DECIDE: Drop Excess Combat Info from Defense Evaluation (GURPS 4e/3e)

In a combat, GURPS has us ask defenders this question: “The attack will hit you. What do you do?”

What if, instead, we asked this: “The attack might hit you. What do you do?”

From will to might: that single-word change is arguably a much more realistic representation of the knowledge a defender would have – in many cases, the knowledge that a defender possibly could have – in battle. It suggests interesting implications and tactics, for no extra complexity in play.

I’ve been a vocal (if not quite proselytizing) proponent of the proposal below; I’ll daringly call it “the biggest pro-realism, pro-roleplaying bang you can get from a zero-bookkeeping, zero-extra-rolls, zero-effort rules tweak to GURPS combat”.

Although the article addresses GURPS, it could apply to any game system that runs defense rolls in the same way. Read on!

What do you know?

Active defense rolls are an innovative and nifty feature in GURPS.

The way they work is also a wee odd.

FEND points out how defense rolls are at odds with normal game mechanics in one respect: They’re the only regular instance of a success roll made against a fraction of Skill (Skill/2, and sometimes Skill x 2/3 in 3e). That’s a quirk, however, not a problem, and FEND’s suggestion for full-skill defenses is all theoretical musing, not a “fix”.

Setting that entirely aside, there’s a different oddity with defenses that’s peculiar in two ways: It runs at odds to normal game practices and brings combat realism down a good notch.

Ever wonder why a combatant makes the decision to defend after he learns how the attacker’s to-hit roll fared? Ever wonder why we don’t have him make that decision without knowing the TH result?

Are you wondering why that’s even worth thinking about? If so, consider the below.

What defenders know (or, “Hold on while I read that incoming bullet… nope, my name’s not on it”)

Say you’re creating a game that uses the spiffy mechanism of active defense rolls. And as part of the campaign background, you allow powerful psi characters, including amazing precognitives who can even predict whether incoming blows and missiles will hit or miss, and can then choose how to react accordingly. How would you game that incredible precog ability?

Hmm, under GURPS‘ rules for defending, that should be easy to game! When a sword or bullet comes whooshing in, you let the precog know in advance whether it’s on target or not, and thus whether or not she needs to take defensive action. If she senses an incoming miss, she can stand pat and laugh as the danger whizzes by! That’s a simple, intuitive way to game the amazing ability.

Except… in GURPS, everyone already has that ability! Characters certainly don’t have precognition by game-design intent, but effective precognition is the mechanical effect of the attacker reporting “hit” or “miss” to the waiting defender, before the defender needs to make any decision. In GURPS, everyone under fire gets to say “Good, that bullet’s going to miss me” and take no defensive action whatsoever.

The DECIDE defense tweak (or, “Yikes! Bullets! Duck!”)

Here’s a suggestion for a different way to play: When an attacker announces his attack, have the defender decide his response without knowing the TH result. (The defender has to be specific, as always: say, “I’ll Dodge and Retreat”, not “Yeah, I’ll defend”.) Resolve TH and defense normally.

Or in other words:

Instead of asking defenders “The attack will hit you. What do you do?”, ask “The attack might hit you. What do you do?”

From will to might. That single-word change sums up the entire tweak to character knowledge suggested by DECIDE.

How it plays

Here’s how this works for your defenses in play:

  • If you choose to defend and then find that the TH roll was a good one, you made a smart choice that may save your hide. Roll your defense. (Mechanically, you’re playing out normal GURPS operations here.)
  • If you choose to defend and the TH roll turns out to be no good, you’re okay. You ducked or otherwise readied a defense against an attack that would have missed anyway, but hey, that’s life. Your head’s in one piece; quit griping.
  • If you don’t choose to defend and the TH roll misses, you lucked out – and probably looked pretty impressive (or nuts), standing pat as bullets chew up the wall around you.
  • If you don’t choose to defend and the TH roll succeeds, you’re hit. Too bad. Better luck (and duck!) next time.

Note that no new rolls or even rules are involved here. (Actually, rolls decrease somewhat; if you didn’t choose to defend, then no defense roll takes place.) All we’re talking about here is intuitive effects of player decisions, not mechanics.

How to limit character knowledge

How do you keep a defender from knowing the attack’s TH roll? That depends largely on how you handle combat rolls in the first place.

If you roll TH openly, have the defender state his action before you roll TH. The attacker states what he’s doing, the defender states his response, and then you roll TH (and if necessary, defense).

If you roll TH “secretly” (which is pretty common behavior for GM rolls), you can roll TH before or after the defender states his action, as you like; it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you ask the defender “What do you do?” before revealing the TH result.

Ranged or melee?

You’ll probably agree that this all makes sense when defending against gunfire; a normal character couldn’t possibly know that an incoming bullet will miss and thus require no defensive action. DECIDE is a great rules change for that situation.

But how about incoming swords and spears? Could characters reasonably gauge these attacks accurately enough to know when a defense won’t be necessary?

The melee case is debatable. Here are three options for where to introduce the defense tweak:

Option 1: Firearms only, all-or-nothing

This is a fairly forgiving approach. Use the defense tweak only for bullets, beam weapons, and the like, where preemptively ducking away from (or blocking, if possible) the perceived path of fire is the only logical defense. That removes GURPS‘ big existing oddity with precognitive bullet-dodging.

For other attacks, where oddities are less pronounced, don’t bother changing anything; let defenders know the TH result and then make defense decisions, per normal GURPS.

Option 2: All attacks, all-or-nothing

This is an unforgiving approach! Use the defense tweak for any attacks – bullets, beams, arrows, knives, punches. As with bullets above, you defend now or not at all. If you don’t choose to defend and the TH roll succeeds, then you’re hit. Too bad. Try ducking next time. (But on the good side, the table benefits in that no time is spent on a defense roll…)

Option 3: All attacks, immediate vs last-second defense

This option applies the defense tweak to all attacks, but more forgivingly than Option 2 does.

You have a choice of 1) DECIDE’s “immediate defense” described above, in which you commit to defense as soon as an attack is launched; or 2) GURPS‘ “last-second defense” (if I may name it such), in which you calmly confirm the need to defend before committing to defending.

Immediate defense

Give all immediate defenses a +1 bonus. That’s a fair bonus for immediately making the commitment to defend, even when your foe’s mace might miss you by an inch anyway.

Last-second defense 

If you don’t make an immediate defense… wait, you’re not hit just yet. You delayed for a split second to gauge the attack’s exact path (i.e., to check TH) – and have confirmed that a mace-on-head impact is indeed imminent. Time for a last-second defense!

A last-second defense takes a penalty. This would be a reasonable place to introduce a penalty that varies with the speed of attack: say, 0 for a melee attack, -2 for a thrown weapon, -4 for a missile like an arrow, -8 for a bullet, or -16 for a hypervelocity round. (That’s pretty well impossible for bullets and faster – because it represents actually dodging or blocking the bullet itself, not jumping out of the muzzle’s path.)

The Dodge penalty versus a laser beam would be appropriate to the speed of light – effectively an infinite penalty. If you didn’t dodge the perceived path of fire before the trigger is pulled, there’s no way you could even see, let alone dodge, the beam after it leaves the gun. (It’s not a problem in a cinematic game, where “blaster” beams travel at a speed that makes arrows look fast.)

Other options

DECIDE’s core idea is one that many players will agree with, but how to implement it is open to any number of ideas. Play around. 

You could, for example, tweak both the the immediate defense and last-second defense bonuses/penalties for Option 3: award +1 on Active Defense for immediate defense vs any attack, melee or ranged; and no mod for last-second defense vs any attack, per standard GURPS. Just those two choices, simple as can be. Nothing comes up in play at all, except that +1 bonus for defenders who commit to immediate defense.


