August 26, 2014

Pyramid #3/70: Fourth Edition Festival in Review

Due to copious lack of time, I'm not going to do a strict review with one post per article, like I prefer to do. I am, however, going to hit each one with my usual method: rating in three categories that boil down to quality writing, quality ideas, and drop-in utility with minimal prep.

Destination Abydos (by +David Pulver)

Summary: David takes his Abydos work and extends it to include Dungeon Fantasy, Zombies, and Mass Combat.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means "didn't get in the way," and doesn't represent a bad score. This article worked for me. It is terse where it needs to be, evocative where it can. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The article presents a bit of a smorgasbord (huh. spelled that right first try) of awesome. How to blend Dungeon Fantasy at any point level with Abydos, which of course is rife with opportunities for dungeons. It's a freakin' city of the undead, after all. Plus: undead pirates. I mean, really. One could stop there. But he didn't. Between mass combat, dungeons, horror, and zombies, each comes with enough meat to hang ideas off of. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: I would have preferred to see some of the ideas in translating these concepts from Banestorm to Abydos to Dungeon Fantasy fleshed out (see what I did there?) with actual lenses or templates, but that's probably an article in and of itself. That being said, you get some campaign seeds and page after page of necromantic support for Mass Combat. 2 points.

Overall: 7/10. This article was long on inspiration and had a lot of "yes, I could make a campaign arc out of this" moments. The Mass Combat support is a bit lost on me - that's not how I roll - but for those that do, and I've heard plenty of good stories about blending Mass Combat with epic campaigns, with the PCs as leaders and heroes, this article is well aimed..If you deeply love mass combat, then the drop-in utility rating is more like 3 or 4, which puts this article at a score of 8 or 9 - basically a must-have.

Would I use it? Yes. Banestorm is a vibrant setting and fun to play in, when I've done so. This article takes a great location full of imagery and possibility - Abydos - and takes it even farther with the extensive support provided by the DF line, the Zombies hardback, and the Mass Combat abstract battle system. Some of the adventure seeds either written or suggested will make for good gaming.

Ten for Ten (by +Sean Punch )

Summary: Sean takes ten ideas from supplements he wrote or collaborated on that he wishes had made it into the GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition, back in 2004. There are ten more that he gives honorable mention (nine in one box, plus multiplicative multipliers).

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Sean's writing style has always worked for me. These are basically rule excerpts, so mostly "workmanlike" in that they just quote or summarize the relevant rules. However, the color commentary at the end of each really makes each one more understandable as to why each rule works for Sean. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: Each rule nugget - and maybe even more so the honorable mentions, might inspire how to run a game differently. If you like rules (as I do), this will provide both a "buyer's guide" for future supplements, or a "check this out" index. So the power of this one will range from about 2-4, depending. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Well, yeah. This is nothing but drop-in rules. It's pure utility at it's finest, and each rule is complete enough by itself to use at the table. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. It's interesting to imagine what the Basic Set would be with free rein not only to include the best ideas Sean wrote, but the best core ideas from any source - e23 or Pyramid. Even as presented, there's plenty here to chew on.

Would I use it? Yes. In many cases, I already do. Other Kinds of Points and Tactics are the two big winners from the main list. Alternate Benefits, Imbuements, Technique Design, and Everyman skills get used from the back-up list. Heck, I wrote a whole article expanding on Restricted Dodge Against Firearms (Dodge This!).

Gaming in the Ancien Regime (by William H. Stoddard)

Summary: Bill Stoddard provides a worked example of how to use Social Engineering in a swashbucklers campaign.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This was remarkably interesting. Bill writes history very well, and his interspersion of rules and historical context was very well executed. I did not expect to enjoy reading this article, but I did, from the get-go. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:This is a how-to guide for structuring a campaign in a structured, bureaucratic swashbuckling society. An historical one, but with a bit of filing off of serial numbers, it could fit in many places. The detailed division of political rank, status, administrative, and religoius rank show how complicated and interesting such structures can be. As noted, it's a worked example, and a thorough one at that. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Obviously this is only drop-in with a utility of 4 if you're running this exact campaign, or one very much like it. Still, it gives several flavors of rank structures, a good guideline for cost of living in such a regime, and some nice interaction of the different pieces. Still, it's very specific, and so is probably a 2 or 3. It makes up a drop-in campaign by itself, but in general, it won't be that much utility unless you can squeeze it in. Over in "Odds and Ends," (p. 37) he also presents Paris of roughly 1720 in the City Stats format. 2 points.

