Thursday, November 19, 2015

GURPS 101: What does Tactics do?

Doug asked about expansions to Tactics yesterday, and Chris responded.

But what does Tactics do already?

Here is what it does by the rules-as-written. Which you can take advantage of depends on which books you are choosing to pull rules from for your particular GURPS game. I've hit some obvious choices.

What does Tactics skill do now?

Using the Basic Set only:

- Allows a roll at the beginning of a fight to achieve a better starting position and/or cover. (p. B224)

- Make a Tactics roll to determine good places to position your forces. (p. B224)

- Win a Quick Contest vs. an opponent to determine their immediate plans, or to outmaneuver them (off the battlemap). (p. B224)

- Use the better of Tactics or Per when ambushed or surprised to see if you spotted the danger in time. (p. B224)

- Gives a +1 to initiative rolls, +2 with Tactics-20 or higher. (p. B393)

Adding Martial Arts:

- Replaces the rolls from Basic Set with either an Abstract system which allows a character with Tactics to grant re-rolls to his or her allies based on Tactical reasons ("He re-rolls Dodge because I told him where to take cover!")


A Quick Contest of Tactics determines who places figures on a mapped encounter first, giving the winner the chance to seize better terrain or position based on the foe's choices, and re-position some forces at the end of placement.(p. 60)

- Can use Tactics to resist Ruses. (p. 101)

- Can use Tactics to spot Feints against other people. (p. 101)

- Can press more effectively in the "Detailed Method" of tournament resolution. (p. 134)

Adding Action 2:

- You can roll against Tactics to retroactively revise your plans to reflect what your characters would have known to do. (p. 8)

- Gives bonuses to rolls for bodyguards (or assassins) during a hit. (p. 28)

- Acts as a complement to rolls related to sneaking or spotting sneaking opponents. (p. 28)

Adding Dungeon Fantasy 2:

- Allows you to give one ally advice, giving a bonus to certain combat rolls on a success and a penalty on a failure.

Adding Mass Combat:

- Substitutes for Strategy for fights with 1-4 elements on your side.

Shouldn't it do more?

I don't think Tactics really needs a lot of expansion, Doug and Chris's posts to the contrary. Tactics already does a lot.

People don't use it very often, and I think that's for three reasons:

- they don't know about these options. (This applies to you if you said, "I didn't know I could do that!")

- they prefer more direct actions. ("Why roll Tactics to help my buddies when I can help them by attacking things myself?")

- they don't invest a lot of points in Tactics, so these options don't succeed every time they try them. That pushes the moves down the chain to "if I have nothing else to try." ("I only have a 10, so I lose Tactics contests, so it's a worthless skill.")

That last point is critical. Sometimes people will throw 1 point or 2 points at Tactics, end up with a 9, 10, or 11, and then never use it. It's not going to succeed very often, so why try? I don't try that approach, so why raise Tactics? It's a vicious circle.

On the other hand, the more the skill does, the more attractive it becomes. As written, using all of the above rules, it's a pretty broad skill. It has applications in every single fight where surprise is an issue, tactical position matters (and isn't pre-determined), and it can be used to defend yourself or aid your allies. That's even before just broad GM-determined uses like when it's an appropriate Complementary Skill roll (see Action 2, or Gladiators, for that rule.)

All of this does depend on the rules you are using, and having enough skill to ensure you probably won't fail.

(And to my players, who will otherwise ask - my current game is using the rules from Basic Set and DF2 and parts of Action 2 - the bonuses to sneak/spot in certain situations. We're not using the re-rolls or map setup from Martial Arts - they don't fit the circumstances of how 90%+ of our fights occur.)


  1. Hmmm! Hjalmarr Holgerson has 2 character points begging to be spent. I was thinking Wrestling or Survival (Jungle), but 2 more points in Tactics = IQ+2 (12) [4]..that is now looking quite attractive. Wrestling currently at 14 (DX+0) [2]. Decisions, decisions...

    1. At least now you know what you aren't using the skill for, instead of, "I wonder what Tactics does and why I have 2 points in it?"

  2. Thanks for the list. I've never run an Action game so I always forget about the rules in that series.

    I'm playing a DF Wizard with just 1 point in Tactics, purchased mainly for the +1 to surprise. But at IQ 15, 1 point gives a 13 skill, not bad at all. I should really start making DF2 Tactics rolls whenever he's too low on FP to cast anything significant. 84% chance of +1 to an ally's attacks and defenses is probably more effective than a ST 10 staff attack.

    I'm running another DF game featuring a Wizard with IQ 15 and no Tactics skill. Whose player often chooses to hang back and Do Nothing when a fight is well in hand. I'm going to suggest putting a point in Tactics, so that the character can bestow +1s in those situations, and the player can stay more involved.

    1. That's a good idea - if you can get the skill to 14-15, almost always it's going to be a net plus. Sometimes you'll give some bad advice, but most of the time, it's a bonus.

      Some players will balk at any chance of a negative, though - I've had players with Survival-13 say to the other Survival-13 guy, "Don't try to help me because you'll probably fail and give me a -1!" The math doesn't agree, but fear of making things worse can be a real concern.


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