A while back I promised to go through the fight scene between Natasha Romanov (Black Widow) and a small army of mook guards from Iron Man 2, using Technical Grappling. Not a bad topic for my 200th post since Dec 26, 2012!

The key fight takes place in about a minute, from roughly 0:20 in the clip until Lady Scarlett finishes off the last mook at 1:22.

Here’s how I break down the action, with my initial impressions of what happens. I will break down the bits into scenes, each described in detail later on. Those sections are referenced in bold. While suggestions are made for mechanics in my notes on the clip, I may revisit them in the details, so withhold judgement until the end!

Breakdown of the Clip

0:20 – Happy punches a guard in the face. They start to fight

0:22 – Natasha throws a pair of electrostunner discs and tases another guard (Taser Strike)

0:31 – Happy’s guard gets tired of getting hit, and starts to fight back. A lot.

0:36 – Natasha does an Acrobatic attack, with a double-leg grapple of the neck, and a “Kiss the floor” (Double-leg Madness)

0:41 – Natasha slides through the legs of her next victim, maybe an Evade and Attack? She moves through the hex, probably doing a Pressure Point attack to cause pain in the guard’s leg. She poses. (Slip and Spin)

0:43 – Here comes the double-leg grapple of the neck again. This is clearly a Signature Move. She uses an Acrobatic Attack to vault off the first guard’s back, hits the running guy with the double leg grapple, and again uses her weight to throw her victim to the ground, where he’s unconscious. Technically, this might be an Offensive Judo Throw. Grab and Smash works best. (Vaulting to Victory)

0:50 – Happy is experiencing the NPC version of grab and smash. He’s not Happy anymore.

0:55 – Natasha uses two flash/smoke distraction devices to disorient two guards. She slides to seated position and uses Low Fighting or Ground Fighting to throw a sweeping kick to guard two. He crit fails  his defense roll, rolls an 8, and knocks himself out. She climbs up the other guard and kicks him in the face. (Boot to the Face)

What follows here is the clear “holy crap!” moment of the scene, as she takes on and defeats three foes at once. 

0:59. She readies a garotte.

1:00. She uses the garotte to perform a two-handed grabbing parry against the guard’s baton strike to the head, and immediately passes control of one end of the weapon to her other hand. She employs a stomp kick to the inside of his left knee (1:01), clears the garotte, punches him in the face and stomach (1:02), grapples the neck and passes control to her left hand (1:03), Dodges an attack (1:04) and performs a grabbing parry with the garotte, jumps into the air and does a grab and smash on him, at the same time as a Force Posture Change/G&S on the other guy with the extendable garotte. (Triple Threat)

1:08 – the guard takes two seconds to change posture from prone to standing, while readying a can of mace. Natasha slips inside on a grabbing parry, changing position to the flank or rear and grabbing the back (1:10). She then does her two-legged grapple of the neck at 1:11, throws him off balance while switching legs for arms at 1:12, and executes a Judo Throw for injury at 1:13. (Slow Learner)

1:14. The guard does an all-out attack with another can of mace. Natasha responds with a Grabbing parry to classic arm lock and relieves him of his mace by pain compliance (1:15) with two hands, and a spinning elbow strike to the jaw (1:16) (she relinquishes the lock), and a spinning kick to the head for a finish at 1:17. (Disarm Lock and That Arm Lock)

She strolls away, and another guard is maced in the face, caught by surprise, at 1:22.

1:27 – Happy pulls a Mike Tyson and finally wins his fight with an All-Out Attack to the jaw at 1:33

About Miss Romanov

Natasha Romanoff is no mere normal. She’s a recipient of the Russian version of the Super Soldier Serum according to this link in Wiki, and the writeup simply screams “really high stats” to me. She probably has DX on the order of 18-20, maybe more. She’s probably been trained to DX+7 or DX+10 in several styles of martial arts. As is typical for comic books, the power list is mixed, but generally agree that she probably has Enhanced Time Sense, definitely Combat Reflexes if not ETS, and her DX, IQ, and HT are all very high. Not entirely sure about ST, but I need to put something down. On the low end, she’s about 125-lbs and a world-class gymnast and ballerina. Doing a bit of digging, it seems that female gymnasts can often throw down bench press on the order of 2x their (usually slight) body weight, and Natasha has all that Super Serum to think about. She could be anywhere from ST 13 to ST 16 without really blinking at it. Let’s call it ST 15 for now, and with that DX+10 Wrestling for +5 to Trained ST, she’s looking at Trained ST 20, DX 20, Wrestling-30. Not to mention buttloads of Judo, Karate, and Boxing. Her low mass (based on ST = HP = 2 * cube root of weight in lbs) is only the equivalent of ST 10, so Sumo would be a bad choice. She probably has high ranks in Brawling too. Definitely Trained by a Master, and possibly one or more specialties of WM, though with skills as high as hers, she won’t need it. Based on the number of moves she does in any given turn, it’s nearly certain she has at least one, if not two, Extra Attacks.

The overall point here is that she was born in 1941, trained as a spy, sniper, and martial artist for 70+ years while remaining young, and weaned on Russian Super-Soldier formula. High stats and skills are what she does. That means she’s going to have the skill to do a lot of stuff in one turn if she wants, to the point that I probably won’t often note the final skills she’s rolling against. She’s that good.

One last point to those who might object: even a DF character, such as a Knight or Martial Artist, can start the game with skills in the 18-20 range (higher if you go nuts). Natasha is more like a Monster Hunters 400-pointer, and by jiggering around with a Warrior template, you can easily put all sorts of hand-to-hand goodness in multiple skills into the DX+4 and DX+7 level. Just going to town on what she should have, she’s probably a 1,000-point character using Wildcard! skills to cover the breadth of her expertise. And that’s without giving her lots of 20s in stats.

Taser Strike

Tasers Suck. Twice.

This one’s easy. She walks by the guard who is distracted by Happy starting his fistfight, and tosses two stunners which cause electromuscular disruption (High Tech, p. 89; p. B432). He fails one or both of the HT-5 rolls to resist and falls to the ground, paralyzed. She moves on.


Double-leg Madness

Vaulting for Double-Leg Neck Grapple

Natasha runs the prerequisite distance and does an Acrobatic Attack, using the Vaulting and Diving rules (Martial Arts, p. 107) to clear the low cart. This acrobatic double-leg grapple is something she uses two or three times in this fight sequence alone, so we’ll build it as a Technique that ignores the skill cap of 9. She’ll roll Acrobatics-2 to clear that cart, and then a monster penalty to her grappling skill for an Acrobatic Attack (-6), that ignores the skill cap (-1), targets the neck with a grapple (-3) with the legs (-2), for a whopping Skill-12. I’m quite sure she’s not using this from default, but if she has Skill-26 she can pull this off 90% of the time even without buying it up. I won’t say she’s bought it up all the way to full skill, but even if she’s got it to Skill-6, she’ll be able to throw this with some major Deceptive Attack action attached.

So we’ve identified an Acrobatic Double-Leg Grapple as one of her signature moves.

So she grapples him by the neck and rolls vs. a likely Trained ST 21 (ST 15 with both legs is ST 18, and Judo at DX+10 gives +3) for Control Points. This is certainly a cinematic campaign, but even so, she rolls 2d for CP (average of 7 CP) and doubles that because she’s got TbaM and she’s Black Widow, scoring 14 CP, imparting -7 to her foe’s ST and DX. Even if he’s a decent foe, ST 14 and DX 12 as a high-end guard, he’s now ST 7 and DX 5, entering the realm of “sucks rocks.”

We can resolve the finishing move as a Judo Throw for injury (Martial Arts, p. 75), with Black Widow’s Judo vs. her foe’s ST 7, DX 5, or highest grappling skill, which is unlikely more than 9. She need not even spend CP. She’ll roll at Judo-8 for the attack (targeting the skull, at -1 for a damage throw), but since she’s adding her weight to the throw and landing crawling, picks up an extra +2. 

She definitely does all of this stuff in one move, so she’s Rapid Striking for -6 to both as well.

Out-of-sequence Double-Leg Signature Move

Net: Acrobatics roll at -2 to clear the cart (the easiest part of all this); Acrobatic Double-Leg Neck Grapple at -6 beyond whatever her skill is for Rapid Strike, and a Judo Throw for injury at Judo-12 to combine the weight change, Judo throw to the skull, and rapid strike.

Now, it’s possible that the takedown is a variant on a Grab and Smash, but canonically, this can’t be done on a standing foe by smashing their head to the ground. Still, what it would be if you wanted to do it this way is a Force Posture Change (-4 for taking him down, +2 for landing crawling, net of -2) to get him down combined with an attack to the skull at full penalties. That’s DX, Brawling, or Wrestling as the base, -7 for targeting the skull. You’l do thrust crush damage plus whatever CP you choose to spend (!!) to the skull. Note that this two-move combo is also a Rapid Strike.

If Black Widow has Extra Attack (one or more), this would take some of the gigantic penalties accrued and limit them. She probably has at least that, and so between a Rapid Strike, Extra Attack, and maybe even an All-Out Attack (Double), she can probably spread all of this stuff over one turn fairly easily.

Note also that in many of these moves, she ends not grappling the guy at all, meaning that somewhere along the line she spent all of her usually-massive tally of CP to really make these guys look like idiots, or perhaps add injury to the throws, or lower the location penalty of striking the skull from the throw. Probably that last one.


Slip and Spin

Evade and Pressure Point Leg Strike



I’ll call this one an interesting combination of Evade (p. B368) to move through his hex, paired with a Pressure Points strike to the lower leg, total of Karate-4, then a Pressure Points vs. HT roll. The Evade vs. a standing foe is at -5.

The fact that the guy is still there a few seconds later for Black Widow to use the same Acrobatic Attack as the previous fight means she applied lasting crippling pain. Already handled by the GURPS rules, so go +Sean Punch and +Peter V. Dell’Orto!

Vaulting to Victory

Acrobatic Double-Leg Neck Grapple



This quick scene is a near-mimic of the previous one. She uses her Acrobatic Double-Leg Neck Grapple again, this time over two turns – there’s a notable break between the grapple and the takedown. So first turn is the vault over the guy and the grapple; the second turn is the leg-based offensive Judo Throw, this time landing standing, and using the CP spend to cancel out the penalties for the skull location. 

Boot to the Face


After tossing a few flash-bang/smoke grenades to render both foes stunned (like she needs that, but “fight fair” is an oxymoron), she does a sweeping kick to the first guy’s leg. She also spends a few points to cause him to crit fail his defense roll, where he knocks himself out. This is part and parcel of treating mooks as scenery, from Impulse Buys, p. 6 – and is especially appropriate for this sort of fight.

She then dispatches the other guard with a kick to the face, and I’d call the “I walk up the guy’s leg” simply an application of Deceptive Attack. She’s doing something like 1d+3 damage with that kick, enough for a Major Wound to the Face, inducing an HT-5 roll to the mook, who has about a 85% chance of failing. Which he does.

Triple Threat


The most exciting part of the fight, and the most complicated to adjudicate. Also with weapons!

First, Natasha readies her handy-dandy extendable garotte using a Defensive Grip. It’s a flexible melee weapon (see TG, p. 14-15) with the neat trick of being extensible, and can grapple at a reach limited by its length (or more properly, half  its length).

Weapon Parry from Defensive Grip

The first guy does a classic overhand attack to the head. Natasha uses the garotte to do a Grabbing Parry. She’s +1 for the Defensive Grip, using Judo – and so can parry unpenalized vs. armed attackers, but still accepting -4 to parry the limbs of an attacker with a Reach 1 weapon. She also slips into close combat using Judo while she does this, for a net +1. So, all in all, she’s parrying at -4, not bad, really. In a realistic game, the fact that she’s parrying a swung weapon with Judo would make her Parry at -7.

When she makes her parry, she inflicts CP based on half her ST (call it ST 7), and we’ll slap on the bonus for +1 per die for the flexible weapon, so she’s at 1d-2 CP for the parry . . . but doubled because of the cinematic switch. That is 2d-4, so an upper bound of 8 CP, and an expectation of about 3 CP. Relative to Natasha’s other stuff, this isn’t a lot. She knows this. 

Pressure Point strike to knee

She seems to use something like Pass Limb (or hell, maybe just a DX roll) to transfer both ends of the garotte to her left hand, releasing her right. It’s hard to tell without frame-by-frame, but it’s also possible she’s just using the weapon in a Defensive Grip while slipping in for the parry using Judo. That’s a net of Parry+2 using the normal rules. She then does a three-move kick to the knee, punch to the face, and punch to the chest, possibly a Pressure Points strike (TG, p. 33), since he spends his next turn suffering from enough pain that he just stands there. 

Neck grapple with flexible weapon

She reacquires her garotte, and grapples her paralyzed foe around the neck with it, this time using her best unarmed grappling skill, and likely doing something like 2d+3 (doubled!) control points. 

She dodges a Move and Attack punch from the second guard, and buys a critical success, forcing him to roll on the Unarmed Crit Miss table; he continues past her and falls down.

Judo Throw Rapid Strike!

She does a Grabbing Judo Parry against the punch from the third guard, scores a few CP, and then follows up with a really awesome move. She improves her grapple on the third guard’s arm, and does a Rapid Strike Judo Throw for injury on both of them. Both are offensive throws and Contests of Skill, so she spends CP liberally to make them go down, go down hard, and stay down. She can do both because she retained the grapple from the lanyard on the first guy, and has lots of CP from the arm grapple on the third.

Slow Learner


Ah, poor second guard. He fails to learn from the giant pile of unconscious buddies twitching around him. He Readies a can of mace while changing posture from prone to standing over the requisite two-second period.

Really? A can of mace? How about an actual mace? Might at least have looked threatening. Instead, doing so, for all intents and purposes, seems to merely provoke what looks very much like an Attack of Opportunity. Actually, he probably does a Wait, and will spray her if she gets into range.

