Recently, +Peter V. Dell’Orto went on a fun tear about Fit and Very Fit. 

I commented on his post that I’d run into some issues myself with Fit/Very Fit when writing The Last Gasp.

Now, partly, anything I have to say about Health (HT), Fit, Very Fit, and related issues will be biased, very much so, by my being convinced that while HT is, as they say, “priced to move.”

HT is worth less than the sum of its parts, and that’s somewhat deliberate to keep PCs alive. However, it also means that you get crap like “HT!” as a recurring concept, because when you break out the bits of it you find that Fatigue is worth 3/level, Basic Speed is worth 5/level, which means all HT-based skills and rolls to not-die, not-KO, and not other things are worth a collective 2/level.

As they say, “Vat a bahgain!”

Anyway, back to The Last Gasp.

I still think it holds up as a concept. But what struck my memory is how I had to more or less shrug at the pricing of Fit.

Let’s go to the article:

Fit and Very FitThese two advantages give bonuses to HT rolls for mostpurposes (but don’t increase the underlying attribute or skills).They also alter the rate at which FP are recovered and lost.Logically, being more fit should apply to Action Points as well. . . but Fit only costs 5 points, and AP are purchased for 2points each. Fit and Very Fit thus add their HT bonuses (+1 forFit, and +2 for Very Fit) to recovery rolls, but that’s the onlybenefit they give to AP recovery.

So I basically have to shrug and say “Fit is just too cheap to give it any more utility.”

I still think that my “Defend vs Death!” concept has some utility, too. 

The problem, such as it is, that I have with high values of HT is that they’re a bit immersion-breaking. That being said, people can and do take ridiculous punishment before expiring (or sometimes not expiring) from massive injuries. It’s just with GURPS high HT makes it a mathematically certainty, and a certainty available with a fairly modest point budget.

I got some fast and valuable comments yesterday on the post on initiative and the OODA loop that I want to tackle in the harsh light of day, so to speak

As always, the commenter’s thoughts are indented, purple, and italicized.

Also note that alternate initiative concepts have been done before. +Christopher R. Rice did one on Reordering Initiative in a prior Melee Academy post, and +Peter V. Dell’Orto followed up with a spin-off concept over on Dungeon Fantastic. Both are worth reading.

I first want to deal with Raymond’s comment, because it gets to a bit of what I was thinking, and why. It’s the OODA loop part of the discussion.

I think the simplest change would be to allow the “initiative order” to change—currently it stays in Speed-order regardless of what happens. If you allow it to change, I would re-order someone when they act on a wait, and probably on certain “aggressive” defenses (like Aggressive Parry or Grapple responses like Arm Lock/Throw), which would make things make more chronological sense. I would also allow it to be changed on an Evaluate or Do Nothing maneuver. Doing so would mean that sometimes a guy ends up acting twice before another one, but that’s not necessarily unrealistic.

Changing the initiative order – which is currently descending order of Basic Speed, ties go to DX (I’ve also seen ties go to skill, but that’s into house rule territory), and further ties broken by something else – is fraught with peril in GURPS. So I’d not do that.

Kromm Speaks: 

Agreed. If the order is always ABCD ABCD, then everybody gets a “reset” after all possible rivals have had a chance to act. Unrealistic? Maybe, but GURPS is a game and fairness trumps realism for the majority of the customer base. 

If it’s possible to end up with ABCD DCBA, then A could get pounded on six times instead of just three times, B could get attacked four times instead of three, C would have to deal with just two possible attacks, and D would be free to All-Out Attack without consequences. This evens out after several turns . . . but there won’t be several turns if C and D are aggressive, especially if C and D are on the same side: A acts, B acts, and then C and D beat the jelly out of A and B using unanswered All-Out Attacks that saturate defenses. 

To make this work, you would have to rewrite much of the combat system. You would have to posit a universal turn and define what occurs at its outset — not just initiative rolls, but also duration countdowns and defense refreshment. This would insert bookkeeping phases between bouts of action. You would have to consider declarations, so that D’s intent to All-Out Attack has an effect, and/or make acting first a significant advantage. And so on. You would end up with a game that’s far more like a tactical boardgame or a wargame than like an RPG that prioritizes the Rule of Cool and player agency.

Beyond that, there’s the fact that some characters pay serious points for Altered Time Rate and Extra Attack so that they can gain benefits that the luck of the dice could give to anybody. So those traits would need rewriting, too, and there would probably need to be a “realistic” version of such abilities . . . which would then become the gimme trait that the Speed attribute is in the Hero RPG. So rewrites would spread to the character-creation rules. While a few diehard realism nuts like that idea, they aren’t even close to the majority.  

While I agree that having a fast, prepared guy go twice before another can react is not unrealistic, that’s not really the problem I’m trying to get at here. The key for me is offensive/aggressive action as opposed to defensive/reactive action. This is “what maneuvers will I use?” rather than “do I go first?”

The conceit or general idea here is that even if you’re the quickest (in speed order, which speaks to a point below), if you’re not mentally prepared to attack, then the more-aggressive options will not be on your list of things to do.

