It’s generally found, I’ve noticed, that not too many people take the Evaluate maneuver in GURPS combat. At “only” +1 per turn, by and large it’s a less desirable option than whacking away at your foe with your weapon of choice. 

Since many fights seem to involve a lot of circling – which could be cascading Waits, could be Evaluates, likely a bit of both – but GURPS fights largely don’t, Evaluate gets left by the wayside.

I tried to rectify that somewhat in The Last Gasp, since taking Evaluate was tagged as a “Recovery Action,” something that gave you a bonus but also let you recover Action Points. 

Still, a recent discussion started by +Jason Packer made this assertion:

Assertion: The Evaluate maneuver is utterly useless if your skill exceeds that of your opponent, and is dubious at best if your skill exceeds 10. 

It spawned a healthy number of posts, and so today’s Melee Academy open panel was born. Many posted either on G+ or in the comments section of the announcement post, but I’ll summarize them here, plus throw down my own ideas.

In addition, dedicated posts were made by some of my fellow travelers:

Comments and G+ Posts.

So, here we go:

Entirely different way of going about it: allow combatants to take Enhanced Defenses, Extra Attack, Peripheral Vision, increased weapon skill or other appropriate Advantages with the modifier Requires Evaluate, which states that the advantage in question is only available if you’ve Evaluated as your most recent maneuver. To encourage Evaluating, make the modifier generous: Takes Extra Time is only worth -10%, but in these cases it’s probably worth -20% to -50%. How useful is Peripheral Vision if you can neither attack while using it nor gain the benefit out of combat (unless you’re wary enough to proceed down the hall at a stepping rate, which is… actually fairly realistic)? Not nearly as useful. The ability to effectively defend your own sides, or just defend better overall, while you accumulate an Evaluate bonus will make it appealing in situations where you’re against a better/many opponents.


I like the idea of having certain abilities with Requires Evaluate (maybe even allow abilities that are more effective the longer you Evaluate). Some additional options:

  • When using The Last Gasp, ape a bit from All Out Defense and give Evaluate 1 free AP for making defenses.
  • When using Setup Attacks, on any successful defense against a Setup you get a bonus to your MoS equal to your current Evaluate bonus. This is really just an extension of the rules from MA100.
  • Allow combining Evaluate and Wait into a single maneuver – if your Wait can only be triggered by a specific target, and a full round passes without your Wait being triggered, the Wait is retroactively an Evaluate instead.
  • Allow Evaluate to accumulate up to a +5 bonus.
  • Allow Evaluate to negate at least some of the penalties of a Runaround Attack or similar.

+Dustin Tranberg

  • +1 on all attacks vs that foe until your next turn
  • +1 on defenses vs that foe until your next turn
  • Perception/Observation roll to notice something interesting about his/her style/gear/behavior 

My expectation is this would make Evaluate very popular for one-on-one duels, and not so much for melee free-for-alls.

+Joseph Mason

First, what is someone doing when they evaluate a target? Watching them closely, effectively “aiming” there weapon? If that were all, I almost feel that it would be easier to defend against… and we already have this effect with telegraphic attack.

If they are watching a foe, looking for an opening, what does that mean? Is an “opening” something that is easier to hit, or harder to defend against (or both)? And isn’t the latter is already handled better by deceptive attack or a feint?

I kinda feel like evaluate is a special form of “Wait”. Just the trigger is an “opening” which GURPS doesn’t currently have (to my knowledge) any mechanical definition of. One way to do this would be just get rid of Evaluate all together and give a +1 to hit per turn of Wait (max +3), till the wait is triggered. (Ranged 1-hex waits, already work this way IIRC).

Another option is to make Evaluate the inverse of a Feint. Have a (per-based?) melee combat skill vs enemy combat skill (to not be obvious?) and give the MoS as a bonus to hit on the following turn. My fear is that this would not help the low skill attacker that RAW Evaluate might currently be working for.

 +Cole Jenkins

  1. Combine Evaluate with Wait. Your triggered maneuver must be an Attack or All Out Attack on the evaluated foe but it gets the bonus from turns spent Evaluating.
  2. Instead of +1, the first turn gives you a training bonus based on your best melee or unarmed skill. This is analogous to the Acc. from an Aim. 
  3. The bonus also applies to your next active defense against that foe as well as your next attack. Or maybe half the bonus. 
  4. You may use the rules for contests of wills while also evaluating.

