This coming Monday, I’ll play in my first game with the new D&D rules, and I’m pretty excited about it. Now that I’ve gone through a character generation cycle, I find myself very impressed with the integrated Roll20 support for D&D. Lots of macros, auto-calculations, etc. Good stuff.

I’ll get to the numbers in a moment, but I really enjoyed how the roleplaying elements of the new edition interacted with the die rolls for statistics. When I happened to roll a very nice set of stats, the ideals, flaws, and other motivational aspects pushed me to choose the Noble. That is a solid step up over the “you’re on your own” support for roleplaying in, say, Swords and Wizardry. That which is measured or supported with mechanics is more likely to be acted on, and the six background elements (more later) there are a nice touch.

So here we go . . . 

The Die Rolls

I started with +Ken H telling me that the die-rolling method was 4d6 drop the lowest, allocate as I’d like. I tend to start with fighters, and human fighters specifically, in games in the fantasy genre with which I’m not familiar. Also, he gave me the cast of characters, and I noted that there was only one fighter-type, and a Barbarian at that:

  • Adzeer Mattiu, Hunter of the Second Circle (Half Orc, 8th Level Cleric)
  • Breena Honey-Badger Warrick (Gnome, 5th Level Barbarian)
  • Dante Rathburn (Human, 7th Level Warlock)
  • Duncan Kern (Gnome, 7th Level Rogue)
  • Luven Lightfingers (Human, 8th Level Rogue)
So I figured a straight-up fighter-type would be appropriate. I’m starting at 5th level, the lowest in the party along with said (gnome!) Barbarain.
In any case: the dice were kind. Raw rolls of 12, 15, 13, 13, 15, and 14! Choosing human gave me +1 to each of these (!), and I allocated them with my highest scores in STR and CON, and my third in WIS, since Wisdom is closely linked to perception rolls, and I like being able to notice stuff. I’d had a suggestion that since I was likely going to wear plate armor, that I could/should ignore DEX, but the concept of ignoring DEX as a fighter seems backwards to me. I put my “lowest” score,  a 13, in INT instead, and put my 14s in DEX and CHA. With the +2 CHA bonus, I felt that it was an indication of polish and sophistication. 
Leveling up and making choices

I started with 6500 experience points, at the start of 5th level. So I got +2 to one of my stats, or +1 to each . . . or a Feat. Some of those seem cool, and I was tempted, but I figured I’d leverage the opportunity to start with a really obnoxiously high STR instead. That also kept new rules to a minimum, and since I don’t yet have the Players Handbook, it meant I could do it all from the Basic Rules.
Mixing a few things together, I wound up choosing the Archery fighting style, and the Champion archetype (the only one in Basic, but it fit anyway). I chose a Noble background, combined with my skill choices has given me Athletics (grappling!) at +7, History at 14, Perception at 15, and Persuasion at 15 as well.
In terms of other choices, Ken and I decided that Nosphryc (I looked around my room, and saw Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. I took Crypto and Stephanson, came up with Cryptoson, and said, hmmm, maybe backwards. Nosotpyrc. Eh – Nospyrc? Nosphryc. There we go.) would have “a Wizard did it” as the basic reason he showed up miles underground in full armor and gear. 
But then I came up with the idea that it was voluntary. That part of the family tradition was that potential rulers have to go adventuring in order to both increase the wealth of the family and prove that they’re heroic and noble enough to rule. That inspired the choices for the roleplaying elements, and that led to the choices below.
A Full and Proper Kit

Ken allowed me to, since I was 5th level, start with plate armor. I decided that all of his weapon choices would be large and two-handed – no shields for him, though he could use them if he chose. So with the martial weapon proficiency, he picked up a Longbow, a glaive, a pair of handaxes, and a longsword. 
Ken also gave me a bunch of magic stuff: a +1 Sword, +3 vs. Undead (the Sword of Lendorth), an amulet that gives me +1 AC vs the undead (Amulet of Ren), Quickboots (40′ move regardless of encumbrance), a Medium Bag of Holding (to put all the loot in I need to bring back to my family), and a small handful of healing potions. When I’m not tramping around in my armor, I have fine clothes, a signet ring and scroll of pedigree, an explorer’s pack (which I’ll populate with the proper stuff before Monday), and his tokens of vice: a set of playing cards and a white, sequined lady’s glove that is not of good quality. At all.
Parting Shot

