So, Pyramid has an upcoming issue on Swashbucklers and Pirates. I’m playing in a Pathfinder Skull and Shackles campaign GMed by +Jeromy French.

This puts me in a piratical mood, and I was thinking this morning about what would happen if the typical DnD or Dungeon Fantasy world were to take to the open seas. This really applies to most magical fantasy tropes.

Ah, my ship. My glorious vessel, perhaps similar to the ships in the picture.

“They might have the weather gage, but we have the weather gods.”
       – Master and Commander

The ships portrayed in the Aubrey-Maturin novels (if you haven’t seen it, go see Master and Commander. It’s good.) seem to range in length from about 100 to 170 feet or so. Why does this matter? Well, the Wind spell has a base cost of 1/50, meaning you can enclose most ships in the spell’s area of effect for the base cost of the spell: 1 point of energy gives you a 50 yard radius. And for the price of exhaustion of one man (say, 8 FP), you can get a ship from the doldrums and becalmed to steering in a couple of knots of wind for eight hours. Then he can rest for an hour and a half and do it again. It ain’t fast, but it’s not motionless, either. With a few mages, or some sort of manastone or other power source, no ship would ever be motionless. That’s kind of a big deal.

You can also shift the wind by 22.5 degrees with the same spell. While many age of sail ships had issues going directly into the wind, again, one magic spell later, and you can all of a sudden get that much closer. With enough magic, the concept of “the weather gage” largely irrelevant.

An army travels on its stomach.
                     -Napoleon Bonaparte 

Another big deal in long-distance sailing is of course food and water. A frigate would carry a shockingly large quantity of food and water, with “six months’ stores” being a common figure.

Guess you don’t need that if you can purify water, eh? Or create it? Essential food, at six meals to the pound, is 1-2 man-days of food per pound. For a 250-500 person crew for 180 days, that’s less than 45 tons of food. That seems like a lot, but it’s probably not. A thousand-ton ship wouldn’t even notice it (it’s only slightly more than the weight of the crew). If you need a gallon of fresh water per day (ish), call it 10 lbs per man per day, that would normally be 450 tons (you’d probably never carry that much, after all, that’s 450 cubic yards of water).

You can see where this is going. Cornucopia for powder and shot, perhaps. Or bolts for ballistae and stones for catapults if that’s your thing. Forget a ship’s surgeon doing more harm than good – ships would probably sail with an alchemist for various potions, and more than one cleric both as a spiritual leader as well as for healing. Gods of water would be big, as would death or thievery for those of a piratical bent.

Of course, just because you can cast spells doesn’t mean an opposing ship’s wizards will let you. So an evenly matched duel would still be on terms that make the sailors important, if the various supernatural forces are cancelled out by each other.

Finally, if your response to all that is “frack that, you scurvy dog, I’ll hang you from the yardarm!” then you can always go Dresden on it’s ass: Water grounds magical energies. On the open sea, you’re on your own.

Healing and whatnot might be divine, and still work. Learned Prayers for wind might also be OK, though a quick look at GURPS Powers makes it look frightfully expensive.


Sorry it’s been a bit dry this week, but work’s been really busy. Today also marks the first time that I’ve tried to embed an image in the flow of text. Blogger handles this quite well, with autoflow around the picture. You guys know what this means, right? Pretty soon, my blog will inevitably have graphs.  

So, I wrote this Big Long Post on melee skill levels in GURPS. It got a lot of favorable attention.

Then, on Saturday night, March 2, I joined +Vaclav Tofl and +Michael Keenan in a Gladiatorial smackdown.

We each played 75 point characters, and since there were two PCs and five pre-gens, Michael and I were on the same team. I joined late, at 8:30, and we started almost immediately. My usual GURPS guy is Cadmus, a 313-point Warrior Saint. So I’m used to rather high-point combat.

Michael played a sword-and-shield guy, and so did I. I had a large shield, Shortsword-14, but not Shield Wall training. I also had Shield-14, for Block-13, Parry-13, Dodge-10. All characters were pre-gen’ed by Vaclav.