Slip, Position, Grabbing Parry

She charges in anyway, triggering his Wait, and she slips inside using a grabbing parry of the torso. She persuades her GM that she should be able to use the stepping from a retreat as the movement that allows a Change Position maneuver (TG, p. 35) and accepts the -2 to her Grabbing Parry that getting into her foe’s side arc implies. 

Judo Throw

On her own turn, she completes her move by doing another Acrobatic Double-Leg Neck Grapple, also accepting -4 to slip from the side to the rear arc. She probably does enough CP (2d doubled) that poor slow learner’s turn is spent going “Wha? How? Who? Ow!” due to the active control penalties alone. 

Her next turn, she attacks with her arms and releases her legs, and then does another Judo Throw for injury, putting this guy out.

Disarm Lock and That Arm
Lock

Grabs can of mace
Judo Grabbing Parry+Lock

Move and Attack must be part of this private security company’s standard training protocol, because here comes another one. At least this guy had his weapon out first.

To no avail. Natasha does a classic grabbing parry, followed immediately by an Arm Lock roll while acquiring the weak side arc of her foe. Note that the extended arm bar and flipping up into the standing shoulder lock are probably not two moves, though it could be modeled as increasing the CP on an already-locked joint, but more importantly, applying pain. She spends enough CP on that arm lock to reduce the guard’s Grip CP to zero and grabs the can of mace herself. A spinning elbow to the face stuns him, and a spinning kick to the skull finishes him off.

Parting Shot

This fight was a classic one-on-many fight where the heroine makes otherwise competent individuals look silly by dint of sheer awesomeness. The double-the-CP switch does this, making grapples almost comically effective. The cinematic tendency of the mooks to Just Stand There while the heroine goes to town on them is probably best represented by the huge CP totals making die rolls nearly pointless – from the viewer’s angle, “he just stood there,” but game mechanically, he probably tried to do something and failed.

The only thing I wonder about is that most of Black Widow’s takedowns – all but the last one where she  switches arms for legs so she can land kneeling – look more like Force Posture Changes plus Kiss The Floor to me than Judo Throw. But the fact that every one of these is basically an FPC for injury, requiring a Rapid Strike, while Judo allows this in one move with an offensive throw for injury, makes me think this is the right call. Judo is, after all, a Hard skill, and being able to do this is appropriate.

I hope this breakdown, even though I didn’t have a full character sheet and numbers for Natasha and all the mooks, helps show how you’d do TG in a cinematic beat-down.

Now go buy the book already!

Thanks to Marvel for making this HD-quality clip available on YouTube. All images are Copyright to them, and used with the intent to show how awesome their movie, the character, and possibly my book are. Two of those things are likely cooler than the other. 

Over on the SJG Forums, I had a very productive interchange with Gef, a poster who wanted to know more about how grappling works using Technical Grappling, and asked for an introductory paragraph something like this:

Grappling generally consists of an attack to establish a hold (which need not be an actual grasp), with a roll analogous to a damage roll (and based on thrust damage) to establish how good a grip the grappler achieves, expressed as Control Points. These Control Points do two things: First, they impose a penalty on the target’s ST and DX, and second, they may be spent to cause damage or pain, or to force an opponent into an unfavorable position. Unlike damage, Control Points persist until spent, continuing to penalize ST and DX, unless modified by the action of the attacker (attempting to strengthen his grip) or his target (attempting to break free).

–Gef


Well, it’s not errata, and that information is covered in various places in the book. But . . . there’s merit to what he says, and so, here’s a breakdown in simple terms
Step One: Get a Grip

The first thing you do before you even use the rules in TG is you have to attack someone with a grappling skill and hit. This is an attack, using DX, Judo, Sumo Wrestling, or Wrestling. You can also use Armed Grapple, a technique that defaults to any appropriate melee weapon skill-2. Some weapons such as lariats or (I think) nets attack to entangle at full skill.

This can be done with one hand or two, and that’s a change or clarification from the rules in the Basic Set and Martial Arts, where most grapples are presumed to use two hands. The impact of that change is felt when you roll for Control Points in Step Two.
A grappling attack is a bog-standard GURPS attack, which may be blocked, parried, or dodged. Make note, though, that if your thought is to not be touched at all by your foe, you must dodge. Everything else assumes some contact.
Usually, but not always, you must step into Close Combat to achieve that first grapple. There are exceptions, though – most often when someone’s doing a reach-based attack and you grapple the weapon or limb. 
Step Two: Roll for Control

Once you grab someone, you will immediately roll for Control Points. This replaces the automatic -4 to DX with a tally of points that impart penalties to DX and ST based on how many you accumulate.
The area(s) grappled suffer full penalties, and other body parts suffer reduced penalties. If you grapple multiple areas, there’s a way to figure out how all that grabbing stacks up. This is especially important for things like a proper arm bar (a two-handed grapple of an arm, plus one leg grappling the neck, and the other grappling the torso!) or getting dogpiled by a gaggle of goblins.

Once you have these points, your foe will be impaired to some degree. Grapples of the torso will impact nearly all combat skill use, applying full penalties to your actions. This might not be entirely clear from the rules, because the need to leverage your core is such a fundamental assumption for me after years of martial arts training that it never occurred to me to mention it explicitly at the time. Nor any of the playtesters. 
Oh, it’s there: 

Referred Control and Whole-Body Actions: Always use the most severe penalty from any body part involved in an action. Using both arms or both legs always involves the torso, so apply the harshest penalty from any of those locations. For skill use, apply the worst of the whole body penalty or that of any limb used to perform the skill.

Note that this paragraph has been changed since my original post, and I’ve updated it. It was clarified as a drive-by making an errata to this section on pp. 5-6, and I took the opportunity to clarify that yeah, skill use suffers the worst of the whole-body penalty or a penalty to a grabbed limb. Much nastier and more believable that way.

Step Three: Do More Stuff

Once you have that initial grapple, you have a choice. You can try and do something fancy with it, or you can do moar grapple! You can grapple again, to rack up more Control Points and improve your situation. This is an attack, but this time, the rules for fighting in Close Combat apply. Your foe will have a harder time using Block, for instance. He’s also penalized by whatever control you have achieved, and his movement and dodge are extra-hampered.

You can do all sorts of stuff with this, including shifting grapples around, or even trying to trap his limbs under yours, good for representing a good side mount or triangle choke.

In any case, once you have that grapple, you can then start to do techniques with it. Most of those are Quick Contests of a combat skill, DX, or Trained ST (ST with a bonus like that given for Wrestling, but bigger if you’re more skilled) vs. the defender’s best of several options, depending on the technique. This can be DX, ST, a combat skill, even Acrobatics or Breakfall, and sometimes, HT.

If you’re rolling vs. HT, you’re probably rolling to not get injured. One neat trick, though, is that to have a big injury, you must have lots of Control in most moves. Your injury is limited by the CP you have, and you must spend those CP when causing injury. Damage by delayed gratification.

The most common one for Wrestlers or Sumo Wrestlers (and some Judo and weapon guys too) will be the generalized version of Takedown (p. B370), now called Force Posture Change.

When doing grappling Contests, you may spend your Control Points to make it harder for your foe to succeed in his roll. You may not spend them to make your own grappling skills better, and this is important. Your skill, after penalties, matters. You have to perform some moves correctly and beat your foe’s ability to resist in order for them to work. Others, you just have to win the contest.

It’s really not as complicated as it may sound.

Step Four: Finish Him!


The last step(s) are really just situation dependent. Do you want to kill your foe? Cripple him? Does the match end when someone’s taken down (like Sumo)? Are you just trying to touch his shoulders to a flat surface like in Collegiate Wrestling (see p. 45!)?

How you finish will depend on your goals. A GURPS “Pin” (p. B370) is gone from the rules. You do that by accumulating enough Control Points to render all of your foe’s rolls moot, easily foiled by his failure and your own defenses.

Parting Shot


There’s lots of detail and rules in the book. But the basics are exactly the same as regular GURPS combat. Make an attack (and “breaking free” is now also an attack, so that’s not something unusual), your foe defends, and if he fails, you roll “damage” in the form of Control Points. If you want to do something fancy, this will almost always be resolved as a Quick Contest of skill, where margin of victory and Control Point spend will tell the tale.

But as you can see from some examples, both on this blog and on the forums, there’s some really cool (if I do say so myself) narrative possibilities here for those who want them!

What’s Next?


+Christopher Rice asked me a while ago to translate Black Widow’s fight in Iron Man 2 into Technical Grappling.

In the words of Laufey: “I . . . accept.”

This has come up often enough that I feel it might be a good idea to show a few things on how using Technical Grappling is supposed to work. So I’m going to be doing a bunch of posts showing fights with the rules. Anyone else using these rules is more than welcome to mail me some sample fights, and I’ll host them or link to them on The Grappling Mat.

“OK, so assume I’ve grappled the guy . . .”


Woah woah woah, pardner. Ease up. You missed the key first step.

One of the things that a lot of “what if” examples start with is the assumption of a grapple. OK, fine, but the really, really key thing that you always have to state if using TG is how many CP have been obtained by each fighter as part of that scenario. It’s absolutely crucial, because the rules absolutely assume that the CP lower the ST and DX of your foe. So in short, you must include the fact that if a ST 40 guy grapples a guy with ST 10, DX 14, ST 40 does 4d+1 CP on achieving a grapple. That’s an average of 15 CP, imparting -7 to ST and DX of our utterly average foe. THAT makes the “so, I’ve grappled you” opening statement more like the massively powerful grapple turns him into ST 3, DX 7 . . . roll vs. that. Likewise, if ST 10, DX 14 grapples ST 40, and let’s say he has Wrestling-18 for +3 Trained ST, he will do 1d CP. If he rolls a 6, that’s -3 to ST 40’s ST, but the DX penalties are scaled down for the high ST, and he’s unpenalized (-1 DX per 8 CP). So ST 40, DX 10 becomes (woo hoo) ST 37, DX 10.

So let’s back up and start again, and game out a really basic fight between two grapplers using realistic assumptions.

Meet the Combatants


Let’s start a DX-based Judo artist built on (only) 52 points. In the other corner, we’ll build more for ST-based moves.

Joe Doka: ST 11, DX 11, Judo-15 [DX+4], Arm Lock-17 [DX+5]. Trained ST 12, Trained HT 11, CP 1d-1. Judo Parry-10.

Russ Lerr: ST 13, DX 10, Wrestling-14 [DX+4], Arm Lock-15 [DX+5], Ground Fighting at full skill and only -1 to defend. Trained ST 16, Trained HT 13, CP 1d+1. Wrestling Parry-10.

Two 52-point fighters, one based on Judo and DX, the other more based on ST and Wrestling. At about 50 points, neither one is particularly super-duper, nor deep in their fighting ability.

Have plan? Must have plan.


Joe’s higher DX means he’ll go first, and we’ll assume a near-sport type of match, where they start one yard apart.

Joe’s basic strategy must be to try and stay standing. He will face full, nasty penalties if he’s on the ground, and that -4 to hit and -3 to defend for posture will suck – he’s not a cinematic fighter. He can probably do a nice Judo Throw, his basic grapple ability is good, and once he has a limb, his very credible Arm Lock will probably ensure a successful lock, but he’ll have to watch his relative facing. Joe will make extensive use of retreating parry, where he can, since he gets +3 on a retreating parry.

Russ’ strategy will certainly be to take his foe down. Once there, his advantages will be huge, fighting at full skill and with only -1 to defend. His go-to on this one is Force Posture Change, but he can try to Sweep at Wrestling-4 (meh). He too can try for a lock. To help with the takedown, he’ll grapple the legs to double the effect any any CPs he manages to inflict (TG, p. 10). Once on the ground, his superior Trained ST and a net skill advantage of Wrestling-14 vs Judo-11, Wrestling Parry-9 vs Judo Parry-7 should allow him to build up CP to achieve superior position, like rear mount, immobilizing Joe and then choosing a Wrestling-based finisher.

I’m going to put notes about choices and metagame info on the fight in blue indented italics.

Less Talk, More Fight!

Joe’s first move is to declare All-Out Defense (Parry). The +2 will come in handy, and he knows that Russ needs/wants to shoot in for his legs. He doesn’t want to go to ground, and while he could try and aggressively grapple first, the Judo Parry is nice because it allows a throw while not in Close Combat.

Joe could Wait, and I’m sure someone will chime in to tell me in detail why this is the best strategy. But do note that the +2 for AoD(Parry) precisely offsets the -2 for Grabbing Parry, which achieves the grapple required for most moves. Combined with Joe’s retreat, that’s +5 for any defenses he’ll take, and most Judo moves work really well off of a parry.

Russ wants and needs to get in and shoot for the legs. He’ll take a Step and Wait to close to one hex distance. He could dart in and grapple low using All-Out (Long) or Committed with extra step, but he needs to be able to defend and he knows it. So, step and Wait, and grapple the legs if Joe enters CC.

Joe doesn’t bite, and steps back. He’s going to force Russ to shoot. We could do this for a while, but we won’t. Russ will try a Feint, since Joe is clearly going to wait, Steven Seagal-like, until the end of time.

Note that the Setup Attack option from my Pyramid article is a bad choice for Russ – it triggers the parry he’s hoping to avoid.

So, Feint. Quick Contest. Russ rolls 6, and ah! Joe rolls 11. (I’m rolling actual dice here). Russ wins by 4.

Joe, deprived of the metagame information that he’s been successfully Feinted, continues to take AoD (Parry).

I’ll admit I feel like there’s probably a better answer here. Evaluate probably should be allowed as a cumulative benefit even while taking All-Out Defense, but in this case, Russ scored with his first feint.

On his next turn, Russ launches a Committed Attack (Determined) for the legs at a net of -1, including the -2 for taking two steps to close the distance, and ending kneeling. He rolls 8 and hits. Joe retreats, has AoD’d, but is at -4 for Russ’ Feint, for a net of  Parry-11. If Joe was forced by the Harsh Realism rules to achieve a Grabbing Parry to use Judo Throw (TG, p. 39) he’d be rolling vs. Parry-9.

