+Erik Tenkar and +Tim Shorts have both rendered their opinions on the d30 Sandbox Companion. They loved it.

(Erik’s review at Tenkar’s Tavern here)

Now, I do play in Erik’s Swords and Wizardry campaign with +Peter V. Dell’Orto (whom I know well) and others (whom I’ve really only met once). But I wanted to take a different tack on this.

The book is 56 printed pages, including 7-8 pages of bookends (art, table of contents, index).

The rest of the book is page after page of random tables. Wilderness locations, temples, cults, castles and strongholds . . . even two pages on randomly determining the weather. Detailed tables on generating settlements. What services (all kinds of services!) the local inns offer.

Two full, and fully awesome, pages on heraldry. He claims something like 27,000 combinations.

Fifteen pages on various NPCs.

Sure, sure. But it’s all for old school gaming, right? If you’re not playing a D&D clone, or maybe stretch it to Pathfinder, maybe, you’re screwed.

Right?

Not even close. I’d say about 36 pages are entirely generic. Basically strings of imaginative words, cleverly laid out to provide descriptions of towns, inns, people, sages . . . hell, even whole adventures.


Don’t believe me: Here’s a sample adventure in 10 die rolls, using Excel (because I don’t have a d30):

Trigger reconnaisance
Major goal Prevent invasion
Obstacle to goal Beat time limitation
Location Hamlet
Location Feature Fountain
Phenomena Charm
Villian Goal/Reason Mischief
Artifact/Relic bowl/brazier/censer
Theme Power
Key NPC Magic User

OK, we have a magic user as the key NPC; let’s make him the villain. Let’s say that when the water from the water from a natural, blessed fountain is placed into a certain artifact, a holy bowl from which a saint or other holy personage was said to have drunk, it causes the drinker to be able to become nearly irresistible. Were talking Hitler-levels of charisma.
So, our magic user wants to cause a stir. He needs a diversion to allow him to get into some other location to obtain, say, a grimoire or geniza. So he leaks the information to a power-hungry (there’s power again) noble (or several nobles), all of whom will journey to this remote hamlet to seize the bowl. The drinker will be able to use his magically awesome charisma to cause several normally-fractious neighbors to join forces to invade, and perhaps conquer, a stronger but otherwise peaceful kingdom. The PCs need to get to the hamlet and find the location of the bowl, perhaps uncover the secret of bowl+fountain = charisma, before the rival nobles can.
Will the PCs drink from the bowl? Perhaps . . . but all gifts come with a price, of course.
See? It’s gold. 

So, what about the other 10-13 pages of “not-generic” stuff? Well, some of that has descriptors like “fighter” or “cleric” that can absolutely be swapped out for any Dungeon Fantasy template of appropriate strength. Low-level fighter needed? Go buy DF15: Henchmen and poof! Instant conversion of a D&D-type character to GURPS. Magic items can be converted or translated. Yes, it’s some work, but a hell of a lot less than you’d wind up doing inventing it whole cloth.
If you don’t have a handy megadungeon, you can certainly have years of fun simply by rolling some dice.
Oh, and bonus: If you don’t want to roll, you can rather easily get these descriptors and die rolls into your favorite spreadsheet program and generate instant random adventure seeds (or anything else in the table).
Good stuff, and not just for OSR fans. Nice work by Richard J. Leblanc of New Big Dragon!

For today’s GURPS-Day and GURPS 101 segment, we continue with the basic stats, this time with IQ and its derived abilities, Perception and Willpower.

Many, if not all, of the comments made about the value of DX are true for IQ. They both have two derived abilities, and both of those are 5 points each. This leaves the skill part of the IQ at roughly 10 per level, giving a boost to 200 skills or so. It’s a ludicrously good deal, and since eleven of fourteen of +Sean Punch‘s list of basic adventuring skills in GURPS have a direct (IQ) or indirect (Per) default to IQ, you can more or less justify as much spending in IQ as you’d like from an “effectiveness” point of view.
How Brilliant Is Required? (IQ)

Since there’s no upper limit on how much IQ you want to buy from a point-effectiveness basis, how much should you buy? Well, I’d probably say that you’ll want to probably approach this from one of two perspectives.

Perspective the First: What seems like a good value? IQ 9-10 is nothing to write home about, and says you’re about average in everything. IQ 11-12 is a steep step up the bell curve, and is high enough to be a defining characteristic. Those guys that are notably brilliant and it’s their defining thing? They’re IQ 13-14 polymaths. IQ 15 and higher will be spectacularly noticeable, and it will be noticable in play. More on that later. Experts in their fields, where that field requires a lot of brain-work, are more likely to be IQ 11-12 with maximum applicable Talent (for effective IQ of 14-16 in those areas, with that added panache thrown in) than raw IQ in that level for plausible and realistic characters.

Perspective the Second: Buy as much of it as you can, from a game-mechanical standpoint, and do it in this order. First, buy as many levels of the appropriate 5- or 10-point Talent as you can. Then buy up your skills to the absolute levels you want. Then “sell back” points in skills, seeing if you can get to enough to eke out boosts to IQ instead. So if you’ve thrown down the requisite 30 points for +3 “Stuff I Want to Be Good At” Talent, and then decided that you really need to be awesome in these seven IQ-based skills (including Per and Will), look at the total points spent in those skills. Got more than 20? Start looking to see if you can have the same skill levels while raising up your base IQ. Munchkiny? Absolutely.

The only issue this raises is one that is fine on paper and annoying as hell in play (at least to me). High-IQ characters tend to be niche-stompers in games with niches. Be warned.

Hey, what’s that? (Per)

I wrote an entire post on Perception last August. I won’t repeat it here. I find Per one of the single most valuable attributes on the character sheet from a “get involved with stuff, and avoid being ganked” perspective. It allows you to hear/see the invisible adversary coming, it allows you to notice those pesky details that avoid the adventure coming to a complete halt, read lips, detect lies, and find cool stuff left over in the garbage heap.

And did I mention not getting jumped?

I have found that Per of 12 seems sufficient, but that probably means Per-14 is even better.

