Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: NPC Frequency of Appearance in Game Time

I don't have a ton of "house rules" - I pretty much like the GURPS 4th edition system as is, but there are a few things that irk me and one of those is the Frequency of Appearance for Allies, Contacts, Dependents, Enemies, and Patrons. In GURPS you basically purchase a Frequency for which your NPCs show up. For positive traits the higher the number the better, for negative traits the lower the number the better. As a GM, I like to cut down on the number of rolls I have to make before we even begin to game just because that's annoying and distracting to me. So a while back (four or five years) I decided that I would roll once for all NPC-related traits to see if they appear and then be done with it. Well...that didn't work completely like I wanted so I tinkered with it some more and then one day, while flipping through powers I saw the "Game Time" modifier and I was like "Damn...that's perfect! How to get it to work how I want though?" So I came up with the following little system, it works best in games that feature a timetable (which most of mine do) and a cinematic tone (ditto).

Game Time Frequency
Using a Frequency based on game time vs. real time/game session makes a heck of a lot more sense for some gaming styles then the standard rules - of course, for some styles it's probably better to use the standard system. Obviously, a appearance of Constantly means that the NPC is always there. Do not use these rules with the Summonable/Conjurable modifier - it's perfectly reasonable for them to show up only when they can rather than for a entire adventure, story arc, etc.

Allies, Dependents, and Enemies
The prices for all traits remain the same (e.g., 12 or less is still x2 base cost), but the actual length of their appearance changes from per session, to per game week. That is, if your Ally would show up for this game session, he instead stays for a entire week (in game time), at the end of that make another roll, success means he stays another week, failure means he has something else to do and leaves. If leaving would result in a illogical consistency for the current situation (e.g., the PCs and their Ally are in prison) then he should ignore the result until the ally could logically get away. I used a "week," but there is no reason why you couldn't change this to "two weeks," "a month," or even a "day" depending on your gaming style. Enemies, while not a special case do bear mentioning: if they show up at any time during a particular story arc/adventure the GM should have them stick around for up to a game week and wreak all kinds of havoc.

Contacts and Patrons
Contacts already basically work this way, except that it's every 24 hours versus every week. Patrons normally can only be reached once per adventure (about one week is typical here). Instead of that, use the rules for Contacts (-2 per attempt to reach them more than once during a given week). Otherwise, use the rules for both of these advantages as is.

Picking Over the Bones
Contacts should really get some kind of boost - they're already weak for what they do, but I'm still trying to decide what. I'll probably eventually either flesh out my thoughts on the subject as something official or post it on the blog. Like all Basic traits - it doesn't need to be REBUILT - it just needs to be fleshed out more (ala what GURPS High-Tech did for Gunslinger). Allies need a couple of more options too, but the real "I need moar stuffz" here is Patron. Patron is awesome for what it does, but damn it I need more information. What can my Patron get me? What sort of support? GURPS Action brought about the Assistance Rolls (and GURPS Social Engineering: Pulling Rank expanded it), but it still feels like something is missing. I've toyed around with a few methods for organizing a given Patron as a group with definable game statistics, but I'm waiting for the pipeline to thaw some more. My players took some time getting used to these rules, but they love them now. In a "story sense" they are thematically more appropriate, you don't see the protagonist's friends popping in and out - they stay there till something draws them off. As a aside, sometimes you (the GM) need to remove a ally before their time is up. To do this just talk to the player and tell him what you need and a (vague) why and then give a +3 bonus to Appearance rolls the next time. I've done this for years and my players are more than happy to do such things in the name of story.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Dirty Laundry

Something odd came up while I was helping a player create their character, he asked "What trait do I use to represent knowing someone's dirty laundry? You know, blackmailable secrets nadf stuff." I admit the first thing I went to was Favor + Ally, Contact, Patron and Completely Unreliable or Unwilling. But that seemed a bit like overkill. It felt more like "I know something so bad about you I can make you my bitch." What about knowing stuff without the other party knowing that you know? I ended up even starting a thread in the Steve Jackson Forums to see if I could find any useful bits from the hivemind. Turned out a few shook loose and I came up with a few of my own.

Kick 'em When They're Up
If the idea behind the character's knowledge is that they've got blackmail so bad that their target is going to help them multiple times then Ally (Unwilling, -50%), Contact (Completely Unreliable), or Patron (Unwilling, -50%) is the best bet. Buy the trait at the appropriate level for the campaign and call it a day. If your knowledge provides monetary funds then buy spend points on Trading Points for Money (p. B26) for a one-time lump sum or purchase Independent Income. This might not work for all sorts of financial-incentivized blackmail, after all Independent Income is based on your Wealth level, not your target's. To get around this, the GM might allow you to purchase more than 20 levels of Independent Income or perhaps allow a form of "Super-Effort" as a modifier. Such a modifier, let's call it "Deep Pockets" should probably cost around +300% (making Independent Income 4/level) and does what all Super-Effort modifiers do - it lets you look up your level on the Speed/Range Table (p. B550). In this case instead of each level giving your 1% of your Starting Wealth, it gives you the look-up number from the table as a percentage. You can mix levels with Deep Pockets with those who don't have it. You could for example have Independent Income 5 (Deep Pockets, +300%) [20], which gives you 15% of your Starting Wealth every month instead of 5%. Do note that it wouldn't start becoming useful till higher levels like most traits with such "Super-Effort" modifiers. Consider also the possibility of borrowing the Frequency modifier from Allies or Patron, with the modifier requiring a monthly roll against the number to get the funds. If you've got dirt on a entire organization ask if the GM will let you buy "Hidden Lore ([Organization] Secrets)" as a skill choice. Security Clearance with Informal (-50%) might also work if you have access to your very own Bernsteinin Deep Throat.

