Friday, December 30, 2022

Friday, December 16, 2022

Bugstiary Adventure Seeds: Gold-Digging Ant and Ant-Lion

The Bugstiary, written by me, and published by Gaming Ballistic for the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (Powered by GURPS) is a bestiary supplement to The Nordlond Bestiary and Enemies Book, that contains 34 new arthropod monster entries for the DFRPG. 

In this series of posts, I'm going to give one or two adventure seeds for each monster entry in The Bugstiary.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Powers Systems I've Used, Adapted, or Changed

     GURPS Powers (2005) expanded the rudimentary example of psionics in the Basic Set to the full 4e powers system. In GURPS a "power" is a set of related abilities that share a source (the energy that the power uses or manipulates) and a focus (the specific concept the power is themed around). Mechanically they have a Power Talent that adds to rolls to use the abilities of the power, and the Power Modifier: a shared modifier (typically a limitation worth -10%) that defines the limits of the power.

    I've run (or at least started) a few different games since Powers was published, some like my new weird road-trip Desolation Road and my Transhuman Space technothriller Hearts of Oak, Souls of Fire, didn't use powers at all, but the rest did.

Vintage Spirits

    Vintage Spirits was directly inspired by reading GURPS Powers and was intended to make full use of that book. The PCs were various kinds of spirits living in, and protecting, a vineyard in a fictional central coast California winery town. The players were required to each identify a source and focus and build their character around a power. The PCs ended up being a leprechaun with magic powers, a tulpa (whose genesis was as an imaginary friend, but had survived by becoming an urban legend) who had powers dependent on belief, a ghost with spectral powers, and an earth elemental with, obviously, elemental earth powers.
    Building unique powers for PCs works well, it trades the structure that using a pre-designed framework for creativity and variety.

Xiá of the Empire of Heaven

   My new space opera martial arts campaign Xiá of the Empire of Heaven used two different powers frameworks. 
    First the chi-powers which in this setting were actually exotic physics accessible through implants. Using the implants effectively requires mental focus and is typically cultivated by the study of martial arts. A pilot with one of these powers was required for FTL travel (performance was dependent on talent level). The powers were Body Control and Chi Projection, based on Martial Arts p. 46, with some modifications. Additionally just having the implants and either power talent created an exotic energy force field around the martial artist, giving 5 DR per level of talent (whichever was higher); this was treated as a consequence of the technology and not an ability (although Chi Projection included additional force field DR); however these fields were mutually cancelling: unarmed attacks (and melee attacks with special weapons) ignored this DR if the attacker also had a field (regardless of strength). 
    The other power was that of the nanren, engineers with an implant that allowed mental control of the ubiquitous nanotechnology of the setting. This power used Skills Enhancing Abilities, and appropriate engineering and science skills to control the swarms. Abilities included Corrosive Innate Attack with Area Effect, Mobile, Homing, and Persistent; a "minifac" built on Snatcher; etc. The power modifier was essentially an elemental modifier, giving bonuses or penalties based on the availability of universal assemblers in the local area.
    What I didn't do, which in retrospect, I probably should have, is require Ally (Nanobot Swarm) as the basis for the power, and then have other abilities be alternate abilities of that. Additional nanites could then be captured or hacked from the environment as part of the power modifier to boost effect.
    Also I ran this before GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers and if I were to attempt this game again, I'd likely take some inspiration from here too.
    Unfortunately this game never made it much past the first session, so I don't really have a good assessment of how well it would have worked.

The Blight Years

    The Blight Years was a post-apocalyptic psionic western, set in a future California in a world devastated by a psionic plague and alien invasion. The PCs were members of an order of psionic knights descended from the California Highway Patrol.
    Powers were from GURPS Psionic Powers with:
Psionics: Ergokinesis is not split (and Cyberpsi is generally unavailable); Telepathy works on all vertebrates; Dream Control does not exist (and there is no “dream world”); Optional Crippling Rules (GURPS Psionic Powers p. 7); anyone may use the Mental Maneuvers (GURPS Psionic Powers p. 11); the Jam technique (GURPS Psionic Powers p. 31) exists for all abilities; Telekinetic Control (GURPS Psionic Powers p. 54) and Telespeak (GURPS Psionic Powers p. 59) do not exist; and RL Exoteleport (GURPS Psionic Powers p. 70) replaces Exoteleport.
Imbuements: Psionic imbuements using the rules in GURPS Power Ups 1: Imbuements, and Psi-Powered Imbuements, Pyramid #3/12: Tech and Toys p. 24-26 (including the TK Bullet optional rule on p. 25).
    Initially I wanted to use Multiplicative Modifiers (GURPS Powers p. 102), but quickly discovered this doesn't work. Most abilities in Psionic Powers lose any distinction between levels using these rules. Multiplicative modifiers might be made to work, but they probably need most modifiers to be repriced.
    Unfortunately this game never made it past character creation, but character creation did go well.

