## Grappling at really low ST in GURPS

A recent post in the forums, which started off with a link to this very blog – specifically my old post on how ST rolls are problematic in GURPS, brought up a very interesting edge case that I really wish had come up explicitly in the Technical Grappling playtest.

It has to do with scale.

The Issue

Take a ST 1 or 2, DX 10 snake that is trying to make a Constriction attack against a ST 1, HT 10 pixie. Many of these contests will pit ST for the attacker against the ST or HT of the defender, whichever is better.

Huh. ST 1 or 2 will always roll vs. HT 10, and so the extrinsic nature of ST bites you hard here, since you’ll never have a creature contest like this end poorly for the HT 10 pixie. This is especially interesting since ST 2 vs. ST 1 is the same ST ratio as ST 20 vs ST 10.

The Solution

GURPS has buried within it in a few places a recommendation to re-scale oddball ST values centered around 10 for places where things get weird. So ST 1 vs. ST 1 or ST 2 vs. ST 1 would turn into ST 10 vs. 10 or even ST 20 vs. ST 10, which re-centers the contests around the norm of 10, which turns the equal-ST contest into something appropriate.

OK, so boom, rescale. We’re good, right?

Well, perhaps good enough, but in keeping with the concept of “ST rolls must die,” here’s another way.

Power Ratio Table

What we’ll do is take a look at the ratio of the Basic Lift of the two combatants, and assign a modifier based on that ratio to one or both of the combatants. Thus, Contests of ST (or ST-based skill) vs. the best of ST or HT will mostly turn into a Contest of DX (or maybe HT)-based Skill vs. HT, but with a modifier to ST.

This is basically the same as “normalize the defender’s ST to 10, and take that as a penalty

Another way to go – though similar – is to just take the ratio of the stronger to the weaker. Unfortunately, the math is a little ugly.

1. Take the log10 of the ratio of stronger to weaker. Call that PR
2. Modifier = PR * (9.5+10.8*PR)

That produces something like this:

I’d probably just modify the skill of the attacker – if he’s stronger (he’s on the favorable end of the ratio) he gets a bonus. If he’s on the weaker end of the ratio, he gets a penalty.

Snake vs. Pixie Revisited

The ST 1, DX 10 snake vs. the ST 1, HT 10 pixie is now at a 1:1 ratio, no penalty or bonus, and this becomes DX 10 vs. HT 10 (the fact that the snake is using Constriction Attack would probably be treated as a ST multiplier of some sort in this case).

This would be the same math you’d do for a ST 50, DX 10 giant putting the squeeze on another ST 50, HT 10 giant.

Icky Math. Why did it have to be Icky Math?

I just banged this out because I wanted to preserve the +1 bonus for each +1 to ST in the regime of most PCs. I could probably find a nicer functional relationship between the ST Ratio, BL Ratio, or Log of one or both of those ratios if we don’t want a +1 to the slightly stronger guy for each +1 to ST vs. a ST 10 baseline. We might also invert that, where you might get slightly more of a penalty or bonus from ST10 (no bonus) to ST 20 (currently +10 relative to a ST 10 guy).

Hopefully that would give nicer math. Naturally I’d see if I can use the Size and Speed/Range table here, since my thoughts on that are well known.

But that should help with normalizing oddball ST scores to the more 10-centric HT and DX. It also gets rid of a direct ST roll, and that makes me happy.

## Combat Ebb and Flow, Feint, and Evaluate

I wrote The Last Gasp in order to put lulls and flurries into combat, among other things. I wrote Delayed Gratification because I didn’t really like Feints much, and introduced the Setup Attack as a notional replacement or supplement.

But I was thinking about Feints and Waits (next week! Melee Academy is May 9!) partially as a response to the conversation that +Justin Aquino started in this thread. Then I started thinking about boxing, kendo, and other situations where there are lulls and flurries.

I’ve noted in the past that Aim is a bit deterministic. Evaluate suffers from a bit of the same problem – you get up to +3 from doing it, and then you’ve evaluated enough and you’re done.

Is there a way short of “I’m so exhausted I have to stop and recover” to model two fighters circling, probing, looking for an opening? What happens when they do that? Well, their weapons don’t become unready, certainly, unless something is truly biffed, maybe. No blows are exchanged. But in the end, when the probing is done, one fighter has detected (or thinks he has detected) an opening.

Hmmm. That sounds an awful lot like what a full-round Feint might be.

A related diversion:

A long time ago (over a year), +Sean Punch  who has a knack for rules tweaks (and he should, it’s his job) threw down casually a post he wrote in ten minutes, that gave an idea about what he called Combat Openings. I dropped him an email asking if he’d mind if I reposted it in full. Naturally he said yes.

Combat Openings

Optionally, on each turn before you attack your opponent, roll on the Hit Location Table (p. B552). The resulting body part is currently a “target of opportunity” for you. It’s presented boldy and easier for you to hit: halve the penalty to hit that location, rounding in your favor, if you deliberately target it right now. The torso can’t be a target of opportunity – if you roll 9-10, roll 1d on the following table instead.

1 – Your foe’s weapon isn’t ideally placed to defend against you. If you attack his weapon right now (to grab it, disarm, etc.), you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. If you try an unarmed grab, his defense can’t injure your hand even if he parries with a weapon. If he’s unarmed, treat this as a presented hand.

2 – Your foe isn’t watching your off hand. If you attack with that hand right now, you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. This includes shield bashes! If you try an unarmed punch, his defense can’t injure your hand even if he parries with a weapon. If you’re using a two-handed weapon, these benefits apply to a blow with the pommel. If you’re grappling him with both hands, treat as 3.

3 – Your foe isn’t watching your feet. If you kick him right now, you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. His defense can’t injure your foot, even if he parries with a weapon.

4 – Your foe isn’t controlling distance or position well. If you grapple him right now, you have +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. If you try an unarmed grapple, his defense can’t injure you even if he parries with a weapon. If you’re already grappling him, treat as 5. If he’s grappling you, you have +2 to break free instead. If both conditions apply, you may choose one option.

5 – Your foe is momentarily off-balance. If you make a knockback-only attack (like a shove) right now, you get +2 damage for knockback purposes only. If you try to knock him down with a move that uses a Quick Contest (like a takedown or a Sweep), he has -2 in the Contest instead. If either is an unarmed move, like a barehanded shove or a sweeping kick, his defense can’t injure you even if he parries with a weapon. If he’s on the ground, treat as 3.

6 – No special effect. Somehow, your foe is watching everything and presenting nothing!

These effects only apply to your attacks on that one foe. Nobody else on the battlefield is affected by these roll(s). To take advantage of this turn’s opening, you must act now; you cannot try another attack first, much less wait until a later turn.

Pretty neat, I thought.

Put it Together

What if, instead of the usual Contest of Skills where if the attacker wins, he gets his margin of victory as a straight-up defensive penalty to his next action, we did something else. First, let’s redefine what a Feint is. It’s a deceptive motion used to try and goad or lead your foe into providing you an opening. Feint is such a good name, but I really ought to come up with something else, for clarity. I’ll call it a Probing Feint, with many apologies to those who have ever been probed.

I’m going to throw down a concept, and then pick it apart afterwards.

Probing Feint

This represents deceptive footwork, clever movement of the body, or shifts in posture (but not GURPS Posture), distance, or weapon position designed to draw your foe off guard.

Probing Feint is an Attack Option. Meh. It should probably be what it says: a type of Feint.

