Sunday, January 29, 2012

Gamemaster's Guidepost: FLASH...ahhhhh...backs?

I am by far no expert on Game-Mastering a RPG, but I’ve been  doing it for about 18 years having running my first game in Forgotten Realms with my best friend and (future) girlfriend when I was only 11. It was terrible, and that’s being fairly nice to myself. Since then I’ve learned a thing or two, and I figured that others might like to know a few of the tips and tricks I’ve learned (usually the hard way).

In this particular post I’d like to talk about something that is used quite often in television and the movies, but is hard to emulate in a game: the Flashback. Properly used it can be a powerful storytelling device, the only problem with this that in a movie or a television show the script writer controls all the characters actions and dialogue, this is not even remotely true of role-playing games. I like to think of role-playing games as sort of ‘collaborative storytelling’, the GM directs the game in a general sort of way letting the players build the road which their characters walk down. As I’m sure you can see, the problems of a flashback are pretty obvious: you need to (as the GM) be in control of the flashback so that you can clue in your players on what it is you’re trying to tell them (which is in my opinion the raison d’être of the flashback to begin with). Another problem is in the movies and on television flashbacks tend to be all about one particular character, this isn’t always the case but it is the most common. This might cause some friction within a given gaming group, but I’ll assume that you (as the GM) are not an adversarial one and that your players are mature enough to share the spotlight. The best way I’ve found to do a flashback is to simply take aside the player it involves, give them a basic outline of what you want and then just let them run with it. You’d be surprised at what a player will get his character into if you allow them to pick the ‘mess’. Recompense the player some way for allowing you to dictate his actions, this can be any sort of in-game reward from extra XP to money. GURPS actually has a handy built-in system like this that is mentioned in GURPS Powers in a box on p. 199, and this happens to be what I use in my games when I need to ‘bribe’ a player. Another way to achieve a flashback (and involve all the players) is to start the game session in the middle (or even the end) of a given story arc and then slowly reveal what had happened before by having the players act out the flashback and adjust the outcome of the ‘ending’ by those actions. These options could potentially lead to outcomes the GM is unprepared for or would find undesirable but I like to think that most long-term players in their perspective gaming groups know enough about each other that this would be a fairly rare occurrence.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review: Fate's Mirror by M.H. Mead

Margaret Yang and Harry Campion collectively known as M. H. Mead has got to be one of the best things to come out of the cyberpunk genre in *years* not since Nueromancer have I so connected with a hacker protagonist. Most of them are a bit boring, seemingly omniscient and all-powerful in AND out of cyberspace, Sueism at its finest. But that's not how Fate's Mirror portrays Morris, a fantastically flawed (yet awesome) successor to Gibson's Case, Morris is a viker (Mead's term for a the elite hackers of her fictional `verse) who is also agoraphobic. Even going outside for a few moments is pure torture, but the main thrust of the novel in this reviewers opinion forces exactly this, many of the most poignant and page-turning moments of this work come when you find yourself wondering if Morris is going to be able to last just a little bit longer. Cope just a little bit more. Outlast the neurosis that's driving him to quit. It is, to say the least, gripping. Not to mention the treatment of AI's, cyberspace, and technology in general. This is a cyberpunk tale that is fairly novel (please pardon the pun) in its approach to these things, the world itself is pretty realistic, with the probable of tomorrow being the possible of today. If you're anything like me this in itself is a `win'; I like my fiction either annoyingly realistic or heroically UN-realistic. I found that the first time I read this book I missed many of the details I found in the second (and third!) readings. The follow-up prequel Good Fences, is short, sweet, and to the point but reveals a few more layers of Morris and gives a nice view into Mead’s world. This is in this my humble opinion the sign of a wonderful and talented author. Keep your eyes to the horizon, I can foresee Mead's star rising, it may not be meteoric but it will be one that stays and lasts far into the future. You can find Margaret Yang at @Margaret_Yang on Twitter and see her personal blog here.

I give both Fate's Mirror and Good Fences four out of five pennies.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Using psionic powers with GURPS Action

Even though the guidelines on p. 44 of Action 2 specifically state that ‘action gaming’ is set in the ‘real’ world, many popular TV shows, books, etc. feature a world where such abilities are thought to be nonexistent and suddenly become real. A favorite example of mine is The 4400, Four thousand and Four hundred people who have over the years disappeared all reappear in the same place, at first all seems normal until one-by-one they start exhibiting non-human abilities such as telekinesis or the ability to read minds. It was a series that in my opinion was entirely too short-lived and not used to nearly the potential it could have been. For a campaign focusing on this sort of action I would suggest GURPS Psionic Powers, GURPS Psionic Campaigns, GURPS Psi-Tech, and GURPS Psis in addition to the Action line. I'm also going to take a moment to pimp my stuff, besides the fact that Pyramid #3/29 Psionics has an article in it written by me (Expanded Psychokinesis) there are gobs of other useful things like Antoni Ten Monros's Random Psionic Tables (useful for quick-starting a game) and Jason "Rev. Pee Kitty" Levine's Averting Disaster ((useful in any game with psi powers).