The Phoenix Imperative

     The Phoenix Imperative was going to be about immortal heroes who are brought together periodically to secretly save the world. Many powers could be justified for this game:


Characters may have abilities as part of Powers. The most appropriate sources are Chi, Divine, Magic or Spirit. Depending on concept the power may include the abilities that make the character immortal in the first place.

The system of miraculous prayer described in GURPS Powers: Divine Favor is certainly appropriate for many character concepts in this campaign. Taoist immortals might find powers in GURPS Thaumatology: Chinese Elemental Powers useful!

Unfortunately this game fell apart even before character creation was complete. I don't recall any of the characters that were made had powers or not.

Pickup Dungeon Fantasy Games

   While all these other games were not working out, I was running GURPS Dungeon Fantasy for the players that were available. This used all the powers as written in the Dungeon Fantasy line. Especially used were:
  • Holy Might for (Dungeon Fantasy 7: Cleric'sMessengers and Rogues, War, Order (which became "Clerics of Order and Chaos" in Pyramid #3/78: Unleash Your Soul; Pyramid: Dungeon Fantasy Collected) and the generic good and evil powers from Dungeon Fantasy 1: Adventurers.
  • Psi from Dungeon Fantasy 14: Psis. The mentalist PC especially revelled in "putting encounters in your encounters", which led to me expanding the table of psionic threats. "More Psionic Threats" (Pyramid #3/80: Fantasy Threats)  originally included the expanded table but this was unfortunately cut for publication (I hope it can see print one day).
  • Ninja powers from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy:Ninja. I also expanded these powers with power-ups for the ninja, and wrote this up for publication in Pyramid, but it remails unpublished.
  • Bard-Song
  • Druidic Arts 
In general I used the abilities as written, except when I added to them as noted above.


    My GURPS Horror: The Madness Dossier campaign CODENAME: ZARATHUSA used the powers and paranormal abilities from that book. In the party we had two chevals. We didn't have a PC taisher, although the dog ally of the commando did have some psi abilities. The only real modification to powers was to use the full GURPS Psionics Powers rules for taisher, using “Expanded Psi for Sandmen” Pyramid #3/69: Psionics II p. 33.


    My currently in development six-guns and sorcery megadungeon Glasstown, (more on this in future posts), will use GURPS Powers: Totems and Nature Spirits for the native nimerigar wardancers with some modifications, as the wardance is a battletrance accessed using autohypnosis and estastic dancing. Magical powers will also be available for ritual practitioners and as magic items. Saints will use GURPS Powers: Divine Favor probably as written.

Friday, May 27, 2022

GURPS Rules Kalzazz Doesn't Use, Replaces or Revises (Guest Post)

Kalzazz asked me to host his post on this month's GURPS blogger topic. Here it is:

"Rules I Don't Use, Replace, or Revise"  Part 1

This was a harder topic than I thought!  I had to really think to see what fit here, I have a fair number of house rules, but they are mostly silly little things here or there, but here are some real ones.

I am sure I will think of more AFTER this gets posted, thus, Part 1.

1.  Initiative.  Rolling initiative is as American as Apple Pie and the Star Spangled Banner, and GURPS doesn't do it.  Whenever I have played in RPGs (GURPS included) not rolling init has just felt wrong and lessened the enjoyment.  It also adds a certain sameness that people go in the same order every single time.

Solution - turn order is decided by dice! 1d6+Basic Speed (round down to integer) + 1 if have combat reflexes.  Roll at start of every round if logistics permit, or once per combat if logistics do not permit. (Every round adds extra zest and chaos and confusion and is preferred, but trying to successfully get everyone to roll and load the scores into the initiative tracker is not for the faint of heart on an every round basis.)  Also we round down basic speed to enable ties for simultaneous action!

2.  Cover - The cover rules I find unsatisfying as they seem both utterly finicky with their list of body parts and potentially quite irrelevant in many cases as sometimes people just want to shoot you in the skull anyway.  Other RPGs I had played before GURPS had far more satisfying cover rules, so these were just not fun.  Solution - I just don't have cover, people shoot it out in the open with no cover.  As the DM I am responsible for set design, so sets are cover free. I have considered having it grant a bonus to active defenses, which I like, but has issues with player buy in and confusion.  Another potential solution is to double DR for someone behind cover.  I may go for a player choice +2 active defense or double DR.  I like the idea of cover and adding it to my games would be interesting, but I just don't like the default way it is handled.

