Friday, December 19, 2014

Starter Adventures is out

Starting Adventures by Tim Shorts is out. You can find it here:



Tim was nice enough to send me a preview back when I was looking for material to use to teach a new player to game. The player ended up choosing GURPS Lite over Basic Fantasy. But I read all of Starting Adventures and I was impressed with what's in it.

Based on the preview I've received, I'm pleased to see the final version is out.

If you:

- need a starting adventure to play right now, with minimal (maybe no) prep for a solo PC just learning the game

or

- need a solo adventure for a starting character of any class for a DnD or a retro-clone

or

- want to ease someone into gaming without starting a long, drawn-out adventure

then this is a book you can use. So many of the adventures are short enough you could generate a character and then play for an hour or so and give someone their first taste of gaming. They're very short, but also very open to the actions of the players. There isn't a lot of script here, just opportunities and obstacles. They're mapped (by Robert Conley), fully detailed, and ready to go.

I haven't seen the final copy yet (and I'm too busy to read it right now if I had it), but my impression of the preview was extremely positive. I keep a copy on hand, just in case I need it as speaking practice with a student or to use to teach a new gamer. It's like having a ready-to-go adventure for any one PC of any type in your pocket.

I think it's worth checking out if you need anything remotely like that.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Melee Academy: Unarmed vs. Knife

The is (was?) a whole thread about this over on the SJG Forums. I saw the title, and emailed Doug and said, "That's our next Melee Academy." But I haven't read the thread itself. I wanted to basically put forward the tactics I've seen work in play when forced to fight unarmed versus a foe with a close combat-capable weapon and the intent to use it.

Unfortunately for this post, I also got a sudden, huge, last-minute influx of good paying work, which killed the free time I'd budgeted for a page reference and turn-by-turn tactical description. But this still might help, so I'm posting what I have.


These assume Basic Set and Martial Arts rules. If you use Technical Grappling, some of these options will work very, very differently. Lucky for you, Doug has you covered over at Gaming Ballistic.

The basic tactic for unarmed vs. knife is pretty much:

- Don't get hit.
- Defend if you do get hit.
- Grapple the weapon arm. Per B371, this makes it impossible to strike with the weapon in it.
- Arm Lock (if you can) or strike (if you can't). Don't let go of the arm.

Don't Get Hit

Goal number one, avoid getting hit in the first place. There isn't a lot you can do to ensure this, but if your skill is better you can try this one:

Defensive Feints

If your skill is much, much better (think, 10+ skill points) than your opponent, consider this option. Use Defensive Feint to lower the chances of being hit. Hopefully, this forces your opponent into a normal, non-Deceptive Attack, or possibly even a Telegraphic Attack. Then you can use your effectively improved defenses.

Otherwise, All-Out Defense is your friend while you just pray the guy rolls an 18 on his attack.

Defend

All-Out Defense is probably the best option to start with. The unarmed fighter will want to All-Out Defend (Increased Defenses) for a +2 to Parry if intending to use the Parry to set up an Arm Lock. +2 to Dodge is also good if you have a superior Dodge and intend to set up your own grapple later. Double defenses (use Dodge first) is also a good option.

Retreat is tough, because you want to avoid getting hit but you don't want to stray any further from the foe than you can. A weapon gives him a reach advantage (in Tactical Combat) so you will want to stay close so you can attack when your turn comes around.

Eventually, though, you'll need to stop using AOD and start attacking.

Grapple the Arm

There is a -2 penalty to eat up when you grapple the arm, but you need to - just like in real life, in game, you'll want to immobilize the weapon.

Feint, then Attack

If you think you've got superior skill to your opponent, use Feint to lower his defenses. Use Beat if you think your ST+skill and you successfully used Parry to defend against his weapon.

In any case, when you attack, use Deceptive Attack aggressively. As in, drop your skill all the way down to 10. You can afford to miss but can't afford to be parried since that will result in a free chance to cut you. Once you've got it, look at Arm Lock or using strikes (I like Knee Strike here) to disable your opponent or remove the weapon. You no longer need to worry about being weapon parried, because you've got the arm.



Ultimately, though, none of these are optimal - it's a case of "X-1 vs. X" and, surprise surprise, you're better off being the X not the X-1 in that equation.

That's the basic cycle I use. Avoid getting hit, Feint is you think you have the skill edge, use Deceptive Attack aggressively to ensure you only hit when you've stomped his defenses down, and hold to the arm and do violent things to your opponent.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Black Tree Design Orcs WIP: Part II

Here are the orcs from yesterday, next step closer to finished:

 photo Orcshamans003s_zpsd3e73c89.jpg

 photo OrcShamans004s_zps44d2028f.jpg

Left: Orc Shaman
Right: Orc Barbarian Shaman

Love that fish.

