Last few days or a week or so I’ve been laying out the Dragon Heresy Introductory Set. The manuscript is done, cut down from 410,000 words to about 149,500, and 55,000 of those are completely awesome monsters.

But InDesign, basically the industry standard layout package, is a CAD program for words. It is ridiculously functional, but what it is not is a word processor. Certain things, like “line spacing,” are not really things in layout. Oh, they exist, but line spacing is all sorts of things, mostly “leading,” (named for the strips of lead placed between lines of text), but there’s space before, after, during, around the side . . .

Anyway, two minor victories last night.

First, columns and frames. I didn’t like the way my spell lists were coming out. I wanted it to be more clear what spells were what level. It took a lot of manipulation, but I finally got it.

Hint 1: Turn Text Threading On

To solve the presentation issue, I wound up having to create at least three to five different frames. It took a bit to get the size right. The only way I could rationalize it all is to keep the text thread viewer turned on. That’s the blue lines that connect how the text flows from frame to frame. Out from one arrow, into the other. Whenever something wasn’t behaving right, keeping this on solved the issue two times in three for me.

(Note: whenever it doesn’t work, it’s my fault. InDesign doth not guess what to do. It does what you tell it, even if you tell it wrong.)

So turn on Text threads from the View–>Extras–>Show Text Threads menu stack, and you’ll see blue lines (mine are blue, anyway). They help.

Hint 2: GREP, GREP, Baby

My second issue was poor spacing for spell descriptions. Words are pages, and pages are money.

I started with a poor spacing issue, probably because my No Spaces style in Word did not import properly into the RTF when I round-tripped the file to InDesign for style cleanup.

So I had too much space in the spells.

It was a slog, but eventually I figured out how to fix it. I made a Character Style called Spell Statistics with the leading set to 50% instead of 120% of the character font size. I then used Find/Change (CTRL-F) and the GREP function in the menu with this command


That selects everything between the lead-in word Range: (with the colon) to the forced line break/paragraph mark (\r). For the replace, I replaced the existing character style with Spell Statistics. Click Change All, and boom – 104 replacements in a matter of seconds.

Repeat for Components: and Duration: and it was all done.

Hint 3: Round Trippin’ Across the Universe

The final bit is a commonly-used tactic to clear out the copious amounts of crap from the Word styles menu. Short version, Place the doc file in its own new text frame in a brand new document, with all other documents closed, just to be sure. Ignore that it will overflow the frame. Click in the text somewhere (this is important) with the Text tool, then Export. It will come up as RTF, and you re-save your file this way.

Now, close everything. When you Place into whatever your working document template is in InDesign, and you do Style Mapping, ONLY the styles you use in your document are going to come in. In fact, I might have even lost a few (see above). But I once had 83 ToC entry styles and if you don’t exclude them, you have to map them to something (or nothing) one by one, which is irksome.

Nothing New Under the Sun

These hints are not me being original or clever. I found tutorials on the web, or talked to experts, or (with the particular GREP thing) used a google search for regular expressions to find the right wildcards.

But they helped me, and so I record them for posterity’s sake.


Has anyone ever tried to work out Altered Time Rate, the GURPS advantage that gives you multiple maneuvers for each of your one-second turns, by going Champions on its butt?

It seems that one could look at ATR 1 for a character with (say) Basic Speed 8 as “take a turn at speed 8, and another at speed 4.” ATR 3 might be going at 8, 5.3, and 2.7.

That’s not usually how things are done in GURPS, but it would seem to emergently solve a lot of confusion.


Earlier I went through and took a stab at what it costs to develop an RPG book. One can consider these, in somewhat imprecise terms, economic costs, rather than an accounting or cash-flow cost, in that it’s not required to write checks for all of them. Further, the costs presented represent doing everything on a contracting basis, and everything bespoke, meaning created for your game from scratch.

This is not remotely the only way to do it. It’s probably not even necessarily the best way to do it.

So I’m going to muse here on ways to reduce both the economic cost as well as the cash cost of RPG development. Continue reading “Economizing on RPG Development Costs”

I tend to be pretty transparent here at Gaming Ballistic, perhaps even too much so. Still, it came as a surprise to me – though it was, in a Rumsfeldian sense, a known unknown – just what it took to make a game. For example, I had always thought that print games were simply much more expensive to design and produce than PDF, and the casual derision occasionally flung at PDFs on some boards reinforced that.