Here are two possible ways to meld the options presented in these books with those in Action.

Psi-Oriented Hero
+50 points

This ‘lens’ could be added onto any Action template, it basically gives access to some psionic abilities in the form of Psionic packages as used in GURPS Psis. For those who are ‘latent’ psis simply treat the 50 points in psionic packages as a Potential Ability (Basic p. 32) specifically for psionic abilities.

Secondary Characteristics: +1 Will [5].
Advantages: Spend 50 points from the psionic packages found in GURPS Psis Chapter 3.
Disadvantages: -10 points chosen from among Power-Based Disadvantages (Psis p. 13).
Skills: Spend 5 points on any of the skills listed under Psi-Flavored Skills box on pg. 6 of Psis

Using GURPS Psis in Action
Using the psychic templates from GURPS Psis instead of those presented in Action 1 (or in addition too…) could lead to some very interesting possibilities. If mixing both books templates together you will want to use each template’s Talented lens and the following lens (bringing the point total to 250):

Action-Oriented Psi (+50 points): Add Luck [15]. • Add 15 points chosen from the template’s advantage or skill options. • Choose a 20-point lens (Action 1 pp. 4-5). • Add Computer Operation (E) IQ [1] and Driving (Automobile or Motorcycle) (A) DX-1 [1] to the Background Skills list if not already listed.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Heroes with Many Hats

GURPS is in my opinion one of the most flexible, perfect role-playing game systems ever to come into existence. And despite my fanboyish attitude towards the system it does really hold up well to just about any genre a GM could want to run it with. Due to both my gaming group’s preferences and my own we tend towards high-octane, high-paced, high-stakes campaigns. I’ve ran a dozen or so campaigns since I made GURPS 4th Edition my go-to system in late 2005, never once regretting it. In 2008 when GURPS Action 1: Heroes came out, I could only marvel at the sheer awesomeness, here was a ready to go line like GURPS Dungeon Fantasy that used many of the tropes and themes my players and I liked. Of course, being the GURPSer that I am I’ve never really ran a ‘straight’ Action game, whether it was hunting monsters in the Yucatan (something the Monster Hunters* line would do perfectly later) or as with my current campaign running the silvered shadows of a dystopian future. When building my current campaign I felt I had to incorporate the Action framework, I’d need to adjust things a bit, but the templates from that book looked like a perfect fit for what I had in mind. Given the fact that I was also planning on using the Netrunning rules from Pyramid 3/21 Cyberpunk (starting on p.4) for the campaigns version of the internet it all fit a little too well. The problem came (as it always seems to do…) when my players came up with the concepts** for their characters. Their characters were well-thought out, fantastically wrought in-depth, and as I’ve come to expect from them full of awesome-sauce. Everybody had something different, but when we got into the actual character design it was like ordering from a Chinese restaurant menu, a little from column A, some from B, and special order C. They all had a core concept but wanted other things as well. That’s where this bit on ‘mixing archetypes’ came from, it is a shamelessly borrowed concept from Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level but it has (so far) worked quite well in my game. I also must mention the first time I got the idea was from a post (thread here) done by Sean Punch aka Dr. Kromm on the SJ Games Forums. Eric B. Smith has done something along the same lines with his ‘Dungeon Fantasy on the Cheap’ which can be found here.
* It has also been brought to my attention that these lenses might work quite well in conjunction with Monster Hunters 4: Side-Kicks, though this remains untested on my end.
** I prefer that a player creates his concept and then tries to build it versus trying to come up with a concept via a build.

So here they are, I hope you can get some mileage:


+50 points

Attributes: +1 DX [20].
Advantages: Craftiness 4 [20].
Disadvantages: Callous [-5].
Skills: Camouflage (E) IQ+4 [1]*; Guns (Rifle) (E) DX+2 [4]; Holdout (A) IQ+4 [2]*; Shadowing (A) IQ+4 [2]*; and Stealth (A) DX+4 [2]*. • Four of Guns (Pistol, Shotgun, or Submachine Gun) (E) DX+1 [1], bought from Guns (Rifle) default; or Crossbow, Fast-Draw (Knife or Pistol), Garrote, Knife, or Liquid Projector (Squirt Gun), all (E) DX [1].
*Gets a +4 bonus for Craftiness.


