This post contains links to the entire GURPS Action series, reviewed in detail.
Today I cover GURPS Action 4: Specialists. This 36-page book is something a bit different for GURPS, and that something is really cool. It’s not quite “Pointless GURPS,” which I covered when Sean wrote about it in Pyramid #3/72 (Alternate Dungeons). But it’s not not-that, either.
This is an approach I love, frankly. Chunks of easy to pick out building blocks that aren’t templates per se, but make character creation fast and accessible.
Much like Action 1, the introduction is short but critical. The mission statement bears repeating, and since it’s included in the preview, I can just quote it selectively.
There are many situations where the speedy approach is a little too
- When a player desires a hero more individualized than Heroes and Furious Fists allow – often one that falls between two templates – but doesn’t want to wade through the entire Basic Set or risk omitting important abilities.
- When a player is inspired by a favorite fictional character who breaks the mold (as so many action heroes do!).
- When a player – particularly a late joiner – wants to carve out a niche by stopping specific gaps in a team’s abilities.
- When the GM wants a power level different from 250 points, such as in an “origins” campaign about neophyte heroes, or in a one-on-one game that pits a high-budget action star against the world.
- When action heroes need lower-powered NPC sidekicks . . . or enemies!
Yes, I realize that this is a total crock. I mean, just look at the Iron Monger suit compared to the Mark III). Still, fun quote.
My GURPS Aeon Campaign character was in a bit of a fix. He wasn’t really shining in his designated role of, well, Commander. That was both his name, and his mission, and frankly, his skill set.
He’s got an amazing number of points in Wildcard skills. Actually, that’s not exactly true. His breakdown for what seems like 1,250-1,300 points is something like
So you can see that while he is a powerful character with very good stats, they’re spread around. They are, in fact, spread around quite a bit. His overall good-to-great levels of stats contain one truly exceptional one – ST 24, boosted to ST 28 from his combat suit. The rest is a high DX 18, IQ 14, and HT 16. His Perception and Will are boosted to the campaign maximum, or near enough – they’re both 18 or 19.
His powers include his enhanced ST, and a couple of 50-pointers. So nothing huge from a telekinesis/energy control perspective. It’s not 200 points dumped into one power, but it is a set of alternate abilities. But by and large, it’s a collection of 50-70-points-or-lower powers that give him a DR-granting force field, enhanced ST, catfall, and some attack powers – notably his kinetic blast(s), both of which are double knockback to the tune of 5d.
His wildcard skills have some overlap in places – and this is where I really missed out.
You see, when talking to +Christopher R. Rice about why the character was not playing out “on screen” in a more satisfactory manner, the thing that really stuck is that his niche was command, but he was not being terribly effective in the role. We kept walking into terrible tactical situations, getting ambushed, and generally making like the Keystone cops. Not “Call it, Captain.”
We swapped out his power set a bit, but also spent some points on some Pyramid-based options – particularly Foresight, from Pyr #3/53. That gave him the ability to narratively alter the environment a bit, which proved critical in S1E11, as we were able to retroactively deal with an incoming air strike. That wasn’t even unfair – we’d explicitly discussed “having to deal with the air support,” and in the moment, we were able to say “oh, sure, we’d figured out a way to fox the bomber’s targeting computers.”
But the real trick was that part of The Commander’s legend was that he’d fought a powerful super – the Combustible Man – in a series of battles where The Commander and his SEAL team defeated The Combustible Man. More than once.
I just couldn’t figure out how. I mean, sure, he’s strong . . . but at ST 28 (Basic Lift about 155 lbs) he can probably lift a motorcycle over his head – like Captain America in The First Avenger. But while that’s strong, it’s not “lifting tanks” strong. His forcefield and DR will bounce a .50-caliber bullet, but not anything much more than that, and in the last few adventures, he was threatened by armor piercing explosive grenades and demon-needles, both with an armor divisor.
And the raw skill numbers deliberately topped out at mostly less than 18.
But then we started looking hard at Wildcard skills, as I noted earlier. In particular, Stealth. And some Tactics. In combat situations, he beats down with
Ah ha. Ah HA!
The thing about skill levels of 20+ is that you use them. They allow you to have a fighting chance of taking “instant use” or “impossible odds” penalties. At Skill-24, you can do it at a -10 and still succeed 90% of the time.
So, how was I playing The Commander wrong? He was too much Captain America, and not enough Batman. And as they saying goes, be yourself. Unless you can be Batman.
In the last fight, S1E11, he went full Batman. He had the right amount of terrain to vanish into. He’d move from behind this HVAC unit to behind that skylight. And by and large, no one would see him. He ran rings around a dangerous foe – General Cortez – and eventually wound up taking off one of his legs in a sneak-by stealthing. One lucky goon critically succeeded on his Perception roll, saw The Commander move, and was promptly killed by rifle fire.
The key bit here is that with as many points – synergistic points – scattered in many different abilities, I lost track of what he was good at, and in this case, playing him as the from-the-front guy in terms of standing visibly in the fray.
