Wrapped up the first session of Alien Menace yesterday, in a special bonus session that had me forgetting to communicate with several of the players, because I used too many communication channels to do it (mail, chat, Google Groups, Google Calendar). I wanted to finish the mission, because it was only supposed to take one game, two at the outside, and instead it looked to be 3-4. Though as someone pointed out, of the maybe 8-12 hours of potential playtime, a good 2 of them were spent on technical difficulties with the interface. 

Still: It was a short session other than the bullshitting. 

You did not shoot that green shit at me!

When last we left our heroes, they’d flattened the two sectoids that were coming at them from either side, but had taken some successful fire (mild injuries to Colton, even through the armor) from a line of small (SM -4) drones. 

The drones lined up and spread out in the middle of a cavern, and after the drones formed up,  they came straight in shooting at, well, mostly AB Karabus, +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s character.

They only had one shot that might have hit, and AB dodged and dropped.

Knock ’em Down

Offensively, and even with the new RoF rules, AB nailed at least one with full-auto fire, Enrique plugged the last one with a hit from three shots from the Barrett, and either AB or Ianali got the middle one. Enrique and Colton made good use of cover, Ianali (On the Edge) dashed across the opening, firing as he went ( +Christopher R. Rice will need to remind me if he hit his target). But in the end, the drones got knocked down by a few rounds of furious fighting.

Tactics, or Lack Thereof

As they caught their breath, the experienced soldiers that they were came to a conclusion: the Sectoids were definitely not warrior-types, adn the drones were likely command-driven, by a set of simple commands. They were not just drones, but likely RPVs. And they were driven by a set of commanders who either didn’t know much about tactics, or didn’t consider the PCs a threat. “Hey diddle diddle, straight up the middle” was all they had in them. 

Also, in retrospect, the combatants were amateurs, and other than the cyberdisc, clearly not kitted out for battle. Oh, sure they were armed, but they fell easily to volleys of gunfire, almost like they simply hadn’t faced projectile weapons in a while.

Loot the Bodies, Get the Hell Out

The landing craft then called to note an escalating energy flux and something resembling scrambled communications on the energy bands, and the funky ghostbusters detector thing the team had fixed up started to get persnickety. 

The squad made the judgement to haul off a sectoid, a bunch of small drones, and managed to lever the cyberdisk onto the truck that is part of the lander loadout – I’d written it up as included in the drop-ship but didn’t mention it.

Nearly all the combat had been conducted in the first cave from the entrance, as it turned out. So it was easy to drive the APC into the cave, put a sectoid, a bunch of drones, and the cyberdisk on the truck, roll into the lander, and boost at max acceleration for the ship.

Fallout, not literally

Ethan’s badly hurt, with a crippled arm and leg. He’ll be out for months, which gives time for new PCs to join.  +Jake Bernstein had steered Ethan for a game or so, but this development gives a good opportunity to introduce a new PC. 

The team did pretty well with loot, though it will take a bit to turn that learning into actual cool stuff:

  • Several platforms with undamaged energy weapons on them. Based on the profiles, the sectoids and drones were carrying some sort of plasma discharger (UT Blaster), while the cyberdisk was armed with some sort of laser weapon.
  • An actual real-live dead alien body
  • Something was making those discs and drones float, dammit
  • Some nice alien materials to examine
  • Some interesting findings on how these things were powered – the biggest deal in ultra tech stuff is usually the energy supply
  • Technically not brought back with them, but that burst communication at the end is a juicy bit of electronic noise for the electronic warfare types to play with

Parting Shot

When all is said and done, we got some good learning out of this, plus some good fun.

All the players got 10 or 11 CP, and the opportunity to tune their existing characters to reflect play reality rather than theoretical concerns. Christopher is definitely going to leverage that.

It may be realistic as hell, but lacking any sort of arm/leg armor sucks when one hit can and will take you out of the fight. Either some sort of limb armor needs to be provided, or a magic “blue goo” that is basically an ultra-tech healing potion. It might not be “realistic,” but you can easily have a situation where a player gets tagged early on and is out of the game, effectively. That’s not fun. I think I have this one covered, actually, for next time.

It was good to have a set of enemies with simple and poor tactics to run while we were figuring out the rules we were using and playing with the interface.

We got a lot of help from +Eric hil as we played, and with a bit more work from me, I think we have something playable. I never could get the newly supplied targeting mode to work, though. It didn’t matter, but it was frustrating. The Fantasy Grounds interface is “encounters first,” rather than “map first.” To set up a fight, one sets up an encounter, then puts the tokens on the map and adds the baddies to the combat tracker. But there doesn’t seem to be a way to put a token on the map, and then add that particular token to the tracker. Or if there is, it’s external to the usual set of radial menus accessible by mouse click. That being said, the modifiers were much, much, much easier this time, and once I got the trick of it, it makes me see how with the right pre-game prep on my part, that will no longer be an impediment to the game.

