We mostly got our quorum for today’s game. The players and I had decided that this game would start at level 7 instead of level 1, to test out the mid-power game.

So whom did we have?

+Anne Hunter was Gudrun, a level 7 human runic barbarian. She carried a greatsword and a shortbow, and has DR 2 thanks to Unarmored Defense.
+Wright Johnson was Dakar,  a level 7 human berserker barbarian, who brought a greataxe and a longbow to the fray, with DR 3 from Unarmored Defense.
+Nathan Joy was Ka’Shyx, a level 7 dragonborn cleric of the Justice and War domain. He sported DR 6 from chain mail armor, carried a shield and a warhammer.

This was a test on several levels, and I explained to the players that I was deliberately trying to convert a bog-standard 5e adventure to Dragon Heresy somewhat on the fly. They were OK with this, so it was good. 

I purchased the module – Palace of the Crowned Skull – from the DM’s Guild. It’s Pay What You Want, and I threw in $5. I took screenshots of the map and put them in Roll20, using Dynamic Lighting for the first time. I came up with a good way of quickly putting in the blockers, and honestly the hardest part is rescaling the maps.

I have a suggestion for the +Roll20 crowd for this, for what it’s worth. you should be able to define two squares, likely of about 20×20′ or even more, and say “the native image that’s being imported has 20×20 squares that are this big.” The squares will usually be (say) at the upper left and lower right of the map. Since both squares are 20×20 (four 5×5 squares), that gives a centerpoint for each, as well as four parallel lines in X and Y, as well as four 20′ lines in X and Y. The map can be centered, aligned, and rescaled accordingly to the grid on the blank Roll20 map. Poof, instant alignment and rescale, making a very tedious portion of the import process trivial.

Anyway, the vision-blocks worked well, once I figured out a few things.

Playing through the module worked well. I dropped the references to the Forgotten Realms, and relocated the keep to a very convenient ruin on my own setting map. It fits so well that I really should contact Bill Volk about repurposing it for Dragon Heresy, but it’s DM’s Guild, so I probably can’t. But that makes for a pretty good test  run.

Anyway, the conversation with the representative from the noble family went easily, the players asked some of the right questions, and were satisfied with the offer of 800gp each for their efforts.

One thing we quickly realized is that we need a table of expected wealth by level. Not just because we were starting at level 7 so we needed to know what stuff they might be able to afford (can the cleric afford plate armor by Level 7? My Level 6 paladin was tromping around with +2 plate by then, but the GM was very, very generous with magic items and threw bounded accuracy right out the window). Armor is a huge deal in DH, as are magical weapons, so knowing what’s possible is key. I think I know how to resolve this! Roll once on the Hoard Table with a challenge equal to level – for a level 7 character in DH, at the low end it might only be 800gp. At the high end, it’s 4,200gp and two powerful magical items (rare or very rare). 

They didn’t find any wild encounters, and traveled the roughly 60 miles to the keep in two days. It was easier to find with the provided map, and they made good time and did enough preparation to not draw any monster encounters.

They elected to come up the back way, and immediately encountered a Hill Giant on a large lower area of the castle.

They detected the Hill Giant first, and he was on patrol, walking predictably in circles on the platform, which was roughly 90×140′. They got a first-shot at the (Challenge 5) giant, but he wasn’t surprise (he had a good Perception roll).

The players immediately twigged to the right tactics – the two barbarians started peppering him with arrows, draining his vigor. Now, the hill giant had DR 6, so mostly could ignore the shortbow, but with two attacks (one of which could be used for aiming), the archers could vastly increase the odds of a critical hit, which made even the shortbow a threat. 

Initially, the giant pinned the players at the top of a narrow staircase, but then a good/lucky shot got through and caused a few wounds. This caused the giant to lose his nerve, backing off with the Demoralized condition.This allowed our players to flank him and spread out on the platform, while continuing to pepper him with arrows and the cleric used Sacred Flame a lot.

The giant retreated until his morale re-solidified, whereupon he attacked again.

It should be noted that he (and Dakar, for that matter) more or less didn’t roll higher than an 8, almost ever. The one time the giant did roll well, he was Demoralized, with disadvantage on attack rolls and skill checks, and so what would have been two shattering hits on Gudrun turned into “the mighty Casey had struck out.”

So they beat down his vigor and then went to town on wounds in hand-to-hand combat, mostly using flanking and good tactics to render the giant unconscious. They emerged unscathed, with 1 gp and 170 sp, and 965 XP each as spoils.

They did a bit more exploring, found a bit of treasure, including a potion of healing, and we called it a night. We played a bit less-long than we’d planned due to some confusion on timing.

Parting Shot

Was it an easy fight?

