My previous post about some past GURPS campaigns brought on a very interesting comment string from +Christopher Lorando. I made some comments, and he replied. The gist of it is worth repeating. And since Thursday is GURPS-day, here we go:

My abridged list of common pitfalls:

[Edit: Some of these, as Sean (Dr Kromm) points out, are very much not GURPS-specific, but generic to RPGs and social gatherings alike. His commentary, as always, is well worth reading).

  • Issues with rules lawyering: often caused by pinging of the SoDoM, or expectations clash in the competence level of PCs. This is worth a good conversation, but rules-lawyering is easy: The GM says “we’re doing it this way for today; if we change it, it won’t be today. Take it offline.” 
  • Immobile battlefield: The tendency for every character to want/try to do something every second means that even with combat moves that equate to 5-8 minute miles, your odds of rescuing someone without a ranged aid (gun, spell, muscle-powered ranged weapon, friendly dragon) are nearly zero unless you keep the group together. So keep the group together if you don’t want a bunch of individual combats.
  • Action Overload: attempting an inhuman amount of activity in a row. My Action Points rules from Pyramid #3/44 were a fix for this, but wow. You’re like Neo in bullet time in your hex . . . you just can’t leave that hex to rescue Trinity real well
  • Option Overload: The tendency to try and use every book, every rule, every option can be large. It’s worth fighting in many cases. Maybe all cases.
  • PC Utility Fail: It’s vitally, vitally important to understand what kind of characters are useful i any given game.
  • One-Hit Wonder: GURPS has emergent “death spiral” behavior in some places. The temptation to wade back into the fray is large, and often fatal. The key to GURPS combat is often “how do we avoid getting hit, if we get hit, how do we avoid getting injured.”
  • Breakpoint games: There ARE breakpoints that you should be aware of. Combat attacks and defenses that net out over 14 or 16 should be brought down with options like Deceptive Attack or Riposte.
Likewise, here were some of his comments, and my comments on the comments:

. . . the GM would say “Hey I have a GURPS Game!” and everyone would come up with some random character, only to find out only one player out of the 4 to 5 actually fit what the GM had in mind.

This is a pretty common mistake. Couple easy ways to avoid it, too. The first is that allowable plot connection devices should be supplied by the GM. “You all must be part of Delta Force” is rather specific, and directed. “You all must have the ability to deal with combat encounters, many – but not always – involving gunfights” is another. On the SJG Forums, there are a few posts by +Sean Punch that give Action Hero Basic Skills (there are two links there), and that will at least keep all the PCs “in the game,” even if they’re not in their niche at the moment.

Another way to do it is by insisting that every PC have one super-strong link to another character, and/or one or two minor links to others. I did this in a game I ran (Lords of Light and Shadow) and it worked great. It helped flesh out both the group, why they’d hang together, and some of the local color. It’s how I got a buddhist temple, with martial arts and yoga classes, which was affiliated to a local college somehow. I wouldn’t have come up with that, but my players did for me.

You can also mix and match. A basic template (see below) and direction provided by the GM, and links and interrelationships made up by the characters – always with GM Veto. I’m a massive believer in GM Veto.

I have found Templates absolutely critical in that regard, as it helps myself get an idea of what is expected of players to fit the game that they had in mind. More times than not, I would try to come up with creative ways to roleplay and use talents that fit towards story, only to find out that I am being gunned down repeatedly.

Templates and Lenses are key here, and part of the GM responsibility if he sees every PC needing to be able to participate in his preferred method of conflict resolution. If the GM doesn’t have one, and allows the PCs non-violent outs (bribery, deceit, seduction) that allows the non-bloody to shine too.

That and one thing that REALLY rang true: Trying to use EVERY BOOK! More times than not, I have found two books do just find (At least for the player). The Game Master already has enough on his plate to manage, and in the games I have played many of them ended due to sheer overwhelming numbers and stat blocks.

My first real game was a GURPSification of Dark Conspiracy. I used the 3rd Edition Basic Set, Martial Arts, High Tech, Psionics, Magic, Horror, Martial Arts Adventures, Vehicles, Ultra Tech 1 and 2 . . . dear God, what a mess. I swear I spent more time with my nose in the books than GMing.

One of these days I may actually get a Wuxia style game, though until I can actually follow through with my original setting idea it will likely have to wait.

Well, for that you will certainly need Technical Grappling, when it comes out. And copies for all your friends and relatives.

What?

I was thinking for a moment about campaigns I have run in GURPS.