The new aiming rules are good, and the new attack options are fun. I think bonuses might accrue to fast in certain situations, but we’ll see. Blazing away from the hip still seems too effective, but at least in the case we played yesterday, most of the blasting away was with stationary troops. Highly skilled (Guns-14 through Guns-17) troops with lots of electronics. The three-point sling and reflex sight is a constant +2, and RoF bonuses of +2 as well. That means that you are starting at +4 for a basic attack, and with Range and size penalties from -11 to -8 or so, that’s a net of -4 to -7, which a skilled shooter can eat pretty handily.

Armor as Dice is fast and playable . . . but it means that if you’re overmatched in armor, you will always take damage. Always. In this case, any time the troops got hit with a blast to the torso, they took 1d, and 3d to a limb. So the armor seemed pretty useless. Again, that’s somewhat realistic – and I’d lathered on armor divisors to keep wounds (relatively) light but still threaten the team for this first mission purposefully. But there’s a certain amount of tension inherent in “roll damage and see if it penetrates DR” that is usefully retained. I’ll have to think on that.

Nate made an interesting point, which was that in general there was too much discussion about movement, largely due to the game being unforgiving about being caught in the open, which troops of the quality involved would rarely be. Some good suggestions were made, some of which might be publishable, so we’ll basically say “there are probably solutions that exist that will combine Cautious Advance with some metagame currency to make it lower risk to just move the damn token and end your turn.” This will enhance speed and fun.

All in all, I’m getting better at moving the game along, and even though penalties stack a lot with firearms combat, they stack the same way every time, and are amenable to shortcuts. 

That being said, not every game will be a simple tactical encounter – or even solved purely by gunfire – so there will be more to it than a wargame.

We’ll see, since if certain things don’t get in the way, we’ll play again next Saturday!

The Alien Menace game has given me some good insights into some of the slow and fast parts of playing high action tactical combat with GURPS.

Fair warning, this is going to be a bit stream of consciousness.

Much like life, the importance of telescoping time when you can – the “Cautious Advance/XCOM Movement” style where you get to take a full move, and then tack on a Wait and an optional “look around or do something else for a second” seems to be a valuable addition to the game. I like the fact that it gives each player simultaneous agency to move around, but puts known limits on it. I can know when a turn of player movement will cause someone (good guy or bad) to cross a fire lane, or force a Per roll, and can fall back to one-second turns appropriately. 

What do you need? Math. Lots of math.

Actually, that’s what you don’t need, especially in play. In any given shot with a firearm or beam weapon, you will have (potentially):

Combat/Non-combat bonuses: Some of those are not applicable to any combat situation (a whole separate post on that later), but some are, such as the “up to +3” bonus you can get with a rangefinder. And lots of games in the TL8+ regime can easily feature rangefinding. The Burris Eliminator scopes do rangefinding and automatically compute an aim point elevation (no windage yet). Is all that really means is that of the up to +10 for this stuff that you can get, there’s probably something like +3 for risk, +3 for range, and +4 for ideal environment. Note these are non-combat bonuses, but that’s an imperfect categorization.

Maneuver Selection: There’s lots you can do, and I’m working with a new set of house rules that actually give more options, not fewer. Still, even with the options of record, there’s a lot you can do. Aim, All-Out Attack (Determined), regular Attack. Move and Attack. That’s all good, and not particular to ranged combat.

Bracing a Weapon: This is, in a way, easy. Modern three-point slings give you that extra +1 all the time when you Aim, rather than just sandbags or bipods like in Basic. 

Range Penalties: The ever changing, precise awesome that is the Speed/Range table is one of the best things in GURPS . . . but it comes up every time and required an adjustment to skill every time.

Scopes and Sights: Reflex sights are simple adds to skill, but scopes require Aim. 