Yes and no. It went about as I expected it to go.

The hill giant was bad news, with 49 wounds required to kill him (but fewer required to demoralize, injure, and knock out), and 105 vigor with which to soak defenses. However, my experience here is that many-on-one, with the defender lacking a shield and the attackers well endowed with spells and ranged weapons? 

Always, always bad for the one. The giant had to make use of frantic defense to turn wounds to vigor on nearly every ranged attack, though he probably should have just taken more shots, trusting his high DR to spare him from all but lucky shortbow attacks. Still, the three players really made with the pincushion syndrome, and there’s not much the hill giant could do about it. He’s too stupid to come up with clever tactics (INT 5).

He hit Ka’Shyx with a thrown rock, but he used his reaction to take it on his shield, damaging the shield (it was a fairly poor roll) with one “hit,” and three hits and it’s broken. Unless he has the mending cantrip to repair it, he can only pull that trick 1-2 times more, and then he’ll need a new shield.

On the other hand, he rolled really badly. Throwing rocks, he was looking at 2-20 wounds per rock. With his greatclub, two attacks for 8-15 vigor each. Even with 60-70 vigor, our barbarians (who elected not to rage, because of the exhaustion effects). So only a few hits, not even counting criticals, and our heroes would have been the ones on the short end of the stick. A few hits and the PCs would have been severely short on vigor, and one greatclub crit and you’re looking at 11-65 vigor loss, and if that also exceeded the Hit DC, that could double to “you’re at zero vigor and taking plenty of wounds through only DR 2 or DR 3.”

So again: it went as I expected. A couple of hits and it was bad news for the PCs. But they did not take those hits, and kept up a steady stream of vigor-reducing attacks. Had there been a few minions or lower-level guys to take up the slack, it may well have been very different. Heck, I bet two or three goblins would have occupied enough mindshare that the hill giant would have been a magnified problem.

Lessons Learned


The massive amount of work writing up stat blocks for all the critters paid enormous dividends. I was able to just look up “Hill Giant” and adjudicate the fight with a couple of glances at the table. 

The adventure ports over easily and well.

The game still rewards sensible tactics that are intuitively obvious to players. Flank your foes. If your foes do not have shields and you’re many on one, hang back and pelt ’em with arrows. 

Taking a blow on a shield is a good thing. Having a shield is a good thing.

High DR matters, and GMs and players alike should be encouraged to think about this. Take the time to aim when dealing with armored foes, as it allows you to increase your chance of a crit by quite a bit.

The emergent behavior of our giant becoming demoralized and then in a few rounds snapping out of it and pressing back to the attack works freakin’ great. That has been a real pleasure to see.

I still need to write up a quickie combat flow algorithm for maximum clarity. It’s clear enough, but you can never be too clear about this sort of thing.

Good session. The game still plays well, and I don’t think I need to adjust challenge ratings much. Fights may well end up “gee, we’re all OK” or “tomato paste” more frequently than the SRD5.1’s base assumption of everyone down a bunch of Hit Points.

Tomorrow will be a big writing day, and then pushing hard for the rest of the week to finish the complete draft of both books. I’m guessing 350,000 words total. Maybe two books of 250-280 pages each. Solid but not with their own gravity well.

More later! 

Over at Tribality.com+Brandes Stoddard throws down a post called Playing with a Stranger’s Toys. Notionally it’s about the challenges of using other settings and adventures. He brings up a few examples, and a contrived scenario (not his own) where the players are put in the situation where they are being approached, on a ship, by another ship full of minotaurs, nominally peaceably.

He notes that nearly any player who has played a game, watched  TV, or seen a movie will basically screech “HARD A’STARBOARD!” at that moment, and prepare to engage in life-or-death combat.
Better to start with the PCs just being captured – why present the illusion of choice when there’s really no choice there at all – or to give the PCs a reason to be captured.
That got me thinking. I’ve posted a bit before about the motivations and methods of bad guy organiations – most recently in Sensible Master Plans Redux, and another that was the origin of that post called Bad Guy Chararacterization 2: General McChrystal does RPGing. They talk about keeping villains both villainous and not-stupid by working out the answers to just a few questions beforehand.
But Brandes’ post turns this on its head. What about the PCs? More importantly, and in context, how does one write an adventure or set up a setting or introduce a plot hook that has bite?
I think the key is to treat the players like criminals. Well, or at least spies.

