What happened before

We do the right amount of recon, and discover that homeless are disappearing and being killed from their old haunts beneath the city. We spend some time in a old magically inclined pub and find out that the Conclave is very much out of resources. Nonetheless, we hit the morgue and find that in all likelihood ghouls are coming out of the tunnels to eat and kill.

We prepare for an armed incursion. We have the right background on ghouls, try and optimize our loadouts accordingly (cut, burn, holy water, not guns). It’s time. We’re goin’ on a dungeon crawl in the sewer tunnels. Let’s get it on.

Continue reading “Ceteri Campaign S0E10 – Ghoul on Fire”

I think my first and only trip to GenCon was in 1994 or something. It was still in Milwaukee. West End Games was there, and I got to see Timothy Zahn and the WEG designers talk about Star Wars. Was cool.

Now, many (too many) years later, I’m GenCon bound again. I am kinda losin’ my mind about it.

First, the good: I’m playing in the Dungeon Fantasy RPG first-game experience with Sean Punch. That was a Kickstarter reward, and I expect it to be a hoot.

Next, the freakout. And while normally I’m good with crowds and pressure, this feels different.

  1. I’m a member of the IGDN and working the booth. I’m hoping that goes well, although there are things about it that are not optimal, it’ll be a good way to interact with a ton of folks coming by the booth, pitch my and others’ stuff, and see how things go.
  2. I’m running two games, the Grappling Smackdowns.
  3. The adventure I will run isn’t quite done yet. And I realized how much stuff I’d IDEALLY like to have to run a game (maps, tokens, lots of dice, all sorts of stuff) and how much I rely on my computer to run games these days.
  4. It’s been a while since I’ve GM’d at all; it’s been a while since I’ve GM’d 5e or Dragon Heresy in playtest, and that was with a very well-trusted group.
  5. I’m on a panel for the first time ever. We’ll see how that goes.

Anyway, I’m sure this will be a wonderful experience yadda yadda yadda. But my demo session isn’t nearly as complete as I want it to be (of course, I would have ideally finished it a month ago an playtested it eight times with eight groups), and my not-GenCon/not-writing schedule is packed today and tomorrow.

So . . . feelin’ queasy.

I’m working through my Grappling Smackdown scenario here, and setting the DCs for various tasks is a thing. I wanted to make a table to quickly inform me of roughly how hard something might be, so I figured I’d share the results. This isn’t a revelation, but it’s useful to me so it might be useful to you.

One useful tidbit from the post on The Standard Array: Joe Human PC with the standard array and who is proficient in a given task will sport a 13.5 attribute as a median, and of course have a +2 proficiency bonus. This makes the average starting boosts to the die rolls about +3.5.

I’ve picked out some example DCs. Obviously moving the DC up or down a point changes the odds of success (on the average) by 5%.

DC 6

At this level, a potted plant that isn’t proficient in the skill has a 50% chance of noticing something or accomplishing a task. I’m having to significantly question why bother rolling at all here. It’s a level that might get interesting if due to unfavorable terrain or darkness or something everyone gets disadvantage.

DC 8

A first level, proficient character with a 10 ability score will still succeed 75% of the time, or a non-proficient character with a 14, a solid but not exceptional DX, for example. This is a good level for a simple task which requires some talent or expertise to get through, but by and large will be a speed bump. Even my potted plant, above (-5 ability score, not proficient) if allowed a roll will succeed on a 13 or higher, 40% of the time.

DC 11

This is still an entry level task, where a completely non-proficient average guy can succeed 50% of the time. The median starting human PC will be succeeding on this by rolling an 8, so 65% chance of success. There’s only a 10% chance of failure for a typical proficient 10th level PC operating in the expert zone. A DC 11 means that it’s still expected most folks will do this well, but the odds of failure for the uninitiated are high.

At DC 11 and DC 12, a non-proficient character rolling against one of their lowest two ability scores (9-11 as a human) will more or less have a 50% chance of success. So it’s the dividing line for “requires some sort of atypical ability or advantage to succeed better than half the time.” Atypical for PCs, that is.

DC 14

Odds of a median first through fourth level PC who is proficient in the skill failing this roll is about 50%. At this level if you’re positing (say) a forked path for adventurers of 1st through 4th level (+2 proficiency), you’re basically saying “flip a coin.” I feel this is a pretty important DC level, as it sets the boundaries for making decisions in adventures. Want your “secret pathway” to come up about half the time? That’s about a DC 14 check . . . but you better be darn sure you have it in your mind that if everyone is allowed a roll, half the median party will fail, and half will succeed, assuming their attributes and skills are spread around a bit.

