Thursday, February 14, 2013

Are you attacking or not?

One thing I dislike in game play - especially in GURPS, with its one-second time scale - is post-odd calculation take backs.

Player: "I shoot that orc."
GM: "Okay, roll for it."
Player: "Let's see, shooting between my two buddies and past that other orc, 8 yards, uh . . . I have a 7 to hit. Nevermind, I'll shoot this other guy."
GM: "Grrr!"

In some ways, doing this is fair. You check the swing, or hold the shot when you realize it's bad. Generally, if you balk to an aim-like or wait-like action (Aim, its melee equivalent Evaluate, or Wait) it feels okay and realistic.

When it gets changed to something else, or only after a long calculation, it feels very gamey. "Nevermind, instead of attacking I'll Move." So you decide to attack, change your mind, and then move as fast as the guy who knew he'd move?

It feels very gamey - sure, you can say "My character never weighed all these options, I did as a player, and then he reacted with his usual preternatural panther-like grace and speed!" I accept that. But it doesn't feel that way, and we all know you decided against it after finding out your actual odds of hitting (or after the guy next to you says "No, don't do it, I'll do this other thing so you should do something else.") It feels like what it is - you're making decisions based on in-game odds of success after you calculate them, and taking a lot of time to do it. And it avoids the very real issue of people balking or backing off a decision after making it, or taking some extra time for it (which is something Doug Cole talks about).

Plus it's one of the mortal sins of my games - wasting time. Saying "I shoot the orc" and then quickly calculating your hit odds and rolling takes a lot less time than doing the same, not rolling, and then doing something else. It's breaking up the flow of the game. It makes each turn take longer, which means longer fights, less stuff done, and more waiting by other players. You make us take time to figure out rolls that never get rolled. Please, no, just take the risk.

Generally here is how I run it:

- decide on your action.
- say you'll do it or not.
- figure out the roll you need.
- roll.

No calculate-then-change your mind. You decided, now we're just finding out if it worked, not if it's worth trying.

Now, there is a clever player dodge - quietly figure out the odds between turns, while you wait for someone else to go, and decide if you'll do it or not. Okay, you're being pro-active and not wasting time. I'm totally fine with that. Why? Because of the "not wasting time" part. You're putting work in ahead of time to save time on your turn. That is good and courteous play.

But what if you want to allow checking, balking, or changing your mind? After all, a warrior might realize he made a bad decision and then not go through with it. Plenty of time you start to make a move and then realize it's a bad idea and try to stop it. Baseball has a whole set of rules for that, and fighters will debate whether it's better to follow through on the wrong move forcefully or suffer the consequences of a halted movement.

In the post I linked above, Doug proposed a roll-based solution. Here is my own twist:

The Roll-Heavy Solution: Force an IQ-based skill roll (to realize it's a bad idea) or a DX-based skill roll (to check your attempt without putting yourself in a bad spot. On a success, you check your action, and your turn ends - treat it as "Do Nothing" for all purposes. On a critical success, you can choose another action without any penalty. On a failure, you go through with the action. On a critical failure, you suffer some kind of mishap - a roll on the Critical Miss table, or you pay for the spell but don't cast it, etc.

Optional: Halting and changing your action to Aim, Concentrate (to keep a spell up, not to cast a new one), Evaluate, or Wait (with a trigger aimed at your current target) - against the same target - does not require a roll.

Notes: You can change the roll to Tactics, best melee weapon skill or best ranged weapon skill (depending on the type of attack), spell skill roll, Thaumatology, or other skill. You can make it Per-based if you think it's a question of seeing the problem instead of understanding (IQ) or reacting to it (DX).

The No-Roll Solution: You can change your mind later, but you can only change your action to Aim, Concentrate (to keep a spell up, not cast a different one), Evaluate, Do Nothing, or Wait (with a trigger aimed at your current target). No roll is necessary; just announce your replacement action and execute it.

Neither of these has been play-tested. On paper, they sound okay. Personally I just do the "Do or don't do" binary decision, and figure once you start calculating your chance to hit you've committed to the action and the roll. But one of those approaches might work for changing your mind in combat.

Thanks to Doug for sparking this idea.

Note: I'm not talking post-roll or post-consequence take-backs. "I drop the grenade and read my pistol!" "Oops, you armed the grenade, remember? It explodes at your feet." "Oh, wait, no I don't drop it." Yes, yes you did. I don't allow those kind of take-backs. It's the "I cast this spell, oh wait, 7 is too low, I do something else" bit I don't like.

[Editing Later: Check the comment by gnomaszgames below. It has a great suggestion - use the Opportunity Fire/Target Discrimination rules (p. B390) for the mechanics of changing your mind mid-move. I like it!]


  1. Yeah, I take pretty much the approach you do - once the player says "I'm doing X", that's what they're doing. If that turns out to be impossible, they can Do Nothing instead. Working things out in advance is encouraged.

  2. Now that I think about it, I've always allowed changing decision after calculating odds. But the "wrong" decision was usually partly my fault, as I'm the person that is supposed to clearly describe situation (just in case, I take "It's such a mess that you're never sure if you're standing next to a friend or foe. Hitting the right target now will be unbelievably hard" as a clear description of unclear situation). And because of this, I'll try to encourage choosing thought out actions, but I won't forbid changes.

