Am I bound and determined to revisit and rewrite every GURPS rule? 

No. But in writing Technical Grappling, I became very taken with effect rolls, in the vein of hit points and control points. The general progression of a hit roll followed by an effect roll is familiar and favored by gamers.

Personally, I like the differentiation between skill and effect. 

Where it comes to On Target, this gestated for a goodly long time. I think it originally came from a basic unease with the Precision Aiming rules from Tactical Shooting. A series of somewhat vague, somewhat concrete misgivings with the direction of the rules, the amount of time they take, the determinism of them.

But I really did like the overall concept of rolling for extra aiming bonuses. 

How Many Rolls

My instinct, quickly suppressed as being not-fun, was to use three rolls, rather than two. 

An acquisition roll, in order to get the target basically in your sights. This should be basically a “no roll” situation for open sights, but might be much harder for finding a distant target through a scope.

An aiming roll and effect roll, which is lining up the sights or scope precisely on the target, with the degree of precision achieved being determined by the Accuracy roll.

One thing that never did work out despite testing was some way of trading skill for a boost in the effect roll. Some sort of All-Out Attack (Strong) applied to Accuracy. I played with the usual deceptive attack ratio of -2 to Aiming for +1 to Accuracy, but that might get ridiculous fast. If a typical pistol is Acc 3 (and it is), then a -6 to skill will add full Acc to the roll. Relatively speaking, that’s “just too easy.”

Of course, you might do something like every -1 to skill is +10% to Acc, which at (say) a maximum -10 is doubling Accuracy. That’s not tragic, but seriously, 10% per -1 is just mean. You’d need to have a different penalty scale for each Acc result, and, wow, math-at-the-table-bad.

Still, the overall desire to trade skill for damage is there, and some sort of leveled thing wouldn’t be tragic. Maybe some fixed thing, like -5 for +25% to Acc and -10 for +50% or something like that.

Eventually, I went with ignoring it. Roll for accuracy, if so, get your bonus. Period, and done.

The Acquisition roll makes sense from a real-world perspective, but adds an extra roll for the privilege of . . . aiming at all? No way. That would (and should!) make players revolt. No fun, so again no.

Home on the Range

One of the things that got tweaked a lot during playtesting was the concept of whether or not, and if so, how much of the various penalties you should take. 

The basic Aim rules are easy and range independent. Declare Aim, and whether your’e aiming at a huge target at close range or a small target at 1,000 yards, it’s equally easy to line up. The limited bonus even on high-Acc weapons mostly takes care of stuff.

My testers and I ran through some scenarios, and settled on a middle ground. It should be harder to line up distant targets – and therefore take longer – it was felt. A no-penalty roll was too easy, and it was simply too difficult to line up long-range shots will full penalties. So an intermediate was selected.

A Broad Range of Awesome

One of my favorite things that I did here was to broaden the scope of maneuvers, for both attacks and aiming, to the full scope of offensive maneuvers +Peter V. Dell’Orto and +Sean Punch introduced in GURPS Martial Arts. The concept of All-Out and Committed Aim and ranged attacks? Love it. With full symmetry.

Wait . . . Wait!

A couple new options that solve a few common quandaries in ranged fire were introduced, and again, proud of them. The availability of Step and Wait has been debated on the forums, and I personally allow it. The ability to cover an area, or a single line of fire, is a common thing in real life, and I wanted explicit mechanical coverage. 

Aim as Attack

This is the same thing as treating certain quick contests in grappling – such as my recommendation that damaging locks and whatnot be treated as an attack. This allows using the normal GURPS rules to do things in cinematic glory, because those rules are easily applied and well understood.

One thing that did draw some questions in playtest and review was why I insisted on not invoking Multi-Strike for an Aim and Shoot action using Extra Attack. In my mind, this was more similar to a feint and attack rather than two full blows, for one. For another, honestly, the act of aiming is where most of the tough part is, and I didn’t see the sense in slapping on an extra point cost for squeezing a trigger.

The Quick and the Dead

The most potentially unbalancing, but also the most fun, new cinematic rules are for Quick Aim. Being able to aim as a free action, akin to Fast-Draw, can be a big deal. But because the roll always suffers the Bulk penalty – which cannot be bought off – this should remain in the realm of super-gunslingers. If not, try doubling Bulk penalties instead. So Quick Aim with a handgun will be at -2 to -6 (mostly -4), a carbine or SMG is -6 to -8, most full rifles are -10 to -12. That will force people to use smaller, handier weapons to claim that bonus, which may well impact the choice of weapons in a very realistic way.

Parting Shot

Overall, this is one of my favorite of all the alternate rules I’ve published. Sure, The Deadly Spring was a fantastic research challenge, and The Last Gasp adds something to GURPS that can really make fights change their tone. But On Target is, I think, just a more satisfying way of handling the act of pointing and shooting a gun in GURPS, and I’ll not be using anything else in my games. I love the Accuracy and Aiming rolls, and seeing the players make meaningful tactical choices about aiming, and then get to roll dice. They find this very satisfying; it feels like they’re doing something – taking a risk for a potential reward, and not just sitting at the (virtual) table and saying “Sigh. I Aim.”

But don’t just take my word for it. +Jake Bernstein  took On Target (or an early version of it) for a test drive seven months ago. And +Christopher R. Rice also got into the game, and . . . well, listen to what he has to say.

On Target Tangent

Douglas’ On Target, also (and originally) known as Alternate Aiming, has been in the cooker just over a year. I first got a gander at it in February 2014 when he posted it to the Pyramid Mentoring Group’s mailing list. I knew damn near instantly that this was something I wanted to see developed.  

After Doug got it into shape, I started using the rules in my campaign – and I have used them since. I know that Jake Bernstein put in a lot of hours too, but I think I was the only one using it in a real game until Doug used it for Alien Menace.  

My gaming group, the Headhunters, actually full-on revolted when I tried to not use it for a campaign setting. Since I run my group like a pirate democracy (co-GM is chosen by the players, who then elects the GM), I basically had to backpedal. I’m kind of glad I did though, because it let us find a few holes in Doug’s original design.  

I know I contributed to rules for Gunslinger, Telescopic Vision, Spells/Powers, and the random roll table for crits (I mean, you gotta have a random roll table, amirite?).  

Overall, I love the rules. It’s hard to do “simple and playable” with “complex and flavorful,” and I mean hard. But Doug pulled it off and I’m really proud of what the system finally became. 

One particularly memorable moment in one of my campaigns involved my best friend, C.. He was playing a man out of time in modern day, and just nailing his role. At the climax of the story arc, the PCs had to stop an evil witch (C.’s character’s wife) from summoning her demonic patron.  

Everything was going fine until several snipers began to fire on the PCs from the nearby lighthouse. In a moment of sheer badassitude, C. decides to kill two snipers with a single bowshot. Taking penalties for the Dual Weapon Attack (-4 for shooting two arrows at different targets), targeting the eye-chink (-10), 30 yards away (-7), and aiming “instantly” (-6). He proceeds to roll back-to-back triple 1s, rolls an 18 on the critical head chart, and maxes his damage.  

Basically he made Robin Hood look like a chump.  

I actually stopped the combat for a moment to make sure the math was right. It was. I instantly had to play Filter’s “Hey Man, Nice Shot.” It was just so awesome. 

I think that was what sealed the deal for my players with the aiming rules. Nothing is wrong with the Basic Set’s rules – but they like these much, much better. If you have a chance, you should grab a copy of Pyramid #3/77 – Combat – and not just because Yours Truly is also in the issue – but because Doug’s managed to create an “advanced” rules set with a (pardon the pun) simple “point and hit” interface. I’m sure once you try his alternate rules for Aim you’ll never use the Basic Set’s again.

Pyramid #3/77 – Combat is out, and I’m very excited. +Sean Punch has his typically enticing blub posted in the SJG Forums here.

It has my alternate rules – playtested over the course of something like 6-12 months, for treating the Aim maneuver as a die roll.

These rules work, in play, in a way that really make me happy, both as a rules writer, a GM, and a player.

If you look back over the last few years on this blog, you’ll see that I’ve alluded to these rules, and +Jake Bernstein wrote about taking them for a test drive, more than once.

