Today’s game started out after we’d been attacked by some sort of acid ooze in the previous game. Naturally, we were immediately attacked by a giant wasp on a narrow set of switchbacked stairs.

Cadmus, usually the shield and magic axe guy, decided to play with his dueling poleaxe (spear tip, hammerhead, axe blade) instead. That’s trading Axe-19 for Polearm-14, but a 2-yard reach. We shall see.

First round, our Knight (also a gargoyle) flew off the stairs, took a Wait maneuver. Then the wasp flew some huge amount of hexes right at Cadmus, who managed to parry him aside with his polearm. That triggered Thumvar’s Wait, and he got in a good thwack. Brother Michel the Cleric/Mage stepped right behind me, which irritated me until he tapped me on the shoulder and casts Walk on Air. “Walk after him, just don’t fall.”

Sweet.

Cadmus steps up into open air, stabs, but the thing dodges. Then Staver, our Infernal Scout, does a ranged Feint and Attack at the things wings, makes the Feint by 14, and destroys them. Crunch, splat, Fight over.

Well, that fight. Two ninjas were naturally hiding in the shadows climbing the suporting timbers of the switchbacked stairway, the way ninjas do.

The less ethical among us (Staver and Brody, our thief) shoot first. Brody chucks a knife at one (Knife Throwing: the art of skillfully discarding a perfectly good weapon), which causes his target ninja to have to make a Climb check to not fall. He makes it. Nimble little bastard.

Staver drills his target with an arrow for 10 impaling. Target also fails to fall. Maybe he’s got some armor, ’cause 20 injury if he don’t, and he didn’t die.

The rest of us non-perceptive folks notice something’s up. Literally. 10 yards up, and enmeshed in the support structures for the stairs.

Thumvar flies, Michel puts himself close to a wall, goes defensive, and ponders what spell to hit them with. I Walk on Air halfway to the ninjas. Brody drops to the ground beside Staver, but would have biffed the landing except for a quick Thief! point. He plucks an arrow from Staver’s cornucopia quiver (infinite arrows) . . . and realizes that with -8 for cover and -4 for range, he doesn’t have the skill to hit them. Oops.

Staver’s turn again, and she sinks an arrow into the boards; -8 for cover is a lot.

The ninja’s try to Stealth out, one succeeds, disappearing into the woodwork. The other does not, and Thumvar fast-draws a hatchet and chucks it at him. Crazy Dodge-monkey gets out of the way. This left Michel little to do, with 10 yards of distance between him and his hidden foes, so since he hadn’t set anything on fire for a few hours, he went with that option, casting explosive fireball.

Cadmus continues walking through air and chops at the neck of his foe, who dodges. The way Ninjas do. Despite missing, he cuts through the support pillar ninja-boy is standing on, since his axe does 2d+3 (2) cut, and rolled 14 penetration. He fails to fall, pesky ninja. The stairs also fail to fall. But are weakened.

I just wanted to say that running through the sky to stab ninjas is really where I want this game to go, and I’m happy we’re partway there already.

                                                                                    — +Nathan Joy 

Cadmus’ foe turns to try and fast draw his sword and stab him in the throat.  Cadmus notices that the thing has black feathers and a yellow beak. Ravencraeg is apparently pretty literal. Cadmus tries to aggressively parry the sword, hoping to chop it in half. He makes the parry, but only by the margin provided by his shield (DB+3), so no dice.

Thumvar flies over and buries his axe into the bird-ninja of Alcatraz, killing him.

The other one is nowhere to be found. Boo! for alert foes.

We bring the body down, and search him, finding two potions, and three more stoppered vials. Plus 10 yards of spider silk rope, a short sword, blowgun, some daggers, and a lightly armored black garment. Ninjas have good loot.

Cadmus remarks we should probably get to the big ol’ doors before archers arrive at the arrow slits – which would make our lives generically difficult. This goes more or less unnoticed. Due to shiny potions and stuff. One’s a blur potion, the other a potion of Insignificance, that makes the eyes just slide off you, not noticing your presence.

Staver (Greedy) searches the wasp’s nest for treasure too. She discovers that wasp’s nests are kinda gross. The GM allows a roll vs. Naturalist (Scout!), Staver biffs it, spends a Scout! point to make the roll, and finds out that wasp’s nest paper makes good field-expedient gauze/bandages for first aid. +2 HP to first aid attempts.

Which, given we keep spending time NOT getting to the doors, I believe we’ll need presently – but it turns out I’m wrong. We swing open the heavy door, and . . .

. . . are attacked by a huge swarm of Ravens. Two of them, actually.

We back off a bit, and Brody tosses an exploding egg (nagateppo). This blinds one swarm.

The swarm attacks the rest of us. Large-area injury is resisted by the average DR of the whole body, so Cadmus is DR 6. So Thumvar and Cadmus, the best protected of the group, flail around being pecked, but that pings off the armor. We kill a few. Michel tosses a Stunball at our feet, which kills most of them, stuns a few of us (including Michel, caught in his own spell), and destroys one of the two swarms. We pause for a moment as the other swarm wakes up and starts coming for us. Thumvar is totally coated in massive amounts of plate, so he’s safe. I’m only threatened if they roll a 6, so I’m 85% safe. We keep swinging at it as we make time for the mage to wake up and kill the swarm with another spell. Michel rolls a lot of 14s.

Eventually we do enough damage to the final swarm to disperse it. Cadmus heals Michel, he recovers fatigue, we eat roast raven, and that’s the session.

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

*********

Not much to report this time. Lots of combat, mostly melee. We got caught off-guard by the wasp, who was fast enough to be on us before we could declare and trigger Wait maneuvers. Vulnerable wings made for a relatively easy fight.


The ninjas were more fun, but mostly they just hung out in the rafters, with only one trying anything. 


The ravens were more annoying than dangerous, since those of us in the fray were wearing enough armor to render them ineffective – but 1d6+1 pi++ every round with no hit roll and no defense is bad mojo unless you happen to be slathered in head-to-toe armor. Which Thumvar and Cadmus were. It did get a bit tedious, though – still a better alternative than what would have happened with my old kit, which maxed out at DR 6, which would have given me DR 4 instead of DR 6 for average protection, and that would have let a lot more damage through. As it was, I could just ignore them.


Still, one of the fun things about GURPS combat is the tactical choices, and swarms, while very nasty, don’t really allow for that. You basically do 2 HP per attack per turn, or 1 HP for pi or imp weapons. It’s really a matter of “I hope that you brought explosives, fire, concussion, or other area effects.”


Which we did. QED. 

GURPS Basic Set covers the question of how high your skill levels should be with the Choosing Your Skill Levels box, on p. B172. Some other resources (GURPS Tactical Shooting, Guns Skill Levels, p. 42) also throw down what the right skill levels are for various archetypes.

But let’s, as Jeffr0 put it, tear down the fourth wall for a moment.

Forget what skill levels mean. What can you do? 



I’m assuming you will buy and use GURPS Martial Arts here.
Lets focus on a generic melee skill for a moment. Maybe it’s Axe/Mace, maybe it’s Broadsword.




