How Observant

This came up briefly as I was discussing the Observation skill for my superhero, The Commander.

His Observation stacks up SEAL! and Ten-Hut!, and if he’s using a firearm or looking at combat details, Shooter! as well. Because his Perception is 18, this means his overall Observation skill is 29.


A skill like that, as much as his Stealth-27, defines who he is. He’s just that good at spotting things.

+Christopher R. Rice were chatting about how to handle this. I casually threw out that we should just assume that I rolled a 14. Not a good roll. In fact, a fairly poor one. But the chance of rolling 14 or lower on 3d6 is 90%. So if I roll a 14, it means it covers 9 in 10 occurances where I pester the GM for details.

We decided it was a valid way of handling things. Assume a roll of 14, note the margin of success or failure, and then look at the result. For Joe Average with no training (Observation-5), it’s failure by 9. For The Commander, it’s success by 15.

What does that mean?

Well, it means the untrained person will need to spend a very, very long time doing something, and still require things to be obvious enough to provide a +4 or +5 bonus for tactically significant, actionable detail to be relayed to the player as a simple part of the description. That doesn’t mean that he can’t take the time to look – in fact, it requires it. But when he walks into the bank, nothing strikes him as odd unless the bank robbers hiding in the crowd of people are being very obvious about it.

For the commander? He can do a task that usually takes minutes instantly (‘instantly’ doing a long task is often benchmarked at -10) and still absorb -5 in penalties. He walks into that same bank, and the GM will tell him how many people are in it, that five of them are acting out of the ordinary 7 yards away (-3 penalty) and if they’re carrying any weapons with a Holdout penalty of -2 or higher, will probably be able to tell they’re armed. This will be relayed as part of the room description.

Parting Shot

I like this, because it means that the GM and player both have a good idea of what’s going on, and the “hey, I would have noticed that!” factor is much lessened. The extra detail is cool, but also the fact that if things really are that subtle, it will dawn on The Commander over the course of 30s that something isn’t right, and by the end of that time (when he’s back up to no penalty), he’ll have processed the entire tactical situation.

It’s effectively ‘no nuisance rolls,’ but at no point cost, because instead of pestering the GM at every moment “I roll Observation, what do I see?” it’s taken as read that Threat Analysis and OODA are constantly occurring. It’s also a poor enough roll that it only comes into play when you do have a character-defining trait like that.

By setting the assumed roll not at the “average” of 11, but a lower-probability outcome of 14, it means that the GM isn’t forced to reveal every single detail of a situation. The basic Perception (10) and Observation (5) by default is low enough that the assumed roll is a failure by 4 and 9, respectively. That’s a lot of “stop, collaborate, and listen” that has to go on before details of tactical significance are provided. That’s actually normal RPG behavior – you walk in the room, and the five guys with swords screaming ‘deth to adventurs!’ get that +10 bonus and draw immediate attention (but Observation-5 guy only barely notices), but the tripwire strung right in front of the door doesn’t get seen without looking for it. Likewise with hidden doors and treasure.

And just to be clear: It’s not “never roll dice.”

It’s for the GM to say “what is the minimum level of detail I should give this player just because of his skills and attributes that he bought and paid for.” A roll of 14 sucks. I mean, not as much as 16 or a critical failure, but it’s something that you’ll get that or better 90% of the time. And the player can always ask for a more detailed search (move from passively accepting a 14 to having the GM actively make a roll). But it gives a place to start when the GM is deciding what to tell folks about the situation they just walked into.

Let’s say we’ve got bad guys in a restaurant, and our team walks in. Someone with Perception-12 and Observation-7 will only notice particular details if there are bonuses to notice such of at least +2, and if it’s something tactically significant, it will have to be +7 – basically hit-you-in-the-face obvious. The GM will tell the player that there are a bunch of patrons eating. If the player says “I look carefully around for threats as I take my seat,” he might give a +2 or +3 for taking extra time, and make a secret roll vs Observation-10, and give extra info as it merits.

For The Commander, my superhero? He gets this:

Jason Bourne: I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking.

So when The Commander/Jason Bourne walks into the restaurant, the GM knows to let him know which guys seem potentially dangerous, who’s armed with a gun in a shoulder holster but not that skilled in hiding it, and exits and entrances of tactical significance. He gets this all at once because he paid something like 200 points in Wildcard! skills to get it. It ain’t free, and assuming a 14 on the roll is actually a pretty unfavorable assumption, but it gives the GM something to gauge. The penalty for spotting a guy with a hidden gun (-3, say) 10 yards away (-10) in dim light (-2) is rather steep. So unless you’ve got Observation-29 (like the Commander), you won’t see that unless you look, and you will never see that at first glance unless you have Observation-18 (penalties of 15 and a roll of 3). After “taking extra time” to the tune of a +4 bonus, you might see it with Observation-14.

I wonder what other skills this would work for?


As a GURPS player, I both love and hate Danger Sense.

It’s a great “get out of jail free” card to have in your pocket, in that you notionally get warning (or at least a die roll) to see bad things coming. It should make you hard to ambush, hard to sneak up on, and hard to get hit with random acts of God and man without at least having the chance to get out of the way.

So I love it, and there’s enough realism there in terms of sensory fusion that the concept doesn’t bug me.

But I hate it too. Mostly because it’s a passive ability that is so very, very easy to to forget. “What about my danger sense!” is bad enough in its way. It means potentially haranguing the GM about it whenever it might come up.

It’s also burden-shifting. Really, this sort of passive ability is in the GM’s hands nearly all the time. So it’s shifting workload to an already laden individual.

And after a long workday, with a few glasses of wine in me . . . Danger Sense just ain’t on my mind. So it winds up being points wasted, because it’s either used too much (and is annoying), or not used at all (because one forgets), or is a burden on the GM who has to play it for you, and then gets yelled at when yeah, the Perception roll fails and you really don’t notice the lecherous werewolves with guns* coming for you.

And with all the mechanical improvements that have come about since 2004, I have to wonder if Danger Sense is really necessary anymore.

Active abilities – even raw, naked metagame abilities – are nice because they are completely above board. I spend a character point or bonus point or wildcard point or luck point or a re-roll based on a high tactics skill, and the bad thing that was about to happen  . . . doesn’t. Or does, but doesn’t fall squarely on my shoulders as it would have.

There are a lot of things where you could use them much like buying successes. You step from behind the pile of crates, and the GM says “you are spotted by the guard.” And that’s because he’s rolling Per+10 because it’s close range in plain sight. You’ve got two choices: spend 1 metagame point to have him reroll that Perception roll (plain sight – you’re still toast), or right the heck then, you spend 2 or 3 such points and you get a funny feeling and “rewind” to before you stepped out from behind the crates to begin with.

The sniper shot that would hit you? Spend a point and get a reroll, or two or three and you just duck.