Hidden Lore†
p. B199
Default: None.
Hidden Lore needn't be a supernaturally-related skill, it could instead represent a operational level of knowledge of a particular group or organization:

        Organization: You know the ins and outs of a particular organization or group along with all their dirty laundry and where the bodies are buried. If you have 2 or more points in this skill and Rank for your organization you may make a skill roll to gain temporary access to a specific secret just as if you had Security Clearance for your group. If you already have Security Clearance then you can temporarily treat your level as one higher. If you have 4 or more points in this skill you don't need Rank, but you must make skill rolls at -2.

Kick 'em When They're Down
If the knowledge of secrets/blackmail is a temporary or one time thing then follow the advice above, but add Favor (p. B55) and possibly purchase the whole thing as a Potential Advantage. The GM might also want to represent such secrets using a version of the Hidden Knowledge perk (GURPS Powers 2: Perks, p. 20-21):

Secret Knowledge†‡
        Instead of having access to a particular skill, you have access to highly sensitive information about a particular target or organization. As long as you don't actually act on what you know, you're safe. At the end of any game session where you act on your knowledge roll 3d and on a 15 or more this trait disappears; a critical failure means it gets replaced with a Enemy (p. B135) or Secret (p. B125) instead! Additionally, reduce this number by 3 per point of value this trait is worth over the first, so if you have a Secret Knowledge perk worth 3 points then it disappears on a 9 or less and on a 17 or 18 the bad guys decide to come after you! The GM may optionally allow you to spend a single character point to avoid this if you have one available. The GM should determine the scope of what you know exactly using the rules for Security Clearance (p. B82): Security Clearance at the first level costs 1-point, level two costs 2-points, and level three costs 3-points. If this perk is about a individual then by default they do not know that you have dirt on them, for organizations this costs a additional point. For example, if you know that Pentex, Incorporated is selling dangerous magically additive fast food that would cost you at least 2 points (free access to a narrow range of secrets) if they knew you knew or 3 points if you discovered it on your own. 

Kick 'em all around
Knowing things you shouldn't can have a downside and the archetypical trait of such knowledge is the Secret disadvantage. Said disadvantage implies that you either did something someone wants to punish you for (whether it be society, a particular person. etc.) or that you know something you shouldn't. Consider also Duty (Involuntary) if you are forced to do a particular job or be employed by a particular person or Dependent with Unwilling (+50%) from GURPS Social Engineering (p. 80), but with the twist that you are unwilling to take care of the subject and bad things will happen to you if you don't. Finally, if you know something you shouldn't and the bad guys know that you know it's a classic case for the Enemy disadvantage.

Picking Over the Bones 
When it comes down to it, knowing secrets about someone or something is really a role-playing bit - not a trait to be defined. The exception to this is knowing something before the game actually starts, though the GM may ignore it because it could provide a great hook! Still, if it must be defined consider using some of the above traits for such nebulous things as "I know about the Cardinal's secret aims to take over France!" or the like.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

GURPS101: Wound Absorption

Sitting around a table with your friends after a good game is some of the best times to breed ideas. Hell, they replicate like rabbits in such a situation. While gaming recently I had several ideas "fall" into my lap, but the most radical of them came from a conversation about a old World of Darkness character which got me thinking: How could I represent their "soak" mechanic? The actual rules didn't hit me till I was half way home and I hurried to scribble them down.

The Idea
Loss of HP in GURPS means that a damaging attack has penetrated the DR of a target as well as his other protections and now becomes injury. Injury can sometimes happen from other means, but usually it's from being attacked or a accident or the like. What if you could reduce the injury you take after it's penetrated your DR? An idea like this might work well in supers campaign or one where everyone plays monsters (e.g., World of Darkness).

The Mechanics
After DR is penetrated and the total HP is tallied, but before applying the injury to the target's hit points he gets to make a HT roll at a penalty equal to half the damage. Subtract his margin of success from the damage he took (to a minimum amount of damage that that attack could have inflicted on him), but add his margin of failure to the total (up to the maximum amount of damage that that attack could have inflicted on him).This is entirely optional, he may choose to take the damage "as is" if he wishes, but he doesn't get to know what the penalty is (i.e., how much HP he lost) until he actually makes the roll. This tends to simulate the drama of super-tough creatures and being able to shrug off near any attack that affects them (which could also be a result of Injury Tolerance).

How Can I Do This?
Depending on the genre/tone of the game it might be best to simply allow it as a cinematic rule ("Wound Absorption") that only applies to a select group (a "monster hunting" campaign) or to everyone in general (in supers campaign). It might also be appropriate to create a new form of Injury Tolerance as well.

Injury Tolerance (Wound Absorption)
p. B60
You may attempt to make a HT roll to shrug off any injury you have sustained by making a HT roll at a penalty equal to half the amount of damage you just took. Subtract your margin of success from the damage you took (to a minimum amount of damage that that attack could have inflicted), but add your margin of failure to the total (up to the maximum amount of damage that that attack could have inflicted). You don't have to do this, for instance you may choose to take the damage "as is" if you wish, but the GM should tell you what the penalty is (i.e., how much HP you are going to lose) until you actually make the roll. Each level of Injury Tolerance (Wound Absorption) after the first gives you a +1 bonus on HT rolls to use the Wound Absorption rules to resist damage. 10/level.

