Sunday, March 30, 2014

Carpe Blogiem: My Love/Hate Relationship With Virtual Tabletops

I've been playing role-playing games for a long time, I've been into computers almost as long. When I found out the two could combine...oh man, I geeked out. My first VTT was MapTools (version 1.19 I think). I spent hours toying with it and trying to make it work...and it did. But not the way I'd seen others demonstrate it working. It was incredibly frustrating. I tried my hand at coding (and I wasn't bad at it), but I just didn't have time to learn how to do everything I needed to do to do what I wanted. I have the same problem with the GURPS Character Assistant. I love that bit of software, but creating custom files for my personal campaigns was just a nightmare. So I left MapTools alone for a while, and went back to gaming without a VTT. Which kind of sucked because I can't free hand maps. Give me a piece of wood and I can carve a figure, try to have me drawing something and you get something like this....

See my problem? I suck at drawing things. If I were a GURPS character I'd probably have some sort of quirk-related Incompetence for drawing. Anyways, I again grew frustrated with my lack of sketching ability so I tried Fantasy Grounds. It did the same thing to me - drove me nuts and I ended up leaving it be...again. This cycle repeated for a while, until I actually plopped down money for Battlegrounds which I used the longest, but again, grew frustrated with. I eventually came round back to MapTool and used that for a while, especially with the GURPS ruleset that Wraithchild worked up. Still, it didn't hold me for long. Maybe that's because I run a exclusive face to face game - though we're considering a hybrid model at the moment. For me, VTTs have always been a resource to use at the gaming table - not to replace the gaming table. Even if I was running a online game I would probably want to use something simple, maybe like Epic Table or I might come back to Fantasy Grounds (which has been much improved) or MapTool. Still, I got my license for Battlegrounds and Heruca is a damn fine fellow (one of the nicest blokes you'll ever meet). After transcribing all of the interviews for +Douglas Cole's RPGBA Blog Carnival for Gaming Ballistic, I've got a whole new yen for a VTT - but my needs have changed since before. I want something easy to use, preferably with little to no scripting needs (or that have them done already), and that I can use at my gaming table or online. When I finally get time to evaluate what software is right for me, I'll probably come back and edit this post. Until then, I really suggest you check out what Doug's been up to this month - if he hasn't covered all the popular VTTs out there, I don't know who has. I'm sure there are a few missing of course, but all the major ones are there.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Software Review: Scrivener

After tinkering with Scrivener for a couple of hours, I could almost immediately see its potential – the problem is (and this is the issue with all new software to some degree) I don’t have time to learn how everything works. The tutorial is pretty complete, but I usually like to just jump in with both feet and get wet. Damn the instructions! The corkboard feature is pretty neat, but it’s doubtful I’ll use it just because I dig Scapple so much. The organization of chapters, story entries, etc. is pretty neat, and I like being able to juggle things around later if I want. Where this software really shines is the productivity tools for its targeted session writing. That’s just amazingly useful to keep hitting consistent and constant goals. I do this right now using a text file and manual entry. Two things which it doesn't have: Lack of WYSIWYG support. I know this is an intentional design decision. But l;et’s face it, most technical writers (which I am) have to use WYSIWYG so that our material can be poured into production software to get the final product. This is an HUGE downside for me as it immediately cuts the use of this program in half. Bam. Half of what I could use it for is gone. Some sort of template integration for those that want to use it would be great – eve if you can only do it at the end of what you are writing. The other thing is lack of a grammar or spellchecker – not that Windows Office is hitting on anything with theirs mind you, but it is there – lack of one…just sucks.
Overall, I like it, but it’s lack of support for technical writers is a blow to its consistent use for me. That said, I’ll probably use it for novels because is a powerful tool. You can purchase Scrivener directly from the Literature & Latte site for $40 which may or may not be too high depending on what sort of writing you do. I personally wouldn't have paid full price (I did NaNoWriMo last year so I got 50% off) and if you like to write, can hit 50,000 words in 30 days, and are willing to wait I suggest you do the same thing. They also have education discounts for those with a .edu email account. I give Scrivener 3.5 out of 5 pennies

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Designer's Notes: The Making of “Team Up!”

Or how a forum thread became our first published collaborative article

The following blog post features my co-author, my friend, and fellow GURPS enthusiast, Antoni Ten Monrós as well as my self. First, some words from Antoni...

The Cause For Inspiration is Perspiration

As most people already know, Christopher and I are close friends despite the distance that separates us (several thousand km). So how come two people who have never met forged a friendship such as ours, and ended up writing a collaborative article? Well, that’s a story for another day.

