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

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


What would it be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

                          -Jayne Cobb

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

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

Fixed and Knowable Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Persistence of Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cut to the Flippin’ Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM:  “Pay…. what?”

Michel eyes Brody suspiciously.

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

The lead troll seems to consider this thoughtfully.

GM: “Warm.” He nods. “WARM!”

Brody:  “Very warm!”

They step back out of the way.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michel scored +1 Rationalization point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michel unstuns himself; Brody does not.

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

Staver is, alas, still stunned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We call it a night.

Some out of character talk after the fight:

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll see!

In addition, something happened last month.

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

You can find the first installments here:


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

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



Additional Rules

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

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

Let’s start with everyone’s favorite:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“All models are wrong; some are useful.” 

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

Vital Statistics

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

Height, Weight, and Age

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call me special. Perhaps because of my Pathfinder read-through, perhaps because I’m just easy, I received a request from +Frank Coleman to review his new RPG, called WEST.

The PDF is a scant few pages long, so I figured I’d dive right in. As I told Mr. Coleman, I can’t promise to like it, but I can promise to try to be fair. I first wrote the review, then sent it to Mr. Coleman, and asked him to comment. When he does – and we’ve exchanged several cordial emails on the subject – I’ll paste his comments in-line.

So, here we go. I’ll comment on each section of the rules in turn, occasionally quoting them verbatim if I need to illuminate a particular point. Always keep in mind that this is the BETA version of the rules, that they’re undergoing/have undergone playtesting and improvement, and that things are in flux until it goes to final press!

About WEST

Well, the first paragraph seems to imply that anyone who likes complex rules cannot also have story, cooperative game-play, or individual character development. Apparently, those of us who play such games are all rules-lawyers.

I object!

Oh, wait. Was that too lawyer-ish?

Anyway, from a pure marketing and sales standpoint, I’d change this intro, focusing on the core mission of the work in a positive way, rather than disparaging a potential (buying!) audience. Even if it wasn’t meant that way, it’s all too easy to interpret it as such.

Here’s the original paragraph:

WEST is a flexible game system created for the use and enjoyment of all those whom favor the story, cooperative game-play and individual character development over a series of complex rules, the never-ending drama of rules-lawyers and the hassle of downtime administration. The purpose of WEST is to eliminate all of that and help you get down to plain ‘ole fun!

And here’s what I’d do instead:

WEST is a flexible game system created to support an interactive gaming experience focusing on story, cooperative game-play and individual character development. It creates a structure designed to avoid rules-lawyering and downtime administration. The purpose of WEST is to help you get down to plain ol’ fun!

I think the second is more positive-sounding, and invites you in. Also, WEST does not provide a setting (though it was written with the Old West as an example, it never really influences the rules other than in the equipment section). It’s a challenge resolution system first, with narrative-based character differentiation thrown into the mix.

What is WEST

Ultimately, it’s a card-based resolution system. OK, interesting! No dice, huh?

It’s also explicitly a Rule Zero game, but with a twist. Instead of “the GM is always right,” it’s more “you will need a set of House Rules” to ensure the system is tuned to your needs.

I approve. I’m a big Rule Zero guy.

What do I need to play WEST?

Very little. The rules, a deck of cards, a 3×5 card or piece of paper to write notes on, and a pencil.

You may need a Game Master, but you can also play cooperatively with two Master Decks.

NOT required to play WEST

The term “Master Deck” appears without warning. In a PDF-based game, a forward-link to the rules section or glossary would be a good idea. If you want to go all dead-tree, I’d like a reference to what page this is on. In this case “Master Deck (p. 6)” would be helpful.

And boom! This is also designed for Live Action play. Interesting.

One thing that might bear noting: as your character advances, you may need several decks of cards to round him out, not just one. You won’t be carrying an entire blackjack shoe with you, though – don’t worry about that.

What is the difference between Tabletop and Live-action WEST?

The first paragraph starts off strong, with a compelling description of what the rules differences are (none!), but lays out that you’ll be acting out the roles in a controlled environment. It’s written in an engaging fashion that makes you want to try it.

