Thursday is GURPS-Day, and because of a quick trip back and forth to California from Monday through Wednesday, I’m a bit behind. Life gets that way.

Over on the forums, the poster known as mehrkat made the following remark. It struck a nerve with me in a good way, so I repeat it:

I admit I don’t take “canon” very seriously. Canon is my world specific. I toss stuff out at random at my whim which is definitely encouraged by GURPS. But I would absolutely consider something in Pyramid to be assigning it “official” status.

Well, YES. THIS.

 Writing for GURPS is kinda hard. The system itself isn’t that difficult – there are really only a few core mechanics. But depending on your interest, you’d best be at least passing familiar with what has been done on the subject you’re interested in. Even if you’re trying to cover new ground, it’s often a good idea to know what toes you’re stomping on.

Looking at my own works, for example:

Ten . . HUT!: Well, this provides finer gradations in Military Rank. Most useful if you’re actually building a character, so while it can be applied to existing games, once the dude is written, there’s probably not much point.

The Big Guns Thing: Can be used as a drop-in for any weapon, even in 4e. It also has a bunch of (then) house rules for injury, some of which are now more-or-less canonical in 4e, some not.

Armor Revisited: Optional rules, can be done in any game, even retroactively, and dropped if you don’t like ’em. So this one’s portable.

The Deadly Spring: Sort of like the guns article, in that it can be used retroactively (it’s a design system), but it mucks with the stats of a common muscle-powered ranged weapon, and if your GM goes on a “realism” kick, might nerf your concept. Also, you might want gonzo bows for Dungeon Fantasy. So YMMV.

The Last Gasp: Yeah, this one has real potential to make character concepts play very, very differently. It makes HT really important. Even more important than usual! This one probably needs to be adopted at the start of a campaign – or at least with careful consideration.

Delayed Gratification: I wrote this article so it could be dropped into an existing game. So this one’s portable.

Technical Grappling: a rewrite and expansion of grappling rules, but it is not fully compatible with the existing rules. It has an entirely new mechanic to represent how well someone’s being grappled, and so it’s not something that can be easily meshed with (say) people writing Pyramid articles referencing grappling. You’ll need to say “well, using the existing rules, this weapon does armed grapples like [blah], but if  you’re using Technical Grappling, treat this as a Flexible, Flail, Impaling weapon for grapples, and if you hit, it also inflicts 2d+2 Control Points!”

The other reason it’s hard is that, well, it’s not fiction. It’s technical writing to a very specific style guide. There’s a WYSIWYG template with the proper SJG styles, and using them can be hard to master. The formatting used to write up (say) Advantages, Templates, martial arts styles, or whatnot are quite specific, and can be easy to get wrong. They’re quite picky about pesky things like grammar and stuff.

It’s every bit as technically precise to write for Pyramid as it is to write an e23 supplement. The nice thing about it, though, is that it can be as short or long as you’d like. Well, if +Steven Marsh accepts it. My shortest for GURPS was probably Armor Revisited at about 1,700 or so words. My longest, never to be repeated on pain of death and mockery, was The Deadly Spring, at a mind-boggling 11,000. For what it’s worth, every word in Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja, including the index and table of contents, pull quotes and marketing pages, is about 14,000 words. So Deadly Spring is basically as long as a full e23 release.

That’s a GURPS supplement, right there. On a subject so esoteric that I doubt it would merit a full release – but because there’s Pyramid, it doesn’t need one.

Lastly: if you do want to write for GURPS, you want to start with Pyramid. I’d probably target something on the order of 3-5 pages in the magazine, or about 2,500-4000 words. Long enough to show you can do it, not so long that it’s a huge risk to print.

But make no mistake: GURPS is Pyramid, and Pyramid is GURPS. Grar!