Kromm Speaks Again 

It’s worth pointing out that though Basic Speed is (DX + HT)/4, it *is* meant to represent mental preparation as well as reflexes. There are a lot of places in the rules — starting with “Mind vs. Brain” (p. B296) and treated in much more detail in GURPS Bio-Tech — that suggest that DX is partly or wholly a mental attribute, and represents the “acting” side of the brain rather than the “contemplating” side. The fact that so many IQ-based skills are floated to DX for action tasks is a further hint. I’m not sure I could successfully argue against a claim that DX and Basic Speed calculated from it are measures of aggressiveness and preparation. 

Honestly, I think that an Action Points system (now who do we know who has written one of those?) is the optimal way to handle ebb and flow. More prepared fighters have more AP. More aggressive fighters tend to spend more AP per turn, and if there’s a cap on how many you can spend per turn, they might have a higher cap. People who run out of AP can’t do as much. But everyone spends what AP they have *on their turn,* any refresh happens *on their turn,* and turns always cycle in the same order to remove a bookkeeping headache. The effect of taking two turns in a row, or taking and holding the initiative, comes from outspending your foe in AP, either on a per-turn basis (higher cap) or in absolute terms (more AP).

Initiative is such a loaded term for RPG use, that perhaps I should use a different one. Aggressiveness, perhaps. You may go first, but if your aggressiveness score is lower than your foe’s, you’ll take more defensive-oriented actions. Evaluate. Wait. All-Out Defense (Parry, Dodge, or Block). Or if you are going to attack, it will be a Defensive Attack. You’re more worried about him hitting you than you are about hitting him. 

So to the direct point: no, I’d never rearrange turn-order in the middle of the fight, because GURPS turns are not “second 1, second 2, second 3” on an absolute basis. Though sometimes I wish they were.

So, on to another commenter’s notes, with occasional reference to the prior issue and comment as well . . .

First, adding another die roll–especially one with so many potential modifiers to be calculated on the fly–could serve to bog down play.

This is absolutely true. The key, always, for new die rolls is whether they actually improve the game. Where possible, roll once strategies are better than “roll each turn,” if nothing else, it reduces book-keeping.

This is an issue particularly if you’re suggesting new initiative rolls before each round, which I assume is the case in light of your goal of simulating the ebb and flow of combat.

I could see a roll each round, but thinking about it, that means every character and NPC will face an extra die roll each round. That’s less cool than I’d like. That observation makes me think that a re-roll should be a side effect of an Evaluate action, or occasioned by a mid-combat Tactics or Leadership roll. Or even a Wait that is not triggered. This may not improve your situation, of course!

Or perhaps the penalties and bonuses for intimidation, wounds, stunning, etc. are enough to achieve this; it just seems a little luck (the die roll) would be welcome as well.

Many of the permanent  bonuses for things like combat reflexes will be fixed factors, serving in their own way like the permanent initiative bonus you get in D&D. The ebb and flow for wounds and stunning should provide the adjustment I need.

Again, as this idea develops, what I think would be useful is an Aggression score. If I did it right, it would be centered around zero, so that unless you had a positive Aggression number for the fight, your choices would be limited. 

Oh, but that goes against player agency! Yes it does, so instead of “you can’t do that” you’d wind up saying “do what you want, but pay for it.” So maybe if the normal bound of aggressiveness is -8 to +8, that you take a penalty to any aggressive actions equal to (say) twice the difference between your aggressiveness and the guy you’re fighting. His total is -2, but yours is 0? He is at -4 if he tries an Attack, Committed Attack, or All-Out Attack. If he chooses Defensive Attack or All-Out Defense, he’s fine.

Some of this could actually be a good thing. GURPS has so many options that having guidance as to what you’d do is not a bad thing, especially for the GM who might be controlling many characters. Oh, Bog the Barbarian’s aggressiveness is 6 this round, and his foe is at -2. Another All-Out Attack (One Foe) for him! Or something like that.

Secondly, besides “quickness of mind” and experience (tactics, combat reflexes), a characters quickness isn’t really considered, marginalizing a character’s attributes. An easy way to work it into the formula is to simply add a character’s BS to the initiative roll as well.

I disagree here, in that quickness is accounted for in the turn order itself. A fast character with a (perhaps temporarily) low aggression score might well act first and nail his foe with a Defensive Attack. This will impose shock penalties and such on his foe (lowering Aggressiveness) and provide a bonus to the successful attacker (raising his Aggressiveness). His foe, who goes after him in the turn order, may wind up facing a case where that first defensive attack puts him back on his heels, restricting his actions.

Turn order, and striking first, still matter here, I think.

Third, the influence of leadership makes sense, but would you add it in the case of single combatants?

No, I probably wouldn’t. A Will roll (or a Will-based weapon skill roll) might be the better call here, or even Tactics. I’ve written about other things that Tactics might be used for before.

And if one character were being ganged up on, would you still use leadership for the “gang,” with none for the “gangee?”

If it’s truly a gang, as opposed to a unit, perhaps leadership might not apply. But certainly a lower Aggressivness score would be appropriate if you’re being dogpiled. That being said, using the tentative ideas on an aggressiveness number above, it might be that a strong, skilled, Overconfident PC has full choice of maneuver in that situation. And there are going to be cases where dropping back and trying to defend is a terrible idea – taking the fight to the enemy is the right call. I’m not sure that’s something that you want to interfere with that much.

It would seem to emphasize the nature of initiative you’re trying to recreate.

