Sunday, July 22, 2018

Super-Strength in GURPS - Part 1

Continuing my trend of weighing in on the GURPS topics that everyone has already discussed to death, we come to a favorite: Why doesn't GURPS handle super-powered characters with high Strength better?

OK, so what's the problem?
It can be summarized as "Bricks versus Blasters". To my mind, GURPS does a great job of describing characters with superpowers.  It's the point cost disparity between characters who seem like they should be roughly comparable that gets my goat (and I'm hardly alone). Supers point budgets can easily go into several hundred points. What does that get you if you're a "Blaster" (in other words an energy projector like Cyclops of the X-Men or DC's Firestorm)?  Well, 100 points of vanilla Innate Attack buys you a 20d ranged blast to annihilate your foes with. That averages 70 points of damage, enough to take an average person past -5xHP and into "you're just dead" territory instantly, no Death Checks need apply.

Now, our "Brick": 100 points of Strength buys you a mighty ST of ... 20.  Hmm, that's obviously going to be trouble -- let's buy just Striking ST instead for a purer comparison.

100 points of Striking ST gives an effective ST of 30 for fightin', with base thrust damage of 3d, and swing 5d+2 to base your hand-to-hand attacks off of.  There's no way to punch with Swing damage, so let's give our brick some help to maximize that Thrust damage: Blunt Claws for +1/die and a high Boxing skill for +2/die, netting us 3d+9, which is convertible to 5d+2.  Oh, and a punch is actually thr-1 damage, so that's really 5d+1, averaging 17.5 points of damage.  Compared to the Blaster's 70 points of damage (usable at range), 17.5 damage in Close Combat only doesn't seem like a good deal for those 100 points.

Maybe Innate Attack is too cheap.
Yeah, this is a reasonable critique of 4e GURPS.  My buddy Erik suggested just doubling the price of Innate Attack in Supers games as a first pass at reconciling the point disparity, which I whole-heartedly endorse.  By itself, it doesn't do enough though.

Didn't GURPS Supers solve this with Super-Effort?
Not well, to my mind.  I find the Super-Effort solution presented in GURPS Supers unsatisfactory, as it's unnecessarily complex and introduces some odd effects.  Effectively, it's a package of 1 normal ST and an exponential amount of Lifting ST or Striking ST resolved using the Speed/Range Table whenever you spend 1 FP for it, so 10 ST (Super-Effort +300%) [400] buys you +10 ST most of the time, or +100 ST when you spend 1 FP (because 100 is 10 steps up the Speed/Range Table).

This results in complex split-ST notation (ST 30/120), and since results are now exponential, the math curve means that, past a certain point, bricks will outperform all other damage-dealing methods.

So what would be a satisfactory solution?
There are a number of ways to try and tackle this problem.  I'll categorize them as
1) Solutions from Basic & Powers
2) New Advantages or Techniques
3) Repricing ST

These will be explored in future posts.  Didn't I warn you?  Discussed to death.

Super-Colleges for GURPS Magic

Super-Colleges for GURPS Magic

Many years ago, preparing for a GURPS 3e game set in the time of Alexander the Great, I was looking for a way to group GURPS Magic spells into fewer colleges than the book presented.  I liked the idea of wizards with talents focused more on some areas than others, but found the existing 20+ colleges too specific.

Aaron Kavli had done some work on a GURPS treatment of Harn's magic as "convocations", which I took as inspiration to group GURPS colleges into these super-colleges.  For the Alexander campaign, I actually forbade any generalized Magery and instead required all mages to purchase Magery by Convocation only.  This, obviously, is a campaign switch that should be adjusted to taste.

GURPS Thaumatology (p.42) suggests that reducing the number of colleges to 9 makes Single-College Magery a -30% disadvantage [7 pts/level], so we'll go with that here.  

If you're planning to forbid standard Magery, you might do what I did then and reduce it to a flat 5 pts per level as a campaign setting, both to sweeten the pot a little for players who are sad about standard Magery, and to preserve GURPS pentaphilia.

ConvocationGURPS Colleges
Earth SecretsEarth, Making & Breaking, Metal spells
Cool WaterWater, Cold, Darkness, Silence spells
Whispering WindAir, Movement, Sound (but not Silence)
Bright FlameFire (not Cold), Light (not Dark), Illusion (not Creation)
Ways of the MindComm. & Empathy, Knowledge, Mind Control
Nature's WaysAnimal, Plant, Food
Ways of the BodyBody Control, Healing
Wizard WaysEnchantment, Meta-Spell, Protection & Warning
Grey ArtsCreation, Gate, Necromancy

Richard Cochener from the GURPS forums had an interesting suggestion, to allow overlap between super-colleges so that some GURPS colleges appear in 2 different convocations.  He suggested the following alternate breakdown.  I didn't go with it, but these groups feel good as well.