Determination, Grit, and Holy Awesomeness! (Will)


Cadmus has Will-14. It rocks. When dealing with possession, the undead, or if you use The Last Gasp for pushing yourself hard with physical effort, Will is great. I’ve not found a lot of cases where Will-16 through Will-20 is required, but that’s situational. Penalized Will rolls are likely to be a staple of confronting powerful undead creatures, and Contests of Will are common in fiction.

Parting Shot

This is more a matter of “yes, it’s worth the points, always” rather than “is it ever worth it?” IQ (and DX) are the best deals in the game, unless maybe it’s HT, but probably IQ and DX are the winners here. The question is really of point allocation and role. Are you the point man? You want Per, lots of it, and enough of an applicable Talent and skill to push what you want to be good at over the top.

Spellcaster or Cleric? Again, hit up the specific Talents first, then boost Will, then skills, then IQ.

Polymath, good at everything? You annoy me. 🙂 Buy up IQ until the GM and your fellow players throw up their hands in disgust.

This is one of those interesting oddities that shows up in Pyramid from time to time. A truly systemless article that’s useful for any GM in any system, as well as being a trove of information to be mined

I’m going to give away the ending, and note that this was far and away my favorite article of this issue. 
The entire premise of the work is to dig into the journey that the newly deceased must take to get to the afterlife. It notes how similar the journey myths are between the Egyptians, Ancient Greeks, and the Norsemen. She then explores different aspects of this myth.
The writing is extraordinarily good, and both the content and presentation drew me in from the start. The opening vignette is very, very well done, and you could see it as either a great example of how to deal with this topic in an RPG, or as an excerpt from a good piece of fantasy fiction. It is, of course, both.
The Death-Touched Character

This short block provides a small (very small) amount of directly GURPS-related advice. It’s effectively a short touchstone of skills, advantages, and disadvantages that anchor the concepts presented to the GURPS system. The implication here is that this sort of thing (dead men’s journeys) is primarily narrative, with just enough plot hook in the form of character traits to serve as a reason for what’s going on.

The Hero’s Decent

Another short section describing a bit about who takes the journey (everyone), and then gets to the meat of it – characters may very well want to take a road trip to the underworld in order to get one of their friends back, or for some other purpose.

This can be, in a word, tricky. Not the least of which is finding a physical door to the underworld, which must be appropriately creepy as well as mystically connected to the land of the dead, one presumes. That’s not really in the article, but again, the writing is such that it evokes these thoughts easily and naturally.

Omens

A much longer section, Ms. Ward spends a full page-column on the subject of omens. A few famous legends (Achilles and Sleeping Beauty) are mentioned. Also mentioned are using omens as a response to divination spells – a nice bit where the GM can say “OK, great . . . you cast divination” and then get the plot moving along, and have the results of that not be a core dump on the player group saying “here are all the answers you need.”

This is nice not just because of the naturalness of how the information is given, but because players can surprise the GM with questions or “OK, here’s the spell!” and if the GM didn’t have that planned out ahead of time, he’s either going to have to wing it totally, or stop play to think. Or he may give out too much information, short-circuiting his plot or mystery.

Letting the information/divination leak out bit by bit is a nice way to put some space, and plot, and time for other characters to get some spotlight time in between the casting and the answer. It also lets everyone else play by giving the entire group a chance to make Hidden Lore, History, Occultism, or other rolls when these omens appear. An entirely elegant solution.

And just in case your Omen Fu is weak, she lists a bunch of them. That’s a good omen for future success.

Also in this section is a bit on psychopomps, entities that are tour guides on the road to hell. But in a nice way. Valkyries? Looking at you. Also mentioned in passing are the kinds of challenges heroes might face – and avoid – in trying to bring ’em back alive.

Gateways

A gateway is a great symbol of the beginning of a journey and the boundary between two places. It’s both a symbolic and physical marker of realm and journey. The article touches on how to know what places are reputed to be (or known to be) gateways, as well as some warnings about how to conduct yourself on the journey. This section is over a page long, and takes about some common features of such journeys, including rivers, gates, the Hall of the god watching over the underworld, and the journey out of the underworld, since it’s rather unlikely that the denizens of such places will be happy to let you go.

Ever.

Guardians

Finally, she spends a page on those who guard and protect the gates, the paths, and the destination. This includes reference to a couple of monsters, with GURPS stats (though not in stat-block format, for which I’m somewhat grateful). This section is sprinkled with actual game references, though few mechanics (no loss there, really), as well, so GMs will have a notion on how to handle some of these challenges.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. As mentioned in the main text, this may be the best-written systemless article I recall in Pyramid. My own commentary above, frequently launching from a concept she brings up, show how easy and natural it is to springboard from her writing to game ideas. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: These concepts would fit well and make good consideration for fantasy gaming from generic fantasy and even (or perhaps especially) Dungeon Fantasy, where “oh, look, our friend died, let’s hie off to the underworld and bring him back” is a viable decision. This article could also inform the background mythology of a well run Monster Hunters campaign. It would play well with concepts such as +Christopher R. Rice‘s neat treatment of Thresholds, which are so important in the Dresden Files. Each section has ideas and concepts that can be mined and developed to taste. The article is one solid bit of inspiration, background, and epiphany from start to finish. I’d give it more points if my scale allowed, but since it doesn’t . . . 4 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: While this is system-lite, really – there are a few GURPS concepts (skill rolls, a mention of HP for Harvest Demons, etc.) this is not a mechanics-heavy article. Nonetheless, many of the concepts themselves are drop-in or easily ported to the appropriate game setting.. 2 points.

Overall: 8/10. A very strong offering, and a vastly entertaining read.

Would I use it? Yes. This gives me something very, very tangible to think about for any sort of fantasy or modern campaign setting that involves (or might involve) the mystical and life-after-death as a plot element.

Note to my readers: There seem to be many Kyla Wards on Google, and I couldn’t link to her as I’d have liked. If one of you could help draw this review to her attention, not only would I like her to read it, I’d love to invite her to a Firing Squad interview! Maybe +Robin Laws could help!

