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

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

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races


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

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!


So: we continue!

More Skills!

Picking up from where we left off, and hopefully I won’t miss anything big like using Bluff to feint and deny a foe his DX bonus . . . which is apparently the trigger for Sneak Attack, the Rogue’s raison d’etre.

 Intimidate

“GRAR! G’mornin!”

                 –Random Viking from “How to Train your Dragon.”

This skill seems to have two primary uses: temporarily increasing the friendliness of a creature to force them to help you, and the ability to cause foes to become “shaken.” This is not detailed here, but can be found on p. 568 in the Appendices. -2 to attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and ability checks. Not bad at all.

Knowledge
This is the place where you go to know things, and given that the Pathfinder world of Golarion is not the world we live in, expect to be rolling against this a lot to find out things your character knows but you as a player don’t. The scope of the skill is mostly vague – not a bad thing.

Hidden Lore: The listed use of this skill that’s going to appeal is to use it to gain knowledge about foes and critters (but I repeat myself). The more obscure the creature, the more difficult the DC. It gives you a “useful fact,” which could be life-saving things like “will drain levels,” or “only magic weapons can harm it,” or “will cause your valuable magic items to dissolve into goo.”  That’s handy data, right there.

Linguistics
Working with language, including speaking and writing, but not only that. Structure and context will allow you to decipher most languages given time.

It’s hard, though: Base DC is 20, and goes right up to 30, which means you’ll need a lot of levels in this one before you’re doing this casually. It’s a prime candidate for Taking 20, since that means you work at the relatively fast pace of one page per 20 minutes for “ordinary text.”

Every rank in Linguistics gives you another language. Ten ranks is ten languages, and there are 21 “common” languages listed. So you won’t speak everything, but you’ll speak a lot.

Hidden Lore: Creating and detecting forgeries. Plot hook made in heaven, and a nice use of a noncombat skill for intrigue. The opposed skill is also Linguistics, so this can be a big deal – you have to watch out for Bards, Clerics, Rogues, and Wizards, but likely you’ll blow away all them warrior types. You really don’t need to see my identification, but if you want to, it’s right here. And totally authentic. Bite me. Well, this is Pathfinder; you shouldn’t say that – too many opportunities to be taken at your word.

Perception
The only surprise to me is that there are classes for which this is not a class skill. Fighters don’t need Perception? Please. I know, I know, you have to spread some of these around, but Perception checks – the ability to discern and thus react to your environment – are so fundamentally key to combat that I choke on this a bit

I’ll get over it.

Just talking about my own experience with Pel, my 4th-level Rogue, he’s got Per +11. He will continue to invest as many ranks in Per as he can get, and if he can find +5 Goggles of Perception he’ll wear those to bed. It’s just so damn useful.


Anyway, some sample DCs are given, and some of them can open your eyes to things to do – maybe in a way that’s disruptive to the game if your GM disagrees. For example, someone’s hiding out in the shadows and is going to fire an arrow at you. He’s 60 feet away. You can hear the sound of the bow being drawn, if you’re good: +6 DC for being 60 feet away on top of a base 25 for being naturally very quiet. DC 31 means Pel has a 5% chance of doing this . . . but he can do it. I’d personally allow a DC 15 check to hear an incoming arrow as well – and that has nothing to do with the Stealth of the shooter.

Hidden Lore: I’ll go ahead and make the statement that both the DC and the Modifiers tables count as hidden lore, and you should think of the kind of things you might want to do routinely and work out base DCs and modifiers with your GM in advance to the extent you can – that’ll take such decision-making out of immediate play, where it’ll be less disruptive to the game flow and less likely to start an argument, which again wastes time.

Perform
The skill of singing, dancing, and telling stories so you can starve more slowly than otherwise. I mean, seriously: Profession skills, if you can roll them at all, return half your profession check result in gold pieces per week. So if you have one rank in these, you’re bringing in 2-21gp per week, call it about 2 gp per day on the average, more or less.

Perform skills? Yeah . . . good luck. You need to make a DC 20 perform check to return that kind of money (3d10 silver per day, or about 1.6 gp).

The nice thing about performing, though, especially for those such as singers is that you don’t need a lot of equipment to do it. Short on cash? A day’s work can bring some in.

Hidden Lore: As one might imagine, if you don’t have this skill it’s tough to be a Bard. Meaning you need it to empower your special abilities, so don’t skimp. That’s not really hidden – Bards are all about performing. But don’t be a dolt and forget.

Profession
This is the skill of doing tasks related to making a living (architect, brewer, gambler, gardener, merchant, sailor, soldier as examples). It seems to be primarily related to making money, at the rate of half your skill check in gold pieces per week. For someone with decent skill (Pel at 4th level has +9 in both Sailor and Merchant) you can bring in some real money with downtime: Pel’s skill check will net him 10-21 gp per week. Those aren’t “replacement for adventuring” type wages, which is good.

We’ve played this as “knowledge and action skills related to your job.” Merchant has been particularly useful (especially paired with Appraise) to sell stuff, and the ability to have only a DC 10 check to hit “market value” is nice.

Hidden Lore: Nothing explicit, but it’s worth bearing in mind that while you can have (and make money with) Profession (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), the GM will frequently have to adjudicate whether a given task can be accomplished with this skill. You don’t roll against Prof(Soldier) to brain your foe with a sword. Profession (Sailor) doesn’t let you build a ship – there’s a Craft skill for that. Worth taking the time to figure out what the GM will sweep into the skill.

Ride
Doing fancy stuff on the back of a horse or similar mount. The tasks that are suggested are interesting and instructive: Guide with knees (hands free for fighting), stay in the saddle (when mount is spooked, or you’re damaged), let your mount attack independently of your own actions, hide behind your mount as cover (like the cowardly dog you are), fall off the mount gracefully, jump over obstacles, go fast, control an untrained mount in battle, or mount and dismount as a free action.

Hidden Lore: You don’t need to make any rolls to do most things with a combat-trained mount. Controlling such a mount in battle doesn’t require a roll, only attacking with it and preserving your own attack does.

Sense Motive
The high-level summary of this seems to be (more or less) “opposes the Bluff skill.” Three nifty uses for this one: getting a gut feel on the behavior or trustworthiness of a person. Detecting if someone’s been magicked with controlling spells (mind control, domination, etc. Not +1 to AC or stuff like that). Also intercepting secret messages sent to others by observation.

Hidden Lore: A Ranger acting against his favored enemy gets a bonus, and the Alertness feat boosts this as well.

Sleight of
Hand
Pick pockets, palm objects, secretly ready concealed weapons. Sometimes this is opposed by Perception (another good reason to take it). Tiny objects get bonuses.

Hidden Lore: Untrained Sleight of Hand is a DEX check.

Spellcraft

For magic users, this is a big deal. Casting spells, identifying cast spells and magic items, and making magic items. Mmm. Making magic items.

This is what you roll against after you cast a spell like Detect Magic and Identify. It’s what you roll against to learn a spell or decipher a scroll. 

Hidden Lore: None, really – but you’d best master the rules for what you want to be good at, and know the modifiers. This is a primay skill for the magic set.


Stealth

The art of hiding and moving silently. This is the Rogue’s big deal, and probably pretty important for Rangers too. Stealth is opposed by Perception, and since if you biff the detect roll, you may be open to the Rogue’s Sneak Attack ability, this is a bad roll to miss.

You can move pretty well with Stealth: half move at no penalty, and up to full move at -5 to skill. You get a bonus if you’re sneaky and small, and penalties if you’re a larger creature.

Hidden Lore: I’m going to call a lot of the subtleties of Stealth hidden lore. Some of this stuff is pretty key, and one even speaks to something I’ve bitched about in the past: shooting a bow from concealment.

If you’re being observed, you can’t use Stealth. But if you shout “Look! Over there! A dinosaur!” real loud, you can disappear in the resulting confusion (make a successful Bluff). Again: big deal, as it enables you to get into a position from which special abilities or undefendable attacks may be made. Granted, it’s -10 to skill, but it’s doable.

You can make a ranged attack from concealment if you’re more than 10 feet away, and then take a move action to use Stealth to regain concealment at -20 to skill. So you have to be good to pull it off.

On the flip side, I’d definitely apply a penalty to foes’ Perception if they’re actively fighting someone else (similar to background noise); I’d also make the Perception DC the LESSER of the Stealth check, the sound of a bow being drawn, or the sound of the arrow. That’s me, though.

