Actually, I’ll start with the Table of Contents.

Sixteen Chapters, about 572 pages to the index; compare GURPS Basic Set, Fourth Edition at . . . 569. Coincidence? I think not!

The first chapter is preceded by the Introduction, which is about what forces led to Pathfinder as a game. That’s an interesting read, and speaks to the difficulties and opportunities in tweaking an established game into a new form.

Un-named: Introduction to Roleplaying and Needed Stuff

After that, the Getting Started chapter starts into the inevitable and useful discussion of what is roleplaying, what you need to play, and a few tie-ins to some merchandising: flip-mats, miniatures, and a link to the Paizo website. I’m all for this – I think game books should tie in to other products, both as a good one-stop source for “stuff I want to have fun more easily” but also to keep game companies solvent. Perhaps this is less true for the 800-lb. Ogre of the game world (D&D and its derivatives), but we don’t exactly play in a hobby with weekly outlets as popular and pervasive as the NFL.

So, having armed yourself with dice, character sheets, friends, and if you’re the GM, perhaps a small assortment of other books – the game says the GM must have the Bestiary, and might want modules or adventure paths – you can get to it.

The game explains how to use the dice; and the roll-high concept.

[Edit: at this point, my daughter has asked me to write: OTTO. That’s her fish.  It is pink with white stripes. Otto. The fish. We now return you to your regularly scheduled read-through.]

It touches on character advancement, and then hits up Rule Zero in two forms: above all, have fun, and the rules can change to fit your needs. We’ll see if Pathfinder is as attached to “optional” rules as GURPS is; I doubt it, since the Pathfinder game/genre is not required to be as mutable. Still, the game gives the nod to house rules, the importance of communication, and cooperation to enhance the fun for everyone.

One interesting note: boy is it nice and convenient to have genre assumptions be relatively fixed. Slipped into this very first section (not sneaky, just assumed) are references to:

  • Noble knights, powerful evil, and conniving rogues
  • Rampaging dragons and lowly goblins
  • Advancement by gaining gold, magic items, and experience points; 
If you don’t know knights, rogues, goblins, dragons, and magic, you soon will. Not a bad thing, but the fact that the system is designed around a set of assumptions allows a level of specificity that is probably one of the reasons GURPS Dungeon Fantasy does so well.

Using This Book

At this point, the book goes into a text description of each Chapter. After Getting Started, we get four or five (if you include Equipment as part of character creation) chapters on character creation, plus another – Chapter 11: Prestige Classes – which is tucked between Spells and Gamemastering.

Combat is given one chapter, Magic, Spells, and Magic Items get one each. Gamemastering, the Environment, and NPCs get a solid wall of text for three chapters.  Finally, the appendices cover special rules and conditions, recommended reading, and a bit more marketing.

Tucked into the chapter explanations is a bunch more genre information. Races tells you that the relevant use of the word race includes elves, dwarves, humans, and gnomes, rather than the way we use it conventionally (a good thing). Classes are defined by ability differentiation and specialization. Skills are broken out to their own chapter, as are special rules-exemptions, often but not always combat-related, called Feats.

Chapter 7 seems to blend the last bits of character creation with how the character interacts with the game world, from alignment to movement to visibility.

Chapter 8 is Combat, which has always been a core bit of DnD and it’s spawn. Or, rather, it has always been a core bit of damn near every RPG ever,with a few exceptions to prove the rule.

Common Terms

Then three pages of Common Terms, a glossary of technical language used throughout the book.

One thing to note: I am reading this as a PDF, and throughout the book, it makes extensive use of cross-referencing and links. In the glossary entry on Ability Score, each of the six scores is linked to its section in the book, and another link to the section on determining and assigning Ability Scores, which is right there later in Chapter 1. Score 1 for electronic books. This is a great feature. Sure, you can get there with Search (and that’s how I do it in GURPS, plus having written for the system, I’ve memorized key page and section locations). But adding links to the Basic Set would be a nice bonus.

It’s here in the glossary where certain concepts hit you for the first time, so you’d better read this more than once. Combat rounds being six seconds long? It appears twice in the entire book – once is here in the glossary, the other is appropriately placed on p. 178, in the first sentence of the section The Combat Round.

This is also where you realize that you’re going to need an entirely new technical vocabulary to play the game. Actions seem to contain something like either eight enumerated, or maybe as many as fifteen or more types of things to do, which hopefully when we get to Chapter 8 aren’t all special cases with non-overlapping concepts.

