There’s a lot going on here at Gaming Ballistic, and eight days into the New Year I find myself multitasking furiously. This is good. One of the things I’m working on is setting up international print-on-demand for Hall of Judgment.

One of the eternal frustrations of working as a US publisher is the difficulty – largely due to shipping – of serving cross-border customers. For whatever reason (and I’ve read several), it’s darn near prohibitively expensive to get books made in the USA out. This is especially irksome given that if for some reason I am able to afford an offset print run, which brings the cost per book down to levels that can survive a distribution channel profitably . . . I can’t effectively get the books OUT again.

Anyway, short version here. I really liked the production values of Hall of Judgment. It wasn’t sewn or lay-flat, but it was a nice perfect-bound book on 93# paper (140gsm).

I just approved the new cover for Hall of Judgment via Print-on-Demand from the same vendor (CPI Anthony Rowe). It’s going to be about 1mm thinner, but still printed on nice thick silk-coated paper stock. It’s also going to be print-on-demand out of the UK, and sent by Royal Mail. This is the best shipping arrangement I’ve found.

So if you order a book from me and you’re not in the USA, it’ll probably come from them, and we can avoid the extra $20-40 in shipping that comes when I send out of the USA.

Once it’s all finalized, I just received word that the title is now ready to print! As soon as I get an update on prices, I’ll change the shipping prices on my website for that product. But it’s a good step to getting product worldwide for less.

Wounds, Vigor, and Fragility

Dragon Heresy made a few changes to things – notably in the implementation of Wounds and Vigor to make explicit what Hit Points leave abstract (you’ll have to grant me a bit of dispensation for utility here; I like it, and it helps with certain narrative-mechanical consistency issues). Wounds for Joe Average start at 10; a 20th-level Berserker (barbarian) with STR and CON 24 can have 31 wounds. Creatures that are very large (like dragons and giants) multiply calculated wounds; small creatures divide wounds. It’s easier to smush a pixie than a dragon. On my Discord channel for Gaming Ballistic, someone asked me about Sneak Attack. Since I’m about to release some direct support for the Dragon Heresy system via an upgrade to Lost Hall of Tyr, it’s very topical.

The formula for wounds is CON + the STR bonus. So with starting Strength and Con scores ranging from about 8 to a high of 16 for starting characters; characters with the standard array could start with CON 16 and STR 15 for 18 wounds; a 9 CON and 11 STR would be about 10 wounds. There might be ways to have lower, but starting characters will range from 10-18 wounds, with 14 being about in the middle for PCs.

If you exceed your wound maximum, you die. Over half your wound maximum and you risk unconsciousness. So even a few dagger thrusts or a single arrow can do you in, doubly so with a critical hit.

Wherefore art thou, Rogue?

That’s an inappropriate use of “wherefore,” I know, since in context is means “why” and not “where.” But much like the appropriate meaning for the phrase, Rogues are absent from Dragon Heresy. I had to cut somewhere – a lot of somewheres – as getting from my three-volume, 420,000 word initial draft to something I could afford to publish (a single, 288-page volume) required basically cutting two words in three from the draft.

So rogues, whose primary mission of sneaking around and stealing stuff is dishonorable in Viking culture, and which did not appear in some of the original source material, got the axe.

No, really. What about Rogues and Sneak Attack?

Without the Rogue class, the Sneak Attack debate could be shelved. That being said, during the game’s design phase we worked through multiple versions of Sneak Attack. This is the one that we chose. Some of the changes to the published rules might not be reflected in the version below, but this is what the starting point for revision would be. My design effort have been trending towards “simpler!” for a while, so at the end, I’ll go through and make some notes – but the changes, if any, are indicated in strike-through.

Sneak Attack

Beginning at 1st level, you know how to strike subtly and exploit a foe’s distraction. Once per turn, you can deal an extra 1d6 damage to one creature you hit with an attack if you have advantage on the attack roll. The attack must use a finesse or a ranged weapon. Advantage can come from any source, but the most common are striking from hiding and striking when the foe is flanked.

The amount of the extra damage increases as you gain levels in this class, as shown in the Sneak Attack column of the Rogue table (basically 1d6 every five levels, capping at 4d6 at the top tier).

