Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Alternate Strength Damage for GURPS

One of the holdovers from GURPS' early days is its peculiar Strength Damage Table.  It's a pure table lookup, with odd breakpoints and some effects that inform the game in unfortunate ways.  It's also one of the most-discussed systems for houserules, with many heavy hitters like tbone and even the GURPS Line Editor Sean Punch suggesting new ways to figure damage.
This is my own rewrite of the Damage Table, using a different progression for thrust and swing damage. Past ST 7, thrust damage increases by 1 step every 3 ST, and swing damage increases by 2 steps every 3 ST. A bonus is that there are no 'dead zones' in this progression, unlike RAW 7-8 or 27-28 or 31-32, where damage doesn't increase at all, giving you limited value for your 10 points.
Why bother?  By the book, swing damage increases too quickly, turning modestly strong characters into human guillotines who can ignore most low-tech armor as if it wasn't there.  Using Edge Protection rules (aka "Blunt Trauma and Edged Weapons" from Low-Tech p.102) helps with the armor problem a bit, but even so, swung edged weapons have so much power that they remain the go-to against targets in heavy armor, which is the exact opposite of what history shows us.
Additionally, at the high end of the RAW progression, swing damage tops out at 2d more than thrust damage, which doesn't make sense to me.  If the swung object is supposed to be a lever, it should multiply the effect of your ST, instead of adding a flat +2d whether you're Spider-Man or the Hulk.
Speaking of Supers, there's a lot more to be said about how to handle super levels of ST in GURPS (yes, another thoroughly discussed subject that I will nonetheless weigh in on).  I'll do that in another post.
RAW progressionmodified progression
RAW=Rules As Written

Monday, May 22, 2017

Ogrish Weapons for GURPS

A selection of weapons for larger (SM+1) combatants.  As my friend Greg says, "The bigger they are, the harder they hit."
The commentary below the table is specific to a campaign in which the Ogres of Loren'dil (see GURPS Banestorm) were brought to an alternate Earth, although these ogres are rather more intelligent and civilized than the exemplars from Yrth. 
Ogre Weapons
Melee Weapons
Weapon (Skill)DamageReachParryCostWeightSTNotes
Ball-and-Chain (Flail)sw+5 cr1,20U$16012 lbs18-4/-2 to be Parried/Blocked
no Fencing parry
Fighting Knife (Knife)sw-1 cutC,1-1$802 lbs9
thr+1 impC,1-1---
Great Flail (Two-H Flail)sw+6 cr2,3*0U$20016 lbs20-4/-2 to be Parried/Blocked
no Fencing parry
Mancleaver (Broadsword)sw+2 cut1,20$6507 lbs15Cheap, includes DR 4 cup hilt
thr+2 crC,10---Hilt Punch (uses Brawling or perk)
Ogre Spear (Spear)thr+3 imp1,2*0$808 lbs15Fine spear $240 for +1 damage
w/two handsthr+5 imp1-3*0--14
Ogre Staff (Staff)sw+3 cr1-3+2$208 lbs11
thr+3 cr1-3+2---
Polearm/Spear Butt Strikesw+3 cr1,20U---Uses Staff or perk
thr+3 cr1,20---Uses Staff or perk
Shield bashthr cr1No---
Spiked Axe (Axe/Mace)sw+3 cut10U$24010 lbs18
sw+2 imp10U---Backspike, may get stuck (B405)
thr+2 imp1,20---Topspike
Throwing Mace (Axe/Mace)sw+5 cr10U$4010 lbs18Cheap
Throwing Mace, Small
sw+3 cr10U$306 lbs15Cheap
Warglaive (Polearm)sw+3 cut2,3*0U$16012 lbs14
thr+4 imp1-3*0---
Missile Weapons
Weapon (Skill)DamageAccRangeCostWeightSTBulkNotes
Throwing Mace (Thrown Axe/Mace)sw+5 cr1x0.33/x0.5$4010 lbs18-7Cheap
Throwing Mace, Small (Thrown Axe/Mace)sw+3 cr1x0.5/x1$306 lbs15-5Cheap
Ball-and-Chain - A favored weapon of stronger ogre warriors due to its devastating damage and difficulty to parry, often paired with a shield for defense.
Fighting Knife - Handy enough to serve in Close Combat, the great strength of an ogre can make even this modest implement a fight-ender.
Great Flail - With limited defensive options, this is a weapon for the well-armored, the experienced, or the foolish.  Its Reach of 3 can be a terrifying surprise for those unprepared for it, however.
Mancleaver - Human smiths are sometimes surprised how specific an ogre's request for an upsized broadsword with an enclosed hilt can get, not understanding that the çybyklamakynsan is a weapon with a considerable pedigree on Loren'dil.  A properly proportioned mancleaver of even Good quality ($1625) would make a fine presentation gift to an important ogre. 

