Thursday, November 27, 2014

Carpe Blogiem: My Laptop Has Died


        My laptop has died. It kicked the bucket at around 10pm yesterday and I've been unable to revive it since. I have no clue when I'll be able to get the blog back up and running as I'm typing this from my phone. I hate to ask this, but I need help and my livelihood is on the line as well as my home (I pay a good chunk of the bills with my writing). If any of you can, please please donate to my PayPal I'd really appreciate it. My paypal account is (empererofthemoon AT peoplepc DOT com). I hate asking for help...but I need it and I'm not too proud. I'm grateful to any of you who donate.


Christopher. R. Rice

Edit: Having borrowed a computer, I can expand this a bit (as Douglas Cole has pointed out). I basically need a large laptop with a full-size keyboard - a 17" which is what I have now. I can't use a desktop for multiple reasons, but mainly because I'm either at home or constantly on the move and my work has to go with me. I have freakishly long arms and it physically hurts me when I used anything smaller considering how long I type at a time (sometimes for four plus hours). Staples seems to have a good deal for $600ish. I've got barely one-twelfth of what I need on-hand and I won't lie - not working is driving me nuts as is the thought of failing my family. So there, that's what I'm trying to do. Maybe get the newer version of Microsoft office. Other than that...I'd just be happy with something I could use and work on.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Designer's Notes: The Department of Occult Defense

Even longer than "It's a Trap!" (I wrote the first draft in April 2013), "The Department of Occult Defense" was rejected twice (for both Pyramid #3/59: Conspiracies and Pyramid #3/58: Urban Fantasy II), but finally ended up in this month's Pyramid (Pyramid #3/73: Monster Hunters II) after a good long while in the stew point. I wrote it fairly quick (less than 16 hours) and revised it even faster (self-revision took about 7 hours and Beth smacked it around for a couple of days). Overall, about 27 man-hours of total work. I worried at first that it felt too derivative, but my various peer-reviewers seemed to really like it and Antoni Ten Monros (one of the "mirrors" I judge my work by) raved about it. Hell, PK liked it too so I knew I was probably over-thinking it. Overall, I was rather proud of how it turned out, the sheer amount of puns per page should be enough to make anyone groan in pain. I'm especially happy about that Beatles reference. I actually didn't have to worry about much getting cut (thanks, Steven!), but I did end up doing some cutting of my own.

Expanded SGP Classifications
I couldn't put in all all the critters from the books - so here is a expanded chart of the current monsters for Monster Hunters.

Ghost (GURPS Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy, p. 4): a "typical" ghost with a FP of 20 is Class 3, while a "boss" ghost with a FP of 100 (or more!) is Class 5
Feral Vampire (GURPS Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy, p. 10): Class 3
Spell Casting Demon (GURPS Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy, p. 19):: Class 4
Skin-Changer (GURPS Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy, p. 21): Class 4
Albino Alligator (GURPS Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy, p. 23): Class 3
Lycanthrope Pack (GURPS Monster Hunters 3: The Enemy, p. 24):Class 4
Changeling (Pyramid #3/45: Monsters, p. 25): Class 3
Goblin (Pyramid #3/45: Monsters, p. 25): Class 1, Goblin Swarms are class 2
Ogre (Pyramid #3/45: Monsters, p. 26): Class 3
Redcap (Pyramid #3/45: Monsters, p. 27): Class 3 or if in a "bully-boy gang" Class 4
Unseelie (Pyramid #3/45: Monsters, p. 28): Class 3
Yuki onna (Pyramid #3/45: Monsters, p. 29): Class 3; Class 4 or even 5 if you're fighting them in the snow or during a blizzard!

The Prometheus Treatment
I created a "super-solider" formula as a optional meta-trait for inhumans to spend their points on, but ended up scrapping the whole thing and kept only a singular bioenhancement upgrade. I decided the meta-trait wouldn't work at all (it made the line between inhumans and experiments blur too much) , but I did keep the powers for it:

6, 12, 18, 24, or 27 points
You can go a long time without eating, drinking, or breathing. See the chart below for details, at level 5 you no longer require air, food, or drink! You’re are essentially a closed biological circuit.

Level      Drinks/Meals Required        Suffocation FP Loss     Brain Damage/Death   
1             2/3 as much                             2/3 seconds                    2 min./4 min.
2             1/3 as much                             1/3 seconds                    3 min./6 min.
3             5% as much                             1/20 seconds                  40 min./80 min.
4             1% as much                             1/100 seconds                200 min./400 min.
5             None!                                      None!                             None!

Statistics: Levels one through four are Reduced Consumption (Bioaugmentation, -10%; Includes Air, +200%) [5.8/level]. Level five is Doesn’t Breathe (Bioaugmentation, -10%) [18] and Doesn’t Eat or Drink (Bioaugmentation, -10%) [9].

Enhanced Synapses
14, 50, 77, 104, or 131 points
Your mind perceives the world in slow motion. The first level of this ability functionally identically to Danger Sense (p. B00), allowing you to make an IQ plus Bioaugmentation Talent to detect ambushes, surprise attacks, etc. Level two functions identically to Enhanced Time Sense (p. B52), but costs you 1 FP every minute the ability is active. Every level thereafter gives the character a +1 bonus to Active Defenses, up to a +3 bonus at level five. At level 5, you no longer need to spend FP to keep Enhanced Time Sense active; it now becomes a passive ability.

Statistics: Level one is Danger Sense (Bioaugmentation, -10%) [14]. Level two adds Enhanced Time Sense (Bioaugmentation, -10%; Costs Fatigue, 1 FP, -10%) [36]. Level three and higher adds Defense Bonus meta-trait (Bioaugmentation, -10%) [27] per level. Level five removes Cost Fatigue from Enhanced Time Sense for, 5 points.

Gecko Eyes
6 points/level
You can focus your eyes independently like a gecko or chameleon.  An Aim (p. 364) or Evaluate (p. 364) maneuver normally applies to a single target. Each level allows your maneuver to apply to one additional target. You can only track targets that you can detect. Anyone who sees your eyes must make a Per-4 roll to notice their independent movement.

Statistics: Enhanced Tracking (Bioaugmentation, -10%; Low Signature, +10%; Multiple Lock-Ons, +20%) [6/level].

Bonus Post Publication Material
Hunting monsters and urban fantasy in general are my proverbial wheelhouse. This is the kind of stuff I like to run, write, and read. It is by no means the only genre...but it's a favorite. So when I asked some of the other authors about how they might use the DOD in their articles...well, I got a bit more than I bargained for (in a totally good way). Here are a few ideas straight from the authors themselves on how to use all of the material (except for HANS' excellent article - I asked and he would have liked to, but he was just too busy) from their article alongside my own.