That’s not him. He makes the plan, and leads it, but he’s the sneaky recon guy who’s providing up-to-the-minute information originating a foot from the bad guy’s pancreas. He strikes from concealment, doing 5d+14 crush or cut as needed (that’s like 9d crush, or the equivalent of a .338 Lapua in terms of piercing damage). His hand-to-hand damage with his sword is second only to his ridiculously powerful technomagical super-bullets, which seem to have a large explosive radius, an armor divisor, and no real fall-off within the explosive’s distance. Three rounds took out eight guys in formation in S1E11. At once.
Once I started playing the synergy? The Commander became a force to be reckoned with. Before that?
Not so much.
The Action books (Action 1 and Action 2 reviews from prior posts) have a tendency to pack important points into the introduction. Furious Fists follows Action 1 as having a vital mission statement easily accessible but too-easily missed. For emphasis, let me repeat it:
GURPS Action 3: Furious Fists cuts to the chase and offers rules for creating and playing martial-artist PCs with a straightforward role: Defeat bad guys in situations where guns are forbidden, too noisy, or flat-out uncool, and kick the butt of rival martial artists.
The emphasis has been added by me. These rules are not designed to make you bulletproof, and sprinting into a hail of gunfire will meet with the same level of success as it did in the Boxer Rebellion.
The chapter starts with advice – use the template lenses to spread your points around non-combat skills, because your template is of the “beat people up with your feet and fists” variety. It probably begins the heavy trend of “customization notes” that mark the later worked-example books as so valuable.
The subsection on Lenses closes with a large box on Campaign Types. It gives some nudges on how to fit character types into each style of campaign, noting that police officers rarely behead people with swords, and that playing a martial artist commando still means you need to figure out how to deal with guns without getting dead. This advice – namely you can’t spin kick a bullet – is repeated frequently in the text because GURPS does not convey automatic script immunity to chop-socky fans.
Another large box gives an 8-step program to figure out the final melee damage of martial artists with complicated power-builds. This is a great example of usefully front-loading calculation once, and then simply using that number for the rest of time.
Next-to-last is a big section called “Some Bulletproof Advice,” which details how to keep martial artists alive when bullets are flying. Some alternate rules, lots of stealth (they can’t shoot you if they’re incapacitated with their triggers untouched), and the 4Ds of bullet survival in GURPS: Dodge, Drop, Duck, and . . . Dodge. Failing that: Luck.
The book offers five new templates, each with a niche that supports a certain type of play.
The Big Guy likes to wade in and deal solid hits to his foes. With high ST and the highest HT of all the templates, he has the moxie to take it as well as dish it out. It offers five ways to customize the template that deal with how the big guy fights. From MMA to sumotori to a streeght fighter.
The Fast Guy is your archetypical martial artist, and the section starts out with a fantastic quote from the Brandon Lee/Dolph Lundgren movie Showdown in Little Tokyo. The template’s DX is sky-high, HT is adequate, and the ST is almost too low (I’d buy it up to 13 or 14 to give that 1d thrust rating).
The customization notes allow the float like a butterfly boxer, the standard technique master, and the aikido “use their strength against him” advice, plus a few more.
The Ninja is a little less dexterous, a little smarter, and slightly less hardy (lower HT) to pay for that choice. You can be an infiltration expert, a master of stealth and striking from out of combat, a modern-day electronics whiz, or the batman type that uses stealth to get close enough to engage in an unfair fight, but not an assassination.
Finally, the template is rounded out by a very unusual “martial artist” type – the Traceur. These acrobatics and running experts are a first for most of the RPGs I’ve seen, but they are a very interesting character type. The focus here is on DX and HT, with ST an dIQ being fairly unexceptional.
The template is filled with jumping, acrobatics, climbing, and balance. Plus Running. Lots of running! The customization notes highlight variants. The Free Runner is a master of urban acrobatics, and YouTube is full of these guys. The Monkey is the vertical element to the Free Runner’s horizontal. The punk is a streetfighter with lots of acro to move around the battlefield, while the Urban Explorer seems to be able to navigate any structure, though isn’t in it for the flashy.
Finally, the weapon’s master, who at least is bringing a knife to a gunfight, if not a sword. A bit higher ST, suitably high DX (but not as high as the Fast Guy), and OK IQ and HT. Weapon Bond and Weapon Master are, of course, required.
Customization is basically by weapon type. Knives, swords (fencing and the traditional katana-wielding Bride), and sticks make up four of the five options, but there’s a fifth: the Sarge, for adding a bit of hand-to-hand beatdown to your military types.
Martial Arts Abilities
This chapter makes up about a third of the content of the book, but has, by far, the most Table-of-Contents entries, since it details all sorts of abilities that might be found in a martial artist.
In the Advantages section, each martial artsy advantage is detailed with a “how it applies to Action games” hat on. Some special mods, such as a variant of Zeroed for Ninja, provide worked-example tweaks for these modern cinematic games.
The Perks can be a lot of fun. Any book which includes “Deadly Pose” for extra-intimidating kills and dismemberment is worth a read. There are some real gems in there, too, such as a perk that exempts you from “nuisance” rolls to judge the success of “off-screen” parkour and climbing, allowing very rapid off-camera movement (the prerequisites for this are high).
The technique chapter re-introduces many of the techniques found in the Basic Set and GURPS Martial Arts, but just pre-prices allowed levels (so you won’t see Disarming (A), you just buy the level you want from a list. There are a lot of techniques listed, and some of them – notably the pakour/free-running ones – are new, I think, with this volume. Very handy for other game types.