3. Min ST x3 Max - This rule for the most part seems unnecessary and unfun.  It also doesn't feel right that a ST 21 guy doesn't hit harder with a large knife than a ST 18 guy.  I am honestly not convinced it is even that realistic as discussions with long time partner in crime StarSlayer who probably has Gadgeteer, and he has discussed that if Conan wants a knife a actual weaponsmith can make a knife Conan can wield.  Finally things like Power Blow, especially if someone has skill enough for the Triple ST option, easily drive clean past it.  Solution - Just ignore it, if Conan wants to use a knife instead of a greatsword, throw a dagger instead of a spear, whatever. Let him.  It adds more options to strong characters to use these (in some cases a bit inferior) weapons.  And people love tropes such as knife throwers etc. so why not embrace It?

4. Bless - in DFRPG, Bless is a spell on.  I do not use this, spells on have a clear and easy definition 'spells you can maintain'.   So I do not have Bless count as a spell on.  You also cannot Bless yourself.  This leads to the weird idea of 'Thor loves all the cleric's buddies more than he loves the cleric', so I allow self blessing as well.  This adds some dissonance as I tend to think of Bless as something a clergyman does to someone else, but less dissonance than 'the cleric's deity likes the cleric the least'.  Now, prior to getting into DFRPG, I did not have a problem with not being able to bless yourself, as Bless did not explicitly require a cleric, so as long as you had 2 spellcaster sorts 'I bless you, you bless me' and off to the races.

5. Fine Armor - By default Fine armor can't fit anyone that isn't an exact match to the wearer.  I ignore this and assume, yeah, you can get it refitted and retain the fine nature of the armor.  Because I want to hand out fine armor as loot, and it's much less useful as loot if the Fine quality doesn't translate.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

GURPS Rules I Don't Use, Replace, or Revise (or at Least Consider Doing So)

    Nobody's perfect, not even GURPS. There are a few rules that I think are actually pretty bad as written and should really be revised. I'm not including optional rules that I don't ever use, or even obscure traits that I just haven't seen a use for (but acknowledge there might be). I'm also not going to cover rules that saw a significant revision in later works (e.g. GURPS High-Tech's treatment of hiking, GURPS Gun Fu's revision of Gunslinger, or GURPS Horror's rules for mental stun). Instead these are all general rules that I think just don't work as intended and don't have a good fix in print. I'll cover three of them here, but there are more, so I may revisit this topic in the future.

Animal Empathy (p. B40)

The Problem:

    This advantage does two things. The first, an IQ roll to sense animal emotions, is fine. It's the second, the use of influence skills on animals, that causes two major problems.
    By using the same influence skills as those to manipulate people it incentivizes characters that are good at both. In fact it's hard to make a character that's not good at manipulating people with useful levels of influence skills for animals. Since the usual fictional archetype of the beast tamer is a wilderness scout or feral person without much human socialization, this is a challenge for people wanting to play these types of characters.  You can take traits like Animal Friend with disadvantages like Low Empathy, and also take (Animals) as an optional specialty on your influence skills, and get something close to a poorly socialized person that's able to soothe wild beasts but this is a very convoluted approach to what should be a straightforward build (and results in canceling the benefit of the first three levels of Animal Friend).
    The other problem is that once you apply the influence skills to animals, they must work very differently than they do with humans. Your diplomat suddenly switches from a mastery of subtle negotiation to mastery of subtle threat and submission postures. Streetwise becomes a skill both about navigating the underworld and about communicating to lone wolves and other "outsider" animals. Sex appeal becomes a skill that you can use to trick animals into thinking a mating opportunity exists, but you still can't use it like this on people, that's Fast-Talk. This post and this one by PK explains the rules as intended here, and no, I still don't like it.
    Note that Intimidation works across species boundaries, already, without any special traits.

The Solution:

    Instead of making influence skills work on animals, Animal Empathy could make animal skills into influence skills:
Animal Handling, Falconry, (IQ-Based) Riding, and Teamster work on the appropriate specialization; success gives a "Very Good" reaction.
Mimicry (Animal Sounds or Bird Calls) works on animals whose vocalizations you can mimic. Can be used to enable specious intimidation, with the normal consequences for failure.
Naturalist works on all animals. As with Diplomacy, use the better of this or a regular reaction roll.
(IQ-Based) Survival works on animals native to the biome. 