Every Pyramid issue contains an installment from +David Pulver, in the column entitled Eidetic Memory. Despite being the author of such books as Vehicles and Spaceships, David’s gaming interests are wide and eclectic, and since he has to write to each issue’s theme, I very much get the feeling that he lets himself play with each column a bit.

This article is one of the reasons that feeling solidified. It presents Baba Yaga, a figure from Slavic folklore, with a seriously warped backstory.

Grey Hag of the Forest


Baba Yaga is not a mystical witch. She’s the offshoot of alien experimentation with human/Grey hybrid children looking to instill psionic powers. It takes the core of the legend and extrapolates more high-tech (and insane) root-causes for each bit of the legend.

Baba Yaga (and Baba Yaga’s Hut)


The article then presents Baba Yaga’s stat block, which is the typical dense text that you have to read very closely in order to get the full gist of it. This isn’t David’s fault; it’s the standard SJG/GURPS stat block, but I will admit to finding these nearly impenetrable, unreadable, and I tend to skip over them. And this one isn’t even that long. The DF and Monster Hunter templates are worse, with all the choices. But I digress.

After the stat block, Baba Yaga’s hut is presented in standard Spaceships format. This, on the other hand, I love. It’s very readable, tells you what you need to know, and handwaves the rest. It has a neat TARDIS bit where it’s SM +4 on the outside, but SM +7 on the inside, which should make for a good WTF moment for intrepid adventurers.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. While the writing of the main text blocks is information-dense, everything was so matter-of-fact that I was never really drawn into the subject. It turns something mythological into something very technical, and that didn’t work for me. Plus: stat block. Eww. -1 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: There are some key takeaways from this article that are generically useful for epiphany and inspiration. The first is how to blend myth and technology, and how to look for gaming ideas for a modern game in the lore of the past. The connections made between legendary powers and tech abilities is a useful exercise. I found that connecting the myth of Baba Yaga to the Grey a somewhat novel twist – I didn’t like it, but it was an interesting idea. I didn’t think this one blended well with the issue’s theme, even though the roots were based in an actual myth. 1 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: Ultimately this article really only works in a very, very specific setting and campaign type, which is no surprise. This premise is excerpted directly from David’s modern-day campaign: “gonzo journalists chasing the unknown.”. If you have a similar campaign setting, or room for this sort of thing in something similar, you have a Big Bad and a novel vehicle. There are some details that can be mined here, but as far as a drop-in, I think you’re going to be hard pressed. 2 points.

Overall: 2/10. I had a hard time walking away from this one with anything fully tangible to grab on to, and the subject matter needed to be interesting a priori to the GM to make the twist on the take even more interesting. Since I didn’t know much (or care much) about Baba Yaga in the first place, the very campaign-specific variation on this theme was not going to grab me.

Would I use it? No. This one would not appear in any of my games, though the connection example of “take some mythology and find the core concept, and explore that” is of some utility.

+Christopher R. Rice and I sat down briefly to discuss a mutual project of ours, that he nonetheless originated, championed, and for lack of a better word, chairs.

Pyramid Magazine can a tough magazine for which to write. GURPS formats are intensely technical, and the Steve Jackson Games style guide somewhat opaque. Tack onto that the fact that game writing is technical writing, and what more you have to have a good idea, organize it well, and carry it off with the written word with sufficient panache to entice the reader onward, well, one has a job of work ahead of him.

Please forgive my current writing style. I have been immersed in +Steven Brust‘s Viscount of Adrilankha series just a moment ago, and his Paarfisms have infected my prose.

So, shall I continue? I very much think I shall.

See?

To the meat of it, then: we recorded a short, shall we say, Public Service Announcement, where we discussed some of the particulars of the group, what he’s trying to accomplish, and why.

You can find the interview at my YouTube Channel, as well as by clicking the link below.

If you’re interested in developing your skills with the goal of writing for Pyramid (and eventually e23 should you prove to enjoy the process and be successful at it), you may contact him at pyramidwritergroup@gmail.com

Text Transcript

Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Alright, welcome to Gaming Ballistics’ Firing Squad. We’re departing a little bit from the usual, in that this is more or a less a public service announcement. We’ve got Christopher Rice from his blog Ravens N’ Pennies joining to talk about something that he’s doing in order to help people write for Pyramid magazine. So you started a Pyramid writer’s group. Why did you do that?

Christopher R. Rice (Ravens N’ Pennies): So it’s a idea I had for a long time, and something that Antoni Ten Monrós talked about. And I just finally after your last podcast, I was like “You know, we need this.” There is a lot of people out there that want to write, but they’re not sure how to go about it. And I felt it was just the way to go.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. So what’s the goal of your writer’s group? Why start it and what are you trying to accomplish there?

CHRISTOPHER: My biggest goal is to raise GURPS signal. I want to make people more aware of it. One of the ways you can make somebody aware of something is by getting them to do it. Because if enough people write for GURPS, I really think they are going to talk about it to their friends, their family; it’s a self-propogating cycle. We are not a “Learn How To Write Group.” If you don’t know how to write, I can’t help you. What I can help you with is style and formatting. Getitng you to understand how the WYSIWYG works. ‘Cause it is a little difficult.

DOUGLAS: So what is the WYSIWYG?

CHRISTOPHER: It the “What You See Is What You Get” template, it’s a fairly small file, jet-packed with information. It’s basically what they pour into their production software to get the final PDF for the book.

DOUGLAS: And you say that writing in that style is rather critical in getting into Steven’s attention.

CHRISTOPHER: I think it’s at least 40% of it.

DOUGLAS: Okay.

CHRISTOPHER: If you have a crappy idea there is nothing that can happen.

DOUGLAS: Also, if you have a good idea and you don’t write to their rules they are going to kick it back to you, right?

CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. And those are the people I’m aiming to help. It’s Steven’s like “Go and fix X, Y, and Z. Read the formatting guide and so on.” Those, they already got an article, because that’s one of the requirements I put down. You already have to have something written. And I need to evaluate it before I let you in. If I just let in everybody that had a idea, it would become pandemonium.

DOUGLAS: It would become the forums.

CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. It would become unmanageable. And I’m not into that.

