August 31, 2014

Dyvers taps Gaming Ballisitc over on ENWorld!

+Charles Akins gave Gaming Ballistic a nod as one of the "Ten RPG Blogs Everyone Should Be Reading."

His entry for GB reads:

4. Gaming Ballistic by Douglas Cole
Before I started reading Douglas Cole I avoided GURPS like the plague. I labored for years under false beliefs about the game and foolishly ignored a robust system that would allow me to play everything from a Space Pirate to a Cowboy in the old west.
Then I found Gaming Ballistic and everything changed. Douglas Cole has a way of making GURPS into one of the most attractive systems you’ll ever read about. Through his tireless efforts he has helped demystify the game through his Melee Academy series and his GURPS 101 series. And he always seems to come up with great adventure ideas, locations, and enemies that can easily be moved into your favorite system. 
Even if these efforts weren’t as impressive as they are his blog would still make my list for his Firing Squad interviews. He makes an effort in each interview to put his guest at ease and to discuss a wide range of things going on in the hobby; with the end result being some of the best, far reaching interviews you’re likely to find today. 
Style of Game: GURPS
Posting Frequency: Thirty-two posts a month
Read more:

I'm obviously thrilled and grateful to be listed on that list, and quite pleased GURPS has been made more approachable by my efforts.

And the Firing Squad? The Firing Squad . . . endures.

August 30, 2014

Nine for Ten - Reviewing my own stuff for the 10th anniversary

I've been published nine times in GURPS Fourth Edition. One major work (Technical Grappling) and eight articles in Pyramid. 

Having just reviewed Pyramid #3/70, I thought I'd go back and revisit my old stuff, using the same format, and applying the same scale. Granted, I could be pretty biased - but that's what blogs are for.

A decent article with enough background to get the point that inspires a few ideas, that can be dropped into a reasonably popular genre with little fuss, and doesn't leave you scratching your head wondering what the author was talking about would rate about 5/10 on the scale presented here. Anything more than that, in the range of 6-8, is going to likely please its target audience very much. Something that's in the 8-9 scale will delight it's target audience, and be a fun, entertaining, illuminating read for everyone else. I've never given a 10 yet.

So, here we go:

GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling

Summary: A replacement for the current grappling rules in GURPS+Sean Punch wrote a very kind blurb when it was published. You can find many blog entries about it in these pages, of course. Ultimately, TG replaces the current Contest-based grappling rules with the attack-defense-effect roll paradigm dominant in every other aspect of GURPS combat. The effect is called Control Points, and they have the result of lowering the ST and DX of your foe. There are other things you can do with them, such as spend them, leveraging (see what I did there) a loss in overall restraint for a one-time effect.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means "didn't get in the way," and doesn't represent a bad score. I'm actually going to ding myself here a bit. The rules are dense and technical, and there are nearly fifty pages of them. It's a book that could have benefited a lot from more examples and a few test fights. -1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: TG can be used to vastly amp up the coolness factor of grappling in combat. In real games, such as those run by +Peter V. Dell'Orto+Christopher R. Rice, and +Jake Bernstein it has been used to great dramatic and mechanical effect. The errata'd bite rules provide a nice way of getting critters to grapple well, and once you wrap your head around the basic concepts, things become pretty natural to describe in terms of control points. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: It is possible to drop this in to an existing game, and that has been done. However, it's much more useful if you start character creation with it and then use it from the get-go. Once you twig to the way to go, your games will be more fun. 3 points.

Overall: 6/10. It's a shame I can't give myself more credit here, but I think that wordcount concerns rendered this one a bit over-dense. While I did amplify a lot over time, on the blog and a bit in Pyramid #3/61, the book does take a bit to incorporate into games. This is also because it re-uses a lot from the Basic Set and GURPS Martial Arts, which is good . . . but replaces some as well, and with so much out there, not all of the interactions are crystal clear. The basic mechanic of control points and spending them is extremely worthwhile, though - and can be ported to other games, even.

Would I use it? Well, yeah! I of course use it, or a simplified version of it, in all games I play these days. The underlying mechanic is, as I noted, just better than the one it replaces.

By Default (Pyramid #3/65)

Summary: Replacing the standard STAT-X defaulting mechanism with STAT/2 basis instead. This makes it harder to become good at everything simply by buying up DX or IQ, effectively costing 40 points per +1 to skill instead of 20. 

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means "didn't get in the way," and doesn't represent a bad score. The writing is clear and doesn't get in the way. Sufficient examples are provided to get the point. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: A solid exploration of what the current STAT-X rules do, and what the STAT/2 rules do and don't do instead. The benefits and pitfalls are explored well. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This is not a drop-in article. The concepts may or may not be good, but they will completely rewrite an existing character's capabilities, often for the worse if character points are concentrated in stats rather than skills, like many Dungeon Fantasy characters.  I'm gong to say that the "drop-in" utility of this is basically a 0, 1 point at best if you're starting out a campaign. The good news is Eric Smith whipped up a GCA file do do this for you, so I'll give the benefit of the doubt here and give it the higher score. 1 point.

Overall: 4/10. Not a strong article overall, especially relative to others. However, for those that (a) use GCA (see the file above), (b) are starting a campaign, and (c) think that stats are too dominant in GURPS as written . . . the concepts here may well be quite compelling. A niche article.

Would I use it? Probably not. I had the opportunity to decide to use this in my Alien Menace game, and decided against it. Every rule in GURPS is written with the existing stat/skill structure as the background. This is an edition-level change, and maybe not even one for the better (doubling the cost of DX and IQ might get the same thing done, and more cheaply, for example).