Lastly, it seems that modifiers can potentially add up to a point where the roll of a single die wouldn’t matter. Do you think making the roll 2d6 would randomize initiative too much?

You may be right. the modifiers I tried to sketch out go from -7 to 14 with a 1d6 roll. With a 2d6 (and penalties/bonuses from -8 to 8), then the values go from -6 to 20, with a potentially much wider range for a particular fighter. I’m not sure that’s a good thing either. I would tend to want who has initiative to initially be determined mostly by the fighter himself, and then by the circumstances. The large range in a 2d6 or other roll doesn’t speak to me as favorable, but it’s the sort of thing that only playtest can tell.

Parting Shot

Ultimately, the concept here is to use something that measures the ebb and flow of the fight. What you don’t want to do is track it every single round. Getting wounded or driven back, or seeing a friend disemboweled should drive a change in Aggressiveness. But not something you fiddle with every turn. That way lies GM and player frustration.

What I would want to do is have a badass-o-meter ranking that helps the GM and player decide what tactics (specifically: maneuver selection between AoA and AoD, in the usual five steps) are on the table for a given exchange. This might even include something like “if Aggressiveness drops below -5, the combatant will seek to withdraw.” That’s something that is right now (usefully) left to GM fiat in most cases, but guidance is a good thing.

You can also differentiate fighting styles this way. Overconfident? Berserk or Combat Fury? Combat Reflexes? Fearlessness? Yeah – Aggressiveness likely goes up. Pacifism? Easy to Kill? Lower.

You might also use that sort of aggressiveness tally as a good way to gauge fear checks and pre-combat posturing. Think the muster of the Uruk-Hai in The Two Towers. Having that many orcs screaming for blood with high aggressiveness numbers is going to make for a very intimidating initial encounter. Until you get the “If it bleeds, we can kill it” rationalization going on. (Though that only worked out well for Ah-nold, in the end . . . )

Finally, a counterpoint on fair and unfair and realism and game-balance, from a professional instructor for firearms, self-defense, and use of force. He addresses the topic that it’s possible to go first (or not go first) and have a whole bunch of people pound you into a wet prune before you get the chance to go again.

Shawn Fisher speaks: 

Generally, this is not unrealistic. Is it unfair as hell? Yes. That’s why striking first is such a huge advantage. It sucks to get pummeled and never be able to seize the advantage. GURPS bakes in the first strike as a power you buy at character creation, and also through various stunning effects from hit locations and damage. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it’s equally possible to play without that. Instead, as you point out, you may be buying the right to strike first most of the time, but not all the time. As it is there is no ebb and flow, just first strikes all the time, if you choose. This is also the problem, if you will, of omniscient PCs who know where the enemy is, know the ammo count in their guns, know the ranges and mods and calculate them perfectly to avoid wasting a shot, etc. Can you critically fail Basic Speed? No. You can invest in DX and HT, which are uber important in combat and the by product is you get to whack the guy first. Every time.

This is why making a roll works. FWIW, I think even a (1d/2, or something) would be fine. That way Move 6 guy is probably safe from Goon with move 5, but not necessarily. He could roll 1 and get an order of 7 and the Goon could roll 3 and get 8. The ads might be +1/-1 for Combat Reflexes or Combat Paralysis, and that’s it.

Big follow-up post for me, with no fewer than seven people’s ideas being represented, including myself. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed compiling it!

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and running up to next week’s Melee Academy topic on disarming, my friends and I are passing back and forth videos of violence. This led to a discussion of movie violence vs. real-world violence, and the differences between the two. The discussion came up for GURPS, largely because it has the depth of detail  that allows the discussion to be had at all.

Suffice it to say that when you look at real-world violence, one of the things that seems quite apparent is that “roll for initiative,” or “make a morale check!” isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the law.

This leads me to wonder if in more gritty games, it would be a good idea to separate Initiative and Speed. You still go in speed order, but there’s a moral/aggression factor that is different than who’s quickest.

What’s this?

Again, in movies, you see a lot of well-balanced fights. Two fighters trading blows more or less equally. You also see a lot of “this is the hero’s moment to shine!” fighting, where the Director, acting as GM, has decreed that the Mook is Just Going to Take It. If you’re watching the movie Equilibrium, this can be between the same two characters, in different parts of the movie. 

I won’t spoil it. But go watch.

In the real-world, what one tends to see other than in very circumscribed situations is that one fighter has the initiative, and the other reacts. This can change – and it’s often the goal of the one that doen’t have the initiative to make it change – during the fight.

GURPS “initiative” is really the order in which actions are declared. But fast on your feet doesn’t necessarily mean you’re controlling the course of a fight.

In the real fights I’ve seen, usually there’s someone who’s driving the action. They make a series of All-Out or Committed Attacks. The other guy is back on his heels. He’s either making Defensive Attacks or even taking All-Out Defense. 

This continues until the fight is over, or initiative somehow switches.

What are the rules supposed to do?