The “ending kneeling” is not strictly required. Technically, I suppose you can do a leg grapple from the GURPS crouching position, but I’m going to say you have to kneel. I can do that. I’m the GM. 🙂 I view this as an application of Impossible Positions (TG, p. 11), which should definitely be read as ‘the GM says what’s what’ since GURPS is a Rule Zero game.

Alas, Joe rolls a 12.  No parry for him in any case. Russ hits the legs and rolls a 6 for CP, scoring 7 CP on Joe’s leg! Joe is -3 to ST and DX with that leg, and -1 to ST and DX for everything else due to referred control.

This is the first divergence point in the fight. I’m going to digress into options for a moment. Much like options for weapons and unarmed striking, there are now lots of ways for this fight to go.

Even on the successful attack, the maximum roll for CP was a lucky break. A more-typical 3-4 CP would have been only -1 or -2 to ST and DX on the legs alone, and either no penalty or a fairly paltry -1 to ST and DX for referred control. Joe could expect to work around that fairly easily. But no…it was a really good grapple. 

Had Joe Doka parried this shoot, his next move would likely be a Judo Throw, though a Lock of the head or arm would also be possible. Indeed, the usual response, if you can pull it off, to a low attack is to try and grapple the head and choke the attacker out. 

The divergence point here, then, is large.

The thing to avoid from a realism/game perspective is a series of repeated Feints until Russ wins by enough to just blow through Joe’s defenses. Whether that’s a house rule, invoking the multiple feints rules, or making feints cumulative (so that a lousy Feint on the previous roll puts you “in the hole” on the repetition), something will need to be done. As it happens, Russ won handily, winning by 5 off of a skill differential of -1, so he gets the -4 to defend for his shoot. 

Joe is at a 7 CP deficit and with the grapple of one of his legs, unstable. He needs to remove this threat somehow, ideally by breaking contact.

The first option would be to attack to break free, but he’s at a penalty from referred control and he’s both weaker than Russ and using Judo, both of which are staring at lower Trained ST as a result. Unless he crits, the 5 CP maximum he can remove won’t remove the grapple or the instability.

A real option for a better-rounded fighter would be a strike. Nothing says “get the hell off of me” like a knee to the face or an elbow to the top of the head. Kicking with the free leg and punching are both “only” at -1 to ST and DX, but at a -5 target. Another striking option would be All-Out Attack for Grab and Smash. There’s a rule tucked into Drop That Weapon! (p. 13) talking about shock and injury temporarily reducing Grip CP, and I think that makes sense as a general case. Bash someone hard in the face, and they need to make a HT roll or something or lose some CP.

Make no mistake, Russ has zero incentive to waste time getting Joe to the ground, and the 7 CP lucky roll means he’s nearly certain to put him there. Joe knows this.

Joe has to get out of there. He’s going to try a high-risk move, and use Judo Throw on Russ. Grapples are now mutual, so Joe has the contact he needs to just try and throw Russ as-is, but offensive Judo Throws are resolved by Contest, so Joe can use his CP to help foil it. Joe will try All-Out Attack (Double) – his skills aren’t high enough for Rapid Strikes – to grapple Russ back and also try a throw on the same turn.

Joe attacks the torso – and rolls a 9 for a hit.

The point of this first attack is to try and score enough CP to offset the 7 CP on the leg; Joe can hope to score 0-5 CP on a successful hit, averaging 2-3.

Russ is kneeling and used Committed Attack (-2 to defenses that don’t use the hands, which a Hands-Free Parry does not), is unpenalized by his kneeling posture due to his Ground Fighting, but the GM rules that having attacked the legs, and being kneeling, Joe is effectively grappling his flank or back, for a further -2 to defend. Parry-6, using the Hands-Free Parry rules (TG, p. 22-23) and he rolls an 8. Joe rolls a 4, scoring 3 CP on Russ’ torso.

The whole-body penalties involved (TG, p. 6) are 3 CP referred to Joe’s head, neck, and torso (9 CP total), and 3 CP on Russ’ torso, with 1 CP referred to head and neck (5 CP total). Penalties for the contest are that total divided by 4, rounded normally: -2 for Joe and -1 for Russ.

This is the only time in TG, I think, where referred control on ungrappled body parts stacks this way. It seems an odd rule, but I swear it works – RPK and I tried a bunch of scenarios to ensure it made sense.

The contest is Joe’s Judo (less -2 for control on a whole body movement) vs Russ’ Trained ST, DX, or best grappling skill (again, -1 for the impact of Joe’s grapple). The basic contest, then, is Joe rolling vs. Judo-13 and Russ rolling vs his Trained ST, modified down to 15. Joe goes for broke – he’s going to wind up prone anyway, and drops prone himself for +4 to his roll, making it Judo-17. He’ll also burn his full allotment of 3 CP, lowering Russ’ score to 12.

Russ is having none of it, and will spend all but the 1 CP required to keep Joe unstable – 6 CP. Final contest is a relatively even Judo-11 vs. Trained ST 12.

Joe rolls 9, Russ rolls 11, and Joe wins the contest by 1! Russ is thrown, and rolls 10 vs. his HT 10 and is not stunned. The players and GM rule that this was rolling backwards, throwing Russ over top, but landing with both prone, Russ still on Joe’s leg. It’s not unreasonable for Russ to have retained his 1 CP grip on Joe’s legs for this.

Had Russ failed his HT roll, and been stunned, the game would basically be up. Russ would have lost his grapple (misison accomplished), and Joe could have moved in for a crippling choke or arm lock more or less at his leisure. This is the second major divergence point.

Russ’ turn, now, and he’s going to keep working that leg, but he’s also going to try and take advantage of this opportunity to attack Joe after his All-Out Attack. He’s going to try a Telegraphic grapple using both legs and arms against Joe’s leg, effectively trying to set up a knee-bar position. Checking the Grip ST Table on p. 47, and then adding in the Training Bonus, Russ is ST 23 for this move, and net Wrestling-16 (+4 for Telegraphic, -2 for grappling with his legs). Roll 8 and hits, and 2d+1 CP yields 10 CP more, for 11 CP on Joe’s leg! Joe is now at -5 ST and DX for the grappled leg, and an additional -2 ST and DX everywhere else, including most skill use.

Joe is effectively now operating at Trained ST 10, DX 9, Judo-9, Judo Parry-6 for most skill use, and is even worse using that grappled leg.

Joe’s turn, and he’s got a major problem here. He’s not going to be able to get up, and his Judo is severely compromised by the CP on his leg. He’s going to try and injure Russ with a kick to the face and try and force a stun check. Rock out with an All-Out, Telegraphic (+8) Kick (DX-2) to the face (-5) making it a net of Kick-10. Roll 8 and hits! Russ cannot do a hands-free parry vs. a strike, and is a net of +1 to Parry (-1 for being prone, +2 for receiving a telegraphic attack) in any case. He chooses to let go with both hands, dropping from raw ST 20 down to 16, losing 2 CP by virtue of letting go (drops the leg grapple to “only” 9 CP). His Wrestling Parry is 11, and he rolls a 7.

I’ll admit here that the dice are really favoring Russ. Had he gotten the boot, he’d have done 1d-2 damage, rolled and came up with 2 points, enough to cause a shock penalty. Then Russ actually failed his HT roll, rolling 11 vs. a 10, and was stunned! This would have either led to Russ first losing his grapple, then (if he failed to snap out of it) Joe likely grabbing an arm and putting Russ in the Arm Bar of Doom, using All-Out Attacks until and unless Russ wakes up. This is the third time the fight could have gone Joe’s way.

Russ can again act without fear of retaliation, and reacquires the leg by attacking with both arms using a Telegraphic Attack. He rolls a 9, Joe can’t parry, and he adds Trained ST 16 for 1d+1 CP to his total, rolls a 6 (Dude. Dice.) for 7 more CP, bringing Russ up to his maximum CP of 16 (limited by Trained ST).

Joe is effectively now operating at Trained ST 7, DX 7, Judo-7, Judo Parry-5 for most skill use, and is even worse using that grappled leg.

All-Out Face kick again for Joe. Rolls a 12 and misses.

 Russ could try Wrench Leg, but he’s not improved it, and that would make it Trained ST 12 vs. Joe’s HT 10. Not awful odds, but not certain. Instead, Russ goes for a Leg Lock, rolling to attack vs. Wrestling-14. He hits, and Joe rolls a 9 to defend – no matter what he’s doing (Parry or Dodge) he fails. The limb is locked.

This time, Joe wants none of that and Telegraphic Attacks to break free. Rolls an 8 vs a modified Judo-11, but Russ can do a Hands-Free parry, rolls a 9 (vs. Parry-9, so he just makes it) and the joint is still locked.

Russ can now try and break Joe’s leg, and he will do so. He spends 3 CP to set the upper bound injury at a crippling 6 HP (locked joints count double). Russ’ trained ST with two arms and two legs is a whopping 23, vs. Joe’s Trained ST 8 or Trained HT 11. Russ can spend a CP to lower Joe’s roll to the base HT 10, and he does so. Win or lose, the CP on Joe’s leg are reduced to 12 next turn.

Russ rolls a 9, and Joe an 8 – Russ wins the contest by 11, more than enough to inflict maximum injury and crippling the leg.

Parting Shot


The interplay between Control Points, Posture, and even position (though it didn’t come up much) is pretty clear here. The Wrestler came out on top, but there were several chances for the Judo guy to turn the tables.

First, the “I Feint until I win” probably has some limits somewhere, but I’ll admit my Search Fu is failing.

Next was that the fight had a few places where it could have gone either way. Had Joe gotten that successful Judo Parry, the ensuing throw would have had a chance of stunning Russ (50-50) and possibly injuring him. Depending on what that looks like, Joe could have grabbed an arm from crouching, and put Russ in a standing arm lock to end the fight. Likewise, the second throw – the successful one – nearly did end the fight, as did the kick to the face.

The real weakness in the builds was a total lack of striking skills, as well as the deliberate lack of Ground Fighting on Joe’s part. That was there to prove a point, and that point was “spend the five points it takes to be a good ground fighter.” Or bring a sword.

Technical Grappling really cranks up the resolution on grappling and ground fighting. I hope this example shows how.

A Comment from the Forums


The poster known as Purple Haze makes a great point, salient to comparisons between this example and reality:

As an old judoka I find it hard to believe a judo practitioner’s “basic strategy is to try and remain standing.”
Try to be the one doing the takedown so you have an advantage when you get there, but get the fight on the ground as soon as possible. Is the basic strategy of judo and jujitsu.

There’s wisdom here, but also a common misconception. Our guy is not either a “Judoka” or a “jujitsu practitioner.” He’s “a guy with only Judo and nothing else.”

If you look at the writeup of BJJ in Martial Arts, the realistic skills are both Judo and Wrestling, Techniques include Ground Fighting, all the locks, and Low Fighting! Basically a combination of both fighters. Jiu-Jitsu (not BJJ) has Judo and Karate, with Ground Fighting as an optional skill only, so the basic style is stand-up based. Judo itself (p. 166) is Judo Sport, Ground Fighting, Technique Mastery (Judo Throw and Sacrifice Throw), which has a solid ground fighting basis.

The builds at play are, as I say in the intro, not optimized. Technical Grappling rewards skill depth, as does Martial Arts, as does real life. These one-skill wonders suffer badly from

* The wrestler is pretty incompetent against strikes
* The Judo-skill guy is incompetent on the ground (!!)

It’s a mistake, though a common one, to associate the GURPS skill names with styles of similar name. In this case, I made a dedicated ground fighter and a dedicated standup fighter, on about 52 points.

Next time, I will take a couple actual stylists built on 100 points.

All of GURPS is optional, more or less, though some is more optional than others. This is a bit of a rehash of

I’m on record as being not-a-fan of ST rolls. I even worked out an alternate system (granted, not a lot of playtest in that one) that really did away with ST rolls again.

So, when it came to Pickups, a generalization of the rules for lifting people up in Technical Grappling,  I asked PK and Kromm if they’d mind if I used the same table we’d worked out for grappling encumbrance, where you had a multiple of BL be a modifier, and basically asked what I’d roll against.  My rationale was that you’re straining to just lift him, and avoid injury. That’s a HT roll.

They agreed that in this case (a BOX on a very particular kind of move that really shouldn’t come up much in combat) it was an OK approach.

Not only that, when I defended this approach against some mild “hey, that’s weird” criticism on the forums (Criticism? On an internet forum? I am shocked! Shocked!), Sean doubled down:

FWIW, I officially endorse replacing all ST rolls with HT rolls for tasks that bring ST to bear, and using ST effects such as BL and damage to assess the results of success. ST has the annoying trait of being extrinsic where DX, IQ, and HT are intrinsic, and thus seems like a bizarre score to roll against – a bit like rolling against Basic Move, really. I do relent in situations where it’s clearly ST vs. ST, but even there I have to wonder if comparing thrust damage or something wouldn’t be more sensible. Interestingly, CP are found from thrust . . .

You still like ST rolls? Go right ahead and use them, of course! I even contemplated an alternate mechanic for Pickups where you do a Quick Contest of ST vs HP (and you think the modified HT roll is weird?). The basic rule for pickups is “you can’t, unless your target is less than 4xBL.” I thought that wasn’t quite right, since I can and have picked up someone closer to 6xBL in a match.

Anyway, I thought treating the weight-to-BL ratio as a modifier to a HT roll was better than a ST roll.

What about other stats?


+Cole Jenkins then asked a really good question. What about lifting someone with your brain?

If you’re using Telekinesis or a power, you could easily base the roll off of other things. Will would make a lot of sense, being supernatural durability. Maybe if you fail the roll, you take FP of exhaustion instead of HP of injury. Another way would be to use the (under-used, I think) affliction of Pain to represent impairment that doesn’t actually mean HP of injury. I’m less sold on others, but one could do DX to manipulate what are effectively extra arms. IQ is harder to rationalize for me, but I’m sure it could be done.

We picked up where we left off. Shiba, Thumvar, and Staver were in the thick of it on the right side of the battlefield, while Cadmus was preparing to invoke Smite again against something like eleven targets in range.

Well, good plan. The other guys managed to not get too badly grappled and mangled by the hordes of undead, and screaming Undead Lich Lady tries to land on Cadmus’ head, trying to grapple him with her freakin’ hair. Cadmus had a plan, though, so he didn’t move – and Crazy Hair Lich Lady landed nearby. Then Cadmus invoked Smite on his turn, killed nine frozen dead or mammoths, wounded a few more, and singed and really pissed off Lich Woman.

Next turn, she grapples Cadmus with her hair, but Shiba takes his turn to chop through first her hair, then her neck, beheading her. Cadmus uses Protection from Evil (Enhanced) to clear the field of undead . . . and a Very Mad Mammoth slams through all of us. I think the rest dodged and whatnot, but Cadmus takes one in the back for 19 pi++, less DR. Still takes 14 injury through DR 12.

Ow.

But then the others make short work of those remaining nearby as Cadmus makes two critical successes and a regular success to not lose concentration when hit by Giant Angry Mammoth. So with all the mooks forced to stay a minimum of 12 yards away, we finish off all that remain at our relative leisure.

Combat Over; Confusion Starts



At this point, we discover that we’ve arrived on the set of Skin of Evil. The big monolith thing is actually some sort of extruded and hardened essence of pure nasty. When those of us with good intentions walk on it, it begins to burn and scorch our boots and armor. When Staver the Infernal enters the circle, he feels like Old Uncle Evil is welcoming him home, and he’s ready to teach him all those things that he was too young for before. In short, we looked at the nasty evil thing, saw the three-clawed symbol from Turok’s Bore (Tanuanak? Tura lura lura? Fantasy names. Sheesh.), and went back to camp.

We spoke to Ameiko, healed up, and generally decided that we should probably go on to the Creepy Towers of Doom from which None Ever Return (except hopefully our heroes). When we woke up, the blizzard we’d been in had ended, and no sign of the monolith was visible – it had just disappeared, taking the storm with it.

We ended there.

Lessons Learned

  • Not a surprise, but getting dogpiled by undead sucks. And since most Learned Prayers and other things require a Concentrate maneuver, which by RAW can’t be done while grappled, it sucks even more. Technical Grappling allows you to keep concentrating with a Will roll, penalized for how good the grapple is.
  • Ranged weapons in a blizzard? Not so useful.
  • Never, ever, ever turn your back on an angry mammoth. It never ends well.

This is a response to a post +Gerardo Tasistro made a bit ago about when time of flight matters in RPGs. He’s positing that it’s not enough to know when in a turn sequence you act, but sometimes it’s key to know when – sometime later – the consequences of your action actually occur.

I started to reply to him, but my post started to get long. Not just because I had stuff to say, but there is actually a lot to unpack in some of his assumptions, and I’m not talking about physics.
So, let’s take this in two parts. The first part addresses his asssertion that time of flight will be a significant player in many/most modern firearms encounters.
We’ll start by excerpting his final paragraph – but the real interplay that led to this post was in the comments, so it might be worthwhile to check those out.

Flight time matters a lot more in modern combat RPGs due to the nature of the weapons themselves and there much longer ranges when compared to medieval ranged weapons. Yet some of the issues apply to fantasy settings as well. How do you take flight time into consideration when running your game?

Time of Flight – when it matters


While the machine-gun chart supports his point (50% of targets engaged at ranges more than 750m, the other chart (reproduced below) contradicts it a bit. 80% of all fights, regardless of terrain, occur at ranges less than 300m, which is going to be roughly 0.4 seconds flight time for a bullet from an M16, and about 1.2s for a 9mm from a pistol.
The Defense and Freedom link is interesting, but even his conclusion says don’t give infantry weapons that can reach past about a half-second away, or about 300-400 yards. That’s well within the range that unless you’re looking right at the guy shooting at you, you effectively have no chance of perceiving and reacting to an attack. Most of the time, even that won’t matter. Boom, dead. Next time, learn to use cover, concealment, and movement.

Now, my game of choice is obviously GURPS, which resolves actions in interleaved one-second blocks. Not “A goes, that’s one second, B goes, that’s two seconds, etc.” but A goes, and then B through G have their turns somewhere in the time span between when A went and he goes the next time. It’s purposefully kept a bit vague, and there are LOTS of situations where on a second-by-second basis, a GURPS combat mightn’t make instantaneous sense. You have to get to A’s next turn, and then rationalize what happened.

For example, you can do pretty much infinite dodging, and so if you do a Judo Parry, and dodge three others, and there’s a retreat in there, and an attack where you grab someone, but . . . you really can’t narrate it completely until it’s over. You can try, but you won’t like it much all the time.

Anyway, on this scale, the Defense and Freedom link suggests that four times in five, the worst that would happen (at 300m with a pistol) would be A fires, a bunch of other people go, and then right about when A is about to take his next turn, the guy who he’s shooting at gets hit.
How would GURPS handle this? Well, at very long ranges, +Hans-Christian Vortisch wrote the “Time of Flight” rule into Tactical Shooting (p. 32) which gives an average flight time for rifles and pistols, as well as adjusts the hit percentages a random amount (you can walk into the bullet’s path, but mostly you are harder to hit).
But by and large, you shoot, you roll the results, and that’s it.
Now, that goes right out the window for bows, especially in ye olden days. A battlefield engagement with medieval warbows would happen as if they were the equivalent of artillery an machinegun fire: massed volleys at packed bodies of troope. And at 200-250m range – where the English expected their archers to be able to reach – a volley might take four or five seconds to reach that target.  The velocity of these bows is on the order of 40-50m/s, and that velocity is retained for nearly all of the flight. Modern bows are faster. High draw, high efficiency, and lightweight carbon fiber or aluminum arrows can hit about 90-100m/s . . . still two or three seconds flight time.
Hell, in the five seconds it takes for an arrow to reach a target 200m away, many GURPS combats are already over.
So I actually find Gerardo’s argument persuasive . . . but for ancient weapons, not modern ones!
He suggests, and seems to be designing a game around, breaking a typical 10-second turn into 250 millisecond increments. I don’t think he’s necessarily saying that you take 40 actions in that time. Rather, you take one, but the propagation of those effects is resolved in fairly precisely defined time scales.

Realism and Fun

While I find his pursuit of accuracy and detail interesting (and if you read this blog, you’ll see some of our tendencies are rather aligned), I hope he realizes that there are probably like five people on the planet who would put up with a pen-and-paper game that resolved actions in quarter-second increments. GURPS gets roundly criticized for its one-second time scale, and that IS a length of time where you actually get aphysical behavior from some weapons.

I think, also, that this search for realism hits right into what +Sean Punch was hitting on when we discussed the importance of realism in the gaming industry. (link goes to the YouTube video).

Ultimately, there are probably only a few situations where it really, really matters more when that bullet or burst hits than what your players will do to you when you make them track actions on that scale. There are already long, painful GURPS Forum threads about how weird it seems to have to take two separate turns to pick up a dropped weapon. The actions are discrete, but only make sense when viewed as a two-second holistic move. Wackiness ensues. 
There was an interesting thread about making GURPS turns 3 seconds long. While it didn’t really go anywhere (the one-second resolution is pretty ingrained into the system), there’s a point here. If you look at Pathfinder turns, each is 6 seconds long; older editions were even longer. GURPS are one second long. 
Now take a 5 minute grappling match. That’s 300 painful, second-by-second turns in GURPS. It’s a barely-more-tolerable 50 turns in Pathfinder. Old-school D&D, if I recall correctly, would be either 5-10 turns of 30s to maybe a minute. Ironically, the most gameable and palatable scale of this, where your players aren’t contemplating murder, are those that will sweep most of the cut, thrust, parry, reversal, close-shave moments under the rug. 
Hell, I wrote an entire article just to slow down the frantic-seeming pace of GURPS combat brought about, in part, by the one-second time scale.
Parting Shot
I started rambling a bit, so I’ll cut this off. I think that the notion of “there are some ranged combat effects that really need a delay between declaring the action and resolving it” is, by and large, a fine thing, I think that tracking it too precisely will probably lead to a game that’s totally realistic and totally unplayable. There’s too much that gets usefully subsumed into skill and die rolls, and breaking this down into detailed component parts is probably headed the wrong direction. 
That being said, if your game is based on 10 second rounds (to use his example from his post) instead of 1 second, well, an awful lot might happen in the first five seconds, so instantaneous resolution – especially based on I go, you go initiative, probably has a lot of artifacts to sweep under the rug. I understand why he’s pursuing it, even if ultimately I can also see why the additional complexity will significantly limit any future market appeal of such a system. Heck, one of my very first posts on this blog was about this topic!
Of course, market appeal?  Mass-market, that is. If you and three to ten of your closest friends are totally into it, well,  awesome.
And just by way of example, one of my old campaigns, a Black Ops campaign, had a moment of incredibly high drama based entirely on weapon time of flight and +Alina Cole‘s character being totally awesome with a rifle.
They were being engaged by a bad guy from something like a 1,000m distance. Maybe more. I think it was a mile or so. The bad guy had a 0.50 BMG, with a muzzle velocity on the order of 750-800m/s. I recall time of flight was something like two or three seconds.
My wife’s character had a recently acquired bit of alien technology – a gauss rifle with a muzzle velocity of something like 1,500 or 3,000m/s.
She was able to see the guy point and shoot at her, aim, fire, kill the guy, and then take cover from the incoming steel rain . . . all because time of flight mattered.
It was awesome, and could never have happened without taking time of flight into consideration. 
So I really do get where he’s coming from.
I hope I haven’t mischaracterized his thoughts and opinions in any way. If I’ve misstated his thoughts and intentions (and he corrects or clarifies in the comments), I’ll edit.

I’m taking a page from +Peter V. Dell’Orto‘s book today, and just throwing down some random thoughts.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: Jade Regent

As much as I occasionally take gentle shots at the Adventure Path and its theme, I have a fantastic time playing in that game. It gives me my only real outlet for actually experiencing the game for which I write, and +Nathan Joy does a fine job in turning the AP into GURPS.

Two things I do wish were that there was a faster way to play than the chat-based interface we use. It’s just simply slower than the Google Hangouts/Roll20 games I’ve played, in GUMSHOE, Pathfinder, and yes, even in GURPS. While I actually prefer MapTool’s interface thanks to the handy macros largely created, I think, by +Emily Smirle, I cannot deny that +Jeromy French and that group goes through more actual plot motion in two hours than we often do in four.

From a purely gameplay standpoint, Cadmus, my Warrior Saint is fun to play. He’s a decent fighter, occasionally literally pulls off miracles, and is mostly capable of turning nearly any confrontation with undead into a nonissue. Mostly – Nate fixed some of the more egregious problems with his abilities (like Turning Undead) with a few rules mods – a Zone of Pure Evil or something that countered the +10 Cadmus gets to Will for this power. I was totally down with that. He finally got his axe silvered a few sessions ago, fixing a glaring “newbie to DF” oversight that won’t happen again. He desperately needs some appropriately-priced (meaning “can be used with Divine Favor 8”) Learned Prayers for use on diffuse or homogeneous foes, as well as some sort of ranged attack. Either that or a bunch of buff-type powers, because with +Theodore Briggs‘ Knight Thumvar and +Mark Langsdorf‘s Mystic Knight, Cadmus is back on second-ranker duty. His inability to simultaneously use Righteous Fury and any other Holy Power (invoking something else turns off RF) significantly limits his utility. Since RF lasts 3d seconds and is only usable once per day, I’m not sure if it would break anything to allow me to do both. Or maybe I can do both, but it costs me 1 FP per other power instead of for free.

Hmmm . . .

The Queue


I have a spectacular number of projects on my GURPS whiteboard. Something like twelve ideas between e23, Pyramid, and future topics to explore at length for this blog. Work and real life – plus a new-found and long-delayed addition to Angry Birds Star Wars  (curse you, +Rovio ) have conspired to prevent me from sitting down and actually writing.

I really need to grind out my pending article on weapon breakage and edge quality. +Christopher Rice has actually run it through an honest-to-God playtest, and reports that it works very well in play. There are some tweaks that Peter helped me think about that will make that part of it even stronger. I suspect rather strongly that I’m going to wind up taking it apart again – I’d originally written it as one big piece, then split it into three, and now it’s back to One Big Article (only 6,500 words, so not Deadly Spring big). The parts I don’t like are holding up the parts that I do like, though, so it might just be time to do a crap-ectomy and get +Steven Marsh something he can use.

Speaking of Christopher Rice, he and I are eyeballing a few joint projects. One of which would be really, really fun to bring forward again.

Interviews


I had a lot of fun doing that first interview with +Sean Punch and I want to do more, but I need to get cranking on the invite list (know who I want in my mind) and look at some structure and content ideas on how to do it. I got enough practice on that interview that I know how to get ’em done, edited, and transcribed in good order. Might need to contemplate donations though if I start to do a ton of these, just to defer the cost of transcription.

Technical Grappling


Well, it’s out, it’s sold over 200 copies, which is about halfway, honestly, to what I hope it will sell. I think as people use it in play, rather than read-and-theorize, the feedback will come more frequently. I have a few interesting ideas that I’m not sure would be best as a blog entry, a Pyramid article, or even a separate supplement. Probably not a full-on supplement, but a Pyramid article would be fun. I wonder if +Rob Kamm remembers what we discussed many moons ago.

After the last game, the team (without me – I was out for some reason) had managed to survive the cave-in that was Pharasmically induced, do some minor looting before the entire cave system collapsed, and watch as one undead dragon flew off with a dead dragon in its claws.

Yeah, like we won’t be seeing them again in the future.

Anyway, we pursued them across the frozen north for a few weeks, and came up at camp to a woman that stirred Thumvar’s bones. He wandered out after her into the frozen cold. The rest of us resisted the evil hag’s lure.

Still, that put us in the middle of the frozen combat field with what looked like one or two foes. I think my vision-blocking layer was disabled, because I saw the entire freakin’ mess. That is a whole lot of Frozen Dead, at least four undead mammoths, a bunch of Frozen Wraiths, and one Woman. Plus a giant-ass stone pi. Awesome, like the mooks on the receiving end of River Tam’s wrath, we were about to be killed by Evil Math.