I’m gong to enjoy playing him, I think. He’s got decent mobility and AC 18, which I’m told is pretty decent. Against non-undead, he’ll roll 1d20+8 to hit with his sword, 1d20+7 but at longer reach to hit with his glaive. So in melee combat, he’ll range between 5 to 14 points of damage per hit, and 8-17 vs undead. Ranged weapons are the bow, which will reach out quite far, at 1d20+5 to hit, 3-10 damage, and the handaxes, closer-in but 1d20+7 and 5-10 points, for a smaller minimum. It’s slashing, though, rather than piercing, which is probably good against creatures that don’t have much structure to them. Skeletons and the like.
His STR and proficiency make him an excellent grappler , and he’s got good Perception to detect threats. I suspect he won’t be sneakin’ up on anyone, since his heavy armor disadvantages him on Stealth, but what with two rogues in the party, I think he’s more likely to be on the lookout to provide fire support when the rogues are out on point getting themselves in trouble.
I usually don’t play front-line types. I like me my rangers. But I wanted to stay basic for the start, and the Archery fighting style gives me a decent stand-off. I’ll definitely be looking for magical bows and arrows, though. If I could mitigate the clanky-clanky of the plate, he’d be a good point man – put a wall of metal and muscle up front.

I’m very excited. I asked to join a DnD game with some names you’re going to recognize when I post session reports, and was invited to join.

Because I don’t have access to the PHB, I”m sticking with the basics. Fifth level fighter, and he’s developing a nice backstory.

I rolled ridiculously well for stats: 4d6 drop lowest, plus being human, gave me 13, 16, 14, 14, 16, 15.


Right now, I’m considering Heavy Armor Feat instead of the +2 to stats, but I’m unsure. I don’t really have access to the feat list. If I just do stats, I can rock out with STR 18, DEX 15, CON 16, INT 13, WIS 14, CHA 14 or I can go with STR 17 and DEX 16. I like high DX for both the AC as well as often a bonus with ranged weapons. I’ve got an Archery specialty at the moment, but Great Weapon Fighting might be fun too. He’s going to let me start with plate armor, and my loadout is a longsword, longbow, glaive, and two handaxes.

The back story on him is At a certain age (18, 21, whatever) the noble scions of the House of the Azure Tabard (or some such) are sent on Quest. They’re teleported (voluntarily) way the hell away. They must adventure, thrive, enrich themselves to show they are worthy, lead men, follow men, slay monsters, fight for law, and . . . eventually . . . return home.

I’ve got some other notes on him, and I’ll post a final character when I’m done.
For now, though – I’m open to suggestions! What am I missing?

This post has been a long time coming; I first mentioned it back when I interviewed +Kenneth Hite maybe. It’s not that important, but it’s an idea that has been growing on me for a while, and I think my discussion with Ken crystalized something.

Frankly, it’s why I want to play a game of Night’s Black Agents, since my mind was jarred like Hawkeye’s in the Avengers when Ken told me that your point totals were only peripherally related to your ability with a given skill in Night’s Black Agents.

No, what the points measure is how many times you can be awesome in any given scene. They were related to skill, obviously, since if you can be awesome a lot, you’re probably good at something.

But ultimately, NBA is about screen time, as in “movie or TV.” It’s a narrative-based game.

And that’s OK.

Don’t Fight the System

Each game is going to be tailored to a particular style of play. The games I’ve been playing lately couldn’t really be more different on the cover. +Matt Finch‘s Swords and Wizardry Complete, GM’d by +Erik Tenkar, and GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, by either +Nathan Joy or Emily Smirle. Both of those, by the way, are converted D&D modules.

I have tons of fun in both games, but they’re different. Very different. Not “better” or “worse,” but very different.

Swords and Wizardry

To me, the thing about S&W (and based on the free version, D&D5 as well) is that the key is really in resource management. You are either going to run out of resources – spells, hit points, healing of various types – before you destroy your foe(s), or you won’t. At lower levels, and for some classes perhaps even higher levels – you don’t really have much of a choice to make.

Rul Scararm is a fighter. On any given turn, his only choice is really “shoot with my bow, or take a magical sword out of my golf bag and smite away.” Other than what target I’m swinging at – which is usually “the one in front of me,” or failing that “the one with the lowest HP,” since it’s better to take a guy out of the fight than whittle down a few of them – my choices are few.

The spellcasters have more choices; they’re the Omega of the game. Have the fighters hold the line, the wizard casts Web, and basically it’s all over but the looting. Or it’s not, in which case the fighters mop up. Now, the alternate rule Erik uses allows you to keep attacking (cleave) if you kill a guy, so the fighters can cleave up to their level, while other classes can cleave once. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I each have lain waste to 3-4 foes in one round this way.

So we’re useful, and we open a lot of doors with brute force. But the rate limiting step on our adventures is really a combination of our combined HP, the priest’s healing spells, the group’s potions (we always clean out the shop every adventure start), and the magic-user’s spells.

