Thursday, December 31, 2015

Boil and Bubble: The Power of the Soul

Recently a poster on the forums asked:
"I was wondering how someone would model soul stealing spells and creating soul gems (that function basically the same way as Mana-stones). I don't see any spells, besides maybe soul jar, that represent ripping the soul of of a being and converting its energy into a Mana-stone.
I was also wondering how damage to someone's soul would be modeled. Maybe direct damage to their Will rather than HP or FP with 0 Will resulting in instant dead with no chance of resurrection?
And finally, could such a soul stone function like a dedicated mana-stone that only recharges based on soul damage that is dealt?"
 Well that's an interesting series of questions, isn't it? As someone who has toyed around with the value of souls before I felt obligated to weigh in on this.

Soul Furnace (VH)
A Soul Furnace is a Powerstone that is powered by the soul trapped within it. Use all normal Powerstone rules (limits by value, etc.), except that a Soul Furnace does not recharge its power normally. Instead, each Furnace contains a trapped soul (usually via Soul Jar or some other necromantic spell) that provides power to its bearer. No Soul Furnace may supply FP higher than the trapped spirit's Will+IQ; multiply this value by 1.5 if the soul possesses Magery 0, by 2 for Magery 1, by 2.5 for Magery 2, and so on. Those with FP (Magic only) or ER (Magic) add this value to Will and IQ before taking Magery into account. Soul Furnace's recharge at a rate equal to the trapped soul's Will/5 per hour. Mana Zones have no effect on this rate and multiple Soul Furnaces can recharge near one another without ill effect. As long as the bearer takes no more than total FP/10 in one use, the Soul Furnace can indefinitely supply power (but see below). If this limit is exceeded, make a roll against the trapped soul's Will (plus Magery) at -1 per each 1/10th FP used (round up), Success reduces the Soul Furance's FP by 1, failure reduces it by 2, and critical failure reduces it by the margin of failure. A critical success means no loss...this time.

For example, if a Soul Furnace had a value of 30 (Will 15, IQ 15), then it could provide up to 3 FP to its bearer for a single casting. If 9 FP were drawn from one casting then an immediate Will-3 roll would have to be made, with the usual results.

Soul Furnaces have no effect on the recharge rate of nearby Powerstones. Trapped souls prevent resurrection while imprisoned - destroy the Furnace first to free the jailed spirit!

Energy cost to cast: 50. Each casting primes a object for accepting a captured soul (this requires its own roll with another spell or means of spirit capture!)
Prerequisite: Magery 3, Enchant, and Soul Jar.

Picking Over the Bones
I'm sure the concept could be easily applied across multiple masgic systems that feature powerstones or the like (heck, you could easily convert the rules over to Ritual Path Magic Mana Batteries). Of course, the social implications of such magic might lead to all sorts of problems. Mages will especially become paranoid because their souls both last longer and have larger reserves of power. Soul Furnaces might quickly become outlawed as callous wizards hunt their own kind down for more and more power.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sicatra - The Bloodied and the Banal - Game Session 6

Adventuring Party
Autora (PC – Versitile Avatar – Goddess of Abundance, Agriculture, Alcohol, Bees, Family, Good weather, Hearth, and Midwives – Absent)
Ghermukhannu (PC – Agile Avatar – God of Guile, Journeys, Monkeys, Mischief, and Travelers)
Imir (PC – Brainy Avatar – Goddess of Time, Fate, Space, Portals, Rebirth & Beginnings, and Starlight)
Johren (PC – Brawny Avatar – God of Defense and Protection, Exploration and adventurers, Weather, Thunder and Lightning, and Physical strength – Absent)
Sulio (PC – Versatile Avatar – God of Illusions, Mirages, Personas, Chameleons, and Performance Art – Absent)
Tierian (PC – Brawny Avatar – God Of Earth And Stone, Architecture, Engineering And Construction, Gems and Jewelry, Mountains, Mining, and Precious Metals – Absent)

Eternity (NPC – Brawny Avatar – Semidivine being who is the physical embodiment of starlight)
Gram (NPC – Brainy Avatar – Semidivine being who determines where the dead go in the afterlife)
Jortha (PC – Versatile Avatar – Goddess of Naval Warfare, Oceans and Seas, Sailors, Storms, Watercraft, and Wind)
Malakai rue Mors (NPC – Versatile Archetype – Godsbane and Bonecarver)

Weather: 4º F; 33 mph winds from the north; heavy snow
Ninth Month, 14th Day, 802 of the Fifth Age
Aberaray, Aersalus

Making their way to Aberary on the far west side of Aersalus, the crew of the Windrunner touch down at an old mine where the 5th key lay hidden. Coming to a curious indentation at the end of an old mine shaft, the PCs realize that the indentation (a dagger) is the way to the room where the Windkey is. Using available materials they get Malakai to forge a duplicate of the dagger and are granted access to the key and the location of the next. As the PCs fly away in the Windrunner they see the ground swarmed beneath them with Zyttarin’s followers.

Weather: -7º F; 3 mph winds from the south; clear skies
Ninth Month, 20th Day, 802 of the Fifth Age
The Blood Wood, Aersalus

Heading toward the Blood Wood the PCs spot an out of control Autorrin spreading fires all throughout the ancient forest. Heading to the heart of the wood Johren spots a group of stranded elves. Splitting up, Imir and Malakai head to the ancient asgara tree that towers over all the rest in the forest they have no trouble activating the next key and are quickly picked up by Johren and the Windrunner. Johren, meanwhile had grabbed the stranded elves from the closing in forest fire. Finally, the crew head to Qaraqarum and to the next key which is hidden in the dungeons of the ruler’s palace.