There are so many good metagame currencies that exist now in GURPS that I have to wonder if the passive ability that is Danger Sense is really needed anymore. I know my current supers character in +Christopher R. Rice‘s game, Ian “The Commander” Owari, has Per-18 and Danger Sense and what we just realized should have been Tactics-22 or even Tactics-27 in a firefight. But we forget a lot of the passive abilities, and rarely use the active re-rolls from Tactics, because we get swept up in the moment for one, and metagame “oh no you didn’t!” moments can be jarring for players and GMs alike.

But lacking this sort of foresight (or Foresight, from Pyr #3/53) is a big deal to the character concept. And having it be an actively managed pool of ability would be much easier for all of us than the passive, in the background Danger Sense.

*That’s from an old phrase I used to use when describing how to do interval training. Run for 60-120 seconds like you’re being chased by . . . 

Thursday is GURPSDay, and it’s time to think ahead.

We had a fun situation in this past Monday’s Aeon supers game.

We decided to use the 4-As framework to make a plan. We gathered intel, we actually guessed at what was going to happen, and we were even right.

Then we completely biffed it by exposing ourselves, which drew fire and brought down the wrath of at least a dozen, if not more, grenade-armed guards. Had it not been for a “flesh wound” Karma point, The Commander would have been killed when a limpet grendade with 20d(2) damage blew up on his back.

But we saw that coming, and I was frustrated that all of our gathering and recon did basically nothing.

This needs to be automated and mechanized – but here’s an idea that I think has been treated before in Pyramid, but maybe not like this.

Retroactive Planning

” . . . this is battle! And battle is a highly fluid situation. You . . . you plan on your contingencies, and I have. You keep your initiative, and I will. But what you don’t do is share command! It’s Never. A Good. Idea.”  – Vic Deacons, Broken Arrow

If you’ve done your homework in advance, you can engage in a bit of a “we thought of that!” retcon.

But that requires homework in advance. Planning for contingencies, as it were.

Assess, Analyze

During the Assess and Analyze phases of the mission, after you make your skill rolls to gather data and complimentary skill rolls as appropriate, you may end the session by making an Intelligence Analysis roll.

Look up the margin of success on the size (and speed range) table, with a minimum of zero. Yes, you can walk out of the planning session with nada . . . but the number you get is how many “foreseen contingencies” you can declare.

So if you make the Intel Analysis roll by 7, you get 3 foreseen contingencies. A “foreseen contingency” can be converted to a single “bonus roll” that acts just like a Tactics roll, or it can be a legit contingency as below. This choice is made during the planning phase, and is binding. No matter what, cap the number of contingencies at 3 – more is unwieldly. So if you make your roll by 10, you get up to three foreseen contingencies, plus one reroll in addition to whatever happens with the on-site Tactics roll.

Contingency Plans

Each “contingency” is a combination of people, places, and things/actions, and must be phrased that way, in the same way that a Wait is fairly well defined, but there’s wiggle room here.

People: This can be as broad as “the bad guys,” but if there’s more than one bad guy faction present, you’ll need to be specific. So “the Red team of bad guys” would be legit, as would “any one not obviously on our side.” But for the Aeon S1E9 eventuality, if we didn’t anticipate that two factions would show up (but we did!) that would not be an actionable contingency. 

Places: Where’s the thing going down. This needs to be recognizeable, but can be somewhat vague (because player/character knowledge can be fuzzy). “The ambush site” might be good enough if you’re expecting an ambush. “The black ops warehouse” from Aeon S1E9 would certainly qualify. “New York City?” Nuh-uh.

Things/Actions: This is the trigger that tells you that you’re falling into a contingency. You see the macguffin (and if you know there’s going to be a macguffin, but not precisely what it is, that’s probably good enough). Again, in S1E9 it was when the two black ops teams started fighting.

These combinations of people, places, and things must be defined in advance, and they are limited in number to the number of foreseen contingencies above – that is, one to three of them.

Saw that one coming . . . 

If one of your triggering incidents occurs, immediately make and resolve an appropriate contest of Tactics, and bank your rerolls as usual. 

You may spend them to retroactively get the following benefits, assuming you haven’t been able to explicitly get such intel already. 

If the GM wants to request an appropriate skill roll (modified by BAD if you’re using it!) that’s fair – but remember this entire concept is based around the characters having had time to develop good plans, enough that the players were able to come up with people, places, and a triggering event.

  • Local geography: Burn a reroll and you pulled searches for blueprints, got satellite data, or otherwise were able to determine what the map looks like. This needn’t be perfect information, but what there is, you have. This is one of those that will often be obtained in advance, but if the team didn’t, this lets you do it retroactively.
  • Enemy placement: Any foes not actively hiding are either located on the map, or at least given “there’s probably one or more bad guys here” markers several hexes om area. This allows some measure of avoidance to be done with careful movement.
  • Positioning: Make a new tactics roll, and again get margin of success from the size and speed/range table (size column). Minimum one, but that number is the number of unique positioning moves you can make. So if you made your roll by 5, you can locate two elements. That certainly might be “an infantry platoon at location X, and a special forces fire team at location Y” just as easly as “The Commander is here by those boxes, while Eamon is on the roof.” This does not imply that you’re undetectable in any way – just that you can “jump” your guys to an appropriate accessible location as if you’d planned it all along.
  • Stealth: With advance knowledge and planning you can force a failed Perception roll where you’re contesting it with Stealth or Camouflage. Each forced failure costs a roll (so wandering through a target zone loaded with bad guys and security cameras will deplete your re-rolls very fast). A forced failure is obvious to the person who’s bestowing or consuming the tactics reroll – you know that, save for excellent intel and tactics, you would have been spotted. This does not preclude future Perception checks by the bad guys, either . . . you get a moment’s reprieve, that’s all. You can use that to make a new Camouflage or Stealth roll to achieve a better hiding spot, or you can burst into action. Go, Leroy, go.
  • Gear: A reroll can be burned to request – with GM’s permission – a single item or group of items (a sniper rifle, or a handful of magazines of armor piercing ammo, or an electronic lockpick kit) that would help. Both the players and GM should be reasonable here. If there’s no gear to be had, you don’t consume the roll.
  • Backup: If it would be available, and reasonable, reinforcements should be allowed. These NPCs will be of an appropriate level given the quality of the requesting group. Assistance rolls or Reaction rolls are good mechanics to invoke here. Failure would mean that none are available; if that’s the case you don’t lose the tactics roll.
  • Normal Use: You don’t have to burn the tactics rolls based on foreseen contingencies. You can save them for dynamic eventualities (and you probably will want to do that).
Parting Shot

This sort of thing wouldn’t have completely saved us yesterday. We did hit on the #1 option, though – two factions would duke it out in front of us, and I had seven re-rolls that we wound up not using, or maybe we used one – but none in the furious and almost-lethal battle on the first floor.

We did, actually, do some of the above – The Commander was allowed to retroactively put suppressors on his own weapons for some initial combat volleys that came and went. 