As always, anyone can try a technique at the 0-point level (and that skill level is listed for each one).
Martial Arts Weapons
Pretty much what it says on the tin.
The last three pages of the book (well, almost the last, but p. 26 is the index) give some Action-oriented combat rules that are particular to martial artist types.
There are some tweaks here that make for good choices. An All-Out option for Acrobatic Stand. Bashing two foes’ heads together. Two more Extra Effort options. Ranged Rapid Strikes and Very Rapid Strikes.
As noted by the author himself, adding this much detail to an Action game can take it out of the ‘fast and light’ regime and into the ‘get pizza while Bruce Chan and Norris Van Damme figure out how many times they have to roll dice here.’
That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there’s a reason +Peter V. Dell’Orto, one of the authors of GURPS Martial Arts, chops down the list of available options in his Felltower Dungeon Fantasy game. Too much detail is just too much detail, and there’s no getting out of that.
The gems in this book are the simple and extra combat rules at the end of the book, plus the boxed texts that really provide great advice as to how to run these campaigns with hand-to-hand character types in a world of guns.
I haven’t written about it yet, but this advice works. In actual play, first-hand experience. You can be on a foe, take him out, and disappear into the shadows. You’re Batman, and it doesn’t even strain verisimilitude if it’s done right.
This isn’t my favorite book in the Action series. The best is Action 2, which I frequently refer to as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Next-best is the yet-to-be-reviewed Action 4. Action 1 is required, but not terribly gonzo, and this fits right in there with that one – good, solid, professional advice on how to build effective characters for an Action game, paired with good, solid, professional advice on how not to get lead poisoning while doing it
In my review of Action 2, the gift that keeps on giving, I noted that there were several frameworks for thinking through things in a structured way. One was Assess, Analyze, Act, and Avoid.
I decided to apply that to the Aeon campaign, and specifically to The Commander, my 1,300-point (or so) super-soldier.
What does that look like?
For subtle: The Rat Queen can be sneaky by virtue of tiny rats. My guy can do Stealth based on SEAL! (so SEAL!-17 I think). Arc Light is notoriously non-subtle. 🙂 Eamon looks just like a guy, and Murui can probably do sneak as well being a martial artist, but not sure.
But we don’t do a great job of casing the joint, so to speak, and I think we need an SOP here. Let’s do journalism:
What skills and skill rolls will help tip the scales here?
I have forgotten Tactics rolls more than once.
But we could have done Architecture to figure out the layout. Blueprints for entrances and exits ahead of time. Research for hidden lore, etc, before we started sprinting into the fray.
My primary skills for the analyze phase include Ten-Hut! at a level of 16 or 18 (IQ+2 or IQ+4), which covers a bunch of nice stuff, plus SEAL! at the same level, which has Interrogation, Intimidation, and some other militarily useful abilities, including Intelligence Analysis so I can take all the recon data and incorporate it into a Tactics roll. Part and parcel of that is also Observation.
Act: The Commander
Defense: Parry-14 with his sword. Dodge is nothing special. TK block with the sword. Armor is worth about DR 20, plus another forward-facing force field (TK) for DR 40 total. This field is projectable if need be.
All of the above are very, very lethal.
My other talents are moving things around the battlefield with 5d double knockback TK blasts. I can transfer energy from place to place, and this can be stunted such as with the earthquake.
My martial arts skills are solid.
My ability to recon an area would be insanely good – the go-to guy for this – if it weren’t for the Rat Queen’s ability to do all of that stuff better than I can. So I’m backup recon guy, but probably the #1 player in the “make a tactical plan” department for when we remember to make one. I describe this as “Call it, Captain” from the Avengers.
|“Call it, Captain.”|
Once we get into the action, my guy is often the one who does recon-by-fire. He sees a target, and fires a few normal bullets into it to see how it reacts. He usually aims for the leg, unless the hostiles (like the demons in S1E8) are obviously in the “kill on sight” category.
Beyond that, he can do lesser damage via grappling and battlefield prep and denial via TK abilities.
Diffuse foes? Screwed from a damage perspective, but not from a dispersal one.
His DR is good, but not great, and we keep running into things with (2) through (5) armor divisors, which means my DR 40 becomes DR 20 (not bad, about 5d+2) down to DR 8 (2d+1). So he’s protected but not immune to stuff. His defenses tend to be best when leveraging Weapon Master to parry at -2 per additional, starting at Parry-14, Parry-15 with a retreat.
With all of that, he’s not the front-line combatant here. Our “Hulk? Smash” players are the Rat Queen in Ogre mode and Arc Light, especially with our newly discovered Fastball Special, where he can deal out basically 6dx10 crushing damage, absorbing the blowback on himself
He’s most useful in clearing the field of “normals” that might threaten his teammates somehow. He can wade through those guys – often with Zephyr the martial artist’s help – at a rate of 1-2 per turn. He’s surprisingly less useful thus far against the powered set.