Also tucked into this chapter is the notion, which is mentioned in the bit on Bonus as well as explicitly called out in the definition on Stacking, that many (but not all) bonuses do not stack together. I can see this being pretty contentious in play, at times. Either that or a commonly and happily ignored rule: stack ’em up. More bonuses = more fun. On the other hand, while bonuses are noted as not usually stacking, penalties are noted to usually stack. I love it when Murphy’s Law is codified in game mechanics. Talk about verisimilitude!

As noted earlier, it’s important to really read through and understand (or have these three pages on hand for reference) the Common Terms. They are key, lay down important caveats that will be assumed for most of the book, and are abbreviated occasionally in many places (AC, DC, Su, DR, Sp . . .).

Example of Play


The example of play is heavy on mechanics, pointing out the die rolls and targets and other things. It does successfully showcase the rules, choices, and special cases that can crop up (piercing rather than bludgeoning damage on skeletons, for example).

One thing that does pop out, but only implicitly, is just how high bonuses can get. “Harsk” fires a crossbow at a skeleton, rolls his d20, and adds 9 to his total in the example.

The example also ends with one PC declaring that he’s getting the hell out of combat (“RUN!”). Or attempting to. It’s a good place, early in the book, to note that all encounters aren’t “stand until dead.”


Generating a Character


Scores, race, class, skills and feats, equipment, details, done. This is where class- or template-based systems can really shine. Limit beginning choices, and get to the game faster.

Ability Scores


The book gives you five different ways to generate your key ability scores, which will define a lot of your bonuses that get tacked on to your d20 rolls, damage rolls, etc. It’ll be challenging to start with the old classic “you cheated” standby of “I rolled all 18’s!” using some of the options – especially the ability purchase option. Unless the GM gives you a lot of points, the best you can do on even “epic fantasy” level is a single 18, one 15, and one 11, the rest 10’s . . . unless you nab a dump-stat or three. For broadly above-average, you can wind up with Low Fantasy averages of 11-12, or Epic Fantasy averages of 14-15, enough for decent but not shattering bonuses (which top out at +4 in the range we’re discussing anyway).

After this, you hit a definition of each of the six key ability scores, and what they effect. While one may quibble with the assignments (your ability to hit and do damage in melee combat is based only on STR . . . except when it’s not for certain Feats), the definition of what impacts what is clear.


Ballistic’s Summary

Overall, the Getting Started chapter is quite well executed. All the basics are here, and enough reference is made to advanced concepts that you know they’re coming. Good use of the digital medium in the PDF file is made for cross-referencing, though I did find myself wishing I could travel backwards to where I’d just come from. That’s user-issue if that feature does exist in Acrobat Reader, though. Might not be a fault of the book.

Otherwise, you’ve got stats, basic concepts defined, and a decent sense of the game mechanics: roll some dice, add bonuses, and exceed a Difficulty Class, of which Armor Class can be considered a subset. Higher DC or AC is harder; higher bonuses and higher rolls are better. The universal applicability of “higher is better” has been asserted here; we’ll see if it’s true, but it would be  a fairly trivial thing to arrange for most mechanics. GURPS has “roll low for skills, roll high for effects,” which is a tweak, but a good one given the mechanics involved, since you roll directly against a skill which is a target. Possibly confusing? Meh. Not very.

Next post will move into Chapter 2, talking about Races.

******

Link summary:

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

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

This is a bit of a design gripe, though I don’t know if any of my potential solution brainstorms are worth the hassle of doing anything about it. Still, we’re all entitled to a few disgruntled moments over not much, right?

I’m not a big fan of the impaling damage type. There are two benefits to it, as far as I can tell: it’s a precision strike, so along with piercing  and tight-beam burning damage, you can target chinks in armor, the eye, and the vitals. While Martial Arts changes this a bit, expanding it to crushing damage as well. Also, impaling has a x2 damage multiplier to certain areas like the torso (but lower damage to extremities).

The reason I don’t like it is the assumption that you automatically hit something nasty with your small, pointy blade. And it is usually a blade.

I’ve toyed with forcing a certain minimum damage, maybe “more than HP/4” or something, before a larger modifier kicks in. That would make stabbing dinosaurs in the vitals a lot harder, which is a good thing. I’d change the damage type to cutting, mostly, since by and large if you’re being impaled, it’s by an arrowhead, a spear, a sword point, or a pickaxe/warhammer head. But that makes me want to find a way to have, much like piercing, small cutting, cutting, large cutting, and huge cutting, with the same multipliers, perhaps, from piercing types: 0.5 on the low end to x2 on the high.