Roll a Quick Contest of your weapon skill vs. the best of your foe’s weapon skills. If you win, roll 1d and consult the following table:

1 – Hit Location. Roll the hit location table. Strike that target using grappling penalties, or grapple at no penalty. If Torso is rolled, strike at +2 or grapple at +1 to hit.
2 – Weapon Position. If you attack his weapon, you are at +1 to hit and he is at -1 to defend; if you try and knock it away, you are at +3 in the Contest.
3 – Off hand. See Sean’s #2.
4 – Foot blind. See Sean’s #3.
5 – Distance or Position. You gain an extra yard of movement if you step; if your foe retreats, his bonus is reduced by 1. If you attack to grapple, you do so at +1 and your foe is at -1 to defend.
6 – Balance . See Sean’s #5

If you win the Contest but can’t take advantage of the opportunity – or choose not to – you may treat your maneuver as if you took All-Out Defense.

Margin of Success

Sean’s concept is something that’s meant to provide an extra incentive to vary things up. My version takes his concept and alters it a bit, possibly for the worse. His version usually gives +1 to hit and puts the foe at -1 to defend against a particular kind of attack. That’s sort of the equivalent of a +3 sh) on an attack roll. Pretty light, and you might not be able to take advantage.
Maybe instead of the +1 to hit/-1 to defend thing, we allow a flat adder of margin to the next attack, which can be used as you like – any defensive penalties would come from Deceptive Attack using that bonus. That would provide a variable and potentially large – but aspected – bonus.
Defender Success

Maybe if the defender makes his skill roll, he gets a bonus to his defenses except for the opening. If he makes his roll and loses the contest, perhaps it converts to a +1 to defend for every 2 he makes the roll by (again, excepting the hole in his defenses that the Probing Feint revealed). If he makes his skill roll and wins the Contest, he gets a bonus to defend against everything from that foe. Maybe something like +1 if you make it at all, and for every 4 full points more, you get another +1. So if the defender makes his skill roll by 8, he gets +3 to defend against his for.
More importantly on this one, his foe knows this. He can see that his opponent is that well protected, has good defenses, isn’t off balance, etc. Some reason not to just wade in and trade blows.
Rapid Strike

Maybe this only makes sense as part of a Rapid Strike. So you Probe at -6, and if you see an opening in the defenses, you can leverage it.
Or maybe you go the other way, and if you win the contest by more than 6, you can convert the hole immediately to an attack by accepting -6 to your bonus. So you roll the Contest and win it by 8. Rolling 1d6 you get a 2. You may immediately attack his weapon at +2, which you may use to cancel out the normal -4 for striking at a weapon a bit, or use it as a -1 Deceptive Attack.
Wait

The “I feint, then my foe goes, then I go and take advantage!” thing has never rubbed me right, and I know I’m not alone. The reason, I’m sure, that Sean did it as the first thing you can do during each round is to identify something you can leverage right then.

So maybe the right thing to do is to use this as an Aspected Wait. If you win the Contest, you declare a Wait, and if your foe triggers it, you get to leverage the hole in his defenses.
Now this, in turn, would only make sense if you’re standing outside the striking range of your weapon. In fact, in Hwa Rang Do Gumtoogi (weapon fighting with swords, either long, short and long, or double short), we used to say that if you were in a certain distance – likely between Reach 1 and Reach 2 – if you weren’t either hitting the other guy at Reach 2, you’d better be closing to Close Combat! So perhaps this should only be used from a Reach at least 1 greater than the maximum of your weapon. I can use the Rapid Strike version to take a Committed Attack with the Long option if I really rock out, or I can take a Wait and leverage the defensive hole if my foe closes in. If I choose to do so, I can convert the Wait to All-Out Defense instead, since I’ve been reading the guy.

Evaluate

Christian reminds me below that I totally left out what might be the best fit of all: Evaluate. Where right now, it gives you a simple +1 for sitting there staring at the battlefield for a moment, there’s every reason to allow it to have even better results. Whether it’s a Perception-based Skill roll, or a flat skill roll, or a contest of skills as I lay down below, triggering this off of an Evaluate makes a lot of sense.

It would be interesting to allow repeated uses of this too – once you’ve picked out an opening in your foe’s defenses, if you keep winning the contest (or he keeps failing his skill roll, which might obviate this entirely) you might get more and more opportunity to exploit that hole.

Parting Shot

Even if what I have here in particular isn’t exactly right – and I know it’s not – I feel like there’s something here. Some combination or modification of Feint, Wait, Evaluate, and maybe even Rapid Strike.
What’s missing, of course, is that GURPS combats take damn long already. You’d need to be pretty happy with doing not much but waiting for your opening for second after second, while other people might be doing stuff around you. That gets boring, and probably the above might just become a lot of crap no one bothers with.
Still, the overall feel of it seems right – and I have to wonder how it would play in something like +Vaclav Tofl ‘s gladiator game, where the cautious probing – or even showboating while doing so – is a key part of the game.
In a frenzied battle, this wouldn’t happen, and GURPS default combat would be the norm. That also seems right to me, especially combined with The Last Gasp’s Action Points, which would encourage a few frenzied seconds of action, then backing off – if you can – to catch some wind and look around.
Game Timing and Fight Timing

Some of this gets down to a very simple principle, though, which +Peter V. Dell’Orto will have already started typing a response to by the time he gets down this far. While it might be realistic to have two fighters (or twenty…have you seen how many foes he had in his last session?) staring at each other, not trading blows, but making subtle motions and deceptions to try and force a mistake, unless everyone else on the battlemat is doing the same thing, and unless the flurries that come when an opening is found are decisive, the end-of-game report on five blogs will be “we spent an hour rolling dice and not finding openings. This game sucks.”

It’s a hard thing. You want to have a reasonable shot at capturing the detail of combat, since your character’s life is on the line. But if you really map it out, a three-minute round will not have 180 blows exchanged most of the time. A quick peek at a boxing forum shows heavyweight matches typically varying from 30-60 punches per round, with notable excursions to 100 or more. And a lot of those are probably probing jabs (Defensive Attacks), often done as Rapid Strikes, or more likely as Defensive Setup Attacks.

So really, having a mass melee over in fifteen seconds probably isn’t “real.” But it certainly is more fun than standing around a lot, especially when you’re rolling for 20-40 Draugr or something.

## Shrug It Off

While we were playtesting the Action Point rules for The Last Gasp, we ran through a boxing match. Or rather, one of my playtesters ran through a boxing match.

The AP rules worked well, encouraging fighters to take standing 8-counts, lots of recovery actions, and generally making it take longer to fight. All well and good.

Still, the reality of it is that in a match of fifteen three-minute rounds, that is, a whopping 2,700 turns in GURPS, two combatants of moderate ST and fitness (say, ST 13 with Boxing at DX+2, even with boxing gloves (see GURPS Martial Arts, p. 233) will be rolling 1d-1 cr on every hit, with the +2 per die damage you get from Boxing canceling out the -2 you get from your gloves. In short, three or four successful punches and your other guy is flirting with kissing the mat.

But wait, you say. These guys are throwing a lot of defensive attacks, which means that the above guy is probably only rolling 1d-3 cr instead of 1d-1 cr. OK, so? You’re still looking at 2,700 turns, with Boxing-14 you’re looking at a 90% chance to hit, and about a 75% chance to parry (assuming a retreating parry, defensive attack, no Combat Reflexes). Let’s say one hit in four does damage, and you only do damage half the time (1d-3). So one turn in eight you take 1-3 points of damage. You’re still looking at being KO’ed in the first round of the fight nearly always. If you stick with it, you’ll probably die by round two or three.

Now, not to make light of the punishment a real boxer can dish out – these guys hit hard – but boxing just isn’t that deadly. I think what’s missing is a chance for a fighter to brace him or herself against even as successful hit.

Roll with it, baby

Fortunately, GURPS provides one way of doing this, but it’s a cinematic technique: Roll with Blow, (Martial Arts, p. 87). Roll skill-2, and you can cut the damage in half . . . but you double knockback. This only works on crushing attacks, which is fine with me.

