Making your own Luck – Soldier and Tactics

One thing that appeared in GURPS Martial Arts (by +Peter V. Dell’Orto and +Sean Punch ) is the concept of the tactics-based ‘reroll.’

Martial Arts, the Basic Set, Monster Hunters, Impulse Buys

Found on p. 60, under the skill description for Tactics, it presents a few different ways Tactics can help you. There’s an abstract option where the leaders roll Tactics against each other, and the winner gets rerolls equal to margin of success. That’s supposed to only be used where you’re not using a map, but we use it with a map in +Nathan Joy‘s Dungeon Fantasy campaign and it works just fine. The mapped options are also interesting, in that they really only talk about initial positioning – but I want to revisit that positioning later.

Even in the Basic Set, on p. B347, there’s an optional rule to use character points to buy successes. Furthermore, there are the various Luck advantages, which given how many rerolls a win in the Tactics roll can get  you might be underpriced.

Finally, Monster Hunters provided an equivalency for points spent in Wildcard skills, destiny points, and character points. Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys doubled down on this and gave other cool uses for such.

Destiny Points and Wildcard “bonus” points can buy successes. Luck and Tactics buy re-rolls, with 15 points of Luck buying effectively 2 rerolls per hour, 30 buying 4 rerolls, and 60 points giving you 12 rerolls per hour of game time.

That seems to leave us with

  • Points that can be spent to stage up successes or stage down failures. Destiny and Bonus point equivalents.
  • Basic Rerolls that are just that. Reroll a trial and hope for better results. Tactics rerolls are like this.
  • Luck Rerolls are two-fers, in that you roll twice more and take the best of them.
  • Positional changes, as part of Tactics. 

The text above isn’t really meant to lay down “only if” type stuff; it’s really just that right now GURPS offers buying direct successes (with restrictions on what you can influence), and re-rolls, which are lower certainty. Plus some positional advantage options that come in using the tactical map.

Yeah, but I’m GOOD at that

The lovely thing about wildcard skills is really in those bonus points. They’re the reason they’re attractive in many ways.

That being said, in Alien Menace, we have situations that occur and would really be best solved by “my character would never/always execute on this tactic.” Rerolls and buying successes are a good way to make that felt. Meta, but good.

But we don’t use Wildcard skills. We do, however, use Tactics. Those rerolls make for excellent reflection on the quality of the troops. The restriction on using them on those with whom the “Leader” can communicate gives real advantages to tactical radio nets and the like.

Tactics and Soldier

One of the interesting things is that while Tactics, especially with re-rolls, is supremely awesome, Soldier, the professional skill of being in the military, and including such things as when and how to use cover and concealment, is basically crap. It’s the defining skill of professional soldiers in many ways – much more so in describing NPCs and whatnot than Guns (Rifle) is. And yet there’s no real incentive to drive it up beyond a few desultory points.Especially with the new option in Martial Arts, Tactics is the way to go.

So let’s change that. They’re both IQ skills, and a lot of what Soldier describes, Tactics does better. And cheaper. So let’s make Tactics a default from Soldier, in fact, it’ll be Tactics is Soldier-4.

OK, now Soldier is more interesting, and the go-to for things you care about. This makes Born Soldier and Born War-Leader (GURPS Power-Ups 3: Talents, p. 12) even more distinct, which is good.

Rerolls and Bonus Points

I think the split between rerolls and bonus points is worth preserving. So we’ll keep it.

Soldier Skill and Bonus Points

The first thing that will happen to make Soldier more interesting is that training in it will provide bonus points to be used to influence the local environment a bit. Look up your relative skill level on the size and speed/range table, and you get the Size modifier in points for any given combat or engagement. The GM will need to decide. This means you get 1 bonus point at IQ+3, 2 points at IQ+5, and 4 points at IQ+10. In short, you don’t get that many, and since you tend to spend them in bunches, they shouldn’t prolong combat that much.

If you like the skill progressions from Technical Grappling, use the Average progression, but beware that after IQ+10 (still a lot of points) it only takes +3 in the skill per bonus point. Now, that happens to be the same 12 CP per bonus point you get from wildcards . . . and maybe that’s fine.

