October 28, 2014

Pyramid #3/72 - Alternate Dungeons Review (Eidetic Memory: Good Dungeons)

This is an issue that could be a lot of fun. Dungeon Fantasy is full of entertaining tropes, some used for amusement, some for simplification, and some for the one true purpose of absolute and total mayhem.

Ahem. Sorry.

But Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways. I strongly suspect, given that every article in this issue was written by a headliner, that there's plenty more where that came from, but let's go with what we have.

I'll be publishing this review one article at a time, but maybe more than one per day as I can find time. So check back!

Eidetic Memory: Good Dungeons ( +David Pulver  )

Summary: David takes a look at dungeons that might actually be filled with sweetness and light. In order to liven up the usual dungeon trope, he looks at strongholds of good (or at least not-evil) beings and why a dungeon might exist with their names on it.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This is presented in a matter-of-fact style. Each section is very nearly stand-alone, and invokes or investigates a different possibility for why a "good" dungeon might exist. 1 point.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  While it might not cover every aspect of good dungeons, there are more than enough here to make the prospective campaign or episode designer salivate with possibilities. From person-based (good wizards or mighty benevolent dragons) to culture and race-based (Dwarfish strongholds and Elven citadels) to religious temples and crypts, David walks the reader through many ways that a dungeon can not simply be a festering pit of evil. I really enjoyed the bits about elves and dwarves, and a GM that wanted to play up the fey nature of Elves rather than just a group of pointy-eared gorgeous folk that are Just Damned Better Than You could really make hay with the concepts here. This really worked for me. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  While not strictly "drop-in," any of these concepts can be easily worked in as inspiration to an ongoing campaign. Using this article is as simple (and as complex) as making one of these points the focus of the next mini-arc in an ongoing campaign. 3 points.

Overall: 8/10. A thorough exploration of a concept that really didn't occur to me until David wrote about it. It covers the material very well and provides locations, hints of personalities, and even some motivations for why good PCs might raid a "good" dungeon. A fine effort.

Would I use it? Yes. This is a treasure trove of ideas to be liberally sprinkled into any fantasy campaign, much less Dungeon Fantasy.

October 27, 2014

Slightly Bad Sight

Bad Sight is tough on a PC. It's a -25 point disadvantage and carries some serious ouch to it in either nearsighted or farsighted varieties.

What if you want to have just slightly bad vision?

Fairly easy: just make it leveled. I'm going to tweak point cost a bit as well.

Nearsighted (-3 per level)

You have issues reading things more than one yard away. You are -1 to your Vision roll per level of this advantage. Additionally, you are at -1 to hit for every three fractional levels of Nearsighted (so Nearsighted 2 gives -1 to hit, but Nearsighted 7 gives -3). Apply the same penalty to ranged attacks.

Why it's different: This is just a straight-up scaling of Nearsighted, at 4 per level, with no cap on levels inherent. The "double range" thing is the exact same thing as a -2 penalty, which coincides with the -6/-2 for melee. So using the same penalty for all attacks works fine, I think.

Farsighted (-3 per level)

You have issues with very close objects. Each level gives you -1 to spot objects within one yard, and each two levels (or fraction thereof) gives -1 to DX on close manual tasks, and close combat. Rolls to maintain or improve a grapple, or execute grappling-based techniques (grapples, throws, locks, etc.) suffer penalties based on the best of your senses of touch and vision (so if your touch-based senses are unimpaired, so it is with your grappline). Any attack that bears a close resemblance to a strike (such as a Sweep that does not start from an already-established grapple) suffers full penalties.

Bad Sight ( -6 per level)

You have poor vision in general, suffering -1 to Vision per level of Bad Sight, -1 to melee and ranged attacks per 3 levels, -1 to DX for close manual tasks and close combat per two levels (or fraction thereof in both cases). 

Acute Vision (2 per level)

Acute vision is already leveled but doesn't give bonuses for melee or ranged tasks, nor for close manual tasks, nor bonuses in close combat. So the price is fine as-is.