Reaching way back to college to present day (or, really, a few years back, when last I actually ran anything):
Dark Conspiracy – I hated hated hated the Dark Conspiracy game system. It just did not work for me. So my very first campaign, I converted to GURPS. Good move. I also used nearly every rulebook I had. Bad move. Overall, the campaign was a success, but I spent way too much time looking stuff up.
I ran some sort of Generic Fantasy game early in Grad School. Wasn’t terribly memorable, though I remember getting into an argument with one of my roommates about the proper composition and tree density of the forest in which I’d staged a combat. Surprise surprise, it didn’t last. 
I also ran a game called, I think, the Earth Federation campaign. A post-apocalyptic game which was my reaction to Babylon 5. Set on a space station where the characters were all members of, um, some sort of FBI-like organizations. That went on several sessions, and was a LOT of fun. Good interconnected plotlines, a few bad guys, some secret science that would lead to warp drive. 
Next up was, I think, my Black Ops campaign. I think +Brett Slocum may have played in that one, along with +Gene Ha and a bunch of others, including my wife, her sister, and diverse others. I remember it fairly fondly, and it’s left me with a love for the monster hunting and special ops genre that I have not lost. It was the source of my almost-first project with SJG, an adventure called OMEN TOWER that died a horrible death due to some very unfortunate circumstances at the time. 
I also ran a game, another fantasy one, that ported over a lot of the religious background from The Deed of Paksenarrion (it was well thought-out and complete), but with my own map (I was into Campaign Cartographer a bit at the time) and backstory. I actually ran a prequel adventure, deliberately on rails and with my players pre-agreement, giving the backstory by which the Big Bad Evil Guy was returned to the world. The “Blasingdell” campaign was a solid one, which I’d hoped to revisit.
Again reaching to Babylon 5, I brought the Lords of Shadow and Light to earth, where I revisited Dark Conspiracy-like going’s-on with the twist that two forces, one of order and stasis, the other of chaos and mayhem, had gained access to Earth through an accidental wrong place/wrong time dimensional rift. That only lasted a few sessions, but it was going to be a fun ride.
My last campaign was straight-up GURPS Firefly. It rocked, and had a good story behind it. Good times.
What I’d love to play in?
I would really groove on getting into a Monster Hunters game. 
I am always happy to revisit the worlds of Dark Conspiracy and Black Ops. I’m enjoying the hell out of my paladin in Dungeon Fantasy, and would love playing in +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s Felltower campaign, I suspect. +Sean Punch‘s ongoing campaign, which he records on his LiveJournal, seems to rock on toast.

I got to play GURPS at TL9 this past Saturday, with +Jeromy French , +kung fu hillbilly , +Alina Cole , +Carl Miller , and +Matt Sutton .

We got into a battle with lasers and slugthrowers. There was an awful lot of successful dodging going on. Some of this just “the dice say what the dice say.” But after a bit, you could tell from the body language (and post-game conversation) that the overall assessment of that was “no frackin’ way.”

GURPS has a fairly realistic outcome level when it comes to gun battles. The real level of hits in combat at ranges spanning a mere 3-10 yards is something like “less than 10-15%.” If you figure GURPS Dodge scores on the order of 6-10, (15-50% chance of a successful dodge), you’re still looking at “attack” level percentages on the order of no more than 30%. That’s 8- or 9- at best net/net, even before dodging.

So at 3-10 yards (-4 down to -1) skill levels are presumably in the 9-13 range (not spec ops, from “joe average or a cop who doesn’t do much range time). Again . . . realistic. Most of these exchages involve considerable fear and andrenaline, and sighted but not aimed shooting. See GURPS Tactical Shooting for how these differ.

Given “on the range” bonuses of something like +6 to +8 for knowing range, not being in any sort of danger, no stake in the outcome, etc, that’s likely looking at range-level accuracy on the order of 15 to 21, plus Acc 3 of the gun. Net raw score is likely 17-24, meaning that on a quiet range shooting once every second or two, you can probably put every shot on the paper (at a raw skill of 9) to being able to eat a -6 penalty to put 90% of all your shots in a 0.2-yd circle: every shot in an 7″ circle.

When I took a range accuracy test in Texas years ago, shots from 3-25 yards were all within 6″ of target. I’ll admit it (Texas rules apply – if you can do it, it ain’t braggin’): I’m a good shot on the range. You might also call much range shooting Guns (Sport) and hit shooters with an additional -3 in real combat situations unless they’ve been on live-fire, shoot/no-shoot, or kill house training.

And yet . . .

Lasers. There’s no recoil to deal with, unless you’re ejecting a chemical cell. If you can put the red X on the target and pull the trigger, they shouldn’t get to dodge. They just take it. Beam spread is certainly not appreciable at the kind of distances we were facing.

So:

DECIDE . . . and quickly

Well, one possible thing to do is steal from T-Bone: use his DECIDE rules where you declare your defenses before you know if a blow hits. That means you have to declare defenses before the to-hit roll is made, or sometimes you can do it retroactively at a penalty (but not for lasers, he clarifies).

There are ways to tweak this, such as if the defender succeeds, you still roll to-hit, fishing for a critical.

You can also do something like this:

Evasive Movement (a sort-of variant on All-Out Defense)

At the beginning of your turn, you may declare you are moving evasively. You’re bobbing and weaving, moving side to side, up and down, etc. You can take a certain penalty to all your actions on your turn, in exchange for inflicting that same penalty on your foes’ ranged weapon attacks. This has zero effect on your foes’ incoming melee attacks (but still penalizes you!). The maximum penalty you can voluntarily accept is (say) how many yards you actually moved this turn, plus your Basic Speed.

I might need to divide that by two. So if you have Basic Speed 6 and have moved your full 6-yard allotment  the best you can do is take a -6 to your own stuff and -6 to your foes.

Maybe I even need an exchange rate. You can inflict up to -6 on your foes, but you take -12. You may be disrupting everything you do, but it’ll be easier for your foe to plug you than it will be to shoot him while doing the crazy dodge and zigzag thing.

Blended


I have always liked the logic of DECIDE, but the all-or-nothing of the attack/defense sequence, even when you declare first, bothers me. There’s an argument, and not a bad one, for allowing Prediction Shot (-2 to hit for -1 to penalize Dodge for ranged weapon attacks) in realistic games. It’s in GURPS: Gun Fu, probably among other places.

Yes, both Gun Fu and Tactical Shooting were written by +Hans-Christian Vortisch. He’s just good that way.

Still, a nice way to split the difference is to reverse it. Use DECIDE, and make the defender choose his decision first. But . . . apply double the margin of success of the Dodge roll to the to-hit chance. A critical success on the defense roll means your foe must fire, and always misses (though might hit someone else). But any other result only alters the to-hit penalty. A critical success on the attack roll obviates any penalty from the defense except a critical, which has primacy of place. This favors defense over attack in this case, but since defenses are usually so very much lower than attacks, I’m cool with that.

