A recent post in the forums, which started off with a link to this very blog – specifically my old post on how ST rolls are problematic in GURPS, brought up a very interesting edge case that I really wish had come up explicitly in the Technical Grappling playtest.

It has to do with scale.

The Issue

Take a ST 1 or 2, DX 10 snake that is trying to make a Constriction attack against a ST 1, HT 10 pixie. Many of these contests will pit ST for the attacker against the ST or HT of the defender, whichever is better.

Huh. ST 1 or 2 will always roll vs. HT 10, and so the extrinsic nature of ST bites you hard here, since you’ll never have a creature contest like this end poorly for the HT 10 pixie. This is especially interesting since ST 2 vs. ST 1 is the same ST ratio as ST 20 vs ST 10.

The Solution

GURPS has buried within it in a few places a recommendation to re-scale oddball ST values centered around 10 for places where things get weird. So ST 1 vs. ST 1 or ST 2 vs. ST 1 would turn into ST 10 vs. 10 or even ST 20 vs. ST 10, which re-centers the contests around the norm of 10, which turns the equal-ST contest into something appropriate.

OK, so boom, rescale. We’re good, right?

Well, perhaps good enough, but in keeping with the concept of “ST rolls must die,” here’s another way.

Power Ratio Table

What we’ll do is take a look at the ratio of the Basic Lift of the two combatants, and assign a modifier based on that ratio to one or both of the combatants. Thus, Contests of ST (or ST-based skill) vs. the best of ST or HT will mostly turn into a Contest of DX (or maybe HT)-based Skill vs. HT, but with a modifier to ST.

This is basically the same as “normalize the defender’s ST to 10, and take that as a penalty

Another way to go – though similar – is to just take the ratio of the stronger to the weaker. Unfortunately, the math is a little ugly.

1. Take the log10 of the ratio of stronger to weaker. Call that PR
2. Modifier = PR * (9.5+10.8*PR)

That produces something like this:

I’d probably just modify the skill of the attacker – if he’s stronger (he’s on the favorable end of the ratio) he gets a bonus. If he’s on the weaker end of the ratio, he gets a penalty.

Snake vs. Pixie Revisited

The ST 1, DX 10 snake vs. the ST 1, HT 10 pixie is now at a 1:1 ratio, no penalty or bonus, and this becomes DX 10 vs. HT 10 (the fact that the snake is using Constriction Attack would probably be treated as a ST multiplier of some sort in this case).

This would be the same math you’d do for a ST 50, DX 10 giant putting the squeeze on another ST 50, HT 10 giant.

Icky Math. Why did it have to be Icky Math?

I just banged this out because I wanted to preserve the +1 bonus for each +1 to ST in the regime of most PCs. I could probably find a nicer functional relationship between the ST Ratio, BL Ratio, or Log of one or both of those ratios if we don’t want a +1 to the slightly stronger guy for each +1 to ST vs. a ST 10 baseline. We might also invert that, where you might get slightly more of a penalty or bonus from ST10 (no bonus) to ST 20 (currently +10 relative to a ST 10 guy).

Hopefully that would give nicer math. Naturally I’d see if I can use the Size and Speed/Range table here, since my thoughts on that are well known.

But that should help with normalizing oddball ST scores to the more 10-centric HT and DX. It also gets rid of a direct ST roll, and that makes me happy.

I wrote The Last Gasp in order to put lulls and flurries into combat, among other things. I wrote Delayed Gratification because I didn’t really like Feints much, and introduced the Setup Attack as a notional replacement or supplement.

But I was thinking about Feints and Waits (next week! Melee Academy is May 9!) partially as a response to the conversation that +Justin Aquino started in this thread. Then I started thinking about boxing, kendo, and other situations where there are lulls and flurries.

I’ve noted in the past that Aim is a bit deterministic. Evaluate suffers from a bit of the same problem – you get up to +3 from doing it, and then you’ve evaluated enough and you’re done.

Is there a way short of “I’m so exhausted I have to stop and recover” to model two fighters circling, probing, looking for an opening? What happens when they do that? Well, their weapons don’t become unready, certainly, unless something is truly biffed, maybe. No blows are exchanged. But in the end, when the probing is done, one fighter has detected (or thinks he has detected) an opening.

Hmmm. That sounds an awful lot like what a full-round Feint might be.

A related diversion:

A long time ago (over a year), +Sean Punch  who has a knack for rules tweaks (and he should, it’s his job) threw down casually a post he wrote in ten minutes, that gave an idea about what he called Combat Openings. I dropped him an email asking if he’d mind if I reposted it in full. Naturally he said yes.