Ogre Spear - Not every ogre has ST 18. This is an inexpensive weapon that can still do 1d+5 impaling damage at Reach 3 when wielded by a ST 14 ogre.

Polearm/Spear Butt Strike - The perk 'Weapon Adaptation (Butt Strike to Polearm/Spear)' comes in handy for this, especially if the campaign permits Extra Attack, but not the Multistrike enhancement (as I typically run).
Spiked Axe - A one-handed axe possessing both a backspike and a topspike, this weapon is often pointed to as an example of ogrish savagery.  However, in the hand of a skilled user it's surprisingly versatile, akin to a one-handed halberd, with the topspike used for thrusting at range or when in a defensive posture, and the backspike reserved for defeating armor or Hooking techniques.
Throwing Mace - An inexpensive mace or hammer, typically hurled at Range 2-3 just before closing to melee.
Warglaive - Formations of ogres are typically equipped with this, as its reach and power in ogrish hands make it difficult to counter.  Expert practitioners with Staff training and the Form Mastery perk (Martial Arts p.50) can be terrifying.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Feats for simple d20 play (TAFFT system)

There's A Feat For That (TAFFT) is a d20 variant, where Feats, gained every level, define both character abilities and many of the game mechanics.  I'm still struggling with exactly how to handle the idea of skills (inc. Rogue abilities and Notice checks), so this will probably see some revision.

Feats (v0.3)

General Feats
Action Dice: Twice per session, you can add a d6 to any hit, damage, or skill roll.
Expertise: You may opt to roll 2d10 instead of d20 for a single weapon or skill.
Finesse: Use your DEX bonus instead of STR for Melee attacks with Light weapons.
Improved Initiative: +4 Initiative.
Lucky: Once per session, reroll any hit, damage, or skill roll, and take the better roll. May be used on any of your rolls, or an enemy's attack or damage roll, but not enemy saving throws.
Quick: +5 ft Move (may exceed racial limit).
Rapid Reload: Reload times for crossbows reduced by one round.
Resistant: +3 divided among Saves as you like.
Self-Improvement: +1 to one Stat.
Skilled: Pick one from Arcana, Acrobatics, Athletics, Bluff, Diplomacy, History, Insight, Intimidation, Locks & Traps, Medicine, Nature, Notice, Religion, Stealth, Survival, or any Background.  You have +3 on any skill checks.
Veteran: +1 AC.

Cleric Feats
Armored Saint: Your temple provides you with plate armor and the training to use it.
Devout: Once per day, cast an additional spell.
Prophet: Wear no armor, Twice per day, cast an additional spell.

Fighter Feats
Armor Mastery: Armor penalties reduced by 5 ft Move, skill penalties halved.
Cleave: If you drop a foe, get a free attack on another within range.
Combat Reflexes: If an adjacent foe uses a missile weapon, casts a spell, or readies anything that isn't a weapon, you may take a free attack
Flanker: You and an ally both get +2 to hit when you stand on opposite sides of your target.
Heir: Start play with plate armor and a masterwork longsword (+1 damage).
Melee Aggro: +1 Melee Attack.
Missile Aggro: +1 Missile Attack.
Pole Fighter: +1 AC and damage with glaives, halberds, spears, or staffs when used two-handed.
Rage: Once/day, +4 STR, +4 hp, -2 AC for one encounter.
Rapid Shot: Two missile attacks per round at -3, no movement allowed. No crossbows.
Two-Weapon Fighting: Requires a light weapon in your off-hand. You get +1 to hit, even 'to hit' rolls hit w/the primary weapon, odds hit w/the off-hand weapon.
Weapon Specialist: +1 to hit and damage with your chosen weapon.

Mage Feats
Air Affinity: Attack target with blast of air. Target must make Fort save or Small creatures knocked prone, Medium creatures unable to approach.
Arcane Conduit: Cast touch spells to 10 ft with your staff.
Battlefield Adept: May use shortbows or light crossbows.
Cold Affinity: Shoot ray of cold for 1d3 damage at d20 + level + INT bonus at will.
Diviner: Detect Magic at will, active use only.
Earth Affinity: Invest 3 pebbles with elemental potency, +1 to hit, 1d6+1 damage.
Familiar: A small creature is your eyes and ears.
Fiat Lux: Flare or Light at will, only one Light active at a time.
Fire Affinity: Shoot fiery darts for 1d3 damage at d20 + level + INT bonus at will.
Ghost Hand: 5-pound telekinesis.
Illusionist: Dancing Lights, Ghost Sound, or Ventriloquism at will.
Versatile: one extra spell in your spell list.
Water Affinity: Breathe water for 1 x level hours/day.

Rogue Feats
Roll With Blow: Once per encounter, take half damage from any physical attack, and move d6+1 squares directly away from the enemy.
Tumble: On a turn when you move but do not attack, any successful attacks on you must reroll to confirm the hit.

Friday, May 19, 2017

There's A Feat For That (TAFFT) - an approach for d20 fantasy games

When I first heard that 3rd edition D&D was a thing, and that Feats would be one of the major features, I thought it was a brilliant idea.  Rangers, Cavaliers, and Barbarians could all just be Fighters who had chosen particular Feats to express their flavor of martial prowess, making it easier to shade between character classes and play the characters we want to play.  Alas, instead we retained all the class creep, and got new Classes and Prestige Classes as the defining feature of any given character.  Splatbooks reigned supreme.

I took my notion back to my lair like an old bone, and gnawed on it until I came up with the TAFFT system.  There are existing d20 systems that take a similar approach, True20 notably, and I probably need to take a look at ACKS (Adventurer Conqueror King System), but here's the basic idea:

Design Principles

1) This is D&D. Character classes, leveling up, polyhedral dice, fireball spells, etc. The goal is to have a very simple d20 system at its core, pulling in rules and complexity only when desired. A whole group of people should be able to create new 1st level characters in 30 minutes or less, and just start playing.

2) Four character classes only: Cleric, Fighter, Mage, Rogue.  All character concepts should be doable with those, in combination with what Feats you choose.  Multiclassing is allowed and encouraged.

3) There's A Feat For That - Do you want to be a barbarian who rages, an archery expert, a wizard who specializes in necromancy?  There's a feat for that.  By using Feats, you can customize your character to get just the character you want to play.  Feats are also where game mechanics lie dormant until needed. How does Flanking work?  It doesn't exist in the game until you take the Flanker feat - now you get a +2 bonus under certain conditions, and nobody else has to worry about it.  If you personally like Action Points (where you get to add some bonus dice to a roll that needs a bump), or a Luck mechanic for re-rolls, you can take that as a Feat and play that way.  The rules stay simple except when they come into play for your character's special abilities and your own favored style of play. Because feats provide so much definition for characters and game play, you get a Feat every time you level up.

4) Use the SRD, but sparingly.  For things like magic and equipment, it's useful to rely on the phenomenal resource that is the d20 SRD, but only as necessary.

Character Creation (v.0.2)

Roll for stats in order, best 3 out of 4d6 for each.
Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma
Swap any two stats to help play the class you want.

Choose race

Human: bonus feat

Dwarf: -1 Dex +1 Con
     Low-Light Vision

Elf: -1 Str +1 Dex
     Bow +1 to hit
     Hearing +2
     Speak w/Forest Creatures

Goblin: -2 Str +1 Dex +1 Con
     Missile Attacks +1

Trollblooded: +1 Str -1 Wis +1 Con -2 Cha
     Low-Light Vision
     Magic Resistance
     Passes for human
     Smell +2

Choose class

ClericArmor: Any but plate. Weapons: Any simple. Hit Dice: 1d8.
     Access to Divine magic.  Saves: +1 Fortitude, +1 Will.

Fighter Armor: Any. Weapons: Any. Hit Dice: 1d10.
     +1 to all Attacks, Expanded feat selection for combat.  Saves: +1 Fortitude, +1 Reflex.

Mage Armor: Cloth. Weapons: Dagger or staff. Hit Dice: 1d6.
     Access to Arcane magic.  Saves: +2 Will.

Rogue Armor: Leather. Weapons: Sword, bow, and any simple. Hit Dice: 1d8.
     Thief skills and backstab ability.  Saves: +2 Reflex.

Calculate stat bonuses:

3: -4
4-5: -3
6-7: -2
8-9: -1
10-11: 0
12-13: +1
14-15: +2
16-17: +3
18: +4

Examples:  A 13 Strength gives a Strength bonus of +1, and 9 Charisma provides a Charisma bonus of -1.

Calculate secondary attributes:
Melee attack: Str bonus
Missile attack: Dex bonus
Hit Points: Roll class hit die three times, take best roll and add your Con bonus
AC: 10 + equipment bonuses + Dex bonus
Move: 30 ft, or as dictated by armor.
Dwarves max 20 ft, Goblins max 25 ft.
     Fortitude: 10 + better of Str bonus or Con bonus
     Reflex: 10 + better of Int bonus or Dex bonus
     Will: 10 + better of Wis bonus or Cha bonus

Apply race/class bonuses
All classes apply modifiers to Saves. 
Race and class may affect attack bonuses as well.