It then presents six rules:

The Live-Action Rules for WEST

  1. There’s a device to signal out-of-character talk. This is useful; +Nathan Joy and the group I play Dungeon Fantasy with use two chat windows as well (though it’s blurred): one for OOC chat and the other for character action and in-character dialog.
  2. Another is a general piece of advice not to use real weapons in the game. No real guns, if you use realistic mockups they should have the orange tip that says to any observers that nothing obviously lethal is going on, and no metal knives or swords. This is all sensible advice, though obviously individual groups will probably deviate – but you can always do whatever you want in the privacy of your own home. By publishing this rule, it lays down an official expectation of what you might find if you were to go to play WEST at a convention or other public gathering. More on that later.
  3. No touching. Really, “no assault.” Offensive touching is not appropriate, and where there might be any doubt, don’t do it. Again, good advice.
  4. No stunts. Focus on the imagination and the story, not the physical action.
  5. No drugs, including alcohol. This one’s going to be oft-violated, I can tell. I’ll get to commentary on this along with #6. 
OK, so the first five rules all make sense to me. The last of them?
    6.  Dress the Part. The game insists if you do live-action WEST that you’re in costume. This paragraph has a strong streak of One True Wayism in the flavor text. There’s also some editing mistakes in it, which will be corrected before it goes to press, I’m sure. 
But where the intro promises a low-investment experience (all you need is the rules, a deck of cards, and your imagination!), this section throws that out the window.
It also says “you can’t get into the spirit of the thing unless you immerse yourself in it.” Well, the Royal Shakespeare Company would disagree – at least as far as costumes and props are concerned. They used to come to my alma mater, Rice University, every year at the invite of the Rice Players, and I recall four of them (three?) doing the entire cast of Twelfth Night with nothing more than moving a ribbon around to designate what part they were playing – no swords, no crowns, coins, or fancy costumes. Granted, not wearing jeans and t-shirts either, but it’s absolutely possible to immerse yourself in a role without props or costumes.
Ultimately, I think this section should be re-titled rather than rewritten (though I would rewrite the Dress the Part section) as “Rules for Live-Action Convention Play” rather than any play at all. After all, “it’s your game, have your house rules, and do what you want” is right there in the intro.
Here’s the Dress the Part section, and my suggestion:

Dress the Part– Yes, costuming is a rule! It is a role after all. This is part of the liveaction rules for a very real reason: You can’t get into the spirit of a thing unless you immerse yourself in it. WEST is a game you should prepare to play. Because character creation is so free-form and simple it will depend largely to flesh him or her out and develop them further. The harder each player works at building the atmosphere together the easier it is to believe you’re really there. It’s part of the cooperative experience. You owe it to each other. Research everything your Game Master gives you, build a persona and get together a costume!

My suggestion

Dress the Part– Yes, costuming is a rule, and is part of the live action rules for a very real reason: It tells your fellow players you’re serious and invested in the shared experience. If you’ve traveled and invested time, effort, and money in the game, it’s fair to have the same expectation of others. Because character creation is so free-form and simple it will depend largely on each player to flesh him or her out and develop them further. The harder each player works at building the atmosphere together the easier it is to believe you’re really there. It’s part of the cooperative experience. You owe it to each other. Pay close attention to everything your Game Master gives you, build a persona and get together a costume!

Granted, this is my own personal flavor on things, but I think the above suggestion is bang-on for convention play, but not appropriate for five men and women gathering at a home or other space for some free-form weekend fun.

How do you create a WEST character

Fourteen cards. You get the entire series of cards: Joker, plus 2 through Ace. You pick your suits based on  how you envision your character.

The game is based on the concept of certain suits being considered trump. Three of the suits represent certain flavor: clubs are physical activities, diamonds are mental attributes such as perception and cognition, hearts are charisma-based. The game gives a simple rule for the value of a trump suit in a challenge, and (on the face of it) it’s potentially a minor one, giving you a slight edge in certain contests. There’s a pointer to Resolving Challenges for how this really matters.

Spades are ignored for no particular reason that I can tell, at this point in the rules. Maybe they come up later. (They do).

