This is a repeat of an SJG Forums post made by Assistant Line Editor Jason “PK” Levine.

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A wise company looks to the future while carefully minding the past, and it’s in the latter spirit that we’ve offered back catalogs of our classic magazines. Roleplayer, which started as a newsletter and then evolved into our in-house magazine over a run of 30 issues, actually predates GURPS. The “house organ” position was later filled by Pyramid Classic, our full-color, 96-page magazine that also went for 30 issues before transitioning from print to online as “Pyramid Volume 2.”

In addition to being filled with useful articles and interesting editorials, these these magazines offer a window into the past of Steve Jackson Games. As such, we’ve had them available on Warehouse 23 for some time now (see links in the paragraph above). But we know that some people are completionists — they want it all or want nothing! — and it is for our fellow obsessives that we’ve created two new half-priced bundles.

The GURPS Roleplayer Bundle gives you all 30 issues of Roleplayer for just $30, and the Pyramid Classic Bundle similarly delivers all 30 issues of the first volume of Pyramid for just $75. You can think of these as “half off,” “buy one get one free,” or “a 50% savings” (well, okay, a 49.75% or 49.99% savings if you want to get technical), but it all adds up to the same thing: a way to snag ’em all without breaking your budget.

So strap on your archaeological ludographer’s jacket and delve back into a time when physical skills cost more and carrying capacity was linear. For only by understanding the past can we move forward!

GURPS Roleplayer Bundle

Store Link: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/SJG30-8399
Preview PDF: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG30-8399_preview.pdf

Pyramid Classic Bundle

Store Link: http://www.warehouse23.com/products/SJG30-8899
Preview PDF: http://www.warehouse23.com/media/SJG30-8899_preview.pdf

As reviews happen regarding my products, I have tried to keep up, and post links Thus far, Dungeon Grappling has been very well received critically. This might be because those that bother to review it are already part of its target audience – confirmation bias. The other side, that everyone knows grappling sucks, grappling rules suck harder, so why bother, is confirmation bias of a different sort.

I will still maintain my contention that grappling needs to be part of any game that features combat, though much like I mention in my Violent Resolution column To the Last, I Grapple with Thee, those rules need not be custom. Night’s Black Agents has its combat rules at such a level of granularity that it would be odd to treat grappling any differently than melee, and that logic is stated right in the book, explicitly. In fact, the less the grappling rules deviate from the regular combat rules, the better they are as an option that can be integrated easily with the normal flow at the table.

Shane was gracious enough to invite me on his program – my first “big” podcast on Dungeon Grappling, undertaken when the Kickstarter was still going, and when I wasn’t used to podcasts, and also before I got comfortable just getting out there with my message: grappling is awesome in real life, deserves to be awesome in games, and adopting a rules set that makes it that way will increase the potential energy of fun available for games.

In addition to having me on Shane Plays, he also independently reviewed the play of the game. And by that, I mean he actually played out some combats using the grappling rules and reported on how it worked for the game. This is great, not just because of the investment, but also because theorycraft is great, but some rules that you’d think are cumbersome by reading them just aren’t, and some that seem great on paper just suck. You can’t always tell until the dice hit the table. (Of course, sometimes you can.)

So to the end first: I think is review is both favorable and accurate. But I also think it presents a take on things that invite comment, so I’m going to indulge in a bit of quote-response.

First, head on over to Shane Plays and read the full review. I’ll wait, but I’m also going to quote selectively, so there may be missing context, and there will be definitely be missing text. His words are in quote-boxes, and mine follow.

Continue reading “Shane Plays Review of Dungeon Grappling – Comments”

Hernan Ruiz Carnauer is someone I’ve known for a bit. I’ve seen and envied his Battlegrounds program, and backed his last few Kickstarters, some of which funded, others which did not.

This one, though: MapForge, falls into the category of “Shut up and take my money!”

Look at those textures. And those are programmable tiles – watch the video, and you’ll see the stuff you can do.

Hernan has the moxie to pull this off, as any player of his Battlegrounds VTT can attest. It’s already funded, but awesome deserves to be rewarded. He’s very customer-oriented, and I know he’ll deliver.

I’m in for $30. You should be too. These are fantastic looking maps that you’ll be able to whip up, and if things get really good, perhaps modern maps, sci-fi maps, and other expansions are not far behind? That’s the kind of thing that happens if a project overfunds – you start looking for ways to deliver even more awesome to your backers and customers.

I thought I’d try and sweep up the reviews that have come in for Dungeon Grappling into one place. I may have missed a few, and if that’s the case, please ping me and I’ll add it!

Dungeon Grappling Review (Shane Plays)

I’m not one for suspense in reviews, so I’ll say right off the bat that I feel this is a good product and especially so given this is the author’s first RPG effort that I am aware of outside of articles and supplements for other games.

It offers a rich, alternative and, for the most part, non-lethal combat system that runs in parallel with the existing combat systems in D&D, Pathfinder and Swords & Wizardry.

Norbert G. Matausch (Combatives Instructor)

I like it. As a combatives instructor, I like it even more because it does well what all the other grappling rules I know have done poorly or not at all: it really makes grappling interesting. Very cool. Let’s not forget that grappling is as old as mankind, and that it was an important part of every complete weapon fighting system, e.g., medieval sword-fighting schools.

Recommended.

Dust Pan Games (Mark Van Vlack)

“My quick impression after reading through the rules quickly is this. Dungeon Grappling is very well thought out and very well produced supplement for fantasy games. As a supplement “Dungeon Grappling” will be best used by players and game masters who believe grappling is under-served by the rules normally provided in traditional fantasy games. While there is a bit of extra set up and book keeping involved, the result is more detailed and eloquent grappling for your game.

Conclusion: It’s legit. If you think your game will have or should have more grappling, it’s easily worth the purchase.”