Sneak attacks also have the following two benefits:

  • A sneak attack is considered a Swift Attack Surprise Attack, and scores a hit so long as the attack exceeds the Threat DC of the foe.
  • The DR of the foe is halved due to the ability to precisely target the weaker points in the armor. This does not stack with magical potency or damage type—armor DR can only ever be halved once.

If the rogue also wants to make a called shot to gain +5 to the critical threshold, she must give up advantage to do so. Giving up advantage for this purpose does not disqualify the attack from being a Sneak Attack.

Example: Eydis, an 11th level rogue with a dagger, has lain in wait for a guard that is barring the way to the treasure room of a dungeon chamber. At the right moment, she eases out from her hiding place, striking her target, who has Threat DC 12, 50 vigor, and a wound maximum of 18. The humanoid is wearing heavy armor with DR 6. As the blow is a Sneak Attack, any Threat will count as a hit to armor and wounds, with only frantic defense able to convert wounds to vigor.

Eydis chooses to give up advantage to also increase her critical threat range from 20 to 15-20 on her attack roll. She will normally do 1d4+4 piercing with her dagger based on her Dexterity 19 (+4).

If she rolls lower than 12 she will simply miss. If she rolls between 12 and 22, she will hit, and her damage roll of 1d4+4+3d6 will face DR 3 (absorbing this attack via frantic defense will take 16-52 vigor!). If she rolls 23 or higher she scores a critical hit and inflicts 2d4+4+6d6 damage (requiring 24-96 vigor to absorb!) against DR 3.

If the GM rules that the target is a “mook,” and is caught unaware, then if Eydis hits, she will deliver from 5-23 damage through the DR 3 armor, averaging 14, enough to render her target unconscious. If she critically hits, she will average 27 wounds, and the foe will start making death checks.

If the target is not a mook, and can avail himself of Frantic Defense, an average hit will drain 34 vigor, while a critical hit will result in a total vigor loss and 5 damage remaining—the armor will absorb 3, and the target will suffer 2 wounds and must make a morale check. Sneak attacks against “worthy” opponents are not auto-kills, but they drain vigor from the foe very quickly.

(Image stolen from We Are Rogue)

Looking at it a bit More

The core rules have changed a bit since this was written. Not a ton, but let’s break down the draft and see.

More Dice, Upon Advantage. This is the same rules basis for the SRD, and it hasn’t changed. If you can rack up advantage from any source, you can use this sneaky attack to add dice. This aids penetration of DR by virtue of extra damage, and your odds of a critical are higher, because advantage.

Surprise Attack. You lose reactions with a surprise attack, but the rules call out being able to use Frantic Defense, and you can’t use reactions (which Frantic Defense is) when surprised. The change for Frantic Defense to consume your reaction came late in the design phase. Rephrasing this as a Swift Attack, like bows, fixes this.

Halves DR. This is cool because it lets a rogue or someone else with this ability target foes in heavy armor, but doesn’t make them inherently more deadly by virtue of large piles of damage dice. That’s one of the benefits of the Aim/Evaluate action, so it’s basically getting that for free. You never quarter DR in the game, though; not yet. That’s for simplicity, just like “you can’t stack advantage.

Can Increase Crit Threshold. You’ll have to trust me on this one: +5 to the crit threshold is about balanced with other things of similar ability. It’s not as overpowering as you’d think, even if you roll double dice on a 14-20 instead of just a 20.

Mook Rules. The example clearly has a “mook rule” where only heroes and important folks can avail themselves of frantic defense. The fact that the example is also a true surprise attack means that mook or no, in the current published version of the rules, they can’t avail themselves of Frantic Defense. To folks familiar with regular Fifth Edition, what this means is that facing a CON 16, STR 20 fighter with 85 vigor (read that as hit points) means if you hit, you’re attacking vs 21 wounds (so risking KO at 11 or more, death at 22 or more), and who cares how many HP they have?

In the End

So a thrust with a rapier from a Dexterity 18 rogue will do 1d8+4+Sneak Attack damage. At 10th level (since the fighter above might be 10th level) you’re looking at +2d6 extra and DR is halved. That’s 7-24 (16-17 average) on a normal blow, and 14-48 (average 31). That’s a strong possibility for a one-shot KO with a regular success, and on the average, dying with a crit (and possible instant death at more than 42 wounds, no saving throw, no death checks, just dead).

