+Jake Bernstein sent me this note via my Google profile, and it seemed like a good topic by itself:

Just had a random thought about this topic. I’m pondering a Banestorm game, and I am thinking of how to resolve the very “in-play” specific problem of archers and mages needing lots of time to get off their attacks. What’s to stop the melee fighters from just going to town? In 150 point games, the calculus is bound to be different compared to the 250 point combat-focused delvers in DF. So, I thought, should people learn to Evaluate more? But why would you evaluate more if the other guy can just pound on you while you sit and watch him? At low skill, this is dangerous–your defenses aren’t going to be impregnable! So, here’s the idea: what if Evaluate could be combined with All-Out Defense?? Alternately, what if Evaluate gave the same bonus to your defenses, until you attacked? Either way, the point is that Evaluate would boost your defenses while you were doing it. I think this MIGHT give people reason to try it more often, especially in a lower power game. Since you have been noodling on this subject for a while, I thought I’d ask you specifically. Feel free to use any or all of this on your blog, if it sparks any ideas in you! THanks!

So, what happens when you step away from Dungeon Fantasy power levels? The thing about a DF Scout, especially with a few juicy house rules, is that it’s quite possible for an archer archetype to average more than one arrow every second. There are types of targets that Scouts can’t engage, but rate of fire is not on the problem list.

Mages tend to be a little different, since they’re on the one hand very powerful, and a spell like Burning Death or (in my personal experience as GM) Tickle can be surprisingly effective fight enders, especially for many-on-one fights. Having to spend a few turns gathering up energy is annoying, though – but I have to wonder if it’s worth it. The FP/mana points a character can spend are limited, and spending a few seconds powering up in combat isn’t really the rate-limiting step. It’s the total amount of FP you sling, and once you’re out, you’re out, at least for that fight.

Anyway, +Peter V. Dell’Orto actually came up with another good one (it’s like he does this professionally or something), and suggested that if you spend a FP using Feverish Defense, you could recover it by taking All-Out Defense. He also reminds me that we talked about this once before, and I more or less came up with variations on what’s below then, too. I must like them.

All-Out Defense Combos and Variations

Jake lists a few options above:

Evaluate combines with All-Out Defense

Combines isn’t specific, so let’s see. It could either include AoD in full or in part. So perhaps if you Evaluate, it gives you +2 to one defense, but not the double-defense option (or the other way around). Another fun one would be giving you an extra retreat, instead of just one per round, due to watching out for your surroundings.

He also suggests that Evaluate effectively be All-Out Defense until you attack. I’d have to think about how this works, since Evaluate and Attack are both maneuvers you take on your own turn.

Evaluate is a Focused AoD?

What if Evaluate not only gave you +1 to attack a guy in a following round, but against the target you were evaluating, it also counted as AoD? You would have to choose your target, but you’d be better protected and slightly more likely to hit on the following turn.

I like this quite a bit, actually. You’re watching one foe specifically, and so you get bonuses if you are attacked by him. You don’t take a penalty to other defenses – though maybe you should. If you All-Out Defend (Evaluate), you get the benefits of AoD on your foe, +1 or +2 per round to hit him on your next attack, but you defend against all other foes at -2.

Opportunity Costs
One of the issues, I think, with Evaluate is that the opportunity costs are very high. Sure, you can Evaluate, but what else can you do with your one-second turn?

  • Wait – a darn good option, since by virtue of setting a trigger, it allows you to make your attack of choice under more favorable circumstances (at the risk of not making one at all)
  • Attack – the “just pound on him and/or go fishing for critical hits” is always a viable option (well, often, not always), and can seem more entertaining than doing little/nothing for a turn to get a +1 to hit
  • Move – time to reposition yourself on the battlefield can be rare in GURPS. Moving, especially if you’re moving to a flanking position, or threatening to do so and therefore opening up someone’s flanks, can be a great way to boost effective hit rates for the party as a whole
  • All-Out Defend – Not getting dead is a good thing
  • Feint or Setup Attack – Why settle for a +1 to hit next turn when you can get so much more?

The key to a “successful” Evaluate – meaning making it worth spending a maneuver on – is that it seems like a good choice at the time relative to other things that are available. At the moment, like Jake, I’m not sure it does. Some of the above possibilities might restore that balance.

Parting Shot

Still, it might be worthwhile trying a few 150-point fights in real circumstances first. My very first musings on the ebb and flow of combat basically returned to the classic Dell’Ortism about whether the problem you’re trying to fix has come up in actual play.

This could be that as well, especially at the 100-150 point level . . . but maybe not, and while things like The Last Gasp can make fighters periodically back off (or just go for broke and hope they exhaust the foe before they drop themselves), at lower point levels, playing an archer who gets one shot off every three seconds, at moderate skill level, might wind up being an exercise in frustration.

Thursday is GURPS-Day, but I’m glad I was late this week! The inimitable +Sean Punch updated the GURPS thread of his Livejournal, where he gives weekly work-in-progress notes, and this week was a doozy.

Reposting the text here with some formatting changes, he announced:

We set art deadlines and/or release dates for many projects that were moving slowly. I cannot share dates, but I can name titles:

  1. GURPS High-Tech: Adventure Guns, by Hans-Christian Vortisch
  2. GURPS Loadouts: Low-Tech Armor, by Dan Howard
  3. GURPS Locations: St. George’s Cathedral, by Michele Armellin
  4. GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling, by Doug Cole (douglascole)
  5.  GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers, by Bill Stoddard (whswhs)
  6. GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic, by PK (peekitty)
  7. Transhuman Space: Wings of the Rising Sun, by David Chart
  8. A secret item by Warren Wilson; 
  9. Sean’s GURPS Zombies
  10. Unnamed GURPS Power-Ups
  11. Unnamed GURPS Social Engineering
  12. Unnamed GURPS Thaumatology 

That’s a full dozen titles, including my own Technical Grappling. Not named is Banestorm Martial Arts, which I got a look at during peer review (and it’s great fun), but you can also look for other works in this link, which is kept pretty well updated.