Turns out that was somewhat literal, too. That circle was black ice. Evil black ice, and any undead on it got a +10 to resist Cadmus’ usual bag of tricks, such as Protection from Evil. We found that out when Staver (our Infernal Scout) wandered in and felt the slippery evil for itself. Very bad, very tempting. She backed out.

Anyway, wackiness ensued. The snow slowed us down to half-move, which for Cadmus was 2 yards per second. He didn’t do a lot of moving, though – they came to him. Lots of them. Things rapidly got hairy, with mammoths trying tramples (all were dodged), very fast wraiths sneaking up from behind (but they mostly fell quickly to silvered weapons), and slow undead that woke up when the entire freakin’ battlefield shivered like a drumhead. Now they were fast zombies.

Great.

We managed to bring down most of the mammoths, and the bad guys still insisted on leaving their circle of Awesomely Evil to come to us. Still, we got pretty well surrounded. Lots of grapple attempts (alas, we are not introducing Technical Grappling midstream. Yet.)

Still, we thus far mainly are managing to hold our own. Cadmus has an attack called “Smite” that strikes undead with 2d burning injury per turn in a 4-yard radius. It’s irresistible, no roll required, just roll damage. The mammoths found it irksome, the Frozen Dead took a couple of rounds to fell, and the wraiths did not fare well against the combination of silver weapons and holy fire. Go figure.

We ended right as Cadmus was going to launch a smite attack that would impact eleven targets. Staver and Shiba are more-or-less surrounded . . . and since Staver’s an Infernal, if I get close enough to help them out, I burn Staver too. Ouch.

Lessons Learned

  • No player of Dungeon Fantasy should spend too long without silvered weapons. They’re cheap, and make things like our insubstantial wraiths pretty much easy pickings if you could get next to one. Since their primary attack was to slam through you (insubstantial, affects substantial – a 160-point vat of unfairness when it’s used on you), and a slam is a strike, well, armed parries are aggressive parries. I think Cadmus killed at least one, Thumvar also, just by a good parry roll on a weapon with a (2) armor divisor.
  • A stash of ranged, area effect weapons never hurts. Granted, we were in a freakin blizzard, so arrows were Right Out. 
  • Forming a wall of battle is hard when the most effective attack is an area effect strike that can hurt your own party members. We never tried, of course (we never do). And the charging mammoths kinda put paid to any formation dreams. When a 10-ton mammoth encased in armored ice charges at you, you get the frack out of the way.
  • If the enemy is willing to come to you . . . let them.
Future Rules Mods
  • The subject of all parries are armed parries came up, and I think +Nathan Joy and I are converging on a house rule we like
    • If you want to do full damage with an armed parry, Wait and Attack. 
    • If you want to parry with the blade of a hafted weapon, you’ll do so at a penalty (still working out what that will be, we toyed with -4, as well as -2 plus either a location or weapon bulk penalty), and do half your swing damage for normally-swung weapons (cutting).
    • If you just want to parry, you do half thrust damage, full skill. Bladed weapons like swords and knives do cut damage, hafted weapons like axes, maces, polearms will likely do crush (parry with the haft).
  • It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

Thanks to all the people who watched my interview with GURPS Line Editor +Sean Punch in the video format. As promised, though, and for those who can’t or don’t like to watch video, here are two other ways to enjoy it.

First, an MP3 audio file. It’s like 125MB, so be warned: not small.

Next, and this is a 10,000+ word transcript (kudos to CastingWords for getting this done in about a week, for about fifty bucks), here’s the text of the interview.

*****

Douglas
Cole (Gaming Ballistic)
:  This is the first interview that I’m doing on the gaming
ballistic blog. I’d thought I’d try it out. Naturally, since I write for GURPS,
and I love GURPS, and I play GURPS, I decided to have the
interview with Sean Punch, the GURPS line editor. Given that it’s
my favorite system and it’s my go‑to for my creative writing as well as my role‑playing,
I wanted to chat with you, ask some questions, and ask you both about GURPS
as a system but also about the industry as a whole.

So
just getting right to it – and briefly since most people who come to my blog
will do it because I talk about GURPS (since I don’t think that
there’s much else about me that’s going to draw people to say what’s Doug doing
today). What is GURPS? Just talk about it briefly as a role‑playing system just
in case we have random strangers coming today.

Sean Punch (GURPS Line Editor, Steve Jackson Games):  If you are random stranger and you’ve played role playing
games but not GURPS, the important thing to know about GURPS is that it’s
generic. It doesn’t have a preferred setting or genre or time period. That it’s
point-build, so you’re not rolling characters, you’re using points to build
your characters to custom specifications. And that it’s based entirely on the
use of three six-sided dice – you determine reactions on those dice by rolling
high, determine success on those dice by rolling low. Pretty much everything
about GURPS can be traced back to these fundamentals. You build your
character with whatever traits in the genre the GM has picked. You pick that
genre out of a hat if you like, but hopefully because you enjoy it, hopefully
because it’s interesting.

You
build a setting using the elements of the system and then you start gaming with
those characters you made. The characters choices and abilities will be from a
huge list that will hopefully be paired down by the GM’s choices for setting
and time period, so forth. You buy them with points. The points don’t show up
much during play, really, but you’re rolling with three six‑sided dice a lot
against target numbers, trying to roll low to succeed.

That’s
the essence of it. Beyond that, it would get into particulars. Anyone who is a
gamer but not familiar with GURPS are more than welcome to come
to me and ask for those particulars, but I’m not going to take up Doug’s time
with that right now.

Douglas:
 That actually makes a pretty good segue into…one of the nice things
about, and you use a particular phrase before, either drinking your own
bathwater or, drinking your own Cool‑aid?

Sean:
 Eating your own dog food.

Douglas:
 Eating your own dog food! That’s your phrase of choice. You posted
several long running campaigns and campaign logs. When you are talking about
how things work in play and the rules and all that stuff, it’s not just “oh
look, here’s an abstract rules, Meta system that’s going on.” You do things – you
play the game. What do you think the strengths of the system that you oversee
are, and how do you leverage those strengths into these long‑running successful
campaigns?

Sean:
 There’re two questions. The strengths of the system, is the quickest
question one to answer. The strength is that it can handle anything. If I get a
crazy idea in mind, I don’t have to seek out a system first. I have some
friends who are very insistent on a new system for each new campaign. I
understand that part of the fun for them.

Say
that you are strapped for time, short on cash, whatever, and as a freelance
designer of games I’m always strapped for cash and time. You want to get
something that can handle just about anything. That’s its big strength. It’s a
big toolkit got all the tools.

As
for how you make use of that, I mostly make use of it by just taking advantage
of the fact that all those tools are there and I’m very familiar of them. If I
have an idea I usually realize it in rules terms often in a matter of . . .
often a matter of minutes. It doesn’t take me very long to come up with a way
to use an existing component, or if I have to fudge something together because
it doesn’t exist then something that’s close enough to what exists. That’s
really the secret.

Now
the secret to the long‑running part, I’m not going to say GURPS can take any credit
off that. That’s got to do with finding a group of players. That’s a whole
other conversation really. I generally game with friends, before I game with
strangers.

I
generally approach a game as being long running to begin with. I don’t throw
everything in the first five minutes. I don’t set off all my firecrackers in one
big batch. I like to have a long term arc in mind. I like to move forwards
various waypoints along that arc, and I like to respond with what the players
are telling me either outright or implicitly with changes to the campaign world
so it keeps it interesting for them.

In
as much as GURPS is generic, it can let me cobble together anything I want
in tools. I guess it helps there, because players seem to be going in a
direction that I perhaps didn’t consider, or maybe wouldn’t have considered. I
can see it coming and I can say, “All right, there’s a book for that or
there’s a rule for that. There’s something that handles that.” I can dig
it out later, or even right now, I can consult the right rule book and it will
give me that.
[Dialog slightly inaudible; I asked Sean to
repeat his point.]


Fundamentally
I just said I can reach for a rule book and I can be fairly sure I either have
what I need or the tools I need to improvise a solution that matches what the
players are asking me for either outright or though their actions. That’s all.

Douglas:
 One of the things that I’ve seen on various boards is “you people never
criticize GURPS.” I’m going to give us an opportunity to criticize GURPS.
What do you think the weaknesses of the system are?

Sean:
 Like any system, first and foremost not perfect. It’s designed by humans.
It can’t consider every possible case, no matter how generic it’s supposed to
be. They have biases. Like any game it privileges certain genres even though
it’s supposed to be generic, it privileges certain scenarios even though it’s
supposed to be generic. It’s only going to be as good as the people designing
it when it comes to comprehension of things like math of science or whatever
used in the model of the situation. Or, not to be too quantitative about it,
only as good as the experiences of the designers with various genres and genre
fictions. If I’ve never seen some anime someone is talking about. I can’t
promise you the system I’ve worked on will emulate things in that very well
because I don’t know anything about it.

That’s
the big weakness really and it’s shared among all role‑playing games but it’s
especially noticeable for generic games because people often assume, rightly or
wrongly, that generic games “will handle anything.” I can come back to that
later, but it comes to, “No it doesn’t really mean that. It means it can
handle most things passively well but some things obviously you going to want a
specialized genre for.”

Specific
to GURPS,
it’s got a few mechanical issues which make it less than perfect in some
circumstances. Because the task resolution is done on a 3d6 system, if you are
not extremely conversant with modifiers that take probability ranges way
outside that and bring it into that range, then you can find yourself wondering
whether the limited range restrictive. Why not roll high and double up to
handle more range?

That’s
a valid criticism if you’re not very comfortable with the system. The system
actually does address those problems with modifiers and with special cases for
high skill but in principle, it’s a built in flaw in the system. I won’t deny
that. Another thing is point build itself because it has implicit meaning of
some kind.

Some
people like to say it means every character is equally powerful. Some people
like to say every character is equally flexible, but whichever of those you
choose it’s not going to be entirely true that the power judgments or
flexibility judgments will agree with any given person’s idea on what’s best.

Like
all point builds, it’s possible to come to degenerate cases where you are
getting way too much for your points. Like all point builds, there are some
things of truly no fair value. Being invulnerable has no fair value. Being able
to emulate what anyone else can do has no fair value. Being a God, really, has
no fair value.
So
with point build, you do have these situations where, if you’re going to be
rigorous about using the points, you are going to always be kept away from
doing certain things in the system, however generic it claims to be.

Douglas:  I remember once in the old Third Edition days, I convinced my
game master to give me the physical equivalent to eidetic memory, which was double or triple the points and blah,
blah, blah. And boy, was he an effective 200 point character when something in
it was four times as expensive as mental skills got an additional
multiplier.That was about my most shameless munchkin moment ever.

Sean:
 That’s an excellent example of what I mean, however. Because it’s point
build, an awful of it in the system is linear in points. I mean sometimes
there’s an increasing scale. But fundamentally, there’s a scale, and it goes up
on how many points you spend and you pile multiplicative effects on top of
arithmetic progression, a straightforward linear progression.

Or
for that matter, if the progression is already multiplicative, I mean you start
throwing powers [mathematical exponents,
not superpowers -Doug]
in there, it’s going to break. If there’s some
scaling that requires you to multiply, or divide, or use a power and they’re
not going to work well, play well, with a different scaling.

The
point system has to assume some scaling. So, no matter what scaling you use,
it’s always possible to order higher, it’s always possible to decide that it’s
too extreme. You want to go lower, and it won’t work as well for you. That’s
unfortunate, but it’s the way it is with generic systems.

We can’t
keep everybody happy at every scale all the time.

Douglas:
 Yeah. No, I think that’s true ‘cause you know you have a box of what…in
a way it’s a lot like the 3d6 curve. You have a place where it works, and if
you have things that are outside that place, then you need to bring them in in
order for everything to relate well.
You
know, an ant and a person don’t do melee well. [laughs] Well, the person might,
but it is a different scale. Well, “ant . . . boot” to borrow from The Avengers. Because why wouldn’t you borrow from
The Avengers?

Anyway,
in terms of strengths and weaknesses, the games that I’ve been playing recently
are, I had one fun moment in “FATE Core,” I’ve been playing a little
GUMSHOE” which is really “Trail of Cthulhu,” and a bunch
of Pathfinder recently, as well as playing a Pathfinder adventure using the DungeonFantasy ruleset (which rocks on toast, but we’ll get to that later).

What
do you think relatively speaking are the ‑‑ strengths and weakness are the
wrong words, but where do you think that some of these other systems that you
might’ve experienced with – and if you don’t, you can ignore that part of it. Where
do you think it fits well, and where does GURPS do better and worse, or really
what is the feel, I guess, of each system?

Maybe,
forget the better or worse absolute. How
does each system make you feel
?

Sean:
 Well, class and level type systems, whether you’re talking about
something as recent as Pathfinder, or you can go all the way back to AD&D or
first edition D&D and all kinds of games in between. So lets take those
games as a set of things.
You’re
familiar with Pathfinder: great. I’ve read the Pathfinder rule book, I’m not
that familiar with it in play, but I’m familiar with the fact that it is
basically D&D 3.5 pushed to the future and I read 3.0, 3.5 and I played
every version of D&D.

Those
systems have going for them the one big advantage, you can jump in more
quickly. Yeah, it’s true that there’s all kinds of options for characters and
as you get on with very high level characters it’s a pain in the butt to keep
track of them all. There’s twenty different ways to get the same result, some
are more efficient than others.

But
you can jump in initially. There’s a known finite set of abilities, a known
finite set of character options, you can jump in and start right away, and no
one has to deal with weird corner cases, or with their inability to do math or
whatever.

There’s
not that many things you have to pick, and most people coming in the table,
even if they gamed in Hong Kong, if they gamed in Sydney, Australia, if they
gamed in Chennai, India, if they gamed in Sao Paulo in Brazil, it doesn’t
really matter. They have all played that system.