Parting Shot

This came up when my instant response to the question "can you be both nearsighted and farsighted" was "just buy Reduced Vision." Turns out you can't. Easy enough to tweak out. I didn't feel like 6 levels of bad vision would be worth -48 points, though. Even with -6 to vision, -2 to melee and ranged attacks, and -3 to close manual tasks and close combat, which if "anti-Acute Vision" is -12 of those points, those penalties work out to another -35, which is about -2 to DX on all tasks. I suppose you could go either way, at -6 or -8 per level, but I chose to use the lower total. Nearly -50 points seems pretty catastrophic. On the other hand, if it's correctable, it's basically -20 or -15, which starts to feel about right.

October 26, 2014

Pyramid #3/72 - Alternate Dungeons Review (From the Bottom Up)

This is an issue that could be a lot of fun. Dungeon Fantasy is full of entertaining tropes, some used for amusement, some for simplification, and some for the one true purpose of absolute and total mayhem.

Ahem. Sorry.

But Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways. I strongly suspect, given that every article in this issue was written by a headliner, that there's plenty more where that came from, but let's go with what we have.

I'll be publishing this review one article at a time, but maybe more than one per day as I can find time. So check back!

From the Bottom Up ( +Matt Riggsby )

Summary: Matt literally turns the genre upside-down by placing the monsters in the starring role. The five-page article features four pages of templates (making it a monstrous analog to DF1: Adventurers) and the final page is campaign advice, pointing it loosely at DF2.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: I'm no fan of the GURPS stat block/character template format. I find it dense and difficult to read. That 80% of the article is basically dictated in style and execution by the SJG Formatting/Style guide does not help the ranking here. The intro paragraphs before each wall of statblock are evocative and well crafted (and funny in places - 'paging Dr. Acula' is worth the price of admission right there). 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]:  This concept says "tournament play" or "MIB GURPS Demo" to me more than suggesting a campaign I wish to run. Interestingly enough, it may be that handing out a bunch of monsters and facing down ever-increasing waves of PC-based Henchmen and core templates is a great way to give newbie players a good feel for each of the templates that they'll eventually choose from, and giving a monsters-eye view for how to deal with its own attack modes and weaknesses will be educational for GMs and players alike. The page on Monster Campaigns (p. 26) is a decent stand-in for slantwise advice on DF monster tactics and things to watch out for. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]:  The templates are well thought-out, and the monster advice is solid. Obviously this is best suited to a new campaign or one-shot than an existing one, but if the "normal" PCs and some monsters must team up and save the world from The Squid Invaders, this would be a useful piece. Some of the templates feature adversaries that might not be 100% evil, either - Dragons can be of any temperament, Specters already have a Friendly Ghost subsection, and Scorpion-men needn't be all bad, all the time. As a commenter reminded me, the templates can also be used in an existing campaign as bad guys, with the bonus of added variety to make them not quite cookie-cutter, which makes for a lot of drop-in utility. 4 points.

Overall: 7/10. This article really puts the Alternate in Alternate Dungeons. Not only are the starring roles the equivalent of the DC titles that are all from the villains point of view, but making the subterranean lair sensible from the monster's perspective turns things about as well (perhaps a DF16: Wilderness adventure would require less gymnastics).

Would I use it? Probably not, but that's largely because I'm more interested in the other side of things. As I said, though, even though I'd not use it, it's eminently usable, and could be tons of fun, in certain circumstances. For example - a one-shot this Halloween where you play the monsters? Sounds like a plan.

Pyramid #3/72 - Alternate Dungeons Review (Dungeons of Mars)

This is an issue that could be a lot of fun. Dungeon Fantasy is full of entertaining tropes, some used for amusement, some for simplification, and some for the one true purpose of absolute and total mayhem.

Ahem. Sorry.

But Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways. I strongly suspect, given that every article in this issue was written by a headliner, that there's plenty more where that came from, but let's go with what we have.

I'll be publishing this review one article at a time, but maybe more than one per day as I can find time. So check back!

Dungeons of Mars (Phil Masters)

Summary: An essay on using the Dungeon Fantasy tropes and techniques to enable the planetary romance genre. The article is part retrospective, but the majority of it is dissecting the elements of planetary romance and relating them to the usual care-abouts in a DF game. An example is worked in through the text, and some minor game mechanical help is given along the way.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: This article is both thoughtful and thought provoking. By analyzing one particular genre or idea against the things that are needed, provided, or asked for in DF, Phil enables you to ask that series of questions about any prospective treatment. The writing is engaging and interesting, and it reads like the essay it is, rather than the more crunch-laden works often found in GURPS publications. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The core of this article is all about background and inspiration, with the epiphany coming from the extension to other treatments (left as an exercise to the reader). 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: While a few of the passages contain game-mechanical help in the form of templates and stats, this is not drop-in material. It, on the other hand, is not supposed to be. 1 points.