DECIDE leads to interesting tactical considerations. It forces defenders to make decisions about doling out limited defenses, or spending defenses that have consequences (like disrupting Aim), with Option 3 further dividing the defense strategies of skilled and unskilled combatants. (Note too that “immediate defense” meshes well with defensive actions such as All-Out Defense, Retreat, Feverish Defense, and Defensive Attack, while “last-second defense” fits nicely with a more aggressive stance.)

See Benefits of DECIDE in the Appendix below for plenty of notes on tactical implications of DECIDE. 

Final points

This article isn’t saying that current defense rules are nasty, evil, or even “broken”. There’s no game-wrecking flaw in the workings of defenses as written; the worst I can say about it is that it’s an odd handling of character knowledge. (I didn’t notice anything funny about it for years, so it can’t be that big a problem!)

I think the DECIDE tweak is easy, intuitive, more realistic, and more fun to boot; “the biggest pro-realism, pro-roleplaying bang you can get from a zero-bookkeeping, zero-extra-rolls, zero-effort rules tweak to GURPS combat”, to make a bold claim. But naw, it won’t change your life, make you taller, or lure actual girls to your gaming table. And in many combat exchanges, it won’t even make a mechanical difference in outcomes. As always, give it a try, and adopt or refuse as you like.


While the above is all you need to play the tweak, below is more for the interested to chew on, such as further info on merits of the tweak, notes on objections raised, and a closer look at how much it even matters in play.

First, a few notes on the current DECIDE article compared with an earlier version:

Notes on the article revision

The first version, “Revised Defense Flow in GURPS“, was an unexpected hit in terms of visitors and (mostly very positive!) comments, but I wrote it poorly. I focused on the order of gameplay – specifically, rolling TH before stating defenses. Yet if one thing’s clear from discussions on the topic and play experience, it’s that focusing on the order of mechanics invariably leads to misunderstandings.

That’s my fault for aiming at the wrong target. How to order gameplay is really a secondary matter of implementing the suggested change. The core issue itself is character knowledge – specifically, whether a defender should know in advance that an attack will hit (or miss) when the blades, arrows, and bullets start to fly. Rewritten with that focus in mind, DECIDE should strike even more readers as sensible.

The topic has come up in many online discussions. This article brings together everything I have to say on the matter, drawing on previous online discussions and writings here, including: (online forum discussion) (very old, 3e-era initial write-up) (all DECIDE-related content on this site)

Other changes

1. I moved much of the text to the Appendix; it’s supporting material, not key content.

2. I changed the term for “defending only after confirming TH” from the initial “panic defense” to “last-second defense”. The former was a poor choice of words: You could argue that the “immediate defense” (initiating defense without checking TH) is one taken in reflexive “panic”, and the delayed “last-second” defense is one chosen deliberately and calmly!

3. As mentioned in the original version, the tweak creates an ability to force a defense using a Feint. When you announce your “attack” (really a Feint), your foe may announce a defense, and thus needlessly spend the defense to avoid an “attack” that doesn’t come.

But while that creates interesting opportunities when using the Feint + Attack option for All-Out Attack in GURPS 3e, changes to Feints in 4e make gaming this more tricky. I’ve removed this topic from the article and will set it aside for now, probably until after I see whether the upcoming Martial Arts suggests something. For now, it’s easiest to assume that Feints bring up no special consideration: just as the “attack” doesn’t actually happen, the defender’s stated defense versus it doesn’t actually happen, and the defense isn’t “used up”.

“Objection!”: Readers respond

Does GURPS really hand defenders an unnatural precognitive ability? Some GURPS players do object to this portrayal, or to other aspects of the tweak:

“But a trained warrior should be able to predict whether incoming blows will hit or not.”

Sure, they should, to some degree – but GURPS makes no distinction concerning “trained”. A wheezing librarian who’s battled nothing beyond dust bunnies is granted the same automatic, unfailing predictive sense as a champion gladiator.

Experience is a moot point anyway when bullets and lasers start flying; it makes no sense for any normal mortal to say “That bullet’s going to miss me; I don’t need to defend”.

“It doesn’t matter anyway whether the defender states he dodges.”

“Dodges are free and unlimited. We can assume the defender always chose to dodge.”

No, GURPS says that it does matter, in concrete ways. The game is very specific on the consequences of active defenses: If you’re taking an Aim, Concentrate, or similar time-consuming action, dodging instead of staying put can disrupt your action.

Besides, there are more active defenses than Dodge! The above consequences of defending apply equally to Parry and Block – and unlike Dodge, your choice of one of these “burns up” a limited use. (GURPS even offers published options that place Dodge on the same “limited use” schedule, with each Dodge past the first becoming more difficult. Under that sort of option, “reading” whether you do or don’t need to dodge an attack matters a lot.)

“There are other ways to interpret a miss.”

“We don’t have to say that the defender foresaw the miss and knew he didn’t have to defend. We could say that the miss happened because the target defended in some unspecified way.”

Creatively interpreting outcomes is a good thing that all gamers should do. But take care with interpretations that conflict with specific game rule effects. Decreeing that an attack’s “miss” was actually a successful Dodge by the defender conflicts with rules if the target was Aiming or Concentrating (why didn’t the “Dodge” disrupt those?), if the target had taken an AOA (why was he able to “Dodge” at all?), and so on. (See a bit more commentary on the topic here, and a semi-related topic here.)

I like when rules and procedures are clear on what they’re trying to accomplish or model: an attack is either on target or isn’t, a target either defends or doesn’t. Simplicity for the win!

“The tweak means extra complexity/bookkeeping/rolls.”

No to all! The DECIDE tweak adds no complexity, bookkeeping, or rolls. Nor does it try to reduce those. It’s not about those mechanical things. It’s about what the character knows when he decides whether and how to defend. That’s it.

“But asking the defender to state his action is an extra step.”

GURPS already requires defenders to do this – sometimes (that is, whenever TH is a success). Yes, the tweak asks that defenders do so any time they want to maximize defense (by committing to an immediate defense). If that doesn’t sound good, use the tweak only versus gunfire, and only when it really matters (such as when the defender’s Dodge might disrupt some action). Or don’t use it at all.

But let me note this: Players stating how they respond to immediate life-and-death danger is the fun part of combat! It’s something I want to do when my PC is about to be skewered. If reacting to an incoming spear with “I Dodge!” is a bothersome chore to be avoided, perhaps the players would prefer some game system with passive defense rules that require zero involvement by the defending player. (That would be most game systems, if I’m not mistaken!)

(Seriously, I’ve always been a bit mystified by complaints over “having to roll” defenses. Have fun with these! Play ’em up! “Ha! You deftly knock away the blade’s deadly thrust! The pirate widens his eye in surprise!”)

On realism (or, does it make sense to dodge gunfire at all?)

A bit of a tangent: GURPS allows characters to dodge gunfire. Crazy? Maybe. But me, I’m fine with that.

Real people can’t evaluate and dodge incoming bullets, of course, but the game has a rationale: You’re not ducking actual bullets, you’re dodging away from the direction of the gun’s muzzle, the perceived path of fire. (And while we’re at it, the game is clear that this Dodge is an intentional action, not an effect of your random movement. For all your bobbing and weaving, GURPS says you get no Dodge vs gunfire from the rear, after your All-Out Attack, or in any other situation where you wouldn’t otherwise get to make an active, intentional Dodge. A GURPS Dodge vs gunfire is, by the rules, something you do purposefully.)

Arguably, ducking away from an invisible line of fire should be much more difficult than avoiding a solid weapon, especially versus long-range gunfire. But the issue of difficulty aside, it is reasonable to allow some sort of Dodge vs the perceived path of gunfire. If GURPS wants to cinematically handle this with a full Dodge at no penalty, I’ll go along with it, especially considering how quickly a GURPS bullet can end a PC’s career.

My minor beef, though, is that the game turns this all upside down through unnatural character knowledge! Instead of forcing defenders to preemptively jump away from a gun muzzle’s direction, GURPS expressly lets them wait for the gun to fire, then unerringly gauge the path of the supersonic bullets, then decide whether and how to defend, and then take defensive action.