Combat Openings

Optionally, on each turn before you attack your opponent, roll on the Hit Location Table (p. B552). The resulting body part is currently a “target of opportunity” for you. It’s presented boldy and easier for you to hit: halve the penalty to hit that location, rounding in your favor, if you deliberately target it right now. The torso can’t be a target of opportunity – if you roll 9-10, roll 1d on the following table instead.

1 – Your foe’s weapon isn’t ideally placed to defend against you. If you attack his weapon right now (to grab it, disarm, etc.), you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. If you try an unarmed grab, his defense can’t injure your hand even if he parries with a weapon. If he’s unarmed, treat this as a presented hand.

2 – Your foe isn’t watching your off hand. If you attack with that hand right now, you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. This includes shield bashes! If you try an unarmed punch, his defense can’t injure your hand even if he parries with a weapon. If you’re using a two-handed weapon, these benefits apply to a blow with the pommel. If you’re grappling him with both hands, treat as 3.

3 – Your foe isn’t watching your feet. If you kick him right now, you get +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. His defense can’t injure your foot, even if he parries with a weapon. 

4 – Your foe isn’t controlling distance or position well. If you grapple him right now, you have +1 to hit and he has -1 to defend. If you try an unarmed grapple, his defense can’t injure you even if he parries with a weapon. If you’re already grappling him, treat as 5. If he’s grappling you, you have +2 to break free instead. If both conditions apply, you may choose one option.

5 – Your foe is momentarily off-balance. If you make a knockback-only attack (like a shove) right now, you get +2 damage for knockback purposes only. If you try to knock him down with a move that uses a Quick Contest (like a takedown or a Sweep), he has -2 in the Contest instead. If either is an unarmed move, like a barehanded shove or a sweeping kick, his defense can’t injure you even if he parries with a weapon. If he’s on the ground, treat as 3.

6 – No special effect. Somehow, your foe is watching everything and presenting nothing!

These effects only apply to your attacks on that one foe. Nobody else on the battlefield is affected by these roll(s). To take advantage of this turn’s opening, you must act now; you cannot try another attack first, much less wait until a later turn.

Pretty neat, I thought.

Put it Together

What if, instead of the usual Contest of Skills where if the attacker wins, he gets his margin of victory as a straight-up defensive penalty to his next action, we did something else. First, let’s redefine what a Feint is. It’s a deceptive motion used to try and goad or lead your foe into providing you an opening. Feint is such a good name, but I really ought to come up with something else, for clarity. I’ll call it a Probing Feint, with many apologies to those who have ever been probed.

I’m going to throw down a concept, and then pick it apart afterwards.

Probing Feint

This represents deceptive footwork, clever movement of the body, or shifts in posture (but not GURPS Posture), distance, or weapon position designed to draw your foe off guard.

Probing Feint is an Attack Option. Meh. It should probably be what it says: a type of Feint.

Roll a Quick Contest of your weapon skill vs. the best of your foe’s weapon skills. If you win, roll 1d and consult the following table:

1 – Hit Location. Roll the hit location table. Strike that target using grappling penalties, or grapple at no penalty. If Torso is rolled, strike at +2 or grapple at +1 to hit.
2 – Weapon Position. If you attack his weapon, you are at +1 to hit and he is at -1 to defend; if you try and knock it away, you are at +3 in the Contest.
3 – Off hand. See Sean’s #2.
4 – Foot blind. See Sean’s #3.
5 – Distance or Position. You gain an extra yard of movement if you step; if your foe retreats, his bonus is reduced by 1. If you attack to grapple, you do so at +1 and your foe is at -1 to defend.
6 – Balance . See Sean’s #5

If you win the Contest but can’t take advantage of the opportunity – or choose not to – you may treat your maneuver as if you took All-Out Defense.

