Tag Archives: GURPS


In the spring of 1984, with $500 in my pocket, I packed my 1968 Dodge pickup with all of my worldly possessions and moved to Bozeman Montana. PezWitch had moved there a month earlier and where PezWitch goes, my heart follows. The first year I was there, I did not game much. In 1985 I was introduced to Steve Jackson Games (SJG) GURPS system. That year they released Man To Man, sort of GURPS Lite of its time, and two adventures Orcslayer and Harkwood. Very late in 1985 was when I was finally able to assemble a game group. The next year SJG released the full version of GURPS along with several supplements. While we still played Dungeons & Dragons, for me, the rest of the 80’s was pretty much dominated by GURPS and we played nearly everything they put out; GURPS Fantasy, Autoduel, Horror, Supers, Swashbucklers, Cyberpunk and yes even Ice Age. When we went to GenCon in 1988, I ran a hilarious GURPS game based on the Myth Adventures books. In Bozeman I was primarily the GM of the group, the group lasted 4 years before breaking up. Real life got in the way, people graduated from college, got jobs, got married. It was a great group that had a good run.

Roleplaying games and me

Normally by this time of year I have made some serious headway in designing the campaign I will be running next year. This year I seemed to be stumped as to what to do. Part of my problem is D&D 5E has not quit lived up to my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, its not a terrible game, but it is also not a great game and as Bruce said when we were talking about it, “5E leaves me wondering if I missed something”. So one of the things I am thinking about is what game to play.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: As I said, this is a decent game, its pros are that it is a modern game with a unified dice mechanic, it is well supported and will probably be THE D&D for another decade. The cons are its not really our game, I think Bruce and Thor feel uncomfortable with it and I know I do. While there are a lot of options for making interesting characters, the game still manages to come off as rather flat.

HackMaster 4th Edition: We played this game solidly for 12 or 13 years. The pros to this game are we know it inside and out, we have house ruled it just enough to keep it sane. The game at its core is AD&D 1E, but manages to fix about 50 things that were broken with that game. HM also does not take itself too seriously and is just a lot of fun to play. The cons are, it is out of print and we have pretty much played through all of the published modules. Another problem is HM has no game balance whatsoever, Monks and Battle Mages are broken as classes and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Advanced Dungeon & Dragons 1st Edition: This game is like wearing an old shoe for us. It is the game of our youth. It is easy to play, you can literally generate character in under 10 minutes. Even though the system has been out of print for 25 years, the books were so heavily printed that it is easy to find cheap copies on Ebay and on top of that they reprinted them in 2013 and made them available as PDF’s. The downside here, is AD&D is not a modern game at all, it is poorly structured and has many bad rules and modern younger players don’t like it very much.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy: It is very unlikely we would seriously consider playing this game, but it is possible. The great thing about GURPS is the depth of characters, even in the limited environment of DF, it is still possible to push your creativity and make new and interesting character types. Steve Jackson games is about to release a boxed set for DF where they rewrote and streamlined the rules, so it is somewhere between GURPS Lite and the full blown game. The down side here is complexity and too many choices, I think players get bogged down when thinking about how to design their characters and even how to grow them over time. The other problem with GURPS is I always got the feels no one truly loves to play the game, that is a game you play because there is not another game that fills the niche you want to play in. It is sort of like using a Leatherman tool, sure its got a screwdriver and pliers built in, but it hurts your fingers to use it.

At this point I am sure my players just want me to shut the fuck up and run what I want to.

Review: GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Boxed Set

Product Summery:
Name: Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Author: Sean Punch
Cost: $50/$35 for PDF
Pages: 474 (Spread across multiple books)
Webpage: http://www.sjgames.com/dungeonfantasy/

When the Kickstarter for this product was announced I was pretty excited. GURPS is one of two games I truly love, the other being HackMaster (also known as Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 1st Edition). DFRPG came about as a reaction to the Old School Renaissance in gaming. the OSR was a movement of gamers who felt the old ways were the best ways, they wanted to bring back the simple games of their youth where kicking down doors, killing monsters and collecting treasure was a way of life. DFRPG sought to simplify GURPS so it could be used for this genre. DFRPG was a big hit for Steve Jackson games, the line was PDF only, but since it required GURPS Character book, it helped to sell many of those. The Kickstarter campaign was an effort to bring DFRPG to the print world as a starter set not just for DFRPG but for GURPS in general. The boxed set is not due for at least another month, but this week in celebration of GenCon 50, they released the PDF’s to the Kickstarter backers and I have now had a chance to look at the game.

There is a lot of new art here, which is good, Steve Jackson games is notorious for reusing art. Thankfully they went with a two column format rather than the three column they used in GURPS Characters and Campaigns, this is much easier to read. They also used an orange colored font to highlight options and such, which I think added clarity and readability to the document. The game is well written and I think easy to understand.

I have always liked the GURPS game mechanic, at least in theory I like it. All resolution die rolls are done by rolling three six sided dice, trying to roll under your target number, whether that is an attribute or a skill level. This puts all resolutions rolls on a nice bell curve instead of a flat 1 in 20 type roll. I also like the customization options available for building characters, players can literally build anything they have points for. Of course the problem with that is too many options and a scaling problem. Like all point based systems it is very easy to fall into one of two traps, either your points are spread too thin and the character is really not very good at anything in particular or the character is spectacularly skilled in one or two areas and utterly incompetent at anything else. There also tended to be a lot of character overlap in skills and characters stepping on each other niches.

