This morning, as always, I went about 13 miles to work. It took me, from when I hugged my family to when I pushed “go” on my computer, about 30 minutes. That’s not bad.

This weekend, I will (again) travel from Minneapolis to Penang, Malaysia. That’s about 9,000 miles. It will, all told, take me about 36 hours from when I leave my home to when I arrive at my hotel.

Why do I mention this?

The car would normally be assumed to travel 40-60 miles per hour. The listed cruise speed of a 777-200 is 585mph. Raw math would tell you the trips should take about 16 minutes and 15.5 hours, respectively! That would be a pretty common gaming calculation for “how fast can I get there?”

The reality is about double that. It includes loading, waiting, forgetting your keys, switching between waypoints, traffic (hopefully not an issue at 37, 000 feet), and other obstacles.

The interesting thing (for me) here is that the inflation factor for trips of over two orders of magnitude different in length both take about twice as long as their cruise speed would indicate. That’s not a bad rule of thumb.

Want to take a trip from one fantasy town to another? They’re 100 miles apart? Your wagon team can usually manage about 3mph? Well, that trip will likely take closer to 66 hours rather than the 33 you’d expect. Now, that DOES include sleep and stuff! This is an all-in time, about three days.

If you want to go faster, you’re now adventuring. It starts to look like the equivalent of a forced march, and will require some skill (and therefore some skill rolls) to execute. Might be Hiking, Riding, Animal Handling, or some professional or area knowledge skill that gets you from A to B. And that’s ONLY if you’re in control of the trip, because it might not work. My trip to Penang, at best, would be me walking out my door at 11am, departing at 1pm, and flying directly to STPG on a Boeing 777-200, Airbus A340-500 or A350-900R, or 787-9. All four of those platforms have a cruise speed of about 560mph, and more importantly, greater than 9,000 mile unrefueled range. So theoretically, they can make the trip in about 18 hours (40 minutes longer than the A340-500 trip I took direct from LA to Singapore! A long time in an aluminum tube). Then deplane and another hour to the hotel. That’s a total time of 21 hours instead of 36. But it requires you to be able to charter your own long-range jet, and nothing to interfere with getting from your home to the airport, airport to the hotel. So lots of luck, there.

Anyway, when considering travel times, I think a good rule of thumb is probably “twice as long as it would take to cover the distance as a straight-shot at cruising speed.”

I love tinkering with rules and mechanics. The things I’ve published have all been basically tweaks to the rules and mechanics of GURPS. I did do one for Frag, once. (Huh . . . all my old articles are available as free samples. Weird.)

But why? The system is pretty darn cool as it is. It’s a freshly-cut Christmas tree, and you can put whatever lights and ornaments you want on it. You have to choose carefully, though. The box of stuff that comes with GURPS will overload any tree. And you’ll lose the specialness of a particular arrangement if it’s ornaments and glitter crowded and overlapping from base to star.

And yet, I write rules. Some of them are really complicated. Some seem that way, but are pretty workable in play.

I write rules in service of narrative. No, really. Why else would you do it? The old Star Wars RPG by West End Games was (and is!) one of my favorite treatments of Star Wars. Ever. It took five minutes or so to make a character (just pick out a template and assign the dice pool the GM gives you), and was able to help steer stunningly playable narrative that just felt like Star Wars. You just needed a ‘blaster,’ or maybe if you were badass, a ‘heavy blaster.’ If you wanted to call it a DL-44 Heavy Blaster Pistol, well, fine. Who cares? Much like Episodes IV-VI, it was all story, flash, and fun, and point-five past lightspeed and stupid comments about making the Kessel Run in less than some number of parsecs. And Han shooting first.

That didn’t mean they didn’t publish weapon, gadget, and especially starship expansions. They did, and I greedily consumed them. But mostly it was flash, and the most fun was had with my group back in college (with me as player) and in grad school (this time as GM) was heavy on plot, and a lot of “roll and shout.” And whip out lightsabers. Any game is made better with lightsabers.