Even with “only” 1d6 and a +3 bonus at 1st level, that’s 5-17 points, 11 on the average; 10-34 on a crit (average 22). Still enough to lay low even a 20th level barbarian, with the maximum wounds available to a human in the game: 31.

So sneak attack is plenty dangerous when done from surprise, and a ridiculous drainer of vigor (because frantic defense absorbs damage as vigor as 2 vigor to 1 damage), and makes armor half as effective.

 

Survey Status

As of this morning, about 2/3 of folks have filled out their surveys for the Backerkit phase of Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition). Nice work, y’all.

I did a bit of checking, and there are plenty of folks with physical product who haven’t completed their surveys – not surprising given the relatively low fraction of folks that went digital-rewards-only. If you can work that in today that will help.

On the flip side, we’re about $1,100 away from the offset print run stretch goal, though about 50% of that is related to a single backer who is interested in one of my viking-style shields. That’s really not that many folks.

(Which everyone should be. They’re awesome. Ahem. Sorry.)

How can we get the rest of the way?

  • We have no pre-order backers yet. Share the Backerkit preorder link and get the word out.
  • While the adventure is Dragon Heresy . . . 5e is really just “turn Threat DC/Hit DC/DR into armor class” and this adventure can be played nearly as-is. A bit of cross-promotion will go a long way.
  • There’s a great opportunity for game stores to pick up Dragon Heresy and Lost Hall at a discount. Mentioning this to your Favorite Local Game Store would be helpful. And it only would take eight such orders to push us over the edge to the print run.

I should note that the prices in the pre-order store and add-ons reflect the sale that was going on when I launched the Kickstarter, effectively extending until Jan 25 the time that my stuff is 23% off.

New Maps

Glynn is making great progress on the new maps, which are a heck of a lot more on-point than the more generic maps that used to be there. I’ll start inserting the images into the layout that I’ve got going starting today.

He’s got at least two maps completely finished, with more on the way. He’s knocking them down very quickly.

This shows a sample spread with “maps as art.” The maps are actually full-size for a page: 8.5×11, and will appear with scale bars and references for what a 5′ or 10′ square would be. These full-page maps will be available in the back of the print copy, as well as a separate file for drag-and-drop into your favorite Virtual Table Top.

I think the new style of maps integrates much better than the old one, especially when compared to the map styles Glynn did for the new Logiheimli section, as well as the broad area maps locating the Hall more precisely – something missing from the old edition of the book.

You can see that I still have a bit of conversion work left – eliminating references to Hall of Judgment for the Powered by GURPS Dungeon Fantasy RPG. In nearly every case, this sort of conversion is very easy: I can either look at my old 5e notes from Lost Hall (1st Edition), or convert on the fly. Lots of room in the book to accommodate layout reflow as well.

So things are going well and quickly, and I don’t see a reason to shift schedule at this time!

In the meantime: Surveys, surveys, surveys!

I am making slow but steady process on The Citadel at Nordvorn, my first of three upcoming supplements for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG. It’s set in the same world as Hall of Judgment, but will easily be portable to any other game world with the right tweakage. I can see Nordvorn as it takes shape, and each area of the Lower Town, and the interesting places the PCs can visit, is plunking down on the map with ever-increasing certainty.

Citadel is not an adventure, as such. It is a web of locations and interactions, in which the players can find adventure. So it’s more of a mini-setting.

But it is, by far, the most detailed and specific thing I’ve done. Not “detailed rules,” because it’s not that sort of supplement. But the GM and players will know/can find out where to find all sorts of stuff. I was impressed when Rob Conley had all the rich descriptions of what shops and trades we were walking by in his Harn-inspired city that we played in way back when.

I think Nordvorn will be like that. I’m really looking forward to the maps.

Glynn is hard at work on new maps for Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition), and below you can find a bit of history on the old maps, how he and I got to collaborate, and some WIP he’s willing to show.

Maps and Expenses

When Lost Hall of Tyr (1st Edition) was being made, I budgeted for a Kickstarter that equaled my first: about 300 folks. I also spent a bunch of money on a really prime piece of artwork that was (and still is) the most expensive single image I’ve yet procured.

(It is really awesome though.)