Wow, that’s busy!

On melee

The above oddity holds true, if less glaringly so, for other attacks. Do you have the luxury of knowing whether an incoming arrow or spear will hit or miss, or do you reasonably toss up your shield as soon as you see the missile coming your way? And whether or not a trained knight can automatically gauge the accuracy of an approaching sword blow, should everyone be able to do the same? How about you? Would you, and could you, predict whether that sword blow will strike true, or would you move to protect yourself with a parry as soon as the blade starts sweeping down at you?

It’s debatable. Fortunately, you can play it either way.

On character knowledge and roleplaying

In addition to realism issues, the knowledge GURPS gives defenders is a departure from the normal flow of game action. What’s the basic “unit” of RPG play? I’d call it this little exchange or interaction:

1) Something – some event, stimulus, etc. – happens.
2) Players weigh that something, and, without certainty of the future outcome, state how they respond.
3) Based on that interaction, the GM, players, and game rules determine the outcome.

Like this:

1) GM: “You hear footsteps approach. It sounds like a guard.”
2) Players: “He might see us trying to break in! We’ll need to take cover. First, we’ll…”
3) Everyone plays on to resolve what happens.

Defense rolls, by curious fiat, twist that 1-2-3 order to 1-3-2. That is, an attack is launched (that’s the 1), the GM determines and lets the characters know the “tentative” future outcome (that’s 3), after which the defending player can, based on that knowledge of the future, choose his response (step 2) and – possibly – change the future (go back to 3, get actual outcome). If the rest of the game were played that way, it’d look like this:

1) GM: “You hear footsteps approach. It sounds like a guard.”
3) Players: “Will he see us?” GM: “Actually, no, his Perception roll will fail.”
2) Players: “Okay, we’ll keep working on the break-in.”

To me, running defenses like this emphasizes dice-rolling over the most fun element of table-top gaming: character interaction and decision. Attackers do have to make decisions (that’s a good thing!), yet defenders don’t necessarily have to; the game passes them by, jumps right to the mechanical stuff, and only asks the defender to make a decision if the mechanics call for it. Yet it’s the defender who’s facing a life-or-death instant!

There’s a halberd screaming down toward your character’s head. He’s a split-second away from death. It’s as ‘cliffhanger’ a moment as you’ll ever find. If that’s not a time for you to decide to do something, and decide now, then when the heck is?

Benefits of DECIDE

There are plenty!

1. The tweak models how you’d defend in real life. If you know someone’s about to shoot at you, you take action now. If you wait to watch the bullets fly first, you’re too late.

It’s still a realistic consideration – if less imperative – when applied to non-gunfire attacks.

2. The tweak hews to the way everything else in the game already works: characters respond to threats or events without knowing in advance what the outcomes of those events would be. Why make active defenses the sole exception to this?

3. The tweak emphasizes roleplaying, not mechanics. “Here’s what happens; what do you do?” is the heart of the game, the source of excitement. An arrow is whizzing in from high above; do you jump for cover or not? It should be an important decision to be made now, not something to be set aside while dice are checked.

Similarly, melee gains closer interaction between two combatants (it becomes more of a “dance”, if you like that common metaphor). Each threat by one fighter must be met by a decision by the other fighter, whether that decision is a commitment to defensive action, a commitment to not defend, or a split-second of calm evaluation before deciding (the last-second defense). No more “Meh, I’ll do something if I have to” as the universal defender decision.

4. The defense tweak emphasizes tactics. Now that a fighter no longer knows an arrow’s future in advance, he’ll have to make tough decisions. Should he hold his shield in reserve against what’s probably a wild shot, or play it safe and fully prepare to Block? Does the fighter defend and risk breaking his Aim or Concentrate action, or maintain that action and hope his attackers are poor shots?

5. The defense tweak creates an automatic mechanical effect of being able to focus on a single foe, as opposed to having to potentially respond to many. When you’ve got a single foe throwing one attack at a time, you’ve got no reason to “hold back” a defense; you can comfortably commit to it every time to claim a +1 bonus. In short: Defending becomes easier when you’ve got only one foe to worry about and you know exactly where every attack is coming from. This follows naturally from DECIDE, with no extra rules.

6. The last-second defense option allows experienced fighters to watch and gauge the accuracy of incoming attacks. Anyone can choose to do this, actually, and then make a last-second defense if the attack proves accurate. But an untrained fighter, with his lousy defense scores, can scarcely afford any defense less than optimal (even when the difference is small in the case of melee attacks); his waiting seriously reduces his already-slim chances of saving his hide. He’s best off reacting instantly to any attack!

The veteran fighter, on the other hand, can afford to pass up the benefit of immediate defense. She coolly gauges the attacks and doles out her defenses only when they’re needed. It makes for an interesting difference in combat styles.

7. The last-second defense option also allows a distinction between dodging the “path” of gunfire, which GURPS lets everyone attempt, and dodging the bullet itself, for which there’s currently no option. If you’ve got a Matrix-style game with super defense scores, characters can now try to actually dodge bullets!

8. Going back to this article’s opening, the DECIDE tweak creates the perfect way to game real combat precognition. Just apply GURPS‘ current defense rules to precogs only. The result: Everyone in the party gets told “The orcs start firing arrows. What do you do?” But the precog is told “Two arrows are coming for you… but… [GM checks TH]… both will miss you by a hair. What do you do?” And the precog can just stand there looking smug, if she likes.

9. The benefits of all this are free! A time-tested GM’s first reaction to all the above will rightly be, “Ah, but what’s the catch? What new combat steps, extra rolls, added bookkeeping, and worse will we have to undertake?”

NONE! There are literally no extra rolls or bookkeeping. No funny extra phases or steps. Just take the same “Here’s what’s happening; what do you do?” play that you use everywhere in the game, and apply it to defenses too, giving defenders no future knowledge they shouldn’t have. You still carry out normal attack and defense exchanges on the spot, just like now, with nothing extra to record for later.

Another optional benefit: Player-focused “roll reversal”

If you like, DECIDE can reward your play with more dicing by the player, and less dicing by the GM. Here’s how:

Under normal GURPS play, for any attack/defense exchange, you only go to the final step (damage) if two conditions are met: the attack succeeds and defense fails. If either of these is unmet, the exchange ends.

When a PC attacks, the player always gets to roll to hit, which is fun for the player. Afterward, the GM only rolls defense for the defending NPC if necessary, a time-saver which is usually welcomed by busy GMs. This is all good.

But now we move to the NPC’s counter-attack. Under current rules, the GM always gets to (or has to, as he may feel) roll to hit when the NPC attacks. The player waits passively; he gets to state an action afterward and make a defense roll only if it’s necessary. Yawn.

Hmm. Now let’s bring in DECIDE. It’s the NPC’s turn to attack. Before any to-hit is checked, the PC announces he’ll play it safe and Dodge. (Already, the player is getting involved! Yay!) The scene is set; it’s time to resolve it. But… instead of rolling TH, the GM hands the dice to the defending player. That’s right. Both the NPC’s attack and the PC’s defense have been announced, and either a failed to-hit roll or a successful defense roll will end the exchange. That means the order of the dice rolling no longer matters. So let the player roll defense first. If he succeeds, the exchange is over; move on. Only if he fails does the GM need to check the NPC’s to-hit.

If that observation doesn’t spark a small “wow”, please read it again. Nothing changes in the number of rolls needed: one roll is required, a second only if necessary. Nothing changes in the outcome probabilities (other than the first roll now allowing a chance of defense criticals instead of attack criticals). Yet you’ve guaranteed that the player will always make a roll during both the PC’s attack turn and the NPC’s attack turn, while during either attack turn, the GM will make a roll only if necessary.

This is purely an option, for use only where it adds to the fun. If you care about side effects of the NPC’s TH roll like critical hits and misses, or hitting the wrong target on a crowded field, then you definitely want to roll the NPC’s TH first. But if you’re only concerned with simple hit/miss by the NPC, such as when scrub foes surround the party, the above “roll reversal” keeps the action – and the dice! – focused squarely on the PCs.