Dunno; maybe if you do more than HP/4, any size blade is treated as x2; if you also reach the vitals, it’s all treated as x3. Another way to go might be to leave the HP alone, but treat this sort of wound that exceeds HP/4 as bleeding much worse than usual; apply the x2 or x3 multipliers only to bleed rate and frequency.

I get what impaling is trying to do. I don’t even necessarily think it’s a bad goal. I’m not sure my thoughts would make a better game. But there’s something I find inelegant about it.

Over the next few days/weeks, I’ll be reading through the Pathfinder rules cover-to-cover and making comments. This serves two purposes – a very long series of blog entries, which since I like to post something fresh every day or so, is nice to have a go-to source for something to write. Also, I’ll be comparing it to GURPS a lot, since that is, and given my experience with Pathfinder thus far, will remain my system of choice.

Still, it will also help me learn Pathfinder, and since I play in +Jeromy French ‘s game, that can’t hurt.

******

Forward-looking links:

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races

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

I was going to post this one today. But after 36 hours traveling and very little sleep, I realized that I had it wrong. At length.

I’ll be revisiting this, most definitely. But I will say this:

I was going to set up “believable” as an overall goal that people who clamor for “realism” actually want.

After thinking about this a lot, I don’t think it’s true

I think believablility is a bit like “rule zero,” which can vary in expression, but is basically what I’m getting at here. Playing RPGs is supposed to be fun. (What I refer to as the Wendler-Dell’Orto Rule of Awesome is a corollary to Rule Zero: To enhance fun, be Awesome.

So, “realistic” isn’t really properly substituted by “believable,” as I originally was going to write. You can have perfectly believable games that are, nonetheless, over-the-top if the consequences of what happens are self-consistent and well explained by in-game or metagame logic.

I think what I realized in contemplating believability is this: If the game and situation is not believable, you probably aren’t going to be playing for very long, if at all. Rules arguments, boredom – all can be consequences of unbelievable games.

As an example: I played in a DnD 3ed game in grad school. My archer (1st level) was shooting at a bad guy. I hit, but didn’t do enough damage to kill him. Bad guy was able to cross what seemed to me to be a ludicrous amount of terrain on his turn, hit me, and kill me. Boom, dead.

I had a real problem with that. My character just stood there for probably six seconds while this guy, arrow sticking out of him and all, closed the distance and put an end to me.

Now, there are probably many things I did wrong. At the time, I was still a GURPS and WEG Star Wars guy (now I’m like 90% GURPS, 10% Pathfinder, but only as a player). So there are probably things I could have done to make that not happen. Maybe shoot and then move backwards.

But it just seemed unbelievable, and thus not fun, and really not Awesome. I didn’t play DnD again for years.

I suspect many game-digressions where rules and outcomes are in dispute can be put down to believability-clash – also known as expectations mismatch. This isn’t always willing in-game immersion. It can be “you’re disrupting my solo-narrative with shared-narrative” too.

But I digress. For now, I’ll leave realistic and cinematic and what axes they’re on to another time.

But for the moment: a game that wants to be successful, and sufficiently immersive to be definitely fun and potentially awesome had better be believable.

I am not a fan of ST rolls as skill tests in GURPS. Quick Contests or Regular Contests . . . meh, at best.

ST is not like IQ, DX, and HT, which are all fairly well described in game mechanical terms as to what they do, though in a way they do it a bit too well. ST is extrinsic to the game, not intrinsic. It is tied to real-world parameters through Basic Lift. It’s totally easy to imagine what ST 45 looks like. You may have even seen an animal that strong (if not presently, maybe a T-Rex or something). You have certainly seen or heard of machines that are many times stronger than a human, and so could be rated with ludicrously high ST skills and be both realistic and believable.

So I would propose the following (in less-specific terms) were I looking at revising.

All rolls should be based on DX or HT.

DX is when you’re using ST for fine control over something. HT is when you’re exerting yourself against another or against your own physical limits. There are a few ways to do this.

But in either case, your ST really should be used to calculate Basic Lift, and from there figure out what you’re doing in terms of a Object Weight-to-Basic Lift ratio. That’ll give you a bonus or penalty.