Overall: 7/10. A nice history lesson as well as the worked example nestled within, the article is a fun read.

Would I use it? No. No fault of the author's, but this isn't where I like to game. Social Engineering, though, and the worked example this article provides, would be used in my games in appropriate places, so my demurring from this is one of "specific campaign," not "general distaste."

Into the Wilderness (by +Matt Riggsby)

Summary: Matt leverages the recently published DF16: Wilderness Adventures to make his own Mirror of the Fire Demon even better.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Matt's writing sucked me in, and had me reading each word eagerly. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:. This amplifies an existing (and in a way, the existing) DF adventure. It is a partial worked example of any sort of desert/wilderness travel, so can be mined lightly for ideas here. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: DFA1: MotFD is a drop-in adventure. This takes that drop-in and makes it better, directly and with no modifiction. The "random desert crap that can hurt you" table (not his title) is portable anywhere. Plus: DF Cold-Weather loadouts in a box-text. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. While somewhat specialized, it scratches several itches. It's adventure support. It uses Wilderness concepts. It shows how to blend the journey in with the destination to make adventuring more fun. It's in the Dungeon Genre, too, which makes it more broadly applicable, since fantasy is still the #1 go-to for gaming.

Would I use it? Yes. I'd run Mirror if I were running that sort of campaign, and I'd definitely take his advice on how to make the wilderness part of it more challenging and fun.

Elemental Xia Champions vs. the Shenguai (by Jason " +Rev. Pee Kitty " Levine)

Summary: Jason combines Monster Hunters with Chinese Elemental Powers, providing a template, some powers, and several monsters.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This is a very crunchy article, dominated by a character template (which always make my eyes bleed) and several power and monster stat blocks. The accompanying text is well done, and very informative. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:. If you're doing a Monster Hunters game, this provides some nice ideas that in all likelihood will keep the players guessing, and therefore afraid. One of the monsters is particularly nasty that way. If you're a player, the article provides a go-to template and lots of suggestions for elemental powers in the appropriate theme. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This entire thing is a drop-in to any MH campaign from start to finish, which makes it a solid 2 or 3 (it's still pretty specific). Even in a non-MH campaign, it has suggestions that allow you to amp up to much higher power levels the concepts in Chinese Elemental Magic. 3 points.

Overall: 7/10. Again with "somewhat specialized," this one is tailor made for a less-popular genre, but well done and instantly useful for players and GMs alike.

Would I use it? Yes. Monster Hunters is one of my favorite genres as a player, and I'd welcome this Xia champion into a game I was running or playing. The included monsters - the Shenguai in particular - are very nasty and definitely not your usual vampire, werewolf, or orc.

Horde Ninja (by +Peter V. Dell'Orto )

Summary: Peter manages to canonize the Law of Conservation of Ninjitsu, and provides a nice treatment of ninja as monsters/foes.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Full disclosure: I collaborate with Peter whenever I can on projects and we play together. One of the reasons is that he's a very entertaining writer, while still being terse and conveying information well. This very short article is no exception. "Ninja are either singular bosses, worthy of respect and fear, or they're like these guys." 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: How to use ninja is one thing, but the "Peeking Under the Hood" box is a key to taking any fodder-level monster (say, any template or lens from DF15: Henchmen) and making them into a credible threat. Beyond that, these guys are ninja, exactly what's on the tin. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: High utility in a particular genre, mostly for the point above: though the Horde Ninja is the treatment here, the Mass Mage could easily be next on the list. And the Law of Conservation of Ninjitsu ("The Last Ninja") is just fun. 3 points.

Overall: 7/10. Third time's the charm with "somewhat specialized," and for the third time this review I point out that the real oomph of this short article is in extrapolation to other critters.

