This was a bit of off-the-cuff, but I wonder if there should be a few more uses for Tactics, or the re-rolls granted by virtue of a successful Tactics contest, in GURPS. Tactics seems like it should do more, to me, anyway.

Things like:

  • Make a Tactics roll to get the benefit of partial cover when doing a retreating Dodge and Drop vs. an explosion. This would be to get the benefit of micro-environmental cover (that six to eight inch wave in the ground? Find it!) where such exists.
  • I wonder if you could use re-roll points to declare a Wait-and-Move on your turn. Basically, represent outguessing the enemy’s actions by letting him move first, then adjusting accordingly – even interrupting his move. He rushes you? You were waiting, and can move away.
  • As combat starts, when setting the turn order, look up your margin of success on a Tactics roll on the Size (and Speed/Range) Table. Make the Tactics roll by 5? You get +2 to your Speed for the purpose of setting initial turn order.
What other uses of Tactics (or Evaluate, for that matter) have you played with in your GURPS games?

+Christopher R. Rice laid down a post about using random initiative in GURPS that turned into both an interesting “GURPS 201” post (small house rules based only on the Basic Set) as well as a thought experiment.

Some notes:

  • GURPS combat is based on a fixed turn order. Mess with this at your peril, perhaps.
  • GURPS combat is based on a fixed person-to-person turn length and so messing with turn order might lead to the destruction of causality and the end of the world as we know it
  • GURPS maneuvers and action resolution frequently depend on turn order, especially things that resolve “on your next turn” or “until the beginning of your next turn.”

That doesn’t mean that rolling initiative can’t work, though. The uncertainty of “roll for initiative” can be a real feature.

For more commentary, there’s a thread going on the SJG Forums. Start here.

Every Point Counts

Having Basic Speed 6 instead of 5 can be expensive. It’s a minimum of 20 points per level to buy it up (p. B17). And it can cost as much as 80 points per level for +4 to DX. So if you’ve shelled out the points, you’re going to want to have an advantage there. In short, an extra point in speed should give a decisive advantage over a foe.

We probably want it non-linear, too. Each quarter-point of speed puts you even more decisively ahead in turn order.

Roll 3d6 of course

So if I were to do this, I’d probably ditch the concept of DX+HT/4 and just make it DX+HT for Speed. Move would still be divide by four and drop fractions.

But for turn order, take DX+HT (which for Joe Average is 20) and add 3d6. 

Combat Reflexes might add +3 as it’s a 15 point advantage, and Enhanced Time Sense gives +9.  

Someone that has Basic Speed 24 will only be out-sped by someone with Basic Speed 20 roughly 10% of the time.

You could also just run this as a Quick Contest vs DX+HT. So the typical margin of victory will be 14 for he who used to be Basic Speed 6, and 10 for Basic Speed 5. Act in descending order of Margin of Success. That might even allow things like “if you fail your roll, you suffer partial surprise; crit fail and it’s total – you were caught off-guard completely.” Combat Reflexes and ETS would have their usual prohibition (perhaps) against total surprise.

Roll Every Turn

The above is a fun way to establish a fixed turn order that will trend with the current “descending order of Speed” rule. Roll once, at the beginning of combat. Turn order is thus set.

But what if you want to roll every turn?

This can be an issue. You can get two declarations in a row, or your foes can, making it hard to hard to adjudicate Waits and things like Judo Throw, where after a Parry, you can usually count on stepping in for a throw without your foe getting a chance to step away from you.

On the average, though, I suspect this cancels out. For every time that a Wait is ruined because your foe goes first, the PCs will get a chance to act twice and ruin the foe’s day.

Where I think things get hairy is that typically, it’s presumed that every character’s action is a second apart from that character’s last action, but you don’t really know how much time elapses from character to character.

If you throw a grenade with a 3-second delay, it goes off presumably at the start of the thrower’s third turn after the throw.  For randomly resetting turns . . . when does it go off?

One possibility is to declare that GURPS does in fact have a specific round, and people move around within that time scale.

And the grenade: Give it its own die roll, at the same basic speed as the thrower. On the average, it will detonate on the third second from being thrown. But specifically? You don’t know quite when it will go off. So you might be able to run to it and throw it back. Or it might blow up in your face.

That would be another way to resolve long-distance sniper shots too. Hmm. Give the bullet a speed score, and have it arrive at some random time in a particular turn that makes sense based on the speed of the bullet. That might be able to be extended to even short-range shots (but I’d not bother) from guns, but might be an interesting way to figure out when ranged muscle-powered weapons hit (though again, the book-keeping factor here will tend to sink this idea).

Parting Shot

Random initiative or even turn-by-turn initiative might not break anything if done right, even in GURPS where some of the maneuvers and other options are built around the assumptions of fixed turn order. With the norming tendencies of the 3d6 roll, the basic tendency will be “descending order of Basic Speed,” but with slight differences in order depending on who rolls well. 

Many people seem to play GURPS (and speak about it) with a bit of a “round-based” instead of “turn-based” mindset anyway – perhaps a legacy from Dungeons and Dragons, perhaps not. I’d be interested to actively play a few sessions with both styles (roll at beginning of combat, and roll every turn) to see specifically what breaks, if anything.

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and as part of writing a future entry in my Violent Resolution series (it should show up as my fourth content post, I think), I got thinking about armor piercing weapons again when reading about how the Oakeshott Type XVII sword typically had hexagonal cross sections so they could punch through armor better on the thrust, etc.

I’ve seen arguments (and one optional rule appears in print in Low-Tech, p 102) that edged weapons have a hard time penetrating any sort of metal armor. On the other hand, weapons like the pollaxe would mount two out of a hammerhead, spike, or axe blade (plus a nasty spike on top, likely for thrusting into joints?).

