I love fighters. Paladins too, but I love fighters. Even when magic and other superpowers are available, I tend to play characters whose main mode of interaction with bad guys is to beat the bejeezus out of them. Partly this is a quirk of mine: when it comes time to sit down and game, I’m usually looking for  a way to unwind, and delving into “what spells or powers do I have now?” isn’t as fun for me as clever ways to do more direct action. When I played “Commander Samurai,” who usually just went by the title “The Commander,” in the GURPS Aeon Campaign, I mostly played him as Batman – ghosting into the situation with a ridiculously high Stealth skill, attacking with fists, guns, or telekinetically-enhanced versions of both, and then vanishing again. He had other powers; we eventually rewrote him because I didn’t use them.

Anyway: to return. I loves me some fighters. When I reposted my take on the Samurai from a year or two ago, a helpful poster aimed me at an Unearthed Arcana dedicated to the topic, specifically the samurai. I read through it, and had thoughts.

Fighter Archetypes

In 5e, what you’re really adding isn’t different character classes in most cases (this is good), but instead adding Fighter Archetypes – which basically means you’re adding thematically unified sets of powers that show up (for the fighter) at different levels. For fighter, you get Martial Archetype boosts at 3rd level (on selection), and then 7th, 10th, 15th, and 18th.

The 3rd level abilities usually define the archetype. The rest are power-ups.

The four new archetypes presented are the Arcane Archer, the Knight, the Samurai, and the Sharpshooter. Continue reading “Review – Unearthed Arcana: Fighter”

I’m a member of the Indie Game Developer Network. So when a member wrote that his Kickstarter was mid-swing, and a surfeit of real-life obligations prevented him from doing marketing for great justice (nod to Zero Wing). I offered to take a look at his product and review it.

The Book of Nouns

Well, yeah. The book contains about 80 different write-ups, categorized as landscapes; cities, towns, and buildings; events; people. There are twenty of each. There’s typically a full-color photograph of the thing in question, and a few pages of writeup, in 6×9 format. Every entry ends with some thoughts on how to use the idea in play.

It’s a straight-forward concept, and one might wonder if it’s needed in the age of Google? I’ll throw down an answer, which is that the world and it’s history is a vast and unruly place, and in order to search for something, you need to know it exists, or be very clever in your search terms.

This book takes some places you might or might not have heard of, people who have done great things (“terrible . . . but great,” to borrow a phrase, in some cases), cities and other events that make a place noteworthy, and then served ’em up to you as a jumping-off point for ideas.

Examples

I won’t spoil it, of course. But there are some very interesting entries in there.

Son Doong Cave

Oh, megadungeons. Not real. Too fake. Too contrived. Could never exist.

Hah. Then you’re not aware of Son Doong Cave – which I was not. Five and a half miles of caves (that’s 2,900 10′ map squares, or if you do four squares to the inch for your graph paper, you’re talking something like a map that’s sixty feet long). And that’s just the linear dimention. Some of the caves are 600′ wide and (more impressively, perhaps) 450′ tall, which is enough to easily support some pretty horrifying avian threats. Like dinosaurs. Just sayin’.

Tell me you can’t see great encounters happening in here? Continue reading “Review: Archive – Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs”

Over on his blog, Brandon Stoddard offers up an in-depth analysis, from his perspective, of a giant list of feats in the Fifth Edition rules. He might have thrown in some Unearthed Arcana in there too.

You might read his analysis and conclude he’s totally off his rocker. You might agree with every point. Regardless, he makes his case and gives you the reasons he’s saying what he’s saying, so you can fight it out with tact and eloquence.

I really grooved on reading his stuff, so I’m going to comment on his stuff, but I’m also going to give some insight into the Feats in Dragon Heresy, and see if they pass muster based on what he’s noted, in a follow-on post. Some may, some may not. I was inspired heavily by Fifth Edition Feats by Total Party Kill games, though I made changes as required and needed for Dragon Heresy. The single feat in SRD5.1 means you have to start somewhere. Continue reading “Feat Design and Dragon Heresy”

Preamble: Dungeon Fantasy

Steve Jackson Games is conservatively being bold. They are trying a purpose-built RPG, powered by the GURPS engine, that takes the self-contained model to its logical conclusion. They are supporting a high production value release that they funded in a successful Kickstarter.