MICE

The acronym MICE is short for Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego, though C can also be Coercion, and E Extortion in some models. Still, it’s a mnemonic for why someone will betray an allegiance. 
Why not use this as a shorthand to see how to get the PCs involved in your adventure? 
Money
The simplest answer, and when you get XP for gold, as in some versions of old-school DnD, is that the players will get involved because the money was good enough. It’s not always enough, though – especially when the adventure calls to do something  against the character’s basic motivation. And while in a game like Shadowrun where a basic conceit is “I do the job, and then I get paid,” not all games – and more importantly, not all characters – are built around money.
As an example, in the Aeon Campaign, one of the PCs, goes by the name of Arc Light when he’s wrapped in his battlesuit, is apparently a multi-billionaire. To the point that in the last game, he plunked down two hundred million dollars in an auction account just to make sure that we had reserve funds to win it. Which we did. You’re quite simply not going to interest this guy in getting paid for something, unless he also has Greed on his character sheet, or if getting paid is shorthand for another motivation.

Ideology

There are many facets to this, and they need not all be envisioned as a bunch of poor people waving a red flag while crooning “Do you hear the people sing.” 
Though that’s always good. Les Mis is it’s own reward.
But while revolution is its own ideology, so is “For Queen and Country,” and especially in Fantasy RPGs, if not the real world “Because God Says So.” 

I mean, in many Fantasy RPGs, the gods pay people personal visits and occasionally engage in heavy petting with their worshippers, so when God says so, the odds of it being delusional behavior are rather low. I mean, dude, not only did Aphrodite tell me she needed me to head north and get something for her, not only did she give me this suit of armor that her husband made for me, but wow, Nothing Compares 2 Divine Lovin’!

Perhaps I digress – but the point that anything from “it’s the right thing to do,” “because I’m loyal to my feudal lady,” or “because the manifestation of my deity showed up and told me to” are all Ideological motivations to get a PC off his duff and into the wild world of adventuring, without having to pay them. Or perhaps in addition to paying them.

Compromise or Coersion


Yeah, that “liaison” you just had with Aphrodite? You were kinda loud. So . . . if you don’t head East and get the Staff of MagGuffin for me, I’m going to tell the guy with the Hammer and Forge about it. 


And he’s not going to be happy with you.


So, compromise. The way most PCs are, a GM won’t even have to play the fiat card – the players will give plenty of hooks on their own.

But still, threatening a PC with consequences if they don’t get involved in the adventure is a real way to get them involved, but risks loss of agency if it’s just dumped on them. “Oh, you were caught in a compromising situation” is way more legit if the character does it to herself. A quick search of the Disadvantages section of the sheet on a GURPS PC will usually reveal whether or not they can be had this way by internal motivation.

But the time-honored “framed for a crime they didn’t committ” trick is always available as well. Heck, having a powerful noble whose word is as good as law simply make an accusation is good – and in many areas of the world today, that power exists simply through dictatorial fiat. And even in the “First World,” things like doxxing and ransomware are clear and present dangers, so across times and cultures, people can put others in compromising positions that will make them get with a program.

There’s no question that this can be high-handed on the part of the GM, and in writing the equivalent of gravity wells for plots, it’s always best if the victim (the player) puts her foot in the trap willingly. And by the way, “you have lecherous, greedy, compulsive gambling, or Dependents on your character sheet” – or the equivalent in any other game – means that the player has already voluntarily put her foot in the trap, by virtue of paying for good abilities with the promise of plot hooks.

Ego (or Experience)

This can be arrogance and pride. But in RPG terms, “I want to level up’ is a form of ego built right into the game, though from that perspective, experience point rewards are probably more closely a form of payment.

But challenging a character’s bravery, or allowing them to establish a reputation are key motivators here, with plenty of support in the literature. And by “the literature,” I’m talking Sir Conan of Schwartzenegger. From “I will have my own kingdom, by my own hand” to “Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!” the drive to be Just Damn Better Than You looms large in the motivating factors for heroes of all sorts.

Denethor seemed to appeal to Boromir’s ego in the cuts from Return of the King that only Gondor should have the ring. “A chance for Faramir, captain of Gondor, to show his quality” is right over the center of the plate for Ego, and was in many ways the true operating motivation of the One Ring itself, tempting Sauruman, Faramir, Boromir, and even Gandalf and Galadriel.

Ego, the desire to be not only better than others, but seen that way? Powerful. Anakin Skywalker was driven by it – in fact, it can be said that the fall of the Jedi order was brought about by Palpatine using his own Ego and Ideology to corrupt the Ego and Ideology of his target – they largely brought about their own destruction, at least up to the point of General Order 66.

Combined Arms Adventure Writing

The key, of course is never throw one motivation to get on board when four or five will do. If you really, really want to engage a team of players and their characters, you will need a very broad funnel for them to enter into, choosing which of the hooks they’ll accept for themselves.

