Rebuking and turning undead that still cling to a semblance of life is pretty much a fantasy RPG staple. It’s been part of Dungeons and Dragons since nearly the beginning – I believe Arneson added it as a foil to “Sir Fang,” and Gygax fiddled with it or dropped it in his games – there’s a nice history here at Hidden in Shadows by DH Boggs.

But this is an article about GURPS, specifically, the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPS. It assimilates all of that old-school inspiration, plus more from rogue-like games and “stomp the bad guys!” games like Diablo III, and hones GURPS into a fairly high-power dungeon delving game. Characters start pretty optimized, begin at 250 points, and the social and in town aspects of the game are somewhere from “minimized” to “absent.”

It is ridiculous fun, and as I learned at GameHole Con 2018, is digestible by beginners if presented properly.

But about those clerics…

Turning in Dungeon Fantasy RPG

Let’s start off with as factual a description as I can bring to bear. This is important because as it turns out, I completely biffed it when it came time to run it at GameHole.

Even so: this turns it into a matter of degree rather than a binary “I win,” but some of the observations from GameHole still exist.

As a cleric with the Turning power (Adventurers, p. 21), anything “undead” and “truly evil” can be repelled by you if you Concentrate. You must win a Quick Contest of Will between yourself and each foe you might turn. This is impacted by the Rule of 16 (Exploits, p. 8). You add your Power Investiture, plus a bonus for the oomph of your holy symbol if you have one that’s +1 for blessed and +2 for High Holy. Another factor in favor of Clerical Awesomeness is that as written, Sanctity level doesn’t hinder the ability, so in an area of Low Sanctity (which is pertinent to the Hall of Judgment example), your Turning is still at full burn.

On the down side: Rule of 16 means that you’ll never roll vs higher than 16 (unless you’re very good and you foe is also very Willful), and you have to actually buy Turning, which is a 24-point opportunity cost.

It’s a 3d roll, and if your bad guys are anything but a Lich, Spectre, or Vampire (who all have Will 15 to 18, which is to say, “adventurer-class”) you’re looking at Will in the 8-10 range for our bad guys, and the distance they have to keep from Mister Cleric is going to be on the average about 6-8 yards, and that’s enough to keep the entire party more or less safe. On a good roll, say a 5 or 6, you’re looking at keeping the bad guys up to 15 yards away from you.

So What?

Part of the issue here is that Turning is pretty much designed to neutralize the impact of fodder undead, and what I’m complaining about is mostly that it does it too well. There’s also the fact that I made a few errors along the way in running it: in particular I play a lot with GURPS Powers: Divine Favor (still the best Clerical Powers system in existence). There’s a power in there called Protection from Evil which basically grants True Faith (the basis of the Turning Power), and an enhanced version gives a roll vs Will+10. So my cleric was rolling vs Will-24 to turn undead vs foes with Will-8 and Will-10.

In the end, I slapped on a -5 penalty for Low Sanctity (see above for why this is wrong), which for one of the groups made the usual roll vs Will-19; you can see, though, that for the pre-gen in question (Will-14, Power Investiture 5) that it made little net difference. Forgetting the Rule of 16 would have brought the radius in by an average of three yards.

So my errors were in magnitude but not in exists/don’t exist. Even so, I feel that the 24 points of Turning is a bit too much oomph as written. Continue reading “Turning Undead: “I win!””

GameHole Con 2018 – Con Report

Well, I survived! This was the first convention that I’d attended since my journey to GenCon 2017, as part of my first foray as being part of the con as Gaming Ballistic, LLC. I was, more importantly it turned out, also there as part of my Kickstarter rewards for backing the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (Powered by GURPS) at the “play the game with Kromm” level.

That’s important for this journey to Madison, Wisconsin for two reasons.
1. I played through what would turn into the linear adventure Lost Hall of Tyr (for D&D5e) there for the first two times
2. I got to know the Dungeon Fantasy RPG for the first time

My mission for this Convention, then? To demonstrate and run Hall of Judgment, the first licensed adventure or supplement of any kind for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. To talk with the SJG folks (Phil and Steve were both there) about further ideas for supporting GURPS. To get to meet in person folks like Matt Finch, Erik Tenkar, Jason Hobbs, and many others whom I’ve interacted with – and who have helped me so much – in getting my games off the launch pad. I simply could not have done what I did on Dragon Heresy and Hall of Judgment without an absolutely crucial hour or so with Zach Glazar, who pumped an incredible amount of InDesign Starter information into my head.

I also was hoping to sell a few copies of my product, which was a secondary goal but a real one.

