While I’m sure I’ll follow my narcissistic tradition of doing a full-issue review of Pyramid #3/76 – Dungeon Fantasy IV, I did want to drop in and note that yes, I do have an article in it, which I co-wrote with +Peter V. Dell’Orto.

This isn’t a designer’s notes post, but I do want to talk a bit about how ridiculously fun it was to collaborate with Peter on this one.

I can’t remember where it started – I think it was a series of comments about a Dire Yorkie or something. But we started with a fart or crap joke, I think, and ran with it to terrible places. Probably during one of +Erik Tenkar‘s Swords and Wizardy games.

So maybe that was the origin of the Terrible power Not Cleaning That Up. Maybe it was something else. But poop jokes sound about the right level for a game that features +Tim Shorts, so I’m going with that.

Still, one thing led to another, and pretty soon we had an entire series of really awful jokes masquerading as powers and monsters.

And then +Steven Marsh asked for more. And boy did we have fun with that. The article was an odd size, and so we could either cut or add. He asked us to add, and so we did, and the Terrible Foliage and Terribly Dire Wolverine were born. More and better bad jokes were made. Plus references to both Into the Woods and Transformers, which is just win/win.

If you play Dungeon Fantasy, I think you’ll like this article. Seven ready-made monsters that will rock worlds. Plus, of course, the opportunity to go buy Dungeon Fantasy Monsters 1 and get more.

But ultimately, I hope you have a least as much fun reading it as I had helping to write it.

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and today Gaming Ballistic welcomes a guest poster, +Jake Bernstein

It’s not often that you get direct feedback from someone using something you’ve written. Mailanka gave it over on the SJG Forums when he decided to use The Last Gasp in a super-detailed samurai campaign, and +Peter V. Dell’Orto has mentioned a few times that he’s using a version of Technical Grappling in his Felltower campaign.

Well, Jake turned this to 11, and is using three of my pieces in his campaign. TG, Dodge This, and a draft of an article that sprung from an old idea I had on making Aim an attack roll.

One thing I’ve learned over time, though, is that there’s zero substitute, when it comes to writing rules, for not just playing them, but having someone else play them without you. Is your writing clear? Are the rules ambiguous, or direct? Do they miss common in-play test cases? Do they hit edge cases too soon, or at all? 

You can answer all of those through thought experiments. But you’ll get the answers wrong. If you play it, you’ll learn something. If you let someone else run it, you’ll learn even more.

The new article hasn’t been published yet, so some of the features have been kept vague, including the title!

Without further ado:

Introduction!

Hello everyone!  A
special thanks to Doug for letting me use Gaming Ballistic for what may amount
to a glorified play report, but since it involves several sets of rules written
by Mr. Cole, I suppose this makes some sense. 
I don’t have a blog, but I post on the SJ Games forums as apoc527.  I also play in Doug’s Alien Menace campaign
as Dr. Samuel McKay, a combat-ready scientist in the tradition of Colonel Sam
Carter from SG-1. 
GURPS Cred

I have been running GURPS 4th Edition since about
December 2011.  My group tends to run in
~4-6 month “rotations” so I can’t take credit for the full time, but I have run
an XCOM/Fallout hybrid post-apoc campaign (TL7-9), a THS campaign, a Banestorm
campaign, and now my current game, a conversion of the Star*Drive Campaign
Setting, which is about TL10^.  I also
played and ran in quite a few GURPS 3rd Edition games, but suffered
some major burnout and left the GURPS scene for quite a few years. 
My Campaign

GURPS Star*Drive: 2525 is my fourth full-length GURPS
campaign.  It’s somewhere in between
gritty cyberpunk-in-space and space opera, uses approximately TL10^ technology,
includes psionics, and has a mostly human-dominated Stellar Ring with some
aliens interspersed.  The campaign theme
is bounty hunting. 
Testing Douglas H.
Cole Rules

Doug would probably be the first to admit that he writes a
lot of rules.  I happen to like most of
his articles, and he was kind enough to include me in the playtest of an
upcoming article about the Aim maneuver. 
Since I certainly don’t want to spoil much about that article, I will
say only this: the new aiming rules are about convergence of the melee and ranged
combat options and about making the Aim action into something other than a
skipped turn. 

I am also using TechnicalGrappling, and Dodge This!.  Fortunately, Star*Drive doesn’t have many
bows, so The Deadly Spring was right
out (for which my group shall be eternally grateful). 

Note: The grunt work on The Deadly Spring is usually on the prep work and design side. It should mostly not impact play much. 