I got a note from Kromm on this one, which is worth reposting here to see just how far I’m going to deviate from the rules as they’re supposed to be:

“Surprise Attacks and Initiative” (p. B393) was *NEVER* intended to be used when two mutually antagonistic parties can see the other before hostilities begin! An initiative roll for partial surprise is made only in the two situations spelled out in paragraph 1 of those rules:

  • A party on alert (the “defender”) is engaged by a previously unseen party (the “attacker”). The defender was expecting hostilities but not necessarily from the attacker, who only just appeared. The initiative roll determines if being initially unseen gives the attacker the edge (attacker wins) or if the attacker fails to account for the prepared defense — in effect, the *defense* is unseen — and suffers a reversal (defender wins).
  • Two sides that were previously unaware of each other suddenly come into contact. The initiative roll determines who gets organized first and does something about the hitherto unknown threat. 

If the defender wasn’t expecting hostilities, there’s no roll at all that’s total surprise.

If each party could see the other before anyone got violent and each recognizes the other as hostile, there’s no roll — that’s standard combat, and who acts first is a function of the combat sequence.

Corner cases where two parties sight each other but don’t immediately go to fighting are best resolved by treating everyone as having taken a Wait and using “Cascading Waits” (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 108).

An Initiative Number

I’m wondering if this could be represented by some sort of initiative number. If as a fighter your initiative number is lower than your foe’s, you may only choose defensive attack or All-Out Defense. This is a variant on Untrained Fighters from GURPS Martial Arts (box on p. 113).

Rolling for Initiative is actually a thing in GURPS, as part of Partial Surprise (p. B393). The guidance for total and partial surprise is deliberately vague; there’s room for fiat and interpretation here. But some good examples for triggering it for the purpose of looking at initiative using the alternate rules would be:

  • An aggressor makes a successful Intimidation check
  • A defender is ready for trouble but fails a Perception check
  • During a fight, someone gets punched
  • A leader fails a leadership test
  • A fighter sees one of his side get thwacked hard
Looking at the YouTube stuff, you will often see that one fighter starts to dominate, and the other gives up. I saw this personally in several fights I’ve observed – at some point, one of the combatants just rolls over and gives up. You see this all the time in dominance displays in animals, of course.
Roll the Bones

Let’s use the same 1d6 roll from Partial Surprise. I’ll change the modifiers a bit:

  • If you have Combat Reflexes or Enhanced Time Sense, you get +2
  • The winner of a Quick Contest of Leadership gets +1 for their side (only one group qualifies here)
  • A successful Leadership roll by the side’s leader gets +1 (both can qualify for this)
  • If you have one point in Tactics, you get +1 for you
  • If you or your side are victorious in a Quick Contest of Tactics, your side gets +1
  • If you or your side are victorious in an Intimidation Check, you get +1
  • If you got hit last round, you’re at -1; if you were hit and injured you’re at -2; if you failed a Fright Check, you’re at -4, unless you were also . . .
  • If you were stunned, you go last, but you might figure the number in case one has to decide between multiple people who’s the least last
  • If you have to attack through a forest of high-reach weapons, you’re at -1 per each hex of Reach you’re down on your foes. Knife vs Reach 3 polearm? Yeah, -3.
  • If you don’t see any good way to hurt your foes (look! a shield wall! crap!) you’re at -1
I was just rattling off a bunch of modifiers, but let’s see if we can sum up.
  • Some advantages and disadvantages will give you permanent bonuses or penalties for the roll (0 to +2)
  • Leadership, Tactics, and Intimidation will impact the roll (0 to +4, perhaps)
  • Your perception of your ability to hurt your foe will impact the roll (0 to -2)
  • If you believe your foe can hurt you or just did, this will impact the roll, perhaps severely (-4 to +0)
  • If you think your side is winning or losing, that will impact the roll (-2 to +2)
I’d call for a re-roll of the dice if the “lower” initiative person actually manages to land a defensive attack against his foe – that’s a morale turning point that should be recognized. The total bonuses/penalties above could conceivably stretch from -8 to +8 with a d6 for randomization, so that’s a range of -7 to 14; plenty of room for all sorts of wiggle and interplay.
Parting Shot
This is just another aspect of morale in gaming, but with mechanical weight. The fact that you might “go first” because your fast, but be limited to less-aggressive options because you’re afraid or uncertain is just part of real fighting.
Now, stuff like this is a huge denial of agency to PC types. This restricts maneuver choice in GURPS to a degree that is intermediate between “you’re stunned, you must choose Do Nothing” and “you’re not stunned, do whatever you want.” It may strike people the wrong way.
That being said, such options do exist elsewhere – if you want to Aim and you’re using the rules from Tactical Shooting, you must All-Out Attack. I allow for a Committed Aim in On Target (Pyr #3/77), but defenses are always compromised.
The inability for an aggressor to choose Attack rather than only Committed or All-Out is maybe taking things too far, but again, usually one is either pushing the defender, getting pushed oneself, or has disengaged and is circling. 
Tying initiative and aggression to a Contest of Wills might be fun, too, where if you win the contest by a certain amount, you roll iniative and the winner will likely attack. Tie, and keep circling. 
It would involve more Intimidation, Tactics, Leadership, and evaluation engagement, which is good. 
It could also be something that’s just applied to NPCs (though I’m not a huge fan of such asymmetric rules, they have their place), which would give a “tide of battle” feel that is a real thing in conflict, but doesn’t jump out organically from the rules as they are now.

Had a brief interchange (not hostile) with another gamer in a different forum. The question was on Will rolls in gaming, and I noted that in The Last Gasp, I call for a will roll if you’re wanting to do something that drains a (now much more debilitating) Fatigue Point.