DFRPG solves this problem by reducing options down to a manageable level and takes a step further by using character templates. The templates emulate the character classes of Dungeon & Dragons, Fighter, Thief, Cleric, and Magic User. Once you have chosen your template there are customization options. This speeds up character creation, makes sure everyone has a niche to follow, while still providing for character development beyond the character niche as the game progresses. The author of DFRPG did a good job of distilling GURPS down to a good workable set of rules, slightly more complicated than GURPS Lite, but no where near and complex as the full system.

DFRPG does not as of yet have a true setting beyond the dungeon crawl trope. This is not really a problem as I think it lends itself well to sandbox games or even adapting something like Greyhawk or Forgotten Realms. The game really does have an old school feel to it. Personally when I get around to running this next year, I will be using the Castle Defiant sandbox I wrote about several months ago, although if I were going to run a lengthy campaign, I would have to develop and alternate reality Yrth where Clerical magic is a thing and pagan gods roamed the world. Frankly I am not even sure setting is even necessary for this type of game, just start everyone in a tavern and move on from there.

Overall, I am very happy with this product. I will be even happier when I have the box set in my hands. If you are looking for an easy introduction to GURPS or you are an old school gamer looking for something that feels like it was written in 1985 but plays like a modern game, this is the product for you. On the other hand if you are looking for a new GURPS source book with detailed background information or a generic game where you can dump cyborgs into King Arthur’s Court, you are going to be very disappointed.

Summery (Scale of 1-5):
Appearance and Layout: 4
Game Mechanic: 4
Setting: 3
Overall: 3.66666666667

Dungeon Fantasy is coming

Last year Steve Jackson Games ran a Kickstarter to fund the production of Dungeon Fantasy RPG. Dungeon Fantasy is basically old school murder hobo style gaming done in GURPS. I went in as a $250 backer so I basically got everything that did not require me to go to GenCon to get. While the actual printed stuff is still a couple of months off, they did release the PDF version today to those who backed the Kickstarter, although I expect in a couple of weeks they will put the PDF’s up for sale to the general population.

Release the PDF’s a head of the printed product was a good call. This gets the product out there and into the hands of players and GMs. In the next few days, we will likely start seeing reviews popping up and forum discussions on Enworld and RPGnet. With a bit of clever marketing, this could easily be turned into momentum for the game by the time it hits the shelves. The set includes a couple of adventures, so I will likely run this as some filler games this fall. I am kind of excited about this, because it reminds me a lot of the early days of GURPS.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Adventures

As I was considering my Castle Defiant sandbox game, I went looking for published DF adventures. The Pyramid adventures see fairly short, probably good for 1-2 sessions unless the GM expands on them in some way, Mirror of the Fire Demon is longer and is probably good for 3-4 sessions.

Pyramid DF Adventures;

  • 3/38 The Golden Geniza of Ezkali
  • 3/50 The Caverns of Willowdeep
  • 3/56 Caverns of the Chronomancer
  • 3/80 Gog and Magog
  • 3/89 The Titan’s House

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Series

  • Adventure 1: Mirror of the Fire Demon

If I were going to run this campaign, this would be a pretty good start to it. I have a map with some history and background and I have plenty of adventure opportunities without much work. I am sure there are some DF adventures out there by 3rd parties, perhaps I will go digging for some as my next project.

RE: Castle Defiant Sandbox

So I have spent a little bit of time on this, although I doubt I will put much more in as I do not really see this campaign ever coming to fruition. This is the larger 300 mile by 300 mile map showing Balgaren’s Crater to the north.


What I have in my head at the moment, is dividing the map 3 by 3 into 9 sectors. Each sector would have one major adventure location, and probably two to three minor adventure locations. For instance, in the center where Castle Defiant is located, the town itself is an adventure location as is the swamp on the north end of the sector. Obviously in the center-north sector the crater is the major adventure location. I am inclined to place Mirror of the Fire Demon in the left-south sector, changing the town Wadi Al-Sheik to Castle Defiant. The Titan’s House could probably go in the right-north sector, especially if that sector was made more mountainous. Caverns of the Willowdeep could be easily placed in any of the eastern sectors.

There were some concerns in the forums about how magic, specifically healing magic was done in Dungeon Fantasy (DF) as opposed to Banestorm. In the Banestorm setting, there is no divine magic and healing can be done by anyone who knows the spell. In DF, only those with Divine Favor can use healing spells, which is separate from arcane magic. In my view point, this is DF game first and a Banestorm campaign second. So either this is an alternate Banestorm world where pagan beings walk the earth granting divine favor or keep the setting the same, keep DF the same and hand wave the whole thing away with a hillbilly “Thats just how we do it here!”.

Castle Defiant Sandbox

I have written before about the Dungeon Fantasy (DF) boxed set Steve Jackson Games (SJG) has kickstarted. It looks like it will fund very nicely and will be released mid 2017 sometime. The one thing it will lack of course is a setting, their stance on this is all DF games start in a Tavern somewhere. This to me means “Sandbox” game and fortunately SJG has already given us something we can use. In their already published fantasy setting Banestorm, there is a nice isolated area called Castle Defiant.

Castle Defiant makes for a classic sandbox area, the human colony gives the adventurers a place to go to spend their money, the Lord of the castle gives them someone to assign them missions and or a foil, depending on your preferences. To the north is Caustigus’s swamp and Bulgaren’s orc’s beyond that. To the east is the steppes of the Orclands where all manner of foul creatures live. To the west is a dark forest where the elves are battle hardened from centuries of conflict with orcs and lizard men. To the south lays a mana rich area stalked by wizards and demons. In other words, plenty of places for hapless adventures to get into trouble.

The idea is the Caithness civil war is now over and a new age of prosperity is being ushered in under King Connall and Queen Bronwyn, in other words, everyone in Caithness is now pretty bored and eyes turned towards the Orclands for adventure. A small army was sent to retake Castle Defiant from the rogue dwarf Bulgaren, who retreated back across the swamp to the protection of his crater fortress to plan his next steps.

As my first step in this process I have laid out a map of the immediate area, roughly the 50 mile area around the castle, as is standard for hex crawls, each hex is 5 miles. I did the original map in about half an hour cribbing information from Orcslayer and the Orclands entry in Banestorm. I them posted it in the SJG forums and got a few suggestions to add some detail. This is the map that I came up with.


This is a small area even for a sandbox game, I think the suggested area is something like 200 miles by 200 miles and this is about half that size. However, I view this as the center of a much larger map about 300 by 300 miles, giving plenty room for dungeons, towers, caverns, tree fortresses and all manner of other adventuring locations. The next step is to outline the political and social structure of Castle Defiant, name the lord and other significant persons. Perhaps map out the town and name local establishments like the earlier mentioned tavern, where all the adventures start.

Repost: How to be a good RPG player

I am re-posting this because of a forum thread I read recently, where a player was complaining about how bad the game he is playing in is. From his own description of what was happening, it was obvious he was failing at 3, 4 and 5. This is something that needs to be gone over again. I think most of us, including myself, fail at one of these, or occasionally two, but by god, if you are failing at 3 of them, the problems with the game are probably you.

1. Know the rules of the game you are playing. You don’t have to memorize every book, but you should at the very least be able to roll up a character and understand the basic dice mechanics of the game.

2. Know how to make a decent character, know what constitutes a good character. Building a D&D character that averages less than 1 point of damage per turn is a useless character, on the other end of that scale, a Call of Cthulhu character whose primary skill is shooting/punching things, is likewise useless.

3. Know your group. Try to get to know everyone in the group, try to find out what they want out of the game and what their strengths and weaknesses are. If you are not a good fit for the group, politely drop out of the game.

4. Know your GM, know what kind of game he wants to run. Find out what his expectations are, does he like a fast paced shoot em up game, or does he prefer a slow burn plot. Build characters that play to your GM’s strengths, don’t build characters that exploit or highlight the GM’s weaknesses.

5. Be a player that other players like to be around, play characters other characters want to be around. If you find yourself uttering the words “I am just playing my character!”, you have failed this one.

GURPS and Me Part II

I was a pretty early adopter of GURPS. I remember being introduced to it via Man to Man in 1985. We played through most of the combat scenarios and OrcSlayer prior to the full GURPS rules coming out in 1986. I was a GURPS play tester for several years as well. If you look in the first edition of Tredroy, Space and Martial Arts, you will see my name listed, I did a couple of others, but my contributions were too small to be of note. In those first 4 years, I was a very active GURPS player, we did Fantasy, Autoduel, Supers, Horror and Cyberpunk. I think we may have even dipped our toes into Swashbucklers for a few games.

Then came the 1990’s, where I played a grand total of two games, neither lasting more than 6 months. When I assembled the first players of my current group, I was way more interested HackMaster and AD&D 1E than I was in GURPS, although over the last 14 years we have played GURPS a few times, we (or maybe I) gravitated back to our old standby’s. I think the reason for this is GURPS had by this time become overwhelming, even in just a single genre, there are too many options and even a set of experienced players got confused by the sheer weight of it all. It did not help that now I have a full time job and a commute, so writing my own adventures is difficult, so I rely on a steady stream of modules to fill in my campaigns, which GURPS never had enough of.

With the new Dungeon Fantasy boxed set coming out, I admit I am kind of excited. Steve Jackson Games hope is this will reinvigorate their print RPG product line, which has been sidelined by Munchkin for the last several years. This is really a good time, as the market has been expanding for the last couple of years since D&D 5E came out. It is my hope that this will lead to some actual adventures being published, even if they are PDF rather than print, which would make the possibility of my running a long term campaign much more likely. However, even if this happened, we would be talking about a game I will not be running for at least 2 years, so there is plenty of time to see what happens.

GURPS and Me

Steve Jackson Games today launched a new Kickstarter for Dungeon Fantasy.

I have contributed my $50 to the cause. I have written off and on about GURPS since the beginning of this blog. The 30th anniversary of the game is coming up and it is hard to believe that I jumped on that bandwagon so long ago. For a good 4 years, it was my game of choice.


At this point I kind of have a love hate relationship with the game. On the one hand, at its core, it is an extremely flexible system that lets you build any type of character that you want, with a unified and well balanced game mechanic. On the other hand, it is a monstrosity of a game, with way too many options that leave players and GM’s dazed with confusion at times. I am currently using it for my CyberPunk game and in the last several years I have used it for the odd fantasy game as well. Some of these games went well and some of them went very badly.