The biggest opportunity for us was instead of being forced into action with the first failed Stealth roll (or first successful Perception check), we might have been able to choose the time and place of action

The re-roll concept for Tactics is a good one. But they very frequently go unused, either due to heat-of-the-moment, or resource hoarding. Having some things like the above to explicitly spend rerolls on – provided some contingency planning is done – is a good way to bridge the gap between player and character expertise.

Billy Ray Smith (Anthony Edwards): [outraged] You just shot that man in the back!Van Leek (Lou Gossett, Jr.): [unperturbed] His back was to me.                                                                        –El Diablo (1990)

There is an aphorism kicking around, perhaps actually taken from the US Military, perhaps invented or popularized from Tom Clancy novels, that if you can see a foe, you can bring the appropriate quantity of flaming death around its ears, be it physical, magical, or otherwise. In roleplaying games, this is partially true, and partially not. In some editions of D&D, for example, it’s quite possible to have a foe with Armor Class so high that you cannot land an effective blow. This can be particularly true in GURPS, where even if you can see a target and it’s not even moving or fighting back, it can have a Damage Resistance (DR) so high that attacking it is pointless.

This final column in the Violent Resolution series on Castalia House will deal with perception in combat, since the entire series is about that aspect of gaming.


We’ll start with the most detailed game, and draw distinctions from there. As noted in Time After Time, GURPS operates at a resolution of one second. As such, looking around to notice things can potentially take many turns. Further, GURPS embraces facing to a greater extent than the other games discussed here – which is to say, it considers facing at all.

Let’s start there.

Hey! I see that!

GURPS has a dedicated Perception sub-statistics. It defaults as equal to IQ (the all-encompassing ‘mental stuff’ stat), and can be raised and lowered independently.  Perception covers all senses, with vision being but one of them – hearing and taste/smell are also part of the suite covered by Perception. Usually, it can be assumed that these rolls cover a quick glance or sniff – basically tied to the GURPS 1-second time frame – but not always. You get bonuses – substantial ones – for something being out in the open (“In Plain Sight” gives you +10 to the roll), and penalties for distance. Vision uses the Size and Speed/Range table, while there’s a dedicated Hearing Distance Table for noise. The penalties for light level can be pretty interesting, and there have been successful efforts to quantify penalties in the form of units of illumination (lux) as well as more descriptive methods (“the light of a typical street lamp”).

His Back was to Me

GURPS in miniatures/tactical combat mode is played on a hex map, giving six potential nodes from which a bad guy can strike. Even in a more descriptive combat mode, care is taken to distinguish whether a foe is in one of three arcs of vision: the front, the side, or the back. This distinction is important.

I’ll refer to the “front arc” here, and that’s a term I tended to use in Technical Grappling to distinguish between the front hexes and the 180-degree hemisphere in front of the character, since the fighter may well be prone and facing the ground (his front arc is basically the floor, the basement, etc.).

While in the front arc, by and large foes may be attacked and defended against normally – you just play the game and fight the fight with no special action required. When considering weapon-and-shield fighters, both weapon and shield can be considered to cover the entire front arc. Importantly, you suffer no additional penalties to notice things in that arc unless you have special cases in play, such as looking through a vision device (like a telescopic sight) or a vision-restrictive helmet. A great helm, for example, bestows No Peripheral Vision, restricting vision to the front 120 degrees instead of 180 degrees, while looking through a scope might impose Tunnel Vision, restricting perception to only a 60-degree slice in front of you (that’s an optional, if sensible, rule found in GURPS Tactical Shooting).

Moving around to the back arc, this is the slice of your surroundings (unsurprisingly) directly behind you – defined as a 60-degree slice (the hex immediately behind you). The presumption if you’re attacked from that arc is that you can’t see it coming, and the character doesn’t even get a chance to defend unless special advantages or situations come into play. Those might include follow-up grapples from behind (you know that the puma is gnawing on your back; it does not surprise you), or if you have eye-stalks or a 360-degree panoramic vision on your combat robot.

In between the front and back hexes, there is the side. Each side hex covers a flank of the fighter, defining an area where you are usually presumed to be able to see a foe, but attack and defend at a penalty.

As one might imagine, starting in a foe’s back hex is a commanding advantage. Negating the ability for a foe to make a defense roll is very important where they are the first – and often most important – line of defense against being injured. Striking from a hidden position, especially with high-speed projectiles such as lasers or guns, can also negate the ability to defend.

While all sorts of options can be brought to bear, cutting the noise down is usually done by deciding if a foe can be seen at all. If not, attacks from that foe are surprise attacks, and cannot gain the benefit of active defenses. If there’s a possibility they can be spotted, Perception rolls are brought into play, and if successful the foe is treated as being in the proper arc, with penalties assessed accordingly. If they’re just out there (a mundane human trying to bash you in the face with a sword from a yard or two distance), no roll is required.

Non-combat Perception

Deciding what arc a foe (or foes, or horde of foes) is in isn’t the only, or even the most frequent, use of Perception abilities. Finding treasure, traps, or secret doors all will qualify. But those aren’t Violent Resolutions, so they don’t count. What does count is the ability to pick up clues that someone is about to get the drop on you. Such detection is resolved by an opposed skill roll (a Quick Contest, using GURPS terms of art), sometimes using an actual skill (Perception is an ability score, not a skill) such as Observation (acquiring tactical data about something) or Search (looking for items not in plain sight). Both default to Perception-5, so are quite difficult do to in a one-second time scale unless they have been deliberately purchased to higher levels, or the base Perception stat is very high.

Everyone Else

A quick note – none of the other game systems really deal with facing explicitly in a way that drives tactical decisions. Fate and Night’s Black Agents are narrative-driven games that don’t resolve themselves on a tactical map. Savage Worlds and D&D do use such maps, but also don’t explicitly use arcs of vision by default. It may well be a GM call that one figure is behind a foe, but that’s not automatic. How games play this out or allow for such in-game occurrences does vary, of course, and while no explicit allowance for arc of vision is made, implicit or results-driven allowances are made.

Night’s Black Agents

Combat-scale perception in NBA is driven by the Sense Trouble general skill. Casing a joint, or looking for clues, is an Investigative skill, which means if you have it on your sheet and you spend a point, you automatically succeed. General skills are the more traditional “roll vs. X to succeed” type, and Sense Trouble gives you the ability to use your senses dynamically and in combat. You can hear the click of a safety being removed, detect the odor of a monster around the next corner, or see a moving shadow or camouflage failure. Infiltration is the broad “stealth” skill; Conceal is the basis for camouflage.

The basic result of a failed test against a foes sneakiness is that the characters are Surprised. This means they go last in combat, and all of their difficulty numbers go up by 2 when making General Skills tests. If the GM is feeling particularly nasty, one or more rounds of no action may go by.

