Sunday, August 31, 2014

Gamma Tomorrow

So it turns out we played an extra-long Gamma World game today, running at least 2 1/2 hours longer than I'd expected.

It was a great game session, full of a lot of fun and excitement and generally good stuff. I'll post tomorrow, combining what I remember of the session and what the GM sends me tomorrow.

I promise, it's worth the wait.

SJG Stakeholder's Report . . . for 2013

It's almost ridiculously late, but it's here:

The SJG Stakeholder Report 2013

It's always interesting, and especially so since SJG is a closely-held company with no need to actually report to anyone except Steve.

(BTW, today is Gamma World, so expect some notes about that later)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A quick glimpse at my GURPS sale loot

Some random little bits:

- I'm reading How to be a GURPS GM by Warren "Mook" Wilson. Pretty solid stuff so far, although since I've been GMing GURPS since its Man-to-Man days, I'm not exactly the target audience. Still, there was a sale, and I had these gift card balances to burn, and I wanted to check it out and see what advice he had I could use or pass on.

I flipped right to the combat chapter. You know what's head-spinningly weird? Having someone recommend combat rules to me that I wrote. It's just . . . weird. Yeah. I don't know how else to describe it. It's just an oddity springing from the fact that a book addresses you, the reader, as the audience. I feel like I have some tiny idea of how it would feel to be Paul McCartney and to read a suggestion that said to learn to play Hey Jude.

I'll try to get a review out for it when I can, though.

- Speaking of it, I also picked up Man-to-Man on PDF, finally. Yes, I have two copies physically already. But now I can print out the cardboard heroes that came with it, and replace the tattered maps with new printouts. Nice.

- I also got some other Pyramid magazines I've gotten to the point of not being able to live without. One of them includes the David Pulver article "Appendix Z: Survivable Guns." I like the concept a lot. Having relatively low-velocity do full damage and high-velocity ones do less but with an armor divisor seems like it would be a lot of fun. It makes the M4 a great way to ensure injury but not ensure a one-shot kill, and makes getting shot a lot less of an exercise in making consciousness rolls.

- I have to try out the Tactical Mass Combat rules, also by David Pulver, in that same issue.

- I finally have a real copy of "Delayed Gratification" by Douglas Cole, to replace my "please read this before I submit this" draft versions.

- I haven't checked out the other stuff yet - if I start reading too much at once, I lose track of what I'm reading and where I read it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic: Merging Instant spells

GURPS Magic has a number of spells I prefer to merge into each other, like Flesh to Stone and Stone to Flesh. One group of those are the "Instant" versions of spells. They are:

Instant Restoration

Instant Regeneration

Instant Neutralize Poison

Those aren't really necessary, and serve only to clutter up spell lists and make casters more costly. They make perfect sense as leveled versions of each other, even if you have different prereqs to unlock to more powerful version!

So I merged them with the following approach:

- Keep the spell difficult of the base spell (so Neutralize Poison stays Hard)

- Change the prerequisites to just the PI level needed to cast the spell, and for instant use, the PI level needed for that.

- leave the costs the same.

For example:
Neutralize Poison

As written, except:

Cost: 5. For 8 energy, it may be cast instantly; no Poisons roll is needed, however, only one try per day!
Prerequisites: Power Investiture 3.

I also did Restoration and Regeneration, but the pattern should be clear.

It's actually easier to just ignore the layered prereqs and let anyone who can cast the base spell cast the higher-powered Instant version. In my experience the high cost of the Instant version is sufficient barrier to casting them! If you like the idea that different PI lets you cast the spell at different levels, simply add "Power Investiture 4 is needed to attempt an instant neutralization" to the end of the prereqs.

The weirdness is costs is one of those things - like Flight and Hawk Flight. But whatever, I'm content to leave it for now.

Admin note: Why so many of these recently? Basically because I'm writing something and doing lots of lesson planning, and these are easy things for me to do on breaks that makes them productive. I grab a spell, fix it, and then (naturally) post about it here. Much less time than taking pictures of my minis, writing up rules, or reading for reviews.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Revised GURPS Magic: Daze, Sleep, and Awaken, Take II

Speaking of revising GURPS Magic, I was re-examining one of the revisions I made back in January on Sleep, Daze, and Awaken.

In it, I mentioned allowing Awaken to specifically counter Sleep and Daze.

But as I re-wrote it for my house rules printout, I got to thinking - why not handle it as any other spell vs. spell situation?