Today, we're going to explain how Team Up came to be. It started with this thread by JMD, where he asked for ways to have 2 or more people do a single action, in the style of Chrono Trigger's double/triple techniques. I proposed how to do so within the current rule's framework, but it obviously was going to require more than that. I got together with Christopher (who wrote most of Working Together and all of Captain, my Captain!) because he seemed interested, and I always go to him for idiot-testing my ideas (because he knows he can call me an idiot, or as he says an "idjit," and I won’t take it badly). He seemed interested, so we decided to make good on one of our pet projects, that is, writing an article together. See, despite me introducing him to the arcane mysteries of the WYSIWYG template, and both of us giving each other’s articles alpha-reads; we had never done an article together (we tried before a couple of times - but that's yet to see any fruition). These are the “outtakes” from that Pyramid article, the parts that we either ditched along the way or came up with too late for submission on an already overly long piece.

What is a group?

This is my house rule. It doesn’t claim to be canonical, but it works well enough for me. A group, for those traits that require specializing by group, is something that contains at least 2 characters (no single-person groups), and that has had a continuity over time. Like the Ship of Theseus (or it’s maybe better known modern equivalent, "George Washington’s Axe"), a team can have its' members join and leave, as long as there are always at least two members who have at least a single trait that specializes by group in common. Entering a group requires purchasing that trait too, but I don’t usually allow it until the characters have adventured together a bit (a single delve, as I mainly GM Dungeon Fantasy games).

Using the article in Dungeon Fantasy

Any group of delvers that meets the prerequisites can buy Coordinated Action (which can be extremely effective!). Of course, it works best if everyone buys it up until the level equals the team size, but 1-2 levels quickly start making a difference.

Natural Leader appeared first as Rallying Cry in Pyramid #3/61: The Way of the Warrior in the article More Power to Dungeon Warriors, as a knight power-up. As such, it should be restricted in the same way as the GM usually restricts power-ups. Other than knights, only Aristocrats (from Swords Against Evil in Pyramid #3/64: Pirates and Swashbucklers) should be allowed to purchase it, along with the guidance skills.

The rules for combined powers are less relevant in Dungeon Fantasy, as other than psions and saints, most delvers use standard spell magic that already includes rules for cooperative casting.

Powering-up teammates, however, is extremely relevant, and was already the subject of Auras of Power (In Pyramid #3/19: Tools of Trade: Clerics, reprinted in GURPS Power-Ups 4: Enhancements), as it’s the tradition to let spellcasters “buff” their more martially aligned allies, to produce something greater than the sum of its parts. The Quick and Dirty Approach especially suits elementalists (turning an elemental storm into a follow-up should always be a perfect match).

Techniques, When to Allow Them

When using abilities at default or the quick and dirty approach, it is possible to buy off the penalty as a technique. Doing so never nets a bonus though. The technique must either specialize by effect and team mate (and team mate action, if applicable), or by effect alone, and be bought as a wildcard technique.

Here’s an example straight from the source material for the article, Chrono Trigger.

Crono and Lucca decide that adding a kick-ass follow-up to Crono's unique technique Cleave (A unique technique bought as a targeted attack (Skull) plus a damage bonus and a parry penalty), and call it Fire Sword. Lucca knows Fire, a 4d fire innate attack, costing 20 points. Lucca is faster than Crono, and on her turn, she takes a concentrate maneuver. The GM decides it's a perfect match, and so Lucca obtains 2 power points. Since the GM agreed to buy this as a technique (Powering-up Chrono's Cleave Attack, allowing her to buy off the -8 penalty to will in that situation only) , her only penalty is the distance, and she makes her will-2 roll easily. Chrono's Cleave attack now deals 2d burning follow-up damage, that ignores the monster DR if the attack hits and penetrates DR, and that is applied straight to the brain, for a ×4 injury modifier.

What Does Coordinated Action Add to?

Since we split our tasks, some things didn’t get as clear and integrated as intended. Coordinated Action not only adds in all conditions described under Working Together, the minimum shared level, limited by the number of participating characters, but it also adds to Guidance Skills, to Combining Powers, Revisited, and to Powering Up Teammates, both under the detailed and especially the quick and dirty approach.

And now we are back to our regularly scheduled blogger....