NBA is a narratively-focused game, and distances and movement and just about everything else is kept deliberately abstract. Likewise, the focus on thriller action means that even on a failed die roll to Spot Trouble, the fact that you’re rolling at all is a meta-game clue (the book says it’s the equivalent to a slow, ominous crescendo of music in a movie). Given the right circumstances (and that’s a GM call – narrative games have to be strong Rule Zero games), players can roll to be sneaky, or “Jump In” to enter a combat that they’re not directly part of. In those circumstances, depending on the almost-always player-facing die rolls, the results can be narrated as having attacked from a surprise angle or anything suitably appropriate.


As with everything in Fate Core, perception and its results are going to fit into one of five general categories. Story background that can just be stated is the first, and the other four are the classic four actions in Fate: Attack, Create an Advantage, Defend, or Overcome an Obstacle. Hiding yourself is probably Create an Advtange, where a successful roll (or even an unsuccessful one) puts a new environmental Aspect on the table, such as a good Stealth roll placing “Dug in like an Alabama tick” on the table to describe a sniper in a very well defended, well-concealed perch. A poor roll would either not work, or be on the table with a very low difficulty – there’s always the chance that the foe is more oblivious than you were obvious.

The best case for noticing a hidden foe is likely to Overcome an Obstacle (where that difficulty is probably the degree of success your Stealth roll when Creating the Advantage in the first place).

In the middle of combat, a player would also have to Create an Advantage (or utilize an existing situational or environmental aspect) in order to leverage attacking from odd angles or from a flanking position – the zone-based combat system of Fate Core doesn’t explicitly provide for such.

Savage Worlds

As with Dungeons and Dragons, Savage Worlds puts most of the miniatures on the board and all figures on the board are assumed to be visible – the metagame board position implies in-game awareness, it would seem. The only concession to something that might be facing or positional advantage seems to be using a Hold action to get in a blow before your foe gets to go. This includes Surprise, which treats surprised characters as not being dealt in to the initiative order.

Turn order doesn’t feel like perception or facing, but in an abstracted game, “I was able to get in an effective blow before you did” can be nearly anything, up to and including striking from behind or from favorable angles. While the rules for held actions call out opposed Agility rolls, having a sneak attack being resolved by an aggressive action (or a stealthy one) opposed by Notice or a similar ability.

Part of the reasons why facing is not addressed in tactical games in some cases is that with a long-enough turn length, it’s assumed that combatants have acquired head-on-a-swivel syndrome. One will not, it is assumed, in a swirling melee where foes are known to be in all directions, ignore all those other threats.

Explorer’s Edition

One item not in my Deluxe Edition was a section on Ganging Up. This gives bonuses when surrounded, with each additional fighter giving +1 to Fighting rolls, to a maximum of +4 (which is between the average rolls of a d8 and a d10, so that’s a big bonus), and the Modern Martial Art supplement allows a trained fighter to mitigate this through the Edge “Bring it On!” which reduces that bonus by 2, allowing you to face three foes at once at no penalty, and “Bring it ALL On!” which allows as many as you like.

The Drop

Finally, I believe from the same book (Explorer’s Edition), it’s possible (by GM compliance) that you can catch a foe so off his guard that he’s basically toast. Sniper shots, or surging out from total concealment to put a knife in an unsuspecting Extra’s back. The attacker gets the On Hold status, and +4 to both attack and damage rolls – a large boost.

Dungeons and Dragons

Facing is not accounted for in D&D, and the rationale is likely the same as Savage Worlds (though of course D&D came first). The miniature’s position on a battle map dictates location, not facing, and so what is apparently a bow-shot to a fighter’s back – at least the back of the figure – is often defended against using the full AC of the foe. At best, such attacks will wind up ignoring the DEX bonus to achieve an effective hit.

So facing isn’t a big deal, right? Perception doesn’t matter?

Not quite. While other editions focus on things in different ways, Fifth Edition has abilities that are triggered by a lack of implied ability to gain full situational awareness.

Let’s start with thieves – err, Rogues.

Back Attack

Rogues – all of them – gain the ability to do a Sneak Attack in combat. If they have advantage on a roll, they can do extra damage if they hit with a finesse or ranged weapon – basically an extra 1d6 per two levels. So at 8th level, a properly executed sneak attack gets an extra 4d6 damage (this can rapidly outclass fighters and other expert combatants; a Paladin’s ability to spend spell slots – an expendable resource – grants 3d8 per 2nd level slot at 8th level).

That’s not all, though – if there’s another enemy of the target within 5 feet (that is, on a usual 5′ square map, if there’s a foe adjacent to him) he doesn’t even need advantage. The foe is presumed to be distracted enough that if the Rogue can land an effective blow, he can claim the extra damage. A Rogue fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with an ally can be a very effective front-line combatant, especially if she has a high DEX bonus and the ally specializes in Defensive Fighting with a shield.

While other character classes don’t get a bonus damage roll as with Rogues, if they manage to attack without being detected first (through judicious use of, say, Dexterity (Stealth), they may get Advantage on the attacks. Not nothing, but a higher hit chance, and some Feats allow exchanging hit penalties (-5 to hit) for increased damage (+10 to damage).

Feats of Awareness

Special abilities can also be acquired by selection of proper Feats as one levels up. Characters with the Alert feat have substantial initiative bonuses, as well as not suffering from surprise (which gives foes free shots at you), nor do they gain advantage if they’re hidden from your view. The Sentinel ability allows you attacks of opportunity even if foes Disengage, as well as allowing a reaction to attack a foe that tries to beat on one of your friends – the offensive version of Defensive Fighting.

General Perception

Everyone has a Perception score – it’s based on Wisdom, and bonuses can be obtained both for proficiency as well as Feats (Observant gives +5 to passive Wisdom(Perception) and Intelligence (Investigation) rolls). As noted in prior columns, the “do you notice stuff” roll is huge in most games. If you fail to notice foes, they typically get one or more rounds (usually only one) of free attacks even before initiative is rolled. No actions or reactions can be taken while surprised, either.

Edit! A Find in the DMG

While looking for something else, I discovered there are optional rules for facing treated explicitly in the DMG. Likewise for flanking. Flanking gives advantage on attacks if you’re pounding on someone from opposite sides of their icon on a tactical map. 

Facing does what you’d expect, and hits some remarkably complex notes. AC for shields only counts on the shield side. You can only attack into the front and side arcs. You can change your own facing at the end of your move . . . or as a reaction when any other creature moves (thus avoiding some of the run-around attack gyrations that you can see if you can move from the front to rear arc, and then strike).

But attacks from the rear have advantage, which is sensible.  The arcs themselves are 90-degrees each on squares. Front and rear are only 60-degrees wide on hexes, with the left and right side making up 120-degrees each.

Finish Him

It all, of course, depends on the game, and tactics will be driven by the rules in many cases – or be resolved by the influence and fiat of a GM. If a player wants to maneuver around behind a foe, well, the usual philosophy is “anything can be attempted.”

