Tactical Shooting and Slicing the Pie

“Slicing the Pie” is a term for moving around a corner with a ready firearm, so as not to get plugged by enemies lurking too close. It exposes only a small amount of potential firing line at a time, in order to reduce the burden on the slicer’s threat perception. It is slow, requires some room to move, but a lot safer than having a bad guy drill you from your rear arc.

If I recall correctly, Agent Starling learns this the hard way in a quick cut scene from Silence of the Lambs.


The technique gets a bit of love on pp. 23-24 of GURPS Tactical Shooting, by +Hans-Christian Vortisch

The Problem


I was lead playtester for the book, and so I do have some (but not extensive) idea of what went on in carving up the rules. Being friends with both Sean and Hans, I also am able to ask questions pretty freely. Anyone is, really, and these guys are both prone to answering polite questions promptly.

Anyway, there was a bit of thread necromancy about a question that came up first nearly three years ago. The user Ultraviolet phrases it well, so I’ll just paste it here:

In a situation where a tactical team is sweeping a building and a shooter is ‘slicing the pie’

Am I correct in assuming this is excecuted as one step per round at a time? So one step, roll to spot (or it may be automatic succes) and the shooter may shoot if there is a target, but does not shoot if there is none. He announces in advance if he wants to evaluate before firing, for -2 to-hit. 

If there is an enemy with a Wait he may also shoot, and this is the time to roll Quick contests to see who shoots first, right?

But if there is an enemy without a Wait, you just shot him?If there is no target you take another step in the same round?

This sounds almost like a Move-and-Wait manoeuvre, but there is no such a thing?

The alternative would be to declare a Move-and Attack right? To rush in and shoot if anybody is there. An enemy with a Wait may very well shoot faster than you. So it is not recommended unless you’re in a hurry!

But can you declare this and *not* shoot if there is no target? Is this similar to the -2 for evaluate? To say “I rush in and shoot at any target whatsoever, but if there is none then naturally I don’t shoot”?

He’s right – there’s officially no such thing as Step and Wait. Wait only allows movement as part of whatever action your Wait turns into, and it’s pretty explicit about that on p. B366: you may only turn a Wait into an All-Out Attack, Attack, Feint, or Ready.

The questions above did get an answer: Sean meant to allow Step-and-Wait to have an official nod, and he recalls giving such permission. The text strongly implies that pie slicing is done with a series of either Step-and-All-Out Attack (Determined) or Step-and-Wait, which will be transformed into All-Out Attack (Determined) if you see a valid target.

Why All-Out? It’s one of the assumptions of Tactical Shooting – if you’re using your sights (Aim or not) you are taking an All-Out Attack (Determined), and with a handgun you get +1 for Determined, and if you’re using a two-handed grip, you get +1 for Braced.
The support for the “Step-and-Wait” decision can be found in two posts by +Sean Punch: here where I post the email he sent me, and this this amplification.

The Text

When the process is described in Tactical Shooting under Turning Corners (“Slicing the Pie”), it’s done mostly descriptively, in a conversational method that is suitable for both tactical combat on a hex map or more open-form combat. 

The lack of explicit mention of Step-and-Wait has caused no small amount of consternation over on the GURPS Forums in the previously mentioned thread. Much of it is from what’s not said, rather than what is said, in the text. One of the more obvious examples:

If someone is lurking around the corner, he may use Opportunity Fire (p. B390) if he took a Wait maneuver. If neither of you chose to Wait, you both roll as above but as a Quick Contest; the winner acts first and a tie means truly simultaneous actions! (Tactical Shooting, p. 24)

So it covers the implicit case that you do Step-and-Attack, and he’s Waiting. It covers the case where neither of you have declared a Wait, but the results of the action are resolved in a very similar manner as a Cascading Wait (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 108).

Without quoting the entire section, though, here’s the summary of each paragraph.