Being invisible and immobile is +40 to skill; moving while invisible is +20. Invisibility is a good thing.

Survival
I understand why they named it Survival, but given the amount of text in the entry, it maybe should be called “Tracking.” Lots of information is given on following critters and sentients based on number, size, and type of ground.

Oh, sure – a basic DC 10 check helps you survive and feed yourself and your party, as well as aiding Fortitude saves versus weather. Oh, and predicting the weather is a Survival skill too. 



Swim
Moving and staying abovewater in various conditions. If you make a swim check, you can move forward. If you biff it, you make no progress, and if you really screw up, you can go underwater and may start to drown. 

Hidden Lore: You must always roll in a storm; you can’t Take 20. But, you don’t have to make routine swim checks if you actually have a Swim speed listed on your character sheet – this is for aquatic creatures: Fish don’t drown much. 

Use Magic
Device

This one’s interesting. It allows you to use a magical device that usually requires a special ability. Like  using a wand usually requires that you have the spell on your class spell list (you needn’t know it). If it’s not, you have to use this skill.

The DCs of this skill are really high – none less than 15 (what you subtract from your roll to emulate having a high ability score), and may range up to 30 as a base, and using a scroll by a level 20 caster can be DC 40!

The list of magical deception you can pull off is pretty neat, though. Deciphering a spell, using a scroll or wand, or emulating a class feature, ability score, alignment, or race!

Parting Shots
For the game being played, I find the Pathfinder skills list broad enough to provide some limited differentiation, but narrow enough so you can get a move on and not worry about being brought to a halt by someone not having the right skill.

This is important, since it really allows those writing adventures to have a basic assumption as to what a party can do. This is a phenomenal advantage over a system like GURPS, with its monster skill list and no guarantees that “the party thief” has the right skill set. Or even that there will be a party thief.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and I’m sorry it took so long to put down.

Next up: Feats. Grar, there are a lot of them, so I’m sure I won’t be doing a blow-by-blow like I did with skills. 

In the discussion of common pitfalls in GURPS (which was really common pitfalls in RPGs in general, for the most part, some of which applied more directly to GURPS), the topic of metagaming currencies came up.

What is a metagaming currency? Well, I’ll pick on GURPS, since I can think of a few:

  • Luck can be use X times per hour/day/game session. It allows you to reroll certain bad die rolls, or try and improve on good ones. 
  • Tactics success can allow the equivalent of Luck rerolls, a certain number of times per battle
  • Destiny or Bonus points, discussed in GURPS Monster Hunters at least, and I give them a nod in The Last Gasp, again give you “good stuff,” much of it being Luck-type re-rolls, and you get a certain number per game based on the number of points you’ve invested in (for example) a Wildcard skill
I’m sure there are others.
Whenever I think about metagaming in this context, my thoughts always turn to D-Day, and Band of Brothers. If the PCs are going to cross the bullet-swept beaches of D-Day in the opening scene of your adventure, you’re either going to want to start off with . . .

“OK, you guys just landed on the beach, saw most of your comrades in arms brutally murderized, but have managed to come through relatively unscathed. Now, we begin with . . . “

 . . . or you’re going to want to have some sort of ability for the PCs to avoid random death. I am utterly convinced that by dint of skill, behavior, a knack for making the right call under pressure, certain soldiers (it’s most obvious in war, I think) are “lucky,” but it’s such a repeated kind of luck that it’s probably not actual luck. Well, most of the time.

How to represent that? GURPS does it through a very specific set of metagame currencies, purchased as advantages or bequeathed by certain kinds of skills. I find this kind of metagaming helps with immersion, rather than harms it. When you do things like use such things to make a fatal bullet wound a scary close call (a “graze”) – but you have a limited supply, so your luck can indeed run out. I think it makes for the right kind of resource-management type of decision that is perfectly in keeping – in the outcome, if not strictly by method – with good roleplaying.

We use Destiny points in +Nathan Joy‘s GURPS DF: Jade Regent game, and they significantly aid fun. Honestly, Pathfinder itself, with the flat probability distribution of the 1d20 die roll, could probably benefit from such a thing. Maybe 1 “re-roll” per session every 4-5 levels or something (I may very well find exactly this exists, but I haven’t come across it yet).