Instead of:

"Sleeping or unconscious subjects, including those under Daze or Sleep spells, get a HT roll to awaken, at a bonus equal to the caster's margin of success."

I'm thinking:

"Daze or Sleep spells resist Awaken with an effective skill equal to the original caster's; Morpheus elixirs gives a -4 penalty instead."

(That last bit is so Morpheus, which is HT-4 to resist, is consistent in effect without needing to assign it a skill to roll against.)

After all, I figured, that's how Counterspelling Daze or Sleep would work, and allowing Awaken to work as a counterspell as well as a wake to wake people from mundane sleep or from injury-induced unconsciousness seems fair. They overlap in the Venn diagram of counters to Sleep and Daze.

This does make it clear, too, that if you take person with Sleep on them into a No Mana Zone that they'll either wake up (as the spell ends) or just be in normal sleep. I will run it at the latter - you revert to normal sleep. Obviously, an NMZ just wipes out Daze because the spell ends. It also makes it clear that I stick Sleep onto the side of the dividing line between "spell that has a lasting effect" and "ongoing spell." So while, say, Fireball does some damage or Flesh to Stone petrifies you and that's that (and thus they don't resist spells to put out the fire or un-petify you), Sleep is akin to Daze where it is an ongoing spell.

I can easily see ruling the other way - saying Sleep hits you, has its effect, and then the spell is over but the effect lasts, but I think I like the campaign effects of saying it's ongoing, but doesn't count as a spell "on" - much like Create Object doesn't.

Otherwise, everything is as written in my previous post. I think this makes Sleep a little more potent, brings Awaken's effects in line with any other spell vs. spell situation, and clarifies an edge case with NMZs.

I'm still thinking about this one, but I think I want to give it a try. Any implications I'm missing here?

Why I'm revising GURPS Magic for myself, only

One subject that comes up very often in discussing GURPS is the issues with GURPS Magic. GURPS Magic for 4e is basically the same system as it's been since the inception of the magic system in GURPS.

It was revised for 4e, but mostly it seems to have been done with an eye towards staying true to the wording of the original book (written by Steve Jackson himself) than to a full shakeup and re-write based on 4th edition rules. It's a good system, but it's showing its age as the underlying system has made some changes and shook up some basic assumptions.

So there are a lot of legacy weirdnesses in it, things that were done one way in 1-3e but differently in 4e, lots of little places that 4e has a better way to do it, and spells that just have balance issues specific to where they were introduced.

Even casual observers will note that I'm revising the book myself, spell by spell, for my DF game.

So why not revise the whole book, for everyone? Or at least propose doing so to SJG?

I've considered it, but it's a tough sell.

Basically, because of how often the discussion comes up. It's a snake-pit of potential issues.

Play balance is a big concern. Trying to balance it against, say, RPM, spells-as-powers, technology, advantages, skills, powers, imbuements - it's tough. Now try to do that across all genres.

Not only that, but a complete revision would require a complete shakeup of the system, a large playtest (potentially, anyway - one would be demanded, even if "large playtest" isn't how things get done nowadays), and a lot of cross-referencing to ensure it all works out.

From a financial perspective, it would be a huge amount of re-use text and the royalties on a sold copy would be pretty small. So as an author I think - lots of work, lots of potentially unhappy people who don't like how I did it, and a small payout. So that makes it tough.

Revising GURPS Magic piecemeal, for my own purposes, is a lot smaller and enjoyable of a project. Sort of like Wizardry Refined, from DFIII, which just nails down what is needed to change to make it fit in the parameters of Dungeon Fantasy, the GURPS line.

Plus, if I do it myself, for myself, a lot of things are simplified.

The number of stakeholders? Small. Just me, primarily, and my players. Playtesting is limited to my table and my approach, so it's narrowly focused on making the game play the way we find fun. Even if our solutions are seen as inadequate or too severe for others, if they suit us, we're all good. It doesn't matter how broken our magic is, if it's what we like and want.

Campaign focus? I've got a very specific campaign going with specific ideas of what's appropriate to include in it. I can make rulings that violate the wording of spells if that fits the game's approach.

Game Balance? I don't need to worry about larger game balance. We have no worries about game balance outside of Dungeon Fantasy at the moment. If we change to a full-fledged fantasy game some other time, well, we'll just modify the spells again to make them fit that.

Deadlines? None. I can literally wait until a spell is used in play to decide to change it. That means it's a series of very small changes instead of a big project.