Anything harder than DC 14 will require advantage, high attributes, and high proficiency to make it a cake-walk. For example, a +4 bonus and +4 proficiency, given as a 10th level character with an 18 or 19 ability score, will still fail this check 25% of the time, although if they have expertise or can eke out advantage from somewhere, they’ll only fail if they crit.

DC 17

Now you’re into telling the GM and PCs you expect them to fail. A first level PC will need to roll 14 or higher to succeed here, and even our hypothetical +8 bonus 10th level proficient character will need to roll 9 or higher (60%). An untrained person using their “dump stat” of (say) 9 or 10 will have a 75-80% failure rate here. Only a true expert (has Expertise in the skill) at high proficiency with an outstanding ability score will be looking at this as trivial.

DC 17, though, is also the level where your low-level party expert (+2 proficiency, +4 in their chosen skill at 4th level due to an ability score improvement) has a 50% chance of success. So much as DC 11 or 12 is the dividing line for making it hard for the unskilled, DC 17 is the line above which only the truly exceptional will succeed more than they fail.

DC 21

Now you’re just being mean. You need +5 proficiency, +5 attribute score, and you have a 50% chance of making this. It’s the break-even for high-level, high-skill “this is still hard” tests. At low level, you’re saying “only a crit will get you here, and only if you have a bonus, at that.” Again, one has to ask why bother unless it’s something that you think the PCs might try but it’ll be pretty silly. Well, yes, you could leap the chasm, but it’s DC 21 . . . chances of success are low.

Parting Shot

So, hopefully this will be of use as a quick reference, if nothing else. Good ability score bonuses to keep in mind are probably +0 (dump stat), +1.5 (median starting character), +3 (expert starting character), and +5 (fully developed unless you’re breaking the 20-maximum rule, as some classes do). Proficiencies are +2 (starting), +4 (mid-level), and +6 (pinnacle). Figure out how likely you want success to be, and adjust from there. Ergo, a handy table. Well, handy for me.

Ability Score Proficiency 25% Success 50% success 75% Success
0 2 18 13 8
0 4 20 15 10
0 6 22 17 12
1.5 2 19.5 14.5 9.5
1.5 4 21.5 16.5 11.5
1.5 6 23.5 18.5 13.5
3 2 21 16 11
3 4 23 18 13
3 6 25 20 15
5 2 23 18 13
5 4 25 20 15
5 6 27 22 17

Thursday is GURPSDay! I’ve actually got a dedicated GURPSDay post today, but also, I did a lot of musing on shields this week. One of those got picked up by a prominent HEMA instructor, and went big. Well, big for me. But there’s a lot on making shields more interesting. Still: it’s GURPSDay, so let’s get started.

Welcome to the second year of GURPSDay, and here’s the pull for this week.

We’re currently drawing content from 89 blogs. Only 11 more to go until we’re pulling from 100! But we’ll need your help.

How? Two action items: post more, recruit more. It’s really that simple. More posters is more posts, and more interest in GURPS.

Below you can find the blog activity for the last week. There’s a whole lotta awesome GURPS going on. Read all the posts.

Not every blog posts about GURPS every week, but some are ridiculously prolific! The list is randomized, so different bloggers will be highlighted at the top of the post each week.

As always, if you’re interested in having your blog consolidated here, navigate over to The Instructions Page and drop me a line. Take special note of the RSS Settings Fix if you’re on WordPress.
Continue reading “GURPSDay Summary Aug 4 – Aug 10, 2017”

GURPS 4e introduced the combat technique, which in short was a way to buy off a penalty usually associated with an activity. Things like targeting a specific hit location, or buying off a penalty to strike behind you with a kick. There are also non-combat techniques. And some techniques, such as the somewhat-dreaded Arm Lock, could be purchased up from the base skill (Arm Lock defaults to Judo skill at no penalty, and you can buy up to Judo+4, or even Judo +6, for four and seven points respectively).

One thing that they ran in to quickly was pricing. At one point per point of penalty cancelled out, there was a bit of a mathematical ceiling on how many and how good you wanted to buy these up. Since you could get +1 to every thing you did with a combat skill for 4 points at the most, unless you had a very, very focused concept you really didn’t want to go there. Further, if you wanted four techniques, well, it was better to increase them through base skill.

