What happened before

We do the right amount of recon, and discover that homeless are disappearing and being killed from their old haunts beneath the city. We spend some time in a old magically inclined pub and find out that the Conclave is very much out of resources. Nonetheless, we hit the morgue and find that in all likelihood ghouls are coming out of the tunnels to eat and kill.

We prepare for an armed incursion. We have the right background on ghouls, try and optimize our loadouts accordingly (cut, burn, holy water, not guns). It’s time. We’re goin’ on a dungeon crawl in the sewer tunnels. Let’s get it on.

Continue reading “Ceteri Campaign S0E10 – Ghoul on Fire”

I think my first and only trip to GenCon was in 1994 or something. It was still in Milwaukee. West End Games was there, and I got to see Timothy Zahn and the WEG designers talk about Star Wars. Was cool.

Now, many (too many) years later, I’m GenCon bound again. I am kinda losin’ my mind about it.

First, the good: I’m playing in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG first-game experience with Sean Punch. That was a Kickstarter reward, and I expect it to be a hoot.

Next, the freakout. And while normally I’m good with crowds and pressure, this feels different.

  1. I’m a member of the IGDN and working the booth. I’m hoping that goes well, although there are things about it that are not optimal, it’ll be a good way to interact with a ton of folks coming by the booth, pitch my and others’ stuff, and see how things go.
  2. I’m running two games, the Grappling Smackdowns.
  3. The adventure I will run isn’t quite done yet. And I realized how much stuff I’d IDEALLY like to have to run a game (maps, tokens, lots of dice, all sorts of stuff) and how much I rely on my computer to run games these days.
  4. It’s been a while since I’ve GM’d at all; it’s been a while since I’ve GM’d 5e or Dragon Heresy in playtest, and that was with a very well-trusted group.
  5. I’m on a panel for the first time ever. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I’m sure this will be a wonderful experience yadda yadda yadda. But my demo session isn’t nearly as complete as I want it to be (of course, I would have ideally finished it a month ago an playtested it eight times with eight groups), and my not-GenCon/not-writing schedule is packed today and tomorrow.

So . . . feelin’ queasy.

I’m working through my Grappling Smackdown scenario here, and setting the DCs for various tasks is a thing. I wanted to make a table to quickly inform me of roughly how hard something might be, so I figured I’d share the results. This isn’t a revelation, but it’s useful to me so it might be useful to you.

One useful tidbit from the post on The Standard Array: Joe Human PC with the standard array and who is proficient in a given task will sport a 13.5 attribute as a median, and of course have a +2 proficiency bonus. This makes the average starting boosts to the die rolls about +3.5.

I’ve picked out some example DCs. Obviously moving the DC up or down a point changes the odds of success (on the average) by 5%.

DC 6

At this level, a potted plant that isn’t proficient in the skill has a 50% chance of noticing something or accomplishing a task. I’m having to significantly question why bother rolling at all here. It’s a level that might get interesting if due to unfavorable terrain or darkness or something everyone gets disadvantage.

DC 8

A first level, proficient character with a 10 ability score will still succeed 75% of the time, or a non-proficient character with a 14, a solid but not exceptional DX, for example. This is a good level for a simple task which requires some talent or expertise to get through, but by and large will be a speed bump. Even my potted plant, above (-5 ability score, not proficient) if allowed a roll will succeed on a 13 or higher, 40% of the time.

DC 11

This is still an entry level task, where a completely non-proficient average guy can succeed 50% of the time. The median starting human PC will be succeeding on this by rolling an 8, so 65% chance of success. There’s only a 10% chance of failure for a typical proficient 10th level PC operating in the expert zone. A DC 11 means that it’s still expected most folks will do this well, but the odds of failure for the uninitiated are high.

At DC 11 and DC 12, a non-proficient character rolling against one of their lowest two ability scores (9-11 as a human) will more or less have a 50% chance of success. So it’s the dividing line for “requires some sort of atypical ability or advantage to succeed better than half the time.” Atypical for PCs, that is.