Margin of Success

Sean’s concept is something that’s meant to provide an extra incentive to vary things up. My version takes his concept and alters it a bit, possibly for the worse. His version usually gives +1 to hit and puts the foe at -1 to defend against a particular kind of attack. That’s sort of the equivalent of a +3 sh) on an attack roll. Pretty light, and you might not be able to take advantage.
Maybe instead of the +1 to hit/-1 to defend thing, we allow a flat adder of margin to the next attack, which can be used as you like – any defensive penalties would come from Deceptive Attack using that bonus. That would provide a variable and potentially large – but aspected – bonus.
Defender Success

Maybe if the defender makes his skill roll, he gets a bonus to his defenses except for the opening. If he makes his roll and loses the contest, perhaps it converts to a +1 to defend for every 2 he makes the roll by (again, excepting the hole in his defenses that the Probing Feint revealed). If he makes his skill roll and wins the Contest, he gets a bonus to defend against everything from that foe. Maybe something like +1 if you make it at all, and for every 4 full points more, you get another +1. So if the defender makes his skill roll by 8, he gets +3 to defend against his for. 
More importantly on this one, his foe knows this. He can see that his opponent is that well protected, has good defenses, isn’t off balance, etc. Some reason not to just wade in and trade blows.
Rapid Strike

Maybe this only makes sense as part of a Rapid Strike. So you Probe at -6, and if you see an opening in the defenses, you can leverage it.
Or maybe you go the other way, and if you win the contest by more than 6, you can convert the hole immediately to an attack by accepting -6 to your bonus. So you roll the Contest and win it by 8. Rolling 1d6 you get a 2. You may immediately attack his weapon at +2, which you may use to cancel out the normal -4 for striking at a weapon a bit, or use it as a -1 Deceptive Attack.

The “I feint, then my foe goes, then I go and take advantage!” thing has never rubbed me right, and I know I’m not alone. The reason, I’m sure, that Sean did it as the first thing you can do during each round is to identify something you can leverage right then.

So maybe the right thing to do is to use this as an Aspected Wait. If you win the Contest, you declare a Wait, and if your foe triggers it, you get to leverage the hole in his defenses. 
Now this, in turn, would only make sense if you’re standing outside the striking range of your weapon. In fact, in Hwa Rang Do Gumtoogi (weapon fighting with swords, either long, short and long, or double short), we used to say that if you were in a certain distance – likely between Reach 1 and Reach 2 – if you weren’t either hitting the other guy at Reach 2, you’d better be closing to Close Combat! So perhaps this should only be used from a Reach at least 1 greater than the maximum of your weapon. I can use the Rapid Strike version to take a Committed Attack with the Long option if I really rock out, or I can take a Wait and leverage the defensive hole if my foe closes in. If I choose to do so, I can convert the Wait to All-Out Defense instead, since I’ve been reading the guy.


Christian reminds me below that I totally left out what might be the best fit of all: Evaluate. Where right now, it gives you a simple +1 for sitting there staring at the battlefield for a moment, there’s every reason to allow it to have even better results. Whether it’s a Perception-based Skill roll, or a flat skill roll, or a contest of skills as I lay down below, triggering this off of an Evaluate makes a lot of sense.

It would be interesting to allow repeated uses of this too – once you’ve picked out an opening in your foe’s defenses, if you keep winning the contest (or he keeps failing his skill roll, which might obviate this entirely) you might get more and more opportunity to exploit that hole.

Parting Shot

Even if what I have here in particular isn’t exactly right – and I know it’s not – I feel like there’s something here. Some combination or modification of Feint, Wait, Evaluate, and maybe even Rapid Strike.
What’s missing, of course, is that GURPS combats take damn long already. You’d need to be pretty happy with doing not much but waiting for your opening for second after second, while other people might be doing stuff around you. That gets boring, and probably the above might just become a lot of crap no one bothers with. 
Still, the overall feel of it seems right – and I have to wonder how it would play in something like +Vaclav Tofl ‘s gladiator game, where the cautious probing – or even showboating while doing so – is a key part of the game.
In a frenzied battle, this wouldn’t happen, and GURPS default combat would be the norm. That also seems right to me, especially combined with The Last Gasp’s Action Points, which would encourage a few frenzied seconds of action, then backing off – if you can – to catch some wind and look around.
Game Timing and Fight Timing

Some of this gets down to a very simple principle, though, which +Peter V. Dell’Orto will have already started typing a response to by the time he gets down this far. While it might be realistic to have two fighters (or twenty…have you seen how many foes he had in his last session?) staring at each other, not trading blows, but making subtle motions and deceptions to try and force a mistake, unless everyone else on the battlemat is doing the same thing, and unless the flurries that come when an opening is found are decisive, the end-of-game report on five blogs will be “we spent an hour rolling dice and not finding openings. This game sucks.”

It’s a hard thing. You want to have a reasonable shot at capturing the detail of combat, since your character’s life is on the line. But if you really map it out, a three-minute round will not have 180 blows exchanged most of the time. A quick peek at a boxing forum shows heavyweight matches typically varying from 30-60 punches per round, with notable excursions to 100 or more. And a lot of those are probably probing jabs (Defensive Attacks), often done as Rapid Strikes, or more likely as Defensive Setup Attacks.