Now, what player won’t like that?

Does it all matter?

As “correct” as the defense tweak is, it often won’t make a mechanical difference in play. For starters, many adopters will likely use it in gunfire situations only (Option 1). And even if you think there should be some difference between defending against a melee attack right away vs waiting to gauge its acccuracy, Option 3’s difference in defense rolls is a meager +1. Is that meaningful enough to bother with? It’s up to you.

Likewise, in the common situation of one-on-one melee in which your foe attacks you only once per turn, there’s typically no tactical consideration of whether to “use up” your Parry or Block versus the first incoming blow. GURPS gives you that defense “for free”; there’s no reason not to use it. So in terms of mechanical consequences, in this particular instance, it doesn’t really matter whether we demand that the defender commit to parrying, or whether we just assume that he does so without asking.

Similar things hold true even against gunfire. If the defender isn’t Aiming, Concentrating, or otherwise suffering any consequence of unlimited free Dodges, then no, it doesn’t matter mechanically whether he says “I Dodge!” up front, or whether we just assume he automatically did so.

And so on. In short: the suggestion affects mechanical actions and outcomes in some situations, but not all.

That said, for those situations where it does make a difference, it can be an important one. And there are many side benefits (see above).

Maybe the most important benefit is this: In those combats where the tweak doesn’t significantly change mechanical outcomes, its take on character knowledge is still… well, correct. And without question, doing things “correctly” from the start prevents unforeseen confusion, patches, and game-stopping moments of “Why do things work this way?” down the road.

But all that said, never forget: No matter how technically or realistically “correct” any rule is, where your game is concerned, your response of “No thanks, we still prefer the other way” – or even “Meh, just not interested” – will always trump “correct”, a thousand times over!

Play on!

Article history

The article is a revision of the old article “Revised Defense Flow in GURPS“. If you see reader comments that don’t seem to fit the article, they probably precede this revision’s posting and refer to the original version. See the Appendix for more notes on the revision.

The DECIDE name comes with assistance from B. Finney, who made many fine (and sometimes wonderfully convoluted : ) suggestions. While the article vigorously fought all attempts at the perfect acronym, we finally hammered out the not-so-bad DECIDE.

v1.5 (2011/02/08): Hmm, I haven’t been putting version numbers on DECIDE; let’s call this 1.5.

The version updates the article with a significant change. Under Option 3, I’m inserting a change first discussed in DECIDE implementation notes: a change from the -1 “last-second defense” penalty vs melee weapons to a 0; and a blanket +1 to all “immediate defense” rolls that don’t wait to check TH.

This is arguably how the option should have been designed from the start. It lets fighters make normal GURPS defenses (“first check TH”) vs melee weapons at no bonus or penalty, and awards an attractive +1 penalty vs any attack when the fighter quickly commits to defending. The net effect: DECIDE becomes nicely “invisible” in melee combat, staying out of play unless a fighter opts for its effects. That’s the sort of option I like!


  • bignose

    Thanks for spelling this out yet again, and in even more detail than before. I’m glad to see you still beating this drum; I agree that the active defense sequence is a silly wart for GURPS 4e to have kept around, when it would cost nothing to have fixed it.

    Myself, I’ve used this as a house rule ever since I saw it in your earlier writings, and all of my players — especially the *actual girls* — have enjoyed the result. Sometimes the girls at my gaming table appreciate logical rules more than the boys; I think the latter get all territorial about an illogical rule once they’ve learned it, whereas the girls just want the rules to support the suspension of disbelief and follow the way the game world is supposed to work.

    Having the entire thing laid out here in its own article makes it even easier to discuss the point, since the discussion doesn’t have to start with “See all that other stuff in there about defenses, ignore it, I’m just talking about this part” — which hardly ever clarifies things.

    As for the name, how about being bold? Name it so the benefit is clear, rather than just pointing out the downside of “oh no, another revised rule”. It’s not “Revised”, it’s “Logical” or “Reality-checked” or “More credible” or even “Correct”.

    • tbone

      Well, I guess I’d say I’m beating the drum reactively; I pop up when someone brings up the topic, but otherwise don’t go around trying to sell it. With this article, I can now lazily just point and say, “There’s my take”. : ) As you say, it is useful to put things into one place rather than point to a bunch of disjointed sources.

      (Plus, a look at old forum threads shows a moderator getting exasperated with the undead nature of the discussion, so I don’t want to beat it to death any more there.)

      I actually thinks it’s a little silly to make such a long article out of it, as it really is a trivial thing. Then again, I think all the points are valid, and even if the current rule isn’t something awful that breaks the game, an improvement is an improvement. So there it is.

      Maybe your comment about “suspension of disbelief” is the key. The current rule isn’t awful, and I never even noticed anything funny about it for a long time – but at some point, when players do notice its oddities, it breaks the “suspension of disbelief” for the moment. It invites setting aside the action so everyone can discuss “does this make sense?” and detour off into mechanics.

      It’s not always easy to fix rules that invite in-play questions about mechanics. But in this case, it is easy, with plenty of other ancillary benefits to boot, so why not fix it? I think we’re agreed on that stance.

      Re name: you’re completely right, “revised” has the negative ring of hacking for the sake of hacking. “Logical Defense Flow”… “Sensible Defense Order”… But how to get the requisite acronym? : ) “Sensible Active Defense Order”… no…

      • Devotee of Reason

        POW: Plausibly Ordered Whacking?

        DIME: Defense In My Experience?

        RIDE: Realism In Defensive Exploits?

        or, for the culinary theme….

        FOOD: Fast, Obvious Options: Defense

        • tbone

          I like the thoughts, especially maybe POW…

          Now, if the acronym spelled a word related to “defense” or “order”, all the better.

          Let’s, see: DODGE:

          Dissecting Order of Defense: GURPS Explained?


          Do-Or-Die Gun Evasion?

          The last focuses on guns, whereas the rule proper addresses any situation, but it does have a better ring to it than anything else I can come up with… What do you think, readers?

          • Matt Jozwiak

            I can’t say I’m familiar enough with the original system to understand the difference. Any chance of a flow chart to stick in the GM’s book instead?

            • tbone

              Well, I don’t have a flow chart; if someone versed in flowchart schematics wanted to make one, that’d be nifty!

              Probably the most visible difference between this proposal and the Rules As Written is a gunfire example:

              You’re taking a long Aim action against me. In the meantime, I shoot at you first.

              RAW: As I shoot, you don’t need to take any action yet. You wait while I roll TH first; you then decide what to do based on the TH result. If I roll a miss, you take no action, and keep aiming without consequence. If I roll a hit, you have to decide whether to defend; assuming you choose to do so, you can roll a defense (but risk spoiling your Aim by doing so).

              Proposed revision: As I shoot, you need to make a decision now: do something defensive (and risk spoling your Aim); or stay put (continuing your Aim), and hope I miss. You have no way of knowing in advance whether the bullet will hit or not. After you make your choice, we’ll resolve things with my TH roll, and your defense roll (if you chose to defend).

              That’s it. Most people who have commented have agreed that the latter is a more sensible depiction of how defenses would really work, especially any sort of defense against gunfire.

      • bignose

        It should not focus on one particular defense; it should not focus on one particular attack; but it should spell something defense-related.

        EVADE: Enhanced Verisimilitude Active Defenses Explained

        • bignose

          Or maybe, since one of the main thrusts of the article is that all this is an *easy* rule change to make, one of the Es should stand for “Easy”.