Weather: -20º F; 19 mph winds from the north; heavy snow
Ninth Month, 21st Day, 802 of the Fifth Age
Qaraqarum, Aersalus

Coming up with a dangerous plan, Johren and Malakai decide to distract Zyttarin by crashing his gladiator games, while Ghermukhannu and Imir head into the dungeons of the palace to activate the next key. Once inside the palace they make their way to the dungeon and easily find the key hidden in the wall of an oubliette. Though they do come across a surprise in the form of the god of knowledge and history, Drazen, who’s been tortured and beat to within an inch of his life. He warns Imir that he “told him [Zyttarin]...everything.” Ghermukhannu and Imir drag him out of the dank hole and begin freeing all those within the cells.
            Meanwhile, back at the stadium, Johren, Malakai, and some of the rescued Blood Wood elves crash Zyttarin’s party and begin killing his berserkers wholesale. Johren then uses his powers to summon a powerful tornado which tears the stadium down brick by brick. As soon as Imir hits the key miles away, something in Malakai snaps and he begins to kill savagely. Taking several of the berserkers heads he shouts to the citizens of Qaraqarum to rise up and take back there city. As if at his command the dead begin to rise and help the living in their battle against Zyttarin’s forces. As the PCs leave Qaraqarum they see Zyttarin and his minions being routed by the combined might of the living and the dead.

Weather: -40º F; 19 mph winds from the north; heavy snow
Tenth Month, 1st Day, 802 of the Fifth Age
Dura, “The Span”

Heading to the Sea of Glass and the Lighthouse of Dura Bay, the PCs find themselves at the near end of their journey. The Lighthouse is known for its ability to force any who enter it to relive visions of the past and make the viewer see the truth of the matter (which drives some insane). Johren, Ghermukhannu, Malakai, and Imir enter (all seeing differnet things) and climb the steps of the lighthouse until they reach the top at which point Imir activates the key hidden inside the ever-burning lantern. A beam of light shoots across the bay and into the deep sea. Climbing back aboard the Windrunner the PCs head off to follow the light to their destination.

Weather: 70º F; 5 mph winds from the south; clear skies
Tenth Month, 4th Day, 802 of the Fifth Age
The Island of Oggdriu, Unknown (The Everstorm?)

Once on the island, the crew docks the Windrunner and heads toward the Vault in the middle of the landmass. Once at the Vault, Malakai, Ghermukhannu, and Imir head inside to find the Sword of Ilios. Quickly finding it, they have Malakai hold it as Ghermukhannu rushes outside to help Johren find off Zyttarin and his minions who followed the PCs from the Bay of Dura. Vayabdu, God of intrigue and deception sneaks into the Vault and at the bidding of his master (Ilios) gives him a scrap of cloth from the god of death’s sundered robe. Malakai passes out, but not before realizing who he really is: the God of Death. Imir joins the others outside as Zyttarin’s forces grow more desperate a unearthly roaring is heard from inside the Vault as a ill wind blows outward, killing all of Zyttarin’s non-deific allies. As Ilios, in his “Reaper” form comes slowly walking out, he asks why Zyttarin is trying to hurt his wife and lops of his head before he can speak. In a further fit of rage he throws the still-living rogue deity downward and into the spirt world forming a new place. A place of punishment: Hell. Sending all the rest of the rogues to this new place he takes pity on no one. The PCs leave the island and reascend to the Heavens with trying to set right all the wrongs that were committed.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Dungeon Fantasy Encounter - Battle at Bloodfire Falls

Sometimes a Dungeon Fantasy GM just needs a quick boss encounter. It doesn’t necessarily
have to be anything special, just something tough for the players with decent loot at the end.
Well look no more! Here’s a quick encounter with “fun” Elder Things and some already rolled
treasure. With new traps, monsters, and diseases what else could a Dungeon Fantasy GM ask

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If you are already a patron click here for the full article.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Designer's Notes: Vehicle Imbuements

GURPS Power-Ups 1: Imbuments is one of those books that is so simple and yet so ridiculously complex. It lends itself quite well to just about any campaign frame as it can be easily explained as belonging to whatever supernatural or cinematic abilities are available in the setting. What's more Imbuements are extremely easy to expand (look at what Kelly Pederson, Antoni Ten Monros, or W. A. Frick did). With those things in mind I remember getting the seed idea for the article after watching the horrible Ghostrider movie with Nicolas Cage. How could I do that in GURPS? I thought. Maybe some form of Burning Innate Attack with Affects Others? That seemed so ludicrously complicated that I almost instantly gave up on it. Then after a conversation with my other half over some pho she asked "Why don't you just use imbuements?" ...It was so simple I could have smacked myself. After a night of feverish and driven work I had my first draft of "Vehicle Imbuements." Given my extremely critical (and sometimes negative view) of my own work I was very surprised at how well it turned out. It only took me about 14 hours to write, another 50 to revise (making the skills work with all Size Modifier vehicles was annoying), and about 40 to edit.

I had relatively few outtakes (though there are a few - see below) and the final document was far more than I expected. I'm probably going to be dipping my feet in the Imbuements pool again fairly soon after toying around with an idea to use them for creating things.

Outtakes: Ride-related Perks
I'm not going to leave you without some crunch! What sort of designer's notes would these be without that?! Both perks require specialization by advantage, piece of equipment, rule, skill, task, technique, etc.

Iron Hooves†
This perk can only be taken by creatures who have the Claws (Hooves) advantage. It comes in levels. The first level gives you the same benefits as if you were wearing a pair of horseshoes or the equivalent for your species (i.e., +2 to HT-based rolls to resist FP loss and preventing crippling while on hard surfaces). See Low-Tech (p. 134) for more details. Level two and three are effectively DR 1 or 2 (Partial, Hooves, -40%; Tough Skin, -40%) [1/level].

