When do you call for surprise Steel tests?

It seems natural to call for a Steel test for surprise when a character is ambushed. Perhaps you give him an Observation test to spot his attackers before the trap is sprung, and the penalty of failure is a Steel test for surprise? It seems very brutal, though. Obviously you wouldn’t want to use ambushes much.

The players would, though. They’d set up ambushes like they were going out of style and force Steel tests on their enemies. And that’s okay.

In what other situations have you actually asked for surprise Steel tests? When characters make soap-opera-style surprise declarations, like “This can’t go on any longer… I’m married,” or “Luke, I am your father.”?

One of the PCs in my game is a gunfighter with a 2D reputation as a deadly gunfighter. I figure lesser gunfighters looking to make a name for themselves ought to come gunning for him. Some of them will challenge him to high-noon showdowns in the street, but some of them will try to bushwhack him. If they test Inconspicuous against his Observation and win, should I force a Steel test for surprise on him? He’ll pretty certainly be shot.

question 1: you’re planning to tell him the consequence of failin the observation roll, right?

Q2: what does success on the observation roll get him?

Q3: how do the baddies know where to set the ambush? Have they been watching him? Did they test inconspicuous against his observation for that?

Q4: run screaming is still an option on a failed steel roll right?

Okay, I don’t want to narrow the discussion to this one example I have in mind with the gunfighter… I’m curious when you (the personal you, not the universal you) call for surprise Steel tests. But, as to the example…

A1-2: I’d say something like, “there’s a young man with a gun on his hip walking across the floor of the saloon. He fancies himself an up-and-coming gunslinger and he wants to be the man who killed John Cole (the PC). He’s trying to be inconspicuous, and he plans to pull his gun when he’s close enough to your table and shoot you through the chest a few times. Roll Observation vs. his Inconspicuous to recognize that he’s up to no good. If you succeed, you can take action before he arrives or wait and try to outdraw him. If you fail, you won’t see him coming and you’ll have to make a Steel test for surprise when he goes for his gun.”

A3: He’s got a 2D reputation as a gunfighter. People know who he is, call him Sir, and can point you in his direction if you ask about a tough hombre. I suppose I could have him roll Streetwise or Circles or something to pick up on the fact that there’s another gunfighter in town asking about him, although the young up-and-comer doesn’t have a Rep.

A4: Run screaming seems wrong for a surprise test, and it’s unlikely to save you from a gunman.

Noclue, you GM, right? When have you called for surprise Steel tests? How’d it go?

From my GMing, I’d call it a good use of a steel test mechanically. I’m not really behind it, though; it’s far too easy for him to get shot and killed while drooling because any yahoo can pull a gun on him. It’s realistic, but it’s not a good story unless you’re going for very gritty gunfighting. If John Cole is an established gunslinger par excellence, I’d rather give him success and failureu consequences that match that.

If he succeeds on the Observation vs. Inconspicuous, he sees the kid reaching for his gun and beats him to the draw. (This might give the poor kid a Steel test!) If he fails, the other guy gets his gun out first, but I wouldn’t give a Steel test on top of it; getting curb-stomped doing what your character is supposed to be the best at just isn’t fun in the kind of Western-esque environment I’m projecting onto your game (about which I actually know nothing.)

Huh? Run Screaming is an excellent response to a deadly surprise. It’s also very common in the real world.

It’s unlikely to save you from a gunman if he catches you in the middle of a featureless plain, but then how did he surprise you in the first place? In a saloon, “I bolt for the back door” is a perfectly reasonable intent for Run Screaming. It does preclude more tactical options like diving for cover behind the bar, but given that you’re hesitating, it makes you less of a target than Stand and Drool or Beg for Mercy.

Since we’re talking firearms, it might be useful to look at the way run screaming works in R&C. It doesn’t grant any free shots. You test speed vs. the opponent and if you win, you move away and can take up a position or otherwise act (pg.420)

The reason I’m focusing on the situation you presented is that there are too many variables to this choice for hypotheticals. Frex, in your example it seems you’re problem is that if he hesitates he probably gets shot and killed. Remove that as the failure result and you’re free to surprise away…the kid could pull his gun and place it to his temple, or knock him on the head, or shoot his friend…

I have GMd but Ive been a player much more often. I havent called for surprise tests, but have seen rolls for surprise on several occasions. One time it ended with one character taking a crossbow bolt to the leg. But he lived and we got our revenge.

Your first inclination is exactly how we run ambushes here.

Stealth/Incon vs Observation.
Success equals no surprise and no Steel check.
Failure equals surprise and a Steel check.

It’s just that simple.

And Running Screaming is certainly viable, even in your example! The fleeing one runs through a crowd, or dives over the bar, or anything else that puts cover between him and the shooter.

It’s brutal sure, but it works both ways. PCs can devastate enemies in this manner, so why shouldn’t NPCs have the same option?

Thanks for this discussion. I’m expecting surprise, Steel tests, and Fight! to come up for the first time this weekend, and these posts helped clarify my thinking.

This might be an afterthought, but you could call for a Steel test from both the PC and NPC. Maybe that up-and-coming wannabe thinks he/she could take on John Cole (your PC), but when they actually draw the gun or raise the rifle, the seriousness of the action overwhelms them. They have to make the Steel test to get the shot before John Cole can react with his own draw.

This might suck.

However, it might also give a chance for John Cole to come out on top with (A) a chance to test Steel for show, (B) a good chance of pushing Artha into his Steel test, © a fair shot at responding first and getting a first shot at the assailant. This could really offer a chance to make the sudden surprise feel more gritty and cause the actions to ‘slow down’ through a dice roll for both sides.

Also, you could call for the Steel test when the hand moves toward a gun, rather than after the gun is drawn. That could also be due to the grit to actually draw on John Cole, famed gunfighter, rather than allowing the draw to happen without a thought, then test to see if they can really pull the trigger.

If you really want to make the NPC seem like a yellow-bellied coward, you could pull the Steel test before approach, before the draw, before the trigger. Each chance slows down the would-be attacker and gives more time for the PC to really be the most effectual spotlight of the scene.

I approve of the This Might Suck suggestion!

Yeah, if you really want to do the gunslinger genre, that idea might be really awesome!

If you want to make it a little more complicated, but fit:

  1. Each side rolls Intimidation + Reputation (gunslinger)… the successes = Hesitation the other side is working with.

  2. Each side rolls Steel vs. the # of successes the opponent rolled in #1.

Obviously, you can add Advantage dice in step 1 if someone has the drop on someone else (+1D if it’s a normal surprise, +2D if it’s kind of ridiculous - “The barn explodes with TNT and I shoot him in the back while he’s looking at that.”)


I went ahead and did the scene. I played it pretty straight and just made the up-and-comer untrained in Inconspicuous. Cole, who has Observation, spotted him coming pretty easily and decided to draw his pistol. The kid saw Cole go for his gun, so he went for his, too. I did a linked Intimidation to Agility roll for the fast draw. Cole added his Reputation to his intimidation and won the intimidation vs. roll, getting a bonus die on his Agility fast-draw. He’s also got a feat that gives him +2D on the fast-draw roll. Cole got his gun out first and fired, but missed the kid. The kid fired and missed too. Then the kid ran for cover and Cole stood his ground and shot him through the chest.