Let’s recap. Continue reading “GameHole Con 2018 Trip Report!”

I got a quick bit of feedback on using Conditional Injury in actual play. Recall this article was not playtested, and mostly theoretical. Granted I was musing on it for years, but it never really got a good stress test. So someone wrote me with one:

Dingo (Discord Forums) wrote:

A lot shorter than planned and got a ‘longer’ fight expected which I’ll do a proper play writeup for; but regarding the Conditional Damage it worked really well. It encouraged superior fighters to allow themselves to take more risks because being hit for low-damage hits wasn’t as threatening as before where 7 hits alone was enough to have you suffering penalties; there were a lot more all-out attacks and all-out defenses to set up counterattacks. It felt, to put a word to it – a great deal ‘meatier’. A 3v1 fight of one skilled fighter with just DR 1 on the torso involved a lot more hits than before without worrying about an instant escalation. Weak hits were still dangerous due to failed-HT rolls potentially making injury condition worse, but in practice this meant that the immediate danger wasn’t HP (a limited resource) but shock penalties, stunning, and knockdown – both attacking and defending these became priorities. Jabs to the face (using Defensive Attack) became a very effective tactic in the 3v1 for the trained fighter. So all in all, a good fun fight that didn’t cause the GM panic of ‘well it could end in 3 hits’.

Interesting. I’d not have figured that.

This report suggests that the GURPS Death Spiral has perhaps been tamed a bit. Risking more wounds, rather than fewer, wasn’t really a design goal. But then, it wasn’t not a design goal either. Some of the emergent behavior, such as more strikes to the face looking for knockdown and stun, are outstanding results, the kind of emergence one hopes for. An increased use of All-Out-Attack (I will take a minor wound in order to deal a major one!) seems more accurate for a game that tends to have to remind GMs that mooks, unskilled mooks, will not do the math on defending like players do. They want to hit you, and will happily fling Telegraphic All-Out or Telegraphic Committed (+8 and +6 to hit, respectively for the Determined option) blows to do so.

So this is a good report. I still have to do my Designer’s Notes commentary on the article; hopefully I’ll get to that today.

Ooo! Follow-up comment by Dingo (Discord Forums)

yeah it quickly became very appropriate to approach the fight less from ‘put hurt on the opponent’ and instead shift to ‘control your opponent’. The player I was testing it with wasn’t so confident with the grappling rules as to put that entirely in scope (It’s what we’re gonna add in for the next test to see how it comes together); but quickly made realizations like the importance of hits that risk stunning, or in a group fight – the fact going for more dangerous hits can be worthwhile if you’re confident you can handle the backlash.

Ultimately the fact victory comes down to a status game rather than a counter game meant you immediately had to shift tactics away from damage/attrition and instead towards control and disabling.
Especially if your opponent has a high enough HT that you can’t rely on Cumulative Wound severity increases without All Out Attack (Strong); one exchange against someone with 13 HT resulted in the player doing -repeated- Defensive Jabs to the face, solely waiting for a stun and outlasting their counterattacks. Once the stun hit – AoA (Strong) to the face over, and over, and over until they either were crippled from a sufficiently high damage hit, or recovered from stun (at which point it returned to jabs and defensive)

So really interesting stuff here, in that “go repeatedly to the face, and when stunned, ground and pound” is rather nifty because that’s exactly what you see in MMA fights with two skilled foes that are pretty tough, by dint of repeated experience.

Foreword (Douglas)

This continues the actual play report by Simone De Bellis, the first session of which was transcribed here in a prior post (mildly edited by me), and here in the GURPS North America Facebook group, which thankfully is used by folks well beyond North America.

As before, he takes what I gave him in Hall of Judgment and makes it his own. Some of the changes – such as making the thurs (a kind of fae troll-kin) into minor jotuns are pretty inspired. The other is using the natural freedom of the setting to plunk down needed resources, such as a village he needs for reasons to be revealed later, I suppose!

It’s great to see someone so obviously having fun with the material.

Read on for details! And pick up a copy today – either from Warehouse 23, or my own webstore. Continue reading “Actual Play Report: Hall of Judgment 2 (Simone De Bellis)”

Foreword (Douglas)

Hall of Judgment was a successful Kickstarter that produced a – even if I do say so myself – fine, playable, good-looking product. Even so, it’s nice when a creator gets feedback, and my ego appreciates stroking as much as the next man. Even better than compliments on the book itself is that most Fremen of compliments: “Your plan worked, Muad’Dib.” In short, as Peter Dell’Orto would say: “Did it work in Actual Play?” So what follows is a bit of an instigated post. Simone De Bellis posted that he was playing Hall of Judgment with his group, and had gone through several sessions worth. I nudged him to write up a play report, and he willingly obliged. So here’s a Hall of Judgment actual play report!

