Thursday, June 16, 2016

Alternate Feint for GURPS

Just a stray thought I had while taking a few moments to go over some NPC stats:

One criticism of Feints in GURPS is that they can be very swingy. That is, since it's a Quick Contest of Skills, an especially good roll by a good fighter versus a bad roll from a poor fighter can mean a massive penalty. Conversely that good fighter can roll mediocre or poorly versus a good roll and end up inflicting a small or non-existent penalty.

In other words, sometimes in high-powered play it's "He defends at -20!" and sometimes it's "He defends at -1." Sometimes it's no effect at all. Usually it's neither, and you just get a reasonable penalty that reflects the relative skill levels of the fighter.

Mostly that doesn't bother me. It's generally kind of fun.

Mostly what bothers me is that it's yet another number to track for a GM when a PC feints a foe in the middle of a large fight. Or interweaves Feints with multiple attacks with different levels of Deceptive Attack and native technique defense penalties onto them. It can get hard to keep it all straight.

Here is an alternative way to run Feint. It is, as yet, untested in play. But at first look it seems like it could be a reasonable way of changing how Feint works to address both the "swingy" nature and the tracking of a variable penalty.

Feint - Roll a Quick Contest of Skill vs. your opponent like a normal feint, using all of the modifiers and rules appropriate to that feint. If you win the contest, your opponent suffers twice the usual defensive penalties inflicted by your technique, Dual-Weapon Attack, Deceptive Attack, and so on. If you tie or lose the contest, the feints fails and has no effect.

Example 1: Vryce attacks a lizard man chieftan while Great Hasted, and chooses to All-Out Attack (Feint) on his first turn, naturally following it up his Trademark Move. He rolls his Two-Handed Sword-27 versus the chief's Broadsword-20; Vryce rolls a 15 and makes it by 12, the chief rolls a 10 and makes it by 10 - Vryce wins. His Trademark Move is a Rapid Strike and a Deceptive Attack -4 (-8 to hit). He makes both attack rolls. The chief must defend against each of those strikes at -8, not -4, because he was successfully feinted.

Example 2: Harmonious Sun Fist, aka Sunshine, uses a Feint against a rival for the rank Master of the North Wind. He makes his Feint roll by 6, his foe by only 1. He wins the contest. On his next turn, he swings his nunchaku at his rival, making it a Deceptive Attack -1, and hits. Nunchaku give a -2 to Parry, -1 to Block, and Deceptive Attack is a -1 to all defenses. His rival parries at -6, would block at -4, and dodges at -2! Not surprisingly, he chooses to attempt to Dodge.

Hopefully the examples make the application clear.

Pros: Roll is success or failure. Your effectiveness feinting is based on your ability to follow up. You don't need to calculate the win or loss on a contest or even conceal that one occurred. Vastly less swingy if you dislike those sorts of things. Very predictable for the feint-er. Frighteningly useful for people with flails and who use AOA (Jump Kick) or Counterattack a lot.

Cons: Means Feint is only useful for higher skill attackers, not just those with high relative skill, because high skill is needed to absorb the penalties for DA, DWA, and so on. Cases like Spin Kick and Spinning Strike aren't addressed, however, and would need to be resolved with the normal rules. Makes it really obvious why Telegraphic Attack won't work after a Feint, because giving +2 to defend is useless when you double defense penalties.

Alternative: Instead of doubling penalties for Deceptive Attack, you can say it allows Deceptive Attack at a -1 for every -1, or doubles the defense penalties from an attack. This can get tricky, though, as Trademark Moves that involve Deceptive Attack suddenly have a higher skill or double the penalty anyway, and it can lead to longer fights as players try to hair-split additional levels of Deceptive Attack versus a -1 to skill. (This was my original idea, and I rejected it because of those downsides.)

As a second alternative, you can apply a minimum penalty of -1 for being Feinted, essentially giving a -1 or twice the defense penalties, whichever is worse for the defender.

Like I said, I haven't tried this. I think it's elegant and interesting. It's certainly a change, and I'd bet that my players would reject it because it raises the minimum value but caps the maximum value. That Two-Handed Sword-27 isn't a typo or an aspirational skill level in my DF game. Trading off the high chance of, say, winning by 12+ against the vast majority of foes vs. the certainty of a -8 to defend from your Deceptive Attack might not seem like a good idea. Especially when you need to fight with a stack of penalties that restricts your attack, but not Feints - such as foes with tiny hit locations that must be hit.

(Also see Douglas Cole's discussion of this: Alternate Feints vs. Setup Attacks)


  1. Peter,

    If I'm following (and I'm not running on much sleep, so I could be out of my mind), your feint's victory just doubles whatever following attack's ordinary penalty would be - and that's it.