Skill-5
Attack: This is default value for an untrained person. You suck. You suck so hard it takes a Telegraphic All-Out Attack (+8 to your skill, but +2 to defend against, and you can’t use your own defenses for the rest of your turn) to even get you to Skill-13. You may not use Deceptive Attack at all. Feinting is a waste of time for all concerned. If you thrust for the vitals, you will have a 50% chance of doing so, after which you will stand there with a “kill me” sign on your chest. If you try and hit someone in the head (-5) with that same berserker combo, you will succeed 25% of the time. Well, you’ll throw “a blow good enough to hit” that often; your foe will still defend.

Defense (Parry or Block): Bwa ha ha! Sorry, did you say parry? Your base defense on this one is 5 (3+Skill/2, drop fractions), and you’ll note most of that comes from the 3. If all your stats are 10 and you’ve no encumbrance, your Dodge is higher at 8, and at least with a retreat you can boost this to 11. You’ll be hiding behind a shield (for the Defense Bonus, DB), and probably choosing between All-Out Attack and All-Out Defense a lot.

Skill-9
Attack: This is what happens when Joe Average puts one point into the skill. You can do better than 50% chance to hit the torso with a Committed Attack, at least. The All-Out Telegraphic suicide attack at least gets you to Skill-17, which means you could hit the vitals 90% of the time with a thrust. At least you’re aiming for something important. You’ve got a 75% chance to bust someone in the face using that same move. You still are precluded from making real use of Deceptive Attack.

Defense: Still only a 7 for Parry (or Block using Shield, though you’ll pick up DB for many shields). Not great odds, but maybe with a retreat (+1) and a defensive attack (+1) carrying a medium shield (+2) you can eke out a 62% chance of defeating your foe’s attack. That’s at least better than 50-50, but not something to bet your own life on. You have very little margin against skilled foes.

Skill-12
Attack: Notionally the baseline for a professional, your raw hit chance is finally larger than 50%. You no longer need to stack several unattractive options to even have a chance of hitting your guy. You can do Committed Attack (Determined) and have a 90% chance of hitting his torso. You have a better than even chance with a Telegraphic Attack to the face (Skill-11), and you can finally look at the Brain as a viable target (AoA+Telegraphic for +8, Brain at -7, for Skill-11), or consider Committed Attack (Determined) to the vitals at Skill-11 and preserve your defense. You can target arms and legs (-2) at 50%, and this is the first fight-winning strategy that emerges without real penalties. You can hit arms and legs with a Committed (Determined) attack 75% of the time, even.

Defense: Your Block/Parry is now 9. Notionally, you now have the wherewithal to attempt a Riposte (and take -1 to your defense for -1 to your foe’s next defense), but I wouldn’t. While attacking cautiously as above, you will deflect 80% of blows (assumes a DB+2 shield). All-Out Defense for +2 precludes the Defensive Attack, but with the retreat and shield you’re at 90%.

You will still largely be choosing between “effective attack” and “effective defense,” but at least now effective means “pretty certain against lesser foes.”

Skill-14
Attack:  OK. Now we’re talking. We’re not talking too loudly, since you still can’t hit someone in the face more than 50% of the time without resorting to Attack Options, but you can thrust to the vitals at 62% and give up nothing on the attack, or take a small penalty to defend (CA) and be at 83%. With an AoA(Determined) you can even go Deceptive, and inflict -2 to your foe’s defense and still hit 90% of the time. Better be sure he’ll go down with that blow, though.

Defense: Raw Parry and Block is now 50% (Parry/Block-10), and with the right set of options and Advantages, can start to get serious. Combat Reflexes, Enhanced Parry, Defensive Attack (+1) or All-Out Defense (conctrated) for +2, a DB +2 shield and a retreat (+1) and you’re adding a whopping 6-7 to this raw 10, giving you an “I’m doing nothing else but defending” total of 16-17. Effectively, at this point, lacking a skilled opponent or critical hit, you’re barely touchable if you go All Turtle, All The Time. At this point, especially if you have that shield and can give ground, you can Parry or Block over 80% of strikes and still have a viable offense. Your foes really have to ponder Deceptive Attacks of their own, or hope for criticals, because getting through your defenses is going to be a neat trick.

I’d call Skill-14 “entry level ass kickers.” You no longer suck.

Skill-18
Attack: Ah. Sweet victory. This is an utterly achievable skill level for entry-level DF characters. The Knight can get there pretty fast, and even well beyond given things like Weapon Bond and Balanced and choosing DX over ST, you can easily push a single skill to 22.

Still, at Skill-18, you can now hit the Brain better than 50% of the time, and use a Committed Deceptive Attack to the Vitals (!) to give -2 to your foes defenses and skewer him 83% of the time. Might want to only DA down to Skill-16, though, to preserve the extra chance for a critical hit. You can target arms and legs and either hope for the 10% chance to crit, or “only” accept a 90% chance at hitting and impart -1 to the foes defenses. Leg-chopping for fun and profit is viable here. More importantly, on really tough foes, you can target Chinks in Armor, dividing DR by 2, at 50% success rate . . . more with various Attack Options stacked up.

Defense: Base Parry/Block is 12, and you’re probably sportin’ Combat Reflexes too. You’re now looking at base Block/Parry with the +2 DB medium shield of 15 – now your foes have to start throwing Deceptive Attacks just to think about getting to you. And that’s without you really trying hard. With the right kit (such as a +3 DB shield) and Defensive Attack (+1), you can Riposte with a net defense of 14 and bequeath your foe -2 to defend against your own next attack, reserving your offensive bonuses for target location or soaking other penalties.

Skill-24
Attack: I bypassed Skill-22, which is totally cool, and the Dungeon Fantasy Knight, with the right kit and choices of stats, can start there. But I like Skill-24, because with it, you can take a -10 to hit for -5 to their defense and still rock their torso 90% of the time. But at this skill level, you should be thinking (a lot) about chinks in armor (-8), the brain (-7), and really think about crippling arms and legs, or hands and feet. You can to this and still hit them with up to -4 penalties to defend. You have so many choices here that you may not need to make them, and your defenses will be so high that accepting the defensive penalties from Committed Attack is par for the course.

Defend: Your base Parry/Block is a mighty 15. Toss in Combat Reflexes and a DB+2 shield and you’re at Parry/Block of 18. Back up and you’re at 19, Defensive Attack and you’re at 20. Yow. You’re going to be Riposting. A lot. Why wouldn’t you? Sure, against tough foes with Skill-18 throwing -2 or -3 Deceptive Attack penalties at you, you’re down to a measly 12 or 13, but right back up there with a little cautious fighting.

So, there we go. Clever GMs will find ways to make high skill not matter (such as high DR, or if the PC is silly and combines all that skill with ST 8 or something) in all circumstances. For “real” fighters, you’ll want to be in the Skill-14 to Skill-18 range, which gives a nice sliding scale of offense and defense. For real badasses, you’re going to want to be Skill-20 or higher. I just loves me the -10 Deceptive Attack for -5 to defend, though.

Also note that in grappling, many techniques make use of Contests of Skills, rather than attack/defense rolls. I have never really sat down and worked through the math of that the way I have with attack/defense. Perhaps that will be a subject for a future post. I bet the results are different in important ways.