He posted the results on the GURPS North America Facebook Group, and I’m reproducing that here. He’s not a native English speaker; I believe he’s from Italy, and I’ve done some editing, with his permission, for clarity.

What follows is an example of how to play Hall of Judgment while dropping it into a very unique and self-sculpted campaign world. He didn’t feel the need to conform to my assumptions of the world of Norðlond, and did things his own way.

This is as it should be.

Read on for details! And pick up a copy today – either from Warehouse 23, or my own webstore. Continue reading “Hall of Judgment: Actual Play report (guest post)”

Last night, despite the fact that I had a headache that was grinding on me like a dentist’s drill, I played in our weekly GURPS Ceteri Campaign. Ceteri is effectively a monster-hunting campaign, with a fun cosmology lovingly crafted by Christopher R. Rice, our GM. We’ve just returned to this world after a few jumps to other campaigns, but we’ve got good characters and a good background.

A Well-Meaning Impulsive Decision

Last night we came across a situation. We’d pretty easily defeated the physical challenges in the encounter (more on that in a later post), and were investigating the source of our issues. A giant tree into which had been carved horrific runes. A demon’s name, and more.

As was typical last night, we leaped before we looked. My character, a paladin in all but name, grabbed a holy water flask and poured it on the tree. It reacted like any sentient evil beacon home would react, and the demon itself manifested. That left us with this:

We know pretty much nothing about this creature. We don’t know what it wants, how it fights, or, well, anything. We’d defeated some of its bird-like manifestations, and then fought some scarecrows, learning that other than my Divine Favor (Smite) power, we had not a lick of ability to take on Diffuse/Unliving creatures.

We were screwed. One player started talking about his character, and we realized a few things. But one of those was that he had Danger Sense and a bunch of other prophetic-type stuff that would quite literally have resulted in “I saw this coming.”

Thinking about it, most of us realized that what had happened was actually kind of fun. We said that the game from the point where Gabe (my character) was going to pour the holy water on the tree until the image above was, in fact, a prophetic vision. Kamali (Merlin’s character) then shouted out “Wait! Stop!” and we rewound the situation to that instant.

I was very satisfied with this. Danger Sense is one of those advantages that’s easily forgotten in the heat of play because it’s plot-altering. The player and/or the GM both have to stop, collaborate, and (no, I’m not going there) decide if the advantage applies, how it applies, what sort of warning to give, etc.

But GURPS has other metagame currencies – such as Tactics rolls and Luck rolls. Having Danger Sense be effectively a “do-over!” button that rewinds a scene to an ill-fated or ill-considered decision that would have been interruptable? That’s playable, if annoying. With limits on it set by the GM and accepted by the player, you have what is basically an Omega-13 device.

Activate the Omega-13!

This lets you undo one decision, probably “per day” (which I’m not as fond of) or “per session” (which I am). It turns it into a leveled disadvantage, too: each 15 points, which is on par with Luck, lets you undo one decision instead of forcing one roll. It’s got a lot in common with Luck (Defensive), and even more so with Precognition (25 points). The two together (Danger Sense and Precog) is 40 points worth of “is this going to be stupidly fatal,” but adjudicating that is hard.

I have to wonder if we should just keep running it that way. The team has to identify a particular inflection point (in this case, when Gabe was about to pour the holy water on the tree). The consequences must be immediate and linear – water makes the demon come. No “Oh, we’re going to rewind five sessions ago” stuff.

But that might be a nice way to keep it out there. You just game through what might happen, and if the immediate consequence is something you might have gotten a whiff of, you ret-con it to that moment.

That’s what we’re doing for Ceteri, by mutual acclamation. Instead of accidentally summoning the demon, we’re going to back off and go into research mode, hopefully containing the evil in the tree by performing a holy and magical ritual. We’ll come back after we actually, you know, know stuff about what we’re fighting.

Oh, About That Smite Thing

Smite is basically an “I Win!” button against certain creatures. When it’s effective, it tends to be very, very effective. We were fighting eight animated scarecrows. They were susceptible to fire, diffuse, fast, and unnatural creatures. 2d of cosmic fire damage was basically a “you dead, boy!” button, and I caught seven of eight crows in the aura radius.

