The latest issue of Pyramid, #3/52: Low-Tech II, is out. I’ve got an article in it!

Called Delayed Gratification, it’s an option for a different way of handling the Feint maneuver in GURPS, treating it as a variant of an actual attack, rather than a Quick Contest of somewhat-nebulous intention.

It’s not a long article, or particularly crunchy by the standards of The Deadly Spring or The Last Gasp.

But I think it’s a good add to the list of potential combat options for players. I look forward to hearing what people think about it.

Edit:

+Sean Punch posted a blurb on the SJG Forums, and I reproduce the capsule of my article here:

GURPS offers many ways to lower your opponents’ defenses: Deceptive Attack, Feint, and so on. But if you want Delayed Gratification, try the Setup Attack. Based on realistic fighting techniques, this new combat option gives you a way to launch an offensive that may cost your opponent his Hit Points and his defenses.

My post on what guns do in GURPS and storytelling got me thinking about false precision in games that rate damage by HP ablation.

I’ll pick on GURPS, but DnD/Pathfinder is, in its way, not much different. Ironically, I don’t think people really notice as much in Pathfinder, since the entire point of an attack is to whittle away HP until the foe is Dead. Or Dying.

GURPS is a bit different, in that there are a few basically devastating outcomes (because of the one-second time scale) that don’t require HP ablation. You can KO someone with any blow to the skull, for example. Knockdown and stunning, both of which don’t necessarily require large HP subtractions. And lastly, criticals, and crippling of the limbs.

Anyway, here’s the thing. Let’s start with pistols. In common calibers, from about .380ACP to .45ACP (and maybe even including things like the .50 GI) are probably “equally ineffective” when it comes to doing their job. While the .380 is probably a bit anemic, and other cartridges like the 10mm Auto (720 J or so, 200 gr projectiles available? Ow.) are probably on the other end, there are no surefire manstoppers that achieve the goal due to size and power alone – everyone will tell you that shot placement (and a good bit of pscyhology, in addition to physiology) is at least as important, if not more, than joules, kg m/s, and caliber.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s likely, perhaps certainly – true that on the margin, higher energy and momentum and caliber are more likely to achieve incapacitation. But until you up the ante to things like a .44 Magnum (in a pistol caliber), or a .223 or similar high-powered cartridge, you’re really saying that in certain edge cases, you’re slightly more likely to get’r’done than you were before.

What I’m about to do is clearly the act of pondering doing away with Hit Points and going to a wounding mechanism based on something like a HT roll, probably penalized. Probably something like “every HP/2 of penetrating injury is -1 to a HT roll; the more by which you fail, the worse off you are.”

I’m not going to work this one out in detail. Just suffice to say: despite my endless fiddling with firearms game mechanics that are super-detailed in resolution, the world doesn’t really work that way when people are involved; even armor plate is frustratingly variable under real-world conditions.

Continuation of the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Campaign following the Pathfinder Jade Regent Adventure Path.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Theodore Briggs , +Kevin Smyth , +Emily Smirle , +Douglas Cole

This will be an abbreviated tale, but let me start with the conclusion: we played for four hours in one giant combat that involved five PCs, and no fewer than fourteen adversaries. We finished the combat in a very satisfactory manner, and play was brisk, rules disputes were minimal, and severe consequences were suffered by the PCs due to battle injuries. 
GURPS is very capable of fast, fun, detailed play. 
*****
We started the game having just finished being attacked by two swarms of ravens after opening the unlocked door to the hall. Thumvar and Cadmus were inside the hall, having entered as part of the combat previously. I honestly don’t recall if Cadmus and Thumvar had both entered and then were attacked (I think so), or one or both of us entered, and then the other rushed in for support. 
Brother Michel, who has a strong Honesty disad, objected to home invasion throughout the session until a key bit of info was revealed. More on that later.

A word here: Honesty is an annoying disadvantage for a group of murder-hobos to have among them, and Cadmus has it too, as a temporary part of a deal with his Goddess that granted him some cool abilities after a crit on a general prayer for Smite. Michel’s player really dug into his disad here – as he should have. What we were doing inside that house was at best questionable. We suspected evil was afoot, but it was all circumstantial. There were some principles/laws/customs that would allow us to act like the vigilantes we were, but they weren’t obvious at the time. I’m not sure to what extent modern western legal theory applies in Golarion, but there’s no question we were pushing our luck, and Michel kept us . . . well, if not honest, at least informed. It was a good bit of roleplaying.

Anyway, the hall was empty – naturally we suspected ninjas. They’re always there when you can’t see ’em, after all. It was on two levels, the lower hall where we’d fought the ravens, and the upper wings, which had benches and tables overlooking the lower hall. I think there may have been some doors up there.
Thumvar flew up to the balcony to check things out. Michel would not enter the building, and was down a few HP and FP for spellcasting. Cadmus went to him and provided healing (he was down 6 HP, I think), which would only take Cadmus 6 minutes to heal thanks to Flesh Wounds. So mostly fully refreshed, we . . .

. . . and then Java wigged out on me totally. Massive errors in MapTool caused by the auto-update to Java7 that are incompatible with MT build 87. I had to log out, shut down, log back on, reinstall Java6 Update 41, find that didn’t work, then get help from our resident IT gurus (actually, that may well be everyone but me in that group), and replace my mt-cfg file pointer with a direct pointer to C:blahblahJava6 instead of the generic pointer. This should also let me run Java6 only for that, and Java7 for everything else. Woot, thanks to Bruno, but when I returned to play . . .

Ninjas! Scads of them!
Oops. That was probably an interface error. No ninjas here. Move along.
Anyway, long story less long: Brody opens a door and maybe walks in.

