Thursday, May 9, 2013

Melee Academy: Tactical Positioning via Waits and Retreats

+Douglas Cole has a Melee Academy article up on Gaming Ballistic about Combat Grappling and Waits. A lot of what he writes is interesting and useful, but there's some advice that's a bit sub-optimal. There are good ways and bad ways to use the Wait maneuver in GURPS to allow a grappler to attempt an attack on a foe, and people should be aware of the good ways.

This article uses some mechanics from GURPS Martial Arts. It's an excellent book and an excellent set of additional rules for melee combats.

Closing the Distance (The Less Optimal Way)

Doug describes a simple Wait system for grapplers: Wait until the foe moves 1 hex away, and then step into close combat and attempt a grapple. As Doug himself notes, this isn't a very good system: the grappler's foe can attempt to Dodge and Retreat, at a minimum, and depending on his weapon, may be able to Retreat and Parry. And no matter what the grappler's foe does, he'll be able to use his shield DB to defend himself since the grappler attacked from the front.

Assuming two foes with roughly equal skills in the 14-18 range, and the attempted grapple victim carrying a DB2 medium shield, the system method succeeds about 1 time in 5. While this isn't any worse than other comparable combat actions, it could be a lot better.

Closing the Distance (The Better Way)

This is a more complicated system, but it works better.
  1. Grappler declares a Wait and attack, triggered when the foe moves to Reach 1.
  2. The foe starts more than a hex away and steps up to the grappler to attack. Both grappler and foe are facing each other at Reach 1.
  3. During the foe's action, the grappler triggers the Wait and converts it to a Step and Attack maneuver. He then steps forward and to the side, moving toward the foe's weapon side. For his Attack, he uses the Feint attack option.
  4. The grappler's foe makes his attack. He can't respond to grappler's movement because he already made his step.
  5. Assuming the attack hits, the grappler Parries and sidesteps, moving to the foe's weapon-side flank.
  6. On the grappler's next turn, he steps into close combat with the foe and attempts an Arm Lock. At a minimum, he is attacking from the off-shield flank, depriving the foe of shield DB and imposing another -2 on Parry and Dodge attempts for people without Peripheral Vision. People with Tunnel Vision (because they're wearing fully enclosed helmets or the like) can't even defend, since the attack was launched by an attacker they could not see when the attack started. The grappler's foe's defenses may be further compromised by a successful feint, and the foe has to retreat away from the grappler in order to get any bonuses - which may force him to open his back or flank to the grappler's allies.
An important point here is that in Step #3, when the grappler feint's, the foe cannot attempt a Retreat or other action to reposition himself. It's also important that the grappler's allies do not attack the foe between the grappler's sidestep and the grappler's attack, since in doing so they would give him the opportunity to Retreat and probably move to a less disadvantaged position.

Responding to an Attack and Fly Out

The grappler's foe doesn't have to Step into the grappler's Wait and get surrounded and flanked. He could try some other tricks, like making a Committed Attack to Step two hexes, advancing toward the grappler and then stepping away while turning to face the grappler square on. Doing this keeps the distance open at the cost of the foe's Parry and ability to retreat, as well as a -2 on all defenses. From the grappler's perspective, it's nearly as good as getting to the foe's flank. On his turn, the grappler can make his own Committed Attack, taking two steps to move into the foe's hex.

Sidesteps Are Not Just for Grapplers

This nasty little trick is not just for grapplers. Anyone with either a good Dodge, an excellent Active Defense from skill or shields, or a fencing Parry can attempt it with a reasonable degree of success. Characters with a low Block and Parry, a low Dodge, and a non-fencing weapon probably want to preserve their Retreat to back away at +3 to Dodge or +1 to Block or Parry.

The biggest problem with the Wait and Sidestep combination is that if the grappler's foe has allies, the grappler has generally moved away from his own allies and closer to his enemy's allies. The grappler has to be careful about not opening his own flank or rear to his foe's allies. If the grappler and his allies outnumber their foes, this can be an excellent trick for establishing a grapple or other damaging attack on an unwary and unfortunate enemy.

More Melee Academy Links

Other contributions in this week's Melee Academy series on Waits and Timing can be found at:

Dungeon Fantastic+Peter V. Dell'Orto writes about Stop Hit
Orbs and Balrogs+Christian Blouin writes about creating and holding combat initiative
RPG Snob+Jason Packer throws down about combat pacing
Gaming Ballistic+Douglas Cole starts a conversation about Wait tactics and Grappling


  1. I like your way as a two-turn option. Given the relatively low success rate of the "simple" way, it should probably be relegated to leveraging an All-Out Attack, when your raw skill, rather than the foe's defenses, dictate the success rate.