Just musing here, and wondering if a way to go would be to apply some sort of conditions to the armor divisor, as we oscillate between (0.5), (1), and (2).

Balanced and Unbalanced

Take two weapons that each weigh 2-3 lbs, but one has the weight distributed through the entire blade, with a nice hunk of steel at the pommel as a counterweight to the blade. Then take a weapon that has most of that mass concentrated at the end. 

Which hits harder? Almost always the tip-heavy weapons have a few more points of damage, but I’m not sure that’s enough.

Let’s say that U is a “more bad” shift in the piercing department.

Damage Type

Hard to imagine that a narrow edge is worse for armor piercing than a blunt crushing head, but I can certainly see where they would both be bad. But let’s take Low-Tech at its word, and say that cutting and crushing are one shift worse, but impaling is one shift better.

Swing vs. Thrust, 1H and 2H
I’m going to leave this one alone, largely because of the already-huge difference in damage between thrust and swung weapons. Likewise, 1H and 2H use of weapons is already controlled for in the statline.


One thing I will do is to allow weapons held in a Defensive Grip to be thrust for a one shift benefit 


Sword: Balanced (0), cutting (-1). -1 shifts. That’s the (0.5) suggested. If we go crazy and use the size and speed range table, it would be (0.7). We’ll do that from now on, actually. That’s when it’s swung. If you thrust it, it’s impaling (+1), and thrust from a defensive grip, it’s (+2). Again, that’d be thrust for (1.5) and (2), respectively.

Axe: U weapon (+1), cutting (-1). If you thrust with an axe in a Defensive Grip, you’d be looking at crushing (-1) but with the extra stability of the grip (+1) for a net of no change. So an axe is better than a sword, as it should be, and basically strikes even-up against armor. Axe is sw+2, so 2d+2 cut.

Warhammer: The military pick, it’s swung (ouch) for impaling damage (+1) and is a U weapon (+1). That makes it a (2) armor divisor. Damage 2d+1 (2) imp.

Pollaxe: swung with the pick end or an axe, you get the same as above. With a hammer, it’d work like a mace, with a +1 for the U stat but -1 for the crushing damage type. So it strikes with no armor divisor. The hammer is 2d+4 cr; the pick is 2d+3 (2); the spearpoint is 1d+2 (2) imp, and an axe-blade is 2d+4 cut.

Spear: Balanced (no change), impaling (+1). So in one hand or in two hands but leveraging the reach of the thing, you get a (1.5) armor divisor using the SSR table. In a close-in defensive grip (-1 yard to Reach), you get a (2). With two hands you’d get 1d+3 (1.5), defensive grip would be 1d+2(2) I think.

Parting Shot

I’m not sure I’d use this myself, but I got into a rules tinkering mood as I was writing into the wee hours last night, and I wanted to explore if there was a systematic way to look at the different ways to punch through armor.

Right now, a thrust is basically half the penetration as a swing. ST 14 is 1d thr and 2d sw, to pick the most obvious example. Thrusts are usually impaling on bladed weapons, which means they can target the vitals, and on a unarmored target, the impaling helps ease the loss of raw force – but not fully, since cut is x1.5 and imp is x2 . . . or again, x3 for vitals.

The addition of armor divisors to many thrusting weapons, and additional help from taking a defensive grip (half-swording) would make thrusting vs. armored opponents a more appealing choice than swinging. Against DR 6, a swung sword with ST 14 would actually be facing DR 9 due to the armor multiplier, and with 2d+1 for a broadsword, you’re going to need a good roll. With a half-sworded thrust, you’re facing DR 3 with 1d+1 imp, which is a real threat.With a regular thrust, it’s DR 4 and 1d+2 imp. Basically the same in this case.

Picks and polearms become plate-crackers. Maybe even too much so, especially in Dungeon Fantasy where the characters’ ST combined with advantages like Weapon Master and magical boosts make DR 10-14 “maybe not enough.”

But with a more realistic rescaled value, for those that do that, those armor divisors are going to be key to getting emergent behavior out of the mechanics.

Some of the recent threads and comments about armor as dice have led me to think about alternate ways to get what I want out of Armor as Dice – less variable penetration so that if you armor rated for X (and GURPS defines X as 3.5 points per die for both penetration and resistance), and a bullet hits you with basically less energy than X, it won’t go through.

Some of these distinctions don’t seem like much, or important. And to a certain extent, they’re very much not. If you have (say) a DR 8 bullet resistant vest, in theory it should be proof against a .45 ACP (2d pi+) but not a 9mm (2d+2 pi).

Turning to AnyDice (and we’ll be doing that a lot this post) we see that the .45ACP will punch through DR 8 with 1 point or more of damage potential remaining just over 27% of the time in round numbers. The 9mm, which should always go through, will go through 58% of the time.

This is very easy to rationalize. Poor angles, uncertain coverage, and other variables make armor less certain. The tendency to treat an armored vest as if it fully covers the entire torso (a legit simplification) makes the push to make every thing just work out neatly less mandatory.

Still, players buy armor to buy protection, and some armors really are that good. The “solution” tends to be “if you want full protection in a gamist manner, buy DR6 per die of protection you want.” Thus, if you want to be fully protected vs. that 2d or 2d+2 bullet, buy DR 12 and DR 14 respectively, which will increase the weight of that armor piece by about 70%.

OK, fine, but I am going to press forward and solve the non-problem anyway, because though there are many instances where you can rationalize the roll, there are others where you can’t.

Armor as Points, Penetration as Points

Armor as Dice has gotten plenty of love elsewhere. But there’s another method discussed in Armor Revisited (Pyr #3/34), which inverts the method: instead of listing Armor as dice and keeping the damage as dice, express the penetration as a fixed number, and go with variable injury.