To quote pieces of the article:

“To simulate this, the turn after voluntarily losing or spending a FP, or immediately after an involuntary FP loss (such as getting hit by a FP-draining spell or power), roll vs. Will+3. If you fail this check, you feel the urge to stop doing whatever it is you’re doing.”

I’d said this was optional, and of course, it is. The comment was that it needs to be optional, because in an RPG setting, he disliked forcing PCs to roll in order to be heroic.

There are several options here, of course. The first is to not make the will roll (you can insert fear checks into this as well) needed at all. You just waltz into gunfire, or sprint at full power, and (in the fatigue example) just burn your Fatigue Points willy nilly until you collapse.

That’s the way most games play – and for the reason my interlocutor mentioned. You want them to be heroic, and take risks.

The other extreme is to make the Will roll, and if you fail, you simply can’t act as you wanted. If you wanted to stand up in the face of suppression fire to blaze away at a target . . . you can’t. Wanted to make a Heroic Charge or Feverish Defense? Nope. Sorry.

A middle ground would be to have a failed roll give some sort of penalty. Margin of failure (perhaps capped?) or derived from margin is good, but then so is something like “you can do what you want, but at -4, or -10 on a critical failure.” That still preserves full player choice – you can do whatever you want, but makes certain things the easier, quicker path (thus the way of the Dark Side!). You could stand up and shoot, but the additional penalties make it less likely to work, so you’ll shift position from behind cover instead.

The one thing you don’t want to do is disrupt the game for a die roll with no bite. If you’re calling for a will roll or some agency-limiting/drama-enhancing action, it has to have consequences. That’s one of the reasons why, in The Last Gasp (same section), I note:

Don’t bother rolling if your adjusted Will is 17 or higher unless the consequences of failure are dramatically significant and the GM is fishing for the rare critical failure. A competent combatant with his weapon skill at DX+2 (+2 training bonus) will thus roll vs. Will+10 when expending FP in combat. If his Will is 7 or higher, he can do so freely. Only if he is tired, demoralized, or terrified will rolling for persistence in a combat situation be required.

While the example was GURPS, this really applies to any game. Crazy stuff can happen, and it can make good games. But bringing out the dice should either mean enabling something good, or inflicting/avoiding something bad. Otherwise, just keep moving.

In my article from the Violent Resolution series dealing with movement, I noted that in D&D, the standard 30′ move (or even the 60′ dash) is, all things considered, quite slow. It represents six seconds of movement, so is either 5′ per second, or 10′.

That’s 3.4 and 6.8mph, respectively. Or a decent walk and a moderate, but not fast, jog. Usain Bolt, my go-to reference for insane speed, can run 400m in just over 45 seconds. That’s an average of 29 feet (one standard action) per second. So at the high end, in about 8 combat rounds, a PC can cover quite a bit of distance.

Note that’s roughly 10s for a 300′ dash, too – an average time for a 300′ run is on the order of 12 to 15 seconds, or 2-3 combat rounds. So 100-150′ per round (compared with Usain’s insane 180′ per round).

All in all, it should be possible to make four actions of this type per combat round, six if you’re really good.

I was wondering how to represent this, and then I hit my old standby: HP can represent being weary as well as being hit by an axe.

What if you could burn HP to take extra move actions past the two you get by dashing?

The Dash Likes

So, here’s the basic premise. If you want to move more than your allowed dash action, go ahead. Peak human speed is on the order of 25-30mph (again, Bolt hits nearly 28mph), which is about 40 feet per second, or 240 feet in a combat round.

That’s a maximum of 8 move actions. 

How about a horse? Tops out at about 60-65 fps (44mph), which basically means six moves at 60′.

Not sure what a cheetah’s base speed would be, but she maxes out at about 600′ in a combat round (about 70mph)

Here’s my concept, quickly. Want to make a movement action (call it a sprint) beyond your basic dash? Go ahead. Make a CON save, at a base DC 10, +3 for every extra move increment beyond the first. So 6 moves in one combat round is DC 19.

If you fail, you take damage. How much? Not sure. I’m thinking 1d4 or something. Enough to worry a mage, but not a fighter, and definitely not a barbarian. Critical fails on the CON save double damage to 2d4, and critical successes might even restore HP? Maybe you get the next interval of sprinting without rolling if you keep moving.

So not a lot, but then, running flat out for six second should not kill you. And you can recover with a short rest. That works well with the HP as exhaustion/using up your reserves concept.


% Success
Con Bonus
Sprint distance CON DC -1 0 1 2 3 4 5
90′ 10 50% 55% 60% 65% 70% 75% 80%
120′ 12 40% 45% 50% 55% 60% 65% 70%
150′ 14 30% 35% 40% 45% 50% 55% 60%
180′ 16 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% 45% 50%
210′ 18 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40%
240′ 20 0% 5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30%

The red lines are not accessible without a special Feat. The sprint distance is for a human with a base rate of 30′. A horse with 60′ base starts at a 180′ move, and tops at 360′ without a feat. 

An Easy Target

The premise of this one is that you’re doing nothing else but running, lest it become much too powerful an option, especially for higher level characters for whom 1d4 HP is less than chicken feed. You only get to use sprinting if you’ve used all of your actions on movement (so you’re dashing), so this precludes attacking.