The Dude and the Orchid (by W. A. Frick & Christopher R. Rice)
The Shadow War is over for the Department of Occult Defense. The bad guys won. The world got blown all to hell and not a single damned person noticed what really happened. It wasn't a sudden slide toward the end, a world on fire and burning. No, to anyone watching from the outside, this was a banal - almost casual - march into the end. Almost as if by-the-numbers of some unseen checklist.
        It all began with the assassination of President Burris in 2010. The assassins, identified in the media as a shadowy satanic cult, became the pretext for an anti-cult task-force, which became the excuse for a nation-wide witch hunt. This kind of thing should naturally have fallen to the DOD, but they were stone-walled out of the investigation.
        Then in 2015, the twin hurricanes Bonnie & Clyde ravaged the eastern seaboard, providing cover for a gill-man invasion which stripped the coast of many small towns and waterfront communities. The DOD's response was a failure; they just didn't have to manpower to deal with multiple incursions. As the hurricanes and their fallout provided an early impetus for the formation of the NERCC, the DOD saw its funding cut and its cases forwarded to a new group: the anti-cult task-force, which had been absorbed and set up as the NERCC's "Occult and Religious Counter-Intelligence Division" (ORCID).
         Finally, things hit a head in the summer of 2024. Multiple outbreaks of the deadly and disfiguring Tolliver's Disease helped to ignite decades of tension into mass civil unrest across the country. Even as the NERCC commandeered National Guard and local SWAT forces to help keep order, it became clear to the DOD that something -else- was happening underneath the TD outbreaks - a genetically engineered hemorrhagic fever that turned the victim into a blood-soaked nightmare of screaming and teeth. XT44, nicknamed the Xipe Totec by Department scientists because of the way the skin of the infected peels off like paper, was causing zombie outbreaks across the nation, and DOD teams couldn't keep up.
         ORCID stepped in, taking control of DOD containment and cleanup efforts with full support of federal and local authorities. At the same time as the so-called "Permanent Emergency" dawned on America, and the Provisional Government took its first iron grip, the DOD was quietly decommissioned. Both it and the HPLD were disbanded; some of the more loyal -human- members of the department were taken in by ORCID, but most of the HPLD had their "honorary humanity" revoked - and were targeted by ORCID strike teams. Those who escaped this Night of Long Knives were driven underground; some were snapped up by a mysterious black-bag group named Project: Persephone and never heard from again.
         Since then, ORCID brass has been quietly bringing back some of the old models - especially the Judas Initiative - because it's hard to fight the Good Fight without the same weapons as the Enemy. Sometimes the tried and true are the best tactics - and bringing your own monster to fight off other monsters is just good sense. It's taken them a bit of time, but they've managed to get some Old Blood back into the fight ... some pined for the good old days of monster hunting on the government dime, some were just bored, and some were idealistic, rejoining ORCID with the intent to staunch the proverbial bleeding.

The Jude Revelation (by David L. Pulver)
This adventure seed takes place in the same university where the rogue monster squad Venatio ("the Faculty") operates, and connects it with the Department of Occult Defense. Josh Tryabank (age 22) is a brilliant mathematical and aspiring literary scholar. An intuitive mathematician, he has a dual major in Mathematics (specializing in cryptology and cryptoanalysis) and English Literature (an expert scholar in the burgeoning field of H.P. Lovecraft studies). These twin talents have led him to come dangerously close to exposing the existence of the secrets of the Department of Occult Defense!                 "Fungi from Yuggoth" is a sequence of 36 esoteric sonnets written by H.P. Lovecraft in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Less well known than his stories, they were published in Weird Tales and other small press magazines frequented by his circle of correspondents.
         Tryabank has recently subjected several poems in the Fungi from Yuggoth to exhaustive computer cryptoanalysis. He has uncovered a buried code in several of the latter poems which he believes reveals a second secret "Understory" within the poems. He has only cracked a portion of it, but there are references to a werewolves, the Brothers Grimm, and some sort of entity called "Jude" who may be a vampire, but, in a bizarre twist unusual in 1930s literature, one who is on the side of humanity!. Indeed, the "understory" is presented in epistolary format as a series of "directives"
to a network of informers and agents scattered across the United States. In particular, they are charged with finding - and recruiting - supernatural beings who, like Jude, might be willing to work as allies for humanity!
         Tryabank believes this coded "understory" to be an elaborate playful literary joke that was conducted between Lovecraft and his inside circle, such as Robert Howard and August Derleth.  He notes the use of more "traditional" elements such as werewolves and vampires,  which Lovecraft would not include in his more serious ruminations on "cosmic horror." He has analyzed about 22 of the poems, and using them has circulated a rough draft of the paper amongst a few interested faculty members. When he completes computer analysis of the rest of the poems, he hopes to publish a full paper entitled "The Jude Conspiracy: A Hidden Understory in H.P. Lovecraft's Fungi from Yuggoth" in appropriate academic venues, to be followed by an annotated edition of the poems. T
          That's still a few weeks away. So far, he has yet to finish the analysis of the final poems ... when he does, he'll discover that,  much as in Lovecraft's classic story The Shadow over Innsmouth, there is evidence that the government is aware of the existence of monsters, and t hat the Lovecraft in the story is working for them. He will uncover the name "Jude Initiative." Of course, he'll still believe this is just a story - an elaborate prank much like the way some in Lovecraft's circle would write disguised versions of the fellow authors as protagonists into some of their stories, or borrow categories from one another.

Adventure Seeds
Tryabank's faculty advisor in the English department of  the university is Professor Clarence Adams ... who is secretly a member of the monster hunter group Venatio, and whose special interest is stalking vampires and werewolves. While Adams' particular specialty is Poe, he is naturally also familiar with Lovecraft and has been very interested in Tryabank's work.
            Initially interested in Tyrabank's work for its literary merit, he has noted certain references in it that refer to things only someone familiar with the real supernatural would know. Adams has shown Tryabank's draft work to his Ventatio colleague Zoe Zoolittle, a scholar of cryptozoological outbreaks, who has confirmed that the 1929 werewolf outbreak alluded to in the "Yuggoth Understory" was in fact something that really happened.
            So far, the Venatio members are still unaware of any connection to the government, but they do  suspect from the documents he has uncoded so far that Lovecraft had secret knowledge of monsters and was recruiting a network of monsters and monster hunters. (The early letters date from the very beginnings of the DOD). Of course, they also realize Tryabank might have attracted other attention... and so Adams is keeping a close eye on his student to see if anyone else shows unusual interest in his story...
            Adams, as a scholar of vampirism, knows that many of these monsters are
immortal: perhaps some of the creatures, like this Jude fellow, are still around.... monsters Venatio can hunt!
             However, Tryabank's researches - and his use of the university's high-end computer systems for literary cryptoanalysis - has have come to the attention of others beyond the Faculty. These include a few individuals who recruit talented young mathematicians to work in the National Security Agency and the like. A routine report on Tryabank's work made its way through various Homeland Security and NSA channels to the Department of Occult Defense's Intelligence and Psyops division. They were appalled at the hints in this report that suggested their secret origin of their agency could be exposed! 
            They are considering sending a team - perhaps a group of PCs - to investigate and determine how much Tryabank really knows - perhaps either to scare him off  (with the team's monsters) or  recruit him to the organization.
            What the DOD team won't be excepting is the existence of Venatio on campus who are also watching the young researcher. If any 'monsters'  and their handlers show up on campus displaying an undue interest in Tryabank, Venatio may attack and attempt to capture them - leading to a confrontation between the DOD team and the university's own monster hunters. While Venatio are certainly no match for the DOD's huge resources, and would not deliberately risk exposure if they knew the truth,  they could a lot of damage to one of the Judge Initiative monster-human teams if they mistook it for a group of supernatural predators stalking Tryabank and attempted to trap and exterminate them!