I think I like DECIDE + Blended.

You’re shooting a laser at someone. They can’t react to the fire after they know it hits; they must choose whether or not to defend (nearly always dodge). If they roll vs. their Dodge-9 and get a 6, making it by 3, then you take -6 to hit. If you miss, you miss. If you hit, or hit with many shots, so be it. But they have to declare the defense (and suffer the consequences for things like Dodge and Drop) ahead of time.

[Note: I clearly have a rodent living in my wall, eating away at my insulation. It is distracting, and will ultimately be expensive. Sigh. I can hear the bastard chewing away.]

The decision order and how defenses only need be rolled on a successful hit raises eyebrows for nearly everyone. I can see why it’s done; why drive extra rolls on a miss? But for people with sparring, combat, or any kind of experience with fighting, it always strains, sometimes breaks, suspension of disbelief.

I think there are fixes to this that won’t burden the GM or players, but will help with the “yeah, that makes sense” factor.

Might result in some dead PCs, though. Better hope you took Luck and its variants.

Seeing It Coming


After I posted this, I remembered something. GURPS appropriately doesn’t allow any defenses against stuff you can’t see coming. So in order to actually be allowed to make the DECIDE roll:

  • If you’re defending against someone you’re actively attacking or aiming at – you get to make the  call, no problem. Just DECIDE.
  • If you are not engaged in an Aim or other “stare at someone” action (Wait, Evaluate, for starters) you should probably be able to make a modified Perception roll to see someone bearing down at you. 
  • If you are actively focusing on someone, then your Per roll is modified severely downward for tunnel vision. 
For the second one, you can probably take a general “Evaluate” that says “I’m looking for threats” that gives a bonus to the “does anyone draw a bead on me?” roll, but doesn’t give the usual Evaluate bonuses for focusing on one guy.
Note also that Tactical Shooting has actual playtested rules for situational awareness that certainly must apply here!

Skipping over all varieties of introductions and back story.

Brody, our resident sneak-a-holic, returns from a foray into infiltrating the local nest of scum and villainy, to report that the girlfriend of the leader of the local Rimerunner’s guild has become recently reclusive and purchased an old hall a few days outside Karlsgard, the town we’re in. Naturally, Brody came by this information through legal but duplicitous means – Social engineering for the win.

Lot of money being poured into the place, and the girlfriend spends a lot of time there. We’re hoping to find the long-lost sword from far-off Tian. Of course. In the words of our GM, +Nathan Joy  relaying this to us:

“…a sword from far-off Tian, and we were attacked by shadowy warriors who fit the description of elite assassins from far-off Tian, and the Rimerunners Guild is apparently a front for an assassin’s guild called the Frozen Shadows, whose modus operandi matches that of the shadowy warriors who attacked us….”

A few of our party are afflicted with the Honesty disadvantage, which means that we can’t just haul off and break into stuff. I will admit Cadmus, my Warrior Saint, is one of those, and so is Brother Michel+Mark Langsdorf‘s Mage/Cleric Uber-IQ guy.

But we’re told there might be demons there, and since Pharasma and demons do not get on well, Cadmus states that where there are rumors of demons, there must I go.

Oh, and we also find out that the undead Viking we just killed used to own the house. And his notional second-in-command now owns it. So the Ravenscraeg hall is now owned by our prime candidate for current bad guy’s (Longthews) girlfriend Silverskorr, being fixed up. That was enough for us to decide to pay a visit. Despite the rumors of horrible things, people never return, Mad Reaver, etc.

We’d placed an order for better gear, spending money from the loot we got from Brinestump Castle. Our group is using a mish-mash of Dungeon Fantasy and more advanced rules (lots of stuff from Martial Arts, the armor weights from Low Tech), so my old panoply was pretty darn complicated. A mix of mail and plates (one of the best armors by weight and cost per unit of DR, in Low Tech), cheap mail (which ain’t bad either), different quality and thickness front and back to save cost and weight, etc. There’s only so far $3500 in signature gear and starting cash can take you, and I optimized horribly (meaning as munchkinly as I could manage. This is Dungeon Fantasy, after all).

The new kit cost me just shy of $12,000 but is both simpler and better. We have a couple house rules in play that boost the cost even more. You can only enchant gear that has at least a x2 cost multiplier. TL 4 armors also have that same x2, and that counts. So I wind up with a Lightened full suit of padded cloth (DR 1*), Heavy Mail legs and arms, both with lighten x3/4 and fortify +1, and a full helm and torso armor with DR 7 plate as the base, with fortify and lighten again. So DR 9 on the torso and head, DR 6/4* arms and legs. Plus some pretty lame boots, honestly. Better not step on any caltrops.

So we find out through research and carousing where this house is located, and set off. After some riding (we all bought horses, using this excellent writeup of various horse types by Icelander; Cadmus has a Rouncey), we were making our way through a swamp when my horse stepped into a puddle of water, only to come up with skin blistering, covered in some sort of goo.

I forced the horse to jump over the water, clearing the obstacle. The goo continued to smoke and hiss, and the water began to writhe and ripple, and something emerged from that. My comrades and I immediately “took a tiny step and there conclusions were” and decided that hitting this stuff with regular weapons would be Grade A stupid. So Staver, our resident infernal scout, started shooting 2d fireball arrows at the ooze. It hit, boom, splat, and a whole bunch of these things make their appearance.

They start flinging acidic slime balls at us. Our Knight, Thumvar (winged gargoyle knight) blocks twice, and I dodge twice, succeeding both times thanks to my +3 Defense bonus from my light large shield. The shield is not happy. At all.

