The GURPS Evaluate manuever isn't particularly potent.
What does Evaluate give you now?
For each consecutive turn you take Evaluate, you get the following (italics means something from GURPS Martial Arts)
- a +1 on the next Attack, Feint, All-Out Attack, Committed Attack, Defensive Attack, or Move and Attack made against the person you Evaluate against.
- (optional) negate -1 in defense penalty from a Deceptive Attack or Feint from the person you've Evaluating (which doesn't "cost" your Evaluate, but goes away once you use it/lose it.)
- the same bonus to non-combat skills that benefit from close examination.
That's it, really. It's a melee version of Aim, largely, and while it does give some benefits they aren't that much compared to all the other things you could be doing - such as what Doug outlined here. And while it is a melee version of Aim, melee weapons don't suffer the built-in penalties for range that come with missile weapons, nor gain the Accuracy bonus for aiming - making an "Aim"-like maneuver less of a hit-or-not decision.
What else could it give you?
Since Evaluate is often ignored because of its relatively small benefits, what else could it do? Here are some options.
- Act as a Defensive Feint, too. In other words, also give a -1 to hit per level for the opponent who you are Evaluating.
(At a maximum, this would mean you could give an opponent -3 to hit you, negate -3 of penalties from Feint and Deceptive Attack, and give you a +3 when you finally retaliate. This could potential turn a Skill 18 guy following a Feint victory by 5 points and launching a Deceptive Attack -2 into an 11 or less to hit and only a -2 for you to defend if it lands, instead of 14 and -7.)
- Act as a focused version of All-Out Defend, giving a bonus to defend against the one attacker of +1/2 of your attack bonus, rounded up, for each turn you Evaluate (netting out to +1, +1, and +2). This would not "use up" the bonus, and would stack with bonuses from Feverish Defense. Using All-Out Defense would end your Evaluate and thus the bonus, so they could not stack. This would have no effect against any other attacker. Unlike All-Out Defense, this would affect any defense against an attack launched by the person you are evaluating, making it superior to AOD in a one-on-one duel assuming you have the luxury of 3+ seconds to Evaluate.
- Evaluate can give a random bonus - 1d6-3 per turn, minimum 1. You'd usually get a +1, but might get a +2 or +3 in one turn. This adds an element of chance and potentially let you fully Evaluate a target in only a single glance.
- Evaluate might be a Quick Contest, using your Per + your best Melee weapon skill versus the DX-based Melee weapon skill of your opponent. Your margin of victory, up to 3, is your Evaluate bonus. It lasts until you use it or stop taking Evaluate as your maneuver. You are aware of how much you notice, and can choose to re-roll the contest if you want a better result.
Out of all of those, I like the first two the best. It might be a little much to use all of them - if 3 turns of Evaluate gives a +3 to hit, -3 to be hit, +2 to defend, and negates 3 points of Feint and Deceptive Attack, it's a little too powerful. It would make a wary relative novice (skill 12) able to easily fend off the best moves of a skilled attacker (skill 18). But either of "minus to hit" (the free Defensive Feint) or "bonus to defend" (the focused AOD) would make Evaluate a really useful tool when you think you need to ensure you don't get hit until you've got a real chance to attack effectively. It also avoids tramping on AOD (which is still more useful against multiple foes, or right now) and Defensive Feints. I'm split on which one I like better - it might be useful to offer it as an option (you pick, either +1 to defend or -1 to be hit.)
Also importantly, it neither makes Evaluate free, nor makes All-Out Defense or Defensive Feint less useful. It's still better to All-Out Defend if you want to take advantage of multiple defenses, or get more move on a Dodge, or have multiple attackers (instead of the "featureless plain duel.")
I think in my own games I'll give one of those a try - probably the "+ to defend against one guy" version, and see how it works out.