Initiative Order

Pretty straight-forward. Draw a card, take actions in order based on the value of the card, improved if the action being contemplated is pertinent (if you draw the 9 of clubs in a physical task, it counts as a 10). Joker means you’re boned and cannot act. All of this is in real time.

Resolving Challenges

Ah. All of this is a modification of the rules of the card game War. I would honestly move this way, way up in the sequence of the rules presentation. This is an editing and sequence issue, not a content one, so it’s easily fixed. The rules for trumping belong here, not under character creation. Initiative order should probably be a sub-head under Resolving Challenges as well. Plus the definition of a challenge should come first! That sort of thing.

If you’ve never played War, you may well be lost here. ” . . . meaning that the card values are tied – War would result.”

OK, so? What does that mean?

As it happens, the way I learned it you put three cards face down, and turn over the fourth and retry the contest. But when I played War, you kept the cards of the opposing player if you won, and since your character deck is never more than 14 cards, I don’t think you do this. This section needs to assume less! This is a recurring theme in this brief ruleset.

Degrees of Success

OK, so the difference between the card values in a contest matters, and there are such things as critical fumbles and heroic successes. These get no explication at this time.


Oh! Here’s the fourth suit. They are not associated with challenge types, they’re associated with skills. How many skills you have is limited to how many spades you have in your chosen character deck. Oh, and there are things called experience points, which allow you to get skills after character creation.

This seems a key concept that needs to be isolated to its own section, rather than tucked into something which itself needs to be in a different place.

Character Skills

These skills – trained skills – are things you can do. In GURPS, they’re skills, rather than Advantages or Powers or Ability Scores (like Strength). These skills are player/GM determined, looks like. This reminds me a lot of Aspects in FATE.

Skill Challenges

You call out that you’re going to have one, and if you have that skill, spades are trump. That’s a nice simple rule, though I might do something slightly differently. You get +2 instead of +1, and if you draw the right complimentary card, you might get even more. So you get a bonus simply by virtue of having the skill. If you then draw a spade, you get a further +1. If you’re doing a physical activity (like shooting a gun) and you happen to draw a club, you also get +1. If your skill is the GURPS-equivalent of Fast-Talk, then, you get +2 for having the skill, +1 if you draw a spade (and have the skill) or a heart, but bupkiss if you draw a club, diamond, or a spade without the relevant skill.

But as a rule, I shouldn’t propose rules-changes without having played the game, so I won’t. I’m sort of an inveterate rules-tinkerer, though, so it’s my nature. Alas.

The Master Deck vs. Character Deck

Really just a (useful) tool to keep the GM sane. All random NPCs just draw from a deck of regular playing cards, though if the PCs can draw a joker, I’d try and add 2-4 Jokers for the NPC deck as well.

The Character Card

Write down your name, description, skills list, items you carry, and character background.

The Surprise Rule

This needs to be tucked into the section on Initiative, which itself is a special type of challenge (a combat challenge).


It took me a bit, but damage is represented by either permanently or temporarily randomly losing cards. If you’re out of cards, you’re out of play (killed, but “out of play” seems as appropriate as not; how you’re out of play can be GM decision). A bruise is a card lost for only a scene (not defined; presumably when a scene starts and stops is also a GM decision). A wound represents a permanent loss for the entire game session. Unless you can find some Healing (below).

Frank Coleman elaborates: 

A lot seems to get clarified through the Hangout Play-tests. 

For example: Cards are drawn from the hand at random when a player-character is bruised or wounded by an aggressor. Those cards are permanently removed from play unless they are healed naturally (at a rate determined by the GM and returned at random in the same fashion) or by the use of a skill or device, which may give a bonus (degree of success) or increase the rate of healing. Yes, losing a low-numbered card is a good thing. It can increase your statistical chances of being better but that’s IF its pulled from your hand at random. The Joker (your auto-fail) always stays put. The 14 vs. 13 cards thing was a typo. There are 14 cards in a Character Deck, however once you lose your Joker you’re dead (if you take 14 wounds) if you take 14 bruises or any combination thereof down to 0 you’re simply unconscious.