          EVADE: Easy Verisimilitude for Active Defenses Explained

          EVADE: Easy Veracity for Active Defense Explanation

          EVADE: Enhanced Verisimilitude for Active Defenses is Easy

      • bignose

        Alternatively, emphasise the logical nature of the change:

        DECIDE: Determining Effect and Cause Intelligently for Defense is Easy

        REACT: Reality says Effect After Cause, Truly

        IMPEDE: Improved Modified Process for Easy Defense Explanation

        DEFEND: Decide Effects Fast for Easy Normal Defenses

        CADGE: Correct Active Defenses for GURPS is Easy

        Hmm, I think I’d better stop now.

  • Irian

    Nice and simple, I like it and will introduce it in our next Transhuman Space session in two weeks…

  • Rev. Pee Kitty

    If that observation doesn’t spark a small “wow”, please read it again. Nothing changes in the outcome probabilities or in the number of rolls needed, but you’ve guaranteed that the player will always make a roll during both the PC’s attack turn and the NPC’s attack turn, while during either attack turn, the GM will make a roll only if necessary. The action and dice stay focused on the PCs.

    I don’t see where this is coming from. Are you saying that all of the rules you just wrote should only apply to PCs, and that the NPCs should use the old rules? That would seem to make the NPCs into precogs — it isn’t very balanced to force the PCs to defend first but then let the NPCs defend after the fact.


    • tbone

      Rev. Pee Kitty wrote:
      I don’t see where this is coming from. Are you saying that all of the rules you just wrote should only apply to PCs, and that the NPCs should use the old rules? That would seem to make the NPCs into precogs — it isn’t very balanced to force the PCs to defend first but then let the NPCs defend after the fact. PK

      Quite likely, I didn’t explain it clearly, but fear not: the same rules are being applied to both sides, 100% balanced.

      Let me simplify the combat process even more: instead of dice and hits, you and I are flipping coins for candy. We take turns, one person attacking and one defending. Heads is “success” on either attack or defense. The attacker only takes a piece of candy if he get heads and the defender get tails.

      So on my turn, we’re both going to flip. I only take a piece of your candy if I get heads and you get tails. I can go first, and if I get heads, you need to flip and try to “defend”. But if I get tails, I know I lost, and there’s no point in your flipping; it’d be a waste of time.

      That’s no different from the current TH/defense in GURPS. The difference is here:

      If you jump ahead and flip before me, that’s fine. If you get a head, then you “defended”, and we know I don’t get the candy. There’s no need for me to flip; it’d be a waste of time.

      The point: it doesn’t matter who flips first. Me first, you first, or simultaneously; there’s absolutely no difference in outcome. The same holds true when we switch to your turn: you’ll only get the candy if you get heads and I get tails, and it won’t matter who flips first.

      So if I’m “GM” and you’re the “player”, we can agree – if we want – to always let you flip first, with me flipping second only when required. (That’s not forcing you to go first, it’s letting you, as RPGs are typically more fun when players, not GMs, are busy doing things.)

      I don’t know whether the coin toss version makes things any clearer or not; let me jump back to normal TH/defense:

      Why can’t we freely choose who rolls first, under the current rules? Because by RAW, it’s not a given that both sides will roll; rather, the defender only rolls if the attacker’s result requires it. So the attacker always needs to roll first.

      The difference is in commitment to defend. Under RAW, say I attack you and you check your Parry before I check TH. You succeed… but did you actually use up the Parry or not? We don’t know, as there’s no commitment required on your part. I still have to roll my TH. If I miss, then RAW says you didn’t use up the Parry after all. So there’s no point in your checking your defense before I check my TH; we still require two rolls.

      Under the revised flow proposed here, it won’t matter who rolls first. Whatever happens, you’re committed to using that Parry. So feel free to check your Parry first if you want; if you succeed, there’s no need for me to check TH. We’re finished at only one roll.

      I hope that clarifies. Probably more explanation than you needed, but may be of use to other passing readers.

  • Fenikso

    Hi. Very useful article!

    I have one question. How do you take care about defense options like: Retreat, Feverish defense, acrobatic dodge?

    • Rev. Pee Kitty

      I don’t see how any of those would change. You’d just declare them when you defended, just like always.

      “He swings his sword at your neck.”

      “I’ll Retreat and Dodge… “

      • tbone

        I agree: things work best when you’re specific about your actions.

        When attacking, the game requires that you specify regular or all-out attack, Deceptive Attack, hit location, etc. before rolling TH.

        Similarly, when you defend, you have to specify what sort of defense, whether you Retreat, etc., before you roll defense.

        And under the revised defense order rule, all this defense specification would come before defense or TH is rolled.

        I think it all boils down to an intuitive concept: decide what you’re going to do, then do it.

  • Bookman

    Love the concept, but not rolling an NPCs attack if the PC makes his defense roll is a significant change to the odds of combat because it mitigates a majority (for most PCs) of critical hits.

    I like the idea of announced defenses, and will probably adopt it (a link to this page has been sent to my players for their review) but perhaps the article could point this out?

    This is the statement that is either not entirely clear or is not entirely true: “Nothing changes in the outcome probabilities or in the number of rolls needed, but you’ve guaranteed that the player will always make a roll during both the PC’s attack turn and the NPC’s attack turn, while during either attack turn, the GM will make a roll only if necessary. ”

    Love the site, as always!

    • tbone

      Re crits: You are correct, removing a roll removes the chance for a crit, and that makes some difference. This should have been mentioned in the article, and I will add a note.

      But while removing the crit chance is a change, I consider it a balanced change: for any roll not made, you remove the chance of a critical hit, but also the chance of a critical miss. So it shouldn’t, on balance, leave anyone better or worse off.

      I’d call it an issue that extends beyond this defense topic. Any time you remove some roll, which is often a good thing for play speed, you’re taking out that roll’s possibility of criticals. Yet overall, gamers seem happy reducing the number of required dice rolls, whenever possible. So I don’t see any problem here, though you’re right, it should still be pointed out.

      Re the comment “This is the statement that is either not entirely clear or is not entirely true:”: Are you saying that the statement is not completely true because of the above crit issue (in which case I have to agree)? Or for some other reason?

      • Bookman

        You have it correct; I was referring only to the critical hit issue.

        I agree that it isn’t a huge problem, but I’m glad you agree that the discrepancy is worthy of mention.

        Thanks again for taking the time to write this article.


  • ICE Daddy

    At the outset, I will say that this appeals to me. I like the logic of the flow very much, and makes a great deal more sense.

    One notable trouble trouble spot that occurrs to me is the case of players who find it difficult not to agonize over decisions about the unknowable in the midst of game play (I am admittedly glacial at times, and my handle bears this out 😀 ), thus prompting GMs to work the “one second turns, I need a decision” prod a bit more often.

    If a group uses this ordering of mechanical events, I am wondering if a case could not be made for allowing characters (PC or NPC) with combat reflexes to use RAW, as they have “extraordinary reactions”. It is a 15 point advantage after all, and on par with Danger Sense in that respect. Danger Sense too might also benefit from this in this way.


    • tbone

      True, some players are very slow to make decisions! What can I say; that’s its own problem, and I assume it comes up not only when the player defends, but also when the player attacks, or does anything.

      I guess you’ll need to drop any game step you can, when it’s causing too much player agonizing. In this case, it might be best to use the revision only for gunfire (in which case there’s not even much of a decision to make; “Duck!” is almost always the right response!), and ignore it for other attacks, so the slow players only need to select a defense when absolutely necessary (i.e., a TH roll succeeded).

      Or heck, just drop it all if that’s what you have to do for the players involved!

      As for the second idea involving Combat Reflexes: Sure, you could rule that those characters get to “read” melee attacks accurately, and wait for the TH results; that’d be one option. I still like the full 2b, which also favors people with Combat Reflexes: with their higher defense score, they can better afford the penalty of “waiting”. (Personal bias: I always prefer that sort of “sliding ability scale” solution over a binary “this guy can, this guy can’t”.)

      But that’s the thing about melee here: just about any version of “use the revision for everyone”, “don’t use it at all”, “use it for some people”, etc. seems reasonable enough. However you play it in melee, it just doesn’t often make much difference.