So provide them. In fact, provide several, acknowledging that being forced onto a train and riding the rails is kidnapping, but stepping onto a train and riding those same rails while enjoying wine and food is a journey, experience, and vacation.

But recognize this – the players want to be engaged. But they want to be engaged their own way. Give each one of the four reasons above, and ideally two or three, and the carefully-planned adventure can occur as per schedule. But “that just doesn’t interest me” isn’t the player’s fault – it’s a foreseeable occurrence that they will interact with the world with a “why should I care?” lens. So think about it, using the framework above.

Let’s get real here. Tomorrow night +Peter V. Dell’Orto+Patrick Kelly +Brian Renninger at the minimum, perhaps joined by +gregory blair, will find themselves in Northpoint having successfully engaged and defeated an ogre with fairly minimal fuss last game. They will learn that a caravan from the Keep at Northwatch to Midgard had been lost, and a small team of scouts sent to find it . . . that team never returned. 

They will also learn that the pattern of predation that they attributed to bandits (they’d found evidence of both medium and large humanoids on their own scouting) has continued, or even accelerated. The towns along Audreyn’s Wall are concerned, but they don’t really have the manpower to engage in recon and destruction missions.

So, I can count on these guys to head out and try and take on a force that already destroyed one group of PCs? Right?

No. Not without the right hooks. All of these guys are interested in adventuring North of the wall. That’s why they’re there. But if they are to choose to go after the bandits, or do whatever, I’m going to have to provide a set of motivations that they will choose from.

They’re 1st level characters in a game based off of the SRD5.1, the engine that powers DnD5e. So they need money, gear, and experience to level up. I recall Peter is a Monk, we had at least one Warlock and a Ranger. Maybe a fighter is the fourth? 

So paying them in cash or gear is obviously a possibility. Ideology probably doesn’t work real well, though the Monk might be engaged that way. Coercion is possible, but seems rather heavy-handed – though being press-ganged into a recon force is a possibility, the adventure would quickly turn into “kill the captors and escape to the north.” That has real possibilities, actually. Which leaves Ego, and gaining the reputation of being the ones that stopped the loss of supplies and caravans would bring them additional opportunities to improve their status, power, and wealth – all of which will be needed to secure lands north of the wall and claim right of conquest as peers of the realm.

But look at that. I now know how to involve at least several of them in one potential plot direction. And if they don’t have any Ideological hooks now, I’ll have to encourage the campaign to grow some (clerics, druids, and paladins, some monks, have this built in to the character class) or work harder to find them (“your fighter’s old unit went out for recon, and is missing!”).

This brings us back to Brandes’ ship of minotaurs. No sane group of PCs is going to make nice-nice with violent bull-men just so they can be captures. That’s not MICE, it’s S for Stupid. Which is a good motivation for a criminal, but not so good for a spy that intends to remain alive and out of prison.

So how to engage them? They can be paid. Join the minotaurs on their island, and there’s money in it for you. This could easily be “there’s a valuable artifact at the minotaur home village/island/town/whatever that you can pillage, and in return, you have also done me a service.” Ideology would be invoked if getting captured served a larger goal, in which case the PCs would simply surrender as part of the plan. That puts agency right back in the hands of the PCs, where fun games live. Coercion is the operative force already in play (the PCs will be captured), but inflicting that coercion requires active stupidity on the part of the PCs. Better to have a minotaur or an ally sneak on board and take a valuable captive, or heck, just cut the rudder chain/cable, so that the ship is effectively dead at sea. Now going along with the minotaurs is the only thing to do. But again, the GM must be careful here to pretend PC agency when none, in fact, exists. Finally, Ego – there’s a challenge that the characters will gain renown for meeting, that others have tried. 

Tried and failed? No. Tried and died.


Oh? Really? Tried and died? I’m in. Let’s do this..

Thanks for Brandes for penning something to inspire thoughts today!

I used to play in +Ken H‘s Monteporte campaign, and I remember it fondly. Recently, he rebooted it, and posted some session notes here. They struck me with two thoughts.

Tangible is Good


He writes:

Resource and Time Management: We are keeping more careful track of resources, such as food, torches, and arrows. We are also tracking encumbrance. We are working to streamline the process for the former while relying on the simple and elegant system in Bloody Basic for the latter.

 I have long been a fan of tangible items to do this sort of thing. Matchsticks for torches. Poker chips or something like it – beads, whatever – for generic expendables like fatigue or mana. This was a suggestion from +Steven Marsh with respect to The Last Gasp (Pyr #3/44) that turned it from “gee, how will this ever work at the table” to “yes, this is spectacularly cool.”

Short Sweet Sorties


The other thing that struck me as particularly notable was a comment he made on continuity.