The Fight

On Monday, July 7, I ran the PCs in this Star*Drive game
through their first major battle.  The
PCs are an odd group, consisting of a rugged human rifleman and tactician
(Aidan Kane), an ex-Voidcorp sesheyan assassin (Gargoyle), a fraal
psi-scout/tracker (Sinon), a Thuldan gengineered Chronos-class commando
(Seamus), a Starmech pilot/tech (Blake) and an ex-Concord combat medic
(Benton).  They were arrayed against a
human soldier (Rackham), a human telekinetic grappler (Shenna), a weren brute
(Gorblog), and a twitchy t’sa pilot (Yelk). 
Additionally, the fight included three bounty hunter NPCs, a group of
Solar “space cowboys:” Thaddeus Burns, Liam Walker, and Mese Smorra, all human
males. 

Quite the array of bad guys, good guys, and who knows. This will be an interesting test case. Far enough from the “mostly human norm” the articles are written for to stretch the concepts but not so far that anything should really break. The TL10 technology plus the aim and dodge rules might prove interesting – TL10 has some, well, badass technology in it.

At the start of the fight, the PCs thought the bad guys were the space cowboys, who they understood to
be bounty hunters who didn’t exactly follow the “code.”  The actual bad guys were a group of
mercenaries hired to extract the very person the PCs were trying to
capture.  A battle was inevitable.  If you a picture a small airport terminal
with three landing pads and associated jetways, you have an idea of where the
PCs were.  Now, convert that airport
terminal to a spaceport, stick it on a hostile world with a toxic atmosphere
and make the jetways into airlocked passages, and it’s even closer to what the
PCs faced.  Skipping quite a few details,
the PCs went into the terminal area looking for three space cowboys they were
convinced were about to ambush them in order to steal the bounty.  Coming out of their own airlocked jetway, the
group of mercs (Rackham, Shenna, Gorblog, and Yelk) appeared, still acting as
“fellow bounty hunters” and asked if the PCs needed help dealing the
“treacherous space cowboys.”  Oh, and
they were in full combat gear…nothing too
suspicious about that! 
After exploring around the area and failing to locate the
space cowboys, Sinon decided to use his Seekersense psi power to locate
them.  Turns out they were in the
ceiling.  The PCs didn’t have long to
ponder this fact, however, as the mercs chose that moment to attack!  The very first hostile act involved Gorblog
using a hyperdense weren chuurchkna (basically a dueling halberd) to chop off
one of Sinon’s legs.  The fraal dropped,
started bleeding, but remained conscious. 
Yelk, the dual laser pistol wielding t’sa, fired at Gargoyle, unaimed,
and scored 2 hits out of 6, after some Aerobatic dodging (yes, he was flying
inside the terminal).  Gargoyle is
massively cybered up (21 hp from a base ST of 9), and so kept going.  He readied his laser rifle for a counter
attack…
Meanwhile, Rackham tossed a prepared plasma grenade at
Blake’s feet, and Shenna used a nasty custom technique she calls “The
Nutcracker” to crush Aidan’s “vital organs” (modeled as a TK Crush technique
similar to Brain Squeeze but targeting the vulnerable bits of males).  I ruled the PCs were surprised, but given
that many had Combat Reflexes, most snapped out of it pretty quickly and got
into the fight.  I should note at this
point that this was my first GURPS combat GMed since late last year and was my
first TL7+ combat since approximately Summer 2013.  So, things didn’t go 100% smoothly, and
thinking back, I think I allowed the PCs a round of actions they probably
shouldn’t have gotten.  Ah well!

Here’s where we get to Doug’s rules!  Aidan’s turn came up and he has Extra Attack
from cyberware.  In the new rules, the Aim maneuver is eliminated and replaced with
a series of Aim “attacks” that follow the same All-Out, Committed, Normal
progression that melee attacks do.  Using
his Extra Attack for a basic Aim action, Aidan was able to, in one second, aim
his very large, very powerful rifle at Yelk, who was positioned a rather
suboptimal 6 yards away with no cover, and squeeze off a 5-round burst of 11mm
ETC rifle death at his Skull.  Aidan’s adjusted skill was something in the
20s and he hit with about 3 bullets, resulting in the immediate, irretrievable,
and rather messy end of one Lo’kra Yelk. 
Score one for the new rules!