So really, having a mass melee over in fifteen seconds probably isn’t “real.” But it certainly is more fun than standing around a lot, especially when you’re rolling for 20-40 Draugr or something.

We picked up from +kung fu hillbilly‘s new Pathfinder campaign with +Matt Sutton joining us (apparently he’d been there all along, but he’s a Dwarf, so we apparently never looked down).

We started to wander out to hide in a tree by the exit, only to find our way blocked by a 25-odd foot bear. An angry bear. We started to fight, and Alverior ( +Douglas Cole ) tried to back off to get more room to use his bow, provoking an attack of opportunity. The bear hit him, and he went from 8 HP down to -1 in one blow, like the good first-level practice dummy he is.

Fortunately, the party consists of two clerics, who healed Alverior up right quick. We proceeded to turn the bear into a chopped up pincushion, Kalyl hit him with a few ice balls (earning him the nickname “Snowball”), and Breg hit him with a ball of acid. Naturally, we managed to nearly completely block the hallway with it’s corpse. Oops.

The next morning, we woke, chopped off a bear paw for evidence, and the winter witch and Kalyl ( +Jeromy French ) and Breg Stonebeard ( +Matt Sutton ) traded barbs over whether or not to allow the Goblins to come back to their cave, and then cave it in. I think Berg noted that he had an issue with a Goblin lady, who strongly resembled Kalyl. Alverior backs off to let them have their holy war.

We go back to the Goblin camp, show off our paw, get a necklace of teeth and fingerbones that is supposed to convince the humans that war is averted, and head back to the human settlement.

We showed them the evidence, got offered jobs, refused them, got a 25gp payout, and that was that.

Alverior seems to be a nice fun potential character, once he gets out of the “one-hit wonder” status that is first level.

I completely forgot to snap a screenshot of our characters all trapped behind the token of the bear, which completely filled the 10′-wide corridor. We had a wee bit of an “oh, crap, now what?” moment when we realized that killing the prey right there in the corridor might have rendered us incapable of stopping the war between goblins and humans . . . on account of a giant bear ass in the way.

+kung fu hillbilly started up a new game, both to allow our usual PF GM to play ( +Jeromy French ) as well as, well, he wanted to run a game.

I think it’s set in Golarion, but as far as I can tell, we’re not on an Adventure Path, which works for me. I like sandboxes just fine.

Jaime’s guidance was more or less “out in the wilderness, little contact with anyone, better have good survival skills.”

A few others had fast ideas on characters they’d like to play, leaving me a bit behind. I volunteered to “play to type” a bit, and cover a bow-using Ranger type. Then Jeromy showed me the Elven Archer template/class, and I decided that was the right mix of fighter, ranger, and rogue for what I wanted.

I had a list of stuff I wanted, Elven Curved Blade, Composite Longbow with +2 STR bonus to match my own STR 14, masterwork bowyer’s tools.

Then I rolled 150gp instead of the nearly 300 I’d have needed to complete my stuff list.

So I decided to go almost entirely the other way. I showed up in the Inn that started the adventure with a bow, a light club, two empty quivers, an empty map case, crappy leather armor, and a pretty bad mood for an elf.

I retroactively decided that he had been in a warrior training group, a handful of youngish elves in training with a master. As part of survival training, they were teleported by the Loremasters from their home to this remote, desolate, Goblin-infested area to learn to survive. Kind of a field trip.

But they showed up in the middle of a Goblin raid or camp or something, the master and all his companions were killed, and only he got away, having lost much of his gear (but not his bowyer’s tools or bow).

It made for a nice, relatively dramatic entrance.

Play Summary

The first game was our usual two-hour affair. We met each other, and for the start it was only Jeromy’s half-elf winter witch, and my fully elven archer, isolated in a human settlement. That made for a very interesting dynamic.

We were interrupted in our introductions by the arrival of a fairly frantic woman with many kids in tow. She said her husband was dead, and that a Goblin band had broken a 20-year peace treaty by killing him.

We were recruited to head to the place and check it out. We agreed, and headed out. When we got there, there was lots of evidence of combat, but not really of a true raid. We even found the guy, dead, laid out on his kitchen table with healing bandages all over him. Food was missing, but nothing was really burned.

We tracked the Goblins back to their camp, where an epically failed Stealth roll on my part (oops) led the Chief to come say hello. Rather than fight, we talked, and heard they’d been driven out of their caves, where they’d been living happily, by some nameless un-killable (by them) devouring beast.

