I was going to post this one today. But after 36 hours traveling and very little sleep, I realized that I had it wrong. At length.

I’ll be revisiting this, most definitely. But I will say this:

I was going to set up “believable” as an overall goal that people who clamor for “realism” actually want.

After thinking about this a lot, I don’t think it’s true

I think believablility is a bit like “rule zero,” which can vary in expression, but is basically what I’m getting at here. Playing RPGs is supposed to be fun. (What I refer to as the Wendler-Dell’Orto Rule of Awesome is a corollary to Rule Zero: To enhance fun, be Awesome.

So, “realistic” isn’t really properly substituted by “believable,” as I originally was going to write. You can have perfectly believable games that are, nonetheless, over-the-top if the consequences of what happens are self-consistent and well explained by in-game or metagame logic.

I think what I realized in contemplating believability is this: If the game and situation is not believable, you probably aren’t going to be playing for very long, if at all. Rules arguments, boredom – all can be consequences of unbelievable games.

As an example: I played in a DnD 3ed game in grad school. My archer (1st level) was shooting at a bad guy. I hit, but didn’t do enough damage to kill him. Bad guy was able to cross what seemed to me to be a ludicrous amount of terrain on his turn, hit me, and kill me. Boom, dead.

I had a real problem with that. My character just stood there for probably six seconds while this guy, arrow sticking out of him and all, closed the distance and put an end to me.

Now, there are probably many things I did wrong. At the time, I was still a GURPS and WEG Star Wars guy (now I’m like 90% GURPS, 10% Pathfinder, but only as a player). So there are probably things I could have done to make that not happen. Maybe shoot and then move backwards.

But it just seemed unbelievable, and thus not fun, and really not Awesome. I didn’t play DnD again for years.

I suspect many game-digressions where rules and outcomes are in dispute can be put down to believability-clash – also known as expectations mismatch. This isn’t always willing in-game immersion. It can be “you’re disrupting my solo-narrative with shared-narrative” too.

But I digress. For now, I’ll leave realistic and cinematic and what axes they’re on to another time.

But for the moment: a game that wants to be successful, and sufficiently immersive to be definitely fun and potentially awesome had better be believable.

I am not a fan of ST rolls as skill tests in GURPS. Quick Contests or Regular Contests . . . meh, at best.

ST is not like IQ, DX, and HT, which are all fairly well described in game mechanical terms as to what they do, though in a way they do it a bit too well. ST is extrinsic to the game, not intrinsic. It is tied to real-world parameters through Basic Lift. It’s totally easy to imagine what ST 45 looks like. You may have even seen an animal that strong (if not presently, maybe a T-Rex or something). You have certainly seen or heard of machines that are many times stronger than a human, and so could be rated with ludicrously high ST skills and be both realistic and believable.

So I would propose the following (in less-specific terms) were I looking at revising.

All rolls should be based on DX or HT.

DX is when you’re using ST for fine control over something. HT is when you’re exerting yourself against another or against your own physical limits. There are a few ways to do this.

But in either case, your ST really should be used to calculate Basic Lift, and from there figure out what you’re doing in terms of a Object Weight-to-Basic Lift ratio. That’ll give you a bonus or penalty.

As examples:

Throwing a shot-put as far as you can, not caring where it hits. It’s a 16-lb cannonball, so the Basic Lift to weight ratio for even “Joe Average” is more than 1 (1.25). The world record is something like 75 feet! That would probably be a DX roll to perform the motions, and a HT roll to prevent injury. Yes, two rolls. The HT roll would be optional if your adjusted roll is (say) 19 or more; you’re just not exerting yourself hard enough to injure yourself. The DX roll might be required to earn any bonuses to skill or ST from skill (such as the “training bonus” that appeared in The Last Gasp . . . and you’ll see it again in Technical Grappling!).

Weight Lifting: This is very nearly a purely HT-based roll, where you are basically moving the weight up and down until your ST falls low enough (due to local depletion of FP – or AP, really) that you really are pushing high multiples of your effective Basic Lift.