    1. Do you mean use the simple option in response to an All-Out Attack, or do you mean make an All-Out Attack on the grappler's Wait trigger?

      If the first, I totally agree. Anyone foolish enough to make an All-Out attack on a Waiting enemy deserves whatever horrible thing happens to them (in this case, most likely a Telegraphed Rapid Strike to grab the arm and Lock it).

      On the second, I can't really recommend All-Out Attacking as a grappler. Even if you succeed and get the grapple, the other guy can still kick you or shield punch you or do any number of other horrible things. Heck, even a telegraphed Head Butt to the grappler's face starts look pretty attractive at that point.

    2. In response to AoA. I agree that AoAing as a grappler is pretty likely going to be fatal in a melee environment.

      The lock thing is interesting, of course, and quite powerful if you can spare the time. By RAW, the parry happens, then on your turn you can lock the arm, and then the NEXT turn you can do damage. If you're 1-1, that's all good. If you're not, the odds of being interrupted are high. That's why in my example on my own blog I focused on one-turn options, and eschewed the more valid 'work for position, get a takedown, lock him up, cripple him' progression. Under the assumption that, as you point out in your own example, multi-turn actions run the risk of exposing your back or flanks to other foes.

      I'm not saying "my way is right." Your option, with a Feint, can be a higher percentage option (though pondering a Setup Attack in lieu of a Feint would be interesting, but could force a step, which defeats the purpose). But multi-turn options can be chancy given the tendency for all combatants to do stuff every turn.

  2. What can the grappler do to prevent the attacker from just turning to face him, or worse, backing off a hex and turning to face him, in Step 4?

    He gets attacked and sidesteps, but his attacker didn't use his step yet. It seems pretty easy to get back to step 1, unless the grappler has allies or has cornered his foe with terrain or other fighters in the way.

    1. Yes, the foe did make his Step. I'll make that a little more clear.

    2. Damn you, I was just writing this myself.

      B.387 allows an attacker to change facing freely at the end of his turn. Thus, once the attacker triggers the grappler's Step and Feint action, he launches his own attack, and then changes facing to wherever the grappler sidestepped to. Now the grappler is back to being right in front of the attacker, at Reach 1.

      Perhaps a different way to approach it would be for the grappler's Wait to have him step *forward* into Close Combat, then feint. Now the attacker is stuck in Reach C (because he's already stepped this turn) and, if he attacks at all, it will be at a stiff penalty. On the grappler's next turn, he starts at Reach C—so he can use his step to "keep up" if his opponent retreats, thus depriving him of the option to get back out of Reach C during the attack, and inflicting all of the penalties that carrying a shield in Close Combat entails (assuming, of course, the GM allows that as a result of the "keeping pace" step, rather than resolving it as "Attack Begins => Retreat Out of Close Combat => Defend at no Penalty => Grappler Steps After the Attack").

    3. B387 refers to Move or Move and Attack maneuvers - not Step and Attack. You can turn to any direction as part of a Step (B368) but unless you have a multi-hex step, you can't turn in one direction and then turn in another (since changing your facing is a Step or part of one, and the grappler's foe took his Step to close the distance).

      The grappler's goal is not to just get into close combat, but to get into close-combat on the shieldless flank. You've improved some on Doug's original plan, and it's not a bad solution, but I really like not having to deal with shields when making an attack.

    4. Also, go ahead and write up your version on your blog or whatever. I'm already responding to Doug; you can respond to me and then Doug can respond to you and we can have a big blog reference wheel. =)

    5. Okay, now I see it. It's broken up oddly, since it's by event and not by turn.

    6. Ah, my mistake. I should have referenced B.386 instead, although it sounds like I may be taking a different reading of "The Step in Tactical Combat" than you took. When I read "You may change facing freely before or after you move," I don't connect it straight to the step, but rather to the maneuver (and I also read "change facing freely" as "change facing to any direction").

      If I've got that all wrong, that'd certainly have interesting consequences (although it still opens the question of "Does the attacker's Step end when the Grappler's Wait is triggered, thus preventing him from changing facing for the remainder of his turn, or does it end when the attacker actually launches his attack, in which case he could still change facing toward the grappler in between the Grappler's triggered wait and his own armed attack).