+Justin Aquino

my bit of  heresy – build it into Feint. Evaluate is an option instead of taking advantage of a successful feint. The idea is that evaluations happen while performing various routines to probe the opponent’s capabilities.  

When the players makes a Feint, his comparative margin of “success” is an unknown value (he could have even failed, GM may hint it went well or poorly – no exact values). Maybe the GM uses a face down playing card. The player has the option to take advantage of it as a feint or as an evaluate. He only knows when he decides on using it up as a penalty to defenses but not when he uses it as a bonus to the evaluate.  

The Information Asymmetry removes the Certainty the game has that is not found in most realistic combat. 

Ballistic’s Loaded Chamber

With all that input under the hood, I’m going to riff off of the work I did for Technical Grappling, plus a bit of a general rule that I think contains wisdom, but you be the judge:

  • Gamers like to roll dice.
  • GURPS has a perfectly good mechanism for resolving conflict already
  • Effect rolls are cool.

What should Evaluate be?

Pretty clearly, weapon skill should matter in spotting openings. And it’s a pretty good bet that spotting an opening involves Perception in some way.

I’m going to eschew the obvious and see where it takes us: I’m going to make it not a quick contest, but an an attack-style action.

Declare an Evaluate. Roll Per-based weapon skill as an attack. If your attack roll succeeds, you are, at the very least, at +1 to defend against your foe’s next attack (if he throws several blows, you only benefit on the first one). If you fail, you get no bonus. If you critically fail, your foe may defend as normal, but if he succeeds, he gets his margin of success as a bonus to his next attack. If you critically succeed, your foe gets no defense against your effect roll (below).

Your foe makes an active defense using his best weapon skill (much like a feint), or shield if it’s better. You may also roll 3+DX/2 if it’s better. Anything that adds to active defenses, such as Combat Reflexes (you’re an experienced fighter and good at hiding your motions) or even the DB of a cloak or shield (it hides your actions) also provides a bonus. This can include billowing robes or a hakama, if you believe the stories that it hides your footwork. Further, the GM may give a bonus equal to half the usual penalty given by Physiology Modifiers, p. B181 . . . but treat machines based on how similar they are to humans. A humanoid robot might be at +1 because it doesn’t have the usual tells, but still employs familiar guard stances. Something that looks like an Imperial Torture Droid or Lightsaber Drone would be “utterly alien” and get +3 to this roll.

If the defense works, then the attacker has managed to disguise his motions or otherwise hide what his intentions are.

I see no reason not to allow the usual “deceptive attack” type -2 to skill for every -1 to the foe’s defense.

If the Evaluate succeeds and your foe fails to disguise his intentions, you may make an effect roll. I’m going to say base it on Per-based Tactics (!), which in many cases will be Per-6 unless you’ve spent points. However, we’re going to used “Trained Tactics,” which gives a progression like that found in Technical Grappling as a bonus, and in kind to the ST bonuses you get for Wrestling. +1 at DX+1, +2 at DX+2, +3 at DX+4, +4 at DX+7, and an additional +1 for every 3 points of skill thereafter. Look up this number on the thrust column of the Damage Table (p. B16).

So warrior might be:

  • DX 12
  • Broadsword-14 (DX+2; +2 Training Bonus)
  • Per 12
  • Shield-12 (DX+0; no bonus; DB2 shield)
  • Per-based Tactics-10 (for one point)
  • Combat Reflexes for +1
  • Evaluate skill: Per-based weapon skill: Evaluate-14
  • Evaluate Defense: DX-based would be 12; Parry-based would be 13; Block-based is 12.
  • Effect roll: based on Tactics-10 plus the training bonus for his sword: Tactics(Per)-10+2, for 1d-1

Make your roll, and you get to roll and keep that as bonus points to spend against your foe. These points may be spent!

  • Spend 2 points for an extra +1 to defend against a foe’s attack (this adds to the basic +1 you get for making your Evaluate roll)
  • Spend 1 point for a +1 to strike your foe
  • Spend 1 point to cancel out accumulated points your foe may have on you

Repeated Evaluates may accumulate, but never more than the maximum possible roll. In the case of our example warrior above, he may never “bank” more than 5 bonus points.