Picking Over the Bones
This is more or less a direct analogue (with the serial numbers filed off) of White Wolf's "Soaking Damage" mechanic. It might not work outside of the World of Darkness that well (whether it uses GURPS rules or not) and could be entirely unbalanced. I don't know. It's theoretical and I jotted down the idea as fast as I could before it disappeared. If you happen to play with it at all, please drop me a line. I'd be keenly interested in knowing if it sank or swam. It does invoke some more die rolls (which can be the death of a campaign), so the traditional methods of supernatural hardiness (Injury Tolerance, Supernatural Durability, etc.) might be a better way to go than introducing a entirely new mechanic. Additionally, the GM could decide that Wound Absorption doesn't affect certain types of damage (e.g., damage sustained by silver for werewolves). If so, he could add Cosmic at the +100% to represent the ability to affect such damage and can freely mix and match levels of Injury Tolerance (Wound Absorption) with and without the modifier. GMs should also note that characters with Weakness can never absorb that damage - if they can, give the disadvantage a Limitation: "Affected by Wound Absorption, -80%." Doug also goes into a much more toned down idea in the same vein here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Plot Points, Expanded

One of the often overlooked things in GURPS Powers (and there are many) is a small box on p. 192 at the top right of the page titled "GM Bribery." In it, it describes a new way to reward players called a "plot point," which are basically like character points but can be used to do stuff like buy powers (along with unspent character points) in the middle of a session or gain access to otherwise off-limit cinematic rules. They are, without a doubt, one of the cooler things in that book and I use them all the time.

Play Styles and Plot Points
Despite the fact that I run "cinematic style" games most of the time, I don't actually use a lot of cinematic rules! I call this "Bourne-level Cinematic" because most games have a Bourne-level of "cinematic action." The characters are just a tad under "Over-the-Top" and the action is constant - I rarely give my players time to stop more than a few hours in game time and I run a given story arc (what I call adventures) in a limited time frame. Adding all this together makes plot points beyond useful. But some game styles will mean that plot points have more or less usability. For example, in a high-octane cinematic two-fisted pulp campaign many (if not most) cinematic rules are going to be "turned on." This means among other things that plot points are going to be about as useful as character points in such a campaign. To even things out the GM should increase the "potency" of plot points by making them count as more than one character point. Depending on the style this can range from plot points costing 1/5 a character point per plot point to "Plot Points give you the maximum benefit of a particular rule" (e.g., when spending points for success, a single plot point might give you a critical success, even if you rolled a critical failure!). Regardless of the amount, the GM should set it and let players know before the campaign begins. GMs may even wish to vary the amount from session to session. When the PCs are about to face the "Big Bad" and they are supposed to be awesome you can say each plot point is worth double it's usual amount (or whatever multiple you are comfortable with) or if it's supposed to be hard give their foes plot points, reduce the amount their plot points give, and/or make it so only plot points can be spent (no unspent character points!). This can produce a meta-economy where players want to work with the GM so they can get plot points and in turn save them so they can do crazy awesome things later.

Doing the Impossible
Plot points and GURPS Power-Ups 5: Impulse Buys go together like peanut butter and jelly. They just...work perfectly. In non-cinematic or gritty campaigns most of these options are going to be turned off. When combined with plot points this means the only way you could, for example, use Second Wind to survive a nasty gut shot is to spend plot points. This might lead to "doing the impossible" in a otherwise realistic campaign. Really, that is as it should be - there are examples where men and women do things that they simply should not be able to (even with Extra Effort). In effect, they got lucky which does happen. One optional rule for cinematic games might be to use Abilities at Default (GURPS Powers, p. 173) and plot points (or character points) to temporarily gain a single use of a ability that your character could logically have. You use the normal rules for Abilities at Default (you always have the -2 penalty for different "types") with the character point value of your "base trait" equal to the number of points spent x 5. Such abilities still have their normal prerequisites (e.g., chi abilities need Trained by a Master or magical powers need Magery) and works quite well with potential advantages (p. B33). Example: Benny is trapped in a pit, though he's a master of fire magic - earth magic isn't his thing. He asks the GM if he spends some of his hoarded plot points if he can control the earth enough to lift him out of the pit. The GM agrees and Benny decides that "Walk on Air (Magic, -10%; Specific, Dust, -40%) [10]" is his best chance. First, he kicks up all the dust he's going to need to use the magic and then with a light fire magic causes it to raise. Next he spends 2 plot points, makes a Will-10 roll (spending 5 FP to offset the penalty), and succeeds (which costs another 3 FP). Shaking with exertion he walks on the dust cloud until he's out of the pit.

Picking Over the Bones
Sometimes, you just need to let the player characters be awesome. People play RPGs so they can a) be someone they are not; b) experience something (as well as can be in a game simulation) they normally don't; c) tell a story; or d) have fun. Some folks are multiple items smushed together (one of my players is A+B) and some are just one (my brother used to be a C guy, but now he's a D guy). Whatever your players might be they all still want to be awesome at it, Impulse Buys and Plot Points let them do exactly that.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Melee Academy: Mage-Blade Duelling

Inspired by +Peter V. Dell'Orto and +Douglas Cole posts (here, here, and here) on "Longsword Sport" I wonder if the style is portable to less modern settings...and what's more, what if it were more than just a sport? But a way of two mages to settle a point of contention without spells?

The Style
I'm totally riffing off of what Peter put together in his post, so this isn't my own material, but his.

Mage-Blade Duelling 
4 points*
This is similar to Longsword Fighting (GURPS Martial Arts, pp. 180-182), but uses nonlethal weapons that drain FP instead of causing HP injury. It emphasizes striking with a sword, but also teaches how to turn a parry from your weapon into a move that is more or less a Judo Throw (to better toss your opponent out of the duelling circle).