I went back to report to the town captain, and found they were busily preparing for war. I told them that they were overreacting, like humans do (hey: Elf. Arrogance is in our blood, you tiny mewling human piipsqueak) and if we could spare a few warriors, we could maybe chalk this up to “oops” and have less bloodshed.

As one would expect from these reactionary children, they were unimpressed. In true elf fashion, I left the room, hopefully in an enigmatic and infuriating fashion (hey, Elf. With CHA 9). Headed back to the farm, met up with my companions, and journeyed to the Goblin cave.

We explored the internals quickly, finding very little. The session ended with us leaving the cave to hang out and lurk outside, so we didn’t get pinned in a cave somewhere.

Ballistic’s Report

I like sandbox campaigns, and this one felt a lot less railroady than both the Adventure Paths I’ve played in (one in GURPS, one in Pathfinder). I feel like we can do nearly anything, even though the problem in front of us is pretty obvious: find monster, get beat up a bit, find monster’s weakness, hopefully kill monster or drive him away and avoid a war.

This’ll be a good diversion from the Skull and Shackles campaign Jeromy runs, and will let me explore Elfdom (elf-hood? elfitude?) as well as seeing if the mix of fighting and spells and woodcraft that is the Elven Archer is a good mix.

While we were playtesting the Action Point rules for The Last Gasp, we ran through a boxing match. Or rather, one of my playtesters ran through a boxing match.

The AP rules worked well, encouraging fighters to take standing 8-counts, lots of recovery actions, and generally making it take longer to fight. All well and good.

Still, the reality of it is that in a match of fifteen three-minute rounds, that is, a whopping 2,700 turns in GURPS, two combatants of moderate ST and fitness (say, ST 13 with Boxing at DX+2, even with boxing gloves (see GURPS Martial Arts, p. 233) will be rolling 1d-1 cr on every hit, with the +2 per die damage you get from Boxing canceling out the -2 you get from your gloves. In short, three or four successful punches and your other guy is flirting with kissing the mat.

But wait, you say. These guys are throwing a lot of defensive attacks, which means that the above guy is probably only rolling 1d-3 cr instead of 1d-1 cr. OK, so? You’re still looking at 2,700 turns, with Boxing-14 you’re looking at a 90% chance to hit, and about a 75% chance to parry (assuming a retreating parry, defensive attack, no Combat Reflexes). Let’s say one hit in four does damage, and you only do damage half the time (1d-3). So one turn in eight you take 1-3 points of damage. You’re still looking at being KO’ed in the first round of the fight nearly always. If you stick with it, you’ll probably die by round two or three.

Now, not to make light of the punishment a real boxer can dish out – these guys hit hard – but boxing just isn’t that deadly. I think what’s missing is a chance for a fighter to brace him or herself against even as successful hit.

Roll with it, baby

Fortunately, GURPS provides one way of doing this, but it’s a cinematic technique: Roll with Blow, (Martial Arts, p. 87). Roll skill-2, and you can cut the damage in half . . . but you double knockback. This only works on crushing attacks, which is fine with me.

What I’d propose playing around with is a way to actually eliminate the injury of a crushing blow with a HT-based roll. But how?

Straight-up HT roll

One way to do it would be to make a HT roll whenever you’re hit with crushing damage, and your margin of success reduces the injury. Not the shock or knockback or the need to roll for Knockout and Stun if you get hit in the head, but the injury would be reduced.

Um, say what? So you get hit with a mace and a HT 14 guy effectively gets DR 4? No way, right?

Yes, right. I’d definitely use the damage inflicted as a penalty to the HT roll; not full damage, though. Maybe half damage.

I might even double penalties if you get slammed with a Parry 0U weapon like a mace – but let’s hold off on that for now.

DR subtracts right from damage, so no need to double-count that.

Let’s take that same ST 12, DX 12, Skill-14 combatant.

Wearing Boxing Gloves: He hits for 1d-3 on a defensive attack. His doppleganger foe will roll at no more than -1 to HT, and often soak a point of injury.

Barehanded and Regular Attack: Now he’s 1d+1, which means his foe rolls at up to -3 to HT. Most often, he will not soak injury.

With a Light Club: A baton does sw crushing, in this case a straight-up 1d+2, which is up to -4. A barehanded boxer isn’t much less dangerous thanks to the generous damage bonus from Boxing!

Mace: Now you’re facing 1d+5, looking at up to a roll vs HT-5 to soak damage, so even your HT 14 guys will mostly just take the full amount if they get lucky.