So instead of 2d, a .45ACP handgun would have a pentration rating of 7, a 9mm would be 9, a 5.56x45mm might have a 17, and a .50 BMG would be something like 40-46 depending on the barrel.

So the effect is the same. Compare Penetration to DR, and if Pen is higher, it goes through. This also allows either using HP or “Mass-based” HP as a blow-through threshold as a number read right off a character sheet, precalculated before play starts for the mass-based number.

So, for a straight-up, GURPS standard application, subtract DR from PEN, and then roll injury dice. Roll 1d for every 3.5 points of penetration that get through would be the most straight-forward conversion, though “divide by 3 or 4” would be easier in play. Remainders might just be adds. Actually, rolling 2d per 7 PEN, and converting so you always roll two dice might not be that bad.

So a notional M4 carbine might do 16 penetration, and impacting DR 10 would have 6 remaining penetration points. Injury results, and you roll 1d+2 (average 5.5) or 2d-1 (average 6).

A tank cannon that usually does 6dx20(2) would convert to 420(2), and faced with DR500 would be 420 PEN – 250 DR (thanks to the armor divisor), leaving 170 PEN left. Against machines, maybe you don’t roll, maybe you convert to 2dx24 or even 3dx17 if you want some randomness.

Explode it!

But what if you want even more random injury – because injury is far, far more variable than penetration?

I’ve recently been exploring the Savage Worlds system, which features exploding dice. Called an Ace in the game, if you roll the highest value on your die, you get to roll it again, and add it to the prior roll. Leading to the unusual circumstance that you can’t roll a 6 on an exploding d6. But nevermind that.

An exploding die is basically a geometric progression. It’s the average value of the die (3.5 for d6), multiplied by 1 + the probability that you get to roll again (1/6) + the probability you get to roll a third time, fourth time, etc.

In short:

and in this case, a = 3.5 and r is 1/6. If we were rolling a d8, a would be 4.5 and r is 1/8.
So our average values for exploding dice would be 
Of course, GURPS only uses d6, so a more useful table would be 
And one of the very interesting things here is that the first four values are of great interest to GURPS players, since they represent typical wound multipliers for crushing (Never), just under +1 per die (6), pi+ or cut (5-6), and imp or pi++ (4-6).
So you could replace damage multipliers with exploding dice, and each die explodes separately. So your .45 ACP that does 2d pi+ could legitimately roll a 2.
They All Explode!

If one really got enamored of exploding dice due to the variability, I’d simply apply a -1 per die to all damage, and let all d6 explode on a 6. That doesn’t quite balance out. It’s a 1.2 multiplier for the explosion, but -1 per die is x0.71, for a net of a 15% loss in damage.
In any case, you’ll wind up converting any penetration that gets through DR to dice. Exploding dice. So the injury can be pretty variable.I’d convert at 4 points per die.

Though injury might be variable, it would be easy to make blowthrough not be that way. So if you were shooting with a firearm with PEN 25 at a person with DR 8 and a blowthrough threshold of 11 (maybe he weighs about 180 lbs), you’d have 17 penetrating damage, or about 4d+1 injury.
But what happens downstream? The bullet loses a flat 11 going through the guy, and stops in the DR 8 armor in his back. 
Let’s say it was an AP bullet at 25 PEN. So DR drops to 4, and so does blowthrough, dropping to 6. So the bullet punches through the DR on both sides and the guy, with 11 remaining to threaten others.
You then make a choice – do you apply the full amount (PEN 25 less DR 4) which is PEN 21, or 5d+1 to your foe, or limit it to blowthrough, either 11 or 6. 
This might call for revisiting the pi ratings of some rifle rounds – the 7.62x51mm bullet that we’re more or less simulating here can have a pretty impressive temporary cavity, which can cause some odd effects. But if it doesn’t hit anything vital, the AP bullet might just zip on through, with something like a 2d+3 wound. 8.4 damage on the average, about a pistol-sized wound.
Bullets that (say) tumble and fragment might expend a lot of energy blowing through, etc. But that’s a detail best left to other rules.
Parting Shot

We’re borrowing a mechanic from another game here (Savage Worlds, but other games have had exploding dice before SW), so one has to be careful. 

Still, it’s a better fit – isolated to effect rolls, and applied to something that’s highly variable, an injury roll – than the D&D Advantaged mechanic is to the GURPS space. 

The impact on actual damage rolled isn’t that high – a 20% boost in damage if you let the dice explode infinitely, but honestly if you let the die explode 3 times (providing a potential 4x damage multiplier at the high end) you’re already averaging the 4.2 that is the asymptote. Since that’s the same as a brain hit (x4), you might as well cap it at 3 extra rolls per die. 

I think this might be fun at the table. The fixed (or partly variable; I’d suggested something like a varability of about 1/5 before) DR and PEN values would make some sense. If you made a PEN of 18 into (say) 14+1d, and/or DR the same kind of treatment (though it might depend on the armor), you could account for “no way in hell” penetration values as well as some degree of random for both injury and penetration. Exploding dice are icing, since it takes fixed penetration, and gives back randomness to it without changing the number or distribution of dice you roll. 
Seems like with a good code base, such as the free-form stuff you can write in MapTool, this would be invisible to the user, even including variable penetration, armor, and exploding dice. 
The big issue I have in play with Armor as Dice is I like to let the players roll their damage, and by letting them do that, I must give them intel on the armor rating in dice of the enemy. That’s less fun, because it kills tension.
Fixed PEN values would pose the same problem, though. It would add a little high-end variability on the injury side, which is good. 
Ultimately, what we’re doing though is converting a fixed PEN-DR to injury. If you’re really doing it with a computer, the GM might as well double the penetrating energy (so in our example above, 24 PEN – 8 DR is 16 Penetrating Damage) and just roll 1d(2xPEN) or 1d(1.5xPEN) if you’re in (say) Roll20. That allows for grazes and lucky vitals hits, and the right kind of arbitrary where you can get a .50 that just wings you, or makes your head assplode. With rolling many dice, you get a mean effect that may or may not be swingy enough.
But I will say this in passing; while armor as dice does have some nice effects, it also has some drawbacks, so YMMV. For every case where you say “My vest should stop a .45 ACP cold!” you can find a case where your angle to the shot wasn’t right and it misses the primary protection. That might be best modeled as a clean ‘no DR!’ case, though. In that sense, the Rules-as-Written are no loss. The player gets to roll his damage (and players like effect rolls), and the GM can keep DR and injury hidden, if she wants.