Campaign and Continuity: One of the challenges for a dungeon-based campaign is maintaining momentum and continuity. We lost a lot of that in the final dozen sessions of our last Montporte campaign. We changed rule sets, lost players, added players, and the main threads of the campaign were lost in all of it. This time around, we are starting with a couple of goals (explore, establish trade relationships, and find a dwarven city), using a simple rule set, and playing with a smaller group (and only playing when everyone is present).

The key here seems to be “starting with a couple of goals,” and frankly, given the “we all have real lives” nature of things, I’d be very tempted to see if I could arrange for, at any given time, the player to be given, or able to articulate, about three fairly short-term goals that are knowable, known, and able to be “checked off” the list.

Sure, it’s not as pure as a “go explore!” game. But it allows for missed sessions, new characters and players, and a bit more shuffle in the lineup.

In fact, I think I just thought of something that would make a great addition to the background tidbits that provide nice characterization hooks in 5e. In addition to backgrounds, ideals, and flaws, each character should probably have an endpoint.

I touched on this when I wrote Hirelings have a shelf life. Most people, in fantasy and in real life, are working/adventuring towards a goal. Perhaps it’s to have his own kingdom, by his own hand (Conan). Perhaps it’s to buy a castle (Flynn Rider). Or even simply to impress Murron (William Wallace). But, like the soldiers in Mulan, they’re working towards “a girl worth fighting for.” And then they’re done.

The nature of the goals animated two in-character departures by +Tim Shorts in +Rob Conley‘s Majestic Wilderlands game. Those goals are always there, and they very much animate why the charaters stick together. 

Having a stack of short-term and long-term goals is just good sense. Consider it added to the Heretical D&D project.

Thank to Tim H for provoking my brain this morning!

Weekends in Penang. Sigh. Poor me.

GURPS has been poked at – with some level of truth – for not having a lot of adventure support.

Well, someone went and made one – an adventure for 250-point dungeon fantasy characters.

You can find a PDF file here, or a Wiki page here. The maps for Level 4 and deeper seem to be missing at the moment (about noon on March 3), but I’ll poke the author and see what’s forthcoming.

Kudos for making this, and making it available – on GURPSDay nonetheless!

The thing about Gumshoe is that it has a basic conceit – never let stuff get in the way of the actual adventure. You always get clues; you don’t always know how to execute on those clues in the best way.

This is key. And while in many cases it’s obvious, in other cases it’s not. But over the last few weeks, I’ve read about and played in a few games where that rule was not followed. I’m sure that I’ve run games where I violated this concept myself.

So, some things that I’ve observed recently, and how I will plan to avoid this in the future.

The first lesson for me is “never obscure the fun.”

This doesn’t mean a railroad from one hack-and-slash or shoot-’em-up combat scenario to the other. But it does mean that if you have four to six of your friends sitting around tables or computers, that they shouldn’t stay sitting there long without having something juicy to do.

Note: if that ‘juicy’ thing is in-character roleplaying or even out-of-character shooting the breeze, that’s cool if it’s cool for everyone. But at some point, you will probably want to start the actual play of the game.

In a recent game I played in, it happened that the place where the mission/adventure was going to happen was hidden. All of our advanced TL10 sensors were fogged. Visibility (optical or otherwise) was down to 200 yards and the area that potentially housed the (relatively small) target location was 100 x 150 miles in size. 15,000 square miles. Mission parameters seemed to be that we were get into the location, where we expected to be outnumbered and outgunned, and steal some stuff. We didn’t need to secure the location, destroy anything, or even kill anything. Get in, get stuff, get out.

But . . . 15,000 square miles. We could see and observe about 1/75th of one square mile at any given time. Even if we could use antigrav belts to fly at 50 yards per second, that meant that it would take us about 4 seconds to observe each sub-segment, of which there were over a million, at ten hours per day of looking it would take four months to examine the area.

So we elected, not knowing any other way, to do something loud. That naturally exposed us to missile fire (TL10) and we’re woefully unequipped to dodge or even shoot them down (though my gunner skill from default was adequate to the task for one missile).

The whole job was to sneak into the base quietly and steal stuff. But we didn’t know where the mission site was, and once we woke up the bad guys, I’m fairly sure the mission was blown. 

Frustrating. It took the emphasis off of the characters being cool, and took it into the realm of player-driven guesses as to how to find the adventure.


Having just read and reviewed Action 2, I think what was needed is to borrow a framework from that book, following Assess (get info), Analyze (make a plan), Act (do something), and Avoid (get out).

Failure to follow that sort of thing means that you have, to invert the title of one of Action 2’s chapters, headaches, not challenges.