The Idea

The idea for Team Up! has actually been kicking around for a while, well, the kernel of that idea anyways. As my regular readers know, I write (and have written) an obscene amount of game material. I also tend to write very extensive, very detailed "setting bibles" for my campaigns that end up be several tens of thousands of words - the average size of a GURPS hardback. I write so much that I doubt I'll be able to publish it all in my life time. So I take the choicest bits and then try to get those published or used in some way by my fellow gamers. Anyways, when I commented on that forum thread umpteen months ago, the idea of Team Up! just sort of crystallized instantly, and I knew that Antoni and I were going to have to attempt another co-authored article (before that, all our co-authored material was stalled for one reason or another). Funnily enough, it took us less than 3 days to write and less than a month to playtest, get beta-readers on, and peer review it. I hadn't originally thought to submit it to Alternate GURPS III, but L.A. (my significant other) said to do it...and, well, she's a witch (or close enough to one), so I tend to do what she tells me because of her rather strong intuitive skills. I sent it off to Beth McCoy and then into Steven Marsh. BAM! As you can see, it paid off, and we're in Pyramid, really it's the perfect article to show case our (if you'll pardon the pun) cooperative capabilities. Antoni and I have this odd little friendship, the kind that you can only get in this modern age of wonders, where you can speak with someone halfway across the world as if they were with you in the next room. I've always questioned the oddness of it, but not the friendship itself - he's one of my closest friends, a writing partner, and a damn fine fellow to boot. I'm always proud of the stuff we end up putting together. So enough of my jibberjabbering, let's get back to some content!

"Come and Get Them!"

Sometimes, you just don't have the time it takes to use the Guidance skills, in a suitable cinematic campaign the GM might allow you to make a skill roll at -10 to use them fast enough to be useful in combat (p. B346). Doing this reduces the time to a mere 1 second, and the GM should use the following modifiers based on how long the leader has been with the group he's inspiring:
  • You don't know your troops that well: a penalty equal to (10 - weeks you been commanding them), minimum of -0. For example, if you've just become their commander a month ago, you'd take a -6 penalty to lead them. The Teamwork perk removes this penalty completely. The GM may allow other traits to give bonuses as well to negate this penalty. For example, the GM might say that if all members of your troop have Shield Wall Training or Battle Drills - it removes -2 worth of penalties. This is cumulative.
  • Coordinated Action gives it's usual bonus.
  • All members of your troop have combat reflexes: +1.
  • All members of your troop have at least one point in Solider or have a Style Familiarity for the same martial arts style: +1 for one or the other, +2 for both.
Alternatively, the GM may allow you to spend a character point (or Impulse Point) to ignore these penalties, but not those for time, if you deliver a suitably cool line.

Optionally, the GM could let a character take Efficient (specific Guidance skill) to reduce the penalties for haste by 2 (See Power-Ups 2: Perks, p. 16) or even allow the following technique:

Instant Guidance


Default: Guidance skill-10; Cannot exceed Guidance skill level.

           Your skill is so great with a particular Guidance skill. You can  attempt to use it without the usual time constraints and instead perform it in a single combat round (or 1 second). The effects are still the same as the Guidance skill being used - it's just faster. You must specialize by skill. Add +1 one to the effective skill roll if you have either the Esprit de Corps, Karma Pool, or Teamwork perk, the effects are cumulative, but you can never gain a net bonus with this technique. This technique cannot benefit from the Technique Mastery perk.

Raw Recruits, Raw Talent

Another optional trait might be an enhanced version of Born War-Leader (Power-Ups 3: Talents, p. 12), "Born Commander." (the following trait originally appeared in previous GURPS booksm and I've repeated enough of the material here so readers don't have to flips between multiple sources to understand the trait).

Born Commander

10 points/level
Expert Skill (Military Science), Guidance (all four skills), Intelligence Analysis, Leadership, Public Speaking, Savoir-Faire (Military), Solider, Strategy, and Tactics.

Reaction Bonus: Anyone you serve with or command, other "leaders of men," or professional warriors.
Alternative Benefit: +1/level to your side’s roll for initiative (see Partial Surprise, p. B393), provided that you are the leader. Additionally, you ignore -1/level worth of penalties due to haste (p. B426) when using a Guidance skill for any group you also have a Teamwork perk for.
Alternative Cost: 12 points/level.
Sources: GURPS Banestorm, GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1, GURPS Monster Hunters 1, and Power-Ups 3: Talents.

I Don't Have a Team, I Have a Coven

The following new perk is a modified form of Teamwork and is meant to be used by "circles" of magic users. The GM can modify this for use with other types of similar power sources.