Then a door opens, and we see a freakin’ were-bear and a few thugs. Nate is borrowing the weres from GURPS Monster Hunters, so they’re kinda badass. 30 HP and some DR.

We prepare for battle – Thumvar fast-draws his axe, Cadmus asks the blessings of Pharasma, anticipating combat, and gets his Righteous Fury on. Michel is bitterly disappointed that we’re all “GRRR!” since we’re home invaders and haven’t the right. Brody hears the commotion and begins to walk out of the room he was exploring. And then Staver draws a couple of arrows and looses them at the Were-bear. As Staver’s player stated: “Staver has the ethics of a cat.”

So battle was on for real. Michel and Staver form up to Cadmus’ left and right, Thumvar gets in the bear+2xThug’s faces at the door from which they’re emerging.


Very soon after this, more ninjas show up, Michel asks if we can all just get along, put our weapons down, and talk. A ninja attacks Michel, who’s on Cadmus’ left side and in his line of sight; he does a Shield Wall block for him. Staver’s foe starts directly behind Cadmus, unseen, and Staver gets badly murderized by one of those pop-up ninjas in their first round of combat. And in the next round, Brody gets badly, badly stabbed. Possibly mortal wound, definitely negative HP . . . 

In retrospect, this was a tough game for Kevin, and he wound up spending a lot of the game working on a replacement character in the background. Brody got it right at the beginning of a four-hour session, or maybe midway through if there were multiple stabbings involved. We were desperately trying to think of ways to mitigate the damage. I don’t think he had any spare CP to use to mitigate wounds. He didn’t have any Destiny points (borrowed from Monster Hunters), nor was he using Thief! wildcard skill to make the wound a Flesh Wound. We’d done the Tactics check at the beginning of the fight, but Brody was not in Thumvar’s line of sight, so couldn’t benefit from a bequeathed re-roll. Ultimately, he had to “just take it.” There might be a lesson here, something +Sean Punch brought up, about keeping the group more together, but maybe not. We weren’t that far apart. Just bad luck.

 At this point, critical information is revealed: Ninja assassins are considered Other. They are “kill on sight” legal, and those associating with them are brought along for the ride. This is a big deal, since it unconstrained the lot of us for full-on combat.
Without going through a blow-by blow, some of my remembered highlights and notes:

  • Righteous Fury is something I’ve mentioned before. It’s a spectacular physical power-up, and Nate has been kind and allows me to roll the three 1d6 rolls and allocate them how I like. I nearly always take the highest roll and give it to DX, the second highest and increase ST, and the lowest goes to HT. This time, I rolled 5, 4, 2, which increased the chracter’s point value by 160! ST 18, DX 18, HT 14. This gave me Axe-24, Shield-22, and with my large shield (Shield Wall negates the -2 for large shields; a wonderful perk) and Combat Reflexes, he has Parry-19 and Block-18. Shrivener, Cadmus’ named possession, does 3d+3 (2) cut damage on a successful hit. That can punch through as much armor on an average roll as a .30-06 . . .
  • His first move was possibly rules-illegal, but we let it slide. He spun and did a rapid strike, hitting first one foe, then stepping and hitting the other. Both were killed or incapacitated. I’m not sure if you can step in the middle of a rapid strike or not; the group decided on yes, but I’ve got a question out to The Powers That Be on this one. Skill levels as high as this enable some truly epic moves. If I would have had Weapon Master, lowering the Rapid Strike penalties to -3 each instead of -6, accounting for four foes per turn would not have been out of the question.

    Edit: Kromm himself commented on this: it’s legal. I paste his comment below in the post in full, since it’s just that useful:

    FYI, the step allowed by the Attack maneuver can come at any time on your turn: before the attack, after the attack, or between attacks if you have more than one. There’s nothing illegal about taking an Attack maneuver, declaring a Rapid Strike, and then attacking at -6, stepping, and attacking at -6. You can’t do this with Dual-Weapon Attack, because that’s simultaneous (and also easier, so suck it up!).

  • Thumvar has DR 14. This is a phenomenal equalizer for many things, and even with Cadmus’ power-up, I’d give mad props to Thumvar in most combat situations. His trademark is a dual-weapon attack with an edged shield and an axe, and he’ll often rack up 15+ points of cutting damage, maybe on each. He eventually wound up dispatching the werebear with two huge blows after Cadmus had crippled its leg (more on that later).
  • I may have said this before, but +Mark Langsdorf is right: if you don’t pay the low fee to silver your weapons in a DF campaign, you’re either inexperienced (me) or dumb (hopefully not me). That being said, though we’d talked about getting Shrivener silvered, we didn’t actually do it. Don’t forget.
  • Cadmus got bull-rushed from behind by the were-bear. He knocked me one hex over, but did not knock me down. Being strong and big helps a lot in this situation – I think the bear rolled 2d+something physical damage, with double-knockback for his slam. I took 4 points of damage even through DR 9, so this was a mightly blow. We started calling the were-bear Ditka or the Refridgerator after that.
  • The fight was basically over when after getting slammed, Cadmus spun and chopped at Ditka’s knee, landing the blow and doing 18(2) raw damage, which was enough to cripple the leg (yay!) but not to take it right off – between the DR and 30HP this guy was a BMF.
  • Towards the end of the fight, I tried once again to do something that was going to be a Moment of Awesome. Committed Attack (Long) to get into a Thug’s hex, use Judo Throw to toss him down, then kill him with an axe blow. Judo Throw defaults from Axe/Mace for me (that’s an allowable Technique Adaptation perk), so I had effectively Judo Throw-24 . . . and the Thug managed to make both defense rolls. Again. I have yet to pull off any nifty grappling stuff in combat, despite several attempts. Sigh.
After that, having dispatched a couple ninja, maybe 3-5 thugs, and the were-bear, everyone else started to head for the door. Thumvar, in his own moment of awesome, actually flies to the door and sizes up what equipment the fleeing foes are carrying, deciding whether or not to kill ’em all or let ’em escape by judging the quality of the plunder.
A fine way to end the night. 