Rate of Fire: We’d been using a Size/Speed range based RoF modifier instead of rules-as-written, and I think I overcompensated. When a 10-round burst gives +4 to hit, it’s going to wind up better to just blaze away than to Aim. I prefer a scaling where the typical 3-4 round burst gets a bonus to hit, since that seems to be a fairly universal practice. +Mark Langsdorf had a neat system for Rapid Fire, and we tried that. The S/SR table is easy, I’ve basically got it memorized, but I think that the speed at which bonuses accrue is too high, and drives some behavior where aiming is basically as good as throwing huge amount of lead downstream. Yeah, you’ll have to reload, but at the skill levels we’re talking about, that’s by and large done out of combat. Very few foes can withstand the number of hits that these RoF bonuses mete out, so you can blaze away for a magazine or less, kill your foe (especially when it’s many-on-few, as the current scenario has been), and reload calmly in your own time. +Peter V. Dell’Orto uses a gun with a 100-round drum (quite similar, likely, to the image above) and so he can go for 8-9 turns of full auto fire and not have to worry about switching out. Anyway, that’s too much, so I’ll probably go with a modified system using the half SSR column in the chart to the right. That way, aimed fire with a rifle is about as good as throwing 4200 rounds per minute downrange as far as hit probability goes. I’m good with that.

Hit Location: This can be particularly important since “torso” isn’t always a great choice for piercing weapons if you play with blow-through rules. We’ve been making good use of a random location table, which has led to the lament for limb armor. Guess they should capture some alien with good materials science in there, eh?

Blah, Blah . . . what’s the point?

I’m thinking that amalgamated bonuses, and maybe some range bands, are the way to go here. I’d like to have it such that if the players are attacking and attacked as a group, it’s less likely (not impossible, but less likely) that each round will feature four combatants with four different range penalties. Not “never,” but if you’ve got a group of guys at “SMG range” or something like that, then you just need to figure that the penalty for everyone is -7 or something. That might cut down on the turn-to-turn fiddle.

Likewise, I think our house rules are all well and good, but the players and GM need certain auto-combos of stuff that they use all the time. My guy’s shooting method is Attack, with a reflex sight, always braced for the sling, etc. When he aims, the following all come in, including All-Out Attack, etc. That means “method 1″ is +2, where the Aim is +7” sort of thing. This is fairly easily done in melee

The range bands is suggested strongly in Action, I believe – so I might well be reinventing the wheel here. But I think that using a Spaceships-like progression for range band penalties, a limited version of the Range table, might be in order here. We’ll see. Something like what is shown to the right.

The melee thing is there as sort of a lark, but at 0-1 yards of range, there’s no reason why you can’t parry a rifle or pistol, or use Telegraphic All-Out Attack to claim that +8 bonus . . . and that makes a bit more sense than the usual AoA(Determined) for range. Well, to me, anyway.

Edit: Not that much of a lark – see Close Combat and CLOSE Combat, GURPS Tactical Shooting, pp. 25-26!

Parting Shot

Ultimately, what I want to do, and I’ll do it bit by bit as I get more familiar with the GM chair, is to keep the flavor and options for the players that is a primary reason to use GURPS – one of its niche applications – but make those flavors and options easy to sum up with tic boxes. +Eric hil has given me a few pointers on how to make this happen faster than I’ve been doing it with +Fantasy Grounds in the past, so that should help. It might not be exactly the series of keystrokes and mouse input I’d have chosen, but it’ll get the job done. Hell, if I want it differently, I should learn how to code myself – Eric and +Brian Ronnle aren’t the only ones that can do this stuff, and they don’t develop to my whim. Well, mostly. 


In the GURPS Alien Menace game, we use armor as dice. So their DR 35 combat armor is now 10d on the torso. The 3d (5) blasters knock that down to 2d armor, doing 1d burn injury per hit through the torso.

It’s fast and easy.

But we wanted to come up with a rule for grazes, and have settled on:


If a defense is missed by 1, a hit turns into a graze. Armor DR is doubled, and if any penetration occurs, injury is only one point of damage per 6d of injury, minimum one point of injury.

Parting Shot

This makes it possible to get hit by a .50 BMG for less than 12 points of damage, which is something I tried to deal with (badly) in Armor Revisited (Pyramid #3/34: Alternate GURPS), and TBone did much better in his article in the same issue: Ten Tweaks.

I wanted to keep the quick and easy feel of Armor as Dice, not change any rules. So if you biff your defense by 1, you get grazed. Seems like it would be fair to allow one to spend a destiny point for this as well, or maybe even a two-fer. One point can turn that attack from success into failure anyway, so you can spend a point and turn two or three hits into grazes . . . maybe even on different shots. It’s terribly meta, but “get missed once, or grazed two or three times” seems not awful.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto  makes some good comments about the
campaign over at Dungeon Fantastic. Some are worth dwelling on in particular.
Group Movement

The reason I picked six squad members, and in
this case it was two NPCs and four PCs, was to give three pairs of two. The
team moved either solo or as a full group, as Peter noted, but it would be
trivial to assign a buddy and move in fire teams. The group movement and
Teamwork perk (likely the first thing that each team member will buy on return
to claim character points) will allow moving in pairs well, providing mutual
Limb Armor

He notes, correctly, that anything other than a
torso hit is a near-instant cripple. I’m firing blasters at them, for 3d (5)
tight-beam burning. At that level, the wounds are no different than
a heavy pistol even on unarmored sections. Getting shot at all when a limb
crippling threshold is something like 6-9 HP of injury is going to suck no
matter what, though I need to reread the section on crippling thresholds for limbs.