The Above, The Below, and What Lies Beyond (by J. Edward Tremlett)
It’s just conceivable that, in their quest to protect ordinary humanity from those things that seek to prey upon it, the operatives of the Department of Occult Defense may encounter the “Baldies,” and, through them, The Above. Dealing with such a menace will bring its own risks and rewards, of course. But a further, stunning revelation awaits those who look into the DOD’s files, and make certain unsettling connections with some papers the group’s original Director left behind. The trail might go something like this...
  • At some point in the adventure, the PCs get their hands on some of the eggs, and bring them back to be studied. Some weak-willed researchers might spend too long with them and begin to suffer hallucinations and sleep deprivation. If they’re lucky, they’ll die. If not, dead neighbors’ bodies rotting in the basement, shrieking at the sky, and sudden hair and tooth loss may follow. But hopefully the PCs get some answers before a stricken researcher comes in to work early to blow up the lab for The Above.
  • The geological structure of the black basalt eggs will match records of samples brought back from Sir Charles Throckmore-Addington’s long-discredited 1894 expedition to Tibet. However, a call to the British Museum for confirmation reveals that the rock samples were put into “special conservation” sometime in the 1930’s. Anyone with some experience with that museum will know that means the samples were quietly and permanently removed from the collection. If pressed, the rather-rigid individual on the other end will only offer that “Her Majesty requested them, and I may not say anything else on the matter.” (i.e. the British Government took the samples for secret reasons.)
  • That dead end may seem to spell doom for this line of inquiry, but looking over the story that Throckmore-Addington told of the Lost Plateau of Durtro may trigger the memory of anyone familiar with Director Lovecraft’s fictional output. It almost sounds like the mythical Plateau of Leng, which was also purported to lay in central Asia, as well as the “Dreamlands.”
  • Knowing that some of what Director Lovecraft wrote of was simply coded allegories for what really goes on in the twilight world, someone might want to access the Director’s personal records, which have been sealed up since he left the DOD in 1936. Doing so will require going to Director Grimm for permission, and he’ll most likely crawl up the PCs’ behinds with large and uncomfortable flashlight before allowing them to have access to that level of information. If they convince him that the “Baldies” are a serious enough threat that any intel they have should be utilized, he may yet relent; if that fails, there may be other, sneakier ways to gain access, but they better not get caught.
  • Director Lovecraft’s records are sealed up in a vault in the HPLD’s base in Chicago. It’s on the 12th floor – known as “Below” – along with a number of other, super-secret things, records, and entities that have been sealed away for all time. Going there for an official look means having to talk to Asst. Director Ladon, and run a gauntlet of his best psychics and mentalists, just to make sure they aren’t up to no good. Sneaking in requires other means, and may require a whole separate adventure just to find the long-forgotten, third way into their underground headquarters via the abandoned tenth floor. 
  • Once inside the vault, the PCs learn that Director Lovecraft was very interested in Throckmore-Addington’s 1894 expedition to the Lost Plateau of Durtro. In fact, he has three boxes devoted to it. On top of them is an envelope with a faded letter from a Colonel Alan L. Stewart from some outfit called GHOSTTRAIN. It confirms (in affected, British-spelled prose) that all materials were “collected for your research, and all records here expunged.” It also thanks the DOD for its “advise in dealing with that beastly business in the (REDACTED) Valley,” and looks forward to more transatlantic joint ventures. 
  • Box one includes all the missing rock samples from the British Museum, including the black basalt samples in question. Some of them look suspiciously like smashed eggs. Thankfully, whatever malefic influence they had is long gone. There’s also samples of strange, precious stones and common rocks that match nowhere else on Earth. A ruby the size of a man’s fist lies at the bottom of the box; looking at it too long causes nightmares of falling through an endless void towards some abhorrent, shapeless thing at the center of the universe.
  • Box two included all the notebooks filled, sketchbooks illustrated, and photographs taken during the expedition. It’s all normal Tibetan steppes until they reach the two, tall, bonelike spires of black basalt that mark the entrance to Durtro. Past that, the landscape is filled with the fossilized skeletons of beasts both familiar and strange, and then they arrive at the sunken monastery of what is claimed to be the Fifth School of Tibetan Buddhism, but whose eyeless, hairless, and toothless adherents practice a strange, brutal asceticism that bears little resemblance to it. The swirling script the monks use to write with, the rows of black eggs along the walls, and the bone and brown feather windchimes all bear an eerie resemblance to what was found in the warrens. At the bottom of the pile is a photograph of a man being hacked to pieces for sky burial: he’s clearly alive, in spite of being in several parts, and laughing at his plight.
  • Box three is Throckmore-Addington’s journal of the trip, and the very expurgated version that he eventually published. All the truly gruesome and outlandish things that he saw at the monastery were left out, along with mentions of strange creatures that were following them through the plateau, and the horrible fates a number of his native porters suffered if they got too far from the campfire. Whatever killed them stripped them to the bone within seconds, leaving steaming skeletons seeping with deadly poison. And by the time they’d returned from the monastery, heading for home, those skeletons had turned to stone. But more intriguing are Director Lovecraft’s notes, stuck in relevant pages, speaking of “Nightgaunts,” “ghasts,” “Gorgons,” “the High Priest Not to Be Described,” and other such things.

Along with the boxes are notes written by Director Lovecraft. In them, he wonders if perhaps the lost plateau of Durtro wasn’t what he saw when he thought of Leng, all those years ago. He speculates that the bone spires are a gateway to a realm of dreams, much like the Dreamlands, and that the realm beyond might lead to more wondrous and terrible sights, and entities. He also surmises that the spires aren’t always there, and may even move from place to place, which is why the second expedition failed to find them. But what, then, is The Above? Is it a reflection of Yog Sothoth? Or something less powerful, but no less terrible? He posits that this sky god the monks wanted to rise and join with would cause untold damage if it ever got into our world, and hopes that Throckmore-Addington’s entrance and exit didn’t tempt it into our direction. More research is needed, clearly, and perhaps a journey to Tibet may be called for, if only to learn how those closest to this crossover between one world and another handle such a threat. 
           Hopefully, that will give the PCs the direction needed to learn more about The Above, and where to find a way to shut it down in our world. As for what that may entail, and what other adventures this could lead to, the GM is encouraged to do whatever they’d like, so long as their Monster Hunter game doesn’t suddenly turn into the Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath (unless the players are cool with that sort of a deviation from a Monster Hunter campaign).

Saturday, November 22, 2014

GURPS101: Spell Kits for Casters - the Defender

In a previous post, I talked about various "wizardly" archetypes and how you might create them using RPM. I've already done this for the Gatemaker and the Necromancer, but what's next? Well, I've been watching a lot of Agents of S.H.E.L.D. and shields hey! Defender. That's the ticket. I described the Defender archetype as...

"The Defender: This guy is all about defense. He’s reactive, not proactive. Unfortunately, the number of defensive effects are scattered over several Paths; he'll probably need to pick one particular shtick and specialize in it: Path of Body (for enhancing living beings), Path of Chance (for those lucky breaks), Path of Energy or Matter (for conjuring barriers or “hardening” air), Path of Magic (for taking down other casters spells), and Path of Mind (for defending against mental effects). A variation is the “warder” – the guy who specializes in creating barriers to keep out supernatural forces. He needs Higher Purpose (Warding) and Path of Magic, Mind, Spirit, and Undead. Defender casters might consider a Higher Purpose for their specialty (Barriers, Conjuring (material), and so on). Defender magic is one of the archetypes that actually works better as charms or conditional spells."

This was written before PK's Ritual Path Specialists article and too this list I'd add Higher Purpose (Self-Defense) or Higher Purpose (Blocking Spells). The latter adds to any Blocking Spell (GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic, p. 24)....

If you'd like to read more, consider becoming a patron!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Assembly Required: Outlining Step Three - Geography

Having a map for your campaign - even if it is not actually a cartograph - is important. Knowing where the PCs are and where they can go is so important to a campaign that I've rarely seen a game get off the ground without at least a sketch of what is in the surrounding area. And when I say a sketch I mean that as literally a doodle on a napkin or a few quick notes on what's near and about how far away it is. I've always felt this was the one real weakness a homebrew campaign has over established settings. In my experience it's also the hardest step. To put it bluntly - I can't draw worth a sh*t. I'm so bad my stick figures look like their neck threw up their face. Yes. I'm that bad. They're terrible. So what can you do? Well, cheat of course. My granddaddy used to say "If you ain't cheatin, boy, you just ain't tried hard enough." That was his way of saying "Work smarter - not harder." So before I get into the questions and sort of things you should be looking for when you start on the geography I'd like to point out Google's Map Engine Lite - if you're running a modern or contemporary campaign this thing is invaluable. Google Earth is also useful and I use it quite a lot for any modern campaign I run.

  • Where are the PCs starting out? Anything special about it?
  • What are the nearby places of civilization? How big are they? Anything they are noted for?
  • What interesting locations are nearby (dungeons, abandoned cities, hostels, etc.)? How famous are they? What is or was their purpose?
  • What landmass is nearest to the PCs? How big is it? Any others nearby?
  • What organizations are nearby? Any particular reason why?
If you have the talent or money to spare I always suggest creating a map for your setting you can reuse over and over again.

The Worked Example: Something, Something Kill Monsters Urban Fantasy Secret Magic aka "The Chronicles of Ceteri"
Since my campaign is taking place in modern day in a "wainscot" style setting I get to cheat and use modern day maps to build from. That doesn't stop me from sketching out where the local players are in the chosen city (Boston). So, briefly this is what I came up with:

The Blue Hills Reservation: The seat of the local Faerie Duke's power.
Langlee Island: The seat of the local alpha for the werewolves' longhouse.
Wompatuck State Park: Where the werewolves roam on nights of the full moon.
South slope, Beacon Hill: The various Great Houses of the sorcerers live in the same neighborhood as Boston's elite "Boston Brahmin."
Murphy Island (aka Long Island): The ancestral home of the Murphy clan - the arbiters of the Pax Trimountaine.

I'll add more as the campaign progresses and start to flesh out what I have. Eventually, if you keep at it long enough you're setting bible will look like a established setting - because you'll be the one to establish it with your players!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Melee Academy: Bar Fights and Being a Bouncer, Part II

Note: The title is a bit of a misnomer, since only half the post deals with actual bar fights - but I like the there.

Grappling has been talked about a lot on the forums lately and it's gotten me to thinking (a dangerous pastime, I know). What have I seen performed in real life vs. what happens most often in a GURPS game? First, let me pre-face this with the fact that I am by no means a trained combatant, but I have extensive experience actually fighting. Anyways, grappling as I've seen it:

Choke Hold
The GURPS version of choke hold is pretty awesome. You got to grapple someone from behind using both hands (at a -2 for Judo or -3 for Wrestling). Your target can attempt to break free, but you get a +5 bonus on the Quick Contest. On your next turn your target loses 1 FP or you can cause crushing damage equal to your margin of victory (x1.5 after taking into account DR). Damn. That is awesome. You can knock out a normal guy in about 10 seconds as long as you can maintain the hold. I'm the local king of choking someone out. If I can get my arms around's over. I've never lost a close-in fight in my life - that's why most people who know me or my (limited) reputation know to stay away from me. Hell, you see someone my size and you're not going to be dumb enough to get close. Anyways, I've never knocked someone out that fast, I think my "best" attempt was about half a minute and I had grabbed the target around the neck and locked my arm around his throat while lifting him into the air using a knee on a stool. This is a personal favorite because it maximizes my strengths. I've actually seen this used in gameplay before too, and quite often. One of my players once performed two one-handed choke holds, followed by a "Kiss the Wall!" maneuver that involved knocking the target's heads against the wall.

Anecdote: I was at a Wal-Mart in search of watermelon back in 2004 when I saw a man hitting what was probably his wife. She must have been five feet nothing at most and there was a small group of people watching when I went down the isle. I calmly asked the man to stop and removed my cell phone to call the police when he picked up a can of soup and started hitting her in the face. At that point I waited for a opening, grabbed him around the neck, and secured my arm to act as a lever. I then dragged him down the rest of the aisle until he passed out. He fought, elbowing me in the ribs, but he just wasn't strong enough to get out. I checked his pulse, flipped him over, and then opened a extension cord package on a endcap to tie him up. The police had been called by then because the security guard was screaming at me to back away (where was he five minutes ago?). I explained to him what happened and the other people who saw it backed me up. The woman wasn't going to press charges till I explained that I would be regardless of whether she did or not. I usually get a card at the start of the summer of every year from Sheila; she's living happily (re)married to a man that treats her right with her daughter from her first marriage and her son from her current one.

GURPS Terms: I performed a Telegraphic Attack (for +4 to skill) and then grabbed the guys neck and initiated a Choke Hold using an All-Out Attack (Double). Since I've a high ST, it didn't take long for the man to begin to suffocate as I used my step each turn to drag the man down the aisle. He threw numerous elbow strikes against my ribs, but nothing I would say did even 1 HP of damage.

Arm Lock/Wrist Lock
Doug's got a excellent look at Arm Lock over here, so I'll just note that I've seen this both in game and real life pretty often. My best friend can put me in a Arm Lock I have a hard time getting out of. Hell, I've seen him do it to two grown men at the same time once out our then FLGS - you do not mess with a pissed off Filipino because he eats 9mm bullets for breakfast (Bullet O's - start your day the Filipino Way!). My old boss made a point of teaching all his guys how to perform this at least at the most basic level along with which nerve clusters were the best targets to pacify a target.

Anecdote: It was the late 90's when I met my best friend at a gaming store (the old Campaign Headquarters), on one particularly late night, while I was running a campaign of Werewolf the Apocalypse, the store manager was having issues with two (obviously) drunk sailors. When they started yelling, my best friend and I came out of the back room to see what was going on. It eventually devolved into one guy throwing a bottle at the store manager. My best friend, C, moved forward faster than I've ever seen a man move before then, grabbed each of them by the wrist and squeezed until they started screaming. He then dragged them out of the store like two disobidient children.

