Alternate Feints vs Setup Attacks

Over on Dungeon Fantastic, +Peter V. Dell’Orto has a rules thought about doing the Feint maneuver a bit differently. Go read it. I’ll wait.

His overall thought boils down to that the Feint is an enabling roll, that all you have to do is win the quick contest. High skill just makes winning that much more sure, but it is a quick contest, so not entirely sure.

Then, the next attack you throw, whatever penalties you throw at him via the usual mechanism of Deceptive Attack (usually -2 to hit for -1 to defend) are doubled, effectively making it -1 to hit for every -1 to defend.

Overall, I like this. It preserves the power of the Feint (-1 to hit for -1) but doesn’t require additional book-keeping from turn to turn. You just know that you get double-plus good deceptive attacks. All the usual caveats apply for hit location, target size, etc. So that’s business as usual, and right there, in the moment, you can just figure your attack.


Setup Attacks

Back in Pyramid #3/52, I published an article called Delayed Gratification, which introduces the concept of the Setup Attack. Basically, if you throw a deceptive attack – a real honest-to-goodness attack, that can hit and do damage – you can either take your penalty to hit this turn (which is how Deceptives usually work), or you can delay the impact, and take it next turn. And this stacks with any Deceptive Attack you might throw that turn too. This is the classic “I lead with a jab to the face, and when he raises his guard to parry the blow, I kick him in the stomach!” type stuff. The key bit here is that a Setup Attack is an actual attack. It could conceivably hit, impale, and kill your foe if you get lucky with that rapier thrust to the face. 

So, on the negative side, book-keeping. You need to remember that you deceptive-attacked last turn on that guy for -2 to defend, because it stacks with whatever you do this turn. So Peter’s option is superior from that perspective from a mechanics perspective. In a wild melee with 30 guys on the GM’s side of the screen, that’s not nothing.

Peter’s method turns the swinginess of the Quick Contest into a win/lose switch. We briefly discussed making it a Regular Contest, which he responded to (mostly) correctly as “Regular Contests suck.” Mostly because the fundamental conceit of the Regular Contest – that you must win and your foe must fail – is solid. But the best way to do it is to normalize the lower score to 10, and let the higher score float, and icky math in play, so forget it. Also, there’s a legit point that the Quick Contest is simply the right tool for the job here – you just need to be better than the other guy, and margin of success does that quite well.

The advantage of the Setup Attack is not one with Game Design logic, but rather emergent behavior in play. It’s a real attack. It’s easy to envision, easy to play, your foe has to potentially spend a defense, or expend a retreat, to deal with it. It’s not a position shift or a fake-out – it’s an honest to God punch to the face, leg, or whatever. Plus, it preserves the net power of the Feint by allowing the two deceptive attacks to stack, which can give the same -1 to defend for every -1 you take impact of a feint if you can stack deceptive attacks on each other. It also allows you to do things like take a -6 deceptive attack THIS turn, and then if that’s successful, to use thatat -6 to attack (say) the neck at -5 and be at a net +1 to skill. It lets you do more with your skill more reliably, but at a slower pace, than if you had to deceptive attack and attack on the same turn, or trading zero damage for the feint with a single strike the following turn. 

Downside? You can only do this with Defensive Attacks if you want to preserve your defenses turn-to-turn with U-Parry weapons.

Parting Shot

Ultimately, both Setup Attack and Peter’s Alternate Feint can easily co-exist in the same game. They work differently, represent different things, and don’t step on each other’s toes. 

I have previously seen griping about Feints, both from a “they suck!” and a “they’re too awesome!” perspective. Plus Peter’s note that “they’re too swingy!”

Both his and my options address this somehow, by tying them ultimately to the attack roll. I tend to prefer the attack/defense mechanic for most things, and both Peter and I have discussed a “No Contest” variant of GURPS where we try and eliminate contests in favor of attack/defense rolls everywhere. That never got off the ground (busy, and uncertain gain for a lot of work).

But I like the Alternate Feint mechanic he’s proposed. It gets the swingy out of it by making it a binary yes/no, but preserves the effects of the option by doubling down on the Deceptive Attack bonus. It’s a form of Delayed Gratification that I can get behind, and I think it coexists well with the Setup Attack option I wrote a ways back.

One thought on “Alternate Feints vs Setup Attacks

  1. Thanks for taking a look at the post and writing up your thoughts on it.

    The thing about Regular Contests is they don't do well with one-and-done actions. Even if you drop the lower to 10 and adjust the higher down, Feint would have a minimum 50/50 chance of automatic failure due to your foe at all times. That's a high risk of failure and makes it a poor choice. They work better where, very often, the result is "neither of you has won yet!" until someone messes up and fails; Quick Contests work better where the result is "One of you had out-done the other, or you tied." I know you know all that, but I wrote it just now so I'm hitting "Publish."

    FWIW, I do a form of "No Contest!" in my games – anything that has both an attack and a contest version is just an attack. Judo Throws, for example. Using Technical Grappling helps in this regard, too.

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