What I’d propose playing around with is a way to actually eliminate the injury of a crushing blow with a HT-based roll. But how?

Straight-up HT roll

One way to do it would be to make a HT roll whenever you’re hit with crushing damage, and your margin of success reduces the injury. Not the shock or knockback or the need to roll for Knockout and Stun if you get hit in the head, but the injury would be reduced.

Um, say what? So you get hit with a mace and a HT 14 guy effectively gets DR 4? No way, right?

Yes, right. I’d definitely use the damage inflicted as a penalty to the HT roll; not full damage, though. Maybe half damage.

I might even double penalties if you get slammed with a Parry 0U weapon like a mace – but let’s hold off on that for now.

DR subtracts right from damage, so no need to double-count that.

Let’s take that same ST 12, DX 12, Skill-14 combatant.

Wearing Boxing Gloves: He hits for 1d-3 on a defensive attack. His doppleganger foe will roll at no more than -1 to HT, and often soak a point of injury.

Barehanded and Regular Attack: Now he’s 1d+1, which means his foe rolls at up to -3 to HT. Most often, he will not soak injury.

With a Light Club: A baton does sw crushing, in this case a straight-up 1d+2, which is up to -4. A barehanded boxer isn’t much less dangerous thanks to the generous damage bonus from Boxing!

Mace: Now you’re facing 1d+5, looking at up to a roll vs HT-5 to soak damage, so even your HT 14 guys will mostly just take the full amount if they get lucky.

Treat as a Parry

Another way to make that roll would be to make it based off of something like 3+HT/2, which mitigates the impact of high HT a bit. Our HT 12 guy would only be rolling vs. a 9 usually, meaning he’ll only avoid injury by getting lucky. At HT 16, you’re looking at an 11, so on the average, that’s worth about DR 1 against a boxer’s defensive attack as above. Against that guy with a mace, that -5 penalty means at HT 16 you’re rolling against a 6-, meaning that 90% of the time you take full damage.

Only applies to fists and padded weapons

One way to make the advantage of using weapons that are harder than the surface you’re striking plain is to basically only apply this mitigation roll to fists and feet. So facing weapons, you take full damage, no roll allowed (which has the beneficial effect of not slowing down or altering weapon combats).

 You will not be soaking this damage, tiny man.

Action Points

I’d probably combine the roll that allows you to mitigate action point loss in The Last Gasp with this same roll. The injury avoidance has the penalty of half-damage, and the AP loss reduction is capped at -4, the same as the shock penalty.

Clench Up, Legolas

I think it might be interesting to also try one of the following.

Perhaps allow All-Out Defense to give that +2 to any one defense to also give +2 to flat HT-based rolls, or even +4 to the Parry-like 3+HT/2 roll. So if you go defensive, you might even just be able to clench up and take it.

Another option would be sort of an active defense option: if you forgo a parry or block, and choose to just clench up and take it, you get +1 or +2 to the roll.

Parting Shot

GURPS turns, the lack of a real impetus to Wait or Evaluate in the basic rules, and the generally high nature of even punching damage means that lasting through a full round (again, 180 turns per round!) is virtually impossible.

The perceived problem that this is trying to solve is that boxers and other barehanded fighters just don’t wind up dead or unconscious in the first round of every fight.

Well, no sane person would play through 180 rounds of combat anyway, and this would be a good moment to invoke some sort of “OK, you both took either Wait or Evaluate, so 3d seconds later . . . “

Still, the number of blows that would successfully land means few fights would last long enough for the round-timer to sound. If we don’t change GURPS’ basic damage structure, then mitigating the damage of a successful blow is sort of the only option.

## Holy Variability – Variable effects with Learned Prayers

I love Divine Favor. I think it’s a far better and more elegant solution to the question of miracles and clerical “magic” than the existing GURPS system, which is basically the same as Magic, with Power Investiture standing in for Magery, and Sanctity making the tag for Mana levels. You pay your cost and you cast your spell.

With Divine Favor, you are (thematically) buying a level of influence with your god(s), and you can appeal to them for aid. The quality of the aid is based on a reaction roll, and can have pretty far-reaching effects.

Cadmus, my Dungeon Fantasy character in +Nathan Joy‘s game based on Pathfinder’s Golarion and Jade Regent Adventure Path, has “Divine Favor 8” which is good for getting my deity’s attention about one time in four if I’m subtle, about half the time if I wave my holy symbol in the air and generally act like a street preacher.

Now, you can request a specific effect, such as the ever-popular Smite, which inflicts 2d burning damage of really ugly holy fire on malign supernatural creatures. It’s particularly effective against the undead. Anyway, the book comes with a list of pre-defined miracles intended as guidelines for effect, and each “level” of miracle has a reaction minimum that comes with it.

You can also buy these as Learned Prayers, which are basically something you can just do, since you’ve paid points for it, and your god has granted you the ability to get the job done more or less at will.

Game mechanically, these are Alternate Abilities, costing 1/5 (round up) the cost of the power that is bestowed; the buy-in is the level of Divine Favor required to “qualify” for the prayer.

Cadmus has used his LPs to great effect, and has several. Protection from Evil (Enhanced) and Smite are great for stomping undead, while Righteous Fury turns him into a Cuisinart for 3d seconds (adds 1d to each of ST, DX, and HT).

Recently, though, I have started to wonder if the “IF Pray, THEN Miracle” nature of how Learned Prayers work might make them a bit too “by rote,” taking away some of the variability and thus mystery of divine intervention.

I’ve not thought this through completely, but I wondered if it would be interesting to work off of the following:

When using a Learned Prayer with things that have a defined benefit, roll 3d and consult the following table:

6-       Half normal effect, double time, or -2 per die damage
7-8    2/3 normal effect, 1.5x time, or -1 per die damage
9-11   Normal effect
12-13   1.25x normal effect, 80% time, or +1 per die damage
14+     2x Normal effect, half time, or double damage

Now, the approximate weighted average of all that crap is about 105%, meaning that on the average, your Learned Prayer is about 5% more effective than the rules-as-written. Kind of a bonus for rolling dice.

Let’s take a look at a few common prayers, and see how this would impact them.

Final Rest: Here’s a great example of an example that isn’t great. You pray for a minute, and at the end, your subject (who is dead) can’t be made undead later. The only thing I can think of here is that the prayer takes longer – two minutes if you roll a 6 or less, but only thirty seconds if you roll well. Big deal.

Protection from Evil: Again, this minor miracle doesn’t let malign supernatural entities approach within a
yard. in this case, you might say that the bad results mean then can get within your hex but can’t touch you, while the bonus effects mean they stay 2 yards away. That’s actually a real benefit, especially for (say) skeletons of the sword- and axe-wielding variety.

Lay on Hands: You can transfer HP from yourself to your subject. This one’s straight-forward, I think. You say how many HP you want to transfer, and roll the dice. If you are planning on transferring 6 HP, a bad roll means you spend 6 HP to restore 3 or 4. A good one means that you either spend 6 HP and restore 8 HP or 12HP, or if (say) your guy is only wounded for 6 HP, you might spend 4 HP or 3 HP in order to restore 6 HP.

Smite: This one’s easy. Roll variable effect, roll damage. You can either just roll the damage and modify that flat out, or use the per-die suggestions above.

Righteous Fury: Cadmus’ favorite prayer, it adds to your physical stats: 1d for 3d seconds. This one could go either way, meaning you might roll only 1d-2 on a bad roll, but roll 2d on a great one! Alternately, for those who don’t relish the possibility of +12 to DX, 3d seconds might be modified directly.

Why bother?