But ultimately, I’m very, very happy with this article, and I hope you will be too.

Over on the forums, a poster asked another about a comment made that the writer used a simplified version of both Technical Grappling and The Last Gasp. The first poster noted that TLG was “complicated,” and asked for what simple rules were in place.

While I think I might take exception to the complicated thing, I did wonder what I’d do if I needed to completely and massively simplify The Last Gasp to put it within reach of anyone, easily.

Actually, some parts of it work really well.

Long-Term Fatigue

There may be some changes buried inside this post; just roll with them.

Long-term fatigue, in GURPS and especially with The Last Gasp, is regular fatigue, tracked with Fatigue Points.

The Chips are Down

When you start play, you will need some tokens or poker chips. I will assume that you have them available in four colors: red, yellow, blue, and green.

Take red chips in an amount equal to your HT. Take yellow chips equal to half your HT, rounded up. You will get green chips equal to 1 plus any extra FP you bought. The remainder are blue, such that your yellow, blue, and green chips add up to your HT+FP.

Example: A warrior is HT 11 with 3 extra FP. He will take 11 red chips and 6 yellow ones. He will get 4 green chips (base 1, plus the 3 he bought with extra FP). That leaves 4 blue.

These represent your store of FP that you can spend. Each time you spend one, you move a chip to the “spent” pile, green first, blue second, yellow third, red last. When you recover FP, you recover green first, then blue, then yellow, and red last. 

The Cost of Being Tired

For simplicity, spending green tokens costs you nothing. 

The moment you spend a blue token you’re at -2 to DX, HT, and IQ, and -20% to ST. 

Spend your first yellow token, and you’re at -4 to DX, HT, and IQ, and -40% to ST. 

Spend in the red, and all your stats are halved (-5 to DX, HT, and IQ; -50% to ST), and every red chip also costs you 1 HP of injury.

I Got Better

Recovery takes longer. Your base recovery rate is 20 hours/Starting FP (including extra FP).

Blue and green chips recover at 1 chip recovered per 1x your base rate
Yellow chips recover at 1 FP regained per 4x your base rate
Red chips recover at 1 FP regained per 12x your base rate.

Example: With 14 FP to start, our hero will recover at a base rate of 1 FP each 1 hr 25 min, which is close enough to 1.5 hours that we shouldn’t care. So he’ll get back his green and blue chips at one per 1.5 hours, his yellow will take 6 hours each, and red are 18 hours each.

Willpower and Perseverance

There are pretty cool rules in the article for making Will rolls to continue doing stuff every time you spend a FP, representing your body shouting at you to Just Stop. Ignore them for the simple rules here.

Short-Term Fatigue (Action Points)

The entire point of The Last Gasp is to try and make lulls and flurries happen organically in combat. To make conditioning matter in the game, and to make the Rope-a-Dope (exhausting your foe) a valid strategy.

More Tokens

You start with black tokens equal to your HT. In this simplified treatment, you get no bonus AP for training, you can’t buy extra AP, or anything else.

Really Simple AP Accounting

Use these simplified AP costs.

  • Attacks and defenses each cost 1 AP. So do Feints and the use of combat techniques.
    • If you took All-Out Defense as your maneuver, your first defense is optionally no cost.
  • Any use of a step or retreat also costs 1 AP. Yes, if you step and retreat in one turn, that’s 2AP. If you took All-Out Defense and also retreat, you still pay the retreat cost.
  • Movement beyond the step costs a flat rate: 2 AP for up to a half-move, 4 AP for up to a full move. Once you have started sprinting, these costs drop to 1 AP per turn as long as you maintain the sprint.
  • Getting injured costs you 1 AP for every HP/10 you take, drop fractions.
  • Ready actions cost 1 AP. This includes drawing a bow. Might want to say that moving around anything more than BL/10 (so 2 lbs for ST 10) costs 1 AP. Drawing an arrow (0.1 to 0.25 lbs) or a pocket pistol (the Kahr 9 is 1.6 lbs loaded) would be 0 AP.
Example: yes, this means step-and-attack costs 2AP, and that Move-and-Attack, a full move as part of an All-Out Attack and similar combinations of moving and hitting will cost you 1 for the attack, one for the initial step, and 4 more for the full move (6 AP total). All-Out Attack (Double) and Rapid Strike are each 2 AP, since you strike twice.
Recovering AP
Turns you spend doing pokey things can regain AP.
  • Do Nothing: Roll HT+4, recover AP equal to Margin of Success (minimum 1), up to your max.
  • Wait or Evaluate: If you pass the turn and don’t do anything that costs you AP, roll HT and recover AP equal to margin of success (minimum 1).
If you have advantages or disadvantages like Fit or Unfit that modify HT, you do get this bonus (or penalty) when rolling to recover AP.

Other Actions

While I might have missed something, basically if it’s not exhausting like an attack, defense or move, nor really passive like an unused Wait, Evaluate, or Do Nothing, it neither costs nor returns AP.

Spells and Powers

By and large, powers and spells that cost FP and are supposed to be combat useful should probably be transitioned to AP at a rate approximating 8:1 to 10:1. 

Burning FP for AP

If you have 0 AP you can’t take actions that cost AP. Period. If you must do something, you have to first burn a FP to recover some AP, and you do that by getting back AP equal to half your HT (not including any extra FP!), rounded up. If spending those FP impose penalties, they happen right away. You may not burn FP unless you’re at 0 AP currently, or the action you intend to take (mostly movement) will take you to 0 AP or below.

Willpower Revisited

One option that occurs to me is to make the Will roll mentioned as ignorable under the long-term section above before you can spend the FP to get AP back. That’s quick, requires no bookkeeping, and is self-enforcing. 


There’s a box on p. 13 of the article that gives a no-bookkeeping way to deal with a horde of NPCs and mooks using without driving the GM mad. Go read it there. 

Parting Shot

The article itself covers things in more detail, with more options, and finer shades of meaning. Regeneration, the effect of high skill on AP and FP use, lots of stuff that those that like details will say “yeah, but . . .” and I tried to cover it. 

If you find yourself taking exception to the simplifications made here, you might find that it’s worth your time to go look at the full version.

The overall point of The Last Gasp is to drive an action economy. So that attack-attack-attack-attack-attack with defenses and movement in between in a few seconds of frantic combat isn’t the go-to model for all of GURPS.

That’s a pace of action thing. Clearly it’s possible to wail on a heavy bag for multiple punches per second for many seconds. But it’s freakin’ tiring. Imposing a cost for sustained action will tend to moderate the average pace of combat, which (perhaps counter-intuitively) will actually allow more teamwork and “I’m coming to your rescue!” actions.

The Last Gasp is a neat concept, and those that play with it have appreciated it. Using tokens to represent your expendable resources is a nice, tangible, and easily visualized way of managing these quantities without resorting to erasing holes in character sheets. Applying penalties for Long-Term Fatigue based only on the color of the chip you just spent is, again, a nod to minimal book-keeping, though it does make it less of an “every FP spent counts” event.

+Jason Packer posted a worthy GURPS 301 post about one of our favorite topics, the Evaluate maneuver.

Obviously, in The Last Gasp I tried to give it some legs by making it a recovery option. But Jason threw down an idea that occurred to me as well in passing when I was reading a thread on the Forums, though I don’t remember which one.
Evaluate using Feint Mechanics

I’ll give Jason the credit here, since he fleshed it out, but using the normal Quick Contest mechanics in place of the fixed-bonus Evaluate maneuver makes a ton of sense. 
The attacker might roll Per-based weapon skill; the defender uses their DX-based roll. I’d add double the DB of any cloaks or shields to this, since it should obscure and deny angles of attack. If the defender took All-Out Defense, I’d probably go ahead and give double bonus to the QC as well (+4 in this case).
I see no reason why the Evaluator can’t use Committed and All-Out Evaluate, as well. I’m going to stare at you so hard I won’t defend myself makes little sense in a one-on-one combat in many situations, but it certainly does make sense for the assassin hiding in the shadows and waiting for the foe to expose something important.
As usual, you get the margin of victory on the Quick Contest as a penalty to the foe’s defenses, just like a Feint.
I’d give a +2 to each consecutive attempt to a normal maximum of +6. 
Parting Shot

Why do I like it? It explains a lot of the oddities about Feints that occasionally bug people – how a Feint with a two-handed weapon does not unready the weapon, but somehow makes the foe open themselves up enough to suffer a huge penalty to defend, potentially.
It also makes Evaluate skill-dependent in a useful way. A novice can look and look and he just won’t see the openings in his foe’s defenses. An expert can take a quick glance (Defensive Evaluate!) and see five openings in a novice.
It will, of course suffer the same “issues” as Feint has currently, though being Per-based, it gives a good way for stalking monsters with high Per to leverage their cunning. Combined with the purely physical Setup Attack, it makes a good IQ-based counter.
This actually gives me yet another idea, but I have to talk to +Peter V. Dell’Orto about it first. 

