Over on The October Geek, the author posts about Monster Knowledge. I thought I’d throw down the relevant section from Dragon Heresy’s The Book of Heroes as a Sneak Peek.

Identify Fiend or Foe

One of the things players will inevitably ask about the screaming horrors emerging from hiding to do terrible things unto them is “what do we know about this creature’s strengths and weaknesses?”

Some of this knowledge is hard-won, and might only be known to the party if they’ve faced a particular threat before. But legends travel, and stories are told, of all manner of creatures. When asked, consider making an Intelligence check with the following guidelines. Only one check can be made per monster type unless you spend the time to dig up hidden lore.

Arcana will most frequently yield useful details about Aberrations (maybe), Constructs, Dragons, Elementals, and Monstrosities. However, some undead are created by powerful magic, and that might apply. Any creature with a reputation or history that makes them vulnerable (or not) to certain types of magical damage might have that known by making an Arcana check.

History will be useful for any type of creature that creates a civilization with a legacy and memory. Mostly Humanoids and Giants – but if a dragon decides to set herself up as Queen of a far-flung land, that territory’s stories, legends, conquests, and defeats will become part of the lore of the world.

Nature will tell for Beasts, Fey, Giants, Humanoids, and Plants. Some long-ago creations that have flourished and become part of an established ecology might also qualify (‘oh, the falcon-bear is native to these parts!’).

Religion will give some details about Celestials, Fiends, and Undead.

Take care to consider a character’s backstory when deciding what skills to use. A necromancer would certainly know about the dead and undead using his Arcana skill, while a cleric or paladin might have the same knowledge through Religion, and a bard via stories and songs passed down with the History skill.

Hidden Lore

Finding information about a particular creature is a matter of sifting through books, stories, rumors, and experience to determine what is known. Details such as overall appearance and behavior – such as determining what kind of monster is actually trying to eat you – might be an Easy or Medium task. Revealing tactically useful information should be harder (Medium to Hard), and doing that in the heat of combat should increase the difficulty level by at least one! The GM might give out one fact for making the roll, and more for each 5 points by which the ability check is made, or some other rationing of tactically-useful data.

Over at Mailanka’s Musing, he throws down a fun post, akin to my Technical Natasha effort, describing the fight between Luke and Vader in The Empire Strikes Back.

It’s a good breakdown, and worth the read.
One thing that came up in the comments was the frequency of blade-to-blade pushing. This is, I believe, referred to as corps-a-corps in fencing and GURPS. 
It’s what happens when you get grip-to-grip, in close combat. Lacking something on your blade to bind the other, or an actual grapple, this tends to not last long, and end with no small amount of blood.

In the various Star Wars movies, though, it goes beyond that. Combatants will frequently stand blade-locked, saber-to-saber. Usually snarling. It does make for dramatic cinema, of course. All that straining. It shows up over and over, too. It was in The Phantom Menace, with an iconic scene of Maul catching both of his Jedi foe’s lightsabers on his staff-saber, and holding them there. It was in Empire, as Luke strains against Vader and Vader contemptuously shoves him away. It was in The Force Awakens. It was all over the place in The Clone Wars and even in Rebels.

We do this all the time, by the way, in Hwarang Kumtoogi, the variant of Korean sword-sport that is practiced in Hwa Rang Do. It’s very close-in work, and used to deny the advantage of reach and proper form for a strike. 

What it’s not, at least when done correctly, is an all-out strain-fest. It’s probing pushes and bumps, looking for a break in rhythm Hwarang Kumtoogi allows dropping to the knees to do leg strikes, so that’s how this usually ends.

But in Star Wars it seems more than that. It seems so much more that I would suggest it’s something perhaps even unique to Star Wars, to lightsabers, or just as a mechanical way of representing something that’s somewhat iconic to the Star Wars lightsaber fighting method.

It’s a grapple

Specifically, it’s usually initiated after a grappling parry, but can also be forced by the combatant. It binds the blades in place without the need for an actual grip, due perhaps to the interaction between the blades themselves. (Blah, blah squishy physics, blah.)

But by simulating it as a grapple, you get two key side-effects. 