It’s
got a basic set of assumptions that everyone knows, and provided you speak the
language inside of the game table, you jump in and you know that your wizard,
or your pirate or whatever will be, for lack of a better word, the same as any
other wizard or pirate, modulo your specific preferences, tics, and choices and
obviously what he looks like, whether he’s got a pointy goatee, and likes a
rapier better than an axe or whatever.
But
the key thing is that it’s got this familiar idea. It’s got this quick start,
not just in the sense of the game is quick to start with, but also quick in the
sense that the gaming group is easy to jump in to.

GURPS
doesn’t have that. The GM has to set out what kind of characters are OK, take a
huge list of abilities and pare it down to the ones that he or she wants to see
in the campaign.
Players
will have to deal with an awful lot of house rules, because there are just too
many corner cases to deal with scale or technology or whatever, the GM would
have to jump in on. You immediately have to consult which of those are they
using, what do they mean, and how to find out about them.

There
are a lot of choices from day one. I mean from the minute you start your GURPS
character, even if it’s a low-powered campaign, you have all this points to
spend, and you spend them as small as one at a time on one point skill or a
perk or something. It can take you a long time to spend them all.

If
you’re spending 50 points on 50 one-point entities, that’s 50 choices. Well,
your Pathfinder character is not going to have 50 choices, full stop. Not even
if you start a little above first level. There are just not that many choices
to make.

So
that’s the big advantage there. Then you get this small thing like FATE which
is the other system I know about. I’d say “FATE” actually has about
as much complexity as GURPS. A lot of people would argue
with me on that. But I don’t think I would step back from that argument, I
don’t think I would step down. Because there’s a surprising amount of stuff you
have to pick at “FATE.” And those traits fall into a surprising
number of bins.

Yeah,
it’s true, there’s not necessarily a set of campaigns. There’s not necessarily
attributes. There’s not necessarily this interdependence of scores on other
scores.

But
there are all these different types of things. Each one is a different dramatic
role. There’s quite a few possibilities in cases where some of them are
completely player defined. GURPS has some player defined
abilities but they fall into narrower boxes. Not so like “FATE.”
“FATE” you can literally define something, you create out of the
blue, whole cloth. You have to debate with the GM what it does, what it’s
capable of doing.

FATE
also does not have the Pathfinder-style ability to let you just jump in and
know what’s going on. Again, like GURPS you have to set up a campaign,
decide what your genre and expectations are, what’s going to be on the skill
list. What kinds of things you want people to have, how many Stunts you want people
to have, or whatever. There’s that.

FATE
is strong in the sense that it’s branded for dramatic play. Which for an awful
lot of players is much more important than mechanistic play. GURPS
is very mechanistic, it’s very realism‑based. It may not be a realistic game,
you finally throw in the superheroes, and the talking snake‑man, and the
telepathic powers. But initially it’s based on realistic roots.

FATE
doesn’t come from there. FATE comes from dramatically appropriate roots which
is a very different origin. Players who are very quantitative thinkers, very
interested in the realism, the real world, these people love GURPS.
They don’t necessarily like FATE and vice versa.

People
who like drama, who very much want their game to be like what they saw on the
screen or in their book, are not going to like very much a system which
restricts them based on what’s physically plausible, as opposed to what’s
dramatically plausible. FATE does that much better.

I’ve
played dozens of other types of game systems. There are game systems without
points but which still have builds, and there are game systems which have
points but no builds. The points are just used to pick over a limited list of
choices and so on, and they all have strengths and weaknesses, everything.

Actually,
I think those games we discussed, the class‑level based games and the
dramatically‑founded games, are really the two biggest departures you can get
from GURPS.
The only bigger departures are game systems considered to be a little bit
experimental. You get games where you do away altogether with dice rolling, or
you get situations where everything’s bid on instead of bought with points.
These are interesting as well, but you can sort of shoehorn them in to one of
these other molds, I think.

Douglas
Cole
:  Yeah, I think that, at least in my experience with the stuff
that you’ve written, I thought that the Impulse Buys book was a great leap towards
being able to have a mechanically‑based system that helped to facilitate more
dramatic play.

I
know that between that and some of the stuff that Reverend Pee Kitty ( Jason Levine ), has penned with Destiny Points, and that . . . we’ve gotten great
mileage in the Dungeon Fantasy campaign with, oh, I swing and I miss. No, I
don’t, damn it! I don’t miss because it would just be way cooler to not miss
here, or it would be really stupid to die this way so I’m going to exert a
level of Plot Immunity based on these Destiny Points, or Luck, or whatever.

That’s
what I’ve found is . . . I look at my personal experiences is, that if you’re
willing to take a step away from the dice every now and then, GURPS
supports a lot stronger dramatic play than people would think.