Even so, I couldn’t afford bespoke maps. Bogie Maps – and Dan was a pleasure to work with – had stock maps in hand, and was able to mildly customize a few for me using assets he already had.

As an example, he created a generic location for “Rival Claim” using a stock map. The advantage was obviously cost. The disadvantage was that it had no real tie to the adventure description: it was just a big map.

That has its charm, as it’s portable. And the full-scale combat maps are still part of the book package. But when I got the opportunity to upgrade content of the book for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG as Hall of Judgment, the project required more maps. Specific maps, that would let the linear convention-style demonstration adventure – Lost Hall’s purpose was to demonstrate the concepts in Dungeon Grappling – turn into something much more non-linear and sandboxy. Not a true sand-box; it is a quest adventure, after all. But something with more geography, and a lot more detail and options on the approach.

Glynn Seal’s The Midderlands

I got to know Glynn through his Midderlands kickstarter(s). I was impressed by his high production values on the book, and also with the quality of his cartography and artwork. Very evocative, and really brought the feeling he was going for to the work.

 

When I decided to produce new maps, and new locations, from the Village at Logiheimli to the Goblin Warrens (two of them!) to make mincemeat out of adventurers . . . um, provide a suitable challenge for adventurers . . . I reached out to see if he was available for commission.

Well, he was.

Logiheimli; an Easy Choice

He was (and remains) extremely easy to work with. I sent really, really coarse sketches of what I was looking for – I’m a stick-figure kind of guy when it comes to de novo art creation, though I’m a fair hand at digital compositing of existing work.

He turned it into something glorious, which is of course included in Lost Hall 2nd Edition.

So when it came time to upgrade the maps such as Rival Claim to something better as part of the Lost Hall 2nd Edition conversion . . . Glynn was the obvious choice.

I sent him some art notes, and of course he has a copy of Hall of Judgment since he worked on it (and super-easy to get it to him, since the books were printed in the UK).

Now that the New Year is here, he’s already hard at work, and has documented his creation of the new Rival Claim map on his blog.

I can’t recommend Glynn enough as a creator and a collaborator.  You can see the first of seven new maps below . . . stay tuned for more, and of course please help steer your friends and Favorite Game Store folks to the Pre-Order page!

Thanks for staying with me!

Update on Surveys

The “Smoke Test,” which vets the survey for effectiveness and function, is nearly complete. I will likely send it out to all backers shortly.

It will run for three full weeks, during which time I hope you’ll help me get the word out, as the Pre-Order Store is open, and if we can hit extra stretch goals during that time, I’m all for it.

I should be seeing the initial Kickstarter campaign funds settle sometime between today and Sunday. That will allow me to, in earnest, get cracking on the finalization of text, maps, and printing.

That’s it! Hope you guys had Holiday breaks that were eventful in only good ways.

Also, if you’re curious to how 2018 treated Gaming Ballistic, read about it below and see what’s coming next.

Gaming Ballistic 2018 Year in Review

Thursday is GURPSDay, the first of the New Year (well, another one: it’s 2019 now). We’re coming up on six years of the blog! As one does, I reflected on the prior year, and you can see that post below the break. All in all, it was a good year for Gaming Ballistic.

And I have to say: for various sekrit reasons, 2019 has already started off well.

Which brings us to GURPSDay! Read ’em all, check ’em out, and if you spot a GURPS blog in the wild, ping them and let them know they too can be on the list, so long as they, as Emmet would say, “follow the instructions.

GURPSDay started in February 2013,  a year after I started Gaming Ballistic. Things have slowed down a bit, and I’ll be considering how to revitalize this weekly activity. I’d like to see an average of 100 posts here per week – one per blog, ish – so we’ll see what we can do to get creative juiced flowing.

The Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPSIf you just started a GURPS blog – and I know that some of you have – email me and get on the list! With the advent of the Dungeon Fantasy RPG, Powered by GURPS, there’s even more reason to write.

How? Two action items: post more, recruit more. It’s really that simple. More posters is more posts, and more interest in GURPS.

Below you can find the blog activity for the last week. There’s a whole lotta awesome GURPS going on. Read all the posts.

Not every blog posts about GURPS every week, but some are ridiculously prolific! The list is randomized, so different bloggers will be highlighted at the top of the post each week.