Would I use it? Yes. I mean: Ninja. Of course I'd use them..

Revisiting High-Tech (by +Hans-Christian Vortisch )

Summary: Hans proposes two new rules for dealing with machine pistols and shotgun rounds that he'd perhaps have adopted if he could revisit GURPS High-Tech.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The text itself is straight-forward, and gets its point across. I'd have preferred a table of some common values, but the examples provided are OK. It did leave me wanting a bit more, though - perhaps typical for a short, technical piece of only a page in length. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: A brief introduction to why the rules he's picking on deserve it, and some good context for machine pistols. The shotguns piece explains the current issue with shotshell. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: The drop-in utility of the machine pistols section is high, since it's basically a stats tweak. The shotgun rounds section . . . well, my own version is also 850 words (about a page), and I of course prefer it. Still, the solution provided does rein in the problem he throws out there, so it puts points on the board there. 2 points.

Overall: 4/10. The article took aim at a minor quibble (Rcl on machine pistols) and a mathematical oddity resulting from how pellets are treated in the original book. That's not a lot to work with, and unfortunately it shows here. My bias to more complex treatments might be showing here, though; Drop-in utility could be higher than I rate it, but not 4 points, so overall this is a 4-5.

Would I use it? Meh. The stat adjustment to Rcl is more an errata than a true update. I'll use my own shotgun rules fix, but for those that don't want it, it's a good fix. Hans is right: 1d-5(0.2) pi- is annoying, and his fix is better than the existing rule.

Random Thought Table (by +Steven Marsh )

Summary: Steven notes how rules can enable inspiration, and shows how campaign or story ideas can spring from rules, to complement the usual opposite trope (that rules enable story).

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Well written, light, and fun. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The entire piece is a worked example of inspiration and "ah ha!" The article is quite frankly about epiphany in campaign and story design. Also look up "A Peek Behind the Curtain" (p. 37) to see how Steven took the rules and turned them into campaigns. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: These ideas are cool, but they're seeds, and do-it-yourself by nature. 1 point.

Overall: 6/10. It's a good premise. How do you take an interesting rule or notion and build from it, with eight examples, each with an associated campaign idea.

Would I use it? Not necessarily any of the ones presented here, but that's not the real point. Any interesting rule that strikes your fancy can start up a campaign seed.

This is a very strong issue, and contains fun follow-up work from prolific and high-quality authors, who have written some of GURPS' more enduring works. Worth picking up!

August 23, 2014

GURPS Dredd need marketing, badly

Very interesting Twitter thingy.

Munchkin Apocalypse: Judge Dredd is going to be a thing.

The money quote from +Phil Reed in the the tweet above is:

Now you have me wondering if there would be enough demand to make GURPS Judge Dredd worth considering .

GURPS doesn't get too much licencing love anymore, though there are exceptions.

Dredd would be interesting. It plays to a lot of GURPS' strengths, and if given the "self-contained game" treatment, where rules could be stated in ways to suit the genre, it is right in the middle of GURPS' sweet spot. All those ammo types?



August 21, 2014

23% Off Sale at Warehouse 23 on GURPS stuff!

SJG doesn't do it often (hardly ever, really) but until Aug 27 GURPS stuff is on sale at 23% off over at Warehouse 23. 

As +Peter V. Dell'Orto notes on his own author page, there's a bunch of stuff (one book and a few Pyramid articles) that you could pick up.

Go Buy Technical Grappling

"Grappling rules suck" is such a potent meme that it even showed up in +Rob Donoghue's recent blog post on DnD5, though as benign neglect. I really do think the core Control Point effect mechanic is not only fairly useful, but easily portable to other games, as +Tim Shorts and +Erik Tenkar know from a project I did with them that will appear, hopefully, sometime in the future.

The best thing I can say about my own rules, Peter said for me in a recent forum post:

Quote: Originally Posted by vicky_molokh  
Lame? With the +2 to pretty much everything per tentacle after the first two? Why? Seems reasonably powerful to me.