Well, unless there’s killin’ to be done. Then he’s got three magazines worth of rifle ammo – the result of a one-off gizmo – that do something like 6d(3) with a follow on 10d explosion. That’s 63 points of penetration on the average (just shy of 1″ of steel) with an explosion that will almost always be internal for x3 damage, which can in fact do about 100 points on the average. So if there’s a legit target for lethal force, The Commander can provide it if there’s enough time to swap magazines, and the target sets off the explosion.
I wonder if I can get one of those nifty dual-mag carbines from Ultra-Tech . . .
This is a continuation of my comprehensive review of the Action series. The first volume, Action 1: Heroes, was 35 pages long, and revolved around creating characters, mostly via the vehicle of providing character templates and the means for fleshing them out. But it also fleshed out the concept of Wildcard skills, as well as how to leverage the usual patrons and organizations that are frequently at the centerpiece of action-oriented stories.
Exploits is different. It’s the campaign book, which provides advice on how to both run and play in these campaigns. A hallmark of action-adventure stories – especially movies – is that they’re not always quite so concerned about getting things exactly right as they are with striking the proper mood and keeping the audience at the edge of their seat. This volume helps the GM and players achieve a similar feel.
I’ll lead with the conclusion, and then hopefully back it up: this particular volume is one of the most under-appreciated works in the GURPS pantheon.
Cover-to-cover, the book is 50 pages long, and unlike the first volume, instead of large blocks of text or page-count given to variations on (say) character templates, the table of contents is filled with page after page of advice and rules distillations, served up in small chunks.
It’s worth a brief rundown of what’s covered before the detailed dive.
One page. Less importantly profound than the intro from Action 1, it does present that the book is a “collection of simple rules for resolving classic action situations.” The watchword here is if it’s doable on a movie screen, possibly a movie screen with a lot of wirework and bullet time, it’s covered in the book.
Challenges, Not Headaches
Two pages. This chapter presents three subsections, each of which is designed to set the tone for skill and ability usage. The concept of Basic Abstract Difficulty – a general penalty that replaces a lot of the potentially time-consuming fiddling to get precise penalties for skill use in GURPS – is covered here. But to keep the game moving as well as focus on team-based play (think Oceans Eleven rather than James Bond) simple rules for complimentary skills and teamwork are given.
Five pages. Roughly half advice for having an adventure ready and the subcomponents of finding (or being given) a mission, assembling gear (a very important but potentially time-consuming part of the game), deciding what is the objective, and importantly, what is not, and getting there.
Also given equal weight are a series of common things than any well-oiled tactical squad will have worked out ahead of time . . . and these pages serve as a ridiculously useful checklist of common questions for nearly any game or genre.
Tricks of the Trade
20 pages. The largest singe chapter in the book, it contains nine section-level (in GURPS author lingo, these are B-HEADs) items, covering how to gather intelligence on the objective, how to obtain information – willingly or unwillingly – from other people through direct and indirect manipulation, planning and training, infiltration and tactical movement, including (actually, mostly dealing with) barriers to free movement.
Other sections include grabbing and carrying your prize, blowing stuff up, deceptive measures and countermeasures from false IDs to spoofing a polygraph, and of course both exiting the objective location and ensuring that you are either undetected or protected while doing so. To turn the tables, the chapter ends with what happens when the mission comes to the PCs, if they’re in charge of protecting an objective instead of violating it.
12 pages. This one’s only two sections – one on chases and another on combat. Almost all of the detail here is to keep things fast and light. Much of it is exportable to the right non-action game.
When Things Go Wrong
Three pages. A quick summary of what it means to be wounded, dealing with the typical chemical and biological threats those pesky terrorists keep bringing to the sandbox, as well as poisons and overdoses for that typical Tuesday night. More mechanically-oriented problems are dealt with in the section on repairs. Finally, it’s a genre trope that the heroes will be captured, have the Evil Plan explained to them in stupid detail, and then escape. Rules and trope-enablers are provided.
Directing the Action
Five pages. Five rapid-fire sections to help the GM, and a not-to-be-missed box on what GURPS options, if used, will throw a bucket of cold water on the Action Hero genre expectations.
The section on Campaign Types calls out which of the specialized rules and challenges are likely (or expected) to show up in a given milieu. Typical methods for using and abusing Assistance Rolls are described in list form in another section. How to properly inflict a character with a Duty in a way that it’s not just part of the background gets a whole section that is perhaps three paragraphs long.
This chapter also details in monster write-up format the difference between Mooks and Henchmen, and the various versions of Bosses. Oh, plus dogs and killer robots.
Finally, a few words on what happens as the firemen and EOD guys tamp down the last smoldering embers of the PCs passage and the clean-up crews are doing their thing . . . and the local legal profession starts up to properly defend the perps against the charges that will surely be brought. Hope you make your Law (Police) roll!
There’s a lot to like about this book, and to pick out every individual piece would simply take too long and honestly might spoil the need to buy the book. Nonetheless, I’ll go through and pick out particularly juicy pieces as highlights . . . but some of this stuff is worth a dedicated post, and I’ll be doing that too.
Chapter One: Challenges Not Headaches
It’s a short chapter, but it’s dedicated to a few basic principles that are good things to keep in mind:
The pattern of “here are some key adventuring tasks, and here’s how to resolve them” continues, of course. But some key sections are worth noting . . . and stealing for other games.