Apologies for references without links, but I’m behind a work firewall and for some reason they don’t want me surfing the SJG Forums from work. Unreasonable folks, corporate IT. It’s like they want me working or something.

In any case, there’s a weekly thread that got started up over on the GURPS forums called “Tweak of the Week.” It’s a neat brainstorming idea, and the first one on strength can be mined for good stuff.

I was pleased to find that the second one is about Armor as Dice, a concept I embrace (and while I may have published the first Pyramid Article on the topic, it seems to be a case of parallel evolution, since I remember way back when more than one person positing this as a solution to some perceived issues.

On that same thread, +Mark Langsdorf brings up a few cognitive challenges for Armor as Dice, which I can’t help with, and one issue of figuring blow-through, which I can.

So, since you roll damage and stuff after primary armor penetration, would you then have to convert left-over damage back to dice, etc., to figure out how to kill five giants, all in a row?

Dice, Dice Baby

I think the notional solution to this problem is to invoke the dice concept one more time.

Blow-through thresholds should be expressed in dice, based on the HP of the target. Ideally, a 10HP average guy would have about a 2d+1 blowthrough threshold, allowing a .45ACP to not typically overpenetrate, but a 9mm at 2d+2 will. But frankly, that’s more trouble than it’s worth. I’ll get to it later, though, for those that care.

Ultimately, just convert mass-based HP (or just use racial average HP) to dice, and for people, that would look like the chart to the right. For a 5-ton mecha, it’d be about 6dx2. 

So just look at the armor. If you’ve got (say) 6dx3 DR (DR 60-65 or so) on top of a 6dx2 mech by mass, and you hit it with a 6dx6(2) projectile (say, an APFSDSDU shell), you can look at a total interference of 6dx5 (DR plus HP), halved for the (2) AD to 6dx2.5. The downrange threat is thus 6dx6 – 6dx2.5, or 6dx3.5(2). That will penetrate the armor and the HP of the guy behind it, leaving a 6dx0.5(2), or 3d(2) threat, which won’t penetrate the third guy’s armor, but might be a threat to human personnel.

Parting Shot

It’s all about the dice, ’bout the dice.

Kidding aside, Armor as Dice is supposed to make things simpler, not more complex. You deal with dice as long as possible, and only convert to injury at the end.

The assumption inherent is that the injury is variable (and thus rolled), but the penetration is consistent enough – even through flesh and whatnot – to just treat as dice.

It should be simple, playable, and fast – though the issues such as keeping the mystery of what the foe’s stats are still remain, it’s designed to keep the math a bit more simple where it can be kept simple.

+Harold Bauerle had an interesting comment/idea in response to my post yesterday. He posited . . . well, I’ll just quote his idea in full:

Totally off the top of my head, but what if there was a stat whereby if you fired too many shot with a weapon it became Unready, and would need to be Readied again before being used?  This would be like Firing until the recoil pulled the gun completely off-target and out of control.  Handling, or something?  Or maybe based on Bulk?

This has some interesting  concepts attached to it. What I’d want is for even a good shot to have the potential to render the weapon Unready, but a bad miss having a higher chance.

I’d want high Rcl weapons to have this problem more than low Rcl weapons.

Heavy weapons (physical weight) should resist this more (but that’s in Rcl, I think), and bulky weapons might go either way. Harder to get off target, but also harder to bring it back? Hrm. A Ready is a Ready, so that probably won’t work well.

I’d like to make determination not require extra rolls. That might mean using one of the d6s from the usual 3d6 hit roll as the determining factor. Maybe a red Recoil die, though this mechanic can get quite clunky. 

So let’s assume we take one of those d6s. High rolls are more likely to trigger an “off-target” response. High RoF (as expressed by a bonus) should make this worse, so we’ll add the RoF bonus to the die. 

Low Rcl should be “better” than high Rcl. So maybe there’s a target of something like if the total is 9-Rcl or higher, you have to spend a turn readying. If you Brace the weapon (+1 to skill) you can add this as well.

So if you are firing a Rcl 2 weapon at +0 bonus for RoF, you will never have to spend a turn readying the weapon.

Occasionally, Rcl will drive a Rcl 3 weapon off target (roll a 6 against a 9-3 target).

Firing a Rcl 2 weapon at RoF 12 (+2 RoF bonus) would trigger at 7+, so a 5 or 6 on the chosen die would cause a forced Ready.

A MAC-11, at RoF 20 for a +4 bonus, is Rcl 2 (Target 7) will force a Ready on a 3 or higher, or 66% of the time. 

Can you fire an Unready weapon? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you can only use Suppression Fire with an Unready weapon, which will cap skill at a pretty low level. Perhaps you take an additional penalty of -2 or -4 or something, so that even a gigantic RoF bonus won’t give you a 50% to hit.