+Lowell Francis over at Age of Ravens threw down a mighty post: “33 Things I Want From Combat As a Player.” I read them, and had thoughts. I will share them, because that’s what I do on this blog.

This is the final part of a three-part response. You can find my comments on the first 11 of his wish list here, while the second third (aroo?) is here.

My comments are in black, while his are in color. The original post was huge as it was, so I’m hiding most of the responses behind a page break!

So here we go, for the home stretch . . .

23. If a combat is narratively unwinnable– which I can accept for storyline purposes– the GM should send those signals clearly.

I think this is good advice to establish as part of the game assumptions and expectations, too. I think +Peter V. Dell’Orto, for example, has either stated explicitly or his players have found by chance that he makes no attempt to balance his encounters. If you walk into the Frost Giant’s barracks, and there are 100 of them and five of you, and your surname isn’t Odinsson, you are courting disaster. “Every fight is one that can be won somehow” is a valid basis for a game, but not every game is like that.

Not to mention that having honest to goodness recon to do lets those sneaky scouty types shine. “Had we proceeded a mile farther, we’d have come upon a large body of the enemy; retreat would have been uphill through a swamp. We’d have been slaughtered” is a great victory for a scouty type.

24. I should feel like I’m fighting in a story, not playing a tactical game against the GM. I also shouldn’t feel like the GM is changing the situation to get me.

Strong agreement with the second one, but my experience has been a bit interesting.

More often I’ve seen the GM adjust things to avoid a TPK than the other way. +Nathan Joy, on the other hand, simply kept ramping up the encounters against our DF party because he was having trouble providing us with a real challenge (GURPS can be hard that way). The very last one, documented in part 1 and part 2, was a very near thing, and we had to pull some pretty blatant rules exploits (mostly perfect situational awareness) to tip the scales.

That being said, Alien Menace started as more or less a series of tactical challenges, largely because I was silly and didn’t provide a pool of points for non-combat activities for my players. That can be fun, too, depending on the character and player mix.

I’ve come to accept that some games are about being a tactical game vs. GM. And that’s cool. It isn’t what I want when I’m playing, but I know some folks dig that. 

I tend to like a mix of both, personally.

25. If I ask about a combat rule, the GM should be able to make a decision quickly– unless it is the first time we’ve encountered that circumstance– and move on. If we get the rule wrong we can fix it after the fight.

That’s fair, as long as everyone understands that (a) not every answer will be “yes, of course the players can do whatever they want,” and (b) that yes, we’re going to roll and shout and if you reach for your books it’ll be for the next time, not a retconn. I prefer to do it that way, but these days, with most of usually on computers and most of our reference material in PDF format, looking up rules has gotten really fast.

26. Even if I’m a heavy fighter, I shouldn’t always go last.

In GURPS at least, your turn order is defined by a blend of your Dexterity and Health (I’ve also seen DX and Perception as a thing; I kinda like that I admit). So if you pay your fees (high ST for encumbrance, and high DX/HT for Basic Speed), you can go first and be a heavy fighter. Now, you might start first, and then show up ten turns late to the combat if your move is low too, but you can only have everything if you have the points for it!

27. The GM should reward clever thinking or clever plans, even if it shifts the GM’s notions about the direction of the fight.

Absolutely. Having a preconceived notion of what the solution to a problem is, whether it be fight, puzzle, or social encounter, is probably something generally to be avoided. Oh, sure . . . you need to guess at a couple options so that you’re not completely winging it, but if you contemplate A, B, and C and your players choose Yellow, that’s just fun.

28. I should feel all players have equal opportunities.

Eh, generally in an overall game, sure. In any particular combat, probably not. I’m starting to come around to the feeling that it’s the players’ role to ensure, through choices they make, to bring their best game.

Of course, if I’m running an all-combat game and a player brings Smoothie McSmoothypants, Social Animal to the table, I’ve done him a disservice if the other players are driving Brianne the Barbarian clones.

29. One bad die roll shouldn’t make or break my experience.

Guess that depends if it’s a death roll.  

Still, it’s a good rule of thumb to ensure that a party should probably have several opportunities to exercise bad judgement, and a few poor die rolls, so that things can at least have a few inflection points before going horribly pear-shaped. 

After that, well . . .

30. I should be able to have all my basic info for managing my character in combat on the front side of a sheet.

Yes. Definitely yes. Though I’ll cop to a few physical tokens as well, such as fatigue or action point markers, or maybe combat cards.

31. Different weapons should neither be too same-y nor vastly different. There should be weapons which are always the obvious choice in all fights, all the time. The same thing for armor. There should be some trade offs (and different initiative values/speed should be worth less in this calculation).

I think that in a game like GURPS, this is mostly true within weapon classes, though you can certainly find exceptions. Gamers seem to want to have game-mechanical differences between weapons – enough to provide reasons to use each one – but then, not all weapons deserve distinct stats (lots of 9mm or .40 handguns are going to be functionally identical; others will have slightly different stats).  

Of course, some game-mechanical differentiation tends to exaggerate the real differences between weapons, but that depends on the resolution of the system. 

In the final analysis, between the skill used, the damage dealt, ability to parry and attack on the same round, and reach, there’s plenty of ways to distinguish between interesting ways to beat the bejeezus out of your foe.

32. I should not feel like one player is intended to take out the major bad guy – and if that’s not me, then I don’t have a shot.

Unless you’ve paid points for a destiny, of course! Lots of the fiction that games occasinally strive to emulate do revolve around one character. Superman, Buffy, and Angel were basically “the main character and the supporting cast” in most cases (but not all!). Firefly and Justice League Unlimited much less so. And movies such as Avengers were clearly ensemble pieces for which RPGs are much better analogs. 

But yeah, if the show is “all Player 1, all the time,” it had better be because that’s part of the gaming concept. Actually, the BtVS RPG handles this very well, with lower powered supporting cast getting a surplus of destiny points (or whatever you call them) that help them survive situations where they should, by and large, be messily devoured in a flash.

33. NPCs should bat clean up– holding strategic points, tying up some of the opposition, and aiding others. Unless there’s a plot point involved they shouldn’t be overpowering or take care of all the bad guys. At the same time, if we have brought some NPCs to the fight, the GM shouldn’t forget them or kill them off to get them out of the way.

I think +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s players make great use of henchmen. Even in my Alien Menace game, there are enough high-skill NPCs to round out the party and fill needed roles. They’re not Mary Sues or GM-NPCs, though. The players control them and give the instructions, so they’re more like drones than anything else.

Parting Shot

So, that wraps up the response to +Lowell Francis‘ thoughts on what he wants from combat. While I basically spend three posts picking nits and reacting, there are definitely some common themes.

  • Combat should involve all the characters that are invested in combat as a primary pathway, and either have something for other PCs to do that isn’t combat, but happens at the same time, or should be one of many problem solving types.
  • Players, on the average, should probably have roughly equal spotlight time.
  • Combat shouldn’t drag. If you’re not acting, it should be interesting enough that you care about what’s going on.
  • There should be enough interesting choices in tactics to make things interesting. Bad tactics should carry risk. Good tactics should carry reward.
  • Fun must be had.
Goodness gracious, what am I going to write about now? 