As examples:

Throwing a shot-put as far as you can, not caring where it hits. It’s a 16-lb cannonball, so the Basic Lift to weight ratio for even “Joe Average” is more than 1 (1.25). The world record is something like 75 feet! That would probably be a DX roll to perform the motions, and a HT roll to prevent injury. Yes, two rolls. The HT roll would be optional if your adjusted roll is (say) 19 or more; you’re just not exerting yourself hard enough to injure yourself. The DX roll might be required to earn any bonuses to skill or ST from skill (such as the “training bonus” that appeared in The Last Gasp . . . and you’ll see it again in Technical Grappling!).

Weight Lifting: This is very nearly a purely HT-based roll, where you are basically moving the weight up and down until your ST falls low enough (due to local depletion of FP – or AP, really) that you really are pushing high multiples of your effective Basic Lift.

When you think of it already, this is more or less what happens – with both thrown non-weapons (DX-based roll to hit, p. B355) and weapons (DX-based skill roll to hit). Range is a multiple of your ST (seems linear, right?) but the distance modifier based on ST-to-Weight ratio is best described by a power law (about 0.44 x Ratio^-0.8, if you must know. R^2 = 0.987).

A force-to-weight ratio is an acceleration. That is, in most circumstances, ALL you need to know to establish maximum range. If you apply your skill correctly (DX or skill roll), you can achieve both range and accuracy. If you push yourself too hard, you can injure yourself.

But by and large, I would, almost always, rather look at even Contests of ST as opposed DX or HT rolls, with ST-to-Weight or ST-to-ST ratio as a modifier.

Ah, yes. Cabaret Chicks on Ice.

The joke-title for GURPS Low-Tech for quite a while on the SJG Forums.

Recently, since it seems like forever (but only seems that way) since my manuscript went into the queue in production and saw the rough PDF go around, I’ve been going crazy waiting for the Big Damn Ogre to get out of the way. -)

It’s my own fault. I pledged too.

But to pass the time, I’ve been leaking content here and there. Mostly nothing too revealing. I don’t want to overstep my bounds, nor give away too much from the book. It’s a book covering a lot of rules, and if you give away the rules, you give away the game.

Still, I did reveal one or two more concrete hints, such as a discussion on whether the damage from throws and locks was too high relative to the ease of obtaining a grapple.

I also posted something that was in an original draft, and then cut, because, well, it doesn’t have much to do with grappling.

The Secret Diaries of Technical Grappling• The generic penalty for kicking (-2) assumes a torso level kick – presumably the lower torso. Instead, you may kick anything at SM-4 and lower at no penalty, and each SM higher at an additional -1. Kicking to the head is thus -4, while stomping a grounded foe is not penalized!

One of the OTHER reasons this didn’t work is that SM does not equal height, which was how I was treating it. Still, what this does is say for human-sized critters, you can do whatever you want at knee level and down at no penalty to DX, from hips to knees at -1, abdomen and groin at -2, chest at -3, and head at -4.

This was even there in the first place to give a counter and reason to not grapple: avoiding being curb-stomped.

There is also some commentary about stability, but that is in terms of “if you are in an unstable posture, and someone’s exerting control over you, you’re easier to take down.”

And another rule, fun for people who really want to get to the point:

Impaling
Weapons capable of impaling damage can also be used to
control an opponent. If an impaling object is left inside a foe
(either voluntarily or by getting stuck, see Picks, p. B405), it is
considered to have inflicted CP equal to basic damage. These CP
may not be spent, but impart active and referred control, and
definitely allow actions such as Shoving People Around (p. 00)
and Force Posture Change (p. 00)! You may also use Inflicting
More Pain with Locks (p. 00): Roll a Quick Contest of Trained ST
vs. HT, adding half the original injury as a bonus to your Trained
ST. Apply pain using the full margin of victory!

Edit: Since people are visiting this page again, I thought I’d expand the hint to include the entire thing, just to show a bit more about what’s under the hood. 


But for those not familiar, here was the playtest announcement for the book:

GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling puts the current grappling rules in an arm bar until they bang on your desk in submission! The supplement introduces a few new rules that allow grappling to be treated as a continuum of control rather than being “grappled” and “not grappled,” and seeks to find pressure points in the rules for posture and position.

It explains how to model increasing control over an opponent, a different approach to grappling with different parts of the body, and a completely new top-to-bottom take on grappling with weapons. It adds new perks and techniques where appropriate, and revisits existing rules to ensure compatibility with the new ones!

Why pimp the book when there’s really no telling when it will come out (again: Big. Damn. Ogre)? It’s come up a few times on the forums recently, so I was in a TG frame of mind.

What’s going to be in it?