Honestly, I like variable effect rolls, though in many cases, the effects are already variable. The bottom line is it makes relying on your relationship with your deity just a bit chancy, but also potentially even better than you think.

Why not just use the Reaction Table again?

Um, because I didn’t think of it initially, but it’s a good idea. It’s more granular, and it’s the same basic mechanic used for Divine Favor in general. What the Learned Prayer would do, then, is bypass the Petition Roll, and have an average effect on the same magnitude as the current LP.

Try this as an alternate:

 Very Bad 25% Bad 50% Poor 75% Neutral 100% Good 150% Very Good 300%

I said, WHY BOTHER?

Some people like rolling dice. 🙂

More seriously, it would definitely take some real prep on the part of the GM and/or player. Using the guidelines above, you either need to be willing to make stuff up on the fly so that you adjudicate the prayer results as you go, or you need to create the reaction table for each prayer on the PC’s sheet. Might be too much trouble, but I still like the idea that you can never really guarantee an effect when negotiating/praying for intervention.

Magic is not Technology

People who are keen on this can take it one step further, and apply the same sort of thing to magic. Either make the effects per mana point spent variable as above, look up the margin of success or MoS+some number (maybe 5?) for a casting on the reaction table (that might easily be too good), or some other “you can’t really use a magic spell the way you use a gun” type impact.

Parting Shot

Again, some campaigns styles or player character concepts would break doing this; some players would not enjoy this sort of thing. But as I said when I started, the variable and occasionally unknowable impacts of prayers is a lot of fun in the game I play now, and applying that to Learned Prayers as well is something I jotted down in my Journal of Pretentiousness as a thought experiment.

## Ready, Aim, and Aim, and Aim, and . . .

When I wrote the post on making snap decisions under fire, I touched on aiming a bit, as well as tracking targets.

I’m going to revisit that a bit, somewhat inspired by this thread, but not entirely. I’m going to be speaking qualitatively here, since some of the ideas kicking around in my head might well be nice as actual rules.

The way I see it (and have done it, so I’m not just making stuff up here), as you try and draw a bead on a target, you’re going to need to consider a few things.

Got Target?

The first, and most obvious, thing you need is to be able to see what you’re shooting at. This will be some sort of modified Perception roll. The usual is Per+10 if the target is in plain sight, less range, lighting, and camouflage or stealth (or both) factored in. If you can see the target, you might want to shoot it. However, in order to do that . . .

Line it up

While this is usefully abstracted into a Guns roll in vanilla GURPS, as you aim, you first have to ensure that your sights (or scope!) and your target are more or less lined up. That is, you need a sight picture so that you might deliver your shots more or less where you think.

Hans-Christian Vortisch does a nice job of describing what happens when you shoot without such a sight picture in his section on Unsighted Shooting (GURPS Tactical Shooting, p. 13). You don’t even need to see the sights or gun; just go with where you feel is the right place to shoot, and pull the trigger. This is far, far more accurate (or can be) than it sounds, with practice. You still have to see your target, of course.

If you’re lining up the sights or using a scope, you need to get the sight picture aligned with the target. This is the first part, but not the only part, of Aiming. Once you do that – and in GURPS, that happens automatically as soon as you declare an Aim maneuver – you can either shoot, or try and dial in your shot a bit more.

Now, in GURPS, you have two choices. Well, one, really. You can continue to Aim for another few seconds, after which your Acc tops out at +Acc+2 and that’s it, or you can invoke Precision Aiming (Tactical Shooting, p. 26) to increase that to up to +Acc+7 by taking a series of difficult (IQ-based) Guns rolls. Fail and you have to start over, and it takes more than a minute (90 turns!) to claim the largest bonus.

Now, in reality, to get that large a bonus, especially at distance, you had best know the ballistics of your weapon as well as the target’s range. Even so, the “Minute of Angle” rule should apply, which caps the maximum effective skill before range, speed, and size modifiers are assessed, at 22+2*Acc, and that’s the base Acc of the weapon (match-grade ammo and quality weaponry increases Acc; I quibbled with this in the playtest a bit).

Scoping it Out.

One of the interesting things to deal with in GURPS are telescopic sights, also known as scopes. GURPS gives you a +1 for each x2 multiplication in range. So a x2 scope gives +1, a x8 scope gives +3, etc.

Variable scopes can be dialed in, and it’s always been a bit weird how that’s figured – why not always use the maximum bonus?

 FoV Width (yards)

The one rules nugget I’ll toss in here is a different way of looking at scopes. Simply treat the magnification as what it is – something that makes the target larger. Look up the magnification on p. B550. Yes, that’s the Size and Speed/Range Table, and just remember, that in GURPS, if the answer isn’t “consult the Size and Speed/Range Table,” you’re probably asking the wrong question.

Anyway, look it up, consult the Size table, and add 2. Use the smaller number if you have to pick. There is no x4 entry (you choose between 3 and 5), so you choose 3 and you get a +4 bonus. A 30x scope is +9.

That’s a much larger bonus than usual, but what it basically does is says “hey, you’ve just made your 6′ tall target effectively 24′ tall,” and treating that as a linear increase in size – that is, you’ve effectively increased the SM of your target, and you get a commensurate bonus.

However, and there’s always a however, a scope restricts your arc of vision. In GURPS, you can see pretty much anywhere in your front 180 degree arc. At 100 yards, that’s effectively a 314-yard field of view wide (the half-circle in front of you). A typical 3x riflescope might restrict that down to 30-ish feet, and a 9x is about 14 feet. So says  this website, anyway.

So if we do some funky math (and honestly, I’m curve-fitting because I have no desire to actually derive this, and it seems more complicated than what I thought) we might say that through a scope, your field of view, even for a 1x scope, is restricted to 20 yards wide at 100 yard range. A 10x scope is only 4 yards wide.

What does all this crap mean?

Basically, it should probably take time to find your quarry through a scope. The higher the magnification, the narrower your field of view, and the more you probably have to search for it. Novices can wave their guns around quite a bit.

Red dot type sights (usually not scopes, but you can get magnifying objectives for them in the 3-4x range) keep field of view, which is cool, but don’t usually magnify, meaning you suffer full range/size penalties for what you’re shooting at.

How would I attempt to resolve it? Well, +Peter V. Dell’Orto will mock me, but it will be more die rolls.

First, you need to find your target. This would be a Per roll with naked eyes, using the usual rules.

Then, you need to get a sight picture. I would probably do something like a Per-based Guns roll, with a penalty for field of view and the Bulk of the firearm.

Once you get that, I’d probably make the shooter make a DX-based Guns roll to position the sights on target. Margin of success would determine the Acc bonus. Roll well, you get a big boost. Roll poorly, and you might even loose the target and have to re-acquire.

Parting Shot

I like having PCs roll dice. I think it’s more fun for the player to invoke skill (via the Guns roll). I think making Aim effectively an attack roll, which can be done quickly with Rapid Strike, which would require All-Out Attack (Determined) to claim certain bonuses, and which potentially could get a perfect sight picture in a moment, or spend several seconds and not get much of anything, feels a bit more real to me. You could also perhaps have scopes, sights, etc. only cancel out range and target size penalties. It does need to be worked out – GURPS has a lot of detail with respect to firearms, and you’d need something that replaces the “you get your Acc bonus to your skill” with a satisfying mechanic that gives more or less the same realistic results we get with the current system, but has variability in how long it takes to get that target fixed.

And if I’ve been unusually vague on this one, well, I’ve not worked out the math and mechanics fully, and who knows . . . maybe it’ll show up in Pyramid one day.

## Actual Play: GURPS DF Jade Regent – Ravenscraeg 7

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Theodore Briggs , +Kevin Smyth , +Emily Smirle

The Boss Fight

The game starts out with fire shooting out of a well in the center of the room. We initially fear monsters or death . . . but it turns out to be the sword we’ve been looking for all this time, narrowly wedged down the hole. We scrounge around in our stuff, because for a bit, it looks like no one brought rope.