+Lowell Francis over at Age of Ravens threw down a mighty post: “33 Things I Want From Combat As a Player.” I read them, and had thoughts. I will share them, because that’s what I do on this blog.

This is the second part of a three-part response. You can find my comments on the first 11 of his wish list here.

My comments are in black, while his are in color. The original post was huge as it was, so I’m hiding most of the responses behind a page break!

12. Everyone should have someone to fight.

Assuming that combat is the purpose of the character and the conflict resolution method at play . . . no, I still don’t necessarily agree. It does suck to want to be involved in the combat and not be able to either engage a foe, or have them all out of commission before you get there, though. I ran into that in my first Dungeon Fantasy game. By the time Cadmus got to the fight at Move 4, the other guys – either the archer that could engage at a distance or the magic user and/or gargoyle that could both fly – had already mopped everyone up. That was irksome.

13. There should be some sense of risk from the mechanics itself. By that I mean, I should be worried about damage or status effects. There should be a chance I could die if things go terribly badly– well, maybe not die, but that I’d get taken out.

I think this is a good general rule, and by and large I dislike the “I’ve got 1 HP left, I’m good to rock and roll” feeling. But then, in games such as Swords and Wizardy, my HP are basically my “awesome battery.” If my foes are hitting for 5-10 HP at a time, and I’ve got about 50 HP, then I can take about 5-7 hits before my “whack ’em in the face” strategy needs to change to “fight defensively,” “run like hell,” or “take a moment to slam down a potion.” 

In GURPS, the purposeful presence of the death spiral (shock effects impact hit chances; stunning is a game-over effect, mostly) to incapacitation means that once you take a hit, you need to be very aware of how that impacts your fighting ability. Crippled or grappled limbs, dropped weapons (not unique to GURPS), low ammunition or a jammed gun in modern games, or even the presence of an enemy with high DR or high mobility can all make a fight go from “I’m OK” to “HOLY CRAP” in one hit.

But basically: yeah. Fights should be scary unless getting in a long series of fights is the whole point, and (as referred to elsewhere in a post I should link to and will do so later) the real campaign challenge is resource management, not having any particular fight be a big deal.

14. At the same time the system shouldn’t be so risk heavy as to make me afraid to take chances. One hit shouldn’t take me out of the fight.

I think this is one of the really good reasons to privilege attack over defense in combat, and why even though I may rebel at AC-based systems from both a “realism” and “player agency” perspective, fact of the matter is that having a combat system that encourages or rewards turtling-up is likely going to be less fun if the primary conflict resolution mechanic is combat.

If as a GM, the story/campaign theme suggests that combat is stupid or just one-sided on the part of the foes (like a “purist” Call of Cthulhu game, where getting into a fight with the minions of Things Man Should Not Know is supposed to be a fatal proposition), then having the rules say “you fight, you die, go insane, or have someone pull your limbs off and eat them in front of you” sets just the right tone.

It’s one of the reasons that GURPS firearms combat can get very touchy. If bullets are flying around and a hit means you’re out of the fight even if you get tagged in a limb, then turtling may be the smart thing to do, but it may well not be fun if you can’t take a maneuver-and-fire approach. 

The key is to ensure that calculated risks pay off, and that the odds are enough in front of the players that – given the fact that the ‘whip’ of bullets as they travel past, the concussion of explosions, or the burning halitosis of a dragon’s breath aren’t actually in the players’ faces and skins – they can strike a good fun balance between inaction and action. And since most gamers get together to do stuff, action should be favored over inaction in most cases.

15. If I’m a magic user, I should be able to dish out damage relatively equivalent to a fighter. Some of those effects will probably be not measured in damage, but in my ability to debuff or disable. I accept that the flexibility of magic means a slight trade off, but I should not be significantly behind other characters. If magic costs mana, I shouldn’t tap out in a fight unless I’ve really pushed myself.

I think it’s critical to clarify what I know +Lowell Francis meant when he said “deal equivalent damage.” He’s definitely counting buffing spells! So if you cast a Rockification spell on Sly Balboa and double his damage output that counts. 

In terms of resource management, if the spells are even mightier than the typical fighter guys (DnD has a lot of this, and spells-as-powers in GURPS, Ritual Path Magic effects, or really awesome Learned Prayers from Divine Favor) then I actually do expect to tap out mana partially through the fight, so that – unless the game calls for it – the tactics aren’t “the meat-shields protect the magic user, who wins or loses fights.” 

When I play Cadmus, a Warrior Saint (think paladin) in +Nathan Joy‘s Dungeon Fantasy game, I have a couple of things that are rate limited. Righteous Fury boosts my ST, DX, and HT by 1d6 each, and Nate lets me assign the rolls as I wish (thus far it’s always been DX, ST, HT in that order). On the average, it adds something like 150-160 CP to his sheet, which for 3d seconds turns him into a front-line fighter – but only once per game day. If he rolls poorly on 3d, that can last 3 seconds, and then oops, he’s done. Other things, like his Smite power, which does nasty, irresistible burning damage to undead within 4 yards of him (sorry, Em!), can be used over and over ad nauseum, but only makes him an unstoppable killing machine against undead.  

Point of that is that you want the (dare I say it) balance between participation of all players. This can be a steady-state ability to impact the battlefield, or many  opportunities to do a small amount, or few opportunities to make major impacts (plus some filler afterwards).

16. By the same token, if I’m a fighter I should have some options available to me so I can do more than just declare “I attack” every round.

This is where GURPS excels to the point of option paralysis. Defensive Attack, Attack, Committed Attack, All-Out Attack are all offensive combat maneuvers. They can be accessorized with options such as Deceptive Attack, hit locations, and multiple attacks (Rapid Strike or Dual-Weapon Attack). Then there are the defensive options. Striking and grappling, disarms, trips, feints . . . this is actually where people can throw their hands up and say “enough!” 

Fortunately, you can make this easier by printing and handing out combat cards, and SJG provides them for free. So does GURPS Mega Dungeon, and those are pretty, pretty, pretty. How did I not know of this site before? Awesome.

17. Archers should be able to fire every round.

I get this, I do. And if you lean on me just right, despite writing rules that might make drawing strong bows take even longer than GURPS usual every three to five seconds (draw arrow, ready bow, shoot; or arrow, ready, aim, aim, aim, shoot). Dungeon Fantasy has some nice rules on Quick Shooting bows and Fast-Drawing arrows that allow just this, so you can Legolas your way into the record books. 

The thing is, in classic cinematic dungeon crawling, you need this sort of rate of fire to make up for the fact that you’re doing thrust damage. Half the penetration of a guy with a sword or axe, and even though you do impaling damage (x2 injury behind armor), some foes don’t feel that vulnerable to your tiny pointy sticks. So when push comes to shove comes to perforation, being able to fire once every several seconds (realistic), but only to do half the damage of a fighter with a sword. That may be realistic, but it’s not terribly fun. 

18. Even in a hopeless fight, I should be able to go down swinging, taking some of the bad guys with me. There’s a certain satisfaction to taking out agents and mooks. But mooks shouldn’t be just blow-up dummies on the field– if they gang up they should have the potential to harm me if they coordinate or if I’m stupid.

Mooks can be somewhat dangerous in GURPS if they swarm you and grapple, or get behind you. Getting behind you, of course, is always bad, since you can’t defend. 

At very high power levels, with high enough DR, even attacks from behind can go “poing.” 

Even so, by and large, being swarmed is always something to be afraid of. 

In terms of going down fighting, that can be tough. If you couldn’t touch the bad guys when hale and robust, you probably won’t go down fighting, you’ll just go down.

19. If the combat is incidental, it shouldn’t take more than an hour of play time. If it is a larger, set-piece and important battle it can go longer.

GURPS combat takes time in proportion to the complexity of the actions, mostly. If combat is incidental, it needs to be treated that way. Abstract is better than tactical. Simple attacks, simple defenses, narrative outcomes. 

Despite all the rules in place to add options and mechanistic help to the game (TG being a prime offender here), GURPS can be played fast and light, quite effectively.

20. If I expend limited resources– like drama and conviction points, the GM should take that into account when describing consequences.