A scene is an individual encounter, whether it is social interaction or combat scenario. When these “acts” end a character regains his or her bruises. Wounds do not return to your hand without a specific amount of in-game time passing (as determined by the GM) or through the use of skills and devices (medicine, medical equipment, etc.).

Weapons and Damage

Let’s start with the basic concept: injury levels are a certain number of bruises or wounds, maybe both. That works well.

The actual values are a mixed bag. A gunshot is one wound . . . but so is a leather whip. A quarter-stick of dynamite does seven wounds to everyone within ten paces (!!), while a keg of black powder only inflicts four (5) wounds within five paces.

These could use rationalization based on actual propensity to hurt people, but the general theory of the rule is simple and makes sense within the card-based paradigm of the rules.

You need house rules for all of this stuff; the GM should be able to roughly assign stats for weapons on the fly. You don’t need something as detailed as what I did for GURPS – in fact, that’s quite the opposite of what’s needed here – but general rules would be good. Getting hit with a small pistol like a derringer would be 1 wound, a larger one or a sword or axe is two, a rifle is three. Heck, “look up the damage in your favorite other RPG and convert” would work too! Dividing the GURPS injury dice by two or three for number of wounds might work, but you’d want to avoid such references in a game that doesn’t require much besides a 10-page rulebook. Still, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to reality-check this stuff, since you want to avoid pinging the SoDoM. That will break immersion right across one’s knee.


Pretty difficult to heal up. Bruises come back right away from scene to scene, but wounds can take a while. There are guidelines for between-session healing and a general (and generally insufficient) hint at using skills to heal up.

The number of cards you’re cycling through is fixed and small. Losing them is probably a Big Deal (unless you lose a low-numbered card? Is that a good thing?)

Off-Handed Use
If you use the wrong hand for an action in play, you take a penalty. More on this later.

Wild Cards

Again, something that should be re-organized into a general section on Challenges. Wild Cards allow narrative modification, much in the way it happens in FATE. As long as the narrative element has not already been firmed up by the GM, you can add one. What impact does that have on play? Examples? None to be found, and they’re needed for something like this.

Experience Points

Interesting. You start play with a sequence of cards from Joker through Ace. You can promote cards, within limits, with experience. I wonder if it would be a good idea to have, on your character sheet, the sum of all card values in your hand (Jack = 11, King = 13, Ace = 14; standard character starts with 104 points) so that the GM, at least, knows what power levels are coming to the table.

Ballistic’s Report
So, that’s the survey of what’s there.

Overall, this seems like a neat concept, in that it’s more or less a simple playing-card addition to a set of LARP rules or tabletop rules. The mechanics are fairly simple and easily remembered – once you’ve played War, it’s pretty basic.

I do think that the manuscript (and remember, I’m reviewing a Beta version) needs to be re-organized – badly. Probably something on the order of

  • Playing the Game
  • Characters
  • Challenges (this includes cards and what to do with them)
    • Resolving Challenges
    • Combat Challenges
  • Props and Equipment

That sort of thing.

While I’ll give kudos for brevity, there’s too much left unsaid. If you’ve never played War, you can’t grasp the game. The process of character creation (you get a sequence of cards, but it’s up to the player to choose what suits he wants, and he can choose . . . any he wants?) could use an example or three. The game play seems like it would work a lot like the couple of sessions of FATE I’ve seen or played in, and that book is over three hundred pages long. I’m not saying that WEST needs a thirty-fold expansion in length, but taking the time to walk through some of the core concepts via examples would help beginners grasp the game.

Some of the rules seem overly specific given the abstract nature of the game. Off-Handed Use, I’m looking at you – the card-based abstraction present in the game drowns out something like this as an unimportant detail.

On the flip side, I think more detail is needed for some things. When you take a wound, you lose a card. But it might be (say) the three of diamonds, which means you’re better off now that you’ve been wounded than not! Probably should have a wound take off your highest card first, from Ace down to 2, so you grow less capable as you’re wounded.

And how many times can you go through your deck? All of that needs to be made more explicit, I think.

