Over on the SJG Forums, a thread started up that inspired next Thursday’s Melee Academy topic, a cross-blog event where anyone that wants to take a shot at it writes about their favorite way to tackle a given topic. This particular thread is named “unarmed vs. knife,” and the melee academy was broadened more or less to shortish-reach one-handed weapon (Reach C, 1 in GURPS, probably anything that can strike the same tile or adjacent 5′ tiles in D&D).
That’s neither here or there. What I want to do is point out something. Somewhere around Post 62 the thread sort of digressed (devolved?) into a protracted back-and-forth between mostly two posters. Sure, others got in there, but mostly it was 60 more long, involved posts that are really taking the letter of the rules, shaking them down for their lunch money, and stuffing them in a locker.
Most of this seems to revolve around an interpretation of particular language that is legalistic in nature – the rules say what the rules say, or what you can make them say. This would be somewhat opposed to a descriptive or principles-based approach to the rules and to the game.
In this particular case, the general concept of how the various parts of movement – in this case a “step” can be combined seems to be – with some reasonably support by +Sean Punch more or less that the step/movement and the attack are really just one continuous thing. So you can take it as a step, attack, or an attack, then step. Or if you’re doing something that allows multiple steps, you can mix and match. Or if you’re doing Rapid Strike, you can attack one guy, step, then attack another. Basically, try not to be too atomistic about it, and so long as you’re more or less obeying the rules for when you can change facing relative to movement, you can blend your facing changes, steps, and attacks together in a way that represents your continuous movement fairly. Your foe, likewise, should be assumed to be able to do more or less the same thing on defense.
The sixty or so posts in the linked thread represent a bit of the extreme opposite approach, as if the rules have to be defended in front of some sort of Gaming Supreme Court of Nerd Rage or something.
If you note that I have an exasperated tone in this post, you’re not wrong. Because much as in another parallel thread on the exact parsing of the wording in Committed Attack, I think discussions such as this, that turn on a near Clintonesque view of what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is do not help gaming in general, and GURPS in particular, draw in new blood and new fans. I’m not even sure they help resolve the issues at hand, because they’re so very particular they require a level of system mastery and textual precision that takes a flying leap off the fun mesa, landing messily in the burning abyss below.
Unless they’re contract or patent lawyers who really love their job, because that’s what both of these threads remind me of. I’ve had conversations like this with vendors at work, usually when they’re trying to weasel out of delivering what they promised to deliver, because, well, the contract says precisely X, and we can torture it until it means Y, and if you want what you say you want, well, a million bucks, please.
Again: not helpful.
I said it way, way back: the rules serve the story. This isn’t to invest story with magical powers either, but consider this quote from Eddings’ Belgariad:
“Because it’s necessary to say it. The word determines the event. The word puts limits on the event and shapes it. Without the word, the event is merely a random happening. That’s the whole purpose of what you call prophecy—to separate the significant from the random.”
This is the purpose of rules. To give shape to the event. To allow us to put bounds around what can and can’t be done. To allow the players to have a common understanding, and again to borrow from pop culture (this time Xander Harris), to define rules, borders, and an end zone. Substitute “rules” for “prophecy” here and I think you’re on to something.
That is, rules exist to put gutters and bumpers on the game. To allow the story and events to evolve without someone flinging the table over or deciding that the game is too arbitrary, and the opportunity cost for playing the game is higher than the alternative: shaving one’s head with a cheese grater while chewing on tin foil.
So whenever I see sixty posts worth of not explorations of tactics, but how much you can get away with within the letter, but not the spirit, of the rules, part of me gets frustrated. GURPS doesn’t need that crap, because it suffers from an undue burden of point-based front-loaded chargen, one-second turns that are shorter than the usual time frame within which people conceive of character action, and an attack-defense-effect paradigm that can be festooned with Attack Options and Defense Options. If you take all of this useful color and then require sixty posts to figure out that, no, Clyde, your foe can in fact see you running round him in the middle of a one-on-one combat, and can in fact compensate for such – then you’re turning my favorite game system into something even I don’t want to read about or play.
Surely, of course, I don’t have to play that way – and I don’t. But I’m positive Sean, +David Pulver, and +Peter V. Dell’Orto – just to name the authors of Basic and Martial Arts (though I could throw +Hans-Christian Vortisch in there for Tactical Shooting, a perennial fave on this blog) don’t write rules with the intent that sixty posts are required to figure out what is precisely going on here.
Now, it is possible to seek clarity with what the rules are supposed to be saying, to determine what kinds of action are provided for, and not be trying to be an evil rules lawyer, but instead serve as the lawful good variant of that trope.
Asking if the intent of slicing the pie really does require Step-and-Wait, for example. That’s legit, especially since the text of that passage does seem to require it, but doesn’t call it out explicitly.
Asking when, if ever, anyone would ever use the ST-based rather than DX/skill-based options for moving to someone’s side arc when using Technical Grappling? Totally legit.
But if you find yourself having a “cool” move hinge precisely on the word-for-word interpretation of several rules from several books? If what you’re trying to pull off only makes sense when looking at a series of moves arbitrarily divided by an equally arbitrary definition of what a turn is? What you’re doing is a rules exploit, and if you get Rule Zero’d, you deserve it.
Honestly, as I think of it on the run-around-to-the-side thing, there’s already more or less a consensus that if you want to claim the “the foe can’t defend” that derives from attacking from the back hex, you have to start there. Otherwise, you treat it as a run-around attack, which only treats it as an attack from the side. That’s -2 to defend.
I’m almost wondering if a similar logic should apply for side attacks. You only get the benefit of that if you start your turn in that arc.
Another way to look at it is to treat the “rear” arc as -4 to defend if you end in the rear hex (bear with me), the side as -2, and the front as no penalty. The penalty to defend is the average of where you start and where you end. Defenses are still minus infinity (no defense) if you start in the rear hex.
So a true run-around, starting in the front and ending up in the rear, is at -2 (average of 0 and -4). Start from the front and end in the side? That’s a -1. Start in the side but end in the rear is -3.
That gives a game-mechanical benefit to sliding around a foe, but doesn’t invite the kind of hair-splitting the brings the game to a halt and chases away players.
Another simple way: if a foe steps around you, go ahead and let them make a single hex-rotation to follow you as part of a defense, and two or even three rotations combined with a retreat. This has consequences of its own, of course – it might open up the back to your friends – but it would also make clear what’s going on in that run-around attack, and show why you get that -2 instead of no defense. The game presume you’re not standing frozen, which is exactly what you’re not doing in a swirling melee.