The Armor Divisor does make protection rather
pointless for this fight, it would seem, but Armor as Dice is always all-or nothing, and it’s not an accident I chose 3d (5) vs 10d armor . . . but I did forget about limbs.

Smoke and Cover

This is a bigger deal in Real Life than it has
been in Alien Menace so far, and I need to change that. The soldiers in
my game (real life) tell me that finding natural cover is a lot easier than one
would think. I know it’s dealt with a bit in Tactical Shooting, and so I’ll
have to look it up.

Part of this is sheer laziness. I forgot to put down rocks and stuff on the map, or make the walls sufficiently tortuous to hide behind.

Group Movement Again

The reason for the turn-based thing is really to
make movement at reasonable speeds take longer in in-game time. A combat walk
at basically Move/3, plus a second or two to do other things, including the famous XCOM “Overwatch.”

In one moment of
fast awesome, Ianali, +Christopher R. Rice‘s medic, did a move and “Instant Action,”
taking -10 to instantly apply a field dressing to the downed Ethan and bring
him to 1 HP from negative. He covered 5 yards and applied the dressing in one second. He paid the points for it
and we’re playing an Action-based game, so good. But in most cases, such moves
like that fit better into a five second time span than into one second.

Character Sheet Nonsense and VTT Foibles

I clearly need to re-export Peter’s character.
All the HT-based crap is, in fact, irritating.

I’m with him on screen real estate. I
have two 24” monitors, and feel it’s
not enough! Fantasy Grounds stubbornly refuses to relocate full-screen to the
second monitor, so my video feed always has me looking not-at-the-camera, which
I find rude to my players (whom I’m sure don’t care).
GURPS firearms combat has so many usual modifiers
(AoA, Braced, Aim, Range, Size, Cover, etc) that what I’d really like is a
table with checkboxes on it. The variable Aim rules we’re using would make this
trickier, but with several checkboxes that might be persistent, and the right
links to your Guns skills, you could just drag from that little helper into the
chat window. That’s much easier than the hotkeys on the bottom, or the small
dots you can add to the Modifier box in the bottom left of the screen.
It might already exist, but something that
allowed you to say:
/die 3d6 vs 15 MoS 3 would be a handy
mini-script. Roll 3d6 vs a target number that’s all-in value of 15, with an
extra “success” granted every 3. The default value of MoS if it’s not entered
would be infinity – you either succeed or not.

Parting Shot

I don’t disagree
with any of Peter’s points. The interface uses an intensively click-driven
system that requires a lot of assimilation, and doesn’t yet provide enough GM simplification
tools for speed of play increase. To me, that
is where a VTT would shine . . . but the “you can’t code GURPS IP directly into
the program” bites you there. Hard.
What would be
the intermediate step, perhaps, would be some sort of user-configurable
persistent modifiers box as I suggest above that allows multiple clicking. The
format of it would be similar to the encounter creation tab that the program
already uses. You could click the flag for “Ranged Firearm Attack,” and a list
of “the usual suspects” would show up. Click the ones that usually apply: AoA,
Brace, Reflex Sight. Type in the SM of your target, the penalty due to range
(and if Targeting were enabled, this would be a great auto-populate option for
both range and size!), Aim bonus (this could autopopulate from the weapon, but
my system uses a die roll, so that would break for me), etc. Add weapons that
use this by dragging them from your sheet by the usually ubiquitous grey box,
and then you can use that to make the process quite simple.

Tonight we rejoined Our Heroes in the ice caves on a far off world. +Tim Shorts couldn’t make it, so we quickly recruited +Jake Bernstein, who joined +Peter V. Dell’Orto+Christopher R. Rice , and +Nathan Joy in the quest to kill the aliens and take their stuff.

The Long Fight

No play-by-play transcript as I usually do when I’m playing, because my mind is on the game and keeping it moving. Or trying to.

The basic play of the night was one long gun battle. We went into XCOM Time, and I thought as a GM that it worked really well. It gave each side time to do what they needed to do, and allowed us to cover a lot of in-game time in five-second chunks, which worked.

We did go back to one-second turns as soon as anyone’s Wait was triggered, so no real loss in fidelity there. Just a decent way of keeping the sides close.