    If that's the case, it severely limits your attack options, as not all attacks have a penalty to inflict on the enemy. That is, I couldn't Feint a guy and end him rightly with a Committed (Determined) with Extra Effort to get the Strong effect as well, or even just a regular attack, or whatever.

    That doesn't seem...right.

    1. You'd either not want to play with this option at all, in that case, or inflict the -1 or higher penalty I suggested as a second alternative. In a game where Deceptive Attack is de rigeur, it's a potentially useful and easy alternative.

      Yet another alternative is, of course, a flat penalty - being Feinted is similar in severity to being Stunned and assign it a -4 penalty. With that option it'll be murder in a low-power campaign and pretty much useless in a high-power one.

    2. Ah, I conflated that with it still needing to be a deceptive attack. -1, though, like a flat -4, gets much less useful in higher power campaigns. I don't typically run those, but I can see how the falloff in usefulness would be an issue.

      FWIW, a "feint" to me is nothing more than the Deceptive component of the Deceptive Attack. At least, that's my experience in smallsword fencing. We don't feint as a distinctive action, but rather launch an attack and change lines if the opponent parries before we're past our point of no return.

      I've fiddled with a few alternate mechanics to reflect that but nothing I ever published (it predates my blog, so probably in one of my binders somewhere). Maybe I should put it up as a me too post.

    3. In a high-powered game, it'll fall off only if you don't Deceptive Attack. So yes, if you Feint with Two-Handed Sword-27 and then do a stab to the eye (-9) on bad footing (-2) in poor light (-3) and roll against a 13, either the base rule (no benefit) or the alternative (-1, at least) isn't going to help you. Conversely, you can all but assure yourself of massive effect by maximizing DA at -7/-14, rolling your 13, and inflicting a -14 to defend.

      There is another downside to a minimum of -1: if you have only 2 points to spare for a Deceptive Attack, don't, you get that already. So I'd probably not use that myself because it'll slow things down as people think, "Hmmm, -4 for a -2 to him, which becomes -4, or effectively have +4 to hit with a -1 to him?" Feints are already sometimes useless despite succeeding - you Feint then roll a Critical Hit, or your opponent does All-Out Attack or turns his back on you, or loses the only defense he's got against your particular attack, or whatever. I've heard enough players lament a 3 after a solid Feint making the Feint "a waste." (Yes, some people complain about 3s, same people who complain that they tax lottery winnings probably.)

      I know a number of sword styles don't actually "fake attack" per se, and thus don't small-f feint. But Feint has to handle the ones that do faked attacks, cover head fakes and dekes, rhythm and subtle timing changes, wrestling hand-claps, non-injurious beats, etc. etc. that occur in some styles and basically all sports. That last bit is essential, as it's germane to Evade and setting up Slams (or avoiding them, with Defensive Feint, something I didn't address yet.)

      That came up a lot, incidentally, when I was researching GURPS Martial Arts. A fair number of people involved in styles that do progressive indirect attacks or just straight-up attacks said or wrote, basically, there is no such thing as a feint. Which might be true, from a narrow enough look at what GURPS is trying to simulate here.

    4. Actually, nevermind a bit of that - even Deceptive Attack -1 will be -2, so it's -1 vs. -2 or more, so it's always better to DA if you can, but you still get -1 if you don't.

      Still learning my own alternative rule.

    5. I know the feeling on learning your own rules. I had a player say he actually used some elements of my Shield rules I wrote a year ago and I had to go confirm I even wrote that.

      Something about "writing lots of rules, but using only some" ;)

      I suppose Feint is a mechanic for those non-feints; I suppose I got way too focused on the word rather than the spirit of said word today.

      What about - and this is off the cuff here - making it an element of your attack roll? MoS between your attack and your skill divided by some...factor, like 4 or whatever. They take this to their defense. I'd have to do some mathing or suchlike but there's an idea.

  2. Maybe one could do a flat penalty as an option if there was a Critical Miss or Hit involved in the contest. Say the aforementioned -4. So with a regular success the Deceptive Attack is an extension of the feint and still quite "dainty", whereas occassionally all this maneuvering causes the opponent to be seriously faked out and they just invite a more powerful answer (commited, all out, rapid strike etc.).

    1. That might work, although you'd have to figure out rules for Critical Success and Critical Failure in Quick Contests. With one exception (resisted spells), I can't think of any that have critical success matter. You'd need to deal with:

      Attacker critically succeeds - does this mean it works automatically? If the defender rolls anyway, does a critical success counter this or does margin of victory still matter? What about critical by the defender even when terribly overmatched (I have Rapier-20, your best combat skill is Rapier-10, I roll a 7 for a margin of 13, you roll a 4 for a margin of 6 but a critical success)? Lots to resolve.

      FWIW, a critical success with a Resisted spell automatically overcomes resistance, but for the defender, only success or failure matters. IOW, a critical spell success bypasses the contest entirely, but doesn't factor in the contest per se.


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