With special guest star +Peter V. Dell’Orto

Amazing what you find on your computer. Your work computer no less. This file was dated from 2002.

I’m not sure the Quad ST idea will really have legs. Too mathematically intense, perhaps.

Quadratic Strength for GURPS
by Douglas Hampton Cole and Peter V. Dell'Orto
     There has been a long-running debate over how to handle lifting and strength in GURPS for a long time.  The original GURPS 3ed rules, which were that you could lift a certain multiple of your ST depending on how many hands were used, and how braced you were, had the benefit of simplicity.  You can pick up up to 25 times your strength if you lift with both hands.  Extra effort rules allowed you to lift more than this:  for each -1 to the success roll (made against ST), you could bump your lift up by 10%.  
     However, even with this methodology, it can sometimes be a bit difficult in GURPS to whip out an NFL lineman or pro-wrestler type…or even someone who spends quite a bit of time in the weight room.  While they're not found in every household in greater Woebegon, we probably know personally at least a few people who can fairly casually bench press well over 300lbs, and these people are not professional athletes.  This makes figuring things out a bit problematic.  If you declare that this lift is using the "extra effort" rules, how is it they whip out sets of ten?  If you declare that's a two handed lift, that's about ST12!  Implying that Joe Average can bench press about 250. Suddenly I feel the need to go to the gym.
     The difficulty is simply traced--real world lift ability varies by more than a factor of two from "average" to "upper limits of human potential," which is what strength scores of 20-25 are supposed to represent.  Linear ST (where lift is a multiple of the ST stat) doesn't quite have the range to cover human variation.
     One of the more popular alterations to how lifting ability is calculated in GURPS is to calculate lift based on the square of the ST score.  Referred to as "Quadratic ST" or "Quad ST," it has the advantage of being a bit more grounded in real-world physics, but more importantly expands the range of lift that "normal" humans can hoist.  Instead of ST20 lifting twice as much as ST10, your budding bodybuilder can lift four times as much (twice the stat yields four times the lift).
Lift Basis and Real World Lifting
     All the calculations of lift ability, and also encumbrance (the two primary bits that are derived from the ST score that would change using Quad ST) are currently based on the ST score directly.  To move to Quad ST, it will be useful to define a number that replaces ST in all the lift calculations, called "Lift Basis," equal to ST x ST / 10.  By itself, this small change allows much more diversity at the extremes of ST scores, while keeping the "average" character much the same as they always were. 
    Now that you've done that, how much can you actually lift?  The basic would indicate that "one handed lift" is six times Lift Basis, and "two handed lift" is 25 times Lift Basis.  While those are good generic descriptions, they don't necessarily connect well to what people might do in a weight room--it might be fun to be able to tell your fellow players "my character can easily curl over a hundred pounds…in one hand!"
   So how much can a character lift?  Here are some guidelines, based on 

> 1. The Quad ST formula and “lift basis” methodology

Okay, cool. The “Designer’s Notes” on why 6xST for one handed lift and 25xST for two-handed lift imply Benching X or Squatting Y would be very useful.

> 2. Extra effort rules and options (base off of HT, ST, DX; what
> happens when you fail)

Fine with me. Naturally, I like HT.

> I’d also like to incorporate your suggestion that Extra Effort be limited in most circumstances to a relatively small amount, but include the “scale” for super-heroic lifting – which fits in as well for Conan as for Superman.

An explicit mention that EE in the article can be substituted in Linear ST games would be nice – just takes a sentence, and I’m pretty sure it works there. I’m using it now, and it is working fine.

> 3. Some simple examples of real-world weightlifting records 4. Equipment used to set those records and what it does to the HT roll (I”m assuming HT because I like it best)

Yeah, me too. I’ve been swayed away from ST, and I was never really convinced on DX (too many lifters are big, blocky guys who couldn’t outlumber a slug but could pick up a house…). I also like the effect having one roll determine both success and possible injury, which is another pointer towards HT.
We should do this the same way I suggested last time this came up – you be the primary author, so you get the final word on what goes in or not. It works better if someone can end things with “I like it this way so it stays.” Since you’ve done most of the work, it’s only fair that you get to yea/nay parts of it.


This is sort-of off topic for my blog, but here we go:

I’m interested in procuring some scale armor. it doesn’t have to be historically perfect, or even associated with a particular time or style (but it could be), but finding reputable vendors of such is a bit hard. So I’m crowd-sourcing: anyone know of good makers?

I’d be willing to branch away from scale, or even a combination of scale, mail, or whatnot. I’d like it to be more western style than not, but this could be modified if there were something sufficiently cool, such as this Korean/Mongol armor which is entirely badass. Also the stainless etched plate ensemble.

Anyway, I’m interested in any thoughts or comments.

In his weekly update on all things GURPS, +Sean Punch notes:

We made the final text corrections to GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling, by Doug Cole (douglascole). We still have art wrinkles to iron out, however.

Depending on how much you know about the internal production process, this may be cryptic. This is good news, though. I know what the text corrections are (not surprising) and they are good, since the mighty Kromm has reduced further the potential “special cases” that some of the more oddball rules expansions and clarifications could have introduced.

The “art wrinkles” thing will receive no further explication from me at this time, other than to say if they’re what I think they are, I’m very happy that all systems are not go just yet.
Other than that wrinkle, I’m quite pleased with the art that I’ve seen. It’s a rules-dense book, and much of the breakup in the flow of text is taken up with pull-quotes, many of which are rules excerpts from the book itself. I had my playtesters go through and help me pick out the most crucial new rules and concepts, and we tried to use those. That doesn’t always work with layout, but where it did, they were used. We also have the usual assortment of fun quotes, from Lee to Fiori, from Chaucer to Talhoffer, from Silver to Solo. And more.
And for what it’s worth, I also have about 5,000 words of Designer’s Notes that are ready to go if needed. If they don’t appear in “official” print, I’ll post them here. Depending on how such things are handled, I might be able to do both.

This is starting to feel almost real. Yay!

Sorry that I missed GURPS-Day yesterday. I was travelling in Germany for business. That was my first time in Europe since 1998 or so, when I spent three weeks near Eindhoven in the Netherlands.  I need to go back.

A brief comment based on a very long discussion over the Rate of Fire and Rapid Fire mechanic in GURPS. I don’t have too many issues with the mechanic itself at the high level. Given its resolution, and the desire to resolve putting a bunch of bullets downstream with a single die roll, the overall result is that while firing a lot makes it marginally better to get a few hits, most of those shots are wasted.
The issues tend to be that it can squeak around the edges in places, sometimes requiring adjudication by Rule Zero (GM fiat).
One poster summarized his take on the discussion as follows:

Come to think of, there seems to be a litmus test for whether a given RoF system produces good results. I’m probably missing something, but here are some points that I noticed:

  • For a Rcl 1 weapon (e.g. laser pointer), it should be possible to achieve 100% hit rates with reasonable skill, even when not engaging Close Stationary Targets (B408).
  • For a Rcl 1 weapon with a very high RoF, doubling RoF should roughly double the number of hits, and shouldn’t increase the bonus to hit. A very high RoF in this case refers to such RoFs that in a single pass that intersects the target, there is no possibility of the pass occurring between the shots, given the weapon-training speed of the shooter (i.e. when a successful pass always indicates at least one hit).
  • Firing 600 shots over a 1-minute turn should produce the same percentage of hits as firing 200 shots over a 20-second turn or as firing 10 shots over one second (unless there’s an Aim involved that only affects some of the shots), regardless of Rcl (unless Rcl is so bad that a penalty accumulates, which, in 4e, it doesn’t, ever).
  • Shooting a target farther away (extra -5 for range) should produce the same results as shooting a smaller target (-5 SM), and the same as shooting a smaller target on a larger target (-5 SM smaller target on larger).
  • A Homing weapon should produce roughly the same percentage of hits regardless of RoF, before things like warhead fratricide are taken into account.