We embrace this. I’ve not noticed +Joe D (our magic-user) or +Tim Shorts (the cleric) complaining at all. Rul and Mirado go in first (sometimes we scout), set up a wall of pain, and then the other guys do something impressive if they can, or provide some additional carnage if they can’t. Any individual encounter isn’t that tense; the question is how much loot and how many experience points can we get before we deplete our resources. If we run out before we voluntarily quit – very likely someone’s going to die, or be about to die.

We don’t struggle against that. We strive to clear the most rooms and get the coolest stuff. We banter in and out of character. We tell really awful jokes, and without question it’s the most fun I have gaming these days.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy – All Options ON

In Nate and Emily’s games, we use the GURPS Dungeon Fantasy genre treatment. Well, sort of. They turn on a lot of Martial Arts switches. Emily has decided to use the same Technical Grappling variant Peter uses. We use a lot of Low-Tech armor rules, and even a nifty new armor system made by +Mark Langsdorf. They don’t like the regular spell magic system, so we’re using some sort of Threshold Magic.

Here, the challenge is that any fight can be deadly.

Any. Fight.

Get cocky and throw some All-Out Attack? Expect to be nailed if you don’t kill your foe, because you can’t defend. And unless you have DR 10+, you are likely to be vulnerable. With the TG system i place, getting thrown down and grappled by a monster is a real threat.

DF character templates are cool enough that there are lots of options for each blow, too. You aren’t limited by low skills. You can easily step up with Weapon-16 through Weapon-20 right out of the gate, They key is using your unique skill set to do tactically superior and effective things on any given turn.

Most fights are over in a couple of very long (in real time) turns, but every action has tension. You can critically succeed or fail, which means you can be suddenly awesome or really in trouble. My Warrior Saint, Cadmus, dispatched a swordsman with Broadsword-30 in one blow . . . because he turned his back on me while within my Move radius. Splorch.

The key bit here is that the GURPS rules as we were using them reward detailed tactical choices, and the system is deadly enough that you’re not going to have a hundred turns of it.

Now, GURPS can be played fast and loose. I’ve never run it that way, but I’ve played it that way. But I think that, in terms of not fighting the system, GURPS really shines when you can turn the detail up as high as your group’s comfort/enjoyment level will allow.


I fought the system, and the system won. I just didn’t get it, so I played my character in Trail of Cthulhu like I would a GURPS character. My focus was on any specific task, not on “do I want to be Awsome this scene, or not.”

In a way, the General and Investigative spends make GUMSHOE systems games of narrative resource management rather than tactical resource management.

The kicker here is that’s true of combat too. And if you fight the system, and it bothers you to a large degree that a .50BMG and a punch to the face really aren’t that different in potential effects, then you’re going to hate it. A lot.

But if you don’t fight the system, if you decide that your awesome martial artist is going to simply hold his own this fight, and accept the narrative, rather than the tactical, consequences (because when you get to that final battle in the episode, it’s on, baby) then you can enjoy it the way it’s meant to be played.

Parting Shot

Recently I spoke about games I’d like to play, and NBA and FATE were high on the list. I’ve never played in a game of FATE, but I made Thor as a character with +Leonard Balsera, and I’d love to experience the game. +Sean Punch recommends it as a narratively crunchy, rather than tactically cruchy, bag of fun.

Once I can guarantee my schedule is such that I can make the game, I’ll probably pester +James Introcaso to run a game or five of D&D5 for me (and Peter) at the very least, so I can experience the new thing.

But ultimately, it would probably behoove designers to both know and say what kind of game they expect you to be running, and how they designed the rules to support that game. For a game like GURPS, which can support many genre flavors, advice on “well, if you want tactical crunch, do X, Y, and Z with these books,” while if you want narrative, low-detail flavor, you simply must have Impulse Buys, and may need to hide Low-Tech and Tactical Shooting in a deep, dark hole.

By and large, I have a lot of fun gaming. The few times I have not, it can nearly always be attributed to expectations mismatch.

There’s a lesson there.

Right now I’m in basically two games. I play a weekly Dungeon Fantasy game that used to be running through the Jade Regent Adventure Path, but with GURPS. The other is a monthly-ish Swords and Wizardry game.

I used to play in a Pathfinder game as well, and a brief dabble with Trail of Cthulhu.

But there are other games I’d like to play in, to experience them for both how they flow mechanically and narratively.

So, what games would I like to experience?


I’m terribly curious about how this one would run. I ran through creating Thor in my interview with +Leonard Balsera  and I would be interested to see, in the hands of an experienced group, how the game would go. Not just “oh, I played this one session, and it sucked/was awesome,” but a real min-arc at least, so I can feel what it’s like to experience a variety of challenges and see what character growth feels like.

Now, saying “I want to play a game of FATE” is like saying “I want to play a game of HERO, or GURPS.” It’s a ruleset, not a genre.