I most often throw down
some sort of tidbit or observation on rules and tinkering with them on
GURPS-Day, but today, my mind is on campaigns.
I’m starting to get the
itch to GM one again. Not out of disappointment with the three in which I’m
playing, but it’s a good way to ensure familiarity with the system, exercise
creative muscles, and generally ensure some proactive social action on my part.
So, with that, what
would I run? Not sure, but some possibilities in no particular order:
Krail’s Folly
The concept of “go
north and conquer the wilderness, and you get lands and title in exchange”
was hashed out a while back, and the game concept carries as much appeal now as
it did then.
I’d vacillate a bit, but
likely come down to using Dungeon Fantasy as the core basis. It is, quite
simply, the best supported part of GURPS, with tons of cool stuff. I’ve also
got a direct line into +Nathan Joy‘s pool of players, far more
experienced in playing this genre than I am. Of course, +Peter V. Dell’Orto is no slouch either, and
since he and I collaborate on stuff on a regular basis rather well, there’s a
monster pool of talent I can go to. Not to mention rules-authors and tinkerers
such as +Antoni Ten Monrós.
What would I bring to
the table? Well, I’d still use Divine Favor for clerical powers, since I
really do love the feel of it. I might tweak out a few things, since as Peter
points out in today’s post over at Dungeon Fantastic, there are a few
potentially fun-killing/fun-reducing aspects of Divine Favor’s Learned Prayers
that could use some tampingdown.
I like the granularity
of the Low-Tech armor and weapons and whatnot, but I am right there with Peter
in thinking that it’s a bit too fiddly. GCA can be used pretty well to design
kits of armor, even very complicated ones. But there’s something rather nice
about NOT having to get crazy with it, and fine tuning each piece gets
complicated.
What about my own rules?
The Deadly Spring for bows is a behind-the-curtain thing. So all that work is
done ahead of time, and won’t interfere with the game much . . . but “realistic”
bows in Dungeon Fantasy? Meh, what’s the point? So I might bypass that in favor
of ridiculous levels of smackdown. More fun that way.
Magic? Ah, there’s the
rub. From what I’ve seen of Ritual Path Magic, I like the feel of the system
but it seems every bit as fiddly as the armor-building issue I talked about
above. I’d be tempted to try a Divine-Favor inspired magic system, but then, really, that’s not that different in fiddly
than Divine Favor or RPM – you’re still creating “spells” based on some sort of
metasystem, and as long as you ruthlessly quash “let me design a spell while I’m
sitting at the table” behavior, it’d probably go fine.
I’d definitely bring on
the Setup Attacks I introduced in Delayed Gratification. I might even eliminate
the RAW Feint entirely. Not sure about that, but likely.
I would probably try to
use Technical Grappling too, since it would be way easier for me to answer future
questions about that book if I’d had experience playing it and adjudicating the
rules!
Would I also do
long-term fatigue and action points, from The Last Gasp? Grar . . . might be
nice, but that would make a LOT of new rules to swallow, and both TLG and TG
require characters to be built with those rules in mind. So I’d probably skip
the Action Point rules this time.
Monster Hunters
This is probably my
favorite genre of all time. It combines creepy horror and magic with a world
that we’re more or less all familiar with, and has the over-the-top  Black Ops feel that I loved when I GM’d that
campaign years ago, without being 1,000-point characters.
I feel like it’s got a
nice combination of swords, guns, and monsters. Action Points and TG would fit
in here pretty well, I’d not have to worry about Low-Tech fiddliness (though I
would have High-Tech fiddles, but that’s rather well defined due to the nature
of it being right-here, right now).
This also lends well to
being an episodic campaign that can see players come and go without too much
pain. Given the variability in modern adult life, I think that would lend
itself well to my needs.
Modern Special Ops
I was Lead Playtester on
Tactical Shooting for a reason: I’m pretty familiar with this trope, and I love
laying out tactical challenges. I could also see doing this as a variable tech
level science fiction setting, Colonial Marines style, and near-future (TL8/9)
Sci Fi is pretty familiar to most people. Hell, given how much fun I had
playing the game, GURPS X-Com would rock on toast.
Parting Shot
I’d obviously see who’d
want to play in each campaign, how often (but no more  than twice a month, but no less frequently
than once every three weeks, I think) and if someone says “hey, wouldn’t it be
cool to run X” and I get inspired, I’m in.
But I really do kind of
want to run a game, and I’d love to get my wife in on it; she’s gamed with me
before and we’ve both enjoyed the experience.
One thing I would do,
however, is have to learn MapTool or Roll20 way, way better. I would also insist
that all players use webcams, because my experience is that the camera experience
is simply better (for me) than the
chat-based games. It’s faster, more social, and for me, more fun.
I’m getting that itch,
though – and it might be time to run something again.

I’m taking the really useful and fun stuff being written for Melee Academy, as well as other good posts that come my way, and collecting them under a separate page: Melee Academy.

Watch this page for new stuff that helps get people’s arms wrapped around fightin’ in GURPS, and if you see something on another page that belongs here, let me know and I’ll add it!

Right now I’ve got material from Gaming Ballistic, Dungeon Fantastic. RPG Snob, No School Grognard, and Orbs and Balrogs. I’m happy to add any relevant material as long as it gives tactical and skills related advice for combat in GURPS!

+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.