Takedown Sequences (Pyramid #3/61)

Summary: I did a content-based review on my blog previously, but not using the ratings format I came up with when I decided to do more Pyramid reviews. Pyramid #3/61: The Way of the Warrior is the issue accompanying two Martial Arts-related PDF releases. My own Technical Grappling, and David Moore's GURPS Martial Arts: Yrth Fighting Styles. Takedown Sequences is a how-to guide for translating real-world grappling moves and positions into the lingo of Technical Grappling. The article spends some time on positioning (fundamental to grappling), and then gives a set of "first roll this, then that" type sequences for things like moving from a clinch to a takedown, or executing a classic arm bar. The emphasis on this article is on offensive moves.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means "didn't get in the way," and doesn't represent a bad score. The writing is clear and doesn't get in the way. Sufficient examples are provided to get the point. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: For non-grapplers, the article talks about why you do certain things; for grapplers it talks about how. The moves are discussed in game-mechanical details with explanations on what's happening in the real world. It's a good "how-to" background on TG concepts and making them work in game. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: The drop-in utility of this is high. Nothing needs to be changed, and if you're already using TG (the target audience for this), you figure out what you want to do, and then follow the steps. Two optional rules (Positioning Move and Destabilizing Strike) are provided as well. 4 points.

Overall: 7/10. If you want to do grappling with TG and are a bit fuzzy on how, this is a good article. If you want to emulate particular real-world moves using TG, this has several key explanations on what's going on. While not quite as detailed as +Mook Wilson's combat examples, it's a good reference for those wishing to use TG in a game. 

Would I use it? Yes. That's a little misleading, in that if you already know the sequence of pulling off moves in TG, you probably don't need some of the article. The process of going through the sequences is illustrative, though, and will help get you into the TG mindset.

Coming to Grips with Realism (Pyramid #3/61)

Summary: These are the Technical Grappling Designer's Notes; it's also the first (and only, thus far) time I have two articles in one issue. The article talks about common tropes about grappling and how they're right and wrong. It explains the overall mission of the book - "can we hew to the core GURPS rules and mechanics while providing a more variable effect roll for grappling," and explains the origin and function of the core concept of TG (Control Points). It also calls out what's new, expanded, and clarified when using TG over the RAW grappling rules. Finally, it provides some alternate rules and outtakes from the original manuscript. It also contains two grappling-centric critical hit/miss tables for use with TG.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: More casually written than most of my articles, I think the conversational tone works for a Designer's Notes article. I think it's a good read, personally. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: How the book was written, why, and what feel it's supposed to invoke. The guts "behind the curtain" on some of the rules and concepts. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: The drop-in utility of this is mostly absent by design, though there are a few rules nuggets in there to use if you like. 1 point.

Overall: 6/10. This article is nice for those wanting to understand the motivation and inspiration behind a book that is mechanically dense. If you will use TG, you don't have to read this, but it might be fun.

Would I use it? Barely applicable. Most of the article doesn't involve "use."

Dodge This! (Pyramid #3/57)

Summary: This article takes a comprehensive look at the GURPS Dodge mechanic, and breaks down what's happening, why, and when you get to roll or use Dodge in the first place. While it's directly applicable to gun combat first and foremost, extensions to unifying the parry, block, and dodge rules for all weapons are also provided.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The article hits on out-of-game and in-game viewpoints for each concept presented. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: Even if I do say so myself, this is a very strong article in this category - maybe my best. It takes a long-extant issue with the perception of how GURPS rules work and addresses it from many angles. It looks at non-problems as well as issues that aren't rules issues but are suspension-of-disbelief issues. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Several different ways to address both game-mechanics and suspension of disbelief are presented. They involve more die rolls but low bookkeeping. Mechanical methods are presented to extend rules to cover all weapons, not just guns. 4 points.

Overall: 9/10. Honestly, this may be my strongest article to date. It takes an issue that comes up in games (it first reared it's ugly head for me when playing in a session GM'd by +Jeromy French where so much laser fire was dodged that people were willing to just quit) and knocks it down in several ways. The solutions presented are not complicated and present a balance between additional rolls and no bookkeeping. 

Would I use it? Yes. I wrote it to solve issues that happened for me, at my own table. I think it's a good way to solve those issues, and I've gotten good feedback from other people that they work quite well. If you do gun combat, or even more, lasers, you'll want to pick this one up.

Delayed Gratification (Pyramid #3/52)

Summary: The article provides an alternative to the Feint mechanic in the form of a delayed deceptive attack called a Setup Attack. Sean described the article as such:
"GURPS offers many ways to lower your opponents' defenses: Deceptive Attack, Feint, and so on. But if you want Delayed Gratification, try the Setup Attack. Based on realistic fighting techniques, this new combat option gives you a way to launch an offensive that may cost your opponent his Hit Points and his defenses."

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The article take a simple concept and hits it from many angles, trying to anticipate most questions. While it's not lyrical prose, I think this one qualifies as very well executed. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The strength of this article is really in the exploration of the various rules. If you've been unsatisfied with Feints in your games, this might twig to why, and provide thoughts as to how partners can fight well together, and drive some more satisfying behavior into fights, because even a "feint" will be potentially dangerous to the foe. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This one you can drop in to an existing game, as-is, and not even ditch the current Feint rules (though you may want to). 4 points.

Overall: 9/10. Those who have used Setup Attacks in their games report that they're quite satisfactory, and a preferred mechanic over the Feint. I find the same thing, and the article explores this in many ways, from many angles. While honestly I think Dodge This is better, it's solving a different problem. 

Would I use it? Yes. These replace the Feint in my games where melee matters, full stop.