Edit: A very, very late add, but over at Renovating the Temple, +Patrick Halter has published a nice analysis of how much Deceptive Attack you should take given attacker and defender’s skill. While there are some edge cases, being deceptive down to the 14-16 range is rarely stupid, if occasionally not precisely optimal. It’s nice work, with a fairly easily understood graphical presentation. Nice work.

A retroactive (and oft-repeated) introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races


3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

So: we continue!

Introduction

The skills chapter is something that you’re going to want to read, and closely. There are some positive gems tucked in here, including the answer to a beef I brought up – erroneously it turns out – in a previous Actual Play report!

There are 35 listed skills on page 89 of the Pathfinder Core Rulebook. That includes 10 specializations of Knowledge (Whatever). Compare with, well, a frack-ton more in GURPS, and the first thing I’ll say is that the list is very well consolidated. This is one of the benefits of a genre-specific game, but from what I understand, the Pathfinder rules consolidated the DnD3.5 skill set down pretty hard. You can (and probably should) customize the GURPS skill set for the flavor of game you want to play, and options do exist through Wildcard skills to have things more broadly useful. Still: 35 skills in Pathfinder is utterly digestible, and the version of the PDF character sheet I was provided by +Jeromy French makes good use of that, listing all 35.

The chapter begins with notes on acquiring skills, and explains the skill check mechanic (1d20+skill levels vs. the Difficulty Class, or DC, of the task). It notes that you can never have more ranks, that is, skill levels that you get due to class level advancement, than you have hit dice (your level) in any one skill. But your ability score bonuses, racial bonuses, and special bonuses from Feats do add up. So my 4th level Rogue can get +13 in Stealth (for example) with four ranks from his level, +3 for it being a class skill, +3 more for my DEX bonus, and another +3 because I’m a no-good-sneaky half-elf Rogue with Skill Focus (Stealth).

Note to self: that’s +13, but the sheet only lists +12. Huh . . . math error. Gotta check that before the next game.

Taking 10 and Taking 20

Two key options for skills are rules – only allowed out of combat – for assuming an average roll of 10 for certain tasks. If you can try and try again – taking 20 times as long as you normally would (your chances of rolling a 20 are 1 in 20, so on the average, 20x as long) – you can assume you roll a 20. Both are nice hedges against the occasional maddening irritation of a flat distribution.

Irritating to me. I like the 3d6 bell curve. Biased. Admitting it. Cool with it. 

Aiding Another

Hey, you can also help people out, and a successful skill check gives a 10% bonus (+2) to skill for another. The book waves a hand at suggesting limits for certain things, but the GM is left on his own for what’s reasonable.

The Skills


After the obligatory introductory text explaining the legend for each entry, the skill list starts. As I mentioned earlier, there are some real key concepts and things you can do with your skills tucked in these areas (I call these Hidden Lore in the skill writeups), and the book puts suggested DCs for common adventuring tasks right in the skill description. So read it all, and read the skills you have twice.

Pedant Mode: It’s written in plain sight. It’s not hidden. I know. Lighten up.

Acrobatics
Balance, gymnastics, and Obi-Wanning across a narrow ledge. Also covers long jump, high jump, and unstable and dangerous surfaces. Also recovery and mitigation of falling damage.

Interestingly enough, STR has no impact on distance jumped that I can tell. These are DEX checks. That would be an interesting area for house rules.

Hidden Lore: The diamond in the rough here is the ability to use acrobatics to move through a foe’s hex without provoking an attack of opportunity, though your move is halved while doing this, and you can’t do it at all if you are too heavily encumbered. While I’m not sure it passes a reality check – I’d probably say that backhandspringing through combat should draw fire from all foes (from drawing attention) and possibly also from friends (just in case that kind of stupidity is contagious).

Kidding.

Mostly.

Appraise
It is surprisingly difficult to get the value of something: a DC 20 check. Presumably you can Take 20 out of combat, or Take 10 if you’re being casual about it.

Hidden Lore: If you have +5, Taking 10 will give you the value of an item within 20%; Taking 20 will not only give you the value, but identify if an item is magical as well (DC 25) – not what the powers are, but that it is, in fact, magical.

Bluff
The skill for thieves and politicians (but that’s redundant, ain’t it?), the primary ability is simply a contest of skills: Bluff vs. Sense Motive, with a modfier based on how audacious you’re being and how much proof you have.

Hidden Lore: Speaking in code to another PC. If you succeed (DC 15 for simple, 20 for complex), they automatically understand you. You can be understood by another if they beat your Bluff roll with their Sense Motive. You get a bonus of +20 to your skill to speak in code if you’re between the ages of 4 and 8 years old speaking to anyone, or between 11 and 15 speaking around adults.

OK, I made that last bit up.

Climb
This one’s pretty much what it says on the tin. The listed difficulties are all generic for ascending, decending, bouldering, whatever. Only if you fail by 5 or more do you fall.

Remember: it’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop.

Hidden Lore: Catching a falling friend is done with a melee touch attack, and then you need to make a Climb check at the wall’s difficulty+10 to prevent you both from falling too. Might want to think “safety line.” That would probably obviate the need for the melee touch attack, and maybe reduce the DC of bracing yourself by a bit (but maybe not).

Craft
Unlike knowledge skills, which are explicitly laid out for you in a table and on some character sheets, the craft skills are not. Well, not in tables. There are 21 variants of craft skills listed, including basket weaving (I knew that course wasn’t fluff!), but also shipbuilding, and the making of arms, armor, and bows. Some useful stuff in there.

A craft check requires a week of dedicated work, so it’s not something you just break out in between encounters while Entropic Spelunking is going on. You can go faster by increasing the DC of the task.

There are rules for how much it costs to make stuff: you always pay 1/3 the item’s price as raw materials, and the variable is really how many days/weeks it takes to make it. Seemingly a money factory . . . though presumably you have some sort of weekly cost of living to pay out. If you botch your roll, you can also ruin materials, which presumably must be replaced.

You can also make masterwork items, and you have to admit, self-crafting your own masterwork equipment is quite cool as backstory, and you have to loot approximately 2/3 fewer tombs to do it!

Hidden Lore: Woodworking and the Ironwood spell allows you to make wood stuff with the strength of steel. That’s gotta come in handy. Also, +Joshua Taylor plays an alchemist in the Skull and Shackles game I play in. He makes potions. A lot. This is so spectacularly useful that it almost makes my inner Destroyer of Munchkins curl up and cry.

Diplomacy
This skill is either used to make people like you, so you can ask them to do stuff, or to perform interrogations. The mechanic for making people like you more seems a bit clunky to me; If you have a lot of this skill, you will just end up making repeated die rolls. Meh. Maybe it works in play.

Hidden Lore: Seeking out rumors in the local tavern and about the city is a Diplomacy check.

Disable Device
While finding a trap is Perception, making it not kill you is this skill. DCs are given for opening locks of varous quality, and disabling traps of various complexity. Really, this one’s easy: There’s a trap or lock. The GM sets the DC. Roll for it. If you succeed, booyah. If you fail by five or more, hope your saving throws are really good, your insurance is paid up, or both.

Hidden Lore: Not much. Just the abilty to disarm magical traps too, unless they’re spike growth or spike stones. For those, you just get spiked.