When you think of it already, this is more or less what happens – with both thrown non-weapons (DX-based roll to hit, p. B355) and weapons (DX-based skill roll to hit). Range is a multiple of your ST (seems linear, right?) but the distance modifier based on ST-to-Weight ratio is best described by a power law (about 0.44 x Ratio^-0.8, if you must know. R^2 = 0.987).

A force-to-weight ratio is an acceleration. That is, in most circumstances, ALL you need to know to establish maximum range. If you apply your skill correctly (DX or skill roll), you can achieve both range and accuracy. If you push yourself too hard, you can injure yourself.

But by and large, I would, almost always, rather look at even Contests of ST as opposed DX or HT rolls, with ST-to-Weight or ST-to-ST ratio as a modifier.

Over at Dungeon Fantastic+Peter V. Dell’Orto comments casually that he assumes that the local environment in his Felltower Dungeon Fantasy campaign matches whatever is going on outside his house at the moment.

I thought this was brilliant, and extensible

The internet, plus sites like weather.com, weather underground, and apps such as WeatherBug all allow you to get weather data from anywhere on the planet.

It would be a trivial thing, at the start of a game session, to pick a point on the Earth most like your adventuring location and just look it up.

Boom. Temperature, cloud cover, wind condition and direction, chance and type of precipitation. Details that can make your game come alive, without the hassle of weather generation tables.

Thanks for the nifty idea!

Ah, yes. Cabaret Chicks on Ice.

The joke-title for GURPS Low-Tech for quite a while on the SJG Forums.

Recently, since it seems like forever (but only seems that way) since my manuscript went into the queue in production and saw the rough PDF go around, I’ve been going crazy waiting for the Big Damn Ogre to get out of the way. -)

It’s my own fault. I pledged too.

But to pass the time, I’ve been leaking content here and there. Mostly nothing too revealing. I don’t want to overstep my bounds, nor give away too much from the book. It’s a book covering a lot of rules, and if you give away the rules, you give away the game.

Still, I did reveal one or two more concrete hints, such as a discussion on whether the damage from throws and locks was too high relative to the ease of obtaining a grapple.

I also posted something that was in an original draft, and then cut, because, well, it doesn’t have much to do with grappling.

The Secret Diaries of Technical Grappling• The generic penalty for kicking (-2) assumes a torso level kick – presumably the lower torso. Instead, you may kick anything at SM-4 and lower at no penalty, and each SM higher at an additional -1. Kicking to the head is thus -4, while stomping a grounded foe is not penalized!

One of the OTHER reasons this didn’t work is that SM does not equal height, which was how I was treating it. Still, what this does is say for human-sized critters, you can do whatever you want at knee level and down at no penalty to DX, from hips to knees at -1, abdomen and groin at -2, chest at -3, and head at -4.

This was even there in the first place to give a counter and reason to not grapple: avoiding being curb-stomped.

There is also some commentary about stability, but that is in terms of “if you are in an unstable posture, and someone’s exerting control over you, you’re easier to take down.”

And another rule, fun for people who really want to get to the point:

Impaling
Weapons capable of impaling damage can also be used to
control an opponent. If an impaling object is left inside a foe
(either voluntarily or by getting stuck, see Picks, p. B405), it is
considered to have inflicted CP equal to basic damage. These CP
may not be spent, but impart active and referred control, and
definitely allow actions such as Shoving People Around (p. 00)
and Force Posture Change (p. 00)! You may also use Inflicting
More Pain with Locks (p. 00): Roll a Quick Contest of Trained ST
vs. HT, adding half the original injury as a bonus to your Trained
ST. Apply pain using the full margin of victory!

Edit: Since people are visiting this page again, I thought I’d expand the hint to include the entire thing, just to show a bit more about what’s under the hood. 


But for those not familiar, here was the playtest announcement for the book:

GURPS Martial Arts: Technical Grappling puts the current grappling rules in an arm bar until they bang on your desk in submission! The supplement introduces a few new rules that allow grappling to be treated as a continuum of control rather than being “grappled” and “not grappled,” and seeks to find pressure points in the rules for posture and position.