OK, enough Star Wars – but how can someone as detail oriented as I am just love the hell out of such an almost aggressively non-simulationist game? Expectations. For a grounded/realistic game, you’re going to want to ensure your players’ expectations for a believable outcome do not clash with what the results of the game mechanics bring. The outcome must be plausible, believable (not necessarily realistic), and rare events must be, well . . . rare. Or at least something that happens due to good planning (like the nifty rules for “Tactics Re-rolls” on GURPS High Tech  p. 60 of GURPS Martial Arts) or the various versions of luck, such as Destiny Points from Monster Hunters or the Advantage of the same name in Basic.

So the bow design rules were targeted at having a weapon of choice for punching through armor be a gun, not a composite bow. It was not hard to match Strongbow, Arm ST+2, and a Composite Bow with (say) ST 13 to have an effective ST 17 and thr+3, for 1d+5 damage . . . about as much penetration (and injury, though that bothers me not at all; arrows are nasty) as a .40 S&W.

The Last Gasp came from a desire to have lulls and flurries in GURPS combat. But I wanted it playable, so my first thought was “you have to spend a point every time you roll dice.” That didn’t quite work out, but what did come out – Action Points where most normal actions were 1 AP, “All-Out” actions were 2 AP, and various other actions were fairly simple – is intuitive enough that everyone who’s tried it (and written me back to comment) has enjoyed the feel. Once I had Action Points, though, Fatigue Points needed to recover more slowly. That, however, is worthy of its own post.

Technical Grappling? That one was inspired by a desire to have the quality of a grapple not be fixed (currently, a successful grappling attack inflicts -4 DX. Period.), ensure that strength was restored to it’s real-world importance, and allow grappling matches to have all the wonderful color and flavor that hand-to-hand striking and armed combat currently enjoy thanks to Sean and Peter’s GURPS Martial Arts.

What does that have to do with expectations? I studied Hwa Rang Do at the Minneapolis Academy for about ten years. We did serious grappling for eight or nine of them. And the rapidity and finality of “you’re grappled, you’re Arm Locked, you’re crippled” that fell out of certain applications of the existing rules just wasn’t right for reality, and strained suspension of disbelief in any realistic game. Not all grappling combats go like Black Widow taking on a bunch of guys in Iron Man 2. So I came up with an idea. That led to more thoughts. Then a system. Pretty soon, I had enough that I wanted to do a proposal, and after some back-and-forth emails, I had a contract.

So: Whom do I serve? I serve storytelling. I serve telling a believable narrative that allows (but never requires) people to have their characters enter the story in a meaningful way. Granted, I’m a geek with a rather technical background, so frequently that means math as the basis for what I do. I collaborate with people who smack me around when that math needs to be done mid-play, though.

Keeps me honest. We all need that.

Today while doing a home improvement project I had occasion to walk around the house with a dueling version of the venerable “Ten Foot Pole” from Dungeons and Dragons.

Well, not too much – the pole was nine feet long.

Boy was it a pain in the butt. My basement has ceilings that range from seven to nine feet, with nine being the distance, MAYBE from concrete to up inside the joists.

But to wander around with such a thing? In anything resembling a real dungeon? Icky and annoying.

Heck, I self-imposed this on myself while playing Cadmus, my character in the Pathfinder-inspired GURPS Dungeon Fantasy campaign I play in on Tuesdays. He’s an axe-and-shield guy, but I wanted him to also be skilled in a long weapon, and so I chose a dueling poleaxe, with spear, hammerhead, and pick. But realistically, a Reach 2,3 (6-9 foot beyond the 1-yard hex he’s standing in)  weapon is just unwieldy. I kept making jokes to the GM about “can’t I have one of those Highlander polearms, that you can just procure out of nowhere and that doesn’t encumber you at all?”

GURPS gives Bulk ratings only to ranged weapons; Holdout penalties in the Basic Set come close, but top out at -6 for a “heavy sniper rifle,” and a bastard sword is -5. A longbow, which is going to be six or seven feet long, is -8. I came up with a formula (as I always do) for Bulk as a function of length for The Deadly Spring (my article in Pyramid #3/33) making Bulk equal to 9 – 9*log(weapon length in inches). If you have a crossbow, add the length of the bow-part to the length of the stock. So a 9-foot pole is -9, and a 10-footer is -10.

If you apply this (or some fraction thereof) as a penalty to DX to move around with the damn thing, especially in a hurry, well, given how many times I banged it into the ceiling, it reality checks well.