Staver to the rescue with 20 yards of rope. Michel casts Glue and Apportation on the thing, wraps it up tight, and we haul it to the surface.

Mark: Is this cheating? It feels like cheating.

We retrieved the sword, and then went down another level. This opened into a small corridor, which itself led to a few rooms with doors – one of them magelocked, much to Michel’s unpleasant surprise.

Finding little in the rooms we could easily access, we proceeded down the way to throw open the double doors, into a huge chamber that looked like a square room 20’ high, with another square room offset 45 degrees, culiminating in a pyramidal shape above our heads.

Initially, there were four ninja and a blonde woman they were all worshipping or something. These were the same demon-bird ninja from earlier. Our new companion, Dawn, rushed into the room to do battle, and that’s when we found our our first unpleasant surprise: the entire room was some sort of Unholy temple. Dawn would take damage or at least be very uncomfortable, while the other two clerics (Cadmus and Michel) are nerfed a bit.
Anyway, the battle joined, we then got an unpleasant surprise. An “executioner’s hood” dropped down and tried to start smothering Thumvar, the knight. Thumvar, of course, did what anyone who was a gargoyle encased in steel would do: he hit himself in the head four times with full-strength blows from his own axe over two turns, killing it despite impressive regen abilities.
Dawn managed to cut off both arms of one bird-ninja on her successive turns, and Thumvar and Cadmus – whose Righteous Fury should have been +6 to DX, +5 to ST and +2 to HT, but the Unholy cut that down to +3, +2, +1 – did in for another one, aided by Michel casting Great Haste on Thumvar.
Michel then cast Continual Daylight on the hoods, which a good roll of his identified as part of the “Squid” populatin (Good-Evil-Bunny-Squid), and the thing spent a lot of time thrashing on the ground subsequently.
Whereupon, a scary female voice called us fools, the screens all fell down, and a metric crap-ton of Viking zombies stood there slavering at us.
We broke there, facing two spellcasters, a lot of zombies, two more ninja, and possibly a few other baddies that escaped along the way.
Next Tuesday’s going to be interesting. Hopefully, we’ll all remember the freakin’ magic artifact that is Ameiko’s ancestral sword in time for it to do something really impressive.

## Apropos of Nothing: Fortified Town!

Over at The Troll Dens, +Stephen Chenault links to this image of a fortified town.

 City of Carcassonne, photographed by air, south-west France.

This fires up my imagination something fierce. He notes that this is what the dragon sees as he decides to get take-out. True, true. The thing that gets me is just how cool it is. Wiki has a list of fortified towns in England, and of course France, home of Vauban (whom I studied in college, many years ago), boasts quite a few.

The Citadel of Besançon, shown to the right, is something that even when I spent hour upon hour designing
castles and keeps out of the old AD&D books, I would not have had the moxie to set down. Not ten-foot walls, but 15-20 feet wide, and up to 60′ high! Interlocking fields of fire, concealment in defenses and terrain – well, Vauban was Vauban.

We look at our modern constructions, cities, etc. And they are impressive. But out ancestors did all this stuff without the diesel engine, and certainly without magic!

As I noted in my post on Pirates, magic – especially the more banal but far reaching infrastructure magic in GURPS, should allow all of the above, and more. Truly fantastic castles, towers and towns.

Makes me want to run a DF campaign, it does.

## Melee Academy: High skill vs. armor and shield

This post was spawned in the same discussion +Peter V. Dell’Orto references in his recent entry on the Shield Wall question. This isn’t more about Shield Wall, but more shields in general.

After I started on this, I figured some of my fellow bloggers would like to try, so I contacted Peter, Mark, Jason, and the GM of my DF game and invited them to share GURPS-day by writing on shields, or on a Melee Academy in general.

+Peter V. Dell’Orto also wrote about shields over at Dungeon Fantastic.
+Mark Langsdorf contemplated DF Knights over at No School Grognard
Jason +Jason Packer hefts two-handed weapons at RPG Snob.

Maybe if the Melee Academy becomes popular, we’ll see more.

I’ve personally found that the +2 or +3 DB provided by a shield is pretty valuable, but then, Cadmus is also decked on in DR 8 on my torso, DR 8 or 9 on my head, and enchanted mail on my arms and legs. He needs better gauntlets and sollerets instead of boots, though.

A lot of this discussion and my thoughts on shields depends on the point values for the campaign. Chinks in Armor is a -8 penalty to hit for the torso, -10 elsewhere, and a foe attacking them doesn’t negate the bonuses from your own Active Defenses at all. In order to cancel the +2 or +3 DB of your shield, you need another 4-6 points of skill. So to halve (not eliminate unless you’re using the optional, non-DF rules from Low-Tech about missing bits of armor IF they exist) DR and make it as if you were not wearing a shield, our notional Swashbuckler has to be able to net a 12-16 skill while eating 12-14 points of penalties. That’s Skill-24 to Skill-30, or DX 14 to DX 18 and DX+8 to DX+16 relative skill. If we split it down the middle, and say DX 16 (120 points) and DX+10 relative skill (40 points) you’re talking about someone who’s dropped 160 points into the ability to do what he’s trying to do. If you’re talking about the conventional chinks rules and plate, you’re still facing DR 3. If you’re NOT, you’re probably facing DR 4, since no one but an idjit will fail to have mail in his gaps! So our hero will want enough ST to get by that, so he’ll want to be reasonably strong – say ST 13 and 2 pts of striking ST. A fine rapier is doing 1d+3 imp there. Not bad . . . but another 40 points that you don’t have to spend on being anything other than a Rapier artist. Of course, Inigo Montoya (and Zorro!) might suggest that if the answer isn’t “the pointy end goes into the other man” then you’re asking the wrong question.

Armor/Shield guy, if he’s built on an equal point drop (200) will want to be just as strong if not more so. Let’s pick ST 15 and Striking ST+2. That leaves 140 points, with which we buy DX 13 (60 points) and DX+10 in both Shield and Axe (’cause it’s cheap to buy), for Axe-24 and Shield-24. That’s Parry-17 and Block-17 with the DB +2 shield and \$1900 worth of armor (the money left over after subtracting, more or less, an axe and shield from the cost of a good rapier). Absorbing the deceptive attack still leaves him with a 95% chance to block or parry.

Hell, is all this proves is that aiming for chinks in armor is great if you outclass your foe by quite a bit, or you can arrange something where you’ve burned lots of parry and block. Runaround attacks are never going to be better than -2 (or if you can move to the unshielded side, effectivley -4) which still puts the guy above at Parry-15 or Block-13, which is still five successes in six. Shields provide a buffer against your foe’s notionally higher skill, and allow you to take maneuvers that sacrifice a Parry defense either completely (if you don’t, for example, have a Dwarven Axe, but rather just a regular-old axe), or help eat the penalties you get to your defenses when absorbing a Committed Attack.

Farther down at the 100-150-point end of things (the kind of point drops above are usually suitable for 250-point DF type . . . or more) one might be hard-pressed to use skill to ignore armor. At this “middle henchman” point level (say 125 points) your ability to play the games above might be pretty limited. You can throw down DX+2 and DX 16 (and nothing else) for Skill-18. You could also do DX 12 (40 points) and drop 40 points into Rapier (DX+10) and still wind up with Rapier-22 and have another 40 points to spend, whether it be ST 13 and maybe Shield at DX+3 (for a buckler) or a left-hand dagger skill for two-weapon fighting (Skill-15). Or a few other skills or advantages that don’t make you a one-dimensional combat monster. If you are all-combat, all the time, ST 13, DX 12, IQ 10, HT 10 (that’s one that would be well worth 20 points for HT 12), Rapier-22 and Main-Gauche-15 is no slouch.