It explains how to model increasing control over an opponent, a different approach to grappling with different parts of the body, and a completely new top-to-bottom take on grappling with weapons. It adds new perks and techniques where appropriate, and revisits existing rules to ensure compatibility with the new ones!

Why pimp the book when there’s really no telling when it will come out (again: Big. Damn. Ogre)? It’s come up a few times on the forums recently, so I was in a TG frame of mind.

What’s going to be in it?

  • A bunch of stuff on strength and how it impacts grappling ability/skill
  • New variable-effect rules so you can achieve a sucky grapple, or a great one. 
  • Lots of detail on posture and position; it’s important in real-world grappling, and it’s important in the new rules
  • An entire chapter on grappling with weapons
  • it revisits, where appropriate, virtually everything in the Basic Set and GURPS Martial Arts to make sure it’s compatible
  • Includes some lenses and styles. Including styles for snakes, cats, dogs, and bears.
I’m looking forward to it seeing publication. But the title of this post? Recently, because there’s lots of discussion on fighting and combat on the SJG Forums, and most fighting and combat involves grappling at some point, my book has come up a lot, usually with me saying “Oh, yes . . . that’ll be covered in Technical Grappling!” 
So one poster referred to it as Cabaret Chicks on Ice Strikes Back. Which I thought was awesome.

Added: I posted another leak  for some rules on disarming. They’re not much of a rules extension from the current ones, but take the same principles and make them cover more stuff.

One of the oft-discussed and frequently derided rules of thumb is the GURPS rule for travel: Move x 10 miles per day.

Now, that CAN be done, but it’s rather unlikely. But . . . if you take the slowest party Member’s Move, and roll (roughly) half-again that many dice, that accomplishes the same thing.

So a bunch of guys with encumbered Move from 4-6 are travelling together. On a given day they”ll roll 6d6 (1.5x the Move 4 for the slowest person). Upper end, they do 35 miles, low end only 5 miles, more typically about 20 miles.

Thanks to +Charles Clemens for inspiring this thought over in the G+ Tabletop Roleplaying Community

I just finished a draft of an article for Pyramid. I ran into a challenge with it that I thought I’d share.

I had an idea and a gripe. The gripe was, as is frequently the case when I contemplate writing a rules-driven article, that there was a case within the rules that produced some results that challenged willing suspension of disbelief in some circumstances. I won’t say what that particular rule is, since the work is still being revised. It does have to do with weapons – hand weapons in particular.

During the process, I had another idea. This one allowed players and GMs to separate a few quantities used to describe weapons that are currently treated as one thing. Hey, you get to differentiate between certain concepts, and achieve a finer resolution and more detail to make weapons more unique. With certain limitations, this allows the hard-core simulationist crowd to get more satisfying results. Take those limits away, and you get a great cinematic feel.

What could be wrong with that?

When I was done with the draft, it just wasn’t ever going to be fun.


While there were still some great parts of the concept, and even the execution, while reading and revising the article it rapidly became clear that the way it was done would require either the universal adoption of an eclectic house rule (quantifying armor in dice rather than points), or a disturbing amount of math not during character generation, but every time you run a combat.

Unless you’re using a computer and it’s all done for you, there comes a point, sometimes very quickly, where all the extra detail does not help the game.

Dungeons and Dragons used to have rounds that were 30-60 seconds long, and segments that were 5-6 seconds long, if I recall correctly. Nowadays, I think the 5-6 second turn/round/segment/whatever is the official elapsed time. GURPS usefully drives that down to a one second resolution. Depending on what you’re doing, you can do a lot of stuff in one second. In some cases, it’s the length of time between life and a Total Party Kill. In other cases, such as a competitive grappling match, you can go for minutes with no end-game reached.

So what if you took GURPS to tenth-second time increments. How about milliseconds?

Those hands you see? That’s +Peter V. Dell’Orto reaching through the screen to kill me.

And he’d be right. Too much detail stops being useful. It stops being fun.

If rules aren’t enhancing the story, if they’re not increasing immersion, believability, and entertainment, they are bad. They should be redone until they are fun.


In the end, no matter how compelling the concepts I was trying to set down seemed, my execution of them made them not-fun.