The Last Gasp (Pyramid #3/44)

Summary: The Last Gasp presents two different ways to deal with fatigue in GURPS. The first is to simply make recovering from fatigue last longer, with more severe (and gradual) consequences. The second introduces the concept of Action Points, a complimentary set of rules designed around short-term fatigue, lost and regained on the scale of seconds. In effect, these are two related articles that can be used together, but need not be.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The Last Gasp is another article that's mechanically intensive. While well executed, there's a lot to digest. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The exploration of fatigue points and how to make their use and recovery more dramatic is good but not earth-shattering. The action points mechanic is (even as the author) inspired and radically changes the dynamics of a fight, often for the better. The SJG Forum poster Mailanka used AP extensively in his martial arts campaign called Cherry Blossom Rain, and found it added lulls and flurries to combats organically (a design goal). The concepts here radically change how fatigue impact the game, making it both more important and more dramatic. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This one is "two articles in one," and the rules for longterm fatigue can be dropped in to an existing game as-is, with few changes. A few new die rolls, and a new appreciation for spending FP. Spell casters will not be pleased; though, if the mana reserve drains FP, since casting a spell in combat will be pretty debilitating. The Action Point rules have less drop-in utility, since they will change how each character fights, and also require bookkeeping from turn to turn. Physical tokens help this a lot, but AP are mechanically intensive and for the GM, who might be tracking a horde of creatures, potentially painful (a handy quick-resolution table is provided in the article, so this isn't a problem in play). 3 points.

Overall: 7/10. The alternate rules for long-term fatigue make spending down your FP painful each time you do it. The Action Points rules radically impact fight dynamics. It's a really variant approach that can have high payoff handled well - but it doesn't suit all genres and all games. 

Would I use it? Sometimes. The complexity burden of AP has to coexist with other rules, and as such can be the straw that broke the camel's back for games that use a lot of house rules. In Alien Menace, I chose not to use them, since they wouldn't impact games with gunplay much, and the punitive costs for movement (which I've reworked on this blog) exacerbate what I call the 'immobile battlefield' problem.

 Armor Revisited (Pyramid #3/34)

Summary: An exploration of the various penetration and injury mechanics used in GURPS, with suggestions for how to tweak them out in various ways. This contains the "official" published version of Armor as Dice.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The concepts involved are explained thoroughly and help give greater understanding of the underlying mechanics. Makes the subject more approachable. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: I'm going to quote Jeffro +Jeffro Johnson here: 
This is a fascinating article.  On the one hand, it is a concise set of designer’s notes that explains the foundational premise of the GURPS firearms rules.  On the other… it provides two additional dials that can be applied the the weapons and armor stats in the game.  As a bonus, these are explained in such a way that it is clear when and why to do things in the alternate way.  A big part of running a game depends on being able to visualize what is happening before the players begin to interact with it.  This article explains what the core combat rules actually mean in such a way that a GM that understands this can better improvise his rulings on the fly.  This is surprisingly interesting given the technical nature of the ideas. 
Based on feedback like this, I give myself: 4 points.
Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Any of the concepts here can be dropped into an existing game, in some cases making it better, in other cases no change. Only in fantasy and low-tech games with lots of melee combat and hand weapons do the principles suffer a bit - oh, wait. That's the most popular genre. Oops. 3 points.

Overall: 8/10. Short but informative, this presents a good behind the curtain style exploration of how to approach penetration and injury in GURPS. A worthy read for those interested in the subject.

Would I use it? Yes. Armor as Dice appears in all my firearms-heavy games, and the rule is a good option even in lower tech stuff.

The Deadly Spring (Pyramid #3/33)

Summary: A nearly-ridiculously mathematically intensive treatment of bows and similar muscle-powered ranged weapons in GURPS. It's primarily a design system for bows and arrows, but includes about a dozen worked examples. The new system puts arrow penetration on a scale more resembling that of firearms.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The bulk of the article is nearly a physics paper, which would normally qualify for -2 points . . . but it also ships with a set of spreadsheets (one generic one, and one more for each sample weapon) that take all of the math out of it for the user. I'm going to call that a wash . 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: Even if I do say so myself, this is probably the most thorough treatment of bows in a roleplaying game, ever. The article of The Defense Acadmy Warbow trials even gave me a smile and nod in private communication. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This is about as far from drop-in as it can get, save for the examples. Even if you do use the spreadsheet, you need to be prepared for an iterative process that does require an understanding of how bows work, and what tweaks are required to bring a bow into the realm of "actually works." Still, with the spreadsheet and examples, it's not a total loss. 1 points.

Overall: 5/10. Definitive and comprehensive, but without a doubt the crunchiest article to ever appear in Pyramid. If you like the subject, and can handle the math, you'll rate this more like a 6-7/10 but for most people, it's something that has a few nuggets to make it interesting, but overall you might just skip it.

Would I use it? Yes. The math doesn't scare me, the spreadsheet is functional, and in any game that's not super-powered, it puts a lot more believability into games, especially when co-existing with guns. However, in genres like Dungeon Fantasy or supers, where larger-than-life is the rule and Imperial Stormtroopers can be riddled with Ewok arrows, you should drop this like a hot rock. Drama is more important there.

Parting Shot

So, those are all of my contributions to GURPS Fourth Edition so far. At least in writing. If you'd like to take issue or comment on any of my self-biased scoring, please do!

Beyond my own written and published boosts to Fourth Edition, I've got a bunch of playtest credits, including Lead Playtest for +Hans-Christian Vortisch and Shawn Fisher's High-Tech and Hans' Tactical Shooting. The Tactics rules called out in Sean's Ten for Ten article was a playtest suggestion of mine!