    But if I was going to use your rules for changing decisions, I'd add one thing: if you want to switch to Concentrate, you have to make a Will-3 roll because of distraction.

    Oh, as think of it now, I have another idea for the roll-heavy solution.
    For consistency's sake, I'd try to make it a bit like Opportunity Fire/Target Discrimination (p. B390): roll just like you've described (well, maybe at a penalty). The effects of criticals stay the same. But on a success, you get to do what you want. However, nothing is free. Whether you succeed or not, you get additional -2 to your roll "because of the time you spent deciding."

    1. Using the Opportunity Fire rules like that is very clever - I'll put a note about that above!

  3. My old DM used to set a brutal pace during combat. When your turn came, it was use it or lose it. We could ask maybe one question, or hesitate for about two seconds, and if we hadn't made a decision by then we missed out. And of course, there were no take-backs. We were a party of seven, sometimes eight, so it was pretty much a necessity, but it actually worked out to be pretty fun in itself.

    1. I facilitated something like this in a different context by printing out on heavy cardstock - at enormous expense - the free GURPS Combat Cards.

      These came out before Peter and Sean's Martial Arts and long before Tactical Shooting, but basically there was a (colored) card for nearly every maneuver option.

      I had 10-15 people around the table (thus the enormous expense; I had a set for all) and when I got to them, they did what card was on the table. No card, no action.

      There was plenty of time to ask grognards for advice, which was metagame but who cares. It could have been modified with some sort of "I have Combat Reflexes, so I can take more time" or even "I can ask the GM one question" or something.

      I'd only do that with tons of people at the table. But when I play in the Dungeon Fantasy campaign, there's a lot of "OOC Chat" conversation about next moves . . . but when the GM says "Cadmus, you're up" you are pretty much on the spot to say what you're doing. I always feel bad when I'm not "Here's what I'm doing" right away.

  4. I sometimes have the opposite problem, with players rolling the dice before they decide exactly what they're doing.

    Player: I stab that guy! (rolls)
    Me: Mm-hm. How are you attacking him?
    Players (looking at a 6 on the dice): Um...I suppose it's too late to declare a Rapid Strike to the vitals?

    1. I was just pondering something like this as a GCA add-on. So when you print out your sheet, you could also select certain actions that would pre-calc for you. So you might have a half-dozen or a dozen things your character likes to do with known bonus/penalty actions.

      I know Cadmus, my axe-wielding homicidal hobo, has Skill-22 (Dungeon Fantasy!), so I might have:

      * Attack to Chinks in Armor in Torso: Axe-14, (2) DR
      * Committed Deceptive Attack to Neck: Axe-15, -2 Defend, x2
      * Rapid Strike to Leg: Axe-14, Axe-14
      * Deceptive Thrust with top spike to vitals: Axe-15, -2 Defend
      * Standard deceptive cut to torso: Axe-16, -3 to Defend

      There are certain things you'll find your character doing over and over because they're a good use of your combined weapons and skills. While some situations call for special responses, having a short list of options will probably speed play.

      I am SO going to do just this before next Tuesday's game . . .

    2. Can you tweak Trademark Move so that you don't put a point into it to get the +1, but it still shows up on your sheet? I'll have to try that when I get home.

    3. DF suggests pre-calculating moves for Swashbucklers, etc. I think it's a good idea in general, if there are a handful of "default" moves your character would make. If there's disagreement? You have four moves pre-specified and you rolled a 6. Roll to see WHICH of these moves you did. If it's "generic attack", then that's it. If it's Rapid Strike, 2 attacks, vitals? That's what you did (and you might miss).

    4. Pre-calculating moves is a great way to speed things. I often do this for my less rules-savy players. But I would love if it GCA could spit out a list of defenses (with the adds spelled out) and offensive moves.

      You can spell out attacks even if you don't buy a Trademark Move to make a more complex one and get the +1. Honestly, though, +1 for one point is worth it, even for a Trademark Move of "Swing to the Body."

      I don't require pre-calculated moves, but if you just say "I hit him!" and roll, you default to an unmodified Attack, to a random location or torso, using your most damaging attack option for the weapon you have ready.

    5. Player: I stab that guy! (rolls)
      Me: Whats your roll?
      Players (looking at a 6 on the dice): Um...I suppose it's too late to declare a Rapid Strike to the vitals?
      Me: yes ... "I stab that guy" with no specification is Thrust attack to Torso .. you hit.

      Btw Guys ... Adding ANY rules and rolls how to let people change their mind in one second turn is prolonging the turn even more. GM has to have a final word, and Palyers have to pay attention to what is going on all the time, not only durng their turn, so when its their turn then, they should already know what to do. Combat is a stressful situation, people do mistakes, no rolling for "realizing bad manuever" should be allowed, it's ONE SECOND.
      with my RL Gaming Group we had this rule:
      Its your turn, you have 10 seconds to declare your action, go .. then calculate your modifiers, then roll for it.
      Everyone agreed, noone ener complained, It made our games more realistic and fun.

  5. I keep coming back to this, because it dovetails with one of my pet peeves.

    I like the roll-heavy version, based on IQ, the best. I think it makes the most sense - it plays not on the player's ability to see the futility of an action but the intuition and skill of the character.

  6. I really liked of this ideas, I will try in my next Gurps session (Tomorrow)


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