You’ve practiced casting magic in a team. To use this perk, everyone in the coven (sometimes called a cabal or circle) must take a Concentrate maneuver to “link up.” After that, the entire group acts at the same point in the combat sequence as its slowest member. On the coven’s collective turn, each member may select any maneuver he likes. The only requirement is that after everyone in the original formation has taken his turn, they’re all still next to one another (in adjoining hexes) or be able to see one another clearly. If anyone gets separated, the coven must form up again – with or without the straggler. A caster who’s linked-up may:
  • Mystically brace a member of his coven within a yard for the purposes of concentrating on or maintaining a spell. You may add up to 1/5 (round down) of your own Will to his ally’s score when he rolls to see if he loses control of his spell or stops maintaining it
  • "Hand off" a spell that you've cast to another teammate who then treats it as if he had cast it originally.
  • Assist with the casting of a spell by a teammate who is within one yard plus your Magery in yards, adding 1/5 (round down) of his own skill to his ally's skill for the purposes of casting the spell, gathering energy, drawing symbols, etc. You must have the same spell, symbol-skill, Path skill, etc. as the caster to do this. Optionally, you may use your own maneuvers to help a fellow caster speed up the casting of his spell. For example, if one character is casting Fireball, another member of your coven may make it bigger by spending his turn and FP. In this way, casters who work together can create the necessary magic for the spell and attack with it in the same turn.
  • Sacrifice an active defense to use a blocking spell to defend a teammate within yards equal to half your skill with the spell from a physical or magical attack.
  • You may provide a member of your coven with access to your Fatigue Points, Energy Reserve, Mana Reserve, etc. This is a free action for you, but those tapping into your reserves must take the normal amount of time.
You must specialize by a magical style or in working with a particular small group (such as an adventuring party). Only those with the same perk can link and enjoy these benefits.

Picking Over the Bones

Well, that's it for now, but keep your eyes to the horizen, we're always collaborating on something, and you never know what we might come up with next. Maybe rules for making Tranzor Z or something - who the hell knows. If you haven't seen Pyramid #3/65 Alternate GURPS III, you should go check it out - it's a helluva nice issue overall.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Unusual Background, Revisited

I've covered this before, but I felt it was a worthy topic to return to. This time, focusing on the GM. As a GM when exactly do you use a Unusual Background? Though I personally found the trait rather intuitive, many GMs seem to be mystified enough to just ignore it - which I think is a mistake. Done right, Unusual Background can add flavor and depth to your campaigns. First, you need to determine everything you're going to allow into your campaign which is largely determined by what kind of setting your detailing as well as it's genre. Are you allowing Exotic or Supernatural traits? Which ones? Are their any limitations? Can they only be purchased with a Power Modifier? Are they allowed as "wild" traits? Are certain abilities available, but rare? The Trait Sorter can be useful, but you'll need to add some of the (few) traits they've added since the Basic Set once you're done with that list. Decide which off-list abilities you'll allow with a Unusual Background. For example, in a Space Opera game no Exotic or Supernatural trait may be taken without the Psionic Power Modifier or as a part of a Racial Template - but the GM decides that since many of the races in his campaign can interbreed with each other that leveled Unusual Background (Hybrid) trait is available. Each level costs 5 points and allows a character to possess a trait from any racial template other than his own.

The question of rarity is a bit more complicated. How do you, as a GM, determine what is rare in your campaign? The quickest method is to use the 50-10-0 method from GURPS Supers. Is it really rare? As in maybe 200 people on a planet have such capabilities? Then it's a Unusual Background worth 50 points. Is it uncommon? You can only find people with such capabilities in even the smallest of cities? Then it's a Unusual Background worth 10 points. Anything more isn't worth points. Also, if you don't have GURPS Psionic Campaigns - you should really get it, even if you don't run games with psionic powers it has a lot of good advice on how to run games with powers in them. The box Unusual Background (Psi) is especially enlightening (see p. 13 of that book). A method which I've used in the past uses the Size and Speed/Range Table (p. B550); it's quite handy! I also like using Eric B. Smith's Extended Chart.
  1. Figure the total population of your campaign setting or its referred area. For example, if you're campaign is set in "modern-day Earth," then this would be around 7 billion.
  2. Next, determine the ratio of those with the ability to those without it. For example, if it were literally one in a million, the ratio would be 1:1,000,000
  3. Next, divide the ratio into the population. In that same example, it would be: 7,000,000,000 / 1,000,000 or 7,000 people worldwide.
  4. Next, read over the Linear Measurement chart on the Speed/Range Table and then read across to the Speed/Range column, this number is the cost of the Unusual Background to possess that rare capability. Continuing our example, this would be a trait worth 21 points.
  5. Finally, depending on what exactly the ability is, use the following modifiers to determine the final cost:
    • Multiple abilities or access to a entire Power Source (e.g., psionic abilities): round the cost up to the nearest multiple of five.
    • Ability is very rare (most people are "latents;" at least 50%) or unknown (there are few, if any countermeasures against it that are available to the public): add 5 to the final cost if one or the other or 10 if both.
    • Ability is well known or countermeasures are widely available: divide final cost by 2.Use this modifier after all others; this is incompatible with the unknown modifier (see above).
Example: In the GM's Scorched Earth campaign, he decides that psionic abilities and beneficial mutations may be possible outside of the Pskyer and Mutate racial templates - but they'll be pretty rare. After the Storm hit and wiped out most of the population of the planet, only 2,000,000,000 people remain worldwide. The GM decides that 1:400,000 possess either a singular psionic ability or beneficial mutation and. Additionally, countermeasures are widely available since everyone knows about psi powers and biological mutations.  Thus possessing either in his campaign is a 10-point Unusual Background.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Casting Lots - Part II - Game Session 6