Natural Mount†
This perk is only useful to riding animals (or other beasts of burden). It comes in three levels. The first lets a rider treat you as if you were wearing a saddle; the second lets a rider treat you as if you were wearing a saddle and stirrups or as if you wearing a war saddle, the third let’s your rider treat you as if you were wearing a war saddle and stirrups. If you are wearing a war saddle and stirrups, your rider gets a +1 bonus to all Riding and Animal Handling rolls with you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Triple Threat: Hellwasp

These monstrous insects can grow upward to two feet long (not including a 6” to 12” stinger!) and are shades of mottled red and gold. It’s iridescent wings bioluminescence at night and is often confused with swamp gas emissions and/or St. Elmo’s fire. Since they prefer dark, humid environments they can often be found in jungles or swamps. Hellwasps are asexual (though they can and do sexually procreate if others of their kind are around) and reproduce by injecting tiny eggs into those they sting. Behind the possibility of hellwasp parasitism, their poison is necrotic and rots flesh in a matter of hours if untreated. Hellwasps see via body heat and clever adventurers can distract them by creating fires, striking matches, etc.

Any Campaign Setting…
ST: 6               HP: 6              Speed: 6.00
DX: 12            Will: 10           Move: 6 (Air Move 12)
IQ: 2               Per: 12            Weight: 10 to 20 lbs.
HT: 11            FP: 11             SM: -3

Dodge: 10       Parry: N/A     DR: 0

Necrotic Stinger (12): 1d impaling + follow‑up 1d‑2 toxic (60 ten-second cycles). Reach C. If a target takes more than 2/3 HP damage form the toxic follow-up, he suffers from Terrible Pain until he heals the damage fully.

Traits: 360° Vision; Chameleon 2 (Controllable); Combat Reflexes; Extra Legs (Six Legs); Flight (Winged); Horizontal; Ignition; Illumination; Infravision; No Fine Manipulators; Striking ST+6 (Stinger only); Wild Animal.
Skills: Brawling‑12; Stealth‑14; Survival (Swamp or Jungle)-14.
Notes: Targets who suffer from necrosis will eventually hatch a number of eggs equal to their HP¥1.2 in 2d hours unless removed (which causes another 1 HP per egg removed). If the GM is using Intrinsic Fright Check GURPS Horror (p. 139), Hellwasps have a modifier of -2.

For Dungeon Fantasy…
ST: 6               HP: 6              Speed: 6.00
DX: 12            Will: 10           Move: 6 (Air Move 12)
IQ: 2               Per: 12            Weight: 10 to 20 lbs.
HT: 11            FP: 11              SM: -3

Dodge: 10       Parry: N/A     DR: 0

Necrotic Stinger (12): 1d impaling + follow‑up 1d‑2 toxic (60 ten-second cycles). Reach C. If a target takes more than 2/3 HP damage form the toxic follow-up, he suffers from Terrible Pain until he heals the damage fully.

Traits: 360° Vision; Chameleon 2 (Controllable); Combat Reflexes; Extra Legs (Six Legs); Flight (Winged); Horizontal; Ignition; Illumination; Infravision; No Fine Manipulators; Striking ST+6 (Stinger only); Wild Animal.
Skills: Brawling‑12; Stealth‑14; Survival (Swamp or Jungle)-14.
Class: Dire Animal.
Combat Effectiveness Rating: 0 (OR 0 and PR 0).
Notes: Targets who suffer from necrosis will eventually hatch a number of eggs equal to their HP¥1.2 in 2d hours unless removed (which causes another 1 HP per egg removed). Use the the rules from Horrible Grubs (Dungeons, p. 13) to actually remove the eggs (Cure Disease works normally).

For Monster hunters…
ST: 10             HP: 10             Speed: 7.00
DX: 12            Will: 12           Move: 7 (Air Move 14)
IQ: 2               Per: 14            Weight: 10 to 20 lbs.
HT: 12            FP: 12              SM: -3

Dodge: 11       Parry: N/A     DR: 2

Fright Check: -3)

Necrotic Stinger (12): 2d+3 impaling + follow‑up 1d+2 toxic (60 ten-second cycles). Reach C. If a target takes more than 2/3 HP damage form the toxic follow-up, he suffers from Terrible Pain until he heals the damage fully.

Traits: 360° Vision; Chameleon 2 (Controllable); Combat Reflexes; Extra Legs (Six Legs); Flight (Winged); Horizontal; Ignition; Illumination; Infravision; No Fine Manipulators; Striking ST+8 (Stinger only); Wild Animal.
Skills: Brawling‑14; Stealth‑16; Survival (Swamp or Jungle)-14.
Class: Dire Animal.
Notes: Targets who suffer from necrosis will eventually hatch a number of eggs equal to their HP¥1.2 in 2d hours unless removed (which causes another 1 HP per egg removed). Use the skills listed under Crtypids in the Know Thy Enemy box in Monster Hunters 1 (p. 16). A dozen hellwasps is a fair fight for one or two champions.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Monster Hunters Encounter - Seal and Stone

This quick encounter has a fast set-up and can be dropped into place in any Monster Hunters campaign. The players come across information that an actual Nephilim grave (giants who roamed the earth before the Biblical Flood) has been found. After some quick research they realize that the ancient creature has been bound to its grave forever...

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Thursday, December 17, 2015

Designer's Notes: What's In a Lair?