We faced a javelin-tosser, a strong berserker with a great axe and Reach-2, and a canny two-sword fighter with Sword-16 or so. So it was 2-on-3, starting at the opposite ends of maybe a 30-40 yard wide circular arena.

We scored a narrow victory. Michael’s character and mine were both down to lower than HP/3 by the end of the fight, with me at 4/13 and Michael hanging on to consciousness at 0 HP. The berserker went berserk, and his All-Out Attacking rapidly and inevitably led to his demise. He was the first casualty. The second foe to fall was the two-sworder, whose skill-16 was nearly the death of both Michael and I. I plodded on to the javeliner at Move 2 (halved for being chopped up a lot) and managed to force some sort of cowardice roll where he dropped his spear, and after that, he yielded. Technically, one might call Michael’s character the second casualty, as he got cut up quite a bit and wound up going all defensive, using the axe-wielder’s fallen body as cover for a while.

What were my take-aways?

  • I don’t know the 4e rules back-to-front, and you really need to run the game to master the game.
  • I stand by my post! Skill-14 to Skill-16 is the beginning of dangerous. My character, with an effective Shortsword-12 due to his large shield, really didn’t have a lot of fun attack options that didn’t leave him totally exposed
  • Reach 2 is a great thing to have; Reach 2 and Grip Mastery (Form Mastery?) that lets you change Reach on a weapon instantly is even cooler (the Axe guy had the Reach, but not the mastery).
  • Committed Attacks are still your friend, much more so than All-Out Attacks. They still have major drawbacks, but they’re a nice little boost. The Long option is really nice in some cases.
  • I brought down – but did not kill or incapacitate – the berserker with a crippling strike to the leg. At only -2, this is really your go-to target at lower skill levels – a cutting attack to the leg. Once it’s crippled (and while Knut the Berserker had DR1 tough skin, that was all the armor anyone had) your foe is basically immobile, and if you can back off a yard or three, he’s out of the fight. A prone foe is still hazardous for a yard or two, though – you can’t just ignore them.
  • The vitals are even nastier than I thought, and at only -3, this is Big News. Any injury to the vitals triggers a check for stunning, just like the head. That’s a monster fight-ender, since it invokes Death Spiral mechanics. I’d missed that when I read the rules, and figured that the x3 injury multiplier was enough. But no, even a 1-point injury to the vitals or head (eyes, face, skull) is enough to trigger a stun check
  • Don’t bother with a Large Shield at this point value if you don’t have Shield Wall training. That -2 hurt a lot at Skill-10-14. 
  • Partner tactics can work, but require a bit of pre-discussion. 
  • We had an interesting rules question (to me): If you start in someone’s side hex, and step to the rear, is that a runaround attack that gives -2, or (the way we played it) do you need to start in the front hex for it to qualify as runaround, and therefore you do get the “can’t defend” hit for stepping from side to rear. I think the text supports that you have to start in a front hex to qualify for runaround, which means letting someone in your side hexes is a bad, bad idea
  • Turns out that lower than 1/3 HP does, in fact, lower your Basic Speed. I thought it was just Move and Dodge.
  • The javeliner spent a lot of time aiming and throwing javelins at about a -3 or -4 penalty to no good effect, really, at the skill level he was tossing at (I’d guess 14). I think this suggests that better tactics for someone with a missile weapon is probably to run in, throw a hatchet (swing damage!) at short range, then Fast-Draw a weapon and mix it up. I think this squares with my comments on ranged weapon skill levels.
  • I’d mis-remembered the rules on Stun. You always take a Do Nothing after you’ve been stunned, and you make your HT roll to recover at the end of your turn. That’s an important bit of trivia, since it guarantees a stun result gives at least one round of Do Nothing to the victim.
  • Fallen foes and friends are a pain in the ass when you’re doing tactical combat, and the rules for movement points and facing changes really add up when it comes to tactical mobility.
I think such combat-heavy games might make good use of The Last Gasp and Delayed Gratification. I’m biased, though.