In short: bring on the metagaming management of resources to help the players influence their own story. I love it, I love it, I want more of it. 

+Hans-Christian Vortisch dropped me a note on another forum he and I share, which basically (my words, not his) said “um, you were lead playtester on Tactical Shooting, lasers aren’t that different from guns, and your long-winded post is why I wrote Tactical Dodging in the first place.”

He’s right, and it’s a valuable addition to the conversation.

Tactical Dodging: from GURPS: Tactical Shooting, p. 17

The key bit here is that the GURPS Attack maneuver, the one that allows a real defense, may not be combined with certain things – notably Aim. If you want to use the sights, or go beyond that and even Aim, you must do All-Out Attack (Determined), which fixes the problem right there by disallowing a dodge.

The Tactical Dodging heading has a section Restricted Dodge Against Firearms that has very explicit rules about what maneuver choices will enable a follow-on dodge, and ties in to perception and situational awareness – you have to be “watching” your attacker in order to Dodge.

There are some neat rules here that +Peter V. Dell’Orto would describe as “roll-heavy” (correctly) that I can think of for how many targets you can be aware of.

+Christian Blouin made an interesting comment on Google+ in response to my Shoot/No-Shoot post.

He said:

I was toying with the idea of asking players what would be their next action before resolving the current one. Cancelling their decision on the following turn would impose a “Do Nothing”. Maybe a tactics check could allow to avoid the Do nothing. I think that this may minimize the fine tuning, and favour players who can anticipate the battlefield more.

This is interesting. I wrote up a reply, then decided to make an entire post about it. Then Windows ate my reply. Sigh.

Here’s the thing:

This is really interesting, but as +Peter V. Dell’Orto would say, it really needs to be tried in play.

I can see a few issues that leap out:

  • Once you set your first two actions, really is all you’re doing is choosing your next action on your turn, then resolving the one you chose last round. 
  • Is the GM going to choose in advance for all his NPCs? How will he keep track of this?
I can see a few really neat benefits to this, though. There is real uncertainty on a real battlefield. You don’t know, really, where your foes will be, what they’ll be doing, with perfect fidelity. This means you have to guess. Will they Move? Attack? Defensive Attack? If you’re shooting ranged weapons, there may be some uncertainty about the range, and therefore the penalties. You won’t know if they’ll be in hot combat with a friend, or hiding behind a rock.
I was pondering a combat example. Let’s say I’m playing Cadmus, my Warrior Saint from +Nathan Joy‘s DF game. 
We’re attacked by a bunch of henchmen. Say six or eight. There are four of us PCs. As per usual, we scatter to the winds to fight. While we might assume that in a turn or two, we’ll be fighting two foes each, we have no idea. We have to start by deciding several seconds ahead, what we’ll be doing. 
Cadmus will assume these guys come to him, and so his first second’s choice is Wait (triggered by foe coming into range, where he’ll do an attack), and then assuming he’ll be facing one or two more, perhaps he’ll  . . . well, what will he do? 
Do we have to really get specific? Or just choose a maneuver class? I could say “He’ll Attack” next round, and then when it’s my turn, choose that I’ll Rapid Strike so I can engage multiple foes. Or, do I have to guess in advance that I’ll be using Rapid Strike?  Let’s assume that I have to choose more precisely.
Cadmus will assume that he’ll be attacked by 2-3 people, basically assuming that our foes will split evenly. So his two maneuver choices are Wait(Attack), then Attack(Rapid Strike). 
Rats. These are Evil Cultists. They hate Warrior Saints. One each go for my three companions, five for me. Cadmus swats the first one down with his Wait, but he’s still about to be dogpiled by four more. When his next turn comes, he chooses Defensive Attack as his posture for his FOLLOWING round, and honestly, would prefer Defensive Attack for the current round too. But his chosen maneuver, which he must execute, is Attack (Rapid Strike). 
So, he can do that . . . OR he can take a penalty to all his skills this turn and change his mind. Maybe he uses the rules for Pop-up attacks or something, changing the mind counts as an extra action (like a mental Ready maneuver). Maybe it’s another -2 (like pop-ups or opportunity fire) to -6 (like Rapid Strike). 
I can see that the uncertainty about the situation – choosing your FOLLOWING move rather than your current one, could be really fun.
Or it could suck. 
Not sure.
Were I playing with my Action Point concept from The Last Gasp, it would be interesting to have changing your mind cost you AP, either in addition to or in lieu of, a skill penalty.
Anyway, enough for now. Christian’s thought was intriguing – but definitely would need a playtest!