GURPS Terms: C has studied some Akido and a few other odds and ends and is still more trained than I am even today. What he did was probably a All-Out Attack (Double) to grab each wrist, followed by wrist lock to inflict pain (which must have been a lot because the sailors were screaming bloody murder) and then kept stepping with his drunk cargo until they left the store.

Finger Lock
Like Arm Lock, but for fingers. I've seen this a handful of times in game and all of those were for causing pain (see Inflicting Pain with Locks, GURPS Martial Arts, p. 118) rather than breaking fingers. In real life, I've seen this done a LOT. My old boss was fond of using this on drunks who would try to start a fight by punching him. He'd duck out of the way, grab the hand, and start twisting a finger till the other submitted. It works wonders when trying to get rowdy drunks to do what you want - especially if they are traveling in packs like your typical Homo Sapins Americanis Redneckis. My girlfriend knows how to do this too, some form of self-defense class she learned years before. Like all girls who know how to fight, she's vicious. I personally have no patience for something like this - I prefer more brute-force methods like Wrench Arm (see below).

Anecdote: Tom-Tom is a scary old fart. This side of fifty when I knew him he was in better shape and meaner than someone half his age. In addition to some of his other antics I've seen Tom-Tom perform a finger lock on someone my size, while kneeing someone in the groin. It was a late night and I'd been doing schoolwork in the back (per the usual), when I heard the bartender, Milly, call out. Coming out I saw Tom-Tom duck underneath a punch thrown by a drunk SOB about my size. Tom-Tom then grabbed the guys's wrist and began applying pressure to it. SOB ended up opening his fist and then Tom-Tom grabbed his index finger and twisted. SOB went to his knees, but not before his partner Dumb Bastard tried to punch Tom-Tom in the side. DB was instead rewarded with knee into the balls that put him on the floor.

GURPS Terms: Tom-Tom parried SOB and followed it up with a Wrist Lock to inflict pain and then performed a finger lock for a few rounds. When DB tried to get in close, he Dodged out of the way and followed it up with a All-Out Attack (Double) on his next turn to maintain the finger lock and then hit DB with a knee strike to the groin.

Wrench Limb
So in GURPS you need to grapple the targeted limb with both hands, your target can try to break free, but if he doesn't then next turn you can tug on it like a futhermucker. You then roll a Quick Contest of your Wrench Limb vs. the higher of your target's ST or HT (he gets +4 if it's his leg). Failure means you tickled him (and you're probably both very unconformable now). If you win you do swing crushing damage to the limb with rigid (only!) DR protecting. I've seen this done in game play fairly often (half a dozen times in every campaign I've run) and it's my second favorite thing to do if I'm forced into a physical confrontation. Again, if I can get in's usually over. I've actually done this so fast it looked like nothing happened - until my victim began to scream anyways (dislocations succccckkkkkk)

Anecdote: I was on my high school wrestling team all of two minutes (okay, more like two weeks, but you get the idea), before our first scrimmage. I'd not gotten enough training and they didn't think the opposition would be fielding a extra-heavy class. But they did, a recent transfer from another school, and I ended up having to wrestle (which I was happy about). The bout was pretty normal, with nether of us gaining ground until my opponent decided to "accidentally" knee me in the groin. I responded by grabbed his arm  and then tugging it so hard that I pulled it out of joint. Within seconds his arm began to swell and he was rushed off to the ER.

GURPS Terms: I would probably say what I did qualified as a All-Out Attack (Double) with the first attack grabbing his arm and then followed up by me using Wrench Arm to pull it out of socket. It happened extremely fast, so fast that it didn't catch up to my opponent until several seconds later.

Picking Over the Bones
Being in a fight sucks. Avoid them if you can. If you can't, pray you've trained some or at least have experience. If The best way to "win" is not to fight. And if that option doesn't work you go all in. Most of the time you're going to be fighting for you life - act like it. If you read my blog, you know that I've been in security work for years, most of it working as a "doorman" at this club or that. First thing you learn doing that sort of work is that you never ever lose your temper. You just don't. Again, I'm not a trained martial artist or solider, I've just been in a lot of confrontations. According to my school records I've been in over 140 documented altercations (that's code for "fist fights") and if we're being honest probably at least half again that amount in scraps that the school facility ever found out about. I'm not going to lie to you and say I one all of them or even most of them - because that's bullshit. I easily lost at least half, that's because most of them were me vs. two or more people and I got my butt stomped. I always stood up (and still do) for those weaker than myself and I will admit I did pick fights with bullies who were hurting others. But I never threw the first punch of any of those. Not once. But I always finished them. Again, I won't lie. I've hurt people. In some cases...for life. I'm not proud of that. The reasons were right, but the methods were wrong. I live in a part of the US where fifteen years ago the murder and crime rate was as high as some cities. Where gang violence is a real factor and domestic abuse is one of the key factors for homicides. Where the dropout rates of high schools have stayed around 60%. Yay, for my hometown. You live in a place like this and you either (to quote Johnny Cash) "get tough or die." Now, my hometown is a bit better today, the murder rate is down by nearly a third of what it was ten or fifteen years ago and so's the crime rate, though most of the violence has moved into some of the more northern counties where gang violence is a everyday occurrence.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Ritual Path Magic Skill Levels

Anders sent me a PM the other day and asked a pretty simple question: What do skill levels mean for Ritual Path magic casters? You've got your shiny copy of GURPS Thaumatology: Ritual Path Magic and you've just bought GURPS Template Toolkit 1: Characters...but now what? You've got your skill level description from p. 12 of the latter, but how do spells interact with it? You could probably extract an approximate idea of what the skill levels mean by making a few assumptions...

...that each level comes with a appropriate level of Magery and Thaumatology since your Path skill can never exceed the lower of his Thaumatology skill or (12 + Magery level).
...that each level assumes you can cast a spell with energy equal to your Safe Threshold Level x1.5 + Mana Reserve (if any).
...that Ritual Adept, is for this chart out of the equation, most serious casters are going to have it, but having the moxy to pull off a big spell doesn't need it.
...that a character has actually put points into the skill (e.g., he isn't defaulting it).
...that the spells listed are not the only ones they can cast, but the one's they can reliably do so under pressure and not in ideal circumstances.

Going from there we might get something like this:

Path Skill Level
8 to 9
Typical of characters just learning magic; can cast Track Traveler reliably (4 energy).
10 to 11
Typical of characters who are still learning, but capable; can cast Minor Healing (7 energy).
12 to 13
Typical of characters who are conversant in spellcraft, but is not yet a master, but capable; can cast Babble On (13 energy).
14 to 15
Experienced Journeyman
Typical of characters who are extremely conversant in their craft and well on their way to mastery; Needed for most combat magics; can cast Pentagram Trap (25 energy).
16 to 18
Typical of characters who are the respected masters of their craft; can cast Create Pocket Dimension (81 energy).
19 to 20
Typical of characters who are eminent masters of their craft; can cast Live Off The Land (121 energy).
Legendary Archmagi
Characters are can do nearly anything in their craft; can cast Call Spirit (139 energy).