Fair enough – though at least in GURPS those extra spends usually have their own mechanistic effects. I agree that if you’re depleting a metagame resource, it should have appropriately metagame effects.

21. The GM should tell me the relative level of damage I’ve done– to give me a sense of satisfaction about my action. If something does bounce, the GM should either describe that as a rarity or make clear that some other tactic needs to be applied.

That’s an interesting take, and something I’ve seen done effectively before – you don’t always know just how effective a blow is going to be. Police officers – even beyond the inherently stressful nature of the job – have this problem as they often will have to “shoot until down.” The tales of the “Blackhawk Down” battle in Somalia are full of “but I hit him! I must have! But he didn’t go down!” reports. 

That could be several things. They could have missed (“We’re Rangers. That doesn’t happen. Hooah.”), for one, but the other, the M855 rounds were being fired from short-barreled weapons in many cases (I don’t remember if the M4 was a prevalent as it is now) and the bullet might not have destablized enough to produce the characteristic awful wound channel.  

Anyway, most of the games I play in and run let players roll damage, and so you actually get a quantitative sense of damage done. I’ve toyed with writing a wound system (I think +Luke Campbell has one too) for GURPS that’s not quite so much ablative hit points, so as to enable the description rather than the quantification of effects. Also to make injury a lot more swingy, as it is in real life.

22. If the bad guy is going to escape, I should have been able to do something to him before that– reducing his forces, getting a wound in, thwarting some portion of his plan.

That seems more like a metagame agreement rather than a feature of the combat system. More properly in the 23 things +Lowell Francis wants from combat (or more accurately in this example, from the narrative/story arc possibilities) as a GM, instead of as a player. 

Nothing wrong with this; the concept of a partial victory or a recurring villain is rather central to many plotlines. Heck, The Empire Strikes Back applies this to the heroes! But it seems less a feature of the combat system than an agreement with the GM on what stories to tell.

So that’s the second installment. I’ll be banging away at Part 3 over the weekend!

+Lowell Francis over at Age of Ravens threw down a mighty post: “33 Things I Want From Combat As a Player.” I read them, and had thoughts. I will share them, because that’s what I do on this blog.

My comments are in black, while his are in color. The original post was huge as it was, so I’m hiding most of the responses behind a page break!

1. I don’t want to have to look up complex maneuvers and abilities– if I have something special, like Martial Arts or something, I should be able to write the quick details on my sheet. The complexity of some of the Gurps MA (for Gurps 3e) is an example of this done badly. Basic maneuvers– feint, disarm, etc should be simple enough that after doing them once or twice, I don’t have to look them up again.

I think that GURPS 4e is much better in this regard, but I agree with the overall sentiment. One of the things I consciously tried to do in both Technical Grappling and a related D&D5e article that’s kicking around on my “shopping this around” list is to ensure that the basic mechanics for these actions are the same as for basic combat. 

In fact, one of the basic ideas that +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have bandied back and forth is to take the “one unified mechanic” concept to a logical and fast-paced extreme. 

We’ll see how that works out.

But yeah – your favorite stuff should be easily noted on your sheet, and stuff that “anyone that fights should be able to do” should be easily noted, or even better, be obvious on how to do it from the basics of how the system works. I think Peter and +Sean Punch‘s Martial Arts for Fourth Edition succeeds very admirably in this regard. 

2. Maneuvers like feint, disarm, grapple, called shot shouldn’t be hideously complicated in play. Yes, maybe there are one of two extra rolls or tests, but they shouldn’t bog things down into a mini-game. At the same time, if I forgo my standard action I should have a chance of getting a benefit. That chance should be balanced against the potential reward. That’s not always realistic– disarming can be devastating, so it ought to be tough. As a player I want fun more than I want realism in the combat.

No surprises I agree – and strongly – with this. If something can be done, it should neither be stupid to try nor an automatic I win button. The mechanics should hew closely to the rest of the system, and not require a whole new combat flowchart.  

Grappling can be a bit tough because the effects are both persistent and changeable, in that quality of a grapple can theoretically vary all over the place, vary by hit location, etc. When I discussed grappling as presented in DnD5e Basic some of my observations were that as presented, grappling wasn’t that good. In some OSR games, a grapple that “misses” or fails can have a serious impact on the attacker rather than just being a miss. Not much reward and significant risk! 

I think mostly GURPS handles this well, and DnD could be modified easily to handle it much better.

3. There should be some mechanism for coordinated attack or aiding another person. If multiple people fight a target without coordinating, the target should get a penalty. If I forgo my action to aid another person, then the benefit should be tangible. It shouldn’t be overpowering, but giving up a possible attack should get me somewhere in the range of a bonus close to half of the original attack.

I wrote an entire article on this: Delayed Gratification. There’s a subsection called “Everyone’s Invited” that deals with exactly this. More on Setup Attacks

4. I should be able to do something on my turn. I should be able to move and take an action. That movement shouldn’t be too short.

With the one-second turn, GURPS arguably goes too far in this regard in that normal humans can’t actually go from stopping to full Move back to stopping in one second. In fact, the distance covered is more like Move/4 (basically 1-2 yards for most folks) if you wind up at a standstill, and Move/2 for an all-out acceleration doing nothing but imitating Usain Bolt. That being said, with the one-second combat turn, if you start far from companions, you will, in all likelihood, stay there for the duration of the fight, because most fights are over that quickly.  

It may not be realistic or simulationist, but being able to come to the aid of a companion is great roleplaying fun, and it can hurt the game unless the players (and GM) keep mobility in mind.

In term of “doing something on your turn,” once again, The Last Gasp was actually an attempt to try and get GURPS characters to do less, not the least of which reason was to increase effective battlefield mobility by allowing more time between flurries of blows to accomplish anything. More on Gaming Ballistic about The Last Gasp concepts and weaknesses.

5. Drawing items, reloading, perception checks, etc. should be a freebie. If the system keeps me from doing multiples, I don’t mind.

I understand the impulse, but I don’t agree with this one. The players usually benefit from a substantial amount of hyper-awareness due to the presence of the map, limited fog of war, and lack of anything enforcing the tunnel vision that happens in fights on the players. 

Of course, that does depend on turn length. If you have ten seconds to act, or even five, then these things are freebies. If you are resolving in one or two seconds, maybe not. Medieval archers would shoot 6-10 arrows per minute; it takes 2-3 seconds to change magazines on a modern magazine-fed firearm unless you really go nuts with practice and equipment. It’s easy and common to not notice stuff during combat, or even when you’re pondering what to cook for dinner.

So I think this depends on the time scale of the game, but it should probably take the equivalent of a Ready action unless you’ve somehow paid (a feat, spent points, an aspect) to make it instantaneous. Being able to get perfect situational awareness makes you Awesome, and having everyone be awesome just means no one is, to quote Dash Parr from the Incredibles.

6. There should be a bonus available for clever things. Usually I mean Stunting. If I describe my action to get a modest bonus, I shouldn’t have to make an additional check or take a penalty. If I’m going for something bigger, I accept that there might be more tests involved.

At least in GURPS, this can be a bit tricky. Most of the available “descriptions” actually invoke a particular maneuver, which can use a skill, or perhaps a Technique. Many “stunts” are going to be “I use an immense amount of already-present skill to do something cool and specific.”

In short, roll at a penalty and get nifty results.This somewhat has to do again with the discrete nature of the GURPS turn. “I leap up onto the barrel, do a flip over the ogre’s head, and stab him in the kidneys!” might be tough to resolve. Both Dungeon Parkour (DF2, p. 8) and Acrobatic Movement (Martial Arts, pp. 105-107) speak to this, but you’re likely going to make a couple of Acrobatics rolls in order to claim the bonus for a Runaround Attack, since you’re basically doing that, but OVER your foe. A pretty hefty skill penalty (or in a cinematic game, just freakin’ roll Acrobatics-6 or something), followed by an attack which your foe will defend against at -2. Basically, what Obi-Wan does to Darth Maul in Episode 1.

7. I like having more hit points or wound levels. If a system has a chunk of hit point– more than any one weapon strike can do– there should be a critical hit, status effect or damage bonus system that means we aren’t just grinding something to death round after round.