Peter's Response:
Click Here and Wrestle with this!
Because grappling becomes "You're not grappled, and fine" or "you're grappled, but you're stronger so you break free" or "you're grappled, and it's so strong you can't escape." It's way too pass/fail, and all of our fights with grappling monsters have been that way and were not fun to run or play. 
Using CP makes it all so much more nuanced, and since starting to use it every grappling encounter has gotten more interesting - masses of grappling zombies, casual grabs in combat, and more. TG has made DF dramatically better. We went from "let's try this" to my players saying to keep it in a single usage.
It has some complexity that needs filing down for DF in some places, but the core concept is better than the core concept it replaces.
Pyramid Issues

I'll actually be posting a bit more on this later. +Sean Punch did a Ten for Ten article in Pyramid #3/70 picking out ten concepts that he would have included in Basic had they existed at the time. Some of his concepts are reinforced or augmented by some of the articles I've written, and I intend to point that out in gory detail. But later. :-)


It crept up on me, but this marks my 400th post since starting my blog on Dec 26, 2012.

August 16, 2014

The PCs are Being Hunted - what to do?

Over on Google+ and the RPG Stack exchange, +Jeff Demers asks for help:

I thought some people here may want to assist in answer this question. I'm writing an adventure for tonight and I'm floundering! How to write an adventure where the primary focus is the characters being hunted?

I ran into some issues posting to the exchange, and given time constraints, threw down an answer here. Toss in your own comments. Maybe +Peter V. Dell'Orto+Erik Tenkar+Tim Shorts , or +Rob Conley would have good things to say. Heck, +Matt Riggsby writes great adventures. +Kenneth Hite wrote a book on this, from which I borrow heavily in my advice below. So . . .

I'd borrow heavily from Night's Black Agents here. What you're running is a thriller, where the PCs are, in a way, in the position of Jason Bourne. Very capable on their own, but outclassed by an enemy that keeps coming out of nowhere, and if they show up with great numbers, it's all over.

First piece of advice: have a scene where some capable bystanders are utterly and thoroughly destroyed by the hunters. Or even better, have that happen off screen, to prevent the PCs from wading in to a TPK.

Night's Black Agents suggests that there are only two types of scenes - information gathering and action.

So the first thing for this is "gather information." In this case, if they come across a dismembered, disemboweled, folded, spindled, and mutilated battleground, where the losers just happen to resemble the PCs to some extent. This one was brown-haired and wearing mail...just like Bog. That one was fair haired with a bow and leather scale. That's not quite Betterthanyouiel, but it's close enough. Geez, fatal case of mistaken identity!

The tracker could say they were swarmed over and overrun. The point guy of the dead group is in two pieces - but only evidence of one blow (gulp - if they hit us, we're dead!).

So there should be some fear there of individual beasts, as well as a pack.

Then you can stage minor skirmishes (action scenes) where if things go well they escape or can deal with a minor scout threat (a lesser beast?). That's the action bit.

The investigation is (a) why are we being hunted? (b) What's hunting us? (c) Do we fight, bargain, or run? (d) Do any weaknesses exist? (e) Do we need to go on adventures in order to obtain what we need to take advantage of those weaknesses? and finally (f) how do we set it up so we can kick their butts by using clever tactics and leveraging their weaknesses?

If there's an action scene of some sort in between each question, that's at least 12 sessions right there!

If only I could be this logical and easy for Alien Menace. Grrr.

Bloggus Interruptus


That's all I really have to say. I mean, I knew that my life would change again when we had a second child. I'd forgotten how hard it can be, and how long it lasts (and how short, but that's no help when you're in the moment).

Our eldest is not quite five, and she watches superhero cartoons with me, and is probably ready to start learning RPGs. Great.

The little one? The screamin' demon with a musical name?

Not so much.

By the time we get done with a typical daily routine, my creativity has been pretty well sapped. Gaming prep? For that game I was dying to run? Yeah. That doesn't happen when it should.

The blog ideas and Pyramid articles I think of? Oh, wait, you want me to think of nifty ideas, structure them, format them to the SJG Style Guide in a way that is coherent and even worthy of playtesting? Right.  Better watch cat videos on YouTube. That'll be more productive.

Anyway, in the end, it will, of course, be worth it as little M starts to smile socially (started to happen over the last week), and her colic dies down to a dull roar (gulp. usually three to six months is when that subsides. Here's hoping for three rather than six).