I haven't exactly kept it a secret that I dislike the current rules for bases in GURPS Supers. The concept overall is sound - which is why I kept some elements of it - I dislike the idea of paying points for gear generally, but I especially dislike it in this instance because in just about 8 years of GMing since the book came out I've had one personally willingly take it after the rules were explained to them. That person was incredibly unhappy with the points he spent. This isn't a dig at any of the playtesters or author - it's just how the rules were met in my games. So I do what I always do in that situation: I make up my own rules to patch the perceived hole. Because of this, the rules for "What's In a Lair" are old. The bare bones are at least 7 years old or so and come from my (still going) urban fantasy campaign. They've seen many iterations and I really couldn't solve some of the issues they had until Matt Riggsby wrote his wonderful GURPS Boardrooms and Curia. I'd finally had the last peices of the puzzle and soon after I had playtested Matt's book I finished writing the first version of "What's In a Lair?" I shoved it into the Vault until I had a decent volume to put it in. That issue was "Organizations" and I'm overjoyed that I also got the cover article. Ignoring any time I spent writing it for my own uses, "What's In a Lair?" took over 50 hours to write and 12 hours of research (yes, that's a new category because you can't just go to Wikipedia for some of the information you need on architecture and buildings and you can't really make it up). Revisions and Editing took substantially longer - this always happens when I work from older material - clocking it at over 70 hours to edit and 40 to revise. Total time in was 192 hours (or 24 man-days). This one ate up so much of my time I actually fell behind my writing schedule (which I'm trying to make up now). Overall, I really enjoyed writing this and I hope others enjoy it as well.

Oh, one more thing before I get to the outtakes: Alan "Tyneras" Cullers proved to be exceptionally useful reviewer with this article. The only reason he's not mentioned is due to the draft I sent in lacked his name. So thanks, Alan! I appreciate all the hard work and input you offered. :-)

Unused Concepts
A few ideas I had, but just didn't have the room for:

  • Bases that have similiar layouts and functions could be bought at a cost. This was meant to simulate things like S.H.I.E.L.D. bases.
  • Several other fixtures like self-destruct systems, farms, and other less immediately "player useful" things.
  • Rules for concealed doors, passageways, and secret levels.
  • More details rules on bases in exotic environments.

Volume instead of Cost of Living
One of the things that Alan came up with (too late unfortunately) was to ditch Cost of Living for Size in favor of raw volume. See here for his excellent chart. Otherwise, this would have been the alternate Size formula:
Volume to Size: Square Root(Volume/5000) -1
Size to Volume: (Size +1) Squared x 5000
Size to Rooms: (Size +1) Squared x 1 to 3

Alternate Maintenance
One of the rules I chucked because it was too complex was to increase the required maintenance intervals for larger structures instead of the static "man-hours per square footage I have now. In the outtake, Size alone was the determining factor for how often a given base had to be taken.
Base Size          Maintenance Interval
2 or less                     Monthly
     3                          Bi-weekly
     4                            Weekly
     5                      Every other day
     6                            Daily
     8                        Twice daily
     9                   Three to five times daily
 10 or more             Constant

Location, Location, Location
Bases don’t just exist in a vacuum. They have to be built somewhere. These rules assume that a location’s cost is subsumed into the base’s cost to be made. If that’s not the case (e.g., the land it’s built on is someone else’s property), reduce the final cost by 25%. If the property the base is built on is leased or mortgaged, rented, or otherwise not outright owned by the base's operators.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Carpe Blogiem: Open Call to Players

So I put out a soft call about a week ago, but I'm making it official like: I'm going to be running a GURPS supers game on Mondays from 7pm or 8pm EST to 11pm or 12am EST either weekly or bi-weekly. Normally I wouldn't bother running an online game, but I'm mixing things up a bit and trying something new. I'm looking for one, possibly two more players. I'm also looking to build a queue of potential players in case something happens to my regulars (or I decided to do another game). If you're interested, email me.

So here's the relevant bits:

* The genre is supers/action: there are superheroes in the world
* The mode is cinematic, with elements of speculative and ultraviolence (the world the PCs find themselves in is fairly realistic even though the players are definitely not).
* The austerity is mid to high: actions have consequences.
* Point totals will vary from player to player with the lowest starting point total being 150 points and the highest being 500 points and I will be using "Buckets of Points." One important note: This is the starting point value of your build. More points may be added to help you fully fill out your concept later on.
* Players are expected to deliver a fairly long character history (at least 500 words) along with a "rogues gallery" cast sheet. Examples can be given for those who need them.
* Central Casting: Heroes Now! will be available for use to hone in on a backstory (though modified) and not required.
* Players are expected to work together in a team environment. There is no PVP, no stealing from other players, etc. This rule will be enforced ruthlessly.
* Characters are expected to be heroic: no loner types, no unabashed killers, etc. The exception to this is if you can work them in somehow in a team environment. Basically, you can give your character a "dark side" as long as you can reel it in and be productive within a group.
* Play will be over Roll20 and Hangouts so webcam/mic are required.

Campaign Backdrop
It began quietly enough. Sixteen years ago the first metahumans began to appear, though some reports seem to go back as early as twenty years ago. Their origin appears to have to do something with a mysterious energy pulse emanating from somewhere within the Atlantic Ocean. This “Transatlantic Pulse,” or TAP, was something the governments of the world colluded for years to keep it and the metahumans secret. Tied in with the mysterious appearance of “super men” is the sudden rise of technology and science – but also seemingly the mystical and the occult. Such “Talents” (sometimes called "tappers") were soon seen as both weapons and shields and many sought to hire or recruit them. The new arms race has begun and there is no clear winner. But after the spectacular fight between Artillery and the Mirror over the Hudson River ten years ago the secret was out. Most governments (including the United States) had to accept the existence of “metahumans,” but that didn’t mean they couldn’t try to legislate them (that has so far met with numerous failures). The various “Mandatory Metahuman Registration” acts have never been able to pass through Congress, but the Blackwell Act passed in 2004. Sen. Blackwell of New York pushed to have laws that could help various policing agencies on all levels prosecute a misuse of metahuman abilities. One crucial and extremely controversial part of the act, involved the creation of the MPI (Metahuman Powers Index) for repeat offenders or volunteers. This also led to Riker’s Island becoming a federal penitentiary for those with metahuman capabilities as well as those deemed too dangerous to put in with a general population (like many “super normals”).