I think a lot of these points are an outgrowth of the “people on infinite featureless field of battle” mentality.

Let’s take the first. With a laser weapon or something else with Rcl 1, you should get a lot more hits, right? In combat?

No. Not just no, but hell no. For my Dodge This article, +Peter V. Dell’Orto and I looked up the hit rate of – wait for it – people playing games like Photon or Lazer Tag. These are Rcl 1 weapons with RoF 1, usually. No autofire. But the hit rates tended to be about 6%. If you’re hitting that few times with semi-auto fire, you’re right in the center of the GURPS autofire principle: it’s for getting a few hits from many shots, not a lot of hits. Granted, this situation is chaotic, people aren’t aiming much, it’s usually dark. Hey, much like combat is supposed to be.

So point-the-first is dubious. Go ahead and try it. I bet that if you attach a laser sight to an airsoft rifle and could somehow calculate the percentage of time your beam was on-target in an actual chaotic situation, like an airsoft or laser tag game, it would be quite low. Your usage mode would also likely be “sweep the beam across the target,” not “hold the beam on target for a high percentage of the time.”

The second point – very high RoF where you can’t pass between the shots – is a misapplication of the rules. If you’re all or nothing, you handle this not with Rcl 1 and high RoF, but with RoF 1 and higher damage. This is a single-shot weapon for all intents and purposes. Rcl 1 is used for zero-recoil weapons like lasers, true, but it’s also used for firing three rounds from a shotgun loaded with shot rather than slugs. Rcl 1 is the lowest Rcl level, true – but it’s probably best read as “minimal spread,” but not single shots.

The third point totally neglects that a target can – and likely will – move. Hell, the shooter might move! Rules that achieve less, more, or the same hits as time increases can all be argued to make sense. Fewer hits because of much more opportunity to have relative chaos between shooter and target. More because of more time to compensate for that motion. The same due to a thought-to-be constant probability of hitting in aggregate taking all the shots as independent events. If you have an ability to put 76% of shots on target, that should be 76% over one second or one hundred. So this one assumes something that needn’t be true, but could be.

The fifth point is probably correct if you’re talking about cones of fire, and is probably a good design goal.

I’ll neglect the 6th because Homing is a game-mechanical term, and the precise thing its supposed to be modeling is left vague, probably intentionally.

Parting Shot
+Mark Langsdorf took a stab an an alternate way to look at Rapid Fire over on his own blog. As discussed in the forum thread above (and it’s worth reading, mostly) it’s not bad. Since Size Modifer and Range are both based on the Size and Speed/Range table, having the Rcl/RoF mechanic tied to that table makes good sense.

I’ll return to this a few times in the upcoming days. There’s a scatter diagram I did a while ago that’s worth revisiting for fun, and I want to try and tie autofire rules to the area fire rules as well.

We started up immediately where we left off with  Dupond ( +Matt Sutton ) character recalling that a military doctor has been experimenting with electroshock therapy to cure diseases. This Captain Watts is actually here at the facility.

He takes this in stride and approaches Dr. Hampton ( +Douglas Cole ) about the statement from Dupond’s countryman that he knows of someone who can cure his wounded eyes. This, of course, being unknown to modern medicine, at least piques his curiosity, and Hampton agrees to accompany Dupond.

Additionally, Dupond looks at the scroll he found, showing it to Dr. Addams, the linguist. The arabic notation refers to the Pharaoh of 1,000 Ravens (Oh. Great.) and looks to be some sort of incantation that is 800 to 1,000 years old. (Ditto.). Dupond is fascinated. “We should try this. Since I was struck on the head, everything is clear. This has been put in our path for a reason!”

Addams: “Yes, but this is incomplete. With more research we could discover more.”

Dupond determines that the scoll has been here for fewer than 50 years, and hypothesizes that a partially-complete incantation might have been responsible for the ravens.

Addams recalls (spending an Occult point) stories of a leader who established a 15 year Reign of Terror during that period, but such legends are disbelieved. The Egyptology experts dismiss this theory, but The Pharaoh, in certain circles, were rumored to be half-man, half-raven. Every 75-100 years, references seem to crop up, and then disappear again.

Dupond notes that perhaps the ritual can cure Addams’ leg. Addams is skeptical, and speculates (correctly!) that the medical staff isn’t going to let him wander around until his leg is properly cast up.


Though Dr. Hampton has gotten to know a few of the patients in a short time, his journey across war-torn Europe, complete with being shelled, has rendered him ready to collapse with fatigue. He does so. The next morning, he begins his rounds, surprised at the fairly unsanitary and sloppy behavior exhibited by the “medical” staff. Very few people skilled in surgery (not unusual), but rats, vermin, poor sanitation, and the smell of gangrene permeates every tent.

Most of the doctors are run ragged, and the nurses avoid the head nurse Ogilvy like, well, gangrene. The only one not afraid was Zenna Borden, who we see ministering to a number of different people – none of whom seem to do well.

After a night’s sleep and a hard day’s work, Dr. Hampton finally reports to Major Parker, the camp CO. He is distracted and distant – even confused – while discussing Hampton’s role here, and dismisses him, claiming some errand. He shoves any requests off on Nurse Ogilvy.

Hampton spends a Investigative point on Bureaucracy.

Hampton notes that all requests for administrative control over the camp are diverted to Ogilvy, while the actual medical tasks are handled properly (but desperately). Any organizational or chain-of-command issues, however, are messed up to a fare-thee-well, with Ogilvy having usurped the role of true head of the facility.


The journalist, Phillip Gibbs, happens to find that there is another journalist, Jackson Elias, in the compound. He has written on the occult and supernatural perspective of primitive peoples, from a non-believer’s skeptical position. His last work was in 1915, chronicling Mayan and Aztec (he got them frequently confused) rituals, called The Smoking Heart.

Elias is an American with an arm wound. He was trying to get out of Paris on his researches, when artillery interrupted his travels. He found himself in the medical ward here, and his requests for an expedited departure have fell on deaf ears.

He’s currently working on a book about the Thuggees of India, a death cult worshipping Kali.


Every time they notice that the injured are not in their beds, they’re shuffled back.


Dupond meets with Maurice Bowles, and establishes a time and place to meet. Bowles is very cryptic, but seems sure that he is on the trail of being cured. After the meeting, Dupond relates this, with some amusement and some real curiosity, to the rest of the group.

Dr. Hampton is surprised to understand that Nurse Ogilvy is having meetings that don’t involve the senior medical staff, especially Major Parker. Naturally, Hampton goes in (and spends a reassurance point to let Parker know that he has his back) and expresses doubt that the nurse should be calling the shots. Parker promises to do something, and winds up getting into a one-sided shouting match with Ogilvy, with the Chief Nurse doing the shouting. Hampton barges into the office, and tries to dress down Ogilvy for breaking both decorum in a hospital and the chain of command. Ogilvy looks down her nose at Doctor Hampton, and notes with a glare at Parker that Hampton “might not work out here.” Hampton tries to interject, but Parker actually orders him to be silent and leave the room. Saluting with great propriety and no respect, he leaves.