Angelique Ashur, Jonathan Valerius Baksheesh, Maynard “Alex” Hamilton, & Sergei Romanova
June, 18th, 2001, 11:30 pm
54.5 Hours Since Kidnapping
3510 South Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60653

When the PCs get back to the Waking World, they immediately tackle the problem before them – the kidnapping of young Jackson Van Dorian the V. Before they can start a package is delivered to them, addressed to Alex. Inside is a videotape and the left pinkie toe of a small child… When they play the video a man in a robe speaks warning them that time is growing short, and if they don’t get him what he wants he’ll cut of more than a toe (which he holds up). And then proceeds to carve up the young heir, scaring his face with cuts over the tops of both eyes, and giving the child a Glasgow smile. To his credit, the book makes no sound and stares defiant before spitting saliva and blood into the face of his captor. The tape ends after that, and the police station becomes a hive of busyness. Jestinius leaves to go check up on Victor Halusko (who experienced a break-in at SDI, which they repelled, though it knocked out their communications network for a while). Meanwhile, the PCs begin going back over old data – Angelique uses her psychic sensitivity to “reread” the impressions from the crystal shard and try to make the Finder work, while Alex and the others go through files. Over five hours later, they come to the same conclusion – the Black Sun purchased the rights to an 18th century military fort on Lake Michigan. The fort itself was abandoned after three different groups of soldiers disappeared without a trace. Deciding the trip overland is too long, Alex manages to requisition an old Cutter from the ‘40s to get them there quicker. Angelique gets in contact with Victor and explains the situation; he then sends her a security force to meet her at Calamut docks.

Angelique Ashur, Jonathan Valerius Baksheesh, Maynard “Alex” Hamilton, & Sergei Romanova
June, 18th, 2001, 12:00 am
55 Hours Since Kidnapping
Calamut Harbor, Chicago, IL, 60633

Once at the docks, the SDI security team is there, led by none other than Sarge himself. They get on the old boat as Angelique finishes a ritual that summons wind and fog into the city and then pushes it outward towards their destination to provide cover and additional speed, however, small. With Jonathan at the helm, they arrive at their location fairly quickly. Sergei  offers to go in first, and Sarge hands him a pneumatic ascender (that way no one has to actually climb and the device itself is quiet), he then scrabbles up the small cliff face, attaches the device, and kills the eight guards atop the parapet in less than the space it takes for a single breath. The rest of the PCs and security team climb up and look down below.

Angelique Ashur, Jonathan Valerius Baksheesh, Maynard “Alex” Hamilton, & Sergei Romanova
June, 19th, 2001, 12:15 am
55.25 Hours Since Kidnapping

In the courtyard below, they see young Van Dorian strapped to a stone slab and the crystal shard at his head, inserted strangely into the stone – almost as if it were a part of the slab itself. Around him are six other children, three girls and three boys, trussed up like turkeys. Angelique “links up” the security team and the other PCs and as one, they spring into action. Sarge uses a crossbow to launch a pneumatic piston into the far wall, creating a zipline. Alex, Sergei, and Jonathan rapidly attach harnesses to the line and then slid down (Sergei just slides down the line using his sword hilt). Below, in the courtyard, the hooded figures that were helping the leader of the Black Sun drop as one as the security teams put bullets in their heads. This startles the rest of the cult-members and Jonathan, and Alex begin attaching the quick harnesses to the kids. From the ledge above, Sarge activates some sort of onboard motor in each harness, and the kids are pulled upward and back towards the ledge. In a matter of seconds, all the kids are to safety except Jackson on the stone slab – which begins to levitate and quickly ascends nearly 20 feet and Angelique, her eyes glowing bright blue comes down from the sky like an angry god. Sergei looks to her to make sure it’s okay, and as she gives a slight nod, the ninja draws his other blade and in movements to quickly to see, he proceeds to cut the Black Sun’s leader to shreds. Putting his weapons away, he looks at the other fifty or so cult members, and they all take a step back. Sarge shouts for them to put their hands on their heads, or he’s going to have his men start shooting. With their leader obviously dead they do as they're told and Alex calls in the standby HRT and SWAT teams which come to mop up the miss. The elder Van Dorian is with them as is Thomas Mandor and the two elderly men embrace their grandchild, carrying them and the other survivors off to be checked out.