So I’d probably want to try it out in a genre that traditionally GURPS does less well – full-on four-color superheroes, for example. Making Thor was so easy with FATE Accelerated that I’d like to try something in a similar vein.

Night’s Black Agents

Again, this one was brought on by my interview with +Kenneth Hite. I’d been pointed to the system before, and grilled him pretty hard about the mechanical choices in a GUMSHOE game. I left feeling very impressed, and with a much greater understanding of how that system is supposed to run, and what point spends mean.

Ironically, or perhaps not, in rereading my interview with Leonard, I see it was he, core designer of FATE, that turned me on to NBA. Small world, small world.

There’s an entire post in that – how not to fight the mechanics – but for now, what I really want to do is run through a campaign of NBA. Experience how a Vampyramid/Conspiramid unfolds. See if I can make my own web of intrigue, like the interactions board we saw in Chuck (I wonder if Zachary Levi kept the Tron poster?).

Playing Jason Bourne fighting vampires sounds like my kind of game.

Dungeons and Dragons, 5th Edition

I’ve been enjoying the S&W game, and frankly D&D5 feels a lot like that to me, but with more options and what is certainly going to be copious support. As a creator, if you’re going to write for something, you can do worse to try your hand at D&D, also.

But it is how I got introduced to RPGing, with the Moldvay Basic set and the awesome splendor of AD&D. I’ve played a bit of Pathfinder. So I’m familiar with some of the forebears to what is still (lumping WotC and Paizo together) the only force in the market, if you’re going to be honest.

So I’d love to experience what the new D&D is at the hands of someone who loves it. Maybe +James Introcaso can hook me up.

I’m quite aware of the many, um, dynamic arguments about the concept of Hit Points in the various Dungeons and Dragons games. Are they physical injury (the answer seems to be ‘mostly not’)? Are they a good way to represent injury (jury out, but very, very heated)? Are they realistic (clearly not, nor are they supposed to be).

For DnD-type games, how do they work at the base? 

For the record, why do I even ask? Just to level set things, including myself. It never hurts to start from a common point of reference.

Swords and Wizardry

 Hit Points are described simply as “the amount of damage one can handle before becoming incapacitated.” 

Also: “When a character (or creature) is hit, the amount of damage is deducted from hit points. When total hit points reach 0, the character is unconscious, and if hit points are brought down to –1 or lower, the character dies.”

An interesting note, and relevant to the rest of this post, is a box-text immediately after the above quote (p. 43 of S&W Complete):

A good potential house rule is attributed to Gary Gygax’sgaming table, a rumor that might or might not be true. Itallows a character to remain alive (although bleeding to deathat the rate of 1 hp/round if no assistance is rendered) until thecharacter reaches negative hit points equal to the character’slevel. In other words, a fifth-level character actually dies onlyupon reaching -5 hit points.

Comments; Well, you’re really at the razor’s edge in S&W. You’re hale and robust until you hit exactly 0 HP, and then you drop unconscious. Any negative points and, rules-as-written, you’re dead.

Dungeons & Dragons, 5th edition

This latest version of the D&D rules is more verbose about what HP are, as well as what losing them means. Quoting from the Player’s v0.2 rules:

“Hit points represent a combination of physical and mental durability, the will to live, and luck. Creatures with more hit points are more difficult to kill. Those with fewer hit points are more fragile.”

It’s pretty hard to outright kill a character, though:

Dropping to 0 Hit PointsWhen you drop to 0 hit points, you either die outright or fall unconscious, as explained in the following sections.

Instant DeathMassive damage can kill you instantly. When damage reduces you to 0 hit points and there is damage remaining, you die if the remaining damage equals or exceeds your hit point maximum.

For example, a cleric with a maximum of 12 hit points currently has 6 hit points. If she takes 18 damage from an attack, she is reduced to 0 hit points, but 12 damage remains. Because the remaining damage equals her hit point maximum, the cleric dies. 

Falling UnconsciousIf damage reduces you to 0 hit points and fails to kill you, you fall unconscious (see appendix A). This unconsciousness ends if you regain any hit points.

Comments: This basically means that if you’re hale and robust, you will fall unconscious at 0 HP, but must take damage that would bring you “fully negative” in a single blow to kill you instantly. However, the next section, “Death Saving Throws,” shows that if you have 0 HP, you will be making a Saving Throw each turn, and if you fail three of them, you die. On the average, then, unless you get a massive blow delivered, you will last about six turns before you die or stabilize.

In D&D5, then, HP are quite explicitly more than just physical injury, and include mental durability and toughness as well as luck. S&W leaves this implicit, if it’s meant at all.

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

It wouldn’t do to talk about HP without dealing with the other 800-lb. gorilla of the RPG industry, Paizo’s Pathfinder Core Rulebook.