At that point, it was time to step back, admit that this battle had been lost, and a new approach was required.

One day, this will be made fun, and that will be a good day. Until then:

“Books are not written – they’re rewritten.”   –Michael Crichton

Some who come to this space may wonder:

“What in hell is he talking about? Roleplaying game? Isn’t that kinda kinky?”

Well, yes, if you do it right.

Kidding, kidding. Mostly.

But more seriously, for the moms out there who have wondered what their offspring was wasting their time with for the last 30 years or so:

Roleplaying is creative, interactive, communal storytelling.

If you went out and did improv theater, parental units would get it, right? Oh, my son/daugher is an actor.


And everyone smiles and nods, and they knows whats goings on.

But they never say “my daughter, she creates a world vivid enough for six to eight other people to take up roles, and pretend to be part of that world. She then has to interpret all their actions, create a narrative, and play every other person in the universe. And it all has to be believable, internally consistent, and be part of an arc, without being too heavy handed.”

And everyone frowns, and thinks: “I wonder if that kid is going to go postal one day. After all, twice a year he dresses up in tights, puts on a weapon, and wanders around saying ‘thee’ and ‘yea, verily’ all day.” On the flip side, we usually get props for knowing Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Homer T. Greek, rather than Homer J. Simpson.

Why is that, do you think?

All GURPS damage has three parts to it, even if much of the time they’re implicit.

In order of how it’s applied, which is our first point of potential controversy!
1) Armor divisor. Yes, on a hit and a failed defense if one is allowed, the first thing you probably do as ask “how much armor, if any, is facing me.” If the answer is zero, you don’t do any math, and proceed directly to step 2. But the first thing you do is check to see if whatever DR (Damage Resistance) you’re facing, and reduce or increase it based on the type of attack you’re making. This can be a property of the damage type (some armors get altered stats vs. crushing, piercing, cutting weapons) or a property of the weapon itself (magic or high tech armor divisors, blunt tips or soft construction)
2) Basic Damage. This is the raw oomph of the attack. As discussed in a few places, this can be looked at as a raw ability to penetrate armor. I will assert that it is not yet a measure of wounding and injury. Yet. Basic damage is calculated as a function of the square root of Kinetic Energy for guns, the cube root of KE for most beam weapons, is optionally sqrt(KE) for bows (The Deadly Spring) or uses the strength plus adds model (thrust and swing) of melee weapons and muscle-powered ranged weapons.

3) Wound type, depth, and size. Finally, we get to put the hurt on. The damage here is given its true type, and some sort of multiplier is applied. Tiny bullets that are also slow get pi-, and injury is half penetration. Cutting weapons increase damage by 50%, while my least-favorite damage type, impaling, gets its penetration doubled for injury.

These three things are very, very useful, and have pretty good definitions, for firearms especially. But before we do that, why three? Why not just combine either the first and second two numbers? So instead of a gun (again, best maps to these three) that does 4d (2) pi-, which penetrates like 8d but wounds like 2d, why the frack don’t you just have something like 8d {4} – and note the curly brackets.

That’s Dougish? Hamptonian? I like Hamptonian. That’s Hamptonian for “what is in these brackets refers to wounding.”

Anyway, that might mean “roll 8d for penetration, but divide penetration by 4 for injury.”

You could also just write 2d (4), with the conventional sense used in GURPS, for “this will do 2d injury, but divides any armor by 4.”

Both have a nice symmetry and sensibility to them. So why make things more complicated? As +Peter V. Dell’Orto likes to say, “Where’s the Awesome?”

Back to guns, because they map well. Each of these things represents a very distinct set of properties.

Let’s start with #2. The raw damage (penetration) rating of a gun – or more exactly, it’s projectile – is determined as a function of only two things: the kinetic energy of the bullet and its caliber. If you fire a 10mm diameter chunk of anything with 720 Joules of energy, you’re going to get about 3d+1 damage (the official formula used by +Hans-Christian Vortisch and +David Pulver might come in at 3d; regardless, given those two things, that’s what you get).