DC 14

Odds of a median first through fourth level PC who is proficient in the skill failing this roll is about 50%. At this level if you’re positing (say) a forked path for adventurers of 1st through 4th level (+2 proficiency), you’re basically saying “flip a coin.” I feel this is a pretty important DC level, as it sets the boundaries for making decisions in adventures. Want your “secret pathway” to come up about half the time? That’s about a DC 14 check . . . but you better be darn sure you have it in your mind that if everyone is allowed a roll, half the median party will fail, and half will succeed, assuming their attributes and skills are spread around a bit.

Anything harder than DC 14 will require advantage, high attributes, and high proficiency to make it a cake-walk. For example, a +4 bonus and +4 proficiency, given as a 10th level character with an 18 or 19 ability score, will still fail this check 25% of the time, although if they have expertise or can eke out advantage from somewhere, they’ll only fail if they crit.

DC 17

Now you’re into telling the GM and PCs you expect them to fail. A first level PC will need to roll 14 or higher to succeed here, and even our hypothetical +8 bonus 10th level proficient character will need to roll 9 or higher (60%). An untrained person using their “dump stat” of (say) 9 or 10 will have a 75-80% failure rate here. Only a true expert (has Expertise in the skill) at high proficiency with an outstanding ability score will be looking at this as trivial.

DC 17, though, is also the level where your low-level party expert (+2 proficiency, +4 in their chosen skill at 4th level due to an ability score improvement) has a 50% chance of success. So much as DC 11 or 12 is the dividing line for making it hard for the unskilled, DC 17 is the line above which only the truly exceptional will succeed more than they fail.

DC 21

Now you’re just being mean. You need +5 proficiency, +5 attribute score, and you have a 50% chance of making this. It’s the break-even for high-level, high-skill “this is still hard” tests. At low level, you’re saying “only a crit will get you here, and only if you have a bonus, at that.” Again, one has to ask why bother unless it’s something that you think the PCs might try but it’ll be pretty silly. Well, yes, you could leap the chasm, but it’s DC 21 . . . chances of success are low.

Parting Shot

So, hopefully this will be of use as a quick reference, if nothing else. Good ability score bonuses to keep in mind are probably +0 (dump stat), +1.5 (median starting character), +3 (expert starting character), and +5 (fully developed unless you’re breaking the 20-maximum rule, as some classes do). Proficiencies are +2 (starting), +4 (mid-level), and +6 (pinnacle). Figure out how likely you want success to be, and adjust from there. Ergo, a handy table. Well, handy for me.

Ability Score Proficiency 25% Success 50% success 75% Success
0 2 18 13 8
0 4 20 15 10
0 6 22 17 12
1.5 2 19.5 14.5 9.5
1.5 4 21.5 16.5 11.5
1.5 6 23.5 18.5 13.5
3 2 21 16 11
3 4 23 18 13
3 6 25 20 15
5 2 23 18 13
5 4 25 20 15
5 6 27 22 17

In my search for a method of making training swords that have the right feel, I’ve tried a bunch of things. Laminating wood together, drilling out for rods, and a few different woods (oak, ash, hard maple). I have, perhaps, finally found a method that hits the right notes.

This is a second crafting-and-weapons related post for the day. Figured I’d get ’em out of my system.

The first cool thing was making weapons out of purely hard maple. This is a remarkable wood, with a hardness of 1450 on the Janka scale – nearly twice as hard as its softer relatives. It’s 10-30% more dense, depending on what particular variety of maple you’re dealing with, as well, as the soft maple. Relative to common red oak, it’s the same density (44 lbs per cubic foot) and 20% harder. Relative to (white) ash, used in baseball bats: white ash is 42 lbs per cubic foot, and 1320 on the Janka scale. Hickory? Yeah, while there are a bunch of woods mixed together and sold as generic “hickory,” the true hickory woods like shagbark hickory are 50 lbs per cubic foot and 1,880 Janka.

As a by-the-way, the Janka rating is how many pounds of force it takes to drive a spherical ball .444″ in diameter into wood to half it’s depth (full diameter, then). Why .444″? No idea.

Anyway, that’s why hickory is king of the axe handles.

But two weapons are in discussion now. The first is my Training Sword Mk 5.

That one’s simply cut out of hard maple as a blank, rounded with a 3/8″ roundover bit, and sanded. The trick here was to see if I could carve a curved crossguard, for embellishment. Turns out I can. This sword masses about 550g, and has a 3.25″ grip for the pinch. I also cut the blade down from the model from about 30.5 inches down to 29″, which made it work better for my height. This one is now my personal training sword, mostly because of aesthetics.