Vaclav had all this stuff down cold. I don’t think he mis-remembered any rule (maybe once? GURPS has a lot of rules), and he was perfectly willing to make judgement calls when it made sense. He was talking about a campaign that mixed Roma Arcana, Gladiators, and brought in Martial Arts. If I weren’t playing in two games  already, I’d sign up instantly. If you get a chance to play in his campaign, you should take it.

Continuation of the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Campaign following the Pathfinder Jade Regent Adventure Path.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Theodore Briggs , +Kevin Smyth , +Emily Smirle , +Douglas Cole

This will be an abbreviated tale, but let me start with the conclusion: we played for four hours in one giant combat that involved five PCs, and no fewer than fourteen adversaries. We finished the combat in a very satisfactory manner, and play was brisk, rules disputes were minimal, and severe consequences were suffered by the PCs due to battle injuries. 
GURPS is very capable of fast, fun, detailed play. 
We started the game having just finished being attacked by two swarms of ravens after opening the unlocked door to the hall. Thumvar and Cadmus were inside the hall, having entered as part of the combat previously. I honestly don’t recall if Cadmus and Thumvar had both entered and then were attacked (I think so), or one or both of us entered, and then the other rushed in for support. 
Brother Michel, who has a strong Honesty disad, objected to home invasion throughout the session until a key bit of info was revealed. More on that later.

A word here: Honesty is an annoying disadvantage for a group of murder-hobos to have among them, and Cadmus has it too, as a temporary part of a deal with his Goddess that granted him some cool abilities after a crit on a general prayer for Smite. Michel’s player really dug into his disad here – as he should have. What we were doing inside that house was at best questionable. We suspected evil was afoot, but it was all circumstantial. There were some principles/laws/customs that would allow us to act like the vigilantes we were, but they weren’t obvious at the time. I’m not sure to what extent modern western legal theory applies in Golarion, but there’s no question we were pushing our luck, and Michel kept us . . . well, if not honest, at least informed. It was a good bit of roleplaying.

Anyway, the hall was empty – naturally we suspected ninjas. They’re always there when you can’t see ’em, after all. It was on two levels, the lower hall where we’d fought the ravens, and the upper wings, which had benches and tables overlooking the lower hall. I think there may have been some doors up there.
Thumvar flew up to the balcony to check things out. Michel would not enter the building, and was down a few HP and FP for spellcasting. Cadmus went to him and provided healing (he was down 6 HP, I think), which would only take Cadmus 6 minutes to heal thanks to Flesh Wounds. So mostly fully refreshed, we . . .

. . . and then Java wigged out on me totally. Massive errors in MapTool caused by the auto-update to Java7 that are incompatible with MT build 87. I had to log out, shut down, log back on, reinstall Java6 Update 41, find that didn’t work, then get help from our resident IT gurus (actually, that may well be everyone but me in that group), and replace my mt-cfg file pointer with a direct pointer to C:blahblahJava6 instead of the generic pointer. This should also let me run Java6 only for that, and Java7 for everything else. Woot, thanks to Bruno, but when I returned to play . . .

Ninjas! Scads of them!
Oops. That was probably an interface error. No ninjas here. Move along.
Anyway, long story less long: Brody opens a door and maybe walks in.

Then a door opens, and we see a freakin’ were-bear and a few thugs. Nate is borrowing the weres from GURPS Monster Hunters, so they’re kinda badass. 30 HP and some DR.

We prepare for battle – Thumvar fast-draws his axe, Cadmus asks the blessings of Pharasma, anticipating combat, and gets his Righteous Fury on. Michel is bitterly disappointed that we’re all “GRRR!” since we’re home invaders and haven’t the right. Brody hears the commotion and begins to walk out of the room he was exploring. And then Staver draws a couple of arrows and looses them at the Were-bear. As Staver’s player stated: “Staver has the ethics of a cat.”

So battle was on for real. Michel and Staver form up to Cadmus’ left and right, Thumvar gets in the bear+2xThug’s faces at the door from which they’re emerging.