So that's basically why - revising the whole book would be a huge project subject to a lot of scrutiny and an enormous variety of different play styles and individual tastes. Nothing I do would satisfy everyone, and it sucks to hear a lot of criticism that boils down to "that's not the way I would have done it" but couched as "you did it wrong."

I'd consider doing it if asked - I'd probably take it on. But it's a place where everyone has a different idea of what "GURPS Magic Revised" would really be. It's not even just a question of people agreed on what is needed and disagreeing how it is to be done, but basically disagreeing on what is needed and how to do that. So for the time being, I'm satisfied I'm doing what I need done for myself and my players. Maybe what I write on my blog will someday provide a basis to do it for real, maybe not. In the meantime, enjoy it and use it if my changes also suit your games.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: C2 The Ghost Tower of Inverness

This module has sat, unread, in my collection. I remember not buying it because my cousin had it and I was going to play it, but that didn't happen.

This is one I really enjoyed reading. I'd never read the whole thing - this was part of what I inherited from my cousin's collection. My only memory of it was hearing the intro text, and using the 25,000 gp to buy magic items from the Duke's collection. That's it - not a second of actual play. Probably we got sent outside to play because it was a nice day or something.

In the weeks ahead I'll try to get through the other adventures people requested I take a look at, and others from my collection I especially want to talk about.

by Allen Hammack
20 pages
TSR 1980

This module was originally a tournament module, for (according to the intro) Wintercon VIII in Detroit in 1979. The copy I have is the release version from 1980.

The adventure is basically a dungeon crawl, penetrating a ruined fortress seeking a McGuffin desired by an NPC. The tournament setup is that the PCs are coerced into the adventure - four prisoners from the Duke's prisons, and a monk indentured to the Duke as payment of taxes. Oddly, they come unequipped, but get 25,000 gp to buy normal equipment and select magic items from the Duke's treasury. I wouldn't want to try that with an inexperienced or rusty game group, because buying equipment (especially mundane gear) is always time-consuming. Selecting magical gear is pretty fun, though. I remember doing it myself with these lists, and it's a lot of competing trade-offs between powerful but costly items that limit your overall choices and cheaper items that might just not get the job done. Still, "here is 25,000 gp worth of gear you can take from my treasury" seems a really contrived way of putting the item choice into the player's hands.

On to the adventure itself. It is basically a big puzzle made up of puzzles. It's a find-the-keys puzzle with nested puzzles. Enter the dungeon, find the key, find the door, back off, try again until you get all the keys. Then complete the one-path-only way to the McGuffin.

The puzzles are pretty cool - they reward general caution, player skill, character abilities, and knowing when to take bold action. You can't easily get through them all with cautious 10' pole pokes and refusing to do anything dangerous, just as you can't easily get through them all with bold action and straight combat. And that's without even touching the scoring bonuses the tournament players would get for choosing the right course of action for each puzzle. Some of them are player-facing (player skill resolved), most are at least equally character-facing (resolved by character abilities, if correctly applied.) Add on top of that a time limit in the tournament and it must have been pretty tense, choosing between boldness and caution in turns.

Some of the puzzles require combat - for the tournament, monsters all do specific (sub-average) damage. There is an interesting range of monsters in there, but they're clearly chosen for a mix of thematic appropriateness and level of challenge.

The non-tournament additions are just more encounters embedded in previously empty rooms, or additional monsters or traps stuck into the more puzzle-like encounter areas in the Ghost Tower. Some of them are probably appropriate for a regular campaign, others seem like they'd just make the encounter more complex (and bloody) for little real gain.

I mentioned scoring. The scoring is individual and team, with a winning team and winning individuals being given prizes. Scoring is for loot, damage given, minus damage received, plus all sorts of bonuses for handling specific encounters and even for making observations about the environment.

Some nice bits:
- lots of blown-up maps of special rooms you can show to players (and smaller ones for the GM).

- pictures of the "keys" so you don't have to explain them without a visual aid.

- an umber hulk illustrated by Jeff Dee and one illustrated by Erol Otus.

Overall, I was quite impressed with this one. It seems like a killer dungeon with a poison cookie for a prize, but looking at it from my perspective now, I feel a bit differently. It's a real challenge adventure, with a dangerous prize you probably wouldn't want to keep (unlike, say, some of the weaponry from S2 White Plume Mountain.) Like S2, it puts more emphasis on using your head than your weapons, but you need both. Also like S2, it will find a way to fit a trick or puzzle in even if you need to suspend your disbelief a bit to swallow it being there.

All in all, it's one I wished I'd played. If you have, let me know how it was in your game in the comments!

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