Roleplayer #29, November 1992

The Fight's Over Already?

Optional Rules for Pacing Combat

by Chris W. McCubbin

In general, GURPS has one of the most realistically-paced combat Systems available. Watch any boxing or karate match, or SCA tourney combat, and it can be plainly seen that the GURPS convention of one exchange of blows each second, under normal conditions, is extremely accurate. The turn-by-turn breakdown of the gunfight at the OK Corral found on pp. 105-108 of GURPS Old West demonstrates that the combat system works equally well for ranged weapons.

There is one area, however, where the pacing of GURPS combat fails the reality check. In a real combat, the action is not as continuous as in most GURPS combats. Normally, there are a few seconds of furious action, followed by a lull of several seconds, during which the combatants catch their breath or maneuver for position, followed by another furious exchange of blows, and so on.

Most of the time, these lulls in combat can be safely ignored. But sometimes it's important to know exactly how long a given combat lasts, particularly when reinforcements are on the way – can plucky cub reporter Jimmy Green hold off the gangland thug for the 20 seconds it will take his buddy, the Avenging Vole, to break through the skylight and save the day?

The following optional rules, then, are designed for those who might wish to pace their combats a bit more realistically.

Exchanges and Lulls

The optional combat pacing rules divide combat up into two alternating modes, called "exchanges" and "lulls." During exchanges the combatants are going full out, throwing blows at maximum speed. During lulls combat stops and the combatants basically wait around for the next exchange.

When combat starts, the GM should roll 2d in secret. This is the length, in seconds, of the first exchange. After that many turns, he rolls 1d. This is the length of the first lull. The lengths of all exchanges and lulls after the first are rolled on 1d.

Only the GM should know how long the dice dictate a lull or exchange will last.

Multiple Combatants

If there's more than one combatant on each side, the GM should break up the fight into a number of one-on-one battles, and roll the duration of exchanges and lulls separately for each fight. If two or more combatants are ganging up on a single opponent, there are no lulls.

For example, if seven Jets ambushed five Sharks on the playground, the GM would allow the attackers to pick their opponents, and divide the fight up into three one-on-one fights (with lulls rolled normally), and two two-on-one fights (with no lulls). Alternately, there could be four one-on-one fights (with lulls) and one three-on-one fight (without).

Circling for Position

During a lull, the combatants are considered to be circling for position. When circling for position, the combatants prowl warily around each other, looking for an opening and testing defenses. If both combatants are circling for position, at the end of the lull they should roll a Quick Contest of weapon (or hand-to-hand combat) skill. The winner of the contest receives a +1 which he can apply to any combat roll (attack, defense or damage) during the first round of the next exchange. This bonus must be taken before the dice are rolled. There is no bonus if the contest is a tie, or if both combatants roll under their weapon skill. (Note that if the combatant with the bonus chooses to save his +1 for a damage roll, but fails to land a blow, the bonus is lost. Likewise, if he saves the bonus for a defense roll, and his opponent falls or misses his attack, the bonus is lost.)

If one combatant wins the contest of skill by 10 or more points, he gets the +1 bonus, and his opponent may not attack or all-out defend during the first second of the new exchange.

Pressing and Stalling

If the dice indicate it's time for a lull, a combatant may attempt to press his opponent if he doesn't want the battle to pause. If one of the combatants is trying to press, the players should roll a Quick Contest of Wills. If the person trying to press wins the contest, the lull never happens. Instead, the opponents immediately start another exchange, with a duration rolled normally by the GM. If the pressing opponent loses the contest of skills, or if it's a tie, the lull occurs normally. If the press attempt is successful, both opponents immediately lose 1 point of fatigue. If both combatants wish to press the battle, success is automatic, but both still lose the point of fatigue.

An opponent can also attempt to stall for time, breaking off exchanges early and forcing a premature lull. If a combatant declares he's trying to stall, during the next second he can defend normally, but he cannot attack or all-out defend. At the end of the turn the combatants roll a Quick Contest of Wills. If the opponent trying to stall wins the contest, the GM immediately rolls a lull, which begins on the next round. If he loses or ties, combat continues normally. If both combatants try to stall on the same turn, the lull occurs automatically; no Will rolls are necessary. A combatant cannot attempt to press if his opponent successfully stalls. A combatant may also substitute a Tactics roll for his Will roll for pressing and stalling.

Maneuvers During Lulls

During a lull, opponents may not attack, all-out attack, all-out defend, aim or wait.

During a lull, either opponent may move, change position, ready or reload, but if he does so, his opponent has the option of immediately beginning another exchange, regardless of how long the lull has gone on, on the same round that his foe maneuvered. If an exchange starts after a maneuver, the attacker does not receive any bonus from circling for position.