Disguise
How to Change Your Appearance in one easy die roll! This skill vs. Perception, with modifiers depending on how radically you’re changing your appearance, and how well that appearance is known by others. Certain spells can enhance this.

Hidden Lore: Interestingly enough, True Seeing, a magic spell, will not penetrate a mundane disguise.  It only penetrates or negates the magical component of a disguise. Interesting.

Escape Artist
When B&D isn’t your thing, this is the go-to ability. Ropes, shackles, manacles, and Lola: you can escape from all sans broken spine. This also helps escape from grapples, which I’m not sure I buy even one little bit.

Hidden Lore: There’s a Feat called Stealthy which adds to Escape Artist. Huh.

Fly
Wings, magic, or pixie dust – if you’re airborne by natural or magical means, this is your go-to for complex maneuvering.

Hidden Lore: These rules take up at least a page, with two different tables and a bonus for being batman. I’m not going to try to summarize it; if you have this ability, read this section a few times.

Handle Animal
Dude. Two pages of rules on animal training and stunts. Some of this stuff is hugely valuable. There are over a dozen listed “tricks,” including Track, Guard, Defend, and Attack. You can also train an animal for a purpose, including “Combat Training” (“I know Cat Fu.” “Show me.”) and “Fighting.” Yes, those are different. Combat Training is a combat-trained mount that can also fight. Fighting is just about the slavering jaws.

Hidden Lore: You can do this on an INT 1 or 2 creature that’s not an animal (but it’s harder). Druids and Rangers rock at Handle Animal, as they should. Anyone who can make a CHA check can potentially do some of this stuff, but not the cool stuff.

Heal
This is where the healing rates are implied, and with this skill, accelerated. If you treat a character who has negative HP and is losing them, you can stop the loss. Long-Term Care allows doubling the recovery rate, up to 4 HP per level per day of full rest (!). Instantly remove the movement penalty (but not the HP loss) from stepping on certain hazards. Oddly enough, the effects of this are basically repeated twice. Pretty sure my editors would have cut that section for wordcount. 🙂 You can also boost the Saving Throw of a character suffering from poison or disease.

***


This is another long, detailed chapter. I’ll return to it and finish as soon as I can. In the meantime, enjoy!

My previous post about some past GURPS campaigns brought on a very interesting comment string from +Christopher Lorando. I made some comments, and he replied. The gist of it is worth repeating. And since Thursday is GURPS-day, here we go:

My abridged list of common pitfalls:

[Edit: Some of these, as Sean (Dr Kromm) points out, are very much not GURPS-specific, but generic to RPGs and social gatherings alike. His commentary, as always, is well worth reading).

  • Issues with rules lawyering: often caused by pinging of the SoDoM, or expectations clash in the competence level of PCs. This is worth a good conversation, but rules-lawyering is easy: The GM says “we’re doing it this way for today; if we change it, it won’t be today. Take it offline.” 
  • Immobile battlefield: The tendency for every character to want/try to do something every second means that even with combat moves that equate to 5-8 minute miles, your odds of rescuing someone without a ranged aid (gun, spell, muscle-powered ranged weapon, friendly dragon) are nearly zero unless you keep the group together. So keep the group together if you don’t want a bunch of individual combats.
  • Action Overload: attempting an inhuman amount of activity in a row. My Action Points rules from Pyramid #3/44 were a fix for this, but wow. You’re like Neo in bullet time in your hex . . . you just can’t leave that hex to rescue Trinity real well
  • Option Overload: The tendency to try and use every book, every rule, every option can be large. It’s worth fighting in many cases. Maybe all cases.
  • PC Utility Fail: It’s vitally, vitally important to understand what kind of characters are useful i any given game.
  • One-Hit Wonder: GURPS has emergent “death spiral” behavior in some places. The temptation to wade back into the fray is large, and often fatal. The key to GURPS combat is often “how do we avoid getting hit, if we get hit, how do we avoid getting injured.”
  • Breakpoint games: There ARE breakpoints that you should be aware of. Combat attacks and defenses that net out over 14 or 16 should be brought down with options like Deceptive Attack or Riposte.
Likewise, here were some of his comments, and my comments on the comments:

. . . the GM would say “Hey I have a GURPS Game!” and everyone would come up with some random character, only to find out only one player out of the 4 to 5 actually fit what the GM had in mind.

This is a pretty common mistake. Couple easy ways to avoid it, too. The first is that allowable plot connection devices should be supplied by the GM. “You all must be part of Delta Force” is rather specific, and directed. “You all must have the ability to deal with combat encounters, many – but not always – involving gunfights” is another. On the SJG Forums, there are a few posts by +Sean Punch that give Action Hero Basic Skills (there are two links there), and that will at least keep all the PCs “in the game,” even if they’re not in their niche at the moment.

Another way to do it is by insisting that every PC have one super-strong link to another character, and/or one or two minor links to others. I did this in a game I ran (Lords of Light and Shadow) and it worked great. It helped flesh out both the group, why they’d hang together, and some of the local color. It’s how I got a buddhist temple, with martial arts and yoga classes, which was affiliated to a local college somehow. I wouldn’t have come up with that, but my players did for me.

You can also mix and match. A basic template (see below) and direction provided by the GM, and links and interrelationships made up by the characters – always with GM Veto. I’m a massive believer in GM Veto.

I have found Templates absolutely critical in that regard, as it helps myself get an idea of what is expected of players to fit the game that they had in mind. More times than not, I would try to come up with creative ways to roleplay and use talents that fit towards story, only to find out that I am being gunned down repeatedly.

Templates and Lenses are key here, and part of the GM responsibility if he sees every PC needing to be able to participate in his preferred method of conflict resolution. If the GM doesn’t have one, and allows the PCs non-violent outs (bribery, deceit, seduction) that allows the non-bloody to shine too.

That and one thing that REALLY rang true: Trying to use EVERY BOOK! More times than not, I have found two books do just find (At least for the player). The Game Master already has enough on his plate to manage, and in the games I have played many of them ended due to sheer overwhelming numbers and stat blocks.

My first real game was a GURPSification of Dark Conspiracy. I used the 3rd Edition Basic Set, Martial Arts, High Tech, Psionics, Magic, Horror, Martial Arts Adventures, Vehicles, Ultra Tech 1 and 2 . . . dear God, what a mess. I swear I spent more time with my nose in the books than GMing.

One of these days I may actually get a Wuxia style game, though until I can actually follow through with my original setting idea it will likely have to wait.

Well, for that you will certainly need Technical Grappling, when it comes out. And copies for all your friends and relatives.

What?

I was thinking for a moment about campaigns I have run in GURPS.