Skills: Games (Mage-Blade Duelling); Two-Handed Sword; Two-Handed Sword Sport.
Techniques: Counterattack (Two-Handed Sword); Disarm (Two-Handed Sword); Feint Two-Handed Sword);
Cinematic Skills: Mental Strength; Power Blow.
Cinematic Techniques: Timed Defense (Two-Handed Sword).
Perks: Grip Mastery (Longsword); Special Exercises (Will); Special Setup (Two-Handed Sword Parry > Judo Throw).

Optional Traits
Advantages: Enhanced Dodge; Enhanced Parry (Two-Handed Sword); Mind Shield; Weapon Master (Two-Handed Sword).
Disadvantages: Delusions; Obsession (win duels).
Skills: Broadsword; Judo; Thaumatology.
Perks: Weapon Bond.
* If the GM allows those with Magery to buy Mental Strength without Trained by a Master or Weapon Master - most this skill to the required skills and increase the style's cost to 5 points.

The Weapon
All mage-blades have the following modifier and many of them are also Fine or Very Fine, Balanced, and/or Presentation Quality/Decorated.

Mage-Duelling Weapon: Your weapon doesn't cause actual damage, instead it inflicts damage on your foe's FP (see below). This damage is based on your Will score instead of your ST score and each level of Magery you possess adds to Will for this purpose only. FP lost this way cannot be regained by magical means - you must rest normally! +29 CF.

The Duel
Duellists fight within a consecrated circle (which can be anything from a hasty put together rope or a more permanent one carved into a stone floor and inlaid with jewels) which must be set using both Symbol-Drawing and Thaumatology. Once within the circle a dome-like field surrounds the duellists which only comes down when one of them forfeits by leaving, is thrown outside the field, or passes out from FP-loss. The circle prevents those from inside casting magic as well as those from outside interfering. All strikes with a mage-duelling weapon (see above) reduce the duellists FP score, not his HP score. Optionally, he may make a special Active Defense using his Will/2 +3 (Mental Strength can be used if better), success means he reduces the damage he takes by 1 point per point of Margin of Success. This often looks the duellist was hit - he just didn't take (much) damage. Physical contact with anything other than the duelling weapons is frowned upon, but allowed unless both duellists decide otherwise. 

Picking Over the Bones
If the GM wants duels to be deadly, he can simply decree that for every two points of FP lost duellists also lost one HP or even a 1:1 ratio. If he does this, both duelists should agree to the terms as it represents a real danger of death, rather than embarrassment or loss. Such "lethal duels" are rarely fought and only end with the death of one of the duellists or one of them granting mercy to the other. The GM is free to change the weapon to something more traditional, like staves or canes, if that better fits his campaign setting.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Benchmarking Modifiers

Figuring out exactly what a given modifier should cost that's not in the rules can be extremely trying for any GM - much less a new GM. Here's a couple of tricks I've learned over the years as both a GM, a game designer, and a writer.


Picking Over the Bones  
When it comes down to it the best way to understand how enhancements, limitations, and features work is by playing the game and using your custom modifiers. You'll soon suss out if their worth it or not, which will allow you to weigh future considerations with more care. I recently heard someone say that GURPS was like a bunch of Lego bricks - and that's not unwholly inaccurate. Knowing what brick to place where to give you the finished design you want is part and parcel of any game system that uses positive and negative traits, but it is especially true of GURPS where you can literally build anything. Though, like any system it does some things well and others ... less well, I still hold firmly to the idea that GURPS can accomplish a nearly any bit of design or campaign.


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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Player Psychology

I like to think of myself as a student of human behavior. What makes people tick. Why they do what they do. That sort of thing. I learned early on to detect minute changes in the moods of others and its stuck with me my entire life. Besides being useful in a fight or when working personal assets protection it's also highly useful when gaming. Knowing what you'll players will do before they do it can help a GM who is perceptive enough to tailor the situation to the player without him or her even noticing it. The best way to understand your players is to...play with them. Socialize with them. Talk to them outside of gaming. There are tiny things that will give you insight into them which in turn will give you insight into what they want at the gaming table. Of course, if you've been GMing a while you probably know this, but since this is my blog and I like to talk about gaming I'm going to assume you don't. The following are a few handy tips/rules of thumb I've found while running games for the past 20 years. Note - this is based purely on practical experience and might not line up with others.

Railroading Without any Rails
Railroading is such a derogatory term in the gaming community, when someone says they were railroaded it usually means they had a GM who forced them to follow a specific series of events that they preplanned. Sigh. This kind of thing can happen and this brute force application of GM-power is a problem...but not because the GM is trying to get them to follow a series of events. That's not the issue. The issue is he's not being clever about it. If you want someone to do what you want the first thing you do is give them no choices, then you ask them what they want to do all the while suggesting what you don't want them to do and what you do want them to do. Then make the choice you need them to select the most attractive to them. If you do it right they are going to do what you wanted and they'll think it's there idea. It takes a bit to do it right, but if you can master this skill you are going to end up with some happy players, not to mention a happy GM (yourself).

The Sandbox is a Lie (Like the Cake)
That's right. I said it. I'm going to let some of you pick your jaws up off the ground before I continue. We good? Excellent. Sandbox play works in only two ways: 1) videogames and 2) with very active, very story-driven players. That's it. I used to be a fan of "Let the players decide" but I was also running brand new campaigns every two weeks or so. It doesn't work. Players need to have some sort of guidance from the GM - they just need it. Especially with the latest generation who are used to computer and videogames where they are given a list of finite choices (which weirdly is still Sandbox play even though the choices are limited). Avoid this style of play if you can, players (no matter what they tell you) always want some form of choice set before them. The best way is to involve them in said choices "Do you want to go to Tartall Castle or back to the Empty Hall? Or, better yet, where do you want to go?" Involving players in the decisions inherent in the campaign will enhance their drive to participate. A lot of GMs tend to leave out their players and I truly think this is a lost opportunity for all gamers involved.

All the World's a Stage
Whether you know it or not, and whether the player knows it or not, they want you (the GM) to be involved in the creation of their character. They want you to tell them what you think about the choices they've made in design, what might work better, and how their character might act. And as a GM - you should be involved, you should say "This wasn't what I had in mind because of X, but if you really need Y, we can alter Z." or "That's neat! I hadn't thought of that, I think I can work it into the story." If you get into the habit of working with your players from the get go I promise you that your games will improve for the better.

I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday for Thor's Hammer Today...
Sometimes if you really need something to occur in your game the only way you can get this to happen is by bribing a player. That's right, bribe them. You don't have to be blatant about it (and really you shouldn't otherwise it might encourage all your players to hold out) and a quick sidebar along with a reward and a reason ought to grease the wheels just enough to quiet the squeaks. I've been doing this for the past ten years or so and if your group is anything like mine - they will understand the need for story and drama to trump dice and player agency. Just don't make a habit of it otherwise you're going to end up with no players and no game, no matter how great the reward offered.

Picking Over the Bones
I'm sure I could go on and on about random bits I've picked up over the years, so I'll just leave you with this final tidbit: Be involved with your players, let them know you care about what choices they make, ask questions, let them ask you questions. Don't rely on the game engine to do this for you - that way lies madness. Of course, none of this is going to be useful to adversarial GMs or anti-Gamemaster players, but that's a blog post for another day.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Assembly Required: Development Step Six - Campaign Goals

And we're back, today I'm going to talk about campaign goals, what they are, how I define them, and how they can steer the narrative of any campaign by merely being written down. First, it's probably best to decide the primary goal of the campaign, this is likely to be just one, but more are possible. In fact, you may have already answered this question when you decided on your campaign foundation. Once you've figured out what you primary goal is move onto your secondary goals. These often include specific problems that one or more of your players have to deal with. Finally, the tertiary goals. These are usually specific to one player and are often a driving aspect of the character's back-story or narrative. Keep in mind that just because they pertain to only one person they are no less important! Once you've got your campaign goals listed think about what they really mean, what they can mean, and in what way they could be expanded. Keep in mind that sometimes your goals can change between now and actually running the campaign (or rarely, sometimes in it). This is okay! A campaign is a organic thing, it grows in the way it wants and those ways might not necessarily be the ways you expected. Sometimes when combining multiple ingredients you get unexpected combinations that turn out to be better than the base materials. Again, this is good. So if I haven't mentioned it before you should probably keep all these musings in a single file or in a physical notebook. I love using Evernote myself - that software is just too damn useful to writers and gamers alike.If you don't have a copy, go grab one, it's free and works across multiple platforms.
This will be the last of the Assembly Requires posts until I can decide if it's popular enough to continue (which it seems to be) - if you like it and want to see more plus share it, +1 it, and so on.

The Worked Example: Something, Something Kill Monsters Urban Fantasy Secret Magic
Using the above guidelines I get the following:

Campaign Foundation Statement:
"A group of characters who know/don't know about the supernatural world come to grips with it in their home city and get involved in the power plays between multiple races of paranormal beings."

Primary Campaign Goal:
  • Create a believable environment for the players to interact with (reoccurring people, places, or things).

Secondary Campaign Goals:
  • Prevent the campaign's main villain from summoning her master (a demon) to earth.
  • Survive the onslaught of the main villain as she allies herself with other forces to try and take over Seattle.

Tertiary Campaign Goals:
  • Troythulu's character will explore the other world and become familiar with it.
  • C.J.'s character will try to figure out who's targeting his family and stop them.
  • C.'s character will try to atone for his crimes through his wife's actions and become a teacher to the others.
  • L.A.'s character will find out that the main villain was in fact her (evil) step-mother and do her best to teach Troythulu's character the ins and outs of the other side

Thursday, September 11, 2014

GURPS101: More Cyber Claws for Ultra-Tech

Since GURPS Ultra-Tech got a update today and GURPS Ultra-Tech Tables was updated I thought I'd do something in honor of that. So here you go, more Cyber Claw implants (inspired by this thread).

Enhanced Cyber Claws (varies)
Like Cyber Claws (see GURPS Ultra-Tech, p. 211), but enhanced with one of the following:
  • Superfine Claws: The claws use a advanced alloy or nanoceramic composites that comes to a keenly sharp edge. Inflicts thr+2 (2) cutting damage. TL9.
  • Monowire Claws: The claws have a strip of a super-strong wire that is a few molecules thick which is stretched along the cutting edge of the claws. Inflicts thr+2 (10) cutting damage, but it cannot cut into a flat surface. TL9^.
  • Vibro Claws: The claws vibrate thousands of times per second thanks to tiny motors operating on piezoelectricity. When active they cost 1 FP per hour of active use. Inflicts thr+1d (3) cutting damage. If not vibrating they instead inflict thr cutting damage. TL10.
  • Superfine Vibro Claws: As for vibro claws, but inflicts thr+1d+2 (5) cutting damage. TL10.
  • Nanothorn Claws: The claws use a branching monomolecular structure that fit into and rip apart intermolecular bonds. Inflicts thr+1 (10) corrosion damage. Any weapon you parry takes damage from your claws automatically! TL11.


  • Superfine Claws: Cutting Attack 2 points (Armor Divisor 2, +50%; Dual, +10%; Melee Attack, Reach C, -30%; ST-Based, +100%) [12]. 12 points.
  • Monowire Claws: Cutting Attack 2 points (Accessibility, Not against flat surfaces, -10%; Armor Divisor 10, +200%; Dual, +10%; Melee Attack, Reach C, -30%; ST-Based, +100%) [19]. 19 points.
  • Vibro Claws: Sharp Claws (Switchable, +10%) [2*] + Cutting Attack 1d (Armor Divisor 3, +100%; Costs Fatigue, 1 FP/hour, +0%; Dual, +10%; Melee Attack, Reach C, -30%; ST-Based, +100%) [20]. 22 points.
  • Superfine Vibro Claws: Cutting Attack 2 points (Armor Divisor 2, +50%, Dual, +10%; Melee Attack, Reach C, -30%; ST-Based, +100%) [3*] + Cutting Attack 1d+2 (Armor Divisor 5, +150%; Costs Fatigue, 1FP/hour, +0%; Dual, +10%; Melee Attack, reach C, -30%; ST-Based, +100%) [40]. 43 points.
  • Nanothorn Claws: Corrosion Attack 1 point (Armor Divisor 10, +200%; Cosmic, ST-Based on Corrosion Attack, +100%; Destructive Parry, +10%; Dual, +10%; Melee Attack, Reach C, -30%; ST-Based, +100%) [15]. 15 points.
* Alternate Ability.

Minor procedure for all types. Halve the cost and treat as a simple procedure if adding these to a bionic hand or arm. Cost is as below, but add a premium equal to cost using the following:
  1. Find the thrust damage for the highest ST you can use for unarmed attacks.
  2. Calculate the "effective cost" for that amount as if it were a Crushing attack.
  3. Multiply this by the Modified ST increase (see below) percentage.
  4. Subtract the cost of step 2 by the total from step 3 to determine the net cost.
  5. Multiply net cost by $1,000 and add this as a additional amount to cost.
Should a character's ST later on increase he must pay the difference of cost between his old ST and new ST in modifications to fully take advantage of his musculature. Until this is done the claws uses his old ST score.
  • Superfine Claws: $12,000. LC3. Modified ST increase: +50%.
  • Monowire Claws: $19,000. LC2. Modified ST increase: +200%.
  • Vibro Claws: $22,000. LC3. Modified ST increase: +100%.
  • Superfine Vibro Claws: $43,000. LC3. Modified ST increase: +145%.
  • Nanothorn Claws: $15,000. LC1. Modified ST increase: +200%.

A character with a ST of 20 inflicts 2d of thrust. If he were to get Vibro Claws implanted he'd have to pay a additional $10,000. 2d as a Crushing Attack costs 10 points, with a +100% that results in 20 points, minus the effective cost is 10 points and times $1,000 is $10,000. So his Vibro Claws would cost him $32,000. If he later on increases his ST to 23, he'd have to $2,000 to modify his claws to use his new ST score.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Carpe Blogiem: My Top Ten Most Used Pyramid Articles

Mailanka posted a "Top Ten" list of the Pyramid articles he's used the most in his campaigns and I thought I'd do the same. Since I'm a fairly common contributor (about 28% percent of the time) I'm going to leave my own articles off the list. I've used the following items at least half a dozen times or more:

Perfect Defense (by Kelly Pedersen): Defensive Imbuements made a already useful system (Imbuements) even more useful. Since most of my campaigns makes use of imbuements in one way or another this article gives Power-Ups 1 a hecka of boost. 

The X-Terminators (by Sean Punch): This article helped GURPSfy a campaign I converted from another game system so well that I more or less used it as is. While I don't use it often anymore (I tend to draw from the Monster Hunters line now if I need such material) I did use it enough in the past that it makes it on this list by that alone. It remains perhaps one of my favorite Pyramid articles of all time.

On De Medici's Secret Service (by Matt Riggsby): Matt's done a lot of stuff, but of everything he's done in Pyramid I love this article the most. I've used it for time travelers, sailpunk knockoffs, and everything in between. It just opens up so many ideas and I really wish he'd do more like this. His "Il Lavoro Veloce" style is probably my favorite martial arts style printed to date.

The Mystic Knight (by Antoni Ten Monrós): Because of how often I use imbuement skills I find this article extremely useful. I rarely use DF, but when I do there is almost always a mystic knight in the party. It takes Pedersen's work and Dungeon Fantasy and marries them into a concept so useful that I'd be surprised if every Dungeon Fantasy GM doesn't make use of it.

Console Cowboys and Cyberspace Kung Fu (p. W. A. Frick): If you want to run any sort of cinematic computer hacking you need this issue of Pyramid. I seriously cannot say enough about it. It's wonderful and does everything from a Hackers-style contemporary game to a cyberpunk decker.

GURPS Fathom Five (by Roger Burton West): The only rules for underwater combat in the 4th edition GURPS cannon. I've referenced this article a lot in my campaigns. Mostly because my players lie throwing bad guys in the water and drowning them...well, technically that's only happened four times, but one of those times it was totally random. Anyways - super useful and something all GMs are probably going to reference at least once.

The Edge of Pscience (by Kenneth Peters): I'm a huge fan of Psionic Powers and even though I didn't get credit for it I did playtest that book and I've written a few articles on the subject myself. Peters did a wonderful job with his "psi catalysts" and I've flipped open this article more than once seeking inspiration for material for my own games and articles.