A retroactive (and oft-repeated) introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races


3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!


So: we continue!

More Skills!

Picking up from where we left off, and hopefully I won’t miss anything big like using Bluff to feint and deny a foe his DX bonus . . . which is apparently the trigger for Sneak Attack, the Rogue’s raison d’etre.

 Intimidate

“GRAR! G’mornin!”

                 –Random Viking from “How to Train your Dragon.”

This skill seems to have two primary uses: temporarily increasing the friendliness of a creature to force them to help you, and the ability to cause foes to become “shaken.” This is not detailed here, but can be found on p. 568 in the Appendices. -2 to attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks. Not bad at all.

Knowledge
This is the place where you go to know things, and given that the Pathfinder world of Golarion is not the world we live in, expect to be rolling against this a lot to find out things your character knows but you as a player don’t. The scope of the skill is mostly vague – not a bad thing.

Hidden Lore: The listed use of this skill that’s going to appeal is to use it to gain knowledge about foes and critters (but I repeat myself). The more obscure the creature, the more difficult the DC. It gives you a “useful fact,” which could be life-saving things like “will drain levels,” or “only magic weapons can harm it,” or “will cause your valuable magic items to dissolve into goo.”  That’s handy data, right there.

Linguistics
Working with language, including speaking and writing, but not only that. Structure and context will allow you to decipher most languages given time.

It’s hard, though: Base DC is 20, and goes right up to 30, which means you’ll need a lot of levels in this one before you’re doing this casually. It’s a prime candidate for Taking 20, since that means you work at the relatively fast pace of one page per 20 minutes for “ordinary text.”

Every rank in Linguistics gives you another language. Ten ranks is ten languages, and there are 21 “common” languages listed. So you won’t speak everything, but you’ll speak a lot.

Hidden Lore: Creating and detecting forgeries. Plot hook made in heaven, and a nice use of a noncombat skill for intrigue. The opposed skill is also Linguistics, so this can be a big deal – you have to watch out for Bards, Clerics, Rogues, and Wizards, but likely you’ll blow away all them warrior types. You really don’t need to see my identification, but if you want to, it’s right here. And totally authentic. Bite me. Well, this is Pathfinder; you shouldn’t say that – too many opportunities to be taken at your word.

Perception
The only surprise to me is that there are classes for which this is not a class skill. Fighters don’t need Perception? Please. I know, I know, you have to spread some of these around, but Perception checks – the ability to discern and thus react to your environment – are so fundamentally key to combat that I choke on this a bit

I’ll get over it.

Just talking about my own experience with Pel, my 4th-level Rogue, he’s got Per +11. He will continue to invest as many ranks in Per as he can get, and if he can find +5 Goggles of Perception he’ll wear those to bed. It’s just so damn useful.


Anyway, some sample DCs are given, and some of them can open your eyes to things to do – maybe in a way that’s disruptive to the game if your GM disagrees. For example, someone’s hiding out in the shadows and is going to fire an arrow at you. He’s 60 feet away. You can hear the sound of the bow being drawn, if you’re good: +6 DC for being 60 feet away on top of a base 25 for being naturally very quiet. DC 31 means Pel has a 5% chance of doing this . . . but he can do it. I’d personally allow a DC 15 check to hear an incoming arrow as well – and that has nothing to do with the Stealth of the shooter.

Hidden Lore: I’ll go ahead and make the statement that both the DC and the Modifiers tables count as hidden lore, and you should think of the kind of things you might want to do routinely and work out base DCs and modifiers with your GM in advance to the extent you can – that’ll take such decision-making out of immediate play, where it’ll be less disruptive to the game flow and less likely to start an argument, which again wastes time.

Perform
The skill of singing, dancing, and telling stories so you can starve more slowly than otherwise. I mean, seriously: Profession skills, if you can roll them at all, return half your profession check result in gold pieces per week. So if you have one rank in these, you’re bringing in 2-21gp per week, call it about 2 gp per day on the average, more or less.

Perform skills? Yeah . . . good luck. You need to make a DC 20 perform check to return that kind of money (3d10 silver per day, or about 1.6 gp).

The nice thing about performing, though, especially for those such as singers is that you don’t need a lot of equipment to do it. Short on cash? A day’s work can bring some in.

Hidden Lore: As one might imagine, if you don’t have this skill it’s tough to be a Bard. Meaning you need it to empower your special abilities, so don’t skimp. That’s not really hidden – Bards are all about performing. But don’t be a dolt and forget.

Profession
This is the skill of doing tasks related to making a living (architect, brewer, gambler, gardener, merchant, sailor, soldier as examples). It seems to be primarily related to making money, at the rate of half your skill check in gold pieces per week. For someone with decent skill (Pel at 4th level has +9 in both Sailor and Merchant) you can bring in some real money with downtime: Pel’s skill check will net him 10-21 gp per week. Those aren’t “replacement for adventuring” type wages, which is good.

We’ve played this as “knowledge and action skills related to your job.” Merchant has been particularly useful (especially paired with Appraise) to sell stuff, and the ability to have only a DC 10 check to hit “market value” is nice.

Hidden Lore: Nothing explicit, but it’s worth bearing in mind that while you can have (and make money with) Profession (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), the GM will frequently have to adjudicate whether a given task can be accomplished with this skill. You don’t roll against Prof(Soldier) to brain your foe with a sword. Profession (Sailor) doesn’t let you build a ship – there’s a Craft skill for that. Worth taking the time to figure out what the GM will sweep into the skill.