Parting Shot

This is deliberately incomplete, in that I haven’t dealt with mounted weapons or other stabilization, looked at the interaction of sights (especially those that add to skill rather than Acc) and other concerns.

What I like about Harold’s suggestion, though, is that the forced Ready maneuver has just the right feel to me. 

Over on the SJG forums, there’s an interesting (if long) debate over the observation that all things being equal, it’s always better to fire lots of bullets at a target than just one, or even a short burst.

The Example

For example, let’s take a 500-yard shot, made by someone with Guns(Rifle)-13. That might seem a low score, but it’s probably not.

500 yards is a -14 range penalty, so you will need to rack up some serious bonuses even to have a chance of hitting.

So we’ll give our shooter a decent rifle – say the Barrett REC-7, from Tactical Shooting, and we’ll slap a 10x scope on it. That’s a 6.8x43mm SPC cartridge, Acc 4, +3 for a scope, 780-yd 1/2D range. It’s also got RoF 12, which at full tilt will be good for a +2 bonus.

So, no matter, what, we’ll have our shooter Aim for three seconds (+4 for basic Acc, +2 for extra time, and another +3 for the scope), as well as Brace (+1) with All-Out Attack (Determined) for another +1. Total bonuses are +11, which brings the odds of hitting, neglecting Rapid Fire, to a net penalty of -3 including range and accuracy, for a final hit chance of 50%.

Lean on the trigger, though, and you collect the +2, which boosts the hit roll to 12-, which is a 75% chance of hitting at least once. The Rcl of the rifle is 2, so you actually have a 50% chance of hitting twice, 25% chance of three hits, 10% (ish) of four.

Waste Not, Want Not

Note that in terms of efficiency, single shots will hit a net of 50% per bullet. For autofire, if you do a weighted average (for this given example) of number of hits, it works out to about 1.6 hits per attack, that is, if you roll a 12 or 11, you hit once, 10 or 9, twice, etc. If you take the probability of any one roll times the number of hits for that roll, then add ’em up, you get about 1.6 hits. So autofire on a per attack basis is more than three times more effective on a per-attack basis.

The cost of that, of course, is that you spend 9-12x more ammo to get there. So our single-shot weapon will be using 2 shots per hit. Our autofire weapon is using 5.5-7.5 shots per hit. That is, by the way, at about 18 rounds per pound of this ammo. So 1/3-lb of ammo per hit.

OK, so there’s a trade-off, and a tangible one, assuming you care about running out of ammunition. In my own games, that has not once been an issue. +Peter V. Dell’Orto, whose character sported a TL8-9 version of the REC7 used in the example, solved this problem with a ST 17 (or so) character using 100-round drums of ammo – you’ve got about sixteen dead guys (or at least hit guys, at 6d per hit) per reload. For a rifle with a 25-round magazine, you’ve got 12 dead guys (or at least hit guys) per reload. Not really rate limiting. In +Mark Langsdorf‘s Mecha Against the Giants campaign, he had to take fairly drastic steps to force ammunition supply to be an issue. All you have to do is build your guy assuming magazines weigh 6-lbs each instead of about a pound.

So What’s the Problem?

No, the real issue is that the autofire bonus is not offset by any sort of “my weapon is jumping around like a ferret on crack” effect, and the trade off in ammunition expenditure doesn’t hold in check behavior not seen in the real world. (But see below for more on this.)


What would this look like? More importantly, how can we smoothly transition from “short, controlled bursts actually do work well” to “you’re shooting mostly at the sky” without tedious and math-intensive crank-turning?

The answer, from a GURPS RAW perspective, almost has to involve Rcl . . . but before we go there, how else could it work?

Break Up the Rolls

Well, for one, the first shot or burst of shots – probably up to the four shots you get with Rapid Fire that don’t give a bonus – shouldn’t be any different than direct fire at a point target. After that, you could either apply scaled penalties, or more likely treat all remaining shots using the Suppressive Fire rules, or alternate rules.

So for any given attack, you’d make one roll for the first number of shots up to 4 (the point after which bonuses kick in), and then treat shot 5 and onward using the suppressive fire rules.

The advantage here is that firing short, controlled bursts or autofire has roughly the same chance of hitting for that first few shots, but after that you’re really in suppression mode, and odds are your hit chances go down rapidly. In our example above, the first four shots are treated as Guns-10, while after that, the remaining 8 shots (RoF bonus of +1 using RAW) are treated as a Suppression Fire attack with a net roll of 7 – 6 + the RoF bonus.

Basically the feel here is “fire the first four shots as you like; after that, you’re just hoping to get lucky.”

Is that perfect? Nope. High rate of fire bursts with stabilized weapons – or even radar-steered weapons – should probably have a much higher cap, even beyond the +2 bonus you get for a mount. Things that let you do “eyes-open” correction, probably including a Reflex sight, should probably raise the skill cap. It might be interesting to use, instead of a flat 6, something like the weapon’s base Acc-1 – taking into account that a lot of vehicle-mounted weapons will be fired as All-Out Attack (Determined), plus Braced.

So a mounted M2HB would fire at 6+RoF bonuses, while a Maxim Mk1 would fire at 5+Bonuses, and if you mounted up a low-accuracy SMG or high-accuracy pistol with Acc 3, you’d be shooting at 4+RoF bonuses.

The bit in Ultra-Tech about active targeting adding Acc? That’ll work too, and add ALL of Acc, including Aim/Scope bonuses. So your computer guided M2HB is 11+RoF bonus. But since the first four shots are fired using point-target methods, that’s really a 11 cap if you’re filling the sky with ..50BMG under radar guidance, mechanical control, etc.

Still, most normal humans won’t have to worry about that.

