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

by ~solon-deviant Photography / Urban & Rural / Cityscapes & Skylines
City of Carcassonne, photographed by air, south-west France.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yow. Stupid ninja monks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She glances

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

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

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

Dawn: “The honor is mine of fighting alongside you.
Tales of your deeds were sadly understating your skill and abilities.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin: They also explode.

In Dungeon Fantasy, apparently these guys are mooks.

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

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

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

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

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

Staver: “So, like, don’t sneeze.”

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

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

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

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

Aw, crap. Really? Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thumvar: “Charming, diabolist art deco theme!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the sword?

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


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

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

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

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

Cadmus: Under no circumstances will I give a towel to the
hot Nymph who has voluntarily created a wet T-shirt contest with freezing cold
water. I’m Holy, not dead.

Michel: What he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brother Michel watches her technique closely

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

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

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

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

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

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


What would it be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                          -Jayne Cobb

This is mostly just a bit of idle musing. Last time I played +Nathan Joy‘s DF campaign, +Theodore Briggs‘s character, Thumvar, got hit with a spell (Burning Death, for what it’s worth) that made him roll vs. HT every turn, or else terrible consequences would ensue.

In other areas, I have mused about the cost of HT before. In this post discussing The Last Gasp, I noted the following breakdown of things that HT influenced, and a commentary on overall pricing.

Fixed and Knowable Costs

While breaking down certain GURPS abilities into component parts is chancy, here’s one way to look at it:

  • Fatigue Points: 3 points/level
  • Basic Speed: 20 points per level, requires +4 HT for each +1: 5 points/level
  • Action Points (from The Last Gasp): 2 per level.

These are fixed costs, but only the first two are firmly defined in GURPS Basic Set. Action Points is from my own article; we pegged it at 2/level, but that’s soft.
Thus, the FP and Basic Speed components of HT cost 8 points per level. Toss in my Action Points pricing and that’s 10 per level (which argues that if the pricing of HT is fine as-is, if you play with AP it should go up to minimum 12/ level.
OK, but there are other components to HT, which are harder to pin down for actual costs. Mainly, they’re
  • The ability to make HT rolls (resisting poisons, knockdown and stunning, consciousness rolls, and death checks, checking for fatigue and other resisted conditions)
  • HT-based skill rolls
That first one is interesting, since there’s a lot of game-relevant utility there. That being said, let’s come back to it.

There 11 HT-based skills in the Basic Set. If you were to buy a Talent covering that many skills, it would cost 10 points per level.

However, and this is an important point, you buy a Talent as part of characterization, and you want and will seek to use all – or most – of the skills in it. So the list of skills you get with HT come along for the ride, and thus are probably worth half or a quarter of the base price of a Talent (plus you don’t get the ‘look cool doing it’) factor.

On the other hand, let’s suppose that the cost of the ability to buy skills with attributes is discounted by 1/2 to 3/4 because it’s just more efficient to train everything having to do with fitness or coordination than do one thing at a time. So the cost of all HT skills is 3-5 points (5-7 less than above, or 7-9 less if you also strip out AP). 3 points per +1 to all HT-related skills (again, 11 of them) seems just too low. In fact, the basic 5-10 points per level you’d get for a basic Talent is still a great deal. I choose to settle on roughly 5 points/level for the “boost to HT-related skills” piece, recognizing that not all of these are useful, and +1 to a defaulted skill goes mostly from “really sucks” to “sucks slightly less.”

That means that without considering the HT-based rolls to resist Stun and Knockdown, Stay Conscious, or Not Die, you’re lookat at 13 points/level at the low end (no AP), or 20 points/level with the cost of Action Points and paying 10 per level for skills. If we split differences and indulge in pentaphilia, we get 15 points/level as a base cost.

Persistence of Action

There is yet another, and a very important, part of the HT attribute, which is the ability to persevere in the face of hardship. This includes HT rolls to keep running or avoid fatigue, but in most cases it will be the rolls you make to avoid getting stunned and/or knocked down in combat, to stay conscious and/or alive when wounded badly.

GURPS already gives pricing for bonuses to some of these via Advantages like Hard to Kill and Hard to
Subdue. However, first consider that there are two kinds of these rolls.

  • One-Time HT Checks: If you pass these, you’re OK. Keep acting. Death checks and stun/Knockdown checks.
  • Repeated Rolls: You have to do these every turn. Resisting certain spells (like the aforementioned Burning Death) or rolls to stay conscious each turn if you’re at negative HP.
One-Time Pricing

Well, this seems fairly straightforward. This is a combination of +1 to rolls to not die (Hard to Kill at 2 points per +1) and +1 to avoid Knockdown and Stunning (High Pain Threshold has 10 points for +3 to such rolls, or about 3 points/level). Boom, an extra 5 points/level for an equivalent bonus to HT.
Non-linear Impacts

A small mathematical digression. Both the one-time and repetitive pricing seems OK, perhaps, at first. The pricing is basically right there in the Characters book, and is all I have to do is note that Hard to Subdue is 2 points per level, and that’s it. Add ’em up. 20 points/level for HT at the low end of the scale, and as high as 27 points/level on the high end.
Thing is, it’s not quite that simple in play. You can look at HT rolls, especially the ones you have to make every round, in the inverse way: how many rolls can you make until you fail one?
For consciousness rolls, this question is “how many rounds of actual action can you do until you’re killed or eaten” in many worlds. So the non-linear nature of these rolls for HT from 10 through 16 (17 or 18 always fails, so it stops there) is key.
For death checks, you get into the “not dead until you hit auto-death at -5xHP” thing, which caps how many death checks you’ll really make. But how many rolls extra do you get?
Well, that many. 
So you can see the results in the HT scores of player interest are strongly non-linear. HT 11 is not that big of a deal. On the average, you get less than one extra roll before you’ll fail one. So booyah, you get one extra turn to act before you get KO’d, and you’ll pass one extra death check.
I actually look at the first as more important than the second. If you get KO’d, you’re out of the fight and if your side doesn’t win, you’ll face death at your foes’ whim.
Still, you can also look at it another way. You get effectively extra HP to keep fighting until auto-death sets in. Those are 2 points/level, and at 10 HP you could say that’s worth about 2 points x 10 HP x number of extra rolls. This maxes out at the number of increments from -HP to -5xHP, or about 40 HP for the ST 10 person, 50 for a ST 12 warrior, etc. 
I’d not do that, though, because you’re talking “extra HP that only work if you stay conscious.” So they’re rather heavily limited. 
The KO roll, though. That is valuable. It’s how many extra seconds (turns) you can stay fighting.

But how many points is an extra turn worth? Well, it’s potentially an attack and a defense per round, which would normally cost about 2 AP or 4 points. At minimum it’s probably a 2-point base for the equivalent of Hard to Subdue.

Cut to the Flippin’ Chase

The game value of higher HT might look like this:
Where HT 13, while costing 30 points by the Basic Set rules, is probably worth in excess of 70 points in terms of the additional oomph it gives characters. 
Why does it drop down so hard at the end? You’re out of the non-linear region, and you’re just buying a boost to avoid penalties. Maybe that says “20 points/level” for HT 17 and higher, since that does have value.
Would I price things like this? Um, no. But an increase to a flat value of a minimum of 20 (like DX and IQ) to an upper limit of around 30 points/level for HT seems to better reflect the game utility. If you want to simplify quite a bit, Fit is +1 to all HT rolls, plus the ability to recover FP twice as fast (!!). That would put HT at about 20 points/level, if we ignore recovering 10 FP in 50 minutes instead of 100 (both are “we have downtime, poof I’m not tired anymore). 

Back to Thumvar, the Dungeon Fantasy Knight. His HT 13 – not even extreme – allowed him to shake off the effects, turn by turn, of a pretty nasty spell. Characters with Supernatural Durability pay 150 points to be completely immune to shock, physical stun, and knockout. You have HPT included already. And you get to fight all the way down to -10xHP, all at once. And you can only be killed by a particular item.

So, perhaps that’s worth more – maybe 200-300 points (which seems like too many). Supernatural Durability is priced equivalently to HT 25, which according to the above chart would be a lower bound of about 275 points, so maybe not that off.
Or, no matter what math you want to play, diminishing returns sets in, and you shouldn’t price HT more than 20 or 25 points per level. 
Parting Shot
If HT is worth 20-30 points per level, aren’t DX and IQ, which give boosts to so many skills, worth even more? Possibly, possibly. 
Another time, perhaps.

We picked up with the same server errors we ended with, and 45 minutes after game start, we finally fixed them and got to it.

Are you smarter than a SM+1 Troll?
We faced two nine-foot-tall Trolls (not the end-of-pencil kind), and Brother Michel engaged them in conversation.

Michel: “Hello there. Listen, can we go through? We’re in a hurry.”
GM:  The lead one cocks his head. “Go…. through?” 

His oversize nose twitches as he draws in a lungful of air.

Michel: “Great! Step aside, would you?” (Brody! Help!)
Brody: “My friend is a great and powerful wizard. If you step aside for him, he will bless you with great prowess in battle and virility in all your years. If you don’t, he’ll probably do something unspeakably horrible that I won’t want to watch. It’s really best if you step aside – or better yet, join us! We can pay you.”

The trolls look confused. The entire notion of “pay” has gone right by them. And yet . . . 

GM:  “Pay…. what?”

Michel eyes Brody suspiciously.

Brody: “We’ve got piles of valuable fur upstaiirs. You can have them! Warm, comfortable, just the thing to attract a fine troll woman, eh?”

The lead troll seems to consider this thoughtfully.

GM: “Warm.” He nods. “WARM!”

Brody:  “Very warm!”

They step back out of the way.

Kevin asked why aren’t we simply killing these guys again? I mean, trolls. We note that Michel won’t let us. (in fact, Michel notes that he just doesn’t want to fight these guys). Cadmus won’t interfere with critters unless they are trying to interfere with Fate. Or him, but that counts, since he’s on a holy quest.

So we give up 300-odd pounds of furs that we really weren’t looking to carry home to avoid murderizing two trolls. It’s a tangled web we weave. I’m certain this will come back to haunt us. Everything else does.

Or maybe not. The troll behind the one who made the deal makes a questioning noise, and the lead troll casually backhands him with his club, sending him flying back into the room beyond. The second troll picks himself up, and Michel sees a forearm that is bent nearly in half from the blow straighten itself with a series of sickening cracks. There’s a fight worth avoiding. Looks like troll fights are destined to be “long, and ultimately indecisive.” ( +Theodore Briggs )

The trolls look at us like we owe them something. Which, of course we do.

Brody: “Well, that was easy then. Your furs are upstairs, but our business is in here – follow us, we’ll bring you to them. You got a name, chum?”


Brody moves to the nearby iron door and nails it, picking the lock with a critical success. Meanwhile, those of us (Cadmus, Thumvar) not carefully eyeing the trolls in case they suddenly display their true nature are watching Brody work the lock.

Warm stares at us with flat, dull eyes. The door clicks open, and Brody decides that he never goes through a door whose lock he’s just picked first. Solid survival skills, that one.

The ceiling of this grand chamber rises twenty feet overhead, its heavy beams serving as both rafters and supports for the great hall above. Teak paneling covers the walls, and the floor is of polished wood. Along the walls, wooden columns rise to the ceiling above, bearing banners emblazoned with pictograms from far-off Tian Xia. Above these hang small oil lamps that give off a dim glow. A small porcelain bowl rests before the center column to the south, and four reed mats are arranged before it.

Naturally, as we enter, the wood paneling squeaks loudly. Per rolls are called for. Sigh.

GM:  Brody recognizes the Tian pictographs as being representative of various martial philosophies from that land.
Staver: I actually can read Broken Tian

+Douglas Cole : ((We’re in the freakin’ dojo of the Cobra Kai, aren’t we?))
+Nathan Joy : ((Just a lil))

All the PCs but Cadmus notice that the sides of the pillars are very rough, nearly unfinished. We suspect “Eye of the Tiger” or “Fight for your Honor” is about to start playing, and the ever-watchful Brody is looking out for the ninjas that keep trying to disembowel him. We also suspect that these are support beams for the hall upstairs. Wooden support beams. Ick – wish they were stone.

Warm the Pet Troll is following Brody around like a rabid puppy. 

Brody asks him “What’s in here.”
The troll ominously replies “Quiet.” 

A. Freakin’. Troll. Wants us to be quiet. Crap.

There are a ton of doors in this room; the first unlocked door swings open silently to Brody’s subtle nudge. It is a shrine to the Yama King – the same deity the bird-ninja’s of Alcatraz were worshipping earlier.

Brody:  “Right, Ninja bedroom. Check the others, see if there’s anything interesting.”
Michel: “Shouldn’t you stab the bed and the space and everything? Just in case?”
Brody: “If I was going to get stabbed, it would have happened by now.”
Thumvar: “Riiight, now you’ve done it”
Michel: “I suppose, but they’re sneaky.”

Brody’s probably not wrong. As a hedge, Thumvar and Brody open all doors that are openable, and they all have the same double-mats and shrine to the Yama King, patron deity of assassins. Yay. We find 10 small jade raven statues, one per mat. Only ornamental; they become loot.

Michel:  I may be honest, but I’m greedy, and I think statues belonging to devotees of the god of murder are clearly the former property of outlaws. 

Michel scored +1 Rationalization point.

Epic Ninja Battle
We continue to search the area, and Michel opens up the door that Cadmus refrained from opening, due to its being different.

GM: Hokay, Cadmus is gazing curiously into the empty cell.
Michel: Taps the walls of the empty, smaller cell with the blunt end of his glaive.
GM: Michel starts to walk towards him, when a bunch of small gray objects come flying down from the rafters.

And here we go . . . Staver has received initiative.

Cadmus: I hate to say it, but “Shields UP”
Michel: “Gozreh’s wings!”
Staver: Oh boy.
GM: They impact the ground near you all. Two near Brody, four near Staver, Cadmus, and Michel, and two near Warm and Thumvar. As the small objects impact the floor, they detonate.
Cadmus: And everyone heard me say “this door’s different,” right?

Yeesh. Four HT-3 rolls called for. Cadmus fails three of the four. Warm makes his. Michel fails two of four, Thumvar fails one, Staver fails a few, and we’re all Stunned. Yeesh. Thumvar burns a destiny point to not be stunned, because he only failed the one roll. The rest of us have to make a single HT-3 roll to recover. With a 37% chance to succeed with effective HT 9, I should wake up in 2-3 rounds on the average.

Plenty of time for us to get murderized. Well, perhaps it was Cadmus’ fate.

Eight figures roll out of the rafters up above, and all of them throw spears at Thumvar. Now, granted, Thumvar has DR 14 or so between his tough gargoyle hide and a bunch of plate armor. But that’s a lot of spears, and all potentially hit (thrown with Skill-16!). The four un-defendable hits for 8, 11, 6, and 7 impaling – but all “ping” off his torso armor. Thumvar reflexively blocks the flanking spears (one successfully) and dodges one of the others. The final two hit for 10 and 11, but again go “ping.”

That’s a lot of bouncing spears. Thumvar’s hard to hurt.

+Mark Langsdorf : Good job drawing aggro, Ted. I approve!
+Theodore Briggs : Woot! ninjas need to work out more. New armor? Totally worth every penny.

Thumvar makes up for the spear barrage by flying up and doing a Heroic Flying Axe Cut to one of these guys’ left legs, and he fails to parry. 17 cutting damage and he plummets to the floor, leaving a trail of arterial red. Booyah.

Cadmus rolls to recover from stun, and critically succeeds. Nate +Nathan Joy

lets me act this turn as a result; Cadmus’ nearest foe is one yard over . . . and seven up. He prays to Pharasma to drive evil from him. This is Enhanced Protection from Evil, which will force malign evil stuff away from me based on my margin of success. I hope to make some of these guys fall down off their perches. We’ll see.

Michel unstuns himself; Brody does not.

Cadmus’ nearest oppressor flings three objects at him, which burst into flame when they hit him. No cut damage, but 9 burn, 8 of which fails to get through his torso armor, but 1 burn does, so I’m on fire. Yay. -2 DX and 1d-4 damage per turn, with a ready maneuver and a DX roll required to put it out.

Staver is, alas, still stunned.

Two monks scurry along handholds and grab at Thumvar with two hands each. He blocks and dodges the first monk successfully, succeeds and then Critically Succeeds an Axe Parry with the second, who is not wounded thanks to some sort of arm protection. Guess this monster saw the recommendations in Technical Grappling. Meanwhile, Cadmus completes his prayer, and will push away evil within a 9-yard radius. We’ll see if they’re evil. He also burns for 1 HP. Being on fire isn’t much fun.

Michel steps and concentrates, casting a Concussion spell, trusting Thumvar to withstand the blast.

Thumvar drops down and chops at his stunned foe (results of the critical parry) with a massive deceptive attack, which his foe fails to dodge. This results in an atypically low 9 cut damage, just shy of his minimum. Alas. Thumvar sad; he makes himself happy by spending a Knight! point for a re-roll, and it mysteriously becomes 18 cut (which is his MAX roll, so booyah). Major wound, yep: prone, stunned, bleeding heavily. But not dead, so yow, because unarmored that’s 27 injury – so he’s got some protection under them robes.

Brody is still stunned. Warm actually tees off on a ninja with a deceptive attack from the flank. The nimble little minx dives forward and dodges. The figure that has been flinging firebombs at Cadmus rolls around the side of a beam and disappears. No telling if this is because of Cadmus’ prayer. None of the monks flee, but many reposition themselves around our party, “breathtakingly fast,” so says the GM.

Thumvar is up, and goes and lands to conserve fatigue. Cadmus chops at the neck of a nearby foe, who parries. Michel steps up next to Cadmus and lobs his stunball and rereadies his glaive. Five monks and Warm all have to make HT-3 rolls. Two monks fail, as does Warm. Alas. Still, two stunned, three still in the fight. And our troll is going to be pissed at us.

Staver, having recovered from stun, and launches two arrows, one each at the vitals of two foes. The first ducks under the arrow, the second is stunned and flanked and takes 8 imp to the vitals; the Major Wound check at -5 goes in our favor, and he’s down and out of the fight.

That was Team Ameiko; Team Shadow Monk is now up. Both of those stunned but not out recover from their stun and will act again next turn. Sadness. They fail to gang up on us, and one goes after Cadmus, one on Michel, and the last (likely soon to be departed) vs. Thumvar. They all swing their kamas at us (which I mistake for kusari, and block rather than parry), and all are successfully defended against. Go Team Ameiko. . . but Cadmus needs a breather to get his Righteous Fury on.

Thumvar swoops over his foe for a flying flank attack, doing his trademark Dual-Weapon Attack with his shield and axe. That’s total of -7 on the defense rolls (-2 flank, -2 above, -1 DWA, -2 DA). Flippy ninja monk dodges the shield, eats the axe for 14 cut. He does not suffer stun/knockdown from his major wound. He’s hurting but not out.

Cadmus steps back and gets his Righteous Fury on. Next turn he’ll roll 1d6 three times, and (GM house rule) assign the rolls as he likes. I almost always go DX, ST, HT.

Michel steps back, shifts his glaive to Reach 2, and stabs from a distance, keeping to Cadmus’ far flank (always hide behind the meat shield). Monk does a dodging retreat, and makes it easily.

Brody still fails to recover from stun. I offer to burn an unspent character point for him, just so Kevin can do something – handwave it as praying, but anything to get him back in the game.

A dart flies out of the darkness at Thumvar’s back . . . but misses. Stupid monk leader person.

Staver fires two arrows at two targets, and the one with the shock penalty gets hit – it barely penetrates his side. They must have DR 4-6. Cadmus should do pretty well with Shrivener’s (2) armor divisor, if he can ever lay a blade on these guys. If he can rock out with a good boost to DX, he can start Rapid Striking at full skill and/or major Deceptive bonus.

One of the monks starts waving his hands in a Hypnotic pattern at Thumvar, who loses the contest by 11 thanks to a really good roll by the Monk. Stunned for 11 turns. Yow. There goes our most effective combatant.

Cadmus’ foe tries to knock Shrivener away and also chops at his torso; Cadmus parries and dodges. He takes a whack at his nearest foe, then a long step (Committed Atack) at hypnotic hands guy. The first attack strikes home, though it’s a graze. But a graze with a named penetrating axe is still ugly. The second is dodged with a critical success. Cadmus can block or dodge at -2, but not parry.

Cadmus’ Righteous Fury takes effect, but only rolls 3,3,2. I use my Holy Warrior! point to reroll, for 4, 2, 2. Meh to both. But Cadmus is now DX 17, ST 16 (Striking ST 17), and HT 14. Not the best roll ever, but +4 to DX doesn’t ever hurt.

Brother Michel tries to chop at his nearest foe, that Cadmus hit and bypassed; despite his wounds, he dodges.

Brody still doesn’t recover from stun. Warm, on the other hand, must have recovered when we didn’t look, because he runs up and tackles one of the monks, slamming him into a wooden column. 

We call it a night.

Some out of character talk after the fight:

I note that I would really like to see what this sort of combat would have been lke with Action Points. Some of those “stunned for 10 rounds” might be better to take with people actually pausing for a few seconds to recover

Nate suggests that his next DF game would be “All clerical magic uses divine power, all arcane magic uses threshold based realm magic, and action points for everyone.”

We poll the audience for three house rules:  1) all afflictions get +1 per round to resist, 2) shock penalties effect defenses, and 3) shock penalties are halved (round down) each turn.

Pretty sure we’re definitely going to do #1, but probably pass on 2 and 3. We’ll see when we pick up the fight next week.

I’ve tuned up the look of the blog a bit recently. I created and added a logo. I moved a few things around and added some gadgets. I also renamed a few things, continuing the firearms-related theme found here.

I also came up with a new title for reviews, Ballistic’s Report. Thus far I’ve used it on one, count ’em, one review and read-through. I will certainly do more. FATE Core is on my list, as is revisiting some older GURPS releases, such as Action, which I’ve heard referred as “the most under appreciated publication in GURPS.”

We’ll see!

In addition, something happened last month.

Analytics shows pretty clearly that a control chart of my pageviews would have shifted mid-March. Not sure why (though I’m very glad!) but my traffic routinely pushed through 250 pageviews per day. On April Fool’s Day, I broke my all-time record (no, really – not a joke) with over 700 Blogger-views that day. Perhaps they were all robots; we’ll see what Analytics tells me. Still: more people than I’d have ever expected are dropping by to see what’s up. Of course, Blogger also gives me over 20,000 pageviews to Analytics’ 13,000, a 50% inflation factor. That’s a lot of Robot Overlords – but thanks for dropping by anyway.

I also joined the RPG Blog Alliance, as well as submitted an application to RPG Bloggers, which asks for three months of posting history before you apply. Well, at just under a post per day, on the average, I feel like I’ve kept up my end.

Finally, a word of thanks. I’ve had fewer than five challenging posts – even those disagreeing with me are largely doing it politely. That’s with something like 2,300 unique visitors, assuming that’s accurate. The encouragement of my fellow bloggers and visitors makes this worth doing for me, so again:

Thank you!

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

You can find the first installments here:


Classes (Barbarian – Monk)
Classes (Paladin – Wizard)

Skills (Appraise – Heal)
Skills (Intimidate – Use Magic Device)



Additional Rules

Chapter 7 is a bit of a hodge-podge. It includes a smorgasbord of rules that apparently don’t go well into any other chapter. A few round out character creation and capability. Overland travel and movement go here too, instead of in the Game-Mastering chapter (which is really about running games as opposed to playing games).

So, what’s contained in this a la carte menu of oddness?

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite:


Many words have been penned, and electrons slain, discussing (mostly disparaging, really) the D&D alignment system. Somewhere between a useful help to roleplaying and a terrible crutch, users of which are doomed to roll-play rather than role-play and likely wind up eating kittens.

I know evil is bad, but come on! Eating kittens is just plain . . . plain wrong, and no one should do it! Ever!
       -The Tick
Armless but not Harmless

In any case, your alignment is more or less your moral compass. Sort of. Except when it’s not. Maybe it’s a crossroad of morals (good – neutral – evil) and ethics (lawful – neutral –chaotic). Maybe not. In any case, the rules define a 3×3 matrix that defines certain game aspects, especially in a world where gods, demons, devils, monsters, and outsiders are real, powerful, and interact and intervene directly with humanity. So like it or not, it matters in game. A key bit is “alignment steps,” which are the number of horizontal and vertical motions (only – no diagonals) on that 3×3 table from where you are to what you’re interacting with. A cleric’s alignment must be within one step of the alignment of his or her deity.

The game defines two orthogonal axes for alignment: the Law-Chaos axis and the Good-Evil one, with neutral as a center point for each. Thus the three-by-three matrix. The book notes that evil alignments are not usually good for PCs, at which point legions of those who love playing evil PCs will chime in and say “bulls**t.” One of the things that is true is that disparate alignments, properly played, can (and maybe should) cause intraparty conflict including harsh language and death. It gives a brief description of each of the nine possible alignments, for which I will reproduce the one-line summaries from the book.

  • Lawful Good: Lawful good combines honor with compassion.
  • Neutral Good: Neutral good means doing what is good and right without bias for or against order.
  • Chaotic Good: Chaotic good combines a good heart with a free spirit.
  • Lawful Neutral: Lawful neutral means you are reliable and honorable without being a zealot.
  • Neutral: Neutral means you act naturally in any situation, without prejudice or compulsion.
  • Chaotic Neutral: Chaotic neutral represents freedom from both society’s restrictions and a do-gooder’s zeal.
  • Lawful Evil: Lawful evil represents methodical, intentional, and organized evil.
  • Neutral Evil: Neutral evil represents pure evil without honor and without variation.
  • Chaotic Evil: Chaotic evil represents the destruction not only of beauty and life, but also of the order on which beauty and life depend.

I’m going to nitpick. I think Neutral should be phrased as “naturally, without prejudice or restraint.” Or possibly “act according to natural imperatives, without prejudice or restraint.” Since animals that are going about the business of obtaining food, mates, shelter, and survival are usually classed as neutral, that’s probably how it’s intended. An animal doesn’t eat you because he’s evil, he does it because he’s hungry. A dog doesn’t avoid pooping on the carpet because it’s wrong, or poop on the carpet as a rebellion against The Man (though he may do so as a show of anti-dominance) – he does it because he has to poop, and that carpet seemed a pretty good place to do it.

Secondly, both Lawful Evil and Neutral Evil re-use “evil” in the definition, which is lazy and doesn’t help much, though the “Good Versus Evil” section notes “Evil implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others.”

The alignment rules certainly don’t capture the complexities of human behavior in many ways. If a character will make tremendous sacrifices of wealth and personal injury or death for one group of humans, but will kill or enslave others without compunction or remorse, that probably makes you Lawful Neutral. I suspect a lot of human cultures would fall here. The samurai, as an example – rigorously adhering to law, tradition, and a code of honor, but capable and willing to kill without a second thought, up to and including him or herself! Maybe Buddhism would be Neutral Good. I’ll stop there before I get myself into trouble, if I haven’t already.

“All models are wrong; some are useful.” 

This statement by George Box probably is where I’ll leave the alignment discussion. To the extent that the 3×3 matrix helps guide behavior, it’s useful. To the extent it structures the various interrelations between gods, men, and squidzillas, it is useful.

Vital Statistics

The last few things needed or wanted to round out a character.

Height, Weight, and Age

The game lays out some random methods for generating age, height, and weight. The tables tell me I’m 15 pounds overweight and suffering -1 to STR, DEX, and CON as well as +1 to INT, WIS, and CHA. Hrpmh. Not wrong, but ‘Hrmph.’


Encumbrance comes in two parts: that imparted by armor, and “everything else.” It notes that unless you’re weak and/or carrying a lot of gear (or loot!) only worry about the Armor Check penalties as well as modifiers from armor to movement speed.

If you are laden with stuff, you take the weight of all your gear, including armor, and compare it to the Carrying Capacity table. What does that tell you? At STR 10, you can lift 100 lbs. over your head, lift and stagger around at five feet per six seconds with 200 lbs., and under decent circumstances push or drag about 500 lbs. At STR 20, this is multiplied by four.

How would this compare to GURPS? Well, at 500-lbs, you can push or drag an object. GURPS sets this limit at 15xBasic Lift. If we set the two equal to each other (questionable), we’d decide that ST 10 in DnD is roughly ST 13 in GURPS. There have been arguments as to what “lift over the head” means for the GURPS usual 8xBasic Lift limit of things. If a STR 10 person in Pathfinder can press 100 lbs over his head, that might well be ST 10 or so in GURPS. At Pathfinder STR 20 (drag a freakin’ ton around, or press 400 lbs. over the head, that’s somewhere between ST 20 and ST 26). So the two aren’t that far off in that range, for what it’s worth.

It then gives the geometric progression for extending the table as well as how to modify height and weight for large and small critters.


The first paragraph is pretty key. It divides movement into Tactical, Local, and Overland, as well as defining movement rates at a Walk or Hustle, and two speeds of running (x3 and x4).

Tactical Movement
Much as I hate to say it, the movement rates are rather more inherently sensible than those assumed in GURPS. A walk is 3 yards per 2 seconds; a hustle is Move 3. Run x3 is for characters in heavy armor, and is about Move 3.5, while Run x4 is Move 6 in no armor, or about Move 4.5 in chainmail. I suppose you could just look at walking as using a “Step and . . . ” series of maneuvers (Move 1, or 2mph).
The book says that in combat, characters hustle or run instead. This is probably true, but it’s not realism, it’s fun/play that drives it. You want the kind of mobility that allows you to engage many foes in an interesting time frame. In a real fight, I don’t think you’d waste energy that way, but we’re not in a real fight, are we? That is, the reasons characters are not walking, but hustling or running are not obvious, as the book states – but that doesn’t prevent the statement from being true.
Local Movement
Pretty easy. You can walk or hustle as long as you want, but if you’re running, you can only run for as many rounds as your Con score without resting. At six seconds per round, that means you’re looking at a 1-2 minute interval. Hrm. Chapter 8 says it holds more about long-distance running.
Um, why not consolidate all the movement rules here? Or put them all into Combat? Weird.
Overland Movement
Mostly, this is about modifying your speed based on terrain, and lists it as mph or miles per day. Effective travel speeds in good terrain are:
  • Walk: 24 miles over an 8 hour period actually moving.
  • Hustle: You can hustle for an hour in between sleep periods, covering about 6 miles. Then if you don’t sleep, you take nonlethal damage in escalating amounts and become fatigued. Suck.
  • Run: You can’t. Tough noogies. Hustle instead.
Modifiers and other stuff? Sure:
  • Terrain: lowers movement rates. Check the chart.
  • Forced March: you can push yourself farther. Every hour, make a CON check at DC 10 +2 per hour, or take nonlethal damage. So with high CON, you can push yourself for a few more hours by default, which can make a big difference. I suspect Rangers rock here, as they should.
  • Mounted Movement: mounts take lethal damage for pushing at a hustle, and so can ride themselves to death. Forced march checks auto-fail. Ouch. Take care of your horses.
Evasion and Pursuit
Basically, “when it’s not obvious, make a CON check.”
This really covers two special cases: vision and light, and breaking things.
Vision and Light
Important take-aways from this section seem to be
Maglite of Power, +10
  • Stealth can’t be used in areas of bright light, including direct sunshine and the daylight spell
  • Normal light includes under a forest canopy in the daytime, torchlight within 20′, and the light spell
  • Dim light throws down a new concept (Concealment, a 20% miss chance) without a reference to the underlying mechanic (maybe you miss automatically on a roll of 1-4? Dunno, we’ll see). You can use Stealth to conceal yourself. Moonlit night, 20-40′ from a torch, or bright starlight.
  • Darkness: 50% miss chance, total concealment, no DX bonus to AC (big deal for Rogues), -4 to Perception checks based on sight, including STR and DEX based skill checks. Unlit dungeons, moonless nights, and most caverns.
Breaking Stuff
Smashing a weapon is done with a sunder combat maneuver. Smashing an object is an opposed sunder with the object’s AC. That’s 10+Size Modifier, -5 for being DEX 0, and an additional -2 for being inanimate. So basically 3+Size Mod. Auto-hit if you can line it up, or +5 to hit for a ranged weapon. OK.
Ah, but you have to overcome its hardness, which subtracts points of damage. Basically GURPS’ DR.
There are then a bunch of special cases, such as objects taking half-damage from ranged weapons that aren’t siege engines. Some of these are GM’s call. 
Nonmagical objects never make saving throws. 
You can also try and break something suddenly by making a STR check vs. the object’s DC (13 for a simple door, 23 for rope bonds, 28 for an iron door) which is on a table.
* * *
And that’s the chapter. 

GM: +Jeromy French
Players: +Douglas Cole +Matt Sutton +kung fu hillbilly +Joshua Taylor

We pretty much leaped directly into combat, crashing our ship into two others that were grappling together, a “fellow” pirate and their quarry.

We were able to pilot our ship unnoticed towards the two vessels, and slammed our ship into the smaller of the two, and the only one that was armed.

Pel started off the combat, quaffing an invisibility potion provided by Gimble ( +Joshua Taylor‘s character), who is our resident far-too-helpful alchemist (remember, this ability is the one that makes my inner destroyer of munchkin’s cry). Still, poof, I was gone and then I shot two arrows at the bad guys, Sneak Attack, and nailed him.

Malgrim ( +Matt Sutton)  I think cleaved two foes, Gimble set someone (or several someone’s) on fire, and then we saw that there were spellcasters involved on the other team. Alejandro ( +kung fu hillbilly ) rapiers him successfully and nails him with a dagger as well for about 12 points. Definitely got his attemtion.