Ride
Doing fancy stuff on the back of a horse or similar mount. The tasks that are suggested are interesting and instructive: Guide with knees (hands free for fighting), stay in the saddle (when mount is spooked, or you’re damaged), let your mount attack independently of your own actions, hide behind your mount as cover (like the cowardly dog you are), fall off the mount gracefully, jump over obstacles, go fast, control an untrained mount in battle, or mount and dismount as a free action.

Hidden Lore: You don’t need to make any rolls to do most things with a combat-trained mount. Controlling such a mount in battle doesn’t require a roll, only attacking with it and preserving your own attack does.

Sense Motive
The high-level summary of this seems to be (more or less) “opposes the Bluff skill.” Three nifty uses for this one: getting a gut feel on the behavior or trustworthiness of a person. Detecting if someone’s been magicked with controlling spells (mind control, domination, etc. Not +1 to AC or stuff like that). Also intercepting secret messages sent to others by observation.

Hidden Lore: A Ranger acting against his favored enemy gets a bonus, and the Alertness feat boosts this as well.

Sleight of
Hand
Pick pockets, palm objects, secretly ready concealed weapons. Sometimes this is opposed by Perception (another good reason to take it). Tiny objects get bonuses.

Hidden Lore: Untrained Sleight of Hand is a DEX check.

Spellcraft

For magic users, this is a big deal. Casting spells, identifying cast spells and magic items, and making magic items. Mmm. Making magic items.

This is what you roll against after you cast a spell like Detect Magic and Identify. It’s what you roll against to learn a spell or decipher a scroll. 

Hidden Lore: None, really – but you’d best master the rules for what you want to be good at, and know the modifiers. This is a primay skill for the magic set.


Stealth

The art of hiding and moving silently. This is the Rogue’s big deal, and probably pretty important for Rangers too. Stealth is opposed by Perception, and since if you biff the detect roll, you may be open to the Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability, this is a bad roll to miss.

You can move pretty well with Stealth: half move at no penalty, and up to full move at -5 to skill. You get a bonus if you’re sneaky and small, and penalties if you’re a larger creature.

Hidden Lore: I’m going to call a lot of the subtleties of Stealth hidden lore. Some of this stuff is pretty key, and one even speaks to something I’ve bitched about in the past: shooting a bow from concealment.

If you’re being observed, you can’t use Stealth. But if you shout “Look! Over there! A dinosaur!” real loud, you can disappear in the resulting confusion (make a successful Bluff). Again: big deal, as it enables you to get into a position from which special abilities or undefendable attacks may be made. Granted, it’s -10 to skill, but it’s doable.

You can make a ranged attack from concealment if you’re more than 10 feet away, and then take a move action to use Stealth to regain concealment at -20 to skill. So you have to be good to pull it off.

On the flip side, I’d definitely apply a penalty to foes’ Perception if they’re actively fighting someone else (similar to background noise); I’d also make the Perception DC the LESSER of the Stealth check, the sound of a bow being drawn, or the sound of the arrow. That’s me, though.

Being invisible and immobile is +40 to skill; moving while invisible is +20. Invisibility is a good thing.

Survival
I understand why they named it Survival, but given the amount of text in the entry, it maybe should be called “Tracking.” Lots of information is given on following critters and sentients based on number, size, and type of ground.

Oh, sure – a basic DC 10 check helps you survive and feed yourself and your party, as well as aiding Fortitude saves versus weather. Oh, and predicting the weather is a Survival skill too. 



Swim
Moving and staying abovewater in various conditions. If you make a swim check, you can move forward. If you biff it, you make no progress, and if you really screw up, you can go underwater and may start to drown. 

Hidden Lore: You must always roll in a storm; you can’t Take 20. But, you don’t have to make routine swim checks if you actually have a Swim speed listed on your character sheet – this is for aquatic creatures: Fish don’t drown much. 

Use Magic
Device

This one’s interesting. It allows you to use a magical device that usually requires a special ability. Like  using a wand usually requires that you have the spell on your class spell list (you needn’t know it). If it’s not, you have to use this skill.

The DCs of this skill are really high – none less than 15 (what you subtract from your roll to emulate having a high ability score), and may range up to 30 as a base, and using a scroll by a level 20 caster can be DC 40!

The list of magical deception you can pull off is pretty neat, though. Deciphering a spell, using a scroll or wand, or emulating a class feature, ability score, alignment, or race!

Parting Shots
For the game being played, I find the Pathfinder skills list broad enough to provide some limited differentiation, but narrow enough so you can get a move on and not worry about being brought to a halt by someone not having the right skill.

This is important, since it really allows those writing adventures to have a basic assumption as to what a party can do. This is a phenomenal advantage over a system like GURPS, with its monster skill list and no guarantees that “the party thief” has the right skill set. Or even that there will be a party thief.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and I’m sorry it took so long to put down.

Next up: Feats. Grar, there are a lot of them, so I’m sure I won’t be doing a blow-by-blow like I did with skills. 

In the discussion of common pitfalls in GURPS (which was really common pitfalls in RPGs in general, for the most part, some of which applied more directly to GURPS), the topic of metagaming currencies came up.

What is a metagaming currency? Well, I’ll pick on GURPS, since I can think of a few:

  • Luck can be use X times per hour/day/game session. It allows you to reroll certain bad die rolls, or try and improve on good ones. 
  • Tactics success can allow the equivalent of Luck rerolls, a certain number of times per battle
  • Destiny or Bonus points, discussed in GURPS Monster Hunters at least, and I give them a nod in The Last Gasp, again give you “good stuff,” much of it being Luck-type re-rolls, and you get a certain number per game based on the number of points you’ve invested in (for example) a Wildcard skill
I’m sure there are others.
Whenever I think about metagaming in this context, my thoughts always turn to D-Day, and Band of Brothers. If the PCs are going to cross the bullet-swept beaches of D-Day in the opening scene of your adventure, you’re either going to want to start off with . . .