DOUGLAS: No, that’s fair. And for those who saw the Pyramid Panel, one of the things that Steven did say that is a part of that is that if you get feedback from Steve Jackson Games you are 70% of the way towards an eventual sale. The most common rejection is just “No.” And that if you get feedback it’s because there is something good enough in there, either the way you write or what you are writing about, or just in general tone that it’s something he wants to see more of. So feedback is a huge deal.

CHRISTOPHER:  Yes! I wanna go ahead and state that I am not affiliated with Steve Jackson Games in any way. I’m not an in-house official, I am doing this on my own, on my own time at my own dime. Also, my mentors, I got a good group of people so far, including yourself. W.A. Frick, Antoni, and I can always use more. More teachers and writers would be helpful.

DOUGLAS: So why in particular, and you don’t have to talk about me, but why in particular is this group suitable for mentoring Pyramid writers?

CHRISTOPHER: I have personally learned more mentoring others about writing than I could have learned on my own. Once you reach a certain…I hate to use the word level, but it’s the only word I can think of. Once you reach a certain level, then writing and game writing, you kind of have to learn everything else on your own, but by teaching others you get to see where you are weak at. And if you where you are weak at, you can work on that.

DOUGLAS: Now we need to tell the story about Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick. Do you know the story about the Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick?

CHRISTOPHER: No, I do not [smiles], I never heard that.

DOUGLAS: Okay, so the deal with Chuck Norris and the roundhouse kick is that he is famous for it. He’s got all the things about it, and if you are ever sitting alone at home is because Chuck Norris is about to roundhouse kick you in the head. The thing is he would never work at it, he would never work on it when he was sparring. He knew he was good at it. So he would work on his jabs or motion or whatever. When he was in the ring, he’d would throw the roundhouse kick and, you know, knock people into next week. But he would use his sparring sessions to train the things he was bad at.

CHRISTOPHER: I..

DOUGLAS: So yeah, there is a bit of how do I hone the skills that need developing? That is something that feedback groups are good for.

So I’m fascinated by this mentoring group: how many articles do you think you can parallel process at once as a group?

CHRISTOPHER: I’ve currently decided that we can process about 3 per people per mentor, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. But I’ve already got two people who’ve sent in articles to Steven that I feel very confident that he’s going to take them, just from looking at the final product.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. So if you want to join, how does one go about finding and doing it? Some kind of quest thing, do you have to find the key and kill the dragon?

CHRISTOPHER: You gotta get the blue card first, then you get the BFG, and then you come find me. No, you gotta have something written. I would like you to figure out how the style guide works on your own, but not habits are better than bad habits. So have something written, there is a link on the forums that Doug will put in after the video, just go there and either contact me by PM on the forums, I’m “Ghostdancer” or go to that thread and hit the “email button” it’s in the first post. You’ll see if right away, send me what you got and I’ll give you a honest opinion. You’re either in or not, or if you’re not quite good enough, I’ll personally help you. I’ve done that twice now.

DOUGLAS: Is there some kind of waiting list? If this fills up, this is something we’ll develop, but we have to clear the list first?

CHRISTOPHER: Right. I have about five people who have contacted me who are very close to sending something my way, and I have exactly five slots left right now. As people learn how to write the in-house style, as they become kind of more comfortable in their own shoes, they get moved out of the protégé status to the journeymen status. And then eventually they’re gone, you get booted out of the group like a baby bird from the nest.

DOUGLAS: [makes falling noises and a splat sound while miming the noises].

CHRISTOPHER: But after about 3 to 4 articles, you should really know where you are going.

DOUGLAS: I suppose it’s true that after 3 or 4 articles n the last Pyramid Panel is available to you…

CHRISTOPHER: I believe he said about 10.

DOUGLAS: Okay

CHRISTOPHER: I seem to remember it was between 10 and 11 or maybe even 12.

DOUGLAS: Yeah I think it was somewhere between 6 and a dozen. I don’t think I’ve written more than six or seven articles, on the flipside I’ve been Lead Playtester for a couple of books and then there is the [garbled audio] so that probably helps.

CHRISTOPHER: Well, yeah.

DOUGLAS: So what happens if I’m doing the stuff, not the style, but the content. And I disagree with it and I want to go my own way. Do you get booted out of the group for that? Where do you stand?

CHRISTOPHER: No, you’re your own person, you’re your own writer, and you get to decide what’s going on and you want to ignore the advice of others who have been there. That’s up to you. But if you submit and it’s been pointed out that something you’ve got in there doesn’t work and you get rejected…that’s not my fault.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. And another thing that I’d say. Hans Christian Vortsich is especially good at this I think. People will come and say, especially during the playtest, “I think you need to do this with this manuscript, entry, etc.” and he’ll basically say “That’s not my vision of this. No.” and he’ll shut it down. He’s got a very firm vision of what he’s trying to accomplish. Now, as you are trying to become a writer that is probably more close-minded than one needs to be.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes.

DOUGLAS: But once you…if you’ve got a vision of something, even if it’s deliberately counter for standard GURPS and you’ve aimed it for a specific issue that is counter to standard GURPS like Alternate GURPS or something like that. As long as it’s clear what you are trying to accomplish, then the mentor group, as long as its engaging enough will probably try to help you with that.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes. Absolutely. If you’ve got a very clear goal in mind, and this is my goal, I’m not gonna tell you, you shouldn’t do it, I’m going to tell you why I disagree with it. And then I’ll do my best to help you with your goal. With your vision. And I like to think the other mentors will do the same.

DOUGLAS: Yup. So one last question, so we’re working on this and we’re writing back and forth and obviously it’s not just the mentors who see the drafts and I’m writing something and I see something on the board that inspires me greatly. And I got a idea, but its either identical or derivative to what I’m looking at, we want to make sure people don’t get irritated or offended or feel like their ideas have been stolen. So what do we recommend going on in case a idea get improved, but starts to inspire new ideas which may or may not be derivative there.

CHRISTOPHER: I would like to think that for the mentors and the other writers would be open, and be like “I also have a idea for this, and are you cool with me using it?” And if you’re not, I’d like to think that everybody is grown up enough to be like “Okay.” And if you’re not…[shrugs].

