GURPS: Doing it Wrong for Years

There’s no way around it: I’ve been doing two things wrong for years.

Turning Undead

This is partly because of the “I know the rules” syndrome. My biggest personal experience with Turning Undead came from a Dungeon Fantasy (not DFRPG) game where I made very heavy use of Protection from Evil (Enhanced), which is a nifty power from the incredibly cool Divine Favor book.

Divine Favor is “clerical magic as powers,” basically, in how it’s built. You ask your gods to do something, and if the reaction is good, you get a result built like a Power (usually an advantage, frequently heavily modified). You can also buy a Learned Prayer, which means you can just do it, no petition roll required.

I think I had the “enhanced” version of Protection from Evil almost from the get-go. That is “oh, you Turn Undead using True Faith. You roll at Will+10, etc . ..”

Thing is, that’s a special case. 

The real Turning rules are much less generous: Will plus Power Investiture (at least in DFRPG), maybe with some bonuses for good ground and holy symbols. Most importantly, they follow the Rule of 16, which means that if your foe is even a tiny bit worth their salt (IQ 6 or higher), no matter how many modifiers you stack up, a roll of 17 or 18 always fails.

So I’ve always been treating Turning as a ridiculous over-the-top “I Win” button. I HATE “I Win!” buttons. But that’s because 100% of my experience with this ability has been a very special case, where a huge limiting principle (Rule of 16) was either not applied or indifferently applied (probably due to clutter and overwork), and a “Reliable 10” for +10 to skill (which still should have been limited to 16) got applied without boundaries.

That’s huge, and changes the game. Turning goes from a “everyone undead out of the pool” in many cases to “stay away from ME, and hope no one gets unlucky.”

Quick Contests

All this talk about Turning made me realize that I’ve been ignoring a big part of Quick Contests and how they work as well. So much so I insisted on a rules text modification for Technical Grappling that turns out not to have been necessary. At all.

There’s a three-step process that’s still true in the Basic Set, but organized in bullet points in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, for more clarity.

That is: the results of the skill roll (success vs failure before comparison and translation into Margin of Victory) still matter. So “auto-fail” on a 17-18, and “auto-succeed” on 3-4 (even with criticals tossed out, which they are in Contests), the results of the skill roll in a success/fail perspective matter.

For years, I’ve just been playing QCs as “roll dice, determine margin of victory, adjudicate.” This means in a QC, a Skill-24 guy who rolls an 18 had a margin of success of 6; Skill-12 guy who rolled a 7 has margin of success 5 . . . high-skill guy who biffed his roll still wins, because he beat the other person’s margin of success.

Nope. Skill-24 failed his roll. Skill-12 succeeded. He wins.

Now, this brings up an edge case where one asks “what is, then, the ‘margin of failure’ of the high-skill guy who auto-failed his roll?

A few possibilities:

  • Treating “17 and 18” as effectively the result of a skill cap of 16, then the high-skill guy will fail by 1 on a 17, and 2 on an 18
  • Treating an auto-fail as a special case of “well, you made it but tough luck” I’d peg margin of failure as zero

Note that second one is weird: you can’t normally fail by zero, because that’s called a success. But technically, the guy who made his roll by 6 but still “failed” did succeed.

So both for speed of play “you rolled 17-18, you failed and your margin is zero” and for a decent rationale (“you biffed your counter; only the attacker’s skill matters now”) I like making auto-fail fail by zero.

Parting Shot

I’ve spent more than a few words, and several convention games, avoiding the hell out of Turning, even in Hall of Judgment, because of my mis-applied “+10 to Will” rules mistake. HoJ is MUCH more interesting when I do it right.

The Quick Contest thing is another case where words and effort would have been saved through a close reading of the rules. As it’s been written for something like eight years and published for something like six, I’m surprised no one caught it, from editing to players to other authors, and of course, me.

Honestly, there’s a case to be made that a more-clear set of rules would have been

  • Quick Contest: Only margin matters
  • Resistance Roll: You must succeed and win

Now, that would require going through the books and reclassifying a lot of QCs as RRs (like I did mistakenly in TG). But a classic example would be the Quick Contest of ST. That’s a clear case where “only margin matters” has merit, because it’s much easier to just say “ST 30 vs ST 28; roll the contest and whomever has the best margin wins, regardless of 17-18 or 3-4.”

For other things, it’s more justified to have the reclassification.

Anyway, regardless of how I come down on edge cases and “let me think about changes,” this is a real eye opener about reading the actual text, and refreshing my knowledge periodically.




7 thoughts on “GURPS: Doing it Wrong for Years

  1. You’re in good company! A lot of questions on the SJ Games forums, and much of the errata people submit, wouldn’t be there if everyone were doing things right. A huge percentage of the time – greater than 50% – the problem being asked about or reported arises only if you do things wrong.

    That said, I hasten to add that “right” and “wrong” aren’t always simple questions of reading comprehension. A lot changed between Third and Fourth Edition, much of it subtly – sometimes at the level of a single word or added emphasis. A great deal of what people are doing wrong in Fourth was right in Third. It’s tough being a veteran gamer who has survived edition changes!

    My own parting shot is that while I have a lot of sympathy for those who fall afoul of edition changes, it has been 15 years (almost to the day!) since Fourth Edition was released. Fourth Edition has had the longest run: 15 years (2004 to present) vs. one year apiece for First (1986-1987) and Second (1987-1988), six years for Third (1988-1994), and 10 years for Third Edition Revised (1994-2004). And most important, it’s the only supported edition. Catching up with the times is always a good idea – at a minimum, it’s probably a good idea not to ask questions or submit errata that arise from some weird, unsupported hybrid.

      1. I should add that one of the reasons I actually love writing for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG (even when I mess it up!) is that the rules are all in one place. I don’t have to imagine all the possibilities from all the possible books, magic systems, campaigns, etc.

        All of what one needs to reference are in these five genre-specific worked-example books. Write to that.

    1. Now I want to go see if my memory of Turning and/or Quick Contests is from 3e. I honestly think my Turning mistake was quite simply my experience playing Cadmus the Warrior Saint in a DFRPG campaign, and I have no idea where my error on Quick Contests just being margin-based, not success-based, came from.

  2. I’ve been re-reading my GURPS books since I got my first Basic Set in ’95 or ’96 (for 3e, naturally). Its worth reviewing technical material regularly because its so easy to get special cases, house rules, obsolete rules, etc scrambled up with your memories on the “standards”. Whether its engineering, roleplaying games, or medicine, making sure you haven’t got sloppy is always handy.

    It just matters more in engineering and medicine than in roleplaying games…

  3. I had some of my own thoughts, which I wrote here.

    I still think Turn Undead is a Win Button vs. undead. I’m not surprised that giving it a +10 and ignoring the Rule of 16 and the need to actually make your roll made it worse. But having run it with the Rule of 16 in DF . . . and without a +10. . . it’s a Win Button vs. undead.

  4. It may be a Win Button against weak evil supernatural creatures (or just undead, as nerfed in DFRPG) but as target Will, or situational bonuses, improve I think it rapidly turns into True Faith without turning. Even success stops protecting other party members or against long weapons.

    I think I would prefer to have The Rule of 16 apply only to success but not MOS or damage effects, so Will Godson can clear the whole stadium of zombies, but only half of the lich king’s guard will go with them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *