Gamemaster’s Guidepost: Save vs. Spectate

Over at RPGJutsu my buddy +GodBeastX brings up a great point – a point he brought up while we were doing construction on the new GURPS campaign I plan on running in May. The thought here is this: if you are running a Horror campaign as I plan on doing you kind of have to use Fright Checks. That’s at least part of the point of running such a game. The problem doesn’t really unfold until you run a campaign that mixes genres. For example, The Chronicles of Ceteri (my new campaign) is basically a mix of the horror, urban fantasy, and action genres. With the first two it might be totally acceptable to say “Sorry, you see the Ineffable Beast from Beyond and now you’ve fainted. You’re out of this combat.” The third…not so much.

So how do you deal with “Save vs. Spectate” attacks? First, decide if you want to the Fright Check table at all. If you don’t. Simplify it. Perhaps, if you fail you are stunned for seconds equal to your margin of failure. Or maybe every point of your margin of failure translates into an affliction worth +10% which lasts a second. Optionally, for the latter you could convert each +10% into an additional two rounds of being afflicted. For example, if you failed your Fright Check by four you could say “My guy is grossed out by what he saw so I’m going to be nauseated for two rounds.” This allows the GM to have fear be meaningful in a mechanical way, while not forcing players to watch others participate in the game.

Another way might be to use my rules from “Mad as Bones” (if you have them – I plan on releasing them again to Patreons – probably next month) and have Fright Checks cause Sanity Point loss.

Yet a third option could be to just inflict penalties on all rolls. For example, every three points of your margin of failure might inflict a -1 on all rolls. You could optionally reduce the margin needed for a penalty by specializing it. Use the rules for Aspected here: “I failed by six, so I could take a -2 on all rolls or a -4 on combat related rolls, or even a -6 on all Will rolls.”

Picking Over the Bones
Whatever way you do it, you need to keep one thing in mind: the players. If the players are forced to watch the game progress while others get to have play . . . that’s going to cause some issues. I know some of you old school players are like “In my day we took our sanity-blasting medicine and liked it!” but the games have changed since then. The players have changed since then. The GMs have changed too. The purpose of a game system should always be to facilitate fun first. If it isn’t fun why are you doing it?

Posted in Gamemaster's Guidepost and tagged , .


  1. The alternate that we've used is that you take a penalty equal to your margin of failure to all actions *relating to the thing that scared you*.
    You remove the penalty through the following methods (each removes -1):
    * Succeed despite the penalty (critical success eliminates it entirely)
    * Seeing your comrades succeed. I guess it's not an unstoppable horror after all?
    * Spend actions panicking: Do Nothing and gibber, Move to run in circles and scream, Change Posture to cower, stuff like that. All Out Defense doesn't count for this purpose.

    Notably the Do Nothings are *not* stun – you have no penalties to defenses.

  2. An option I've used successfully is allowing the player to pick anything *worse* on the table instead if they prefer it. Acquiring a permanent minor mental disadvantage is often seen as preferable to several turns of helplessness in the presence of mortal danger.

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