Since Aidan apparently had brass balls and shrugged off her
attack (he has a high Will and some anti-psi), she shifted her attention to the
flying sesheyan (see here)
and used her TK Grab and Wrestling skill to grapple him…Technically!  After, frankly,
a fair amount of confusion (I had never used TG before, nor had my players), we realized that we were dealing
with an invisible attacker (-4 dodge) and since Gargoyle had no idea what was
coming, I didn’t let him use any other defense against her ranged, telekinetic
grapple to his right arm.  Needless to
say, he failed his Dodge roll and suffered all of 1 CP to that arm.  Her goal was to put him in an Arm Lock, which
I read as immediately “disabling” his use of that arm.  

True enough, a locked limb can’t be used for any other purpose, with a side order of dear God, that hurts.

In retrospect, she never actually made an Arm
Lock check, as I attempted to have her grapple him again to increase her CP
total.  It was also, therefore, my
mistake that I didn’t allow him to shoot anyone—the 1 CP shouldn’t have
impaired him much at all, but I ruled at the moment that his arm was held and
he couldn’t use it to fire his rifle. 

Grabbing limbs is an admittedly weird test case for grappling. A 1CP grapple isn’t much, and doesn’t interfere with much (no ST or DX penalty from such a poor grip). It doesn’t take much to throw off an Aim maneuver, though – so not allowing certain things is within the scope of GM judgement. The rules on Concentrate had this in mind, though.

 C’est la vie!  Anyway, the rest of
that portion of the fight went like this: Gargoyle tried to Break Free, but
Shenna “TK Grab-Wrestle parried” and Gargoyle couldn’t generate any CP to break
her grip.  She attempted to improve her
TK Grab-Wrestle grip, but this time I ruled that Gargoyle could “feel it” and
try a Parry with his own grappling skill, which was successful. 

Totally legit. “Hands-free” Parry would have worked here, and the rules about being able to defend from attacks from the rear arc while grappling are all about feeling your foe, as well.

 He then got sick of this exchange and flew
out of her line of sight, which is a situation not covered all that extensively
in TG.  I ruled that this broke her TK Grab grip and
by this time, she ended up with a back full of flechettes from one of the space
cowboys who dropped from the ceiling and turned out to be rather more honorable
than the PCs thought. 

How many CP does it take to hold your foe in the air? That’s a good question. Probably something like “use your mass-based HP as a guide.” So if you have a 175-lb person in your grip, you probably need something like 11 CP to hoist them by main strength if they’re unwilling. That seems like a lot, though, so this might need some refining. 

So, that was the TG action…not
a whole lot this time, but it sure was interesting using it in the context of
TK Grab and flying targets!  I look
forward to getting more comfortable with the rules and having some more
standard fights where the grapplers are, y’know, actually touching one
another! 
Back to the rest of the battle and the alternate aiming rules.  The ability
to Aim and Shoot in one second ended up being decisive.  While Blake was stunned long enough to eat a
plasma grenade at 1 yard and get taken out of the fight, Aidan more than made
up for his loss.  

Benton never even
engaged, choosing instead to drag the badly burned Blake behind cover and start
spraying him with something to ease the pain (Blake took 33 burn damage, and
after armor, resulted in over 20 injury—ouch). 
Seamus and Gorblog engaged in their own little melee dual, with
hyperdense traditional weren halberd vs. monosword.  The details of that fight aren’t that
important, as Gorblog eventually got shot in the back of the head by Sinon, who
took the simple expedient of pointing his rifle at Gorblog’s skull and going
full auto at close range (he didn’t bother Aiming) and getting a lucky
roll. 

Shenna was more difficult, thanks to cover and her DR 20 PK
Shield.  Aidan used his Extra Attack to
good effect, Aiming at her and firing in the same turn.  Two of his rounds, aimed at her skull, hit, but both were stopped by a
combination of her PK Shield and DR 26 combat helmet.  Aidan then used Quick Reload to swap to APHC
rounds…Sinon dragged himself a yard back and propped himself up to Aim at
Shenna using a normal Aim action (frankly, the player here wasn’t yet used to
the new Aiming options and just chose one he already knew).  His Aim roll succeeded and on his next turn,
he let loose a long burst (15 rounds), but only hit with a few, all of which
thudded uselessly against a combination of her PK Shield, the wall, and her DR
18 nanoweave suit.   

It’s weird how binary this can be. You either splatter your target over the landscape, or go ping!