The second was Training Sword Mk 6. This one was another laminate construction: 1/2″ ash core, with 1/8″ ash top and bottom pieces. I also embedded a 1/2 x 1 x 4″ piece of C360 brass near the base of the blade. That moved the center of balance about halfway between pure wood and an actual steel sword. The weight of the complete weapon is pushing 725g at the moment, and will increase a bit when I add a simple square cross-guard. The pommel could use more rounding; it cuts into the hand a bit. This particular sword is too big for me; it’s really designed for folks who are 6’2″ to 6’6″ in height. But the balance and pivot points are much closer to steel, while being roughly 75% the mass of an actual steel blade of the same dimensions.

Of course, I tried to get clever and carve a fuller into the second blade using a cove bit on my router. That . . . did not go well. I have an up-cut bit that went better (opposite side) and I know what I’ll do if I feel the need to embellish in that way in the future. In the meantime, it lets me show off the embedded brass.

This makes it an excellent training tool to build grip strength and correct motion dynamics without having to worry about 1,000 custom swords. There are many Viking-style, or rather, Frankish-style swords; most are not built to historical weight and dimension, as their grips are too long and the weight is too high, or the balance isn’t quite right. My instructor is an expert weaponsmith, and makes his own; I’m sure there are some out there that are right . . . but their creators rightfully know that they are and charge accordingly.

Thus for both reasons of economy and safety, I want to make wooden swords of various sizes.

I have a couple ideas for Mk 7 and maybe Mk 8, but that’s going to involve a spreadsheet. In particular, I want to break a hypothetical sword down into “weight from balance point to blade tip,” which will also account for the size of the blade, and give a “weight per inch” in that region. Then the same for the blade from balance point to crossguard, then the crossguard and pommel, which are typically solid chunks of steel, and a bit for the handle (which will be done by subtraction, as the composition is tang+wood handle).

That will let me scale the weight down by 25%, figure out how much metal I need to add in each segment, and balance accordingly. This will allow me to custom-craft swords of different sizes, from a short blade that might be a child’s weapon, to the beefy blades I make above. I might also see if I can find a nice model for a long seax that might be fun.

This is more than just aesthetics. A properly balanced blade proxy will teach the right motions and muscle memory for casting blows and casting thrusts. It will have enough mass to build strength while not allowing motions that you can do with a 200-250g “magic wand” that is too thin and too light and can be used inappropriately during training.

So, once I get past GenCon, I will sit down and create my crafting spreadsheet, and having found a good method for building these things, I will start the process of making enough for the instructor cadre to work the hell out of. Once we all find them worthy . . . I’ll probably set about replacing the rest of the training wands with something that looks like a real sword. It’s both more useful and more satisfying to train with a weapon that looks like a weapon.

My instructor brought a new authentic shield he’d finished to the pre-game show (so to speak) for Circus Juventas. The summer show, Nordrsaga (or more precisely, Norðrsaga) is strongly Viking and Old Norse themed, so the Circus reached out to Asfolk so we could provide a bit of pre-show entertainment. We teach brief lessons in sword and shield, and let folks throw axes.

Anyway, his shield is thin (historically thin) basswood, with an oak handle. It’s made of 4″ butted planks affixed with hide glue, has a spectacular hand-forged iron boss, and is faced on one side with parchment, as well as having non-stitched edge wrapping of the same parchment material. It’s very light.

But I want to focus on the handle. It was a D-shape, and for all the carving and special “ergonomic” handles I’ve been creating, well, our ancestors knew what they were doing. 

I should have figured this. I’ve used that line rather more than once myself. But that D-shaped grip, with the flat base and the rounded top (flat goes to the inside of the boss) really helps you keep the shield on line, and is much more comfortable than I’d have thought.

So I’ll re-cut my new shield with the D-shaped handle, and keep in mind as I re-create the equipment, once again: when it comes to blood and death, our ancestors were not stupid.

Based on a long-standing “I should probably see this, because I enjoyed the Sly movie well enough, played the RPG once, and love Karl Urban in just about anything” desire to watch this one, I was finally nudged over the edge by a recommendation on G+.