  • Slicing the pie trades lateral movement and time in exchange for purposefully limiting the exposure to potential bad guys around a corner.
  • Start far away, and step sideways with a bit of rotation, weapon pointed at the corner. Some cover is provided by the corner for both you and any potential targets.
  • You may attack as soon as you detect a target. This involves a Perception roll, explicitly for the person clearing the corner.
  • If there’s a foe there, and he has a Wait, he can shoot at you with Opportunity Fire (p. B390). If nether of you have a wait, you roll a Quick Contest to see who sees whom, and whomever wins acts first[1]. There are some modifiers for the usual situations of target ID, useful Advantages, etc.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat . . . step by step until you can see the entire corridor.
So, that’s more or less it. 
Still, even this has a couple of real questions.
I put a footnote [1] where the first comes up. If A is doing a Step-and-Attack, which seems to be the case in the above, and the foe isn’t Waiting, well, usually that means he’s screwed. This is, in fact, an artifact of the normal GURPS turn sequence, and can be interpreted as follows, in my opinion:
  • If you have a case where the bad guy is just standing around, then he is, in fact screwed. Go ahead and roll for Per to see if he notices you at all, but he can’t shoot back. Seeing you pop around the corner may even trigger Surprise of some sort, partial or total. If that’s the case, he may not even get an active defense.
  • If the bad guy is not standing around, but is currently acting in some part of a combat turn sequence and his prior maneuver choice has been defined as anything other than a Wait (he’d been shooting at someone, or was moving from A to B), again he’s screwed, as he may well see you (roll Per for that), but his action was already declared. He may, however, Dodge and Drop or perform any other active defense allowed by his prior maneuver choice.
  • If the bad guy had declared a Wait, you just moved into it, triggered it, and he gets to go first.
  • If the bad guy’s move is sort of indeterminate, then the Quick Contest of perception-based abilities makes for exciting play. You roll to see who gets the advantage and that person may get the drop on the other.
All of that assumes that the guy slicing the pie is, in fact, doing an All-Out Attack (Determined), with a single step.

Even that has an issue, that a Step-and-Attack means that if you walk into the corridor and no one is there, your turn is over with no attack launched. If a bad guy then walks into the corridor on his turn, ready to act, he can gun you down . . . despite that having someone in your field of view to shoot is exactly the point.

Both issues are artifacts, again, of the GURPS turn system.
Some Useful Penalties

Before we get into things more, and discuss the possibility of Step-and-Attack/Wait, let’s first note some already-established penalties.
  • If you do Move and Attack with a ranged weapon, and take more than a step, you are penalized by -2 or the weapon’s Bulk, whichever is worse.
  • Shooting through light cover, or partly exposed: -2.
  • Opportunity Fire: Check target before firing is -2
  • Hexes watched: 0 if one hex, -1 for two particular hexes, -2 for a straight line of fire or 3-4 hexes, and penalties up to -5 the more hexes you watch.
  • Pop-up Attack: -2, no Aim possible.
  • Committed Attack: an extra -2 to actions if you take an extra step as part of an attack.
These are more to set the stage for what follows than anything else. Modifiers in kind to things that will come up.
One more thing: the hexes watched penalty progression would be cleaner/easier using the Size and Speed/Range progression. So for hexes watched, use this instead:
  • 1 hex: no penalty
  • 2 hexes: -1
  • 3 hexes or a line: -2
  • 5 hexes: -3
  • 7 hexes: -4
  • 10 hexes: -5
  • 15 hexes: -6
Unusually for GURPS, don’t apply additional penalties unless you hit the next stage. 4 hexes is still -2; 9 hexes is still -4. This basically matches the progression on p. B548 anyway.
What’s really missing here is a method for a character to declare an action with a bit of persistence. It’s not a full Wait, where the only thing you’re doing is hanging out until the condition is triggered.
So, borrowing from a few of the prior concepts . . . 
Step and Wait