But would I play it?

As a tabletop game, alas, probably not. If I’m going to do something like this, I think FATE does it better. I should say, FATE seems to do it better at this stage in WEST’s development. One thing that might be interesting is to have short scenarios that can be played out in about an hour or so, so that you can pick up the game, read all 10-15 pages of rules, set up a scene, and play it out. That would put it midway between a full-on 300-600 page ruleset like GURPS, Pathfinder, or FATE and a card game like Munchkin.

As a LARP game – were I into such things with the time to do it? Absolutely, and I think this is where it can shine. I see it as a far superior resolution to something like Rock-Paper-Scissors, or even Rock-Paper-Scissors-Lizard-Spock. It has real strategic elements to it, can handle abstract but meaningful character differentiation through suit and skill selection, and it’s trivally easy to carry around a quarter-deck of cards.

Thanks to Frank for providing the advance copy of the manuscript and inviting me to review it!

A few days ago I put out a challenge to come up with maps suitable for +Jason Packer‘s campaign. While I got some really neat submissions from some of my regular readers, plus a lame-ass PowerPoint sketch by yours truly, a new reader (at least that I know of) rose to the challenge so well I wanted to break his comments and submission into their own post.

ZukePrime  stepped up to the plate and gave us three maps. The first was his own creation. He took the basic description, and created the map to the left. There was a broken coast (check), a huge area of swamp (check), a massive mountain range to the north. Presumably one of the towns/cities/villages in the west is presumably Frostharrow.

The darndest thing about this is that it was supposedly his first effort. He “only” used black and white to keep it simple.

Jeez. I’ve had and attempted Campaign Cartographer for some years now, and not once produced anything even remotely this cool. This map deserves to be used in someone’s campaign.

But nooooo . . . that wasn’t good enough. He had to go and do more. He modestly comments:

I’ll be redrawing the map as a fun project…this time in color. Here’s the thing: I’m brand new to CC3 and mapmaking in general, so this is my official “first attempt.” CC3 is definitely hard to master. I think the best place to start is Joe Sweeney’s YouTube page, where he has a whole bunch of tutorials as playlists. I just follow along. 🙂 The key to CC3 is working in a logical, layered approach. If you have the product, it helps to follow the tutorial pdf’s they provide as well. You always start with the landmass/coastline, then add your significant terrain features, then rivers/lakes. After that you “populate” it with towns and features. The biggest difficulty for me is editing out mistakes and trying to get the right sheet effects to kick in. I’ll try to add more with my follow-up submission in color. What I love about CC3 is it allows noobs like me to produce cools maps in minimal time.

OK, so other than this being his first time frackin’ ever with the package, no problem, right?

Anyway, so then he saw Jason’s actual map. So, naturally, he changed his design, and started crackin’ away with the same outline that Jason wanted for his own campaign. While he published two iterations of it, I’ll only show the second one, which is more complete. Zuke comments (I”ve strung them together from previous comments).

 This is the basic landmass outline with a 25 mile grid. The map is 500×400 miles for reference. The “unnamed sea” is set into position, and I’ve added some rivers/streams to fix the area of the Gray Marshes. The effects you see around the landmass (highlighting etc) are the default settings in CC3. Next up, putting in the Granite Halls and Gray Marshes.I’ve been playing around with the sheets, so it’s taking me a while to do this properly. I’ve just added some river courses and laid in the Verdant, Gray Marshes and Granite Hall areas. I don’t like the default color symbols as much as the B/W symbols…so I’m experimenting with mixing/matching. Note the foothills are just a test. This is fun!

Clearly, there will be further iterations as he refines his technique. No matter what, this is a very impressive offering, especially given his proclaimed lack of experience with the program!

Notionally, I should be able to follow the tutorials and get the same thing done. Right? Right? We’ll see. I am going to have to schedule some of my next vacation or not-home-with-the-toddler time to work through the tutorials, read the manual, and follow Joe Sweeney’s advice, to determine whether I’m just missing a few key concepts, or I’m just a no-talent hack. Maybe both.

