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.

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