Of the two, the Chases subsystem accomplishes the goal better, in that it splits a chase into actions of “less than a minute.” This might be a few seconds or much longer (the two cars streak down the busy road dodging traffic for two or three miles), but it excludes certain tasks that in no way could fit into the allotted time. It’s a GM’s call whether characters with extreme skill can use the time rules to execute long tasks within those turns, but to keep the focus on the chase, my feeling would be no.
Chases are divided into abstract rounds, then, and into Pursuer and Quarry. Each round, the two parties select from some pre-determined maneuvers (14 of them) such as Move (the generic try-and-catch-up maneuver), Hide, or Attack. The victory conditions are assessed in a Chase roll that accounts for the starting (and again, abstract) distance between pursuer and quarry, with the goal being to close or extend the distance, and then force the chase to end (this happens automatically if the range band of the chase extends past extreme).
GURPS has so many rules for combat that it’s easy to get bogged in the details, and loving attention to combat is part of the genre – but it’s supposed to be fast-paced action.
The first section offers a section on simplified shooting. It’s in the vein of my Q&D Guns above, but a bit less so. The highest utility comes from the use of the range band table to set the overall range penalties for the fight, which tends to be the fiddly-bit that, especially at close range, can slow the game down because the penalties tend to move around a lot within the reach of a Move or Step.
The bulk of the chapter offers some mild simplifications to combat, and also enables some cinematic rules as switches to allow a bit more in the way of Awesome. They borrow liberally from the wealth of mechanics available to the GURPS GM, but put the info in easy reach – for example, there are several variants of the Martial Arts rule “Shoving People Around” that are critical for Action movies.
There are rules – similar to or borrowed from Thieves in Dungeon Fantasy – to let those with high sneakitude get the most of their abilties to disappear and reappear from combat by blending in with shadows or striking suddenly from within them.
Cinematic combat options and Extra Effort get blown out for more ways to be cool and exhaust yourself doing so on ways that provide more heroic opportunity. And a nifty set of rules for “pulling aggro” in order to taunt people into focusing their ire on you rather than the non-combat-oriented hacker.
Chapter Five: When Things Go Wrong
This chapter is essentially a list of skill tests, with appropriate description. How to use each skill to execute typical tasks for healing, diseases, and toxins. There’s a quick section on vehicular repairs that follows the same pattern.
The vehicular repair rules are a very simple way of tracking damage and function, and also restoring it with the proper rolls. Unlike characters, who can continue to be not-dead from -HP down to -5xHP, vehicles just die at -HP, which is a good way to keep things simple. A few special-case situations that commonly call for skill rolls (“Scotty, I need more power for the shields!”) are also treated.
There’s also a half-page box on how and when to use the various metagame Luck advantages – or buying successes with character points – in genre. This includes Daredevil and Serendipity.
Finally, there are a few notes about the skills to roll for restraints and escaping them.
Chapter Six: Directing the Action
The final chapter consists on five pages that are aimed straight at the GM, rather than both the players and the GM. It also has a statement that works well here, but would be equally a home (and perhaps usefully repeated) in the book’s introduction.
“The ultimate outcome of an action story is predictable, after all: The heroes will win, like in the movies. This is a key difference between action gaming and genres such as fantasy and horror, where challenges are often confusing, weird, and unknowable.”
The first section on Campaign types lists challenges found in Exploits that are best-fits to the campaign types listed in Action 1: Heroes (which also lists the characters best suited to tackle that campaign). It tells you what tasks are good, and what types of help or equipment might be suitable or not-so-suitable for a game (mercenaries for a secret mission are likely to be disavowed, rather than being supported by a company of Rangers if things get tight).
In the same vein as “not appropriate for a campaign style,” a half-page box gives ten rules to avoid or eliminate from Action-Adventure games. Such as Regular Contests (boring!) detailed tracking of fatigue for uses other than Extra Effort (roll that into BAD), or Fright Checks (these are bad-asses, not mooks; they don’t got time to scream). And magic, because Action-Adventure, not sword-and-sorcery . . . though if magical spells replaces or supplements guns, you have The Dresden Files, which would be a fine Action-Adventure/Mystery crossover.
Much like many parts of the book talk about skill tasks and how they face the player, the chapter also hits some details on Assistance Rolls – possible requests, the rolls required to get that effect, and the resolution of such.
And since the primary foes in action adventure movies are either other humans or the clock, three “classes” of enemies are provided: Mooks, Henchmen, and Bosses, with brief potential write-ups for each. Given the generalities involved, these are high level, with advice such as “one to three scenario-relevant skills at level 10-15” instead of a detailed blow-by-blow for each type of potential adversary.
The book ends with utility – what can happen after the action dies down and it’s time for the wrap-up, and a long 3/4-page box on how to ensure that, unlike the typical action movie (which is usually only one or two protagonists), that every character is kept relevant to the game without dominating a campaign or even a scene to the exclusion of all others. A character can be the brightest light in the room while still not losing the rest of the party in the glare.
I don’t mean to short-change any particular chapter, or indeed the huge swaths of the book that are “little more” than a set of tasks, the skills needed to accomplish them, and then any skills or modifiers that are used to resist or oppose that action. That is the lion’s share of improv and lookup a GM has to do during a game, and this book has taken nearly every Action trope and done the work for you, in advance.
