Monday, March 11, 2013

The feint : turning what you are good at into a combat asset.

In this tactical tip post, I'm going over the feint and all of its nuances. Some characters in the Palantir Commission campaign would benefit from adding one of these sweet moves into their tool chest. The relevant sections in the GURPS sourcebooks is Martial Arts p.100-101.

All of these options are different flavors of the feint action. In order to do a feint, you must take either a feint action, or combine the feint with an attack in a all-out attack (feint).

Beat a good defense with finesse

You make a fake attack roll to undermine your opponent's next active defense roll. Successful or not, it will look to the victim just like a failed attack. Players can't use metagaming to slip-out and cancel a feint that their character cannot notice.

You want to do this when you have a better DX-based combat skill level than your opponent. This probably means using your main weapon, but it also could be brawling, wrestling, etc. Your opponent can select the best of his/her DX-based skill, or Shield, or DX itself. 

The feint is resolved as a quick contest: if your fail your check, nothing happens. If you succeed and your foe fails, you apply your margin of success as a penalty to his/her active defense at any time on the following second. If both succeeds and your margin is larger than your foes, apply the difference in margin to the defense penalty. 

Throwing the dish towel on someone's sword counts
as a dirty trick...

Beat a good defense with your brain

In both flavors, this maneuver counts as dirty tricks (p. B405): each skill/attribute can be used only once per foe.  Dirty tricks can also turn a good dose of non-combat skill roleplay into a tactical advantage. I love them. Keep in minds that an IQ-based combat skill is a skill at the same relative level, but based on IQ. For example: Broadsword at DX+4 becomes IQ+4. Smart characters with modest weapon skills can have an edge for one turn.

Flavor 1 - The plain dirty trick

This one is to use against dumb foes. Be creative, tell the GM how you want to play out the trick: spit in their eyes, shriek like a schoolgirl! The GM will call the exact procedure, and may turn down the idea altogether. It usually involves a quick IQ contest. The outcome is determined as for the feint. I would argue that a gullible character gets a -1 or -2 to its IQ, but this is not in the rules as written. If a player insisted in playing dirty tricks more than once, I'd give it a -4 penalty for any subsequent attempt. This is also not in the rules as written.  

Flavor 2 - The Ruse

Instead of a IQ vs. IQ quick contest, it is a IQ-based skill vs. either Per-based skill roll, a DX-based skill roll or Tactics. You can use the IQ-based version of a combat skill, or a non-combat IQ-based skill. The GM may rule against the use of non-combat skills in a specific situation:
  1. IQ-based combat skill: Apply your skill relative level to IQ instead of DX (usually).
  2. Non-combat skills:
    1. Fast-talk: A quick one liner that confounds your foe. 
    2. Mimicry: Your older brother must have tried this on you... it works with orcs as well.
    3. Tactics: You just know where to be and what to do to stack the odds.
    4. Ventriloquism: You are freaky and weird, it's got to payoff at some point.
    5. Initmidation: Your growl is disturbing enough for your foe to double take.
    6. Acting (house rule): A HT-based skills, but it makes sense to me. You pull the old "I'm hurt" trick, or the fake projectile sneeze, or...
...and resisted by:
  1. Per-based skills:
    1. The Per-based version of a combat skill. 
    2. Blind fighting: You can fight in the dark, and this may weigh down the importance of the information that you see. 
    3. Body language: You can tell that the next move is BS.
    4. Detect lies: A stretch, could be acceptable against Fast-talk.
    5. Observation: You can see the ruse coming from a long way! 
  2. DX-based skills:
    1. Main weapon, brawling, wrestling: You are good at reading opponents in combat, use it.
    2. Shield: Your shield negates the trickery by being at the right place, thus keeping you cool.
  3. Tactics: You just know how to position yourself to mitigate risks.

Beat a good defense with your brawn 

This is an attractive option if you are particularly strong. You use ST-based combat skill to throw off one type of your opponent's active defense. A beat must be directed at a specific active defense, but the penalty applies to all  instead of only the characters executing the beat. For example, Halin the hammerdwarf beats down the sword of the orcs with a margin of +3. Everyone in melee contact with the orcs benefits from the -3 on the orc's parry with his sword. The foe contests your ST-based combat skill with the best of its DX-based or ST-based combat skill, respectively countering with finesse or with sheer strength.

  1. Use the weapons/shield that you just used to successfully defended with to beat down your foes' weapon.
  2. Your foe just successfully blocked or parried. You may target the weapon/shield used with a beat.
  3. Your foe is grappled: you can use a beat to shake him/her around and degrade his/her defense.
An intriguing possibility is to turn a spoiled parry with a warhammer, making the weapon off balance, into a beat. This beat becomes an opportunity for all of the allies of the hammer wielder (I\m looking at you, Halin the hammerdwarf).


There is a lot of stuff to think about (and I won't even mention the defensive feint here...). However, most of it doesn't apply to any given character. Narrow the choice down to zero or more moves that makes sense, use them creatively, and let the sparks fly!


  1. Neal here. A chance to be annoying about feints! I can't pass it up. In modern fencing a successful feint is characterized by two of the following three aspects: 1) Speed; 2) Precision; 3) Depth. If you have two of these aspects on a bladework feint (other feints are a whole other kettle of fish) your adversary is almost certain to react.

    That said, a feint does not "look like a failed attack" unless it is a second-intention feint. Even in that case, the adversary is doubtful for a reaction: feints unchain automatic or habitual responses in an adversary and _must_ occur such as to overload his tactical thought (or OODA loop). How to make this a GURPS mechanic? No idea. But "doing a failed attack" only works on a shit stupid, inexperience adversary and exposes you to enormous risk.

    1. Thanks, I meant by "looks like a failed attack" in the sense that some maneuver is made and not hit is scored. For people keeping track of fatigue, this means that a feint counts as an action.

      The actual motion is abstracted into the weapon skill contest between two opponents. I would say that the OODA loop is a function of the skill level, and that comparing margins of success resolves the matter (with some stochastic goodness thrown into the mix).

      The purpose of a feint roll is essentially to throw off your opponent into a less defensible position, whether this being done by finesse, ruse or brute force.