“OK, you guys just landed on the beach, saw most of your comrades in arms brutally murderized, but have managed to come through relatively unscathed. Now, we begin with . . . “

 . . . or you’re going to want to have some sort of ability for the PCs to avoid random death. I am utterly convinced that by dint of skill, behavior, a knack for making the right call under pressure, certain soldiers (it’s most obvious in war, I think) are “lucky,” but it’s such a repeated kind of luck that it’s probably not actual luck. Well, most of the time.

How to represent that? GURPS does it through a very specific set of metagame currencies, purchased as advantages or bequeathed by certain kinds of skills. I find this kind of metagaming helps with immersion, rather than harms it. When you do things like use such things to make a fatal bullet wound a scary close call (a “graze”) – but you have a limited supply, so your luck can indeed run out. I think it makes for the right kind of resource-management type of decision that is perfectly in keeping – in the outcome, if not strictly by method – with good roleplaying.

We use Destiny points in +Nathan Joy‘s GURPS DF: Jade Regent game, and they significantly aid fun. Honestly, Pathfinder itself, with the flat probability distribution of the 1d20 die roll, could probably benefit from such a thing. Maybe 1 “re-roll” per session every 4-5 levels or something (I may very well find exactly this exists, but I haven’t come across it yet).

In short: bring on the metagaming management of resources to help the players influence their own story. I love it, I love it, I want more of it. 

+Hans-Christian Vortisch dropped me a note on another forum he and I share, which basically (my words, not his) said “um, you were lead playtester on Tactical Shooting, lasers aren’t that different from guns, and your long-winded post is why I wrote Tactical Dodging in the first place.”

He’s right, and it’s a valuable addition to the conversation.

Tactical Dodging: from GURPS: Tactical Shooting, p. 17

The key bit here is that the GURPS Attack maneuver, the one that allows a real defense, may not be combined with certain things – notably Aim. If you want to use the sights, or go beyond that and even Aim, you must do All-Out Attack (Determined), which fixes the problem right there by disallowing a dodge.

The Tactical Dodging heading has a section Restricted Dodge Against Firearms that has very explicit rules about what maneuver choices will enable a follow-on dodge, and ties in to perception and situational awareness – you have to be “watching” your attacker in order to Dodge.

There are some neat rules here that +Peter V. Dell’Orto would describe as “roll-heavy” (correctly) that I can think of for how many targets you can be aware of.

+Christian Blouin made an interesting comment on Google+ in response to my Shoot/No-Shoot post.

He said:

I was toying with the idea of asking players what would be their next action before resolving the current one. Cancelling their decision on the following turn would impose a “Do Nothing”. Maybe a tactics check could allow to avoid the Do nothing. I think that this may minimize the fine tuning, and favour players who can anticipate the battlefield more.

This is interesting. I wrote up a reply, then decided to make an entire post about it. Then Windows ate my reply. Sigh.

Here’s the thing:

This is really interesting, but as +Peter V. Dell’Orto would say, it really needs to be tried in play.

I can see a few issues that leap out:

  • Once you set your first two actions, really is all you’re doing is choosing your next action on your turn, then resolving the one you chose last round. 
  • Is the GM going to choose in advance for all his NPCs? How will he keep track of this?
I can see a few really neat benefits to this, though. There is real uncertainty on a real battlefield. You don’t know, really, where your foes will be, what they’ll be doing, with perfect fidelity. This means you have to guess. Will they Move? Attack? Defensive Attack? If you’re shooting ranged weapons, there may be some uncertainty about the range, and therefore the penalties. You won’t know if they’ll be in hot combat with a friend, or hiding behind a rock.
I was pondering a combat example. Let’s say I’m playing Cadmus, my Warrior Saint from +Nathan Joy‘s DF game. 
We’re attacked by a bunch of henchmen. Say six or eight. There are four of us PCs. As per usual, we scatter to the winds to fight. While we might assume that in a turn or two, we’ll be fighting two foes each, we have no idea. We have to start by deciding several seconds ahead, what we’ll be doing. 
Cadmus will assume these guys come to him, and so his first second’s choice is Wait (triggered by foe coming into range, where he’ll do an attack), and then assuming he’ll be facing one or two more, perhaps he’ll  . . . well, what will he do? 
Do we have to really get specific? Or just choose a maneuver class? I could say “He’ll Attack” next round, and then when it’s my turn, choose that I’ll Rapid Strike so I can engage multiple foes. Or, do I have to guess in advance that I’ll be using Rapid Strike?  Let’s assume that I have to choose more precisely.
Cadmus will assume that he’ll be attacked by 2-3 people, basically assuming that our foes will split evenly. So his two maneuver choices are Wait(Attack), then Attack(Rapid Strike). 
Rats. These are Evil Cultists. They hate Warrior Saints. One each go for my three companions, five for me. Cadmus swats the first one down with his Wait, but he’s still about to be dogpiled by four more. When his next turn comes, he chooses Defensive Attack as his posture for his FOLLOWING round, and honestly, would prefer Defensive Attack for the current round too. But his chosen maneuver, which he must execute, is Attack (Rapid Strike). 
So, he can do that . . . OR he can take a penalty to all his skills this turn and change his mind. Maybe he uses the rules for Pop-up attacks or something, changing the mind counts as an extra action (like a mental Ready maneuver). Maybe it’s another -2 (like pop-ups or opportunity fire) to -6 (like Rapid Strike). 
I can see that the uncertainty about the situation – choosing your FOLLOWING move rather than your current one, could be really fun.
Or it could suck. 
Not sure.
Were I playing with my Action Point concept from The Last Gasp, it would be interesting to have changing your mind cost you AP, either in addition to or in lieu of, a skill penalty.
Anyway, enough for now. Christian’s thought was intriguing – but definitely would need a playtest!