Reaching way back to college to present day (or, really, a few years back, when last I actually ran anything):
Dark Conspiracy – I hated hated hated the Dark Conspiracy game system. It just did not work for me. So my very first campaign, I converted to GURPS. Good move. I also used nearly every rulebook I had. Bad move. Overall, the campaign was a success, but I spent way too much time looking stuff up.
I ran some sort of Generic Fantasy game early in Grad School. Wasn’t terribly memorable, though I remember getting into an argument with one of my roommates about the proper composition and tree density of the forest in which I’d staged a combat. Surprise surprise, it didn’t last. 
I also ran a game called, I think, the Earth Federation campaign. A post-apocalyptic game which was my reaction to Babylon 5. Set on a space station where the characters were all members of, um, some sort of FBI-like organizations. That went on several sessions, and was a LOT of fun. Good interconnected plotlines, a few bad guys, some secret science that would lead to warp drive. 
Next up was, I think, my Black Ops campaign. I think +Brett Slocum may have played in that one, along with +Gene Ha and a bunch of others, including my wife, her sister, and diverse others. I remember it fairly fondly, and it’s left me with a love for the monster hunting and special ops genre that I have not lost. It was the source of my almost-first project with SJG, an adventure called OMEN TOWER that died a horrible death due to some very unfortunate circumstances at the time. 
I also ran a game, another fantasy one, that ported over a lot of the religious background from The Deed of Paksenarrion (it was well thought-out and complete), but with my own map (I was into Campaign Cartographer a bit at the time) and backstory. I actually ran a prequel adventure, deliberately on rails and with my players pre-agreement, giving the backstory by which the Big Bad Evil Guy was returned to the world. The “Blasingdell” campaign was a solid one, which I’d hoped to revisit.
Again reaching to Babylon 5, I brought the Lords of Shadow and Light to earth, where I revisited Dark Conspiracy-like going’s-on with the twist that two forces, one of order and stasis, the other of chaos and mayhem, had gained access to Earth through an accidental wrong place/wrong time dimensional rift. That only lasted a few sessions, but it was going to be a fun ride.
My last campaign was straight-up GURPS Firefly. It rocked, and had a good story behind it. Good times.
What I’d love to play in?
I would really groove on getting into a Monster Hunters game. 
I am always happy to revisit the worlds of Dark Conspiracy and Black Ops. I’m enjoying the hell out of my paladin in Dungeon Fantasy, and would love playing in +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s Felltower campaign, I suspect. +Sean Punch‘s ongoing campaign, which he records on his LiveJournal, seems to rock on toast.

I got to play GURPS at TL9 this past Saturday, with +Jeromy French , +kung fu hillbilly , +Alina Cole , +Carl Miller , and +Matt Sutton .

We got into a battle with lasers and slugthrowers. There was an awful lot of successful dodging going on. Some of this just “the dice say what the dice say.” But after a bit, you could tell from the body language (and post-game conversation) that the overall assessment of that was “no frackin’ way.”

GURPS has a fairly realistic outcome level when it comes to gun battles. The real level of hits in combat at ranges spanning a mere 3-10 yards is something like “less than 10-15%.” If you figure GURPS Dodge scores on the order of 6-10, (15-50% chance of a successful dodge), you’re still looking at “attack” level percentages on the order of no more than 30%. That’s 8- or 9- at best net/net, even before dodging.

So at 3-10 yards (-4 down to -1) skill levels are presumably in the 9-13 range (not spec ops, from “joe average or a cop who doesn’t do much range time). Again . . . realistic. Most of these exchages involve considerable fear and andrenaline, and sighted but not aimed shooting. See GURPS Tactical Shooting for how these differ.

Given “on the range” bonuses of something like +6 to +8 for knowing range, not being in any sort of danger, no stake in the outcome, etc, that’s likely looking at range-level accuracy on the order of 15 to 21, plus Acc 3 of the gun. Net raw score is likely 17-24, meaning that on a quiet range shooting once every second or two, you can probably put every shot on the paper (at a raw skill of 9) to being able to eat a -6 penalty to put 90% of all your shots in a 0.2-yd circle: every shot in an 7″ circle.

When I took a range accuracy test in Texas years ago, shots from 3-25 yards were all within 6″ of target. I’ll admit it (Texas rules apply – if you can do it, it ain’t braggin’): I’m a good shot on the range. You might also call much range shooting Guns (Sport) and hit shooters with an additional -3 in real combat situations unless they’ve been on live-fire, shoot/no-shoot, or kill house training.

And yet . . .

Lasers. There’s no recoil to deal with, unless you’re ejecting a chemical cell. If you can put the red X on the target and pull the trigger, they shouldn’t get to dodge. They just take it. Beam spread is certainly not appreciable at the kind of distances we were facing.

So:

DECIDE . . . and quickly

Well, one possible thing to do is steal from T-Bone: use his DECIDE rules where you declare your defenses before you know if a blow hits. That means you have to declare defenses before the to-hit roll is made, or sometimes you can do it retroactively at a penalty (but not for lasers, he clarifies).

There are ways to tweak this, such as if the defender succeeds, you still roll to-hit, fishing for a critical.

You can also do something like this:

Evasive Movement (a sort-of variant on All-Out Defense)

At the beginning of your turn, you may declare you are moving evasively. You’re bobbing and weaving, moving side to side, up and down, etc. You can take a certain penalty to all your actions on your turn, in exchange for inflicting that same penalty on your foes’ ranged weapon attacks. This has zero effect on your foes’ incoming melee attacks (but still penalizes you!). The maximum penalty you can voluntarily accept is (say) how many yards you actually moved this turn, plus your Basic Speed.

I might need to divide that by two. So if you have Basic Speed 6 and have moved your full 6-yard allotment  the best you can do is take a -6 to your own stuff and -6 to your foes.

Maybe I even need an exchange rate. You can inflict up to -6 on your foes, but you take -12. You may be disrupting everything you do, but it’ll be easier for your foe to plug you than it will be to shoot him while doing the crazy dodge and zigzag thing.

Blended


I have always liked the logic of DECIDE, but the all-or-nothing of the attack/defense sequence, even when you declare first, bothers me. There’s an argument, and not a bad one, for allowing Prediction Shot (-2 to hit for -1 to penalize Dodge for ranged weapon attacks) in realistic games. It’s in GURPS: Gun Fu, probably among other places.

Yes, both Gun Fu and Tactical Shooting were written by +Hans-Christian Vortisch. He’s just good that way.

Still, a nice way to split the difference is to reverse it. Use DECIDE, and make the defender choose his decision first. But . . . apply double the margin of success of the Dodge roll to the to-hit chance. A critical success on the defense roll means your foe must fire, and always misses (though might hit someone else). But any other result only alters the to-hit penalty. A critical success on the attack roll obviates any penalty from the defense except a critical, which has primacy of place. This favors defense over attack in this case, but since defenses are usually so very much lower than attacks, I’m cool with that.

I think I like DECIDE + Blended.

You’re shooting a laser at someone. They can’t react to the fire after they know it hits; they must choose whether or not to defend (nearly always dodge). If they roll vs. their Dodge-9 and get a 6, making it by 3, then you take -6 to hit. If you miss, you miss. If you hit, or hit with many shots, so be it. But they have to declare the defense (and suffer the consequences for things like Dodge and Drop) ahead of time.

[Note: I clearly have a rodent living in my wall, eating away at my insulation. It is distracting, and will ultimately be expensive. Sigh. I can hear the bastard chewing away.]

The decision order and how defenses only need be rolled on a successful hit raises eyebrows for nearly everyone. I can see why it’s done; why drive extra rolls on a miss? But for people with sparring, combat, or any kind of experience with fighting, it always strains, sometimes breaks, suspension of disbelief.

I think there are fixes to this that won’t burden the GM or players, but will help with the “yeah, that makes sense” factor.

Might result in some dead PCs, though. Better hope you took Luck and its variants.