Forthcoming, +Peter V. Dell'Orto and I have collaborated on two articles currently in a bit of limbo, but both dealing with fighting, and both suitable and directed at Dungeon Fantasy. Three more submitted articles are in +Steven Marsh's capable hands for mechanical treatments of various topics. Plus some other projects I can't talk about yet or are still in the discussion-with-collaborators stages.

GURPS Fourth Edition was, and remains, my go-to game. That doesn't mean I don't play others! I have enjoyed the heck out of Swords and Wizardry with +Erik Tenkar as GM, and the new DnD 5th Edition impresses me enough to want to play it. I'd love to play in a Night's Black Agents game with a competent GM to try it out; after talking to +Kenneth Hite I think I'd be a much better player for the GUMSHOE system than in the past. Actually, what I really want to do is take that book and do a GURPS supplement treatment for it, a conversion. I think it would fill a void for high-action but not-superhero monster stuff that's more Action! and less Monster Hunters or even +S. John Ross' Black Ops, still one of my favorite third edition supplements.

Oh, and I'm interviewing Steve Jackson himself tomorrow for the Firing Squad. Look for that in a couple of weeks.

August 28, 2014

Galen(iyel) - angsty half-elf Mystic Archer

We're gearing up for another Dungeon Fantasy-style campaign, this one more hex-crawl-like. Lots of wilderness, some dungeons. +Syndaryl calls it Chaos Scar, a properly evocative name.

Last game, run by +Nathan Joy, I played Cadmus, a Warrior Saint. Fun character, but limited in some ways.

This time, I wanted to go back to my roots, and try my hand at one of my favorite character types - the ranger-ish point-man. DF call this guy a Scout. But I was significantly impressed by +Mark Langsdorf's Mystic Knight, so I definitely wanted a touch of Imbuement skills.

This is what I came up with. Oh - Em decided to rework a bunch of stuff, defining a new trait called Reflexes from which certain other traits were based, coding it into GCA, etc. So if there's weirdness, I'll try and call it out.

Galeniyel Half-elven (329.5 points)

ST 13 [21]; DX 13* [40]; IQ 11 [20]; HT 12 [20].
Damage 1d/2d-1; BL 34 lb; HP 12 [-2]; Will 12 [20]; Per 15 [40]; FP 12 [0].
Basic Speed 7.00 [7.5]; Basic Move 7 [0]; Dodge 9.

Ideally, I'd like him stronger. Even with Strongbow or Trained ST for bows, ST 13 and Strongbow is only ST 15, for a base thrust damage of 1d+1 on the usual GURPS scale. Sure, I could nab a composite bow or something and push that to 1d+4, which is nice, but stronger is always better here. The rest of the stats represent a nice above-average range. Not great, but not poor. Where I differentiated myself here (and it helped the Reflexes score, a balance of DX and Per) is in Perception. I was picturing him as a true scout first, and a warrior second. Sneaky, blending in, etc. He's quick enough (Speed/Move of 7). For a while, he had Combat Reflexes, but you'll see later that when I decided to go absolutely nutso on Talents, I dropped CR in favor of more raw sneakitude.

Social Background
TL: 3 [0].
Languages: Elvish (Native) [0].
 Nothing special here, although he speaks Elvish (and he really should speak accented Common; that must have dropped off the sheet due to GCA conflicts with Templates) and is all broken up about being half elven instead of full elf.
Templates and Meta-Traits

Half-Elf (Chaos Scar; p. DF3:7) [20]; Scout (Chaos Scar; p. DF1:10) [0].

Eldritch Talent 4 [20]; Forest Guardian 4 [20]; Heroic Archer [20]; Imbue 2 [20]; Outdoorsman 2 [20]; Stalker 4 [20]; Trading Character Points for Money $2,500 [5].

Perks: Grip Mastery (Polearm); Reach Mastery (Polearm); Shoves and Tackles (Polearm); Strongbow. [4]
This is where I get a bit cheater-head. All of these are perfectly legal, but I take a lot of them, and they overlap. A lot. Eldritch Talent to boost the imbuement skills, Outdoorsman, Stalker, and Forest Guardian as cheap ways to boost the skills I care about the most. A few perks for my weapons. Shoves and Tackles is to push the foe to Reach 2 if I can, then slash him with the naginata.
Bloodlust (12 or less) [-10]; Callous [-5]; Code of Honor (Soldier's) [-10]; No Sense of Humor [-10]; Overconfidence (12 or less) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Adventuring companions) [-5]; Sense of Duty (Elvenkind) [-10]; Social Stigma (Disowned) [-5].