The recent post and discussion on dodging lasers in GURPS has led to further thoughts.

One of the things that happens in real target shooting, and presumably it can happen in combat too, though it would be under considerably more stress, is a shooter knows he’s off target. His breathing is wrong, he feels a sneeze coming, he sees the target jink, or he’s otherwise pointing at air.

I always thought that this would be a natural use of the Precision Aiming technique, which is covered in GURPS Tactical Shooting (p. 26-27).

In fact, there would be an interesting way to adjudicate aiming in general, which will add die rolls, but perhaps make a trade-off in narrative fun. We’ll see. Consider this somewhat stream of consiousness – so it may wind up all a bad dream.

The way I shoot, you line up your sights on the target, and when you’re where you want to be, you squeeze the trigger. The key being “where you want to be.” There’s no set time for this. Sometimes you’re right on and it happens quickly, and sometimes you’re not, and you keep aiming. Sometimes, as you start to pull the trigger (especially for single shots), you know you’re off, and you relax and don’t shoot.

Maybe what you need to do is something like this:

All of this assumes you can see the target.

When you Aim, go ahead and roll some dice. Maybe you always use the Precision Aiming technique (but I don’t think so), but I think it’s just a straight-up DX-based skill roll. If you succeed in your roll, you get +1 Acc. If you succeed by a bunch, you can get even more, up to the Acc of the gun.

If you want to shoot go ahead. If you hit, great, you shot, you hit, fine.Maybe it’s actually this roll, the aiming roll, that you have to trade off in order to get the Prediction Shot bonus that penalizes your foe’s Dodge score.

So, what if you fail? Maybe you can make a Precision Aiming roll, and if you succeed, you don’t fire. Your margin of success might tell you how much of your Acc bonus you retain.

That way, it’s not “I will fire every three seconds,” which is basically how it works right now. Sometimes, you might get a very rapid sight picture. Sometimes, you have to work at it.

Today’s game started out after we’d been attacked by some sort of acid ooze in the previous game. Naturally, we were immediately attacked by a giant wasp on a narrow set of switchbacked stairs.

Cadmus, usually the shield and magic axe guy, decided to play with his dueling poleaxe (spear tip, hammerhead, axe blade) instead. That’s trading Axe-19 for Polearm-14, but a 2-yard reach. We shall see.

First round, our Knight (also a gargoyle) flew off the stairs, took a Wait maneuver. Then the wasp flew some huge amount of hexes right at Cadmus, who managed to parry him aside with his polearm. That triggered Thumvar’s Wait, and he got in a good thwack. Brother Michel the Cleric/Mage stepped right behind me, which irritated me until he tapped me on the shoulder and casts Walk on Air. “Walk after him, just don’t fall.”

Sweet.

Cadmus steps up into open air, stabs, but the thing dodges. Then Staver, our Infernal Scout, does a ranged Feint and Attack at the things wings, makes the Feint by 14, and destroys them. Crunch, splat, Fight over.

Well, that fight. Two ninjas were naturally hiding in the shadows climbing the suporting timbers of the switchbacked stairway, the way ninjas do.

The less ethical among us (Staver and Brody, our thief) shoot first. Brody chucks a knife at one (Knife Throwing: the art of skillfully discarding a perfectly good weapon), which causes his target ninja to have to make a Climb check to not fall. He makes it. Nimble little bastard.

Staver drills his target with an arrow for 10 impaling. Target also fails to fall. Maybe he’s got some armor, ’cause 20 injury if he don’t, and he didn’t die.

The rest of us non-perceptive folks notice something’s up. Literally. 10 yards up, and enmeshed in the support structures for the stairs.

Thumvar flies, Michel puts himself close to a wall, goes defensive, and ponders what spell to hit them with. I Walk on Air halfway to the ninjas. Brody drops to the ground beside Staver, but would have biffed the landing except for a quick Thief! point. He plucks an arrow from Staver’s cornucopia quiver (infinite arrows) . . . and realizes that with -8 for cover and -4 for range, he doesn’t have the skill to hit them. Oops.

Staver’s turn again, and she sinks an arrow into the boards; -8 for cover is a lot.

The ninja’s try to Stealth out, one succeeds, disappearing into the woodwork. The other does not, and Thumvar fast-draws a hatchet and chucks it at him. Crazy Dodge-monkey gets out of the way. This left Michel little to do, with 10 yards of distance between him and his hidden foes, so since he hadn’t set anything on fire for a few hours, he went with that option, casting explosive fireball.

Cadmus continues walking through air and chops at the neck of his foe, who dodges. The way Ninjas do. Despite missing, he cuts through the support pillar ninja-boy is standing on, since his axe does 2d+3 (2) cut, and rolled 14 penetration. He fails to fall, pesky ninja. The stairs also fail to fall. But are weakened.

I just wanted to say that running through the sky to stab ninjas is really where I want this game to go, and I’m happy we’re partway there already.

                                                                                    — +Nathan Joy 

Cadmus’ foe turns to try and fast draw his sword and stab him in the throat.  Cadmus notices that the thing has black feathers and a yellow beak. Ravencraeg is apparently pretty literal. Cadmus tries to aggressively parry the sword, hoping to chop it in half. He makes the parry, but only by the margin provided by his shield (DB+3), so no dice.

Thumvar flies over and buries his axe into the bird-ninja of Alcatraz, killing him.