Anyway, by the time I finished this post, Zuke had populated an entire album with maps. His closest-to-finished entry is below.

So, kudos to ZukePrime for great work. Surely no one could do better than this.

(Hear that sound? Gauntlet meeting concrete? I super-secret double-dog dare someone to do better.)

In my old job, there was a principle called MECE. Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. This was applied when trying to organize information that already existed into groups for later analysis. This might be a customer demographic, or slicing a business into segments based on some sort of grouping, maybe to figure out which part of a business was making money, or how.

Peter’s post on Fixed-level Ripostes got me wondering about various combinations of this sort of thing. See, a riposte trades a penalty to your defense roll for a penalty to your foe’s defense roll on your next turn. Huh. OK, well a Deceptive Attack – a core, vital part of the Fourth Edition rules, trades a penalty to your attack roll for a penalty to his defense roll . . . all on the same turn.

Those are both considered Options in GURPS. The first is an Active Defense Option (GURPS Martial Arts, pp. 124-125), the second is an Attack Option (pp. B369-370).

Well, that got me thinking. Can we invert the principle, and apply a MECE framework first, and then populate it with GURPS options second? In short, how can one modify an attack or defense roll, and what impact does it have.

Let’s start with the framework. “Modify your attack roll” and “Modify your defense roll” make two good divisions. These can either go up or down, and that is MECE. You either choose a bonus or penalty to an attack or defense.

OK, what about the effects of that modification? Well, we already have “occurs this turn” and “occurs next turn.” Good division. We can also say “impacts me” and “impacts my foe.” Finally, the impact might be “modifies attack roll” and “modifies defenses.” Let’s stop there and see if I can come up with a format that is readable that breaks that down well.

The chart is a comprehensive format, all right, but how to read it?

By the way, I acknowledge that I’ve taken Yak Shaving to an entirely new level here, in all likelihood. I had no idea that I’d wind up with so many options. Yeesh.

Modifer is “what do I do when I have the choice?” So “I get a bonus to my attack roll” is what I do (+4, for example). It impacts the defense of the foe on this very turn (+2 for his defense). That’s a Telegraphic Attack.

Some of these are nonsensical. Can I get a bonus to my attack this round that gives me a penalty to  . . . my own attacks this round? Probably not. 
Oh, and of course, I need to toss in my Setup Attacks! A penalty to hit this turn, for a penalty to your foe’s defense next turn.
That leaves a few things filled (and probably a few left out), and nearly two dozen blank spaces, which may or may not make sense. I’ll comment on a few that might, and crowd-source possibilities for the rest!
So . . . which of these might not be totally stupid? I’ll make a number for all of them, and make some comments, noting whether whatever comes out makes any sort of sense. I’ll color-code the less-desirable ones red, the maybe good ones black, and the ones I think really worthy bold.

I was doing this pretty late, so I may have reversed the “degenerate” commentary periodically. Basically, if I’m attacking, modifiers to my foe’s defenses and attacks and my defenses until my next turn make sense. Likewise, if I’m attacking, I might do stuff that impacts my own next turn. But if I’m attacking, my foe’s next turn is what’s coming next, and “this turn” doesn’t make much sense. Or maybe the other way around. In any case, only one really makes sense.
If I’m defending, I’ve already attacked. Nothing I do can impact that retroactively. But I can certainly impact my foe’s current and following attacks, following defenses, or my own next actions when my turn comes again. I try and make sense of that in my commentary below.Sorry if I have confused myself or others!

