and advantages) for the one you really wanted to defend against.

      I'm not saying it has to be, only that it might be realistic if it was.

    9. I'm just not seeing how "I pay less attention to this guy, so anything I do to defend against him makes my parry against this other guy as good as it would be if he was the only one attacking me" works. If I can take a -4 against you and save my -0 against Doug, what's the -4 represent? The difficulty of dealing with cumulative attacks in a short space of time, or some level of attention? I'd say it's the former, and you just can't re-stack your defense penalties in that way.

      Doug – I'm just beating a dead horse here. Explaining why I think it's broken. Pennies or out of game willingness to track it, I just don't see a plausible explanation to justify it.

    10. What if you declared it during your attack? "I'm going to keep my focus on this guy. I take -2 to all defenses except from this guy until/unless he attacks me. I get +2 to that one. After that, normal."

      So I'm fighting three people, but I'm worried about you, because you're bigger, stronger, or have a magical cooties attack. So guy 1 attacks me, and I parry at -2. Then you go after me, and I get +2 to that, but it's at -4 for second parry, net -2. Third defense is at -8 as usual.

      I think that there's something to be said for "I'm watching and prioritizing my defense against the dangerous guy," but I suppose if you really want to do that, you can dodge or block, saving your parry for the person you're worried about.

    11. Peter: "I pay less attention to this guy, so anything I do to defend against him makes my parry against this other guy as good as it would be if he was the only one attacking me"

      I see it as "I pay less attention to this guy, so anything I do to parry against him is at an extra -4. This allows me to focus on this other guy, whom I parry normally."

      If I am fighting Mooki McMookerson and the Compte de Cuisinart at the same time, and Mooki goes between me and the Compte, my current GURPS options are more defense attention to Mooki and less attention to the Compte, or NO attention to Mooki and full attention to the Compte. (Assuming iterated defenses on the same defense here.) It seems to me that giving full attention to the Compte and less attention to Mooki is a perfectly sensible approach.

      To put it another way, the order that iterative defense penalties are currently assessed is based on turn order, not attention. This is certainly easier to play, but I don't think it's the best model.

      Also note that doing it based on attention opens up trade offs and tactical options.

      Douglas: "What if you declared it during your attack? "I'm going to keep my focus on this guy. I take -2 to all defenses except from this guy until/unless he attacks me. I get +2 to that one. After that, normal.""

      Allowing a bonus for focus is not a great idea, since its another thing to remember on all of the fights where you face one opponent. I'd prefer just more options for dealing with the penalties.

      I like the idea of just prioritizing opponents on your turn. But meh, more paperwork.

      Overall, I'm realizing that GURPS is overly generous about situational awareness in general, and this includes defending against multiple foes. If more than one person is attacking me in sparring, all of my defenses are degraded against everyone, since my attention is divided, or nigh-useless against all but the opponent I am focusing on. In GURPS, it's still rough, but you get to use all of your defenses once at no penalty, and then again at a steep but not insurmountable penalty.

    12. The need to designate "those to whom you're paying attention" really shines when you deal with dodging bullets. You're dodging line of fire, not the bullet, etc., but you can only dodge an attack if you can see the guy pointing the gun at you.

      So it would make sense to designate your "prime target" on your turn, and you get full combat perception/awareness of everything they're doing. For everything else, it's a Per roll.

      Watching more than one person at once might be possible at a global penalty to both defenses AND Per. Again, it's more to track when it comes up, but there are situations where the complexity might be beneficial.

      I could also see "you've lost track of the second foe" being a neat thing – attacks made by said foe would be at best "from the side" even if they're not actually in a side hex, maybe "from the rear, but aware, at -4," or even "sorry dude, you got pasted from behind." That would motivate more backing off and evaluating, which might have the impact of slowing down the frantic pace of GURPS combat. I have nothing against a good flurry of blows, but when that's ALL that happens, it gets a bit strained.

    13. You might allow an evaluating combatant a reduced penalty on multiple defenses. Instead of AoD to just survive, you are defending and looking around to assess the situation and find an opening, so it makes sense.

  3. Read this last night right after it went up, but was already pretty tired, so I didn't comment.

    Thought then that I had an idea to make #7 valid, but it may have evaporated now that I'm not too tired to think straight. Was going for some sort of shield block defense bonus that you'd trade future Per and DX penalties for, a milder form of cowering behind the shield entirely, involving keeping your head entirely protected by the shield…

    1. #7 feels like focused defense to me. You get a bonus to defend, or a bonus to a particular defense, in exchange for being easier to hit because you're out of position. The counter to this is that "easier to hit" is probably best modeled by "harder for you to defend" rather than "your foe magically gets better at striking you." You can maybe justify that you have actually cancelled out location penalties, much like "if you grapple the face, you can hit it more easily" or something like that.

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