Again, the example spell isn't the only spell they can cast - just the ones they could reliably toss out when needed. A character with Path of Undead-12 could still try to cast "Call Spirit" though it might be harder for him and have a quirk or two - a character with Path of Undead-21 just makes it look easy. Or, put another way, a true master of his craft make the hard look profound and the simple look hard.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Triple Threat - Aillénsceith

The original aillén was a monstrous three-headed reptile that terrorized the people of Ireland and put the people of Tara into a deep sleep and burned the Ráth na Riógh (the Fortress of the Kings) to the ground every year for 23 years. Eventually, Finn McCool killed the creature by stabbing it in the heart with his spear, but before he did it laid a clutch of eggs. Since then the aillénsceith have been plaguing mankind. Like their forbearer, aillénsceith have three heads and look vaguely like (very large) komado dragons – just with bigger teeth, two sets of eyes, and a series of spines along their back. The aillénsceith’s spines grow hot when it’s in combat and can set fire to stone if left in contact too long. They are only awake for a month out of every year in which they gorge themselves on food (anything remotely organic) and then fall into a torpor. Their scaled hide is extremely dense and protects them from most threats, the only chink in their natural armor is a small spot underneath their necks where a well-placed thrust can sever their spine and kill them.
            Additionally, they are highly resistant to magic which literally bounces off them and back at their attacker. With their wide jaws, anyone bitten (up to SM +1) is instantly grappled; treat this as a two-handed grapple for the purpose of breaking free. After that, it can worry for full biting damage (no roll needed) or attempt a Quick Contest of ST, with victory pulling the victim closer to it.
In campaigns with modern firearms, aillénsceith are immune to most handguns arms (2d or less). For campaigns without such weapons, reduce DR to 6. For other campaigns, find the smallest handgun and multiply its dice of damage by 6 to get aillénsceith DR.

Any Campaign Setting...
ST: 20             HP: 20            Speed: 6.00
DX: 12            Will: 10           Move: 8 (see traits)
IQ: 7               Per: 12            Weight: 350 lbs.
HT: 14            FP: 14             SM: +1
Dodge: 10       Parry: 10        DR: 12* (Hardened 1)

Bite (14): 2d+4 impaling. Reach C, 1. Treat as a weapon (Striker), not as a body part.
Burning Blood (-): 1d-2 burning (ten 1-second cycles). Treat the flammability class (Making Things Burn, p. B433) of the subject as two steps higher than it actually is! The aillénsceith must first have suffered any cutting, impaling, or piercing injury. They automatically bleed on weapons that wound them – or their foe, if attacked with Claws, Teeth, etc. – which immediately begins to burn. Until he stops bleeding (see Bleeding, p. B420), the burning blood drips on everything nearby. The aillénsceith may intentionally inflict damage on themselves to activate this ability.
Claw (14): 2d+1 cutting. Reach C, 1. Treat as a weapon (Striker), not as a body part.
Searing Spines (-): 1d+1 burning. Treat the flammability class (Making Things Burn, p. B433) of the subject as two steps higher than it actually is! This harms anyone who touches or is touched by the aillénsceith in close combat. Actually grappling one causes this damage in addition to the impaling damage causes by the spines.

Traits: Amphibious; Born Biter 3; Combat Reflexes; Discriminatory Hearing; Discriminatory Smell;  Enhanced Move 1 (Ground; Costs Fatigue, 1 FP per second; Move 8/24); Enhanced Tracking 3; Extra Attack 2 (Bite Attacks only, -20%); Extra Head 2; Gluttony (6); Immunity to Thermal Stress; Lifting ST+5 (Bite only); Magic Resistance 5; Nictitating Membrane 2; Peripheral Vision; Quadruped; Reduced Consumption 4 (Cast Iron Stomach); Resistant to Metabolic Hazards (+8); Scales; Sleepy (active six weeks out of 12); Spines (Long; 1d impaling, Reach C); Striking ST+5 (Bite only); Temperature Tolerance 55 (-105º F to 720º F); Vibration Sense (Universal).

Skills:  Brawling-14; Intimidation -12; Stealth-14; Survival (Underground)-14; Tracking-16.
Notes: Reproduces asexually. Sees via Infravision. If the GM is using Intrinsic Fright Check from GURPS Horror (p. 139), aillénsceith have a modifier of -3. 
* Double this DR against magical damage. Any damage which is stopped by this DR rebounds instead on the aillénsceith’s attacker (the remaining damage affects the aillénsceith normally). The attacker doesn’t get a Active Defense against this the first time he’s affected, but subsequent attacks are treated normally. This only works against direct hits! Area attacks affect them normally (though they still have their DR doubled against it).

For Dungeon Fantasy...
ST: 20             HP: 20            Speed: 6.00
DX: 12            Will: 10           Move: 8 (see traits)
IQ: 7               Per: 12            Weight: 350 lbs.
HT: 14            FP: 14             SM: +1
Dodge: 10       Parry: 10        DR: 6* (Hardened 1)

Bite (14): 2d+4 impaling. Reach C, 1. Treat as a weapon (Striker), not as a body part.
Burning Blood (-): 1d-2 burning (ten 1-second cycles). Treat the flammability class (Making Things Burn, p. B433) of the subject as two steps higher than it actually is! The aillénsceith must first have suffered any cutting, impaling, or piercing injury. They automatically bleed on weapons that wound them – or their foe, if attacked with Claws, Teeth, etc. – which immediately begins to burn. Until he stops bleeding (see Bleeding, p. B420), the burning blood drips on everything nearby. The aillénsceith may intentionally inflict damage on themselves to activate this ability.
Claw (14): 2d+1 cutting. Reach C, 1. Treat as a weapon (Striker), not as a body part.
Searing Spines (-): 1d+1 burning. Treat the flammability class (Making Things Burn, p. B433) of the subject as two steps higher than it actually is! This harms anyone who touches or is touched by the aillénsceith in close combat. Actually grappling one causes this damage in addition to the impaling damage causes by the spines.

Traits: Amphibious; Born Biter 3; Combat Reflexes; Discriminatory Hearing; Discriminatory Smell; Enhanced Move 1 (Ground; Costs Fatigue, 1 FP per second; Move 8/24); Enhanced Tracking 3; Extra Attack 2 (Bite Attacks only, -20%); Extra Head 2; Gluttony (6); Immunity to Thermal Stress; Lifting ST+5 (Bite only); Magic Resistance 5; Nictitating Membrane 2; Peripheral Vision; Quadruped; Reduced Consumption 4 (Cast Iron Stomach); Resistant to Metabolic Hazards (+8); Scales; Sleepy (active six weeks out of 12); Spines (Long; 1d impaling, Reach C); Striking ST+5 (Bite only); Temperature Tolerance 55 (-105º F to 720º F); Vibration Sense (Universal).

Skills:  Brawling-14; Intimidation-12; Stealth-14; Survival (Underground)-14; Tracking-16.
Classification: Dire Animal
Notes: Reproduces asexually. Sees via Infravision.
* Triple this DR against magical damage. Any damage which is stopped by this DR rebounds instead on the aillénsceith’s attacker (the remaining damage affects the aillénsceith normally). The attacker doesn’t get a Active Defense against this the first time he’s affected, but subsequent attacks are treated normally. This only works against direct hits! Area attacks affect them normally (though they still have their DR doubled against it).