  • A bunch of stuff on strength and how it impacts grappling ability/skill
  • New variable-effect rules so you can achieve a sucky grapple, or a great one. 
  • Lots of detail on posture and position; it’s important in real-world grappling, and it’s important in the new rules
  • An entire chapter on grappling with weapons
  • it revisits, where appropriate, virtually everything in the Basic Set and GURPS Martial Arts to make sure it’s compatible
  • Includes some lenses and styles. Including styles for snakes, cats, dogs, and bears.
I’m looking forward to it seeing publication. But the title of this post? Recently, because there’s lots of discussion on fighting and combat on the SJG Forums, and most fighting and combat involves grappling at some point, my book has come up a lot, usually with me saying “Oh, yes . . . that’ll be covered in Technical Grappling!” 
So one poster referred to it as Cabaret Chicks on Ice Strikes Back. Which I thought was awesome.

Added: I posted another leak  for some rules on disarming. They’re not much of a rules extension from the current ones, but take the same principles and make them cover more stuff.

All GURPS damage has three parts to it, even if much of the time they’re implicit.

In order of how it’s applied, which is our first point of potential controversy!
1) Armor divisor. Yes, on a hit and a failed defense if one is allowed, the first thing you probably do as ask “how much armor, if any, is facing me.” If the answer is zero, you don’t do any math, and proceed directly to step 2. But the first thing you do is check to see if whatever DR (Damage Resistance) you’re facing, and reduce or increase it based on the type of attack you’re making. This can be a property of the damage type (some armors get altered stats vs. crushing, piercing, cutting weapons) or a property of the weapon itself (magic or high tech armor divisors, blunt tips or soft construction)
2) Basic Damage. This is the raw oomph of the attack. As discussed in a few places, this can be looked at as a raw ability to penetrate armor. I will assert that it is not yet a measure of wounding and injury. Yet. Basic damage is calculated as a function of the square root of Kinetic Energy for guns, the cube root of KE for most beam weapons, is optionally sqrt(KE) for bows (The Deadly Spring) or uses the strength plus adds model (thrust and swing) of melee weapons and muscle-powered ranged weapons.

3) Wound type, depth, and size. Finally, we get to put the hurt on. The damage here is given its true type, and some sort of multiplier is applied. Tiny bullets that are also slow get pi-, and injury is half penetration. Cutting weapons increase damage by 50%, while my least-favorite damage type, impaling, gets its penetration doubled for injury.

These three things are very, very useful, and have pretty good definitions, for firearms especially. But before we do that, why three? Why not just combine either the first and second two numbers? So instead of a gun (again, best maps to these three) that does 4d (2) pi-, which penetrates like 8d but wounds like 2d, why the frack don’t you just have something like 8d {4} – and note the curly brackets.

That’s Dougish? Hamptonian? I like Hamptonian. That’s Hamptonian for “what is in these brackets refers to wounding.”

Anyway, that might mean “roll 8d for penetration, but divide penetration by 4 for injury.”

You could also just write 2d (4), with the conventional sense used in GURPS, for “this will do 2d injury, but divides any armor by 4.”

Both have a nice symmetry and sensibility to them. So why make things more complicated? As +Peter V. Dell’Orto likes to say, “Where’s the Awesome?”

Back to guns, because they map well. Each of these things represents a very distinct set of properties.

Let’s start with #2. The raw damage (penetration) rating of a gun – or more exactly, it’s projectile – is determined as a function of only two things: the kinetic energy of the bullet and its caliber. If you fire a 10mm diameter chunk of anything with 720 Joules of energy, you’re going to get about 3d+1 damage (the official formula used by +Hans-Christian Vortisch and +David Pulver might come in at 3d; regardless, given those two things, that’s what you get).

But what if that projectile is made of tungsten carbide? Or generic copper-jacketed lead? Or hell, maybe it’s a frozen 10mm marshmallow.  What if, instead of a blunt pistol bullet, it’s shaped more like a spike than an ogive? If the projectile is strong enough to survive delivering it’s own energy content (this may be, after some analysis, why the real-world data for the 55gr 5.56x45mm only penetrates 5d instead of the 5d+1 or 5d+2 my calculations suggest . . . the energy it carries is enough to overwhelm the cohesion of its component materials, so it can’t effectively deliver all them joules. Certainly it can’t be because my Excel spreadsheet model is wrong. Nah.)

That’s where #1 comes in. It can separate out the effects of hardness and geometry from raw energy. Because you might want to do that, since energy is a useful thing to know, especially when it comes to breaking up homogeneous objects.