Pick 2 from the following list:
Alchemist, Blacksmith, Brewer, Carpenter, City, Cook, Desert, Farmer, Fisherman, Forest, Healer, Herbalist, Herder, Hunter, Jeweler, Magic, Mason, Merchant, Military, Miner, Mountains, Musician, Nobility, Nomad, Potter, Sailor, Scholar, Scout, Scribe, Sea, Servant, Squire, Steppes, Swamp, Temple, Underground, Weaver.

Notes: Dwarf must take Underground.
Elf must take Forest.
Cleric must take Temple.
Mage must take Magic.

Coming soon: Feats!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Axes of the Dwarves! The Dwarves are upon you!

"But a small dark figure that none had observed sprang out of the shadows and gave a hoarse shout: Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! An axe swung and swept back. Two Orcs fell headless. The rest fled." (Tolkien, The Two Towers)

A small selection of common dwarven melee weapons is presented below for your hewing pleasure. (These assume dwarves are SM 0, short for a human but broadly built, and serious melee combatants.  I can't bring myself to make dwarves SM -1, I think it makes them a little too comical.)
Dwarven Weapons
Melee Weapons
Weapon (Skill)DamageReachParryCostWeightSTNotes
Bearded Axe (Axe/Mace)sw+2 cut10$2504 lbs11Dwarven
Crow's Beak (Axe/Mace)sw+3 cr10$7006 lbs13Fine, Dwarven
sw+2 imp10---May get stuck (B405)
Dwarven Greataxe (Two-H Axe/Mace)sw+4 cut1,2*0$5008 lbs13Dwarven
Dwarven Warhammer (Two-H Axe/Mace)sw+4 cr1,2*0$8758 lbs13Fine, Dwarven
sw+5 imp1,2*0---May get stuck (B405)
Tunnel Spear (Spear)thr+3 imp2,3*0U$4205 lbs11Fine, Balanced (+1 to skill)
w/two handsthr+4 imp2,3*0--10

For the Dwarven modifier, see GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 1, p.26.

Bearded Axe - The head of this axe extends down towards the haft somewhat, making it especially suitable for the Hook technique (Martial Arts, p.74).  May also be used two-handed for +1 damage.

Crow's Beak - A one-handed hammer with a backspike, may be used two-handed for +1 damage.

Dwarven Warhammer - Built using Low-Tech Companion 2 rules as a Warhammer with a Hammer Head (p.14).

Tunnel Spear - Dwarves are experts in holding tactical chokepoints against hordes of foes.  Even a small settlement may have a rack of these placed near gates and bridges, to ensure an advancing intruder pays for every foot in blood.  Its lower Min ST requirement than the typical warrior axe also means that those too young or old for the front line can usefully contribute to defense, often All-Out Attacking from the third rank.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Crossbows in GURPS (Low-Tech)

For a recent TL4 game, I wanted an array of crossbows available for purchase, broken down by ST and performance, with commensurate weight, cost, etc.  Thrust damage has breakpoints at odd-numbered ST values, so I skipped the even numbers.


WeaponDamageAccRangeWeightMin STEff STDraw STBulkCostNotes
Crossbow ST 91d+2 imp3180/2255 lbs799-5$125
Crossbow ST 112d-1 imp3220/2756 lbs71111-6$150
Crossbow ST 132d imp3260/3258 lbs81313-7$175
Crossbow ST 152d+1 imp3300/37511 lbs91515-8$200
Composite Crossbow ST 152d+2 imp4375/4509 lbs81515-6$1000Includes Goat's Foot
Steel Crossbow ST 152d+2 imp4375/45015 lbs111530-7$750
Steel Crossbow ST 173d-1 imp4425/51019 lbs121734-8$850
Steel Crossbow ST 193d imp4475/57025 lbs131938-9$950
Steel Crossbow ST 213d+1 imp4525/63033 lbs142142-10$1050
Min ST - Lifting ST required to simply wield the crossbow's mass in combat, independent of its draw strength.

Eff ST - Strength of the crossbow for range and damage purposes.

Draw ST - Lifting ST required to draw the crossbow. Use one of the drawing mechanisms from Low-Tech p.79 to increase your effective Lifting ST.

Crossbow - A simple crossbow, with a wooden prod of ash, hazel, or yew.

Composite Crossbow - Has a nomad-style prod of laminated horn and sinew construction. This example includes a Goat's Foot drawing aid (Low-Tech p.79), allowing a man with Lifting ST 11+ to draw the crossbow while in the saddle.