Treat as a Parry

Another way to make that roll would be to make it based off of something like 3+HT/2, which mitigates the impact of high HT a bit. Our HT 12 guy would only be rolling vs. a 9 usually, meaning he’ll only avoid injury by getting lucky. At HT 16, you’re looking at an 11, so on the average, that’s worth about DR 1 against a boxer’s defensive attack as above. Against that guy with a mace, that -5 penalty means at HT 16 you’re rolling against a 6-, meaning that 90% of the time you take full damage.

Only applies to fists and padded weapons

One way to make the advantage of using weapons that are harder than the surface you’re striking plain is to basically only apply this mitigation roll to fists and feet. So facing weapons, you take full damage, no roll allowed (which has the beneficial effect of not slowing down or altering weapon combats).

You will not be soaking this damage, tiny man.

Action Points

I’d probably combine the roll that allows you to mitigate action point loss in The Last Gasp with this same roll. The injury avoidance has the penalty of half-damage, and the AP loss reduction is capped at -4, the same as the shock penalty.

Clench Up, Legolas

I think it might be interesting to also try one of the following.

Perhaps allow All-Out Defense to give that +2 to any one defense to also give +2 to flat HT-based rolls, or even +4 to the Parry-like 3+HT/2 roll. So if you go defensive, you might even just be able to clench up and take it.

Another option would be sort of an active defense option: if you forgo a parry or block, and choose to just clench up and take it, you get +1 or +2 to the roll.

Parting Shot

GURPS turns, the lack of a real impetus to Wait or Evaluate in the basic rules, and the generally high nature of even punching damage means that lasting through a full round (again, 180 turns per round!) is virtually impossible.

The perceived problem that this is trying to solve is that boxers and other barehanded fighters just don’t wind up dead or unconscious in the first round of every fight.

Well, no sane person would play through 180 rounds of combat anyway, and this would be a good moment to invoke some sort of “OK, you both took either Wait or Evaluate, so 3d seconds later . . . “

Still, the number of blows that would successfully land means few fights would last long enough for the round-timer to sound. If we don’t change GURPS’ basic damage structure, then mitigating the damage of a successful blow is sort of the only option.

I love Divine Favor. I think it’s a far better and more elegant solution to the question of miracles and clerical “magic” than the existing GURPS system, which is basically the same as Magic, with Power Investiture standing in for Magery, and Sanctity making the tag for Mana levels. You pay your cost and you cast your spell.

With Divine Favor, you are (thematically) buying a level of influence with your god(s), and you can appeal to them for aid. The quality of the aid is based on a reaction roll, and can have pretty far-reaching effects.

Cadmus, my Dungeon Fantasy character in +Nathan Joy‘s game based on Pathfinder’s Golarion and Jade Regent Adventure Path, has “Divine Favor 8” which is good for getting my deity’s attention about one time in four if I’m subtle, about half the time if I wave my holy symbol in the air and generally act like a street preacher.

Now, you can request a specific effect, such as the ever-popular Smite, which inflicts 2d burning damage of really ugly holy fire on malign supernatural creatures. It’s particularly effective against the undead. Anyway, the book comes with a list of pre-defined miracles intended as guidelines for effect, and each “level” of miracle has a reaction minimum that comes with it.

You can also buy these as Learned Prayers, which are basically something you can just do, since you’ve paid points for it, and your god has granted you the ability to get the job done more or less at will.

Game mechanically, these are Alternate Abilities, costing 1/5 (round up) the cost of the power that is bestowed; the buy-in is the level of Divine Favor required to “qualify” for the prayer.

Cadmus has used his LPs to great effect, and has several. Protection from Evil (Enhanced) and Smite are great for stomping undead, while Righteous Fury turns him into a Cuisinart for 3d seconds (adds 1d to each of ST, DX, and HT).

Recently, though, I have started to wonder if the “IF Pray, THEN Miracle” nature of how Learned Prayers work might make them a bit too “by rote,” taking away some of the variability and thus mystery of divine intervention.

I’ve not thought this through completely, but I wondered if it would be interesting to work off of the following:

When using a Learned Prayer with things that have a defined benefit, roll 3d and consult the following table:

6-       Half normal effect, double time, or -2 per die damage
7-8    2/3 normal effect, 1.5x time, or -1 per die damage
9-11   Normal effect
12-13   1.25x normal effect, 80% time, or +1 per die damage
14+     2x Normal effect, half time, or double damage

Now, the approximate weighted average of all that crap is about 105%, meaning that on the average, your Learned Prayer is about 5% more effective than the rules-as-written. Kind of a bonus for rolling dice.