Our investigation and discussion leads us to conclude that Ogilvy, Borden, and Abd Nazari are holding these strange “meetings,” with some of the more crippled among the camp being prime candidates for also attending. They seem like they should be greatly suffering, but are doing so less than they should.


At about ten in the evening, after the Nurses ensure the patients in their beds

The GM calls for us all to make Sense Trouble rolls. Everyone makes them but Dr. Hampton.

The night turns into shadow, and those shadows move, as out of each tent four or five soldiers try to sneak out of the tent.

Dupond follows, retrieving his service pistol. Addams follows the crowd, so to speak, while Gibbs engages in some discreet shadowing. One soldier, Gieullme de Charlemagne, with a leg wound, challenges Addams. What are you doing? Going for a walk. Clearly. Why. Abd Nazari suggested it. Oh, you’re going to see the nurse? I’m going wherever Abd Nazari is, and mutters something in Arabic. 

The nurse has found a way to lessen our pain, Charlemagne says. He seems a bit wigged out that Addams has claimed to be chosen of Abd Nazari.

At the meeting, Bowles and Abd Nazari are rather conspicuously absent. Addams and Dupond are there.

Some on-call nurses report that patients are missing from their beds. They wake up Hampton, who goes and reports that some of the more critically injured patients are missing from their beds. He reports back to Major Parker, who delegates it right back to him and goes to sleep.

Hampton fails another sense trouble roll. 0 for 2.

The patients disappear into a basement cellar. Gibbs sees Abd Nazari poke his head out, and close the doors. He also sees nurses and Dr. Hampton poking around looking for the patients. Gibbs waves him down, and tells him that something’s going on. Chanting and whatnot.

While the room seems initially like a regular cellar, looking carefully reveals that there seems to be a small section of a Roman-style house underground, and after a bit of a low passage, there seem to be three fairly large rooms joined together, stonework and doorways well preserved.

Though the stonework is Roman, there are well-carved, unnaturally so, Egyptian heiroglyphs and depictions of a Pharaoh slicing the heads off his enemies. Glyphs for ravens and death, and large casualties in battle. The runes chronicle the successes of this Pharaoh, standing victoriously over defeated foes.

In another room, Abd Nazari, Bowles, many enlisted folks. Behind a podium, there is a relief, nearly 10′ high, of a Pyramid, with the top cut off flat. On top of that, is a nasty-looking skull with the skin removed from its face.

As a woman rises and starts speaking and chanting, Hampton sees that the skull is fairly fresh, the skin definitely human, and the eyeballs seem to be moving. She throws back her cowl, and reveals herself to be Zenna Borden.

“The Pharaoh of 1,000 Ravens seeks your souls and your hearts.” She then speaks a tongue with which none of us are familiar, “Amon Pek, Fari Fari, Ei! Ei!”

An etherial mist forms, fills a basin that we did not notice before, and a green viscous fluid begins to fill it.

Addams ( +kung fu hillbilly ) feels his pain actually begin to subside. It is no longer the searing break from earlier. Ravens fly down into the chamber (through a shut door?!) and land on everyone . . . but Dupond . . . and then fly off. As they fly, a Raven looks at Gibbs, and in his mind, he can hear a voice say ” No hope, no pleasure, no triumph, no bargain. There is nothing you can give that He will accept. He takes what he pleases and will not be cheated.”

Gibbs makes a Stability check, and passes fairly well.

+Nathan Joy says “Just remember, if someone asks you if you’re a God, you say YES.”

Welcome to the August installment of Melee Academy, which as always is a fine way to celebrate the fact that Thursday is GURPS-Day.

Today’s topic was inspired by a pretty long forum thread on using reach weapons, and the impact of the Wait maneuver providing what seemed to be a sure-fire way of closing to combat range with a Reach 1 weapon. We’ll assume for the same of simplicity that Fighter 1 has a Reach 1 weapon, a broadsword, axe, or something similar, and Fighter 2 is wielding a Reach 2 weapon, usually conceived as a spear (with a thrusting mode only for imp damage, a tip slash for a small amount of cutting damage, or using the butt to smash). However, it could just as easily be a naginata (sw cut) or dueling halberd (many effective modes) or other polearm, which could conceivably have swing or thrust modes that do impaling, cutting, or crushing damage.

Still, the principles here probably can be said to apply to any reach discrepancy, whether it be our Reach 1 vs. Reach 2 (or likely 1,2) example above, but could also apply to a punch (Reach C) vs kick (Reach C,1) fight.

But before we get into that, what are the sources of reach advantage?

Size: Larger creatures may well have larger reach, or be able to (as +Mark Langsdorf notes in his own entry on shield walls) simply negate a reach advantage by walking over it.

Weapon: The easiest way to get a longer reach is (obviously) to pick up a long weapon. Spears, polearms, some longer swords, two-handed axes and flails, and the ever popular staff all have at least Reach 2, and some are even Reach 2,3. Some pikes can be Reach 6, but those are not exactly practical adventurer-level gear.

Maneuvers: There are a few different ways of picking up an extra hex of Reach above and beyond the natural one for your weapon of choice.

All-Out Attack (Long) gives you a flat-out extra yard of reach, at the low-low cost of all ability to defend. The possibly suicidal nature of All-Out Anything has been discussed before!

Committed Attack is an interesting one, since it allows an extra step, which can explicitly be used to step into range, and then step out (called in the text ‘attack and fly out’). The trick to watch for here is that your defensive option are quite limited. To quote the text:

The attacker cannot parry with the hand(s) he used to attack, block if he attacked with his shield or cloak, or dodge if he kicked. He can use any other defense, but at -2. He cannot retreat.

So when doing this, you really need to be a bit careful, since if you declare Committed Attack and then press into someone’s Wait, you have precluded, by maneuver selection, a retreat.

This does not add extra reach, but might make it easier to leverage a reach advantage. +Peter V. Dell’Orto talks to this in his own discussion of how to keep a reach advantage.

Wait, Wait!

Many interesting but frequently futile discussions arise when conducting thought experiments that feature two fighters on an infinite featureless plain. In our case the forum thread pointed out that if Reach 2 decides to be aggressive and attacks into Reach 1’s Wait by closing to a two-yard distance (optimum striking range for his pole weapon), Reach 1 can have his Wait trigger on Reach 2’s step, which means he can step instantly to a 1-yard distance, and attack Reach 2 first, seemingly bypassing Reach 2’s spear. Just like magic.

As Peter points out, and as +Sean Punch noted in two replies, this is somewhat reflective of the spearman being aggressive. He’s not taking the right steps that can guarantee him the first shot – largely using the Wait himself.

Who’s waiting for Godot?

For the consideration of reach, there are really four situations that can be dealt with here, looking at two combatants, flat featureless terrain. So, with that:

Both Waiting

This one can be not terribly interesting, in a way. Both fighters are effectively immobile, unless one or both of the house-rule Step-and-Wait, or even Wait-and-Step are available. This can last a long time- effectively forever, unless some external factor pushes the decision. The Step-and-Wait / Wait-and-Step might trigger cascading waits (Martial Arts, p. 108).