They set up a brutal ambush against an enemy that is coming at them in waves. The NPC Christine Brinkman had been left as a rear guard, and manged to make an awesome Per roll, spotting the SM -4 bad guy drone a long way away. Aim, Brace, Reflex sight, and a very good Aim roll put her on target, and she totally drilled the drone. That left quite a bit of time for the team to get set, and they set up a brutal, and effective, ambush when the remaining drones came around the corner. The first two, I think, bit it hard, and the third was appropriately riddled with holes, but after putting a blaster bolt through Dragonskin armor on Jake’s character’s torso, which is 3d (5) against 10d armor (1d injury per hit). He also got nailed once on each leg, though, and that was more serious. We resolved the crippling injuries (in reality, Jake worked out the details of his own injuries while I continued play) and he’ll be off his game for 3 months!

Ianali was able to sprint over, and accept a -10 to his First Aid roll (plus some rerolls) to get him back up to 1 HP, which kept him out of the “rolling for KO each second” bad place.

After the first wave it, they set up and waited for the next wave. It came cautiously, and the drones staged their own ambush, using some Sectoids as bait. Christopher’s character Ianali tried to take one alive, carefully blowing off one leg (yowch), but then the guy with the grenade launcher opened up on the wall, pulping that guy and rendering the second, hidden next to a wall, unconscious. Three 40mm HE grenades will do a number on a small, unarmored alien worker.

As the good guys came around the corner, though, one of the floaters tagged our grenadier on the torso and arm, which burned through his armor and did some real damage. Three grenades later and two of three floaters (these were much smaller and unarmored than the disc they met coming in to the caves) were damaged but still functional, the third untouched.

Rules, Concepts, and Speed of Play

The new rules we’re using for aiming are working really well.

The “XCOM Time” seems to work

Fantasy Grounds lets you put down and leave range estimating lines on the map, and these are great for “cross this and my Wait triggers!” notations for laying ambushes and whatnot are great.

We’re half-using +Mark Langsdorf‘s rules on rapid fire, though I think maybe we weren’t using them as correctly as I’d like. I think that, in retrospect, the RoF bonuses using the Size and Speed/Range Table might stack up too quickly.

What I wanted was something where 3-4 shots (the usual number in “burst fire” got you your first bonus, but like Mark, I think that the SSR table is core to GURPS and should be used where possible. However, this means that with a gun with RoF 12, you are (with the RoF bonus) +4 to hit, which is just as good as Aiming using RAW with a carbine wit Acc 4. Unsighted firing at RoF 12 is simply NOT as good as aimed fire with the same rifle. So that bears more consideration. Maybe halve the values, rounding up. It will be self-limiting, as most normal rifles will be able to do this for 2 seconds and then a mag change. Peter’s character, with his 100-round drums, is better off.

I used the “always add 10 to Per rolls, but full size and range penalties apply” rule often today, and it works great. It’s how Christine was able to nail the first floater drone, and how one of those drones missed seeing a PC at a critical moment, in a believable way.

Lessons Learned

My map is too big, and I probably have too many enemies for the style of play I want to have for this campaign. This mission was designed to be one session long (notionally), two at the most, and we’ll finish in three. That means we can spend 6-8 weeks of real-world time (allowing for cancelled sessions) on what might be considered one to three firefights.

Fantasy Grounds Woes and Woo-hoos

Some of the teething issues with the interface have gotten better with use. It still does suffer from some issues, though, that make for some frustrations.

  • Clicking on the chat window does not bring it to the top of the screen
  • The absence of Fog of War and sight lines really is an issue to the type of game we’re playing. 
  • Invisible icons are really invisible – even to me – as they’re set to a too-high transparency factor. There needs to be a way to make them indicate being invisible but not quite so hard to see on the map
  • The mouse wheel is still too all-powerful, and scrolling within the combat tracker can cause some of the boxes and values to increment if you’re hovering over them. You really have to be careful of where your cursor is when you’re moving that wheel
  • It would be nice if, as you advanced the combat tracker, the GM map auto-centered on the active icon
  • Every time a player dropped due to a lost connection – and that was less but still present this game – he was able to rejoin but I had to reshare the map each time
  • HT needs to be on the combat tracker (if it’s there I didn’t see it) since you often have to roll that in combat. Same with Per, actually.
Some things that I’d really like
  • There seems to be D&D style 90-degree cones for pointers. I’d like to be able to tune those to arbitrary width. so it’s easier to assess sight lines and aim lines
  • I know it’s a lot, but some of the interface choices remain unintuitive, and could use a re-think
  • The vision lanes that I have in MapTool (blocked out behind) with terrain features that can’t be seen through are awesome and really allow the GM to just play his side without worrying about who’s visible but unseen. 
Parting Shot

I think today went pretty well, and the rules being used are working for the benefit of the game, not a distraction. 
Smaller maps, perhaps fewer but more capable foes (though what’s going on now isn’t bad), and a slightly different capabilty set for my bad guys will help out.
It should be fun to finish up this mission. Of the six troopers that went in, two have been badly wounded by blaster fire, and there are still several drones active. The cave has barely been explored (and I say this because of an accidental full-frontal map reveal in a previous game; they know how big the place is).
I will give serious though to how I can guarantee we finish up next time.

