GURPS Melee Academy : Circling like Sharks

We're conditioned from Those Other Games that when we enter combat, we have to be "productive" every turn, or we're not carrying our weight. And by being productive, of course, that means inflicting damage. Even in Those Other Games, nobody wants to be the fellow carrying a crossbow, for example, or any other weapon that takes a turn or two to ready. A chance to roll to hit, and do some damage, every turn, or the choice is "suboptimal" and to be shunned.

It's sad when it happens in other games, and it's incredibly sad when it happens in GURPS. Because in GURPS, turns are only one second long, and if everyone make the "optimal" choice to pick weapons that give them the ability to attack every turn, and they do, the ultimate combat simulation system - the one with the most likelihood of actually modeling realistic combat that you'll ever encounter - begins to fall apart. 

The realism that we strive for quickly gives way to "I attack" every single second, without fatigue or other drawbacks. Every fight turns into a slugfest - get into range and whack the daylights out of one another. Oh, sure, there might be a bit of nuance based on weapon reach, retreats and the like, but at the end of the fight, what do you have? Even if the fighters burned a few fatigue points, they're still unlikely to have reached the FP/3 threshold necessary to have any direct impact on their performance.

Others have tried to solve some of this. +Douglas Cole's Last Gasp rules are excellent, when used in their entirety, to give some real impact to immediate-, short- and long-term fatigue. This can be sufficient, under the right circumstances, to make players think twice about burning through all of their fatigue towards buying additional action points or relying on Extra Effort for every attack or defense.

Even with that, though, you're going to find that fights still don't lead to the sort of outcomes you're expecting. There'll still be intense flurries of action, and if the skill levels are high enough, someone is likely to land a telling blow before the impacts of the fight are felt. So you have to give your players an incentive to invest a little more time in that underappreciated gem of a maneuver, Evaluate.

Evaluate (+1 to hit per turn of evaluation, maximum +3) doesn't get much love. A +1 to hit when you already have a base skill in the 18-22 range isn't exactly Christmas. Even the +3 isn't worth much when that means you only attack 1/4 of the time that you might at your base levels. So something has to happen to make that +1 to +3 worth having. I'm of a mind that the best means of achieving this includes both carrot and stick. A little bonus, thrown in with a little penalty.

The penalty is actually pretty easy, as I suspect that many of us aren't using all of the penalties that even the Basic Set allows for. When was the last time you were assessed the -3 penalty for fighting by torchlight? The -2 or more for bad footing - that's possibly more commonly taken into consideration, but not nearly as often as it probably should be. And the -2 or more for being distracted, that's just vague enough to be useful in any situation you can possibly imagine. Any one of those could be enough to make that +3 look pretty damned enticing.

As valuable as that might be, I think that it's fair to sweeten the pot a bit as well. If you're investing your time and attention so fully on looking for an opening, you ought to see some sort of defensive benefit as well. Nothing major - not as much of a bonus as an All Out Defense would be worth, not by any means. Evaluating ought to be worth a +1 to a single active defense roll, only versus the object of your Evaluation, and not cumulative like the offensive bonus is. Alternately: the defense bonus is half of the attack bonus, rounded down, giving a +2 to a single defense roll per turn only after three consecutive turns or more of Evaluate.

Combined - the use of the stock rules for situational combat penalties, plus the bonus to dedicated defenses rolls - might just lead to the sort of "circling like sharks" action you'd expect from every sword fight you've seen in movies and television.

Comments

  1. Did you forget about the "Countering Feints and
    Deceptive Attacks" option for Evaluate? (MA100)

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    1. Sure did. I've never had anyone use or recommend it's use in my games. I'll give it a re-read and see how it fits into my ideas.

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  2. I like the idea of +1 to hit and +1 to defense. I've suggested +1 to hit and -1 to be hit, so it's aim plus a low-level Defensive Feint, too.

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    1. I used to offer +2 to attack per turn for Evaluate, max of +4 and not cumulative with Telegraphic Attack. No one took advantage of it.

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    2. Most people don't really need to aim in melee. So giving a better plus might not do much for it, especially with Telegraphic Attack out there. +2/turn is only useful on turn 3 in the situations you'd really want to use it, anyway. Attacks from behind, against guys doing AOA, etc.