This represents something of a reality, but it also means that two fighters can tend to be fairly similar, and folks have produced a few different alternate pricing mechanisms. Things like

  • A point in a technique gives you a +2 bonus
  • A point in a technique actually buys off the entire allowed penalty (if you can usually buy something from -4 to no penalty, a point in the technique buys it to max value).
  • Treating techniques as Perks, with a fairly involved pricing scheme.

Some of these just push the problem around a bit: the 1 point gives +2 (or potentially +1 to two things) means that instead of four techniques being unwise, it’s now eight. Of course, that’s a lot of techniques.

Still, what I was wondering about is if there’s a “thou shalt not nerf existing characters” way to approach differentiation of martial artists using the technique system.

There might be. Continue reading “Martial Arts Techniques – Focused Training”

About a week until GenCon, so what’s kickin’ in the hopper at Gaming Ballistic, LLC?

Dungeon Grappling and the Grappling Smackdown

To date, other than the 300 or so Kickstarter copies of Dungeon Grappling, I’ve moved 87 more via DriveThruRPG, of which nine were physical product. I’ve also sold 20 through my website, with a much higher fraction  (50%) procuring physical copies. My participation with the Indie Game Designer’s Network has moved a few more physical books (four, I believe). I have not sold a single copy through Amazon CreateSpace, and given how much of a pain it was to re-do the layout to their specs for active text and bleed (very large pain, with no help unless you want to pay them for a consult), I may reconsider doing that again. The print quality of CS did not blow me away, though it was a lot cheaper per copy than DriveThru. Case by case basis, I guess.

The Kickstarter itself broke even by the time all was said and done. I made a great looking book with solid rules content, paid for it all, and got it all out on time. I then ordered $662 worth of inventory. My revenue has been just north of $900, I think – which means that overall, Gaming Ballistic made about $300 in profit on a project basis.

I am, of course, substantially in the red as a company, because of things like paying for InDesign, hosting, and the remarkably non-trivial money of my own that has gone into Dragon Heresy in particular.

Still: Dungeon Grappling’s all-in profitability is on the order of 5% on a project basis.

I am still of the opinion that the Dungeon Grappling rules are very good for what they do, or at least the least-bad option of any I’ve encountered (unless as with many groups, you simply ignore grappling, which is the ultimate in rules-light play, I guess).

Which brings me to the Grappling Smackdown.  Continue reading “Gaming Ballistic Update and GenCon Grappling Smackdown”

What happened before

After the big showdown at the subway station, we found ourselves at least temporarily free from persecution by the sidhe, specifically the Children of the Storm. Having defeated them sufficiently in mostly-honorable combat, we managed to extricate ourselves from that. That left us headed for a bit of a time-skip, and we pick up the action in July 1999, having spent the better part of two and a half years (28 months) growing from teens to adults. All of us are independent, and either in college, or using our talents to begin to start make it on our own.

We’re about to exit tutorial mode…

Continue reading “The Chronicles of Ceteri: Ep9 – Ghoul Recon”

Monster Monday again. This time with a repurposed Invisible Stalker, an elemental of vengeance.

While some elementals are brought for benign reasons to the Realms of the Field, the Invisible Stalker is always brought for one purpose: to hunt and kill some quarry.

The invisible stalker is a limited form of air elemental, but has sacrificed some of its cousin’s offensive power (the whirlwind attack) for true invisibility, except for the exact moment it attacks. Even then, it is a DC 15 perception check to see the “thickening” of the air that occurs when the creature uses its melee attack.

It is the attack itself that is visible (and very audible!), however, and once it moves away from the target, it becomes invisible again.

Stalkers are not always summoned to evil intent, but they are always brought to the Realms of the Field for lethal intent. Unlike many other creatures, an Invisible Stalker will not stop attacking its target until it has reached more than double its wound maximum—it beats its target until the stalker is defeated or the foe is broken and dead on the ground.

Medium elemental, neutral

Speed 50 ft., fly 50 ft. (hover)

16 19 14 10 15 11
 +3  +4  +2 0  +2 0
Defenses   Wound Thresholds
Threat DC 14   Morale Injury KO Death
Hit DC 25 0-4 5-8 9-17 18+
DR 0 Control Thresholds
Vigor 104 Grab Grapple Restr. Incap.
Vigor Dice 16d8+32 0-5 6-10 11-20 21+


Proficiency +3

Skills. Perception +8, Stealth +10

Damage Resistances. Bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing from nonmagical attacks

Damage Immunities. Poison

Condition Immunities. Exhaustion, grappled, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, unconscious

Senses. Darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 18

Languages. Auran, understands Common but doesn’t speak it

Challenge 6 (2,300 XP)

Invisibility. The stalker is invisible.