I think I like the theory of GURPS more than I like the reality of playing GURPS.


We are bad asses plain and simple. Each of us has trained for years in a variety of skills for the purpose of killing other people. All six of us have survived countless black operations, none of us even remember most of the people we have killed in the last few years. Then we met him, he is genetically modified to have a constant flow of adrenaline into his body, he is faster and stronger than an Olympic level athlete. His bones have been replaced with carbon fiber, his sight and hearing have been enhanced beyond the ridiculous and into the impossible. We punched him, we clubbed him, we stabbed him, we set him on fire and we shot him, still he would not go down. In the end, the only thing that saved us was we ran. Next time I see him, I am going to shoot him with a bazooka or ram him with a semi-truck, and I hope it does more than just piss him off.

Handling Backstory NPC’s Properly

My brother in blogging has posted a nice recap of my Friday night GURPS game. The least I can do is point my 3 readers his direction. If you all go there, it will double his monthly traffic.




GURPS Combat Maps

Picture is no longer available

Here is a screenshot of my Roll20.net map I made for next weeks game. The scale makes it a bit difficult make out details, unfortunately Google Maps does not let me zoom to the scale I would like. Anyone who grew up with me in Billings Montana should recognize this spot. This is the apartment building I grew up in. I always thought that building was a fucking fortress and all you had to do was add steel shutters to the doors and windows, this place would be a perfect place to ride out the apocalypse. The setting for my GURPS Cyberpunk game is my home town, this location seemed to be a good place for the PC’s to hole up

Picture is no longer available


Here is a zoom in of the action, we loose focus on the map itself, but gives you a better idea of what is happening.

Cyberpunk GURPS

Whe we are about to play a new game, I like to roll up a character for the game myself before hand just to double check myself and make sure I am not being unreasonable. Last night we Started our GURPS Cyberpunk campaign. This is the character I came up with a couple of weeks ago. As you can see he is pretty much just a wad of skills built on top of a decent set of attributes. No advantages or Perks. I concentrated his skills in Computers and electronics, but his background is that of a special ops agent, so he needs to be able to hold his own in a fight and do some investigative legwork.

Name: Johnny Rico
Race: Human

Attributes [200]

ST 12 [20], DX 14 [80], IQ 14 [80], HT 12 [20]

HP 12, Will 14, Per 14, FP 12

Basic Lift 29
Damage 1d-1/1d+2

Basic Speed 6.5
Basic Move 6
Ground Move 6
Water Move 1

Social Background

TL: 9 [0]

Disadvantages [-50]

Code of Honor (Professional) [-5]
Enemy (US Government) (12 or less) [-20]
Reputation (Blew the Belieze Job) (-1) (All the time; Almost everyone) [-5]
Status (Dregs of Society) (-1) [-5]
Wealth (Poor) [-15]

Skills [50]

Brawling DX/E – DX+0 14 [1]
Computer Hacking/TL9 IQ/VH – IQ-2 12 [2]
Computer Operation/TL9 IQ/E – IQ+1 15 [2]
Computer Programming/TL9 IQ/H – IQ-1 13 [2]
Cryptography/TL9 IQ/H – IQ-1 13 [2]
Driving/TL9 (Automobile) DX/A – DX+0 14 [2]
Electronics Operation/TL9 (Electronic Warfare) IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Electronics Operation/TL9 (Security) IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Electronics Operation/TL9 (Surveillance) IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Electronics Repair/TL9 (Computers) IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Electronics Repair/TL9 (Electronic Warfare) IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Electronics Repair/TL9 (Security) IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Electronics Repair/TL9 (Surveillance) IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Engineer/TL9 (Electronics) IQ/H – IQ-1 13 [2]
Expert Skill (Computer Security) IQ/H – IQ-1 13 [2]
Fast-Talk IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Guns/TL9 (Pistol) DX/E – DX+1 15 [2]
Guns/TL9 (Rifle) DX/E – DX+1 15 [2]
Hobby Skill (SciFi Fandom) IQ/E – IQ+1 15 [2]
Investigator! IQ/WC – IQ-3 11 [3]
Knife DX/E – DX+1 15 [2]
Lockpicking/TL9 IQ/A – IQ+0 14 [2]
Mathematics/TL9 (Applied) IQ/H – IQ-1 13 [2]
Swimming HT/E – HT+1 13 [2]
Urban Survival Per/A – Per+0 14 [2]

Stats [200] Ads [0] Disads [-50] Quirks [0] Skills [50] = Total [200]

Holiday season random thoughts

It is the last day of my vacation, it is also the last of my vacation days for the year, there is really just a couple of short weeks between now and my vacation day reset, so life is good. I have not been posting much lately and that will likely not change anytime soon. So here are some things that have been on my mind.

Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition: We played 4 games of this culminating into my year Christmas game. My original review of it can be found here, and not much has really changed in my opinion. I think it is a respectable game and a decent D&D edition. In actual play, there were some rough spots, but again, I suspect that had more to do with Roll20.net than it did with the actual rules. Overall, I like the game, but the real problem is, I don’t love it.

Star Wars – The Force Awakens: Once again, the movie was not bad, it was a bit of a remake of Star Wars – The New Hope, on the other hand it did not damage the franchise in terms of anything being truly bad. The real problem of course is, it also did not bring anything new to the table. My hope is, this movie is simply laying the ground work for the next movie, which I hope is not just good, but GREAT! What I hope is that people don’t look for reasons to hate the movie and just take it for what it is.

