Retroactive GURPS-Day Post: Setups and Feints

Over on the SJG Forums, a poster going by Varyon dropped in and threw down some concepts for how to do an actual Feint out of a setup.

One of the conceits of the setup attack is that, well, it’s the same as a Deceptive Attack, but defers the bonus to a later time. There are some details that make this not suck, but it basically is a real attack, that requires a real defense, or you get stabbed or slash. It also has the benefit that it does eat up a parry, it enables retreats by the defender for positioning (allowing one of the natural consequences of being Feinted – backing the heck up) and a bunch of other stuff.

Honestly, Setup Attacks (Pyramid #3/52) might be my most instantly usable work.

Still, the Setup is pretty cool. Take two Sword-16 fighters (quite good for low fantasy, borderline not-so-good for Dungeon Fantasy). Our aggressor can strike with a -2 setup, and achieve a possible hit 75% of the time on his Setup Attack. This turn, assuming no DB or Combat Reflexes, but yes on a retreat, the defender is looking at Parry of 3 + 16/2 + 1 or 12.

On the average, then, the defender will make his roll by 2, enough to both parry (you get that by simply rolling under), and negate the setup. So pretty even. If the attacker manages to score – he does full damage, and his setup attack will still have the desired effect next turn (including shock penalties, which don’t impact defenses, and stun, which does).

Against an inferior foe, say Sword-12, our Skill-16 aggressor will be facing Parry-10, which will block the setup attack but leave him at -2 the next turn. Cool – working as advertised. Our Hero is driving him back with his setups (defender retreats) and eking out a -2 on his next attacks, which he can leverage however he likes (Telegraphic for +4 to hit, to a good target, while at a net -0 to defend has got to look tempting.)

Regular Feint


Looking at a pure Feint, the even-skill match is still a net of no bonus (so no change), but the attacker has no chance to strike his foe, and he can’t use a Feint to reposition his opponent, as the Feint doesn’t provoke a defense. The Feint against the lower skill guy is a bit stronger – attacker will, on the average, win by 4, a bigger deal.

On the low-skill side, Feinting a superior opponent is a waste of time. He’ll have to outroll his foe by 4, and the odds of his margin being larger than his foe’s is about one chance in seven. Not great.

The setup attack, he’s attacking at 10 (the best he can do) vs a Parry of 12 if his foe chooses to retreat. Well, still not great. 50% chance to make the attack at all, and his foe will negate it completely 83% of the time. Net of about 1 in 12 – so it’s actually worse in this case to try the setup without any bonuses to skill.

Setups as Feints


The Setup Mechanic takes advantage that everyone that knows how to play GURPS already knows the rules to attack and defend, more or less. Feints have odd edge cases in people’s minds, as you can (say) Feint with a weapon that usually becomes unready without unreadying it (pump-fake?).

The question Varyon asked was “how can you throw a setup that has no other purpose but to draw off your foe’s guard?”

He had an answer in the thread; I came up with a variation where you could accept bonuses to hit for reducing damage: up to +6 for throwing an attack that even if it hits, will do nothing; you’re pulling the blow.

Parting Shot


One thing I’ll notice having had more sleep and some thought about it is that the way I give the numbers, you can get a +6 to hit. I’m trying to think of a melee option that allows this – All-Out Telegraphic Attack springs to mind, or Committed Telegraphic Attack for +8 and +6, respectively.

But they come with rather spectacular downsides in terms of your ability to defend, and your opponent’s ability to defend against you. A setup with +6 to hit gives no downsides you don’t want (your foe doesn’t know you don’t care about damage) and has a significant potential upside.

So I’m revising my thought on this. Instead of +2 per -1 per die damage, scale it up so that the maximum bonus is +4.

  • -1 per die damage gives +1 to skill
  • -2 per die damage gives +2 to skill
  • No damage on a success gives +4 to skill.

That’s a bit more symmetric with All-Out and Committed attacks, and since Setup Attacks stack with other maneuvers and options, won’t allow you to do a Committed Telegraphic Zero-Damage Setup for +12 to hit (it’s “only” +10). Telegraphic Attacks, though, really just increase the chances of putting your blade where you want (rolling a potentially successful attack), because the +4 bonus is offset completely by the +2 to defend.

That’s a nice bit of happenstance there, but it works for me. “I’m obviously stabbing you in the face!” puts the blade where you want it, and doesn’t really impact the outcome in your favor – other than making them burn a defense, which might be very desirable if you have multiple attacks per turn, or are setting up a friend’s attack!

All considered, allowing bonuses to skill for pulling your blow is a nice thought; we’ll have to playtest it and see if it breaks anything.

2 thoughts on “Retroactive GURPS-Day Post: Setups and Feints

  1. One thing about pulling the blow – right now, you can do that in GURPS with no skill bonus or penalty. It's worth wondering if it's a) fair or b) realistic to say that you can pull your blow for a better chance to hit, and if pulling your blow means you are more likely to successfully draw down someone's guard than if you attacked at normal power.

    1. Mechanically, I look at it as another application of the +1 damage, +1 defense, +2 to attack equivalency, depowered to make it +1 per die, which is often equated to +2 damage. I look at it somewhat as trading speed for power from a rationalization standpoint. Defensive Attack (-1 per die damage for +1 to your own defenses) makes an in-kind trade.

      I understand what you're getting at, though. The point Varyon made though was that a Setup Attack was better in all cases than a Feint (in his estimation – I'll do some simulations on that), and there needed to be something that was Feint-like within the "superior" Setup Attack paradigm. Giving up damage seemed the thing.

      Of course, just saying that if you want to do that, throw a defensive attack Setup, and be better able to protect yourself from the return stroke.

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