  • It becomes largely a contest of strength, or control points, which are derived from Trained Strength.
  • It simulates why people don’t just back up or disengage – they cannot.

This was just a though inspired by Daniel’s post. But treating this blade bind as a grapple that you can pull off with either a dedicated attack or the grappling equivalent of an aggressive parry would pretty fairly simulate the movies, and make good use of the GURPS rules without invoking lost fingers and limbs through actual grapples, which in a light-saber context, as well as with Telekinetic force users, might be pretty stupid.

+Christian Blouin has started a new blog and a new campaign, and it’s in the 3rd edition setting of +David Pulver‘s Transhuman Space.

This will wind up being a bit of a fact-free post, because while I own several of the books (at least two, and only in hard-copy), and have loved reading through them, I’ve always found Transhuman Space daunting as a potential campaign setting.

It is truly a top-notch imagining of a future world. It’s got utopia and dystopia baked right into it, far-removed and side-by-side. 

It’s got terrifying nanobugs, takes the drone revolution to one of several possible logical conclusions, and memetic warfare, which might have seemed far-fetched or unlikely when the setting came out, but in today’s selective-information climate on social media, now seems nearly inevitable.

I think what puts me off of such a deep, rich setting – and isn’t that a hell of a thing to write – is that both the GM and the players either have to know, or will want to know, more about the background than they can easily absorb. 


Heck, +Christopher R. Rice is running a mildly alternate history campaign with superheroes in the Aeon Campaign whose game I transcribe, and even some of that – our area of New York City, what events actually happened as the players remember them, vs what events happened differently for the characters can be hard to sort out.

Transhuman Space takes that to 11. I’d almost want to read a few novels, and have the players do the same, to approach that setting as “OK, make characters for X, assuming you’re part of that world and always have been!”

But those don’t exist (pity – it would make great fiction fodder, with as much depth as many award-winning SciFi novels. I’d devour a THS novel with more gusto than I read Accelerando, for example, and I read that book with fairly significant gusto). So I balk at running the game.

How to get around that?

The first would be to either pick, or invent if it wasn’t there already, an isolated region on earth, in orbit, or in a way-out-in-space location where the information the players have to absorb before game-time starts is limited. 

That way, the characters and the players will be overwhelmed when presented with however many billions of people, AIs, cybershells, nanobugs, memetic wars, regular wars, economic wars, and Third-through-Fifth Wave cultures are currently vying for supremacy and survival.

Parting Shot

I look forward to seeing how the campaign shakes out, and in particular how information loads are handled.

In a way, this is the same quandary that any group faces when looking at a developed setting that isn’t firmly grounded in common knowledge. 

I think it’s the reason why “It’s our world, but now with Monsters!” is so popular as a stepping-off point for games. (or, as +Ken Hite told me when I was talking about/showing him the setting map for my Dragon Heresy RPG, “just use Earth, you big baby.”)

There’s a lot of background knowledge we bring along when we’ve got a lifetime of familiarity with a place. Good and bad parts of town? Social behavior between different groups of people? Different ages of people (chronologically – in traditional Korean culture, for example, you are expected to defer to elders, and from what my native-born Korean martial arts master was saying, it doesn’t take much to differentiate between “same age” and “can’t socialize equally.”)

When approaching a world or a map like Transhuman Space, where sure, it’s the same geography, but social, political, and economic assumptions must all be modified or jettisoned, it makes for a bit of an urge to say “yeah, give me my broadsword and let’s go kill orcs.”

Many “deep” fantasy worlds run into this problem too. And I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it, and am in the process of being guilty of it for Dragon Heresy. But the question remains: if setting is important, and if background matters, how, without assigning a hundred pages of homework, do you bring everyone along so that the setting informs relationships and choices, and the play of the game?

In short, how do you keep from drowning?

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!

This is a very quick version of session notes from last week’s game, but I was in Malaysia. So, without further ado, nor editing, here’s a recap. I’ll edit this out into something more prose-like over time.

Dramatis Personae

  • Arc Light (Christian) – battlsuited gadgeteer with electrical powers
  • The Rat Queen (Emily) – brick with super-perception; made of actual rats
  • Eamon Finnegan (Kyle) – smooth talking gravity-master; Ultimate Fighting Lawyer, to borrow a phrase.
  • Zephyr (Merlin) – Real name Murui; Shaolin Kung Fu expert and super-speedster. 
  • Marionette (Ani) – Abilities run to boosting of others, and manipulation of animated objects. The Commander’s third cousin.

Session Start

Arc light sent a drone to track the commander but it got shot down
emily is out because of spells overloading her.
Commander looks the same in rf as everyone else
Marionette can probably track commander with amplification
arc light probably can build an amplifier at his lair.
adama crits doing data analysis for purchase patterns for household chemicals.  someone has been making wholesale purchases of household chemicals that are unusual and some thefts.  someone has been buying these things in cash and having them delivered to an address.
shared shipping warehouse.  


arc light wants to hack the hubble to keep an eye on the building.
he’s going to try to get historical and current footage
in truth we hack a russian satelite and follow him via satelite to his junkyard 30 miles north of the city.
we figure out for sure the enemy is dude and he has super maths he can use to predict the future and alter probability.
we plan to do a negative tactics roll to negate his successes.

We show up in the middle of the junkyard as if we hadn’t planned at all but he’s ready for that, has goons in the yard with guns who take aim when we show up.  combat begins!
We don’t get any special considerations on positioning and so we just go at it.

Marionette TK’s over to a schoolbus (bringing Zephyr with her) and begins to attempt to animate it.
Zephyr attempts to punch a guard but fails a will roll instead, draws his evil cursed knife and stabs a guard in the heart, who immediately dies. his ATR is up so then he runs to the next one who crit fails a dodge and jumps on his knife. 
arc light flys off to the side and tazes a dude. he goes limp

Eamon flys into a mess of guys and hits them with a slam of gravity knocking all 4 out and setting off an improvised explosive.

Eamon and his recently attacked goons get blowed up.  We take a bunch of damage and some of them die.

Someone of indeterminite location shoots at arc light with a directed EMP burst. the suit shuts down and arc light redlines the suit, getting it back into action

Marionette animates a bus, nothing happens yet, but soon!

goons shoot at us to no major effect
someone shoots a rocket at arclight that he dodges. then he gets a popup on his hud saying he’s been locked on

eamon picks himself up off the floor and hugs a junked helicopter

goons chuck a grenade at eamon who gravity pushes it back, then another goon picks it up again, tossing it to eamon who tosses it back a 2nd time.

marionette’s bus starts stomping around, on feet. and marionette guides it in to crush goons.

Marionette herself grabs some goon guns with TK, disarming them and slamming a gun into a goon’s face.

eamon moves the fusilage of the helicopter he’s been hiding behind, himself and Yukio 11 yards away, keeping himself covered.

A rocket that appeared to miss arc light earlier has arced back and tries to hit him again along with 2 additional rockets.  He’s standing next to a goon that he snatches up and attempts to save from the boom.  he attempts some fancy flying to get them to hit each other but fails.  Marionette burns a karma to pick up sacrificial defense for TK.  She reaches out and slams them together, saving arc light from the full brunt of the explosion, that said, they are still close enough to rattle his cage.

Zephyr runs up a crane and smacks the sniper guard, knocking him out.

arc light drops his goon into a water tower taking him out of the fight

Eamon gravity sledges the last foe.

Marionette invests CP in the bus to allow it to become permanant and self repair.
Eamon searches with gravity, finds a tunnel system and stunts tunneling with his gravity talent, ripping holes in the dirt to find a way into the tunnel

we begin exploring and find 3 prison cells in one is a man in tattered clothing with wild ratty hair.  he looks at us and begins to count on his fingers as if in a nervous tic.  It’s Andrew Farmer who we thought was the enemy.

he gives us a 14% chance to survive.

he gives himself 64% chance to survive in his cell, or 3% if he comes with us.

He says we don’t have time to chat. we leave to find the commander.

we scout around and find the commander unconscious chained all kinds of crazy ways to a chair.  Eamon taps him awake with TK, he mumbles at us and things start beeping, then he falls asleep again, the beeping slows.

before we do anything to claim the commander, we search the lair and find the other prisoners.  the traps on each prisoner are clearly wired together, we need to snatch them all at once.  Zephyr works up some magic and Marionette juices his spell up.  between him, eamon and marionette we now have 3 TK using party members and we sync watches, then grab everyone, avoiding cave in traps.  a beeping begins in another tunnel, marionette and arc light work together and disarmed it.  then we free farmer who was in the cell.