And don’t neglect other ways, though more expensive, to boost defenses. The +1 to all defenses you get from Combat Reflexes is nice, as are the various Enhanced Defenses advantages. But it’s just darn hard to beat tossing in that +1 to +3 bonus for just picking up the damn shield (presumably assuming you’ve spend a point in Shield skill, but I don’t know if that’s just common sense, or an actual rule).

But the chinks penalties are fixed, and Deceptive Attacking enough to negate the shield bonus is as expensive as ever. You are basically looking at 50% chance to hit if absorbing -8 for torso chinks and -4 for a -2 Deceptive Attack from Skill-22, and only a -2 to the defenses of the other guy: straight Block, Parry, or Dodge accounting for the impact of a DB+2 shield.

I don’t think it’s an uber-strategy, and would revert back to “everything has a counter.” It would be interesting to see, from in-play experience, where the kind of “I can negate your shield and armor based on my own awesome finesse!” is actually true. My gut tells me that this strategy depends upon outclassing your foe (being either higher point value, or simply far higher points in combat skills) rather than skill-uber-alles in many, most, or all situations. For example, if social conventions rob you of both shield and armor, well, that DB+2 doesn’t do you much good. That’s not exactly “rapier beats shield and armor,” though. It’s “your point expenditures are now as useless as Magery 8 in a No Mana Dammit Zone.

Then there’s the fact that a shield, DB or no, can do things that parrying cannot, like effectively block flails and (in some cases) missile weapons. All things considered, I like the shield game-mechanically; it’s a great addition to your defensive repertoire, and does things that simply pushing weapon skill can’t do well – or at all.

## Actual Play: GURPS DF Jade Regent – Ravenscraeg 6

We picked up in media res again.
GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Mark Langsdorf , +Theodore Briggs , +Kevin Smyth , Bruno, and +Douglas Cole .

This is the Jade Regent Adventure Path done in GURPS, and I’m quoting liberally from descriptions that the GM almost certainly pasted verbatim into the chat windows of the adventure. So: Spoiler Alerts!

Many mooks were having some
real issues, Thumvar was “looking a bit glazed,” and Warm the Troll had just
tackled one of the monks from behind. The action opened with Staver, our
resident Arrowsmith, trying to put two arrows into the eyeballs of the monk in front
of her. She’s a DF heroic archer; this is fairly routine.
Staver burns a Scout point to make the first one hit. The
Monk dodges, but the second is a critical anyway,
so he eats that one for 9 imp
to the eye.  Normal damage and target
drops items, but takes 36 injury to the brain. As expected (but not
guaranteed), he drops.

The monk in front of Cadmus does what seems to be a
trademark move: a strike with a kama to the torso and an unarmed strike to his
weapon arm, both Deceptive Attacks at -2 to defend. Cadmus, whose actions from
last round left foes to his back, retreats, parries the first blow with his axe
and dodges the unarmed strike.

Monk 7 (yes, seven) trademarks at Staver, hitting both
times. Staver critically fails an acrobatic dodge by rolling an 18, gets hit by
the first attack, falls prone, and thus rolls at -4 to defend
against the second. His dodge succeeds even with the penalty, as he rolls out of
the way, and despite all of that, the unarmed strike does 6 cr to the weapon
arm, which DR reduces to but a single point of injury. Here we go . . .

GM: Roll HT.(Staver loses the contest of HT)
Staver: Of course. Pressure point, neh?
GM: So desu. Your arm goes numb for 19 seconds.

Yow. Stupid ninja monks.

Thumvar is still stunned, and Cadmus tries to Judo Throw
(which defaults from Axe, thanks to a handy perk) Monk2 into Monk1. His -3 Deceptive Attack is met with
his foe still rolling a fine parry. He has, not once, succeeded in this,
despite a Righteous Fury-enhanced Judo skill of 22. Despite writing an entire book on grappling I’ve found it very frustrating that I can never actually grapple anyone. Alas.

 Yeah, pretty much just like this
Without warning (well, to the characters. The players saw
this coming), a new figure silently and nearly invisibly drops from the rafters
behind the monk that Cadmus just tried to throw. The new arrival drops from the
rafters silently, sword coming down in an arc as she lands in a crouch. Blood
sprays everywhere – because ninja do that – except on her dark gray outfit, and
she straightens as the Shadow Monk’s corpse falls to the side.

pardon my interference. It looked like you could use the help.”

The newcomer is dressed like a Tianese peasant in dark gray
clothing, rather than a ninja, but she’s definitely carrying a ninja’s sword.
Her hair is white, and her face has a number of ritual scars and tattoos that
may not be clear from the token image and do nothing to take away from the
standard Nymph’s Universal Transcendent Appearance. (Hooray for ‘exotic’ rather
than ‘disfiguring’.)

Note that much hilarity was had offline while Kevin was making Dawn in a previous session. He kept making suggestions, adding tweaks, OK, she’s a Nymph, I like that combo. OK, add this, add that. “HOLY CRAP! I’ve made a stripperninja! How the heck did that happen?”

Warm the Troll starts burying his teeth into his grappled
foe’s neck, doing a total of 7 cut to the monk’s neck, ripping his throat to
pieces. Lunchtime.

Staver would dearly like to shoot a monk, but with a
crippled arm settles for getting to his knees to avoid further -4 defensive
penalties.

Monk7 does the traditional kama strike-pressure point
strike, and Michel responds with the Command “PROSTRATE YOURSELF!” in the voice
of Gozreh. No attack for him, and he prostrateth himself.

Monk1 tries to attack Cadmus, but only potentially hits with
his kama; the blow glances harmlessly off of Cadmus’ shield. In return, Cadmus launches
a Setup Attack against his foe’s left leg. He will try and inflict a -4 setup
penalty on his foe next round; the setup missed (though if it’d hit, it would
have done 15(2) cut!) when the ninja narrowly retreats (roll of 15 vs a
Dodge-16).

The whole point of this was that next turn, I’d have launched a similar attack, probably Committed, at the neck (I have Targeted Attack there). With TA(Axe/Neck)-20 or so, I could stack a -3 Deceptive Attack with my -4 Setup from before, for -7 to defend. Even with Dodge-13 and a retreat for +3, he’d only be rolling vs. Dodge-9, and suffer about 3d cut to the neck if it worked. Sound like an interesting tactic?

Michel shifts to a Reach 1 grip, and critically succeeds in
his attempt to remove his opponent’s liver. He does maximum normal damage for
11 cut, which pushes through his armor, though the Evil Pesky Ninja fails to be
stunned by the Major Wound.

Dawn, our unknown newcomer (Kevin’s backup character, since
Brody’s decided he’s had enough disembowelment for one career) steps up. Dawn
turns and slips her hand into her vest, coming out with a wide throwing blade
with lightning bolts engraved in green jade. Her wrist flicks, and suddenly 10
spinning blades dripping with poison are flying through the air towards Monk
1’s flank. Her Throwing Art result critically succeeds, giving one critical hit
and six other regular hits. The critical does double shock, and 6 cut; it’s
coated with Monster Drool, but the monk resists.

Dawn: Oh, that’s not very nice at all.

The monk gets to dodge or parry the other six, but not dodge
the first hit is a critical). The darts are slow enough to parry, so he tries
to parry the one and dodge the other five. No defenses are successful. Three
penetrate his armor, and the poison starts to take effect. He is slammed back
into the wall by the barrage of throwing knives, turns slightly green, and then
falls to the floor.

Dawn: “Hmh. Some men just can’t hold their
arsenic.”