Improvement Through Study (pp. B293-B294) and Time Use Sheets (p. B499, p. B569)

The Problem:

    First I hate homework. The course of  my life has largely been defined by my difficulties with homework. Obviously other people like homework, so it's largely a matter of taste. However I think making homework a not optional rule was probably a bad design choice, but I acknowledge that I'm biased. 
    These rules have problems that go far beyond that though: 
  • Improvement through Study has no diminishing returns. 200 hours with a teacher (or 400 self-study, or 1600 on-the-job, or 100 hours of intensive training) gives a character point. It doesn't matter if it's your first or fiftieth. Not only does this not reflect pedological science, it also doesn't reflect common experience. After you've learned the basics of something continuing practice doesn't result in steady improvement. Practice has diminishing returns, as you find less and less opportunities to challenge your ability or expand your knowledge. This post on Gaming Ballistic goes into much more detail about this.
  • Many, perhaps most, advantages and disadvantages should have effects on downtime (Status, Contacts, Addiction, Dependents, Duty...). Of special note are Single-Minded and Laziness, both of which should directly impact how efficiently you can use your free-time. There's no mention of this on B499, and Time Use Sheets aren't mentioned in any specific trait description, with only traits like Less Sleep and Slow Eater expressly modifying any downtime activity. Monasticism and Mysticism are exceptions; but it's unclear exactly how "75% of your time" and "Most of your time" actually translate into hours for "Religious Observances"; taken literally these traits would seem to preclude any downtime use whatsoever.
  • It's not very generic, e.g the 40 hour GURPS workweek is largely a 20th century American construct, modification for other cultures or even species is left to the GM.
  • It allows unrealistic amounts of time spent on studying a single skill. A unemployed person can spend 12 hours a day on a single skill, a part-time person can spend eight hours, a full-time person can spend four hours. There's no accounting for boredom, Single-Minded isn't a requirement, Laziness has no specified in-game effect here; anybody can just mindlessly spend half or more of their free waking hours alone doing math problems or sword drills or whatever, day after day for years on end if they want. 
  • The form on p. B569 only allots 2 hours and 51 minutes per day for "meals, personal care, etc." and only Slow Eater expressly modifies this. At minimum this is three half hour meals, leaving 71 minutes for "personal care, etc.". It's unclear what "etc." includes here other than that it excludes "Travel", "Entertainment", and "Religious Observances"; if it's meant to include everything that's missing (see the next item) it's a very rushed life, a GURPS character leads. 
  • Activities missing from this include:
    • Maintenance — Characters with the Maintenance disadvantage require a specified time, but most characters also need to spend some time repairing or maintaining weapons, equipment, clothing, vehicles, dwellings, etc. Similarly health care also at least occasionally requires dedicated time. 
    • Sustenance and sundries — Whether you are a hunter-gatherer or a 21st century office drone at some point you'll need to go out and get food, clothing, tools, etc. This often can average more than the hour or so a day you'd have if this was included in "personal care".
    • Exercise — Realistically, characters with traits like Fit or Very Fit, would lose these traits without regular exercise, and most characters living sedentary lives would eventually get Unfit. The (optional) rules for maintaining skills don't address advantages at all, but really there just should be time for exercise included, if it's not coming from a physical job or study of an athletic skill or advantage.
    • Maintaining personal relationships — Most people who spend most of their waking hours doggedly buried in textbooks or doing katas would be very poor spouses, parents, and members of their communities. Real humans are social, and spend much of our time at maintaining our social connections.
    • Illness and fatigue — Humans (and presumably most other biological characters without significant Immunities) don't always feel well. In times and places with poor public health, you may even spend a plurality of your time suffering symptoms of non-life-threatening diseases and syndromes.
    • Wasted time — Nobody is 100% efficient, and we all waste time. Some traits should cause more wasted time than others, and really this includes most mental disadvantages. The form assumes completely efficient time management which is absurd.
    • Delays  — Even if you are somehow perfect at time management, the world you live in isn't. You will be stuck in traffic, or waiting on a bureaucratic process, or in a long line while shopping, etc.
    • Hygiene and cosmetics — While some people can easily fit bathing, etc. into that 71 minutes per day, this is definitely not true for many other people. Some culture's standards of beauty require hours per day of maintenance, and this typically increases with both Status and Appearance in many cultures.
    • Commuting — While this may be supposed to be included in Travel, it's not clear that it is. When the GURPS 40 hour week is literally the 20th-21st century American model, it also includes something like an hour daily commute on average. Other people in other times and places may spend more or less time getting to and from work.