+50 points

Attributes: +1 DX [20] or +1 IQ [20].
Advantages: Unfazeable [15].
Disadvantages: Callous [-5].
Skills: Driving (Automobile or Heavy Wheeled) and Stealth, both (A) DX+0 [2]; Camouflage and Housekeeping, both (E) IQ+1 [2]; Holdout and Smuggling, both (A) IQ+0 [2]; and Search and Tracking, both (A) Per+1 [4].

Demolition Man

+50 points

Attributes: +1 IQ [20].
Secondary Characteristics: -1 Will [-5].
Advantages: Enhanced Dodge 3 (Dive for Cover) [15].
Skills: One Explosives specialty:
1. Explosives (Demolition) (A) IQ+5 [20]. Defaults: Explosives (Underwater Demolition) (A) IQ+3 [0], Explosives (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Fireworks, and Nuclear Ordnance Disposal) (A) IQ+1 [0], and Engineer (Combat) (H) IQ-1 [0].
2. Explosives (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) (A) IQ+5 [20]. Defaults: Explosives (Nuclear Ordnance Disposal) (A) IQ+3 [0], and Explosives (Demolition, Fireworks, and Underwater Demolition) (A) IQ+1 [0].

Face Man

+50 points

Attributes: +1 IQ [20].
Advantages: Attractive [4]; Honest Face [1]; and Smooth Operator 1 [15].
Skills: Savoir-Faire (High Society, Mafia, Military, or Police) (E) IQ+1 [1]*; Acting, Fast-Talk, Leadership, and Public Speaking, all (A) IQ+0 [1]*; Diplomacy (H) IQ-1 [1]*; Carousing (E) HT+1 [1]*; Sex Appeal (A) HT+1 [1]*†; Intimidation (A) Will+0 [1]*; and Detect Lies (H) Per-1 [1]*.
*Gets a +1 bonus from Smooth Operator.
† Gets a +1 bonus from Appearance.


+50 points

Advantages:  Born to Be Wired 3 [10]; Quick Gadgeteer (H4xx0r, -50%) [25].
Skills: Computer Operation (E) IQ+3 [1]*; Electronics Repair (Computers) (A) IQ+2 [1]*; Computer Programming, Cryptography, and Expert Skill (Computer Security), all (H) IQ+1 [1]*; Computer Hacking (VH) IQ+2 [4]*; and Scrounging (E) Per+0 [1].
*Gets a +2 bonus from Born to Be Wired.


+50 points

Attributes: +1 DX [20].
Advantages: Flexibility [5]; Perfect Balance [15].
Disadvantages: Loner (12) [-5].
Skills: Forced Entry and Jumping, both (E) DX [1]; Stealth (A) DX [2]; Climbing (A) DX+3 [1]*†; Escape (H) DX+1 [1]*; Acrobatics (H) DX [2]†; and  Electronics Operation (Security), Lockpicking, and Traps, all (A) IQ+0 [2]. Additionally spend 2 points to raise one of the previous skills.
*Gets a +3 bonus from Flexibility.
† Gets a +1 Bonus from Perfect Balance.


+50 points

Attributes: +1 IQ [20].
Secondary Characteristics: +2 Per [10].
Skills: Intelligence Analysis (H) IQ+1 [8]. • Six of Criminology, Electronics Operation (Surveillance), Interrogation, Photography, Research, Shadowing, or Speed-Reading, all (A) IQ [2]-15; Body Language, Lip Reading, Observation, Search, or Tracking, all (A) Per [2]; or Detect Lies (H) Per-1 [2].


+50 points

Attributes: +1 IQ [20].
Secondary Characteristics: -1 Per [-5].
Advantages: Healer 2 [20]; Higher Purpose (“Medic!”) [5];
Skills: Fast-Draw (Medical Gear) (E) DX+0 [1]; Diagnosis, Pharmacy (Synthetic), and Psychology, all (H) IQ+0 [1]*; Physician (H) IQ+2 [4]*; and Surgery (VH) IQ+0 [2]*.
*Gets a +2 bonus from Healer.