But Sean had warned/advised that his last few weeks of “art has made progress” were no accident, and that the scheduling of the Ogre Launch Party cleared the way for some of the production logjam to start moving. 
So there’s lots of great stuff incoming! Hopefully this will be a GURPS-filled summer!

Revisiting a theme: what about the interplay between attacks, defenses, maneuvers, and combat options?

All-Out Attacks

Over in the SJG Forums on June 7, a poster was wondering about All-Out Attack, and if the “you lose your defenses” thing is too harsh. Some posters pointed out that All-Out Attack was unrealistic, awful, a death sentence, and never used. Unsurprisingly, +Peter V. Dell’Orto responded with a great list of when AoA makes sense. I’ll repost it here because it’s a good list:

Yes, exactly. It’s actually a very, very useful tactic for some situations. In most, forgoing defenses is a bad decision. In others, makes a lot of sense. Off-hand, here are some where it’s a good idea:

  • attacking a foe that can’t reach you.
  • attacking a foe that can’t hurt you
  • attacking a foe that can’t retaliate (unready weapon, for example)
  • attacking from total surprise.
  • attacking when your defenses aren’t good enough to matter anyway.
  • attacking when you’re confident that your extra offense will nullify the chances of being attacked back (or attacked back effectively).
  • attacking when your allies can keep you safe from harm.
  • attacking a foe that can’t really bother with you.

So the question “Why would I ever do this?” is “Sometimes, it’s a good idea.” It’s never been a good idea to do it all the time, but that goes for a lot of maneuvers. It would only be worth getting rid of if it was literally never useful, and other maneuvers filled its niche in a superior way. It’s conditionally useful, and nothing fully replaces it.

Some others posited some trade-offs, such as instead of “no defense,” you take penalties – large penalties, like -4 or even -6 to your defenses. Since you can still defend when you’re stunned, albeit at -4, that seems to be a decent enough place to start – enough so that Technical Grappling has something like this included as a double-optional rule (optional, because all of Technical Grappling is optional; double-optional because if a GM doesn’t like the rule concept, he can and should ruthlessly throw it out. Rule Zero, baby.)

All-Out Defense as a Defense Option: Concentrated Defense

The discussion of All-Out Attack led fairly naturally to one about All-Out Defense. A while ago, I pondered, after a nudge from +Jeffro Johnson about the ebb and flow of combat, and how one mirrors the flow of initiative, back and forth, often seen in combat. In the old game Legends of the Ancient World, if you defended, you gave up your next attack.
As I’d noted in that post, I’d written The Last Gasp to partially deal with that. But ultimately, The Last Gasp and the Action Point rules it lays down doesn’t necessarily encourage pressing an advantage so much as it encourages shepherding resources.

So, moving back to the thread in question, a +Zé Manel Cunha posited an alternate concept for All-Out Defense. As others pointed out, it’s totally against how the rules work – but it is interesting, and ties in with my #11 option from my “Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive” look at attack and defense options that I made a while back.

What that option says is “I get a bonus to my defense on my turn, and it impacts my ability to attack next turn.” In this case, Ze’Manel is, I think, saying that “All-Out” becomes a Defense Option instead of a maneuver (I’ll call this Concentrated Defense from here out, to distinguish from Rules-As-Written).. In exchange for losing the ability to attack on your next turn, you get +2 to your current defense. On your following turn, you may not attack, but you may defend or All-Out Defend as you like.

If you want that +2 and want to retain your defenses as well, go ahead: that’ll cost you one Fatigue Point and is on p. B357 as Feverish Defense.

The thing that I find interesting about this is that I think the emergent behavior of the actions involved are potentially pretty cool. It’s pretty easy to see how you’d wind up in a string of defense-only moves, and have to leverage a real change in the fight to transition back to attack mode.

All Turtle, All The Time

So if All-Out Defense is now a Defensive Option, is there still room for an entire maneuver, decided in advance, that gives up an attack on your current turn for extra defenses now?

Sure. Leave it as-is, and maybe just increase the bonus to +3 or +4. Might even require a retreat.

I’d originally though to stack the +2 it with Concentrated Defense, above, but that runs into oddness. I do All-Out Defense, and then I “give up my next attack” to stack up a +4 total bonus. Then, next turn . . . I do AoD again, but I’d already given up my attack, so can I claim the +2 for Concentrated? Or All-Out? Meh, just disallow it.

Make it hard

Another way to go if you hate defending, or want to really force the trade off, is to just slam a -2 on all defenses (make them 1+Skill/2, or 1+Move) and then all of a sudden, just to have parity on the usual GURPS way of doing things, you have to give up your next attack.

Alternately, instead of “you lose your next attack completely,” make it some gigantic penalty, like -8 or something. The only problem with that is that it’s not that hard to have a DF character with Skill-18 or Skill-24 who can absorb that -8 and still have Skill-10 or Skill-16 remaining. That would nerf a lot of his capability to do Deceptive Attacks to targeted locations and whatnot, so maybe it’s not totally fatally flawed.

Parting Shot

GURPS‘ defense rules, and the All-Out versions of both attack and defense, work fine as-is. They’re not go-to options all the time, but both have their place. The above though experiment is exactly that: if you mixed it up a bit, what kind of fights would that engender?

Welcome to the third installment of Melee Academy!