ConvocationGURPS Colleges
Earth SecretsEarth, Making & Breaking, Metal, Plant spells
Cool WaterWater, Cold, Darkness, Silence spells
Whispering WindAir, Comm. & Empathy, Movement, Sound (but not Silence)
Bright FlameFire (not Cold), Light (not Dark), Illusion (not Creation), Knowledge
Ways of the MindComm. & Empathy, Illusion (not Creation), Knowledge, Mind Control
Nature's WaysAnimal, Earth, Plant, Food
Ways of the BodyBody Control, Healing, Necromancy
Wizard WaysEnchantment, Meta-Spell, Protection & Warning
Grey ArtsCreation, Gate, Mind Control, Necromancy

In conclusion, it's possible to give standard GURPS Magic a little different flavor just by grouping colleges together in ways that fit your campaign and your idea of how mages should work.  Even if you don't want to tweak Magery itself, groups of colleges can be a fun way to theme spellbooks found as treasure, or to use as limitations on Powerstones and Manastones, etc etc.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Out Of The Abyss (5e) - Introduction and Session 1

Started running a D&D 5e game back in August 2017, using the published hardcover Out Of The Abyss.  I'll post session summaries here. I won't post anything the players can't see, but if you're not playing the adventure, this will include spoilers, so read at your peril. 

PC Roster:
Airut Surma, a female half-drow bard
Dagon, a male bronze dragonborn barbarian
Endra Hammerpants, a female hill dwarf fighter
Jaeq Hael, a male human rogue, ahem, locksmith
Remi Embersight, a female halfling sorcerer

Out Of The Abyss takes the unusual position of starting the PCs in a Drow slaver cell, in the Underdark and without their equipment.  No less than ten NPCs are also present in the cell; if you're planning to run this game, I strongly recommend perusing the internet for key bits of GM assistance that are available.

Endra and Remi's players decided that they knew each other prior to being captured, with Remi serving as an accountant of sorts for Endra's clan.  The other PCs were captured separately by the drow.  For most of the captured, it has taken several weeks of underground travel to reach this place.

The PCs and ten NPCs are being held in a drow cave outpost called Velkynvelve, under the command of Ilvara Mizzrym, a priestess of Lolth.  The dark elves are assisted by a dozen or so quaggoths, shaggy savage creatures who act as guards and warriors for the drow.

The other prisoners are:
Buppido, a male derro
Prince Derendil, a male quaggoth (or polymorphed elf)
Eldeth Feldrun, a female shield dwarf
Jimjar, a male deep gnome
Ront, a male orc
Sarith Kzekarit, a male drow
Shu’ushar The Awakened, a male kuo-toa
Stool, a myconid sprout (renamed Shroom by the PCs)
Topsy, a young female deep gnome
Turvy, a young male deep gnome 

Endra, Buppido, and Sareth are allowed out as a work party, and gather information about the layout of the place.  Ront tries to bully Remi out of the mushroom slop they're being fed by the drow, and Dagon interposes, leading to a brawl that goes on for some time until the drow guards shoot poisoned bolts into the cell, poisoning Ront and critting Dagon.

Some friendly treatment of Shroom reveals that he can emit "rapport spores" that allow him and anyone within 30' to communicate telepathically for an hour.  This overcomes some of the language difficulties in the cell, and plans are laid for a breakout. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

"Rule of Three" for GURPS Magic

The "Rule of Three" is a houserule for magic that has been working quite well.  The original goal was to eliminate skill 15 as a breakpoint for reduced energy cost, and instead assess a skill penalty for casting magic "on the cheap".  It really took off when I realized how nice it is to have the same penalty (-3) for all sorts of things - no more looking up penalties!

Rule of Three for spellcasting: -3 to spell skill for each:
  • Halving of casting time (round up, minimum 1 second),
  • Reduction of energy required by 1,
  • Casting without chanting, or
  • Casting without arcane gestures.

Note that spell resistance and chance of critical failure are based on adjusted spell skill!

Spell maintenance is normally at full energy cost, which requires no further rolls.  If reduced cost is desired, the mage can re-roll the spell skill at -3 per point of energy reduced.  This must be repeated for every maintenance cycle where reduced cost is desired.

Effects in play:  This has allowed for more varied character builds, since optimizing for skill-15 with 1 pt in the spell is no longer necessary.  Resisted spells are typically cast at full energy cost, while utility spells are almost always cast as cheaply as possible - this does make the rolls a little more interesting, since players like to drop skill low enough to save energy, but high enough that they'll probably make the roll and not waste 1 FP.