Let’s take a look at a few common prayers, and see how this would impact them.

Final Rest: Here’s a great example of an example that isn’t great. You pray for a minute, and at the end, your subject (who is dead) can’t be made undead later. The only thing I can think of here is that the prayer takes longer – two minutes if you roll a 6 or less, but only thirty seconds if you roll well. Big deal.

Protection from Evil: Again, this minor miracle doesn’t let malign supernatural entities approach within a
yard. in this case, you might say that the bad results mean then can get within your hex but can’t touch you, while the bonus effects mean they stay 2 yards away. That’s actually a real benefit, especially for (say) skeletons of the sword- and axe-wielding variety.

Lay on Hands: You can transfer HP from yourself to your subject. This one’s straight-forward, I think. You say how many HP you want to transfer, and roll the dice. If you are planning on transferring 6 HP, a bad roll means you spend 6 HP to restore 3 or 4. A good one means that you either spend 6 HP and restore 8 HP or 12HP, or if (say) your guy is only wounded for 6 HP, you might spend 4 HP or 3 HP in order to restore 6 HP.

Smite: This one’s easy. Roll variable effect, roll damage. You can either just roll the damage and modify that flat out, or use the per-die suggestions above.

Righteous Fury: Cadmus’ favorite prayer, it adds to your physical stats: 1d for 3d seconds. This one could go either way, meaning you might roll only 1d-2 on a bad roll, but roll 2d on a great one! Alternately, for those who don’t relish the possibility of +12 to DX, 3d seconds might be modified directly.

Why bother? 

Honestly, I like variable effect rolls, though in many cases, the effects are already variable. The bottom line is it makes relying on your relationship with your deity just a bit chancy, but also potentially even better than you think.

Why not just use the Reaction Table again?

Um, because I didn’t think of it initially, but it’s a good idea. It’s more granular, and it’s the same basic mechanic used for Divine Favor in general. What the Learned Prayer would do, then, is bypass the Petition Roll, and have an average effect on the same magnitude as the current LP.

Try this as an alternate:

Very Bad 25%
Bad  50%
Poor 75%
Neutral 100%
Good 150%
Very Good 300%


Some people like rolling dice. 🙂

More seriously, it would definitely take some real prep on the part of the GM and/or player. Using the guidelines above, you either need to be willing to make stuff up on the fly so that you adjudicate the prayer results as you go, or you need to create the reaction table for each prayer on the PC’s sheet. Might be too much trouble, but I still like the idea that you can never really guarantee an effect when negotiating/praying for intervention.

Magic is not Technology

People who are keen on this can take it one step further, and apply the same sort of thing to magic. Either make the effects per mana point spent variable as above, look up the margin of success or MoS+some number (maybe 5?) for a casting on the reaction table (that might easily be too good), or some other “you can’t really use a magic spell the way you use a gun” type impact.

Parting Shot

Again, some campaigns styles or player character concepts would break doing this; some players would not enjoy this sort of thing. But as I said when I started, the variable and occasionally unknowable impacts of prayers is a lot of fun in the game I play now, and applying that to Learned Prayers as well is something I jotted down in my Journal of Pretentiousness as a thought experiment.

I was never really a big Marvel comics guy when I was younger. I was at Edinborough Park with my family yesterday, wearing my Superman t-shirt. Seems like it was DC Comics day – I saw two or three other Supermen (all kids, one in full rig), one Green Lantern (adult), and a whole cave full of Batmen. Bat-toddlers?

Anyway, I was never into Marvel much, and Thor least of all, really. Don’t know why. But when the Avengers preludes started coming out, I naturally started watching them. Iron Man was brilliant, and I even did OK with both Hulk movies, though I think I saw only Iron Man in the theaters. But I’m a completist sometimes, so I picked up Captain America, which I’d really meant to see anyway but hey, toddler, and Thor.

I picked up Thor just to pick it up. It even took me a bit to pop it into my player.

Naturally, I loved it. Y’all saw that coming, right?

I find the story compelling. It’s beautifully done, with even the costumes feeling right – with the obvious exception of Lady Sif’s sternum-baring armor, which is an entirely separate conversation.

But still, the story is pretty basic. Thor, son of Odin Allfather, is an arrogant git. He’s also in line to be king (Odinson, right?), but his poor judgement leads him to be booted out of the Realm Eternal in an act of extraordinary Tough Love, by the always-awesome Anthony Hopkins as Odin.