Very soon after this, more ninjas show up, Michel asks if we can all just get along, put our weapons down, and talk. A ninja attacks Michel, who’s on Cadmus’ left side and in his line of sight; he does a Shield Wall block for him. Staver’s foe starts directly behind Cadmus, unseen, and Staver gets badly murderized by one of those pop-up ninjas in their first round of combat. And in the next round, Brody gets badly, badly stabbed. Possibly mortal wound, definitely negative HP . . . 

In retrospect, this was a tough game for Kevin, and he wound up spending a lot of the game working on a replacement character in the background. Brody got it right at the beginning of a four-hour session, or maybe midway through if there were multiple stabbings involved. We were desperately trying to think of ways to mitigate the damage. I don’t think he had any spare CP to use to mitigate wounds. He didn’t have any Destiny points (borrowed from Monster Hunters), nor was he using Thief! wildcard skill to make the wound a Flesh Wound. We’d done the Tactics check at the beginning of the fight, but Brody was not in Thumvar’s line of sight, so couldn’t benefit from a bequeathed re-roll. Ultimately, he had to “just take it.” There might be a lesson here, something +Sean Punch brought up, about keeping the group more together, but maybe not. We weren’t that far apart. Just bad luck.

 At this point, critical information is revealed: Ninja assassins are considered Other. They are “kill on sight” legal, and those associating with them are brought along for the ride. This is a big deal, since it unconstrained the lot of us for full-on combat.
Without going through a blow-by blow, some of my remembered highlights and notes:

  • Righteous Fury is something I’ve mentioned before. It’s a spectacular physical power-up, and Nate has been kind and allows me to roll the three 1d6 rolls and allocate them how I like. I nearly always take the highest roll and give it to DX, the second highest and increase ST, and the lowest goes to HT. This time, I rolled 5, 4, 2, which increased the chracter’s point value by 160! ST 18, DX 18, HT 14. This gave me Axe-24, Shield-22, and with my large shield (Shield Wall negates the -2 for large shields; a wonderful perk) and Combat Reflexes, he has Parry-19 and Block-18. Shrivener, Cadmus’ named possession, does 3d+3 (2) cut damage on a successful hit. That can punch through as much armor on an average roll as a .30-06 . . .
  • His first move was possibly rules-illegal, but we let it slide. He spun and did a rapid strike, hitting first one foe, then stepping and hitting the other. Both were killed or incapacitated. I’m not sure if you can step in the middle of a rapid strike or not; the group decided on yes, but I’ve got a question out to The Powers That Be on this one. Skill levels as high as this enable some truly epic moves. If I would have had Weapon Master, lowering the Rapid Strike penalties to -3 each instead of -6, accounting for four foes per turn would not have been out of the question.

    Edit: Kromm himself commented on this: it’s legal. I paste his comment below in the post in full, since it’s just that useful:

    FYI, the step allowed by the Attack maneuver can come at any time on your turn: before the attack, after the attack, or between attacks if you have more than one. There’s nothing illegal about taking an Attack maneuver, declaring a Rapid Strike, and then attacking at -6, stepping, and attacking at -6. You can’t do this with Dual-Weapon Attack, because that’s simultaneous (and also easier, so suck it up!).