Turns out that with modern publishing methods, at least for me, the only difference between “make it a PDF” and “make it print” is your InDesign output settings. Exaggeration? Perhaps, but not by much. The print costs are non-trivial, true. But they’re also not nearly the bulk of the cost.

There was a discussion of “Production Values” on the SJG Forums, where I offered to lay down what my estimates of costs were to make a game. It’s not universal – every company is different, I’m sure. There will be a lot of “from X to Y” in it, because sometimes you pay what you have to, and sometimes you pay what you want to. It’s also going to include some things that many small companies don’t “pay” for, because they do it out of sweat equity. I do this myself, and it’s probably not smart.

Linear and Non-Linear Costs

Many of the things here are what I’d call linear costs. They scale very directly on a per-word basis, or indirectly, in that you don’t technically pay by the word, but you might pay by the page, or have an average number of things you have to do based on layout, which will put a certain number of words on a page.

I’m going to use Lost Hall of Tyr as my primary example in most cases. Mostly because start to finish, it’s completely done, and I have a very good idea of what I spent on it, having maintained my spreadsheet and updated it as “projected cost” turned to “real cost.” If you really wanted to get good, first make your budgetary sheet, and then copy it and lock it, and make “actual expenses” a separate tracking item. Continue reading “RPG Development Costs”

This post initially appeared on Michael’s Google+ feed, but I liked it so much I asked him if I could repost it on my blog. He agreed.

Since disadvantages are unofficial topic of the week I’ve been thinking about our storied history of disadvantages and I was writing a HUGE response to Douglas Cole and realized it wasn’t really even on topic. So I decided to post separately.

For the longest time we had religiously made characters with 40D 5Q. We fell into some very predictable patterns because at that range we all had favorites. We may try a different disadvantage that fit the character but Chris always had Bad Temper, Nate Always had Sadist, Alex always had Sense of Duty, and as much as I like to pretend I’m the Alpha roleplayer, a lot of my characters had Impulsive. We just found things that worked better for our play style and personality as roleplayers but that turned into a rut. Players anticipated that we’d make these characters and they built characters on that assumption. We didnt’ try new things or grow very much.

We had also done those insane games with 100points in disadvantages, but we weren’t used to that scope so we didn’t have that balance of disadvantages that Douglas Cole talks about. We’d go all in on big-point disadvantages or have just a huge laundry list of disadvantages that we couldn’t manage to roleplay well. And we’d invariably choose those favorite Disadvantages again too. Continue reading “Disadvantages: An argument for template (guest post by Michael Wolf)”

I’m gearing up to play in a DFRPG/DF game (I think DF) with Christopher Rice. My character will be a classic Elf Scout, with an extra 100 points baked in from the start for Reasons. He’s definitely a bad-ass.

That being said, the way that you pick disads in GURPS can be rough. You need a lot of them even by default at 250 points, with the basic templates calling for-50 points in disads, which could be as few as 3 15-pointers, or as many as 10 5-pointers. That can be a lot of boolean menu-picking.

The issues usually comes in, for me, in the number of them I have to play. The current guy has about 100 points of disads. Some of them are racial and have to do with the campaign background as an elf. Some are job-related as not just a warrior, but a leader of warriors. Some of them are pure characterization. Each one adds something to the character, but there’s a lot to keep track of, and many are similar.

Aspects of Pointless Dungeons!

This won’t surprise anyone. Similarly-themed disads are a LOT like Aspects in Fate. They define how you act, both good and bad. In “Pointless Looting and Slaying,” Sean Punch put in “Heroic Flaws,” of which you take five. Each is a short, pithy statement that is basically a weak Aspect. As I know Sean either plays or has played Fate, I’m somewhat sure this was intentional.

But the concept of having 3-5 things that drive your character makes a lot of sense if you’re forcing yourself to write down or codify your behaviors for the purposes of tracking in a point-buy system. If OSR guys find themselves grunting “just roll 3d6 in order and go kill some orcs, for f**k’s sake,” this is me acknowledging the value of your character is what your character does, go play it.

Still, what I realized as I looked at my paper dude is that he really has a few archetypes going on here.

Duty and Honor. He feels honor-bound to respect, protect, and watch out for friends and foes, within limits. As a soldier, he trusts  comrades in arms with your life, and expects the same. He will fight to kill any enemy, but respects opponents nonetheless, acting with honor even among extreme violence. His blood-kin are his lifeline and reason for living, and strives to be worthy of the respect they’ve given you”

High Strung and Lethal. Combat is for keeps, and he’s been born and bred for it. He’s impulsive and bloody-minded, and has run into too many foes that regenerate or otherwise won’t stay down to not ensure that each foe is down, permanently. Living and training among a society of powerful magic-users means he uses injurious techniques without much thinking about it, since, well, when he was a kid, the training master was a ridiculously powerful mage that would just make it all better.

