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 RossBlack 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.

2 thoughts on “Nine for Ten – Reviewing my own stuff for the 10th anniversary

  1. Technical Grappling is in use in both my start-any-day-now I promise campaigns. I'm phasing it in my occasional DF games too.

    By Default solves a problem I don't have.

    Takedown Sequences and Coming to Grips with Realism are very entertaining, and useful in understanding TG.

    For some reason I overlooked Dodge This! and I'm now adding it to the rules I'm going to using in Blight Years. It will probably go into my general suite of rules for more realistic games.

    Delayed Gratification is neat, and I'd like to use it to replace Feints, Beats and Ruses, but I'm already afraid I'm overloading my players' group ability to handle rules. I think I'll wait on this. Blight Years isn't really about melee combat, and Phoenix Imperative is woo-woo-wuxia enough that I can just suggest using Set-Up attack at some later point.

    The Last Gasp is absolutely central to my concept for Blight Years: use realistic combat as an element of horror in a supernatural horror game.

    I've used TDS exactly once, and ironically it was for DF, when I wanted to figure out what the modifiers for metoric iron arrows should be (since DF1 seemed to have left that out). The only games I run with bows since TDS are DF. Pheonix Imperitive will just probably use Low-Tech weapons as is. If bows come up at all in Blight Years, it will probably see use.

    I probably will use Armor Revisted in Blight Years if it becomes relevant, but the setting is TL5, so the only real source of body armor is Psionics.

  2. 4th edition wouldn't be the same without your work, Mr. Cole. I had a great time with The Deadly Spring, but The Last Gasp is my favorite. Why shouldn't I blow all my FP in this fight if they'll be back in two hours? Why should we be terrified by an enemy that absolutely will not stop, ever, until we are dead? Why would I waste my time with the Evaluate maneuver? All these, and more, are improved by The Last Gasp. It just makes character feel more real.

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