      It’s really versus gunfire that the current rules feel odd, and there, I think it’d still feel odd if Combat Reflexes characters could “read” TH. They’re quick-witted, sure, but not quick enough to read incoming bullets and then decide what to do! Personally, I’d apply the revision to all characters under gunfire.

  • tbone

    Thanks, everyone, for the many comments. With great points made by people here and on the SJG forums, I need to make some revisions to the article, such as adding some points about Feints, critical hits, etc.

    But wait…

    There’s a bigger revision to be made. After all the discussion, I now think the entire focus of my article is a bit off target.

    I began with, and focused on, this question:

    “Should the defender make the decision to defend before or after the attacker checks TH?”

    But that’s not actually the core issue. The real question to ask is this:

    “Should the defender know the TH result when he decides to defend?”

    What’s the difference?

    If you play with all rolls made openly, it’s the same thing. The only way the defender won’t know the TH result before he decides to defend, is if you don’t roll TH before he decides to defend. So either way, we end up talking about order: deciding defense first, and then rolling TH.

    But you could play with hidden TH rolls as well – especially the GM’s TH rolls for NPC attackers. In that case, when the TH roll is made doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not the defender knows the result before defending.

    Or as I mused in the forum, it all boils down to:

    Do we say to the defender, “The attack will hit; what do you do?” Or do we say, “The attack might hit; what do you do?”

    That one-word difference – “will” vs “might” – is the heart of it all.

    So. The way I’ve been playing the revision, and all the points in the article, are valid. But in writing about it, I focused on order of steps: how to order statements of defense, rolls, etc. That’s all peripheral. It’s really not an issue of order and flow, but an issue of character knowledge.

    It’s this one question:

    “Should the defender know the TH result when he decides to defend?”

    You all know my response: “Maybe he should know versus melee attacks; it’s debatable and can be played several ways. But versus gunfire, no, the defender should have to act without knowing the TH results.” No change in my take on things.

    But would you agree that it’s better to recast the whole issue in terms of the above question about character knowledge, rather than focusing on order of things?

    Break time

    And that’s enough from me for the moment; time for a break. One interesting thing about the topic is that it’s simultaneously deep and important to the game, yet profoundly trivial at the same time!

    • kenclary

      Simply hiding the attack roll is the simplest implementation of the revised flow. It also makes it more clear that you’re not trying to hide other information, like whether an attack is really fake, or where it’s aimed. I would still recommend only bothering with it when making a ranged attack against someone who’s aiming or concentrating.

      (Also, I tried to post another long reply below, and it failed again. I sent you [tbone] email.)

      • tbone

        I think a rewrite will clarify:

        Character knowledge is the issue.

        How to enforce that knowledge – hidden rolls, rolling TH after defense decisions, etc. – is a separate matter of implementation. There should be several possible methods, something to fit any group.

  • bignose

    Thanks again for responding to feedback and revising this to put the focus where it belongs.

    > Instead of asking defenders, “The attack will hit you. What do you do?”, ask, “The attack might hit you. What do you do?”
    > From will to might. That single-word change sums up the entire tweak to character knowledge suggested here.

    That deserves to be a pop-quote like we see in the rule books. It would surely help “too long, didn’t read” types to understand the gist of the article instead of being distracted by options and addenda.

    • tbone

      Hmm, a pop-quote or call-out or whatever it’s called would be nice. No built-in feature for that; maybe I can add a “one-paragraph summary” later as a sidebar.

      Thanks again for the comments and ideas! The article is about to hit the 1000-reads mark.

  • tussock

    I can’t help but think this idea would go smoother by replacing the defence roll with attack penalties.
    Announce attack (and roll in secret as desired), pick defence, check dice. Obviously, if you don’t mind a player roughly knowing the NPC’s skill level, you can let him roll for the attack once he’s announced a defence.

    Your new defence scores count as a penalty to the opposing attack; dodge at Move – 3, parry/block at half skill – 3, and apply approximately *half* the normal active defence modifiers to the attacker as a penalty.

    Examples …
    Unarmed parry, half skill -5.
    Knife parry, half skill -4.
    Quarterstaff parry, half skill -2.
    Flail, +2 vs parry, +1 vs Block.
    Thrown weapon, +1 vs parry.
    AoD, +1 to any defense.
    Stunned, -2 to all defences.
    DB from shields, all reduced by 1 (to 0, 1, or 2).
    Encumbrance counts normally, one can’t dodge when loaded up.

    Any advantage, power, or spell that adds to or subtracts from defence should cost double, and be limited to half the normal modifier.

    NB: Defences like this are much more dependent on relative skill levels of the combatants, kinda like giving a free feint before every attack, but they’ll keep the skill 20 types away from your eyes a bit better.
    I’d most likely remove the feint mechanic from the game, double dipping there would be a bad thing, and the ones that need it now don’t have the skill to use it.

    • tbone

      I haven’t played that – it’s a big change from normal defense rolls – but it sounds similar to running combat as a Contest of Skill. I’ve never played that either, but the idea has appeared in print somewhere as an option for quicker combats.

  • Harald387

    Great article, but one note: the option for handing the player the dice for both attack and defense rolls then -not rolling- the attack if the defense is successful removes the chance that the attack is a critical (and thus bypasses defense) or that the defense is a critical (and will turn a successful attack to a critfail). Which is fine if that’s what you want to do, but in many games your only real chance to hit is with those crits…

    • tbone

      Yes, that’s addressed in the revision that’s been up for a while, after it was pointed out by several people.

      You’re correct that neglecting to roll TH (because defense is already known to have succeeded) will remove the chance for a TH critical – though it doesn’t remove the chance for a defense critical.

      So as it’s purely an option, you would never have to neglect the TH roll if you were concerned about TH crits.

      Still, I’m frankly a little mystified by people’s intense concern over TH criticals. What I suggested as an option (letting a PC defender check defense first, and then checking the NPC’s TH roll only if defense failed) is a net neutral action: it removes the chance for a TH critical hit, but also for a TH critical miss. No net benefit or loss. (Is it really a bad thing to lessen the chance of a lowly Orc scoring a fatal critical blow and putting a hero-level PC into the dirt??)

      Crits still remain in the form of defense crit success or failure, essentially offering similar potential results but with an emphasis on the PC’s success or failure. (And there’s still full room for the NPC’s TH roll, and thus TH crit success or failure, to come into play should the defense fail. For better or worse, there’s still a chance for that Orc to slay Conan with a lucky shot.) Yet I’ve yet to hear anyone lament the fact that under canon rules, the chance for defense criticals gets tossed out every time a defense roll is not required. Why the big concern that there always be a check for NPCs’ TH crits, yet no concern that there always be a chance for defense crits? I don’t get that.

      That’s getting off into another subject: the crit system, and what’s good or bad about it. The key point here is: Yes, any time you could jettison some roll, but are concerned about its crit potential or any other side effect, then by all means, make the roll. That would be a game-wide consideration, not limited to this article’s topic, or even limited to combat.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Rob Conley

    I posted a long reply here

    To summarize, I think your variant is interesting and clever but I disagree a problem exist. I think the issue boils down to what exactly an attack roll represents. For me it is a skill roll a skill roll that can be evaluated and acted upon after seeing how the character executes that skill. It doesn’t represent the chance that a foot turns on a pebble, or a gust of wind comes by.

    However again your article is very well written.

  • tbone

    Discussion of DECIDE still goes on at .

    Here or in SJG forum threads, most comments are very favorable, but the article receives some “objections” as well. I place the word in quotes for a reason. Some “objections” are mostly agreement (“Yeah, it makes lots of sense in this situation, and generally for these characters in this situation, and maybe here as well…”). Some are flat-out wrong (see any comments about extra rolls, extra bookkeeping, extra complexity, “wargaming”, etc.). And some… well, there are persistent “objections” whose target I can’t figure out.

    From more recent comments, I think I see what a few readers may be misunderstanding.