Overall: 7/10. The score is biased downward by 40% of the grade being meted out based on what you can drop into existing games. This is, of course, not the point of the article and it seems almost unfair to judge it that way. That being said, Anything in the top half of the scale (6-10) will find a home somewhere, and I heartily recommend the content of the piece for brain food.

Would I use it? In a way, this is a funny question for this article, which is as much essay and (short) dissection of a topic than something you "use." One can argue (and I will), that by being exposed to the concepts of planetary romance with a DF lens on, not only might I use it, but I have already done so. The purpose of the article was to expand my horizons, and in that it was successful regardless if I can now drop a new character class into my existing game.

October 25, 2014

Apropos of Nothing: Umarex Walther PPQ vs the real thing

My wife will don a Black Widow costume this year for Halloween, and so I've been prop hunting. I looked for the Glock 26 that Agent Romanov uses in the Avengers movie, but Glock got medieval on replica and airsoft gun makers (in fairness, it's their right to do so, and if you don't protect your stuff, you lose it).

So I went with the Umarex spring loaded PPQ, largely because I love the PPQ.

Holy crap, these are accurate replicas. Pix follow, and the one with the orange muzzle is obviously the airsoft weapon, but other than the heft of the slide, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference.

Ironically, two of the differences between the replica and the real weapon are such that I prefer the replica!

1) The striker status indicator on the replica is a giant red/orange nub that sticks out of the back of the gun. This is similarto the Springfield XD(M), and I prefer it. I've seen a few other types of LCI, and the pin sticking out the back of the gun is my preference. That being said, the Springfield has both the Loaded Chamber Indicator on top of the gun, compared to the PPQ's side-mounted red demarkation. The striker status indicator does not exist on the PPQ, but does on the XD(M).

2) The magazine release on the real thing is a thumb button. The Umarex replica uses the ambidextrous finger/thumb release along the bottom of the trigger guard. I first encountered this on a H&K USP Compact way back in 1999 or so, and I've always liked it. Fingertip mag release is my preference.

Edit: I knew I'd seen this before. Umarex took the magazine release from the P99 model, as well as the sharply curved trigger. 

The magazine for the airsoft actually will fit and seat in the real gun, though it won't lock in place. I did push the real-world mag into the airsoft, but as you might imagine the bullets tend to get in the way.

All in all, a very convincing replica. Don't point it at anyone - you might not like the results.

October 24, 2014

Pyramid #3/72 - Alternate Dungeons Review (Pointless Slaying and Looting)

This is an issue that could be a lot of fun. Dungeon Fantasy is full of entertaining tropes, some used for amusement, some for simplification, and some for the one true purpose of absolute and total mayhem.

Ahem. Sorry.

But Alternate Dungeons takes this and attempts to come at you sideways. I strongly suspect, given that every article in this issue was written by a headliner, that there's plenty more where that came from, but let's go with what we have.

I'll be publishing this review one article at a time, but maybe more than one per day as I can find time. So check back!

Pointless Slaying and Looting ( +Sean Punch )

Summary: Sean (sort of ) throws points out the window, and reduces character creation in Dungeon Fantasy into a small number of choices from a fairly large menu. Somewhat limited choices are made from an archetype, abilities, skills, and limitations in the equivalent of large-point-value chunks, reducing character creation to what should be a matter of minutes. Point-quibblers and munchkins need not apply.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: It's hard to make a giant menu of items exciting. Sean does his best, of course, which is very good indeed. He concisely describes the thought behind each selection, and provides guidelines for GMs and tinkerers to create their own. The articles suffers a bit from the menu-driven approach (not that one could do otherwise), and it's possible that eyes glaze over a bit when presented with (say) three or four pages of nothing but wildcard skill collections. This is significantly offset by the amused insertions into some of the entries, such as the section on Heroic Flaws, each of which begins with "Disaster results from . . . " Some of these are hysterical, such as the entry for Nervous or Saintly. While the huge walls of text, in character block format, are off-putting, this is simply the required format for this in a readable fashion fit for a magazine. 1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: . This is, quite simply, the d6 Star Wars, FATE Accelerated, or Swords and Wizardry of GURPS Character Generation - and I mean that in the most flattering and complimentary way possible. Each of those systems make it possible to generate a starting character in fifteen minutes or less, and so it is with this article. Make a dozen or so choices, and you have a fully functional, realized character that is basically a 250-point "starting" hero. None of the munchkinry that can happen when you're dealing with a system discretized to single-point quanta. The "under the hood" boxes are concise and appropriately dense. 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: This is the ultimate drop-in, so long as you're starting a campaign or character. The menu of options is extensive enough to fit nearly any bill, and the guidance for making even more choices right there in the text. While this is customized for Dungeon Fantasy, the applicability to other genres is obvious. 4 points.