Angelique Ashur, Jonathan Valerius Baksheesh, Maynard “Alex” Hamilton, & Sergei Romanova
June, 19th, 2001, 1:00 am
56 Hours Since Kidnapping

Carpe Blogiem: Patreon...No, the Website, Not the Drink

So I've decided to give Patreon a shot and see what happens. So if you like my blog, me poking my heads in the forums at all hours, or my creative work in general you could become a patron to the arts. Make no mistake, I'm probably going to keep doing all of these things, but if you appreciate it and have the means, I wouldn't say "no" to you throwing a little money in my proverbial hat. Besides - if the tally gets high can take a hand to where you'd like to see me steer my blog, my work, etc. Wouldn't that be fun?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Carpe Blogiem: How Did You Get Your Start?

I was sent an email from an individual who asked: How did you start writing for Steve Jackson Games? That's kind of complicated and a bit longish - but I'll keep it as short as possible. I've always been a rules tinkerer and material developer. I was the guy who played Dungeons & Dragons, but had custom classes, kits, etc. I loved the Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft campaign settings. I mean, I ate, drank, and breathed them. I knew every nook, cranny, and crack in those worlds - especially Forgotten Realms. Anyways, I started writing material for my campaigns, and I got tired of spending hundreds of dollars a month on books. I stepped away from it for a while, ran my good ole standby World of Darkness. Eventually, I decided to write up a new campaign using the d20 Future book, and everything was going fine for a while even though my personal life was shit at the time (unmedicated bi-polar disorder is a bad thing...). I remember clearly the day it happened. I'd gotten up early to make breakfast for everyone (we'd been creating characters the night before), and I was working on the campaign, and it just wasn't...gelling, I guess the word is. I couldn't get everything to match the prodigious background material I'd written - especially the spaceships I'd so painstakingly created. Something in me snapped (thanks again unmedicated bi-polar disorder) and I just started wrecking my kitchen. I ended up storming off to my room, and I stayed there for a day or two. My friends left me alone and L.A. took care of me, but I brooded for a long time. For those of you who may not be aware, when you're dealing with depression (and I was) any task failed feels like you've lost a terrible horrible war that could have been prevented in the first place if only you could have completed (whatever). The more I thought about it, the worse I felt. Anyways, C came into my room and he and L.A. helped me talk it out, and eventually he opened this backpack he had brought with him and convinced me to give the books inside (GURPS 3rd edition) a read through. He went to work, and I read. I'd played GURPS many times before with C or others running it but had never thought to GM it myself. Like many before me (and after) I incorrectly believed that it was too "mathy." Within a month, I was hooked, and I'd set up the campaign I'd had in mind. We played off and on for a while as I got used to the rules (I ran other stuff in between) and when I heard about 4th edition, I knew I'd have to get that too. From there I devoured every GURPS book of any edition I could find. I started my first steady GURPS campaign in January 2006 (I converted my sci-fi game over), and I've been running games since. I started writing campaign material. aping the GURPS style immediately, and produced...a lot of content - content I'm still submitting now. I didn't try to submit anything until I queried Steven about the Epic Magic issue, but my grandmother grew ill, and I couldn't fulfill my obligation. I tried again later on at the urging of both L.A. and Antoni Ten Monrós and succeeded with my first article: It's Pure Chemistry! Which I wrote in late 2010 and got published the following year. Once I started learning the Steve Jackson Games style I couldn't stop writing. I'm a pathological overachiever with a brain that never stops, what else was going to happen? Since then I've written almost 200 fully formed articles (about a 1/20 of them have been submitted and/or published - the rest remain in "The Vault") and a half a dozen books. All of this precludes my campaign source materials and setting bibles which I outline and write just like a GURPS book. If I could figure out how to get the PDF production aspect working I'd be a happy man. Eventually, I guess, I'll get around to writing a book. Maybe this year? Regardless I'll still keep writing for Pyramid because Steven Marsh is one of my personal heroes. Like Ken Hite said, he's a saint. Heh. "The Saint of GURPS writers everywhere and The Long-Suffering  Editor." So my long-winded tale is more or less over. How did I get my start? I started writing long before I ever submitted anything which in retrospect was a mistake. I had people help me along the way (L.A., C., Antoni, Elizabeth McCoy, my mother - who patiently listend to me rant about game mechanics without understanding them - the list gos on) and I never gave up. Not for one second.

So if you've written something and think it's good enough, maybe you should think about submitting it. Who knows, you could be the next Sean Punch or David Pulver. Maybe you need just a little help, and hey, I here there is a group or something for that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Starting Point Totals

Want to strike fear into the icy heart of any GURPS GM? Say the following words: Starting. Point. Totals. What I'm about to say is probably going to be viewed heretical by some, but in my experience running GURPS, it seems to be true. Point totals DO NOT MEASURE CAPABILITY/POWER. Trying to use point totals to equate to raw power is a holdover of many gamers, thanks to leveled/class systems and our D&D days. It would be nice to be able to say that 25 points equal X amount of effectiveness...but you just can't do that within a game system that allows as much freedom as GURPS does. This can be an utter nightmare for new GMs and is part of the reasoning behind Action, Dungeon Fantasy, and Monster Hunters. Those game lines intentionally pare down what is allowed and puts it into bit-sized manageable chunks. If you're a newbie GM - try running one of those lines as one of your first GURPS games, you'll thank me later. Even there, you can only guesstimate at power/capability. Again, this is because of the sheer freedom/flexibility of the GURPS game engine - you can do anything and being able to do anything makes it hard to figure how a given character build might react in any situation. I've seen others try to cobble a system together (and the closest I ever found to a workable system is what Nymdok eventually came up with on the forums as well as Matt Riggsby's N-notation from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventure 1: Mirror of the Fire Demon) - most of the time they just don't work.

         This means that deciding what your starting point total for a campaign is  going to be problematic. The rules on p. B487 are more like guidelines, rather than hard and fast rules. This ends up making some GMs choose the wrong point total for their campaign and then beating their heads against the wall when they can't make it work. For example, p. B487 lists "Heroic Levels" as 100 to 200 points - most GMs see this, and they think "Heroic? John MacClane, Aragon, whatever." It's not helpful that the next line (Larger-than-Life) goes on to list action movies, kung-fu flicks, and "leading" roles within film, fiction, video games, or whatever media floats your boat. In my experience, most people skip that next line thinking they can pull off what they've seen in movies with 100 to 200 points and really, you just can't. Not unless there are a ton of optional Cinematic rules turned on (but that's an entirely other ball of wax). Suffice it to say that when most GMs think "Movie X" or "Novel Y" they are thinking "I can build these guys on 150 points." Again, this leads to GM frustration and wanton modification of the rules to fit the game engine to the inspirational source. This never ends well, not when you decide to go about reducing the point costs of traits, making things work differently than they were intended without a thorough playtest (though if that's the point of the game - full speed ahead! New rules demand games to test them in), etc. What always boggles me is this: If you're going to modify the game engine so it fits the source material due to what is perceived to be inflated point totals...why not just give the points to begin with? Why make your life as a GM more complicated then it needs to be? The answer is usually "game balance!" however, that tends not to hold up well when you're breaking something that works and turning it into something that may not work. I guess what this whole post is try to say is this: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Want to run a cool Space Opera Barsoom-style campaign? Don't limit your players to 150 point characters. Give them the points they need to emulate the fiction. I promise you, as a GM, as a game designer, as someone who has been telling stories for a long time, you won't be sorry. So again, emulate the source of fiction using the game engine - don't try to make the game engine emulate the source. That's just asking for trouble. Finally, don't try to keep the point totals of characters the same after the game begins. That too, is asking for trouble. After a GURPS game begins it becomes the "Who's Line Is It Anyway?" of RPGs - that is, the points don't matter (and they don't).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Diablorising Ritual Path Magic - The Necromancer - Part III

And the final in my installment for Diablo II's Necromancer. my "conversion" of the Diablo II Necromancer's skills. Lastly: Poison and Bone!

Poison and Bone

Most of the spells and abilities listed here involve  inflicting poison damage or conjuring bone constructs.

Spell Effects: Greater Create Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, External Small Piercing (Cone, 3 yards).
Greater Effects: 1 (x3).

This ritual conjures a series of teeth that injure targets within a 3 yard cone (see Area and Spreading
, p. B413), inflicted 6d of small piercing damage.