+50 points

Attributes: +1 DX [20].
Secondary Characteristics: -0.50 Basic Speed [-10].
Advantages: Gunslinger [25].
Skills: Fast-Draw (Ammo), Forced Entry, and Jumping, all (E) DX [1]-16; and Acrobatics (H) DX [4]-16. • Guns (Pistol, Shotgun, or Submachine Gun) (E) DX+2 [4]-18. • Four of Guns (Light Machine Gun, Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun, or Submachine Gun) (E) DX+1 [1]-17, bought from default to first Guns specialty; Crossbow, Fast-Draw (Long Arm or Pistol), Gunner (Cannon or Machine Gun), Guns (Grenade Launcher or LAW), Liquid Projector (Flamethrower or Sprayer), all (E) DX [1]-16; or Throwing (A) DX-1 [1]-15.

Wheel Man

+50 points

Attributes: +1 DX [20].
Advantages: Absolute Direction [5]; Driver’s Reflexes 2 [10]; Higher Purpose (Deliver the package) [5].
Skills: Two of Boating (Motorboat), Driving (Automobile, Heavy Wheeled, or Motorcycle), Piloting (Glider, Helicopter, Light Airplane, or Ultralight), or Submarine (Free-Flooding Sub), all (A) DX+2 [2*]. • Three of Artillery (Bombs, Guided Missile, or Torpedoes), Electronics Operation (Communications or Sensors), Freight Handling, or Mechanic (any), all (A) IQ [2]; Navigation (Air, Land, or Sea) (A) IQ+3 [2]†; or 2 points to raise one of those skills by a level.
*Gets a +2 bonus from Driver’s Reflexes.
† Gets a +3 Bonus from Absolute Direction.

Wire Rat

+50 points

Advantages: Circuit Sense 2 [10]; Gizmos 1 [5]; and Quick Gadgeteer (Solder and Duct Tape, -50%) [25].
Skills: Electrician, Electronics Operation (Communications, Security, and Surveillance), and Electronics Repair (Communications, Security, and Surveillance), all (A) IQ+1 [1]*. • Three of Electronics Operation (Media or Sensors) or Electronics Repair (Computers, Media, or Sensors), both (A) IQ+1 [1]*.
*Gets a +2 bonus from Circuit Sense.

Big Guy

+50 points

Attributes:  ST+2 [20].
Disadvantages: -15 points chosen from those listed on p. 5 of Action 3.
Advantages: DR 1 (Limited, Crushing, -40%) [3]; Trained by a Master [30].
Skills: Spend 8 points on any of the skills listed under Primary Skills for the Big Guy template on pg. 6 of Action 3.
Martial Arts Abilities: A total of 4 points in any of the perks, cinematic skills, and techniques from pg. 6 of Action 3. Where several specialties exist, choose unarmed ones.

Fast Guy

+50 points

Attributes:  DX+1 [20].
Disadvantages: -10 points chosen from those listed on p. 7 of Action 3.
Advantages: Trained by a Master [30].
Skills: Spend 8 points on any of the skills listed under Primary Skills for the Fast Guy template on pg. 6 of Action 3.
Martial Arts Abilities: A total of 2 points in any of the perks, cinematic skills, and techniques from pg. 7 of Action 3. Where several specialties exist, choose unarmed ones.


+50 points

Advantages: Craftiness 1 [5] and Weapon Master (Ninja Weapons) [35].
Disadvantages: Either Callous [-5] or Loner (12) [-5].
Skills: Spend a total of 10 points in any of the skills listed under Primary Skills for the Ninja template on pg. 8 of Action 3.
Martial Arts Abilities: A total of 5 points in any of the perks, cinematic skills, and techniques from p9. 8-9 of Action 3.


+50 points

Advantages: Perfect Balance [15]; Trained by a Master (Evasion, -50%) [15]; and Urban Jungle Gym [1].
Skills: Acrobatics (H) DX+1 [4]; Climbing (A) DX+1 [2]; Jumping (E) DX+2 [4]; and Running (A) HT+1 [4].
Martial Arts Abilities: A total of 5 points in any of the perks, cinematic skills, and techniques from pg. 10 of Action 3. Where several specialties exist, choose unarmed ones.

Weapon Master

+50 points

Attributes: +1 DX [20].
Advantages: Enhanced Parry 1 (Weapon of choice) [5]; Weapon Bond (Any starting weapon) [1]; and Weapon Master (Weapon of choice) [20].
Skills: Acrobatics (H) DX+1 [4]; Climbing (A) DX+1 [2]; Jumping (E) DX+2 [4]; and Running (A) HT+1 [4].
Martial Arts Abilities: A total of 5 points in any of the perks, cinematic skills, and techniques from pp. 11-12 of Action 3. Where several specialties exist, choose armed ones.