In Pathfinder, HP “measure how hard you are to kill. No matter how many hit points you lose, your character isn’t hindered in any way until your hit points drop to 0 or lower.”

They go and define what they are, too: “the ability to take physical punishment and keep going, and the ability to turn a serious blow into a less serious one.”

If you hit exactly 0 HP, you’re disabled. When you go into negative HP territory (0 or lower), you’re disabled, unconcsious, and dying. Unconscious and Dying are both ‘conditions’ in Pathfinder, technical terms of art.

If you hit negative HP equal to your CON, you’re dead.

Comments: Still a bit of the razor’s edge, with the disabled thing starting at exactly 0 HP, but you have a buffer zone of HP equal to your CON where you’re KO’d, and then you’re dead. But KO’d isn’t really a way to stay – you’re dying and lose 1 HP per round until you actually die or are stabilized.

All D&D Variants

You gain HP every level, with a bonus for having high CON. So by the time you reach (say) 10th level, if you have (say) a 14 CON, you’ll have (as a bog-standard fighter) 75 HP in Pathfinder (on the average), 52.5 HP in S&W, and 75 HP in DnD5. 

At that level, you risk death or automatically die by taking 52.5 HP in S&W, or 75 HP in D&D5 (150 HP for ‘instant death!’), or 89 HP in Pathfinder.


What? GURPS isn’t DnD. 

No. No it is not. But it’s an interesting counterpoint. You only get more HP if you buy them, and your HP start equal to your ST. More powerful fighters avoid death by putting on armor (equivalent, sort of, to increasing AC), and having better Active Defenses (parry, block, dodge). But two characters of disparate skill and equal ST are equally easy to kill if they just stand there and don’t defend.

Edge Cases and Explicit Karma

So, with all that, what’s the point? I wonder if it would be useful or fun to hack at these concepts a bit, borrow from the best of all the systems, and come up with something that enhances the game.

Let’s start with . . . 
What’s a HP anyway?

I’m going to propose separating HP into two pools. I will call them Body and Karma. 
Your Body pool is your physical self. It’s not grit, will, skill, or luck. It’s bone and meat and represents blood and pain. You start with Body equal to your CON.
Option: Trying to decide if I should add the character’s level to this; I think yes. 
So your first level fighter with a decent CON score (say, 14) might start out with 15 body. If you don’t have level, use Hit Dice for monsters.
If these body points go to zero, you risk unconsiousness. If they go negative, you die.
Option: That rule, while simple, effectively gives more total HP. Might want to split it in two. You have Body equal to half your CON+Level (round up). You fall unconscious when you hit 0 Body. You die when you hit negative Body equal to half your CON + Level (round down). So your CON 14, first level fighter has 8 Body, and dies when he hits -7 body. A 16th level fighter with CON 16 has 16 Body and dies at -16 Body. Even that fighter is two sword strokes from KO, and four from death.

The other pool of points does represent luck, grit, skill, and mental toughness. Call it Karma, for lack of anything better. 
This is the conventional version of HP. Roll 1dWhatever just as normal, and that’s your karma pool. It gets the usual CON bonus (grit) and you get more HD per level as normal.
Why Have Both?

This helps differentiate between what is effectively fatigue and injury. If you have your AC overwhelmed by a blow, you have failed to dodge, your armor has failed to shrug off the blow. Reducing your Karma pool says that you managed to turn away at the last second (Pathfinder’s turning a real blow into a less serious one), got lucky, Legolas ‘clenched up’ (in the words of T. Stark) and just took it, or whatever. Burning karma won’t kill you.
Body, on the other hand . . . will. Getting knifed in the back by a thief? Shot from afar with no warning? Fall from a height? Yep. Bad juju, and those attacks hit Body directly.
Trading Karma for Body, and vice versa

One interesting thing would be to allow attacks that would otherwise be just applied to Body to be traded for karma. A lot more karma. 
You may reduce body injury taken down to as low as 1 Body (but never zero). Whatever the fraction you reduce the Body by, increase karma loss by that much!
Example: A 5th level fighter has CON 14, giving him 10 Body, and he dies at -9. He also has 38 karma points. He’s been fighting a bit, and is down to 34 karma points, and thanks to a poison trap, 4 body. A nasty, sneaky ninja knifes him in the armpit – this is an attack normally applied directly to Body. He rolls 2d4 damage and scores 8. Our fighter doesn’t feel like taking this much injury directly; he wants to stay conscious, and 8 body applied to his remaining 4 would leave him KO’d. Instead, he shifts it, taking 2 body (a 4x reduction), but to do that he has to take 4×8 = 32 karma points. He’s alive, conscious, and fully functional, but he’s at 2 Body and 2 karma remaining – his luck is about to run out.
Excess Karma

Once your karma runs out, you take damage 1:1 into your Body. If you have 10 karma and 8 Body, and take 12 HP damage, you’re at 0 Karma and 6 Body.
This might make the “trade body for karma” example above a math exercise, though. If you have the choice of taking 4 Body, 2 body and 8 karma, 1 Body and 16 karma, it’s a steady dose of “how much karma can I give up at the cost of diminishing returns in Body loss?” 
Maybe that’s not a bad thing.
What does Body?