Rackham eventually got his own rifle ready, but lacking
Extra Attack, didn’t bother Aiming and fired at where Aidan had taken cover
behind a thin wall.  The -6 penalty for being
unable to see your target caused Rackham to barely miss, and Aidan was alerted
to possible danger when a dozen rounds burst through the wall right above
him.  Aidan poked himself around the
corner, made a successful Aim roll thanks to a timely use of Luck (another
important concept from the new rules)
and hit Rackham once… in the skull…with an APHC round doing 5dx2(2) pi.  Rackham took about 60 injury and fell over
and died 90 seconds later due to excessive cranial bleeding.

Only aiming when it is super-safe to do so is what happens in real life. I consider this bit of player judgment a win.

The other space cowboy threats-turned-allies all dropped
from the ceiling and helped to varying degrees. 
They didn’t aim either, but scored hits against Gorblog and Shenna,
which were damaging, but not decisively so due to some pretty heavy body
armor.  All this time, I was enforcing Dodge This! Perception rolls before
anyone was allowed a Dodge roll.  Shenna
failed to see the guy behind her, and he filled her back with an automatic
shotgun firing high tech flechettes.  She
ended up living and the PCs healed her and turned her into the authorities
later on. 
So, that was the whole fight.  It took about 3 hours of face-to-face gaming,
but we spent quite a bit of time trying to remember the basic combat rules and
then adding in Doug’s various concepts. 
I think the next battle will go faster and it should just get easier
from there. 

Jake’s Parting Shot

My takeaways are that the new rules on aiming have some really great concepts that I think a lot of folks will like—it
creates options for ranged attackers that make ranged fights more interesting
than the Aim-Attack-Aim-Attack cadence of the Basic Set.  However, allowing Extra Attack to include
Aiming was really powerful—I think it
makes sense, but just realize that this will create extremely fast, extremely
accurate, and therefore extremely lethal
fire from anyone gifted with this Trait.  


Dodge This! was fairly easy to
use in actual play, as there’s basically zero bookkeeping—it is, however, an
extra step to remember to make a Perception roll before allowing a Dodge
roll.  

Finally, Technical Grappling is something that will take some getting used
to.  You replace the semi-intuitive
“Quick Contest” mechanics from the Basic Set with a more consistent, but not necessarily “intuitive” Attack-Defend-Control
Point “Damage” paradigm.  It feels odd,
at first, to think of grappling as a series of attacks and parries, but I think
once we get used to it, it will make a lot of sense—besides, having the very
first example of TG usage involve a
flying target being grappled by TK Grab probably didn’t help our understanding
much! 

I’ll probably write another guest blog post (though
hopefully a shorter one!) when I get some more actual play experience with all
of these rules.  If you got this far,
thanks for reading! 

In my interview with +Sean Punch, he threw down a challenge (or that’s how I took it) to have a panel of fellow authors on with him.

I took him up on that, and arranged for as many as seven authors – those who appear most frequently in Pyramid – to appear with me, discussing Pyramid magazine and writing for it.

Stay tuned! I hope to have the interview completed at the end of the week, then I’ll get it edited, transcribed, and published ASAP. That’s a bit of work, but hopefully I’ll have it ready by month’s end.

If these continue to be as popular as Sean’s (nearly twice the hits of my next-most-popular post!), I will try and do one of these per month.

I wonder if +Fred Hicks is available to talk about FATE . . .

Been a decent weekend for writing. I’m finally putting three articles to bed that I’ve had in the hopper for a very, very long time.

They’re all weaponry related, hand weaponry at that. One is related to weapon breakage, another on fixing and making weapons, and the last is on tweaking around with armor divisors and wound modifiers on blades. They were one big article at first, but I realized that my tendency to write far-too-complete/complex treatises on stuff had run away with me. Thus: split ’em into discrete pieces, remove some of the links that made it complicated, and thus hopefully produce something that is more usable to more people.

We shall see.

I also really need to get back into my Pathfinder overview. I dumped it in the middle of Chapter 8 (Combat), and I would like to finish that one day.

I’ll be on vacation the last week in July and the first week in August, which means I should have time to bang away at a few bits of some larger works I’d like to do. One on Age of Sail ships and battles, one on healing and medicine, and maybe starting the designer’s notes bits of Technical Grappling (and for those keeping score, that’s me getting ahead of things, not some warning that I’ve got any idea when it’s coming out).

I might also try and restart my internal notes in my Book of Pretentiousness. I’ve let that slide, and while I’ve still got some topics to mine in there, the well’s running a bit dry.

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and because of a quick trip back and forth to California from Monday through Wednesday, I’m a bit behind. Life gets that way.