Seeing It Coming


After I posted this, I remembered something. GURPS appropriately doesn’t allow any defenses against stuff you can’t see coming. So in order to actually be allowed to make the DECIDE roll:

  • If you’re defending against someone you’re actively attacking or aiming at – you get to make the  call, no problem. Just DECIDE.
  • If you are not engaged in an Aim or other “stare at someone” action (Wait, Evaluate, for starters) you should probably be able to make a modified Perception roll to see someone bearing down at you. 
  • If you are actively focusing on someone, then your Per roll is modified severely downward for tunnel vision. 
For the second one, you can probably take a general “Evaluate” that says “I’m looking for threats” that gives a bonus to the “does anyone draw a bead on me?” roll, but doesn’t give the usual Evaluate bonuses for focusing on one guy.
Note also that Tactical Shooting has actual playtested rules for situational awareness that certainly must apply here!

What’s a gun?

OK, back up. We know what a gun is. A slugthrower. Chemical combustion or explosive powered projectile delivery vehicle.

Or is it?

In GURPS, a gun is a kinetic energy delivery vehicle. Since Fourth Edition did away with blowthrough – a mechanic where massive damage would overpenetrate and be lost – more energy is more damage is more dead foes. See an old but interesting discussion thread here.

The mechanics of GURPS damage, their basis in a formula based on the square root of kinetic energy, divided by some factor related to caliber . . . all based in solid approximations of real-world physics.

But . . . 

What about in TV and movies? 

Well, there’s TVTropes. Wow. That’s a lot of tropes. And most of them? Most of them don’t make much physical sense. In fact, one of my hidden moments of infamy is here in GURPS’ TVTropes listing: 

  • Arbitrary Gun Power: One of the most systematic aversions possible. The closest anyone’s been able to come to divining the formula used by the authors goes on for pages.
Hey! That’s me!
But seriously: Arbitrary Gun Power?
Yes. In TV and many movies, a gun is a symbol and part of a character’s description. It tells you about the person. In practice, though? It may or may not kill you, depending on the needs of the plot. Full auto AK-47 might tell you one thing. Belt-fed tells you something else. So might a tricked out .22LR. Any of those will either kill you dead or miss you completely, might punch through the frontal armor of an M1A2 or ricochet harmlessly off of a cell phone in you pocket. They might hit you right in the chest and you’re up and at ’em despite being wounded, or ping you in the shoulder and kill you dead. The key bit isn’t the joules of energy, or the caliber, or the wounding modifier . . . it’s just a bit of characterization, that might also be used to make a plot point through violence, justified or not, mindful or mindless.
This actually occurred to me before I looked at the FATE Kickstarter draft. Actually, I still haven’t read it (but I will).
But once I had the thought of guns as merely characterization devices and plot points, I figured that FATE would handle it in a similar way. I still don’t know if it does . . . but since the draft doesn’t have a chapter on equipment in the Table of Contents at all (or at least, as such), I’m going to anticipate being (a) right, and (b) satisfied. 
Sometimes a gun is hot lead and cold death. But sometimes, it’s a fashion statement, or a nametag that says “Hello . . . My Name Is Professional Warrior.”
Sometimes that’s all that’s important.

Skipping over all varieties of introductions and back story.

Brody, our resident sneak-a-holic, returns from a foray into infiltrating the local nest of scum and villainy, to report that the girlfriend of the leader of the local Rimerunner’s guild has become recently reclusive and purchased an old hall a few days outside Karlsgard, the town we’re in. Naturally, Brody came by this information through legal but duplicitous means – Social engineering for the win.

Lot of money being poured into the place, and the girlfriend spends a lot of time there. We’re hoping to find the long-lost sword from far-off Tian. Of course. In the words of our GM, +Nathan Joy  relaying this to us:

“…a sword from far-off Tian, and we were attacked by shadowy warriors who fit the description of elite assassins from far-off Tian, and the Rimerunners Guild is apparently a front for an assassin’s guild called the Frozen Shadows, whose modus operandi matches that of the shadowy warriors who attacked us….”

A few of our party are afflicted with the Honesty disadvantage, which means that we can’t just haul off and break into stuff. I will admit Cadmus, my Warrior Saint, is one of those, and so is Brother Michel+Mark Langsdorf‘s Mage/Cleric Uber-IQ guy.

But we’re told there might be demons there, and since Pharasma and demons do not get on well, Cadmus states that where there are rumors of demons, there must I go.

Oh, and we also find out that the undead Viking we just killed used to own the house. And his notional second-in-command now owns it. So the Ravenscraeg hall is now owned by our prime candidate for current bad guy’s (Longthews) girlfriend Silverskorr, being fixed up. That was enough for us to decide to pay a visit. Despite the rumors of horrible things, people never return, Mad Reaver, etc.

We’d placed an order for better gear, spending money from the loot we got from Brinestump Castle. Our group is using a mish-mash of Dungeon Fantasy and more advanced rules (lots of stuff from Martial Arts, the armor weights from Low Tech), so my old panoply was pretty darn complicated. A mix of mail and plates (one of the best armors by weight and cost per unit of DR, in Low Tech), cheap mail (which ain’t bad either), different quality and thickness front and back to save cost and weight, etc. There’s only so far $3500 in signature gear and starting cash can take you, and I optimized horribly (meaning as munchkinly as I could manage. This is Dungeon Fantasy, after all).

The new kit cost me just shy of $12,000 but is both simpler and better. We have a couple house rules in play that boost the cost even more. You can only enchant gear that has at least a x2 cost multiplier. TL 4 armors also have that same x2, and that counts. So I wind up with a Lightened full suit of padded cloth (DR 1*), Heavy Mail legs and arms, both with lighten x3/4 and fortify +1, and a full helm and torso armor with DR 7 plate as the base, with fortify and lighten again. So DR 9 on the torso and head, DR 6/4* arms and legs. Plus some pretty lame boots, honestly. Better not step on any caltrops.

So we find out through research and carousing where this house is located, and set off. After some riding (we all bought horses, using this excellent writeup of various horse types by Icelander; Cadmus has a Rouncey), we were making our way through a swamp when my horse stepped into a puddle of water, only to come up with skin blistering, covered in some sort of goo.

I forced the horse to jump over the water, clearing the obstacle. The goo continued to smoke and hiss, and the water began to writhe and ripple, and something emerged from that. My comrades and I immediately “took a tiny step and there conclusions were” and decided that hitting this stuff with regular weapons would be Grade A stupid. So Staver, our resident infernal scout, started shooting 2d fireball arrows at the ooze. It hit, boom, splat, and a whole bunch of these things make their appearance.

They start flinging acidic slime balls at us. Our Knight, Thumvar (winged gargoyle knight) blocks twice, and I dodge twice, succeeding both times thanks to my +3 Defense bonus from my light large shield. The shield is not happy. At all.

We continue with fireball arrows, throwing liquid fire, casting Create Fire, etc. Cadmus moves his horse 7-8 yards away, and critically succeeds in my rapid dismount roll. 9.8, 9.9, 9.7, 9.8, and 4.5 from my mother, disguised as the East German judge.

Then the ooze starts moving towards us. Yeeps.

So my Warrior Saint does what Warrior Saint’s do in these cases.