Companions of Xarth Wiki: The CoX wiki is a bit of a mess, it has grown very organically from a few simple webpages. The problem with any knowledge base grown in this manner, is it tends to be an exercise in chaos. There is not much organization, some of the material is outdated, incorrect or flat out useless. One of the things I want to do this next year is scrap the wiki as it exists today and build it back up into a more useful tool. I have transferred about 80% of the information on the wiki to my desktop wiki program, Zim. My plan is to weed out all the useless stuff, update the things that need updating and organize it better.

GURPS Cyberpunk: While I was planning this campaign, I came across an old article I had read many years ago in the Roleplayer, a now defunct newsletter published by Steve Jackson Games. The article entitled Prime Time Roleplaying laid out a format for producing game sessions to mimic TV series. This seemed like a really good way to run the game I am planning to run. I said from the beginning, this would mimic Burn Notice in many ways. My idea is, each episode will be roughly 3 games, each game being a single act within the episode. From the article;

Act I introduces the villain’s crime fully, and gets the PCs involved. It climaxes in a minor confrontation with the villain or his henchmen when one of the PCs gets too close. This confrontation, which will often take an impersonal form – a bomb in an apartment, a car chase, a sniper – should put the PCs on the right trail.

Act II centers on the PCs’ investigations, as they put together the pieces of the puzzle that lead to the villain. By the climax of the second act, the investigators should be fairly confident of whodunnit; the tension in this act comes from the need to catch the villain before he gets away or strikes again.

Act III brings the PCs into direct confrontation with the villain, climaxing in – we hope – the miscreant’s downfall. Following Act III is the epilogue, which wraps up loose subplots and clears the stage for next week’s episode.

This was a good article, when it was published in 1988, it has withstood the test of time, and yes, I still have my original copy.

D&D, GURPS and beyond

This Friday night will mark the end of our D&D 5E stint, once we are past that, I will write down some thoughts on the subject. We will then take a couple of weeks off, since Christmas and New Years both fall on Friday this year. Come January 8th, we will begin our GURPS Cyberpunk campaign, which I have described as Burn Notice meets Billings Montana in the year 2063.

I was first introduced to GURPS back in 1985 when Steve Jackson Games released Man to Man, sort of a stripped down version of GURPS 1st Edition, in much the same vein as GURPS Lite. In the late 80’s, GURPS became my game of choice, although really, we played D&D way more than we played GURPS. Regardless, I remember playing some really fantastic games of GURPS, especially in the Horror genre. Of course anyone who has followed my group in the last several years, knows we have played GURPS perhaps a dozen times or so with some interesting results.

In preparation for this game, I am in the process of re-reading my three favorite cyberpunk novels, Ready Player One, Jennifer Government and Neuromancer. As a bonus I just discovered that Shockwave Rider by John Brunner is available on Kindle Unlimited, this is probably THE proto-cyberpunk book, it was cyberpunk almost a decade before cyberpunk became its own sub-genre. So anyone looking for a reading list, there you go.


Attributes: Roll vs Point Buy

There has been a debate about the best method for generating attributes since the earliest versions Dungeons and Dragons. There are two camps of thought here Roll Randomly and Point Buy, also grouped Point buy, standard array. Those who like to roll the dice and play what they get claim this makes for a more diverse group of characters who have individual strengths and weakness. The Point Buy camp will tell you, Point Buy allows players to get the character they want to play and levels the playing field so no one ends up playing a sidekick character.

My problem with rolling stats is no one REALLY wants to roll 3d6 in order and play what they get. Sure we claim that is what we do, but frankly I have seen too many fighters with an 18 strength to believe that is what is actually happening. The earliest house rules I remember were ways to generate better characters; Roll 4d6, take the best 3. Roll up 6 characters and choose the one you want. Roll each stat 3 times and take the best roll.

My problem with Point Buy is characters start looking a awful lot alike. Once you figure out the best build for any given niche, players will tend to follow that template. If you look on the GURPS forums or the D&D 5E forums, you will see much the same conversations around optimizing character builds. I have seen arguments unfold around people who would refuse to play in the same game as a person who decided to play a two weapon fighter instead of a great weapon fighter because the great weapon fighter would average 1 more point of damage per hit over 20 levels of play.

I think personally, I am coming down on the side of Point Buy. I think most game groups who are still rolling, if they examine what they do, will realize they are not rolling randomly. It just seems to me that Point Buy takes the pretending out of the process and lets everyone build the type of character they want and I will just have to trust to the players that they will make new and interesting PC’s instead of retreading old character concepts.