Other Gun Control

There’s also an alternate rule in Pyramid #3/65: Alternate GURPS III assigning a -2 penalty to autofire (making it a Technique), which would fix this case, and all guns with cyclic, or full-auto, rate of less than 950 rounds per minute (RoF 15), which is where the +2 cutoff sits. That’s probably good for most guns, except for high-cyclic weapons such as the MAC-11 or Glock 18 (both with RoF 20). Of course, neither is famous for controllability in full-auto fire.

Thing is, though – there’s zero disincentive to mash the triggers on these weapons. RoF 20 gives you a whopping +4 bonus on a Rcl 2 weapon. That is, on the average, you’ll hit three times instead of one, all other things being equal.

This doesn’t really help with “more bullets are better” as the general rule, it just moves the scale down.

Rcl Adjustment

The other possibility would be to do something with Rcl. For example, Rcl is the listed value on any given table plus (say) half the RoF bonus you get for Rapid Fire (round UP). So a Rcl 3 weapon fired with an RoF bonus of 1 or 2 would turn into Rcl 4.

For our example, firing at RoF 5-12 (+1 or +2 bonus) would push our REC7’s Rcl to 3 instead of 2. That wouldn’t change the +2 bonus you get for rapid fire, but it would mean you only get 1.2 hits per RoF 9-12 burst instead of 1.6. Adding RoF bonus to Rcl directly will drop that to one hit per burst. That’s still twice as effective per attack, but it’s five times less efficient in terms of ammo expenditure.

That might work OK, as a quick and dirty.

Other Considerations

I think several people have proposed this, but having the Rapid Fire bonus scale with half the Size and Speed Range Table bonus for the number of bullets fired is probably a better progression than the one on p. B373, based on how GURPS works.

The other thing to consider is that lots of unskilled folks really do just hose down the area with a wild spray of bullets. They don’t hit much either – at least not intentionally. Again, that’s why I favor the suppression fire rules.

In fact, that might be a nice consideration. Unless you do an All-Out Attack (using the rules that sighted shooting must be All-Out, from Tactical Shooting), or an optional allowance of a Ranged Committed Attack, you must use suppression fire if firing at RoF 4 or higher.If you use sighted shooting or aim, you get that first four rounds as direct fire on a point target.

Parting Shot

I don’t think I solved the problem here. But I definitely agree that it causes some unusual behavior. Trained troops are taught to fire short, controlled bursts, even with tripod or other mounted weapons, if I’m not mistaken. GURPS rules tend to push you to full-auto whenever you can pull it off, which leads to the interesting observation that given a Vickers Mk I.303 machinegun (Acc 6 – but go ahead and mount a scope on it) and an AI AW (Acc 6, +3 for a scope), your better bet for ‘sniping’ is the machinegun, because the AI only has RoF 1, while the Vickers is 10, for a bonus and likely an extra hit, or at least hitting more often.

Fixing Rcl doesn’t offset the bonus RoF gives you. Treating the first few shots as aimed fire (and no RoF bonus for it) and everything else as “hoping to get lucky” is probably the most satisfying, but it does require an extra roll.

Over on the SJG Forums, a poster going by Varyon dropped in and threw down some concepts for how to do an actual Feint out of a setup.

One of the conceits of the setup attack is that, well, it’s the same as a Deceptive Attack, but defers the bonus to a later time. There are some details that make this not suck, but it basically is a real attack, that requires a real defense, or you get stabbed or slash. It also has the benefit that it does eat up a parry, it enables retreats by the defender for positioning (allowing one of the natural consequences of being Feinted – backing the heck up) and a bunch of other stuff.

Honestly, Setup Attacks (Pyramid #3/52) might be my most instantly usable work.

Still, the Setup is pretty cool. Take two Sword-16 fighters (quite good for low fantasy, borderline not-so-good for Dungeon Fantasy). Our aggressor can strike with a -2 setup, and achieve a possible hit 75% of the time on his Setup Attack. This turn, assuming no DB or Combat Reflexes, but yes on a retreat, the defender is looking at Parry of 3 + 16/2 + 1 or 12.

On the average, then, the defender will make his roll by 2, enough to both parry (you get that by simply rolling under), and negate the setup. So pretty even. If the attacker manages to score – he does full damage, and his setup attack will still have the desired effect next turn (including shock penalties, which don’t impact defenses, and stun, which does).

Against an inferior foe, say Sword-12, our Skill-16 aggressor will be facing Parry-10, which will block the setup attack but leave him at -2 the next turn. Cool – working as advertised. Our Hero is driving him back with his setups (defender retreats) and eking out a -2 on his next attacks, which he can leverage however he likes (Telegraphic for +4 to hit, to a good target, while at a net -0 to defend has got to look tempting.)

Regular Feint

Looking at a pure Feint, the even-skill match is still a net of no bonus (so no change), but the attacker has no chance to strike his foe, and he can’t use a Feint to reposition his opponent, as the Feint doesn’t provoke a defense. The Feint against the lower skill guy is a bit stronger – attacker will, on the average, win by 4, a bigger deal.

On the low-skill side, Feinting a superior opponent is a waste of time. He’ll have to outroll his foe by 4, and the odds of his margin being larger than his foe’s is about one chance in seven. Not great.

The setup attack, he’s attacking at 10 (the best he can do) vs a Parry of 12 if his foe chooses to retreat. Well, still not great. 50% chance to make the attack at all, and his foe will negate it completely 83% of the time. Net of about 1 in 12 – so it’s actually worse in this case to try the setup without any bonuses to skill.

Setups as Feints

The Setup Mechanic takes advantage that everyone that knows how to play GURPS already knows the rules to attack and defend, more or less. Feints have odd edge cases in people’s minds, as you can (say) Feint with a weapon that usually becomes unready without unreadying it (pump-fake?).