Typical Casting: Greater Create Matter (6) + Damage, External Small Piercing 6d (Cone, 3 yards, +70%) (16). 66 energy (22x3).

Bone Armor
Spell Effects: Greater Create Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Altered Traits, Damage Resistance (Force Field; Semi-Ablative).
Greater Effects: 1 (x3).

This ritual conjures a mass of whirling bone granting the subject DR 5 with the Force Field and Semi-Ablative options. This lasts until the DR is gone or 10 minutes have passed, whichever occurs first.

Typical Casting: Greater Create Matter (6) + Altered Traits, Damage Resistance 5 (Force Field, +20%; Semi-Ablative, -20%) (25) + Duration, 10 minutes (1). 66 energy (22x3).

Poison Dagger
Spell Effects: Greater Create Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, External Toxic (Follow-Up).
Greater Effects: 1 (x3).

This ritual gives a weapon of the caster's choosing weighing no more than 10 lbs a 3d toxic follow-up. This last for the next hour.

Typical Casting: Greater Create Matter (6) + Damage, External Toxic 3d (Follow-Up, +0%) (0) + Duration, 1 hour (3). 27 energy (9x3).

Corpse Explosion
Spell Effects: Lesser Control Energy + Lesser Transform Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Altered Traits, Fragile (Combustible; Explosive; Flammable).
Greater Effects: 0 (x1).

This ritual causes a corpse weighing up to 300 lbs. to explode in a mass of charred flesh and fire doing damage to those nearby. To determine how much damage is done use the body's base HP and the following formula: 6dx(HP/10) crushing explosion. This attack is capable of starting fires just as if it had the Incendiary modifier.

Typical Casting: Lesser Control Energy (5) + Lesser Transform Matter (8) + Altered Traits, Fragile (Combustible; Explosive; Flammable) (6). 19 energy (19x1).

Bone Wall, Bone Prison
Spell Effects: Greater Create Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, Crushing (Wall, Rigid).
Greater Effects: 1 (x3).

This ritual conjures a massive wall of bones and fossilized remains that are pulled from the nearby area. The wall is 15 yards long by 5 yards wide. Each yard of wall has DR 27, HP 5, and counts as a hard surface for any being that collides with it. The Bone Prison spell adds the Shapeable Wall enhancement increase cost to 90 energy. This allows the caster to imprison targets within it (at least until they do enough damage to break out).

Typical Casting: Greater Create Matter (6) + Area of Effect, 5 yards (4) + Damage, Crushing 9d (Wall, Rigid, +30%) (14). 72 energy (24x3).

Poison Explosion
Spell Effects: Lesser Control Energy + Lesser Transform Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Altered Traits, Fragile (Combustible; Explosive; Flammable).
Greater Effects: 0 (x1).

This ritual causes a corpse weighing up to 300 lbs. to explode in a mass of charred flesh and fire doing damage to those nearby. To determine how much damage is done use the body's base HP and the following formula: 3dx(HP/10) toxic damage that lingers for 10 seconds and affects all within a 2 yard radius of the body.

Typical Casting: Lesser Control Energy (5) + Lesser Transform Matter (8) + Altered Traits, Fragile (Combustible; Explosive; Flammable*) (6). 19 energy (19x1).
* Swapping damage from crushing explosion to a poison cloud is effectively a 0-point feature.

Bone Spear
Spell Effects: Greater Create Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, External Impaling.
Greater Effects: 1 (x3).

This ritual conjures a spear made of bone that does 3d impaling damage.

Typical Casting: Greater Create Matter (6) + Damage, External Impaling 3d (0). 18 energy (6x3).

Poison Nova
Spell Effects: Greater Create Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Area of Effect + Damage, External Toxic.
Greater Effects: 1 (x3).

This ritual does 15d toxic damage to anyone within 5 yards of the caster.

Typical Casting: Greater Create Matter (6) + Area of Effect, 5 yards (4) + Damage, External Toxic 12d (12). 66 energy (22x3).

Bone Spirit
Spell Effects: Greater Create Matter.
Inherent Modifiers: Damage, External Piercing (Homing, Detect Supernatural Beings or Life).
Greater Effects: 1 (x3).

This ritual conjures a spirit that attacks a specific target following him (see Homing Weapons, p. B412) even if he tries to run away. When it hits it inflicts 6d of piercing damage. Use the caster's Path of Matter skill to lock onto a target.

Typical Casting: Greater Create Matter (6) + Damage, External Piercing 6d (Homing, Detect Supernatural Beings or Life, +76%) (19). 75 energy (25x3).