Computer Hacking in RPGs Part II

In the last installment of this series I discussed the possibility of working up an easy to use system for determining if the PC Hacker has successfully hacked any given system. I identified 5 things that could potentially affect the hack. The draft of my idea is simple, the hacker has to roll a 7 or less to determine if he has some level of access to the system in question. The the target roll can be modified by the following factors:

-3 to roll Wealth – Dead broke
-2 to roll Wealth – Poor
-1 to roll Wealth – Struggling
No modifier Wealth – Average
+1 to roll Wealth – Comfortable
+2 to roll Wealth – Wealthy
+3 to roll Wealth – Very wealthy and above
+1 to roll for each 6 levels of Research skill
+1 to roll for each 6 levels of Fast Talk
+1 to roll for each 6 levels of Computer Programming
+1 to roll if the characters has Hacker Allies and makes the frequency of appearance roll
-1 to roll if the characters has Hacker Enemies and makes the frequency of appearance roll
+1/-1 to roll for each level of good or bad reputation and makes the frequency of appearance roll

Example: The team Hacker “Tappen” has been working on penetrating Evil Corps mainframes for the last 3 months. Tappen makes a pretty good living at hacking and gets a +1 for his comfortable wealth, he has no Reasearch skill, but he does have Fast Talk at 12 and Computer Programming as 14, this gives him another +4. Tappen belongs to the RedMoon hacking group and he makes his frequency of appearance roll for them and gets another +1. Unfortunately Tappen has a bad reputation among hackers as being an asshole, he has recently pissed off some other RedMoon members, because he fails his bad reputation frequency of appearance roll and gets a -1 to his roll. His total modifiers to his target roll are +5, so he must roll a 12 or less on 3d6 to determine if he has access to the system. A critical success roll of 3 or 4 would give Tappen root access to the system, a critical failure of 17 or 18 would mean the target has discovered his hacking and reported him to the authorities.

Next, is this too boring?

Computer Hacking in RPGs Part I

Something that has been bothering me lately is how computer hacking is represented in role playing games such as ShadowRun and GURPS Cyberpunk. Most RPGs handle this in the same way they handle combat, which means the mainframe has a defense rating, the hacker has an attack rating and you roll a few dice to see who wins. The reality of hacking is it takes days, weeks or months to compromise a system. It also requires more than just a “Hacking Skill” to do, often there is a people component required as well as investigative skills like dumpster diving and research on hardware, software, organizations and the people who make up that organization.

Of course from the meta game stand point this is pretty boring stuff. So there needs to be some sort of off screen activity that can be expressed as an in game resource. So when the team leader says “I need access to Evil Corps mainframes, can you do it?”, instead of the Hacker guy saying, “They have the most sophisticated security in the world, impossible to hack……give me 20 minutes!”, he will say “Yeah, I have been working on penetrating their ICE for the last three months, while I don’t have root access, I do have a regular user account I might be able leverage”.

Things needed to do a hacking job:

  • Money: Hackers need hardware, in theory you can hack with a $400 laptop sitting in a coffee shop, but the reality is, more is better. A professional hacker is going to have multiple machines working  on several projects and may even have a multi node cluster for cracking passwords or other encrypted data. Pro hackers will also need a lot of expensive software and is going to be familiar with all the major operating systems and is going to have systems running those OSs for testing and development purposes. They will also have copies of most major software packages used for providing services on the internet. Most pro hackers will also have multiple internet feeds both wireless broadband and more traditional cable based access.
  • Investigative skills: Hacker live and die by information, and every good hack starts with collecting information on your target. Before the hacker ever makes his first attempts as penetration, he is going to collect IP addresses, names of employee and their email addresses, what types of hardware and software they are using and generally looking for the weak link.
  • Social Engineering skills: The best source of insider information is the employees of the hackers target. Once you have a few names, it takes actual social skills to insert yourself into their lives. It is generally much easier to compromise a personal system at home than it is to compromise a corporate asset. Once he has good information on several employees, the hacker than uses that information to talk his way deeper into the target.
  • Allies: Hacker trade information, you need an account on a particular server, you may not need to spend 3 months getting in, someone you know may have already done the hard work for you and better yet, they may already owe you a favor.
  • Reputation: If the hacker has already made a name for himself, he can trade on that name to get lower level hackers to do what they want. N00bs are always looking for a score, pro hackers will use them to test new exploits or go to a place where the pro hacker is already known. Favors to n00bs can be paid off with access to servers the pro no longer needs.

Now how to convert this to an easy to use game mechanic?

Emergent Playing (whatever the hell that is)

Over on RPG.net I read probably the most interesting thread on RPG’s that I have seen in awhile.

Cyberpunk Gaming, Bleeding Edge, Emergent Gameplay and Eric Brennan

The discussion seemed to be around the difficulty of playing this genre that is more or less faithful to the literature that spawned the role playing games. The complaints seemed to center around the fact that most games tend to devolve into firefights and gear upgrades and miss the central themes of the genre. Some very good points and counter points were made and over all, I think it was or is an excellent discussion of the topic. As usual, I am going to give my opinion on the topic, good or bad.

First, I agree, most cyberpunk games are shadows of their literary roots. However, i think this true of all RPG’s, very few games being played are epic adventures on the level of Lord of the Rings. Most all RPG’s tend to center around “Kill the monsters and steal their stuff!” or Murder Hobos if you will. Even games that claim to transcend this, really don’t. Vampire: The Masquerade for instance, is suppose to be an about lost humanity and addiction, but most of the games I have played, observed or heard about, have been little more than “Plot against the city prince, to kill him, drink his blood and become more powerful!”, that is still pretty much “Kill the monsters and steal their stuff!”. The same thing can be said for Nobilis and Blue Rose.