Overall: 9/10. This is like FATE Accelerated and GURPS Spaceships got all drunk and had a really athletic, smart, irritatingly good looking child. The good news is that this person wants to date YOU. Seriously, this is the way future genre treatments should be presented. 

Would I use it? Yes. Yes I would. This is too good not to use, and I hope it makes itself a permanent feature in future GURPS publications. It's a polite judo throw to the face for the argument that GURPS chargen takes too long and is too complicated. You can go from zero to hero in fifteen minutes with this concept, and it's worth replicating.

October 21, 2014

Responding to Comments: Heavy Bows and ST in GURPS

I got a great comment on the Bow ST thing by +Sean Powell, a fellow engineer and archery enthusiast. So I decided to make a post out of my responses to his comments. My responses to his comments will be in blue italics. His stuff is in black bold.

I've only been the occasional GURPS fantasy player (GURPS makes a better superheroes game IMHO and there are plenty of systems for swords and sorcery

This might be the first time I’ve ever heard of GURPS as a preferred system for supers over certainly swords and maybe sorcery!

You got the math right. (Yay math!)

After all the work on The Deadly Spring, I hope I can get E = ½ F^2/K correct. J

It's nice seeing someone use historic data to number-crunch a game for realism. (Yay game realism!)

When I did The Deadly Spring, I researched it somewhere between quite a bit and very heavily. I read scientific papers on bow physics, at least seven or eight books on making and shooting bows of various cultures, as well as empirical trials, such as the much-loved Defense Academy Warbow Trials. I even corresponded over email with one of that study’s authors. I also paid attention – even where I thought the cases were overstated – to the many articles about armor and how it’s impervious to nuclear weapons when made by the proper medieval craftsmen.

OK, I embellish. But between the stories of bows punching through battleship belt armor and someone wearing tin foil mail being impervious to a 200-lb. warbow firing a 1,500-grain arrow, I covered the gamut of bows being the deadliest weapon to not worth using if the other guy is armored at all. I wound up striking a balance that one known armor aficionado mentioned approvingly as a good one: that a strong warbow could punch through moderate mail (DR 3-5 in GURPS terms) some of the time, but not much more. This led to the 130# longbow being pegged at about 1d+1 or so, which would make it fail vs DR 5 and higher. Plate of 1mm (DR2-3) would be vulnerable to strong bows,  but 2mm and higher would basically be nearly impervious, and certainly provide massive protection against even the strongest warbows.

In any case, the fact that we could turn Joules of energy into something that could be calibrated against firearms to some extent (take a 11.43mm bullet like a .45ACP with 475J, basically 2d penetration, and compare with an 11m arrow with 160J, and tell me how any arrow will do more than 2d penetration?) made for a nice well-supported touchstone.

I'm not a terribly strong person being a desk-jockey with arm-chair spread but it takes a fair amount of conditioning for me to maintain strength to draw my bow consistently.

The need for sport-specific exercise, as well as technique, is frequently present in the real world, but hard to model fairly in GURPS. Can be done, though, as I hope my article showed.

Very few other recreational archer I meet can consistently draw my bow even if they are very good shots with lighter bows. (They also think I'm nuts) and the ones who can already shoot ELB or self-bows.

Yeah – I’ve heard too many stories of guys that can bench press 350lbs that can’t draw a 100-lb. bow, even though ST 14 probably accounts for the ability to do both. Again: sport-specific. Pushing vs. either pulling or pull/push. I bet the archer couldn’t press 350 either. Apples and oranges.