I have a beautiful healthy little girl. This is at the cost of anything resembling sleep and/or husband/wife time, since one or both of us is basically always on duty.

I did manage to jot down a few ideas over the last week at the in-laws' lake house. I've been taking some inspiration from SJG Forum threads, though. There is a half-finished article on my "desk" that will be fun for a lot of people. Plus, of course, the three or four articles already submitted that eventually will see daylight, I hope.

It could be worse, but if you're wondering why I never post anything anymore, that's why.

August 10, 2014

Slytherin Fu

Once again, my creativity is roused somewhat by a thread on the forums. This one's on snakes and grappling.

One might imagine that I have something to say on this, being the GURPS grappling guy. One would be right.

The Raw Way (mostly)

If you have a snake that attacks by constriction, you have a snake that wants to make grappling attacks. While RAW I believe can be construed to allow a torso-based grapple if you have Constriction Attack and Double Jointed (see Martial Arts, p. 116), I would smack such legalisms on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

The snake first bites to grapple. This is a grappling attack with the mouth. You have to look for it, but a bit is a one-handed grapple (MA, p. 115 in the box for Teeth). You attack at full location penalties. If your foe fails to defend, you have him by the mouth with the equivalent of one hand. You also do thrust-1 damage. The foe is, technically, "grappled" at this point, and at -4 to DX . . . but the one-handed nature of the attack makes it easier to break free.

The next chance you get, you can follow up with the body grapple, and this one is at full ST, considered a two-handed grapple. I don't know offhand if real snakes let go with the mouth once they have constricted the prey, but in any case, I'd just treat the snake as having its full ST.

Once that grapple occurs, the snake will apply his Constriction Attack, using the Bear Hug technique (MA, p. 117) to crush the foe to death. If the foe is too large to simply crush, the snake will suffocate if it can.

Seems to me that many snakes will actually buy a Combination (MA, p. 80) to bite and grapple with the torso as a bought-off Rapid Strike. I've seen video of ball pythons doing their thing, and that "bite and wrap it up" thing is fast.

Technical Grappling

There's actually an entry on p. 44 for Constrictor Snakes. Bite to grapple and do thr-1 Control Points (1d-1 for the python in the Basic Set). Follow up with another grapple (using the snake's inherent Wrestling skill, which is not bad) using the body, but Constriction Attack does double the usual CP for that creature's ST. Since a python is ST 13, that's 2d CP, which will get even a reasonably strong adventurer in trouble in a few seconds.

Once enough CP are accumulated, the snake will begin the process of spending them to crush the victim, then re-acquiring them through a grapple, then spending them for more crushing.

This is not the most elegant mechanic, though it does the trick. +Peter V. Dell'Orto and I did come up with a better one. Hopefully one day it will see daylight.

Condition-Based TG

I introduced a quick-and-dirty alternate for using Control Points but not bringing in all of TG late in July called Condition-based grappling, which took a concept that could have been done better in the DnD Basic Rules (5e) and did in GURPS what I thought could have been done (and maybe will be or has been in the PHB and DMG; we'll see when they come out) in that system.

In any case, it's easy. Roll for the bite. Assess CP. As soon as you can, roll for more CP by attacking with the torso. When you have your foe Restrained, start crushing.

Parting Shot

The condition-based grappling could use some expansion for stuff that's not just holding on and applying penalties. The Control Point mechanic can be leveraged in a few easy ways to execute various grappling techniques without the detailed tracking that the full system has.

But all in all, snakes and other grappling monsters - such as something with, say, ST 21 tentacles with gripping mouths on them! - can and should be terrifying in GURPS. Right now they can be somewhat meh.

I think that TG really shines for such critters. That ST 21 bite will do 2d CP right off the bat, and that tentacle with Constriction Attack will accumulate 4d CP with every attack (and it may well AoA(Double) for 8d CP each turn; an average of 28 CP per second), which is enough to hit the max CP threshold for most creatures. With the right skills, that is a huge amount of crushing damage every turn.