OK, you’re through the crunchy shell. Now you’re in the chewy center. If that projectile fragments, or just pokes a thin hole, it might pass through a body without doing much permanent damage . . . or the wound could be terrible and grotesque (and if you’re read DiMaio you’ve seen some gross stuff) because the energy is all used to destroy, rather than stretch, heat, or harmlessly displace tissue.

So some sort of efficiency factor that gives the size of the wound channel relative to energy content is useful. This is especially true when you relax our caliber restriction. If you have a high-energy, high caliber weapon that penetrates like 4d, and a finned, hardened, skinny dart, that also penetrates like 4d, but really is 2d(2), the first might be something like 4d pi++, where it wounds like 8d. The second might even be 2d (2) pi-, where it destroys objects like 2d (due to energy dump if it doesn’t blow through), but in humans, really only delivers a 1d wound.

For hand weapons, you could easily see the use. If you’re trying to overwhelm the armor of something, having it hard, perhaps magically hard, will amplify the basic energy you can put into swinging a weapon. If you are ST 14 (about twice as powerful as an average schmo in GURPS), and swing a 2-lb. stick where most of the weight is in the head, you can write down something like “swing 2d” on your character sheet. If that weapon head is concentrating force into a tiny area, like a pick or war hammer, you could perhaps note that by giving it an armor divisor. So the war hammer might do 2d (2), which is kinda a lot, but you could also impart fractional armor divisors if you love math and hate your fellow players. Or if you use a computer. But when that pick sticks into you, if it’s really long, you can see that might be awful. If it’s maybe short and pyramidal, it might punch the armor fine, but not reach deeply enough inside you to really rock your world, internal-organ-wise. (This is unlikely to be true, since your ribcage will deform under impact, allowing the beak to reach the center . . . unless you are deforming more armor to do that, in which case the wound could be very shallow.)

If you put an axe-head on it, you can see that spreading out the force into a long line will be bad for penetration, increasing the effect of armor. That might be an armor divisor of (0.75) or something. Perhaps even more, like (0.5). But you can also see that the wide wound will be truly awful on an unarmored person.

I personally think that having both armor divisors and wound severity modifiers makes a lot of sense, and that both are useful. Certainly, if one were to ever come up with a meta-system that integrated hand weapons, blunt trauma, bullets, bows, sharp sticks, and harsh language into one black box that output GURPS weapon stats, I could see a real utility to allow more moving parts rather than fewer, both for nuance as well as resolution.

Today I got to play in +Jeromy French ‘s +Pathfinder Roleplaying Game  Pirates campaign.

My character is a third (now fourth after today’s session) level Rogue-based piratey type. My background for him was that he was a fairly neglected half-elf, whose father was a wandering Sea Elf (or some such). He fell to no good fairly early. He’s a bowman, rapier specialist, and does fairly well with a dagger, thrown or stabbity.

Important skill levels include Stealth +13, Perception +12, Disable Device +9, Appraise +8, and Sense Motive and Professional Skill: Sailor both at +7.  He’s also got 6 ranks in Merchant, Slight of Hand, Acrobatics, Bluff, and Escape Artist. Plus some onesy-twosies here and there.

I thought of him as going ashore in advance of his crew, locating departing ships, appraising whether their goods were worth stealing, maybe sneaking aboard or bluffing his way on as a passenger, and then helping to disable the target from the inside. Fouling sails at the last minute, cutting cords on ballistae and crossbows . . . that sort of unwholesome behavior.

He’s turned into the bowman of the group (duh, elf-kin) and while not exactly a front-line fighter, he holds his own. Well, when the dice don’t hate him. Which they do. A lot.

Anyway, Pelagiyel (he goes by “Pel”) got coshed on the head and stuck aboard a ship with a Big Important Pirate Captain, and a bunch of lesser thugs. We captured another ship, and were part of the caretaker crew with some really sadistic officers from the original ship.

Naturally, we mutinied, killed our former tormentors, and are now budding pirates. Arrr!

*****

The game is played over Google Hangouts, using webcams for telepresence. The game aid is +Tabletop Forge , and it seems to do a credible job, though I’ll admit I like +RPTools ‘ MapTools better for the game interface.

I really enjoy the face-to-face (or electron-to-electron) aspect of it, combined with the computer interface where everyone has access to the Evil Die Roller From Hell, we can all throw up links and jokes in the Chat window without disturbing the flow of the game directly, and it’s VERY hard for the GM’s cat (notional cat; I’m not sure if Jeromy has a cat) to jump up on the table and disrupt the tokens.