Having read the accounts from Crece, Agincort, Poitiers and the Mary rose find along with others I don't think that the Mary rose held an atypical selection of archers.

Me either, but the Mary Rose had a few hundred bows, and there were, what? 5,000 bowmen at Agincourt? So not truly representative. But on the other tentacle, to reach out to the 230yds that was “within bowshot” enough to be militarily significant at Agincourt, you need a strong bow. 

My spreadsheet puts a 130# bow firing a 0.2-lb arrow (about 1,500 grains) with a max range of about 245yards. A 100# bow firing an 1,150-gr arrow will reach to just shy of 230-yards. 

A 915-gr flight arrow would (by the same sheet) reach to about 265 yards, but be basically no threat to anyone on an armored region (I suspect 1d+2(0.5) would be about right for that, good for harassment but not a threat to an armored foe with more than DR 3).

Still, it supports the notion that at least a ST 14 (98-lb) bow would have been somewhere between the minimum and a decent average for the “fire at 230 yards” to have the equivalent meaning as “fire for effect.”

If the Mary Rose held typical archers and the typical archer could pull in the 160-180 lb range then we as modern men are WEAKLINGS! I only know 1 or 2 modern archers who can draw in that range consistently and they aren't really that strong at other tasks. Meanwhile the people I know who are generally strong can span my bow a few times but not hold it without shaking and they aren't capable of drawing the historic draw weights.

I suspect that when you have about 800,000 men available (population of England in 1400 estimated to be about 2.5 million people) getting 5,000 archers that can draw strong bows is not a problem when your national policy reflects the need. That is a very specific kind of strength, and given the “train his grandfather” trope, I suspect that kids started on light bows and drew progressively heavier ones.

The human body is very good at repetitive exercise, and this is the sort of thing that should respond well to modern training methods – if we didn’t care about skeletal deformation and out-of-balance musculo-skeletal development!

It seems the only way to draw and shoot bows in that poundage is to develop a special dedicated set of muscles (not just generally strong) and that set of dedicated muscles comes from a lifetime of bow training.

Yeah, this!

Which leaves us with: Historically the solution may be 'trained strength' even if that does not fit with game mechanics and game balance as easily... BUT you might consider access to certain regional/society/racial perks (Born Welsh or Raised in Mongolia)that could reduce that cost or provide a cumulative bonus if maintaining historical accuracy was very important to you.

Trained ST as it’s given in Technical Grappling and to a lesser extend in The Last Gasp is a full-body strength that is basically the ability to apply leverage, force, and weight dynamically against a resisting opponent. That’s why the +50% (ish) boost to ST requires you to get to DX+10 in order to leverage that.

Drawing a bow is not quite so dynamic. You don’t have to worry about being picked up and thrown suddenly, or doing it on the move. You set up, plunk your arrows into the earth in front of you, and fire one every ten seconds (!) in a lather, rinse, repeat motion, in order to replicate battle tactics (not FRPG fighting!) as described at Agincourt, Crecy, and the like.

As such, the Technique-based logic that makes drawing a heavy bow a matter of fairly mild point expenditure makes sense to me. The ONLY thing it applies to is . . . drawing a heavy bow. Not lifting your friends to safety, climbing walls or a rope, wrestling, or swinging a sword. Nor does it impart hit points. So if all of that is 10 points per level, then the ability to pull a bow of a given power is going to be much less than that. If you can pull a bow but not even carry heavy weights (Lifting ST at 3/level) then at the lowest you’re dealing with about 1/level (a -60% limitation on lifting ST) and at most you’re talking 2/level (-60% on Striking ST).

I like the idea of cancelling skill penalties when drawing heavy bows rather than boosts to ST, though, since it preserves the maximum amount of the RAW and tends to avoid arguments about what else ST might be good for. It’s good for one thing: cancelling penalties. This would include penalties to hold a bow at full draw, though – something that is touched on in The Deadly Spring when it comes to aiming a bow.
(This reminds me of a deleted scene in the movie Gladiator, where the Emporer is monologuing in front of a guy who he’s going to execute, all the while his archers are behind him with shaking arms and full-drawn bows, looking really panicked about it.)