In D&D, there isn’t really any “behind,” but with the proper distractions, one can (if you’re not a Rogue) gain advantage on an attack. There is no real “tactical” surprise that can be gained in the middle of combat in D&D – it’s strategic surprise (you may not act or react when surprised) or nothing. If you are a Rogue, you can potentially gain the advantages of your Sneak Attack every round, provided your foe is suitably distracted or you have advantage on your attack via stealth. A dedicated Rogue crossbow archer at 6th level (assume DEX 18) will be rolling 1d20+7 to hit with a weapon they can fire every round, and will do 1d8+4 base damage, plus an additional 3d6, for 8-30 points of damage per attack under the right circumstances.

In Savage Worlds Deluxe, about the best you can do seems to be to act before your foe. No amount of tactical maneuvering will help. The Explorer’s edition adds a few items that feel, in kind, like the kind of advantage one gets for surrounding a foe in D&D – bonuses to hit and damage, especially for fighting multiple foes, who can use your distraction against you.

Night’s Black Agents would allow an Infiltration roll, which if successful makes your foe go after you (possibly after everyone) in combat, and difficulty numbers go up by 2 – that doesn’t seem like much, but it could easily put a foe into the zone of “can’t hit back at all unless many points are spent.” Those points are scarce resources in combat.

Fate Core has the sneaking be either Creating an Advantage or gaining a free or bought invocation of an existing environmental aspect. Once you have this in place, you can gain the (dominating) +2 bonus for your attack roll with the spending of a Fate point. Tactically this would be Create an Advantage in combat; strategically you’d be leveraging a pre-existing aspect to try and claim free invocations.

Finally, in GURPS, you would attempt to work your way, turn by turn, to a position where you begin your own turn in your foe’s side or (best of all) the back hex. This will enable maneuver selection (such as All-Out Attack or Telegraphic Attack from GURPS Martial Arts) that increases the chance of a hit . . . which can be turned into injury through hit location selection. So long as your foe doesn’t turn to face you, these advantages are retained. Strategic surprise can also be had – to be made even more devastating because that can stun the targets, which prevents them from doing much of anything until they snap out of it.

GURPS rewards tactical and strategic methods to use your foe’s lack of perception of your actions the most, it would seem. D&D and Fate probably come next, especially with the right tactics, with NBA giving a bit of advantage and Savage Worlds more or less impacting turn order.

+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. 

“Slicing the Pie” is a term for moving around a corner with a ready firearm, so as not to get plugged by enemies lurking too close. It exposes only a small amount of potential firing line at a time, in order to reduce the burden on the slicer’s threat perception. It is slow, requires some room to move, but a lot safer than having a bad guy drill you from your rear arc.

If I recall correctly, Agent Starling learns this the hard way in a quick cut scene from Silence of the Lambs.

The technique gets a bit of love on pp. 23-24 of GURPS Tactical Shooting, by +Hans-Christian Vortisch

The Problem

I was lead playtester for the book, and so I do have some (but not extensive) idea of what went on in carving up the rules. Being friends with both Sean and Hans, I also am able to ask questions pretty freely. Anyone is, really, and these guys are both prone to answering polite questions promptly.

Anyway, there was a bit of thread necromancy about a question that came up first nearly three years ago. The user Ultraviolet phrases it well, so I’ll just paste it here:

In a situation where a tactical team is sweeping a building and a shooter is ‘slicing the pie’

Am I correct in assuming this is excecuted as one step per round at a time? So one step, roll to spot (or it may be automatic succes) and the shooter may shoot if there is a target, but does not shoot if there is none. He announces in advance if he wants to evaluate before firing, for -2 to-hit. 

If there is an enemy with a Wait he may also shoot, and this is the time to roll Quick contests to see who shoots first, right?

But if there is an enemy without a Wait, you just shot him?If there is no target you take another step in the same round?

This sounds almost like a Move-and-Wait manoeuvre, but there is no such a thing?

The alternative would be to declare a Move-and Attack right? To rush in and shoot if anybody is there. An enemy with a Wait may very well shoot faster than you. So it is not recommended unless you’re in a hurry!

But can you declare this and *not* shoot if there is no target? Is this similar to the -2 for evaluate? To say “I rush in and shoot at any target whatsoever, but if there is none then naturally I don’t shoot”?

He’s right – there’s officially no such thing as Step and Wait. Wait only allows movement as part of whatever action your Wait turns into, and it’s pretty explicit about that on p. B366: you may only turn a Wait into an All-Out Attack, Attack, Feint, or Ready.

The questions above did get an answer: Sean meant to allow Step-and-Wait to have an official nod, and he recalls giving such permission. The text strongly implies that pie slicing is done with a series of either Step-and-All-Out Attack (Determined) or Step-and-Wait, which will be transformed into All-Out Attack (Determined) if you see a valid target.

Why All-Out? It’s one of the assumptions of Tactical Shooting – if you’re using your sights (Aim or not) you are taking an All-Out Attack (Determined), and with a handgun you get +1 for Determined, and if you’re using a two-handed grip, you get +1 for Braced.
The support for the “Step-and-Wait” decision can be found in two posts by +Sean Punch: here where I post the email he sent me, and this this amplification.

The Text

When the process is described in Tactical Shooting under Turning Corners (“Slicing the Pie”), it’s done mostly descriptively, in a conversational method that is suitable for both tactical combat on a hex map or more open-form combat. 

The lack of explicit mention of Step-and-Wait has caused no small amount of consternation over on the GURPS Forums in the previously mentioned thread. Much of it is from what’s not said, rather than what is said, in the text. One of the more obvious examples:

If someone is lurking around the corner, he may use Opportunity Fire (p. B390) if he took a Wait maneuver. If neither of you chose to Wait, you both roll as above but as a Quick Contest; the winner acts first and a tie means truly simultaneous actions! (Tactical Shooting, p. 24)

So it covers the implicit case that you do Step-and-Attack, and he’s Waiting. It covers the case where neither of you have declared a Wait, but the results of the action are resolved in a very similar manner as a Cascading Wait (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 108).

Without quoting the entire section, though, here’s the summary of each paragraph.