I do miss the beer and pizza sharing.

It’s a fun game, and a great group.

******

If only the game engine were more polished.

I’m a relative novice at Pathfinder. I’ll admit my last real experience with Dungeons and Dragon was a single session (maybe two?) of DnD 3ed from 2000-2005 or so (yes, it’s likely been that long), before that was probably a single game in 1997 before I finished grad school, and then before that I was a teenager or even a pre-teen.

Anyone who thinks GURPS complicated really needs to do a bit of a reality check. 🙂 Coming from decades of GURPSiness to Pathfinder, I find it a fairly bewildering set of special cases. The class/level system is off-putting, and the characters are pretty low-powered. The tendency to metagame is large (“What level is our pirate captain, approximately? Level 10? So basically he can wipe the floor with all of us and not break a sweat, even if we can sneak up on him? OK. New plan.”) though I’ll admit it’s a great shorthand for relative power level. Since combat skills go up level by level, it’s useful for understanding threat in a way that GURPS points usually are not.

The thing that really gets me, though, is the 1d20+X skill test system. The flat-distribution system is not my friend, and I don’t ever really feel that I have a good notion for what Pel can accomplish. It doesn’t help that the dice have been wickedly not my friend in this campaign. (No, really. In today’s game, it actually became perhaps the first group in-joke.)

That being said, if you treat the dice as a narrative rather than simulation aid, (though again, the old WEG d6 system is better for this than Pathfinder or GURPS) it helps a bit. I find rolling for initiative quite fun, and there is inherent satisfaction to leveling up.

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I don’t think I’d choose to RUN a Pathfinder game, though I’m sure I’d have an easier time finding players than for GURPS. But my experience here has reinforced an old bias:

It’s who you play with, not what you play, that drives the level of fun.

The spy creeps through the building, making no noise whatsoever. Even ninjas would have marveled at his stealth, cunning, and patience. At last, he enters the room containing his prey. He extracts his silenced pistol, levels it at his target’s head. He will destroy the man, and sneak out the way he came, no one the wiser.


The custom-tuned 9mm pistol is well balanced in his hand, and he gently squeezes the trigger.

BLAM! The 130 dB noise that results is as loud as the percussion section at a symphony, a jackhammer, or a pneumatic drill. The entire house wakes up, the spy is caught and executed on the spot. His sponsoring organization goes down in a terrible scandal.

At that point, the spy’s player starts pelting his GM with dice and beating him with hardcover copies of the Basic Set. The supporting cast, who helped get that spy into position, are looking at him with that sort of flinty gaze that promises the GM will be footing the bill for pizza, chips, and soda himself for a while if he wants to keep the group running.

This actually happened to me, sort of. I was running an adventure I called OMEN TOWER, which was an adventure I’d written for a Black Ops campaign (and turned into my first prospective e23 supplement, but that is a tale of misery and woe I will not repeat at this time) involving sneaking into a Chinese Army base that was the site of a Grey weapon’s manufacturing plant. My wife’s character opened up with a .300 Win Mag or .338 Lapua Magnum . . . some monstrously powerful rifle . . . that had a “silencer” on it. I knew that most such devices would take the report of such a weapon and tame it by 20-40dB. But magnum rifles like that are still very loud, especially if it’s pointed at you!

So, I put my own expectations on the gun and the noise. My players had theirs – strongly informed by Hollywood. They were so upset with the resulting consequences that they agreed to stop the mission and RESTART the entire thing, with the now newly available “Anti-Noise Active Suppression System” provided by the Tech Ops that actually WERE Hollywood “silencers” instead of real-world suppressors.

And everyone was happy.

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I tell this story because it struck me as pertinent:  A commenter posted that he thought Jeffro’s review of The Deadly Spring was off the mark when Peter linked to it in a post recommending my blog to others (thanks, Peter!).

That made me think of the above story, because what Jeffro is saying (I think), is that TDS is just too complex and fiddly to use at the gaming table. It breaks his own expectations for the amount of work he’s expected to do in order to provide a good, fun story to those around the table.

In fact, I agree with him completely. The Deadly Spring is not meant for at-the-table use. It was originally slated as a 2,500-word article that did the same thing for bows as my guns article did, and how hard could that be, really?

Well, 11,000 words later, I found out. And I built a spreadsheet, so no sane person would have to suffer like I did (and like Steven did in reading and editing the thing) to create such things.