ENWorld (Random Bystander)

These grappling rules are unlike any other grappling rules I have ever tried or read. They are fun and easy to use. They flow naturally, and make sense. At no point was I left wondering “How did this happen?” or “Why did this happen?”

Read more: http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?500121-Dungeon-Grappling-Kickstarter-is-now-live!#ixzz4YFpCS1bV

Games and Geekdom. (What do I know about Reviews?).

“it’s a solid, interesting product for multiple game systems, and it has value beyond literally using it at the table, just to see a well thought out breakdown of the game mechanics used in multiple similar, but different games. In other words, it’s well written, well thought out, and it will be useful and interesting for a wide range of gamers from a variety of systems.

Much like the Book of the Tarrasque, this book showcases what small press publishers can do with a topic that it just doesn’t make sense for major publishers to address.

**** (out of five)”

Misdirected Mark #246.

They took a look at the preview, and in summary:

  • They said it treats grappling the same way that they treat the Tarrasque in their own book, and said that in a positive way
  • Mentioned all the things you can do with it
  • Specifically called out that the book was “gorgeous”
  • Made postive mention of The Art of Dungeon Grappling, with 50% going to St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and 35% going as a bonus to the artists.

Castalia House (Jeffro Johnson, In the Mail).

“as much as I love the old games, I have to say… the grappling rules in basically everything in the bad old days were just plain garbage. Just like with old school mega-dungeons and the AD&D domain game, it’s taken a surprisingly long time to sort this out. You’ll probably want two copies, though: one to use with your big pile of ACKS books… and one to loan out to your new school acquaintances! (And I have to say… this book really does set off the ACKS line rather nicely…!)

Check it out!”

Quick Review: Dungeon Grappling – YouTube

Dungeon Grappling – eBook Review | Follow Me And Die!

I have already done a review of an advanced copyPDF, and book for Dungeon Grappling. Doug did above I beyond and along with the PDF released two eBook formats ePub & mobi.

I fired up my Kindle and loaded it up. It is Black & white with no graphics for speed at the table. All the content is otherwise the same. It has the linked table of contents and index like the PDF.

It has a clean and crisp layout. I’ve not tried using my Kindle at the table, but I may have to give it a go.”

Quasar Knight’s Fantasy Blog: KickTracking: Dungeon Grappling.

The book itself is 53 pages, full-color. The artwork is very good, and the meat of the mechanics can be summed up in the use of Control Points, a kind of pseudo-hit point system reflecting how “beaten into submission” a target is in regards to grappling. I can’t help but feel that won’t really cut down on “book-keeping clutter,” for as it is another value to keep track of in regards to hit points, spell slots, etc. Even more so if multiple creatures are grappled or grappling in the same fight.

The book seems rules-heavier than I like, but in regards to individual systems it does seem to make fighters, monks, and martial types quite competent in grappling in Swords & Wizardry. However, in Pathfinder  the problem of huge monsters having extremely high CMD (Combat Maneuver Defense) values is still a problem as the CMD is substituted for a target’s Grapple DC (or the overall defense value when people try to grapple you). As for 5th Edition, the Athletics skill is still important for various grappling moves and defenses, meaning that Bards and Rogues with Expertise and raging Barbarians are still the best class choices for this.

Although I was expecting a more quick and dirty rules-lite option in lieu of a gradient scale, the professionalism and early delivery of the KickStarter  helped earn trust from Gaming Ballistic and any future projects they might have in store.”

Castalia House Blog (Brian Renninger).

“I have greeted with enthusiasm Douglas Coles supplement Dungeon Grappling which introduces an excellent approach to adding wrestling and other unarmed combat to role playing games by adapting systems most players are familiar with. Dungeon Grappling has already been reviewed (see below) in several places so I won’t repeat what has already been said elsewhere other than to give a hearty recommendation for its use. Rather than a review, I thought I’d give a couple examples of how it might work in play.”

Follow Me and Die! (Final PDF Review)

“The PDF comes in at 53 pages, it has awesome art, and the table of contents is hyperlinked. The index also contains hyperlinks to the page numbers. Color coding of the section headers is continued in the table of contents and the index. There is a background image, but unlike most of them I have seen, here it is faded out so I can actually read the text. Attention to the details of both usability and legibility in the text is awesome!

One can take all of this system, or just the parts they need. I play AD&D, and its grappling system is so cumbersome that few dare try it. I plan to implement this in the games I run and an upcoming special project game on Roll20.”

 

Methods and Madness.

Overall, I am impressed with the work. Most problems I’ve noticed were fixed by turning the page – literally. “Wouldn’t it be better if…?”, “Oh, okay”; “But what about …?”, “I see, he thought of that too”. The author has provided multiple options for most mechanics – for example, when I wrote about Fifth Edition stunts, I mentioned some ups and down of using  using damage as a gauge of effectiveness instead of skill contests, and Douglas provides both options.

The book includes grappling for characters, monsters, spells, etc. It considers monks, thieves and other classes; it mentions using weapons when grappling and taking from your enemy. In short, Dungeon Grappling has all I could expect from a book like this. I would recommend it for anyone wanting to add more grappling to a 5e or S&W / OSR game.

RPGGeek.

“This supplement actually has me excited about grappling in my games again. I think it will make the fights easier and more exciting with better defined and more predictable outcomes. Basically, these are the grappling rules I’ve always wanted.”

The OmnusCritic. (preview review)

The OmnusCritic provides a 21-minute video review of the book, evaluating it and giving a passing grade on four criteria: aesthetics, writing, mechanics, and value.”

The Round Table with James Introcaso. (during the KS)

Less a review than a 75-minute discussion of the project, game rules for grappling, and other motivations and aesthetics animating the design. Still, if you really want to hear a passionate discussion of why grappling should be more important in fantasy RPGs . . . look no further than this conversation.