Faultless Tracker. The stalker is given a quarry by its summoner. The stalker knows the direction and distance to its quarry as long as the two of them are on the same realm within Yggdrasil. The stalker also knows the location of its summoner.


Multiattack. The stalker makes two slam attacks.

Slam. Melee Weapon Attack: +7 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 2d6+3 thunder damage.

In Wednesday’s post, plus others, I mused on shields, and how actively they’re used. Thinking about DnD5e, and therefore Dragon Heresy as well, how can we model this, if we wanted to?


In a way, this is the easiest. The options are fairly straight-forward.

Protection Plus

The Protection fighting style allows giving an incoming attack disadvantage so long as it’s not directed at you. It costs you your reaction. OK, well, if you’re going to spend your reaction, you should benefit. So just extend it. Spend your reaction, and you can give one incoming attack disadvantage, so long as it’s directed at a target within five feet of your location. This includes yourself.

So between the +2 you get for just being proficient with a shield and the +5 (ish) you’d get for opting to stick your shield in your foe’s face, suddenly shields no longer suck so long as you’re using it actively. So actively, in fact, that you can’t make opportunity attacks or do all sorts of other things that come by spending your reaction.

I’m sure this is a house rule already in use all over the place, but it seems logical. Personally, I might allow the protection action to apply to yourself as a matter of being proficient with the shield; to use it for others provides the style. Or, perhaps, you can “protect” a fellow combatant by using your bonus action, and so long as you are within five feet of that creature, the first attack sent their way is at disadvantage. This does not use up your own reaction.

Obviously both would need playtesting. But shields would be very, very desirable here.


The dueling fighting style gives you more damage when you’re only using one weapon, but the other hand can use a shield.

Two-weapon fighting is for things like dual-dagger, and shortsword and dagger: two light weapons unless you take a Feat that’s in the PHB but not the SRD which allows you to fight with (say) rapier and dagger, or katana and wakisashi.

But what about aggressive sword-and-board? Let’s see how far we can get by just bastardizing the text.

Shield-Weapon Fighting
When you take the Attack action and attack with a light melee weapon that you’re holding in is being wielded with one hand, you can use a bonus action to attack with a different light melee weapon a shield that you’re holding in the other hand. You don’t add your ability modifier to the damage of the bonus attack, unless that modifier is negative. A medium shield strikes for 1d6 damage. You must be proficient with shields to take this fighting style.

Strikethrough is removed text; italics are added.

See above about being able to impose disadvantage on one attack directed at a shield-wielder by spending your reaction. Much like the Two-Weapon Fighter Feat allows you to add both the ability bonus and to use not-light weapons, there should probably be a version for Shield-Weapon fighting.

Either that, or simply let “a different light melee weapon” be appended with “a shield.” This would be best if 5e included a buckler-sized shield (say, at +1 to AC) that was 2 lbs and considered a light weapon/armor, and then the medium shield would be considered a not-light version.

Note: allowing a buckler to be actively used to induce disadvantage on one attack, at the cost of spending your reaction, but give no AC bonus, that is, +0 to AC, but allows this use of the reaction, would be a good way to go here as well.

Another way to go would be to allow the primary weapon to be either light or finesse weapons, so that Two-Weapon fighting would include sword-and-buckler or Florentine sword-and-dagger, but you’d need the feat to do shield-and-longsword, flail, battleaxe, or shield-and-spear (which is versatile, not finesse).

That’s not bad either, and might be preferred so one doesn’t waste a feat/style to mimic one of the more popular cinematic and realistic fighting methods!

Parting Shot

One has to be careful about mucking about with fundamental stuff in a deeply playtested game such as 5e. Tweaking bounded accuracy or changing fundamental assumptions of how certain things work (or don’t) can ripple through with some pretty big unintended consequences.

Still, advantage/disadvantage is not considered to be breaking such things, and it already exists, in a way, for the Protection fighting style for others. There’s really nothing between +2 to AC for being proficient with a shield, and the Dodge action which is a total defense that gives disadvantage on all attacks thrown at you.

Allowing being proficient with a shield to give the benefits of a dodge to a single attack by spending what seems to be one’s precious reaction hopefully shouldn’t break much. It will give a boost to shields that makes them more useful, which I like a lot. But they’re still vulnerable to multiple attacks by one or many foes – they can’t be everywhere.

I’ll have to review my Dragon Heresy manuscript. I do some cool things with shields in that ruleset, but I wonder if some of the ideas I’ve had here should either be added, or even replace some of the existing concepts.