Parting Shot

  • This visual probe and bonus might replace, to some extent, Feints – especially if the game also uses my Setup Attack option from Pyramid #3/52 (Delayed Gratification). 
  • Evaluate might make an interesting alternative to All-Out Defense in some cases. You can trade those points for bonuses to defense that can exceed those of AoD.
  • It’s easy to see how two evenly matched opponents might spend a few turns Evaluating and counter-Evaluating in order to avoid getting lopsided bonuses stacked against them.
  • There ought to be a way to combine this with a Wait; maybe treat it as a Telegraphic Rapid Evaluate (WTF?) and treat it as a -2 penalty to Evaluate roll, and your foe defends at +2, but you also enter a Wait state while you’re evaluating, and so can pre-empt your opponent’s move if your Wait is triggered. So it’s harder to pull off (because you’re telegraphic your evaluate, and Wait is always obvious), but if it works, you not only may preempt your foe’s move, you get bonus points to spend on your own attack before you spend them on his defense.
  • There’s a naked return to the “Tactics can be used in Personal Combat” flavor of the skill description, by using it as the basis for an effect roll. Joe Average has Per-based Tactics-4, which means that most often, you’ll have to wait six seconds for a measly +1. Assuming you can do it at all. But you do get that +1 to defenses, which might be worth it if you’re punching at DX, or using a weapon at default.

Bah! Bah! Too complicated!

Sure, it’s different. But I like attack and defense rolls, and I like effect rolls. Giving skill points to spend is novel, true, but I like how you can use it to help outguess your foe’s next move, either by allowing deceptive attacks or better defenses.

Characters who are serious about fighting might be Per-based Tactics of 14-16 and have training bonuses of +3 to +5 pretty easily. Such a beast, with an effect roll of 1d+2 to 2d, will do terrible things to foes if given a chance to stare them down. Pure weapon fighters, with high relative skill but not-great Tactics will be more usual, with +3 for Training Bonus (DX+4 skill) not uncommon, and Per-based tactics ranging from 4-6, making the effect roll based on about 1d-3 or 1d-2. Not huge, but not bad either (up to 3-4 points).

The other options that have been listed are good stuff. Christian’s Serendipity Engine is particularly cool, and the specificity of the opening, and the speed with which it’s generated, make for great flavor. It might even be possible to combine the two methods: roll randomly for what’s open and denied, but provide several options from which the player can choose to spend his bonus points.

I picked Tactics because of the phrasing about Personal Combat, and to prevent a typical warrior from being a death god just by being Johnny One-skill. Studying fight Tactics is worthwhile, and it might even be interesting to model “he fights by Tournament rules” as a big bonus to defend against Evaluates.

Anyway, I like the attack/defense roll as part of GURPS. And I like effect rolls. This is an attempt to force Evaluate into that mold as an alternative to the interesting options provided above.

6 thoughts on “GURPS 301: Evaluate

  1. I would argue against using the highest weapon or shield skill. From a personal perspective, you would have a much better chance of evaluating my next move with a staff or sword then you would against me wielding a knife or baton/staff. I'm much better trained in the latter.

    To reverse my own argument, sometimes being training a specific art or style is at a disadvantage. I love knowing what people study, it allows me to come up with tactics to beat them.

    1. Fair, and I debated going the other way. Ultimately, I used the "it's done this way in other places" argument that was used to resist Feints with your best skill.

      I could see a good argument that you judge the other guy's tactics at your best skill-6, or your skill in the weapon being used against you, whichever is better.

      And definitely style familiarity should give either a bonus to detect, a penalty to conceal, or both. I think I mention that.

  2. The problem with using a Per roll is that it runs a risk of devaluing DX, which already plays second fiddle to IQ in many settings. Another thought I had, which has a certain simplicity, is:
    *Virtual Attack*: You make a normal step and attack, and your opponent makes a normal defense. If you hit and the opponent fails to defend, resolve as a normal successful attack; otherwise, you are assumed to have recognized before launching the attack that it will fail, and thus do not attack, and it looks to an outside observer like you're just standing there. If used as part of a step and attack, you also don't step if you would miss, and you don't consume ammunition or fatigue if the attack would normally do so.

    1. Arguably yes. "I attack if there's an opening" usually does include not getting stabbed as part of your definition of an opening. However, I agree that that makes the situation more complicated.

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