For Monster Hunters...
ST: 25             HP: 20            Speed: 8.00
DX: 12            Will: 10           Move: 11 (see traits)
IQ: 7               Per: 12            Weight: 350 lbs.
HT: 14            FP: 14             SM: +1
Dodge: 12       Parry: 11        DR: 12* (Hardened 1)

Fright Check: -3

Bite (16): 3d+3 impaling. Reach C, 1. Treat as a weapon (Striker), not as a body part.
Burning Blood (-): 1d+1 burning (ten 1-second cycles). Treat the flammability class (Making Things Burn, p. B433) of the subject as two steps higher than it actually is! The aillénsceith must first have suffered any cutting, impaling, or piercing injury. They automatically bleed on weapons that wound them – or their foe, if attacked with Claws, Teeth, etc. – which immediately begins to burn. Until he stops bleeding (see Bleeding, p. B420), the burning blood drips on everything nearby. The aillénsceith may intentionally inflict damage on themselves to activate this ability.
Claw (16): 2d+4 cutting. Reach C, 1. Treat as a weapon (Striker), not as a body part.
Searing Spines (-): 2d+2 burning. Treat the flammability class (Making Things Burn, p. B433) of the subject as two steps higher than it actually is! This harms anyone who touches or is touched by the aillénsceith in close combat. Actually grappling one causes this damage in addition to the impaling damage causes by the spines.

Traits: Amphibious; Born Biter 3; Combat Reflexes; Discriminatory Hearing; Discriminatory Smell; Enhanced Move 1 (Ground; Costs Fatigue, 1 FP per second; Move 11/33); Enhanced Tracking 3; Extra Attack 2 (Bite Attacks only, -20%); Extra Head 2; Gluttony (6); Immunity to Thermal Stress; Lifting ST+5 (Bite only); Magic Resistance 5; Nictitating Membrane 2; Peripheral Vision; Quadruped; Reduced Consumption 4 (Cast Iron Stomach); Resistant to Metabolic Hazards (+8); Scales; Sleepy (active six weeks out of 12); Spines (Long; 1d impaling, Reach C); Striking ST+5 (Bite only); Temperature Tolerance 55 (-105º F to 720º F); Vibration Sense (Universal).

Skills:  Brawling-16; Intimidation-16; Stealth-16; Survival (Underground)-14; Tracking-16.
Notes: Reproduces asexually. Sees via Infravision. Use the skills listed under Cryptids in the Know Thy Enemy box in Monster Hunters 1 (p. 16). One aillénsceith is a fair fight for one champion.
* Double this DR against magical damage. Any damage which is stopped by this DR rebounds instead on the aillénsceith’s attacker (the remaining damage affects the aillénsceith normally). The attacker doesn’t get a Active Defense against this the first time he’s affected, but subsequent attacks are treated normally. This only works against direct hits! Area attacks affect them normally (though they still have their DR doubled against it).

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Hurt Locker: Castlevania Battle Cross

So Jpomena asked over on the forums what Castlevania's Battle Cross might look like in GURPS terms. That's a excellent question and one I decided to run with. Castlevania has a special place in my heart for many reasons and it's by far one of my favorite video game series and I've played most of the American releases (up to about 2007 when I got out of console gaming). So how would I build it? why with Metatronic Generators of course!

Battle Cross
This large cross-shaped object has sharpened edges and can be thrown at a target (treat it as a large hungamunga, GURPS Martial Arts, pp. 231). It automatically returns to you at the end of your turn, though you must have at least one hand free to “catch” it and damages anyone in its path. Roll a 9 or less on 3d to see if the target is hit. If so treat the attack normally and allow whatever Active Defense is normally possible. It's considered both a silver and a holy attack and damages those who are susceptible
         It may also be used in melee combat by gripping the center of the cross (which is not sharpened) and “punching” with it (counting as an improvised fist-load which does either cutting or crushing damage). It can also function as a large hungamunga if "depowered." Small, Cost at TL3 is $22,528, while TL8 is $415,870 5 lbs. Self-Powered. LC3.

Statistics: Cutting Attack 3d+4 (Accurate 2, +10%; Counts as both a holy and silver attack, +10%; Damages those in its path on its return, +20%; Double Blunt Trauma, +20%; Double Knockback, +20%; Increased 1/2D, x10, +15%; Increased Range, Max, x2, +10%; PM, -10%; Melee Weapon, Throwable, Reach C, -5%; Returns to throwers hand at end of turn, +5%; ST-Based, +100%) [83]. Includes the cost of a Very Fine Balanced Silver-Coated Holy Large Hungamunga (+$1,778 at TL3 or $870 at TL8 and +2 lbs.)

TL: 3^ or 8^
Damage: Swing+3d+4 or Swing+4 with follow-up silver and holy effects
Acc: 5 or 2
Range: x1/x2 or x1/x1.5
Weight: 5 lbs.
RoF: 1
Shots: T(1)
ST: 11
Bulk: -3

Friday, November 7, 2014

Assembly Required: Outlining Step Two - People, Places, and Things

I touched on this briefly in my previous installment of Assembly Required, but it's important enough of a section that I like to give it the full once over. Players may be the breath of your campaign - but the people, places, and things you populate it with are the lungs. You cannot create a functioning, living campaign without the interaction between both groups. So here are a few questions/guidelines on building up your campaign's lungs.


  • What sort of groups organizations are there? What are their details? What are their goals? How do they operate? How are their enemies? Allies? What are their game mechanical costs? (e.g., if the Stygian Circle is a Enemy, how much is it worth?)
  • Are there any NPCs of renown that the player characters would know about? Will they ever meet them? If so how often? If it's at least once a adventure consider writing them up as a character.
  • Do the PCs have any allies, patrons, enemies, or dependents? If so detailing them now might save work. Did they come up with a novel idea that works for the setting? If so explore it!


  • Are the PCs operating out of a home base (specific city, space station, etc.)? If so consider using GURPS City Stats to write it up. 
  • Detail a half dozen or so places the PCs can go to during a game. For example, a bar, a hotel with a seedy reputation, etc. Don't put too much detail into them - just enough to whet the players appetite.


  • Are there any mythical, legendary, or otherwise well known objects the players might get their hands on? If so sketch out a few details.
  • What sort of items do the players already have that deserve such detail, if any?
  • What's the technology level of the campaign? (as discussed before) What gear books are you using? Is it ala carte? If not you need to make a list of what is and isn't allowed - even if it's only "All gear from the Weapons Chapter of GURPS Ultra-Tech that is TL9^ is available, except for Screamers."

It might seem like a lot of these questions are redundant with those for Campaign History - and to a degree they are - but now is the time to make lots of notes on how you plan on treating them and expanding them in the setting.

The Worked Example: Something, Something Kill Monsters Urban Fantasy Secret Magic
Here is an example from my campaign (though it's already written up!) of the kind of detail that's useful to have around. Anything that goes above 500 words is probably too much to start out with. Again, these can be rough notes or full on stats (though really that should come later after you've had time to let the campaign ideas "steep").