Now, the Cascading Waits situation is interesting, because it largely means the more skilled fighter wins, with Reach breaking ties according to A Matter of Inches (Martial Arts, p. 110, in the box).

But there really isn’t – and frankly, I don’t think there should be – a way for the spearman to enter into a Wait (meaning it triggers) and automatically defeat the Waiting guy.

The Wait-and Step is an interesting option, basically invoking Cascading Waits any time the entering character wants. That’s cheesy, so perhaps you shoud treat that as sort of a Committed Wait, where you take -2 in the Contest to see whose Wait triggers first, and/or suffer some of the penalties associated with a Committed Attack.

Reach 2 is Waiting

Nightmare for Reach 1, and this is the way most people figure this should work anyway. The guy with the long weapon Waits until Reach 1 steps to three yards away, then Reach 2 steps and attacks. This is a nice place to use “attack and fly out,” since it puts you back to 3 hexes distance, and Reach 1 has already used his step – he may have even retreated back to Reach 4! He’s going to have to do something desperate to get inside of you – possibly a Move and Attack (max skill capped at 9) or if allowed, Heroic Charge, which still must deal with the spearman’s Wait, but if he lives, can close the distance perhaps to strike.

Reach 1 is Waiting

This is the case that bugs people where Reach 2 guy has a hard time stepping into attack range (2 hexes) without triggering Reach 1’s wait. Of course, Reach 2 gets to defend, so proper investment in Grip Mastery and/or Form Mastery, to allow claiming that +2 to Parry for using a spear like a staff helps a lot. You can use All-Out Attack (Long) to jab at your foe from a distance that he can’t reach, but it sets you up, if you fail, to receive a pretty ugly Heroic Charge or even just a Committed Attack with two steps, which will close from Reach 3 to Reach 1 to split your skull.

Neither is Waiting

Well, you don’t have to worry about triggering a Wait, so Reach 2 will want to use Attack and Fly Out a lot, to step to Reach 2, attack, and then back off to Reach 3. That forces Reach 1 to also use a Committed Attack (two steps) or All-Out Attack (Long) himself, if he doesn’t resort to Heroic Charge or the skill-capped Move and Attack. All-Out Attack will also close the distance up to half move, but we’ve already discussed why that’s a bad idea.

For the Reach 1 guy, if he’s not entering into a Wait, he’s still going to need a way to deal with moving through the threatened area, which really is the multiple-step options above, Committed Attack being the go-to here.

Bring Friends

The infinite featureless plain with only two combatants on it? Yeah, that doesn’t happen much. The reason why some of the Wait strategies make a lot more sense in a more real environment is that all of these individual combatants are really worried about the random arrow from the small cluster of orcs downrange, or the other skirmisher running around trying to flank them. Once that wait is triggered, for example, the guy can act . . . but what if he runs into another spearman who is also Waiting, with a longer weapon, protecting his brother? Alternating who Waits and who advances might be one way of dealing with the Reach 1 guy with the uncanny ability to bypass the spear tip.

Mark lays out all of this and more in his post, where the more friends, the merrier, and he really gets into stacking the deck to the point where the Reach 2 guys are not foolish to All-Out Whatever.

Parting Shot

Having a long weapon can be a real advantage. But it’s sort of the equivalent of a minor attack or defense bonus. It’s not the decisive fight-ending aspect, and one has to be tactically wise in how it’s used in order to keep it in the “win” column. Especially when certain weapons are awkward to use at Reach 1 (long weapons in Close Combat can get tricky, as well), some tactical effort and ideally, help from friends is a good idea. Aggressively closing the distance is not a good way for the spearman to preserve a reach advantage! Further, having a long weapon is no guarantee that a shorter-weapon guy can’t get inside your guard.

The “good” news is that Waits are obvious. So you should never be surprised when you step into range and short-weapon-guy’s Wait gets triggered. You know it’s coming, and you also know that he can close two hexes of Reach or take two steps with the right choice of maneuver. If you approach with a Reach 1,2 weapon to a Waiting foe at that distance, well, you know what you’re getting into.

Another trick here is to make that attack against you that you know he’ll get into something a bit less serious. Employ a Defensive Feint on approach (Martial Arts, p. 101), lower his attack roll, then step into range. His attack is more likely to miss, making your reduced defenses from an Attack and Fly Out less severe. Using a Setup Attack of some sort (Defensive Setup Attack?) might be an interesting option as well, but would require further house rules.

After a very long absence, we returned to discuss . . . dragons.

+Nathan Joy, the GM, says: “So, you have mariskos to the East, blocking the Path of Aganhei, weird things to the North that may have been heavily forshadowed in the windy pit o’ mean shaman, and a dragon that has recently been harassing the hell out of the village (and probably would be a PITA if you tried to head North without dealing with.)”

This naturally leads us to discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of white dragons. We establish that they get more powerful as they age (Cadmus: OK, kill ’em while they’re young. Oops. Too late.). They have many abilities dealing with snow. They can see through heavy snow as clear as day and they’re immune to cold. They can fly, swim, run, and burrow (through snow or ice especially fast), and are generally big, strong, heavily armored, and fast. Shiba also can fill in that have a freezing breath weapon, and can sometimes do wind and fog related stuff pretty much at will. And tend to be magic resistant. Shiba DOES note that their defenses are supposedly less effective against fire, but he’s not sure HOW less effective that is.

Village People. I hate these guys.

Hrm. We then go get an interpreter and some village people. We show them the windy pit of doom, and they come to the conclusion that their shaman was nuttier than a squirrel’s nest. And hey, those dead guys used to be our friends and neighbors. I thought the dragon took them!

We spend a bit of time speculating whether the dragon egg shards might have been a sacrifice or magical component for a spell. But move on from that (I mean, hey – fighting dragons is a genre staple) and learn that they don’t know anything in particular about the pictograms, aside from the fact that this symbol is that of Sithhud, demon lord of blizzards and the frozen dead, that the black stones seem to represent the weird black monoliths that hunters have been reporting up north, and that the towers surrounded in blue are the Nameless Spires, an ancient ruined city on the North Pole. Further,white mountains behind the single tower are definitely the Alabastrine Peaks, which are off to the

south of the pole, and the fanged arms are definitely the traditional representation of Morozkos. They find some really bad scrawled love poems next to the picture of the winged woman that says “Katiyana, who speaks to me on the winds from her tower in the storm.”

Shiba thanks them for their time and how they’ve completely solved all of our problems forever. Fortunately, sarcasm doesn’t translate well.

They do confirm that a dragon has definitely been attacking the village (game on!), and roughly where it is, about 60 miles north of the village, on the High Ice.

Shiba, ever the tactician (or is that +Mark Langsdorf ?) summarizes the plan:

Kill the dragon, get the dogsleds, go to Unaimo and shop, then turn to the left and head to the Peaks, put paid to the tower, and finally have the dramatic confrontation at the Nameless Spires and hope we’ve figured out how to come back by that point?