We continue with fireball arrows, throwing liquid fire, casting Create Fire, etc. Cadmus moves his horse 7-8 yards away, and critically succeeds in my rapid dismount roll. 9.8, 9.9, 9.7, 9.8, and 4.5 from my mother, disguised as the East German judge.

Then the ooze starts moving towards us. Yeeps.

So my Warrior Saint does what Warrior Saint’s do in these cases.

He prayed. He prayed for the confounding of his enemy and the health of his mount. These rolls are made in secret, and are against my Divine Favor of 8 (with modifiers, etc) and then a reaction roll. Also, I have to pray for 1d6 seconds to make this happen.

Nate must have rolled really well. The very next turn, all the oozes freeze in place, and my horse’s leg stops smoking, as I receive a tailor-made miracle, with thanks to Pharasma. I choose to maintain my prayer, noting that faith is not a fire-and-forget missile. Nate says “good call” in retrospect; my awesome effect would have been lost had I tried anything else.

The oozes flung more acid at us; three more balls at me, one of which crit-hits, one misses, the other I dodge. The crit spatters on my nice, new, magical breastplate. But our resident mage can burn them all to death and Mend my armor before the acid ball eats all the way through my DR 9.

We called the session there.

**********

That could have gone a few ways, and that any of these methods would have been viable is why I love GURPS.

1) We could have tried to jump the puddle and just left. But seeing the fire arrow hit for effect, we decided to stay.

2) My prayer was technically a long shot. Maybe 9 or less on 3d6 (37% chance). It only took me 1 second to pray, and it could have been six. And my petition roll, which was good enough to heal the horse and freeze them in place, turned this into “have the fire-wielding guys burn them all to death.”

3) Had this not worked out, it was pretty clear that had we stood and fought, we were risking massive damage to our gear. Cadmus has a dueling poleaxe that he rarely uses that he could have tried, but it just seemed intuitive (especially after Thumvar deliberately sacrificed a thrown hatchet to prove the point) that mundane weapons would just be ruined. Fire seemed the only way, though I’m sure that there’d be others. Not all of us have fire. Might have to fix that.

I had options the entire time. Ride, pray, swing weapons, etc. Cadmus is 313 points, so his combat options are pretty good. But melee wasn’t in it this time, and that was pretty fun. We’ll have to work a bit on the teamwork thing, and I’m still getting used to the DF threats. As an example, I did not silver-coat my axe, which is an “of course!” move for the more experienced crowd. We are not purposefully equipped (yet) against creatures who do not respond well to being chopped or bashed, though our mage/cleric (Brother Michel) is darn versatile and eats paut (a magical version of a Cliff Bar) like there’s no tomorrow (in fairness, he eats it because if he doesn’t, for some of us there will be no tomorrow, so it’s all good).

Lessons learned? We’ll see.

Continuing the play report for the Skull and Shackles game, as always GM’d by +Jeromy French , with +Matt Sutton (Malgrim) , +kung fu hillbilly (Alejandro) , +Joshua Taylor (Gimbal) as my (Pel) more-or-less trusty allies. Hey, we’re pirates, trust is a guideline, not a rule.

Play started with us waking up to find one of our new crewmembers missing from the ship, but clearly bad things had happened. There was evidence – messy evidence – that a Sahuagin had climbed aboard and munched off with him. Boo!

Not likely going to find him, we went marauding.

Naturally, before we found prey, prey found us. Six sahuagin (bipedal piranha beasts) came aboard, and the four of us plus Malgrim’s pseudo-dragon creature (Matt’s character).

Initiative was ours! My first shot was a sneak attack, single shot on the farthest enemy from us . . . which was a rousing success. A good hit, and 15 HP later, one went splash. Malgrim cast Enlarge Person on himself, stepped up and nailed another with his masterwork greataxe. He did even better than I did, for 16 HP. Thunk and dead. A sleep spell, a +1 rapier thrust for 6 HP, and then they got to go. Miss, attack on the dragon-familiar (hit, 6 HP), shoot at me with crossbow (miss), and claw/bite at Gimbal (miss).

To borrow a line from 300: “A good start.”

Next round, I tried two shots at +4, with one missing totally, the other barely missing vs. the AC 16. No luck. Malgrim beheads one, another claws him for a minor wound. One claws at Gimbal to small effect. Then Alejandro whiffed a stab with both rapier and dagger. Gimbal, our resident bomb-throwing alchemist, quaffs a couple potions – anything labelled “Mutagen” can’t be good, and yet it is – chucked a bomb at his foe after a quick step backwards. 6 HP and his foe is on fire. At least it’s not the ship.

I pivoted my fire to Alejandro’s target, hoping that I could kill him and then Alejandro can do his Bardsong thing. Two shots, two hits, total of 7HP. Decent, not great. Malgrim wastes another with a mighty axe blow. The key here seems to be allowing Malgrim to cast his enlarge person spell and stepping out of the way. The rest flee at this point, grab hold of sharks, and skedaddle. Well, they are IQ 14 – and they were going to be short-lived.

Only real loot was a coral and somethingorother heavy crossbow.

Gimbal, our resident evil-aligned character, gets out some Pathfinder Pliers of Dentistry, and decides to make a tooth necklace out of the fallen foes. He then gifts me with some naga poison and giant wasp poison, for future arrow-envenoming.

We then go looking for trouble, and find an oared fishing boat. Not worthy of our attention in a violent way, we try and engage the dwarven leader Vesgal Falkirk. Or something like that. We chat for a bit, and once again we crit-fail the Diplomacy roll. Sigh. We do know that they’re from Bloodcove, a pirate-neutral village/town to the south. Though it’s neutral ground for piracy, it’s strongly influenced by the Aspis Consortium . . . a group of magic-wielders who groove on artifacts. Powerful, and opposed to the Pathfinder Society. We’ll have to deal with them at some point.

