Thursday is GURPS-Day, and running up to next week’s Melee Academy topic on disarming, my friends and I are passing back and forth videos of violence. This led to a discussion of movie violence vs. real-world violence, and the differences between the two. The discussion came up for GURPS, largely because it has the depth of detail that allows the discussion to be had at all.
Suffice it to say that when you look at real-world violence, one of the things that seems quite apparent is that “roll for initiative,” or “make a morale check!” isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the law.
This leads me to wonder if in more gritty games, it would be a good idea to separate Initiative and Speed. You still go in speed order, but there’s a moral/aggression factor that is different than who’s quickest.
Again, in movies, you see a lot of well-balanced fights. Two fighters trading blows more or less equally. You also see a lot of “this is the hero’s moment to shine!” fighting, where the Director, acting as GM, has decreed that the Mook is Just Going to Take It. If you’re watching the movie Equilibrium, this can be between the same two characters, in different parts of the movie.
I won’t spoil it. But go watch.
In the real-world, what one tends to see other than in very circumscribed situations is that one fighter has the initiative, and the other reacts. This can change – and it’s often the goal of the one that doen’t have the initiative to make it change – during the fight.
GURPS “initiative” is really the order in which actions are declared. But fast on your feet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re controlling the course of a fight.
In the real fights I’ve seen, usually there’s someone who’s driving the action. They make a series of All-Out or Committed Attacks. The other guy is back on his heels. He’s either making Defensive Attacks or even taking All-Out Defense.
This continues until the fight is over, or initiative somehow switches.
What are the rules supposed to do?
I got a note from Kromm on this one, which is worth reposting here to see just how far I’m going to deviate from the rules as they’re supposed to be:
“Surprise Attacks and Initiative” (p. B393) was *NEVER* intended to be used when two mutually antagonistic parties can see the other before hostilities begin! An initiative roll for partial surprise is made only in the two situations spelled out in paragraph 1 of those rules:
- A party on alert (the “defender”) is engaged by a previously unseen party (the “attacker”). The defender was expecting hostilities but not necessarily from the attacker, who only just appeared. The initiative roll determines if being initially unseen gives the attacker the edge (attacker wins) or if the attacker fails to account for the prepared defense — in effect, the *defense* is unseen — and suffers a reversal (defender wins).
- Two sides that were previously unaware of each other suddenly come into contact. The initiative roll determines who gets organized first and does something about the hitherto unknown threat.
If the defender wasn’t expecting hostilities, there’s no roll at all that’s total surprise.
If each party could see the other before anyone got violent and each recognizes the other as hostile, there’s no roll — that’s standard combat, and who acts first is a function of the combat sequence.
Corner cases where two parties sight each other but don’t immediately go to fighting are best resolved by treating everyone as having taken a Wait and using “Cascading Waits” (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 108).
An Initiative Number
I’m wondering if this could be represented by some sort of initiative number. If as a fighter your initiative number is lower than your foe’s, you may only choose defensive attack or All-Out Defense. This is a variant on Untrained Fighters from GURPS Martial Arts (box on p. 113).
Rolling for Initiative is actually a thing in GURPS, as part of Partial Surprise (p. B393). The guidance for total and partial surprise is deliberately vague; there’s room for fiat and interpretation here. But some good examples for triggering it for the purpose of looking at initiative using the alternate rules would be:
- An aggressor makes a successful Intimidation check
- A defender is ready for trouble but fails a Perception check
- During a fight, someone gets punched
- A leader fails a leadership test
- A fighter sees one of his side get thwacked hard
- If you have Combat Reflexes or Enhanced Time Sense, you get +2
- The winner of a Quick Contest of Leadership gets +1 for their side (only one group qualifies here)
- A successful Leadership roll by the side’s leader gets +1 (both can qualify for this)
- If you have one point in Tactics, you get +1 for you
- If you or your side are victorious in a Quick Contest of Tactics, your side gets +1
- If you or your side are victorious in an Intimidation Check, you get +1
- If you got hit last round, you’re at -1; if you were hit and injured you’re at -2; if you failed a Fright Check, you’re at -4, unless you were also . . .
- If you were stunned, you go last, but you might figure the number in case one has to decide between multiple people who’s the least last
- If you have to attack through a forest of high-reach weapons, you’re at -1 per each hex of Reach you’re down on your foes. Knife vs Reach 3 polearm? Yeah, -3.
- If you don’t see any good way to hurt your foes (look! a shield wall! crap!) you’re at -1
- Some advantages and disadvantages will give you permanent bonuses or penalties for the roll (0 to +2)
- Leadership, Tactics, and Intimidation will impact the roll (0 to +4, perhaps)
- Your perception of your ability to hurt your foe will impact the roll (0 to -2)
- If you believe your foe can hurt you or just did, this will impact the roll, perhaps severely (-4 to +0)
- If you think your side is winning or losing, that will impact the roll (-2 to +2)