    7. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't let a PC turn around, move 1 hex to his former rear, take out the thief that just tried to backstab him, and turn back around again so he ends up facing the way he started. B386 says you can change facing before or after you move, echoing the language in the definition on step on B368. I read that as an exclusive or: you can change facing before you move, or after you move, but not both, and I'd certainly give the fishy eyeball to someone who stepped forward, attacked, and then turned around and said that was all 1 step.

    8. I read it the same way as you Mark. The turning part is part of the step; you can't take the step, attack, then turn. The turn is part of the step, and it comes before or after the attack. If you have two steps, you could do the "kill the backstabber and turn back" thing, though.

    9. That's one of the reasons I gave large facing changes a high Action Point cost in The Last Gasp. All that spinning is hard work.

  3. I bugs me a *lot* that this works only because the feint can't trigger a defense. It is essentially spotlighting that the act of successfully attacking someone gives them movement that they don't have otherwise. I realize that this is RAW, but it is still SOD breaking.

    I will also note that the attacker can pull the same schtick - if she sees this move coming, she can feint at you, and you don't get your free sidestep.

    Is there any GURPS scholarship/kitbashing that makes the "attacking give the defender move" less odd?
    Maybe it as simple "if you could dodge an attack, you can also dodge an imaginary attack." Then it's back to being a trick (you get into their flank because they didn't understand what you were up to) rather than a rules sploit.

    1. The usual fix to this exploit is "declare feints as attacks and declare defenses before the attack is rolled"*. So the grappler would say, "I'm going to attack (it's really a feint)," and the foe would have to say, "I'm going to defend against and retreat from that attack, then". The grappler can't strafe around, the grappler's foe gives up his Retreat (and possibly his Parry or Block) to defend against an attack that doesn't exist, and one of the grappler's allies wallops the grappler's foe while he can't Retreat.

      Declaring defenses in response to attacks has all kinds of other effects. I'd love to use it in my games, but right now I'm running DF RAW for other reasons.

      * If you use the rules for hesitation, the defender declares his defense but can cancel it if the attacker hesitates, which I think is fair.

    2. As a side note, I'm amused that if the grappler declares a Wait, the attacker might consider Feinting, too, and then the entire thing potential spirals into a mess of Feints, Evaluates, Waits, and all that stuff that everyone says they want to add to the game but that no one actually adds to the game. Maybe with just a slight change in tactics, we can cause an a large change in tactics through emergent behavior.

    3. I prefer that approach, if that system is being used.

      I also think "you can defend vs. imaginary crap" is a RAW solution to the "you need an attack to defend against if you want to retreat" issue. After all, you can defend against invisible foes and snipers and so forth in RAW.

      It's not like wasting a defense on nothing is an especially exploitable behavior ... I think.

  4. Hello !

    Excuse my perhaps foolish question, but wouldn't it be also possible to :

    1) Be in All-Out-Defense (+2 Parry, unarmed) and let the opponent Step In to attack
    2) Be attacked
    3) Slip forward to foe
    4) Judo Parry (Cross "Weapon" Parry, even)
    5) Start round in Hex of foe, who then cannot Step, cannot Block, has a penalty to Armed Parry (due to Reach), and another penalty to DX if the shield is big
    6) Arm Lock (after a Judo Parry) / Grapple (with all said penalties to foe)

    I'm not as fluent in GURPS Combat as you are, is there any fatal flaw ?

    Other than than, great blog ! Always glad to come here and dwelve deeper in ^^

    1. I think that works, but in step 5, your opponent can still retreat out of the hex. I don't remember if he can attempt armed parries at that point - and the DX penalty for the shield only affects his attacks, not his defenses.

      You're giving up another +1 bonus on your defense by trading the Sidestep for a Slip, but the All-Out Defense bonus makes up for that.

      Still, it's a good solution, especially in a one-on-one situation where your attacker has to come to you. In a multiperson fight, he might decide not to engage the guy who is obviously preparing a defense.

      Overall, I like it.

    2. My bad, I always considered that, if the Step was taken during the turn of someone, he couldn't retreat. Well, that'll hurt this strategy and change our ways. New possibilities …

      It's indeed thought for a 1 vs. 1 situation, a training fight from the master of one of my players, to help demonstrate both Techniques (less skill than him, but bought Arm Lock to the max) and Grappling.

      Does the foe still have it’s Shield DB to all active defenses if I start my turn at CC range ?

      Thanks for the tips !

    3. No retreat after a step is a common houserule, but it's not official.

      Shields still provide DB in close combat (B392).


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