As a by-the-way, in your copious free time, check out the deleted scenes and featurettes. The extended cut of Odin dressing down Thor is worth watching. I know why they trimmed it, but every inch of it is good.

Anyway, I find the story basic but compelling. It’s the “find yourself” plot, done credibly. I found that between Thor and his follow-up appearance in Avengers, it made me want to learn more about the character, and the world.

I find Thor an always-enjoyable popcorn movie with immense rewatch value.

But it also made me think of how I’d include him in an RPG. My game engine of choice is probably capable of doing such a character – and I’ll admit I’ve not absorbed Supers enough to really think about this hard – but it feels to me like it’d squeak badly around the edges.

I mean, just think about Mjolnir (and thanks to the movie for finally telling me how to pronounce it). With it, he can fly, fight, defend against nearly everything, control the weather . . . wow.

I’ve been involved in precisely one game of FATE Core, playing a guest spot as an Indian help-desk operator. It was fun improvisational theater, and an interesting take on RPGs. Yes, one day I’ll do a read-through and commentary; I’d hoped to get through my Pathfinder readthrough first.

Short version: I can see Mjolnir as being an Aspect. It would be an Aspect that would get a ridiculous amount of use given the large number of uses and powers ascribed to it. Heck, just from the Wiki:

Mjolnir itself has several enchantments: no living being may lift the hammer unless they are worthy; it returns to the exact spot from which it is thrown and returns to Thor when summoned; it may summon the elements of storm (lightning, wind, and rain) by stamping its handle twice on the ground;[1] manipulate the weather on an almost global scale;[4] open interdimensional portals, allowing its wielder to travel to other dimensions (such as from Earth to Asgard);[5] and transform Thor into the guise of a mortal, the physician Donald Blake, by stamping the hammer’s head on the ground once. When Thor transforms into Blake, his hammer takes the appearance of a wooden walking stick. When disguised, the hammer’s enchantments limiting those who may lift it are not in effect. The hammer itself has also shown to be unaffected by external enchantments.[6]

Were I to try something like that in GURPS, the temptation to overly prescribe the abilities of the hammer might be pretty large. I think that the old Champions game might have handled this with a Variable Power Pool, but it’s been a long time. This means that Mjolnir itself might need to be used with modular abilities in GURPS – this seems likely – but with a crazy-varied point base. The need for a Pact (Must be Worthy as deemed by Odin Allfather, who you damn well bet is always watching. Everything.) is pretty clear.

Anyway, I really dig the movie, but then, I’m fairly easily entertained by superhero flicks.

I swear that this blog will never digress into any sort of political stuff that doesn’t directly involve gaming. That’s not what it’s for.

But politics and rulers and kings and kingdoms are a staple of gaming, and one of the things one hears a bit is how certain plot devices, like the evil mad king that spends a lot of time chewing the scenery is a hackneyed, tired, overly-used trick.
Way better to have “evil rulers” that don’t think of themselves as evil. Not “misunderstood,” but they really do think they have the right plan, that only they can shepherd the people/their clan/the country/the world into a better time. 
Every now and then, it’s interesting to even make them right.
But for all of that, sometimes the world – our own world – actually serves up someone who really is the scenery-chewing type. The current third-generation ruler of the unfortunate and starving country of North Korea seems to fit the bill. And he’s clearly dangerous, along with his military ruling cohort, possessing a rather large army and nuclear weapons.
Without too much effort, this real-world country that is nearly totally dark at night would make a fine stand-in for a fantasy kingdom. A large, militarized country where the strong rulers do what they like. A ruling council of the powerful, rich warlords. And a mad sorcerer-king with a terrible magical weapon that is enough to plunge a world into chaos or devastate an area, but not enough to win any significant victory.
But perhaps that destruction would be the displaced twig that triggers the flood. A more powerful neighbor or three? Longstanding tensions? By taking some of the local tensions in this region and imbue them into your fantasy world, with a twist as you like, you impart some very real political pressure and motivation, with some pretty big potential consequences if the wrong stone is removed. 
Such an evil king might only be dealt with by a party of adventurers, which are really a good analog for special ops troops in most cases (though they are plundering murderous spec-ops for hire, as often as not).
But hey, that’d never be a fun RPG romp, right?

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

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

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

Got Target?

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

Line it up

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

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

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

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

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

Scoping it Out.

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

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

FoV Width (yards)

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

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

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

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

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

What does all this crap mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parting Shot

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

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

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

The Boss Fight

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

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

Mark: Is this cheating? It feels like cheating. 

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

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

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