Tenkar’s Tavern. (preview review)

what I have looked at looks good. He even addresses rulesets with descending AC. I’ll give this a closer look over the coming week. Did I mention the buy in is just 5 bucks? Seriously. Currently PDF only, 5 bucks to solve my RPG grappling issues that have dogged me for the last 33 years or so? Priceless…”

Ravens’N’Pennies. (preview review)

“Dungeon Grappling is a cohesive set of rules that works across multiple iterations of Dungeons and Dragons. For those familiar with his work on GURPS Technical Grappling Doug approaches the problem in the same way, but tweaked for a different game engine – and it works surprisingly well. To tell you how easy it is I’ve not looked at the new Dungeons and Dragons, glanced at Swords and Wizardry, and gave up on Pathfinder a while back. The system he presents was intuitive, easy to understand, and provides a lot of flavor. In short, it’s a module you can just bolt on and go.”

Dungeon Fantastic.  (preview review)

“I’d urge you to check out this Kickstarter. Doug’s got a solid product here – I’ve seen it (I mean, its origin was a co-authored article and I’m the co-author) and it is good. It’s really superior to most of the clunky, ineffective, or downright risky grappling rules that come with so many games. Take a look and give it a chance.”

Follow Me, and Die! (preview review)

“This is something that has been needed in RPG’s for a long time. The Grappling Rules in AD&D are notoriously challenging to implement in play. The short and simple system introduced in Manor #8 is expanded in these pages. It gives a bare bones system and adds options and touches on how it can be used in specific systems. The basic rules will work for variations of the original game and clones, as well as later editions and variants of the original game.

The system is built on a basis of normal combat resolution. I like this approach. Use what is there instead of building a new system that doesn’t feel right. Another good example of this is what James Spahn did in White Star with vehicle combat using the same format as individual combat. I can’t think of a situation not explicitly covered in these rules.”

Original Edition Rules. (preview review)

“Dungeon Grappling is a supplement for your old-school RPG that gives a fast, simple, and robust system for moderating unarmed combat. We loved this system so much that we used it as inspiration for unarmed combat in the Guardians super hero role playing game, and has become the de facto system for all our Original Edition rules. ” The author of this review is Thomas Denmark, who wrote the Guardians superhero RPG with David Pulver.

Bat in the Attic. (preview review)

The basic idea is that there a better way of dealing with grappling. Doug developed a set of mechanics that takes the same basic mechanics of rolling to hit and inflicting damage and turns the result into something meaningful when it comes to grappling. He did this for GURPS and now he doing this for classic DnD, Pathfinder, and DnD 5e with the kickstarter.”

Shane Plays Radio. (during the Kickstarter)

This 30-minute live radio show got into a lot of things, but was a bit light on the details of the Dungeon Grappling Kickstarter itself. That was my fault.

Gothridge Manor. (preview review)

“When I run a game I like to have options available for my characters…good options. The way grappling stands in most games it isn’t a good option and the players don’t consider it when in combat. With Doug’s system, combat doesn’t need to be all or nothing. Kill or be killed. In this way it allows for more roleplaying. I’ve never liked the subdual rules of most fantasy RPGs. Basically it’s a crappy way of patching a hole over something the developers couldn’t figure out. Doug has figured it out. And it’s good. And it’s useful. And it doesn’t slow down play.”

After forwarding a preview copy to him, he read through it and delivers his feedback. Overall, he gives me a passing grade on aesthetics and layout, writing and editing, mechanics, and value. He put his money where his review was, too, and backed the project.

Some commentary:

  1. The Dungeon Grappling Kickstarter ends on Monday, December 5lady-and-the-minotaur
  2. I have enough faith in the trajectory that I have asked my artists to bypass black-and-white art and proceed directly to color for all interior artwork. I put my first complete work of art the page it was designed to sit in in a prior update.
  3. The print version (as you say, $23) also comes with a copy of the PDF, as well as a black and white, no-art, yes-tables eBook format for small screens and tablets.
  4. Fair point on the need for pre-work; the good news is one you HAVE that pre-work, you just play. This does give me an idea for a follow-on product – a table of monsters with Grapple DC, damage, and Control thresholds listed.
  5. I have redone the Quick Reference pages in the back of the book for more usability; there have also been some layout changes for the same purpose throughout the book to make uptake of the rules even better.

I will hopefully be able to show more finished art, and some of the sketches (half are in sketch mode, half pending), in upcoming updates.

The Last Gasp was a Pyramid article I wrote which was published in Pyramid #3/44. It added two things to GURPS – rules for making losing fatigue points a bit more horrible (long-term fatigue), and Action Points.

Action points actually got a mention on the Steven Marsh interview about GURPS, when he noted it as something that completely surprised him. How a major addition to a relatively old ruleset could come out of nowhere.

The Action Point system makes it so that every time you do something, from attack to defend, it costs you a few points. When you get to zero, you either have to spend a fatigue point to get half your HT back in Action Points, or pause to recover. The point was to encourage lulls and flurries in GURPS combat, organically, and on a one-second scale.

The article recommends using tokens for both AP and FP.

But you don’t have to anymore! The GURPS Forum member Legendsmith has created an App for that. It gives you a FP bar, tells you whether you’re in mild, severe, or deep fatigue, and gives you buttons to push to gain and lose FP and AP.

It’s pretty cool – check it out!

GURPS Last Gasp Assistant

So, as of the end of Day 2, we are 87% of the way to the basic funding goal, so things are going fairly well. A very low level of pledges will get us to the basic goal, but of course, I really want to hit at least the $4,000 level, so that I can fill the book with art. If we close in on that, there will likely be a few more stretch goals and reward levels I can comfortably add.

Dungeon Grappling has also gathered some early comments and a few reviews, where I invited someone to read the laid-out preliminary manuscript. Thus far, they’ve read it, and posted their review with no compensation or interactions with me from a “write about this” or “avoid that” level. They do, of course, tend to be folks that I’ve interacted with before. All of the folks I mention below (and likely more coming) are backers of the project. Continue reading “Dungeon Grappling – Update #4 (Early Reviews)”

The latest Unearthed Arcana came out recently, and its topic is Feats.