Maybe we could work a cheesy attack in there as a bonus action or something. I dunno. I really think this should just be “Run, Forrest! Run!”

Attacks against anyone moving faster than their dash are advantaged. Sprinting past someone should definitely provoke an attack of opportunity (probably from friends, too. Kidding. Mostly.)

You also lose any DEX bonus to AC while sprinting. Running in a straight line full tilt is not conducive to a spry (dare I say it) savvy defense.

Parting Shot

The difference between the various CON scores just isn’t that much, and so even CON 20 isn’t going to be crazy abusable. In fact, it might be too harsh, since:

4 minute mile: 132′ per combat round (40 rounds)
2.5-hour marathon: 92 feet per combat round (1500 rounds)

I’m tempted to make the damage even lower, perhaps only a point? Or maybe even

Feat: Sprinter

You are experienced and trained in making the most of a combat sprint. You gain the following benefits:

  • You have resistance against the damage inflicted by failing a CON save while sprinting
  • Out of combat, when not on difficult terrain, you roll every two minutes at 3x your normal interval, every minute at 4x, 30s (five rounds) at 5x, and every 15s (three rounds) at 6x and faster.
  • You may sprint up to 8x your base rate instead of up to 6x.
So there you go. You can now burn HP to run really fast. Fleeing has a cost, and fleeing and then turning around to fight will leave you in a worse place than standing and fighting, especially if you’re low level (where 1d4 damage is a big deal). At high level, you can go for a while, fast, without burning too many resources. A fighter with 100 HP and CON 16 can run at 10mph (a 6min mile) and pass his CON check 60% of the time – he’ll take 1-4 damage once every 2.5 rounds (15s). So he can run for about 1-4 miles at that pace. If he has the Sprinter feat, he’ll go much farther than that. He’s rolling every minute instead of every round, and taking half damage, so 20-80 miles! Very heroic – he’s an ultramarathoner.
D&D isn’t a reality simulator and I’m not trying to make it one. But humans can move a lot faster than D&D allows for if they don’t have much else going on. A proper full-on system would account for encumbrance (add the armor AC bonus to the DC? Some fraction of carried weight? +1 to DC per STR lbs carried?) and other things.
But the concept of spending HP to move farther was too interesting for me to ignore.

After I posted the link to my thoughts on spending HP (and thus depleting a reserve of grit and skill) to do more damage to your foe (depleting his reserve of grit and skill) the poster Kalzazz made a comment, which had an interesting bit in it:

‘The enemy made his attack by 3, I need to make my parry by 3 to have a shot. He seems to be a normalish human looking guy swinging a broadsword, and I don’t think hes a weapon master or he would be throwing multiple shots or have a higher margin on his attack . . . . I am wearing light plate with fortify 1 . . . do I take the hit, or do I burn an HP to try and parry?’

 Hrm, I say.

The concept of trading margin of success of an attack directly for difficulty in making the damage roll isn’t how GURPS works, generally. When attacking, you make the risks ahead of time. I will attack for the face (-5) or the left leg (-2), and I’ll make my attack harder to defend against – a Deceptive Attack for -6 to hit in exchange for -3 to defend. So for the face punch at -3 to defend, I have to absorb -11 to hit. That probably means my skill is something huge, like 25, or I’m using one or more options, such as All-Out Attack, to boost my skill.

Having margin drive difficulty of defending tends to remove the incentive for targeting more-difficult areas (that same basic philosophy holds for when margin results in damage).

But what if that margin could mean something? I’m not sure I’d do this in vanilla GURPS, but if I were using Action Points, I might have post-attack margin impact defenses, but at a lower ratio than deceptive attack. 

So if -2 to hit gives -1 to defense when risked ahead of time, for every 3 or 4 full points of margin on an attack, the foe is -1 to defend. 

But . . . you can spend APto bring your defenses back up to normal. It’s not as draining (nor should it be!) as Feverish Defense, which is 1 Fatigue Point to get you +2 to a single active defense roll (and suggests 5 AP per +1 to your defense roll in general). At a 3:1 post-success tally, making an attack by 0-2 gives no extra benefit, 3-5 is -1 to defend 6-8 is -2, 9-11 is -3 (and making a roll by 10 often has other benefits). At some point you’ve probably rolled a 3-4 (at Skill-14 or lower) and have rolled a critical anyway. Perhaps it caps out, then – sort of a rule of 16 thing – so random luck can’t bless you with more than -3 to defend.

But that can be countered by spending an extra 3 AP. A few of those in a row, though, and you’re tired. Or using All-Out Defense to reap the benefit of the 2 free AP that maneuver gets you for such defensive moves. 

I’d have to play it to see if it’s more trouble than it’s worth (it might be). You’d have to really look at the AP economy as vital to fun and pacing.

I also sort of like the concept of spending as many AP as you like (but no more than 1 FP at a time, though you could get close) at a ratio of 5 AP per +1 to defend as a scaling version of Feverish Defense.

Anyway, Kalzazz took my D&D and thought about GURPS a bit, and I think there’s something there.

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

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

Actually, some parts of it work really well.

Long-Term Fatigue

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

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

The Chips are Down

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

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

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

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

The Cost of Being Tired

For simplicity, spending green tokens costs you nothing. 