Damn Elf. Dragons and their kin hate me, and I hate them right back. I glow with unmistakeable power, and that power makes me think I can do anything, and especially do more than those damned city-dwellers. I’m right, of course, but with patient teaching, one day they’ll learn something. One day. For some reason, this attitude rubs folks wrong. Who knew?

The first and third each encompass something like 40 points in traits; the middle one is maybe 20. But they’re a darn-sight easier to remember than the traits that make them up individually.

Pointless Redux

Sean’s article from Alternatte Dungeons (Pyr #3/72) may be one of my favorite GURPS articles of all time. The general concept in reducing the required granularity of choices by making each one more meaningful (and “Under the Hood,” the component GURPS parts are all there) is something I would have LOVED to see as a different way to approach the Dungeon Fantasy RPG.

For Disads, treating each Aspect or Heroic Foible (to borrow both from Heroic Flaws from #3/72 and a term for something similar Christopher used in the Ceteri campaign) as basically the equivalent of a 25-point cluster of disads, and scoping them so they’re about that influential, means that you can create memorable characters with a minimum of fuss.

Indeed, the division in Pointless Looting and Slaying of stuff you can do into Major and Minor abilities (roughly 20-25 and 10 points, respectively) keeps the flexibility and modularity that is GURPS, but greatly reduces the front-loaded chargen for which it’s justly (in)famous.

I liked it then, I like it now, and when it comes to sitting at the table, I know that I will be able to reflect my character’s actions in the three traits above in every scene and interaction.

Now I can go slay some dragons. Best if I find ’em and do ’em first. I’ve got my Elvish Longbow chucking quarter-pound arrows for 2d+5 impaling damage each. Or I bring the armor-piercers at 2d+5 (2) pi.

It’s the only way to be sure.

DM Guild Logo links to DM Guild on OBS/DriveThru

Rob Conley over at Bat in the Attic just put up an important post for those considering using the DM’s Guild as a vector for publishing.

Here it is, complete with provocative title!

OBS Content Program is terrible and it is now not just an opinion

Basically, the net/net of it is that if you publish in the DM’s Guild, you’re basically doing a bit of retroactive Work for Hire. You can reuse your own stuff, but only on the DM’s Guild. Others can re-use your stuff, but only on the DM’s Guild. If you want to incorporate pre-written or pre-published content into your DM’s Guild work . . . don’t, because the content on DM’s Guild is exclusive to the DM’s Guild.

I had considered using DM’s Guild as a vector for my Dragon Heresy work, but even without Rob’s recent clarifications, the “no Kickstarters” rule scared me away, as I wanted to develop my own look and feel and layout and fill my stuff with cool art. Can’t do that on DM’s Guild.

Not saying DM’s Guild is all bad all the time. If you want to create content and have it released once and for all into the WotC ecosystem and only in that ecosystem, it might still be a great thing for you. But do so with your eyes open: content created in this program is theirs, not yours, after you put it on that platform.

One might say, and be correct, that this is the price one pays for having all of the Product Identity, from Beholders to Tiamat to the Forgotten Realms and others, at your disposal. And that’s true. If that’s your thing (and fine works spring from it), than that’s great. It’s a reasonable vector for things as long as you realize that once on DM’s Guild, your stuff is not yours anymore. It’s part of a shared IP gestalt that’s available in and through the DM’s Guild infrastructure and that’s all.

For me, it was never an option, because Kickstarter. But if you ever think “Hey, my setting would do well in [Some Other System],” then the  DM’s Guild is not for you. If you want your own brand to be important, then DM’s Guild utility is much lower (you can’t put your logo or brand identity on the outside of the work, only on the inside).

It’s a good set of Q&A, and Rob’s right: his musings aren’t opinions anymore. They’re policy. Read it, ask your own questions, and if you want to go into the DM’s Guild (and there are many fine products available through it), do so with your eyes fully open.


Thanks to all for coming by and reading the DFRPG post yesterday. While it wasn’t my most successful post ever (that honor belongs to my post on shields last year), it was very well read, and I hope that encouraged you to poke around the site more.

Two things I wanted to touch on here before I leave this topic for a while.