Hot Rides! (by David Pulver): I'm a huge fan of GURPS Vehicles from 3rd edition and I was one of those guys that made stuff just to make stuff. I did it because I a) liked to see things from the real world translate into the game world and b) liked to stretch my (limited) math skills. This article relieves half of that itch and I've used it to create all manner of vehicles for my players with my favorite so far was using it to create a Alternate Form for a tulpa who liked to look like a Duesenberg Model J. I created the GURPS stats using the article and then figured out what its "racial template" would look like using those stats. I reference this article at least two or three times per campaign - sometimes more.

Fortunately, I Saw This Coming  (by Jason “PK” Levine): You ever come across a idea in gaming that simple, elegant, and brilliant? It's rare, but it does happen. PK's rules for Foresight are all that and more. I instantly applied article to all of my campaigns - where else can you find Leverage-style "swaps" in GURPS? If you run a remotely cinematic game I highly suggest you pick this issue up - you will not be disappointed.

More Power to Dungeon Warriors (by Peter Dell'Orto and Sean Punch): As I previously said I don't often run Dungeon Fantasy, but I do cannibalize it quite a bit. This article was full of so much awesome I didn't know what to do with half of it right away. It's almost a mini-supplement in itself for making hand to hand fighters.

Picking Over the Bones
Honorable mentions include Takedown Sequences and Dodge This! both by Douglas Cole as well as
Green Power by Michele Armellini. I use Technical Grappling quite a bit and the first article is highly useful for illustrating points to players. I wish Doug's [FNORD] was out because I use the hell out of that thing. It's his greatest Pyramid offering to date and I can't wait till it sees print. Michele's Green Power is a quick catalogue of nature-powers that are just darned useful when designing monsters. A Little Bit Psychic by Sean Punch looks highly promising as does The Qanat Pirates of Old Than by Matt Riggsby, and a couple dozen more articles that have come and are earmarked to be used with another campaign that I'm not currently running. Overall, I find Pyramid to be more than a place I can get my own articles published - it's a place where the cup of GURPS overfloweth and all are welcome to drink from it. It's the source of ideas that are too short to be full monographes, but are just too good to remain obscure. And thanks to the heroic efforts of Steven Marsh, Nikki Vrtis, Jason "PK" Levine, and Sean Punch we get new material for our game system on a monthly basis - not many RPGs get to claim that.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Designing Realistic Characters

So how do you design a "realistic" character? Well, let's start off by defining what realistic means. Realistic characters are more than just a pile of stats or skills. They're a living, breathing personas that a player can easily don for the gaming session. Getting there can be tricky because each player is going to have his own bag of tricks for "getting into character." A few common things I've used or see used are...

...writing a comprehensive, but compact backstory (anything more than 1,200 words is too much).
...defining a character's physical traits (hair, eyes, scars/tattoos, and so on).
...defining a character's personality. How he acts when under pressure, what he likes or dislikes, how he treats others, etc.
...choosing each purchased advantage, disadvantage, and skill with care. My players call this "trimming the fat." If you can't see your character plausibly having the trait giving his backstory then you should really remove it.
...talking with your fellow players and have them help you flesh out your character.
...get a character portrait if possible to help your fellow players more easily visualize what your character looks like.
...give the character a motivation of some sort. Maybe his parents died and he's looking for the killer or maybe he is a killer and he's on the run. You could use more than one such driving force beyond your character, but too many will make the character unplayable.

GM/Player Interaction
In my experience, the GM should be 100% involved in a player character creation. I've heard this called "gamemaster micromanaging" in the past and really...that's horseshit. A badly made player character can ruin a campaign faster than any railroading GM or a quantum ogre. I've (unfortunately) had a lot of experience with this, in particular one of my players enjoys playing characters who are inappropriate to the the campaign. For example, he'd want to play a pirate in a ninja campaign or a ninja in a high seas adventure. Now, he doesn't do this much anymore, but he used to be rather notorious for it. So much so that I eventually decided I'd have a firm hand in all steps of character creation. That was about five years ago and so far it's worked quite well. This doesn't mean that the GM should literally breath down the player's neck while he makes his character, but he should be involved from concept to finished product. I personally like to do the following:

  1. Talk with the player about what sort of character they want to play and make sure they understand what isn't "available" for play.
  2. Rough out the character design with the player and then have them create their character.
  3. Go over the character and make sure there are no surprises and remove any unnecessary or contradictory traits.
  4. The player finalizes his design and you either sign off on it or go back to the previous step.

Picking Over the Bones
When you get down to it designing a realistic character is all about understanding the campaign the character is supposed to interact with. A badly constructed campaign can lead to a even worse constructed  character. THis is why the dialogue between GMs and players are so important, without it I can almost guarantee your campaign is going to fall apart within a few sessions unless it's a adversarial one.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Melee Academy: Variant Judo Throw, Part Duex

Oddly enough, my Tuesday post about Judo Throw got a lot of hits and quite a few comments (both here and on the forums). One of the comments sparked my imagination was by Peter Dell'Orto:

"By the way, tossing someone into a table is a clear case of "Kiss the Wall" and it's that kind of thing we had in mind. I think the reason it went in was a combo of the Joe Pesci door scene in Raging Bull and a friend who bounced someone's head off a car bumper to end a fight. You can probably make a case for allowing ST-based Kiss the Wall moves to end against the floor but let it be countered in those cases by Breakfall, and go from there. Or say that after a Sweep you can use Kiss the Wall to inflict damage."