It was not satisfying. For anyone. Even me, as Gabe’s player. I took the “Pin” out of Technical Grappling and Dungeon Grappling and Fantastic Dungeon Grappling because I dislike “I win!” buttons.

The weasel-word in Smite is “malign supernatural entity.” Problem is, in Ceteri, the amplification that “malign” means “opposed to the belief system of the god to whom you’re praying” is a very, very wide purview for smackdown. Christopher and I are working through that, making Smite cooler in some ways, and more restrictive and less inevitable in others. More on that later, but for now: “I win!” must go.

 

I got a sometimes-rare opportunity last night – I got to use the rules I’ve written in the core of their design intent. In this case, it was the simplified and upgraded rules for grappling that appear in my recent Hall of Judgment book: Fantastic Dungeon Grappling.

These took the method of GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling, and seasoned them with lessons learned from DnD5e and Dragon Heresy. Unlike TG, which take 50 pages to do what they set out to do, Fantastic Dungeon Grappling (FDG) does it in just shy of four pages of text. That includes art.

Design Intent

Fantastic Dungeon Grappling is designed to be three things, and where that intent is the same as the original Technical Grappling, to improve them over the original.

  1. It’s designed to be more easily understood and better organized
  2. It’s designed to be fast and loose and somewhat abstract at the table
  3. It’s designed to enable effective grappling in cinematic play, because the Dungeon Fantasy RPG is a cinematic, “this goes to 11” game and genre

I’m not going to belabor the point: mission accomplished here, both for the player and GM. Continue reading “Fantastic Dungeon Grappling: A self-review”

A Short Takeoff Roll

After a long, long head-down hiatus brought about by life and other obligations hitting several of us hard, the Monday night crew (GM’d by Christopher Rice, proprietor of Ravens n Pennies) finally sat down to start the GURPS “Halcyon” campaign.

I will admit up front was was lukewarm on the premise (spoiler: game exceeded my expectations in every way), which is an Action campaign focused on psionics that have broken out of a secret prison and Do Actiony Stuff while hiding out from the authorities.

If the basic campaign premise sounds like “The A-Team, but with psionics” to you, well, that’s why I was willing to play at all. Psionics tends to be very easy to break games, in my experience, regardless of the GM.

Anyway, short version is that we made all the right choices in how to handle it. We didn’t decide to roleplay the breakout itself, which I thought would be a real “what do we do now?” challenge. We started play washing up on the beach, with enough NPCs for additional skills/abilities and sudden but inevitable betrayal to make things interesting.

We were able to break into an Old Navy store to exchange our bright green prison jumpsuits for yuppie clothing. We foxed an ATM and walked away with $15,000 in cash. The time period is 2016, so we all had a good expectation of what do to, and when we were making plans and pulled up Google Maps to figure out where to run, we were secure in the knowledge that that’s exactly what our characters would have done.

We came up with a short plan: get the hell away from San Jose. That’s where we came ashore from the breakout. I came up with the idea to hitch/stow-away on a truck unseen. We wound up spinning a quick tale about a corporate function where the management decided the staff needed to learn “life skills” and we were supposed to get a ride with a long haul trucker and take pictures of the odometer having traveled at least 120 miles as part of some ill-conceived scavenger hunt.

Christopher didn’t even make me roll; he loved the idea. By the time we ended the session, we’d gotten as far as Reno, NV, and had plans to get to Vegas to pick up new identities. That’s where the game will really “start” from an A-Team action standpoint.

Reflections

It’s quite clear to me why the OSR and The Fantasy Trip and other groups with a somewhat palpable disdain for skill systems hold strongly to their point of view. There was very little other than “player skill” on display last night except for a few moments when skill rolls made sense because the uncertainty was important to the game. 

Could we defeat the lock on the clothing store? Die roll; that could go either way and good stuff would result from either outcome. Could we fox the security on the ATM camera (psionic manipulation of electronics)? Uncertain. Rip open the front panel of the ATM and steal the money? Uncertain. All of those were properly resolved with short die roll sequences with consequences and good directions either way.

The plans we laid? That was all player skill, resolved with no die rolls. We roleplayed the conversations by having the conversations with the NPCs in several cases. Maybe there was a skill roll or two, but I don’t think so. A few Fast-Talk rolls to see if the story we delivered (usually a good one) was betrayed by other elements. We were challenged on our story by the trucker we were going to hitchhike with, “why is there an 80-year-old woman with your group?” “She’s the CFO, but when the Board of Directors says “scavenger hunt!” you go on a scavenger hunt.” That got her comfortable accommodations in the sleeper section of the truck driver’s cab instead of back with the cargo.