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

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

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

I Got Better

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

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

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

Willpower and Perseverance

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

Short-Term Fatigue (Action Points)

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

More Tokens

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

Really Simple AP Accounting

Use these simplified AP costs.

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

Other Actions

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

Spells and Powers

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

Burning FP for AP

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

Willpower Revisited

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


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

Parting Shot

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and this one might be the shortest content-containing GURPS-Day post ever.

+Christopher R. Rice and I were chatting about character templates for a project that we’re involved in. I was musing that we should maybe, instead of a set template, allow something like “50 points in ST and HT, 60 points in DX and IQ.”

Immediately after, I thought – wow, while ST 15, HT 10 would be fine, ST 10, HT 15 gets into “I laugh at death and unconsciousness checks in the face of quadruple dismemberment.”

That irked me, in general, because I like the full range of stats (say, 6-20) to have meaning. ST has meaning through its entire range. DX and IQ get somewhat twitchy due to high defaults (not going to touch that one here), and well, HT can get pretty valuable.

Then I thought: hey, why not treat death checks and consciousness rolls like active defenses, and base rolls off of 3+HT/2?

That would give the following example values:

  • HT 6 maps to a roll of 6 as well.
    HT 10 maps to only a roll of 8
    HT 14 is now only 10
    HT 20 is now 13

You’d need to perhaps tone down (or maybe not) some penalties for making certain checks, but by and large, doing it this way brings my table from the previous post:

if you divided the “total” by 2, all of a sudden you’re within a few points of where you need to be given a 10/level cost.

Hmm, I say. Hmm. The value of having higher HT-based skills is still there. You’re climbing up the steep part of the bell curve from a roll of 8 to 13, so the value is there, even if you have to spend 20 points for each +1 to your roll. GURPS has lots of things like that.

Parting Shot

I’ll admit, I like the concept of making an Active Defense vs. unconsciousness or death. Hard to Kill and Hard to Subdue would add to HT, then be divided by 2, making them only 4 points per +1 to the roll, which is still a good value, but not quite so crazy good.

I think it would tame the excesses I feel are present in HT values of 14+, but still make each point valuable, especially if rolls vs HT-based skills are called for. Using The Last Gasp, high HT would still give high FP and AP, which are by themselves still worth it. I’m sure I’m missing something, but this seems like a house rule worth trying.

I hope that Melee Academy attracted lots of posts today, and so I’ll list them first.

Melee Academy: Dealing With Superior Foes (Dungeon Fantastic)

Melee Academy: Outgunned, Outmanned, and Outmaneuvered – Now What? (Ravens ‘N Pennies)

Next Academy: PCs against really bad odds. (Virtual Table Topping)

Melee Academy: Hero System Style (RPG Snob)


Today’s Melee Academy is about fighting superior forces, and how to pull it off.

It’s possible to sum this up quickly, I suppose. With truisms (no less true for being simple) like “run away!” or “Don’t fight them at all” or “gank ’em from behind” or “engage in asymmetric warfare, pitting your strengths against their weaknesses.”

All true.

Never engage in a “fair” fight if you can help it. Hit ’em all at once, and from behind if your game of choice has facing. Make sure they can’t hit you if you can.

Surprise! You suck!

Still, it bears breaking down a bit more than that, and taking a bit of a tour. One thing to consider is whether you knew you were outclassed from the get-go, or stumbled into it with a painful “snickt.”

If you knew ahead of time, then you’d best have planned ahead, studied your foe, and cataloged known and probably weaknesses, as well as strengths to avoid facing directly.

If you find yourself outclassed by surprise (“Who knew this foppish innkeeper was a Level 20 Warrior/Bard? He hit Gromlik really really hard. Did you see his head bounce off that stone wall?”), then you may be set up for some painful (and potentially fatal) object lessons. Learn quickly, and react even faster.

Consider your Inferiority in Detail

There are lots of ways to be inferior. Stepping back to my imperfectly remembered D&D days, or even better, yanking off the Pathfinder book from my shelf, what might happen if Pelagiyel, my old 6th Level Rogue, happened to really irk, say, 15th level fighter?

Well, Ms Fighter (let’s call her Nonac, in honor of +Kenneth Hite‘s nairabrab warrior) might be sporting STR 18, DEX 16, CON 14 even without magic. That puts her in full plate with AC 22 and a two-handed weapon. Those with more experience than I have tell me that she can do three attacks at 1d12+24 each, plus more with cleave feats, or one big one at 3d12+27, and that with a +1 Greataxe. That’s 46 for the single hit, to about 90 damage for the triple. And with a Basic Attack Bonus of +15 for level, +4 for STR, +4 more for specializing in Greataxe, +1 for magic, that’s a minimum of +24 on the first shot, and +14 on the last. Minimum. I know I’m missing ancillary +1s, too, so I’m guessing that Pel has a 90-100% chance of taking enough damage in one attack by this guy to kill him deader than hell.

Pel might get one shot, at about a 25% hit probability, and if he’s lucky will do 7 HP of damage, or 21 if he crits. Even on a surprise attack to the back from point-blank range using Deadly Aim and Point Blank Shot with Rapid Shot, he probably can’t eke out more than 50% of his foe’s HP in one turn. Assuming he hits and crits twice.