DFRPG and New Customers

In brief – the fact that the GURPS Basic Set was in the top earners for 2017, to me, indicates that one of the primary purposes for the game (the #1 purpose of course being to get a self-contained game out into folks’ hands to play) was actually accomplished. New people got into GURPS well enough that the Basic Set was on the list of top earners for the first time in a while that I can remember.

I suspect that many of those folks are branching out from the DFRPG, but of course I have no data there.

Internal not External

I’ll reiterate that I believe that there was no dissembling when internal delays and development costs were the issue, and that indeed, as a few commenters noted on my blog, the SJG Forums, and various social media groups . . . since all the numbers I crunched could not only have been crunched beforehand, they didn’t even really need the Kickstarter to crunch ’em, wasn’t the “failure” fore-ordained.

Not only is the answer “basically, yes,” but Steve himself said it:

It’s worth excerpting because it’s key. The visibility to this would have been high. They’d have crunched ’em before, during, and as they were about to go to print. Nothing about the status was hidden to them as things progressed. As cost and time overruns happened, “what success needs to look like” would have been updated too. Continue reading “DFRPG: New Customers vs Cost Overruns”

The Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying game (DFRPG) was a nifty experiment, which aimed to deliver something that games based on GURPS sorely needed: an entry point to the game that was ready-to-run as-is.

Not telling anyone anything they don’t know, but games Powered by GURPS are subtractive. Much like the cliche about making a sculpture being removing everything but the subject matter, playing in a campaign is a matter of deciding what flavor of game you want to play, and then subtracting out all of the core and supplements that aren’t the game you want to play.

I’m going to refer to the whittled down versions of the rules as Powered by GURPS, so that I can distinguish between the entire GURPS line, the Dungeon Fantasy sub-line, and the altered and updated Dungeon Fantasy RPG rules that take the approach I mentioned. Take the core of GURPS, throw out what you don’t want, tweak the rest, and then play. So when I say that you’re playing Powered by GURPS (PbG) you’re using 3d6 roll low, four attributes, roll high for effect, all d6s of nearly any flavor. That’s the engine, while the DFRPG or any particular campaign is the game. Perhaps this will be a distinction without a difference, but for my own sake and for clarity, I will make it for this post.

The DFRPG went through Kickstarter, and the campaign went well, raising over $175,000 from over 1,500 backers. It suffered some delays in production. It was promised in May 2017, went to the printers at the end of April 2017, and started shipping to US backers in September (I actually got my copy in August, as a top-tier backer that went to GenCon to play with the ever-delightful Sean Punch). So the entire thing was about 4-5 months behind schedule, and the planned development time was 8 months, and a total of about a year was realized.

A lot was riding on this experiment, as “we’ll see how the DFRPG sales go” was the answer to the oft-repeated question to inquiries of “what about [this other genre]?!”

The game that was produced is gorgeous, exceeding the usual production values for GURPS books and PDFs in its use of interior color printing, and shipped with five books, the largest of which was 128 pages. It also came with dice and a few full-color printed maps for the included adventure. While it was available bare-bones in the Kickstarter for $50, the retail game hit the stores at MSRP of $60.

So . . . how did it go? It went well and not well. The game sold through its initial (reduced) print run, but was declared a failure in the 2017 Report to the Stakeholders, which SJG publishes each year to let the gaming customers know what’s going on.

There were bright spots and dark spots in the report for the DFRPG and the reports that followed, and I just want to muse on them a bit.

It must be noted: I am speculating ruthlessly in the following post, and I have no special knowledge that I’ve included in the post that would lead me to believe my numbers are accurate. I’m guessing. But a game that relatively quickly sells out its first print run apparently will not be reprinted, despite being #6 on the revenue charts . . . that means a cost/revenue imbalance on the cost side of things, and in the game industry, that’s not that hard a place to arrive at.

Continue reading “Dungeon Fantasy RPG: Aftermath of Report to the Stakeholders”

So, one frequently looks back at older projects with more-experienced eyes and says: “Ugh. I could do that better now.”

My very first book, GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling is no different. It’s the original basis for Dungeon Grappling, and that of course was the basis for my adventure Lost Hall of Tyr.

One if the things that’s built into the book is a way to figure out what happens to folks if you grapple them by different body parts. If you grab an arm and a leg, well, you should be impeded. But maybe not as much as equally-strong grapples on the head and torso. In any case, the main book has an admittedly complicated method of resolving these secondary effects, called “referred control.”