Quirks: _Unused Quirk 1; _Unused Quirk 2; _Unused Quirk 3; _Unused Quirk 4; _Unused Quirk 5. [-5]
He's still a work in progress characterization-wise, so still unused Quirks. Disads are to represent that he's a half-breed son of a clan leader, his mother. She went adventuring, decided to dally. Her son wants truly to be an elf (and his father was a very powerful warrior, so no shame there) but of course he's not. He's got a soldier's code of honor and elvish arrogance and confidence, and at the same time tremendous pride and jealousy of a clan that will likely never accept him. The no sense of humor, callous, and bloodlust is to make him seem less human, he thinks. His full name is Galeniyel, but his parents called him Galen. He now tries to use his full name . . . but can't quite pull it off. "I'm Galen. Er . . . Galeniyel. Galeniyel. Yes." "Hey, Galen!" "What? NO! Don't call me that!"
  • Annihilating Weapon (Polearm) (VH) DX+1 [1]-14†
  • Armoury/TL3 (Missile Weapons) (A) IQ-1 [1]-10
  • Bow (A) DX+6 [8]-19‡
  • Burning Strike (Bow) (VH) DX+2 [2]-15†
  • Camouflage (E) IQ+11 [0]-22§
  • Cartography/TL3 (A) IQ+1 [4]-12
  • Climbing (A) DX-1 [1]-12
  • College of Light & Darkness (VH) IQ-2 [2]-9
  • Fast-Draw (Arrow) (E) DX+4 [1]-17‡
  • Fishing (E) Per-2 [0]-13¶
  • Ghostly Weapon (Bow) (VH) DX+2 [2]-15†
  • Ghostly Weapon (Polearm) (VH) DX+1 [1]-14†
  • Guided Weapon (Bow) (VH) DX+1 [1]-14†
  • Hidden Lore (Magical Items Lore) (A) IQ [2]-11
  • Hiking (A) HT+4 [2]-16**
  • Mimicry (Bird Calls) (H) IQ+1 [2]-12¶
  • Naturalist (Earth) (H) IQ [1]-11¶
  • Navigation/TL3 (Land) (A) IQ+5 [1]-16††
  • Observation (A) Per+1 [4]-16
  • Polearm (A) DX+2 [8]-15
  • Riding (Equines) (A) DX-1 [1]-12
  • Search (A) Per [2]-15
  • Shattershot (Bow) (VH) DX+1 [1]-14†
  • Spear (A) DX-2 [0]-11
  • Staff (A) DX [2]-13
  • Stealth (A) DX+7 [1]-20‡‡
  • Sumo Wrestling (A) DX+1 [4]-14
  • Survival (Mountain) (A) Per+1 [1]-16¶
  • Survival (Plains) (A) Per+1 [1]-16¶
  • Survival (Woodlands) (A) Per+5 [1]-20§§
  • Swimming (E) HT [1]-12
  • Tactics (H) IQ+1 [8]-12
  • Thaumatology (VH) IQ+3 [4]-14†
  • Tracking (A) Per+7 [4]-22††
  • Traps/TL3 (A) IQ+1 [4]-12

* Includes +1 from 'Extra DX'.† Includes +4 from 'Eldritch Talent'.‡ Includes +4 from 'Forest Guardian'.§ Includes +4 from 'Forest Guardian', +2 from 'Outdoorsman', +4 from 'Stalker'.¶ Includes +2 from 'Outdoorsman'.** Includes +4 from 'Stalker'.†† Includes +2 from 'Outdoorsman', +4 from 'Stalker'.‡‡ Includes +4 from 'Forest Guardian', +4 from 'Stalker'.§§ Includes +4 from 'Forest Guardian', +2 from 'Outdoorsman'
The imbuement skills (bolded) are to ensure that he can effect critters that are insubstantial, can destroy stuff (Annihilating weapon is basically "Lightsaber") or cut through objects, can deal with swarms and mooks (Shattershot is basically a 1d grenade deliverable to 200+ yards). Burning strike is for creatures that don't deal well with fire. As you can see, he's a competent warrior (bow and polearm), but mostly he's a sneaky tracker, with Camouflage, Stealth, Woodland Survival, and Tracking atll at 20+. His naturally high Perception led me to boost such skills where I could. Also: Sumo Wrestling.
  • 40× Arrow (Bodkin Point; $80; 4 lb)
  • 1× Blanket ($20; 4 lb)
  • 1× Canteen ($10; 3 lb)
  • 7× Elven Rations ($105; 3.5 lb)
  • 1× Hip Quiver, Large ($30; 2 lb)
  • 1× Large Knife ($40; 1 lb)
  • 1× Leather (Feet, Shins; DR (3)
  • Quality Hardened; $139.32; 5.97 lb)
  • 1× Leather (Forearms, Hands; DR (2); Quality Hardened; Fine; $105.12; 2.12 lb)
  • 1× Longbow (ST 15; Fine; $800; 3 lb)
  • 1× Naginata (Silver-coated; $300; 6 lb)
  • 1× Personal Basics ($5; 1 lb)
  • 1× Plate (Full Helm, Wide Cheek Guard, Padding; DR (4); $222; 3.52 lb)
  • 1× Quick-Release Backpack ($300; 3 lb)
  • 4× Rope, 3/8'' (per 10 yards; $20; 6 lb)
  • 1× Scale (Shoulders, Upper Arms, Knees, Thighs, Neck, Torso; DR (4); Reinforced Vitals; Ornate (+1); $1260; 25.2 lb)
  • 1× Woodwind ($40; 1 lb.)

Nothing special here. A fine longbow, run-of-the-mill polearm, DR 4 scale armor, leather on his limbs. He always uses "bodkin" point arrows (1d+3 (2) pi) but aims for the vitals for creatures that have them, which basically is a x3 multiplier giving 3d+9 injury for most shots. Through DR 7 plate (2d on the average), he'll typically thus do about 9 points to the vitals. Through DR 4 mail, he's hitting hard enough to put a man down to KO-land in one shot. If he gets ornery, he can do that from hundreds of yards for a Fatigue Point with Guided Weapon. 

In the test combat we ran last night, Galen was dangerous enough - clusters of mooks fell easily to shattershot (which is the point), he was good to 50 yards to the vitals once per round (thanks to generous Fast-Draw and Quick-Shooting house rules, and Forest Guardian adding to Quick-Shot).

He should be fun to play, but if he's always "the guy way out in front" he's going to quickly find himself surrounded if he's not careful.

One thing I will say: learning the macro language of MapTool is worth your time. +Theodore Briggs provided me with a templat for rolling Fast-Draw, Quick-Shot, and a to-hit roll which made all of that a trivial thing . . . and I'm still somewhat in awe of what Em can do with macros. Automatic explosives. Group mass dodge. Wow, and neat.