But Blackwell didn’t stop there. He knew there was going to be a need for a specialized force to deal with “malfeasant metahumans” (a name he could never get to stick – the media insisted on calling rogue or criminal metahumans, “supervillains”). His original plan was to create a special unit for the NYPD to showcase the need for such a group. Though it succeeded to some degree, it also failed. Some metahumans were so powerful that no matter how well armed a human being was they were hopelessly, hilariously outmatched. The NYPD’s ESS-77 is dedicated to containing the various “M1-00” code listings (police codes dedicated to metahuman threats). After a year of trial and error it became apparent that something else was needed.

Soon after Blackwell’s formation of ESS-77, he met with opposition in New York City’s newly elected mayor Keren Lyte. Lyte had won her election hands down with a voter turnout of almost 80% in her favor. She instantly began to enact her campaign promises, among them was her idea for a privatized police force similar to the San Francisco Patrol Specials, but dealing with metahuman threats and assisting police officers with such problems. Her pilot program, MAPS (MetAhuman Patrol Special), worked so well that a dozen other cities throughout the US adopted similar programs almost immediately. The MAPS program was simple. Those who went through the proper training and procedures could be licensed to perform certain policing actions. They were also given the right to “purchase” an area to patrol as well as limited bail enforcement capability. Purchased areas could be as small as a few city blocks (in the case of the Midtown West Protection League) or as large as an entire borough (in the case of the Valiants who patrol all of Manhattan Island). Residents of each purchase paid a flat monthly fee for the service. The program caused a sharp drop in crime thanks to these “Specials.” After a while the Traveler addendum – which created “reserve Specials” – was added to MAPS, allowing roving patrols (subsidized by the city) to help in multiple areas when needed.

Since then Mayor Lyte’s MAPS program has been expanded to over a 100 cities and a dozen states. There is currently a resolution that was brought before NATO that will enable the MAPS program to function in multiple countries beyond the US, but it’s still being deliberated on. While the program does seem to be working, many call it a “holding action.” More malfeasants begin criminal careers every day and the property damage that a “meta battle” can cause is astronomical. Rumors persist among the fringier types that key elements within the government are colluding with groups like the Human Pride Association to whip up enough public fervor to pass a MMR act (Mandatory Metahuman Registration) and do away with the MAPS program completely.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Gamemaster's Guidepost: A Novel Approach to GMing, Part III: Here's the Plan

Guest Post by Scott "Rocketman" Rochat

It’s the heart of a hundred novels and screenplays: the team of experts, moving like a well-oiled machine. With wit and muscle, they work their way past every obstacle, thanks to their intricate and well-rehearsed plan.
But there’s a reason audiences don’t watch a rehearsal. Put it at the gaming table, and the result can be two hours of discussion before a single die is thrown or a hit point expended.

“You know, we’ve been assuming that the guards always go counter-clockwise. What happens if they change the rotation?”
“Well, then the guys in disguise duck into cell block C until the heat is off.”
“I thought cell block C was on the other side of the prison.”
“Ask Joey, he’s got the map. Joey? ... Hey, Joey!”
“ Sorry, I was about to order pizza.”

The problem is a familiar one to a novelist: exposition. The reader has to have a certain amount of background information for the plot to work –but if it’s fed too bluntly or too copiously, the reader is taken out of the story at best, or bored to tears at worst. In a game, a lecture by “Professor Exposition” or an overdone planning session can kill momentum and interest simultaneously. How do you avoid it? For the “team of experts” trope, books and films have usually taken one of two tacks:

Show the audience the strategy session, but have things go wrong in mid-stream, forcing improvisation. Tension arises from the contrast between what should have happened and what has to happen.

Cut away from the group as soon as they say “Here’s the plan” and show the operation in action, revealing the plan piece by piece as it happens. Tensions arises from the reader or viewer anticipating each obstacle, wondering how the team is going to get out of this one.

The first approach is a time-honored one that should be familiar to any veteran GM: let the players talk it all out, then mess with them as soon as the rubber hits the road. (If nothing else, having the worst possible NPC show up can result in many sudden improvisations!) But the second requires a little work in order to function in an RPG context.
Specifically, it requires Plotting Points.

The Plot Thickens
The basic idea is simple. Cut away from the briefing. Give each player one Plotting Point. Begin the operation. As play continues and obstacles arise, each player may cash in their Plotting Point to describe how he or she anticipated a particular challenge. This does not guarantee a success – but it does give the team an edge:

GM: As you enter the People’s State Museum, you notice that security is especially steep for the after-hours VIP showing ... everyone is walking through a metal detector and their fingerprints are being double-checked.
PC: (Tosses in Plotting Point) Ah, but surely even their VIP tour didn’t anticipate that it would be joined by a double of El Presidente himself. (Booming voice) “What is the meaning of this delay? If I am late to the cabinet because of this foolishness, someone will report to the firing squad!”
GM: Hmmm. Roll Disguise and Intimidation. OK .... “El Presidente! This is an honor!”

Plotting Points do not regenerate until all the players have used theirs, to ensure adequate spotlight time (and pressure the team for creative solutions). The GM will cut the points off when the op is either complete or obviously shredded beyond any hope of anticipation. Depending on the game, some or all of the players may already have meta-game abilities that can affect the plot. It’s recommended that the GM allow these abilities (whether unique advantages or ubiquitous “Hero Points”) to function as normal, but only to resolve a situation using elements that are already on hand, or could be ... anything that involves “prior planning” is what the Plotting Points are for!

So enough talking. Cut to the caper. Your plan awaits.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book Review: GURPS Aliens Sparrials by Elizabeth McCoy


Note: I helped with this book in its early phases so I may be slightly biased.