This maneuver allows a usually-forbidden step to the Wait maneuver. Much like Committed Attack, doing so imparts a blanket -2 penalty to DX and IQ to actions following the step. This definitely includes any rolls to resolve Cascading Waits. (This does mean active defenses are at -1, if allowed at all by your maneuver choice).
You must declare what the trigger will be, as well as what you will be converting your attack into: Attack, Committed Attack, or All-Out Attack, or Move and Attack, and what kind, if there are options (Determined, Strong, etc.). Furthermore, that initial step does come out of the movement allowance for the chosen maneuver. So if you’re doing AoA(Determined) and half your current encumbered Move is 3, you may only take 2 more steps after your Wait is triggered.
And again: if you choose Step and Wait/All-Out Attack, you may not use any active defenses until your next turn. You’re hanging your attack with a trigger, not leaving your options open. You’ve already decided what to do, just not when.
For skilled people, that -2 will be a pretty minor impediment, and Step-and-Wait/Attack or Step-and-Wait/Committed Attack or – as is directly pertinent to the case at hand – Step and Wait/All-Out Attack (Determined) may seem like a no-lose option. Perhaps that’s so, but many options in GURPS require narrative resolution only after all prior actions of all parties have been resolved (this is the case for unlimited dodges vs. multiple foes, as the best example), so putting a “beat” between your movement and your aggression shouldn’t break anything, and may well prevent some of the more egregious turn-order-artifact issues that crop up.
Slicing the Pie, Revisited

Now that that’s settled, we can revisit explicitly a stepwise resolution for turning corners. Ultimately, this is a three-step process on each turn. The resolution here assumes the use of a tactical map. The progression is basically declaration and movement, perception, then shoot.
Declaration and Movement
  • Declare your intent to Step and then Wait/Pick your maneuver.
  • Take a Step and any angular rotation that you need. This reveals a certain additional “slice” of the target zone.
Perception
  • Any combatants that may now be capable of seeing each other immediately roll a Quick Contest based on sensory acuity. This can be Perception, or Per-based Guns, Per-based Melee Weapon skill, Per-based Soldier, or Per-based Tactics; use the best relevant skill. 
    • If you did Step-and-Wait rather than Step-and-[some sort of]Attack, this is at -2. 
    • Make a separate roll for each combatant pair! If you slice the pie and find three targets exposed, you will resolve three Quick Contests.
  • If the Per roll fails, you are unaware of that individual[1] and may not defend against his attacks nor attack him until your next turn[2].
  • If the Per roll succeeds, you’re aware of the target, and may attack and defend as allowed by your maneuver choice.
Shoot

  • The winner of any individual Quick Contest goes first if Cascading Waits are involved, resolved in descending Margin of Victory
  • Now resolve any shooting. You’re still at -2 for the held action, -2 for light cover, plus any other appropriate penalties for lighting, target location, target posture, etc.
  • When slicing the pie, you will engage targets (or check fire, if they’re a friendly) as you sweep them. Angle first, then distance (see Engagement Order, below). If you’re in a John Woo movie or a SFOD-D operator and you’re engaging more than one target per second, you may have additional penalties.
Target Discrimination and Standing Around Like an Idiot

The tricky part of the resolution is probably the perception roll resolution. The method of engaging targets is pretty well fixed.
Engagement Order

As mentioned in the text of Tactical Shooting, slicing the pie draws a line from you, the shooter, to the corner that you’re moving around. As you slice the pie, you will resolve and engage targets as they become visible, not take a mighty step, resolve all threats and mentally prioritize them, and take them down in your chosen order. 
Slicing the Pie Incorrectly – Too Close 1
No. You sweep the line from where you were to where you are, and resolve in that order. If you have two on the same angle, shoot the closer one first.
Slicing the Pie Incorrectly – Too Close 2
As an example, as shown in “Too Close 1,” hugging the wall means when taking the indicated step, both A and B become visible. However, even though B is closer (and thus likely easier to hit), the engagement order is A, then B, and both will suffer the -2 for partial cover, since they are covered by the corner as each is exposed in turn.
For another example, in Too Close 2, the engagement order would be A, then C, then B. A because he’s exposed first, and C because he’s closer then B.
With proper distance, stepping away from the wall instead of along it, you can force sequential revelation of A, then B, then C in Too Close 1.
Identify Friend or Foe