GURPS Fourth Edition definitely has this covered in spades. Critical hits bypass defenses and can do double or triple damage. Wound locations such as Vitals, Skull (often miscalled Brain), and Veins and Arteries can have nasty side-effects. Any wound to the head forces a roll to knockdown and stun. Limbs can be crippled. Lots of ways to take someone down other than treating him as a big bag of HP, though that can work too.

8. I want to be able to make a called shot and have it do something. Called shots shouldn’t be insanely difficult to pull off. I also should be able to pull my blow and not necessarily kill someone unless I happen to roll insanely well or insanely badly.

Again these are part of GURPS’ usual ruleset. Hit locations are a big deal if you let them be as the GM. You can also always strike with less ST than you have, but you’ll have to declare it. There’s really no such thing as ‘non-lethal concussive damage,’ and a face hit that leads to a knockout is due to brain trauma – so that can be bad. But you can certainly attempt a series of low-damage blows to the head at -5 and hope that the foe fails a HT roll for knockdown/stun.

The best way, of course, to incapacitate someone without killing him is by grappling. Though as the unfortunate case in New York demonstrates, that’s not always certain.

These last three are interesting in light of my shifting to playing more Fate-based games. Those games take very different, almost non-lateral thinking approaches to these concepts. 

9. The combat should more fast enough that I don’t forget what’s going on by the time the round gets to me.

GURPS can have an issue here, especially with large combats. I don’t know that it’s particularly unique to GURPS, but in my OSR game, my choices are pretty limited as to what I can do as a fighter. I smack the other guy with my sword (or one of them). 

GURPS has lots and lots of tactical possibilities, and unless the GM has the players write down their favorite tactics in a combat ahead of time (sort of an on-paper macro), those who love exploring all the details of the system can bog the rest of the group down in an endless morass of modifiers and detail.

10. I should have a decent sense of where we are in the turn.

I’m not entirely sure why this so a priori, since keeping track of a swirling melee can be a challenge for the character, but I agree that the player finds it convenient to know this. Mostly I play on VTTs, and they have some sort of initiative tracker, almost always. The one in Fantasy Grounds, I think, is only GM-facing. The MapTool and Roll20 versions are visible to all.

11. I should be able to delay my action and take it later.

No problem: Wait (in GURPS). Actually, Step-and-Wait got some attention from me in my last post.

That’s the first 11 of his list. I think GURPS mostly does well here. Combat pacing can drag due to option overload. The one second turn means that most people aren’t thinking small enough when they describe their actions, and that can result in disappointment when doing all that stuff in one second results in gigantic penalties:

  • Mr. N Thusiastic: “I attack three times!” 
  • GM: Great! Attack once at no penalty, and twice more at -6 each! By the way, you can’t defend yourself this turn.
  • Mr. N Thusiastic: What? No way! I need to defend! GURPS is all about not getting hit.
  • GM: OK, you can attack three times. Roll Axe/Mace at -12 for each one.
  • Mr. N Thusiastic: What? I’ve only got Skill-18. That’s only a 10% chance to hit with each.
  • GM: Three attacks in one second is hard.
  • Mr. N Thusiastic: This game sucks.

With understanding that things often break down into much smaller actions, and perhaps some house rules to put some reasons to pause the action in there, this can work out both faster than you’d think, but also in a more satisfying way. But it does take some practice.

I seem to be riffing off of +Peter V. Dell’Orto a lot, but in this case we both got forwarded the same neat clip at the same time.

Peter made a lot of good points in his post. What I’m going to do is break down the iconic exchange in this video in roughly one-second intervals. And try and ascribe GURPS mechanics to them. I’ll use some screen captures to illustrate my point, but the entire video is also linked below.

Ready . . . fight!

We’ll pick up the action at roughly 2:46, where one of the featured interviewees ( Turns out it’s +Jake Norwood, HEMA fighter and author of The Riddle of Steel roleplaying game!)  is talking about how points are scored. The real action picks up a few seconds later, with the red-socked fighter closing, and then starting the exchange.

The times given are in milliseconds!

The First Turn: 0-1000ms

000 milliseconds – Time start

At the point where I decided to start turn-based combat, we have Red-Socks (the combatant on the right) advancing to close the distance between the two fighters.

Red makes a deliberate advance – in fact, he does a step and attack, thrusting at his foe’s head. It would appear that, given the position of his foe at 0ms, he is starting from Reach 2.

373 ms – starting the thrust

By the time 373ms have elapsed, Red is making a very deliberate thrust for the face. He has advanced just about as far as he’s going to for the rest of the fight. In fact, one curious thing about this exchange of blows is that there is basically no retreating at all in terms of horizontal space. At this point, The defender on the left (identified as +Axel Pettersson by a commenter)  has not exactly finished the parry, but it is well begun. The blade is sweeping to the defender’s right as it pushed the thrust in the same direction.

594 ms – thrust is parried

At just shy of 600ms, the thrust is fully developed and the parry is already in place, and it is continuing through the thrust so as not to bind the blade. It’s definitely the other fighter’s turn now, and he slides from that parry immediately into an attack of his own,

About an eighth of a second later, the fighter on the right has already committed to a swung attack to Red Sox left shoulder or left torso.

723 ms – Initiate swung strike to red left arm

One interesting thing here, that doesn’t really play in GURPS at the moment, is that it’s clear from the video that the defender did not have the time or the room to develop his parry into a thrusting attack. The sweeping parry that was used precludes that motion, so he’s got to deliver the swing – likely giving his foe a bit more time (but we’re talking about actions that are ticking by in 0.1s increments, so not that much time!) to defend.

934mn – red parries

Finally, at 934ms, the second attack of the first second has been launched . . . and is in the middle of being parried by Red Sox. The two fighters are still at Reach 1, where they’ll remain for the rest of the fight.

Notice that other than the first thrust, the parry turns right into the attack, with little hesitation or pause (at least this exchange). Also, following the high thrust, there was a high parry, a high counterattack to the left shoulder, and another high parry. Going high-to-low in one second probably is too much, perhaps.

The Second Turn – and the final one. 1000-2000ms

1018 ms – disengage from parry and start swing to head

We pick up pretty much where we left off, and as one might imagine, Red Sox does not surrender the initiative, and begins to develop an attack of his own.

He slides his sword out, disengaging from his parry and preparing to launch a head blow.

1147 ms – head blow delivered . . . and parried!

Note that from parry to disengage is 84ms by the movie capture clock. This stuff is happening fast.

By the time the clock ticks another 1/8 second, the head strike has landed . . . but already been parried by the fighter on the left, with a very strong parry.  This may actually be where “the mistake” happens, as you can see that Red Sox has stepped to a more-or-less isosceles stance – the first time that has happened this fight.

1363 ms – This doesn’t look good for Red Sox

As the sands go through the hourglass here in bullet time, the fighter on the left has taken a strong offensive striking pose, while Red Sox is out of position and off balance a bit.

The two fighters’ blades are not in close proximity or contact for nearly the first time in this fight, and you can see – and Red Sox can sense – the advantage held by his foe.

1528ms – Fatal Step Back

Another 165ms ticks by, and Red Sox hesitates and begins to take a step back. Not a big one, but more importantly, he’s gotten fixated, perhaps, on protecting his head. Not bringing his sword along, it’s out of position and Red is off balance – this is even clear in the full-speed video. At this point (or maybe even two frames ago!) it’s probably all over but the bleeding for Red.

1632ms – Opportunity knocks and White answers

Our friend from Chicago (White Sox?) sees his opportunity and commits to it, a full-strength cut to the ribs. Still out of position and knowing it, Red tries to dance back – but it’s clear that he is off balance for a retreating dodge.

That being said, Red Sox does have this big sword thing over his head, and he’s about to realize it.

1746ms – The fatal blow

These last few frames are still very interesting,
though, since the end of the fight for one doesn’t instantly save the other. As the lethal blow lands, Red finds himself in a position to strike, if perhaps a late one, and commits himself to it.

White is stepping to his left, through the blow. and has not yet obviously committed or begun to any defensive action to finish the fight.