What was the end result? An article that, as the review says, allows you to go through iterative gymnastics to maybe design a bow that shoots an arrow that does 1d+1 imp. Um, so? Well, that bow is probably a 150-lb bow (ST 17 or so?) firing an arrow that weighs as much as some hamburgers (about 0.2 to 0.25 lbs; 1500 grains!). OK, blah, blah, realism; blah blah effectiveness of guns vs bows.

But again: I agree with him. From a narrative purpose, if you will accept all the crap that comes with a semi-realistic bow with cinematically high armor penetration (but you still need a few seconds to draw, ready, and shoot an arrow, and the Acc isn’t that good, but the range penalties are large), then having penetration be cinematically high relative to a 9mm pistol which can fire 3 or more times per second, is easier to aim, and can fire for six rounds or more (and by that time, someone’s dead)? Sure, let the bow guys have their fun, and it’s way easier to just look up “thr+2” and know your thr damage is 1d+2 with ST 17, giving you 1d+4.

So, Jeffro’s expecations are (a) don’t let the crunch interfere with the story, (b) keep it simple and fast, and (c) let people have their proper fun; don’t penalize a player based on expectations clash.

My purpose in writing the rules was to be able to model bows better (it started during the Low-Tech playtest, where I had like a three-line set of equations that worked, sorta, but only within the case of wooden self-bows, and there were some oddities that cropped up even then), and get them scaled more properly vs. firearms (which you should be able to easily do, since you know the energy and diameter of the shaft).

That sort of thing, though, is best kept off the table.  I still may wind up taking up the challenge on the wish list (Low-Tech: Archery) at some point, since it should be fairly straight-forward to execute. That might meet Jeffro’s needs: it would have columns for cinematic damage, realistic damage, AND a number based off of thr+N for those who want to do it that way. Perhaps.

The other thing to do is look at your expectations and assumptions.

Are the players going to load up with Heroic Archer, Weapon Master (Bows), Strongbow, and Special Exercises (Arm ST +3)? With an enchanted Elvish Longbow of Smiting firing Puissant arrows also enchanted with Penetrating Weapon? If that’s the case, well, “realistic” bow damage based on the square root of kinetic energy just ain’t the point, now, is it?

If your goal is to ensure that if you put a warrior in a full-faced helm and high-quality “double-mail” or some such and want him to look like a well-protected porcupine (safe, uninjured, but looking a lot like the shields at 2:59 in this clip from 300), then you’re going to want to ensure that the damage for powerful bows is on the right scale with the armor used.

Back to the silenced firearms thing: I’d pitched the game as “realistic” Black Ops. That meant “only” 350-400 points instead of the 800-1000 required in Fourth Edition to mimic the original 3e templates (Start at this post, and go from there). But as you notice, 300-400 points is well into the Action or Monster Hunters territory; realism just ain’t really in it. Gritty, yes, sure – can be done.

My players took one look at their abilities, and said “this is Jackie Chan meets the X-Files” and well, they probably weren’t wrong. I’d know better now, and I believe that Black Ops should be a spin-off of Monster Hunters, rather than a stand-alone.

So they had characters that could pull off amazing stuff, and a background of super-science tech in the game as well. Hollywood Silencers are appropriate here, not my realistic silencers.

As a final nod: two of the best treatments of suppressors in GURPS both came from the same author: Hans-Christian Vortisch. First, in GURPS Modern Firepower, and then recreated for Fourth Edition in GURPS High-Tech (pp. 158-159), where I’m pretty sure Hans wrote the suppressor part.

The blank slate.

I have made several references on my Facebook page to a writing project that has . . . not been going well.

Over the holiday, I prepped to visit my in-laws. They live about an hour west, so pretty close, but for reasons that will become clear, it’s not a “let me zip home for a moment” kind of trip.

I downloaded my project, and the inevitable pair of spreadsheets that I work from, onto a flash drive.

I then promptly left it on my kitchen table as we left for the overnight stay. Laptop? Check. All previous progress on this work? Crap. Sitting on the table.

So once we got there, and Short Stack (the cute little girl in my profile pic) was happily playing with her cousins (all five of them), I opened my wife’s dv6 . . . and faced a blank slate (“tabula rasa” for those not a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or Latin.)

What happened? Unburdened by my previous work, I solved the mechanics problem that had been plaguing me for so very, very long.

Sometimes it’s good to start fresh. This can apply to game mechanics, a writing project, or letting go of an argument. It was a good lesson to re-learn.