DOUGLAS: And I think the other thing that actually happens there is that, if there is a idea and you’re like “Hey I was reading your article and I had this other idea…” and then go off on your own and write a collaborative article. I’m collaborating with two articles with Peter Dell’Orto that came up in either online or offline conversation. So Pyramid does do articles with more than author.

CHRISTOPHER: In fact, I’m doing, right now with Antoni. We’ve got something cooking up should multi-useful for different genres.

DOUGLAS: So now we need to start seeing what’s on the slide…So that anyway, I think we covered the bases here. Anything else you want to say, give yourself the parting shot in Gaming Ballistic parlance.

CHRISTOPHER: If you’ve ever wanted to write and you really think you can do it, this is the place to go for GURPS and later on I might branch out into other game companies. You know, maybe figure out how Fate does its various articles and the like. But for right now we’re just GURPS and it would be most beneficial to anyone that wants to write. You’re not gonna get advice and formatting input like [garbled audio].

DOUGLAS: And I think that’s a worthy point, the style guide and formatting guide for GURPS and Pyramid magazine is fairly intense, and one of the things people can do is that if they have a good article and a good concept, but really need help on the formatting, it would be not a problem to come up and say “Here’s the article.” And then have some of the mentors bang it into the right format, and also show you some tips and tricks. On our recent session on How to format tables, which can be tricky in the style guide. And also some things like there is this huge formatting guide that’s a word document, copy the section of the formatting guide out of the formatting guide and paste it into your article and then replace the key bits.

CHRISTOPHER: I’m all about the shortcuts, as long as it doesn’t affect quality.

DOUGLAS: Fair enough. Okay, so I think that that brings this to a close. Thank you for your time.

CHRISTOPHER: Thank you, Doug.

DOUGLAS: And thanks for your efforts on the Pyramid group, the more people contribute to GURPS the more vibrant the community can be.

CHRISTOPHER: Yes.

DOUGLAS: Alright.

CHRISTOPHER: Alright, thanks again.

Continuing the GURPS 101 series on the fundamental stats (ST, DX, IQ, HT) and the derived statistics, we turn our sights on Dexterity, as well as two of the things it influences: Basic Speed and Move.

Look for +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s contribution over at Dungeon Fantastic.
+Jason Packer knocks it out of the park, listing nearly every use of DX.
+Christopher R. Rice takes it personally, and talks about how he and his players view DX/Move/Speed.

The Joy of DX


Ah, DX. You can never have too much of it. And whatever you have, you want more. You can never really get enough DX, though some characters obviously will want more than others. Any time there’s something physical needs to be done, in the end, it’s all about getting more DX. It’s a survival trait.

OK, enough of that, but it was too easy to pass up.

And the point isn’t wrong. Dexterity drives something like half the skills in the game, and for a game with hundreds of skills, DX (and of course, IQ) are some of the most efficient uses of points out there from a generalist’s perspective. In GURPS Character Assistant for 3e, there used to even be an “optimize” feature that would search for combinations of DX that would leave your lowest DX (and IQ) based skill as-is, but increase DX until the payoff wasn’t there. And since back then, it was 8 points for each +1 for a DX-based skill, this tipping point could happen pretty darn fast.

In 4ed, skills max out at 4 points/level, and DX is 20 points. So if you have five or more skills that you have at the point where you’re spending four points per level on them (or the total cost per level of all physical skills you want to increase), you will be better off from a point budget point of view to spend your points on DX.

The exception to this is obviously when you want to be good at only one or two things. It’s the old specialist-vs.-generalist argument, and with each +1 to DX being worth +5 to skill, the disparity is large.

In many cases, DX and skill are direct substitutes for each other. In many grappling contests, for example, you’ll see “Roll a Quick Contest between the combatants’ (Trained) ST, DX, or highest grappling skill.” Well, there you go. If your ST is Lifting ST at 3 points/level, that’s the cheapest way from A to Victory. Next is skill, then ST, then DX. So from that perspective, it’s the worst way to approach “what do I want to be good at,” unless the answer is “everything.”

Still, the power of the generalist can be pretty annoying, especially when you look at the dreaded 1-pointer. You know him. The DX 16 guy with 19 1-point skills. with a minimum of Skill-13 with Very Hard skills, and Skill-16 for Easy ones. You will never outshine the guy whose only mission in life is picking locks, but the high DX types (and of course, the high-IQ) types can be niche-breakingly competent.

There aren’t many tricks here, other than “don’t let your focus on being the generalist overshadow your character concept, unless it’s ‘be good at everything physical’ “

Move and Speed


Speed drives Dodge, and Dodge is Life. It takes +4 DX to make +1 Basic Speed (80 points/level) and 20 points of Basic Speed to get +1 Dodge. Dodge alone is worth 15 points/level (p. B51). It’s the defense of last resort for everyone, and by and large the only defense you get against bullets and beams, unless you invoke house rules.

Move is not a factor in Dodge. But it tends to be a pretty strong factor in fun. If you’re sitting there chugging away in heavy armor (or light armor but you’re still low move for some other reason), given the frantic pace of GURPS combat, the fight will be over by the time you get there, unless your friends are willing to hold the line and advance with you. Good luck with that; thus far, the group I play with is not willing to hold that sort of discipline. I think +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s and +Sean Punch‘s groups are.


Other Factors


+Jason Packer has a great list in his own post of all the things other than skills, Speed, and Move (and Dodge) that DX buys you. It’s a lot. I suspect that DX would still be a good buy at 30-40 points per level, which is why it’s so compelling at the current price. The higher your Move, the faster you can get yourself in and out of trouble, and this is a big deal, in my experience. Speed? Not so much, based on actual play, even at 300-point type characters. Dodge can be a big deal, but you can get at that without speed if you want.

Talk about the titular polar opposite of the previous article, The Golden Geniza of Ezkali. Seven Mythical Artifacts for Dungeon Fantasy is precisely what it says on the tin. Seven items, taken from real-world myth and legend, with which to spice up your Dungeon Fantasy campaign.