1763 – Last-ditch attack, kneeling defense

Only 17ms later, White is following through on his attack, while Red, despite having been struck (or while in the process thereof) is now attacking strongly to White’s head. He has recovered his stance (too late, alas) and is powering into a final blow.

1967ms – Final Defense, game over

You can see that White is starting to bring his left hand up, preparing for his guard stance. He cannot help but be aware of where Red’s sword was, and so he knows from where an attack must come.

And 204ms later, he has a very strong defense going, having dropped to one knee and completed his follow-through into that parry.

The point is over, a clear strike for white.


We’ll start with Red, obviously

Red: Step and Attack, a thrust to the head
     White: Parry. [1]
White: Attack, perhaps Defensive Attack, a swing to the torso [2]
     Red: Parry [3]

Red: Attack, a swing to the head. Maybe a Committed Attack? It would explain . . .
     White: Parry [4]

White: Deceptive attack. Swing to the torso.[5]
     Red: Cannot parry; must dodge. This does not go well and he’s hit.

Red: The hit hasn’t registered with him yet, and he’s already made up his mind. Attack, Committed, to the head.
      White: Drop to knees and parry [6]

Some notes:

[1] As noted above, that parry precludes a thrusting counter. This might mean that one can trade a bonus to parry an attack now for a penalty to your next attack. This is something mentioned in Option 11 of my old “MECE” post. It’s also likely the result of not being able to use a ‘fencing’ parry, which favors the thrust on both attack and keeping the blade in line for such during a defense. It may also be worthwhile to give flavors of defensive parries.

[2] Defensive attack because he can’t really wind up in a way that would say to me “yes, you’ve just doubled your penetrating power!” which is what swing basically does.

[3] Perhaps benefiting from his defensive attack, his parry allows him to clear the line well and deliver a strong attack to the head. He clearly strikes hard.

[4] White parries the attack to the head, and things go poorly for Red after this. For whatever reason. Red’s blade is out of position after this. The rules not allowing you to parry with the weapon you attacked with for Committed Attack would cover this well. So we’ll assume that’s what he did.

[5] At this point, White knows he’s been Committed Attacked. His foe must dodge. He also cannot retreat, which covers what happens next pretty well. White throws a Deceptive Attack to the torso, and Red must Dodge without retreating.

[6] White drops to a knee to successfully parry the last head blow, which suggests to me that doing that – dropping to a knee to defend vs. a high-line attack, should probably be worth the equivalent of a retreat. So if you drop to the knees during a defense – a Kneeling Defense – you get +2 to your Active Defense against a blow to the arms, torso, or head. You do not have to step.

Of course, given how things flow together, it may be that this move was just a sideways retreat, but giving a full +3 for a sidestep and posture change seems OK to me.

Parting Shot

Five blows were exchanged in two seconds. The fourth blow was the lethal one.

The only thing that would prevent this from happening in GURPS RAW are a couple of tweaks due to certain types of attacks not being allowed, and the fact that at reach 1 after a parry, you can still develop a full-power attack. Or maybe not. Maybe Committed or All-Out Strong attacks are the full “don’t get in my way,” and the type of decisive and fast swing we see here works fine.

It doesn’t change my thoughts about “only use thrust” damage, though. It also seems to emphasize that Trained ST (adding a bonus to ST based on skill) is perhas as true, or more true, than a big huge muscular guy being able to just do that much more damage with this kind of blow. Maybe you only get swing damage if you AoA at full reach!

In any case, these guys could probably not keep that pace up for long, which makes The Last Gasp look pretty good in terms of the Action Point economy.

I do a lot of posting about “realistic” stuff, and increasing the verisimilitude and simulationism achievable – hopefully at minimal cost – for GURPS.

An example – instead of being able to accelerate from a standing stop to full Move in one turn, if you halve your acceleration (so on turn one, Joe average can go 2 yards, on turn 2, he can move 5 yards) it actually makes a huge difference in the ability for not unusual guys to break the 100m dash record.

That being said – there’s a reason to use a bunch of cinematic rules (and some of RAW falls in that category) even in otherwise realistic games.

That reason is, quite simply, player engagement.

Real might just be boring

Consider a fantasy archer. His ability to influence a combat in a game is basically in proportion to his ability to do two things: the first is do damage where no one else can, the second is to plain-old contribute to bog-standard combat. For most cases, it’s the second one that will come up most often. This means that to have fun with a character that has sunk, in all probability, a crazy amount of points in Bow (frex) to be good at it, he wants to be effective.

But typically, without lots of “cinematic” skills, you draw an arrow, ready a bow, and then either shoot, or aim. You can, with the right skills, Fast-Draw that arrow, as well as Quick-Shoot the bow, knocking (nocking?) two seconds off of a typical 2-3 second pause between shots.

For this archer, effective means projectiles on target, and fun means you want each shot to be meaningful. While “damage per seccond” really has no place in GURPS, you do have certain expectation that shooting once every third turn or so will be fun.

So the payoff for going less than 1/3 as often as the other guys better be huge (I might not hit every round, but when I do, you’re *going down*).

Makes up for three seconds of loading the thing

Part of this is the frenetic pace of GURPS combat, with none of the normal lulls that would make that time to draw, nock, aim, and fire disappear into a few turns of “I evaluate!” or “I step back and catch my breath.”

But the RAW make it pretty darn attractive to “hit hit hit hit hit hit hit hit-with-extra-effort! hit hit” as a melee fighter. Possibly with worrying about deceptive attacks, hit locations, wounding modifiers, or whatnot. And if you’re really good, doing it all more than once with Rapid Strike.

Compared to all that, “I ready my arrow; I aim. Still aiming. OK, now I shoot!” is boring and relatively speaking, unhelpful, especially in a DF context.

So even though (for example) bows might be darn powerful when compared realistically to a 9mm pistol or even a .45 ACP (2d+2 pi and 2d pi+), as your ST 15 composite bow (1d+4) imp will penetrate as well as the .45 – and wound better! – both guns can shoot three times per turn, only reload every few turns. A guy with a sword and good skill can swing twice for 2d+1 cut, which is more damaging than the .45 as well.

Finally, speaking of melee and muscle-powered ranged weapons in a world of guns

Seriously: if you’re going to spend the time and shrapnel addressed to occupant to get up close and personal with a bunch of guys with killer hardware. If that’s you schtick – you might as well be able to punch through body armor while you’re at it. Because most of the time you’ll get messily eviscerated on the way.So once you get there, you’re going to deserve to be able to rip the guys arm off and beat him to death with it, powered armor or no.

Is it realistic? Hell no. But it’s fun. And I strongly suspect that this is a case where the payoff of all that risk to get next to the guy dual-wielding MP5SD5s with drum magazines, your reward should not be “and then you break your sword and your left hand on his trauma plate.”

Sure, I totally get why that’s not realistic. Hell, I’m a card-carrying member of Realistic University, maybe even on the faculty. But when I play in a game where RAW is not altered to make such thigns stupid . . . I have a really great time

One thing that appeared in GURPS Martial Arts (by +Peter V. Dell’Orto and +Sean Punch ) is the concept of the tactics-based ‘reroll.’

Martial Arts, the Basic Set, Monster Hunters, Impulse Buys

Found on p. 60, under the skill description for Tactics, it presents a few different ways Tactics can help you. There’s an abstract option where the leaders roll Tactics against each other, and the winner gets rerolls equal to margin of success. That’s supposed to only be used where you’re not using a map, but we use it with a map in +Nathan Joy‘s Dungeon Fantasy campaign and it works just fine. The mapped options are also interesting, in that they really only talk about initial positioning – but I want to revisit that positioning later.

Even in the Basic Set, on p. B347, there’s an optional rule to use character points to buy successes. Furthermore, there are the various Luck advantages, which given how many rerolls a win in the Tactics roll can get  you might be underpriced.

Finally, Monster Hunters provided an equivalency for points spent in Wildcard skills, destiny points, and character points. Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys doubled down on this and gave other cool uses for such.

Destiny Points and Wildcard “bonus” points can buy successes. Luck and Tactics buy re-rolls, with 15 points of Luck buying effectively 2 rerolls per hour, 30 buying 4 rerolls, and 60 points giving you 12 rerolls per hour of game time.

