When I wrote the post on making snap decisions under fire, I touched on aiming a bit, as well as tracking targets.

I’m going to revisit that a bit, somewhat inspired by this thread, but not entirely. I’m going to be speaking qualitatively here, since some of the ideas kicking around in my head might well be nice as actual rules.

The way I see it (and have done it, so I’m not just making stuff up here), as you try and draw a bead on a target, you’re going to need to consider a few things.

Got Target?

The first, and most obvious, thing you need is to be able to see what you’re shooting at. This will be some sort of modified Perception roll. The usual is Per+10 if the target is in plain sight, less range, lighting, and camouflage or stealth (or both) factored in. If you can see the target, you might want to shoot it. However, in order to do that . . .

Line it up

While this is usefully abstracted into a Guns roll in vanilla GURPS, as you aim, you first have to ensure that your sights (or scope!) and your target are more or less lined up. That is, you need a sight picture so that you might deliver your shots more or less where you think.

Hans-Christian Vortisch does a nice job of describing what happens when you shoot without such a sight picture in his section on Unsighted Shooting (GURPS Tactical Shooting, p. 13). You don’t even need to see the sights or gun; just go with where you feel is the right place to shoot, and pull the trigger. This is far, far more accurate (or can be) than it sounds, with practice. You still have to see your target, of course.

If you’re lining up the sights or using a scope, you need to get the sight picture aligned with the target. This is the first part, but not the only part, of Aiming. Once you do that – and in GURPS, that happens automatically as soon as you declare an Aim maneuver – you can either shoot, or try and dial in your shot a bit more.

Now, in GURPS, you have two choices. Well, one, really. You can continue to Aim for another few seconds, after which your Acc tops out at +Acc+2 and that’s it, or you can invoke Precision Aiming (Tactical Shooting, p. 26) to increase that to up to +Acc+7 by taking a series of difficult (IQ-based) Guns rolls. Fail and you have to start over, and it takes more than a minute (90 turns!) to claim the largest bonus.

Now, in reality, to get that large a bonus, especially at distance, you had best know the ballistics of your weapon as well as the target’s range. Even so, the “Minute of Angle” rule should apply, which caps the maximum effective skill before range, speed, and size modifiers are assessed, at 22+2*Acc, and that’s the base Acc of the weapon (match-grade ammo and quality weaponry increases Acc; I quibbled with this in the playtest a bit).

Scoping it Out.

One of the interesting things to deal with in GURPS are telescopic sights, also known as scopes. GURPS gives you a +1 for each x2 multiplication in range. So a x2 scope gives +1, a x8 scope gives +3, etc.

Variable scopes can be dialed in, and it’s always been a bit weird how that’s figured – why not always use the maximum bonus?

FoV Width (yards)

The one rules nugget I’ll toss in here is a different way of looking at scopes. Simply treat the magnification as what it is – something that makes the target larger. Look up the magnification on p. B550. Yes, that’s the Size and Speed/Range Table, and just remember, that in GURPS, if the answer isn’t “consult the Size and Speed/Range Table,” you’re probably asking the wrong question.

Anyway, look it up, consult the Size table, and add 2. Use the smaller number if you have to pick. There is no x4 entry (you choose between 3 and 5), so you choose 3 and you get a +4 bonus. A 30x scope is +9.

That’s a much larger bonus than usual, but what it basically does is says “hey, you’ve just made your 6′ tall target effectively 24′ tall,” and treating that as a linear increase in size – that is, you’ve effectively increased the SM of your target, and you get a commensurate bonus.

However, and there’s always a however, a scope restricts your arc of vision. In GURPS, you can see pretty much anywhere in your front 180 degree arc. At 100 yards, that’s effectively a 314-yard field of view wide (the half-circle in front of you). A typical 3x riflescope might restrict that down to 30-ish feet, and a 9x is about 14 feet. So says  this website, anyway.

So if we do some funky math (and honestly, I’m curve-fitting because I have no desire to actually derive this, and it seems more complicated than what I thought) we might say that through a scope, your field of view, even for a 1x scope, is restricted to 20 yards wide at 100 yard range. A 10x scope is only 4 yards wide.

What does all this crap mean?

Basically, it should probably take time to find your quarry through a scope. The higher the magnification, the narrower your field of view, and the more you probably have to search for it. Novices can wave their guns around quite a bit.

Red dot type sights (usually not scopes, but you can get magnifying objectives for them in the 3-4x range) keep field of view, which is cool, but don’t usually magnify, meaning you suffer full range/size penalties for what you’re shooting at.

How would I attempt to resolve it? Well, +Peter V. Dell’Orto will mock me, but it will be more die rolls.

First, you need to find your target. This would be a Per roll with naked eyes, using the usual rules.

Then, you need to get a sight picture. I would probably do something like a Per-based Guns roll, with a penalty for field of view and the Bulk of the firearm.

Once you get that, I’d probably make the shooter make a DX-based Guns roll to position the sights on target. Margin of success would determine the Acc bonus. Roll well, you get a big boost. Roll poorly, and you might even loose the target and have to re-acquire.

Parting Shot

I like having PCs roll dice. I think it’s more fun for the player to invoke skill (via the Guns roll). I think making Aim effectively an attack roll, which can be done quickly with Rapid Strike, which would require All-Out Attack (Determined) to claim certain bonuses, and which potentially could get a perfect sight picture in a moment, or spend several seconds and not get much of anything, feels a bit more real to me. You could also perhaps have scopes, sights, etc. only cancel out range and target size penalties. It does need to be worked out – GURPS has a lot of detail with respect to firearms, and you’d need something that replaces the “you get your Acc bonus to your skill” with a satisfying mechanic that gives more or less the same realistic results we get with the current system, but has variability in how long it takes to get that target fixed.

And if I’ve been unusually vague on this one, well, I’ve not worked out the math and mechanics fully, and who knows . . . maybe it’ll show up in Pyramid one day.

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

The Boss Fight

The game starts out with fire shooting out of a well in the center of the room. We initially fear monsters or death . . . but it turns out to be the sword we’ve been looking for all this time, narrowly wedged down the hole. We scrounge around in our stuff, because for a bit, it looks like no one brought rope.

Staver to the rescue with 20 yards of rope. Michel casts Glue and Apportation on the thing, wraps it up tight, and we haul it to the surface.

Mark: Is this cheating? It feels like cheating. 

We retrieved the sword, and then went down another level. This opened into a small corridor, which itself led to a few rooms with doors – one of them magelocked, much to Michel’s unpleasant surprise.

Finding little in the rooms we could easily access, we proceeded down the way to throw open the double doors, into a huge chamber that looked like a square room 20’ high, with another square room offset 45 degrees, culiminating in a pyramidal shape above our heads.

Initially, there were four ninja and a blonde woman they were all worshipping or something. These were the same demon-bird ninja from earlier. Our new companion, Dawn, rushed into the room to do battle, and that’s when we found our our first unpleasant surprise: the entire room was some sort of Unholy temple. Dawn would take damage or at least be very uncomfortable, while the other two clerics (Cadmus and Michel) are nerfed a bit.
Anyway, the battle joined, we then got an unpleasant surprise. An “executioner’s hood” dropped down and tried to start smothering Thumvar, the knight. Thumvar, of course, did what anyone who was a gargoyle encased in steel would do: he hit himself in the head four times with full-strength blows from his own axe over two turns, killing it despite impressive regen abilities.
Dawn managed to cut off both arms of one bird-ninja on her successive turns, and Thumvar and Cadmus – whose Righteous Fury should have been +6 to DX, +5 to ST and +2 to HT, but the Unholy cut that down to +3, +2, +1 – did in for another one, aided by Michel casting Great Haste on Thumvar.
Michel then cast Continual Daylight on the hoods, which a good roll of his identified as part of the “Squid” populatin (Good-Evil-Bunny-Squid), and the thing spent a lot of time thrashing on the ground subsequently.
Whereupon, a scary female voice called us fools, the screens all fell down, and a metric crap-ton of Viking zombies stood there slavering at us.
We broke there, facing two spellcasters, a lot of zombies, two more ninja, and possibly a few other baddies that escaped along the way. 
Next Tuesday’s going to be interesting. Hopefully, we’ll all remember the freakin’ magic artifact that is Ameiko’s ancestral sword in time for it to do something really impressive.

A while ago, I wrote a note about the relative perils of doing what is effectively a joint venture between any two companies. This was in relation to how cool I thought it would be, nonetheless, to have the world of Golarion written up for GURPS, and available for actual adventures. I’m playing and writing about the Jade Regent Adventure Path done with GURPS Dungeon Fantasy, and it’s tons of fun. I’ve heard tell of others doing the same thing.

Well, if you’re in the mood, check out +Andrew Hackard‘s last line in the April 13 Daily Illuminator.

“Thanks, as always, for your enthusiasm! I’m really proud of this set, and I hope that it brings Paizo for all of their help and for letting us play in their sandbox in the first place — they’ve been great partners and I look forward to working with them again very soon.”

Whether it’s more Pathfinder Munchkin or something deeper, more sinister . . . the unholy spawn of such twisted minds that hell itself recoils in shock [1] . . . I’m quite excited to see my favorite game company teaming up with Paizo for stuff. 
It’s possible to be a realist and an optimist at the same time. That way, all your surprises are pleasant ones!

[1] …and then goes squeeeeee! as that much fun is dumped in one place. I’ve heard hell has good parties, but the cover charge is kinda steep.

This is 100th blog post here on Gaming Ballistic.

I was considering a retrospective.

I was considering a juicy piece of rules goodness for GURPS.

Instead, I say something I will hopefully never have to do again, but probably will, in regrettable variation.

Forget gaming. Remember Boston. 

Whether the fanatics were religious or secular, whether they be left or right wing murderous thugs, remember two things:

1. It was a barbaric, criminal, heinous act that cannot be justified, no matter the tortured logic, and . . .

2. This is America, and when the shit hits the fan, far more of us will run towards danger than away from it.

God save the helpers, comfort the fallen, and bring justice and peace in full measure to those who deserve it.

I can’t find the thread anymore. But over at the SJG Forums, someone was talking about starting perhaps an Old West style game. But then, there would be Zombies. But the players wouldn’t know ahead of time.

This brought up the concept of the Bait and Switch, where the players are ready for one style of campaign, but the GM drops another layer, or changes it up completely.

Why is this annoying?

It sets up a pretty spectacular clash of expectations. If the GM were to hand out a campaign prospectus (or a set of them), and everyone likes Old West but no one likes Horror, then to layer your Old West with Horror doesn’t necessarily invoke the Peanut Butter Cup effect. It may just piss your players off.

It may also result in characters that are entirely useless. Not just “gee, my combat skills are mostly in ranged firearms, but I have some brawling and jujitsu as well, so I better go find me a crossbow.” But potentially “I designed an expert forensic accountant for a game involving corporate espionage, and this frackin’ GM Banestormed me into a world where this kind of bookkeeping doesn’t even exist.” Way more so even than being short on one or more of Kromm’s List of Skills Every Adventurer Should Have. This is serious “my character is 200 points of useless” stuff, and sets up for potentially very angry players.

Ultimately, it’s about assumptions clash, and purposefully misleading the group as to your intentions sets up that clash purposefully, and demands the group find it fun.

And yet . . .

Why can this be fun?

Some really great gaming can occur when things are very, very different than one expects. I went into The Matrix more or less blind. I totally didn’t see the major twist coming, and was floored when it did.
What works in cinema can also work in RPGing.

It can also be fun when it’s done by plunking the characters into a slightly different genre than is expected, but one that is also enjoyable. If the group settled on Old West, but would have played an explicit Horror campaign . . . well, maybe that Old West Zombie Horror campaign isn’t so far wrong after all. Or a criminal escape that doesn’t turn out as expected.

It also, of course, provides for great roleplaying opportunities – and if it’s arranged such that characters are unprepared or out of place, but can rapidly adapt and rise to the challenge, maybe that’s not so bad after all. The accountant suddenly finds he’s got Magery 8 and spontaneous spellcasting. This only works if . . .

Parting Shot

. . . the players enjoy the new campaign premise and feel like they can have an interesting and fun time with the character they’ve brought to the table in that game.

This can, of course, be entirely above board, in which case the character is being switched, but not the players.

I did this once – above board, mostly – in an old game I called Lords of Light and Shadow. I had the
players all be part of a town’s special emergencies teams. Volunteers with medical or crisis skills, including combat skills, that would respond to trouble. So the players were forewarned that odd things would probably happen, and I’d prepped them by saying that I wanted to have a campaign kinda like the clash between the Vorlons and Shadows from Babylon 5 . . . but on Earth and much nastier. Sterile order and raw chaos, rather than the more altruistic-ish versions displayed in that show.

It didn’t last long, but the first campaign sessions were pretty good.

It’s all how you set it up, I think. And the more buy-in you have, the better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yow. Stupid ninja monks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She glances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kevin: They also explode.

In Dungeon Fantasy, apparently these guys are mooks.

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

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

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

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

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

Staver: “So, like, don’t sneeze.”

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

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

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

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

Aw, crap. Really? Maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thumvar: “Charming, diabolist art deco theme!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the sword?

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


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

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

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

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

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

Michel: What he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brother Michel watches her technique closely

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

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

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

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

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

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


What would it be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                          -Jayne Cobb