Today we’re going to deal with team tactics. While +Peter V. Dell’Orto is throwing down with a post on how to keep your berserker buddy alive to rage, maim, and kill with proper gusto, I thought I’d approach this from a back to basics type philosophy. That is, basic questions, probably obvious . . . but given session reports like this one over at Bat in the Attic, and a few of our own games playing through Jade Regent using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy in which most of our party (usually to the accompaniment of both in- and out-of-character derision by +Mark Langsdorf ) seems to just love going haring off on their own.

Still, the game’s designer is on record in this very blog stating:

Keeping everyone together is to some extent my fault, making it a real GURPS issue. I’ll just say it: I think that the PCs should stick together, tactically and dramatically. After 34 years of gaming, I’ve met almost no GMs who can handle split groups well, and even fewer players whose characters run off on their own for valid reasons such as “self-sacrifice” or “advancing the story” rather than lame ones like “hogging the spotlight to show off.” Under my tenure, GURPS has definitely moved toward a game in which your PCs need to be mutually supporting teammates.

So if +Sean Punch has built this into the game, what does that imply?

Well, this is Melee Academy, so let’s start it out with the obvious.
Protect Each Other
This seems obvious, but it’s not always, because you often need a Perk or two to get the most out of this in certain circumstances.
Still, the timeless classic of putting the “squishies” behind a wall of heavily armored friends is timeless for a reason. This is probably true for low-power characters, but can also be true when the disparity between DR of the front-line types and those not on the line gets large. 
Cadmus, for example, just upgraded his armor. Again. For about $40,000 (!), he’s now sporting DR 12 on his head, neck, and torso, and DR 9 everywhere else. It’s a heavily enchanted (Fortify +2; Lighten 3/4) suit of plate armor of various thickness (heavy on the head/neck/torso, medium everywhere else), with another enchantment on his shield (Light large shield) that now gives DB +4. He’s very well protected (but not as much as Thumvar, who has at least DR 14 in places).
Fact of the matter is, you have to be a hero to punch through us. But if you can threaten us, you are likely to make squashy puree out of second-line types if you can hit them.
Anyway, so position yourselves so that the bad guys have to get through you to get to them. And “them” might be your handy thief, the ever-popular spellcaster, or the Cleric types (or as +Emily Smirle‘s infernal scout Staver likes to call them, “God-botherers”) who might either patch you up after, or deliver a really handy world-shaking miracle.
So, how to do it?
Again, this probably seems obvious, but it’s worth repeating. First, stay close enough together that one of the first things you can do, within one or two Move actions (or zero to one, ideally) is to form a line of battle. If you’re only four PCs, that might not be much of a line, but hey, couldn’t hurt. If you’re the classic 6-8, or have henchmen to bring your party from a few PCs to a respectable 6-8, you can do some interesting things.
Here’s but one example of a cluster of seven warrior types. I’ve got two bowmen on the flanks, a strong front line with a left-handed shield user on the left, a right-hand shield user on the right, a two-weapon guy in the middle of the front line. Behind them on the flanks I literally have two spear-carriers, but with only Reach 2 weapons (Reach 3 wouldn’t be out of the question). 
The black lines are the spear’s reach; the red are the areas protected by shields (left and right) and by a Sacrificial Parry from the two-weapon guy.
Anyone stepping to the front line will be open to two attackers; any doofus stepping up front-and center will be hit by five. Plus any incidental ouchitude delivered by the bowmen, who really ought to be well back, enough to be more than a Move or two away, so they can’t get ganked. With a (forthcoming!) modification to something I forgot while typing this, the center line is covered with two shields and a substantial ability to sacrificial parry into five hexes from our dual-weapon wielder. 
But you can see that anyone approaching from the front is going to have a bad time. The spear-types could easily be wizards or priests or anyone who can’t stand toe-to-toe with a fighter type, but can carry a long weapon.

Is this the best way to fight? The only way? Certainly not! It is probably suboptimal in all sorts of ways – but it probably beats running off alone far, far more often than not.

How else can you rely on your friends

One simple way is to just realize that GURPS has pretty specific defense avenues. You can’t parry on the side hex opposite your weapon if you have a one-handed weapon, nor can you block on your off-shield side. This means that even if you can’t get around to the coveted rear hex, you can limit the defenses your foe can bring to bear.
In the example to the left, the two-weapon fighter can parry on either side (red). The one-weapon, no-shield knight can only defend on her right side and front hexes (will be fixed), while mister hammer-and-shield can block on his left, parry on his right (and both in all the front hexes). If two-swords can capture Mr. Shield’s attention, the knight can step up and attack where the guy can only parry if he can get to a flank hex. If that hammer is a U weapon, that might be a big deal – if he’s attacked with it, he can’t parry! And if he’s parrying, he can’t attack. 
(There are ways to beat this, of course).
So, we’ve thus far touched on how to form a line of battle, how to deny approach to your squishies, in a way, we’ve talked about using reach weapons to stand off and threaten from afar, and how to use positioning to attack areas and hex-sides that your foe can’t easily defend. Also, staying close to a friend with Shield Wall training, Sacrificial Block or Parry, you can leverage their superior defenses if you’re busy concentrating on a spell or something.
Soaking Defenses

Another reason to stay close is that in many games, multiple defenses are penalized, with the basic penalty to Parry being -4 per additional, and -5 per extra block (Dodge monkeys rejoice – you can do that all you want). Also, you can only retreat once per turn, which means that the +3 to Dodge or +1 to other Active Defenses, once used, is lost.
If our Dual-Weapon attacker above launches two attacks, and his foe blocks and parries, that means that when our knight lunges in with a Step and Attack (or perhaps better, a Committed Attack with two steps to reach the side hexes), that the defender’s second parry might well be at -4 for being the second parry (if he gets one at all), and another -2 for a side hex.
If you use the rules for Setup Attacks from Delayed Gratification, this can get even more fun, since one of the options allows you to launch an attack that penalizes the defenses against only an attack thrown by your companions.
Finally, if one person can grapple or disarm the foe, or even unready his weapon momentarily – that’s a great opportunity for a friend to rush in and finish the job.
Compensate for Weaknesses 