If one combatant is taking the concentrate maneuver, his opponent must win a Quick Contest of IQ in order to perceive that his foe is concentrating. If the opponent wins the contest and notices that his enemy is concentrating, he may immediately initiate another exchange, as above.

Either combatant may use the feint maneuver to attempt to end the lull and provoke another exchange. The feint is rolled normally. If the attempt succeeds, a new exchange begins on the next turn (with the attacker gaining normal bonuses from his successful feint). If it fails, the defender has the option of beginning a new exchange, starting on the same turn as the feint attempt, or he may allow the lull to proceed normally.


If a third combatant enters the fight during a lull, the lull immediately ends, and there will be no more lulls until the odds are again one-on-one. If the loner in a two-on-one battle removes one of his foes, there is an immediate lull, while the combatants who are left adjust to the new situation.

If a character is fighting two opponents, and an ally comes to his aid, the fight immediately becomes two one-on-one battles, with lulls and exchanges rolled normally for each.

On a successful Vision roll, a combatant who sees a new enemy coming to the aid of his foe may initiate combat on the round before the second opponent arrives, giving him one extra round of even odds.

If a combatant is wounded, for any reason, during a lull, his opponent may begin a new exchange on the next round. There is no bonus for circling for position, but the wounded character takes normal penalties for shock.

Ranged Combat and Snipers

Lulls only occur during ranged combat if all combatants are under cover or concealment. When a lull ends, two combatants are considered to be simultaneously exposed enough to exchange shots at one another. The duration of exchanges is not rolled randomly in ranged combat; instead the exchange continues until one or both of the combatants return to full cover.

An unengaged character with a ready missile attack may attempt "sniper fire" to aid an ally engaged in a melee. Before firing into a hand-to-hand battle, however, the shooter must roll 1d. On a 1-3, he has a clear shot, and may fire normally at his chosen target. However, on a 4-6 his ally is in the way, and he does not have a clear shot. If he does not have a clear shot, but chooses to fire anyway, his shot is at -5. Furthermore, if he fails his modified skill roll by more than 5, his missile strikes his ally (the ally may defend normally).

Example: Jak wishes to fire an arrow at the zombie attacking his friend Jil. Jak has a Bow skill of 15, and -2 for range, for a modified skill of 13. His bow is readied. He rolls 1d and gets a 5 – he does not have a clear shot. If he decides to shoot anyway, he must beat an 8 to hit. If he rolls between 9 and 13, his arrow will miss, and if he rolls 14 or higher, his arrow will hit Jil.

The chances for a clear shot are modified by 1 for each additional combatant in the fight. Whether the modifier is positive or negative depends on whether the extra combatants are on the firer's side or not. The more potential targets available, the better the chance for a clear shot. For example, if the firer's ally is being attacked by two foes, he will have a clear shot on a roll of 1-4 on 1d, but if three of his friends are attacking a single enemy, he will have a clear shot only on a roll of 1. No matter what the odds, however, chances for a clear shot are never worse than 1 in 6 or better than 5 in 6.


Ivan and Rodney are two 150-point swordsmen. One day in the woods they're ambushed by three Minotaurs. Rodney and one of the Minotaurs pair off, while Ivan has to defend himself against the other two.

The GM rolls the duration of Rodney's first exchange on 2d – a 5. Ivan's first exchange will last until he falls or he loses one of his opponents. Ivan begins to all-out defend.

Five rounds later Rodney's opponent is severely wounded, but still fighting. Ivan is slightly wounded, and still all-out defending. The GM declares a lull in Rodney's fight, but Rodney, wishing to rush to the aid of his friend, decides to push the fight. He easily wins his Will roll against the stupid Minotaur, and the GM rolls for another exchange on 1d (it comes out to 4 seconds). Rodney and his opponent both take 1 point of fatigue. Two rounds later, Rodney finishes off his foe and rushes to join Ivan.

Rodney attacks one of Ivan's opponents. The GM rolls 1d for an exchange for Rodney (5), and 1d for a lull for Ivan (6). Five rounds later the GM rolls a lull for Rodney (4).

Ivan is wounded, and wants Rodney's help again. When his lull ends, he sees Rodney is also at a lull in his fight, and tries to stall. He succeeds, and the GM rolls another lull for Ivan (5 seconds).

Rodney finishes off his opponent on round 3 of Ivan's lull, and rushes to his friend's aid. The Minotaur, surprisingly, makes his Vision roll, and restarts the combat the round before Rodney arrives. He manages to hit Ivan before Rodney arrives, knocking him unconscious. Rodney and the Minotaur pair off, and the GM rolls their first exchange on 2d. It comes to 6 seconds, but Rodney's having a good day, and only needs 3. He finishes off the Minotaur and helps his injured friend back to safety.

(Back to Roleplayer #29 Table of Contents)

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