It worked very well. We came up with a couple of funny bits that we all liked (a haunted RV that will feature in the beginning of each new episode). The next challenge will be of the “why can’t plans ever go smooth?!” variety, where as we go to pick up our new identities in Vegas, we’ll somehow get mixed in with something A-Team like (“if you can find them, if no one else can help, maybe you can hire, the psi-team!”) that will start the “action” part of the campaign.

It was a good beginning to a campaign premise that I was skeptical about, which was a good way to end the evening. More next week.

Dragon Heresy: The Last 48 Hours

As always, the last 48 hours of a Kickstarter are crucial. One can frequently match the first two days’ funding totals in the last two days, and for Dragon Heresy, if we did that, we’d be seriously flirting with the big stretch goal at $16,000 for an offset run with sewn binding.

We are currently sitting at roughly $11,000, with the initial funding goal having been $3,500.

But let’s back up a bit.

What is Dragon Heresy?

Dragon Heresy is a stand-alone Fantasy RPG based on a grittier take on the Fifth Edition game engine. It uses a two-level target hit roll, and differentiated between skill and endurance (“vigor”), injury (“wounds”), and retains Fifth Edition’s excellent use of Conditions, including Exhaustion. You do NOT need other Fifth Edition books to play the game; character generation, combat, social standing, flyting, grappling, wilderness and survival, and monsters are all in the book.

The setting is strongly Norse-inspired, which influences the cultures that are playable, but also the mechanics, since the vikings’ use of lightweight, buckler-gripped shields as very nearly the primary weapon heavily influenced the combat rules options.

Finally, it integrates one of the best grappling mechanics written for such games, making grappling interchangeable with striking on a blow-by-blow basis. One new player played a dragonborn berserker whose primary weapon was a net with no slowdown in play, full use of the rules, and outstandingly fun outcomes.

Tell Me More

No problem. I’ve done a lot of that – here are some additional resources for those who wish to check out the project

Podcasts and Video

Reviews

There have been two reviews of the pre-release copy of the game (it’s fully written).

  • Follow Me and Die! took a look and liked what he saw
  • Moe Tousignant is in the middle of a truly comprehensive review, and allowed me to host his first two sections on my blog
  • James Spahn (White Star and other games) took a look at a pre-release copy and liked what he saw.

The Kickstarter: What You Get

There are only a few pledge levels

  • At $5 you get a stripped down version of the combat rules in sort-of edited PDF format, with minimal layout and no art. It’s for taking the combat rules for a test drive
  • At $20 you get a full-color, hyperlinked, layered PDF
  • At $50 you get a Black and White POD hardback and the PDF
  • At the $100 sponsorship level, the hardback is upgraded to color
  • At $500, you get everything from the $100 level and I will hand-make for  you an authentic viking shield if you live within the USA. It will be fit to you up to 35.5” diameter, with hide-glued planks, Painted striðskjold battle shield with linen stitching and custom paint job1oz hide edging, linen stitching, and a hand-carved oak handle. This is basically “buy the shield and get the game for free.”

What Can You Do?

Obviously, the best thing for me is for you to head over and pledge. It’s a great game, with a great layout, and even if I do say so myself, the initial book block (the interior pages without the binding) from the most likely vendor unless we hit the big offset print goal are simply superb.

If you are interested in the game but can’t pledge, I’d ask that you share it on social media so that others that might be interested might see. Like Fifth Edition rules but want more grit? You’ll like what you see here. Like Norse mythology and vikings? You’re a prime candidate to love the game.

48 hours to go. Please check it out, and pledge if you can!

 

Play a berserker or viking warrior in Dragon Heresy, a fast-paced game that brings viking spirit and grit to Fifth Edition with new rules, a complete setting, and tons of challenges.Dragon Heresy on Twitch

This is a bit of an experiment. I’ve never streamed on Twitch, but I’m giving it a shot and streaming Dragon Heresy tonight!

The folks at Roles to Astonish, a newish channel, have agreed to come on and play Dragon Heresy with me as the GM.

Roles to Astonish: Developer Spotlight – Dragon Heresy

We’ll be walking through a first level starter adventure that I’m writing to support the Dragon Heresy release. Yes, if it’s done by the time I move the Dragon Heresy PDF to final form and to print (July) backers will get it for free in PDF.

Right now, it’s more a skeleton (ahem) than anything else, but I’ve done free-form play with Dragon Heresy before, and it works out just fine.

Come check out the game! It starts at 5pm Central Time, and will go for up to four hours.