  • Thumvar has DR 14. This is a phenomenal equalizer for many things, and even with Cadmus’ power-up, I’d give mad props to Thumvar in most combat situations. His trademark is a dual-weapon attack with an edged shield and an axe, and he’ll often rack up 15+ points of cutting damage, maybe on each. He eventually wound up dispatching the werebear with two huge blows after Cadmus had crippled its leg (more on that later).
  • I may have said this before, but +Mark Langsdorf is right: if you don’t pay the low fee to silver your weapons in a DF campaign, you’re either inexperienced (me) or dumb (hopefully not me). That being said, though we’d talked about getting Shrivener silvered, we didn’t actually do it. Don’t forget.
  • Cadmus got bull-rushed from behind by the were-bear. He knocked me one hex over, but did not knock me down. Being strong and big helps a lot in this situation – I think the bear rolled 2d+something physical damage, with double-knockback for his slam. I took 4 points of damage even through DR 9, so this was a mightly blow. We started calling the were-bear Ditka or the Refridgerator after that.
  • The fight was basically over when after getting slammed, Cadmus spun and chopped at Ditka’s knee, landing the blow and doing 18(2) raw damage, which was enough to cripple the leg (yay!) but not to take it right off – between the DR and 30HP this guy was a BMF.
  • Towards the end of the fight, I tried once again to do something that was going to be a Moment of Awesome. Committed Attack (Long) to get into a Thug’s hex, use Judo Throw to toss him down, then kill him with an axe blow. Judo Throw defaults from Axe/Mace for me (that’s an allowable Technique Adaptation perk), so I had effectively Judo Throw-24 . . . and the Thug managed to make both defense rolls. Again. I have yet to pull off any nifty grappling stuff in combat, despite several attempts. Sigh.
After that, having dispatched a couple ninja, maybe 3-5 thugs, and the were-bear, everyone else started to head for the door. Thumvar, in his own moment of awesome, actually flies to the door and sizes up what equipment the fleeing foes are carrying, deciding whether or not to kill ’em all or let ’em escape by judging the quality of the plunder.
A fine way to end the night. 

Today’s game started out after we’d been attacked by some sort of acid ooze in the previous game. Naturally, we were immediately attacked by a giant wasp on a narrow set of switchbacked stairs.

Cadmus, usually the shield and magic axe guy, decided to play with his dueling poleaxe (spear tip, hammerhead, axe blade) instead. That’s trading Axe-19 for Polearm-14, but a 2-yard reach. We shall see.

First round, our Knight (also a gargoyle) flew off the stairs, took a Wait maneuver. Then the wasp flew some huge amount of hexes right at Cadmus, who managed to parry him aside with his polearm. That triggered Thumvar’s Wait, and he got in a good thwack. Brother Michel the Cleric/Mage stepped right behind me, which irritated me until he tapped me on the shoulder and casts Walk on Air. “Walk after him, just don’t fall.”


Cadmus steps up into open air, stabs, but the thing dodges. Then Staver, our Infernal Scout, does a ranged Feint and Attack at the things wings, makes the Feint by 14, and destroys them. Crunch, splat, Fight over.

Well, that fight. Two ninjas were naturally hiding in the shadows climbing the suporting timbers of the switchbacked stairway, the way ninjas do.

The less ethical among us (Staver and Brody, our thief) shoot first. Brody chucks a knife at one (Knife Throwing: the art of skillfully discarding a perfectly good weapon), which causes his target ninja to have to make a Climb check to not fall. He makes it. Nimble little bastard.

Staver drills his target with an arrow for 10 impaling. Target also fails to fall. Maybe he’s got some armor, ’cause 20 injury if he don’t, and he didn’t die.

The rest of us non-perceptive folks notice something’s up. Literally. 10 yards up, and enmeshed in the support structures for the stairs.

Thumvar flies, Michel puts himself close to a wall, goes defensive, and ponders what spell to hit them with. I Walk on Air halfway to the ninjas. Brody drops to the ground beside Staver, but would have biffed the landing except for a quick Thief! point. He plucks an arrow from Staver’s cornucopia quiver (infinite arrows) . . . and realizes that with -8 for cover and -4 for range, he doesn’t have the skill to hit them. Oops.

Staver’s turn again, and she sinks an arrow into the boards; -8 for cover is a lot.

The ninja’s try to Stealth out, one succeeds, disappearing into the woodwork. The other does not, and Thumvar fast-draws a hatchet and chucks it at him. Crazy Dodge-monkey gets out of the way. This left Michel little to do, with 10 yards of distance between him and his hidden foes, so since he hadn’t set anything on fire for a few hours, he went with that option, casting explosive fireball.