A classic problem with long reach weapons is what happens when your foe gets inside that reach. If  you’re wielding a long spear that’s Reach 2,3 and your foe steps into Reach 1, or heaven help you, Reach C, you can be in big trouble. 
But if you’ve got a huge armored meatshield in front of you?
Not so much.
Same thing goes for non-DF ranged weapon users (Scouts can use their bow in close combat, so they really don’t need much of a protector). Having someone there to keep goblins off you as you draw, nock, and loose your arrows can be a wonderful insurance policy.
Catch Your Breath
Sometimes the bad guys get a good one in. Maybe it’s just a single blow, but you’re suffering from shock penalties. Maybe you’re knocked down or (even worse) stunned. If you’re off in the wild blue yonder all by yourself, well, GURPS is a game filled with death spirals, and it’s been nice knowing you.
Unless you happen to have a friend nearby. Hey, he can go All-Out Defensive and keep the bad guys away until you pass that HT roll to snap back into the fight.
Parting Shot
This little treatise is less how to use team tactics as it is why you would want to, and what you can attempt to do when you actually group up.
Can this go wrong? 
Well, yes. 
Any sort of area effect attack can rock your entire party’s world. Fireball, explosive attacks, cones, not to mention higher TL issues like grenades or spraying fire.
Also, if you’re fighting many-on-one, like a typical D&D monster encounter, it may well be that the best call you can make is to spread out and come in from all sides (still, the Protect Each Other advice probably applies).
GURPS is a game that can significantly reward team play, but you do have to stick to a few basic rules.
  1. Stick together 
  2. Have a plan on how to get together and stay there
  3. Know your capabilities – if you go advancing at faster than the pace of your slowest, you break the line
  4. Don’t be stupid. Running off by yourself? Usually a bad idea; leaving a hole in a carefully sculpted defensive structure? Often even worse.

This one is going to be some thoughts, but I’ll get this out of the way early: I’m not terribly experienced with the current and alternate GURPS Magic systems. Some of that is lack of interest, some is lack of experience . . . but some is experience playing and GMing in a few games (not lots) where magic featured, and walking away less than fully thrilled.

Many of the issues and questions I’ll raise are not new or novel. A good, even cursory, search of the GURPS Forums will reveal most of these questions, I’m sure, along with answers. Maybe even answers from +Sean Punch or Rev Pee Kitty.

Anyway, some random thoughts and discussion about magic in GURPS.

Skill-based GURPS Magic

The basic core system presented in GURPS magic is at it’s core, skill based rather than advantage-based. No surprises there. Each spell is a skill, and you derive those skills the same way you derive all skills: a base attribute, plus any levels of bonus-granting attributes like Talents, plus points invested in the skill itself.

Whipping out Cadmus, whose skills are a blend of physical and mental stuff, I find that for this particular DF character, I’ve got 9 DX-based skills, 8 IQ-based skills, 3 HT-based skills, and 1 Per-based (which of course is also an IQ-based one). One of the IQ-based skills, though, is Holy Warrior!, a bang skill that “replaces Leadership, Religious Ritual, Strategy, Tactics, and Theology, as well as Hidden Lore, Physiology, and Psychology specialties pertaining to evil monsters. Make a Will-based roll for Exorcism, Intimidation, or Meditation.” (Dungeon Fantasy 1, p. 18).

So this character effectively has 18 IQ-based skills.

Where should I spend my points, then? Clearly on IQ, for anything where relative skill level doesn’t matter much. If I choose not to buy up Per and Will (though that counts against the disad total, should one exist) then it’s blindingly obvious that increasing my IQ is the way to go. There are some caveats. Since Monster Hunters came out, one of the great benefits of “Bang!” skills is that every 12 points in one can give you a “bonus point” that can be spent on several things, such as rerolling bad die rolls or avoiding critical failures, or even spending a couple to make a roll into a critical success. Having only one (as Cadmus did until maybe recently) is a limit, having three or so is nice, and more than that starts to get a bit silly, but they’re always nice to have, and nice to use.

Why the digression?

Magery is the Talent for casting spells (it also defines your power level), and adds to IQ when figuring the base from which you calculate skill level. There’s a 5-point Magery 0 buy-in, but after that, it’s 10 points/level, and gives +1 for every spell you know. Given that higher levels of Magery are also prerequisites for more powerful spells, and often the amount of energy you can put into a spell is limited by Magery or some multple of it . . . well, that’s looking pretty attractive. Certain genres have different limits on how many levels of Magery you can buy, but unless you’re only buying a few spells, the value here is pretty clear.

Next, especially if you are going to spend 4 points in more than five (only five!) spells, is IQ. Given how many magical effects might require a Will roll, I’d never buy down Will, but perhaps slacking on Per isn’t fatal. Maybe not. I like Perception. Too many conversations/interactions in gaming begin with “everybody make Perception rolls,” and that’s not just a GURPS thing; it happens so often in Pathfinder that I’ve made some nasty noises about how Perception should be a class skill for all classes.

Anyway, the issue here, of course, is that building your classic Mage with bunches of Magery and IQ starts to get niche-stomping on anyone with IQ-based stuff pretty quick.