Now, feats are interesting to me, especially in 5e. They’re supposed to be boosts, not taken in any particular order, roughly equivalent in value to the +2 to one stat or +1 to two stats that you eschew by taking one.

This particular Unearthed Arcana gets into the design and crafting of such things, and has some truly cool little nuggets in it.

So, let’s get cracking, and do what is effectively a review article.

Introduction


The text here isn’t labeled as such, but it’s an introduction, and delves a bit into the purpose of Feats.

Firstly, it notes, feats are optional. Classes can’t refer to Feats, and Feats should never be explicitly part of a core class ability. 

Huh. Makes sense, I guess, though a lot of feats that I’ve seen online and on the internet effectively duplicate class abilities, usually plus or minus some features. I’ve seen Feats that basically grant a fighting style, and others give class options such as armor proficiency or weapon proficiencies.

In fact, I’d pretty much love to see a generic D&D version where nearly all class features and advancements could be expressed in terms of something like a Feat. What a powerful way to make generic the most popular RPG out there (broadly classing all D&D-flavored games, from old-school basic to Pathfinder to D&D5e as “the same” from this perspective, though bitter fights have just been started, gauntlets thrown down, and friendships destroyed. Alas.)


But that’s neither here nor there, and the purpose of Feats in 5e is cool flavor that doesn’t outweigh (or isn’t supposed to) a +2 to a stat, which is +1 to an attribute bonus and all related skills. Keep that in mind, because it’s key.

That should mean that any given feat should not give more than +1 to hit and +1 to damage on the average with a favored weapon. Oh, you might get more than that, but that should require some sort of activation situation, like using a reaction or bonus action, so that you’re giving up something you might need to get that bonus. And since that bonus action (for example) can be used to deliver an extra attack with an off-hand weapon, the upper bound for what you’re giving up to earn that extra can be high. 

The other thing that the text mentions is something I’d love to see expanded upon, which is that there are things that anyone can attempt, but a person with the Feat can do better. I’ve always loved this construction, because there are things like grappling throws, trips, takedowns, pushes, sweeps, etc. that anyone should be able to do, but that people with training should do better

There’s already an example of this in the off-hand weapon attack. Anyone can do it, but you don’t get your stat bonus . . . unless you have the right Feat, which allows it. The attribute bonus and the proficiency bonuses are both roughly equivalent – +1 to +5 for attributes (and +7 if you’re a Barbarian with uber-Strength), and +2 to +6 for proficiency.

So you could easily imagine actions where everyone could do a task with one half of that (all characters can do X and add their attribute bonus to the roll), but with a Feat, get both (but if you have the Experienced X Feat, you also add Proficiency).

Lastly, avoid chains of Feats. I like this because it makes it such that characters can grow organically, and it avoids some of the “system mastery rules over cool concepts” issues that games that have skill trees that stack up to be a dominating megapower can build.

It ends with a good rule of thumb: much like Backgrounds and the features beneath them, Feats should never overshadow the Class (and race) that are supposed to be the dominant choices in the game.

Weapon Mastery Feats


Interestingly enough, the first example is a negative one, which offers up a cool-sounding feat, and proceeds to illustrate what’s wrong with it.

Let’s start with the summary

  • Avoid additional die rolls. Good advice mostly, it tends to slow the game down. Look for other ways to activate something that still hew to the D&D core mechanic – roll once vs. a static target number, then apply effects. Only in rare circumstances like Contests do you roll twice, and then, it’s the target number that’s randomized.
  • Think hard about if everyone should be able to do something, and if so, invent a ruling that allows this, then make the Feat have limited application if required.
  • Think hard if your Feat is too narrowly tailored. While the warhammer example is in the forefront, looking closely at existing 5e Feats shows things like “crossbow master” don’t always just apply to crossbows, and some other weapon Feats apply to any weapon in two hands, not just the class of weapons called out in the title.

Fell Handed


The example “do this instead” feat provides both rules and unpacking of them.

  • A +1 to hit with the class of weapons used in the example is a very, very common thing. I was initially cautious about this, because it’s a +1 that’s equivalent to the +1 you get from +2 to your stat, and you’re only going to take this feat if you use it all the time in combat, or nearly so. But (!), it only applies to combat, and if you’ve got a nice wide range of challenges (lifting gates, arm wrestling, leaping chasms) that bonus to only attack rolls (but not damage!) really does cover significantly less ground than +2 to a stat.
  • The second example is a bit of rulesmongery that I never expected to see, which is using the advantage/disadvantaged condition in a way that utilizes both dice. It’s long been said in 5e games in which I’ve played “It’s a shame that double-20 I just rolled doesn’t mean anything!” Well, using the best die for the primary effect (or the worst in the case of disadvantage), but the normally-unused second die for a different effect? That’s freakin’ brilliant, and something I will shamelessly yoink at the first opportunity.
  • The last boost gives you a bonus to hit if you knock a shield aside, giving a +2. This is, again, a good “oh, that’s obvious when you say it” thing, but that +2 to offset the shield is a great way of doing it. D&D rolls devolve to “roll a flat d20 against a target number” mathematically, so rather than futz around with targets, boosting the hit roll does the same thing mathematically, and is faster. You can also easily envision expanding this – pulling or knocking a shield aside could be done by using an entire attack, a bonus action, or a Help action, and a Feat might give you proficiency (if you always get attribute) or attribute bonus (if you already get proficiency). This gets into the area of combat maneuvers, which I love as adding tactical flavor. 
  • The “Why I like it” section amplifies on the reasoning, and hits a few things I didn’t mention above. Flavor, for one, and 5e has a lot of good flavor elements, as well as mechanical crunch. 
Other Weapon Feats

The article then gives more example Feats. Let’s see if there’s any overall generalizations that can be made with the rest.

