In posting this question I'm thinking of GURPS, but it would be the same with any game in which:

  • players get one action per turn

  • players can either move OR attack OR (move only one hex AND attack)

  • turns are not simultaneous. Each player acts, then the other acts, etc.

The players are relatively near, non-stunned, with ready weapons, etc and approach each other with hostile intentions. Each one of them wants to approach the other (not wildly) and attack first, to get the first opportunity of injuring the foe. The quickest one acts first, and in his turn, chooses to MOVE to an hex adjacent to the one his foe occupies, to engage in melee combat. Then the other one takes his turn and ATTACKS.

Have I misunderstood something? It seems to me very illogical, that in a simmetrical encounter, the quickest player gets to attack last, or (in GURPS), if he wants to attack in the same turn he moves, only gets an MOVE+ATTACK, a lame attack maxed at 9 effective skill.

If you use the step+Action rules (you can move one hex and take an action in the same turn) the problem persists.

How to resolve this without changing the basic rules? It occurs to me that a possible solution would be something like this: "if you were not in melee combat at the beginning of BOTH of your turns, then no one gets to attack". But will it originate some unexpected problems?

This problem is pervasive: it happens in almost every encounter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've collected some wisdom about GURPS combat tactics in the Melee Academy section of my blog: gamingballistic.blogspot.com/p/melee-academy.html There are some good examples there of using Wait (as suggested below). I've entered this as a comment rather than an answer because it doesn't directly answer your question - but there's a lot of discussion of combat tactics from many angles in those posts, some of them by Peter Dell'Orto, co-author of GURPS Martial Arts. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 2:47

2 Answers 2


What you're running into is a problem with tactics, not the rules. If there are two characters that are near eachother, but not adjacent, then you are correct that if the faster combatant moves in close, they will be attacked first. However, they don't have to take the Move or Move and Attack action to get the first strike.

Instead, take the Wait action. Wait allows you to:

Do nothing unless a particular event you specified in advance occurs before your next turn; e.g., a foe moves into range. If that happens, you may transform your Wait into an Attack, Feint, All-Out Attack (you must specify the option before acting), or Ready maneuver. If you are reacting to someone else, this interrupts his turn, but he can resume it after you’ve acted.

Emphasis mine. In this case, the faster character should Wait until their enemy comes in melee range, and then Attack or All-Out Attack. Alternately, you could take the All-Out Attack action directly. That lets you move up to half your speed as part of the attack. Note, however, that the character that chooses to move up might choose to take an All-Out Defense (Dodge) which lets them move half their speed and get a +2 to their Dodge defense, possibly negating the stationary character's attack. GURPS melee combat between two intelligent opponents is a lot like actual combat between intelligent opponents; it's a string of bluffs and double-bluffs to try and trick your opponent into giving you the advantage.

In every system that I know of that includes tactical combat, there is a way to respond to an enemy's action like this.

Another possible option is an initiative system from one of the World of Darkness systems. Basically, you have every combatant choose their actions in reverse initiative order: the slowest character picks their action, then the next slowest, all the way to the highest. Once all actions are selected, you execute in order of initiative. Using your situation as an example:

  1. Slow fighter declares intent to stay put, and defend.
  2. Fast fighter declares intent to move up to slow fighter.
  3. Fast fighter moves up.
  4. Slow fighter starts defending.

Then, the next round, you do it again. I'm pretty sure this system also had you re-roll initiative each round, so different people went at different times each round.

In combats that involve more than two characters in GURPS, you can use your opponent's reluctance to make the first move to your advantage. Since facing matters in GURPS, you can use the time your opponent spends not charging you to set up a flanking position with an ally, or move off to deal with another threat, or just hold your opponent still until your ranged attacking allies can whittle them down.

The reason for this is that GURPS is meant to model reality very closely, and with a 1 second combat round, there just isn't time to move several yards and also make an accurate attack without also giving up your defenses. If you watch actual melee combat, when the fighters get close they typically have a strongly defensive stance until one of the combatants makes an attack. This would be modeled by both combatants taking All-Out Defense actions until both were in melee range, and then starting to use other Attack options.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Waiting is only a good option if you have some reason to believe that the other character can't or won't also wait. Otherwise you'll both just end up standing there, staring at each other. Which, I suppose, might be realistic and/or dramatically appropriate in some situations, but you do need some way to break the stalemate if you want any actual combat to occur. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 1:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ While that's certainly an issue, I don't think there should be a game rule forcing characters to act in that circumstance. It's a totally reasonable circumstance in a 1-on-1 melee fight for the combatants to spend quite a while studying each other before they attack, and it's not like there's some kind of compulsion for people to attack each other after staring for a few seconds. If no one attacks, then time just passes. Also, in anything but a 1-on-1 fight, there will be significant pressure to act more quickly, disadvantage be damned. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 1:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ DuckTapeAl has a very important point. One on one fights on the classic "infinite featureless plain" with no terrain will likely turn into wait-fests. As noted, that's not unbelievable, though it can of course be boring. There are plenty of GURPSy ways to beat this, not the least of which would be to start chucking hand-axes. Swing damage from range is a hell of an introduction. A Feint from intermediate combat range can also make your next attack pretty worthwhile, and a Defensive Feint (Martial Arts, p. 101) is a good way to break through a Waiting foe (because you can absorb his attack) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 12, 2015 at 2:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ well, if he does approach with an All-Out Attack instead of an All-Out Defense... he's going to be the first one attacking, so i'm not sure i understand where the problem is. Beside, the fastest fighter is not necessarely the first to lunge at the other. Fast != Impatient. Fast != Reckless, Stupid or Proud. Just means he can CHOSE to be faster than the other. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mouhgouda
    Commented Jan 15, 2015 at 20:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ The Step and Wait maneuver allows you to step forward and be ready (waiting) to attack - you don't have to stand still to Wait. Other options include using the Move maneuver and taking a Wild Swing (so you attack first, but are likely to miss), or using Step & Feint (so if combat occurs on your next turn, you may have an advantage), and other things you can try. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dronz
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 20:03

Basically, the real solution to this problem is the "Heroic Charge" Extra Effort option in Martial Arts. If the aggressive, faster fighter doesn't want to take a Wait maneuver, then he would spend one fatigue point and make a Heroic Charge, which is effectively a Move and Attack maneuver without any skill penalties or maximum skill cap. This happens before his opponent has a chance to take Wait, so he gets the first hit.

I'm not sure if you consider this to be "adding to the basic rules". In my games, as well as every GURPS game I've played in, Heroic Charge is always used (for NPCs as well) even if we're not explicitly employing the Martial Arts book.

If you make "Wait" the only option, the opponent could just walk away.


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