Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Conditional Modifiers and Simpler Play

So when we played on Sunday, schedule conflicts conspired to having some players run other player's characters for part of the session.

Even given a pretty solid experience with GURPS, and having generally similar character sheets (although not exactly, since some people prefer my choice, others use their own), we ended up with some slowdowns as people tried to calculate stat with conditional modifiers.

I'm generally very positive, and this is kind of rant-ish. It's generally just a thought about what happens with what seem to be nice little conditional modifiers.

Fit was a prime example here on Sunday. It seems pretty straightforward, but we still end up with a lot of questions about when it counts, when it doesn't count, scanning of other people's sheets to see if they have Fit, etc.

It's a theoretically conditional bonus, except it's a conditional bonus that applies close to 100% of the time. It's just a stat bonus with an important special effect and no secondary characteristic spillover.

You'd think "always add a +1" is easy, but not all of my players generally get it, we play two different campaigns and people often have to lean over and roll for a friend's character, meaning you always have to check. And if you miss the roll, people will double check for you to make sure you aren't dead or unconscious.

It's a lot more straightforward if you just raise the base stat. HT 13 is HT 13 is HT 13 is easier than HT 12 but +1 to all HT rolls, +2 versus falling unconscious, +1 to not die, etc.

It's also generally more straightforward if the conditions are clear. Hard to Kill gives +1/level to rolls against death* (what we call "death checks" around here.) Does it help versus falling unconscious? No. Versus poison resistance? No. Some of them are arguable, but it's hard to sustain "my Hard to Kill is +1 versus anything that might directly or indirectly lead to my death." Fit, well, does that +1 count to rolling against your HT for HT-resisted spells? I've long ruled no, just to avoid Rule of 16 edge-cases, but I can't say for sure if that's the intent.

You can mired in them, and a simple yes-no becomes, "Don't forget . . . "

Conditional benefits have a way of morphing, too, and expanding.

A good example is a house rule on All-Out Attack. Although I generally don't like 3e in my 4e, I liked the old 3e writeup of All-Out Attack that said you "ignore bodies and bad footing" for movement costs.

However, Sunday I noticed - probably finally noticed - that it had morphed from "no +1 per hex cost to move through Bad Footing or over bodies when using All-Out Attack" to "ignores Bad Footing penalties when All-Out Attacking" which become "Berserkers ignore Bad Footing" and thus means someone with Berserk who isn't even Berserk ignores Bad Footing on all attacks and if anyone else uses AOA you ignore bad footing.

I'm pretty sure it even went to "If you All-Out Attack (Determined) with a ranged weapon, you only get a +1 but ignore the -2 for bad footing."

Not intentional drift, but drift. The "ignore those bodies and charge!" rule went all the way to Berserk being Terrain Adaptation (All, only during combat).

Again, it's a conditional modifier that drifted and expanded as the rules get passed around the table via the Telephone Game while the GM is trying to keep track of everything but not do everyone's math for them.

As a general third point, conditional modifiers are easy to over-stack, leading to more confusion. You can easily get HT 12, Fit, Hard to Hill 2, Hard to Subdue 1, Resistant to Poison (+3) and Resistant to Disease (+8), and High Pain Threshold on the same character. Quick, what's his roll to get knocked out from a major wound to the vitals? Not quick, is it? And does Hard to Subdue help, since a failure by 5+ would knock him out? How about the HT-3 followup poison?

It's got me thinking.

Some of these things are easily fixable - I'm pretty certain I'm just going to toss the "ignores bodies and bad footing" rule I brought over from 3e. It'll slow down the berserker a bit, but it'll also mean one less special case to deal with. I like to toss out special cases, since there is a tendency to either ignore them (too special) or expand them (clearly this is also that case.)

Some are not, like Fit. Most of the PCs have it and all of them bought it mostly for a +1 to HT rolls. So taking that back would be troublesome. Plus, I'd need to cost the FP recovery element** because time constraint on recovery is a real element in my games. It's potentially doable, and I'll post some idle thoughts about it tomorrow or Thursday. But changing it means means going back and tinkering with PCs and ensuring it's still 5 points of value because of cost trade-offs.

Some we'll have to deal with via better bookkeeping, so people's numbers are easier to track when you have to roll for them. I've gotten some nice suggestions, we'll see if they work out.

But given a choice, I think I might winnow down the special cases and conditional modifiers more, just to speed things along. Not incidentally, I think it might keep people from going down the dead-end road of over-patching, too.

And I may have some ideas on changing some of the leveled bonuses, so they're on-off and clearer in how they work. Hopefully I'll have time to get to that this week. At least that way, if it's ON/OFF and pretty large (+3 not +1, for example) it's more obvious if it's counted, and a bigger to have or not have the trait. No one ever forgets their +3 for High Pain Threshold to shrug off major wounds or a +8 Resistant to Supernatural Powers!

That said, I went ahead and passed out a conditional modifier to Mo as a reward. He's got a +1 to social skills and reaction rolls from elf women. Just positive social skills - I'm not giving him a +1 to scare elf women with Intimidation, but I'll give him +1 on Sex Appeal or his default Fast-Talk or Diplomacy, not that he'll use those last two ever. You had him at "+1 on Sex Appeal." So I'm no saint on this issue. It's such a clear case, though, when it should apply, that I don't expect to have issues with it. Unless all of the named parts apply - positive social interaction + elf + woman + Mo it does not equal +1. That's easy, and it's rare and special.

Like I said, a bit rant-ish. I just find that as I have less time to game, I need to pare things down so it's easy for myself and everyone else to quickly resolve things. Conditional modifiers and special cases tend to slow things down even if just for a few seconds, and those are all precious moments we can spend discussing the orcs.

* And a cool effect of having you seem dead, so people with Bloodlust and foes departing the field might leave you for dead. Like Fit's FP recovery, it's an effect the stat just doesn't give.

** Which is worth 1 to as many as 5 points, probably closer to the bottom end of the range, given a 5 point trait that features it and a 15 point trait that features it plus extras.


  1. I had the same grumbles about Fit myself some years back. I ruled that the players who had Fit on their character sheets should change the cost to [3] and note that it no longer gave any bonuses to rolls, and then increase their HT by 1, and sell back 1 FP and 0.25 BS. That way we kept the point totals and HT roll target numbers the same. Nowadays I don't allow Fit or Very Fit because I use a house rule that moderates FP recovery with a roll against your base FP, so if you want to recover quickly from exertion you just buy more FP to begin with.

    1. Interesting. I just wrote a post that I've queued up for tomorrow (no sense in stomping my own post today) that revises Fit. I do like the idea of brute-force fixing it, even if it means FP/Speed sellbacks that I don't otherwise like (because they, too, create special cases.)

      I do need to come up with a way to deal with the modifiers. We have Fit, Hard to Kill, Hard to Subdue, DR vs. specific things, Resistances of three different kinds, etc. on people's sheets. It's tough to lean over to the guy next to you and say, "I'll run your guy for the rest of the session" without having to basically read his entire sheet to ensure you know what his rolls are in each situation. It's sub-optimal.

    2. Fit and Very Fit were also problematic while writing The Last Gasp, for similar reasons. I believe I had to basically wave my hands at it and say, "no, this logical advantage that should logically help with action point recovery does not. Because it's too damn good as it is, and this makes it even better."

    3. It's just the +1 that I find annoying, and only because of the "Did you remember . . . " issue. The FP recovery speed I have zero issues with!

      I could see it severely impacting AP, since you're essentially adding a new element to the game that's intended to be a more finite resource than FP, more critical to turn-to-turn decisions, and thus makes Fit worth more.

      But just in a vanilla game, I find the pricing fair. It's just the way it impacts play when everyone has to know everyone else's numbers an issue. And it's not the only case!

  2. The fussiness of GURPS is both its beauty and its downfall. The fact that I can have a million perks and advantages to choose from to get ridiculously specific things ("I have +4 to reaction rolls with red-headed elf women when the moon is full!") is what allows for things like exceedingly specific weapons, or really exact cultural things, and generally emulates the real world well.

    But MY GOD does it slow things down to a crawl. Martial Arts are a pretty great example of that, which is one reason I'm a big believer in the Signature/Trademark move.

    1. But, by the same venue, you can set things up to basically become a turn-based strategy game if you like. I like how specific things can get, if only for funsies. I'm working on taking a few generic types of body armor from HT and getting ridiculously specific with them right now, for example (hoping to have it out this weekend).

    2. It's what I love about the system - you can set the dial wherever you want. It's just sometimes specific implementations + the telephone game of players remembering the rules for themselves and each other + specific approaches to tracking those numbers (Player A writes them down, B does the math each time, C does what A does with a different approach to writing them down, etc.) = a headache.

      This happens with much simpler games, too - ask people how to play Monopoly, and then go look up those rules and see how accurate they are. It's just magnified when there are lots of fiddly bits.

  3. I personally think that the FP recovery alone is worth 5 points, so the +1 is like gravy added to the top of delicious mashed potatoes.

    1. That +1 is huge in a game with a lot of consciousness rolls and death checks, though!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...