Anyway, the rules are a bit scattered for both RAW and TG; you have to look through three books (or at least two, Campaigns and Martial Arts, with the third being Characters) even in RAW.

Maybe something to add to +Mook Wilson's handy new GM Guide. Or volume 2 . . .

August 7, 2014

GURPS 301: Evaluate

It's generally found, I've noticed, that not too many people take the Evaluate maneuver in GURPS combat. At "only" +1 per turn, by and large it's a less desirable option than whacking away at your foe with your weapon of choice. 

Since many fights seem to involve a lot of circling - which could be cascading Waits, could be Evaluates, likely a bit of both - but GURPS fights largely don't, Evaluate gets left by the wayside.

I tried to rectify that somewhat in The Last Gasp, since taking Evaluate was tagged as a "Recovery Action," something that gave you a bonus but also let you recover Action Points. 

Still, a recent discussion started by +Jason Packer made this assertion:
Assertion: The Evaluate maneuver is utterly useless if your skill exceeds that of your opponent, and is dubious at best if your skill exceeds 10. 
It spawned a healthy number of posts, and so today's Melee Academy open panel was born. Many posted either on G+ or in the comments section of the announcement post, but I'll summarize them here, plus throw down my own ideas.

In addition, dedicated posts were made by some of my fellow travelers:
Comments and G+ Posts.

So, here we go:

Entirely different way of going about it: allow combatants to take Enhanced Defenses, Extra Attack, Peripheral Vision, increased weapon skill or other appropriate Advantages with the modifier Requires Evaluate, which states that the advantage in question is only available if you've Evaluated as your most recent maneuver. To encourage Evaluating, make the modifier generous: Takes Extra Time is only worth -10%, but in these cases it's probably worth -20% to -50%. How useful is Peripheral Vision if you can neither attack while using it nor gain the benefit out of combat (unless you're wary enough to proceed down the hall at a stepping rate, which is... actually fairly realistic)? Not nearly as useful. The ability to effectively defend your own sides, or just defend better overall, while you accumulate an Evaluate bonus will make it appealing in situations where you're against a better/many opponents.
I like the idea of having certain abilities with Requires Evaluate (maybe even allow abilities that are more effective the longer you Evaluate). Some additional options:
  • When using The Last Gasp, ape a bit from All Out Defense and give Evaluate 1 free AP for making defenses.
  • When using Setup Attacks, on any successful defense against a Setup you get a bonus to your MoS equal to your current Evaluate bonus. This is really just an extension of the rules from MA100.
  • Allow combining Evaluate and Wait into a single maneuver - if your Wait can only be triggered by a specific target, and a full round passes without your Wait being triggered, the Wait is retroactively an Evaluate instead.
  • Allow Evaluate to accumulate up to a +5 bonus.
  • Allow Evaluate to negate at least some of the penalties of a Runaround Attack or similar.

+Dustin Tranberg
  • +1 on all attacks vs that foe until your next turn
  • +1 on defenses vs that foe until your next turn
  • Perception/Observation roll to notice something interesting about his/her style/gear/behavior 
My expectation is this would make Evaluate very popular for one-on-one duels, and not so much for melee free-for-alls.
+Joseph Mason
First, what is someone doing when they evaluate a target? Watching them closely, effectively "aiming" there weapon? If that were all, I almost feel that it would be easier to defend against... and we already have this effect with telegraphic attack.
If they are watching a foe, looking for an opening, what does that mean? Is an "opening" something that is easier to hit, or harder to defend against (or both)? And isn't the latter is already handled better by deceptive attack or a feint?
I kinda feel like evaluate is a special form of "Wait". Just the trigger is an "opening" which GURPS doesn't currently have (to my knowledge) any mechanical definition of. One way to do this would be just get rid of Evaluate all together and give a +1 to hit per turn of Wait (max +3), till the wait is triggered. (Ranged 1-hex waits, already work this way IIRC).
Another option is to make Evaluate the inverse of a Feint. Have a (per-based?) melee combat skill vs enemy combat skill (to not be obvious?) and give the MoS as a bonus to hit on the following turn. My fear is that this would not help the low skill attacker that RAW Evaluate might currently be working for.
 +Cole Jenkins
  1. Combine Evaluate with Wait. Your triggered maneuver must be an Attack or All Out Attack on the evaluated foe but it gets the bonus from turns spent Evaluating.
  2. Instead of +1, the first turn gives you a training bonus based on your best melee or unarmed skill. This is analogous to the Acc. from an Aim. 
  3. The bonus also applies to your next active defense against that foe as well as your next attack. Or maybe half the bonus. 
  4. You may use the rules for contests of wills while also evaluating.
+Justin Aquino
my bit of  heresy - build it into Feint. Evaluate is an option instead of taking advantage of a successful feint. The idea is that evaluations happen while performing various routines to probe the opponent's capabilities.  
When the players makes a Feint, his comparative margin of "success" is an unknown value (he could have even failed, GM may hint it went well or poorly - no exact values). Maybe the GM uses a face down playing card. The player has the option to take advantage of it as a feint or as an evaluate. He only knows when he decides on using it up as a penalty to defenses but not when he uses it as a bonus to the evaluate.  
The Information Asymmetry removes the Certainty the game has that is not found in most realistic combat. 
Ballistic's Loaded Chamber

