Returning to the ebb and flow of combat: All-Out Whatevers

Revisiting a theme: what about the interplay between attacks, defenses, maneuvers, and combat options?


All-Out Attacks

Over in the SJG Forums on June 7, a poster was wondering about All-Out Attack, and if the “you lose your defenses” thing is too harsh. Some posters pointed out that All-Out Attack was unrealistic, awful, a death sentence, and never used. Unsurprisingly, +Peter V. Dell’Orto responded with a great list of when AoA makes sense. I’ll repost it here because it’s a good list:

Yes, exactly. It’s actually a very, very useful tactic for some situations. In most, forgoing defenses is a bad decision. In others, makes a lot of sense. Off-hand, here are some where it’s a good idea:

  • attacking a foe that can’t reach you.
  • attacking a foe that can’t hurt you
  • attacking a foe that can’t retaliate (unready weapon, for example)
  • attacking from total surprise.
  • attacking when your defenses aren’t good enough to matter anyway.
  • attacking when you’re confident that your extra offense will nullify the chances of being attacked back (or attacked back effectively).
  • attacking when your allies can keep you safe from harm.
  • attacking a foe that can’t really bother with you.

So the question “Why would I ever do this?” is “Sometimes, it’s a good idea.” It’s never been a good idea to do it all the time, but that goes for a lot of maneuvers. It would only be worth getting rid of if it was literally never useful, and other maneuvers filled its niche in a superior way. It’s conditionally useful, and nothing fully replaces it.

Some others posited some trade-offs, such as instead of “no defense,” you take penalties – large penalties, like -4 or even -6 to your defenses. Since you can still defend when you’re stunned, albeit at -4, that seems to be a decent enough place to start – enough so that Technical Grappling has something like this included as a double-optional rule (optional, because all of Technical Grappling is optional; double-optional because if a GM doesn’t like the rule concept, he can and should ruthlessly throw it out. Rule Zero, baby.)

All-Out Defense as a Defense Option: Concentrated Defense

The discussion of All-Out Attack led fairly naturally to one about All-Out Defense. A while ago, I pondered, after a nudge from +Jeffro Johnson about the ebb and flow of combat, and how one mirrors the flow of initiative, back and forth, often seen in combat. In the old game Legends of the Ancient World, if you defended, you gave up your next attack.
As I’d noted in that post, I’d written The Last Gasp to partially deal with that. But ultimately, The Last Gasp and the Action Point rules it lays down doesn’t necessarily encourage pressing an advantage so much as it encourages shepherding resources.

So, moving back to the thread in question, a +Zé Manel Cunha posited an alternate concept for All-Out Defense. As others pointed out, it’s totally against how the rules work – but it is interesting, and ties in with my #11 option from my “Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive” look at attack and defense options that I made a while back.

What that option says is “I get a bonus to my defense on my turn, and it impacts my ability to attack next turn.” In this case, Ze’Manel is, I think, saying that “All-Out” becomes a Defense Option instead of a maneuver (I’ll call this Concentrated Defense from here out, to distinguish from Rules-As-Written).. In exchange for losing the ability to attack on your next turn, you get +2 to your current defense. On your following turn, you may not attack, but you may defend or All-Out Defend as you like.

If you want that +2 and want to retain your defenses as well, go ahead: that’ll cost you one Fatigue Point and is on p. B357 as Feverish Defense.


The thing that I find interesting about this is that I think the emergent behavior of the actions involved are potentially pretty cool. It’s pretty easy to see how you’d wind up in a string of defense-only moves, and have to leverage a real change in the fight to transition back to attack mode.

All Turtle, All The Time


So if All-Out Defense is now a Defensive Option, is there still room for an entire maneuver, decided in advance, that gives up an attack on your current turn for extra defenses now?

Sure. Leave it as-is, and maybe just increase the bonus to +3 or +4. Might even require a retreat.

I’d originally though to stack the +2 it with Concentrated Defense, above, but that runs into oddness. I do All-Out Defense, and then I “give up my next attack” to stack up a +4 total bonus. Then, next turn . . . I do AoD again, but I’d already given up my attack, so can I claim the +2 for Concentrated? Or All-Out? Meh, just disallow it.

Make it hard


Another way to go if you hate defending, or want to really force the trade off, is to just slam a -2 on all defenses (make them 1+Skill/2, or 1+Move) and then all of a sudden, just to have parity on the usual GURPS way of doing things, you have to give up your next attack.

Alternately, instead of “you lose your next attack completely,” make it some gigantic penalty, like -8 or something. The only problem with that is that it’s not that hard to have a DF character with Skill-18 or Skill-24 who can absorb that -8 and still have Skill-10 or Skill-16 remaining. That would nerf a lot of his capability to do Deceptive Attacks to targeted locations and whatnot, so maybe it’s not totally fatally flawed.

Parting Shot

GURPS‘ defense rules, and the All-Out versions of both attack and defense, work fine as-is. They’re not go-to options all the time, but both have their place. The above though experiment is exactly that: if you mixed it up a bit, what kind of fights would that engender?

4 thoughts on “Returning to the ebb and flow of combat: All-Out Whatevers

  1. I am totally going to all-out the next guy that unreadies his weapon. Also… the dudes behind the shield wall that have extra long reach… they will be all-outing as well.

  2. I've had a fair bit of success with All-Out Attacking with a Reach 2 weapon from behind a shield wall when the enemy didn't have any archers. It's a good way for a wizard to be a threat in melee combat – 1d+4 cr is good enough damage to force the foe to Parry or Block, which sets them up for an attack from someone in the front line.

  3. One option to increase the desperation use of AOD is to allow people to use Feverish Defense without paying 1 FP if they take AOD the next turn.

    So A goes.
    B attacks A. A uses Feverish Defense to get a +2.
    A goes again, and can either do whatever (and pays 1 FP for Feverish Defense) or does AOD (and doesn't.)

    That would perhaps force more people onto the defensive.

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