Second, I am not sure this is a bad thing. Honestly I see nothing wrong with this style of play. Playing D&D or whatever is not really about creating stories about epic heroes. What this is really about is friends getting together and blowing off steam. It is not terribly different from watching football on Sunday afternoon and nobody attributes a higher purpose to that. In the real world I have to mow the lawn, pay the rent and be civilized, even when I don’t feel like it. In these fantasy worlds, I don’t have to do any of that and why would I want too? This is why court intrigue games like those mentioned earlier, tend to fail, they are boring.

I think a successful cyberpunk game really needs to focus on a couple of tropes. The Cyber part of cyberpunk, refers to the relationship between man and technology. This can be done in several ways; At what point does a cyborg become a machine? or Will Artificial Intelligence be our greatest friend or our greatest enemy? are examples of this. The Punk part refers to the fight humanity has waged for 10,000 years, the fight to drags ourselves out of the mud and be something better or greater. It is about the fight against those who are more powerful than us, those who use us and then cast us aside after we have served our purpose whether it be Big Business, Big Government or Big Crime. In this genre, those three entities are heavily entwined, are hard to tell apart and are often the same thing. I think as long as the game focus around these aspects of the genre, does it really matter what the body count is?

We don’t talk about Belize

Chad and I have been discussing the upcoming GURPS Cyberpunk game and he came up with the interesting idea of placing the game in Billings Montana. This is an interesting idea for a couple of reasons, first everyone in the group except David has lived there and is familiar with the setting, second people forget that Billings is a pretty seedy town.

My plan is to place the game in the 2060’s, this would put most of us around 100 years old, with the life extending technology of your average Cyberpunk game, it is a good bet we would still be alive and so would many of the people we know. I am not planning on putting US into the game, but what it does is gives me source material for a lot of NPC’s.

As a town, Billings has two sides. On the outside it is a clean city in a very scenic river valley. When you are down in the valley, the sunset on rimrocks can be breath taking and the view from up on the rimrocks at night is beautiful. There are a lot of nice parks and the gentrified downtown area has a lot of quaint stores. On the other side, the town is a breeding ground for drug traffic and prostitution, there are parts of town that walking around at night will get you hurt. There are bars in town where knife fights are a nightly event. There is plenty of sleaze in Billings, add to that another 50 years of economic downturns and batshit crazy libertarian politics and you have the perfect Cyberpunk setting.

My current working campaign plan is the characters are a group of black ops agents who were involved in a botched mission in central america. The the screw ups were not their fault, this is the only thing that saved their lives, but they are punished none the less being exiled to Billings. After their “Debriefing”, they were driven to Billings and unceremoniously pushed out the back of a van, and told if they stepped one foot outside of town until told to do so, no one would ever find their bodies. The plot of the campaign is the group trying to make a living with the skills they have and maybe looking for a little redemption, but the one thing they don’t do, is talk about Belize.

GURPS Crash Pack


man2manA couple of days ago someone tweeted a picture of their RolePlayer newsletter collection from the early days of GURPS. I commented that I had a complete collection of all thirty issues laying around here somewhere. While I was looking I came across my old copies of Man To Man, Orcslayer and Harkwood. Man to Man, was the proto-GURPS, it was a stripped down version of the 1st edition rules, very basic character generation and combat. Sort of a GURPS Lite of its time. Close on the heels of Man to Man, Steve Jackson Games (SJG) published Orcslayer, which was mostly a series of combat encounters loosely connected by a story line about a group of young squires rescuing people kidnapped by orcs. Much later, after the full GURPS rules were released, SJG released Harkwood a sequel of sorts to Orcslayer. I ran this this mini campaign back in 2011 (WOW, was it really that long ago?), updating it to GURPS 4th Edition. The adventures hold up fairly well and the games were fun and as i said at the time, reminded me why GURPS was my game of choice for several years. This also largely why I am torn between running Dungeons & Dragons 5E and GURPS after we finish our current campaign late this year or early next.

Odd and ends about role playing games

Starting with Dungeons & Dragons 5E: There are two things I really like about this system. First is the “Bounded Accuracy” design philosophy. The idea behind this philosophy is first the maximum attribute level of a player character is 20, giving him a +5 modifier. Second, the maximum Proficiency Bonus a character can receive is +6. This means the most bonus any character can get without the help of magic or technology is +11. WotC took this a step further and capped magic item bonus’s at +3 for artifact level magic items. In game terms this means there is a soft limit of +11 and a hard limit of around +15. This is a far cry from 3E/4E, where +20 bonus’s were not terribly hard to come by. This makes for a flatter growth curve over a longer period of time.

The second thing I like is WotC replaced situation modifiers with the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic. The heart of this mechanic is, if you have the advantage, when you roll, instead of rolling 1d20, you roll 2d20 and take the better roll, if you are at the disadvantage, you roll 2d20 taking the worst result and Advantage/Disadvantage do not stack, so no matter how many advantages you have, you still only get one roll with 2d20. This simplifies things like a thief trying to pick an expensive lock made by a master or taking cover when NPC’s are firing at you with missile weapons.

These two ideas, I think, simplify the game and helps remove the “Kewl Powerz” factor from the game, which I see as a good thing in terms of play-ability and fun.

Moving along to the “MVP” award: For the last 12 years I have used a system of giving experience points that is divorced from what actually occurs in game. I pretty much give out a set amount of points based on level and how long I want it to take for characters to level again. In order to encourage good play I have two ways to get bonus experience points, the Most Valued Player award, voted on by the players and the GM award, both will get the receiving character a 25% bonus, so character that gets both can receive a 50% bonus for that game. The idea behind this system is everyone pretty much goes up in level at the same rate, however, consistently good players will level faster. It also encourages players to cooperate, minimize conflict and having fun.