But what if that projectile is made of tungsten carbide? Or generic copper-jacketed lead? Or hell, maybe it’s a frozen 10mm marshmallow.  What if, instead of a blunt pistol bullet, it’s shaped more like a spike than an ogive? If the projectile is strong enough to survive delivering it’s own energy content (this may be, after some analysis, why the real-world data for the 55gr 5.56x45mm only penetrates 5d instead of the 5d+1 or 5d+2 my calculations suggest . . . the energy it carries is enough to overwhelm the cohesion of its component materials, so it can’t effectively deliver all them joules. Certainly it can’t be because my Excel spreadsheet model is wrong. Nah.)

That’s where #1 comes in. It can separate out the effects of hardness and geometry from raw energy. Because you might want to do that, since energy is a useful thing to know, especially when it comes to breaking up homogeneous objects.

OK, you’re through the crunchy shell. Now you’re in the chewy center. If that projectile fragments, or just pokes a thin hole, it might pass through a body without doing much permanent damage . . . or the wound could be terrible and grotesque (and if you’re read DiMaio you’ve seen some gross stuff) because the energy is all used to destroy, rather than stretch, heat, or harmlessly displace tissue.

So some sort of efficiency factor that gives the size of the wound channel relative to energy content is useful. This is especially true when you relax our caliber restriction. If you have a high-energy, high caliber weapon that penetrates like 4d, and a finned, hardened, skinny dart, that also penetrates like 4d, but really is 2d(2), the first might be something like 4d pi++, where it wounds like 8d. The second might even be 2d (2) pi-, where it destroys objects like 2d (due to energy dump if it doesn’t blow through), but in humans, really only delivers a 1d wound.

For hand weapons, you could easily see the use. If you’re trying to overwhelm the armor of something, having it hard, perhaps magically hard, will amplify the basic energy you can put into swinging a weapon. If you are ST 14 (about twice as powerful as an average schmo in GURPS), and swing a 2-lb. stick where most of the weight is in the head, you can write down something like “swing 2d” on your character sheet. If that weapon head is concentrating force into a tiny area, like a pick or war hammer, you could perhaps note that by giving it an armor divisor. So the war hammer might do 2d (2), which is kinda a lot, but you could also impart fractional armor divisors if you love math and hate your fellow players. Or if you use a computer. But when that pick sticks into you, if it’s really long, you can see that might be awful. If it’s maybe short and pyramidal, it might punch the armor fine, but not reach deeply enough inside you to really rock your world, internal-organ-wise. (This is unlikely to be true, since your ribcage will deform under impact, allowing the beak to reach the center . . . unless you are deforming more armor to do that, in which case the wound could be very shallow.)

If you put an axe-head on it, you can see that spreading out the force into a long line will be bad for penetration, increasing the effect of armor. That might be an armor divisor of (0.75) or something. Perhaps even more, like (0.5). But you can also see that the wide wound will be truly awful on an unarmored person.

I personally think that having both armor divisors and wound severity modifiers makes a lot of sense, and that both are useful. Certainly, if one were to ever come up with a meta-system that integrated hand weapons, blunt trauma, bullets, bows, sharp sticks, and harsh language into one black box that output GURPS weapon stats, I could see a real utility to allow more moving parts rather than fewer, both for nuance as well as resolution.

So, here I am, having traveled half a world away. While the primary purpose of my trip is still solid, I had a host of other people to do and things to see while I was here. Or something like that.

But turns out, seems as if much of the management staff is off in training or on leave, as least of those whom it would be pretty useful for me to see.
Made me think, over lunch, how often GMs successfully use this element of what is effectively Clausewitz’s friction in their games. Sometimes stuff just happens, and the taxi is late, the person you need to see has the flu, or rather than walk neatly into your trap, the enemy platoon gets lost in the woods.
Would it help immersion, or just be annoying? Real life and real time happen without our choice in the matter. But gathered around a gaming table, is it mostly “yeah, yeah, we’ve got three hours to play, and I’m not in the mood to kill time waiting for the right result on your Random Annoyances Table.”
I’d love to hear of good examples of this being used both well and poorly.