With all that input under the hood, I'm going to riff off of the work I did for Technical Grappling, plus a bit of a general rule that I think contains wisdom, but you be the judge:
  • Gamers like to roll dice.
  • GURPS has a perfectly good mechanism for resolving conflict already
  • Effect rolls are cool.
What should Evaluate be?

Pretty clearly, weapon skill should matter in spotting openings. And it's a pretty good bet that spotting an opening involves Perception in some way.

I'm going to eschew the obvious and see where it takes us: I'm going to make it not a quick contest, but an an attack-style action.

Declare an Evaluate. Roll Per-based weapon skill as an attack. If your attack roll succeeds, you are, at the very least, at +1 to defend against your foe's next attack (if he throws several blows, you only benefit on the first one). If you fail, you get no bonus. If you critically fail, your foe may defend as normal, but if he succeeds, he gets his margin of success as a bonus to his next attack. If you critically succeed, your foe gets no defense against your effect roll (below).

Your foe makes an active defense using his best weapon skill (much like a feint), or shield if it's better. You may also roll 3+DX/2 if it's better. Anything that adds to active defenses, such as Combat Reflexes (you're an experienced fighter and good at hiding your motions) or even the DB of a cloak or shield (it hides your actions) also provides a bonus. This can include billowing robes or a hakama, if you believe the stories that it hides your footwork. Further, the GM may give a bonus equal to half the usual penalty given by Physiology Modifiers, p. B181 . . . but treat machines based on how similar they are to humans. A humanoid robot might be at +1 because it doesn't have the usual tells, but still employs familiar guard stances. Something that looks like an Imperial Torture Droid or Lightsaber Drone would be "utterly alien" and get +3 to this roll.

If the defense works, then the attacker has managed to disguise his motions or otherwise hide what his intentions are.

I see no reason not to allow the usual "deceptive attack" type -2 to skill for every -1 to the foe's defense.

If the Evaluate succeeds and your foe fails to disguise his intentions, you may make an effect roll. I'm going to say base it on Per-based Tactics (!), which in many cases will be Per-6 unless you've spent points. However, we're going to used "Trained Tactics," which gives a progression like that found in Technical Grappling as a bonus, and in kind to the ST bonuses you get for Wrestling. +1 at DX+1, +2 at DX+2, +3 at DX+4, +4 at DX+7, and an additional +1 for every 3 points of skill thereafter. Look up this number on the thrust column of the Damage Table (p. B16).

So warrior might be:

  • DX 12
  • Broadsword-14 (DX+2; +2 Training Bonus)
  • Per 12
  • Shield-12 (DX+0; no bonus; DB2 shield)
  • Per-based Tactics-10 (for one point)
  • Combat Reflexes for +1
  • Evaluate skill: Per-based weapon skill: Evaluate-14
  • Evaluate Defense: DX-based would be 12; Parry-based would be 13; Block-based is 12.
  • Effect roll: based on Tactics-10 plus the training bonus for his sword: Tactics(Per)-10+2, for 1d-1

Make your roll, and you get to roll and keep that as bonus points to spend against your foe. These points may be spent!