    DECIDE looks at two situations:

    A: A fighter (generally a skilled one) sees that an incoming blow poses a possible threat, but does not yet commit irrevocably to a full defense. A split second later, he accurately judges whether or not it actually is a threat, and commits to an appropriate defense only if necessary.

    B: A fighter (generally an unskilled one) sees that an incoming blow poses a possible threat, and commits at that instant to a full defense. He does not spend the extra split-second evaluating whether or not it actually is on target to hit, or whether it might just miss.

    Difference from RAW

    A is RAW: no defense commitment until you know TH. As far as I know, nobody has any complaint with that. We can all agree that A can be a perfectly realistic situation.

    The RAW oddity is this: RAW allows only A – for all fighters (from Conan to my grandmother), in all situations, versus all threats – even invisible bullets. RAW has no provision for B.

    DECIDE suggests allowing B as well. And when bullets fly, almost everyone who’s commented agrees that B makes more sense. It’s only the case of melee that generates debate, which leads us to:

    The (possible) misinterpretation

    As best as I can guess, objections along the line of “a skilled fighter shouldn’t waste defense on an attack that will miss” or “a skilled batter can see where a pitch is going” are misinterpreting DECIDE as tossing out A.

    If that’s what anyone is reading, let me correct it. DECIDE keeps A. DECIDE likes A. It only suggests that we disallow A where it’d be unreasonable – namely, in the case of bullets.

    DECIDE even likes A in melee! A should certainly exist in melee – but so should B. Otherwise, we’re claiming that low-skill fighters and librarians will always, unfailingly, identify every blow that’ll miss by an inch, with 100% knowledge that there’s no need to commit to defense. And that’s not realistic.

    (See article text for consequences of allowing B in melee – and add the point that without it, you can’t even game real situations like a hapless batter swinging at an outside pitch.)


    RAW allows only A.

    DECIDE allows both A and B, whichever is appropriate for the situation.

    A possible source of misunderstanding is thinking that DECIDE tosses out A and allows only B, which isn’t so.

    If that clears up any misunderstanding, good!

    Final note

    As with any area of rules, there are two levels to the thing: the idea and the implementation.

    The idea to allow B in combat is a good one, and an argument of “B is never realistic” cannot win.

    That said, how I chose to implement the idea – the mechanical difference between A vs B; when A and B each are and aren’t possible; which fighters perform A and which perform B; etc. – is just one possible implementation, and of course can be argued, tweaked, and improved upon.

    The point being: If any reader still sees some problem, I welcome your words – but please make clear whether it’s an objection to the idea of allowing A and B as above, or to the suggested implementation. (I gotta add: There’s plenty of room to dislike the implementation, but arguing against the idea is one tough sell!)

    And with that, there’s nothing to add except for the standard disclaimers: It’s all optional for the interested only; it’s often trivial anyway in terms of effect on game play; blah blah (you know the drill).

    • kenclary

      I posted a(nother) reply to the thread on the sjgames forums, at and the immediately following reply.

      The very short answer is that I think I’m correctly reading DECIDE, but I disagree with some of its apparent design decisions and a couple of its implimention details. In particular, I strongly disagree with one of the melee penalties DECIDE gives. But, rather than try to recap here, I’ll just point you at the post 🙂

  • Tedankhamen

    I liked your article – that “might” makes a BIG difference.

    As a person with fighting experience (karate blackbelt, 2nd and 3rd places in regional tournaments here in Japan), I have to add something:

    I never saw the good hits coming. People with high skills levels just outclassed me – I had to keep in a defensive posture, wait and attack and try to get lucky.

    This reality is reflected in GM language, which as you said should extend as far as “He attacks you. What do you do?” without mentioning whether the attack will succeed or fail. However, characters with over 18 in combat skill or over 10 points higher than their attacker should be able to ‘see’ hits coming or missing.

    As for the rest of characters, I figure that whoever reacts faster will have what I call combat momentum and keep attacking until
    1 He fumbles an attack
    2 He is distracted (hit from the side, etc)
    3 He is critically defended against (momentum passes to the defender)

    Basically, I would give players being attacked 3 options:
    1 Take it and Attack – If it misses, or it hits and they are still standing, they can attack.
    2 All-Out Defence – Player rolls his FULL combat skill as defense. On a critical success (or attacker’s critical failure) they can retaliate.
    3 Defensive Posture – Player rolls defense at 2/3 of skill. If successful, can retaliate at 2/3 of skill.

    Seems simpler this way, and represents the reality I felt.

    As for against guns, All-Out Defense would seem the only logical action. I doubt anybody playing paintball or stuck in a real-life shootout waits around to see if they are hit before returning fire.

    Hope that helps!

    • tbone

      Good comments. Let me ask more about one item: “combat momentum”. I believe this is the same as what many term “initiative” – not in the game sense of “who hits first in the fight?”, but in the sense of “having initiative”, and “keeping” it, and eventually “losing” it, at which point the other guy “gains initiative” and starts attacking you.

      It’s often described just as you say: once you have it, you keep attacking it until the other guy gets it. Yet, like combat lulls, this real-life factor seems very difficult to bring off in game rules.

      The difficulty is that there’s no in-game explanation for why the defensive side can’t counterattack freely. If the GM says “it’s because you don’t have combat momentum”, how does he answer the player who responds with “I just attack. I can choose to do that if I really want to!”?

      (That suggests to me a possible game solution if “combat momentum” rules are in place: Yes, the defending side can forcibly re-take the initiative by launching an attack, but at a steep -4 TH penalty. He’ll probably need to use AOA at +4 to offset the -4, which means no defense, which possibly realistically reflects the danger of stepping into the other guy’s momentum. How would you rate that idea?)

      Anyway, putting aside game rules, what I’d like to ask is this: Is it possible to dissect the real-life mechanism of “combat momentum”? Is it purely a matter of mental readiness? Or is there a physical factor as well? Like this:

      Say A attacks and B defends. After that, each naturally wants to be the next to attack. (This is RL, so no “turns”; either side could theoretically now launch an attack.) Now, if an attack from either A or B would take the same amount of time, then it’s just as reasonable for B to strike next as for A; it’s hard to see (from this alone) a physical explanation for A’s continued “momentum”.

      On the other hand, if A’s next attack (coming off a previous attack) is intrinsically faster than B’s next attack (coming off of a defense, so requiring some change in stance), then that would offer a physical explanation for A’s continued “momentum”. Until something happens to change the timing (such as A hesitates or fumbles, etc.), it makes sense that A would keep launching attacks at a pace that keeps B on the defensive.

      That’s simplifying things a lot, of course, but I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on what specific physical or mental factors create “momentum”.

  • Wyrm

    I don’t understand the trouble at all.
    It’s not like the defender gets any actual decision making anyway when it’s not his turn.

    What I mean with that is, so what if the attacker attacks, and the defender only gets asked for an active defense if it hits?

    It’s not like ‘the mage has precognition due to knowing the attack misses and will continue the concentration’ because either the mage already started before the attackers turn, or has to start after it.

    If the action is ongoing and the swing is a miss, why bother asking if the mage continues, of course he would that’s why he started the ritual (of concentration)
    And if the attack is about to hit, then, well a second is a relatively long time, and thus the trained adventurer will now dodge, or parry, or whatever.

    Ineptitude is reflected by poor defense skills, it’s built into that. The roll for active defense is merely a sort of lifeline that requires more effort than maybe a little sway, or just fate or whatever.

    But what about the comedic aspect of just standing there, continuing the concentration maneuver?
    If you’re a mage with a pair so big that you prepare your multi turn spell next to an actively hostile attacker then you simply have something to back that up. Otherwise, why would you be there in the first place?

    Maybe you think in terms of “My grand display of magery will be intimidating enough” or “just because I’m concentrating doesn’t mean I don’t have the situation awareness to pick up on the tells an attacker might do”

    In other words, I consider the ‘situation’ of being in a silly situation like that in the first place more concerning.
    The mage just chilling out next to Comam the mageslayer to start the five turn ritual of Yogyoggog.