  • Slicing the pie trades lateral movement and time in exchange for purposefully limiting the exposure to potential bad guys around a corner.
  • Start far away, and step sideways with a bit of rotation, weapon pointed at the corner. Some cover is provided by the corner for both you and any potential targets.
  • You may attack as soon as you detect a target. This involves a Perception roll, explicitly for the person clearing the corner.
  • If there’s a foe there, and he has a Wait, he can shoot at you with Opportunity Fire (p. B390). If nether of you have a wait, you roll a Quick Contest to see who sees whom, and whomever wins acts first[1]. There are some modifiers for the usual situations of target ID, useful Advantages, etc.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat . . . step by step until you can see the entire corridor.
So, that’s more or less it. 
Still, even this has a couple of real questions.
I put a footnote [1] where the first comes up. If A is doing a Step-and-Attack, which seems to be the case in the above, and the foe isn’t Waiting, well, usually that means he’s screwed. This is, in fact, an artifact of the normal GURPS turn sequence, and can be interpreted as follows, in my opinion:
  • If you have a case where the bad guy is just standing around, then he is, in fact screwed. Go ahead and roll for Per to see if he notices you at all, but he can’t shoot back. Seeing you pop around the corner may even trigger Surprise of some sort, partial or total. If that’s the case, he may not even get an active defense.
  • If the bad guy is not standing around, but is currently acting in some part of a combat turn sequence and his prior maneuver choice has been defined as anything other than a Wait (he’d been shooting at someone, or was moving from A to B), again he’s screwed, as he may well see you (roll Per for that), but his action was already declared. He may, however, Dodge and Drop or perform any other active defense allowed by his prior maneuver choice.
  • If the bad guy had declared a Wait, you just moved into it, triggered it, and he gets to go first.
  • If the bad guy’s move is sort of indeterminate, then the Quick Contest of perception-based abilities makes for exciting play. You roll to see who gets the advantage and that person may get the drop on the other.
All of that assumes that the guy slicing the pie is, in fact, doing an All-Out Attack (Determined), with a single step.

Even that has an issue, that a Step-and-Attack means that if you walk into the corridor and no one is there, your turn is over with no attack launched. If a bad guy then walks into the corridor on his turn, ready to act, he can gun you down . . . despite that having someone in your field of view to shoot is exactly the point.

Both issues are artifacts, again, of the GURPS turn system.
Some Useful Penalties

Before we get into things more, and discuss the possibility of Step-and-Attack/Wait, let’s first note some already-established penalties.
  • If you do Move and Attack with a ranged weapon, and take more than a step, you are penalized by -2 or the weapon’s Bulk, whichever is worse.
  • Shooting through light cover, or partly exposed: -2.
  • Opportunity Fire: Check target before firing is -2
  • Hexes watched: 0 if one hex, -1 for two particular hexes, -2 for a straight line of fire or 3-4 hexes, and penalties up to -5 the more hexes you watch.
  • Pop-up Attack: -2, no Aim possible.
  • Committed Attack: an extra -2 to actions if you take an extra step as part of an attack.
These are more to set the stage for what follows than anything else. Modifiers in kind to things that will come up.
One more thing: the hexes watched penalty progression would be cleaner/easier using the Size and Speed/Range progression. So for hexes watched, use this instead:
  • 1 hex: no penalty
  • 2 hexes: -1
  • 3 hexes or a line: -2
  • 5 hexes: -3
  • 7 hexes: -4
  • 10 hexes: -5
  • 15 hexes: -6
Unusually for GURPS, don’t apply additional penalties unless you hit the next stage. 4 hexes is still -2; 9 hexes is still -4. This basically matches the progression on p. B548 anyway.
What’s really missing here is a method for a character to declare an action with a bit of persistence. It’s not a full Wait, where the only thing you’re doing is hanging out until the condition is triggered.
So, borrowing from a few of the prior concepts . . . 
Step and Wait

This maneuver allows a usually-forbidden step to the Wait maneuver. Much like Committed Attack, doing so imparts a blanket -2 penalty to DX and IQ to actions following the step. This definitely includes any rolls to resolve Cascading Waits. (This does mean active defenses are at -1, if allowed at all by your maneuver choice).
You must declare what the trigger will be, as well as what you will be converting your attack into: Attack, Committed Attack, or All-Out Attack, or Move and Attack, and what kind, if there are options (Determined, Strong, etc.). Furthermore, that initial step does come out of the movement allowance for the chosen maneuver. So if you’re doing AoA(Determined) and half your current encumbered Move is 3, you may only take 2 more steps after your Wait is triggered.
And again: if you choose Step and Wait/All-Out Attack, you may not use any active defenses until your next turn. You’re hanging your attack with a trigger, not leaving your options open. You’ve already decided what to do, just not when.
For skilled people, that -2 will be a pretty minor impediment, and Step-and-Wait/Attack or Step-and-Wait/Committed Attack or – as is directly pertinent to the case at hand – Step and Wait/All-Out Attack (Determined) may seem like a no-lose option. Perhaps that’s so, but many options in GURPS require narrative resolution only after all prior actions of all parties have been resolved (this is the case for unlimited dodges vs. multiple foes, as the best example), so putting a “beat” between your movement and your aggression shouldn’t break anything, and may well prevent some of the more egregious turn-order-artifact issues that crop up.
Slicing the Pie, Revisited

Now that that’s settled, we can revisit explicitly a stepwise resolution for turning corners. Ultimately, this is a three-step process on each turn. The resolution here assumes the use of a tactical map. The progression is basically declaration and movement, perception, then shoot.
Declaration and Movement
  • Declare your intent to Step and then Wait/Pick your maneuver.
  • Take a Step and any angular rotation that you need. This reveals a certain additional “slice” of the target zone.
  • Any combatants that may now be capable of seeing each other immediately roll a Quick Contest based on sensory acuity. This can be Perception, or Per-based Guns, Per-based Melee Weapon skill, Per-based Soldier, or Per-based Tactics; use the best relevant skill. 
    • If you did Step-and-Wait rather than Step-and-[some sort of]Attack, this is at -2. 
    • Make a separate roll for each combatant pair! If you slice the pie and find three targets exposed, you will resolve three Quick Contests.
  • If the Per roll fails, you are unaware of that individual[1] and may not defend against his attacks nor attack him until your next turn[2].
  • If the Per roll succeeds, you’re aware of the target, and may attack and defend as allowed by your maneuver choice.

  • The winner of any individual Quick Contest goes first if Cascading Waits are involved, resolved in descending Margin of Victory
  • Now resolve any shooting. You’re still at -2 for the held action, -2 for light cover, plus any other appropriate penalties for lighting, target location, target posture, etc.
  • When slicing the pie, you will engage targets (or check fire, if they’re a friendly) as you sweep them. Angle first, then distance (see Engagement Order, below). If you’re in a John Woo movie or a SFOD-D operator and you’re engaging more than one target per second, you may have additional penalties.
Target Discrimination and Standing Around Like an Idiot

The tricky part of the resolution is probably the perception roll resolution. The method of engaging targets is pretty well fixed.
Engagement Order