If that’s a problem for you, of course many solutions exist. You could create a new stat called Magic or something that replaced IQ as the base for spells’ skill levels. You could just assume that all mages have a base of 10, plus any levels of magery. Increasing IQ is interesting, but relative skill level is based of off 10+Magery, and so you might use IQ-based rolls to discuss magic intellectually, Will-based rolls to resist the effects of a similar spell, but you roll against 10+Magery+Relative Skill Level to actually cast it.

Huge Tracts of Grimoire

In my limited experience, though, people have a lot of spells. With hundreds and hundreds of spells in GURPS Magic for Fourth Edition, and the way point investiture can work, having three or four dozen spells isn’t out of line at a point or two each. Without large dependencies on relative skill level, and the standard rules presented on GURPS Magic, p. 8 do not have such a dependency, the benefits of increasing the base level for all spells is huge. You get a reduction in the cost of a spell by 1 FP starting at effective skill 15 and another every five points of skill thereafter. Not “relative skill,” but skill, as in IQ+Magery+relative skill level.

I know where I’m spending my points.

Game Play and Feel

In the GURPS Jade Regent Dungeon Fantasy game I play in with +Nathan Joy as GM, the spellcasters we’ve had have used the basic Magic rules (as opposed to one of the alternates presented in GURPS Thaumatology, or cribbing from Ritual Path Magic, from Monster Hunters and with a big expansion book coming out).

I find that the feel of the system doesn’t work for me as well as I’d like. There are many complex effects, each of which can invoke special rules. It’s very technical, not terribly mystical, and sometimes the spells are wildly effective, and others . . . not so much. +Mark Langsdorf could probably fill many screens of text on this, since he’s got a very good grasp of the “do/do-nots” of the magic system.

That imbalance can be all well and good when you’re on the giving end; not so much receiving, sometimes.

Also, the Magic book – the spells particularly – feel like they either have too much metasystem (or metasystem applied unevenly) or not nearly enough. You’d better be ready to look up how it’s all done, and some spells seem to follow different rules. The energy cost vs. spell effects trade could really use some serious rationalization, but that wasn’t done when the book was revised for Fourth Edition.

Honestly, this is where the Divine Favor and Ritual Path Magic type systems shine. They have an underlying metasystem that’s very strong, and so you can be more sure that powers and abilities are balanced against each other. 

Parting Shot

I’ve occasionally been tempted to play a mage in the game. The versatility and occasionally power of the spells is compelling, but ultimately, I’m turned away by the complexity of the system. I happily play a Divine Favor-based Warrior Saint, though. He’s got a much smaller number of enumerated powers, and then uses the General or Specific Prayer mechanic (two rolls, one for petition, one for reaction, GM decides what the results are on a success) for other stuff. That’s a lot of GM fiat, but you can always do this, and it’s hugely flexible and fast and fun to play.

I’ve played in a game recently with Ritual Path Magic, and the mechanics for casting spells are pretty straight-forward, but they’re heavily weighted to out-of-combat play. You need to spend a lot of mechanics-time defining a ritual, make a ton of rolls to gather energy, and then you do the spell, which if you’re sitting around a table, will get you beaten to death with large core rulebooks or pelted with d4s, and you’ll deserve it. It very much rewards coming to the table prepared. And really needs a grimoire of pre-written spells, which I have to believe is a core part of the upcoming book.

I’ll have more thoughts on magic in GURPS coming up. But by and large, I’ve found it something I like other people to play, but because of the idiosyncrasies of the skill-based system, it takes a bit of work to prevent the Wizard from being the best at all things that might derive from IQ. And that’s annoying.

Some recent posts by me and others have touched on combat pacing.

On the one hand, we have a situation where the frantic pace of blows given and received strikes some as unreasonable for certain situations. It doesn’t properly match some one-on-one combats, and even when it does, one has to invoke pretty extreme rules (like The Last Gasp) to force people to back off after a few seconds.

So, thoughts about combat openings and ‘closures’ came into play, with a neat way of generating these online developed by +Christian Blouin. Still, that has the potential to not just slow down combat, but to make play drag.

Is there any way to basically be able to rip around the table, and down the NPC action sheet (should one exist) and if you have six players and ten NPCs (for example), you can resolve all sixteen potential actions in only a few moments, with no real perceived penalty to fun by saying “Evaluate!” each turn?

Why do I even care? One of the features, I think, of the current GURPS battlefield (discussed here) is that it can be relatively immobile. A few seconds of time between blows means that friends and neighbors can reposition to be mutually supportive, that building up a spell doesn’t feel like a drag, etc.

But with the default (and likely proper) thing in most combats being “do something violent and effective” more often than not, I’m not sure if it’s really reconcilable with the current rules.

So, what would I feel like I need – or, as I continually remind my 3yo, needs are for survival, wants are for everything else – so what would I want in order to get this done?

1. I would want something like Christian’s combat openings application.

Ideally, I’d have an app that when you hit “go” it gives you a list of openings (one or two) and closures (one to four) for the target. These would exist whether or not the attacker uses some sort of mechanic to see them.

I’d want the app to highlight, say, in green the body parts that are more open, and red the ones that are more denied, so that a player (or the GM) can immediately assimilate that information without studying a wall of detailed text.

I’d probably love to have a built in list of combatants, that could be placed and cycled through in initiative order. Drop-down or click-boxes would allow certain options to be set, such as maneuver selection and maybe an optional focused defense selection.

I’d want the ability to designate a “victim” or defender and maybe associate it with the attacker, but perhaps that’s not critical.

2. I’d probably rework certain rules

With respect to the focused defense option, I can see instead of the usual “fencing weapons get +3 to retreat, but regular gets only +1” thing, that you be able to select a “defensive stance” option that gives the extra +2 to defenses, and have that be available and stack with maneuver selection.