On the other hand, a fairly amusing Out-of-Character conversation ensues about the wisdom of following what seem to be the plot hooks of the adventure path:

[6:27:52 PM] crakkerjakk: I would strongly encourage the party to go epic and drag the whole damn caravan north via dogsled.
[6:27:59 PM] Emily Smirle: Heading out late in the season because you’re afraid it’ll get blocked is officially Stupid.
[6:28:03 PM] Emily Smirle: Just kinda saying.
[6:28:17 PM] Emily Smirle: But.
[6:28:20 PM] crakkerjakk: Because pathfinder assumes the party is idiots, and this is Nate Reads From A Book.
[6:28:35 PM] Emily Smirle: Why didn’t you say so in the first place? 😀
[6:28:44 PM] Douglas Cole: Figured it was obvious?
[6:28:51 PM] Theodore Briggs: true, also, Staver needs to BUY MORE HEALING POTIONS AT THE CARAVAN
[6:28:52 PM] Mark Langsdorf: None of us are especially going to argue if Ameiko or the caravan master overrule us.
[6:28:56 PM] crakkerjakk: Well, if you really want to leave the caravan back, I can wing something, I suppose.
[6:29:03 PM] Douglas Cole: I mean, “Please, dive into the frozen like to fight the water creatures in their natural element” is a freakin plot point
[6:29:08 PM] crakkerjakk: Cause that makes A LOT MORE SENSE>
[6:29:11 PM] Emily Smirle: Staver DOES need to buy more healing potions at the caravan!
[6:29:34 PM] Theodore Briggs: get the big ones, or at least not the smallest ones
[6:29:35 PM] Emily Smirle: I can do taht right now though. I have money. >.>
[6:29:36 PM] crakkerjakk: I’m kinda hesitant to make you do shit that’s too stupid.
[6:29:53 PM] Mark Langsdorf: We embrace the script, Nate. It’s cool.
[6:30:02 PM] crakkerjakk: Alright, thanks guys.
[6:30:05 PM] Emily Smirle: Gimme dat tasty worm on dat phishook.

And, the Hand of Plot moves us:

Shiba: Nods as Ameiko, Sandru, and Koya tell us they want to dogsled across the Pole ’cause they’re in a tearing hurry or something. Oni of the 5 Winds, the Seal box has been opened, it all makes sense.

Well, as long as we’re going white dragon hunting, we go for Fine climbing gear, alchemist’s fire, and stuff to present snow blindness. They are sadly lacking in magebane, flaming weapon consumables, napalm, and stuff to let us fly or see through snow. Alas.

Staver picks up 10 major healing potions and manages to coat 20 arrows with explody alchemist’s fire thanks to a double Scout! destiny point spend. We all shop for a while (too long, probably), and then finally head north having doused +Emily Smirle‘s character, Staver, in Worstershire sauce to attract the dragon.

Not really. Cadmus does keep floating that plan though.

After two days of northerly travel, the guides slow down as we start passing larger and larger skeletons of various large mammals, and at the end of the third day you draw close to a large rift in the glacial icepack. We see a rift about 30 yards long, and about 9 yards wide at it’s widest point. You see claw marks on the edge of the rift here and there, that look like they were made by claws the size of swords.

Won’t this be fun?

We spend a lot of time looking through lists of party expendables, and come up with “don’t notice me” ninja potions, a potion of fire breathing, a ring of distant blow, and a few other things squirreled away. Like a wand of exploding fireball arrows.

The GM wonders if the dragon will last more than a round.

Staver and Thumvar take flight, with Staver checking out the opening. We see a slightly-melted edge, and a seven-yard drop to a gash in the glacier. Shiba falls back and casts Walk on Air on both himself and Cadmus (crit success on one of us). So now we’re all airborne.

Mark has all the cool spells. As he says, he doesn’t have many, so he chooses carefully.

Gonna need one of these . . . 

Staver flies down the deep shaft, at least 100 yards to the bottom (yikes). He can make out the bottom of the shaft. It looks like it’s covered in a series of rocky crags, and he thinks he sees something sprawled among them. To make it out so clearly, it must be fairly large. Looks like a body, quadripedal and with wings. On the side of the shaft are a couple openings. There’s two to one side, one about 20 yards below the other, and another opening on the opposite side in between the two. The top one is a cave entrance about 10 yards wide. The floor is littered with broken eggshells.

Littered? Oh, that does not sound good. +Theodore Briggs reminds us all of Dragonslayer.

You see a stone hammer laying amound the remains of the eggshells that you would guess was made by one of the local human tribes by it’s construction, and you see something whitish-blue underneath one of the fragments of eggshell. You brush aside the eggshell carefully, trying not to make too much noise. Underneath is an amulet, made out of remorhaz scales. It looks very similar to the friendship tailsman that Ulf had, that the local tribes use to mark favor with outsiders.

The draconic shape at the bottom of the shaft turns out to be a large dragon corpse. So much for the surprise attack.

We cross and descend to the next cave mouth down, which is a wide and deep cavern in the ice. We see signs of repeated passage by something large with big claws through this one. Given the ripples in the ice at least a foot below the surface, you’re guessing it’s been used for at least decades, if not centuries. There are some fairly fresh tracks, too. Days, maybe. We proceed down the shaft, finally on the main combat map.

Or was that too metagame?

So, this whole cave slopes gently down towards the opening to the shaft. There’s a fairly large crevase in the middle of it, and beyond that it curves upwards and to the north.

The floor is fairly slick, strewn with rocks and bones, and on the other side of the crevasse is what looks kind of like a nest of some kind, with a bunch of busted up ice in a rough circle.

As we cautiously approach, Cadmus notices a solid wall of fog approaching. Much like the one we fought in last time. Alas. Shiba casts Purify air, which clears a patch of fog in the middle of the cavern, as we hear a scraping sound coming from behind Staver. Of course. We move closer to the open area made by Shiba, but we continue to hear the sound of something large moving in the direction of the nest.

Staver launches an arrow laced with alchemist’s fire towards the sound on general principle. Beingn appropriately heroic archer, he hits, but what the burning arrow reveals does not please anyone. Dragon! The good news is that the illumination of the flaming arrow (1d6 burn for 30 seconds with 1/5 DR) will last a while, and gives us a valid target. There is likely still the pesky priest from last game kicking around (this fog is his stock in trade, I think), but at least we have one bad guy marked, and lots of fire-based attacks.

W. T. F?!

Thumvar fast-draws his sword and makes a Heroic Charge at the dragon, with his full flying Move 11.  The dragon is visibly surprised, shouting “WTF?” in draconic as Thumvar does 16 (2) cut to one of its wings, and it rears back, screaming “Srsly, WTF?!”

No, I did not make that up. Blame Nate. 🙂

Shiba’s turn, and he looses an arrow – the previously prepared 6d exploding fireball arrow, one might note – at the dragon. “The Arrow Knows the Way!” he shouts, using Homing (Imbuement) and trusting that Thumvar is heavily armored enough to shrug off the blast. 20 burn damage if successful. Dragon dodges and drops, so he can get out of the way, successfully. He’s on fire, confused, and angry. Cadmus uses his ring of distant blow to the torso, biffs his activation roll, spends a destiny point, but critically succeeds for 10 (2) cut to the torso.

The dragon is not amused, and seemingly in a great deal of pain.

A crack appears along its scales, they are the color of polished ice, edged in silver.The dragon screams something at us in draconic, then pushes downward with some powerful claws. Ice cracks and fountains upward, and the dragon slips down into the glacier. He moved through solid ice as if it were yogurt.

Thumvar waits for the inevitable reappearance of the dragon, while Shiba concentrates to make the arrow come around for another pass. Patriot Arrow, baby.