That seems to leave us with

  • Points that can be spent to stage up successes or stage down failures. Destiny and Bonus point equivalents.
  • Basic Rerolls that are just that. Reroll a trial and hope for better results. Tactics rerolls are like this.
  • Luck Rerolls are two-fers, in that you roll twice more and take the best of them.
  • Positional changes, as part of Tactics. 

The text above isn’t really meant to lay down “only if” type stuff; it’s really just that right now GURPS offers buying direct successes (with restrictions on what you can influence), and re-rolls, which are lower certainty. Plus some positional advantage options that come in using the tactical map.

Yeah, but I’m GOOD at that

The lovely thing about wildcard skills is really in those bonus points. They’re the reason they’re attractive in many ways.

That being said, in Alien Menace, we have situations that occur and would really be best solved by “my character would never/always execute on this tactic.” Rerolls and buying successes are a good way to make that felt. Meta, but good.

But we don’t use Wildcard skills. We do, however, use Tactics. Those rerolls make for excellent reflection on the quality of the troops. The restriction on using them on those with whom the “Leader” can communicate gives real advantages to tactical radio nets and the like.

Tactics and Soldier

One of the interesting things is that while Tactics, especially with re-rolls, is supremely awesome, Soldier, the professional skill of being in the military, and including such things as when and how to use cover and concealment, is basically crap. It’s the defining skill of professional soldiers in many ways – much more so in describing NPCs and whatnot than Guns (Rifle) is. And yet there’s no real incentive to drive it up beyond a few desultory points.Especially with the new option in Martial Arts, Tactics is the way to go.

So let’s change that. They’re both IQ skills, and a lot of what Soldier describes, Tactics does better. And cheaper. So let’s make Tactics a default from Soldier, in fact, it’ll be Tactics is Soldier-4.

OK, now Soldier is more interesting, and the go-to for things you care about. This makes Born Soldier and Born War-Leader (GURPS Power-Ups 3: Talents, p. 12) even more distinct, which is good.

Rerolls and Bonus Points

I think the split between rerolls and bonus points is worth preserving. So we’ll keep it.

Soldier Skill and Bonus Points

The first thing that will happen to make Soldier more interesting is that training in it will provide bonus points to be used to influence the local environment a bit. Look up your relative skill level on the size and speed/range table, and you get the Size modifier in points for any given combat or engagement. The GM will need to decide. This means you get 1 bonus point at IQ+3, 2 points at IQ+5, and 4 points at IQ+10. In short, you don’t get that many, and since you tend to spend them in bunches, they shouldn’t prolong combat that much.

If you like the skill progressions from Technical Grappling, use the Average progression, but beware that after IQ+10 (still a lot of points) it only takes +3 in the skill per bonus point. Now, that happens to be the same 12 CP per bonus point you get from wildcards . . . and maybe that’s fine.

The rules for spending them is that you may only spend them on yourself, and they may only be spent in a way that an experienced soldier might be able to do. Radio not working and you need to call a fire mission back to base? You can buy a success for a point, using Soldier. Fail a Dodge roll for gunfire? Yep, a soldier point can be spent to make that a success, based on “micro-cover” or some other combat instinct that separates experienced troopers from everyone else. Need to use Architecture to figure out the likely layout of a building? Probably not . . . unless your background contains skills consistent with Combat Enginering. So it’s a judgement call, but should default to a strictly “this came from FM 105-63-4567 kind of thing, or “we learned about leveling buildings from that year in Kreblakistan.”

The other thing that these bonus points might be spent for is each one can be traded for an extra yard of movement (or 20% of Move, whichever is more) when seeking cover doing a Dodge and Drop with a retreat, or some other potentially life-saving movement. Yes, this can get you out of the range of a grenade explosion!

Tactics and Rerolls

I’m going to nerf this contest a bit, but also throw in a bone.

At the beginning of each combat, everyone can make a Tactics roll, either at default (IQ-6 or Soldier-4), or from actual skill. Success gives you one personal reroll. A critical success gives two. A critical failure gives the other team’s leader an extra reroll.

In addition, the leadership contest can be played in several ways. Choose:

  • Both leaders roll Tactics, and you look up the margin of victory +2 on the Size table (so margin 10 gives 6 rerolls, 15 gives 7, 30 gives 9).
  • Both leaders roll Tactics, look up their margin of success with the +2 as above on the Size table, and keep that number of rerolls that can be handed out to anyone. Both leaders get rerolls to hand out if they both succeed.
  • Both leaders roll Tactics, look up their margins, but they cancel out.Basically the same as above, but only one side gets rerolls.

Yes, I nerfed the usual “use full margin of victory” thing. Sure you can use it, but that’s a lot of rolls.

For an example, Team Alien Menace’s AB Karabus has Tactics-15, and he makes his roll by 10. Team Sectoid has Tactics-10, and succeeds by 4. Using Margin of Victory, AB’s margin is 6, looking that up for Size gives +2; AB gets 4 team re-rolls. Using individual stats, AB gets 6 rerolls, but the Sectoid leader also gets 3. They can both use these for their team as they see fit. Using the final method, AB gets 3 rerolls.

Additionally, every warrior may choose to make a Tactics roll (it’s not mandatory; a Sectoid drone with Tactics-5 defaulting from IQ would not necessarily have to make the roll). If they succeed, they get a personal re-roll of their own, If they critically succeed, they get two. 

Only if he has studied his Agrippa . . . which I have!

One last thing: it might be interesting to give foes who have studied your field manuals (for those defaulting Tactics from Soldier) a leg up. Use Tactical Familiarity, a perk just like Style Familiarity (Martial Arts, p. 49), to represent being trained in a particular set of methods and tactics. If a reroll is being used on you, you can cancel it. Once. If you’re the team leader and you’ve studied the other guys’ playbook, you can cancel out a reroll used on any team member if (a) you’re in communication with them somehow, and (b) you make a Leadership roll.

Parting Shot

This tale grew in the telling a bit. I knew I wanted to make Soldier more important. I knew I wanted to expand on bonus points as a metagame utility that has been used with fantastic success in more than one game I’ve played in. Defaulting Tactics from Soldier was something that occurred to me as I wrote. It seems right, especially the way Soldier is described in the Basic Set (p. B221): 

This skill represents a combination of basic military training – the lessons taught at “boot camp” or its equivalent in your game world – and actual combat experience. Only those who have served in an army, militia, etc. are likely to know it.

The GM may require a Soldier roll whenever circumstances would test your battlefield discipline (knowing when to shoot, use concealment, take cover, etc.) or skill at practical field survival (e.g., keeping your feet dry and eating when you get the chance).

This one reads to me like it’s a heck of a lot more than what it’s usually used for – the ancillary stand-in skill for all the small stuff like field-stripping an M16 or digging a foxhole. That’s boring – critical, but boring – and does not incetivize professional soldiers getting more than modest skill levels here.  

Giving bonus points for combat tasks based on investments in a non-Wildcard skill might be too powerful. But it also might be just the right power, even expanded to things like weapon skills.

Oh no you didn’t

One of the things about all of these rerolls and bonus points is that it can – and in some books, was even suggested to – lead to a bidding war. I want to spend two points to turn a success into a critical success. My foe spends three points (or whatever) to “see it and raise” and make me fail.

That’s sucky. I’d recommend that a foe can spend his own points to cancel out yours, but not alter the effect. If you’re spending points to raise your success to a crit, he can use his own to say “nuh-uh.” That’s all. No partial cancels, either. You either spend two points to cancel the two for a crit, or none. If I spend five points to make a crit fail into a crit success, you can cancel two points to drop me to a success, one to make it a failure, and two more to keep it as a crit fail. 

Do it! Do it!

I don’t know that I’m going to institute this in Alien Menace. It needs playtesting and tweaking, and this is the sort of character creation decision that really needs to be in place as character concepts are formed.

But I like the overall cut of the jib here. Soldier matters more, there’s a reason to have Soldier-20 (and default Tactics-16), but you can also get Tactics without Soldier if your character concept calls for it.

Plus: more excuses to use bonus points is good, and I do like that.