Between Action 1 and Action 2, you have a compact (but not that compact – the two together run 85 pages) genre distillation that gives you fast-start character templates, another “template” for putting together adventures and looking for work, a “template” in Act, Assess, Analyze, etc. for the important components of an action-adventure story, and a giant list of prefabricated tasks and modifiers for executing these.
The only thing I could wish for, because of the need to actually find the task at hand, would be to reduce all of those tasks to a tabular format. Perhaps a list that might include:
I’d leave complimentary skills out, and special effects or conditions can be handled in depth by the page reference under Tasks, though things like “Take margin of success as damage” might be worth a reference. A similar table could be created for Assistance Rolls from Chapter Six.
All in all, I still maintain that this book in particular is one of the most under-appreciated books published for GURPS, because while it makes for dense reading, there are something like a half-dozen to a dozen key simplifications and concepts that take a lot of the “what modifiers do I look for now” slog out of the game. The rest of the book represents a distilled list of a bloody ton of adventuring tasks that the Line Editor must have run across in his own long-running Action/Adventure campaign, packaged up nice and neatly for consumption – but you’ll want to be facile with using FIND for skills here in your PDF, because that’s probably the best way to turn this excellent book into a highly usable quick-reference guide.
This is a very comprehensive review of Action 1. I had started to write one post per chapter, but even I find that annoying after a bit. So I’m combining my two prior posts with this one, which finishes up with chapters 3 and 4. The review is almost 4,500 words long . . . so buckle up.
I’m going to drop the page break here, because otherwise it’s the same as the prior post – but it does more than just repeat them, it finishes out the review and adds the summary.
Great, so you went out and purchased GURPS Action 1: Heroes. Excellent choice. Your discernment makes you a paragon among men.
So open it up. Read the introduction. Good. Read it again.
Now read it again.
Got it? Good, because it’s that important.
No surprise for +Sean Punch, but I’m not kidding when I say that the introduction is very key to this entire series. In six tightly written paragraphs, our fearless author sets out some very important caveats for the book. They’re important enough that I’m going to deal with just this one page in a post by itself.
|Ninja Nazis. We hate these guys.|
Chapter 1 – Action Templates
OK. This chapter is the guts of the book, really. How to make Heroes by making relatively easy selections.
The contents of the chapter – what SJG Style refers to as B-HEADs, which are important subsections – shall be three, and they are as follows:
I’m going to quibble a tetch with the order here, because I think the Campaign Types should have come first. The very first thing the GM needs to tell you is what kind of campaign you’re going to play. You may yet be able to play a Criminal lens in a Law Enforcement campaign (“OK, OK, OK . . . “), but it’ll save time if you know what’s important and what’s not.
So I’m going to skip around:
A scant page-and-a-quarter, nonetheless it hits nine common campaign archetypes: cops (Lethal Weapon), crooks (Oceans Number or The Italian Job), soldiers for hire (Expendables, A-Team, Ronin), spy and counterspy (Bond, maybe Bourne), Task Force (Sword of Gideon, perhaps; GI Joe almost by definition), spies for hire (Burn Notice), vigilante justice (Taken), and War on Terror (The Unit TV show).
The real names in the book are slightly different for some of those. Point is, there are nine, they’re somewhere between very and subtly different, and the flavor will influence your selection of characters and lenses.
Which is why each campaign type lists common and uncommon roles. And perhaps more importantly, you get statements like this:
“The driver of the SWAT van or chopper might be a wheel man, and an EMT could be a medic, but NPCs often fill these roles. Few forces have full-time assassins, cleaners, or infiltrators aboard.”
So yeah, you can play character type X, but high risk of being bored. If you play character type Y, you may strain willing suspension of disbelief as you figure out how a full-time assassin works for the EPA.
Not putting this first confuses me a bit, but it’s a quibble. The lenses section (detailed next) is roughly the same size (maybe a page or page and a half) so it’s not as if either is a slog.
Another short chapter, this one gives five detailed and six cursory “lenses” to add flavor to your character. They represent 20 points – less than 10% of a given templates value, and do not add to the point total (they’re subsumed into the template cost).
For each template, advice is given on which of the many options presented in the typical GURPS template wall-of-text to choose to reflect a certain flavor. A criminal shooter might have brawling and intimidation and favor cheap and easily discarded weaponry, while a security-lensed shooter might be a bodyguard, with ridiculous levels of Pistol and SMG skill. Your classic military shooter has broad experience with full-auto, crew-served, artillery, and rocket launchers that civilian specialties might lack.
That guidance – lean towards X and Y rather than P and Q – can be quite helpful and will speed the process a bit.
Obligatory Panning of Blocks of Text
I’ve noted this before – I like templates but do not like how they’re presented on the paper. The format is basically the aforementioned wall of text. This is space-efficient but hides the utility of the template, which is the rapid presentation and assimilation of 250 points worth of choices.
This is a bit tough, because the book is already in two-column format, and my personal druthers would have the choices being bulleted out even further, with more white space.