Honestly, I'd forgotten all about the rules for Kiss the Wall (see Grab and Smash! in GURPS Martial Arts, p. 118). I still stand by my post about the Variant Judo Throw rules (with a few thing that ought to be fixed - which I have), but those rules (and Peter's comment) got me to thinking. How would a ST-based skill roll for Kiss the Wall work exactly? Is it just a plug and play roll? Well...maybe.

Grasping Throw
Defaults: prerequisite skill-1.
Prerequisite: ST-based Brawling, Sumo Wrestling, or Wrestling; cannot exceed prerequisite skill+4.

This technique uses the rules for Kiss the Wall (GURPS Martial Arts, p. 118) . but you make a roll against your skill, substituting your DX for your ST. You must be able to lift your target - if only momentarily (they cannot exceed your BLx6), but you add a +2 bonus to ST for this purpose only. Success means you've thrown your target into something inflicting Thrust-2 or -1/die, whichever is worse). Add +1 for hard surfaces and any bonus to damage you have for high skill. For hard surfaces with angled corners or objects with small areas of impact add +2. If a weapon is braced or its killing edge can otherwise be used, use the damage bonus for it's best thrusting attack as well as its damage type!

Design Notes: Using ST instead of DX is a Benefit (-1), add +2 to your ST is based on extra damage (-4), and having a penalty for damage inflict is also based on damage (+4), for a total penalty of -1.

Picking Over the Bones
On further thought on the subject, using the rules for Kiss the Wall might be ideal when simulating a bouncer's "bum rush" against something hard. Moreover, it might be perfect for emulating the kind of move I typically use against someone rushing me or against those I want the hell away from my current position. Even better it seems to be the sort of thing I've seen others do.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Melee Academy: Variant Judo Throw

I've made a living pushing people around - no, I'm not a bully, but I used to be a bouncer. Nowadays I use my powers for (mostly) good, but once upon a time I could grab a grown man off his feet and hurl him backwards and onto his backside. I'm not much of a rules-hacker, not because I lack the ability to vary the rules, but because I pretty much like them as they are. This means I probably have few house rules than most GMs. GURPS strikes a damn good balance between the gameable and what is realistic. One thing that has always bugged me is how Judo Throw works. For a game rule it's fine, but if you're trying to emulate how it works in real life...not so much. I've come up with what I think is a workable solution. Inspired by a couple of conversations I've had privately on the subject and this thread, I present a variant method for Judo Throw.

Slam-Based Judo Throw
Use the normal rules for Judo Throw (requires a Judo Parry, then a Attack roll, etc.). A thrown target falls wherever you like up to one hex away (typically his starting hex, yours, or any hex adjacent to one of those). Additionally, unless your target makes a Acrobatics-6 roll to kip-up he's automatically prone - if he succeeds he may have started prone, but ends up on his feet, in a crouch, and so on. Roll 1d to determine how he lands if the judoka didn't specify: 1-2, he landed on his back; 3-4, he landed on his side; 5-6, he landed on his stomach.
           When determining damage you inflict a number of dice of crushing damage equal to (their HP x Velocity)/100. Velocity is the number of yards your target moved on the turn that you used your Judo Parry (minimum of 1). Additionally, add +1 to Velocity if you know Judo at DX+1 or +2 at DX+2. If damage is less than 1d, treat fractions up to 0.25 as 1d-3, fractions up to 0.5 as 1d-2, and any larger fraction as 1d-1. Otherwise, round fractions of 0.5 or more up to a full die. You can use All-Out Attack (Strong) to increase your damage! This doesn't cause actual damage, but is instead used to determine if your target is stunned or not. Should you want to cause damage you may make a skill roll at -1 plus the hit location penalty you are targeting (if any). The victim may attempt a Breakfall or Roll with Blow to reduce this normally. Add a bonus to the final damage roll when attempting to throw your target against a hard surface. This is typically +1 for most surfaces, but can add up to +2 for hard surfaces with angled corners or for objects with small areas of impact. If a weapon is braced or its killing edge can otherwise be used, use the damage bonus for it's best thrusting attack as well as its damage type!
           If you inflict any on damage your target he must make a HT roll or be stunned. Add a -1 penalty to this roll for every 4 points of damage you inflict. (e.g., 8 points of damage results in a HT-2 roll). If you throw your target into someone else they must roll vs. the higher of ST+3 or DX+3 to avoid being knocked down.

Example: Hordric the Brave has a Judo of 14 and a DX of 12. He just parried a attack by Mansor the Merciless last turn, this turn he decides to Judo Throw Mansor. Since Mansor performed a All-Out Attack (Strong) last turn to perform a Flying Tackle, but failed. Hordric decides to throw Mansor on one of his arms. Rolling a 4 he critically succeeds and he throws Mansor in the hex behind him. Since Mansor has 15 HP and moved 3 yards last round his base Velocity is 3 - but Hordric knows Judo at DX+2 so he adds another 2 yards to the Velocity before damage is calculated resulting in 1d of crushing damage, which he rolls and gets a 5! Rolling his critical hit he gets triple damage on the chart, resulting in 15 points of crushing damage to Mansor's arm, crippling it! Since the damage exceeded his ST-4, he also has to make a HT roll or be stunned. Mansor is having a very bad day.

Picking Over the Bones
You might get wonky results with really large creatures, but since you can't throw someone more than twice your ST anyway, it ought to land in a nice sweet spot. Another option might be to treat Judo Throw as written, but you inflict thrust-4 crushing damage or thrust-2 at -1 per die, whichever is worse (just like Aggressive Parry). When you get down to it, your ST isn't what's causing the damage when you chuck someone like a pinata - it's how they land and what they land on. Something this variant rule seeks to emulate.

Edit: I made a few changes as pointed out by Peter from the original post.