August 26, 2014

Pyramid #3/70: Fourth Edition Festival in Review

Due to copious lack of time, I'm not going to do a strict review with one post per article, like I prefer to do. I am, however, going to hit each one with my usual method: rating in three categories that boil down to quality writing, quality ideas, and drop-in utility with minimal prep.

Destination Abydos (by +David Pulver)

Summary: David takes his Abydos work and extends it to include Dungeon Fantasy, Zombies, and Mass Combat.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means "didn't get in the way," and doesn't represent a bad score. This article worked for me. It is terse where it needs to be, evocative where it can. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The article presents a bit of a smorgasbord (huh. spelled that right first try) of awesome. How to blend Dungeon Fantasy at any point level with Abydos, which of course is rife with opportunities for dungeons. It's a freakin' city of the undead, after all. Plus: undead pirates. I mean, really. One could stop there. But he didn't. Between mass combat, dungeons, horror, and zombies, each comes with enough meat to hang ideas off of. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: I would have preferred to see some of the ideas in translating these concepts from Banestorm to Abydos to Dungeon Fantasy fleshed out (see what I did there?) with actual lenses or templates, but that's probably an article in and of itself. That being said, you get some campaign seeds and page after page of necromantic support for Mass Combat. 2 points.

Overall: 7/10. This article was long on inspiration and had a lot of "yes, I could make a campaign arc out of this" moments. The Mass Combat support is a bit lost on me - that's not how I roll - but for those that do, and I've heard plenty of good stories about blending Mass Combat with epic campaigns, with the PCs as leaders and heroes, this article is well aimed..If you deeply love mass combat, then the drop-in utility rating is more like 3 or 4, which puts this article at a score of 8 or 9 - basically a must-have.

Would I use it? Yes. Banestorm is a vibrant setting and fun to play in, when I've done so. This article takes a great location full of imagery and possibility - Abydos - and takes it even farther with the extensive support provided by the DF line, the Zombies hardback, and the Mass Combat abstract battle system. Some of the adventure seeds either written or suggested will make for good gaming.

Ten for Ten (by +Sean Punch )

Summary: Sean takes ten ideas from supplements he wrote or collaborated on that he wishes had made it into the GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition, back in 2004. There are ten more that he gives honorable mention (nine in one box, plus multiplicative multipliers).

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Sean's writing style has always worked for me. These are basically rule excerpts, so mostly "workmanlike" in that they just quote or summarize the relevant rules. However, the color commentary at the end of each really makes each one more understandable as to why each rule works for Sean. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: Each rule nugget - and maybe even more so the honorable mentions, might inspire how to run a game differently. If you like rules (as I do), this will provide both a "buyer's guide" for future supplements, or a "check this out" index. So the power of this one will range from about 2-4, depending. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Well, yeah. This is nothing but drop-in rules. It's pure utility at it's finest, and each rule is complete enough by itself to use at the table. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. It's interesting to imagine what the Basic Set would be with free rein not only to include the best ideas Sean wrote, but the best core ideas from any source - e23 or Pyramid. Even as presented, there's plenty here to chew on.

Would I use it? Yes. In many cases, I already do. Other Kinds of Points and Tactics are the two big winners from the main list. Alternate Benefits, Imbuements, Technique Design, and Everyman skills get used from the back-up list. Heck, I wrote a whole article expanding on Restricted Dodge Against Firearms (Dodge This!).

Gaming in the Ancien Regime (by William H. Stoddard)

Summary: Bill Stoddard provides a worked example of how to use Social Engineering in a swashbucklers campaign.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This was remarkably interesting. Bill writes history very well, and his interspersion of rules and historical context was very well executed. I did not expect to enjoy reading this article, but I did, from the get-go. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:This is a how-to guide for structuring a campaign in a structured, bureaucratic swashbuckling society. An historical one, but with a bit of filing off of serial numbers, it could fit in many places. The detailed division of political rank, status, administrative, and religoius rank show how complicated and interesting such structures can be. As noted, it's a worked example, and a thorough one at that. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: Obviously this is only drop-in with a utility of 4 if you're running this exact campaign, or one very much like it. Still, it gives several flavors of rank structures, a good guideline for cost of living in such a regime, and some nice interaction of the different pieces. Still, it's very specific, and so is probably a 2 or 3. It makes up a drop-in campaign by itself, but in general, it won't be that much utility unless you can squeeze it in. Over in "Odds and Ends," (p. 37) he also presents Paris of roughly 1720 in the City Stats format. 2 points.

Overall: 7/10. A nice history lesson as well as the worked example nestled within, the article is a fun read.

Would I use it? No. No fault of the author's, but this isn't where I like to game. Social Engineering, though, and the worked example this article provides, would be used in my games in appropriate places, so my demurring from this is one of "specific campaign," not "general distaste."

Into the Wilderness (by +Matt Riggsby)

Summary: Matt leverages the recently published DF16: Wilderness Adventures to make his own Mirror of the Fire Demon even better.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Matt's writing sucked me in, and had me reading each word eagerly. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:. This amplifies an existing (and in a way, the existing) DF adventure. It is a partial worked example of any sort of desert/wilderness travel, so can be mined lightly for ideas here. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: DFA1: MotFD is a drop-in adventure. This takes that drop-in and makes it better, directly and with no modifiction. The "random desert crap that can hurt you" table (not his title) is portable anywhere. Plus: DF Cold-Weather loadouts in a box-text. 4 points.

Overall: 8/10. While somewhat specialized, it scratches several itches. It's adventure support. It uses Wilderness concepts. It shows how to blend the journey in with the destination to make adventuring more fun. It's in the Dungeon Genre, too, which makes it more broadly applicable, since fantasy is still the #1 go-to for gaming.