The rules for spending them is that you may only spend them on yourself, and they may only be spent in a way that an experienced soldier might be able to do. Radio not working and you need to call a fire mission back to base? You can buy a success for a point, using Soldier. Fail a Dodge roll for gunfire? Yep, a soldier point can be spent to make that a success, based on “micro-cover” or some other combat instinct that separates experienced troopers from everyone else. Need to use Architecture to figure out the likely layout of a building? Probably not . . . unless your background contains skills consistent with Combat Enginering. So it’s a judgement call, but should default to a strictly “this came from FM 105-63-4567 kind of thing, or “we learned about leveling buildings from that year in Kreblakistan.”

The other thing that these bonus points might be spent for is each one can be traded for an extra yard of movement (or 20% of Move, whichever is more) when seeking cover doing a Dodge and Drop with a retreat, or some other potentially life-saving movement. Yes, this can get you out of the range of a grenade explosion!

Tactics and Rerolls

I’m going to nerf this contest a bit, but also throw in a bone.

At the beginning of each combat, everyone can make a Tactics roll, either at default (IQ-6 or Soldier-4), or from actual skill. Success gives you one personal reroll. A critical success gives two. A critical failure gives the other team’s leader an extra reroll.

In addition, the leadership contest can be played in several ways. Choose:

  • Both leaders roll Tactics, and you look up the margin of victory +2 on the Size table (so margin 10 gives 6 rerolls, 15 gives 7, 30 gives 9).
  • Both leaders roll Tactics, look up their margin of success with the +2 as above on the Size table, and keep that number of rerolls that can be handed out to anyone. Both leaders get rerolls to hand out if they both succeed.
  • Both leaders roll Tactics, look up their margins, but they cancel out.Basically the same as above, but only one side gets rerolls.

Yes, I nerfed the usual “use full margin of victory” thing. Sure you can use it, but that’s a lot of rolls.

For an example, Team Alien Menace’s AB Karabus has Tactics-15, and he makes his roll by 10. Team Sectoid has Tactics-10, and succeeds by 4. Using Margin of Victory, AB’s margin is 6, looking that up for Size gives +2; AB gets 4 team re-rolls. Using individual stats, AB gets 6 rerolls, but the Sectoid leader also gets 3. They can both use these for their team as they see fit. Using the final method, AB gets 3 rerolls.

Additionally, every warrior may choose to make a Tactics roll (it’s not mandatory; a Sectoid drone with Tactics-5 defaulting from IQ would not necessarily have to make the roll). If they succeed, they get a personal re-roll of their own, If they critically succeed, they get two. 

Only if he has studied his Agrippa . . . which I have!

One last thing: it might be interesting to give foes who have studied your field manuals (for those defaulting Tactics from Soldier) a leg up. Use Tactical Familiarity, a perk just like Style Familiarity (Martial Arts, p. 49), to represent being trained in a particular set of methods and tactics. If a reroll is being used on you, you can cancel it. Once. If you’re the team leader and you’ve studied the other guys’ playbook, you can cancel out a reroll used on any team member if (a) you’re in communication with them somehow, and (b) you make a Leadership roll.

Parting Shot

This tale grew in the telling a bit. I knew I wanted to make Soldier more important. I knew I wanted to expand on bonus points as a metagame utility that has been used with fantastic success in more than one game I’ve played in. Defaulting Tactics from Soldier was something that occurred to me as I wrote. It seems right, especially the way Soldier is described in the Basic Set (p. B221): 

This skill represents a combination of basic military training – the lessons taught at “boot camp” or its equivalent in your game world – and actual combat experience. Only those who have served in an army, militia, etc. are likely to know it.

The GM may require a Soldier roll whenever circumstances would test your battlefield discipline (knowing when to shoot, use concealment, take cover, etc.) or skill at practical field survival (e.g., keeping your feet dry and eating when you get the chance).

This one reads to me like it’s a heck of a lot more than what it’s usually used for – the ancillary stand-in skill for all the small stuff like field-stripping an M16 or digging a foxhole. That’s boring – critical, but boring – and does not incetivize professional soldiers getting more than modest skill levels here.  