Blade Mastery gives you the +1 to attack rolls. It gives an example of using a reaction to gain a defensive boost, which is a neat way of using that feature. It gives a major boost to opportunity attacks (you get advantage), but since the victim always knows he’s walking into one (the triggers are not hidden), this is a boost, but not a game-changer. Walking into the range of a ready swordsman (or any other fighter) is risky, so deal with it. Also, the opportunity attack is also a reaction, so if you take it, you give up the defensive bonus that you can get with the other option. Getting +1 to AC when using a sword or other weapon is also part of many fighting styles (and presumably this would stack) so it’s not unheard of or unusual as a benefit.

Flail Mastery covers the same +1 to attack rolls (a common thread), allows you to bypass shields by burning your bonus action, and can use an opportunity attack (your reaction) to knock a person prone. This is better suited to Witchking-like flails than nunchuks (also a flail), but sort of includes the ability to wrap legs. With that in mind, it would be very interesting to, instead of this, make the user proficient in using the flexible weapon as a grappling aid, either giving advantage on Athletics checks while grappling, or enhancing an attribute or proficiency bonus. Having used flexible weapons to enhance grappling in my own marital arts training, weapon-enhanced grapples are a thing, and would be a great addition or substitution here.

Spear Mastery turns the spear into the martial weapon it has been through much of time, and when I read this, I nearly cheered. The nearly omnipresent +1 to attack rolls is there, but so also is turning the spear into a martial weapon, doing d8 in one hand and d10 in two. You can also set a spear to receive a charge, though this is more complicated rules-wise. It’s effectively an attack of opportunity (or at least, uses up your reaction), and has an escape clause via Disengage. Finally, a neat alternate use of reaction to extend the reach of a spear by 5 feet; I’d probably give disadvantage if this is done with a one-handed spear, but not if two-handed. Hard to control a six to nine foot pole with one hand gripped at the butt.

Tool Feats


The last three examples show that Feats aren’t only for weapons. No, really.

In a general sense, for these Feats:

  • An ability score goes up by 1, so that means that the rest of the bonuses are limited in value.
  • You get proficiency, or if you already have it, the equivalent of expertise (double proficiency bonus) with the tool set.
  • You can use your knowledge to instantly determine a piece of knowledge (such as identifying a potion as if you’d tasted it, or poison as if you could see or smell it) from a distance with no roll and no risk to yourself. 
  • You get a benefit that terms out with either a short or long rest that is in genre. Getting maximum benefit out of a healing potion or boosting hit dice for preparing a gourmet meal. 

A note about the Master of Disguise Feat. The third benefit, which is spending an hour watching a person in order to spend 8 hours making a disguise to mimic that person seems like a textbook example of something that you can do without the feat, but better with it. So, I’d probably look at things like

  • You need to study someone for 2-4 hours, or maybe 2d4 hours, in order to see and note everything about them in order to make a disguise. The Feat allows you do all of this in 1 hour, no roll.
  • If you have proficiency with a disguise kit, or by rolling at Disadvantage with Performance, you can craft a disguise in 8 hours. The Feat gives you double proficiency on the check, so that’s a win.
  • Donning the disguise takes but an action with the Feat, but 1d6x10 minutes without it.

So the Feat makes it all more slick, but with care and preparation, you can do this anyway.

Parting Shot

There’s a lot of great under-the-hood conceptual advice here to help make balanced and varied Feats. Given that Fifth Edition Feats presents rather a lot of these, and this Unearthed Arcana opens the door to still more, the two together provide a whole lot of inspiration, and no small amount of common-sense application knowledge, for creating such flavor on your own. Since every Ability Score Increase you get as a level advancement is (optionally!) a Feat instead, this gives yet another method for characters of identical class, race, and ability scores to differentiate themselves in a useful manner. I could easily see this sort of thing evolving based on weapons found in the dungeon. The character that picks up the enchanted flail can now craft a Feat to not only make the flail her own, but to make it obvious that it’s now a preferred weapon and fighting style. And that Barbarian that you modeled after a Viking Berserker now has the ability to treat the spear as the martial weapon you’ve always pictured it. 

In fact, the option to make a simple weapon into a martial one is interesting because it opens the door to things like Horsebow Warrior, which might allow a shortbow to do the same damage as a longbow if you spend time (weeks or months likely) crafting it yourself. Since very small horn and composite bows could easily hit 150 pounds of draw weight by virtue of just being that damn thick, having a shortbow hit for d8 won’t break belief or the game. Having an extra-powerful longbow hit for d10 (but no higher) puts it in the same range as a two-handed spear (OK, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch) or a cut with a two-handed longsword. That extra damage (which is really the equivalent of a +1) is also the same bonus you get with a +2 to DEX, but losing the +1 to attack rolls. Again, not game-breaking and directly inspired by the Spear Mastery Feat.

It’s been a while since I sat down to review the After the End (AtE) series by +Pk Levine  (the Rev Pee Kitty, Jason “PK” Levine, the assistant Line Editor for GURPS). I did a detail review of the first book, Wastelanders, which covered the characters book.

These worked-example series are not new for GURPS. The first and most spectacularly successful, with at least 20 volumes either published or in the works, was GURPS Dungeon Fantasy. Followed shortly by the less successful but in many ways more awesome GURPS Action, the over-the-top 400-point Monster Hunters (and for those who want to dial it down to a “mere” 200 points, you can get the Sidekicks volume), and now After the End.

To brush up on what’s come before, first go read Sunday Review: GURPS After the End 1 – Wastelanders. I’ll wait.

OK. Let’s get to it.

