Keeping it fun: periodic action other than fighting

+Jake Bernstein sent me this note via my Google profile, and it seemed like a good topic by itself:

Just had a random thought about this topic. I’m pondering a Banestorm game, and I am thinking of how to resolve the very “in-play” specific problem of archers and mages needing lots of time to get off their attacks. What’s to stop the melee fighters from just going to town? In 150 point games, the calculus is bound to be different compared to the 250 point combat-focused delvers in DF. So, I thought, should people learn to Evaluate more? But why would you evaluate more if the other guy can just pound on you while you sit and watch him? At low skill, this is dangerous–your defenses aren’t going to be impregnable! So, here’s the idea: what if Evaluate could be combined with All-Out Defense?? Alternately, what if Evaluate gave the same bonus to your defenses, until you attacked? Either way, the point is that Evaluate would boost your defenses while you were doing it. I think this MIGHT give people reason to try it more often, especially in a lower power game. Since you have been noodling on this subject for a while, I thought I’d ask you specifically. Feel free to use any or all of this on your blog, if it sparks any ideas in you! THanks!

So, what happens when you step away from Dungeon Fantasy power levels? The thing about a DF Scout, especially with a few juicy house rules, is that it’s quite possible for an archer archetype to average more than one arrow every second. There are types of targets that Scouts can’t engage, but rate of fire is not on the problem list.

Mages tend to be a little different, since they’re on the one hand very powerful, and a spell like Burning Death or (in my personal experience as GM) Tickle can be surprisingly effective fight enders, especially for many-on-one fights. Having to spend a few turns gathering up energy is annoying, though – but I have to wonder if it’s worth it. The FP/mana points a character can spend are limited, and spending a few seconds powering up in combat isn’t really the rate-limiting step. It’s the total amount of FP you sling, and once you’re out, you’re out, at least for that fight.

Anyway, +Peter V. Dell’Orto actually came up with another good one (it’s like he does this professionally or something), and suggested that if you spend a FP using Feverish Defense, you could recover it by taking All-Out Defense. He also reminds me that we talked about this once before, and I more or less came up with variations on what’s below then, too. I must like them.

All-Out Defense Combos and Variations


Jake lists a few options above:

Evaluate combines with All-Out Defense


Combines isn’t specific, so let’s see. It could either include AoD in full or in part. So perhaps if you Evaluate, it gives you +2 to one defense, but not the double-defense option (or the other way around). Another fun one would be giving you an extra retreat, instead of just one per round, due to watching out for your surroundings.

He also suggests that Evaluate effectively be All-Out Defense until you attack. I’d have to think about how this works, since Evaluate and Attack are both maneuvers you take on your own turn.

Evaluate is a Focused AoD?


What if Evaluate not only gave you +1 to attack a guy in a following round, but against the target you were evaluating, it also counted as AoD? You would have to choose your target, but you’d be better protected and slightly more likely to hit on the following turn.

I like this quite a bit, actually. You’re watching one foe specifically, and so you get bonuses if you are attacked by him. You don’t take a penalty to other defenses – though maybe you should. If you All-Out Defend (Evaluate), you get the benefits of AoD on your foe, +1 or +2 per round to hit him on your next attack, but you defend against all other foes at -2.

Opportunity Costs
One of the issues, I think, with Evaluate is that the opportunity costs are very high. Sure, you can Evaluate, but what else can you do with your one-second turn?

  • Wait – a darn good option, since by virtue of setting a trigger, it allows you to make your attack of choice under more favorable circumstances (at the risk of not making one at all)
  • Attack – the “just pound on him and/or go fishing for critical hits” is always a viable option (well, often, not always), and can seem more entertaining than doing little/nothing for a turn to get a +1 to hit
  • Move – time to reposition yourself on the battlefield can be rare in GURPS. Moving, especially if you’re moving to a flanking position, or threatening to do so and therefore opening up someone’s flanks, can be a great way to boost effective hit rates for the party as a whole
  • All-Out Defend – Not getting dead is a good thing
  • Feint or Setup Attack – Why settle for a +1 to hit next turn when you can get so much more?

The key to a “successful” Evaluate – meaning making it worth spending a maneuver on – is that it seems like a good choice at the time relative to other things that are available. At the moment, like Jake, I’m not sure it does. Some of the above possibilities might restore that balance.

Parting Shot

Still, it might be worthwhile trying a few 150-point fights in real circumstances first. My very first musings on the ebb and flow of combat basically returned to the classic Dell’Ortism about whether the problem you’re trying to fix has come up in actual play.

This could be that as well, especially at the 100-150 point level . . . but maybe not, and while things like The Last Gasp can make fighters periodically back off (or just go for broke and hope they exhaust the foe before they drop themselves), at lower point levels, playing an archer who gets one shot off every three seconds, at moderate skill level, might wind up being an exercise in frustration.

6 thoughts on “Keeping it fun: periodic action other than fighting

    1. I thought this discussion sounded familiar. I was leaning towards just offering a +1 on defenses versus the individual you're evaluating, but I don't suppose AoD only effective against the one evaluated subject would be that out of bounds, either.

  1. Thanks, Doug, this is some great stuff. My experience is currently split between DF at 250-300 points and an extended campaign of TL2 Roman style legions at 150 points (they all died at about 180ish…oops).

    The DF fights are completely different than the 150 point PC fights. The highest skill at 150 was perhaps 15, and so the highest defenses tended not to go past 12 or 13 (including DB from shields). I never saw anyone use Evaluate in any of the fights we had in either DF or the 150 point game. What I did see was players using non-Heroic Archers get very bored as their turn consisted of "Fast-draw an arrow and ready the bow" followed by "Aim" followed by "I finally attack." Meanwhile, the melee fighters are actually doing stuff (which admittedly consisted of a fair amount of whiffing!).

    As it stands, Evaluate is just not a compelling use of a turn, regardless of what it means in terms of a "realistic" combat flow and ebb–I tend to look at things almost entirely from the perspective of potentially bored players waiting for the turn–in other words, I focus a lot on Peter's "is it a problem in actual play?" question.

    I think if Evaluate and AOD were somehow combined, you'd see more use of the former and perhaps even more use of the latter. I like the idea of simply saying that Evaluate is no longer a separate maneuver–it's included in AOD. So you get to choose the effect you want from AOD and choose an opponent to evaluate for +1 to hit for up to 3 turns. I would probably NOT penalize the defenses of the Evaluating/AODing character against other attacks–the idea is to make it more compelling and adding a big fat negative to the action isn't going to do that.

    I'll be curious to see Peter's additional thoughts on this.

  2. I think perhaps evaluate is simply too limited. Start by making the attack bonus cumulative for the whole engagement. If you take a second to evaluate an opponent you should be able to apply that knowledge for more then just the next attack. Also you can apply the evaluate bonus to you defenses as well. Such as “The brigand with the one broken horn on his helmet tends to use rapid strike and step to the right as he attacks”. You get a +1 on him for all further attacks and defenses until you disengage from him; meaning that you stop fighting each other and fight other people.

  3. What about combining Evaluate and Riposte?

    I mean, if the target attacks you while you are evaluating him, and you attack on the immediately next turn, on top of the usual benefits, you impose him a penalty to his defense equal to the Evaluate bonus

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