The question Varyon asked was “how can you throw a setup that has no other purpose but to draw off your foe’s guard?”

He had an answer in the thread; I came up with a variation where you could accept bonuses to hit for reducing damage: up to +6 for throwing an attack that even if it hits, will do nothing; you’re pulling the blow.

Parting Shot

One thing I’ll notice having had more sleep and some thought about it is that the way I give the numbers, you can get a +6 to hit. I’m trying to think of a melee option that allows this – All-Out Telegraphic Attack springs to mind, or Committed Telegraphic Attack for +8 and +6, respectively.

But they come with rather spectacular downsides in terms of your ability to defend, and your opponent’s ability to defend against you. A setup with +6 to hit gives no downsides you don’t want (your foe doesn’t know you don’t care about damage) and has a significant potential upside.

So I’m revising my thought on this. Instead of +2 per -1 per die damage, scale it up so that the maximum bonus is +4.

  • -1 per die damage gives +1 to skill
  • -2 per die damage gives +2 to skill
  • No damage on a success gives +4 to skill.

That’s a bit more symmetric with All-Out and Committed attacks, and since Setup Attacks stack with other maneuvers and options, won’t allow you to do a Committed Telegraphic Zero-Damage Setup for +12 to hit (it’s “only” +10). Telegraphic Attacks, though, really just increase the chances of putting your blade where you want (rolling a potentially successful attack), because the +4 bonus is offset completely by the +2 to defend.

That’s a nice bit of happenstance there, but it works for me. “I’m obviously stabbing you in the face!” puts the blade where you want it, and doesn’t really impact the outcome in your favor – other than making them burn a defense, which might be very desirable if you have multiple attacks per turn, or are setting up a friend’s attack!

All considered, allowing bonuses to skill for pulling your blow is a nice thought; we’ll have to playtest it and see if it breaks anything.

Grappling in Pathfinder and D&D5 is what you might call “condition-based.” If you hit with the appropriate attack, you’re “grappled,” and wackiness can ensue.

I even speculated about how you might take the conditions already present in the D&D Basic Rules and give more flavor to grappling in that game.

I’d love to expand on that as a module, too.

But that’s not why I’m here.

Over on the GURPS Forums, the poster mr beer put up a thread about sample fights, to learn the rules and get some practice. His third fight featured a grappler as a protagonist.

He’s using RAW rather than Technical Grappling, and one of the bits that can be confusing is what happens when you just grapple a limb, leaving the body free.

The “grappled” condition also exists in GURPS, and being grappled gives you -4 to DX, and you can’t use grappled limbs . . . but you can still defend. It’s a bit odd, though Martial Arts does clarify a bunch of the odd cases on p. 122.

Still, it occurred to me today that you could probably take the very, very raw barebones of Technical Grappling – the idea of Control Points, and get really simple, using a partial conditional system that takes advantage of the CP mechanic, but without lots of detailed bookkeeping.

Grappling Conditions

I’m going to posit three conditions:

Contact: You’ve grabbed your foe in a minor way. This allows proceeding with any follow-on technique (like arm locks and whatnot) that require a grapple. He is at -2 to DX with grabbed body parts, and -1 to active defenses (all of them, including Doddge). You and your foe may move between close combat and 1 hex without worrying about breaking the contact (see the image to the right). Contact does not preclude attacks or defenses; it just makes them a bit harder.

Grappled: You have secured your foe significantly. Body parts that are grappled are at -4 to DX. If your torso is grappled, you are -2 to all active defenses. If only one limbis grappled, you are at -1 to defend with un-grappled body parts. If two limbs are grappled, or a limb and the torso or head, you suffer full penalties. You and your foe are locked in Close Combat. Your or you foe may attempt to move, but your foe’s weight is treated as encumbrance [1]. Grappled limbs may not be used to attack with, nor may they parry strikes.

Restrained: While not “pinned and helpless, as in the usual rules, your foe is at -8 to DX and half ST with all grappled body parts. No attacks or parries are possible with grappled limbs, as above. You are at -4 to all active defenses. You may not move (even a step), and retreats are impossible. If the only grappled body part is a limb, defenses are at -2 for ungrappled parts.

Condition Thresholds

You’ll need to know how many Control Points you can dish out. Look up your effective ST for grappling on the thrust column of the damage table on p. B16. When you grapple and hit (and your foe fails to defend), roll for CP.

You have made Contact if you score fewer than 20% of your foe’s ST.

You have grappled your foe if you accumulate more than 20% of your foe’s ST, but less than his ST.

You have Restrained your foe if you accumulate ST or more Control Points.

You may attack more than once, accumulating CP. Don’t bother to keep track of them by location, but do note grappled body parts.

Breaking Free

Attack the grapple, removing CP. If you get it to less than zero, you’ve broken contact.

Parting Shot

This is a rough-cut. I’m sure there could be refinements, but there has to be a fun middle ground between breaking out the full-on rules from Technical Grappling, and the pretty sparse grappled/not-grappled state that is GURPS current status (well, there’s pinned, but that’s so final that I tend to ignore it. It’s also the result of a Regular Contest, which makes it pretty darn unlikely).

+Fred Brackin shoots and scores, I think, in this comment in a very, very, very, uselessly very long thread over on the SJG Forums:

The core problem outside comparative expense of Allies who could the same thing and more is the comparative expense of just buying the Skill yourself.

Buying that Contact with History-15 with Usually Reliable and Available 15 or less is going to cost 12 pts. For 12 pts you could learn History at IQ+2 yourself and never mind the Contact.