Over on the forums, the poster known as mehrkat made the following remark. It struck a nerve with me in a good way, so I repeat it:

I admit I don’t take “canon” very seriously. Canon is my world specific. I toss stuff out at random at my whim which is definitely encouraged by GURPS. But I would absolutely consider something in Pyramid to be assigning it “official” status.

Well, YES. THIS.

 Writing for GURPS is kinda hard. The system itself isn’t that difficult – there are really only a few core mechanics. But depending on your interest, you’d best be at least passing familiar with what has been done on the subject you’re interested in. Even if you’re trying to cover new ground, it’s often a good idea to know what toes you’re stomping on.

Looking at my own works, for example:

Ten . . HUT!: Well, this provides finer gradations in Military Rank. Most useful if you’re actually building a character, so while it can be applied to existing games, once the dude is written, there’s probably not much point.

The Big Guns Thing: Can be used as a drop-in for any weapon, even in 4e. It also has a bunch of (then) house rules for injury, some of which are now more-or-less canonical in 4e, some not.

Armor Revisited: Optional rules, can be done in any game, even retroactively, and dropped if you don’t like ’em. So this one’s portable.

The Deadly Spring: Sort of like the guns article, in that it can be used retroactively (it’s a design system), but it mucks with the stats of a common muscle-powered ranged weapon, and if your GM goes on a “realism” kick, might nerf your concept. Also, you might want gonzo bows for Dungeon Fantasy. So YMMV.

The Last Gasp: Yeah, this one has real potential to make character concepts play very, very differently. It makes HT really important. Even more important than usual! This one probably needs to be adopted at the start of a campaign – or at least with careful consideration.

Delayed Gratification: I wrote this article so it could be dropped into an existing game. So this one’s portable.

Technical Grappling: a rewrite and expansion of grappling rules, but it is not fully compatible with the existing rules. It has an entirely new mechanic to represent how well someone’s being grappled, and so it’s not something that can be easily meshed with (say) people writing Pyramid articles referencing grappling. You’ll need to say “well, using the existing rules, this weapon does armed grapples like [blah], but if  you’re using Technical Grappling, treat this as a Flexible, Flail, Impaling weapon for grapples, and if you hit, it also inflicts 2d+2 Control Points!”

The other reason it’s hard is that, well, it’s not fiction. It’s technical writing to a very specific style guide. There’s a WYSIWYG template with the proper SJG styles, and using them can be hard to master. The formatting used to write up (say) Advantages, Templates, martial arts styles, or whatnot are quite specific, and can be easy to get wrong. They’re quite picky about pesky things like grammar and stuff.

It’s every bit as technically precise to write for Pyramid as it is to write an e23 supplement. The nice thing about it, though, is that it can be as short or long as you’d like. Well, if +Steven Marsh accepts it. My shortest for GURPS was probably Armor Revisited at about 1,700 or so words. My longest, never to be repeated on pain of death and mockery, was The Deadly Spring, at a mind-boggling 11,000. For what it’s worth, every word in Dungeon Fantasy 12: Ninja, including the index and table of contents, pull quotes and marketing pages, is about 14,000 words. So Deadly Spring is basically as long as a full e23 release.

That’s a GURPS supplement, right there. On a subject so esoteric that I doubt it would merit a full release – but because there’s Pyramid, it doesn’t need one.

Lastly: if you do want to write for GURPS, you want to start with Pyramid. I’d probably target something on the order of 3-5 pages in the magazine, or about 2,500-4000 words. Long enough to show you can do it, not so long that it’s a huge risk to print.

But make no mistake: GURPS is Pyramid, and Pyramid is GURPS. Grar!

The latest issue of Pyramid, #3/52: Low-Tech II, is out. I’ve got an article in it!

Called Delayed Gratification, it’s an option for a different way of handling the Feint maneuver in GURPS, treating it as a variant of an actual attack, rather than a Quick Contest of somewhat-nebulous intention.

It’s not a long article, or particularly crunchy by the standards of The Deadly Spring or The Last Gasp.

But I think it’s a good add to the list of potential combat options for players. I look forward to hearing what people think about it.

Edit:

+Sean Punch posted a blurb on the SJG Forums, and I reproduce the capsule of my article here:

GURPS offers many ways to lower your opponents’ defenses: Deceptive Attack, Feint, and so on. But if you want Delayed Gratification, try the Setup Attack. Based on realistic fighting techniques, this new combat option gives you a way to launch an offensive that may cost your opponent his Hit Points and his defenses.