Meanwhile, Nonac can Cuisinart poor Pel into the next dimension probably without resorting to using any feats, which of course he would do, if nothing else than to put this upstart wannabe Rogue in his proper place (which would be in hell, a point we covered nicely already). I’m reliably told that Feats are the real damage source for high level fighters.

This is a situation where your foes are, well and truly, just better than you. While there might be a way for Pel to score a victory, I strongly suspect it will be a moral one. Say, taunting the fighter from high atop a castle wall. Even so,

I’m sure if I get that wrong, helpful advice will follow shortly!

(And in fact, check out Valeros, the 12th level iconic fighter from the game. He’s even more impressive than I show above.) For a more experienced victim, look at Merisiel, the 7th level iconic Rogue.

What if you aren’t totally outclassed

Perhaps there can be more nuance to it. While I’m sure Pathfinder can have plenty of nuance, I’m not expert with it. I’ll stick to something I know better for this: GURPS.

There are many ways that you can be outclassed, so let’s cover some of them.

He has more skill than you (on the attack)

In GURPS, skill comes with a lot of benefits. Obviously, it means he can hit you easily. It also means that he can beat your defenses by virtue of deceptive attacks if he’s pretty good and you are adequate, or if you’re awesome and he’s godlike. As an example, my old Warrior Saint Cadmus had something like Axe/Mace-20. Not too shabby, and it gives him a base Parry-13. (Plus bonuses from Combat Reflexes and defensive bonuses from shields put him at Parry-17).

So he’s good. But what if his foe is better? Two-Handed Sword-30, for example, with a native Parry-18 as well. He can swing for the neck (-5) and do a deceptive attack at -10 (-5 to Cadmus’ defenses) and still net Sword-15 against Parry-12. Against someone with lower skill and worse armor (maybe Sword-16 and a +2 DB shield, plus CR to be nice) the native Parry-14 is all of a sudden Parry-9, which is going to hurt.

The way to beat this one is to try and see to it that either he can’t hit you (get him from range with a spear or bow), or it doesn’t matter if he does hit you, such as with enough DR to simply sit there and take it. Beware this strategy against real foes in high-end games like Dungeon Fantasy, though – Camus has DR 12 and has been tagged through it before!

He can splatter you like a water balloon

A foe swinging a big weapon, or one that if he hits you can kill you dead, needs to be dealt with from range, or non-physically. A parry might break your weapon. A failed Dodge is the end of you. Keep your distance, and bring friends to attack from behind.

You can’t punch through his armor

Victory isn’t always death. Can you grapple him or entangle him so that he can’t use his weapons or attacks? Are there chinks in his armor that you can punch through (there may not be). Are there attacks you can throw that take away this advantage, like Corrosive attacks?

What about that ‘take his advantages’ thing?

Absolutely. Disarming a foe is often rather useful; some are one-trick ponies. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I have been rediscovering the folly of weapon fighters who don’t know how to grapple, and a weapon fighter, taken down and put in a joint lock, usually will break as fast as the next guy.

Bring friends. Lots of friends.

Even superior defenses can be swamped (in GURPS). Many attacks that can’t be ignored will eventually bring things down to the point where Dodge is your only option. With enough room to maneuver, getting behind your foe makes it impossible for a foe to defend, or even know an attack is coming.

Using Feints, Beats, or (even better) Setup Attacks (from Delayed Gratification, Pyramid #3/52) to open up your foe for a neighbor’s attack. A perk or power-up that transfers the full benefits of a Setup Attack to both you and your friend (say, Teamwork (Setup Attack)) would be a big help here.

Exhaustion is your Friend

If you’re using Action Points (The Last Gasp, Pyramid #3/44) you can follow a strategy of wearing your foe out (if you have higher HT and Action Points than he does) by swamping him with blows that he might be able to defend against, but has to expend resources to do so.

If you have Fatigue Point based attacks, so much the better! Many critters that can’t be hurt directly can still be laid low, or even killed, through making them so tired that they either pass out (at which point their ability to attack and defend is rather moot), or they actually take HP of damage and you exhaust them to death.

Deny them Perception

One way to equalize the odds, to an extent, is to remove their ability to see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense you. Darkness, fog, blinding lights, shrieking noise or explosions can disorient and stun.

Stunning Victory

Speaking of stun, a stunned foe is -4 to defend, and also can’t attack you. Canonically, I think they drop a grapple too.

Parting Shot

Clearly, all of this comes back to the TL;DR part above. Hit them where they can’t defend. Don’t get hit yourself. Drop mountains on their head and don’t engage at all. Run away. Shoot ’em in the back if you can from range, or stab ’em there from surprise while distracting them from the front.

The key is to figure out what their weaknesses are, and attack them. Avoid their strengths. If you want real-world examples, well, we have a couple raging insurgencies right now. Look at any guerrilla war for examples, and look at how a team of six heroes, like Navy SEALS or SFOD-D soldiers, can wreak bloody havoc on a foe much larger (though of course, individually, far less skilled).

And finally, don’t fight a physical foe if you can challenge them mentally. Put ’em to sleep, mesmerize them, mind control them, distract them with the illusion and pheremones of a Monster of the Chosen Gender.

You can’t always run away. But you can try and not be an idiot and bring a knife to a gunfight.