Regrettably, internet connection issues caused us to end the session there. More dragon-fighting next week!

Robert Lee Hampton started out in World War 1, May 27 1918, at an infamous hospital in France. We heard rumors of an unanticipated German offensive, which smashed through a few French divisions.

On the 28th of May, my character, Doctor Robert Lee Hampton, heard that some American and British divisions tried to offer some token resistance on the way to Reims. I’m stuck into an ambulance and driven (by a woman by name of Emma “Cheery” Patterson) who got a call to drive to pick up some injured men north of here, and try and get them back to the hospital before the German tidal wave arrives.

She asks me if I’d been to Military Hospital #5 before, and I reply in the negative. She’d been working there since the Spring, and notes that I should report to Major Parker, the Chief Surgeon, and that the chief nurse is Ms Ogilvy, who has a bad rep for being quite the tyrant. We speed onward.

Meanwhile, elsewhere, the three other PCs are part of a hodgepodge Allied division, forced to retreat. Six ambulances show up, and the PCs are all shoved into the same ambulance, in a very plot-convenient way.

I’m asked to make a Preparedness roll by +Jeromy French , and I roll a 6, spending 2 points from my pool of 5 for a total 8, which means my Pharmacy skill is improved by 1 (from 4 to 5) for the rest of the session. The others roll to see how injured they are, Jaque Dupond ( +Matt Sutton ) has a mild head wound, but Philip Gibbs ( +Nathan Joy ) and Norman Adams ( +kung fu hillbilly ) were both injured. Norman has a fractured femur, while Phillip has a shell fragment wound to the left forearm. None are horrible or life threatening, but none are fun.

Gibbs is in shock, and Dr. Hampton steps in to treat him, successfully. We speed south towards Reims, with six total patients, plus the nurse and Dr. Hampton. As Hampton works frantically to patch up the head wound, Dupond recounts a vivid dream, dealing with reincarnation and past lives. He’s writing in a journal of his remembered dream as if he mightn’t see another tomorrow. Hampton assures him he will live to see another day, so he can write more slowly.

As he patches up the broken femur, he and Norman discuss his academic background (Citadel and UVA Med School), which Norman declares is respectable enough, since he’s an Oxford Don. Can he fence again? Yes, stay off it and you’re fine.

Finally, the shell fragment is lodged, but removable. “Can you believe the Jerried tried to kill me? Hell of a thing. Not my writing arm,” Gibbs notes, and gives a classic thin-lipped British smile.


We continue driving, and the ride is rocky but uneventful, up until the ripping linen sound of big guns tears through the air. Within seconds, the lead ambulance is destroyed, its wreckage blocking our way, and the broken bodies that are not flung about are rapidly burned to death. Cheery stops the ambulance, in shock. Perhaps she knew someone? Unknown, but Hampton shoves her out of the way and gets behind the wheel. He guns it, slamming through the wreckage, pushing it aside to continue through the shellfire pattern.

As we slam through the wreckage, both Hampton and Dupond note that, oddly, a flock of ravens were in the bombardment zone, and as we pass, they all take off together in a flock, and fly south, in the same direction as the hospital.

Matt and I both have Outdoorsman, so we automatically notice the ravens. Jaime elects to spend a point in Occult to get more info on what the flock might portend.

“Interesting,” says Hampton. “I’ve never seen ravens stay put in an active bombard zone. Birds know to fly to the hospital, though.”

“No,” says Norman. “Those were fan-tailed ravens, native to Egypt. There’s a passage in the Koran that indicates that a raven taught Cain how to bury his dead brother. The fact that they’re flying in our direction is . . . well. Death travels with us.”

Cheery Patterson is still beside herself, having just witnessed, we find out, the detonation of her best friend. Dupond leans in and gives her a quote from Hawthorne: “All brave men love; for he only is brave who has affections to fight for, whether in the daily battle of life, or in physical contests.” He consoles her the best he can.

He spends a point of his Reassure pool to calm her and forge a relationship.

We drive for another hour or so, and come across the husk of what used to be lovely manor house, but which has since been shelled into oblivion. It is our military field hospital, surrounded by at least six tents, acting as portable triage and medical centers.

The unkindness of ravens has preceded us here. They decorate the landscape, perching on the tents, roofs, and other places where they can find purchase. The wounded PCs are placed in separate areas, and Dr Hampton is shuffled off to serve his purpose.

Norman overhears a man wandering around, shaking a reliquary of some sort at the ravens and the wounded. “To the scavenger of death, may you weigh each heart to be judged.” An unfamiliar phrase catches Norman’s ear. “What are you trying to save them from?,” Abd Nazari says in Arabic. “To keep the soul going in the right direction; we can pray to many gods,” the man notes. Clearly a reference to Anubis.

An obviously-frocked Catholic priest is traveling from area to area, giving blessings where possible, and Last Rites where not. He mutters darkly when Abd Nazari passes, noting “heathen should not be allowed in a good Christian hospice.”

Gibbs, a devout Catholic, engages him in conversation, and sympathizes with the priest, noting that such burdens are part of our journey here. The priest notes that the Arab is a lackey of Zenna Borden, an apparently “untouchable” nurse who is well-liked by Ogilvy, the head nurse – that in itself an oddity. “She seems strangely incompetent, even in this place. I’ve said too much, my son. Thank you for the cigarette.”

The GM calls for a Sense Trouble roll from Gibbs, who spends a point and nails it with a 7.

At the edge of his vision, he sees one of the injured, who was apparently hovering outside the tent, and clearly overhead the conversation, bolt away from the “arm tent” to the “leg pit.” Gibbs casually strolls after him, not obviously following him.

Nate notes he’s Shadowing, and chooses to spend 2 points. Rolls a total of 3.

Gibbs is stopped at the entrance by a fairly burly looking nurse, who tries to redirect him back to the “arm” tent. Hampton declares that Gibbs is less injured than he seems, and is serving as my assistant, since we’re understaffed.

This puts Gibbs, Norman, and Hampton in the same tent, at least for a moment. “What brings you to the leg tent?” Tensions between the good Father and the Arab praying to Anubis, and the eavesdropping stranger. Nothing more develops from this at the moment.

As Dupond wanders the grounds on his own, he notes the ravens almost seen to follow the funeral processions of the stream of dead and dying. As he walks, he notes that the dead are being buried in what seems to be old Roman ruins – an oddity.

Matt spends a point of his Architecture pool.

While the space was wide and open on the surface, it clearly showing Roman funerary stones. A piece of metal sticking out from the ground looks to be a bronze case used to hold parchment or something. Opening it, a piece of mouldy parchment is revealed, showing pictures that seem fairly meaningless at the time. He tucks the scroll case into his pack, for later study.

As Dupond tours the grounds, he encounters a uniformed Lieutenant, with a massive head wound, who is hobbling purposefully in his direction. As they pass, Dupond tips his hat politely, and the wounded Frenchman greets him back, saluting as much as he can. “You appear to have been gravely wounded, Lt.”

“Yes, I am Maurice Bowles. My sight is truly limited, and I would do well to return to my bed before night falls – I can not navigate the grounds except in brightest day.”

Matt spends another point of his Reassurance pool to bond with him.

Maurice takes Dupond’s reassurance and kind words graciously, and notes subtly that he has heard of a way to restore his sight, and if Dupond comes by his room later, he can discuss it in more detail.