Last content post I alluded to a situation where as many as six characters (4 players and 2 NPCs) were advancing cautiously in anticipation of encountering bad guys. This got tedious doing it player by player, turn by turn. On the other hand, you never really did know when the bad guys might pop out, so doing things in Combat Time seems right.

It’s slow, though, from a player’s perspective. And I don’t think it has to be. I’m going to try something different, and the current game setup should be pretty conducive to it.

But first, a word on movement speed to set the stage.

Combat Sprinting

GURPS movement is fast. Oh, it doesn’t seem fast, because you only move a few yards at a time, and in a spread-out fight, it can take a subjective forever to get from skirmish area to skirmish area.

Even so, the ability for GURPS PCs to cover distance in combat is pretty impressive. A typical person with -1 or -2 Move due to encumbrance is “only” moving 3-4 yards per second. A crawl! Except that’s 6-8mph, which is a decent jogging pace, and you can start, move, and stop perfectly balanced in one second.

For heroic PCs, they probably have a base Move in the 6-8 range, and good ST. I’d expect Move 5-7 is the norm even counting encumbrance for the PCs in my game right now, and that’s 4-6 minute miles.

Turn-Based Overwatch Movement (XCOM)

So PCs can haul ass in GURPS if they choose . . . but mostly that’s too fast for a real-world advance. I can maintain a brisk walk of up to about 4mph (only move 2), and above about 4.5-5mph I have to break into a trot. Basically I think you can probably go up to about 40% of your Move without the disruption of actually jogging or running, at which point shooting is pretty much spray-and-pray.

So here’s what I’m going to propose. During XCOM style movement, the clock ticks for five seconds, and this allows the following:

  • Movement up to your full encumbered Move
  • One of Evaluate, Aim, or Ready (1 second worth)
  • Wait

You may also stay in place and do a few different Long Actions

  • Reload (if it can be done in four seconds; this is about right for a non-rushed “pop mag, grab another, insert, re-ready).
  • Long Evaluate – Claim an appropriate bonus for taking extra time to look for stuff
  • Both of these are assumed to be 4 seconds, and end with a Wait . . .
  • If you’re feeling crazed, you may also take a long action of Only Movement. You get 5xMove and it takes the full five seconds, and you do NOT get a Wait. You’re exposed. “Like a nerve.” This includes the impact of a sprint bonus, and is one second of regular move, three seconds of sprinting, and one second of Move/2 for deceleration to a standstill.

The breakdown here is more or less three seconds of Move/3, and some looking around over your sights for a bit or getting something out of an easily accessible place on your LBE. The long actions allow some people to hang back and look around, or do a reload without the risk of a Fast-Draw, etc.

Turn Based

In the X-COM: Enemy Unknown game, first the team goes, and then the Aliens move. If you have “Overwatch” set (the X-COM equivalent of a Wait) you can attack. Most players will want to end in this state unless they don’t have to.

Each turn is based on your side. Any Waits terminate when it’s your side’s turn.

As soon as anyone’s Wait is triggered, Combat Time starts at the 1-second scale, starting at whoever’s Wait is triggered, and then cycling through. Waits from previous turns are preserved – if a Sectoid gets to go before you and walks into your Wait, that’s good for you, bad for him.

Parting Shot

The point of this one is to basically allow everyone to move their tokens simultaneously by up to their Move, but not play “let’s screw the players” by having them walk into an ambush that they should have seen.

This makes time go by at reasonable rates, but without assuming that everyone’s moving around like Usain Bolt, fully armed and crackin’ to shoot some Greys.

Hopefully it’ll compress that intermediate stage where no active enemies are in sight, but caution is warranted. It also creates a nice delineation between “Players’ Turn” and “Now GM Does Bad Guy Stuff.”

The list above is deliberately restrictive. It also doesn’t play to any individual character’s strong suit or abilities. The list should remain short for sanity’s sake, but has plenty of room for customization. I’d have no real issue with each player coming up with their own list of their favorite actions, so long as they break down neatly into (say) two categories, and can be fit into five seconds without any risk of failure.