As always, if you’re interested in having your blog consolidated here, navigate over to The Instructions Page and drop me a line. Take special note of the RSS Settings Fix if you’re on WordPress.

Continue reading “New Year GURPSDay: Welcome to 2019!”

Unarmed Lethal Combat

Unarmed combat is a bit of the bastard stepchild of D&D games, and deservedly so . . . at least relative to weapons. While a dagger does 1d4, at least in Fifth Edition (and therefore in Dragon Heresy), unarmed strikes do a single point of damage, modified by your Strength bonus. That can be non-trivial, of course: a strong unarmed blow by a STR 18-20 will do 5-6 points of damage, equivalent to a weaker person (STR 10) with a 1d10 weapon.

Monks, of course, subvert this with their martial arts damage: their strikes are weapons. Equivalent to daggers at low level, and versatile longswords at high. That’s cool. It also puts most of the focus where it should be: fists are, by and large, inferior weapons relative to purpose-built killing devices. Having an unarmed blow do 0-2 points of damage (1d3-1, for example) makes sense.

Problem is, that makes all combat lethal: why do only one point of base damage when you can do 2d6? Worse – from a reality perspective – is the concept of beating the snot out of someone with a fist or sword somehow being “non lethal” or “subdual” damage, where it doesn’t hurt much. One of the selling points of Dungeon Grappling is that it enables some quality unarmed combat, and interesting bar brawls that don’t have to be lethal.

Speaking of Bar Brawls

Reality aside: during the Tavern Chat last night, I got into a fun discussion with Smokestack Jones about the requirement for nonlethal unarmed combat in games. Especially cinematic fantasy games like D&D variants. A spot of fisticuffs in a bar, perhaps adding grappling, perhaps not, is a staple of the genre. Reality aside – and we’re talking elves and half-dragons and hobbits here, so yeah, reality aside – having entertaining unarmed combat is kinda important.

We compared a few other game mechanics. He mentioned one (whose name I forget) that used two tracks: wounds and bruises. Well. That reminded me of wounds and vigor from Dragon Heresy, but mechanically, vigor is all the defenses and luck and not getting hit that you do in a fight, not shrugging off blunt trauma and non-lethal blows.

We also talked about Champions/Hero System, where if you rolled a 6 on the dice, you took 2 body, 2-5 was 1, and 1 was none – so every STUN attack had a bit of a body component to it. That made all kinds of sense to both of us too.

So. An alternate wound track. Spill-over from non-lethal to lethal damage. Good, good. Nice concepts here, well tested in other games. Oh, also: ideally, no extra rolls. Extra rolls slow things down.

I’ll mostly talk about this for Fifth Edition, as it’s what I’m most familiar with. I’ll refer to Swords & Wizardry as we go. Continue reading “Unarmed Combat in D&D”

If you missed the campaign, or if you have more freedom now that the holiday season has come and gone: you can now Pre-Order Lost Hall of Tyr (2nd Edition) on Backerkit!

Visit the Pre-Order Store

All the same products are available as during the campaign – the books, the bundles, even the Viking-style Battle Shields of Torengar.

The campaign was short and raised about $4,100, which was enough to secure a quality print run on 85# silk-coated paper. But it won’t take many more backers doing pre-orders to push the campaign past the $6,000 stretch goal at which point we go for an offset print run.

What’s that got to do with anything? It’s a higher-quality book. Still softcover, but heavier paper (105# stock), and with a smyth-sewn (so it won’t fall apart) lay-flat binding. That way it’ll sit on your table for easy reference during games, and the pages are physically sewn into the book, so they won’t fall out with repeated use.

If we actually reach $7500 . . . the book becomes a hardcover.

I’ll admit it: I drool a bit about that one. Having a quality hardcover book sitting next to the Dragon Heresy Introductory Set on store shelves? It’s doable. The softcover is even more doable, as it would only take another 60 or so folks to jump on board at the Print+PDF level, or only 30 picking up both the core book and the adventure.

Help spread the word and make it happen!

It’s that time again, and on the first day of the New Year, it’s time to do a retrospective, a Gaming Ballistic 2018 Year in Review.

Summary

Here’s the skinny.

