Favorite Moves

by mshrm

Over time, most characters are going to develop a fondness for certain attacks. We’ve seen a lot of experimentation as people worked out what made sense for their character’s stats. The way the PCs fight has evolved as we (slowly, oh so very slowly) work out the parts of the combat system we didn’t understand before, as people have become aware of options, as experience points have been spent to improve discovered strengths and paper over unsuspected weaknesses. There are some actions that are becoming characteristic of certain PCs.

Even so, we’ve pretty much been grinding through the calculations and consequences every time. “Rapid Strike, which is -6 for each attack after the first, except you’re a Weapon Master, so it’s -3 for you, but you’re spending Fatigue for a Flurry Of Blows…”  There’s value in this, even though it slows things down. Folks get to hear about options that might be news to them:  we’ve got one player in particular who mines the combat option cheat sheet for tricks, then others see what he’s pulling, and they copy the parts that make sense for them. Familiarity comes with repetition, and familiarity with the options and modifiers speeds things up:  we’ve got so many folks making called shots for high-value targets, they’re starting to memorize the hit location penalties, and just about everybody’s gotten comfortable with Rapid Strikes.

This last session, the combats went really smoothly. It was remarked that we were moving the turns around the table at a speed that we hadn’t seen since the Old West game. In that campaign, all the fights were like the 10-12 second gunfight from Appaloosa: a bunch of guys standing around insulting each other, followed by a few seconds of a bunch of guys blazing away, followed by bleeding. (No, really, the first time a PC died, he took something like six bullets to the torso, won the fight, and then bled to death because he was the second in line to get first aid. Thirty minutes of bleeding is bad for the complexion, kids.)

“That was quick.”

“Yeah, everybody could shoot.”

Incidentally, in Pyramid #3-74, Hans-Christian Vortisch, the mind behind GURPS Tactical Shooting, breaks down that very gunfight in GURPS detail, along with several others. There’s a lot of All-Out Attack (Determined) in there. I recall that being the case with our Old West game, as well.

Anyhow, point is, when you cut down on the options you consider, you can make your decisions faster when it’s your turn. Too many options lead to analysis paralysis. As it happens, though, most characters are going to have a very small selection of “go-to” moves, that they’ll use over and over.

For example…

Alric: The party’s Big Man has been switching between maul and great axe a lot, as he goes between the roles of “damage-per-second” and “door-opener”.

  • Cleave:  Used when two targets present themselves side-by-side, as they so often do. A Rapid Strike using the great axe against the torso. Effective skill 16 + 1 fine weapon +1 weapon bond -3 Rapid Strike with Weapon Master = 15; does 3d+13 cutting.
  • Decapitation:  A popular move with the whole party, it seems. A normal attack, with the great axe, against the neck of a standing opponent. Effective skill 18 -5 neck = 13; does 3d+13 cutting, with a x2 wounding modifier.

From time to time, he’ll change things up with an AOA version of one of these, if he sees a good opportunity.

FuBar: The exception to the rule. He actually makes a point of not using the same attack twice if he can avoid it. He’s thrown shuriken. He’s grabbed weapons with his kusari to create an opening for a comrade. He’s thrown potions and scattered them behind himself while fleeing wildly. He’s knocked down a zombie with a thrown severed head. (He threatened to use Jed’s head as a weapon in the same way, but finally decided against it.)

If FuBar ever does develop an actual signature move, I fear it’ll be some sort of “Johnny Cage”-inspired horribleness.

Gabby:  Gabby fights exclusively with rapier and main-gauche. She’s got lots of things going on, on her character sheet, and we’ve probably screwed up the rules as they apply to her more than we have for any other subject, short of magic.

To be frank, I’ve been a little bothered by Gabby. (No, no, wait, hear me out, now!)  She’s got gobs and gobs of points dedicated to making her hell on wheels in melee combat. She’s got the highest weapon skill in the group. She’s got more effective options available to her than anybody else. And… I’ve gotten the feeling sometimes that that very plethora of options is a problem, that it’s such a huge bite to chew that it ends up with that paralysis of choice, and so in actual play, more often than not, Gabby’s actions amount to “I poke it a lot. I need to roll anything better than an 18.”  I worry about player frustration, honestly.

Lately, though, she’s started exploiting more of her potential, and it shows in the kinds of attacks she’s been throwing.

  • Dual-weapon: A normal Attack maneuver, in which she strikes with both her rapier and her main-gauche. She can attack two targets, but if she uses both attacks on a single target, that target defends at -1. She cannot perform a Rapid Strike! (We’ve goofed this sooo many times…) If she takes the default torso hit location, her rapier is at an effective skill of 20, doing 1d+2 imp, and her main-gauche is at 18, doing 1d+1, either cutting or impaling.
    • Since an 18 always fails, there’s nothing to be gained by rolling against an effective 20. If there’s nothing else to soak up excess skill — see below — and if the default torso hit location is acceptable, there’s no reason not to go for a Deceptive Attack. At a minimum, taking -2 to the rapier would leave an effective 18 skill, meaning the same chance to hit, and the target of that attack would defend at -1. If she were ever to meet an enemy with great active defenses, like another fencing Weapon Master, she might make both attacks Deceptive. If she reduced both attacks to an effective 12 skill, the target would defend against the rapier at -4 and the main-gauche at -3…. or -5/-4 if aiming at the same target.
    • It doesn’t take much DR at all to hamper Gabby’s damage rolls. Therefore, if her opponents aren’t soft and squishy all over, she’ll likely want to go for high-value, lightly-armored locations. Lately, she’s been directing her dual attacks at enemies’ two eyes; at -9 to hit, that gives her effective skills of 11 and 9. Luckily (heh), she has Extraordinary Luck, so even if the dice aren’t cooperating, every half-hour, she can nudge ’em.
    • Another favorite is the vitals, for skill of 17/15… which could be made deceptive to 13/13 for -2/-1 to defense (or -3/-2, for a single target, remember).
  • Rapid Strike: As a Weapon Master, Gabby only pays -3 for her extra attacks in a Rapid Strike. Less, if she burns Fatigue… but, then, there’s been some oddities about Gabby’s Fatigue and how it recovers, lately, so it seems like she’s being a bit more tight-fisted about spending it.
    • Two attacks with rapier at torso, both effective skill 17.
    • Two at the vitals would be at effective skill 14, or three at 11.