The Solution:

    The no homework solution: 
    Schools, boot camps etc. should just give a fixed amount of points in specific traits at the conclusion of the course of study (which needs to be appropriate to the character's skill level). Every two months of total immersion gives 1 point towards both Language and to Cultural Familiarity.  Furthermore, at the GM's discretion the character may either work on a Long-Task or Study a new skill. If the latter they gain 1 point in the skill after six months (halved with a teacher) — traits like Single Mindedness or Laziness can reduce or increase this time by up to 50%. 

    The more homework solution:
    Time use should include all the items mentioned above, and be tailored for cultural circumstances; GM's and players should consider all of these concerns before allocating time for Long Tasks or Study. A rule of thumb for traits that take up time (and don't otherwise specify) could be 1 hour per five points each day (this is ~56% less than Slow Eater; but this is all that Slow Eater does). Characters should make Will rolls to study the same skill for more than 2d+3 days straight, modified by Single Minded. On a failure they need to do something else instead for 1d days. Lazy characters should probably halve the maximum time available for study (just as they halve job income).

    Either way, self-study and on-the-job training should be limited to just learning the basics. Languages gained through immersion should be limited to Accented without Language Talent. Skills should be limited to the first two points (or first four with a teacher); further improvement requires adventuring, formal higher education, or intensive training. Learnable advantages like Fit may be limited to the first level without a private couch, gym class, dojo, militia, etc.

Rated ST for Crossbows (p. B270)

The Problem:

    The rules for crossbows allow any crossbow to have arbitrarily high rated ST. While this is also true of bows, crossbows can be loaded with mechanical aids, up to 3x effective ST. Increasing ST doesn't ever increase the weight or bulk of the weapon, which of course, is nonsensical. Rated ST is dependent on draw length, which means that at some point your crossbow is going to get larger and heavier, but the rules do not address this. In real life TL3 pistol crossbows were expensive toys, but in GURPS you can easily have one at ST 21, doing 2d+2 imp, weighing only 4 lbs. and with bulk -4; making it absurdly better than TL4 and early TL5 pistol firearms with similar loading times!
      Furthermore "Bows, Crossbows, and Rated ST", GURPS Low-Tech p. 74 has steel bows which "can be built with much higher rated ST" at the cost of halving effective rated ST. However no limit to rated ST actually exists. Some have suggested the limit of 3x Min ST given on B270 for melee weapons also applies to bow and crossbow. This however still results in steel crossbows being largely pointless, e.g. a composite crossbow can be ST 24 and a steel military crossbow can be ST 36, but is treated as ST 18 for damage and range. So the supposedly "advanced" steel bow is twice as heavy, has -2 worse bulk, and requires more ST to load, but still does less damage with less range!
    "Referencing a rule that doesn't exist" is a flaw you find in many poorly edited games. It's not generally one found in GURPS but here it is on Low-Tech p, 74. I find this kind of thing especially frustrating as it sends the reader on a wild goose chase, and ultimately leaves a mechanical hole in the system.

The Solution:

    The solution with the least change to the current rules would be to create the rule that Low-Tech p. 74 references and actually give a limit on rated ST to crossbows (and probably for bows as well). This limit is almost certainly much less than 3xMin ST. It should be the point in which the statistics change enough that the table entry no longer reasonably describes the same weapon. This should definitely include any whole integer change to bulk, and also significant increase in weight (something like anything more than +25% heavier). 
    Another solution would be to rewrite the weapons table, treating crossbows more like firearms. Historically, the majority of crossbows were generally made in only a few specific draw weights. This is analogous to firearms; sure it was possible to have a gun made for any diameter shot and any powder load, but the weapon tables only include a few common types. The weapon tables could easily just have had e.g. "Composite Crossbow, 350lbs" and given fixed stats for this weapon and some other typical draw weights and constructions. There's really no need to have variable rated ST at all.
   "The Deadly Spring" in Pyramid #3/33: Low-Tech (and the included spreadsheet) allows for the design of bows based on draw weight and construction, but is a very detailed design system and requires a lot of work. It could, however, be used to do either (or both) of the above solutions, which would result in much simpler and more playable results. I may come back to this in the future and see if I can do this.

Friday, March 18, 2022

GURPS Vehicle Stat Line: M2 Bradley

Over on the GURPS Discord, Kalzazz said:
I admit I always want to use military things which for some reason lack stats

I think a Iowa Class Battleship, Bradley IFV or M1 Abrams are all cool things My urban fantasy suffers greatly from 'all tanks are T72s' I sorta justify that as possibly the US has rules saying street gangs and dark cults of Great C'thulhu should not buy Abrams tanks


Which is a common sort of complaint in GURPS 4e, especially from players used to 3e's GURPS Vehicles.