We look for a ship to attack, and find one. We sick the seadragon on the other ship’s rudder, so now they can’t turn. We maneuver up so they can’t hit is with their own catapults, and then to the tune of a lively pair of bard songs, we pepper the foe with one successful catapult shot, and a bunch of really ineffective ballista fire; I manage to crit-fail a roll and jam up one of the ballista, but we do fire through one of the windows, hitting someone.

We whittle away at the crew with arrow fire, spellcasting to put a few more to sleep, and seadragon harassment, then grapple to board. The captain (female half-elf) and mate (male human) come out, weapons drawn, and Malgrim does enlarge person again, and goes for Intimidate. He doesn’t crit this time. She is cowed, and gives in fairly readily. The ship is loaded with manufactured goods – tools, furniture, and the like. We transfer their one catapult to our own vessel (making three total), and inspect and take the choice bits from the other crew’s stuff. We also don’t have enough crew to actually make off with the ship itself, so that value, which can be tens of thousands of gold, is left behind.

We keep the rest of the crew alive, and go our way. Jeromy will be emailing us the rest of the treasure and loot offline.

And that was the game.

************

Let’s see. This was a pretty good game, but the system definitely has some quirks to it. For one, we seem to always follow a bit of the same pathway. A bit of chatting amongst the characters, usually to re-establish momentum from a previous session. Then some NPC interaction, perhaps, and then, the “pseudo-wandering-monster combat de jure.” After which, we move the plot forward, which may or may not also involve combat.

I’m starting to get a better feel for Pel, but I still chafe a bit at the level of detail and tactical choices we get at this point in our character development.

Examples: Pel hid in the rigging in one of the battles, and so got to use his sneak attack. The rule seems to be once you attack, you’re exposed. So despite our foes being widely separated and me rolling very well for Stealth, one I shoot, my sneak-attacking days are done. So I was able to do a very respectable 15 points of damage in one shot, but after that, back to 1d6 each. I can’t do careful aim to target vulnerable spots like I can in GURPS (at least, not yet . . . perhaps there’s a later Feat). The tactical variability of how you smack down your foes also seems fairly low, but again, we’re playing 4th level characters at the moment, so perhaps “Hit Him With My Mace” is all that we should expect.

Also, I’ve got Rapid Shot, which is two attacks at -2. For any hit value for me down to something where I’m rolling 1d20+6 vs. AC 24 (so a 15% chance to hit), it is always better to take two shots. it’s not really a trade of many mediocre shots vs. one good one. It’s Just Better.

I rearranged Pel’s skill ranks in accordance with the “no more skill ranks in a skill than you have Hit Dice,” which I missed the first time through; this actually was more fun, since it gave me more things I was good at, which was satisfying. Next level I will likely become eligible for a Prestige Class for an open-water pirate. We shall see if I want to go down that route or not!

I also definitely need a better bow. So-so would be adding my STR bonus (a meager +1) for each shot. Better would be something, if it exists, that allows me adding either my BAB or DEX bonus – or both! If those aren’t real things, then if there’re magical bows that deliver proper smackdown, I’ll have to go searching for one.

One last point: the ability to go to the Pathfinder Wiki and various other online resources to look things up, whether it’s creature stats or the gp value of a ship, is huge.

In my last play report on +Jeromy French ‘s Pathfinder campaign, I made a drive-by reference to the effect that it would be pretty cool to see support for Golarion with Dungeon Fantasy. I noted that it was unlikely for “what are presumably a whole host of reasons.”

I was surprised to see someone bring this up on the SJG Forums. Mostly because I’m still intensely gratified people actually read this blog.

Still, as I said on the forums, I’m only going to deal with this in a general way.

***

Here was the advice I got in my McKinsey min-MBA training way back when when it came to Joint Ventures: “Don’t.”

It’s the business equivalent of a spiked pit trap.

They tend not to work, by and large. And for every one that does, there a many, many more that fail. Some utterly, some just don’t meet the needs of one or more partners.

Let’s say I were to start publishing Doug’s Improvisational Simulationist System (“DISS”) as a new, awesome, groundbreaking attempt at a roleplaying experience. Now, I’ve got a good rule set, a niche I’m trying to fill. But I also have my way of doing things, not just because my name is on the cover, but the feel of a system, the way it’s written and presented, from style to trade dress, is key to my success and ability to eat, live, and continue to publish more cool stuff.

Let’s say I want to contact Pizza, the 800-lb gorilla of the game industry, because I think DISS and their immensely popular gameworld might go well together. Gotta be win-win, right? I bring them money for their world (call it Gorilla), and people who like Gorilla can play with DISS!

Hrm.

Well, first, how do I approach this? I could try and hook up with someone creative over at Pizza, and we could try and set up some sort of true joint venture, where we combine resources to make a new sub-company (Pizza-Hampton Publishing?) that would write, publish, and distribute this new product. Gorilla with the DISS rules! Their (um) Trailblazer system isn’t required!

OK. We have an upstart (me), working with an established brand (them). I have Very Definite Ideas on how things should be done. It’s my DISS system! Yeah, but it’s their property, and they be bigger than me. So any issues in how things are to be approached – what are probably referred to in Hollywood press released explaining why some ex-Director is in surgery for a broken nose after being escorted off the set of a theoretical-Blockbuster movie as ‘creative differences’ – will need to be resolved. Unless I’m particularly ego-less, this won’t go well for me. Even if I am a leaf on the wind, it may still end the same way. [If you haven’t seen Serenity but might one day, do not click this link. I mean it. By the power of Captain Tightpants, I command you to Stop.]