Would I use it? Yes. I'd run Mirror if I were running that sort of campaign, and I'd definitely take his advice on how to make the wilderness part of it more challenging and fun.

Elemental Xia Champions vs. the Shenguai (by Jason " +Rev. Pee Kitty " Levine)

Summary: Jason combines Monster Hunters with Chinese Elemental Powers, providing a template, some powers, and several monsters.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This is a very crunchy article, dominated by a character template (which always make my eyes bleed) and several power and monster stat blocks. The accompanying text is well done, and very informative. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:. If you're doing a Monster Hunters game, this provides some nice ideas that in all likelihood will keep the players guessing, and therefore afraid. One of the monsters is particularly nasty that way. If you're a player, the article provides a go-to template and lots of suggestions for elemental powers in the appropriate theme. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This entire thing is a drop-in to any MH campaign from start to finish, which makes it a solid 2 or 3 (it's still pretty specific). Even in a non-MH campaign, it has suggestions that allow you to amp up to much higher power levels the concepts in Chinese Elemental Magic. 3 points.

Overall: 7/10. Again with "somewhat specialized," this one is tailor made for a less-popular genre, but well done and instantly useful for players and GMs alike.

Would I use it? Yes. Monster Hunters is one of my favorite genres as a player, and I'd welcome this Xia champion into a game I was running or playing. The included monsters - the Shenguai in particular - are very nasty and definitely not your usual vampire, werewolf, or orc.

Horde Ninja (by +Peter V. Dell'Orto )

Summary: Peter manages to canonize the Law of Conservation of Ninjitsu, and provides a nice treatment of ninja as monsters/foes.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Full disclosure: I collaborate with Peter whenever I can on projects and we play together. One of the reasons is that he's a very entertaining writer, while still being terse and conveying information well. This very short article is no exception. "Ninja are either singular bosses, worthy of respect and fear, or they're like these guys." 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: How to use ninja is one thing, but the "Peeking Under the Hood" box is a key to taking any fodder-level monster (say, any template or lens from DF15: Henchmen) and making them into a credible threat. Beyond that, these guys are ninja, exactly what's on the tin. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: High utility in a particular genre, mostly for the point above: though the Horde Ninja is the treatment here, the Mass Mage could easily be next on the list. And the Law of Conservation of Ninjitsu ("The Last Ninja") is just fun. 3 points.

Overall: 7/10. Third time's the charm with "somewhat specialized," and for the third time this review I point out that the real oomph of this short article is in extrapolation to other critters.

Would I use it? Yes. I mean: Ninja. Of course I'd use them..

Revisiting High-Tech (by +Hans-Christian Vortisch )

Summary: Hans proposes two new rules for dealing with machine pistols and shotgun rounds that he'd perhaps have adopted if he could revisit GURPS High-Tech.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The text itself is straight-forward, and gets its point across. I'd have preferred a table of some common values, but the examples provided are OK. It did leave me wanting a bit more, though - perhaps typical for a short, technical piece of only a page in length. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: A brief introduction to why the rules he's picking on deserve it, and some good context for machine pistols. The shotguns piece explains the current issue with shotshell. 2 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: The drop-in utility of the machine pistols section is high, since it's basically a stats tweak. The shotgun rounds section . . . well, my own version is also 850 words (about a page), and I of course prefer it. Still, the solution provided does rein in the problem he throws out there, so it puts points on the board there. 2 points.

Overall: 4/10. The article took aim at a minor quibble (Rcl on machine pistols) and a mathematical oddity resulting from how pellets are treated in the original book. That's not a lot to work with, and unfortunately it shows here. My bias to more complex treatments might be showing here, though; Drop-in utility could be higher than I rate it, but not 4 points, so overall this is a 4-5.

Would I use it? Meh. The stat adjustment to Rcl is more an errata than a true update. I'll use my own shotgun rules fix, but for those that don't want it, it's a good fix. Hans is right: 1d-5(0.2) pi- is annoying, and his fix is better than the existing rule.

Random Thought Table (by +Steven Marsh )

Summary: Steven notes how rules can enable inspiration, and shows how campaign or story ideas can spring from rules, to complement the usual opposite trope (that rules enable story).

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Well written, light, and fun. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The entire piece is a worked example of inspiration and "ah ha!" The article is quite frankly about epiphany in campaign and story design. Also look up "A Peek Behind the Curtain" (p. 37) to see how Steven took the rules and turned them into campaigns. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: These ideas are cool, but they're seeds, and do-it-yourself by nature. 1 point.

Overall: 6/10. It's a good premise. How do you take an interesting rule or notion and build from it, with eight examples, each with an associated campaign idea.

Would I use it? Not necessarily any of the ones presented here, but that's not the real point. Any interesting rule that strikes your fancy can start up a campaign seed.

This is a very strong issue, and contains fun follow-up work from prolific and high-quality authors, who have written some of GURPS' more enduring works. Worth picking up!

August 23, 2014

GURPS Dredd need marketing, badly

Very interesting Twitter thingy.

Munchkin Apocalypse: Judge Dredd is going to be a thing.

The money quote from +Phil Reed in the the tweet above is:

Now you have me wondering if there would be enough demand to make GURPS Judge Dredd worth considering .

GURPS doesn't get too much licencing love anymore, though there are exceptions.

Dredd would be interesting. It plays to a lot of GURPS' strengths, and if given the "self-contained game" treatment, where rules could be stated in ways to suit the genre, it is right in the middle of GURPS' sweet spot. All those ammo types?



August 21, 2014

23% Off Sale at Warehouse 23 on GURPS stuff!