Sean:
 It does. My particular windmill, that I like to charge at on my fantasy
horse, when I’m not actually trying to get paid, is bridging that gap. I think
it’s actually possible to have a set of physical basics, a realism‑based
foundation, and throw a dramatic blanket over it, and not have one or the other
take over. I think it’s actually possible to have them both working at the same
time. My previous campaign, my fantasy campaign, I did a fair amount of that
and people spend points for outcomes and I had a lot of stuff be Destiny
driven. Their characters all had big Destinies and I didn’t pay so much
attention to character points. People had totals, but they changed a lot based
on what I told my campaign was going to do at that moment in time.
Yeah,
I still had things like weights for swords, and pounds of force for how much
people could pick up and throw around, and people had certain heights and
weights, and so many dollars in their pouch, and so on. I thought that was kind
of a neat thing, that you could have this fundamental realism at the root of
the game and not have it defining the game. Just have it set the, I guess you’d
say, the stop point, or the 1 or the 11 on your volume dial, however you want
to look at it, past which you can’t go. A lot of things within that range to
move around and be interesting.
Douglas:
 One of the things that always amuses me is when you’ve got something
where like, “yeah, well, I have this advantage, and if I lose it then there
better be something that comes back to me to maintain my point total.”
A
couple years ago, I busted up my neck pretty hard, and the next day I did not win the lottery, representing the
fact that I now had a neck injury, so I guess I can buy Wealth with a
disadvantage that I got when I lost the fully functional neck thing.
I
always have a good time when point totals fluctuate in play and stuff like
that.
You
hit on a point which I know you and I have talked about offline. For those who
don’t know, Sean and I are not just strangers, you know we write, I help, I
submit proposals and all that stuff. We’ve known each other for, remotely, for
years.
Sean:
 For a long time, yeah.
Douglas:
 Yeah. Anyway, we’re talking about this, and the realism thing I think is
key. Because it’s right there in the intro, as a bit of fluff text that was
written 20 years ago or more, that GURPS is realistic. You’ve hit on it, and I’ve said it too, plausible verimi
. . . wow, all right, let’s see if I can actually say that. [Supposed to be plausible verisimilitude, which is
apparently harder to say than to write.]
“The appearance of being
realistic,” right? It doesn’t have to be actually, physically real. It just has
to feel that way. GURPS has that reputation for realism, and how important is “realism”
to success in today’s game industry?
Sean:
 I think it’s not nearly as important as an awful lot of people would like
to think, and argue even that perhaps it wasn’t ever important. It’s crucial to realize, poor choice of words
there, but crucial to understand that realism was almost a fad when gaming
first started. Now, I don’t mean gaming on tabletops back in the day with Von Clausewitz moving around wooden ships or something. I mean when role‑playing
games first started. The ’70s. They were, sure, they started in a wargame and
the wargame had some vague connections to reality. You can look at those early
incarnations of D&D, say. You can realize even then there were wizards,
there were people who were, simply put, big. This man was equivalent of 10
fighters. That’s what his tenth level meant. He was equivalent of 10 men.
Realize
no one’s equivalent to 10 men, and no one can work magic. Even those early days
it wasn’t terribly realistic. Throughout, the focus has always been on strange
powers and unusual abilities, and when people have confined themselves to the
real world, usually it’s not the real world as we know it. It’s usually the
real world as depicted in action movies or something like that.
There
are lots of systems out there which have wire fu, action movie realism. Nobody
can actually die or whatever, or they always win because the errors and the mooks
just lose. It’s still not realistic. It’s just unrealistic in a different
direction.
Or
you have people roll out some of the so called hard sci‑fi games or early semi‑soft
sci‑fi games. Well, this is realistic it’s got passion‑like drives that sort
of, maybe could exist…
Douglas:
 Vectors! It’s got vectors!
Sean:
 …or you’ve got Magic…
[laughter
from both]
Sean:  The thing is it’s still not realistic. I guess you could say
it’s a plausible model for an internal existing universe, but it’s not
realistic. Realism as such, I’d say,
is very rarely seen in role‑playing games.
There
are a few games out there which attempted to bring realism to specific subsystems
of what they do. I don’t know how familiar you are with old‑timey or not so old‑timey,
but obscure games. You ever hear of Phoenix Command?
Douglas:  Oh, yeah. Sure. I’ve never played it.
Sean:
 It very accurately depicts what a firearm would do if it hit someone. I’d
say it’s probably fairly realistic. There are games like Riddle of Steel, which do a moderately realistic job of handling swordplay, aspects
including a psychological one, which is nice, because that’s something missing
in role‑playing combat.
The
over-arching systems in which people play aren’t realistic. GURPS
really didn’t claim to be realistic so much as founded in realism. If you look
at Steve’s original intro ‑‑ and I actually went back and reread that for this
interview, because I was curious ‑‑ he doesn’t ever actually say: “GURPS
is a realistic game.”
He
even admits you could do anything you want. You can be a wizard. You can be an
alien, all kinds of things that don’t really exist. You could be a swashbuckler
who could exist in the real world, but certainly not be a cinematic success
that swashbucklers enjoy in fiction.
These
things were all cited as examples of what you could do with the game. What he
meant was that the foundations on which the game would be based would be
realistic. It would use real‑world units of measure; yards, and pounds, and
miles‑per‑hour.
Douglas:
 Sure.
Sean:
 As a Canadian, I can’t say these words and feel good about it, but as
somebody who works at GURPS I can accept this. There will
be things people understood. Instead of using some crazy unit like Zorkmids for money, he just used the dollar sign and called it the generic dollar.
Rather
than start the game out with people having weird powers, people start out with
pretty average physical strength, and size, and weight, and moderately
plausible levels of competence at things.
This
is what he meant. He meant that there would be a bridge between the worlds of
imagination and the world you live in, and that bridge would be formed by units
you know about, behavior you understand, concepts that existed in the real
world. That’s what he actually meant, but – yeah, I almost said “unfortunately.”
That’s not a fair choice of word.
From
my point of view as someone who is responsible for putting words on paper, and
then facing criticism for them it’s unfortunate, but some people take that
beyond the level he intended it and bring that into the realm of everyone has
got to be exactly like in the real world. If a 300-pound man wrestles a 110‑pound
woman he will win, because he’s 300 pounds, end of discussion.
Or,
if I take my car and drive at this ramp and hit the gas and go all the way up
the ramp, I’m going to do some basic physics and we’ll know exactly how far I
can jump. Going “Yoo‑hoo!” and “Yee‑ha!” and leaning on the
horn will not change that.
The
thing is that most gamers don’t really want that degree of harsh, judgmental
realism in their game. Most people want to know, if I play a 97 pound ninja
girl, she can beat anyone’s butt, because she’s a ninja girl. It doesn’t matter if she weighs 97 pounds and is a
girl. And if she gets in a car and goes, “Woo‑hoo!” or whatever the
silent ninja equivalent is and it goes over a ramp, it’ll go further because
it’s awesome. The Rule of Awesome should matter.
I’d
argue that the Rule of Awesome has always been important to gamers, even if
realism never has.
In
the modern‑day games industry, I think the Rule of Awesome is being recognized
as being more important than it used to be. I think an awful lot of game
designers are saying, “It’s not lazy game design.” They’ll say,
“If this is fun and dramatic and cool to the players, it’s OK with me in
the game and the rule set.”
Gaming
designers have gotten past that, and they realize “No. It is OK.”
It’s not lazy, because actually having developed
such rules I can say, all right, a good set of dramatic rules, dramatic rules
that work and that are fun, and help make someone God‑like or don’t hobble
someone, a set of rules that are fun for everyone at the table and not just one
person. The GM, too, not just the players.
That’s
actually very hard to do. In fact, that’s a lot harder to do than a set of
realistic rules, because I’m a former physicist. 10 years in physics. If was
just going to sit down and just develop a mathematical simulation, I could do
that. It’s straightforward. I’ve got physics to guide my hand. I have books I
can consult. That’s relatively easy. It’s a headache at research and it’s
annoying to write, but it’s not difficult. It’s not challenging in a design
sense, whereas dramatic rules are very challenging from the design perspective.
I
think game designers now have reached a level of maturity and experience. They
have not-failed or so-so successful past games to draw upon where they can do
those things now with some degree of confidence, with some knowledge that
people will buy the game and actually say, “Hey! This is kind of
fun.” Not the universal “It sucks, because I didn’t like it.”
Douglas:
 [laughs] That was kind of awesome. Good. I enjoyed that discussion. I
like talking about the industry and where it’s going.
One
of the things that goes into, and I think that ties into a lot of what you are
saying, is “Dungeon Fantasy” with 15 and apparently almost 16 – based
on the leaks that have happened – There is a 16th “Dungeon Fantasy”
volume pending, which I’m sure that lots of people, including myself, are
looking forward to.
But
there are 15 of them, which is awesome. That’s almost as many sequels as
“Star Trek” has movies! Why do you think that’s worked so well?
Sean:
 Well, first off I’m not going to give it too much credit, because there
is the fact that it’s 16, but they are short. Maybe if they were all put
together, it would be merely 400 or
500 pages of stuff. It’s only the equivalent of say three to five old‑timey
supplements.
If
you think about it, we didn’t actually do three to five old‑timey supplements
on any genre that I can think of offhand. We would have lots on individual
genres and maybe one or two volume kind of follow‑ups, but that was it.
It
has gone far, and the reason it’s gone far, I think, in part is because it
actually hearkens back to what I said previously, which is that games like Pathfinder
– the class-level systems – people can jump right in. They know what to expect.
They know what a given class is. They know what the power level at a given
level is going to be. They know they have a small list of things from which to
pick. They are not building on points. They are not throwing things together that
required GM judgment in every step of the way. You are not fighting a battle to
make your character.
GURPS
can be like that. Unfortunately, GURPS can very much be fighting a
battle to make your character, either because the GM doesn’t want you to have
something, the other players are not so cool with what you are doing, there is
a house rule you don’t know about, or you just don’t want to sit down and spend
all of those points.
Dungeon
Fantasy is 250 points. You’re insane and you want to spend it on one‑point
items? That’s 250 purchases. That’s absolutely nuts. That would be a lot of
choice. That’s nuts! What Dungeon Fantasy does is it ‑‑ I wouldn’t say it
prefabricates or puts things in such narrow terms that you are really
restricted and can only make one or two sorts of characters, but it does pare
down the list. It does pare down all the lists. The GM does not have to sit
down and say, “These are the advantages. Here are the goals I’m
using.” They are already pared down. The GM does not have to say,
“Here are the character‑types I want to allow.” They are already
defined. The GM does not have to say, “Here is the genre we’re gaming
in.” Because it’s a well‑defined genre already, and Dungeon Fantasy had
low‑hanging fruit there, because it’s a genre most people know well, but it
also really circumscribes the genre quite a bit.
It
addresses what you’re going to be doing in a campaign. You’re not going to be
spending points on the history skill, because that doesn’t exist.
Who
sits around looking up history books in a campaign which is all about taking
out your weapons and magic spells, blasting enemies, getting richer, buying
better swords, learning better magic spells, wash, rinse, repeat.
“Dungeon
Fantasy” just accepts that that could be fun, rather than pooh‑poohing it,
saying, “Oh, it’s not mature. It’s not a cool style of gaming. Why would
you do that?” Then says, “Even though it’s not mature, not cool,
whatever ‑‑ hey, it’s still a point‑based system, an awful lot of stuff, and we
can add a little extra spin that isn’t present in systems which are purely
about the hack‑and‑slash,” which it does.
I
have got that in there in lots of ways. Sometimes it’s sneaky ways, like
including a not‑so‑violent skill and giving it a use. There are uses for some
skills in “Dungeon Fantasy 2” that you’d really be surprised at.
If you really sit down and read through that you’ll see there’s an awful lot of
stuff in there, which isn’t about hacking and killing and taking treasure.
There
are actually rules in there for finding quest, selling maps and singing songs. Deceiving
people with words instead of violence, and so on. It’s all in there. That’s
something in a game that pure hack‑n‑slash can’t handle. GURPS can.
Likewise,
if you look at some of the character types ‑‑ I’m reluctant to say
“classes,” but they’re basically classes ‑‑ if you look at some of
the character types, there are ones in there that aren’t intended to be violent
first and foremost.
The
ones in “Dungeon Fantasy 4,” the artificer and installer are not
violent character types. The innkeeper from “Dungeon Fantasy 10,” while
he bashes people with a pan when they get unruly, he’s not a violent character
type. Even some of the ones that are traditionally kind of violent, or at least
ran toward conflict, aren’t.
Phil Masters put together the great “Dungeon Fantasy 9,” which I love.
“Summoners” is a cool book. Those spellcasters, if you look at them,
aside from the elementalist, which just runs around blowing stuff up with
fireballs ‑‑ fair enough, he’s destructive, your classic wizard ‑‑ most of
those types are actually really traditional mystics.
You’ve
got the demonologist who deals with entities from another world, usually evil.
He doesn’t have to be throwing curses on people and murdering them, and
summoning demons to eat their souls. He could be there to fight demons, deal
demons, and Phil cleverly wedged‑in possibility that he actually is a negotiator
with demons, or someone who handles social problems with demons in a campaign.
Ditto
the necromancer. Yeah, he can have 100 zombie servants and turn into a lich and
get all creepy, and all that. That’s there if people want it, but it’s not the
only possibility. He can also be someone that does much the same thing ‑‑ deals
with monsters on almost a social level, or at least on a spiritual level, as
opposed on a purely violent level.
The
shaman is perhaps example, being a character who’s a psychopomp
and originalist and not a pure violent adventure‑type. The thing is that that
combination is what makes “Dungeon Fantasy” successful. It’s the
mixture of things people know and recognize ‑‑ what I call the “low
hanging fruit” ‑‑ the violence, the slash‑and‑hack, the fire balls, the
loot, all that good stuff.
It’s
there, it’s not missing. It’s done in spades. The “Dungeon Fantasy11” power‑ups throw in boat‑loads of ways to get better at just that stuff,
nothing else. At the same time, there’s enough of the underlying, generic point‑build
system there that things at go a little out of genre, but that would cost
points that maybe aren’t so well spent in a fantasy campaign, still have
meaning. They could still be put in there if people want to have more
thoughtful characters. You could have in principal in a party of adventures,
where a few people are playing, say, a wizard who blasts things with fireball,
and knight who goes around whacking stuff with a sword, and a thief who goes
around shanking people in the back and taking their wallets.
And
at the same time, a few other people in that exact same group could be playing
a very thoughtful cleric, built with some of the more unusual cleric modifications
in “Dungeon Fantasy 7.” Say, a cleric of love who goes around trying
to get people not to fight, wearing a skimpy outfit and saying, “Look how
sexy I am. Look I’m power of the love god.” You can have someone else
there who’s…
Douglas:  [laughs] I can’t un‑see that, you know.
Sean:
 [laughs]
Douglas:
 [laughs] I’m picturing you in a skimpy outfit, saying, “Pray to the
Love God”…
Sean:
 Yeah, yeah, it’s not my thing.
Douglas:
 It’s, it’s…
Sean:
 But someone could do it, just not me.
Douglas:
 Someone could do it, OK.
Sean:
 And the shaman could be there being like a classic shaman, drinking
mushroom tea, seeing crazy visions, and talking to spirits and spirit wolves
and things. There could be an innkeeper there, whose main job is keeping people
fed, and is really good at it because he’s got 250 points to spend on keeping
people fed, so they don’t starve and they eat very well, and they have very
high morale and everything.
You
can have that party work, and as long as the people playing the hack‑and‑slash
characters weren’t being too aggressive about, “Pull your weight you
bastards! Get into combat and do what you’re supposed to do!” As long as
the people playing the not‑so‑combative characters are not being jerks about
saying, “You’re so immature. Why are you always hacking, and killing, and
looting? Why can’t you have a real
character?” As long as that’s not going on, and that’s not an issue of the
game, that’s an issue of the players, then it handles that.
That’s
one of the things that’s very successful about “Dungeon Fantasy” is
that it handles a style of play, which is encompassing, but also accessible to
an awful lot of people.
Douglas:
 What other genres do you think could benefit from that same treatment and
maybe partially drink from that glass of success?
Sean:
 We’ve had moderate success with the Action series already, as you know.
The only reason that it hasn’t been expanding more is because it’s just the
nature of RPGs is that people are more interested in fantasy than they are
modern day action. It has nothing to do with action sucking or not being a fun
genre, or not being able to succeed there.
We
have got to three books and there’ll probably be others. Jason’s “Monster Hunters” is gone to several books. We have more planned, hopefully. It’s
going to spin off even, into the “Ritual Path Magic” supplement for
Thaumatology sometime in the hopefully not too distant future, because it’s a
cool magic system.
We’ve
had another Action spin‑off. “Gun Fu,” was very much a spin‑off from
“Action.” Those genres, obviously, have a lot of room for success in
that realm because they’re first and foremost, very action‑oriented genres.
“Action,” from it’s title, obviously, but also the fact that it’s
about shooting guns and hacking computers from the bad guys and chopping down
the door with a fire axe, and so on.
“Monster
Hunters” is about taking on vampires that actually are a member of
Congress, and ducking down alleyways as the cops come, after you’ve had a huge
gunfight with werewolves and things. Very exciting, very dynamic stuff, which
at the same time has a flipside.
Action
can mean something more like “Sneakers,” or “Oceans
Eleven,” where you’re plotting and coming up with a big scheme. Lots of
moving parts, lots of team members and specialists, and you’re almost always going
up against a conspiracy. You’ve almost failed if it comes to violence. You want
to pull it off without violence at all.
“Monster
Hunters” is the same way. Yes, it can be hacking down werewolves with a
big-ol’ silver axe and shooting your machine gun full of flaming bullets at the
vampires. It can be like at. But, at the same time, it can be very conspiracy‑oriented.
It could be all veiled and behind‑the‑scenes ‑‑ more “Underworld,”
than “Blade.”
“Blade”
had pretty much no problem at all jumping down in the middle of the highway
with a big‑old bladed boomerang, or what ever he calls that thing, and a katana
on his back. “Oh, you saw me killing people, and Whistler says, “Oh,
you can’t be killing people. People will know you’re out there.” Everybody
knows he’s out there. He’s not subtle.
Whereas
Underworld, we at least have this pretense, that people are trying to
masquerade, not let on that there are supernatural entities in the world. They
do in fact have raging fights and stuff as well, for the players who couldn’t
wait.
Douglas: …and Kate Beckinsale!
Sean: Realize that you have that level
of conspiracy there, as well as that level of violence.
I
think that that those mixtures, it’s very important for future genre treatments
that we do. If there’s going to be a future genre treatment that’s going to
succeed, first, it’s going to be in an accessible genre that people like.
It’s
got to have expectations that people can play to. Dungeon Fantasy has clerics
who heal, you’ve got wizards who throw fireballs, you have thieves who steal,
and so on. Action has, there’s the guy who likes to blow stuff up, there’s the
guy who likes to pick locks and wear a…Usually it’s a hot woman in a tight
catsuit, let’s be honest. But the point is that there are roles. There’s the
guy with gun, he shoots things, he’s a very good shot. The guy drives like a
maniac and never screws up in a car chase.
Monster
hunters has it too. You’ve got the witch or occultist who’s very good at the
secret world. You’ve got the up‑front, come‑through, kick‑people’s‑butts, put‑a‑spear‑through‑their‑heart
martial arts kind of dude. You’ve got somebody who’s good with guns. You’ve
usually got someone who’s good with weird science, coming up with all the weird
weapons they use.
You
have these clearly‑defined roles that everyone expects. You’ve got clearly
defined bad guys, whether it’s tentacle monsters that you take treasure from in
dungeon fantasy, or a scuzzy‑looking scumbag with his bandanna and his machete
in action, or in monster hunters it’s some vampire who’s dressed up in a suit
who’s very proper and know darn well he’s running, he’s behind the scene,
you’ve got to take him out without too much violence. These are well‑known
expectations.
Players
can play both action‑oriented and thoughtful characters.
To
take an example ‑‑ I think space opera would be a good one. I’d like to go
there someday, because there you’ve got clearly‑defined roles.
You’ve
got the square‑jawed Jim Kirk leader captain type. You’ve got the swashbuckling
type, whether the swashbuckler takes the form of the somewhat subdued junior
officer or the upright crazy Han Solo type. You’ve got the token alien. You’ve
got the machine of logic, who sometimes is the token alien and sometimes is an
android, or some augmented human with odd mental makeup, like mentats in Dune.
You’ve got all these other specialist roles, engineers, technicians of every
stripe, fighter pilots, mecha pilots, you name it.
You’ve
got the well‑defined roles. You have well‑defined tropes. You’ve got these
psychic powers, usually you take two flavors, there are evil bad‑guy psychics
and there are nice empathic good‑guy psychics. You’ve got crazy science, faster‑than‑light
travel, ray guns, missiles, and so on.
You’ve
got various types of foes. They could be ugly aliens who are also bad, you
know, they’re bad and they’re ugly. The good‑guy ugly aliens who are lovable
despite being ugly. Bad‑guy humans who are betraying their own species, and so
on and so on and so on.
You’ve
got all these elements. And then you’ve got this possibility of this range of
everything from action to thoughtfulness. You’ve got on one hand, fighter
pilots and crazy people who swing from doorframes while they’re throwing their
big two‑fisted punches and two‑footed kicks and all that insanity, and shooting
ray guns first and ask questions later.
But
the other side, of course, you’ve got people who talk the techno‑babble and sit
around with the computer and solve the technical problems and reverse the
polarity of the whatever and so on. They get to solve things thoughtfully. Even
total uncombatant types who are empathic or diplomatic and deal with the
strange‑looking aliens and the evil humans through mind games and talk and
chatter.
That’s
a good example of a genre I think could work. I think, in principle, anything
which has that scope of character roles alongside well‑known, well‑defined
tropes could be done in this way. Whereas something which doesn’t have much
range, something where all the characters have to be violent, or where all the
characters have to be thoughtful, and where the range of plot devices is, I
think, less constrained, I think it would be harder to do.
Like,
it would be harder to do soap opera. Because in soap opera, everyone is kind of
non‑violent, subdued. Yeah, they have the expertise, but they are fundamentally
all social characters and talkers. There are no well‑defined genre
expectations.
There
are soap operas out there where some of the characters were outright
supernatural. I mean, I don’t watch soap operas, but I’ve heard that there are
soap operas where ghosts of previous characters come back, and where some of
the people are apparently aliens and things.
Soap
operas, likewise, can be very grounded and very set‑oriented. This entire soap
opera’s at a hospital. This soap opera is in this one room. These things exist.
Most of the classic soap operas are very well defined, they’re within a certain
physical set of space and a certain dramatic space. But if you look at that,
that physical and dramatic space is so different from the other physical and
dramatic spaces that soap operas are set in, that it would be very hard to come
up with a generic soap opera.
Douglas:  That’s interesting, because you say some things that really
resonate, because a lot of what you’re describing, I think, are the things that
make successful multi‑season TV shows.
Sean:
 Probably, yeah.
Douglas:
 And even when you take something like, one of the shows that I got into ‑‑
and the wonderful thing about things like Netflix is that you can watch them
all at once, but then you’re starved for things that come after ‑‑ is with a
show called The Unit, which was about Delta Force. You think, “Well,
that’s kind of boring,” because, well, they’re all just bad‑ass soldiers.
But they’re not, because they’re Special Forces.
Yes,
they’re all bad‑ass soldiers, but they’ve all got these distinguishing
characteristics. This person’s an electronics expert, this person can fly any
vehicle. It’s exactly the same thing. In a way, it’s a great role‑playing
party, because everybody can play in the combat zone, but you’ve got all of
these other things.
If
you build your differentiation on top of a general level of badassery, you can
still have all of this flavor and plot, personal‑driven moments in the
spotlight, without being like, “Oh, each and every single one of us is a
clone trooper with no differentiation” ‑‑ a game that I played in grad
school to not terribly a lot of enjoyment. [laughs]
Someone
ran that one, which was less successful than we…We asked a guy to come in and
run a GURPS campaign. As it turned out, he had a homebrew system that
he wanted to try out. He managed to layer that on top of our characters in a
way that, very quickly, we weren’t playing what we thought we were. But, you
know, it was short‑lived, and therefore was worth the time that it took.
Last
question, I guess. Since we seem to have seen the re‑opening, hopefully, of the
GURPS
pipeline…GURPS content is basically fan‑driven. You and some core people
do a lot of work, but really it’s, write a proposal, get it approved, and then
go. As the pipeline for GURPS clears, what message do you
have for prospective creators?
Sean:
 First, a support message, and yeah, this probably comes from our
sponsors, so to speak, as opposed to me personally, is do keep an eye on the
wish list. It isn’t something we consider to be restrictive or a constraint on
what we will and won’t accept. But it is a first level filter and if you are
new, especially, you don’t want to try to broach some topic that we have not
expressed an interest in because you are fighting an uphill battle then. You
are both fighting the fact you are unknown and fighting the fact that we didn’t
have a first-order interest in having that supplement done.
So
we are going to be asking ourselves ‘do we want this person to be the one who
gets the special leave to do something we’re not so sure will sell’ or do we
want to have an author we know and has done stuff for us tackle something like
that because then at least we know the name will sell a few. Yeah, it’s sales
oriented. But it’s a business so I can’t deny that that’s very important to us.
As
well, take the time it takes to read the style guides and formatting guides. I
know that stuff is really boring. I hate it. I’ll outright say, if I could take
this book right here ‑‑ this is the Associated Press style book ‑‑ if I could
take this book right here and just, I don’t know, put it in a fire…I’d probably be happier.
It
doesn’t actually make me happy. I’m not going to turn my camera around because then
it won’t get me sitting down, but I’ve got a whole wall of references. They
don’t make me happy either. They’re all style guides. It’s like dictionary,
dictionary, biographical encyclopedia, more dictionaries. Oh look, another
dictionary. One, two, three, four style guides, two guides to grammar, and oh
there’s a thesaurus there too. And that’s just in paper. Now I’ve got digital
guides as well.
It’s
really bloody boring. I won’t deny that. But, and it’s a big but, the
marketability of – not your game to gamers – but of your manuscripts to us as
publishers is based on how little cost we think we can produce the product for.
If
we think it’s going to be a hard edit then we are less likely to be interested.
When I say, hard edit it could mean a lot of things. It does not necessarily
mean the English language. In fact as an editor – and you can tell I’m an
editor because I’m kind of balding a bit here, look kind of boring, and I wear
glasses – but as an editor I can tell you fixing the English is the easy part.
I can fix English quickly. I can fix English in thousands of words in no time
at all.
But
fixing the other things we want is very difficult and if people don’t follow
the style guide that is what I end up doing. Little things like knowing which
game terms are capitalized, where we boldface, how we format character sheets
in print. Yeah, it’s not part of the fun of writing for games but I can’t deny
that it’s an important part of doing it well and right. That’s important.
I
would rather have somebody be late with their product, be late with their
project, because they say I was going to be on time and then I spent two weeks
reading your style guide and it was 40 pages long, just internalizing that was
a page a night, and I was going crazy.
I’d
rather have somebody say that to me and be late, I’ll forgive that, then to
rush, not having put any thought at all to proper style, and put me in a
situation where I’m going to have to go to my managing editor or at least to
Steven at E23 who manages E23 and is my boss in that regard and say, “Oh
sorry the product you wanted to release is not going to be out in time because
we are still editing it.” Or worse – far worse – “Oh sorry, this product
is going to take twice as long to edit,” which means twice as many
editorial hours. That’s twice as much overhead expense, and possibly that much
longer to show a profit.
That’s
another pointer. The last pointer I would have is don’t get so immersed in your
subject that you forget that you’re writing for an audience. That’s a
complicated one and I’m not sure how easily I can explain it . . . but I see it
often.
I’ll
just say, you may think your topic is the coolest thing since sliced bread but
it’s important to remember that people who are playing a generic game are going
to be big in to possibly a setting you’ve never heard of, very probably a genre
you don’t play, and quite likely a style of play that isn’t your own.
Your
enthusiasm is usually founded in one or all three of those things. It will not
come across to people. What will come across to people is your knowledgeably,
sure. But just remember that you have to be able to reach out to people, pull
them into what you’ve written, and make it interesting to them.
Which
is why even though I have some very strongly held opinions. Everyone knows
them, they see me writing on forums blah, blah, blah, yakking about my opinions
on how you should do this or you ought to do that. That isn’t in my books. The reason
that it’s not in my books is just because I feel that way doesn’t mean people
that buy the book care.
I
don’t like zombie apocalypses where the world is being overrun with zombies,
player characters and heroes that can turn into zombies, the world is gone to
hell, and it’s going to end with everyone dead. I don’t like that. I think
those movies are stupid. I don’t like those zombies. I like the zombie stories
where the people are resourceful. They for the most part survive or if they
don’t survive it’s because they had a chance and they screwed up. And where the
zombies aren’t necessarily overrunning and destroying the whole world. There’s a
threat of that. The zombies are there
primarily, first and foremost as a plot device.
For
example, I know this would make me unpopular with fans of George Romero, but
some of my favorite zombie stories are the “Resident Evil” stories.
You get these specific characters who are very capable. They for the most part
survive, although some of them don’t, otherwise they wouldn’t be in a zombie
movie. And the zombies, until late in the arc haven’t taken over the world.
They’re still confined, first to an installation, then to a city, then to a
larger region, and finally I think, they annihilate the world. That’s much more
interesting.
In
my zombies book, what do I have? Well, I have all the zombie stuff, not just
the stuff I like, where the zombies are confined to a secret lab and the player
characters can live. But I spent as much time, or more on those stories where
the zombies are taking over the world, eating everyone and where everyone dies,
and everyone’s incompetent. Because I know, as a writer of zombie stories,
there are other people out there who like that stuff. The same goes for your book if you’re a freelancer, you
have to set aside your personal biases, and finally realize that well, it’s a
generic game, there’s lots of styles of play, and others could possibly combine
the things I’m not even thinking about.
You
have to make sure your game reaches those people. This is most important for
the adventures, if you’re going to write an adventure it’s very important for
you to realize that people have established campaigns, they have established
house rules and established groups.
They’re
not going to want an adventure which can only happen in this one city which
can’t exist in their world, with character types no one’s playing, in a genre
no one much likes, that has an outcome that can only be world‑shattering or
fatal for the player characters.
That’s
hopeless, because in an ongoing campaign, the specific characters already have
lives and home‑towns and expectations. It’s not going to fly; it’s just not
going to fly.
So
you’ve got to make sure your adventure has hooks, for all kinds of gamers. It
doesn’t mean you have to write a generic adventure that has no specific
expectations. That’s impossible – you can’t do that. But what you can do is throw
in asides, on how do you fit in a higher-powered group, how do you fit it into
an existing game world, how do you set things up so this is adventure is a side quest for really powerful
characters instead of the be‑all end‑all for new characters.
A
good example of that would be +Matt Riggsby‘s “Dungeon Fantasy Adventure
One: Mirror of the Fire Demon.” He was very good about making flexible,
his variable numbers of bad guys, bad guys can vary in power. He says,
“OK, this is a desert region, put it in your game world where there’s
deserts. If you don’t have these
kinds of bad guys, just don’t include them. If you do have these kinds of bad
guys, they match with my bad guys
this way,” and so on.
That’s
a great way to handle an adventure. That’s how an adventure should be written for a generic system.
Those are the things I think are the most important. After which is all the
secondary stuff which applies to all kinds of writing I would say.
For
writing a game, among those things is, know
your game system
. I would say that’s in my second category of things. It’s
just an element of style and formatting. You know how the rules work; you know
how the points add up. I consider that boring. It’s the technical path and you
have to be good at it to write for us. But I don’t consider it a separate thing
because every game designer out there, who has someone coming in who has
someone coming in who does freelance work on her system is going to say to you,
“Oh, I want you to actually be working in my system, not some system that doesn’t exist, or something you
just made up that’s in your head.”
Douglas:  OK, do you have any parting shots?
Sean:
 Mostly just thanks for giving me the chance to yak. I like to get the
word out there, let people know there’s a real human behind this. I only wish I
could have some of my other writers come in and form a bit of a panel here,
because it’s a group effort for us. I’m the name in the credits, GURPS
Line Editor, this guy.
But
I don’t take credit for most of what goes out there, I read most of what goes
out there and I have some pull, I guess, but I would encourage people to
remember that we’re real people back here, working hard, often for not very
many dollars, to get the games out there and we’re more than happy to get the
word out, not because we want to get rich or famous, but because we have all
these great concepts in our heads that we want to get out to people. So I
really am for the opportunity to do that.