He prayed. He prayed for the confounding of his enemy and the health of his mount. These rolls are made in secret, and are against my Divine Favor of 8 (with modifiers, etc) and then a reaction roll. Also, I have to pray for 1d6 seconds to make this happen.

Nate must have rolled really well. The very next turn, all the oozes freeze in place, and my horse’s leg stops smoking, as I receive a tailor-made miracle, with thanks to Pharasma. I choose to maintain my prayer, noting that faith is not a fire-and-forget missile. Nate says “good call” in retrospect; my awesome effect would have been lost had I tried anything else.

The oozes flung more acid at us; three more balls at me, one of which crit-hits, one misses, the other I dodge. The crit spatters on my nice, new, magical breastplate. But our resident mage can burn them all to death and Mend my armor before the acid ball eats all the way through my DR 9.

We called the session there.

**********

That could have gone a few ways, and that any of these methods would have been viable is why I love GURPS.

1) We could have tried to jump the puddle and just left. But seeing the fire arrow hit for effect, we decided to stay.

2) My prayer was technically a long shot. Maybe 9 or less on 3d6 (37% chance). It only took me 1 second to pray, and it could have been six. And my petition roll, which was good enough to heal the horse and freeze them in place, turned this into “have the fire-wielding guys burn them all to death.”

3) Had this not worked out, it was pretty clear that had we stood and fought, we were risking massive damage to our gear. Cadmus has a dueling poleaxe that he rarely uses that he could have tried, but it just seemed intuitive (especially after Thumvar deliberately sacrificed a thrown hatchet to prove the point) that mundane weapons would just be ruined. Fire seemed the only way, though I’m sure that there’d be others. Not all of us have fire. Might have to fix that.

I had options the entire time. Ride, pray, swing weapons, etc. Cadmus is 313 points, so his combat options are pretty good. But melee wasn’t in it this time, and that was pretty fun. We’ll have to work a bit on the teamwork thing, and I’m still getting used to the DF threats. As an example, I did not silver-coat my axe, which is an “of course!” move for the more experienced crowd. We are not purposefully equipped (yet) against creatures who do not respond well to being chopped or bashed, though our mage/cleric (Brother Michel) is darn versatile and eats paut (a magical version of a Cliff Bar) like there’s no tomorrow (in fairness, he eats it because if he doesn’t, for some of us there will be no tomorrow, so it’s all good).

Lessons learned? We’ll see.

This is a continuation of my read-through of Chapter 3. Eleven base classes means a crazy-long entry; I broke it up.



A retroactive introduction: After an actual-play hiatus where I was mostly writing and playtesting for GURPS. I was invited to play in a Pathfinder game, and after a few sessions, it was time to buy the book and learn the rules! I decided to try and read the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and see what inspiration strikes, for good or ill!

This is a compilation of the links to read-throughs of Pathfinder-related material

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races


3a. Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
3b. Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

So: we continue!


Paladin

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d10 (60 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 2 (10 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (0); DEX (1); CON(0); INT (4); WIS (3); CHA(2).
BAB Total (10/20): +10/+20 (extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: (+17/+30)

Everyone loved to hate on Paladins back in my day. Well, it’s still my day, but they did get trash-talked a lot. Goody two-shoes holy roller, God-Botherer, etc. I always thought that the stalwart protector of Good was a great character concept. Then I read Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksenarrion, which I really, really enjoyed, and saw what fun a Paladin played right could be. I play one now (technically a Warrior Saint of Pharasma), in a Pathfinder-based GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Campaign.

Wow, that was a lot of links.

Paladins get the same choices of weapons as Fighters, less tower shields, which seem to be a specialty item. Right away, Paladins pick up the ability to detect evil . . . and be detected as Good. The Smite ability allows some serious bonus-stacking, based on CHA and level. Plus nifty AC bonuses against the smitten (smote? smacked-down? smited?) foe.

Note that the Paladin’s smite evil ability and the Dungeon Fantasy Learned Prayer called Smite, and it’s bigger, much badder cousin, Smite (Enhanced) from the exceptionally awesome book GURPS Powers: Divine Favor are cousins in terms of badassery.

As she levels up, the options for smiting become pretty varied, sometimes transferable, and  you get access to a limited number of spells, plus some cool healing powers. The Paladin powers aren’t as universal as Feats (again, the Fighter’s niche), but boy in their element they seem pretty rockin’. If you want the maximum spell level possible (level 4), you’ll want at least CHA 14 – in practice, more than that since many of a Paladin’s abilities are keyed off of CHA.

A Paladin is a living embodiment of doing good through personal risk, putting flesh and faith between evil and those whom evil would seek to harm. They are a God’s will made manifest, and those who fight near them are inspired and enabled by their presence. 

Quibble: you have to be mighty close – within 10 feet – to benefit from some of these nifty features. In GURPS that would be three hexes to the left or right, in a battle line, which is quite reasonable if the PCs can get their shit together and form a line of battle. I’m not sure how many Pathfinder tokens fit in a 10×10 square, normally. Presumably this will be explained in the Combat chapter.

I make no bones about loving the Paladin archetype. It’s a bias of mine, but I have a ton of fun with this class, even (or perhaps more so) when I play in classless systems like GURPS.


I don’t know much about Prestige Classes yet. It almost seems as if Paladin would make a natural one – and indeed, checking the net finds the Holy Vindicator, where a fighter/cleric or cleric can pick up some paladin-like abilities without actually being one. Hrm.

Ranger

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d10 (60 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 6 (15 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (2); DEX (2); CON(0); INT (5); WIS (4); CHA(2).
BAB Total (10/20): +10/+20 (extra attack every 5 levels past first)
Save Total: (+17/+30)

Along with the Barbarian, Fighter, and Paladin, Rangers are front-line types in essence, with BAB equal to their level. They use up to medium armor and shields (without tower shields) like the barbarian, and use simple and martial weapons. 

The Ranger’s first schtick is the ‘favored enemy.’ One or more types of critters that they get bonuses to identify, know stuff about, track, and (of course) kill.

They must also specialize in either archery, making them a stand-off expert, or two-weapon fighting, which can put them on the front line (but watch for that lower armor and no shield thing). This increments every four levels; you must choose your path on hitting 2nd level – that is, almost immediately.

Like their namesake Strider from The Lord of the Rings, Rangers are long-walkers and far-trekkers. Their bonus feats are mostly based on movement, and that includes endurance, moving quickly through obstructed terrain, evasion, and survival. They also pick up spells that feel pretty Druidic in nature, which is appropriate to the archetype.

I remember from my old AD&D days that rangers were one of my favorite classes. Good fighting, with a smattering of cool abilities that made you a bit of a fighter-cleric or (later) fighter-druid. This still seems true. They can fight, but will have lower AC than others (it’s still weird to say that, since I’m old enough to remember when low AC was a good thing; I dimly recall that plate mail and DEX 18 was an AC of -2, perhaps?). They will do well hunting and killing from a distance, and can cast spells and gain abilities to do this over long marches and with some degree of surprise. They seem to also, at higher levels, potentially make pretty good back-up healers.