It’s a good idea . . . in theory. At the game table, it’s fiddle. Frankly, it’d be awesome with an app or spreadsheet. The prevalence of cell phones and PDAs would make that easy, actually.

But games mostly shouldn’t require an app. You should be able to roll-and-shout if you wanna.

Peter Dell’Orto and I worked out a simpler system a while ago, that gets very nearly to the same place as the main TG book, and is even easier. We’ve since done more work on it, but also moved on to other projects and focuses. The conversation on the GURPS Forums made me want to pull out my hair in a “what the heck was I thinking?” way, so I figured I’d offer up a small glimpse as to a simplification possible that makes for faster play.

Effects of Control Points

To determine the total control inflicted on an opponent, sum the CP for any locations being grappled, and apply the following:

  • All regions actively grappled are penalized based on the total CP to the entire creature. The whole-body skill penalty is also based on this same figure.
  • Every other body part is treated as grappled for 1/2 the total CP; practically this means halve all penalties, dropping fractions.

As always, the whole-body DX penalty is halved for parries and blocks, and quartered for dodge. In most cases, the whole-body penalty (and thus total CP) is all you need; only resort to referred control and figuring the half-CP penalties if something odd comes up, like one character trying to pry a sword out of the off hand of a monster while a fellow Barbarian is grappling that monster to keep it immobile.

Here’s an example that highlights a few changes, including a tweak that bases all grapples on one hand, since the most likely situation for a dungeon delver puts a weapon in the other hand.

Example: Honus Honusson (ST 17, DX 14, Striking ST 2, Brawling-15, Sumo Wrestling-16, SM+1, one-handed Trained ST 10 thanks to Sumo Wrestling at DX+2, for 1d-2 CP) grapples a troll (ST 20, DX 13, Wrestling-15, also SM+1; assume a one-handed grapple of 1d CP, -1 DX per 4 CP) by the neck with one hand and rolls a 6. That gives him 4 CP on the troll’s neck, for a -2 ST and -1 DX on the neck and for whole-body actions including skill use; half penalties on the rest of the body, giving the troll a -1 ST and no DX penalty for actions taken only with those limbs.

The reduced DX penalty is due to the troll’s high ST increasing the number of CP required to inflict a penalty to DX (Bigger and Stronger, Technical Grappling, p. 9). The troll grabs Honus right back, with both arms (for +3 per die) and a bite to the torso, and hits with both despite the -1 DX to whole-body actions. Honus fails to defend against either, and suffers 5 CP from the arms and 5 basic damage and thus 5 CP from the bite (which fails to penetrate his DR, and inflicts 0 damage.) The troll now has 10 CP on Honus’s torso, giving Honus -5 ST and -3 DX (his ST 17 means -1 DX for every 3 CP rather than 2).

On his next turn Honus grabs the troll’s left arm with his free hand, and rolls well again, getting a 5 and scoring 3 CP. The troll has suffered a total of 7 CP, giving him a -3 ST and -1 DX on the neck, the grappled arm, and for whole-body actions and skill use. The rest of the troll’s body is at -1 ST and no DX penalty for actions.

Parting Shot

The method presented takes a lot of the calculation out of the issue. You have total control points, you know which limbs or body parts are grappled, and which are not. Most of the usual stuff can be calculated with the whole-body total CP (-1 ST and DX for every 2 CP for a ST 10 target) and then if a player says “but why can’t I kick with my un-grappled leg?” you can assess close combat penalties, apply the “half penalty” rule for un-grappled parts, roll and shout, and move on.

There are ways to simplify things even further, and a proper redesign of the TG system that retains “attack, defend, roll for damage” as the basic mechanic (which it should) would go even farther towards using the same type of systems found in the basic GURPS or DFRPG games for when bad things happen to you. For one, rather than the constantly sliding ST score, one would calculate a Control Maximum as I did in Dungeon Grappling, and as GURPS/DFRPG and many other games do with Hit Points.

As you grapple, if you pass thresholds you get certain conditions applied to you. More than 30% of your control Maximum and all damage rolls are at -1 per die and you’re at a 30% penalty to DX, lather/rinse/repeat at 60% and 85-90% for two more thresholds, and if you exceed the Control Maximum the foe is pinned and helpless (this would mean they’re at 0 ST and -100% to DX, meaning they can’t even roll anyway).

Simpler is better, and while the core of Technical Grappling is very solid, the presentation and flow of the material isn’t what I would be able to do with it today.