  • Spend 2 points for an extra +1 to defend against a foe's attack (this adds to the basic +1 you get for making your Evaluate roll)
  • Spend 1 point for a +1 to strike your foe
  • Spend 1 point to cancel out accumulated points your foe may have on you

Repeated Evaluates may accumulate, but never more than the maximum possible roll. In the case of our example warrior above, he may never "bank" more than 5 bonus points.

Parting Shot

  • This visual probe and bonus might replace, to some extent, Feints - especially if the game also uses my Setup Attack option from Pyramid #3/52 (Delayed Gratification). 
  • Evaluate might make an interesting alternative to All-Out Defense in some cases. You can trade those points for bonuses to defense that can exceed those of AoD.
  • It's easy to see how two evenly matched opponents might spend a few turns Evaluating and counter-Evaluating in order to avoid getting lopsided bonuses stacked against them.
  • There ought to be a way to combine this with a Wait; maybe treat it as a Telegraphic Rapid Evaluate (WTF?) and treat it as a -2 penalty to Evaluate roll, and your foe defends at +2, but you also enter a Wait state while you're evaluating, and so can pre-empt your opponent's move if your Wait is triggered. So it's harder to pull off (because you're telegraphic your evaluate, and Wait is always obvious), but if it works, you not only may preempt your foe's move, you get bonus points to spend on your own attack before you spend them on his defense.
  • There's a naked return to the "Tactics can be used in Personal Combat" flavor of the skill description, by using it as the basis for an effect roll. Joe Average has Per-based Tactics-4, which means that most often, you'll have to wait six seconds for a measly +1. Assuming you can do it at all. But you do get that +1 to defenses, which might be worth it if you're punching at DX, or using a weapon at default.

Bah! Bah! Too complicated!

Sure, it's different. But I like attack and defense rolls, and I like effect rolls. Giving skill points to spend is novel, true, but I like how you can use it to help outguess your foe's next move, either by allowing deceptive attacks or better defenses.

Characters who are serious about fighting might be Per-based Tactics of 14-16 and have training bonuses of +3 to +5 pretty easily. Such a beast, with an effect roll of 1d+2 to 2d, will do terrible things to foes if given a chance to stare them down. Pure weapon fighters, with high relative skill but not-great Tactics will be more usual, with +3 for Training Bonus (DX+4 skill) not uncommon, and Per-based tactics ranging from 4-6, making the effect roll based on about 1d-3 or 1d-2. Not huge, but not bad either (up to 3-4 points).

The other options that have been listed are good stuff. Christian's Serendipity Engine is particularly cool, and the specificity of the opening, and the speed with which it's generated, make for great flavor. It might even be possible to combine the two methods: roll randomly for what's open and denied, but provide several options from which the player can choose to spend his bonus points.

I picked Tactics because of the phrasing about Personal Combat, and to prevent a typical warrior from being a death god just by being Johnny One-skill. Studying fight Tactics is worthwhile, and it might even be interesting to model "he fights by Tournament rules" as a big bonus to defend against Evaluates.

Anyway, I like the attack/defense roll as part of GURPS. And I like effect rolls. This is an attempt to force Evaluate into that mold as an alternative to the interesting options provided above.

August 3, 2014

It's MELEE ACADEMY time! (GURPS 301: Evaluate)

+Jason Packer over on Google+ threw down this gem:

Assertion: The Evaluate maneuver is utterly useless if your skill exceeds that of your opponent, and is dubious at best if your skill exceeds 10. 

Wackiness ensued. In fact, it's likely still ensuing.

So, since a bunch of us on that thread were headed in that direction anyway, we decided that this Thursday's GURPS-Day topic would be Melee Academy: Evaluate (GURPS 301 version).

In this case, though, this is a senior-level course. GURPS 301: Evaluate and house rules, to be exact.

Right now, Evaluate is a tough sell. This has been remarked on before, in other sessions, but the juices are flowing and it's time to marinade the steak.

If you could rewrite the Evaluate rules, how would you do it?