The other one is nowhere to be found. Boo! for alert foes.

We bring the body down, and search him, finding two potions, and three more stoppered vials. Plus 10 yards of spider silk rope, a short sword, blowgun, some daggers, and a lightly armored black garment. Ninjas have good loot.

Cadmus remarks we should probably get to the big ol’ doors before archers arrive at the arrow slits – which would make our lives generically difficult. This goes more or less unnoticed. Due to shiny potions and stuff. One’s a blur potion, the other a potion of Insignificance, that makes the eyes just slide off you, not noticing your presence.

Staver (Greedy) searches the wasp’s nest for treasure too. She discovers that wasp’s nests are kinda gross. The GM allows a roll vs. Naturalist (Scout!), Staver biffs it, spends a Scout! point to make the roll, and finds out that wasp’s nest paper makes good field-expedient gauze/bandages for first aid. +2 HP to first aid attempts.

Which, given we keep spending time NOT getting to the doors, I believe we’ll need presently – but it turns out I’m wrong. We swing open the heavy door, and . . .

. . . are attacked by a huge swarm of Ravens. Two of them, actually.

We back off a bit, and Brody tosses an exploding egg (nagateppo). This blinds one swarm.

The swarm attacks the rest of us. Large-area injury is resisted by the average DR of the whole body, so Cadmus is DR 6. So Thumvar and Cadmus, the best protected of the group, flail around being pecked, but that pings off the armor. We kill a few. Michel tosses a Stunball at our feet, which kills most of them, stuns a few of us (including Michel, caught in his own spell), and destroys one of the two swarms. We pause for a moment as the other swarm wakes up and starts coming for us. Thumvar is totally coated in massive amounts of plate, so he’s safe. I’m only threatened if they roll a 6, so I’m 85% safe. We keep swinging at it as we make time for the mage to wake up and kill the swarm with another spell. Michel rolls a lot of 14s.

Eventually we do enough damage to the final swarm to disperse it. Cadmus heals Michel, he recovers fatigue, we eat roast raven, and that’s the session.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Emily Smirle +Theodore Briggs +Kevin Smyth +Douglas Cole

*********

Not much to report this time. Lots of combat, mostly melee. We got caught off-guard by the wasp, who was fast enough to be on us before we could declare and trigger Wait maneuvers. Vulnerable wings made for a relatively easy fight.


The ninjas were more fun, but mostly they just hung out in the rafters, with only one trying anything. 


The ravens were more annoying than dangerous, since those of us in the fray were wearing enough armor to render them ineffective – but 1d6+1 pi++ every round with no hit roll and no defense is bad mojo unless you happen to be slathered in head-to-toe armor. Which Thumvar and Cadmus were. It did get a bit tedious, though – still a better alternative than what would have happened with my old kit, which maxed out at DR 6, which would have given me DR 4 instead of DR 6 for average protection, and that would have let a lot more damage through. As it was, I could just ignore them.


Still, one of the fun things about GURPS combat is the tactical choices, and swarms, while very nasty, don’t really allow for that. You basically do 2 HP per attack per turn, or 1 HP for pi or imp weapons. It’s really a matter of “I hope that you brought explosives, fire, concussion, or other area effects.”


Which we did. QED. 

GURPS Basic Set covers the question of how high your skill levels should be with the Choosing Your Skill Levels box, on p. B172. Some other resources (GURPS Tactical Shooting, Guns Skill Levels, p. 42) also throw down what the right skill levels are for various archetypes.

But let’s, as Jeffr0 put it, tear down the fourth wall for a moment.

Forget what skill levels mean. What can you do? 



I’m assuming you will buy and use GURPS Martial Arts here.
Lets focus on a generic melee skill for a moment. Maybe it’s Axe/Mace, maybe it’s Broadsword.




Skill-5
Attack: This is default value for an untrained person. You suck. You suck so hard it takes a Telegraphic All-Out Attack (+8 to your skill, but +2 to defend against, and you can’t use your own defenses for the rest of your turn) to even get you to Skill-13. You may not use Deceptive Attack at all. Feinting is a waste of time for all concerned. If you thrust for the vitals, you will have a 50% chance of doing so, after which you will stand there with a “kill me” sign on your chest. If you try and hit someone in the head (-5) with that same berserker combo, you will succeed 25% of the time. Well, you’ll throw “a blow good enough to hit” that often; your foe will still defend.

Defense (Parry or Block): Bwa ha ha! Sorry, did you say parry? Your base defense on this one is 5 (3+Skill/2, drop fractions), and you’ll note most of that comes from the 3. If all your stats are 10 and you’ve no encumbrance, your Dodge is higher at 8, and at least with a retreat you can boost this to 11. You’ll be hiding behind a shield (for the Defense Bonus, DB), and probably choosing between All-Out Attack and All-Out Defense a lot.

Skill-9
Attack: This is what happens when Joe Average puts one point into the skill. You can do better than 50% chance to hit the torso with a Committed Attack, at least. The All-Out Telegraphic suicide attack at least gets you to Skill-17, which means you could hit the vitals 90% of the time with a thrust. At least you’re aiming for something important. You’ve got a 75% chance to bust someone in the face using that same move. You still are precluded from making real use of Deceptive Attack.

Defense: Still only a 7 for Parry (or Block using Shield, though you’ll pick up DB for many shields). Not great odds, but maybe with a retreat (+1) and a defensive attack (+1) carrying a medium shield (+2) you can eke out a 62% chance of defeating your foe’s attack. That’s at least better than 50-50, but not something to bet your own life on. You have very little margin against skilled foes.