OK, so a “true” joint venture might not be ideal. So perhaps I like the world so much I want to try and licence it. Hrm. Why would they do that? Well, to make money, of course. For every player that does DISS but not Trailblazer, or DISS and Trailblazer, they might get a bit more cash.

Great. But how do they get that cash? Money up front? DISS is good, but not huge. It’s not their system or anything like it. So I might not have enough money for any up-front payment they might like to receive. Sure, they might take a chunk of my profit every time I sell a Gorilla-based DISS product, but would it be worth the administrative hassle for what might be like nine sales?

Also, what happens if I take Gorilla in a direction Pizza doesn’t like? Is it worth risking the damage to the brand?

Why would they take valuable resources and siphon them off to anther company or project that will probably make them less money if they do something with those resources that directly supports their own game?

Finally, how viable is the partnership/licence anyway? Will they really add to their business, and me to the DISS base, by this? Or will it really be that the number of DISS players will be constant, and only a small fraction will also play in Gorilla? Are there really enough additional potential sales of Gorilla-based stuff that it will be interesting to Pizza? Will they want to review whatever publications I make? Will they ever recoup the opportunity cost of the editing/review resources?

So, for a bunch of reasons, this is going to be a tough sell, even neglecting more proprietary possibilities like “if you’re going to play Gorilla, play it with Trailblazer.”

The opposite can also be true! If DISS is based in a default world of Hamptonia . . . then I might not want to drive to a Gorilla-based campaign, since it will consume sales from my own world.

Anyway, that’s the kind of thing that I think of when I think of this sort of venture. Any of these might make one of the two parties nervous about even starting up a conversation.

After all, the first rule of Joint Ventures is still “Don’t.”

**********

Final note: David Pulver (thanks for reading!) points out in this post that SJG does, in fact, have a long history of trying out licences. So it’s not unheard of or impossible.

+Jeromy French reminded me, however, of this.  So perhaps it’s not quite as unlikely as all that after all. hrm…

Sometimes it goes right, and sometimes it doesn’t.

So, let’s talk about another show that started out one of my favorites, and then . . . faded.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

First, a few words about GURPS BSG. There was a short thread on it in the SJG Forums, but I’ll ignore it for a moment.

I think that as a setting, BSG makes excellent roleplaying fodder. Especially since I think the series could have gone in a couple, maybe better directions. Such jumping-off points make for nice campaigns.

It’s mostly TL8 or TL9, but with some real excursions into superscience for plot purposes. It’s got nearly infinitely scalable engines (from the Viper to the Galactica – they all run on the same fuel), artificial gravity, and jump drive. The Colonial economy was able to support very large starships on a scale of fleets.

The tech is a blend of the familiar and the awesome. They use nukes, but they’re believably limited in power as space weapons. The need for swarms of fighters is a stretch – it always is – but it’s presented as a “just accept it” part of the genre that works (for me).

The awesome part of this as a RPG campaign is that it thrusts the PCs into any imaginable encounter in a believable way. You’re planet-hopping, so nearly anything is possible. You need to periodically refuel, there’s a bad guy who is entirely likely to show up every episode, and can also show up as a surprise since the new cylon models can blend in with people. You can have mining, special ops, fighter pilots, politics, and interpersonal stuff, up to and including trading, crime, and romance.

GURPS? Well, GURPS can handle the PC stuff no problem. You can just mostly crib TL8 weaponry – and a lot of High Tech’s TL8 weaponry outclasses Ultra Tech’s stuff . . . but you’ll want the TL9 ammo types to scrap toasters with. For the ships, you can just pick up GURPS Spaceships and wing it and if you want tactical combat, you can grab Spaceships 4 which has some mods for cinematic fighter combat.

Honestly, that ought to do it.

But . . . what about the Awesome?

Well, it started great. The miniseries was wonderful, I think, and the first regular episode, 33, is one of the finest hours of television in the genre. All of Season 1 is very strong. After all, “. . . and they have a plan!” is the tagline.

Season 2 was also strong, but soon after, it very much seemed that while the Cylons had a plan, the writers did not. They tried to be pretty political with “ripped from the headlines” stuff with suicide bombers on New Caprica, and that entire plotline could have been handled better, I think. The show lost its way in a fashion that Babylon 5 did not.

It didn’t hurt that J. Michael Straczynski had all five seasons plotted out in advance, more or less. Despite jamming the fourth and fifth seasons into what became the fourth, the fifth was strong enough to stand up, though not stand out. But the entire show had the right pattern to it.

BSG seemed to have that for the first two seasons, or maybe the first and the first half of the second. But then the show seemed to lose its grasp of itself, losing it’s theme.

I’m not hating on the show. I liked it, and the first few seasons were very strong . . . but when the Cylons seemed to, well, not ‘have a plan,’ it foundered. My expectations were not met, since both the humans and cylons seemed to be making it up as they went along. Whatever the Cylon’s grand plan might have been, I never got a sense that the cylons or the writers knew what it was.

Destroy the humans and enslave them? OK. Fine. They WON. Why was Galactica (and later Pegasus) so freakin’ important? Let ’em go. Set up a Colonial perimeter and let them come to you, where you can toaster-pile them instead of trying to hit ’em one Basestar (or two, if you’re going against the Pegasus) at a time.

Anyway, I think that somewhere in Season 1 or 2 would make a great jumping-off point for an RPG campaign, but a prospective GM would be wise to ensure that his Cylons actually have an overall plan. The bad guys would not be bad guys in their own minds – and in fairness, they weren’t in the show, either – and should have a clear objective (or set of objectives) that they are trying to achieve.

OR . . . if they don’t, one must understand why. Did they get wind that Galactica is looking for the lost Colony of Earth? Does that fire the imagination? Why? Why chase them across the light-years.