Now, looking at our Action 2 recipe, how can “find the target” turn into something fun? Well, it’s a Mystery. So it’s quite akin to finding a murderer, but that means that there needs to be evidence, or at least a scenario. 

I mean, “this is the location of the target zone, but you will be hard pressed to approach secretly!” is a fine kind of player-facing challenge. You know what kind of skills to bring to bear. Camouflage. Stealth. Acting and Fast-Talk. Yeah, we got this.

But if you want to make the finding of the target fun, it has to start with what the resources of the team are – you need to know what you can bring to bear on the “Assess” part of the mission, so you know what kind of information you can expect to get. 

First rule, much like GUMSHOE, is to make sure that the list of what you absolutely know you can bring to bear should be clear. “All of your sensors will not function, and what visual data you can gather is very limited.” Quick study and a bit of math says that looking for the needle in a haystack will not be productive. Players should not be encouraged to try to brute force it, or perhaps they can be allowed to try but steered away.

The GM can help by having some of the options laid out for the players in case they struggle. In this particular example, I suppose there were more or less two options. We find the base, or we let the base tell us where it was – force it to give itself away.

Now, put that way, all sorts of things might suggest themselves. “We send drones to look for the base” was one thing we tried, but see above with respect to “obscured vision.” But “we sit in orbit before we land, all stealthed up, and see if we can send high-speed probes or some other foreign invader to cause a reaction, and then trace the reaction?” That seems legit, and it returns the adventure to something we can potentially know. 

If missiles streak out of a central location, we can find that location. If it’s not the base, then we can determine by cable or by line of sight or by being informed what kind of transmitter can penetrate the fog what our next step will be in finding the main locale. 

So: always provide breadcrumbs. Hints at how to start the Assess phase. That might be a list of contacts, sensors, or other information outlets that will bear fruit.

Of course, if the players come up with something ridiculously clever, do that. The list is a “get out of jail” or “succeed at a cost” set of options to keep four to six people from getting so frustrated that screaming LEEEROY JENKINS! and doing something that would logically lead to a TPK doesn’t look like a better option.

Once you have data, you can start making skill rolls (or use player-based knowledge; depends on the parameters of your game) to Analyze. That should suggest one or more plans. The players can pick one, nab a backup for what-if, and then Act. 

Avoid might come on the approach (likely in this case) or for exfiltration.

But regardless, I find that Assess, Analyze, Act is a bit of the OODA loop for gaming. Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. If that can cycle quickly enough, then one could even go through many plans and it would still be fun.

Well, so long as everyone has something to do on a relatively frequent basis. The GM and the players are mutually responsible for ensuring that the plot includes the characters’ skills, and that the characters’ skills are kept at the forefront.

One thing that I learned over the last week or so? You need broadly competent characters to do Action Movies with a small group. With specialists, you can only approach certain tasks without help. 

And help could potentially be available – that’s a good out-of-game thing to look at. Got a stealthy mission but no one has stealth? Might want to fix that, hire someone to do it, or figure out how to make the stealth requirement moot.

But if as a GM I know my group, I should probably have a list of the top 3-5 skills for each PC, some key advantages and disadvantages that will influence outcomes. Danger Sense, Combat Reflexes, and enhanced perception come to mind on the “good news” sense, and Overconfidence, Impulsive, and Compulsion (Plays oompah-loompah polka music on approach) would all qualify as problematic.

Ideally, the challenges should fully engage at least 1/5 of the party, and have 2/5 that can do complimentary skill rolls or other “backup” assistance. One character picks the lock, two provide needed perimeter security, while the driver and computer expert stand by? That’s fine. One guy picks the difficult lock and the other four stand around? Not so much . . . unles it’s a quick contest with a fairly inevitable conclusion and then done.

A rule won’t fit all situations. And improv can be both awesome and fun for all. But I learned a bunch about running adventures over the last week, and when that happens, it’s time to write it down.

+Tim Shorts over at Gothridge Manor writes about the most amazing 3D dungeon I’ve ever seen. And bonus – while the scenario in question will likely be released as a D&D game, it was originally statted out and executed in GURPS.

Simply amazing prop design, and I do wish that such fan work was easier to get through the pipeline. But no matter what, it makes a spectacular read. Go check it out.

Two items from Steve Jackson James.

GURPS First
Yesterday was release day, with an actual release: GURPS Zombies: Day One. I know for a fact that the pipeline is crammed full of stuff, having seen some of it. This one (and many of +Sean Punch‘s projects) go under the playtest radar, so I did not get a peek at this one. Sean’s work rarely needs a lot of testing, and doubly so with this volume, which is a break from the usual for the GURPS line – a book of adventure seeds and campaign settings.
There are several for TL8, at least two for TL3-4, and one high-TL setting. They are designed to be mixed and matched into existing campaigns if possible, as well.
I haven’t read it in detail yet, but I will. Market wise, go buy this. Buy it twice. This is the type of book that would open up a stream of related material that would fill a nice gap between “create it from whole cloth your own damn self” and “here’s a fully fleshed-out scenario that will almost certainly fail to fit into your existing game.”

