Action Point Economy Thoughts

In the Pyramid Article “The Last Gasp,” I introduced Action Points to GURPS. They are a short-term fatigue store that must be managed in order to fight and move. They were designed as a solution to the “just spam the attack button” behavior that is endemic to the GURPS combat model – at least in my experience. There’s just no downside to it, and much upside. GURPS rewards you for going first, hitting first, and of course not being it. Best way to not be hit? Kill the other guy first (or incapacitate).

Really, for most combats, that’s both fine and realistic. As Emilio Estevez once said: “Two hits. Me hitting you, and you hitting the floor.”

But sometimes, combats are a bit more epic. Or more than a bit. And fighting is tiring. There are sagas and stories of troops so exhausted they are unable to fight. GURPS usually handles this after the fact, through Fatigue Point loss . . . but FP recover at 1 per 10 min, which means that much like the DnD short and long rest, you’re “all better” after a rather brief pause. Even the Long Term Fatigue points introduced after The Last Gasp but written LONG before it (due to odd schedules in GURPS since Ogregeddon) don’t quite get you there.

Regardless, Action Points originated with the car-thought: what if you had to spend an action point every time your rolled the dice? From there, it got modified (you can quickly see where that breaks down) into the form that appeared in Pyr 3/44. The key point is that you spend these short-term points to attack and defend, or even move a lot.

Also in the car, because I always do my best thinking where it’s potentially fatal for me to write things down, I thought about Rapid Strike and multiple parries and defenses. In GURPS, they’re heavily penalized. Rapid Strike is -6 per extra attack. Dual-Weapon Attack is -4, but you only get one. Extra Attack is 25 points and applies to all weapons rather than just your favorite one (if you want to strike twice, buy extra skill if you only use one set of weapons, Extra Attack is if you want to use multiple sets with poor defaults, like a grappling skill and a weapon skill). On the defensive end, each additional parry is -4; extra blocks are -5.

Aside: Having now trained in HEMA as well as Korean martial arts . . . I seriously question the defensive penalties. A properly executed parry requires very little movement with the weapon, as it’s always supposed to be held in a way that covers the vital line. Shield use is no less subtle and quick, and the vast swath of attack angles blocked by a medium shield makes for very effective denials. That is represented by the Defense Bonus, but still . . .

In any case, the thought occurred to me. If using action points, perhaps the exhaustion factor of burning them in order to defend is penalty enough? Or at least enough to make it so that the gigantic -6 to each additional attack (in ranged combat, not entirely analogous, -6 means that what you used to be able to hit at 100 yds you can now only hit at 10yds; Skill-12 at 75% chance to succeed/25% fail goes to 10% succcess/90% fail) and substantial defensive penalties are too much pain?

If you attack twice and have to step and defend twice, you’re looking at 4-7 action points in one second. Given most fighters will have 10-12, and heroic ones might be in the 14-20 range, you’re still looking at a burst capacity of only a few seconds before you have to recover a bit. Recover will only take a second or two . . . but that’s the whole point of the system. To have those couple of second pauses show up as emergent behavior.

Anyway, to the point. No solutions here, because I think it would need playtesting. But I have to wonder if the AP costs of defending make lower penalties make more sense. Defend all you want (or at least more easily), but you’re going to get tired quickly. The foe can still saturate your defenses (well, multiple foes, anyway), but you get tired. The free defenses you get with All-Out Defense will also become more attractive.

On the attack, I think you still need some sort of penalty, and it should scale upwards a LOT as you throw more attacks. I mean, two attacks – quick ones – in a short span isn’t crazy, especially using both hands. But as you use the same thing more and more, you start to get below the limit of reaction times, and that requires cinematic/superhuman abilities fast. But fact is, if you attack four times in a second, you’ve just spent a lot of your AP reserve.

In fact, that would be another way to go, which is forget the penalties to skill (though rushing an attack will cause some), if AP costs per attack went up, that sort of bursty movement would exhaust you so quickly that it would also self-regulate.

The other question that came up in casual discussion there would be the impact of things like Extra Attack and Altered Time Rate impact AP use and recovery. Mostly recovery.

I think Altered Time Rate works well enough as is. Just use more recovery actions as part of your ATR. Attack, then Recover (or vice versa), and use the law of averages to outlast your foe. Burn huge amounts of AP in a one-maneuver burst . . . then recover them. So that probably works well enough.

Extra Attack, though, is tricky. Well, perhaps not. I’ve always rather not liked the “must use two hands” thing, and found Multistrike to be inelegant. Extra Attack should just be an extra attack, period, as it should be better than +6 to skill (24 points). But . . . if Extra Attack also boosted your Recovery Roll by +4 (giving you on the average one extra AP per recovery action) that might be about right. You’re still likely to be burning AP faster than you recover them, though, so Extra Attack is less valuable than it was (sure, you can attack once more per level of Extra Attack, but unless you can recover that faster, it just means you tire faster). A more simple solution might be that each level of Extra Attack gives you +2 AP back on any successful recovery roll. Something like that.

Of course, if you did away with some of the penalties for attacking and defending quickly, then the best way to spend those 25 points might actually be some limited form of AP recovery, and recovering at HT/10 per second is also 25 points.

So Extra Attack is tricky, and to minimize the already substantial bookkeeping load of The Last Gasp (honestly, it would be a fantastic, always use it kind of thing except for the bookkeeping, especially on the GM’s side) it really ought to be something like a bonus to AP recovered.

Or hell, just say that much like All-Out Defense gives you 2AP you can only spend on defenses, Extra Attack gives you 1 or 2 AP that can only be spent on attacks. Probably 1. That’s simple and sidesteps too much additional bookkeeping: “the first N attacks, where N is your level of Extra Attack, are free.” Now THAT makes Extra Attack worthwhile in a way that just getting higher skill isn’t, which is cool.

One day I hope to play in a game that uses The Last Gasp, but lacking a computer to track AP (and I know that at least one Bot has been written to do so), the accounting load has proved too daunting except for Mailainka’s Cherry Blossom Rain campaing . . . where it worked precisely as intended, so he says.

3 thoughts on “Action Point Economy Thoughts

  1. Freely associating here…

    It’s akin to the combat economy in Mythras (formerly Runequest 6), where you’re allotted a certain number of action points per turn, as opposed to tying them to endurance. It makes defensive actions more precious and nicely models being double-teamed – you only have so many actions to spend, and more go to defense under those circumstances (with the benefit in those systems of a successful defense versus a failed attack allowing for negative consequences for the attacker).

    One side effect of this idea – and it might be entirely realistic – is to push fighters to go Alpha Strike on the first attack, maximizing the number of attacks they can make without keeling over in the attempt to overwhelm their opponent immediately. Frankly, given the one second turn, I’m actually loath to make multiple attacks with a single weapon more attractive. Even two attacks in a second are peak performance goals and to exceed that is well in the realm of the cinematic.

  2. My simplified version allows unlimited defenses, but effectively at -3 (Dodge) or -2 (Parry and Block). You pay one (AP-equivalent) for +2 to Parry or Block, and one for +1 to Dodge (up to thrice).

    One can attack *without* spending points, at an additional penalty (generally -4, and -2/-1 per die damage). I find it strikes a good balance.

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