I don’t know if that was ever clear to me – perhaps there’s more information out there than what I picked up from the show. But one thing I did understand: the primary driving force of the Telepaths, the Shadows, the Vorlons, and the Centauri were all clear to me.

Toasters?

Not so much. That made it hard to get swept up in the arc, even if some individual shows were quite good.

I was reminded by a friend’s facebook post about putting socks and shoes on about the dialog between Sinclair and Garibaldi in Season 1 of Babylon 5. Due to sheer greatness, I’ll post the entire bit of dialog from WikiQuotes:

Garibaldi: This is the part I hate most: the waiting.
Sinclair:Hmm. (There’s a moment of silence.)
Garibaldi: Mind if I ask you a question?
Sinclair: Sure.
Garibaldi: Okay, it’s morning, you’re getting ready for work, you pull on your pants –do you fasten and zip, or zip and then fasten?
Sinclair: What kind of question is that?
Garibaldi: Well, look, we’ve got two hours to kill —
Sinclair: Forget it.
Garibaldi: Just a question.
Sinclair: Why do you want to know?
Garibaldi: Why do I want to know? Because I think about these things sometimes. I was getting dressed this morning, I couldn’t remember how I did it, and I started thinking about it. Does everyone do it the same way? Is it a left-handed/right-handed thing –?
Sinclair: (incredulous) You think about this stuff a lot?
Garibaldi: Yeah. Look, okay, I’m sorry I asked. You’re always so serious all the time. Not every conversation has to be the end of the world as we know it.
Sinclair: I didn’t mean to —
Garibaldi: Never mind. It’s okay. I’ll just — watch my console. Don’t worry about it. (After a long pause, Sinclair sighs.)
Sinclair: Fasten, then zip. You?
Garibaldi: Fasten zip. (Sinclair chuckles.)
Sinclair: How much longer?
Garibaldi: One hour, fifty seven minutes. (pause) Want to talk socks?
Sinclair: No.
Garibaldi: Just a question.
Sinclair: I’m not having this conversation.

Why is this even a tiny bit relevant?

Let me get back to you on that.

Still, I was reminded that the plotting style of Babylon 5 was my model of a successful roleplaying campaign for years, and it was easy to understand why it served that purpose.

  • Each season of the TV show had a pretty defined “ooo!” major arc that was revealed slowly over 20+ episodes. 
  • Each episode of the show had a defined story that would be exposed and mostly closed – some sort of climax or mini-climax reached – during that one hour
  • It had a key group of characters that each got notable screen time and impacted the plot in a significant way; even “minor” characters who weren’t featured every time had major impact (G’Kar, I’m looking at you!)
  • “NPCs” were occasionally promoted (Zack Allen)
  • It had a whole host of bad-ass villains, all of whom had a rational reason for being “the bad guy.” Even the Shadows.

Even now, in my dreams when I have time and a group to actually run a game again one day, I aspire to that level of integration, from character to macro story, in my campaigns. The above wasn’t any particular campaign, but B5 served as a checklist of how to try and think of how plot arcs fit together.

The Pathfinder game I play in with +Jeromy French+kung fu hillbilly , +Matt Sutton , +Joshua Taylor , and +James Stanton is working through Skull and Shackles. We had started playing using the Organized Play rules, but did not find them to our collective liking. So we made the campaign switch, and now are playing characters of the not-nice variety.

This is thus my second Pathfinder game, and I still consider myself a novice. Jeromy has been very kind to help me by suggesting the right character advancement pathways, since his knowledge and experience with Feats and the various class enhancements is better than mine.

My current character is a 4th level half-elf Rogue regrettably named Pelagiyel by cruel parents. He goes by Pel. I conceived him as a pirate from the start, where his role would be to sneak into towns, see what plunder is available or being loaded on to ships, possibly get on board said ships, and help take them down from the inside. Chaotic Neutral, baby. Thus, his key skills are Appraise, Stealth, Sailor, maybe some Climb and Swim, and the ever-popular Perception. When I got into this, I had no idea how skill-heavy Rogues are . . . something I’ll revisit in my Pathfinder read-through on Chapter 3: Classes. (Prelude, Chapter 1, and Chapter 2 already published)

Previously, we’d been through what looks like the first subset of the adventure, having been press-ganged aboard a pirate ship with a notably nasty set of officers. The Captain was high-level but disinterested in the likes of us, leaving his stooges to deal with his crew. Harshly.

We’d previously done some faction-building, weathered a storm, fought off some monsters, and captured another ship. We were sent aboard that one, got lost in a storm, and had to stop at an island to replenish water supplies. Whereupon we returned, carried off a pretty slick mutiny with the aid of our resident alchemist and some sleeping potions, killed those opposed to our faction and preserved the rest. That glosses over a lot, but gets us caught up.

We were then severely understrength and undercrewed – even more than usual – but we managed to locate and dock at a local pirate haven, and set out to refit the ship into something a bit less obviously stolen. I think that’s about where we started off last night.

The adventure opened with what seemed to be a shopping trip, where we were spending some of our communal loot to get some cool/magical items appraised and purchased. Pel didn’t score anything worthwhile – he’s got masterwork chain shirt, rapier, composite shortbow, plus a few non-masterwork daggers for chucking, so he’s pretty well kitted up for now. He did make good use of 10 ranks in Appraise to get the value of some gems we’d found. Nothing much – a few hundred gold worth – but a spinel and some traded items were enough to secure +Matt Sutton ‘s PC (Malgrim, our notional captain: we voted and he was the most intmidating as a Hobgoblin Corsair/Summoner; with 10 ranks in Sailor, I became the bosun) some quality purchased loot – a magical weapon, if I recall.