Cadmus’ chance to use the Setup rules I wrote having been
foiled, the combat ends with all foes but the nasty invisible disappeared bomb-throwing one down. I give myself points for the assist in burning Monk1’s Dodge and Drop.

 Aftermath: Lots of dead ninjas and a Troll with no table manners
Dawn wipes her sword carefully on a fallen monk and sheathes
it, then stands and bows slightly.

“Illustrious greetings, honored
warriors. Again, please forgiving the intrusion. These…”

She glances
down.

“. . . needed to be dispatched, and I was worried they might instead
prevail.”

Dawn walks up to Thumvar and performs a vaguely mystical gesture
before giving him a good slap to rouse him.

Cadmus: “Well, that’s hardly mysterious at all. My
father used to get the attention of my second-eldest brother the same
way.”

Dawn: “The honor is mine of fighting alongside you.

Thumvar: “What? Ninjas for pretty girl, good
Staver: “Tales? Wait, what tales?”
Thumvar: “Er, where is the leader?”
Michel:”Well, I’m glad that’s all working out then –
wait, what tales?”
Cuisinart here, until we can better grasp her potential sense of humor.”

Dawn ignores the question and gets to the important task of rifling the bodies and making sure they’re quite dead. Michel helps with the looting because, well, money. He avoids the knives because, well, poison. Warm is eating one of the bodies. He seems quite distracted. Cadmus suggests we keep at least an eye out for our disappeared ninja leader.

Dawn: “Wise master says, ‘caution is a foe only to
one’s enemies’.”

Wise Master indeed. The ninjas are wearing DR3 Ninja Gear.

Doug: And for the record, Skill-18, Parry-13? Hypnotic
Hands-16, and Pressure Points? Not a mook.

Mark: Doomchildren (DF2 monsters) are
pretty much canonically mooks, and they have skill-18.

Kevin: They also explode.

In Dungeon Fantasy, apparently these guys are mooks.

Dawn: “In the tongue of the barbarians my name would be ‘Pale Blossom Opening to the Majesty of the Dawn’. It is best perhaps to be shortened to ‘Dawn’. It has been my honor to observe and to follow you and the Heir for some time.” She looks up. “Please accepting my apologies, Wise Master says you prefer to not be called ‘barbarians’.”

Staver looks himself over. “I’m not sure I’m not a barbarian.”

Cadmus: “Actually, we’re pretty sure you are. Dawn, if you wish to keep calling Staver barbarian, no one will mind.”

This austere room contains a simple pallet and clay drinking
bowl. Its only nod to ostentation is a beautifully painted lacquered screen
bearing the images of clouds and mountains rendered in a fanciful style. There
is a small leather trunk behind the screen.

Michel, being that sort of priest, goes over to patch up
some of our two dying but not dead foes. Staver checks out the chest, which is
not locked, but we speculate that there might be poison dust on the ground.

Staver: “So, like, don’t sneeze.”

Overall, the monks have their weapons, their suits, and each
has some sort of magic amulet, which detects as magic to Michel’s senses. There
is also a nice screen, tough to get back to town, The top of the chest has some
plain peasant clothes for the region. Very nondescript. Under that is a compact
disquise kit, an ornate blowgun fashioned from jade and lapis lazuli, 150 SP
worth of assorted Tian coins, and a piece of parchment written in Nord (or
whatever the language of the norse-types is called, I forget) with some sort of
intricate seal in way on it. Nothing detects as magical.

We then turn to interrogate the monks, while Cadmus and
Thumvar more or less continue to keep watch over everyone to prevent the nearly
inevitable return of the ninja leader. Or the freakin’ raven from two sessions
ago. We seem to have a bad tendency to leave foes alive, given the genre.

Our new companion, Dawn, sets down to interrogate her “fellow”
ninja. And by “fellow” I mean “not from her clan, and thus horrific things
follow.”

Dawn crouches down in front of the two captives, and gently
taps the conscious one’s cheek to get his attention. Her right hand flashes,
and blood sprays the conscious one as she cuts the throat of the other. She
speaks rapid-fire Tien. “He did not tell me what I wanted to know. You
should, or your end will be much more painful.”

 Aw, crap. Really? Maybe not.

Meanwhile, Staver takes a crack at the document with the Nordish
seal on it. He doesn’t speak Nord very well. “Bears can tell houses of Linnorms
what to do near Karlsgard.”

Given the were-critter activity around here, that might be the
literal truth after all.

Dawn continues to grill the fallen ninja; this may or may
not be the literal truth as well. She continues in Tien. “Why are you here
in the Northlands? Which clan has debased themselves to serving these
barbarians?”

GM: “We were brought here by -” He’s suddenly
doubled over as if by a blow.

How predictable. Dawn tried to bludgeon stuff, Thumvar tries
to block, and Michel and Cadmus both get their Exorcism on. Our little bit of
Divine Intervention fails due to time constraints: we’re still midway through
the ritual when the last welt appears and the body of the monk slumps to the
ground.

Michel: “Huh. We need to remember that stuff happens
and exorcise first, interrogate second.” Makes a big sigh. “I’m
exhausted. Can we rest here for a bit? Half an hour or so?” Remember. Must

We rest for a bit, then check out the not-very-well-hidden
secret door. Dawn just steps up and pushes the trigger stone, counting on ninja
reflexes to save her if it’s a trap. We fail to tempt fate to the point where
the GM squashes us with a falling ceiling, exploding fireball, or some such, and
then follow the roughly-hewn passageway south.

A brazier in the corner of this room glows faintly with red
coals, its smoke reminiscent of the stench of scorched flesh. A short bed with
a headboard carved with the image of an open-mouthed demon stands against one
wall, and a small table cluttered with books, scrolls, and a stuffed and
mounted stirge sits across from it. A magic circle has been scribed in center
of the floor with chalk. Torn papers, bits of old food, and other debris are
scattered about the room, collecting in corners and under the bed and table.

Thumvar: “Charming, diabolist art deco theme!”

Michel can identify the marks on the floor as a partially
completed Pentagram, and on one of the desks he finds a scroll that looks like
it’s about halfway through the magical theory of summoning something from
another (very nasty) plane.

Michel: “A mad taxidermist has been here.”
Carefully scruffs the pentagram a bit more. “I don’t think he safely
summoned anything, though. We should loot the place, but Thumvar and Cadmus
should keep an eye on the hall. Or Dawn could, whatever she prefers.”

The warrior types keep a look out for anything about to jump
out at us, while Michel tries, probably unsuccessfully, to keep a look out for
Staver and Dawn pocketing anything. He’s fussy that way.

Dawn takes another step, and then she bolts out of the room,
looking ill. (Weakness to Unholy stuff).

Cadmus notices that The demon on the wall seems to have a
wooden plate just inside it’s mouth that is a good 4 inches from the actual
back of the mounting backing; Staver fiddles with it and triggers the trigger.

It slides open, and three scrolls wrapped around a vial full
of some heavy silvery powder fall out into his  hand. Still no sword. We suspect that the
half-pound of slivery materials might be powdered silver.

We search on, and find stairs going down. Having bypassed a
door swollen shut with moisture, we return to it to clear the level.

Thumvar and Cadmus pry it open. The door opens into a
natural cavern thirty feet across and fifteen feet high. A waterfall pours in
through a small aperture high on the south wall, filling a turbulent pool in
the floor and sending a cold spray throughout the room. A smoothed ledge
extends outward from the door, and two large barrels have been set to the right
of it. Another ledge sits on the far side of the pool. A smaller cask sits on
this ledge, next to a heavy wooden door.

And the sword?

The water is ice-cold and crystal clear. You don’t see the
sword resting on the rock bottom that’s roughly 5 feet below the surface of the
water.

Drat.