Car Wars Kickstarter

Not exactly gnu gnus – actually, this is sort of gnu gnus. The Car Wars Classic Arenas Kickstarter is not the Car Wars Kickstarter promised when Ogre went on a rampage. That’s a separate project, per the FAQ.

It’s got 26 days to go and I think started in the last week or so. The base tier is about 80% funded right now.

I probably won’t be backing this one, but not because it’s not worthy or anything. I like that SJG is funding development on Kickstarter, and I like that they are clearly learning from the Ogre experience (read the disclaimer under Risks and Challenges: It’s a hoot).

I just don’t have anyone to play with yet. Youngest takes up too much of my usual in-house gaming partner’s time, and oldest isn’t really Car Wars age yet. A few more years and she’ll probably be mopping the floor with me in Ogre. But not today.



Work has been a Terribly Dire Polar Bear recently, and today most of all. Fortunately, SJG comes to my blogging rescue by releasing something that was pretty darn interesting in playtest.

GURPS Boardroom and Curia is a book all about groups of people. In a word: Organizations. 

It’s a PC-facing guide to what organizations, from street gangs to multinational conglomerates to multinational conglomerate street gangs (and given the global reach of some gangs, this isn’t really an exaggeration!). From Wayne Enterprises to Intergang to the Peace Corps to the Green Lantern Corps, you can probably figure out what to do.

I had an interesting time on this one, because I’d just threw down quite a long post on this topic thanks to my daughter being precocious. 

This manuscript got a lot of love and attention in the playtest – all of it geared (successfully, based on the revisions brought forward by the irrepressible +Matt Riggsby, the supplement’s author) to ensuring that the manuscript was even more player-facing (and GM-facing) than it had been before.

Organizations – from the merchant’s guild to the Illuminati, from the LiberDemoPublican party to Anarchists United, and (more seriously) many of the organized religions that have and continue to play important roles in politics and society in both reality and fiction – play a defining role in the human world. Every time you shop, go to the bank, go to church to pray, contribute or read something from a political party, you’re interacting with an organization. When you have to deal with the Infernal Revenue Service to straighten out a bit of a problem with your yearly Soul Return, you’re dealing with the people in the organization. Every time you’re stymied on the phone and say “I will speak with your manager, now” you’re interacting with the rules presented in the book. 

Thanks to Pelgrane for JUST the right tone

More importantly, when you need to get the Army to send a squad of gunships to die messily attacking a Lovecraftian Horror – you’re dealing with an organization, and the book will help you do it.

I haven’t re-read it in full yet. But I will. Not only that, but I fully intend to use it to scope out Oliver Enterprises, the fictional megacorporation helmed by my NPC Patron Wayne Oliver (yes, yes, derivative, but deliberately so, and he even makes Tony Stark jokes about himself) for my on-hiatus Alien Menace campaign. 

So check it out – I think it’ll be worth your while. And if not, you can speak to my manager.

This is the fourth issue that is devoted to Dungeon Fantasy. No surprise – it’s the most popular sub-line, having spawned at least 16 or 17 books, and of course, since it occupies the same turf as the most popular game today (D&D in all its flavors, be it D&D5, Pathfinder, or the various OSR or D&Derived versions).

This issue is quite eclectic in its coverage, and some of the articles are downright . . . well, somewhere between odd and squicky, but in an I have to put that in my game kind of way.

So, let’s delve in . . . but remember you’re descending from an upper level, where psychic freakin’ Jedi can be found . . . or slighty below that, where books and mighty spells can’t be found. Nope. Nothing to see there. Though you’re going to want to lose your lunch after spending time in the horrid living room of your bad guy. But don’t worry, you can always punch him in the gut with a magically-enhanced fist of death.

But what’s this we see here? Awww . . . it’s so cute. A tiny, fluffy little bunny. I’m sure it’s cuddly and oh my glob, it’s attacking me! The pain, the pain! Aaaaaahh!

Dire and Terrible Monsters ( +Peter V. Dell’Orto and +Douglas Cole )

Of course, I co-wrote this one, so you can take my review with a grain of salt. That being said, I noted in a previous post that this article was more fun than any other of mine to write thus far. Peter wrote about it as well.