After that, we were naturally attacked by a swarm of giant wasps that flew in from the wilderness. Wandering Monster indeed. We made short work of them, and Pel did his usual two-arrows-per-turn thing thanks to Rapid Shot. The dice were fairly evenhanded this game, and I managed to vacillate between being quite useless and quite effective this time, as opposed to a ludicously-unlikely string of the die-roller program having me roll a 2 on 1d20. So, managed to get and confirm a critical, and otherwise nail the wasps pretty hard. I needs to get me a magical bow. I was able to accomplish something pretty much every round, and the uniform d20 distribution was more uniform that day.

After that, we parlay’d (parlaid? parlayed?) with a newly arriving pirate guy, who recognized our ship and with a wink welcomed us, seemingly, into the world of dashing villainous scum. Woo hoo! We then decided to go plunder a town, to get into practice.

Pel used some alchemical awesomeness to swim to shore, checked out the place, and found out that there was a large amount of alcohol to be had, and maybe some grain. There were maybe five elders who might pose any sort of threat, and the rest were noncombatants.

We started to lay an elaborate plan to rush in and wipe them out. Given the nature of the opposition, I had flashbacks to Mystery Men, seeing us as the Red Eyes, pillaging an old-folks home for dentures and artificial limbs.

Malgrim suggested that rather than go that route, we get close to shore, go up and Intimidate the hell out of them, getting what we want by threat of force rather than something much like boxing with a six-year-old. 

We liked that plan better, and so we executed it, and then Malgrim crit-failed his Intimidate roll (see! the dice hates us!) and the elderly spear carriers mocked us. Two catapult shots later (one on target, the other landing perilously close to Malgrim; our crew needs more practice) we had the booze, the grain, and limped out to sea with the tattered remains of our dignity.

We thought the next-best plan would be to find another village, do some basic capitalism and try the buy-and-sell route, while also recruiting, we hope, the local Dwarven smith to join our crew. Meanwhile Pel would use our “trading” excursions to scope out likely plunder, both on land and at sea.

That was basically the session.
***********

So, game stuff and random observations.

I continue to be frustrated with the flat distribution of the 1d20, which especially for combat can make for a very aggravating day. The Armor Class of your foe, the roll you must beat to hit, seems to range from about 10-20, with 15 being a fairly common number. This means that you’re going to be looking at needing some serious skill ranks before you have a decent chance to hit. Pel has a Ranged attack modifier of +6, which is usually at -2 for Rapid Shot, but +1 since one of our bards is usually inspiring us to be more badass than usual. So at 1d20+5, twice, I can expect to hit with at least one shot 75% of the time, and both 25% of the time . . . but given a low number of rolls, the streakiness of the dice can be either awesome or render you ineffective.

I have grown used to the tactical flexibility of GURPS. I like the ability to aim for the head, or limbs, or whatnot. But that’s not how Pathfinder works, so that’s fine. WEG d6 Star Wars was “I shoot at the stormtrooper, I hit” as well, and it was still fun.

My solution to this issue works better for my class (Rogue) in non-combat areas, which is to build up so many ranks in the skills I care about that the dice can be my enemy and I still succeed. Thus, 14 ranks in Stealth and Perception, 11 in Disable Device, and 10 in Appraise and Sailor. The Stealth/Perception combo had a few rolls of 30+. Rogues are brutal with this. My INT isn’t that high at 14, but the +2 modifier I get means I get 10 skill ranks per level, plus another if I’m getting a rank within my Favored Class. I think I traded my other favored class (as a half-elf) for Rope Master or something like that. Still, as long as I play nicely within Rogue, I pick up 11 ranks per level. Yowzers.

Pathfinder has a pretty condensed skill list, maybe two dozen or so (a few more, since there are lots of Professional and Knowledge skills that do not overlap). This means with the right stats and a good selection of “class-skills,” it’s pretty easy to be good at things, and to cover the required adventuring specialties. I have to wonder if these can be turned into GURPS Wildcard skills pretty easily, for those who really don’t want to muck with the extensive skill list in GURPS. Hrm. Pyramid article or blog post?

Technically, the Skulls and Shackles Adventure Path is the second PF-style game I’m playing in. The other is Jade Regent, but using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. My impression of the Adventure Path thus far is that they tend to be a bit railroady. That being said, one of the reasons that GURPS pre-written adventures tend not to sell well is that in order to have an actual volume of material that can be used all at once, they have to be railroady. Still, my take-away (and this has been echoed by others) is that you get into a situation or a plot nexus, and find “there are eight things you can do. Five are useless or counterproductive, two circle around back to this same place, but if you pick that one, please turn to p. 134 and the plot can continue.”

Along this line, but in a nice way, though, I must say that Golarion seems to rock on toast. Lots of places to visit, a variety of cultures and races and adventuring prospects. It would make for a great sandbox in any game system. I see enough people converting Golarion to GURPS Dungeon Fantasy that there’s a fair amount of agreement here. A Dungeon Fantasy cross-licence with Paizo is unlikely for what I presume are a whole host of reasons, but it would make a great cross-platform item to bring a fragmented hobby closer together.

What else? Oh . . . whatever you may like or dislike about Class-Level systems, I will say that at least in my limited experience with the skill-heavy Rogue, leveling up simply rocks. There is a Tyrranosaur-sized difference between a Level N and a Level N+1 rogue. I’m not sure if the spell-based or feat-based classes feel the same way – perhaps the more experienced PF grognards can tell me.

Next weekend, the same GM will be playing his newly started and Firefly-inspired GURPS Space campaign, hopefully joined by both me and my wife. Tomorrow is GURPS Jade Regent. We’ll see in two weeks if our plan to rule the seas in Pathfinder Skulls and Shackles is successful or not . . .