Steel Crossbow - A steel prod can be much stronger, permitting higher tension and striking power, but cannot be drawn as far. This requires additional mechanical advantage to cock the crossbow.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

And the winner is...

And the winner is ... Megadungeon

The Apollo's Bones campaign.

When I offered my GURPS group some different campaign concepts to pick from, I didn't expect any of them to get a perfect score, but this one apparently hit all the right notes. Despite the heavy prep required (still working on it four years later!), this was one of my secret favorites that I hoped they would choose.

Wait, what's a megadungeon?

Definitions will vary, of course (what is 'a tall building'?). Let's start with "what's a dungeon?" and go from there.  A 'dungeon', to me, is a single location with movement constraints (typically but not always underground) with hostile inhabitants, and some compelling reason for the PCs to go there (loot the treasure, rescue the Baroness' nephew, destroy the evil altar, etc).

A megadungeon is that, but bigger. A single location large enough to sustain at least a dozen adventure sessions; in other words, an entire campaign's worth of adventure gaming in basically one location.

For further reading on megadungeons in the GURPS context, Peter Dell'Orto's Dungeon Fantastic blog has great ideas and links to further resources.

Why a megadungeon?

Several reasons, in no particular order.

1) Nostalgia - So many of the old AD&D modules that I cut my gaming teeth on included a passage that went off the map and invited the DM to place "further adventures" here. Later, as the idea of vast underground spaces and civilizations was refined, this typically became a link to "the Underdark". I think it was the publication of the D/Q-series modules, with their lizard caravans and Drow cities, that really expanded my idea of what could be done with underground spaces. Judges Guild's phenomenal Dark Tower module provided an example of a very large (not quite mega-) dungeon that wasn't just a collection of rooms and levels, but had a history and rationale that was significant to adventuring in it. So, yes, I'd really like to reconnect with the sense of wonder, possibility, and ADVENTURE available in a place that's too big to camp at the entrance and do "day trips" into.

2) Economy of effort - OK, this one is probably questionable. In theory, one big dungeon that uses the same campaign background, supporting town/city/market/NPCs, equipment price list, etc etc should be easier to put together than a bunch of smaller dungeons. In practice, I'm finding that there's some self-inflicted pressure to get it just right that I wouldn't feel with an adventure I know the PCs will enter, leave after a couple sessions, and never come back to.  Even with design principles like "town is a safe place where adventures don't happen", I feel a need to build the areas outside the dungeon with enough depth and integrity to support a campaign's worth of roleplaying, not just a session or two. So, this one is probably a wash.

3) Heroics and isolation - One of the major barriers to storytelling in the modern era is 'the cellphone problem' - why don't the protagonists just call a taxi or the police? The answer to this question drives many of the tropes we're used to seeing in TV and film. From "there's no signal" to mafia dramas and heist capers where the police are the enemy, the end result is to force the protagonists to rely on their own resources to succeed or fail. Similarly, a small dungeon can permit an adventuring party to quickly flee out the entrance if they get into trouble, whereas a dungeon large enough to force an overnight stay requires more commitment, and can create harder choices for the players as they gauge risk and manage resources like food, water, and light.

Why is it called Apollo's Bones?

Because Apollo's dead, murdered two hundred years ago by the titan Krios after his escape from Tartarus. Apollo's corpse, hurled from the sun chariot, fell to earth in southern Gaul, carving a vast pit into the ground.  The death of Apollo ushered in the Age of the Red Sun, in which crop failures, eruptions of undead, and monster incursions have tested humanity's survival.  Apollo's divine flesh, blood, and bones carry magical potency, and his fall attracted treasure seekers and mystics, who built a mine where his body fell. A century of activity left a few rich, and many more dead or insane, as the miners began to encounter odd caves and structures underground, and the attentions of their denizens.  Now too dangerous for organized mining, the area surrounding the abandoned mine is an undead-haunted wasteland.

Campaign Details

The group I play GURPS with runs with four regular players and a rotating GM, plus an occasional drop-in. Starting PCs will be 150 pts base, plus up to 25 pts in disadvantages,and 5 pts in quirks. This is significantly lower than the gung-ho Dungeon Fantasy 250+50+5, as I'm aiming for some of that "zero-to-hero" feel that old school D&D offered.

Similarly, I'm setting TL at 3, and sticking to medieval tech with less of the Renaissance trappings that tend to sneak in. No fencing weapons, articulated full plate harness, or portable spring-powered clockwork geegaws. I'm also planning on a few houserules that will appear in future posts.