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

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

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

Village People. I hate these guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, the Hand of Plot moves us:

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

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

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

Not really. Cadmus does keep floating that plan though.

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

Won’t this be fun?

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

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

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

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

Gonna need one of these . . . 

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

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

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

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

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

Or was that too metagame?

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

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

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

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

W. T. F?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt spends a point of his Architecture pool.

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

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

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

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

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

 ***

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

Gumshoe and Trail of Chthulhu: First Impressions

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

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

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

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

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

Perception



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

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

Per-based Skills


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

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


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



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

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

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

Some furies are blinder than others

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

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

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

Type of Skill

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

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

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

When To Use Each One?

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

Can you do that simply? 

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

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

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

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

Parting Shot

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

Observation


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, I’m not buying it either.

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

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


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

Be Resourceful

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

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


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

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

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

Our Greatest Fear . . . A Dusty Corridor

Some guns harder to clean than others

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


Shoot Carefully

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

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

Plenty of Shots, Not Much Time

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

Parting Shot


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


Odds and Ends

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

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

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

One of the features of Third Edition (and sorry, I never played Man to Man, The Fantasy Trip, or GURPS First or Second editions; my first experience was with Third Edition, maybe even 3ed Revised) that was retained as-is into Fourth Edition is that of the half-damage range, commonly abbreviated 1/2D.

In third edition, after you passed the 1/2D range, not only did you lose half your damage (the ‘what it says on the tin’ part), but you also lost the benefits of accuracy (or lost half of it, something like that). So beyond a certain range, you were only using your pure skill, and got no Aim bonuses.

In Fourth Edition, they did away with the Acc part (and good riddance), but not only retained the concept of 1/2D, the numbers were retained as well.

Does that work?

Well, absolutely it works on one level. GURPS penetration/damage numbers are based on the square root of Kinetic Energy, which means that for penetration, the 1/2D number is actually the point where the velocity of the bullet has fallen by half.

OK, fair enough. And certainly a better design choice than having many damage increments or something else more complicated.

What about the values?


Let’s take a look at some common cartridges, and peruse the High-Tech Weapons Tables.


.22 LR: 70 yds
.357M: 190 yds
9mm: 160 yds
.40S&W: 160 yds
.45 ACP:  150 yds
7.62x39mm (AK-47): 500 yds
5.56x45mm (M16): 800 yds
7.62x51mm (.308): 1,000 yds
.30-06: 1,100 yds
.50 BMG: 1700 yds
12G Shotgun: 40 yds

So, notionally, each of these hits half its velocity at these ranges. Right?

Let’s see what my spreadsheet (no true ballistics calculator, true) says. It’s been close to right before, so:

.22 LR: 226 yds
.357M: 257 yds
9mm: 260 yds
.40S&W: 310 yds
.45 ACP:  290 yds
7.62x39mm (AK-47): 435 yds
5.56x45mm (M16): 370 yds
7.62x51mm (.308): 645 yds
.30-06: 645 yds
.50 BMG: 940 yds
12G Shotgun (shot): 120 yds
12G Shotgun (slug): 225 yds

So, how did we do? Not well – though if people have access to real ballistics data on these bullets, it would be an interesting check on my own numbers! Overall, pistols retain velocity about 100 yds farther than GURPS would have them. For rifles, with the exception of the AK-47 bullet, it seems like “too high by a factor of two” is closer. Interesting!

I’d like to check my shotgun numbers with real data. I’m positive that my model is OK for supersonic rifle-shaped projectiles, and much less good for subsonic ones. For example, my understanding is that once you go subsonic, you lose velocity relatively slowly, accounting for the increased deadliness of projectiles out to max range, which my sheet does not model well, but GURPS probably does, since you only get to half-D once.

Parting Shot


This is an Nth degree quibble in the land of a game where quibbling is mostly all you can do. Does it bother me? Not really, but a comment by +Justin Aquino about using the 1/2D range as a proxy for velocity got me thinking about 1/2D, and I got to thinking about it a little more. The numbers my sheet produces I think help with certain levels of plausibility, if you’re shooting pistols at moderate distances or rifles at long ones.

Also note that the 1/2D range is basically a function (to 1st order) of the shape and weight of the bullet, the primary impact being sectional density, and ballistic coefficient/shape being another (though sectional density is going to be a big input to BC). Long, skinny, well-shaped bullets like the 6.5 Grendel will retain their velocity very well, which is why that cartridge basically has the same 1/2D range in my model (640 yds) as the 7.62x51mm and .30-06 (and those two fire essentially the same bullet). That’s not right – actually Alexander Arms shows the 120gr 6.5 Grendel with a 1/2D of over 800 yards (!), so shaping can be a Big Deal – but it does give a feel for the numbers (and that my own figures probably are off by as much as 30% as well!).

