In Blade & Crown, combat stances are pretty important — so much so that I think they’re nearly essential.
In fact, I think their use could be extended. One additional use is in surprise situations. As I stated in the rules, when you’re surprised, your defense roll is automatically a 1.
Here’s my suggestion: instead of surprise causing an automatic defense roll of 1, let surprised characters roll defense. (Probably using PER instead of the usual characteristic.) But they must declare a Surprised stance, which causes a -8 modifier to their defense roll.
This way, when you’re surprised, you’ll still usually end up with a defense roll of 1 (since that’s the lowest a roll can get). But you might occasionally be able to get a 2, 3, 4 or even higher, and you can pull in Traits to perhaps increase your roll.
It also seems logical that you’d get a -8 modifier to attacks when surprised, and probably a -8 modifier for maneuver as well.
This method means more rolling, but it also means that surprise isn’t quite so inevitably deadly. I haven’t had a chance yet to experiment with this way of handling surprise, so if you try it, let me know!