You might not even be able to attack if someone retreats out of weapon range, which would force a lot of “two-step” committed attacks be required to close the distance. that feels right to me. By and large, backing off like that is very effective, if tiring, and the primary reasons you don’t do it is when you can’t. That the reason they have rings for matches – and why being in a press of battle is so scary. You can’t back up.

What it means
If you can choose a focused defensive stance, a high/low guard (not mentioned yet, but it’s a logical extension, and GURPS Martial Arts: Gladiators already has a focused defense option in there), and go all-out on the defensive, you can probably make it really hard to land a random GURPS attack without huge amounts of deceptive attack, or exploiting an opening. You’d need to do a lot more Evaluates and Feints (or Setup Attacks) in order to force a hole in your foes defenses. The opening that eventually appears would be a rare and hopefully fun thing.

Downsides are potentially legion. You’d want to ensure that each person can be resolved in only a few seconds. Going once around the table every three minutes or so wouldn’t be awful (ten seconds per person), and would ensure that people stay engaged.

But if there’s a lot more jockeying for position, some of the emergent behavior would be very interesting. Archers and spellcasters that have to take a few seconds to reload would be more compelling. Gang tactics to force holes in defenses or pin a foe down, preventing him from just scampering away, would be much more important. Overall mobility would increase, as with more time between effective action, I think people (or teams of people) would feel they can reposition and move around without missing the fun.

And frantic battle lines would be pretty scary. I think even scarier than usual.

But I think that you’d really, really want to use that application to drive it. Otherwise, too many rolls, too many lookups, and too much non-decision time.

I think it’d be fun to try a game like this, with properly integrated tools. It would definitely have to be playtested though!

+Jon Couts messaged me the other day about a question regarding The Last Gasp.

Turns out he’s running an arena combat with the rules, and he allowed me to link to it.

Click the picture to go to the play-by-post arena combat!

Thanks to Jon for giving the rules a try.

I might suggest he try Delayed Gratification (Setup Attacks) instead of the existing Feint rules in a future combat and see what he and his players think . . .

The important thing to me is that AP allowed the spearman to exhaust her foe, and drove some decisions on the part of the knight that he’d rather not have made. Good HT to aid recovery and shake off the impact of injury for AP reduction was a big deal. At times, skill drove the battle; at other times, fitness. A nice mix, I think. Jon also notes that by the end of the fight, Sir Mander’s ST was low enough that he was getting an extra -1 to use his axe because he didn’t meet it’s Min ST. The Last Gasp gives a small bonus to low min ST weapons in that way. If he’d been using a small axe he’d have been fine.

In my writeup of Cadmus, +Mark Langsdorf and I had a brief interchange about combat vs. non-combat healing. Cadmus is very, very powerful as a healing machine assuming that he has time to recover. The combination of Lay on Hands (Empathic Faith Healing) and Flesh Wounds (rapid wound recovery means he can bring a party of five adventurers from 0 HP to 15 HP each in about two hours.

But that’s two hours. Two. Hours. 120 turns. Pretty much a “Frederickburger” situation if you’re in combat.

That’s where the Clerical magic comes in. Poof, here’s a few dice of healing right there in the middle of combat. A virtual reset button, which is a big deal.

If you can lay on hands in hours, what are the ways to buff one or more of your party members using Powers?

So: here’s a challenge! Post some builds of powers that would make sense using Divine Favor so that a Warrior Saint or Saint can provide combat-useful healing in a challenging DF environment.

+Antoni Ten Monrós: I’d be particularly interested if you’ve thought on this.

The First Answer
Based on some interactions in the comments below, my instinct is, at the same level as you can take Lay on Hands (Divine Favor 8), you can just get Ranged Healing (Healing [30], with Faith Healing [+20%], Ranged [+40%], and Divine [-10%] [45], or 9 points as an LP). This lets you fling a spell-like healing effect by burning FP and making a hit roll. The better way is probably as a Malediction, which at its cheapest is a +100% for -1 per yard of range, and that’s 63 points (Divine Favor 10, 13-point LP) and will cut significantly into combat utility.

Challenge Expanded!

Go ahead and throw down your most potent healing builds, both in-combat and out-of-combat. Ritual Path Magic, regular GURPS Magic – you name it. Just note the build, the amount of healing, and what the limitations are!

Cheat: Power Investiture/Magery

One quick way to get this done is to buy Power Investiture 1 (10 points) and since you are not studying magic, buy Major Healing directly. It’s a Very Hard skill, so with IQ 12 (Cadmus’ level), Power Investure 1 (adds to skill), you will want to spend 12 to 16 points to get IQ+1 or IQ+2, which should net a Healing spell at 14 or 15.

That still winds up on the order of 25 extra points to get healing in there. If you’ve already got Divine Favor 8 and Lay on Hands, the Ranged Healing option above is cheaper.

In many ways, Cadmus, my Warrior Saint in +Nathan Joy‘s Dungeon Fantasy game has been an experiment. He was my first DF character, well, ever. He used new rules – Divine Favor – rather than the standard magic system. I also solicited and accepted a lot of steering on how I put him together.

Now that 280 starting points has grown to 330, with many sessions under my belt, what would I do differently? Are there general theories that emerge?

Divine Favor

First, while I was told that initially I’d be ‘the backup healer,’ I was also steered to a level of oomph in those abilities that really equaled ‘a redundant primary healer.’

By and large, this is a good thing. DF games are notoriously violent, and if your primary guy goes down due to, say, a ninja sword in the back, you need someone who can step up. Or a metric crap-ton of potions.

Also, I don’t know if I’ve just rolled well, Nate’s been kind, or what, but the General, Specific, and Learned Prayers that Cadmus has brought to bear have been really, really fun. Of course, they don’t always work (General and Specific prayers; LPs always work), but when they do, they’re an immense power multiplier.