Warren Kivalina  is the enemy.  He says he watched him die and now he calls himself oblivion.  Warren isn’t interested in the commander, hes interested in arc light.  Warren says “you know what you did, you’re as guilty as all of us”.  the “accident” wasn’t.  arc light starts spilling the beans without taking the blame.  The process they were working on was supposed to fix brains and possibly repair them.  Z theorizes that warren is deformed or broken somehow, but still has super regeneration.  Marionette suspects that the treatment didn’t take because it wasnt formulated for warren.  Andrew Farmer says “he’s not the guy I knew”.  

Arc Light starts digging into the computer system Warren left behind.  Looking at the access logs he discovers that the loved ones of the magnificent 7 are being surveiled, including Arc’s wife.  he sees vid of arc and his wife talking then it fades to red and black.   session ends.

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.

+Mark Langsdorf did a lot of work, and it turned out really well. 

He made a player-facing skills list based on the worked-example publication GURPS After the End 2.

It takes all the uses of attributes, skills, and advantages from the book and consolidates them by skill. So you get something like 

Traps Trap a meal (30)
Complementary skill for trapping a meal with Survival (30)
Per-based: Detect traps while scouting (32)
Per-based: Spot a security system (33)
Per-based: Spot a pit trap (36)
Per-based: Spot simple switches (36)
Disarm traps (36)
Salvage a concealed gun (36)

Except you get it for every single mention of a use or skill. 
This is a fantastic cheat-sheet, and worth emulation for other genres.

+Mark Langsdorf has an armor design system on his blog that is geared towards Dungeon Fantasy levels of cool. Good armor to match the very high damages that heroes can dish out.

Chatting with +Nathan Joy, who has played and GM’d with both Mark and myself in various games, he noted that it would be nice if Mark’s system produced a bit lower DR for the weight. 

I took a peek at Low-Tech, and that book lists DR 4 “fine mail” – the prototypical and historical value for DR for this type of armor in GURPS – as 15 lbs for just the torso. That means that covering yourself head-to-toe in DR4 mail would be about 46 lbs.

That’s about 11.5 lbs per point of DR, compared to the 6 lbs per point in Mark’s table (which, by the way, is formatted more sensibly as ‘a full suit,’ rather than making a full suit 305% of the armor value in the table as in Low-Tech).


So what if we doubled all the values? That doesn’t quite mesh with some very nice plate armor, though that might depend on how much DR it really had. Some breastplates were 3-4mm thick at the most robust part, and about half that at the thinnest. At DR 2-2.5 per mm for older steels, that’s a DR in the 6-10 range, so we benchmarked it as DR 8 weighing around 60-70 lbs. 8 lbs per point of DR seemed better and a nice value, and that was less than doubling would provide.


It was also a bit more than Mark would have liked (I shared this with him; he wrote BFA, after all), and so I tweaked it out a bit to match his expectations more.

OK, moving on to cost, looking around, again, at plate harness, we found estimates that equated to between six to twelve months pay for a skilled laborer was what harness could cost. We pegged that at between average and comfortable wealth, or, all said and done, about ten grand for a DR 8 full suit.

Then I did math. Not a lot, but I liked Mark’s low estimate of about $50-60 per point of DR for the natural hides and cloths. Again with the jiggering, if I wanted the low figure at roughly $60, and the high at $1,200, that meant a factor of 20 in cost for a factor of about 3 or 3.5 range in pounds per point of DR. Net/net, cost per point of DR should be about $1,035,000 divided by the lbs per DR to the 3.25 power.

That gives the modified table above, which I tweaked out to avoid nasty decimals.

The lighter per point of DR your armor is, the more you pay for it. If you want DF-quality armor at 6 lbs per point of DR . . . it can be had for about $3,000 per point of DR. So a DR 8 harness would cost $24,000 and weigh 48 lbs. 

That’s not crazy talk.