This article presents a couple new prefixes, a staple of DF monster-making, which turn regular monsters or other creatures into something else Angry monsters, Enraged, etc. The article presents two prefixes – Dire and Terrible – that take an ordinary creature and make it larger and more ferocious (Dire) and surprisingly lethal (Terrible). The text and sample monsters are presented in an over-the-top, humorous fashion, but the prefixes themselves are not inheretly silly.


Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: Peter and I had a great time writing this, and it shows. Others that read this one loved it; even my wife, who doesn’t always read my stuff, read it end-to-end and loved it. 2 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The premise here is good – and can be applied to any and all monster creation to amp up any critters you need. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: You can use the prefixes for any DF game to give your players a challenge, or a quick, surprise, nasty fight. Applied to (say) a werewolf or mundane animal, a new challenge can be made of an old threat. 4 points.

Overall: 9/10.  A good premise, easily extendable, and a fun read. 

Would I use it? Yes. Obviously. I’m biased, of course; I wrote it, and Peter’s one of my favorite authors, as well as an outstanding collaborator. 

Biases Aside: An alternate scoring if you’re approaching the article as not-me.

Build it Yourself: Even though there are sample creatures, there’s some work to be done, especially on the Terrible creatures, to make them useful. That would take it down to a 3.

Your Humor is Lost on Me: Some may object to the tone and flavor of the article – silly creatures like the Terrible Terrier might not be the right tone for some. That doesn’t lower the mechanical utility of the article, though. Writing score would drop to 0-1.

Background for DF?: I knocked it down a point because it’s light on why, and jumps to how. But if you just don’t care, then what you can do with more prefixes is simply pure fun. 

Upper-Lower bound Rating: The worst this one will rate is about 6, and the upper bound is the only perfect 10 I’ve given. It’s the same score as Pointless Slaying and Looting, which is probably my favorite GURPS article to date, bar none. On that scale, I’d say that this one is closer to 8-8.5 . . . or pointless slaying is better than I gave it credit for (probably true).

This is the fourth issue that is devoted to Dungeon Fantasy. No surprise – it’s the most popular sub-line, having spawned at least 16 or 17 books, and of course, since it occupies the same turf as the most popular game today (D&D in all its flavors, be it D&D5, Pathfinder, or the various OSR or D&Derived versions).

This issue is quite eclectic in its coverage, and some of the articles are downright . . . well, somewhere between odd and squicky, but in an I have to put that in my game kind of way.

So, let’s delve in . . . but remember you’re descending from an upper level, where psychic freakin’ Jedi can be found . . . or slighty below that, where books and mighty spells can’t be found. Nope. Nothing to see there. Though you’re going to want to lose your lunch after spending time in the horrid living room of your bad guy.

But what’s this we see here? A small, harmless-looking guy in a robe? The rube has no business in a dungeon. Or does he?

The Magic Touch (+Matt Riggsby)

This short article presents a set of magic items tuned to the martial artist archetype. Martial Artists usually eschew weapons and armor, and so much of the common loot one finds is inappropriate for them. This article tries to help balance the scales – but many of the items are not unvarnished benefits to the user!

Style, Writing, Execution [-2 to 2 points]: The writing is casual and approachable, with game mechanics present, but woven into text. 0.5 points.

Background, Inspiration, Epiphany [0 to 4 points]: The basic concept is sound – give Martial Artists more stuff to play with. And each one, mostly, requires some sort of sacrifice to the user, which is very in the spirit of “discipline for power” that is the core of the martial arts philosophy. It makes you want to create more of these, which is good. 3 points.

Drop-in Gaming Utility [0 to 4 points]: These are easy drop-ins to any game where magic items and and martal artists can be found. The “bite” that makes some of these items less than an unvarnished good might detract for a few of them, but there’s always the Concussion Amulet. 3.5 points.

Overall: 7/10.  A short utility article that delivers on its premise – cool stuff for martial artists – with no wasted motion. 

Would I use it? Yes. Maybe not all at once, but the overall lesson here is solid: provide cool stuff for each player’s character.

Biases Aside: An alternate scoring if you’re approaching the article as not-me.

It’s Just A List: Of course, that’s the entire point. Ready-made items. But if you don’t like the gear-catalog flavor, then drop-in utility will be degraded for you. I’d not go lower than 2, though – because it’s the very definition of drop-in.

Exposition, not Mechanics: You might get more satisfaction on the presentation than I did, enough to boost the Writing score to 1.0 or 1.5.

Upper-Lower bound Rating: This one’s pretty tight. It’s a solid 6-8 any way you look at it. It’s not long enough that anyone could say “this was a waste of time,” and it has high-level lessons to be extracted. Plus, ready-worked examples save the GM time and inspire other creations.