SJG doesn't do it often (hardly ever, really) but until Aug 27 GURPS stuff is on sale at 23% off over at Warehouse 23. 

As +Peter V. Dell'Orto notes on his own author page, there's a bunch of stuff (one book and a few Pyramid articles) that you could pick up.

Go Buy Technical Grappling

"Grappling rules suck" is such a potent meme that it even showed up in +Rob Donoghue's recent blog post on DnD5, though as benign neglect. I really do think the core Control Point effect mechanic is not only fairly useful, but easily portable to other games, as +Tim Shorts and +Erik Tenkar know from a project I did with them that will appear, hopefully, sometime in the future.

The best thing I can say about my own rules, Peter said for me in a recent forum post:

Quote: Originally Posted by vicky_molokh  
Lame? With the +2 to pretty much everything per tentacle after the first two? Why? Seems reasonably powerful to me.

Peter's Response:
Click Here and Wrestle with this!
Because grappling becomes "You're not grappled, and fine" or "you're grappled, but you're stronger so you break free" or "you're grappled, and it's so strong you can't escape." It's way too pass/fail, and all of our fights with grappling monsters have been that way and were not fun to run or play. 
Using CP makes it all so much more nuanced, and since starting to use it every grappling encounter has gotten more interesting - masses of grappling zombies, casual grabs in combat, and more. TG has made DF dramatically better. We went from "let's try this" to my players saying to keep it in a single usage.
It has some complexity that needs filing down for DF in some places, but the core concept is better than the core concept it replaces.
Pyramid Issues

I'll actually be posting a bit more on this later. +Sean Punch did a Ten for Ten article in Pyramid #3/70 picking out ten concepts that he would have included in Basic had they existed at the time. Some of his concepts are reinforced or augmented by some of the articles I've written, and I intend to point that out in gory detail. But later. :-)


It crept up on me, but this marks my 400th post since starting my blog on Dec 26, 2012.

August 16, 2014

The PCs are Being Hunted - what to do?

Over on Google+ and the RPG Stack exchange, +Jeff Demers asks for help:

I thought some people here may want to assist in answer this question. I'm writing an adventure for tonight and I'm floundering! How to write an adventure where the primary focus is the characters being hunted?

I ran into some issues posting to the exchange, and given time constraints, threw down an answer here. Toss in your own comments. Maybe +Peter V. Dell'Orto+Erik Tenkar+Tim Shorts , or +Rob Conley would have good things to say. Heck, +Matt Riggsby writes great adventures. +Kenneth Hite wrote a book on this, from which I borrow heavily in my advice below. So . . .

I'd borrow heavily from Night's Black Agents here. What you're running is a thriller, where the PCs are, in a way, in the position of Jason Bourne. Very capable on their own, but outclassed by an enemy that keeps coming out of nowhere, and if they show up with great numbers, it's all over.

First piece of advice: have a scene where some capable bystanders are utterly and thoroughly destroyed by the hunters. Or even better, have that happen off screen, to prevent the PCs from wading in to a TPK.

Night's Black Agents suggests that there are only two types of scenes - information gathering and action.

So the first thing for this is "gather information." In this case, if they come across a dismembered, disemboweled, folded, spindled, and mutilated battleground, where the losers just happen to resemble the PCs to some extent. This one was brown-haired and wearing mail...just like Bog. That one was fair haired with a bow and leather scale. That's not quite Betterthanyouiel, but it's close enough. Geez, fatal case of mistaken identity!

The tracker could say they were swarmed over and overrun. The point guy of the dead group is in two pieces - but only evidence of one blow (gulp - if they hit us, we're dead!).

So there should be some fear there of individual beasts, as well as a pack.

Then you can stage minor skirmishes (action scenes) where if things go well they escape or can deal with a minor scout threat (a lesser beast?). That's the action bit.

The investigation is (a) why are we being hunted? (b) What's hunting us? (c) Do we fight, bargain, or run? (d) Do any weaknesses exist? (e) Do we need to go on adventures in order to obtain what we need to take advantage of those weaknesses? and finally (f) how do we set it up so we can kick their butts by using clever tactics and leveraging their weaknesses?

If there's an action scene of some sort in between each question, that's at least 12 sessions right there!

If only I could be this logical and easy for Alien Menace. Grrr.

Bloggus Interruptus


That's all I really have to say. I mean, I knew that my life would change again when we had a second child. I'd forgotten how hard it can be, and how long it lasts (and how short, but that's no help when you're in the moment).

Our eldest is not quite five, and she watches superhero cartoons with me, and is probably ready to start learning RPGs. Great.

The little one? The screamin' demon with a musical name?

Not so much.

By the time we get done with a typical daily routine, my creativity has been pretty well sapped. Gaming prep? For that game I was dying to run? Yeah. That doesn't happen when it should.

The blog ideas and Pyramid articles I think of? Oh, wait, you want me to think of nifty ideas, structure them, format them to the SJG Style Guide in a way that is coherent and even worthy of playtesting? Right.  Better watch cat videos on YouTube. That'll be more productive.

Anyway, in the end, it will, of course, be worth it as little M starts to smile socially (started to happen over the last week), and her colic dies down to a dull roar (gulp. usually three to six months is when that subsides. Here's hoping for three rather than six).

I have a beautiful healthy little girl. This is at the cost of anything resembling sleep and/or husband/wife time, since one or both of us is basically always on duty.

I did manage to jot down a few ideas over the last week at the in-laws' lake house. I've been taking some inspiration from SJG Forum threads, though. There is a half-finished article on my "desk" that will be fun for a lot of people. Plus, of course, the three or four articles already submitted that eventually will see daylight, I hope.

It could be worse, but if you're wondering why I never post anything anymore, that's why.