This release follows what I consider a pretty successful pattern for generic games. You see it for Savage Worlds, you see it for GUMSHOE, and you see it for Fate. (The various DnD games can be considered an inverted degenerate case – they were written specifically in this mold, and it takes work – like was done for d20 Modern – to break out of that mold.)

In any case, it distills all of the material from the many Dungeon Fantasy subsystem releases and many potential candidates from Pyramid issues and says “this is what you need to play Dungeon Fantasy.” The game will be released with five books, each somewhat thin, but enabling simultaneous at-the-table consultation. That’s the same pathway I’m taking with Dragon Heresy, and for the same reason (though with three hardcover books rather than five softcovers). Here’s the text from the Kickstarter page:

  • Adventurers (128 pages). GURPS is famous for letting you play any character you can imagine. Dungeon Fantasy keeps this flexibility while trimming away unnecessary details, concentrating on just what matters to monster-slaying, treasure-hunting action: Pick from 11 classic professions and nine playable races, customize your alter-ego using quick-start templates and a powerful point-build system, and gear up with an equipment list that offers dozens of weapons and lets you assemble exactly the suit of armor that fits your image.

  • Exploits (112 pages). Learn how the heroes actually use their abilities and gear. That means combat, of course – and dozens of other activities, whether your thing is sneaking around, swinging from the scenery, exorcizing evil, or getting rich through cunning deals in town. This book also describes countless bad things that can befall adventurers (poison, traps, dismemberment, lava pits . . .), as well as good things, namely loot. And it’s full of practical advice to the Game Master who leads this three-ring circus: challenging the players, keeping the action moving, settling arguments, and much more.

  • Spells (80 pages). What would fantasy be without magic? Adventurers features four spellcasting professions (bard, cleric, druid, and wizard), and this volume describes over 400 spells to help you customize them. It also includes complete rules for how spells work – whether their power comes from the gods, Nature, or creepy tomes of forbidden wizardly knowledge.

  • Monsters (64 pages). Once the adventurers are ready, and armed with weapons and magic, it’s time to test their mettle! This catalog starts you out with more than 80 things that want to bite, claw, grab, sting, and curse the heroes – not just the predictable orcs and zombies, but also several Dungeon Fantasy originals. Each offers notes on tactics and variants, and the whole collection comes with advice and rules for adventurers dealing with monsters . . . and monsters dealing with adventurers.

  • Dungeon (24 pages). I Smell a Rat is a simple (but not simplistic!) quest designed to show new gamers the ropes. Like any classic hack ‘n’ slash adventure, it starts at the inn. From there, the heroes will find themselves facing traps, enemies, and unexpected twists – and finding treasure, although not necessarily gold and silver. Advice and “adventure hooks” let the Game Master challenge advanced players or spin the tale into a series of adventures.

The Kickstarter raised over $175,000 within Kickstarter itself, and then hit more stretch goals based on external orders. The stretch goals funded delivery of several more PDF-based support releases in the coming years. I also have to wonder now that SJG has embraced CreateSpace if they’ll make the new titles available via POD as well. Once you have the InDesign files, and once you say from the get-go “I will design to the annoying CreateSpace margin requirements” then providing POD is pretty easy, and would satisfy those that want physical copies of GURPS releases without forcing SJG to do offset runs that tie up inventory and funds. Win/win.

In any case, this is a long preamble to say that this post covers the first of the promised releases – the Welcome to Dungeon Fantasy issue of Pyramid Magazine, which features articles by some fairly big hitters in the Dungeon Fantasy space. Matt and David both provide adventure support, and Peter reflects on his multi-year Dungeon Fantasy campaign and distills wisdom. Christopher offers up some creatures to kill and eat the PCs. Continue reading “Sunday Review – Pyramid #3/98: Welcome to Dungeon Fantasy”

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

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

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