By eye, this table isn’t completely insane, either, compared to Low-Tech. Cloth and Silk would be about 5.3 lbs/DR for torso only, which is in the ballpark. Cost for Textiles at DR 1 torso-only would thus be about $11. DR 4 mail, torso only is 13 lbs (LT has 15) and costs $2,300 (LT has $900). Lightweight but very expensive, befitting something that was pretty darn labor-intensive.

So again, not insane. 

Looking at armor types, the natural ones are all less than $125 per point of DR. The metal ones are more expensive, with scale (small flat plates hammered out, available very early in time) costing less than the more labor-intensive mail, and still less than the finely-crafted full-plate harness.

Parting Shot


The table leverages Mark’s excellent “keep it basically simple” “Better Fantasy Armor” rules and scales it based on some real-world benchmarks (well, as real-world as 400+ year-old data can get) to achieve something that’s at least internally self-consistent. 

It can scale reasonably well, too. And if you want to find the cost for (say) casting Lighten on plate harness for 4 lbs per point of DR? Plug it into the formula, and you get a 32-lb., DR 8 harness at $91,500.

The issue you’ll run smack into here is that the Strength table gets pretty egregious about punching through armor at values that PCs have access to (and should). Lots of proprosed solutions for this, including dropping damage to a fraction of ST, as in my rescaling from very, very early in my blogging career. All of them nerf ST penetration one way or another.

What about different Tech Levels? TL4 to TL8 has a 3.25x difference in monthly pay, and materials and production methods get better. So divide, which means our DR 8 65-lb plate would be about $2,900. That is, again, not insane.

I’m sure there are issues here, but for a quick conversation, I like where it ended up . . . but since you can still swing at ST 17 for 3d with a broadsword, some method of dealing with that issue is recommended. 

I’m in full-on playtest and writing mode on the Heretical D&D project, which is why my schedule for Reloading Press and Sunday Review have both been disrupted.

But . . . the ever-interesting +Peter V. Dell’Orto has been writing about hirelings.

It occurs to me that the other side of the ‘treat the hirelings like dirt’ coin is that all hirelings have a sell-by date. That is, in all probability, the portable meat-shield, torch-bearer, and trap-checker doesn’t think of himself that way.

He thinks of himself as someone who will do something really dangerous, with one of two prospects in mind.

Retire. Yes, the ever-popular work really hard and then don’t work at all, or buy/build an inn, or whatnot. These guys probably want (or have) a mate and spawn at home – or maybe the goal is to be able to afford a home. Once they gather up a suitable share of treasure . . . they’re done. They go buy that house, build that inn, find a mate and make with the baby-making, or become a merchant or craftsman or something. But they will stop carrying torches for the PCs and engaging in insanely high-risk behavior. 

Get Better. The alternative is that once they “level up” a few times and get experience at the hands of a higher-powered patron – and that’s what the PCs are to the hirelings, really – they’ll decide they are an adventurer in their own right. Since henchmen and hirelings start at 63 or 125 points or so, and heroes are 250, it would make sense that somewhere around 180-190 points a hireling will start to decide that he needs to team up with some other former hirelings and start a band of his own. The other thing that might occur is they ask for a raise. These guys are now basically starting adventurers (sidekicks in a Monster Hunter campaign are full-fledged heroes in many other campaigns, and there’s nothing impotent about a 200-point DF character) anyway.

Note: this isn’t system-specific, either. In D&D, for example, low-level “hirelings” are probably the same as the PCs were when they were 1st level, and will probably act more like future PCs than not!

The overall point here is that the hired help is going to have an exit strategy that doesn’t always start with “feet-first.” Bilbo got 1/14th of the loot, after all, and he was a very lucky rank amateur. These guys that you hire will have a plan and dreams of their own.

Hirelings have dreams too, you know

It may even be that as they get close to achieving that dream, their behavior changes. They’ll either refrain from really dangerous stuff (almost there! Must . . . not . . . die!) and start refusing to discuss how they’re a “short-timer,” since that inevitably leads to a gory dismembering death, or start taking wild, implausible risks – perhaps even disobeying orders – to get that one last share of treasure that means that they’re done.

But either way, starting hirelings will have a point beyond which they will not go . . . at least not with the PCs as “boss.”

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!