So instead of:
Advantages: Gunslinger  and Luck . • A further 30
points chosen from among lens advantages (pp. 4-5), ST +1
to +3 [10/level], DX +1 , IQ +1 , HT +1 to +3
[10/level], Per +1 to +6 [5/level], Basic Speed +1 , Basic
Move +1 to +3 [5/level], Acute Vision [2/level], . ..
you might instead get
o ST +1 to +3 [10/level]
o DX +1 , IQ +1 
o HT +1 to +3 [10/level]
o Per +1 to +6 [5/level]
o Basic Speed +1 
o Basic Move +1 to +3 [5/level]
o Acute Vision [2/level]
Chapter 2 – Action Hero Cheat Sheet
This continues my deep-dive into the GURPS Action Series. I hit the Introduction and the Templates in prior posts, and now I move on to Chapter 2, the Action Heroes’ Cheat Sheet.
This is a worked example of something that’s recommended for most campaigns. Recommended enough that SJG hosts a web application – the Trait Sorter – to allow GMs to create such custom lists.
What’s the list? Or lists, rather? The appropriate Advantages, Disadvantages, Skills and other abilities or notes for the particular campaign. Or in this case, genre.
Mostly, in this case Sean was weeding out magic, psionics, powers, and other supernatural or paranormal abilities that are not commonly found in pure action movies.
Of course, one of the reasons you play GURPS is so that if you suddenly want your action flick to take a turn for the bizarre, you can do it without breaking stride. But still, the bare bones of a genre treatment is what’s provided for here, and the chapter starts with a straightforward list of allowable Advanatages.
It’s not totally normal, though. It’s action movie normal. So Catfall and 3D Spatial Sense and Very Rapid Healing are all in there, because by Yoda the hero is going to be on her feet by the movie’s climax.
The book also tweaks or adjusts a few of the advantages. Two new variants of Enhanced Dodge are given (Dive for Cover and Vehicular Dodge). Extra benefits are provided for Gunslinger – and it needs them, because as presented in the Basic Set, it’s a poor choice relative to just taking +6 to skill at slightly lower cost (if there are questions on this, I can show my work upon request – it’s not hard to fathom).
You also get to variants of Higher Purpose, two more of Quick Gadgeteer, and four five-point talents specific to action-movie goodness.
|Clearly laden with physical disads. Yup.|
A boxtext also provides four Gun Perks. As it came before both Gun Fu and Tactical Shooting, this might have been the first time these were presented, but perhaps not. They provide a nice entry into John Woo style gunplay.
The supplement makes no bones about supernatural and magical disads. Paranormal is Right Out.
But it also takes a lot of the crippling physical disads and tosses them out the window, with prejudice. Most action heroes are on the “dear god I want to be that man” end of the physical fitness spectrum.
The supplement goes further than this, suggesting not just a limit of -50 points for both Disads and buying down sub-attributes, but suggests ways to play this for fun rather than pain in some cases – it uses Lecherousness as an example, but it’s easy to find others. While playing Alcoholism for kicks is no joke to some, it was used effectively in both Independence Day (Russel Casse) and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica (Col. Tigh).
This would have been good advice in the past, as I remember a game I ran where I had to fend off more than one one-legged, one-armed midget commando types. For a Black Ops game.
Important specialties are pointed out for specificity, especially where “you need to have this specialty to use this typical action-movie plot staple” are concerned.
A full page-worth is spent on Wildcard skills, which are appropriate for broadly capable characters. A template-specific Wildcard skill is given for each template in the series.
There’s also good advice on when to not use Wildcard skills. Diversity in skills for both expertise and characterization can be vital.
Chapter 3 – Pulling Rank
The third chapter is two pages long. That’s it. But it packs a lot into those two pages, and for modern games the advice is priceless.
Most – not all, but most – Action games that resolve around groups of PCs will involve organizations, which means that other than window dressing, the players may well – in fact, they should – want to leverage the capabilities of those organizations in order to achieve their goals. The higher the Rank within an organization – set by the background Lens you selected – the easier it is to get what you want.
The first subsection contains a generically useful set of of modifiers for rolling against the svelte Assistance Table found at the bottom of p. 24. Who’s asking, for what you’re asking, and whether it’s a valid request or certifiably insane are the basics. Positive modifiers are generally small, because it’s Rank that dominates. Negative modifiers are larger.
The section breaks out roughly 20 types of assistance that can be requested, and notes that different lenses are more likely to be successful at asking for different things, assuming you can ask for them at all. Various types of help can include gear, information, extra personnel, cash, more gear, and legal sanction to perform certain activities. It’s a great list, and if not necessarily explicitly comprehensive and exhaustive, it’s close enough to either get what you need or provide guidance for other requests.
Results of Success
So, the request goes through, and you get what you want, right?
Not necessarily. Success means “they’ll do the best they can,” but that’s not a guarantee that the GM’s plot has just been circumscribed. There are all sorts of ways this can go wrong. The book points to relevant sections of the Basic Set for guidance . . . and of course, the answer may be “yes,” but also “help will be there in five hours.”
But the bomb goes off in two . . .
Chapter 4 – Gear
The gear chapter is almost as long as the templates one. Chapter 4 serves as the “stuff” version of Chapter 2, pulling as much useful rules and supplies as possible into one quick-reference chapter spanning eight pages instead of the entire book.
There are a few places where I might quibble with the rules used, and I’ll note them. But by and large, this chapter delivers in being a summary of typical gear found in action-style stories and movies.