The Highlights

The second volume in worked-example series is the campaign book, and AtE2 is no exception. It’s concise one-page Table of Contents gives you 54 pages of content (including the index, which is two pages long). The book is divided into four chapters:

  1. The End. This walks you through defining how civilization ended, long ago. (5 pages)
  2. Wasteland Hazards. Depending on your choices for The End, this leads you through challenges that will have to be overcome in day to day adventuring. (21 pages)
  3. Boldly Going Forth. Each of the topics covered (my notation for what SJG calls C-HEADS) is a particular challenge to be met. Survival, terrain and ruins, combat, tech . . . even making friends in a dog-eat-people world. (19 pages)
  4. Post-Apocalyptic Game Mastering. A short section on styles of campaigns and how the feel of your game will reflect in the challenges and their resolution. (4 pages)
Introduction

The core of the introduction is perhaps a quarter-page of text. It lays out the mission of the book, which contains a very important note, made implicitly. 
The hazards that are to be faced are going to be laid out in detail, and those hazards are meant to be very well known to the players. The largest chapter in the book, Chapter 2 on hazards, is not supposed to be a surprise. The things required to survive, if not prosper or thrive, in the post-apocalyptic wasteland are things the players’ characters have been living with and doing all their lives. When they stop doing these things, they die. 
So don’t hide that – it’s player-facing info. In fact, here’s a player facing list of things that each skill, advantage, and ability can do provided by No School Grognard.
Chapter One: The End

To play a game set after the apocalypse, you have to know how it went down. Chapter 1 talks about different possible (not to say equally plausible) endings, and asks the classic SciFi question: what then?
Cause and Effects

The end will have different shapes and sizes. If a mysterious radiation surge or teleportation event simply removes 99.99% of the world’s population, leaving but a million random folks on the globe, that’s going to be very different than World War 5.
The key bit is in the lead-in paragraph to the topic. A single cause of the end of the world is unlikely. Ten at once is unbelievable. Also, while I’m glad the book didn’t go into it, a look at the difference between Proximate Cause and Ultimate Cause is useful here for prospective GMs. The ultimate cause is often the basic “what the heck happened?” question. The proximate cause or causes is what occurred as a result of that. Sure, the bombs fell, but it was the damage to food production, power, and loss of the transport network that killed civilization.
Each subtopic – a cause and it’s effects – is given three blocks of information. How the disaster might have been the primary cause of the fall of civilization, how this might have arisen as a secondary effect of some other cause, and what hazards are to be encountered as a result.
Listed Hazards include nuclear war, cosmological events, giant impact of a space object like a comet or asteroid, lethal pathogens, nature gone awry, SkyNet, societal breakdown, zombies, and aliens.
The primary cause information is pretty sparse, because mostly the intro text covers what the disaster is, and you don’t need to think too much about how a global nuclear war might be a bad thing. The secondary causes information is more subtle, because it talks about which items might likely spring from others (nuclear holocaust on a local scale to try and sterilize a run-away pathogen? Terrifyingly plausible). The key bit of secondary effects is when an event is unlikely as a secondary. A world-killing asteroid is not an also-ran . . . it’s the main event.
The most utility for the GM is in the Appropriate Hazards section, which is of course exactly what it says: which of the hazards detailed in Chapter Two are associated with this disaster.
Tech Level

A very, very, very short discussion of the implications of what the Tech Level (TL) of a world was at the time of its end introduces some key points . . . and then leaves them on the table for you to figure out. The warning can be summarized as “high TL stuff can change your campaign a lot,” with the caveat that low starting funds will limit how much gear can be had (that’s “nearly none,” since a fully functional Glock will run you more than 10x your starting funds in most cases).
How Long Ago

The final subtopic in this chapter discusses some interesting bits on when the world actually ended. The book is definitively not about living through it – thought that might make a fun one-shot mini-campaign – so the book talks about the implications of the space between the fall and the game. I’m going to rephrase the sections in terms of generations of about 30 years.
50 years ago. Plenty of people are still alive to remember the fall. In terms of 2015 (for easy math), the apocalypse happened in 1965. One can easily imagine someone who was in college or early adulthood being an elderly sage about the way life used to be. Or, if the world ended in 2015, the gae is set in 2065.
150 years ago. Everyone living at that time, even infants, is dead. The fall happened in 1865 – the US Civil War or the Crimean War ended the world. It will be difficult to imagine or know how people lived then, and even harder to imagine how they think. Dueling had gone out of fashion in the early to mid 1800s, and the dress sword was no longer the mark of a free man. And of course, formal US Slavery ended in this time period. If the world ended in 2015, the game is in 2165.
250 years ago. The world ended in 1765, before the American Colonies of England broke away. If the world ended in 2015, the game in 2265. Note that the TV show Babylon 5 is set in this time frame in the future – so uninterrupted, the world can be expected to be entirely different.

Chapter Two: Wasteland Hazards
The chapter on hazards is, by a narrow margin, the longest in the book. It details the kind of threats the players will face. It also makes explicit what was implied in the introduction: share this with your friends.

After making these decisions, it’s important for the GM to share them with the players, so they know how to build their characters. He doesn’t have to reveal any secrets or be overly specific: “In this world, rogue bots will be a huge issue. They’re everywhere. Because they scorched the sky, everything is freezing as well, so be prepared for ice and snow. Radiation, toxins, munitions, and nanotech will pop up occasionally. Other hazards will be relatively rare.”