The Stygian Circle
Founded in the late 19th century, the Stygian Circle was founded by the mysterious sorcerer Lanius. Not much is known about Lanius before he appeared the small hamlet of Vernichberg in Germany where he killed every man, woman, and child, except for seven individuals he seemingly chose at random. Over the course of three days as the corpses of Vernichberg rotted, he spoke to the survivors and showed them the wonders of necromantic magic. No one is sure what he told them or even what he did, but at the end of those three days the first of the Stygian Circle were born. Since then the necromancers of the Stygian Circle have plagued mundane and ceteri alike with their predations and unfathomable goals. They typically gain new members from the warlock population or those who wish to pursue the darker aspects of necromancy, which have been forbidden by the Conclave. Like their founder, especially powerful members of the Circle have been known to destroy entire towns as they seek out those with the gift for sorcery and then twist and corrupt them to their own ends. Their “forced” recruitment practices as best left unmentioned as the few survivors who have escaped usually end up mad or dead within days of their leaving.
             Circle members all bear a magical brand that can only be detected by magical means or by viewing their aura. This black brand of thorns twist around deaths-head moth has become a sigil feared by any sane man. Hunted by the Conclave and her allies, members of the Circle cannot operate in the open in most instances or face immediate retribution. The exception to this is when they are “harvesting” towns to replenish their ranks in which case they don’t care if others know who they are because no one will leave alive or sane.
              All members are exceptionally talented necromancers and know more about death and the dead than almost anyone else. It is rumored that those of the First Order have found the way to cheat death itself and this more than anything else drives more and more sorcerers into the arms of this blasphemous organization.
              The Circle operates in small cells with up to twenty members who move around constantly and are assigned tasks by intermediaries from the First Order. From missions to loot tombs to experimenting with new spells, each cell might be tasked with any sort of job. This way if the Conclave captures any members, they only know about their current or past missions and have no idea where other cells are. Rarely, they’ll operate in bigger groups (up to a hundred) when they intend to go “harvesting.” Though not approved by the Conclave they operate like any other Cabal or Coven and have a structure that is almost identical to any of those working under the aegis of the Conclave.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Dungeon Fantasy Musings

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is by far the most successful of the various lines for for the GURPS game engine. Up until a few weeks ago I didn't run it as one of my constant campaigns - in fact I only use it for playtest games that require it or the occasional one shot. All of that changed when I ran a Men In Black demo of it at my local game store. To put it mildly - it was a immense success and it got me thinking: How would I put together a Dungeon Fantasy campaign? Well, first - I'd run it way more serious than it is otherwise implied in the line. Come on, Bunny, Elder Thing, Evil, and Good? That's just so...well, it's silly, but DF is silly. Anyone who says otherwise hasn't read the source material very closely. That doesn't have to be silly. You can make it serious. You need to do a little extra work, but it is possible. I plan on using the Traits for Town article by Sean Punch and a few other odds and ends. Give some justifications where adventurers delve, and run sessions that aren't all in the dungeon. I've even surprisingly put together a full adventure for my players (it's about 8k total with a couple of maps) and even a campaign map of the world. This is a extremely rare thing for me as I suck at graphic art. I can barely make stick figures look like...well, stick figures. One thing I for sure won't be changing is the magic system. Some of you are probably shocked by that, but the truth is I've never had a real issue with the basic magic system - I just simply liked other systems better. One of the reasons why I've decided to run a Dungeon Fantasy campaign is because I want to get familiar with the entire line as much as possible as well as regular GURPS magic. Running it will help and basic magic is a near perfect fit for DF anyways (as I found out when running it). That said, you'll probably be seeing a bunch of new standard spells on my blog pretty soon as I do love to tinker and create and I really can't put everything for official publication. I might even switch the example posts of Assembly Required to this new campaign should it work out.

A couple of things I definitely want to do:

  • Make a map (which I've partially done).
  • Expand my random roll point total table for NPCs/PCs
  • Create rules for magic weapon bonuses higher than those listed in Magic
  • Create some hex maps and populate them
  • Work up some new monsters
  • Do a political chart
  • Create some rules for more "serious" DF.
  • Decide what races are in and those that aren't and how they fit.
  • Figure how "Traits in Town" work in the campaign setting.
  • Write up some setting specific gear (weapons, armor, etc.) - especially "ethnic cool" elven gear.
  • Create the names of the local gods and their portfolios

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Designer's Notes: It's a Trap!

I don't talk about it often, but I'm a/was a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons. I dove into Wizards of the Coast's 3rd edition like a pool on a scorching summer day. Finally, I thought, a edition that could be mine. I bought every book that came out, I visited the site regularly, I even did some scutwork for some of their authors on the sly. I thought I was going to be published there. For a while Dungeons and Dragon was as dear to me as GURPS is now. DnD 3.5 came out and I sort of lost interest. We'd been promised that they weren't going to churn new editions and they did... exactly that. Add that to the fact that I was under a huge amount of stress in 2004-2005(ish) and I nearly had a nervous breakdown because I couldn't fit a campaign premise into d20 Future. It wasn't the reason for said breakdown, but it was the last straw. I'm not going to get into it, but I never picked up a Dungeons and Dragons book again after that. During my recovery my best friend, C., said "Hey, let's play GURPS! Your idea will fit there perfectly." Now, to be honest this was GURPS 3rd edition, but I looked at the system in a whole new light. I'd played and ran it before off and on (mostly using the World of Darkness stuff) and it was my 5th preferred system at the time (after DnD, Palladium, WoD, and BESM). Anyways, the reason I'm blathering is because the core of this article came from my excessive (and ridiculous) notes for a homebrew-based random trap table. I had to rejigger, well, everything, but the idea came from something I wrote for my Forgotten Realms campaign.
          Actually writing "It's a Trap!" took next to no time, I knew what I wanted, I had a lay out already in mind, much of the concept work was done, and I was focused. I read every Dungeon Fantasy book I had to make sure I could adjust the material if needed. It took about 52 hours total to get everything and trimmed. What did take a lot of time were the tables. It was my first ever table-heavy  article and I wanted to get it as right as I could so Steven didn't have a brain hemorrhage. That took nearly 60 hours by itself as I obsessively went back and forth between formatting view and regular view and double checked the style guide. Oy. That was a bit maddening. I did it all on a self-imposed deadline too, because I wanted to have a horse in the race for the Dungeon Fantasy II Pyramid issue. I was ultimately rejected because it was too long and couldn't be fit in and eventually published in the Dungeon Fantasy III issue. So...I waited. Ten months went by and I've got a email saying they're using it. That was one of the hardest articles I've had to sit on to date, people kept talking about traps on the forums and I couldn't say more than "I submitted something to deal with this - no idea if it'll ever be published." Surprisingly, most of it was published, except for a small snippet (see below) and I've thought about writing a "Dungeon Fantasy X: Dungeoncraft" supplement. It would include expanded rules for traps, random map generation using die rolls, and all other fun things that a GM could use to set up a campaign in 30 minutes or less for Dungeon Fantasy. Anyways, here is the snippet that was taken out:

N is for “N”ot Enough Traps!

Power levels and point totals might vary from one adventuring party to another. To better account for this, the GM may wish to modifier the die rolls for some of the tables. N is the number of PCs and trap-disarming companions they have with them. Add 1 for every such capable PC, but subtract 1 for every two non-capable PCs (round down). Then use this number to modifier the die roll for the Trap Difficulty table. Therefore, an party with a thief, a wizard, a cleric, and a barbarian have a N of 0.