Atori the magic watersnake misses; these guys have decent AC.

Gimble flings another firebomb at the guy who threw a ball of fire at him (not a fireball, but a ball of fire; definite difference). He hits, but some of the flame seems to actually absorb into his skin. Five other neighboring marines also are splashed with this flaming mix (alchemy bomb) and have to make DC 15 Reflex saves. At the end of the round, five foes are on fire, and no PCs were accidentally lit up. For Gimble, that’s a notable improvement.

Malgrim, who’s drunk a potion of bull strength, and usually operates under Enlarge Person, makes another good use of Reach and enlarge, does Great Cleave and kills two.

Pel looses two arrows at two targets, nearly gets a crit on one, but solid shots on both. He scores 14 points of Sneak Attack damage on each, killing both.

Malgrim draws fire from two marines, both of whom hit and land a total of 17 HP of damage. Two more run over to Alejandro, and another closes on Pel.

Bad guys’ attack. Atori the Wonder Worm gets slashed for 6 HP by a flaming marine. Marine8 attacks Pel for 5 HP. The twe marines facing Alejandro get all fancy against AC 19 and hit him for something like 16 HP.

Alejandro strikes back at one of his foes, hitting for 6 HP. Those on fire continue to burn for 7 HP each. Gimble himself casts Invisibility on Alejandro, and seeks the high ground (hey, it worked for Obi-Wan). Malgrim does his cuisinart impression, and misses both of his potential foes.

Pel tries to bluff his way into invisibility, rolls a 1 (still good for a 10), which means he is left to leap overboard (Pel swims like a fish), but takes 5 HP due to extreme bellyflopping, since Pel rolled 2 1’s in a row, this time for Acrobatics.

The two marines swing at the now-invisible (Concealed) Alejandro and miss. Two marines gang up on Atori the Wonder Worm and while the potential flanker misses (punk), the other hits for 6 HP.

Alejandro breaks his invisibility to hit a marine from the flank for 7 HP; Atori back-slithers and nails the marine-on-fire with 13 HP, killing him. Gimble casts Targeted Bomb Admixture on his stuff, which prevents them from getting all explody, and moves behind his quarry. Malgrim, however, Cleaves and kills two in a row again.

Pel climbs up the side of the ship with his Rope Master ability, and since he also has Fast Stealth, he rolls 31 for Stealth and becomes one with the background. This was basically the plan for leaping overboard. Turns out I do not swim like a fish; I misremembered something from Character Generation. Still, this is what I wanted. I’m all sneaky behind the captain, who seems pretty much like a badass.

Alejandro’s marine tries to slash at him, but drops his sword. (oops). Gimble’s foe chops at him, misses.

Alejandro swings and misses; Atori does another 13 HP of damage to his foe and flings the corpse overboard. Gimble drinks a potion of shield and runs through his foe’s space, and the attack of opportunity swings idly by. He throws a bomb directly on the captain, nailing her for 13 HP (and this will continue to burn for full damage rolls for three turns).

Pel sneaks over and fires two sneak attack arrows into the captain, both hit, and scores 34 HP. That’s all she wrote for the Captain, and the single most effective attack Pel’s ever thrown.

Someone comes up behind Alejandro and guts him for 10 HP, reducing him to -2 HP. The disarmed guy punches at Gimble (AC 25 now), provoking a decisively feeble return strike.

Atori eats the disarmed marine, while Gimble heals Alejandro with Cure Light Wounds, bringing him back to 9 HP and now suddenly hale and robust; Pel gives Alejandro another potion for another 8 HP.

The marine swings at Pel; he misses. Alejandro steps and casts Hold Person at the last man standing, which holds him successfully. We lash that marine to the (unburning) mast.

Most of the other ship’s cargo has already been transferred to the unburning ship by the pirates we just killed. So there are about 7-8 of the original sailors surived our attack, and another 14 from those we saved, plus about 25 on our own ship. Time to split crews. Pel and Alejandro crew the newly acquired vessel with the 14 we

The minimum crew for each ship to navigate is 20 people. So we’ve got 47 crew for the two ships, and can sail them to port. We find many barrels of liquor, rum, and sailing logs. Pel looks around and digs out a secret compartment in the Captain’s quarters, with some personal effects, one of which is a marriage licence, plus a few bars of gold and a bag of gems. The spellcasters have tatoos on them; magical glyphs of dragons and waves – so no real plunder there other than spell components.

We dig into the marriage licence a bit, out of curiousity. There’s something that’s a marriage of convenience where you contract as a legal marriage for a certain number of time; this was a method to create alliances between pirates. The captain’s log also mentioned replenishing supplies at Tidewater Rock; there was a rumor that it was impenetrable, but they thought there was a way to assail it.

We broke there, having determined to sail back to a “friendly,” or at least “not so hostile” port and use Gimble’s black market contacts to offload the ship. We’re also going to nab some of the ballistae from our new-found acquisition and make some firing ports in our cargo hold. Anachronistic is trumped by Awesome any day of the week.