Jed: Being a Bard-Wizard, the first tool to come to Jed’s hand has always been a song. Since he picked up that awesome staff with the purple flames, though, he’s been more willing to mix it up, hand to hand. No word, as yet, if his recent post-death experience will change his ways.

At a skill of 12, Jed isn’t pulling any fancy tricks. Generally, he swings for 1d+5+2 burning, which is pretty darn good for a spell-caster. I believe he’s gone for an AOA (Strong) at least once, which would bump his damage to 1d+7+2 burn.  Probably fighting zombies. I could have sworn he whacked something in the face, but that would have dropped his effective skill to 7, which seems really unlikely.

Needles: Ah, Needles, the well-known engine of destruction. He’s all DPS. He’s not only a Weapon Master with his chosen weapon, he’s also gone to some trouble to spend experience elsewhere to improve his damage-dealing prowess. (I just noticed again that Needles has Lifting ST 1 and Striking ST 3, so he’s essentially bought a point of ST, hold the Hit Point. “Wiry”, I guess you’d call ‘im…)  In particular, he’s picked up Slayer Training for a shortsword swing to the neck, and the Run And Hit power-up. That last one gives him outstanding mobility on the battlefield, which he has used to line up multiple targets for his Rapid Strikes.

Needles carries two shortswords, but I don’t believe he’s ever held both at the same time. He didn’t invest in the dual-weapon traits like Gabby, so if he ever did use them both and try to attack with both of them, he would suffer penalties to both attacks — crippling penalties, in the case of the off-hand — and he wouldn’t get all his nice Weapon Master stuff for Rapid Strikes. Then again, if he just carried one in each hand, he would pick up an extra Parry. At any rate, he favors the fine, balance, Penetrating one. With it, he has an effective skill of 19, doing 2d+5(2) cut or 1d+3(2) imp. Ever since he got that extra die of damage with the swing, he’s favored it pretty much exclusively.

  • Stand-Up Fight:  Needles likes to share the love, so he’s prone to performing Rapid Strikes for two attacks (-3) against the neck, at an effective skill of 14.
    • “I Ain’t Got Time For This”: Needles isn’t afraid to burn Fatigue when he’s in a hurry. He’s been known to spend 3 Fatigue to half his Rapid Strike penalties for a total of three attacks, at the neck, each at an effective skill of 15. (We’ve goofed on that, too, and counted it as just 1 Fatigue for the whole turn’s-worth of attacks, when it should be 1 per attack. When we finally realized our error, someone was just on the verge of trying to launch seven attacks…) It’s not something he can do very many times in one fight, but it’s been a win-maker. The fight that’s made him famous, when he was locked in a room with a bunch of goblinoids, he started his first action doing this. I think he might have done it again, on his second action, but couldn’t swear to it. I don’t remember there being much of a third action.
  • Sneak Attack: Of course, Needles preference is to work from behind. He’ll usually perform an All-Out Attack (Double), then Rapid Strike one of those attacks into two (-3), using a Telegraphic Attack (+4) with a swing targeting the neck (-2, with slayer training). That would give him one attack at +2, then two more attacks at -1. And now that I see the math laid out, I think we’ve been doing it wrong, and applying the Rapid Strike penalties to all the attacks, when it should not apply to the other attack given by the AOA maneuver. Not that it matters, so much, since we’re still talking about effective skills of 21 and 18. Either way, he can absorb some darkness penalties.

Posy: All bow, all day long. I don’t think Posy’s ever readied a melee weapon, that I can remember. Once she used her natural claws on an unsuspecting target. There was some discussion once about the possibility of her using her bow as a club, but she decided to put two arrows into whatever-it-was in the end, anyway. She’s a Heroic Archer and has paid points to do the “two arrows at once” trick. Without bothering to aim, she’s got an effective 23 skill, before range and hit location penalties. She’s doing 1d+5 imp with each arrow, and the only reason not to fire two would be conservation of ammo.

As it is, she’s carrying two quivers, one divided into two compartments, so she can keep three kinds of arrows organized. Just wait until she finds out about the Cornucopia enchantment… In fact, it seems to me that even a small investment in enchantments could prove useful for Posy. Enchanted arrows can be astonishin’ cheap.

  • “Heart.” (zip-thwap!):  The standard shot, two to the vitals.  Effective skill 20, minus range modifiers.
  • “Head.” (zip-thump!):  Used on zombies and such. When heart shots aren’t enough, go for right between the eyes. Two shots at the skull. Effective 16, or 18 if they’re running away.
  • “Eye.” (zip-squish!) “Other eye.” (zip-squish!): Once or twice, just for variety, there have been some eye shots. Effective skill of 14. Ends up about as damaging as a skull hit, but blinds ’em, too. So far, everything that she’s hit anywhere in the head region has immediately died, so she hasn’t gotten any benefit from taking that extra -2, but now they’re getting into territory where there’s monsters that won’t necessarily die just from a single arrow in their brain. Might also come in handy against anything with heavy DR that doesn’t cover its eyes, like folks in heavy armor, or giant man-eating armadillos.