The reason this comes up, is I was thinking about revising the system recently. I was thinking about eliminating one or the other, while increasing the bonus of the one remaining. I was thinking about a conversation I have with a player who is now long gone out of the game. He argued against the MVP award. He felt it was just a popularity contest and the same couple of people always seemed to get the award. I thought about it for a while, but the player left the game and no one else was complaining about it, so I dropped it. in the next year or two we are going to be switching games from HackMaster to something else, like D&D 5E or GURPS and so I am looking at other changes that need to be made in how the game is run.

Oddly, I have been keeping track of the amount of experience points I give out and who gets these MVP and GM awards, I have several years worth of data. When I consolidated this I found out two things. First, the MVP award has been given out fairly evenly over the years. Yes, some people tend to get it more often than others, but when you look at it statistically, no one is outside of a standard deviation. The second thing I found out, is the GM award, the award I give out has not followed that pattern. I in fact favor specific people when giving the award, if anything, the MVP award is the fairer of the two awards. I think if I were going to eliminate one or the other, I would eliminate the GM award, not the MVP award.

Finally, where we have been, there and back again: It is no secret that I have a nostalgic love for old role playing games. Fairly regularly I rummage through my collection and re-read things. Last time it was Tunnels & Trolls and Monsters! Monsters!. This time it has been The Fantasy Trip, as with T&T, we played this one a little bit, mostly in the form of Wizards and Melee two small combat games which TFT was built upon. However, beyond that we did not do much with it, even though looking back it really had a lot of the characteristics we were looking for in an RPG at the time. TFT was written by Steve Jackson, who later wrote GURPS, again looking at the game, it is easy to see how TFT was a beta for GURPS. I think next weekend I will play through one of the solitaire adventures I have for this game, specifically Master of the Amulets. I do not expect to be WOW’ed by it, but who knows, hopes are high, expectations are low.

Long term thoughts on my game group

I just wrapped up a series of solo games with the players in my HackMaster game. The idea was to give each player a chance to do something outside the group dynamic and possibly develop their character in some significant way. This was actually fun and running one player through a 3 hour adventure is actually much easier than a group of 5. I wonder why the 1GM-1Player format is not more popular.

This campaign seems to be developing into a hot house of experimentation. One of the other things I am doing differently here is I started the campaign with very little setting detail. I took some basic stuff from the Points of Light setting and started creating an independent island with that setting. The island itself is one big hex crawl and sand boxed environment. I am letting the characters explore their environment and only revealing the pieces of it that they need to know. I am also planning this campaign out to last approximately 3 years. I usually plan things in 1 year cycles, which is great, but is in and of itself somewhat limiting. My intent here is to grow a set of characters from 1st level to something close to 20th level. I believe a 3 year campaign would be sufficient for that. The first year should see them reach 8th-10th level, the second year 13th-15th level and the third year 18th-20th level. The party Thief should lead in levels and the party Magic User will likely trail behind. The campaign is following the three act structure, with each act being roughly 1 year of games. We are currently in Act I where we are introducing the characters and the antagonists, exploring their backgrounds and setting up the over arcing story line. The second act will develop the over all story and escalate the conflict. The third act will move to the final confrontation and the ultimate resolution of the storyline.

I am doing this mega campaign for a couple of reasons. First, as a group we have never gotten characters into what we consider the high levels. We have always historically moved on when characters reached the 10th level range. I think most of this has to do with me not wanting to deal with characters who can take down armies before lunch. The second reason is I think this is going to be the last HackMaster campaign we play. When this is done we will have had an epic 15 year run and I for one would like to move on to a more flexible game system something we can use to develop characters beyond the murder hobo stereotype. I would also like to change genre’s, I owe my group a Cyberpunk game, but I would also like to explore the Horror and Sci-Fi genres as well. Of course the top of my list is GURPS, but two and a half years is a long time and something else might come along that works better for us. GURPS is a well supported system that changes very little between editions and is easy to start “Light” and move to a more complex game without forcing everyone to buy 3 expensive books all at once before they can play effectively. Steve Jackson Games is really great about releasing product in PDF format, which more and more, is my preferred method of collecting game content.

How to be a good RPG player

1. Know the rules of the game you are playing. You don’t have to memorize every book, but you should at the very least be able to roll up a character and understand the basic dice mechanics of the game.

2. Know how to make a decent character, know what constitutes a good character. Building a D&D character that averages less than 1 point of damage per turn is a useless character, on the other end of that scale, a Call of Cthulhu character whose primary skill is shooting/punching things, is likewise useless.

3. Know your group. Try to get to know everyone in the group, try to find out what they want out of the game and what their strengths and weaknesses are. If you are not a good fit for the group, politely drop out of the game.

4. Know your GM, know what kind of game he wants to run. Find out what his expectations are, does he like a fast paced shoot em up game, or does he prefer a slow burn plot. Build characters that play to your GM’s strengths, don’t build characters that exploit or highlight the GM’s weaknesses.

5. Be a player that other players like to be around, play characters other characters want to be around. If you find yourself uttering the words “I am just playing my character!”, you have failed this one.