Once you hit Divine Favor at level 8 to 10, you can really bring on some major mojo.

Anyway, let’s look at Cadmus, who will grow soon to 330 points.

Not that kind of Paladin . . .

Brother Cadmus (313 points)

Age 28; Human; 6’1″; 200 lbs.; Solidly built, friendly looking, moves with purpose.
ST 14* [40]; DX 13 [60]; IQ 12 [40]; HT12 [20]. Damage 1d+1/2d+1; BL 39 lb; HP 14 [0]; Will 14 [10]; Per 12 [0]; FP 12 [0]. Basic Speed 6.25 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0]; Block 12 (Shield)†; Dodge 10†; Parry 13 (Axe/Mace)†. Unspent Points: 2

I’m not sure I’d change much here. The biggest thing that I’ve found is in the Move stat, where more is better. Being the last one to the fight, or being unable to reposition yourself quickly, is a real drag. Especially when faced with fellow compatriots who can act at range or fly.

Some of these stats aren’t precisely accurate, but by and large, this isn’t a bad set. Will-14 has been a real blessing (so to speak), and the only other thing I might recommend here is more Perception. I’ve found the same thing in Pathfinder, but you can never really have too much Perception. Also, my previous analysis of HT suggests that there are real benefits to HT 13 or 14.

Points gained/needed: Maybe 20 between Per and HT. I could potentially trade the 15-20 non-optimal points in skills I found below for some benefits here.

Social BackgroundEdit

TL: 3 [0].
CF: Inner Sea.
Languages: Taldane (Native/None); Trade Speak (Broken/None). [0]

The only weakness here has really been languages, but that’s not his niche. No changes.


Combat Reflexes [15]; Divine Favor 8 [45]; Learned Prayer (Final Rest) [1]; Learned Prayer (Flesh Wounds) [4]; Learned Prayer (Righteous Fury); Learned Prayer (Protection from Evil, Enhanced) [7]; Learned Prayer (Lay on Hands) [8]; Learned Prayer (Smite); Striking ST 1 [5]; Trading Character Points for Money $2,500 [5].
Perks: Named Possession (Axe, “Shrivener”); Shield-Wall Training; Shtick (Beings killed cannot rise as Undead); Skill Adaptation (Judo Throw defaults to Axe/Mace); Suit Familiarity (Armory/TL3); Weapon Bond (Axe/Mace) [6].

Combat Reflexes is worth it for the defenses alone if you intend to be on the front line – and that’s where Cadmus winds up, especially once we lost Gareth, the other heavy hitter. Thumvar, the Gargoyle Knight, is a front line all by himself at times, but if you’re going to step up, not only is CR worth it, but enhanced defenses in general are a good idea.

I make near-constant use of all of my LPs, with the possible exception of Final Rest, but at only one point, it’s great color, and makes total sense as a paladin of Pharasma, Mistress of Graves, Lady of Fate, and all around chick who hates the undead.

Everyone should look hard at getting a Named Possession. They’re just that awesome.

The only “meh” has been Judo Throw defaulting to Axe/Mace. As I’ve noted before in a few places, this just hasn’t worked for me at all. Notionally, it should be awesome. Parry with the axe, and then next turn you throw your foe to the ground, at which point either you or a second-line guy can murderize him. In practice, not so much. It’s not a BAD use of a point, but it hasn’t worked out well.

Points gained/needed: Maybe one or two points. No more, and not worth fiddling with.


Code of Honor (Pharasmic Code) [-10]; Honesty (15 or less) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Ameiko Kaijitsu) [-2]; Vow (Own no more than horse can carry) [-10]; Selfless (12 or Less)*; Disciplines of Faith (Ritualism)*.
  • These advantages were gained in play; Pharasma blessed Cadmus with Righteous Fury and Enhanced version of Protection from Evil, and Cadmus gained Selfless and Ritualism.

Quirks: Does not put himself in the lead role willingly [-1]; Follows an escalation of force (knobbed club, hammer, axe) , kills grudgingly [-1]; Very competitive, but doesn’t start competitions [-1]; Loves to gamble [-1]; Not evangelical; helps people meet their fate, but doesn’t push or preach [-1]

Code of Honor has worked fine, and ties in with my Divine Favor. Selfless and Ritualism were fun, as has been Honesty. The quirk of escalation of force? Yeah, that hasn’t worked out. At all. But it’s only one point, so it’s not a character-changing event. It’s just not appropriate for Dungeon Fantasy, where most disagreements are settled with lethal force from the get-go.

Points gained/needed: Pick a new quirk other than force escalation.


Animal Handling (Equines) (A) IQ-1 [2]-12; Armoury/TL3 (Body Armor) (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Armoury/TL3 (Melee Weapons) (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Axe/Mace (A) DX+5 [20]-18‡; Bow (A) DX-1 [2]-13; Carousing (E) HT [1]-12; Climbing (A) DX-1 [1]-12; First Aid/TL3 (Human) (E) IQ [1]-12; Gambling (A) IQ [2]-12; Heraldry (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Hiking (A) HT-1 [1]-11; Holy Warrior! (WC) IQ-1 [12]-11; Observation (A) Per-1 [1]-11; Polearm (A) DX+1 [4]-14; Riding (Equines) (A) DX-1 [2]-13; Savoir-Faire (High Society) (E) IQ [1]-12; Shield (Shield) (E) DX+4 [12]-17; Shortsword (A) DX [2]-13; Stealth (A) DX-1 [1]-12; Swimming (E) HT [1]-12; Wrestling (A) DX-1 [2]-13.
Techniques: Arm Lock (Wrestling) (A) [2]-15; Armed Grapple (Axe/Mace) (H) [0]-15; Armed Grapple (Polearm) (H) [0]-12; Disarming (Axe/Mace) (H) [0]-17; Judo Throw (Axe/Mace) (H) [0]-17; Targeted Attack (Axe/Mace Swing/Neck) (H) [3]-14; Trip (Wrestling) (H) [0]-9; Wrist Lock (Wrestling) (A) [1]-14.
  • Conditional +2 from ‘Striking ST’.
† Includes +1 from ‘Combat Reflexes’. ‡Conditional +1 from ‘Weapon Bond (Axe/Mace)’.