Cadmus continues walking through air and chops at the neck of his foe, who dodges. The way Ninjas do. Despite missing, he cuts through the support pillar ninja-boy is standing on, since his axe does 2d+3 (2) cut, and rolled 14 penetration. He fails to fall, pesky ninja. The stairs also fail to fall. But are weakened.

I just wanted to say that running through the sky to stab ninjas is really where I want this game to go, and I’m happy we’re partway there already.

                                                                                    — +Nathan Joy 

Cadmus’ foe turns to try and fast draw his sword and stab him in the throat.  Cadmus notices that the thing has black feathers and a yellow beak. Ravencraeg is apparently pretty literal. Cadmus tries to aggressively parry the sword, hoping to chop it in half. He makes the parry, but only by the margin provided by his shield (DB+3), so no dice.

Thumvar flies over and buries his axe into the bird-ninja of Alcatraz, killing him.

The other one is nowhere to be found. Boo! for alert foes.

We bring the body down, and search him, finding two potions, and three more stoppered vials. Plus 10 yards of spider silk rope, a short sword, blowgun, some daggers, and a lightly armored black garment. Ninjas have good loot.

Cadmus remarks we should probably get to the big ol’ doors before archers arrive at the arrow slits – which would make our lives generically difficult. This goes more or less unnoticed. Due to shiny potions and stuff. One’s a blur potion, the other a potion of Insignificance, that makes the eyes just slide off you, not noticing your presence.

Staver (Greedy) searches the wasp’s nest for treasure too. She discovers that wasp’s nests are kinda gross. The GM allows a roll vs. Naturalist (Scout!), Staver biffs it, spends a Scout! point to make the roll, and finds out that wasp’s nest paper makes good field-expedient gauze/bandages for first aid. +2 HP to first aid attempts.

Which, given we keep spending time NOT getting to the doors, I believe we’ll need presently – but it turns out I’m wrong. We swing open the heavy door, and . . .

. . . are attacked by a huge swarm of Ravens. Two of them, actually.

We back off a bit, and Brody tosses an exploding egg (nagateppo). This blinds one swarm.

The swarm attacks the rest of us. Large-area injury is resisted by the average DR of the whole body, so Cadmus is DR 6. So Thumvar and Cadmus, the best protected of the group, flail around being pecked, but that pings off the armor. We kill a few. Michel tosses a Stunball at our feet, which kills most of them, stuns a few of us (including Michel, caught in his own spell), and destroys one of the two swarms. We pause for a moment as the other swarm wakes up and starts coming for us. Thumvar is totally coated in massive amounts of plate, so he’s safe. I’m only threatened if they roll a 6, so I’m 85% safe. We keep swinging at it as we make time for the mage to wake up and kill the swarm with another spell. Michel rolls a lot of 14s.

Eventually we do enough damage to the final swarm to disperse it. Cadmus heals Michel, he recovers fatigue, we eat roast raven, and that’s the session.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Emily Smirle +Theodore Briggs +Kevin Smyth +Douglas Cole


Not much to report this time. Lots of combat, mostly melee. We got caught off-guard by the wasp, who was fast enough to be on us before we could declare and trigger Wait maneuvers. Vulnerable wings made for a relatively easy fight.

The ninjas were more fun, but mostly they just hung out in the rafters, with only one trying anything. 

The ravens were more annoying than dangerous, since those of us in the fray were wearing enough armor to render them ineffective – but 1d6+1 pi++ every round with no hit roll and no defense is bad mojo unless you happen to be slathered in head-to-toe armor. Which Thumvar and Cadmus were. It did get a bit tedious, though – still a better alternative than what would have happened with my old kit, which maxed out at DR 6, which would have given me DR 4 instead of DR 6 for average protection, and that would have let a lot more damage through. As it was, I could just ignore them.

Still, one of the fun things about GURPS combat is the tactical choices, and swarms, while very nasty, don’t really allow for that. You basically do 2 HP per attack per turn, or 1 HP for pi or imp weapons. It’s really a matter of “I hope that you brought explosives, fire, concussion, or other area effects.”

Which we did. QED. 

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.


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.


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.


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.