With any new system that introduces new mechanics, questions come up. Technical Grappling introduces some new stuff, such as Trained ST, Bite ST, Control Points, and a host of changes and tweaks to existing mechanics.

I thought I’d throw down a list of the questions I’ve had to answer, either on the SJG Forums, my own blog, or the general Google+ community, not only for those who read, but for myself as well, so that once I answer a question, I hopefully can give the same answer the second time. So here goes.

(Note – if you asked a question about TG and I answered it, and your question isn’t referenced in this list, just ping me. I want to be comprehensive.)

There will be other parts to this, since there are lots of questions!

From +Jason Woollard originally, concerning breaking free from ropes.

Ultimately, escaping from bonds is no longer the Quick Contest it was, because the bonds have Control Points that they inflict on you, and that “effect roll” replaces the utility of the Quick Contest. So someone ties you up, rolls Control Points, and if they are good at it, the knots might have some Control Resistance.

To break free, you must make successful attacks to break free on the ropes – all the while penalized by the active control the ropes are maintaining on you. If you succeed, you remove CP from the ropes, loosening them and making following rolls more easily.

You don’t resolve this in combat time mostly – you can use a variant of the Extra Time rules so that each escape attempt takes about a minute. This rule isn’t designed to flip in and out of combat time and have the exact same probabilities of success. It’s just an application of the rule that says “don’t be silly and resolve long-term stuff in combat time.” When it’s dramatically appropriate, rolling second-by-second will be faster; blame adrenaline or something.

Are you serious about the penalty for casting spells with your hands tied?

According to RAW, before TG came out, you cannot cast a spell at all while grappled. So that he has to make a Will roll is a less harsh version of the rules, which is why I included them.

The fact that the binding is passive rather than active might be worth something, and that’s for any individual game group to decide. If you wanted to rule that “being tied up or placed in handcuffs only impacts concentration if it’s tight enough to inflict pain” wouldn’t bug me one bit.

The key bit is that active grappling is, well, rather distracting. Being tied up is probably much less so – If the bondage-maker takes the time to make the knots and bindings PAINFUL, I’d apply an affliction as with “Inflicting More Pain with Locks” with CP as your guide, and apply that to a Will or Will+Something roll. You could make it Will to do it second-by-second, but allow the usual Extra Time rules to apply. Take a full minute to concentrate and steady yourself, and roll at Will+6 less Pain. 

TG is meant to be very much a toolbox, like the rest of GURPS. Take what you want, modify the rest. I might point out what my intent was in some cases, but all of GURPS is the players’ to frack with, and I highly encourage frackin’ with it!

If picks cause damage while yanking them out, that is is possible to voluntarily leave in any impaling weapons for the purpose of active control/wrestling, shouldn’t any impaling weapon also cause damage on their way out when a character decides to pull the weapon out? ( +Christian Blouin )

I suspect the answer is a bit tautological – the weapons
that you can “leave in” are mostly impaling.  I suppose if you slash with a blade and it’s
embedded in a guy, you can twist it or something (that’s often modeled as a
Rapid Strike). However, extending the rule to all impaling weapons, instead of
just swung impaling weapons, seems quite reasonable.
And that might be the answer, mechanically speaking. You do
a Rapid Strike (or AoA – Double) and “hang” the second hit. If it
works, you can use the rules for Impaling from TG, and when you decide to pull
it out, roll damage as per the usual rules for pulling out a pick. Or don’t!
The extra nasty that the TG rules allow might mean that the damage on
extracting the weapon isn’t necessary.

I’d want to see how this works in play – it’s not a great
use of a weapon, obviously, but if you can afford to hang out with your sword
in the guy’s abdomen saying “stick around” or something with an
Austrian accent, you probably should be able to do it. 
How do you use TG rules in free-fall?

In retrospect, perhaps “Weight-based moves” would have been more accurate. 🙂
Unless you can exert torque on something, you’re going to have a hard time exerting your full ST and leverage (which is why victims in a Pickup are at ST/2). I’d apply at LEAST that. Ulzgoroth made some great comments, too, and I’m totally stealing them. Start by treating everyone’s weight as zero and never treating anyone as ‘on top’ of everyone else. Any “mass-based” move that benefits or is penalized by how much someone weighs, rather than their truly mass-based inertia, loses that modifier. Damaging throws should use a rule based on throwing an equivalent-mass object at the floor or something using the collision rules, assuming that the thrower is braced well enough to actually perform a throw.
Most creatures will usually be unstable (p. 10) unless specially equipped or deliberately wedged into a corner. Obviously, nobody is capable of falling down as a result.
This might make a good Pyramid article. Doesn’t have to be written by me . . .