Ultimately, most games will not turn on whether the 1/2D of a bullet is off. In fact, most RPG scenarios are probably resolved within easy pistol range – less than 30 yards. But for those that aren’t, and one memorable Black Ops game featured an exchange of fire at well over 1,000 yards distance – it can be important.

A lot of the recent article Dodge This was focused on Perception rolls, specifically and most often, Vision rolls.

In GURPS, if the thing you’re looking at is “in plain sight,” then you get a +10 bonus to Vision to see it.

Not in plain sight?

That’s a big bonus . . . sort of. +10 is basically “you can see it fifty times more easily than in a more obstructed field of view.”

Or, another way, you can see a man-sized target as clearly at 100 yards “in plain sight” as you can see at a six-foot distance in somewhat more challenging conditions. More or less “you can see someone at the other end of a football field as easily as you can at the tip of your spear.”

But what does “in plain sight mean?” Can you ever not be in plain sight?

I was thinking about this in two ways. The first was somewhat mechanical (shocked, shocked, I know you all are). Basically, if the line of sight from you to your target, and 10x farther than that is basically unobstructed, he’s in plain sight.

So if you’ve got a quarry 50 yards out, then (to first order), if there’s basically nothing in the way from you to 500 yards in the direction of your target, he’s in plain sight and you can claim that bonus.

Why? Well, I figure that there are two parts to it. One is a line from you to him, but the other is “what’s behind him that might obscure or confuse the viewer?” If the nearest terrain is 10x farther away than the object is, well, that’s probably OK.

That’s probably a sub-optimal solution, though. Math for no gain, etc.

What I’m thinking is the better solution is that when making a Vision roll, just roll vs Vision+10 in all circumstances. Objects are, by default, treated as being “in plain sight.”

Then you can just apply the usual penalties for range (which are darn steep, -10 at 100yds, and -18 at a mile), purposeful and natural camouflage, stealth, and lighting.

Abrams and T-72 (I think)

Note that the “can you see it at one mile” thing isn’t necessarily a bad joke. An M1A2 Abrams tank is about SM+4 or SM+5 (probably +5, since the T-72 is +4 in High-Tech). It can certainly kill you deader than hell at that range without trying that hard. For a normal guy on an open field, that’s Vision+10, +5 for size modifier, and -18 for range. Net of Vision-7, or about one chance in six of spotting it. Camouflage or poor light makes it even less likely. You’re dead before you know he’s even there.

Not that I’m saying it’s unrealistic. It’s probably about right.

But it seems to me that the “in plain sight” modifier is best handled by just giving it all the time.

This is an article-by-article review of Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay. While I don’t usually do this, the subject matter of this issue is just what this blog ordered, and even if one of my own articles is in it, I really think every article, and nearly every word, of this issue is worth reading. So, a series of (hopefully) shortish posts. You can find the installments on Modern Warfighter: Gear here, as well as The Devil’s Chariot, Brock-Avery Guns, Dodge This, and The Nock Volley Gun.

Magic Bullets ( +Christopher Rice )

This is all about how to kill supernatural critters. The article is basically only one section, with a bunch of sub-sections to divide it up by categories. It’s two pages long, an equipment list of a very specialized type. In fact, Chris notes that it was an Appendix Z submission that was padded out a bit to make it long enough to stand on its own, so brevity was in fact, one of the article’s mission statements. Bear that in mind when I note that certain things could have been added: perhaps, perhaps not.
Ultimately, this is a different type of article than the rest, largely because while Ken, +Hans-Christian Vortisch, and Graeme are reporting stats on real-world and verifiable equipment, +David Pulver was inventing a company with a few real-world-based guns to go with it, and I created some mechanics (which only have to feel right), +Christopher Rice is inventing stuff. He’s also playing in my sandbox, as it were – I didn’t call this blog Gaming Ballistic for nothing, and that “Doctorate in GURPS Ballistics” thing in my Steve Jackson Games author bio is only sort of a joke.

So, I’m going to do sort of two reviews. One from a game-able perspective, the other from a total “bring out your nitpicks!” perspective. I should do full disclosure, though: I playtested the article (perhaps peer-review is the better phrase), so if some of these later nits came up only now, that’s my fault for not pointing them out to Chris back then.

The Right Ammunition

Real-world .30-06 wooden training bullets. So they say.



After a brief introduction that basically notes that certain supernatural critters require just the right ammunition type (werewolves and silver, right? Vampires and wood?), the article starts right in. For simplification purposes, it notes that weight will remain unchanged unless otherwise noted, and the big difference will be cost.

Throwing realism aside, this is totally the right call. It might even be the right call in spite of any “realistic” nitpicks (oh, I’ll do that later).

Following the intro, he breaks the bullets down by payload type.

Liquids


Ultimately, he treats these as a type of hollow-point bullet, complete with increased wound channel modifier, armor divisor, and increase of DR for items with DR 0. Each liquid also gets a linked effects, which is explicated in footnotes.

Irradiated Vampire-killers. Accept no substitutes.

There are nine liquids listed, from the el cheapo garlic extract to the downright spendy silver nitrate tear gas.

The only flaw that I think I’d note here is that it would have been useful to have noted which type of creatures each bullet is typically sovereign against. This is a partial gripe: he does note that asafetida is ward against spirits, and some of these are obvious or at least relatively common knowledge. “Wolfsbane” is probably not going to be used against an insane Frog Prince. Or if so, the bullet itself is likely going to do just fine.

Liquids: The Nitpick Version


The real nit here is the assumption that these bullets will have unchanged weight. Nearly every one of the loads is lighter than the copper-jacketed lead it replaces. Hell, silver nitrate has a density of 5.35 g/cc, while jacketed lead pistol bullets will tend to have a density between about 10.0 and 10.8, in my experience.

That means that to have a constant weight, they will be quite large. Probably large enough that they won’t feed in an automatic pistol or rifle, and will have to be hand-loaded one at a time. That’s not a bad thing, and in fact, adds to the drama of the moment.

The other thing about these is that unless you’re dealing with a shotgun, a bullet, especially a rifle bullet, is a shockingly small volume. As examples, to pick some common cartridges

Volume of 22mm Samaritan bullets: 12.5ml

40 gr .22 LR: 0.25 ml
230gr .45 ACP: 1.4 ml
147gr 9x19mm: 0.9 ml
180gr 10mm Auto: 1.1 ml
300 gr .50 AE: 2.0 ml (ok, that’s not so common except in the movies)
M855 5.56x45mm: 0.42 ml
7.62x39mm: 0.87 ml
7.62x51mm NATO: 0.98 ml
12G full-bore shotgun slug: 3.5 ml

Now, that volume assumes the entire thing is the projectile. If (say) 50-75% of that volume is liquid payload, there will be very, very little of it.

Now, one thing that does not change here is the base damage. The kinetic energy of the bullet is determined, more or less, by the energy of the powder behind it, and the distance it moves down the barrel. So since caliber and energy don’t change, neither does the GURPS damage. However, the light weight will probably make the ballistic coefficient go lower, which will drop both 1/2D and Max range.

Kate Beckinsale. Just because.

What I’d do as an alternate rule here is say that such funky additives, against the right creature, allow the bullets to work like bullets, maybe with the pi size reduced one step, or even just breaking even. So instead of spirits or supernatural creatures just being irritated at you for shooting them with pesky widdle bullets (how cute!) they will have their usual impact. Hell, even if your .45 ACP does pi- instead of pi+, if the trade-off is “does damage at all” then it’s worth it.

One interesting tidbit, though, is if you can actually make these loaded, lighter bullets, they’ll be fast. A .45 ACP that replaces half its volume of lead core with silver nitrate will only mass 175 grains or so. In GURPS, that’s not worth anything. My calculated 1/2D and Max ranges drop from 290yds to 215yds and 1740 yds to 1470 yds, respectively. A water-filled bullet would be 145 yds and 1190 yds.

Is all that crap worth it?

No. No it is not. It adds book-keeping and math for no real good purpose, while the existing “keep it all the same, charge more, and treat them as hollow-points with extra badness vs. the right critter” makes it a decent choice. The only fault, again, is that these odd loads are the same as JHP bullets (though they cost more) even though they’re very sub-optimized for killing people, rater than supernatural critters. The only real change I’d recommend to Chris’ work is to knock down his bump-up of wound type for regular Joes. Keep the (0.5) armor divisor, but do not increase the wound type against flesh-and-blood. Do whatever you want for the thing it is supposed to be bad for. Increase the wound modifier, add linked effects, etc.

Special Metals


Five alternate metals, with different costs for the bullets. In this case, not bothering with the slight changes in weight-per-shot is totally the right call, and the increase in cost for the inner core of the bullet is quite reasonable. Nothing to gripe about here.

Special Minerals


Some of these are just fun. He notes that the hard part of this is to get the inner core into shape, since you can’t pour it into a mold.

Do you know how hard this is to machine? Do you?