As mentioned in the text of Tactical Shooting, slicing the pie draws a line from you, the shooter, to the corner that you’re moving around. As you slice the pie, you will resolve and engage targets as they become visible, not take a mighty step, resolve all threats and mentally prioritize them, and take them down in your chosen order. 
Slicing the Pie Incorrectly – Too Close 1
No. You sweep the line from where you were to where you are, and resolve in that order. If you have two on the same angle, shoot the closer one first.
Slicing the Pie Incorrectly – Too Close 2
As an example, as shown in “Too Close 1,” hugging the wall means when taking the indicated step, both A and B become visible. However, even though B is closer (and thus likely easier to hit), the engagement order is A, then B, and both will suffer the -2 for partial cover, since they are covered by the corner as each is exposed in turn.
For another example, in Too Close 2, the engagement order would be A, then C, then B. A because he’s exposed first, and C because he’s closer then B.
With proper distance, stepping away from the wall instead of along it, you can force sequential revelation of A, then B, then C in Too Close 1.
Identify Friend or Foe

When conducting opportunity fire, you usually accept a -2 penalty to your Per-based rolls to identify a target as friend or foe. I suggest making this implicit, rather than explicit, in the Quick Contests of Per. If you make your Per roll by (say) 2 or more, you get friend/foe information. One could also allow both: take a voluntary -2 to look for friend/foe discrimination, but if you make the roll by 4 or more, you get it anyway.
If the GM is giving large bonuses to Per to prevent “I walked right by the guy 2 yards from me” outcomes (below), having IFF require an margin of 6+ isn’t a bad call.
Standing Like A Dork

It’s possible that as you slice a pie, both your foe and the shooter will fail their Per rolls. While that may seem perverse, this is not a sand-table exercise. This is a real engagement with scary people on both sides trying to kill each other. It is entirely possible that the Per rolls will fail, and then what? 
Keep it simple. If your Per roll fails, your Wait isn’t triggered. You don’t engage the target. If you both have failed, just keep going in the turn order.
If you have a VTT like Fantasy Grounds, MapTool, or Roll20 that supports invisible guys, what you can easily do as GM is simply not reveal any foes for whom Per rolls were failed. A shooter can slice the pie and breeze right by a foe, unaware. Happens all the time, and it’s why there’s teams of SWAT guys. 
If that’s simply incredible, the GM can assign large bonuses to all Per rolls, up to the +10 for In Plain Sight, and then the only real thing that will matter is the Margin of Victory, not whether the Contest is Won/Lost at all. That makes target recognition (and the larger margin mentioned earlier) the key bit. The margin required could also vary by how much the friends and foes look alike. If all the foes and (say) hostages are wearing the same clothing, then you’ll want to succeed by (say) 10-Bulk of any weapons in play! This will likely require GM judgement. 
Parting Shot

By introducing Step-and-Wait into the situation, all pie-slicing is pretty much going to be the same. You declare your action – Step-and-Wait/All-Out Attack (Determined) will be popular using the TS rules – and your trigger is usually going to be “shoot the first enemy that sweeps into view.”
Then as you step, resolve QCs of perception-based skills to figure out who sees who.
Only in the case of a Cascading Wait will the order of attacks flop around, but the Per rolls are important to resolve surprise and/or the ability to take active defenses. The Per rolls can also establish friend/foe information.
Then shoot, resolved in an appropriate order. 
After the Shot

One possibility is that skilled shooters may well wish to engage more than one target at a time. In that case, first figure out how many targets can be engaged (in Too Close 2, for example, it’s all 3), and then apply the Ranged Rapid Strike penalties to all shots, but not Per rolls, for simplicity. 
It should be noted that this is where the pros from Dover shine. Spending the 6 points required to buy off Quick Shot to two attacks with full skill will allow two targets to be engaged per foe.
Many on Many, Combat Evolving

As more and more combatants are both coming around the corner (a squad of PCs clearing a room) and being engaged as targets, the situation can get pretty hairy fast. Not just for the characters, but for the GM. The TS protocol of forcing All-Out Attacks for sighted shooting is your friend here, since as combatants emerge from doorways and hallways, you can more or less ignore defenses. 
Still, for expert shooters using point shooting techniques, defenses are possible. So might multiple shots that you can’t know about ahead of time! It may be the case that the pie-slicer does Step-and-Wait/AoA(Determined) and engages one bad guy, only to have a second step out from a doorway. 
In that case, the GM can either say “too bad,” and have the Waiting character’s turn over or allow the Wait to continue, but slap on a penalty of -3 to -6 that can’t be bought off with Quick Shot, plus the usual penalties for Ranged Rapid Strike on multiple targets. 

Bad Sight is tough on a PC. It’s a -25 point disadvantage and carries some serious ouch to it in either nearsighted or farsighted varieties.

What if you want to have just slightly bad vision?

Fairly easy: just make it leveled. I’m going to tweak point cost a bit as well.

Nearsighted (-3 per level)

You have issues reading things more than one yard away. You are -1 to your Vision roll per level of this advantage. Additionally, you are at -1 to hit for every three fractional levels of Nearsighted (so Nearsighted 2 gives -1 to hit, but Nearsighted 7 gives -3). Apply the same penalty to ranged attacks.

Why it’s different: This is just a straight-up scaling of Nearsighted, at 4 per level, with no cap on levels inherent. The “double range” thing is the exact same thing as a -2 penalty, which coincides with the -6/-2 for melee. So using the same penalty for all attacks works fine, I think.

Farsighted (-3 per level)

You have issues with very close objects. Each level gives you -1 to spot objects within one yard, and each two levels (or fraction thereof) gives -1 to DX on close manual tasks, and close combat. Rolls to maintain or improve a grapple, or execute grappling-based techniques (grapples, throws, locks, etc.) suffer penalties based on the best of your senses of touch and vision (so if your touch-based senses are unimpaired, so it is with your grappline). Any attack that bears a close resemblance to a strike (such as a Sweep that does not start from an already-established grapple) suffers full penalties.

Bad Sight ( -6 per level)

You have poor vision in general, suffering -1 to Vision per level of Bad Sight, -1 to melee and ranged attacks per 3 levels, -1 to DX for close manual tasks and close combat per two levels (or fraction thereof in both cases). 

Acute Vision (2 per level)

Acute vision is already leveled but doesn’t give bonuses for melee or ranged tasks, nor for close manual tasks, nor bonuses in close combat. So the price is fine as-is.

Parting Shot

This came up when my instant response to the question “can you be both nearsighted and farsighted” was “just buy Reduced Vision.” Turns out you can’t. Easy enough to tweak out. I didn’t feel like 6 levels of bad vision would be worth -48 points, though. Even with -6 to vision, -2 to melee and ranged attacks, and -3 to close manual tasks and close combat, which if “anti-Acute Vision” is -12 of those points, those penalties work out to another -35, which is about -2 to DX on all tasks. I suppose you could go either way, at -6 or -8 per level, but I chose to use the lower total. Nearly -50 points seems pretty catastrophic. On the other hand, if it’s correctable, it’s basically -20 or -15, which starts to feel about right.

Technically I’m sorta stealing this from the SJ Forums user Kallatari, but not exactly.

There’s a thread that just cropped up on the Camouflage skill and the distinction between Camouflage and Stealth. This is an old discussion, but still mostly unresolved.