  • Series of actions that end in a Wait
  • Series of actions that don’t end in a Wait

People with Fast-Draw or other “instantly cool” abilities will be a little bit stiffed by this; that can either be worked around, perhaps. Maybe treat them like Combinations, where if your intended action (say, a F-D-based speed reload followed by running like hell down the hallway) fails, your entire action stops right there. You neither reload or move. You’ve been stymied.

We’ll see how it works. I hope it speeds things up without notably impacting Combat Time. If not, tweakage will occur.

I can already see some things people might want to do (the sniper says in place while the team moves . . . what’s the benefit there? Probably a bonus to Per rolls for sweeping the area), but overall, I think it’ll split the difference between “move freely on the map!” and “OK, your turn. Now your turn. Now my turn, and a few more. Now your turn . . .”

A quick post.

I’ve been getting ready for the follow-on session to the incomplete Alien Menace starter this weekend. We had to cancel last time due to sickness, ComiCon, and general beat-down-ness.

Some things I realized:

  • It’s really handy to have pre-planned encounters. +Eric hil walked me through how to generate those, and there’s a specific order to it. Follow it in +Fantasy Grounds and you will do well. They show up by holding the CTRL key.
  • Each type of bad guy should have a characteristic behavior when they attack and defend. That speeds up your choices by restricting them, and creates patterns for the players to detect and exploit
  • Slow, steady advancement with lots of Waiting and waiting in GURPS requires a unique, yet to be determined “speed up the clock” mechanic. I think I have one. I’ll publish it when I do.
  • Along with characteristic fighting styles, I need to make a note about what each bad guy will do when confronted with sensory input. How will they react to seeing a PC? Hearing footsteps? Hearing explosions? What about other senses?

All my baddies are placed, but I need to get their behaviors settled in my head before we start on Saturday. That just requires a bit of time.

I also need to start carrying around my Book of Pretentiousness again. I have had a few ideas slip away that shouldn’t have, and it was way better to capture them in that journal. Plus, the babes dig it.

This weekend ComiCon came to Minneapolis, so my whole family went.


The costumes, of course, were great. Day 1 I just wore my Gaming Ballistic sweatshirt over a Superman T-shirt, since my daughter was dressed as supergirl (since Supergirl is often portrayed as blonde, she kills this one). I had one guy take her picture, and then say that I needed to be dressed as SuperDad. I pulled up my sweatshirt. He was satisfied. 

Also, talkging to Adam Baldwin (!!), his associate did notice the GB logo, and we talked AR builds. 

Brief interludes with Sean Astin and Nathan Fillion, but nothing like my two conversations with Adam Baldwin, who as I mentioned was a super-nice guy.

Day 2 I decided to stick an old friend down my shirt, and of course this got more comments and “Can I take your picture?!” moments than when my daughter, on day 3, insisted I go full Batman. 

S: Dad, today’s Wonder Woman day. Who are you going to dress up as?
D: Well, I was going to dress up as Dad.
S: No. You’re going as Superman.
D: I don’t have a Superman costume.
S: Then Batman. Get your batman T-shirt, a pair of black pants, and your cape and boots.
D: I guess I’m going as Batman.

Short stack had a great time too, and on day 3, dressed as Wonder Woman, two very kind teen agers asked her for her autograph. She’s four, but wrote WONDR WOMAN * (with a little star!) by sounding out the words, so there you go.

The food was terrible.

On the last day, I made it into a panel discussion with former Lois and Clark star Dean Cain, and I asked him a question about how he felt “filling the tights” and taking on the identity of an American icon. Maybe the American hero. His answer was good – he identified personally with those qualities, and the scripts he was given oozed the right stuff.

Oh, and since I was dressed as batman, he quipped, “Uh-oh. A question for superman from the dark knight.” I replied “Yes, we have a long and complicated history.” Crowd enjoyed it.

But then he mentioned the most recent movie – and he hit something I’d have loved to ask a follow-up question on, which I hit in my review: “Is all I could think about watching the most recent movie was all of the people who probably died in the destroyed buildings in metropolis.”

YES. Precisely. That, even more than him stealing stuff early in the movie, left me the most uncomfortable. Not sure Kal-El could have chosen the battleground differently – he went where the giant death machine was, and where his foes were – but still. I have to imagine Dean or Christopher would have taken the fight to somewhere less inhabited.

Anyway, a good time.


This weekend I achieved closure on a few writing projects. Two Pyramid articles, both inspired by my Alien Menace campaign. The two together would be about six Pyramid pages total if published. Was good to cross them off the list, though.