I think this gets at the core of it quickly. While there’s quite a bit more text, the core of what Contacts are supposed to represent are in the first paragraph on p. B44:

 You have an associate who provides you with useful information, or who does small (pick any two of  “quick,” “nonhazardous,” and “inexpensive”) favors for you. The point value of a Contact is based on the skill he uses to assist you, the frequency with which he provides information or favors, and his reliability as a  person.

Basically, you’re buying a skill.  Frequency of appearance and reliability should basically modify that skill down.

Reprice it

Seems straight-forward. You buy the skill as normal. You’re an IQ 12 Private Eye with a contact that gives Forensics. His effective skill is to be 18 – between his own skill and his resources, he’s darn good at what he does. Fine. Base cost is that for Forensics at IQ+6. That’s 28 points (!).

Then you pick a frequency of availability, and we represent the upper limit of that as a 16-. Multiply the cost of the skill yourself with the percentage success value given on p. B171. My forensics buddy, on any given day, can be reached and he has the time to talk to me about half the time. So his availability score is 10, which drops the cost of Forensics-18 from 28 down to 14 points.

Reliability is also a mark-down. Completely reliable is 100%. Usually Reliable is x2/3, Somewhat reliable is .1/3, and Unreliable is x1/6.

I want my forensics guy to be completely reliable, but the GM notes that he won’t always be able to give the information, and since his output depends on his inputs, he may well be wrong or under political pressure. We decide that he’s usually reliable, which takes the cost for Forensics at IQ+6 from its current cost of 14 points down to 9.33 points, rounded UP to 10.

Contact Group

To me, the description of Contact Group reads like “instead of Forensics, you have Detective!” and I’d price it accordingly: x3 cost. If you have a Contact Group that effectively has more than one wildcard skill, buy it like that. If that group can also occasionally give you stuff, add Patron.

Doing things I cant

The only way that the ability to consult an outsider can be more valuable than the ability to do it yourself comes in the realm of opportunity cost. And that’s a real thing:

  • You have the ability to focus on something else while your Contact is doing legwork for you. While you’re in the hospital, or pursuing some nameless horror deep into the underbelly of Chicago, your trusty pal Waldo Butters, Medical Examiner and fellow occult traveller, is doing things you can’t do with time you don’t have (shout out to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files).
  • The Contact has access to stuff you don’t. That’s probably best reflected as a higher skill. If you are a compentent Forensics guy with IQ 11, Forensics-12 (you’re a pro), but you can consult with (shout-out to Bones) the Jeffersonian Medico-Sciences Lab, and Dr. Brennan has an effective skill of Forensics-22, but is hard to get a hold of (Availability-6) but Completely Reliable (IQ+11) for 48 points, you’ll pay 5 points for the ability to consult with that person on the average about once a month (10% success rate but it might take 1d days to get an answer). 

High Skill, 

I’d absolutely say that if the GM’s roll is made by 10+, that counts as “instantly available,” and Dr. Brennan just rattles off the answer from the top of her head. Probably condescendingly, if you’re in earlier seasons of the show.

I can do that too!

Would it ever make sense to have (say) Forensics-12 and a Contact or Contact Group with Forensics-18? Or even Forensics-14?

It might. For one, there’s that opportunity cost thing. You can effectively outsource a question, or you can take the time to do it yourself. Also, the effective skill level of the Contact assumes all the gear required to get that skill. While Minnesota Smith might have Archeology-16, he might be caught in the field without whatever equipment he usually uses, and his effective skill is Archeology-12. In that case, even Archeology-14 (his University, complete with Library and research staff) might be worth having, doubly so because he can tell them to parallel process it.

Parting Shot

I think Fred’s question was well put: why spend more points on a skill than you’d spend to buy it yourself.

The answer is basically opportunity cost and gear – maybe you can’t afford a lab with $20M in the appropriate gear, but that’s all swept under the rug when it comes to Contact effective skill. The other is the ability to not use your own time to get something done. The last is a second try, of course: I failed my local skill roll, but perhaps it’s worth 1d days for your Contact to try and trace down some information. Maybe they’ll get lucky.

Wait, given those advantages, shouldn’t there be an increase in cost?

Probably not, though the parallel process thing is interesting. The effective skill bit is the most useful, but the “it happens out of my control” isn’t really something gamers like to spend points on. Usually it’s “I spend points to increase my character’s personal agency,” rather than the outsource model. It can also be “you wait 1-6 days and you’re out of luck,” which is not something that will feel particularly value-added. The second chance probably isn’t worth that much. I’d overall call it a wash.

Ultimately, I’d just treat buying a Contact as buying a skill, or even a Wildcard skill at x3 cost, and modify the price downward from there.


One last comment on availability. Very high availability numbers are probably not terribly realistic. If you’ve got a good friend on the police force and he or she works 10-hour shifts, 5 days per week, that’s 50 hours of availability when he’s in the office per 168-hour week, or about 30%. Thats something like Availability-9. Tossing in an extra half-time “I love supporting my local adventurers!” fixation to make it 70 hours per week is still only between Avail-9 and Avail-10. Even if you were generous and said that your contact is available from 7am to 7pm every single day, that’s still Availability-10, and if he’s good five or six days a week for all waking hours (say 6am through 10pm) that would be highly unusual, but still only equivalent to Availability-11.  That is to say even a supremely available contact is going to have a significant, about 1/3, price discount on the cost of a skill.

Is and Is Not

This version of Contacts is one thing: access to a skill at a discount using others as proxy. No more, no less. If as a GM you imbue such associations with other things, they’ll have to be modeled as additions. Patronage (Provides Equipment) is a good one. A borrowed Reputation or increased reaction roll would be another “goodies by proxy” game-mechanical result.

It also might not synch well with Allies yet. We’ll see.