      I'm thinking a mixed offense/defensive benefit is potentially more attractive, because it's making you safer against that target as well as improving your odds of dealing with him later. Either a one-target-only +1 to defend or a -1 to be hit, coupled with additional Feint resistance and negation of Deceptive Attacks, is a nice little package of improvement against a foe. A highly skilled person might not need it, but it's a safe option that helps people who will need a chance to hit later.

      I haven't tried that out, but I'd like to - see how it compares to AOD, say, in a group fight as opposed to one-on-one.

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  3. with computerization like this, you can do huge tables of opportunities. You could basically give a +3 "net," so that might be anything from +3 to hit, but only if you do a certain kind of attack, to -3 to be hit. It could be -1 to be hit and +1 to your own defense (maybe even aspected, so you have a good guard on your upper body).One of my favorite results for combat openings would be getting an extra yard of free movement, either a second retreat or another step, due to vagaries in positioning.

    But so long as the type of benefit is more or less capped, you could really go to town on this.

    Another option is that you could have different tables, and combatants could pick a defensive posture. High guard would bias towards low-line openings, aggressive stance would give bonuses to hit rather than penalties to defnese or something.

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    1. sorry, I should have said "with computerization like Christian Blouin is doing"

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  4. The problem with Evaluate is that making a second attack is worth (roughly) +3 to +6 to hit (see Rapid Strike and Dual weapon attack). Even with penalties flying around, you have to be severely penalized for trading an attack for a +1 to actually improve your hit chances. +3 requiring spending three attacks to get is just bad math.

    Say you're a skill 16 fighter - pretty darn professional, unless you're a 250+ point Dungeon Fantasy front line fighter, and even then not bad - 98% chance to tag, then you have to cope with defenses.

    If you're on bad ground (-2) in bad light (-3) you're down to skill 11, for 62.5% to hit. But a +1 to hit (from Evaluating 1 turn) is only going to bump you to 74%. A second attack is going to give you TWO 62% chances to land one hit in the same time period (124% you'll tag at least once, hypothetically), and a 38% chance of getting TWO hits - Evaluate just can't match that. Even doubling the bonuses can't match that. The longer you Evaluate the further up the curv e you go... and the smaller the benefit you get. You have to be on the bottom end of the curve (below 10) for things to work the other way around, and even then Evaluate would have to give a big enough bonus to bump you back over the hump.

    Giving other benefits (the feint resistance, and I like the bonuses to defenses vs the target idea) helps - and it helps mix up the pot a little bit so the math isn't so simple. More complex benefits = less stupid choices.

    In fantasy games, other things can make Evaluating rather than spamming Attacks useful - the big one being penalized for failed attacks; fire, spikes, leaping laser leaches, whatever. Hostages being used as human(oid) shields serve a similar purpose in any genre - spamming attacks just raises your chances of hitting the hostage by accident.

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    1. Indeed, +3 to hit at the cost of two attacks is a fair trade if your base chance is around 7 (16% becomes 50%). +3 in return for one attack is a fair trade at base 9 (37.5% becomes 70%). These are distinctly lower numbers than most combat specialists will be using most of the time.

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    2. Both sets of calculations fail to take in to account Active Defenses - even an 11- defense reduces your chance to land the blow to 37% of whatever your chance to hit was. That +3 starts to look pretty useful in converting it to a Deceptive Attack or Feint.

      I'm sure +Douglas Cole has a spreadsheet that pinpoints the break-even points for Evaluate, somewhere up his sleeve.

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    3. Evaluate should be a contest of skills like a Feint and you add Degree of Success instead of +1.

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  5. I allow Evaluate to occur at 2x Move and Attack distance with a successful PER based best-combat skill roll. The effects accumulate normally, but if a PER roll fails the bonus is lost. Directly this allows Evaluate to become a more powerful "first strike" tool. Indirectly I could see (but haven't seen) a player choose to fly-out, re-evaluate, and re-close distance.

    I've thought about the idea of a Wait or Evaluate Maneuver. If the Wait conditions don't trigger apply the effects of Evaluate but haven't play-tested it. I would think that it would provide an incentive for people to go ahead and attack the Waiting target.

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