Certain damage types should do straight-up body. A backstab, poison, falling damage, certainly. It would make spells like a 1d4 Magic Missile terrifying if they applied themselves directly to Body.
Parting Shot

The characterization of HP loss as sometimes due to injury, sometimes mental grit, sometimes luck bothers some people – I got the feeling during +Jonathan Henry‘s Giant Dragon Gamer Chat on Saturday night that +Gerardo Tasistro despised that vagueness with the fiery passion of 1,000 suns. 
My initial thought – not much different than what’s on this post – was that an explicit separation of “these points represent grit and skill; these others are your flesh and bone” might bridge this divide in a way that provides an acceptable balance.
It would also be quite interesting to look at the intersection of damage type (Pathfinder and D&D, for example, includes bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing) with Karma and Body. A bashing weapon might be 1:1 – you take body and karma in equal measure. Slashing weapons like swords might soak karma a 1:1, but any remaining body is doubled. Piercing weapons might get triple or quadruple body!
That would make the usual club, mace, sword, axe, spear, arrow thing look like this (let’s assume 3;1 for piercing) using the figures in the D&D5 book, against an Orc (CON 16, HD 2. Body 8, Karma 15).
Weapon          Usual Damage     Hit Karma       Hit Body      Max First Hit          Max Second Hit
Club             1d4 bludgeon    1d4              1d4            4 HP karma          4 HP karma
Longsword    1d8 slashing      1d8              2d8            8 karma               7 karma, 2 body 
2H Battleaxe 1d10 slash        1d10            2d10           10 karma             5 karma, 10 body
Spear            1d6 piercing     1d6              3d6             6 karma              6 karma
In this paradigm, if you can actually strike home with a thrust spear, the 3:1 piercing multiplier makes it a serious threat, equal to a sword or two-handed battleaxe at the high end.
Obviously this would require playtesting to see if it adds to the fun. But having two different pools like this would allow some interesting trade-offs. You could perhaps spend from your karma pool to do extra damage, for example. You’d not do it to avoid a blow – that’s what losing karma is already – but it might be a buy-in for certain Feats, too.
It would also allow the short rest thing to make a lot more satisfying sense. A short rest – a psychological siesta plus time to chill out – would certainly bring back karma . . . but not body. For that, you need healing potions or real time to mend.

Once again, my creativity is roused somewhat by a thread on the forums. This one’s on snakes and grappling.

One might imagine that I have something to say on this, being the GURPS grappling guy. One would be right.

The Raw Way (mostly)

If you have a snake that attacks by constriction, you have a snake that wants to make grappling attacks. While RAW I believe can be construed to allow a torso-based grapple if you have Constriction Attack and Double Jointed (see Martial Arts, p. 116), I would smack such legalisms on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper.

The snake first bites to grapple. This is a grappling attack with the mouth. You have to look for it, but a bit is a one-handed grapple (MA, p. 115 in the box for Teeth). You attack at full location penalties. If your foe fails to defend, you have him by the mouth with the equivalent of one hand. You also do thrust-1 damage. The foe is, technically, “grappled” at this point, and at -4 to DX . . . but the one-handed nature of the attack makes it easier to break free.

The next chance you get, you can follow up with the body grapple, and this one is at full ST, considered a two-handed grapple. I don’t know offhand if real snakes let go with the mouth once they have constricted the prey, but in any case, I’d just treat the snake as having its full ST.

Once that grapple occurs, the snake will apply his Constriction Attack, using the Bear Hug technique (MA, p. 117) to crush the foe to death. If the foe is too large to simply crush, the snake will suffocate if it can.

Seems to me that many snakes will actually buy a Combination (MA, p. 80) to bite and grapple with the torso as a bought-off Rapid Strike. I’ve seen video of ball pythons doing their thing, and that “bite and wrap it up” thing is fast.

Technical Grappling

There’s actually an entry on p. 44 for Constrictor Snakes. Bite to grapple and do thr-1 Control Points (1d-1 for the python in the Basic Set). Follow up with another grapple (using the snake’s inherent Wrestling skill, which is not bad) using the body, but Constriction Attack does double the usual CP for that creature’s ST. Since a python is ST 13, that’s 2d CP, which will get even a reasonably strong adventurer in trouble in a few seconds.