So Elizabeth McCoy may have written a thing. The thing is, in fact, an entirely new GURPS series: Aliens. If you don't know who McCoy is (the writer not the doctor!) then you are probably not familiar with GURPS at all. She's the In Nomine line editor, one of the system architects of GURPS in general, and the genius (along with her co-author and husband, Walter Milliken) behind GURPS Illuminati University. Yeah, I'm obviously a bit of a fan boy - Beth's fantastic at what she does and I always love to review her work (especially her numerous fiction novels).

But back to the topic at hand: GURPS Aliens: Sparrials what's in it? Turns out she packed a lot of information into a mere 30 pages.

Chapter 1: Sparrial Characters
Elizabeth goes into fairly exhausting detail on the physiology, psychology, and general biology. she even gives a reason for why some sparrials like the scent of specific people without getting caught up into the crunch of such an interaction - a huge plus in my book because when you deal with even one alien race it's easy to bloat their template into unplayability (says the guy who's done this a lot). One of my favorite parts of this section is the short and sweet notes on Single-Minded. Some sparrials are born with a kind of "hyper-focus" that let then be less scatter-brained than their brethren and in my opinion when combined with their other traits make them a truly dangerous foe.

Chapter 2: The Way of the Anarch - Sparrial Culture
This chapter talks about sparrial culture - in fact, Elizabeth has an entire box on a what I consider an interesting and "must have" for any species book: how their culture/language interacts with outsiders (the "bootstrapping" box is pretty cool too and similiar logic could be applied to just about any primitive alien race). The rest of the chapter talks about the way sparrials deal with one another from jobs to children as well as their art, entertainment, and religion.

Chapter3: Gear What Has It Gots In Its Pocketses
This chapter is exactly as advertises, but also has rules for pets, livestock, and mounts. The very last few pages also contain a ready-made starship using the Spaceship system which can be crewed by an all-sparrial crew.

I give GURPS Aliens: Sparrials 4.5 out of 5 pennies. That missing 0.5 of a penny is mostly due to the fact that I wish they would have given McCoy another 30 pages to expand the concept even more as well as to include more material for other lines/settings. This is mostly a personal gripe because I'd otherwise give it a full 5/5 rating - the material is spot-on and answers just about every question a GM might have for running a sparrial character. It's worth the $8 and if it does well enough we can get more GURPs Aliens books in the future (hint hint!).

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Dungeon Fantasy Loot Rolls

“Loot! Loot! GIVE US THE LOOT!” cries the players around your table. But dang it! You forgot to roll some loot for your adventure last night because you were too busy designing some traps and custom monsters with which to foil your players. Well guess what? I got you covered. Not only do I have a small horde of random treasure troves (twenty-four to be exact), I’ve got an optional rule for determining treasure using GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 8: Treasure Tables...

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If you are already a patron click here for the full article.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Gamemaster's Guidepost: A Novel Approach to GMing, Part II: Do I Feel A Draft?

Guest Post by Scott "Rocketman" Rochat

“...I do like to take a story and reorder it, put things in different places. This allows me to see things in a new and sometimes surprising way.”
--Carol Windley, Boston Globe interview

Revise. Revise. Revise again.
Few words are hated more by an author. And few might seem less necessary to a GM. After all, roleplaying is real-time. Once the players arrive and the dice hit the table, the time for changing your mind is over, right? The story’s there and it’s up to the players to grapple with it, uncover it and (for a truly epic tale) triumph over it.
Not so fast.
The truth is, there is almost always time for a rewrite. Done correctly, it can make for stronger stories – and better adventures.

Ask JRR Tolkien. His early drafts of The Lord of the Rings included a hero named Bingo Baggins and a Hobbit Ranger in wooden shoes.
Ask the creators of Back to the Future, who once had Marty McFly accidentally kill off rock-n-roll and come back home by means of a nuclear bomb.
Better yet, ask yourself any time your players come up with a better plot twist than you did. And then get ready to rip it off lock, stock  and mithril-lined barrel.

The First Draft
To rewrite on the fly, of course, you first need something to rewrite! Something akin to the timetables mentioned in Part I: The Plot Thickens can be ideal – a rundown of what your major NPCs will be doing, and when and where they’ll be doing it – but if you don’t want that much structure, make sure you at least know:

·         Who your intended major antagonist is.
·         What the major “beats” of their intended plot are.
·         Why they’re pursuing it.
·         At least one source who could give a PC insight into what’s happening – especially if it ties into an existing ability, contact or plot hook.

But the first draft is never the final draft. Players are in the unique position of being your co-authors and editors ... without being able to see any more of the “manuscript” than a reader would. That gives you the advantage of being able to listen to their speculations at the gaming table and quietly make the best of them true without any of them being the wiser.
Note that this is not the same as giving the PCs script immunity or guaranteeing that they always win. This is where the earlier outline comes into play. When an intriguing idea gets pitched, the GM should consider:

·         Do I Like the Idea? “Art with contempt in it is always sour,” Lady Sally McGee once observed in the Callahan’s universe. If the thought raises lukewarm feelings – or even active loathing – leave it alone.
·         Does the Idea Make Sense, Given the Antagonist? As an example, my “Hudson-verse” supers campaign doesn’t have any metahumans who were born before the mid-1970s. So if the PCs’ principal suspect in a metahuman crime is a church volunteer in her 60s, either the players are flat-out wrong or else something isn’t obvious – could she have duplicated the crime with normal abilities and technology? Is she working with a meta? Is she the survivor of a metavirus that worked a first-ever transformation in her genetics?
·         Does the Idea Make Sense, Given What’s Already Happened – And What Needs To? Take a look at your “beats.” Which have already happened on-camera? Which have you already alluded to? If you change this particular element of your plot, what beats does that affect down the road?
·         How Can the PCs Pursue It? The good news is, your players have already done some of this for you: if they have the idea, they’ll likely have a thought on how they can check it. But given your knowledge of the invisible machinery, you can do some hasty planning. If Elderly Volunteer is a once-in-a-generation metavillain, is there a genetic expert the PCs can check with? If she’s using a mundane drug, what information could a library or hospital give? (Google is your friend!) If she has a partner, does he have a record? What crimes has he pursued in the past and who would know of them?
·         How Can I Twist It? If the players’ ideas are always 100% accurate, the campaign can risk becoming dull. But if you can put your own twist on it, you can leave players blinking at your genius. In the Hudsonverse, a player pursuing the crimes of a Beatles-themed villain realized that they also mirrored the Seven Deadly Sins. The act was coincidental. But because of the player’s interest, I was able to add a police chaplain who was secretly using the villain as his own instrument of revenge – and while the villain’s plans were aimed at the PC, the chaplain was playing a game of psychological (and eventually physical) warfare with a vulnerable and beloved NPC.  Suddenly, there wasn’t one plot to solve, but two!

“Holmes, You’re A Genius!”
Using this approach makes it possible to recreate one of the most un-gameable tropes of mystery fiction: the genius detective whose mind picks apart a complicated plot as though it were a Rubik’s cube. With a firmly set plot, this can require either a hyper-observant player or a lot of atmosphere-shattering IQ rolls. But if a GM can intelligently roll with the punches, borrowing ideas without contradicting established facts or undermining the story, the revelations will be perfectly natural – and a lot of fun!
“It’s like driving at night,” the author Lawrence Block once wrote. “You can only see as far as the headlights reach, but you can go all the way across the country that way.”
Enjoy the trip.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Designer's Notes: The Perky L33t


My second Appendix Z, "The Perk L33t" was actually one of the first things I wrote after my debut article "It's Pure Chemistry!" I'd just read W.A. Frick's "Console Cowboys and Cyberspace Kung Fu" and I thought "Wow, this is amazing - how the heck did he come up with such a perfect application of BAD and such a spot on 'cyberdecking' rules. I wonder if I can improve on them some?" Thus began around a week of poking at the system and trying to add onto it. I eventually just settled on some perks to spice things up. (If I ever get time, I'm going to revisit some of my other ideas for expanding Frick's system a bit more.)

Overall it took me maybe 2 hours to write, 1 to edit, and 0.5 hours to revise (I couldn't settle on the model I wanted to use to absorb damage from damage programs). I didn't have any outtakes (the article was just too small for things like that). As a side note, my other half was the one that came up the title after we had binge watched a bunch of movies that included "Hackers" (which is awesome even if unrealistic).

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gamemaster's Guidepost: A Novel Approach to GMing, Part 1: The Plot Thickens

Guest Post by Scott "Rocketman" Rochat

“You’re a GM, not an author. Don’t railroad!”

Sound familiar? Sooner or later, it seems every guide to gamemastering includes that little gem, a reminder that this is a collaborative hobby, where everyone’s imagination counts. Don’t lock the players into a restrictive plot, we’re told, don’t predetermine your ending, and never, ever assume the story will go the way you expect it.
All of that’s good advice. But there’s another side to it. Because deep down, the tools of an author can be very useful to a GM.

This is the first of a series looking at the points where an author’s world and a GM’s collide. If that sounds like an unholy crossroads, it’s one that’s been well-traveled. Authors of the strange like China Miéville (The City & the City), painfully realistic playwrights like David Lindsay-Abaire (Rabbit Hole), and even Game of Thrones author/executioner George R.R. Martin all have roleplaying in their past, and often their present. Crossovers between these fields of the imagination are almost inevitable – Martin’s Wild Cards anthology series was born from his old Superworld campaign, while mystery writer Sharyn McCrumb put her D&D and convention experience to good use in writing the Edgar-winning  Bimbos of the Death Sun.

So, yes, the pen can be mightier than the +2 Vorpal Sword, or at least give it plenty to do. And it starts with a writer’s asset and a gamer’s dread – plot.

No railroad, but plenty of timetables
When I  first started roleplaying in grade school, most of my adventures had a strict plot. Most of the time, this was provided for me, in the form of a handy module with dialogue boxes and carefully-guided action. Sometimes this resulted from my desire to replay the action of a favorite movie, like Goldfinger or Raiders of the Lost Ark, both of which had handy-dandy game systems available for their particular worlds.
It’s not a bad way to learn roleplaying. But it can create bad habits for a GM, who can be tempted to follow his story come hell or high water. The webcomic GM of the Rings captures the tunnel vision perfectly:

GM: After many hard days of travel, you reach Weathertop.
Aragorn: You know what, guys? I’m thinking ... screw that.
GM: You are too weary to go on tonight. You must rest, and there is nowhere else around to make camp.
Frodo: Forget it. No way am I climbing that thing.
GM: You’re so tired that the ground around here is not restful enough. You need to rest in the more comfortable area on TOP of the hill.

Do this too often and you may as well write the script and open a theatre company. But there is a way to keep some structure in your game while preserving player freedom: timetables.
The idea is a familiar one to mystery and thriller writers, where the precise timing of events can be very important. Take the bad guy’s plan and plot it out from first step to last, giving each step a day, time and description. Assuming no interference from the heroes, this is what will happen.
Of course, it’s the heroes’ job to interfere! And this is where a timetable shows its beauty. When the PCs investigate, you already know where the bad guys will be and when. This means you can:

  • Lay intelligent clues. (The PCs check out a cafe where a crooked PI was just two hours before. The waitress is still on duty and can give a decent description of him and his lousy tip.)
  • Provide research results. (The team’s hacker tries to track a kidnapper’s credit-card charges, to see where he’s been buying gas and food. The GM checks the “schedule” and can show that by now, he’s let Wisconsin and is into Iowa.)
  • Enjoy points of collision, when the trails cross. (The PCs prepare to investigate an adult video store. Checking times, the GM realizes their quarry is just leaving it after meeting a contact. A dramatic confrontation results!)