So I watched it last night.

Dredd as played by Karl Urban was a bit more multidimensional than I’d have thought. I was surprised a bit by his “be gone when I get back” line to the beggar. I also didn’t get quite the level of fear of the Judges that was conveyed to me in the RPG.

I played this once in High School, and our GM told us after a long, drawn-out shootout that had we just shouted out “OK, SKEGS! WE ARE THE LAW!! PUT YOUR FACES ON THE FLOOR OR FACE SUMMARY EXECUTION” that we could have likely bypassed the entire shootout due to pure primal fear. That was my only real exposure to the source material.

Otherwise, impressions:

I did not find any completely egregious, oh-my-god-no mistakes with firearms handling or technology. Most weapons other than the (um) LawGiver pistols were conventional. The tactics used by the Judges weren’t completely idiotic, though they could have paid more attention to Apone from Aliens (“Watch those corners!”) in the Peach Trees maze.

The basic plot – escape from a sealed deathtrap – was entertainingly simple, and gave the actors a chance to work with a known environment and explore it well. When the doors came down in the beginning, I found myself thinking – OK. That’s one way to go. But it worked for the movie, and was an important part for avoiding the usual pitfalls: why didn’t they call for backup? They tried. Why didn’t they just leave? They couldn’t. Why couldn’t they just turn off the building? It was actively under control by the Enemy. Why didn’t the bad guy magic users use their own spells against the PCs? They did. Constantly.

I found Mega City One utterly believable, in that it was not wall-to-wall dystopia and dark, and many scenes could have been (and clearly were) set in any modern-day cityscape.

There were giant buildings 2x the height of the old World Trade Center (which was 110 floors, IIRC from memory) but many times larger in cross-section. Note that the quoted population of Peach Trees was 75,000 folks. Unbelievable? Not at all. It’s only 375 folks per floor, and if the average dwelling is 3.75 occupants (for easy math), that’s only 100 units per floor, or 100,000 square feet if each unit was, on the average, a two-bedroom place similar to a NYC apartment. Seem huge? It’s only 100 yards on a side. The World Trade Center was about 70 yards on a side and was half the height.

The buildings of Mega City One seem to basically be three cubes stacked on top of each other. If a story is 10′, more or less, and Peach Trees was 200 floors high (plus some superstructure which we’ll ignore for now), that means that the sideways dimension is on the order of 665′, or 200m on a side and 600m tall. It’s hollow-core, but even allowing for that, we’re likely looking at 30,000 square meters per floor, or about six million square meters, or 65 million square feet. That’s 865 square feet per occupant, suggesting that someone did their homework here. That’s either very, very large apartments (unlikely), or a density artificially lowered by it being taken over by a horrid criminal gang.

Loved the part of rookie Judge Anderson, though there were one or two moments where I thought her powers were conveniently forgotten (but then again, distractions happen). Her plot arc was much more evolutionary than Dredd’s, of course – he’s the established character, and she’s the newbie. She gets the most room to prove herself and change, which – spoilers – she does.

Lena Heady was credibly bonkers as the primary bad guy. She showed evidence of not being stupid, which was good, and combined at least some sense of long-term planning with a “social compact” score in the negative range. Utterly amoral and vicious, and reminiscent of a female joker without the makeup (though with the bloodstained smile).

All in all, it was an enjoyable film, though not one to watch with the squeamish. There’s a lot of blood and slow-motion (or perhaps Slo-Mo?) scenes of bullet impacts and spouting squibs. I’d enjoy watching Urban and Olivia Thirlby reprise their respective roles.

Thursday is GURPSDay! I’ve actually got a dedicated GURPSDay post today, but also, I did a lot of musing on shields this week. One of those got picked up by a prominent HEMA instructor, and went big. Well, big for me. But there’s a lot on making shields more interesting. Still: it’s GURPSDay, so let’s get started.

Welcome to the second year of GURPSDay, and here’s the pull for this week.

We’re currently drawing content from 89 blogs. Only 11 more to go until we’re pulling from 100! But we’ll need your help.

How? Two action items: post more, recruit more. It’s really that simple. More posters is more posts, and more interest in GURPS.

Below you can find the blog activity for the last week. There’s a whole lotta awesome GURPS going on. Read all the posts.