When conducting opportunity fire, you usually accept a -2 penalty to your Per-based rolls to identify a target as friend or foe. I suggest making this implicit, rather than explicit, in the Quick Contests of Per. If you make your Per roll by (say) 2 or more, you get friend/foe information. One could also allow both: take a voluntary -2 to look for friend/foe discrimination, but if you make the roll by 4 or more, you get it anyway.
If the GM is giving large bonuses to Per to prevent “I walked right by the guy 2 yards from me” outcomes (below), having IFF require an margin of 6+ isn’t a bad call.
Standing Like A Dork

It’s possible that as you slice a pie, both your foe and the shooter will fail their Per rolls. While that may seem perverse, this is not a sand-table exercise. This is a real engagement with scary people on both sides trying to kill each other. It is entirely possible that the Per rolls will fail, and then what? 
Keep it simple. If your Per roll fails, your Wait isn’t triggered. You don’t engage the target. If you both have failed, just keep going in the turn order.
If you have a VTT like Fantasy Grounds, MapTool, or Roll20 that supports invisible guys, what you can easily do as GM is simply not reveal any foes for whom Per rolls were failed. A shooter can slice the pie and breeze right by a foe, unaware. Happens all the time, and it’s why there’s teams of SWAT guys. 
If that’s simply incredible, the GM can assign large bonuses to all Per rolls, up to the +10 for In Plain Sight, and then the only real thing that will matter is the Margin of Victory, not whether the Contest is Won/Lost at all. That makes target recognition (and the larger margin mentioned earlier) the key bit. The margin required could also vary by how much the friends and foes look alike. If all the foes and (say) hostages are wearing the same clothing, then you’ll want to succeed by (say) 10-Bulk of any weapons in play! This will likely require GM judgement. 
Parting Shot

By introducing Step-and-Wait into the situation, all pie-slicing is pretty much going to be the same. You declare your action – Step-and-Wait/All-Out Attack (Determined) will be popular using the TS rules – and your trigger is usually going to be “shoot the first enemy that sweeps into view.”
Then as you step, resolve QCs of perception-based skills to figure out who sees who.
Only in the case of a Cascading Wait will the order of attacks flop around, but the Per rolls are important to resolve surprise and/or the ability to take active defenses. The Per rolls can also establish friend/foe information.
Then shoot, resolved in an appropriate order. 
After the Shot

One possibility is that skilled shooters may well wish to engage more than one target at a time. In that case, first figure out how many targets can be engaged (in Too Close 2, for example, it’s all 3), and then apply the Ranged Rapid Strike penalties to all shots, but not Per rolls, for simplicity. 
It should be noted that this is where the pros from Dover shine. Spending the 6 points required to buy off Quick Shot to two attacks with full skill will allow two targets to be engaged per foe.
Many on Many, Combat Evolving

As more and more combatants are both coming around the corner (a squad of PCs clearing a room) and being engaged as targets, the situation can get pretty hairy fast. Not just for the characters, but for the GM. The TS protocol of forcing All-Out Attacks for sighted shooting is your friend here, since as combatants emerge from doorways and hallways, you can more or less ignore defenses. 
Still, for expert shooters using point shooting techniques, defenses are possible. So might multiple shots that you can’t know about ahead of time! It may be the case that the pie-slicer does Step-and-Wait/AoA(Determined) and engages one bad guy, only to have a second step out from a doorway. 
In that case, the GM can either say “too bad,” and have the Waiting character’s turn over or allow the Wait to continue, but slap on a penalty of -3 to -6 that can’t be bought off with Quick Shot, plus the usual penalties for Ranged Rapid Strike on multiple targets. 

12 thoughts on “Tactical Shooting and Slicing the Pie

  1. What do you mean "Much like Committed Attack, doing so imparts a blanket -2 penalty to DX and IQ to actions following the step"? Where does Committed Attack get that?