We end there, since the pacing of the adventure suggests that this is a good stopping point.’

Gumshoe and Trail of Chthulhu: First Impressions

It’s been a long time since I’ve really learned a new game system. I restarted Pathfinder recently, but I cut my teeth on Dungeons and Dragons, so I was familiar enough with it to slide right in.

GUMSHOE, now. I’m not sold on the mechanics of it, yet. The pool-based system is . . . odd. The way it seems to work is that everyone is more or less equally good at things, except for the few times per adventure when you can spend your supply of skill pool. For Investigative skills, if you have the skill, you get certain clues, and can spend points from that pool to improve things, get more information, etc.

It was our first adventure, so I’ll withhold judgement, but my first impression, based on incredibly limited play time, is that GURPS‘ skills plus Destiny Points allow you to (for example) consistently be a better doctor than others, but also whip out a few narrative successes at critical times, much like spending from the pool provides. Right now, I feel like anyone could roll the same 1d6 and have a 50% chance of success.

I’ll presume that most people won’t attempt a no-pool roll, and that drama and implicit niche protection prevents this from happening. And I’m also such a newbie with the system that I can’t yet form a judgement. We’ll see what happens next time.

Observation gets a lot of confusion and hate on the boards due to some fluff text in the beginning. Still, what’s going on with Perception and other perception-based skills? When should each be used?


As far as I can tell, this one is simply sensory acuity, with a small side-order of data processing. One can make a pretty good argument that any Vision roll higher than 12 for humans is processing, rather than native resolution, which turns this on its head and suggests that while the first 10 points in Per is sensory acuity, anything beyond that is interpretive skill. That would make +2 Per a legit thing from a purely “my equipment is better,” but after that, a GM would be within his rights to treat further levels as a Talent, at 10 points/level, maximum 4 levels!

That last point isn’t a recommendation or a “do it this way!” or complaint about the price of Perception. I’ve not seen it break any games or even cause WTF moments. It’s just that for realistic/biomechanically accurate humans, there are actual hard limits that seem to correspond well to about two levels of natural ability, and then beyond that, the “wow, this guy’s really good at this” factor kicks in from processing and interpretation, which seems really a lot like the Reaction bonuses Talent gives you.

Per-based Skills

So, checking out the skills list, which skills are based off of Perception? What is the primary purpose of each skill?

  • Blind Fighting (Per/VH): Allows one roll per turn to be able to make an attack or defense in darkness.
  • Body Language (Per/A): Can use it like Empathy (p. B51) or Detect Lies (p. B187).
  • Detect Lies (Per/H): Gives a yes/no on whether the subject is lying to you.
  • Esoteric Medicine (Per/H): Somewhere between First Aid and super-healing. Interesting that this is a Per skill, but Diagnosis is not. 
  • Fishing (Per/E): Ability to catch fish.
  • Lip Reading (Per/A): See what others are saying within 7 yards.
  • Observation (Per/A): Obtain details that are tactically significant when contemplating dangerous or “interesting” action. May require another roll to put it all together.
  • Scrounging (Per/E): Find, salvage, or improvise needed equipment.
  • Search (Per/A): The ability to perform a hands-on or electronically assisted search for items concealed on a person, vehicle, bag, etc.
  • Survival (Per/A): The Per-based utility of this skill is to find water, food, shelter, and avoid hazards. Best direction to travel to find (or avoid) particular terrain features.
  • Tracking (Per/A): Follow a man or animal by its tracks
  • Urban Survival (Per/A): The physical part of staying alive in a city. Find (rain)water, manholes, building exits and entrances, find a warm place to sleep, and a host of other things.

Per-default Skills
Fishing (Mythos) (Per/VH)

As opposed to those with Per as a base, which skills can also default from Perception. These are ordered by difficulty of the defaults.

Easy Skills
Fishing (Per-4)
Scrounging (Per-4)

Average Skills
Observation (Per-5)
Search (Per-5)
Survival (Per-5)
Tracking (Per-5)

Some furies are blinder than others

Hard Skills
Detect Lies (Per-6)
Esoteric Medicine (Per-6)

Average Skill with Strangely Huge Default Penalty
Lip Reading (Per-10)

No-default (you can’t use them without training)
Blind Fighting (Per/VH) – no default.
Body Language (Per/A) – defaults to other trained skills, not Perception.

Type of Skill

Looking at this same list, what is it that is in common with each Perception skill? Let’s break ’em down, but I’m definitely pre-judging my description here to make a point.

  • Blind Fighting (Per/VH): Interpretation of sensory inputs to give a location of a foe, as well as whether he’s attacking you.
  • Body Language (Per/A): Interpretation of sensory cues to determine whether subject is intentionally giving false information or acting in a way known to be out of character for him.
  • Detect Lies (Per/H): Interpretation of sensory cues to determine whether subject is intentionally giving false information.
  • Esoteric Medicine (Per/H): Interpretation of physiological and semi-mystical cues to heal. Plus actually healing someone.
  • Fishing (Per/E): Interpretation of environmental cues to locate the best place where fish are. Also the act of physically catching fish, knowing what lures/bait to use, etc.
  • Lip Reading (Per/A): Interpretation of physiological speech patterns to determine spoken message without hearing it.
  • Observation (Per/A): Interpretation of visual information, but with a very particular slant – that of understanding how to approach safely or stealthily, plus a notion of the tactical situation. 
  • Scrounging (Per/E): Knowing where to look for something, what can be usefully substituted, and getting it, if it can be gotten without undue effort.
  • Search (Per/A): Interpreting visual and touch-based clues to determine if someone’s hiding something. Also performing the actual search.
  • Survival (Per/A): Interpreting the local environmental cues to find basic necessities. Plus a strong side-order of knowing what to look for and how to get it.
  • Tracking (Per/A): Knowing how to interpret disturbances in the environment in order to track a man or beast.
  • Urban Survival (Per/A): Interpretation of location and environmental information in a city to ensure access to food, water, shelter, and safety.

The text that is not in italics seems to basically be “interpretation of sensory data” to me. The italicised text is notable for having non-informational content to it. Fishing being Per-based would suggest “hey, that’s a great place to catch fish,” but it also seems to let you do it (which might be DX-based), as well as know how (which sounds IQ-based). Search has a fairly strong IQ and DX component to it, and Esoteric Medicine lets you do a lot based on Perception, since it’s at least as good as First Aid, and could be a lot better, depending on the campaign.

When To Use Each One?

In short, I suspect that defaulting to Perception rolls to do more than see, hear, or smell something is giving too much credit to what seems to be an ability based on detection, not analysis or interpretation. Generically, if you want to munge detection and analysis into one roll, you’ll want to consider the odds of first detecting what you want to do, and then successfully interpreting it. Based on the defaults above, that’s a Per roll, followed by something that’s going to feel like Per-5.

Can you do that simply? 

Absolutely. If you want to make an instant (one-second) check in combat time to detect and interpret something that you are skilled in, simply roll vs. Per-6 to get that done. If you can take 30 seconds to look, then you may roll vs. Per-2 instead.

Both of these numbers are based on the odds of making a Per roll, then a Per-5 roll, and converting that backwards to a single penalty.