Tools and Gadgets
The first bit is a simplified and consolidated take on modifying gear, taking into account the advancements in game design since the Basic Set came out (basically: cost factor, but also something akin to complimentary skill rolls). These rules simplify and replace those found elsewhere. Action is meant as a condensation/genre treatment, so things here overwrite other rules in many places.
You get things that make you go boom, burglar/entry tools both cinematic and realistic, and rules for each. A good consolidation of Combat Accessories from Load-Bearing Vests to flashlights, with night-vision scopes and holsters included.
One nitpick: I’d have done something differently for silencers (suppressors!). The game charges -1 to Bulk per -1 to Hearing. That might be a bit much. I’d probably hit Bulk with -2 for pistols (flat rate; the gun plus supressor is usually twice as big as the gun itself), but only -1 for rifles. The suppressor even for a .50-caliber rifle, is not as long as the gun! Still, “you get what you want, but have to pay for it” works fine.
The chapter goes on to list out, in one place, items from rope to lighting to surveillance gear. Basically, the authors have gone through all of the prior existing GURPS books and brought the stuff that you want up to date and put it in one place.
Armor and Clothing and Weapons (Guns)
This includes the protection and offensive categories. A standard, brief table of modern TL8 armor, with appropriate footnotes and weights and up-to-date costs is included, which should simplify the shopping trip. It does include rarely-worn items like ballistic sleeves and leggings.
The Firearms Table updates using generic weapons and common calibers the same content from the Basic Set, but hits the right tone in what’s selected. The Auto Backup Pistol, .40 is basically the Kahr Mk40 (or something like it, like the Springfield XD-S or Smith and Wesson M&P Shield). It hits the fighting calibers and movie props (that’d be the Desert Eagle, because you have to have your Agents sporting them, but come on . . . ), as well as less-than-lethal pepper spray and taser. And one grenade launcher.
No rocket launchers so you can do Commando. Sorry. Make up for it with better tactics and more than one attacker. Heat and Ronin, remember.
Four simple types of alternate ammunition, and a listing of melee weapons rounded out for TL8 materials and costs.
The strongest part of this chapter is also the shortest: the Lenses and Campaign Types advice succinctly collapse sub-genre and background information into a few choices boiling down to “at the very least, do this to make your buddy cop movie look like something actually featuring buddies who are cops.”
For what this is, it is worthy. A short version of the skill and trait list for a campaign will take a lot of the extended back-and-forth out of the character generation process.
The bits-and-pieces advice on specialties, wildcard and not-wildcard skills, and also tips to preserve the flavor of action-adventure movies via trait selection are likewise well taken.
This chapter is a workhorse, but no worse for it. The brilliance of the Action series does not lie here in this chapter, but it does serve as a reminder of how the trait-sorting process should be carried out.
As noted, this two-page chapter is pure gold. It is one of the great examples in the Action series of priceless GM advice boiled down and presented in a fashion that is so sublimely awesome that you don’t even realize how valuable it is. I’ve owned Action 1 since it came out, and I just discovered this seven years later.
The main text makes clear that chapter 4 is basically the shopping-trip version of Chapter 2, and valuable for it. While it is remotely possible that the players or GM will want to rifle through ten different books for gear and rules for gear, the chapter does a great job of making that unnecessary for most common action-movie staples.
The thing about this book is that it is the twin volume to Dungeon Fantasy 1, in a genre that should be just as accessible (it’s right now, after all), with almost uncountable inspiration available in modern popular entertainment. This could not be said, until somewhat recently, of the Fantasy genre (which of course has D&D/Pathfinder as more than sufficient inspiration, and even theft-worthy material) from the perspective of movies and TV.
This 35-page genre condensation provides all of what you need to build and equip a team of heroes to run a modern action-adventure movie.
Action 2: Exploits will tell you how to run one.
It’s called Shooting Dice – Guns and Gaming.
He’s got three posts up already, and a bunch more queued. Go over and take a look. At the moment, he’s writing up some famous fights from movies and other media in GURPS terms – he’s got one from the movie Collateral up now. He’s got a breakdown of the firearms HP Lovecraft owned, and he’s also got a review of the P7M8 pistol, much in the same pathway as I reviewed the Walther PPQ.
Given my own interests and writing, you can bet I’ll be reading him. You should too.
Let’s just leave him a nice cowboy greeting.
Each post will contain a cartridge and stats for GURPS – sort of. The way I’ll be doing this is to use my ballistics calculator, which will give gameable and consistent stats.
In many cases, there won’t be much difference between various versions of a bullet or cartridge. As an example, at some point I’ll compare 115gr ,124gr, and 147gr 9mm ammunition. That will, within GURPS’ resolution, likely not amount to much.
This cartridge is the USMCs answer to the fact that the 62gr M855 (about 4 grams, and 940m/s out of a 20″ barrel) didn’t pereform that well when fired out of the usual short-barreled M4 carbine, which has a 14.5″ (370mm) barrel standard.
The ammo is built to a 2 MoA standard, which means that the maximum accuracy a weapon can get using this ammo is Acc 5 (about 1.8 MoA, close enough).
Pertinent stats for the ballistic calculator:
Continue reading “Reloading Press: 5.56x45mm Mk318 mod 0”