    Same with projectiles, guns, the range and speed table already has complications built in to make the attack roll itself difficult, and if the defender is unaware then he has to take the hit.
    If the defender is somehow aware after a range and travelling so quickly that there’s maluses the attacker has to overcome, then the ‘active defense’ might just be extra effort, or even rationalized as a nonvoluntary action and instead its the hand of fate or some lizard brain low level thing one cannot actually control well, an ephemeral sixth sense that makes your head move out of the way just enough, etc.

    Cause the issue is “dodging the aim of a ranged attacker one is aware of” but most people would choose to not be in targetable in the first place, behind cover, etc. So why would anyone sane just stand there? Maybe daredevils would (and they would get a bonus in the DECIDE system too, right?) but THAT situation is the ridiculou situation, not getting thrown a bone of “well this bullet hits you square unless you really dodge now”.

    If you have supernatural dodge skills then yeah maybe you’ll continue being a hardass daredevil that stands there, but if you aren’t, then you’ll get the hell outta dodge to not having to play more “ridiculous precog roulette”.

    And if you’re not aware of the attacker explicitly, then you wouldn’t dodge until at the very least you’re being made aware indirectly from the brick that just exploded to the right of you, or the crack of a supersonic bullet, followed by the report of the gun firing itself.

    That doesn’t mean you’re aware of the attacker, just that you’re in a bad spot, and this bad spot could very well be identical, mechanics wise to a trapped room where spikes shoot out of the ground but some are rusted in and you don’t know them.
    You know you will very likely be attacked more after one harmlessly shoots out of the ground next to you.
    So, do you then walk over each hole, look down and decide to defend there, engaging in the sport of asking the GM if the spike is rusted and will stop short? Or will you swig Salafarius Sensibilises superlative suckerfoot solution, and start walking along the wall?

    • tbone

      Thanks for the thoughts, and my apologies for the very slow reply. Regarding “trouble”, I’d agree that there’s no big trouble to solve here. More a case of “Hey, couldn’t we do this in a way that’s just as easy, but a bit better?”

      It’s not like the defender gets any actual decision making anyway when it’s not his turn.

      Someone who, say, dodges gunfire does indeed make a decision when it’s not his turn (it’s the firer’s turn, after all).

      What I mean with that is, so what if the attacker attacks, and the defender only gets asked for an active defense if it hits?

      Well, that “so what?” is pretty much the point of the whole article. The RAW method you describe certainly doesn’t break the game in any way; I merely point out that deciding to make an active Dodge only after being informed that bullets (for example) will hit, doesn’t align with people’s expectations for how one would avoid gunfire, doesn’t match the game’s description of the action (dodging away from the “line of fire” before the gun is fired), doesn’t particularly match defensive action in adventure fiction, and certainly doesn’t mesh with reality. Whereas the article’s alternative does mesh nicely with all of those (or so I claim).

      It’s not like ‘the mage has precognition due to knowing the attack misses and will continue the concentration’ because either the mage already started before the attackers turn, or has to start after it.
      If the action is ongoing and the swing is a miss, why bother asking if the mage continues, of course he would that’s why he started the ritual (of concentration)

      And using DECIDE, that’s a perfectly valid action for the mage! He’s making a conscious (and bold and/or crazy) decision that maintaining the ritual is worth the risk of being hit. He elects not to dodge that path of fire, instead hoping that the bullets miss. What will happen? Roll the TH and find out! (And if a hit does occur, we’ve eliminated the need for this particular mage to roll Dodge. Hey, faster play!)

      And if the attack is about to hit, then, well a second is a relatively long time, and thus the trained adventurer will now dodge, or parry, or whatever.
      Ineptitude is reflected by poor defense skills, it’s built into that. The roll for active defense is merely a sort of lifeline that requires more effort than maybe a little sway, or just fate or whatever.

      This view of defenses – “fate or whatever”, which you allude to a couple of times – is one perfectly game-able take on defenses that does mesh with RAW. If I’m reading correctly, I think your comment can be summed up as this: “Where’s the problem, if we just view Active Defenses as some sort of abstract ‘saving throw’ representing any number of things (actual action or workings of fate or just some non-specified ‘a thing happened’)?”

      I’d reply to that by saying: No problem! Roll those saving throws, and explain them as whatever sounds good in context. Nothing wrong with that!

      But to better explain the point of DECIDE, let me boil it down to this:

      Let’s say that you did want to game GURPS Active Defenses (especially vs gunfire) not as abstract “saving throws” but as intentional, concrete, physical defensive actions. If you want to game defenses that way, then doing so the DECIDE way, not the RAW way, is a better model. (Or so I claim.)

      I hope that helps in understanding the intent.

      • Wyrm

        Thanks, and likewise, apologies for the long pause inbetween comments.

        Basically, I only want to chime in on the summary you apply to my whole thing.

        It’s not about saving throws, it’s about roleplaying…and by standing around, waiting for Basic/RAW defense rules being bad roleplay, imho.

        Metagaming the system while standing around in a clearly dangerous situation, fishing for misses so you can keep concentrating on a spell or whatever.
        Versus doing your utmost to get out of the dangerous situation.

        The situation that a mage who is not bulletproof gets thrown a bone on a potential hit from a machinegun, for example, is not the problem.

        The problem is the bulletproof mage not getting the hel out of dodge is. That is the problematic situation.

        A very much weak to bullets and dying mage standing brazenly in a hail of machinegun fire because ‘he gets a saving throw if a bullet might hit, and otherwise keeps concentrating’ is the problem.
        And the solution to that problem is, to slap disadvantages on the mage doing that, like some sort of deathwish, suicidal tendencies, or whatever.

        No need to invent a whole new defense system over this…
        “I stay and concentrate unless the bullet threatens to hit me!”
        “ahhh, okay, you’ve gone bonkers, mage boy. that’s a disaddening! You’re from a farming village and pheasants taking off unexpectedly scare you violently. who do you think you are standing in actual machinegun fire? the terminator? deadpool?”
        “No, just a metagamer… he he he”

        …yeah..that’s the problem, if you ask me.

        If the mage were bullet proof, was a daredevil, had complete faith in the healing magics of his companions, or anything else that would rationalize this suicidal act …then maybe. But not based on ‘GURPS rules will give me a saving throw!”

        • tbone

          I think we’re in agreement on roleplaying aspects here. Per your thoughts, and as I discuss in the Appendix part, reacting naturally to an incoming threat is a good part of roleplaying. It’s part of why, upon first encounter, I instantly liked GURPS’ active defenses (compared to other games’ “Armor Class” or other static penalties on attacker actions). I loved the idea that the defender reacts, and makes a choice, and does something.

          Restated, I prefer defenses not as a “saving throw” (as you put it well), but as a discrete action chosen with the same deliberate intent as the attack itself. GURPS’ AD by no means fails totally on that point; play things RAW, and it’s still all pretty good. But I’d say that, on that “Dodge vs gunfire” point in particular, the feel of the RAW mechanics strays a bit from roleplaying a defense, and takes a step toward mechanically rolling a saving throw. My opinion, anyway.

          As for that mage choosing to stand pat vs bullets to focus on spellcasting, hoping that luck alone will save his hide: Whether this mage (or anyone) would have the nerve to do that is addressed somewhere in optional rules for reacting to gunfire (Martial Arts? High-Tech?), if the GM wants to address that sort of thing. The ability to stand in place as bullets come flying might require amazing bravery – or some degree of crazy, as you suggest.

          (For my part, I tend to let PCs choose whatever action the player wants, within the bounds of disads, etc. – Cowardice would definitely make it tough for that wizard to face the bullets! But for NPCs: Yeah, if the mooks are going to dive for cover against the PCs’ fusillades, I’ll have them make that decision without knowing the PCs’ TH rolls in advance. But maybe not crazy, fanatical mooks!)

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