Each one gives a brief overview of the mythological origin of the item, a list of canonical properties and powers/abilities of the item, plus a few variations in case the GM wants to spice something up.

No, no, no. Not that Aegis

These are priceless artifacts, and no method of constructing them, buying them with points or cash is provided. Nor should it be. Many up the ante from “a wizard did it” to “made by the frakkin’ Gods,” so handle with care.

Aegis


That one.  Close your eyes, fool.

The mythical shield of Zeus himself, forged by Haphaestus, etc. This bad boy comes with a built-in bonus, literally the remains of a boss monster. Which is where the term “shield boss” originally came from.

Really.

This shield is incredibly badass. It’s a huge shield with an appropriately huge defense bonus, but doesn’t suffer penalties to defending. It’s also got a bad case of Medusa-face, and has a few other bits of coolness to it as well. The only drawback is how heavy it is.

The variations section talks about who might use it, as well as how it might exist in campaigns with less directly Greek-inspired origins.

Coir Cethar Chuin


At its core, it’s a magical harp. It grants some bardic abilities and some really cool enthrallment spells. For an actual Bard, or one with similar abilities and skills, this will be the item that caps your character and makes him the Bard. It’s Excalibur, Mjolnir, or something similar of the bardic bent.

This one is, admittedly, less inspiring to me than some of the others, but then, I’ve never lusted to play a bard in DF. Since the DF Bard (DF1, p. 5) is a 250-point template right along with the rest of the warriors, though, one can’t dismiss an artifact so perfectly tailor-made to make you awesome.

Golden Fleece


The description is short and sweet, and basically describes what the artifact was, and how Jason stole it. The properties include being totally awesome, keeping you from toxic death, and being mildly proective.

Did we mention it’s awesome?

Helm of Hades


Anyone who wears the helmet of the lord of the underworld can give +Samuel Jackson a lesson in being a badass. Maybe. Just stay out of the way if Samuel puts on the helmet, though. He’s Nick Fury with magic resistance.

This is a darn fine helmet, massively protective, with some other perks as well. Any delver worth his or her salt will find good use for it.

Necklace of Skulls


A necklace made out of the skulls of those brave, stupid, or unlucky enough to challenge Kali, the Hindu goddess of energy, time, and death. This is not a good thing for other people. Mightn’t even be a good thing for the wearer.

The two primary abilities are first something that makes Righteous Fury look like a power granted by a pansy. And Righteous Fury grants +1d6 to ST, DX, and HT.

Trust me, the blessing of Kali’s Fury is better. And worse.

There’s also a neat variant that can be used to fuel less potent, but also interesting versions of this for Vikings.

This one, along with the Helm of Hades and Aegis, are on an adventurers “might really want to have this” list. But watch out for the side effects.

Nothung


A three-meter-long magical dragon slaying sword.

Not sold yet? Geez, tough customer. Anybody of SM +1 will want this. Actually, anyone might want this, but your Barbarian types who actually buy the bigger SM that the template affords can step right up. This is an anti-magic sword of high craftsmanship and quality.

(and it’s ten feet long)

It also provides a supremely effective set of defensive capabilities, which will make any delver sit up and take note. It’s the only one of these seven artifacts that actually carries a price tag, since ultimately, it might be possible in a DF world to make one. Even has, to take it one step further, “how to” notes for the materials and Cosf Factors.

Tezcatlipoca’s Smoking Mirror


Was really tempted to just call this Prezel’s Smoke and Mirrors, but I resisted.

This one is intersting because +Antoni Ten Monrós points out it can be used two ways, for power or horror, since the Aztec gods were not always terribly nice people. This is basically a power item, which can be used to make badass magic.

As mentioned in the introduction, this article is exactly what it says, no less but (sadly) not much more, either. It delivers the brief goods on each myth, gives how much each items is worth as a Power Item, and some cool properties that make these artifacts worth having.

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. This article is quite terse, and says what it says. It’s a competent piece of technical writing and the game stats are well presented. 0 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: Each of these is a background element and gives a nice idea of some flavor to go with it. The kind of actions that might inspire a deity to bestow one of these, or the adventuring possibilities that go along with them, make for good plot seeds. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: Each of these is as drop-in as it gets, being a complete piece of kit. You might need to polish some edges off to fit your particular world mythology/pantheon, but with a few moments of filing off serial numbers, each of these, or all of them, is a good-to-go entry. 4 points.

Overall: 7/10. A very workmanlike treatment of the topic, hampered in style by the issue’s mission of not rehashing anything you can just go look up on the internet. With a bit more allowance for telling the individual tales, this could have been even better, up to as high as a 9.

Would I use it? I could see dropping in a few of these, again with serial numbers filed, into the later stages of a DF game, where some of the powers granted would not overshadow the players using them. Antoni plays in a something-like 600-point DF game, so I bet these fit right in with his guys!

“What the hell is a geniza?” my wife exclaimed, upon seeing the title of the article on the dinner table, where I was (re) reading it in preparation for this review.

“Exactly!” I laughed.

Ultimately – and remember that although this issue is in the slightly-desported list of lowest total sales, it’s at the top of that list, and not terribly far from being only a single standard deviation from the mean sales for individual Pyramid issues – I suspect that one of the reasons that this issue isn’t in the middle of the pack for individual issue sales is that the title, while evocative, is utterly useless at informing the reader of what’s in it.

This article is 25% of the content of the issue, and there’s really no telling what it is. Perhaps that’s not fair, though – The Deadly Spring and The Last Gasp aren’t exactly informative either.

The Golden Geniza of Ezkali ( +Matt Riggsby )

What this article contains is an adventure, something that is often begged for on the forums, and yet where does this issue fall in sales? Well, getting ahead of myself, that’s not Matt’s fault. The adventure presented here in five pages and probably fewer than 4,500 words is eminently mineable for content and ideas. Whatever issues I have with it (and I’ll get to those later), it’s not that it’s bad.

The Philosophical Apparatus

The first section explains the crux of the theory here. That in societies with a strong bent of oral tradition, that there’s going to be some embellishment and story creep that happens, even with really important central myths and legends. Even with legends that are seemingly the same origin, the retelling can be very, very different. Thus the crux of the issue (so to speak): what if there really is only one true story, and that truth is critical to achieving some goal?