Maybe a successful Camouflage roll subtracts from the bonus you get for being In Plain Sight.

You’d want to balance it such that in order to completely remove it, you need the right materials and plenty of time.

Again, not fully formed, but Stealth to me is about movement, sound, and picking the right time to make transitions. It’s about not being seen in the first place, not blending in with the environment.

Anyway, +Jake Bernstein has been egging me on to unify all of the sensory rules in the same way I tried to do in Dodge This. This might be my starting point.

A while back, I posited that pretty good results can be obtained by assuming that the Vision bonus for “in plain sight,” that is, +10, applies fairly generically. Certainly it’s a good starting point to see what you can see.

But what constitutes a basic roll? A Vision+10 roll for Joe Average will spot something man-sized on a non-obscuring foreground and background about 50% of the time at 100yds.

But how long does that take? Is it one second? Ten? A split glance?

Further, Stealth, Camouflage, and other skills, plus natural concealment will impact the roll

This type of thing is likely to come up in Alien Menace, among other things, so I’d best think about it systematically.

What’s the base time for a Vision Roll?

I’m going to assume that the base chance to notice something means you’re taking a pretty good look. So an Evaluate maneuver.

A very common use of Per rolls is in combat, though – what you might call “instant” use, which is -10. OK, that works out fairly well. Makes it a flat Per vs. Whatever roll – you get the “in plain sight” bonus of +10, but your’e also at -10 for the quick glance. Circular, in that it’s artificially getting back to “make a Per roll,” but there’s utility there as well.

But what constitutes a normal good look? I’m going to assume that a standard look around for something is about five seconds long. This produces the chart on the right, with a 5s look-see hitting Vision+10 (the “in plain sight” bonus) and spending up to about 2 minutes will give a +5, while the -1 per 10% provides a smooth ride down to a flat Vision (perception) roll.

OK, great. that takes care of typical searches. Taking 2 minutes for a normal person to look at his front 180 degrees will pick up a man-sized object at 100yds 95% of the time.

Parting Shot

This was going to be a much larger post – and still might be – that tried to wrap in Stealth, Camouflage, Shadowing, and general terrain features.

But that sounds an awful lot like something I can submit to Pyramid, and frankly, it’s a lot of work. There are a lot of “just roll a Quick Contest of . . . ” that lead to issues of sneaking up right next to people, or never being able to, and punishing default use of Stealth (DX-5) more than just not being sneaky.

It’s worth doing, though, since sneakin’ up on people, and being detected by sight, smell, and hearing, is a classic fantasy trope. So is the difference between seeing something, and knowing what it is. Batman, for example, is often spotted by virtue of dark motion against a dark background. He’s technically failed a Stealth roll (often deliberately) but made a Camouflage and Intimidation roll.

So yeah . . . there’s more here than I want to cover without a lot of thought.

This is in response to a quite interesting thread on Reverse Missiles. Like many things that occur at the intersection of magic and technology of any sort, there can be many answers depending on the metaphysics of how it is all supposed to work.

Reverse Missiles 101

The key bits are

  • There is one hit roll – whatever you roll to hit your foe, you roll to hit yourself instead
  • The “game effect” is that of a bounced shot, bounced “straight back,” in fact.

Hit Roll

In a way, this is the easiest. Make the calculations to hit your foe, and like the old “I’m rubber you’re glue” game, whatever you shoot comes back to you.

The game mechanics are straight-forward. Roll to hit, and if you succeed, you have potentially hit yourself. More on implicatinos later.

Bounce Back

This is where the trouble might start. The projectile or spell energy flies from the shooter to the target, and bounces back. This innocuous statement can carry some implications that might make things more complicated.

Mechanics vs. Metaphysics

This is one of those things where you really need to decide what’s going on, and then make the rules interpretations loudly and publicly. 

It can’t be a true bounce or reflection – the trajectory would be all wrong. So there’s a magic adjustment that happens to direct i on its way.  Cool enough.

What about range? Is there a magical energy boost that restores velocity? So that the projectile hits with whatever energy it would have? GM call, but I think the answer is “yes.” It simplifies the mechanics, and as long as you’re adding energy to redirect a projectile, you might as well get back up to launch velocity too.

Hit location? Easy – whatever your intent for the target happens to you.

Basically, the game mechanics are designed to allow the GM to act like Nelson when you attack your target. It basically says “don’t give the player a clue that he’s firing into a magical field of “stop hitting yourself!”


So that takes care of the hitting. What about active defenses? 

Seems fair to say that if you were allowed an active defense based on your actions on your turn (maneuver selection), you’d be allowed one if you’re attacking yourself.

But there’s a trick. Certainly, you may usually dodge or block ranged attacks (and with a one-handed weapon, it’s possible to have a shield-and-pistol thing going on), and with Parry Missile Weapons, you might be able to break that one out. So what’s the trick?

Awareness is key

As always, the caveat to any sort of active defense is spelled out in the Basic Set,  specifically on p. B374:

You also get no active defense if you’re unaware of the attack. Examples of situations in which no active defense is possible include a stab in the back from a “friend,” a surprise sniper’s shot, and a totally unexpected booby trap.

The reverse missiles spell would seem to qualify in many cases for the “unexpected booby trap” codecil. If the attacker is unaware that magic even exists, then he’s going to be unprepared to react against it.

In a way, this is why the “Aimed and Sighted shooting is an All-Out Attack” rule from GURPS Tactical Shooting is annoying (to the players) but important. It tells all involved that you are not expecting counterfire.

So, if you are aware that such magic exists, and you take an option that allows an active defense, then you get to use yours. I’ve had this conversation at least once with +Sean Punch and for a long while we made a joke about it in GURPS Technical Grappling, that taking “Attack” instead of All-Out or Committed Attack assumes that the fighter believes that the referee or the fans of a sporting event might pull out MP5s and suddenly start shooting into the ring. I included the One Foe option in Technical Grappling for that exact reason.

I don’t like that plan

One tends to assume that if you’re shooting or loosing an arrow at a foe, you’re not expecting it to come back at you. And if you are shooting, then you’re not doing the kind of evasive maneuvering that grants you a dodge.

To that i say: yes you are. If you didn’t take Committed or All-Out Attack, you are doing that kind of movement. That’s what such options are designed to preclude.

If, however, that just bugs you, well, there’s a handy article (Dodge This, from Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay) that spends four pages giving you options, including painful modifiers to see a projectile coming so that you can dodge, parry, or block it.

Parting Shot

So, ultimately the answer to the question of “can you Dodge reverse missiles” is probably simply “yes.” If you didn’t choose a maneuver that precludes a defense, and if you are aware at all that such a spell exists, you are presumed to be ready for such.

If you don’t like that plan, there are options, but I think the intent is that you have to spend a “holy crap!” moment dodging, and that the line of fire from your notional victim to yourself is now threatened behind you!