Each type of hazard is given some thoughtful detail. While not precisely written up like a trap in Dungeons and Dragons, the game mechanical effects of encountering the hazard are always listed. Also listed are the skills required to detect, avoid, diagnose, and cure (or at least treat) the effects of the hazard. The traits that come in handy pop off the page thanks to judicious use of bold text for such.
Some of the treated hazards, and notes about them.
Chemicals and Munitions. This details the nasty byproducts of a modern society, stripped of the protections that usually arise around such things. Spills, dumps, and weapons are all covered, as are mutagens and other nasties.
Climate. When you can’t just go inside and shut the doors, trusting your air conditioning to protect you, weather and climate is a real threat. Even if you’re not basing the campaign around climate gone wrong, extreme heat or extreme cold can be lethal by themselves lacking appropriate gear and preparation. If that storm happens to be acid rain, or the sandstorm is blowing around a radioactive particulate too? Well, sucks. Also give a paragraph is the all-important topic of safe drinking water.
Disease. The hits keep on coming. Even if disease was the actual cause of the downfall, it’s not likely to just go away the way a nuke does. Sickness and disease are constant companions in the world, doubly so if it actually was the root cause of all the pain. The rules talk about diagnosis, discovery, interacting with diseases and their victims, immunity, and provides some sample diseases, such as cholera and mega-flu, and deals with weaponized versions of each.
Gangs. When law and order breaks down, people organize for good or ill. As this subsection is effectively one of the “nasty NPC” subsections, it’s three pages by itself. Encampments and raiding parties are details (and more), plus good advice on general attitude of a gang, from desperate (we do this ’cause we have to) to depraved (we do it for fun). Gangers are given mini-templates and some lenses as well, with three ganger subtypes (raider, O.G. (?), and Boss) and two lenses.
Mutants. A bit on detecting mutants, a bit on curing them. And then three more pages of a mutant bestiary. Human(ish) mutants, animals (with endearing names like killigator), and plants. 
Nanotechnology. Swarms of robots designed to destroy. As a hazard, you get the limited disassembler nano, the self-propagating grey goo, and two types of nanovirus – the nanoburn (delivers toxic damage after paralyzing you) and the proteus virus (rewrites your DNA; could even be beneficial . . . but probably isn’t).
Paramilitaries. Like gangs but better. And worse. More heavily armed and organized than gangs, these ex-mililtary, ex-law enforcement, ex-mercenary, or simply just a bunch of guys. The key is the organization and leadership tend to be more structured, and the gear tends to be more, well, militaristic. The section covers motivation, leadership, and resources, and then gives three sample soldiers. These groups are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, they are very, very dangerous. On the other . . . so much loot.
Radiation. The rules for radiation and radiation points are in AtE1. The rest of this short section gives skills for dealing with radiation and the dosages emitted by different threats.
Rogue Bots. Combat robots for the win. Could be an omnipresent threat (Reign of Steel; Terminator), or a one-off. How to determine a ‘bots strengths and weaknesses, and how to reprogram it. Two sample combat robots to kill characters.
Zombies. If you really, really want to go this way, buy the book (GURPS Zombies). But for this book, you get a healthy three pages so you can play your own version of 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead. Discusses variations on how they were caused/created, how they spread their condition, and two sample zombies. Then a subsection on horde combat for when you’re beset by a vast quantity of shamblers. This includes a quick-and-dirty box on the effects of being grappled, and the zombie takedown. The rest is a flow diagram for quick, low-to-no detail fighting when the PCs are outnumbered 2:1 or more. 
Chapter Three: Boldly Going Forth

The game makes the important assumption that the campaign is not “After the End: Hiding in a Bunker.” The next 19 pages detail the kinds of things that living and traveling in the wasteland will make you deal with.
Survival. The basics – hunting, gathering, finding water, making camp/shelter, and travel. Each has concise rules that are light on mechanics and heavy on results. Gathering is low-yield but safe. Hunting (with rules for using animals included) is higher yield but risky in both result and danger. A nice rule of thumb for travel with and without scouting ahead is provided. A lot can be ported out of this section to other games, but use caution – the entire book is predicated on it being a hazardous, post-disaster wasteland, not a verdant but low-TL wilderness. Subtle difference, but worth checking out.
Ruins and Bunkers. Structures are one of the important trappings of a civilization gone bad, and the book gives about four full pages (about 10% of the book, for comparison) to the topic. How to get in is really a section on what’s keeping you out. Fences, walls, hungry dinosaurs, and anti-intrusion machineguns all fit the bill. Creaky floors, falling walls (and ceilings!), and bringing the house down accidentally and on purpose will keep the players on their toes (assuming they have toes Mutants, you know). A box provides a simple falling table for when the floor gives out. Finally, a brief section on purposeful traps – poisons, bombs, zappers.
Scavenging. Sorting out the good stuff from mountains of useless crap for fun and profit. And survival. A handy table gives modifiers to your Scrounging roll based on what kind of area it is, and how well it’s been picked-over before. Typical types of loot are listed, and the odds of a “stash,” an intentionally-hidden mound of awesome. The results will be stuff depending on the quality of the roll, and tables provide inspiration. 
Inventions, Upgrades, and Repair. This is the “how to be a Gadgeteer” section, which is important to the genre. How to take the various crap you pull out of the wasteland and turn it into all the things Roy Hinkley makes on Gilligan’s Island. This is another large section, with rules for inventions worth up to millions provided (that’s a lot of bullets and bottlecaps). Upgrading, repairing, and analyzing the function of gear is also covered. (I have glossed over the detailed rules for inventing and creating things; it can be a metagame in and of itself; I’d caution GMs to watch for that if the gadgeteer is being a fun vampire).
Computers. The need for clean power, good operating conditions, and actual software and hardware to run it on will make these limited. And therefore valuable. 
Combat. Likely to be rather a lot of this. The first section borrows and modifies the simplified gunplay section from Action 2. Range bands and simplified rapid fire. Some optional rules like shooting two guns (also known as wasting twice as much ammo, which is actually money in this world), predictive shooting (ranged deceptive attacks), and using guns as melee weapons. There are brief rules for determining enemy tactics, using mockery and taunts, and the element of surprise.
Persuasion. Finally, three pages are dedicated to winning the mutated hearts and minds of your fellow wastelanders in ways that don’t involve high-speed projectiles. Befriending folks, creating followers, bartering in town are all covered as a list of tasks that you can do (see No School Grognard’s skill summary, linked above, for a consolidated ability-centric list). All sorts of personal and crowd-based situations are covered with this method, from shopping to riling up a mob.
Chapter Four: Post-Apocalyptic Game Mastering
The book closes with advice to the prospective GM on running the game.
Campaign Styles and Morality. These two sections give a bit of a matrix for campaign feel. Cinematic campaigns are built around the characters doing awesome stuff; the world exists for them. Heroic Realism and Gritty campaigns has the characters existing in the world, which really couldn’t give a rip about them. Heroic Realism has more opportunity to shine and excel. The Morality axis varies from ‘heart of gold’ to ‘every man for himself,’ and flavors the kinds of characters that will be made, and available design choices. Cinematic/Heroic characters are rather less likely to have Sadism.
Downtime. This section provides a useful schmorgasbord of things to do when you’re not actively adventuring. Gathering, scavenging, attracting throngs of followers, or building gadgets all qualify.
Gear. Advice on how to deal with expensive but fragile gear, but also how to emphasize the transitory nature of such finds. Sure, you found a car. But then the gang blows it up. That sniper rifle you found? Got sand in the bolt and now the chamber doesn’t seal. The laser pistol you covet? It wasn’t in your holster in the morning, and that attractive townie wasn’t in your tent when you woke up. In fact, said townie isn’t in town anymore.
Making Everyone Useful. This section is almost, but not quite, misnamed. It does cover making characters useful, but is really about the kind of challenges that are particularly appealing to each character type from AtE1. It also talks about how to tailor rewards for each type, so that challege, participation, and reward all are aimed appropriately at the kind of party that has been created.
Boxed Text
As always, peripheral but useful information is isolated and highlighted using boxed text. It might be my imagination, but this book seems to have more boxes than usual, though they are almost always very short.
Supernatural Ends. Clarifies that while supernatural apocalypses are possible (“Suddenly I find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.” -Riley Finn, Buffy the Vampire Slayer S4), they’ve been kept out of the book to keep it focus. I smell sequel.