The Blog

  • Averaged 4.25 posts per week, 220 posts total for the year. Best year ever was 307 in 2016.
  • Lower unique content delivery in general, as things focused on the publishing end
  • Maintained good fidelity to GURPSDay
  • Need to re-energize the blog side of things in 2019

The Company

  • Ran three successful Kickstarters in one year! The first two continued my record of “on time or early” on my KS projects, making me four-for-four. The last one kicked off in December, and while it’s on schedule, can’t be considered early, late, or other just yet.
  • Dragon Heresy got published as a Level 1-5 Introductory Set, in what is the best-feeling RPG book I’ve ever handled. Really: the production values are stunning and compare with anything the big dogs (or anyone else) have made. It’s a great book with great content, and I’m very proud of it.
  • Hall of Judgment became the first-ever, and currently only, licensed product for SJG’s Dungeon Fantasy RPG
  • HoJ was run at several conventions, including GameHole Con by me, and was quite popular
  • HoJ was my most successful KS to date in terms of backer count (over 500), and post-KS sales have been good. Counting PDF and Print sales individually (which means if you bought a print and PDF copy, you get counted twice), Hall of Judgment has moved over 1,000 copies, making it my most popular product to date. GURPS folks have been good to me.
  • GB was profitable by a few thousand bucks (more on that in the coming weeks) in 2018. If sales of the Dragon Heresy core book take off even a little, this will provide a vital source of revenue to support ongoing work. I have since learned that what I thought were zero sales in December (true) was expected; first actual sales coming in January, with 25 pre-orders confirmed, with more expected! This is unexpected wind in my sails (sales?).
  • I received three additional contracts for more expansions for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG in 2019! The releases will be spread through the year. The first title will be The Citadel at Norðvörn and it should enter crowdfunding in the first quarter of 2019.
  • A second edition of Lost Hall of Tyr was successfully crowd-funded, but once again I was shocked at how few folks backed the project based on my pre-campaign market analysis.
  • Marketing and outreach needs to be a priority for 2019 if I’m going to successfully see “take-off” in the future
  • GameHole Con was awesome and I’ll return there, and try and generally increase my convention presence in the future; even so: day job limits the amount of time I can spend at such events.

The Man

  • I gamed less than I wanted to this year
  • I definitely felt singed running two Kickstarters back-to-back with Dragon Heresy and Hall of Judgment. These were successful, but wow.
  • Some major and positive life-changes in my household (my wife got a great full-time job in her area of expertise) were still very disruptive on my schedule
  • I need to exercise more, and force time for it. Day-job and schedule changes make this harder
  • Keeping track of many social media feeds is draining.
  • I’ve been enjoying the hell out of shield-building and wooden weapon-crafting for my Viking stuff, but there are issues to be resolved with it in terms of where my time is best spent.

Overall, it’s hard to argue:  2018 was a successful year for Gaming Ballistic. I just wish it felt more successful. The miss on the number of folks who would be interested in Lost Hall 2e is particularly painful. I’d pondered hanging up GB entirely in October-November, but then I got the three contracts for the Dungeon Fantasy RPG for 2019, which was uplifting. I hope that these three projects, plus a few more in the pipeline, provide the wind in the sails for 2019.

Dragon Heresy needs some actual play, some good reviews and press, and a bit of word-of-mouth. If it can get it, it can be a bit player overall and still make the difference in my being able to self-fund, rather than crowdfund, projects. I have more ideas from myself and others than I have cash-flow to support, mostly in the “it costs good money to get good art” category. I like going into crowdfunding with nearly everything complete, and that can’t happen just yet in 2019.

That’s the summary. More details below the break.

Continue reading “Gaming Ballistic 2018 Year in Review”

I’m always on the lookout for better options than the usual “please amputate your leg in exchange for shipping internationally.” Gaming Ballistic is thrilled to announce that I found a good source for Hall of Judgment Print-on-Demand.

Over the last month or so, I’ve initiated a POD option for new orders of Hall of Judgment, done by the same printer that did the original copies.

The new books print on 130gsm silk-coated paper instead of 140gsm, so they’re slightly thinner, but otherwise they’re the same quality as the prior books. I believe Lulu prints on 80#/120gsm paper, and premium POD with DriveThru is on 105gsm/70# paper.

But if you got the PDF and wanted a print copy, there’s now a source that originates outside of the USA for these books, which saves big-time on shipping.