Once enough CP are accumulated, the snake will begin the process of spending them to crush the victim, then re-acquiring them through a grapple, then spending them for more crushing.

This is not the most elegant mechanic, though it does the trick. +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I did come up with a better one. Hopefully one day it will see daylight.

Condition-Based TG

I introduced a quick-and-dirty alternate for using Control Points but not bringing in all of TG late in July called Condition-based grappling, which took a concept that could have been done better in the DnD Basic Rules (5e) and did in GURPS what I thought could have been done (and maybe will be or has been in the PHB and DMG; we’ll see when they come out) in that system.

In any case, it’s easy. Roll for the bite. Assess CP. As soon as you can, roll for more CP by attacking with the torso. When you have your foe Restrained, start crushing.

Parting Shot

The condition-based grappling could use some expansion for stuff that’s not just holding on and applying penalties. The Control Point mechanic can be leveraged in a few easy ways to execute various grappling techniques without the detailed tracking that the full system has.

But all in all, snakes and other grappling monsters – such as something with, say, ST 21 tentacles with gripping mouths on them! – can and should be terrifying in GURPS. Right now they can be somewhat meh.

I think that TG really shines for such critters. That ST 21 bite will do 2d CP right off the bat, and that tentacle with Constriction Attack will accumulate 4d CP with every attack (and it may well AoA(Double) for 8d CP each turn; an average of 28 CP per second), which is enough to hit the max CP threshold for most creatures. With the right skills, that is a huge amount of crushing damage every turn.

Anyway, the rules are a bit scattered for both RAW and TG; you have to look through three books (or at least two, Campaigns and Martial Arts, with the third being Characters) even in RAW.

Maybe something to add to +Mook Wilson‘s handy new GM Guide. Or volume 2 . . .

+Tim Shorts over at Gothridge Manor just wrote two pieces on the Sleep spell. 

It called my attention to something that I didn’t pay much mind to, since I play a boring old fighter. Or young fighter. Whatever.

Tim’s character Minister has used sleep to good effect before, but I didn’t really realize how darn powerful it is. Rather than just start tweaking from the get-go (I’ll get to that later), I thought I might first look at how such a power is handled in the two games I actively play, and one I’d love to play a game in.

D&D (5e) and Swords and Wizardry

These two really aren’t that different. In S&W, you can impact a certain number of hit dice of critters. 1 at 4 HD (4 HD total), 1d6 at 3 HD (about 10 HD total), 2d6 at 2 HD (14 HD total), and 2d8 at 1 HD (9 HD total). 

For DnD 5th edition, casting this at first level you roll 5d8, and you can put that many HP of creatures asleep. Since the monster HD is a d8, by and large you’ll, on the average put 5 critters to sleep, or 5 HD.

Comparing the two, I think that the D&D version is clearly easier to adjudicate. You start from weakest to strongest, and put to sleep creatures until you run out of HP, and if your pool of HP don’t cover the next critter on the list, you’re done.

For S&W, the spell is a bit odd, and clearly the best way to throw it is against 2-3 HD creatures. And if you have a group of mixed foes . . . huh. Not sure. I think a better way would be to roll (say) either 3d6 or 2d8 (likely 2d8) and you can put to sleep that many HD of creatures, and steal a page from D&D5 and start from the weakest.

Because, wow . . . no saving throw. If you’re impacted by the spell, you’re just o-u-t out, and snoozing for a minute (D&D) or an hour (S&W). Against PCs of low-ish level, this is bad, bad news. 1d6 creatures at 3HD (3rd level)? A good roll can snooze half the party. 

Darn good reason to have at least one elf or something in the party!


Now, there are a few different versions of magic spells in GURPS, so we’ll hit two of them. 

GURPS Magic – Standard Skill-based system
The basic Sleep spell costs 4 fatigue points (a normal human starts with 10, but casters will maximize this; I expect 15-20 to be more usual, plus mana stones, and discounts for high skill). You have to roll to cast it, but that’s probably not a big deal unless your subject is fairly close. A caster worth his salt will likely have high IQ and as much Magery as they can eat. Still, range penalties are -1 per yard of distance, and the subject can resist if he wins a Contest of Skills, often based on HT, against the spellcaster’s skill (subject to the rule of 16). 

If it works, the single victim drops for 8 hours of normal sleep. If awakened, they’re stunned for a bit until they snap out of it.

The more apt comparison, of course, is mass sleep. That has a base cost of 3, minimum radius 2 yards. . . so 6 FP for 2-yard raddius, 9 FP for 3 yards, etc. Everything else is basically the same as Sleep, though by rules-as-written you need to already know Sleep and have IQ 13 or higher – and Sleep has a “prerequisite chain” as well.