Rogue

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d8 (49 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 8 (21 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (2); DEX (5); CON(0); INT (5); WIS (3); CHA(6).
BAB Total (10/20): +7/+15 (extra attack every 7-8 levels past first)
Save Total: (+17/+30)

Sneak Attack and mondo levels of skill. Oh, sure the Rogue Talents can be cool, but with a decent INT score you are going to be putting +1 in half your skill list every level – and depending on what kind of Rogue you want to be, that won’t bother you. If you’re a Traps and Stealth rogue, you can cover that and more. If you’re a Merchant rogue, no problem. You might not even have to choose. With the right racial and feat bonuses (+2 Per, +1-3 for ability scores, and Skill Focus) my 4th level piratey rogue has Stealth +12, Perception +11, and a bunch more in the +6 to +9 range. And that’s AFTER I fixed the problem I had giving more ranks than hit dice (oops).

The sneak attack thing is pretty nice too, since you basically get +1d6 every two levels to damage, an average of just under 2 points of damage per level . . . if you can flank your foe, which you should always try and do anyway.

You’re going to want to avoid direct combat, since you’re restricted to light armor, no shields. I have gotten far more mileage out of a composite shortbow than any amount of Dagger Fu. That being said, some of the other simple weapons, such as the heavy mace, do a bit more damage than my rapier, and the long spear is a reach weapon with 1d8 and a x3 critical. A heavy crossbow is pretty nasty too, but only every other round capable. 

I might really need to look into using a long spear. 

Sorcerer

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d6 (38 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 2 (9 skills)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (0); DEX (1); CON(0); INT (4); WIS (1); CHA(3).
BAB Total (10/20): +5/+10 (extra attack at 12th level)
Save Total: (+13/+24)

These guys can’t take a hit, don’t have very good saving throws, and have very few skills. 

This bodes well for what they are good at, I presume. It better.

Sorcerers are new to me, since they’re not even close to anything from the D&D games I used to play. They can cast spells because they are inherently magical, rather than through study. You have to choose a background, called a bloodline, that defines from whence your magical gift flows.

Some of these are pretty horrid. At high level, an Aberrant gains misshapen and deformed physiology. Abyssal, Infernal, and Undead bloodlines do not end well. Well, unless you’re into that sort of thing. The book says any bloodline can be paired with any alignment, but that grates. “O Hai! I’m a Lawful Good sorcerer with an Abyssal bloodline! I have claws, can summon demons, and like long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days!” (Warning: that link is Not Safe For Work).

You get a few powers along the way. These seem to be a limited set of immunities, one or two ways to do damage (not trivial: Gold Draconic bloodline at 18th level can breathe fire in a 30′ cone twice per day for 18d6 damage), and often some sort of movement power.

The sorcerer can know a limited number of spells, but can cast up to 6 spells per day, plus your CHA bonus (interesting choice of Ability base, there). You may, however, only learn a certain number, and this is independent of ability scores. That being said, if you like Fireball and have CHA 18 for a +4 bonus, you can cast it ten times a day at 9th level. That will thus be the only 3rd level spell you cast that day, but you can sling a lot of fireballs.

Sorcerers and Wizards use the same spell list. Way back when, if you managed to live through the lower levels, you became a walking artillery piece, capable of rearranging whole battlefields; +Wil Wheaton makes exactly this point here. I have since lost my old AD&D books (maybe my mom tossed ’em; she never liked me roleplaying anyway – now that I occasionally get paid for it, she merely vacillates between neutral and unknowing. Improvement? Perhaps.) but let’s check out some 9th level Wizard/Sorcerer battle magic that you pick up at 18th level. I’ll presume level 18 and key stats, where they matter, of 20. Yes, that’s high, but since your max spell level is often 10+the spell level, you need ability scores of 19 or 20 to lay down proper fire and brimstone. So, 20 it is.

Crushing Hand and Meteor Swarm. Hey, Meteor Swarm . . . I like the sound of that. Range is over 1,000 feet, four impact zones of 80′ in diameter. 6d6 of pain fills the area, and you can hit a creature more than once. So up to 24d6 (24-144 per strike). The entity known as Treantmonk posted a guide to making Monks, and notes that with the right build, you can get up close and personal doing seven to nine hits per turn, each at maybe 2d10+20. Call that 16d10+160, and you’re looking at 176-320 damage per turn until you run out of ki. I suspect a dedicated Fighter build can do as well. Of course, you have to overcome your foe’s AC, where spells, I believe, are a save vs. the DC of about 24. 

Of course, the Sorcerer hits you at 1000′ away if he can. The Monk has to get a wee bit closer.

I’m out of my league comparing builds, but it would appear that the up-close-and-personal types can lay down some serious hurt.

In GURPS, the trick to running a spellcaster is often not to try to deal direct damage. You buff your friends – Great Haste is a perennial favorite – and do tricky stuff. The Tickle spell, for example, incapacitates your foe for a full minute – that’s 60 combat rounds – of hysterical laughter. Whereupon your fighter or some random barmaid can slit his throat.

Perhaps the Sorcerer/Wizard follows the same path; I will find out when I get to Chapter 10!

Wizard

Hit Die (HP at 10th): d6 (38 HP)
Skill Ranks (Number of Class Skills): 2 (7 skills – but one is “any” Knowledge skill)
Skill-Ability Breakdown: STR (0); DEX (1); CON(0); INT (5); WIS (1); CHA(0).
BAB Total (10/20): +5/+10 (extra attack at 12th level)
Save Total: (+13/+24)

The wizard is the book-larnin’ relative of the Sorcerer. Familiars, the power item, and the spellbook are all present, which satisfies my sense of nostalgia. The key stat, as you might imagine, is INT. As high as possible. CON probably couldn’t hurt; you’ll need the HP.

No armor, no shieids. You can probably, and should probably, look for magic robes to give some sort of armor bonus, but really, just stand back and fling arcane energy from a distance.

No doubt someone can come up with an up-close-and-personal Wizard build. To that I say: Cool! Bring it on, post comments. Lemmee see it.

One thing that’s interesting about Wizards is they do get an unlimited number of castings of 0-level spells called cantrips. Up to four can be prepared per day, but cast unlimited times. Some of these are fairly cool: mending looks useful, as does a spell that can create torchlight.

Note that it says prepare, since unlike sorcerers, wizards can know as many spells as you like, but you can only prepare a certain number per day, and once your slot is expended, it’s gone for that day. That being said, if you want to fling three fireballs in one day, booyah – but it’s going to cost you three slots.

The wizard’s familiar seems a bit of a big deal. It grants abilities, and can be used to extend the wizard’s power and reach. It can also attack and fight – but really, if you want that, look at Druids, I think.

Each wizard gets to choose whether to be a Universalist (no specialties) or a focused mage, in which you pick a particular school and get goodies pertaining to it: an extra spell slot per level you can cast, and a short list of bonuses or pseudo-spells. But (there’s always a but) you also have to pick two opposed schools at which you suck, and casting spells from those schools is done at 2 slots per 1 spell. Yowch.

***

And that’s it! I’m not sure if the classes are balanced or not as they go up in levels. I’ll rely on others to tell me (though looking at vitriolic threads on RPG.net about such things, perhaps ignorance is bliss). 

Next up for Pathfinder: Skills and Feats (Chapters 4-5), which I will probably tackle separately.