Here’s where things get interesting. I’ve bolded the ones I’ve never made a roll against that I recall. There’s basically 20 points of more or less wasted stuff on there, and I don’t think I’d have put points in Bow if I’d have made the character before I did my analysis of useful levels of skill with ranged weapons. Throwing axes are better for the kind of thing Cadmus would be doing.

The Armoury skills might come in more handy during the long trek north over the ice that we face as the next step in our Journey. But the rest should have been traded for another level of Holy Warrior, which would have cost 12 points but given me another much-needed Destiny/Bonus Point. Those are gold.

So there are 15-20 points here that could be adjusted for better stats, or re-invested on other skills. Holy Warrior-12 is probably worth it for the Destiny Point alone.


1× Hip Quiver ($15; 1 lb) containing 20× Arrow ($40; 2 lb)
1× Fine Composite Bow (ST 13; $3600; 4 lb).
1× Named Possession (Shrivener): Axe (Hilt Punch; Weapon Bond; Hammer; Dwarven; Penetrating Weapon (2); Bane (Spirits, Demons, and the Undead); Defending Weapon +1 (Bane). $10,475; 4.5 lb). [25 Energy unspent]
1× Poleaxe (Spear; $150; 10.5 lb).
1xMail, Plate, and Leather Armor Panoply

1× Boots, Leather ($80; 3 lb; DR 2)1× Cloth, Padded Undersuit (Full Suit, Ornate (x2 cost), Lighten 3/4); $375; 12.4 lb; DR 1*)1× Gauntlets, Medium Segmented (Reduced Cost (-20%); $72; 2.4 lb; DR 4)1× Heavy Mail Armss and Legs (Ornate x2 cost; Lighten 3/4; Fortify +1); $3668; 20.25 lb; DR 6/4*)1× DR 7 Plate Corselet (Torso; TL4 x2 cost; Lighten 3/4, Fortify +1); $6150; 18 lb; DR 8)1× DR7 Plate Full Helm (Padding;TL4 x2 cost; Fortify +1; Lighten 3/4); $1845; 6.75 lb; DR 8);

I’ve got zero complaints about my kit. Shrivener, my Named Axe, is a thing of beauty and awesomeness. My armor could use new boots and gauntlets, but it cost me about $12,000 and was obtained fairly recently in play. DR 8 or so is great to have, and we recently came into enough money ($27K or so) that I could upgrade further if required.

The poleaxe has never seen use. Partly that’s because I couldn’t mentally justify the image of lugging a nine or ten foot pole around in some Highlander-like space. It’s a battlefield weapon, not a dungeon one. Even a dueling poleaxe (Reach 1,2 rather than 2,3) while interesting, isn’t worth the time it takes to switch weapons in most cases.

The bow? Nice, but I’m not skilled enough with it to make it worthwhile, and ST 13 is only 1d, and even with bodkin points for 1d(2) pi it’s not that impressive.

Ballistic’s Report

By and large, Cadmus is and remains a good character. When he gets his Righteous Fury on, he’s a credible front-line combatant, though not as optimized for mayhem as Thumvar. With some time to spare, he can bring some really useful powers to bear, especially out of combat, via his prayers.

But I probably have something like 15-20 fairly non-optimal points in skills that just don’t see much use. In a DF game, that’s really to be avoided. Lesson learned!

Going forward, some of the concepts in +Antoni Ten MonrósSaintly Power-Ups will make for serious consideration. The one where you can have two learned prayers active at once? That’s serious stuff, especially if you want to do Righteous Fury and either Guide My Hand (Cadmus doesn’t have it, but it’s basically Weapon Master), which catapults you to an instant front-line meat cleaver, or something else like Protection from Evil.

Last Tuesday we had the final battle with the rejuvenated Oni, whom we fondly called “Kim.”

It turned out to be fairly anticlimactic. We twigged early to the massive rune-laden club with the Thousand Words of Pain on it to being the real issue (and especially after several solid hits came to no good result on our part). We attacked the weapon directly, rolled really well, cut it in two . . . whereupon it exploded.

Dawn got pasted with a massive blow before that, but thanks to Ninja! Destiny/Bonus points, turned that into a miss/graze rather than an insta-kill with something like 20+ crushing damage in one blow.

After the club exploded, we had the big bad surrounded – the bane of many-on-one encounters in GURPS for the one – and more or less proceeded to pound him into jelly. As Mark points out in the comments, Shiba crippled Kim’s foot, rooting the Oni in place and allowing us to more or less go to town on the beast.

Afterwards, Cadmus cleansed the temple for an hour or two of prayer, and we went a-looting.

Staver, bored and a bit put off by all the praying (Infernal, after all) grabbed the keychain tossed to him by +Mark Langsdorf‘s new character, Shiba the Mystic Knight. He found the magical lock, turned the key . . .

. . . and the entire room burst into flames. Oops. Trapped.

That’s where we ended. We’ll see if Emily needs a new character, or is just lightly toasted.


Update. Staver survived, but pretty seriously singed. Loot was gathered, and totaled north of $25K per party member, looks like, plus some cool magic items. Big Pile of Character Points to be awarded later. Not sure what Cadmus will spend his loot on, but he has to spend it or give it away (pesky vow).