The game was cancelled this weekend, though. One player was sick, another just kinda thrashed after a hard week. I was thinking I’d be at ComiCon (turns out I was back in time). So we’ll play again mid-May. I did get all the game prep done, so I can instead work on other things or plan ahead for the next mission.

I learned a lot from the first one about the size of the challenges, too. To do a one-session, four hour game, you probably want the maps smaller in physical area than the one I laid down. But keeping that moving is another story, and another post.

I have one more article in my “must finish soon” pile, and then I can start a new set of projects.

Parting Shot: Pictures

My parting shot for this one is pictures from the event. 

I had a riotously good time making the audio clip for my first Alien Menace session

What audio clip, you ask? You didn’t listen the first time? You missed out on Pyramid Magazine editor +Steven Marsh‘s inspired performance? +Antoni Ten Monrós totally owning the role of the Captain? And +Gerardo Tasistro and me as Jones the Tech and Yi, the videographer, each of whom gave our one or two lines before meeting electric flaming death at the hands of a now-deceased cyberdisc?

Well, shoot. You’d better go listen, then.

I wanted to do this, but was uncertain if I could pull it off. Luckily for me, my Google Fu is strong, and I came across the recommendation to use Audacity.

There may well be better sound editors out there, but this one was free, intuitive, allowed multitrack sound design, and the capture of sounds through your own system. I was able to, within scant hours:

  • Meld the sounds of an arc welder and the supersonic “zip” of an actual bullet to make my blaster sound effects
  • Insert, seamlessly, the sound of the hydraulic lift, which made an unmistakable sound of the cargo ramp on a ship going down
  • Overlay machinegun noises (the Captain’s futile efforts to punch through 5d armor with a 3d submachine gun) with screams that interrupted said noises
  • Put in other partial effects like a few moments of footfalls, samples from a longer clip.

All in all, it took me maybe two hours to make a call for voice actor help, get responses, polish and practice the voice work, and then add sufficient sound effects to make it compelling enough.

Gerardo followed up with a more embellished version quite quickly – but the one I had was good enough, and it seems like a fun way to provide future information to the gamers.

Now if there was only an easy way to share the clips so that all the players were listening at once. I bet +Fantasy Grounds can do it, but I’ll need to figure out how. Google Hangouts should  be able to do it, but again, not sure exactly how just yet.

One last thing: the amazing thing about our roleplaying community is that I’m sure that had I wanted an Englishman for Beake, a female soldier for The Captain, someone of Korean descent for Yi, and an actual Welshman for Jones . . . I probably could have gotten them. I wound up with a Spaniard who speaks four languages, two midwesterners (well, me by location, but I was born on the east coast), and someone from either Uruguay or Mexico – not sure, but it was way more interesting that I could have hoped.

My new Alien Menace campaign is rather specifically designed to be episodic in nature. Each session is supposed to be a differet mission, to keep things lively.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s Felltower campaign is a megadungeon. He’s got a huge swath of area prepared, some stocked, some not, and the players explore this ground at their own pace.

My last session was really supposed to be done in one game, but that was naive for a few reasons. Firstly, I rescaled the cave to be much, much larger. Mostly because my initial playtest fight between the Cyberdisc an the party took place in a highly confined environment (before rescaling) and that led to a lot of un-aimed shots and a lot of Dodge by the Cyberdisc . . . and a lot of dead PCs. At least how I tested it.

Anyway, I spent a lot of time working up this episode, and we’re not done. Which is fine with me, since it gives me the opportunity to say “what happens next in this area/mission” rather than “what entirely new and different thing must I come up with next?”

I will probably need to decide: do I want each session to be of fairly limited scope, with occasional two- or three-part episodes, or should I simply slap down each scenario, and each one takes as long as it takes (but likely only 2-4 sessions, since one mission every two months of play just seems . . . mean).

Peter’s megadungeon is utterly inappropriate for Alien Menace’s premise. But he’s got some real Win going on. He can use more or less the same map(s). He is intimately familiar with the terrain to and from his Home Base. And the players can enter each session with a sense of familiarity – they cover well-tread ground for a bit, then decide whether to venture into the truly unknown, or gently explore only slightly off their formerly-beaten path.

I see the appeal of that. Being able to know more or less what’s happening next session of Alien Menace is comforting. I can project scenarios, come up with what any remaining bad guys are doing, but not have to recreate local geography.

So maybe that’s the answer. I should plan each mission to take two sessions, and see where that takes me. Still, the thought of some sort of “build it once, explore it over months” is pretty darn appealing. It reeks of staying power, and the ability to not have life totally derail adventure planning!