Skill-12
Attack: Notionally the baseline for a professional, your raw hit chance is finally larger than 50%. You no longer need to stack several unattractive options to even have a chance of hitting your guy. You can do Committed Attack (Determined) and have a 90% chance of hitting his torso. You have a better than even chance with a Telegraphic Attack to the face (Skill-11), and you can finally look at the Brain as a viable target (AoA+Telegraphic for +8, Brain at -7, for Skill-11), or consider Committed Attack (Determined) to the vitals at Skill-11 and preserve your defense. You can target arms and legs (-2) at 50%, and this is the first fight-winning strategy that emerges without real penalties. You can hit arms and legs with a Committed (Determined) attack 75% of the time, even.

Defense: Your Block/Parry is now 9. Notionally, you now have the wherewithal to attempt a Riposte (and take -1 to your defense for -1 to your foe’s next defense), but I wouldn’t. While attacking cautiously as above, you will deflect 80% of blows (assumes a DB+2 shield). All-Out Defense for +2 precludes the Defensive Attack, but with the retreat and shield you’re at 90%.

You will still largely be choosing between “effective attack” and “effective defense,” but at least now effective means “pretty certain against lesser foes.”

Skill-14
Attack:  OK. Now we’re talking. We’re not talking too loudly, since you still can’t hit someone in the face more than 50% of the time without resorting to Attack Options, but you can thrust to the vitals at 62% and give up nothing on the attack, or take a small penalty to defend (CA) and be at 83%. With an AoA(Determined) you can even go Deceptive, and inflict -2 to your foe’s defense and still hit 90% of the time. Better be sure he’ll go down with that blow, though.

Defense: Raw Parry and Block is now 50% (Parry/Block-10), and with the right set of options and Advantages, can start to get serious. Combat Reflexes, Enhanced Parry, Defensive Attack (+1) or All-Out Defense (conctrated) for +2, a DB +2 shield and a retreat (+1) and you’re adding a whopping 6-7 to this raw 10, giving you an “I’m doing nothing else but defending” total of 16-17. Effectively, at this point, lacking a skilled opponent or critical hit, you’re barely touchable if you go All Turtle, All The Time. At this point, especially if you have that shield and can give ground, you can Parry or Block over 80% of strikes and still have a viable offense. Your foes really have to ponder Deceptive Attacks of their own, or hope for criticals, because getting through your defenses is going to be a neat trick.

I’d call Skill-14 “entry level ass kickers.” You no longer suck.

Skill-18
Attack: Ah. Sweet victory. This is an utterly achievable skill level for entry-level DF characters. The Knight can get there pretty fast, and even well beyond given things like Weapon Bond and Balanced and choosing DX over ST, you can easily push a single skill to 22.

Still, at Skill-18, you can now hit the Brain better than 50% of the time, and use a Committed Deceptive Attack to the Vitals (!) to give -2 to your foes defenses and skewer him 83% of the time. Might want to only DA down to Skill-16, though, to preserve the extra chance for a critical hit. You can target arms and legs and either hope for the 10% chance to crit, or “only” accept a 90% chance at hitting and impart -1 to the foes defenses. Leg-chopping for fun and profit is viable here. More importantly, on really tough foes, you can target Chinks in Armor, dividing DR by 2, at 50% success rate . . . more with various Attack Options stacked up.

Defense: Base Parry/Block is 12, and you’re probably sportin’ Combat Reflexes too. You’re now looking at base Block/Parry with the +2 DB medium shield of 15 – now your foes have to start throwing Deceptive Attacks just to think about getting to you. And that’s without you really trying hard. With the right kit (such as a +3 DB shield) and Defensive Attack (+1), you can Riposte with a net defense of 14 and bequeath your foe -2 to defend against your own next attack, reserving your offensive bonuses for target location or soaking other penalties.

Skill-24
Attack: I bypassed Skill-22, which is totally cool, and the Dungeon Fantasy Knight, with the right kit and choices of stats, can start there. But I like Skill-24, because with it, you can take a -10 to hit for -5 to their defense and still rock their torso 90% of the time. But at this skill level, you should be thinking (a lot) about chinks in armor (-8), the brain (-7), and really think about crippling arms and legs, or hands and feet. You can to this and still hit them with up to -4 penalties to defend. You have so many choices here that you may not need to make them, and your defenses will be so high that accepting the defensive penalties from Committed Attack is par for the course.

Defend: Your base Parry/Block is a mighty 15. Toss in Combat Reflexes and a DB+2 shield and you’re at Parry/Block of 18. Back up and you’re at 19, Defensive Attack and you’re at 20. Yow. You’re going to be Riposting. A lot. Why wouldn’t you? Sure, against tough foes with Skill-18 throwing -2 or -3 Deceptive Attack penalties at you, you’re down to a measly 12 or 13, but right back up there with a little cautious fighting.

So, there we go. Clever GMs will find ways to make high skill not matter (such as high DR, or if the PC is silly and combines all that skill with ST 8 or something) in all circumstances. For “real” fighters, you’ll want to be in the Skill-14 to Skill-18 range, which gives a nice sliding scale of offense and defense. For real badasses, you’re going to want to be Skill-20 or higher. I just loves me the -10 Deceptive Attack for -5 to defend, though.

Also note that in grappling, many techniques make use of Contests of Skills, rather than attack/defense rolls. I have never really sat down and worked through the math of that the way I have with attack/defense. Perhaps that will be a subject for a future post. I bet the results are different in important ways.

Edit: A very, very late add, but over at Renovating the Temple, +Patrick Halter has published a nice analysis of how much Deceptive Attack you should take given attacker and defender’s skill. While there are some edge cases, being deceptive down to the 14-16 range is rarely stupid, if occasionally not precisely optimal. It’s nice work, with a fairly easily understood graphical presentation. Nice work.