The Golden What, Now?

I usually don’t spend a lot of time with boxes, since they’re designed to provide supplemental, but not critical, content that is somewhat outside the flow of a typical GURPS/Pyramid article. They can, theoretically, appear on any page in a manuscript and be understandable by themselves (though SJG Layout Guru Nikki Vrtis always finds the right place for them).

So, that aside: a geniza is defined in this box, and I’ll give it away because frankly, to understand what it is is to understand why a party of adventurers might care to risk life and limb to find it. It’s a document treasure trove, a giant mount of information which is sequestered because of the (often holy, always important) nature of the documents themselves.

Honestly, the merest hint of the existence of such a thing should draw Sages, Wizards, and Clerics (if it’s a holy, rather than magical, geniza) like moths to a flame.

Preparing for the Adventure

A brief set of instructions for how to take the article, make the desired changes, and set up the key conflict and challenges. It’s basically a two-paragraph (but long paragraphs) how-to, and concisely lays out what the GM must do.

The Story of Ezkali

The other somewhat impenetrable part of the title is who the frack Ezkali is. Other than the title itself, this is the first time you hear about him, and it’s in a section designed to be cut out of the article, pasted into your favorite word processing program, and altered so that each PC has a slightly different version of the story. There are thousands of possible versions here, so each PC can have very different versions of the story to work with.

The story is fairly straight-forward, and can probably be altered to fit your gameworld if you don’t wish to plunk it down wholesale.

The Temple of the Golden Geniza

Laying out the principle of this very linear adventure (and that’s a good thing), the PCs will basically be navigating a series of traps. If they can win through, they may claim the geniza.

The nugget here is that Matt lays out, in seven categories, all you need to know about any trap ever. Perhaps it’s already been done, but a random generator based on these seven descriptors would produce millions of potential traps. +Christopher R. Rice may or may not have taken advantage of this when he wrote It’s a Trap! in Pyramid #3/60: Dungeon Fantasy III.

The article then quickly and succinctly lays out the challenges involved in passing through the temple to find and claim the geniza.

Maps

The article ends, and then you get four pages of maps, with hex grids, to give you the nuts and bolts of the Temple. These aren’t beautiful, but they get the job done and are an important addition to this article, since the GM would otherwise have to create them himself.

Before I get into my article rating, I wanted to make a few comments of a more holistic nature.

First, the adventure is very, very linear. This is, as far as I can tell, an absolute requirement for such things, either in e23 supplements or Pyramid articles. The entire feel of these adventures needs to be that of a side-quest in your typical MMORPG – something a GM can drop into an existing campaign and not have it wreck everything else. So the linear nature is a feature of the adventure, not a bug.

Overall, the only thing that really bugged me is that the article makes unusually heavy reference to other required works. There are four works referenced: DF2, DF4, DF8, and DFM1. No one will likely do this without at least Dungeon Fantasy 2: Campaigns, but having important bits of info spread through three other books could be a problem. I’d have rather seen the information in the article itself, but referencing other works is important. It drives sales and credits other authors, plus there’s lots out there that you can mine in those books.

                   
Article Scoring

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Recall that a score of 0 means “didn’t get in the way,” and doesn’t represent a bad score. I’d call this one a 0, in that it was short, matter of fact, and told you what you needed to know. There wasn’t a lot of rhetorical flourish here, but it definitely did its job. 0 points.


Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: There are several good background elements that provide “a ha!” moments here. The concept of having multiple versions of a story, the linear side-quest for traps, the notion of a big pile of documents as a reward, and the list of stuff that goes into a proper trap. The legend itself wasn’t that inspirational, and mostly served as (useful) fluff informing the choices the PCs will need to navigate the adventure. 3 points.


Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: The maps are the obvious bit of drop-in, and I’ll give it high marks for the stand-alone nature. I’m going to dock a point for needing three other DF books, but if you have them, you can run this with probably an hour or less of prep. 3 points if you don’t have the books; 4 if you do.

Overall: 6/10 if you need to go purchase the other volumes referenced, 7/10 if you already have them. This article is a good primer on what a GURPS adventure will look like as presented in Pyramid (and likely e23 as well, and Mirror of the Fire Demon is likewise reputed to be a fairly straight-on challenge that can be dropped into most campaigns.

Would I use it? Likely not exactly as-is, and I’d need to do some work on the particular myth I’m using, but with a few hours of prep, it would make a nice single adventure. The real key would be deciding how much utility one can get from four tons of paper. The utility for me would likely be the overall concept, which is a lot deeper than what is presented in this short article. Circumventing traps as a basic concept, ensuring that even though the PCs have a story, it may not be the right story, and information rather than gold, weapons, and other gear as the quest object? All good stuff.

I suspect that this is an overlooked gem for many DF gamers, and if the concepts I describe here are of interest, this one’s worth picking up.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto , +Mark Langsdorf , +Christopher R. Rice , and +Jason Packer have been dutifully adding to the tally of posts in the Melee Academy and GURPS 101 sections, which is awesome.

However, and this is key: we write this stuff because we know each other, we like the system, and whatnot.

That being said: we’re far from the only ones who play GURPS, nor are we the only ones with stuff to say on the topic.

So this is an open invitation. Have you written, or seen, a good blog post that would fit into one of these categories? Yes? Let me know! If it’s yours, just hit me up with the link and note you’d like it to be hosted on one of the two pages.

GURPS 101 is designed to be introductory notes concerning everything but fighting with muscle-powered weapons. The topics can be as basic (the articles on ST and HP and the forthcoming ones on the basic stats) or advanced (“Remedial” Ritual Path Magic) as you like.

Melee Academy is all about skills, tactics, weapons, and armor in hand fighting in GURPS. While it will tend to be, I think, focused on TL0-4, there’s no reason it needs to stay that way. One thing to not do here is stuff on guns and blasters. If we start to see another good chunk of these crop up, I’ll go ahead and create

The Firing Range: how-to and how-not-to content about firearms and ultra-tech weapons for ranged combat. Lightsabers would go in Melee Academy. But again, skills, tactics, weapons and armor, talking about firearms and their higher technology brethren.