Water seems to be draining to the north, you’re guessing
this is part of the water that supplies the stream flowing across the corridor
where the trolls camp. There is another heavy wooden door set into a worked
stone face on the other side of the pool. There’s a small barrel on that side
as well, roughly a quarter the size of the large water barrels on your side.

Michel: “Anyone want to go check the door?”

Talk about a Fellowship of the Ring flashback: “Do not
disturb the water?”

Dawn begins muttering to herself in Tien. “Leave the
Inflatable Tabi, Blossom. You are going to the northlands where the water is
all frozen anyway, Blossom. You will not need to swim.” She unsheathes her
sword and unties the scabbard, making a breathing tube. “Wise Master has
never /been/ to the northlands, where the water is /not/ all frozen and the
Inflatable Tabi would have been /very/ /useful/ /indeed/.” She switches to
Trade Pidgin. “I am hoping that perhaps one of you honorable warriors has
brought a towel.” She steps into the water, flinching at the cold.”

Cadmus: Under no circumstances will I give a towel to the
hot Nymph who has voluntarily created a wet T-shirt contest with freezing cold

Michel: What he said.

Thumvar: Uncouth swine! I’d offer to let her share my nice
warm cloak, plenty of room for two under it…

Thumvar seeks to grab Staver and fly across (Gargoyle,
remember): “Come on, a little flying will be good for you
runty!”

Staver: “I’m going to end up in the drink. There’s no
way those gawping big wings of yours aren’t going to bash off something! I’m
going to end up in the drink, with a gargoyle on my head.”

Thumvar: “Bah, it’s plenty wide! Quit whining.”
Thumvar grabs Staver, flys up and over the water, just in case there are unseen
beasties that will try and attack if I’m too low.

He successfully flies over the pool, finds a pretty cool aspergillum
sitting on one of the barrels, the small one contains a faintly alcoholic clear
liquid. The others seem to be ice melt. Michel, who will drink anything once,
first stirs, and then takes a sip of the water we’ve been taking pains to
avoid. The clerics then have a pray-off:

Cadmus: “Holy Pharasma, we know we push our luck. We
figure you like it. Amen.”

Michel gurgles contemplatively, then swallows, and goes back
to watching Thumvar and Staver. “Gozreh, thank you for creating this
wonderful pure water and the world around it.”

At this point, we prod ourselves into action, check the door
for traps (nope) and locks (yep), and Michel offers to help Dawn cross the pool
via magic. He does not offer to help Cadmus.

 Brother Michel watches her technique closely

Dawn, naturally, pulls out a set
of climbing claws out of her, um, no one really knows. She Lizard Climbs across
like the damn ninja she is. Michel “watches her technique” closely. Uh-huh.

The door is opened, and the room beyond is small and musty,
hewn from solid rock. Near the far wall stands a low well, its opening only a
foot in diameter. A winch and chain with a rusty steel bucket hang from the
wall above it. In the far corner sits a pile of old wooden buckets and other
debris, rotten and broken, with several different kinds of fungus growing on
their remnants.

Staver: “… that well seems a bit un-needed, don’t you think?”As soon as Thumvar sets foot across the threshold a golden red fiery light erupts from the well.
Staver: Sigh. “Called it.”

Dawn disappears using her mongo stealth, Thumvar activates
his magic resistance on his shield . . . and we decide to call it for the
night.

## Designing my own RPG

So, let’s get to it. I was thinking in the car a while ago (I’m not sure when; this was an idea that got put in my +5 Journal of Pretentiousness) about my propensity for rules tweaks.

Well, if I’m tweaking so much, I must not be satisfied. Clearly (he said sotto voce) I should design and write my own game.

Right?

What would it be?

Well, I can tell you. It would, first of all, be a lot like GURPS, in that it would definitely be a point-buy system of some sort.

It would have resolution separately for attacks and defenses. Like GURPS now. I like that, and would choose to retain it.

It would also make extensive use of some sort of scaling table. As I’ve said before, if the answer to your question in GURPS isn’t the Size-Speed/Range table, you’re probably asking the wrong thing. I would definitely do this for lifting ablity, so that each level of strength would be a constant multiple over the one before it. That would avoid the current quirk present in very high levels of GURPS ST being marginally inferior on a point-by-point basis.

And about that: the name for my tentatively considered game would be the dB System (decibel). I’d want to use ten steps for the range table, and likely d10 for the roll types. I like bell curves, though . . . more on that later.

While deliberating my dB-scaled version of the Scaling Table, it occurred to me that the GURPS version of this type of chart uses six steps per order of magnitude. Now, this could be a few things:

• Each step is roughly 50% more than the next one, chosen as a meaningful step and that worked out to roughly six steps per factor of 10 (1.47x, or the sixth-root of ten)
• GURPS uses d6’s, and thus it makes sense to have six steps per each order of magnitude
• It provided the right split of resolution and differentiation, and happened to land on six divisions.
Or it could be any combination of them, or none. GURPS also uses a 1-2-5-10 and a 1-3-10 progression at times (roughly sqrt(10) and the cube-root of 10) in the Spaceships volumes.
Ultimately, though, even with some potential fairly deliberate departures that would be more form than function, what I’d do would feel an awful lot like some sort of GURPS Fifth Edition.
Why is Ballistic’s dB RPG never going to happen?

Well, a few reasons. Quite a few. 400,000 or so of them to be precise. Ask +Sean Punch about the effort required to take a game and revise/rationalize/rewrite it. At 800 or so words per page, varying with formatting, and enough meat to be a generic entry capable of supporting multiple genres, you’re still talking 250,000 to 500,000 words here.
This might be able to be made lighter with proper metasystems. Much like Sean and +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s Technique Design System from GURPS Martial Arts, if there were to be an embedded Advantage Design System, Disadvantage Design System, and maybe even some sort of Power Design System (which may well include technology, but ask +David Pulver how straight-forward that is) perhaps you could save wordcount in specific advantage-type listings, but you’d spend it (probably more than spend it) on the metasystems themselves.
But the real reason I wouldn’t do it is that I don’t have the skills required to bring what I’d think of as a Next
Gen RPG to market. Most of the gaming I do these days is on a Virtual Table Top of some sort. Roll20 or MapTool, to be precise.
I would want a Next Gen RPG to have all the math integrated into the book itself. Embrace the electronic medium to a much fuller extent. Embedded character generation and export hooks. Metasystems and resolution systems and combat trackers right in the pacakge, hopefully interfacing into common platforms or as a format-neutral application.

One more advantage of the digital format would be the elimination of the requirement to roll multiple dice to get a satisfactory bell curve probability distribution. Want to have a result that ranged from (say) 0 to 20, centered around 10, but have the same distribution shape as 3d6? No problem. That’d be (more or less) the Excel equivalent of NORMINV(RAND(), 10, 3). You could simulate flat distributions where you wanted them, bell curves where appropriate, and even things like one-sided distributions where it’d be useful. The players would be able to consult rough probability tables, as today in GURPS, but the heavy lifting would be computerized.

In short, what I would look for as my hobby’s next step, I can’t hope to provide. I’m not that kind of programmer or artist even if my game design skills were up to the task That being said, I think I’d be decent at managing the creation of such a beast. But that’s my own possible delusion.
Also . . . I’m having a pretty good time creating for GURPS Fourth Edition. I like the people I interact with, I understand what I’m doing, and I can do it on my own time. So when all is said and done, my nascent decimal/decibel scaling mechanic that allows butterflies and T-Rexes with equal ease will stay nascent. I’ll have fun playing and creating for the system I enjoy greatly.
And at some point, someone might rise to the challenge of a truly integrated Next Gen RPG built with some of the really neat features we see emerging integrated right inside.
Well . . . that’ll be an interesting day.”

-Jayne Cobb