  1. I get a bonus to my attack this turn in exchange for a likely bonus to my foe’s attacks against me on his next turn. This one doesn’t make sense, since “foes’ next turn” is too far away to matter. This one’s right out.
  2. This one is interesting, in that it’s like a Telegraphic Attack, but instead of being easier to defend against on this blow, it would make your next blow easier. If I did this, it’d be something like “you get +4 on your attack, but your foe is at +4 to defend for your entire next turn.” This still seems like “bad idea” to me.
  3. A bonus to my attack roll that modifies the foe’s attack on his upcoming turn. Maybe a different kind of Telegraphic Attack, that isn’t easier to defend against, but makes me easier to hit – maybe “Predictable Attack.” +4 to my hit roll this turn in exchange for +4 to his hit roll next turn. This invites abuse, I think. Probably a bad idea.
  4. A bonus to my attack roll this turn that probably provides a penalty to my own hit rolls on the following turn. “Unbalancing Attack?” If I did it, it’d be something like +2 to this attack, in exchange for -4 on your next one, maybe even a -4 to DX instead!
  5. A bonus to my attack now that impacts my defenses on my following turn, of course negatively. Seems a lot like #4, and maybe make them degenerate: that -4 to DX also gives -2 to Parry and Block, and -1 to Dodge.
  6. A bonus to my attack that modifies my attacks this turn? The only thing I could think of here is (say) shifting bonuses or penalties between multiple attacks in some way. So instead of Rapid Strike being -6/-6, you can throw one at -3/-9. That might allow a -6 attack to the vitals, followed by a -9 to the torso. 
  7. A bonus to my own defense that gives my foe a bonus to his attacks next turn? Sounds complicated. 
  8. Likewise here, a bonus to my defenses that gives my foe a bonus to his defenses . . . actually, maybe this one isn’t so bad.
  9. Degenerate with #7
  10. Degenerate with #8
  11. A bonus to my defense that likely gives my next attack a penalty to hit? That one might actually be worth looking at. I put myself in a good position to defend against one blow, which puts me in a bad position to attack the following round. 
  12. Likewise, a bonus to my defense right now that puts me out of position to defend well the following turn. The key to both 11 and 12 would be some sort of exchange rate like +2 this round, but -6 to hit or -3 to defend the following. Against all foes, probably.
  13. I think this one’s degenerate with #14.
  14. This one I like. I take a penalty to my attack rolls, in exchange to a penalty to my foe’s attack rolls on his turn. I call this Evasion, and I’d probably make it something like a penalty to hit and to Parry/Block (but maybe not dodge?) in exchange for a penalty to hit for my foes. This one makes a lot of sense when considering dodging firearms and lasers.
  15. A penalty to my own attack this turn that gives me a bonus to hit the following turn? Huh, some sort of wacky setup, but seems rife for abuse. I can’t hit the brain this turn, so I’ll take a penalty to hit this time, and be even more accurate on my next attack. Nah.
  16. Hard to imagine something that I take a penalty to my attack roll, my defenses this turn are fine, but my following turn my defenses are impaired.
  17. A penalty to attack rolls in exchange for a bonus to my defenses. Well, since the only way to get a +2 to your defenses is to go All-Out Defensive, allowing unlimited trades is a bad idea. Maybe something like -4 to attacks in exchange for +1 to defend, a full-power bu wild version of Defensive Attack, which exchanges damage for defense. I suspect this was considered and rejected during the Martial Arts drafting process. 
  18. I take a penalty to my own defenses to make my foe miss me next turn. This one might have value, since not having to defend at all has benefits in some cases. 
  19. Degenerate with #18
  20. Degenerate with Riposte
  21. A penalty to my defense in exchange for being better able to hit next turn? Hrm. Maybe to cancel out penalties, but never raise your skill higher than base? I defend, but I’m lining up my blow better – not to make it harder for my foe to defend, but offset penalties for footing, darkness, or location.
  22. A penalty to my defense this turn in exchange for a bonus to my defense next turn. Hrm. Setup Defense?
  23. This one can’t happen. By the time you’re defending, your attack this turn is over.
  24. This one would only make sense in terms of penalty shifting. Where instead of taking 0 for your first parry, -4 (or whatever) for your second, you could take -2 for your first parry, -2 for the second, -8 for the third. Or -4 for the first, -2 for the second, -6 for the third, reserving bonuses to potentially needed further parries on a given turn. I kinda like this one.  
So, only two that really might be worth looking at hard, another ten that might bear going “hmm…” before accepting or most likely rejecting, and an about even dozen that probably are rejectable as either nonsensical or rife for abuse.
Shaved the yak pretty fine there. If you got to this point, you get a digital cookie.