This is clearly depowered compared to D&D and S&W. You have to first make a skill roll to cast the spell, and even you have to win that Quick Contest to overcome the subject’s resistance. That being said, spells get high enough for few enough points in many cases (due to lots of IQ and Magery) that the Rule of 16 exists for that purpose. Only on a critical success is it a freebie.

Thanks to the comments for pointing out some errors with my assumptions

Ritual Path Magic
Another system that is gaining in popularity, and is a highly interesting alternative to the standard skill-based system, is Ritual Path Magic. This system uses a framework based on Powers, and is considerably more flexible, but requires a lot of GM and player participation, and no small amount of oversight, and a GM willing to say “no.” 

Still, +Christopher R. Rice has a substantial amount of mastery with the system, and he created for me three versions of an RPM sleep spell.


  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Sleep.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell causes the target (who must be within 30 yards) to fall asleepfor the next 12 hours if he fails to resist.

Typical Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Sleep (30) +Duration, 12 hours (6) + Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3).153 energy (51×3).

Mass Sleep

  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Sleep + Area of Effect.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell causes multiple targets in a 10-yard area (who must be within 30yards of the caster) to fall asleep for the next 12 hours if they fail toresist the ritual

This Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Sleep (30) + Area OfEffect, 10 yards, excluding up to 4 subjects (10) + Duration, 12 hours (6) +Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3). 183 energy (61×3).

Sleeping Curse

  • Spell Effects: Greater Destroy Mind.
  • Inherent Modifiers: Affliction, Coma + Extra Energy.
  • Greater Effects: 1 (×3).

This spell (a favorite of wicked godmothers and evil faeries) causes thesubject to enter a coma (p. B429) which lasts until the spell is broken orthe subject is kissed by their true love (commonly a prince).

This Casting: Greater Destroy Mind (5) + Affliction, Coma (50) + Duration,Until subject is kissed by their true love (24) + Extra Energy, +61 energy(61) + Range, 30 yards (7) + Subject Weight, 300 lbs. (3). 450 energy(150×3).

Looking at the three, each is cast by rolling against the Path skill in question, and resisted by the better of Will or HT (but still a Resistance roll, I believe – the same Quick Contest). The energy gathering phase can take many seconds, and is often done offstage, using a charm or some sort of suspended spell when it comes time for casting it. For that purpose, if you think “spell slots,” you’re not too far wrong, though significant differences exist.

An important modification to RPM is that by spending more energy – sometimes considerably more – you can hit the victim(s) with penalties to that HT or Will roll beyond the Quick Contest. So if you want to drop your average HT/Will 12 adventurer to 6- even before you roll against your skill, you’re probably looking at about 100 extra energy. That’s quite a bit, but it’s doable . . . and that might just bring you into the level of a 1st level D&D Magic User!

Night’s Black Agents

I actually have no idea if NBA has a sleep sleep spell in it. Yep, p. 132, send to sleep. A vampire can put a single target to sleep by spending at least 2 Aberrence points, adding that to a die roll (1d6+2 or more). That roll must be 5 or higher (“more than 4”) for the attack to occur. If it does occur, the victim must make a Stability check of equal or higher to the original attack roll. Against normals, well, they’re probably just out light lights. Against the Night’s Black Agents, which start with Stabilty 4 and may go to 12 or higher, they might have a good chance of resisting. PCs probably don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of putting a vamp to sleep. 

Parting Shot

Wow. I didn’t really have much of an appreciation for how awesome the sleep spell is in D&D. Especially compared to the hit-and-miss nature of most GURPS spells. 

The typical 1st level Wizard can probably count on a DC for his spells of about 13 – 8 +2 for his saving throw proficiency and likely +2 or +3 for intelligence; I’ll assume 13. A foe will likely get some sort of bonus to his save roll, likely again about +1 (for 1 HD) to +3, which means he’s got about a 50% chance to resist. If one wanted to make the 1st level Sleep spell just a bit less automatically nasty, double the dice rolled for HP or HD impacted, but allow a Saving Throw against the effects of the spell. 

That has its own possibilities, for tweakage, but as it stands . . . Sleep? 


The starter set seems to contain a chunky (64-page) adventure, and a smaller rulebook. Plus some stuff I don’t need like pre-gens and dice. That’s not a complaint – it’s a starter set for those new to gaming.

I believe I’ve seen reports that the adventure book is pretty cool.

Are there any rules differences between the Basic and Starter rulebooks? If so, links or reviews would be appreciated. I’ll probably pick up the PHB when it comes out, of course.

Ah, the writer’s guidelines. I wonder how they’ll intend to deal with the concept of rules modules that has been bandied about. Obviously, as a tinkerer I’m interested, for many reasons.

I guess we’ll see . . .