If you have the relevant interpretation skill at Per+1 or Per+2, you may roll for a one-second “detect and interpret” at a -1 penalty to skill, and if you have the interpretation skill at Per+3 or higher, you can always roll raw skill to detect and interpret.

That will give you an informed but cursory impression, and taking extra time can be used to give a higher margin of success.

Parting Shot

In general, and especially in combat, rolls to get actionable information, as opposed to “I see an orc” should always be based on a skill, rather than raw Perception. In fact, I’d probably want to really start to limit the use of raw Per to give anything but yes/no answers, and require some significant margin of success on a roll to get game-useful detail.


Finally, Observation gets a lot of crap on the boards due to a lead-in sentence that could probably use some killin’. Here’s what it says:

This is the talent of observing dangerous or “interesting” situations without letting others know that  you are watching.

and here’s what it really means/should say:

This is the talent of observing dangerous or “interesting” situations.

If you can get over any interpretation based on the “letting others know that you are watching” thing, then your life as a player or GM will be much easier. In short, Observation is the skill of knowing what to look for in a tactical way about clusters of people, or architecture/landscape. What to do about it may be Tactics or Intelligence analysis. Observation lets you collect facts.

What facts? I’d hazard (but not limit) someone with Observation can tell by looking:

  • The militarily relevant count of a group of people (platoon strength, battalion strength)
  • The nature and pace of sentries
  • Good spots for security systems or traps, including minefields; a yes/no might not be available on their actual presence, but good places to put them will be revealed
  • Potential approach avenues for assaults or sneaky movement

To do this without being seen, you will need to make use of Stealth and Camouflage, and cannot just rely on a good Observation check. Or Acting. The one exception is if you’re using Observation to check out a person more or less in plain sight, I would not (on a success) have the svelte bodyguard come up and give you a beatdown for eyeballing her. You’d get that info “without letter her know you are watching.”

I’m nearly positive that bit of fluff text is there for that reason, and not to have Observation somehow act as a proxy for Stealth and/or Camouflage.

Sorry for the hiatus in the issue review. I was on vacation, and more or less out of contact with computers and stuff. I did get in a major edit of a Pyramid article I’m writing, which was good, but by and large I was unplugged save for my cell phone. And my TF300 tablet. And a laptop. But relatively speaking, I was away from my computer.

Yeah, I’m not buying it either.

Anyway, this brings to a conclusion the full-issue review of Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay. As I said when I started, this issue, from front to back, is on-topic for this blog. Plus, of course, I kinda had an article in it, which means everyone should go buy it. Maybe twice.

Random Thought Table ( +Steven Marsh ): 
Make Each Shot Count

Steven’s weekly endnote to each issue is tied to the theme being presented. He’s not a crunch guy, at least in the RTT, and so he’s often discussing the in-and-out of plot development and story pacing. This RTT is no exception. He talks about the methods for keeping the focus on the guns, and the plot, and the plots about guns.

Be Resourceful

This section takes some time to discuss how to play fast and loose with something that is usually subject to strict resource management constraints. It also turns this on its head, with a question for those of us with little time or patience for bean-counting: If you’ve already decided that you’re not going to track shots, how do you introduce and make fun a section of an adventure where ammo management is the key plot point?

The Section Title So Long I’m Not Even Going To Try

But it’s a good pun. Well, sorta: When a Wound Makes a Guy Lycanthrope Up and Die, That’s Ammo-y. You be the judge.

You’ll see what I did there in a minute.

A very short shout-out to when it’s not the gun, or the amount of ammo or total quantity of dakka in question, but the kind. When your target is a werewolf, or something that Just Won’t Die unless you shoot it with a rocket launcher or something, then the plot revolves not around lots of bullets, but just a few of a special type, at the right moment.  And what’s more, if you don’t use them, perhaps you can keep them around as loot or a life insurance policy. One of the hardest things for some players to do is to use up expendable but non-replaceable items. So make them have to do it, make them want to, but make them also realize that yes, they’re using a precious resource that they might need later on.

Our Greatest Fear . . . A Dusty Corridor

Some guns harder to clean than others

Weapons require cleaning (though some weapons less and some more than others), and focusing on the need for maintenance, and what can happen when it’s not done, is a plot point that has little to do with the usual Acc, Dmg, 1/2D Range, Bulk type of statistic. Ensuring that they go boom when they are so commanded, and realizing that having to take the time and effort to service the firearms carried, is an important part of real-world gun care and feeding, and ensuring that spare moments are actually occupied with this makes sense. Especially if the PC is supposed to be a Tier One operator or something.

Shoot Carefully

I’m shocked, shocked that the quote used wasn’t “Hey, Ryan, be careful what you shoot at. Most things in here don’t react too well to bullets.” – Captain Ramius (Sean Connery), The Hunt for Red October. Perhaps it was too trite. But the helium example? Helium doesn’t combust with anything. Perhaps the goal was irony.

But one way to enact serious gun control is to make it so that every shot that doesn’t go to plan is a serious risk. They did it in Red October, and they did it as well in Aliens, where the standard bullets in the pulse rifles were 10mm explosive-tipped caseless rounds. Under a giant power plant where apparently even a small containment breach would trigger a 40 megaton explosion. In a fusion reactor. Maybe it was the audience’s Willing Suspension of Disbelief that exploded? But I digress.

Plenty of Shots, Not Much Time

Finally, in a quick text box that is probably barely longer than some of the notes in this mini-review, Steven notes that one way to keep the tension and ignore number of bullets is to focus on having a very, very limited time frame to accomplish a goal. He (correctly) points out that one or two seconds of GURPS combat, enough for everyone to have gone once in the usual “GURPS turns are interleaved and hard to figure out until everything’s over” way, can take a long time to resolve, and thus create much more tension than might be expected.

Parting Shot

While not rules-centric, the overall points are well made. Roleplaying game characters do not very often have that hesitation to start gunfights, seemingly are immune to legal structures, and frequently can – or are even expected to – resolve nearly any situation with violence. Bringing a sense of tension back to this can required emphasizing different aspects of the firearm, not just “how much damage does it do, if you can hit” but also “can you get through the fight with limited resources intact” or even “can you get through the next ten fights with enough resources intact.

Odds and Ends

The final page in the issue points out other places where you can find bullets that are exotic that are already published in GURPS books, including Horror, High-Tech (the original and both Pulp Guns volumes), Monster Hunters, Loadouts: Monster Hunters, Low-Tech, and – oddly enough – Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables.
Ballistic’s Report

This issue rocked on toast. Every single article was well written and/or filled with good stuff. It had the first part of what could easily have been a full e23 supplement on the Modern Warfighter. It had everything you could have ever wanted to know about one of the most famous attack helicopters ever. It had a gun company (for use as a patron or supplier) and a historical example of a gun that didn’t hit it’s target marketing-wise, and could break your shoulder and set your ship on fire to boot. It contained a lot of detailed optional rules for those whose willing suspension of disbelief does not extend to dodging bullets. For the supernatural set, it listed some things to blow out of the muzzle that aren’t jacketed lead or mild steel. To wrap it up, the editor points out that firearms are plot devices as much as they are instruments of destruction, and a wise GM will treat them as both.

I’m biased towards such, but this was a great issue, and the title “Gunplay” doesn’t really do justice to the breadth of material it covers. In fact, the only article that really dealt with actual gunplay is my own. The rest are equipment-based or plot-based, and more broadly useful than the issue’s moniker might think!