Seriously – After the End X – Wrath of God Type Stuff would be a fun addition.

The Prodigal Colony and Even Shorter.  A rare double-D Boxhead (yeah, yeah, boob jokes. I get it.) Each section talks about a variation of the theme. The Prodigal Colony talks about a fully-functioning high TL colony sending a mission back to the lost and fallen homeworld of earth. This likely indicated a genre switch for the game . . . unless of course that colony had their own fall. Even Shorter notes that “apocalypse now” is not the focus of the book.
Temperature Tolerance. A very brief simplification of the advantage in question.
Slavers. A quick note on the value of human merchandise, and the conditions in which slaves are kept and held.
Hostile Townies. Not all unwelcoming persons travel around in vehicle convoys with flaming guitars. Some towns are just unfriendly. This box lists useful skills for detecting such, when the obvious “they’re shooting at us as a sign of welcome, like Minbari!” fails.
One of Us. Uh oh. Hidden mutants.
Aliens. What to do when it’s time for the close encounters to come out of the background. Stats for a Grey alien are provided.
Paramilitary Rank. One of the only places with a Rank advantage that has actual value. Small value, but value nonetheless.
Smart Zombies. Oh, you’re in for it now.
So You’ve Been Grappled. Simplified grappling at the hands of a zombie horde.
Complimentary Skills. Explains the nature and use of related skills to help with tasks.
Pack it Up! Having gear and keeping gear and knowing where gear is is the job for Freight Handling! With notes, tasks, and details on dealing with stowed stuff.
Blowing Stuff Up. Simple rules of thumb for breaking or totally destroying stuff. 
Falls. Simplified human-centered table for falling damage, for when the floor gives way.
Ruins are Dangerous. Yeah, well, duh. You go right ahead and explore that building. That radioactive, pathogen-ridden building.
Tech-Level Modifier. A quick table for use with the invention, repair, and gadget rules.
Selling Inventions. A rule for pricing stuff the players (or NPCs) come up with. Spoiler: it’s not worth as much as you think it should be. Ever.
Patching up. This is a 1/3-page box on how to adjudicate the various healing rules in a genre that has no fixed Tech Level assumptions. This is presented as a task list, and in most cases replacing any other healing rules with the guidelines here in other games probably isn’t a bad call.
New Gear. Three items, mostly medically-oriented.
Keeping Heroes Alive. This short box gives fates other than death, but requires the players to cooperate, and the GM to be lenient when it comes to horrible fates. Or at least lethal ones.
Gruesome Color. A very brief note on how cultural diversions can make the game more viscerally real.
Ballistic’s Report

One thing that cannot be said about AtE2 is that it’s missing big chunks of things you need. It’s all in there.
The book will aid a GM in walking through how the world ended, some secondary effects, and then provide associated hazards that will be encountered, to be shared with the players. Combined with the campaign style and morality in play, the players can then make appropriate characters.
The mechanics-centric take on on game tasks (survival, combat, interpersonal interaction, gear) is  welcome approach to this sort of thing, with the stylistic “skills in bold” drawing needed attention to where such things are located in the text. 
The material is well written and presented in a concise fashion. Sometimes too concise, as there are a few things that could have been usefully given just a bit more play, such as the implications of higher TL items.
The campaign book presented here is a toolkit book, more so than Action 2 or even Monster Hunters 2. Those have the advantage of having the world be more or less as-is, but with spies/monsters respectively. That allows for more flavor to emerge in the writing, which was not always as evident in this manuscript as other works by the same author. I think that’s the nature of the beast – if this book assumed a particular, fixed apocalypse with particular, fixed secondary disasters, more flavor could be evident. The only real slight here is that it makes the book read a bit dry. Still evocative and effective in achieving the goal, however, which is to facilitate world-building.
I know of at least one campaign, if not two, being spun up as I write this that take advantage of this book. And for that, it’s highly usable, with clear answers to “how do I do X?” that all are pointed at a common set of genre assumptions. In short, it is very successful as a worked-example campaign book. The bits on hazards and ruins are particularly exportable, too.
It’s a good book, and along with its character-based sibling, will allow the creation of rich games in the genre. Walking Dead? Check. Terminator? Check. This Quiet Earth? Check. Waterworld? You betcha. Road Warrior? Of course.
Can’t really ask for much more.