Not every blog posts about GURPS every week, but some are ridiculously prolific! The list is randomized, so different bloggers will be highlighted at the top of the post each week.

As always, if you’re interested in having your blog consolidated here, navigate over to The Instructions Page and drop me a line. Take special note of the RSS Settings Fix if you’re on WordPress.
Continue reading “GURPSDay Summary Aug 4 – Aug 10, 2017”

GURPS 4e introduced the combat technique, which in short was a way to buy off a penalty usually associated with an activity. Things like targeting a specific hit location, or buying off a penalty to strike behind you with a kick. There are also non-combat techniques. And some techniques, such as the somewhat-dreaded Arm Lock, could be purchased up from the base skill (Arm Lock defaults to Judo skill at no penalty, and you can buy up to Judo+4, or even Judo +6, for four and seven points respectively).

One thing that they ran in to quickly was pricing. At one point per point of penalty cancelled out, there was a bit of a mathematical ceiling on how many and how good you wanted to buy these up. Since you could get +1 to every thing you did with a combat skill for 4 points at the most, unless you had a very, very focused concept you really didn’t want to go there. Further, if you wanted four techniques, well, it was better to increase them through base skill.

This represents something of a reality, but it also means that two fighters can tend to be fairly similar, and folks have produced a few different alternate pricing mechanisms. Things like

  • A point in a technique gives you a +2 bonus
  • A point in a technique actually buys off the entire allowed penalty (if you can usually buy something from -4 to no penalty, a point in the technique buys it to max value).
  • Treating techniques as Perks, with a fairly involved pricing scheme.

Some of these just push the problem around a bit: the 1 point gives +2 (or potentially +1 to two things) means that instead of four techniques being unwise, it’s now eight. Of course, that’s a lot of techniques.

Still, what I was wondering about is if there’s a “thou shalt not nerf existing characters” way to approach differentiation of martial artists using the technique system.

There might be. Continue reading “Martial Arts Techniques – Focused Training”

About a week until GenCon, so what’s kickin’ in the hopper at Gaming Ballistic, LLC?

Dungeon Grappling and the Grappling Smackdown

To date, other than the 300 or so Kickstarter copies of Dungeon Grappling, I’ve moved 87 more via DriveThruRPG, of which nine were physical product. I’ve also sold 20 through my website, with a much higher fraction  (50%) procuring physical copies. My participation with the Indie Game Designer’s Network has moved a few more physical books (four, I believe). I have not sold a single copy through Amazon CreateSpace, and given how much of a pain it was to re-do the layout to their specs for active text and bleed (very large pain, with no help unless you want to pay them for a consult), I may reconsider doing that again. The print quality of CS did not blow me away, though it was a lot cheaper per copy than DriveThru. Case by case basis, I guess.

The Kickstarter itself broke even by the time all was said and done. I made a great looking book with solid rules content, paid for it all, and got it all out on time. I then ordered $662 worth of inventory. My revenue has been just north of $900, I think – which means that overall, Gaming Ballistic made about $300 in profit on a project basis.

I am, of course, substantially in the red as a company, because of things like paying for InDesign, hosting, and the remarkably non-trivial money of my own that has gone into Dragon Heresy in particular.

Still: Dungeon Grappling’s all-in profitability is on the order of 5% on a project basis.

I am still of the opinion that the Dungeon Grappling rules are very good for what they do, or at least the least-bad option of any I’ve encountered (unless as with many groups, you simply ignore grappling, which is the ultimate in rules-light play, I guess).

Which brings me to the Grappling Smackdown.  Continue reading “Gaming Ballistic Update and GenCon Grappling Smackdown”

What happened before

After the big showdown at the subway station, we found ourselves at least temporarily free from persecution by the sidhe, specifically the Children of the Storm. Having defeated them sufficiently in mostly-honorable combat, we managed to extricate ourselves from that. That left us headed for a bit of a time-skip, and we pick up the action in July 1999, having spent the better part of two and a half years (28 months) growing from teens to adults. All of us are independent, and either in college, or using our talents to begin to start make it on our own.

We’re about to exit tutorial mode…

Continue reading “The Chronicles of Ceteri: Ep9 – Ghoul Recon”