Also, if articles overlap between Melee Academy and The Grappling Mat, that’s cool. I’ll link through twice.

So . . . any suggestions or additions? Please, do pile on!

The Fine Print: There will be a bit of a screening process, though. I will likely shy away from “GURPS is broken” posts, and I’m going to focus the content on Rules-as-Published, which means if you’ve got an awesome alternate weapon skill system with a linked damage progression, that’s great, but it’s not Melee Academy or GURPS 101 (house rules are at least GURPS 201, possibly GURPS 404, that course that you tack on the last half of your senior year). 

When I took a look at the most and least seemingly popular/favorable Pyramid issues since the magazine’s third incarnation, a few issues on the bottom were very poor sellers, but really gave no indication of why. I wanted to revisit each of these and do an article-by-article review, in the same manner that I reviewed Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay or Pyramid #3/61: Way of the Warrior. While those links go to the root articles, so to speak, every individual article got it’s own post.

This starts the series on The Power of Myth.

Contents

The issue starts of with the mission statement of hitting up pieces of myth, in the general and specific sense, that you can’t just go look up on Wikipedia or Google. So by design, this one was going to be a bit esoteric.

The article titles are:

THE GOLDEN GENIZA OF EZKALI, by Matt Riggsby
SEVEN MYTHICAL ARTIFACTS FOR DUNGEON FANTASY by Antoni Ten Monrós
EIDETIC MEMORY: BABA YAGA by David L. Pulver
THE JOURNEY OF THE DEAD by Kyla Ward
THE BEAR MYTH by Alan Leddon
BABYLON RISING by J. Edward Tremlett
ART OF PROPHECY by Megan McDonald
RANDOM THOUGHT TABLE: MYTHING AROUND by Steven Marsh, Pyramid Editor
ODDS AND ENDS featuring Murphy’s Rules

So seven “meat” articles, plus the usual bookends setting up and closing out the issue.

One thing that strikes me is that while I know four of these guys well, I’d not really heard of Kyla, Alan, or Megan before (surely my fault, not theirs; I’m darn sure they haven’t heard of me).

My first impression, on reading the table of contents, is that I have no idea what the feature article is going to be about. None whatsoever. Matt dutifully explains what a Geniza is right away in his introductory paragraphs, but my first impression is that 9 of 37 content pages, perhaps 25% of the entire issue, are a total unknown, giving no hint what I might be paying for.

OK, then boom . . . seven cool toys for DF. If I play DF (and I do), this one is surely going to have some value to me, though one might wonder if they’re going to be too high powered for general use. Still, it plays down the middle of the plate for the best-selling genre in GURPS (and in RPGing, for that matter).

Eidetic Memory: Baba Yaga. Having not really heard much about Baba Yaga until reading the article, this one wasn’t an instant draw for me.

The Journey of the Dead? Hmm. OK. Maybe.

As a matter of fact, way, way more than maybe. This was my favorite article in the issue, but I’ll get to that later, when I do the detailed review.

The Bear Myth. I expect something having to do with Native American folklore here (and as it turns out, it’s a lot more than that).

Babylon Rising. Intriguing and inviting title. Makes me want to read it.

Art of Prophecy. I’m going to guess at this point that it has something to do with how to deal with destiny and foreshadowing in games, which if true, will be a really neat article if done well. Something like an RPG with so very much player agency (if done right) makes the whole destiny thing hard to pull off. After all, when you steer players to a particular place, people scream railroading pretty fast.

So would the table of contents have drawn me in if I hadn’t already had a subscription? Possibly not.

Now, granted, compare with Pyramid #3/57, which is only four issues old. I’m a gun nut, so this would have been a sale from the title alone. But even without it, you get 12 pages of modern gear, 2 pages on magic bullets, something clearly game-mechanically related, two articles on what looks like a particular type of gun, and the intriguingly titled “The Devil’s Chariot,” which is entirely evocative. And written by Hans, so double win.



The average number of non-subscription sales for a Pyramid issue after the first few months have passed is 260. The standard deviation of that is about 70. So anywhere between 190 and 330 sales, and the middle half of all those stable issues spans between 190 and 310 copies sold. Pyramid #3/38 has sold 182 copies (which is actually one more than when I did the analysis, so the long tail is thin, but real!). So it’s lingering at the top of the bottom.

I’ll give away the ending before I review each article. I think this one has some hidden gems in it, notably The Journey of the Dead.

What I’m going to do is rate each issue as follows:

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Did the article draw me in, was it well organized, and did it the writing engage me and make me want to (a) read it, and (b) finish it? A score of 0 means that the writing didn’t get in the way. -2 would be that the writing or organization detracted from the work, and 2 is something that was notable as something enjoyable to read, much less use. Honestly, +Steven Marsh is a good editor, and the articles that will make his cut aren’t likely to be detractors from the work. I reserve “dear God this is awful” as a potential scoring, but I don’t expect to use it much for Pyramid.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: This category is all that is good when one says “fluff” in a GURPS context. The things that make you go “a ha!!” about a rule (but not the rule itself), or a background that is rich and vibrant and tactile. Concepts that can be mined for goodness and inspire adventures, campaign arcs, or worldbuilding. A 0 here contains little that really drives the use of things – a rule that doesn’t solve an actual problem or enable enhanced narrative, an adventure that requires insertion into a very specific setting that isn’t common. A 4 is “I want to use this, run this, and my gaming is better for having read it, much less imported it into my game.”

Drop-in Gaming Utliity [0 to 4 points]: This is the ability to go from paper to game with minimal effort and pre-work. Things you can drop right in, start using right away, even in an existing campaign, that enhance without nerfing existing stuff? That’s a 4. Articles that are maybe awesome, but will require rebuilding an entire world around them, or can’t be used without wrecking the existing rules, or require four other issues of Pyramid or e23 supplements that aren’t really “core” to use? Closer to zero.

With that, we’ll get into the first article . . . in the next post!