True, true, but most modern bullets’ cores are swaged into the jacket, not poured or cast. Still, that’s a true deep-dive nitpick, and others can probably nitpick my nitpick, noting that cast copper or other solid bullets are exactly that: cast. They are in fact, poured into a mold. So what’s the right call? Keep it simple. This is a game.

As almost the last sentence, he notes that with the right gemstone, you can use these as a mana reserve making it available as a spell arrow.

Explosive fireball bullets? Yes, please!

Wooden


I’m pretty sure that all of this is more-or-less borrowed from the existing rules from either High-Tech or Loadouts: Monster Hunters, both of which would have had good reason to do these. I know we discussed new rules, and we then said: “Waitaminute, these surely have to exist already.” And so they did.

Windham-Pryce. Rogue Demon Hunter.

The footnotes for the wood items (seven of them) follow the advice I have for liquids, making it very, very obvious what the appropriate target of each wood type is.

As a note, I always thought that a shotgun-launched saboted wooden stake would be the best use of modern firearms vs. vampires. A shotgun chambered for a 3.5″ shell could probably fit a 1/2″ diameter, 2.5″ long wooden dowel, which you could bore out and fill with silver or lead to increase the mass, and thus stability. That seems to me a non-trivial anti-vampire projectile.

Plus: shotguns. Coolness delivered by pump-action. Even Wesley says so.

Ballistic’s Report


Despite my nits – and most of those are confined to liquid-filled projectiles – this article is well done, and all about the fun. A lot of supernatural creatures need to have significant resistance against modern firearms to pose a challenge (See Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy, p. 25), and thus conversely need a weakness to make it more interesting. After the right level and success at Hidden Lore or other research, being able to determine that one particular type of material or spell can be speed-delivered at 1500 fps might make a fun climax.

As such, this article delivers. If its not 100% accurate where ballistics are concerned, well, a lecherous werewolf (with guns!) isn’t exactly 100% realistic now, is it?

People on the SJG Forums still reference the work I did a while ago on bullet statistics conversion from real-world data. The fact is, the equations for weapon penetration did not change form 3e to 4e, and where there are some real issues with scaling weapons, the derivation of penetration is the same, and (more or less) the wound channel (damage size, bullet type) modifiers are the same.

So it holds up well.

That being said, I wrote it in 2002, meaning it’s been kicking around now for more than ten years.

Yeah, I feel old.

I’ve tweaked it here and there, and added more cartridges where I needed them. Some sample results follow.

But for those who want the most recent version of the sheet I use myself, well: Here it is.

What rounds does it contain? Here’s a list, with some stats.

 

 

This is an article-by-article review of Pyramid #3/57: Gunplay. While I don’t usually do this, the subject matter of this issue is just what this blog ordered, and even if one of my own articles is in it, I really think every article, and nearly every word, of this issue is worth reading. So, a series of (hopefully) shortish posts. You can find the installments on Modern Warfighter: Gear here, as well as The Devil’s Chariot, Brock-Avery Guns, and Dodge This

The Nock Volley Gun (Graeme Davis)

For those who like their firearms huge, impractical, and conferring massive bonuses to Intimidation, the Nock Volley Gun is for you. This article details a very real piece of kit, giving the weapon’s history, description, and a brief bit on use.

History

Invented by the same person who gave us the double-barreled shotgun, the weapon was created to deal with boarding actions on ships. As mentioned in the article, the prototype had two issues: bone-cracking recoil and a tendency to set your ship on fire.
Oops.
Slow to load and hazardous to fire, apparently it never really took off. Go figure.
The Gun

The weapon description is complete and focuses mostly on the rules and optional rules (six of them, on Recoil, Misfires (common with this weapon), Muzzle Blast, Intimidation, Special Powder, and a much needed Speedloader.
Each section is well laid out, brief but informative, and tells a prospective GM or player what they need to know to capture the feel and use of the weapon in play.
Adventures

The weapon only saw a limited period of actual service (1780-1815) and would be suitable for Age of Sail type stuff. Otherwise it features in a few TV and Movie appearances, and so would make a nice fit there.
Hard to see in the smoke, but Master and Commander features one!
Parting Shot

A short review, but this article delivers. It’s all you wanted to know about a unique piece of kit, with optional rules to simulate why this gun might have been designed, but also ultimately failed. It’s tightly written, rules focused, and terse in a good way. When you finish, you will know whether your character (or a flavorful NPC) might want to carry one (gah! heavy!), or how to use one if you stumble across one mounted to a ship’s rail.
There are also enough optional rules that adding volley concepts to fictional pieces of weaponry are a very real option for game and world-builders. So if you want a volley assault rifle, well, Graeme’s got you covered.