    1. From p. 100 of Martial Arts, under Movement: Step or two steps. A second step gives -2 to
      hit, making the total modifier +0 for Committed Attack (Determined) or -2 for Committed Attack (Strong). Movement can come before or after the attack.

      Basically, an extra step for -2 to hit, but I widened that because the actions that you'll be called on to take after a Wait are more varied, and "everything's at -2 to IQ/DX" is easy to remember. You could also say that active defenses are also -2, as with Committed Attack, but by and large if you're using TS active defenses aren't an issue anyway.

    2. But that's for an extra step not for taking the first step that you get for free most of the time and -2 to attacks and -2 to everything are very different things.

      I'm not sure why Stepping Wait should be penalized at all. The actual problems people have with it will remain either way and it seems like the authors mostly didn't consider it when writing Basic, and it's not like it's particularly difficult given the things GURPS allows you without penalties.

      I don't know about active defenses not being an issue if you are using TS either. TS assumes you will be doing AOA… but frankly PCs are rather unlikely to actually do that as a regular thing,

    3. Wait does not allow a precursor step. Period. Any movement can only come after the trigger. So to allow it, I assign a -2 penalty, similar to pop-up opportunity fire, the extra step in committed attack, or several other penalties that all seem to be -2. In any case, I stand by it: by doing Step and Wait, converted to an actual attack later, you're getting something and you need to pay for it. That penalty is a -2.

      For the other, if you're using TS, then sighted shooting is AoA. If you're not, then the -1 to defend based on the -2 to DX/IQ is pretty clear, though technically I'm saying that the -2 to DX is hitting you for the full -1 to Dodge. I'm OK with this.

    4. You can't combine Wait and a step by RAW, no. Anything but that is in the realm of house rules. For someone to disallow a literal "Step and Wait" seems extremely silly. I can't move forward a yard and be ready to pull a lever while my combat untrained friend can attack twice in one second with a sword without any penalties? Riiight. If a "Stepping Wait" is treated the same as a normal Wait that endangered the usefulness of watching a hallway with Wait. If, like you've done, you downgrade "Stepping Wait" to going after "real" Waits than it's a pretty well behaved maneuver which doesn't seem to deserve a penalty for balance. A penalty for realism is debatable, I don't see it compared to other -0 things but I can see the argument.

      For TS, I just feel like the incentives don't actually encourage normal use of sighted shooting for normal PCs in normal PC tactical conditions.

    5. For someone to disallow "Step and Wait" is extremely RAW. You might not be able to step forward and be ready to pull a lever, but you can be ready to step forward and pull a lever: is that so much worse?

      P. 13 of TS explicitly forbids Aiming with non-AoA shots. Now, if there were a good situation for unsighted shots, indoors would be it. I'm inclined to say most shots overall will use Aim (and thus AoA), but most shots indoors are better off unsighted.

      The real loser is unAimed sighted shots. +1, except when there's any darkness penalty, and no dodge? That's no incentive.

    6. "For someone to disallow "Step and Wait" is extremely RAW."

      The whole point of RAW is that something either is or is not RAW.

      "You might not be able to step forward and be ready to pull a lever, but you can be ready to step forward and pull a lever: is that so much worse?"

      When you want to pull a lever after event x, yes because it completely fails to accomplish that. The entire reason for Wait is for things where you aren't satisfied just doing something immediately.

      "P. 13 of TS explicitly forbids Aiming with non-AoA shots."

      And PCs mostly don't aim.

    7. "For TS, I just feel like the incentives don't actually encourage normal use of sighted shooting for normal PCs in normal PC tactical conditions."

      On that we agree. I've actually got a fix for this and other things, but it's a Pyramid article.

  2. "doing an All-Out Attack (Determined), with a single step (so as not to invoke the -2 or Bulk, whichever is worse)"

    The -2 or Bulk penalty is strictly associated with the Move and Attack maneuver. If you're taking an All-Out Attack maneuver, it doesn't apply regardless of how much you move.

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