Giving bonus points for combat tasks based on investments in a non-Wildcard skill might be too powerful. But it also might be just the right power, even expanded to things like weapon skills.

Oh no you didn’t

One of the things about all of these rerolls and bonus points is that it can – and in some books, was even suggested to – lead to a bidding war. I want to spend two points to turn a success into a critical success. My foe spends three points (or whatever) to “see it and raise” and make me fail.

That’s sucky. I’d recommend that a foe can spend his own points to cancel out yours, but not alter the effect. If you’re spending points to raise your success to a crit, he can use his own to say “nuh-uh.” That’s all. No partial cancels, either. You either spend two points to cancel the two for a crit, or none. If I spend five points to make a crit fail into a crit success, you can cancel two points to drop me to a success, one to make it a failure, and two more to keep it as a crit fail. 

Do it! Do it!

I don’t know that I’m going to institute this in Alien Menace. It needs playtesting and tweaking, and this is the sort of character creation decision that really needs to be in place as character concepts are formed.

But I like the overall cut of the jib here. Soldier matters more, there’s a reason to have Soldier-20 (and default Tactics-16), but you can also get Tactics without Soldier if your character concept calls for it.

Plus: more excuses to use bonus points is good, and I do like that.

11 thoughts on “Making your own Luck – Soldier and Tactics

    1. Being able to give someone else a bonus point or reroll by some sort of Leadership action would be cool. A proactive use might go against skill, while a "blocking" use might be 3+Leadership/2. I just made that up, but it would be fun. Anyone with Leadership could do that at any time. It would even give people a reason to hang back and keep eyes on the battle, which is important.

    2. Well, you'd need to spend your action on it, and be able to communicate with the person you're helping. In the British Army, this is one of the things that senior NCOs are meant to do, although a lot of that matches the RAW for Leadership. Do US Army NCOs do that?

    3. My impression from my army friend, who was an E-7 and was promoted to an officer and is now a Captain, is not just yes but hell yes. I knew a SEAL team leader (an officer) who claimed in Vietnam he never carried more than a pistol, so that he'd not be tempted to get into the actual fray. SEALS are known for their taciturn modesty, so I'm sure we can take that for gospel.

    4. Makes sense. There's a passage in SLA Marshal's _Men against Fire_ where he claims it's the job of NCOs to give an example of shooting, rather than direct the men. That makes no sense by British standards, and I'm glad to hear it's not US practice either.

  1. I have to admit, I'd just consider dumping Soldier instead of amping it up. I'm not sure what it really does that you can't do with just your weapon skills, Savoir-Faire (Military), Armoury, Camouflage, Survival, Tactics, etc. and floating rolls to IQ or DX, depending. It's a skill I took on my PC because I had to, but rather than expand it I'd rather nix it and let the big skills do more of the little things. "Can I dig a foxhole?" "Yes – roll against Tactics to place it properly." Then figure how long it takes off BL. Stuff like that.

    1. Like all the other Professional Skills, it's meant to cover the things that don't have a specific skill associated with them already—it's just that there are a lot of soldiery-related skills that do. Also, like the other Professional Skills, it's not really meant for "adventuring" use, but for between-adventuring (that is, holding down a military job). You can be a really crappy soldier, and an excellent warfighter at the same time, I think.

  2. Yeah, one of my annoyances with a few supplements is when Soldier turns into a replacement for the broad suite of skills a professional warrior needs. (Tactical Shooting, I'm looking at you.) Soldier is mostly a "filling in some empty spaces" skill. Like Professional Skill (Computer Security). It dorsn't stand in for Tactics any more than PS (Computer Sec) stands in for Programming (though I do think something like a -4 default wouldn't be too terrible.)

  3. One thing. The real helpful function of Soldier is as a complimentary skill. Use Soldier with Tactics, Intel Analysis, Heraldry, etc. It's broadly a skill that is part field experience and part knowing the "school solution" like the back of your hand. So, whenever a skill soldier is about to do something in another skill, he can consistently boost it a bit, whereas the rookie not only doesn't have those extra skills, his basic "default" is low and his ability to help is limited. This works for Seamanship and other Crew skills too.

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