The recent post and discussion on dodging lasers in GURPS has led to further thoughts.

One of the things that happens in real target shooting, and presumably it can happen in combat too, though it would be under considerably more stress, is a shooter knows he’s off target. His breathing is wrong, he feels a sneeze coming, he sees the target jink, or he’s otherwise pointing at air.

I always thought that this would be a natural use of the Precision Aiming technique, which is covered in GURPS Tactical Shooting (p. 26-27).

In fact, there would be an interesting way to adjudicate aiming in general, which will add die rolls, but perhaps make a trade-off in narrative fun. We’ll see. Consider this somewhat stream of consiousness – so it may wind up all a bad dream.

The way I shoot, you line up your sights on the target, and when you’re where you want to be, you squeeze the trigger. The key being “where you want to be.” There’s no set time for this. Sometimes you’re right on and it happens quickly, and sometimes you’re not, and you keep aiming. Sometimes, as you start to pull the trigger (especially for single shots), you know you’re off, and you relax and don’t shoot.

Maybe what you need to do is something like this:

All of this assumes you can see the target.

When you Aim, go ahead and roll some dice. Maybe you always use the Precision Aiming technique (but I don’t think so), but I think it’s just a straight-up DX-based skill roll. If you succeed in your roll, you get +1 Acc. If you succeed by a bunch, you can get even more, up to the Acc of the gun.

If you want to shoot go ahead. If you hit, great, you shot, you hit, fine.Maybe it’s actually this roll, the aiming roll, that you have to trade off in order to get the Prediction Shot bonus that penalizes your foe’s Dodge score.

So, what if you fail? Maybe you can make a Precision Aiming roll, and if you succeed, you don’t fire. Your margin of success might tell you how much of your Acc bonus you retain.

That way, it’s not “I will fire every three seconds,” which is basically how it works right now. Sometimes, you might get a very rapid sight picture. Sometimes, you have to work at it.

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

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

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

Sweet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                                                                                    — +Nathan Joy 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*********

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


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


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


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


Which we did. QED. 

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

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

Forget what skill levels mean. What can you do? 



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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pathfinder Core Rulebook

0.  Prelude
1.  Introduction
2.  Races


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

Please make any comments you have at the individual entries!

So: we continue!

Introduction

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

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

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

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

Taking 10 and Taking 20

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

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

Aiding Another

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

The Skills


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

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

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

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

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

Kidding.

Mostly.

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

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

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

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

OK, I made that last bit up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***


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

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

My abridged list of common pitfalls:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?

I know, I know. Today was supposed to be an Actual Play report (GURPS Jade Regent). But it was cancelled, so you get this instead.

*****
I’m re-reading my Dresden Files eBooks.

This one’s just fun. Harry is a supernatural character, a Wizard, who eschews the Secret disadvantage and posts up a placard.

I read something like twelve of thee books; I believe there’s at least one more out since I set the series down. Largely because at the time I was reading them, I’d reached the last one.

I simply adore monster hunting settings in the modern world. I have always been a Buffy/Angel fan. One of my better campaigns was GURPS: Black Ops. The Dresden Files fits right in there, and Jim Butcher has an engaging, casual, and evocative style (see what I did there?) that really makes me want to keep reading.

And it’s simply built for GURPS: Monster Hunters.

Or rather since Jason Levine, Monster Hunters’ author says this:

. . . the MH series is based just as much on Vampire$, Resident Evil, Monster Hunter International (and sequels), Underworld, Van Helsing (except the TL), Night Watch, Blade, Supernatural, The Prophecy, Princess of Wands, Constantine, Ghostbusters (kind of), aspects of Predator and Aliens, older GURPS books like Black Ops and Voodoo: The Shadow War, and some magical influence from series like The Hollows and Dresden Files.

it would be more accurate to say that Monster Hunters was built for The Dresden Files.

And a lot more.

But seriously: if you want to pry me away from what I should be doing on any given night, just drop me a line and invite me to play in a GURPS:Monster Hunters game.