As the PCs interact with the story, make notes, especially of areas where the players are forcing the NPCs to change their plans on the fly. In between sessions, rewrite the timetables, showing what the new chain of events looks like. If several plot elements are in play, it’s a good idea to indicate them with different colors for your own sanity. I’ve included samples below from an In Nomine  campaign I ran, in which one PC had been abducted and the others were trying to ride to the rescue ... unaware that she had already escaped and was fleeing from both sides!

A plot structured in this manner gives authors a useful framework while still leaving room for creativity, and it can do the same for your campaign. It’s a useful tool.
Which is why next time we’ll be talking about throwing your plot out the window and rewriting on the fly.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

GURPS101: Lens for Bard - The Warsinger

When I was starting to run Dungeon Fantasy for the first time I decided that I’d make a bunch of options that I knew my players would like or use. I did this both to fill out my handout a little more and to be able to use the content later on in a publication somewhere. This is usually how I approach all game design when it comes to my personal stuff (it’s one of the reasons why I have so many articles waiting in the Vault to be published elsewhere). Like most folks who play GURPS I enjoy the design almost as much as I enjoy actually running/playing a game. Anyways, this idea makes use of a lot of concepts from my and Antoni Ten Monros’ article “Team Up!” from Pyramid #3/65: Alternate GURPS III. This special requires Pyramid #3/61: The Way of the Warrior to use (see Rallying Cry, p. 9). Warsingers takes the idea of the bard and gives it a martial bent, then just runs with it. With lots of “buffing” and “debuffing” power-ups, it’s a handy addition to any delving party...

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

GURPS101: Tactfully Tactical - More Uses For Tactics

So +Douglas Cole talks about a few more uses for the Tactics skill in a recent blog post. I've already covered Evaluate as a skill. But the idea of Tactics doing is certainly a great springboard. So what would I do? Well, like always, I have a few ideas at hand.

More Tactical Effects
Besides its Basic Set uses, Tactics might be used for any of the following:

"Better Lucky Than Good": For those that have spent at least 12 points in Tactics, the GM can allow a roll at -10 once per session to have a fortuitous circumstance in combat. Use the rules for Serendipity (p. B83), but the circumstance must be combat-related somehow. For example, this could allow a leader to have a perfect ambush spot or find the best bivouac for his forces, but it couldn't provide extra gear or equipment.

"I Know That You Know That I Know": By everyone on your side (up to your Leadership level) taking a -2 to their skill rolls to attack for the remainder of combat, they gain a +1 to all Active Defenses against a specific enemy group (e.g., all goblins your side are currently in combat with or the trolls living under Belagost Bridge). This requires a Tactics roll at a penalty equal to the total number of people on your side that'll gain the bonus to Defense rolls.

"An Honest Man's War": At the start of a combat, each side's leader must roll a Quick Contest of Tactics; record the margin of the winner. Whenever anyone makes a deceptive attack, Feint, Dirty Trick, etc. add 1/3 the margin (minimum of 1) as a bonus to offset the penalty inflicted. For example, if you had succeeded your roll by 6, then you'd add +2 to you Dodge to offset the Deceptive Attack your opponent just used on you. This bonus lasts for a number of rounds equal to the leader's points in Tactics / 4, minimum of 1.

"About Face!": Once per person, per combat you may make a Tactics roll to get them to change their facing by barking an order, helping them move, etc. For every five points by which you succeed (minimum of 1), they may shift their facing one hex to the left or right. This takes a Concentrate maneuver, successful or not.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Boil and Bubble: Money On My Magic and Magic On My Money

So Matt Riggsby's "GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Treasures: Glittering Prizes" came out recently (I was one of the playtesters) and it's useful for worldbuilders in general, not just those who play Dungeon Fantasy. (See here for Matt's Designer's Notes.) One of the things he included there was a cool little throwaway line:
"For example, if mystical techniques can easily store, combine, and subdivide magical energy – expressed as Fatigue Points rather than as weights of metal – that might from the basis for a currency in a highly magical society."
Anders (who is forever asking interesting questions) asked the following in this post:
"So suppose there was a magicratic civilization that used materialized FP as currency. How much would 1 FP be worth?"
To which there were numerous replies by everyone, including myself. (there was even a whole new post started here). So I got to would you create a FP-based currency? First, let's just assume that this "mana money" can be tapped to restore your lost FP or to cast a spell right then (not your power item or someone else's, though see the notes on Lend Energy at the bottom). Actually tapping the FP contained in the currency takes two seconds: one to remove it from your money pouch and another to make a Will roll to actually get the energy from it. Alternatively, if using the mana money to power a spell immediately vs. just restoring your own lost FP, make a Will-based spell roll instead. You may pull multiple FP from large amounts of mana money at once, but no more than your (Will + Casting Talent) /2 per minute. Lend Energy is the only way to help another person "tap" into mana money.

Using Paut as a base (since it's already described as "liquid mana"), 1 FP is worth $33.75. For sake of play let's just round that to $33 per 1 FP. Break that down further into coinage (using regular DF coin weights)  and you might have something like:

Copperfield ($11/coin) (diameter: 0.589") (-12 SM) (weight: 0.01598351 lbs.)
Prospero ($33/coin) (diameter: 0.559”) (‑12 SM) (weight: 0.003990367 lbs.)
Merlin ($135/coin) (diameter: 0.456”) (‑12 SM) (weight: 0.003990367 lbs.)

Thus it takes 3 Copperfields to make a Prospero and (about) 4 Prosperos to make a Merlin.