The shine off the minis is the glossy cote that Quickshade gives it. But it's a very good all-in-one sealer and dark wash, and it really filled in the many little crevices on these guys that called for a blackwash or brownwash to give them shading and depth.

All they need now is to sit another day or two just to make sure they're completely dry. Then I'll re-dot the eyes and put on a few tiny highlights. Then, finishing the base (color it black, possibly flock it.) After that, matte spray. The spray will need to wait for better weather - it's either been too cold, or too humid on the days that it is warm enough.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Black Tree Design Orcs

Also on sale around the end of last month were some Black Tree Design minis. I got a couple of orcs:

 photo OrcShamans001s_zps35981140.jpg

 photo OrcShamans002s_zpsb46b8194.jpg

Left: Orc Shaman
Right: Barbarian Orc Shaman


Those guys are fully base-coated, and if I (somehow) have time tonight I'll brush them with Army Painter Quickshade. I half-painted them in one session (primed, then painted the flesh) and then finished the whole job yesterday while I was doing some listening (painting helps me concentrate on what I hear, I find.) Very quick paint jobs, using the painted examples on the BTD website to give me some ideas (or all of my ideas, for the first guy.) I really like the quality of these figures.

Overall, I'm quite impressed with them. They have just enough detail to get better as you paint them, but not so much detail I had to fiddle with the mini and blackline and shade and choose colors to get all the details right. The have a low, squat, but not too-short stance, which bodes well for packed orc vs. PC fights. For some reason, I didn't notice this orc shaman, but I guess I have plenty. I wanted a couple more basically because my players see the same 2-3 orc shaman figures I have regularly, and have to ask "Same guy as last fight? Or just the same mini but it looks like a different orc?" I'd rather have a little variety.

Originally they came on square 20mmm bases but as usual I based them using my "cup base" style and put their slot-tab bases into inverted 25mm round bases. Once they've been Quickshaded, I'll do the bases. I find that works best because I don't worry about the Quickshade gumming up the bases, and if I miss when shading or painting or gluing I have a tiny window to fix it because the hard shell of Quickshade keeps the material from scarring the paint underneath on the actual figure.


Actually, I also got some other figures I'll debut at another time. I had a (positive but time consuming) change in my non-gaming life which probably means I'll be painting a little less. So I'm hoping to get a few more done ASAP so they can be used on the table.

Monday, December 15, 2014

GURPS 101: Using Meta-Traits

Here are some thoughts on meta-traits, for those relatively new to GURPS and wondering how to use them effectively. Some of the advice might help more experienced GMs as well, if only by reminding them of the reasons meta-traits make life easier overall.

Meta-Traits (p. B262) are package traits. They collect a set of advantages and disadvantages into a short name you can apply to creatures and characters. This post assumes you've read the description and examples on p. B262-3.

Why use them?

There are a few reasons I like to use meta-traits.

- They ensure everything of a like kind gets all of the same effects. If every demon in your world is Immune to Metabolic Hazards and has Doesn't Breathe and has Dread (Holy Objects), it's just easier to put them in a meta-trait called Demon and stick that on every demon than to remember to put each of those on each demon you generate.

- It vastly speeds up monster generation if you don't have to comb through all of the advantages and disadvantages to find what you need each time. You never get caught out thinking, "why doesn't this wild animal have Bestial?" because you just bolted on the Wild Animal Trait which includes it.

- It makes modifying creatures a much simpler task. The idea is to speed up and simplify the process of making and playing a creature.

For these reasons, I use meta-traits aggressively in my creature descriptions for my games.

What are the downsides?

Nothing is free of downsides.

- You have to know the package. If you're wondering if skeletons have Immunity to Mind Control because you didn't check if it's in the Mindless Undead meta-trait, you'll know what I mean. Any meta-traits you use, you need to keep track of. Know them before you use them. Know that Body of Fire means "know the stuff on B262 is on there."

- They come with everything on the meta-trait. Obvious, I know, but the point is that by choosing the meta-trait you're accepting all the items on the list pending subtractions. The bigger the trait is, the less broadly it is able to be used.


Some pro tips:

- Make it the minimum overlapping set. It's easier to add more traits (and more meta-traits) than to keep track of subtractions. If the creatures with the exceptions are truly rare, or the subtractions are single traits with no spillover into other traits (for example, SM modifying cost), it'll be okay. But it's generally easier to add more traits or a new meta-trait than to say "This without that." The moment you end up with, say, Dwarf (Remove Greedy, Add Miserliness and Callous, Remove Lifting ST) you end up with so many changes to track it would be easier to just list the parts that are there.

- Don't be afraid to use multiple meta-traits. A demon-dog might have Wild Animal and Demon. An air elemental-like mindless slave might have Automaton and Body of Air. And so on.

- Stay on topic. If you mix too much into a meta-trait, it becomes less broadly useful. "Rubber-Bodied Alien" is not as good as "Alien" and "Body of Rubber" because you can't use the former easily for non-aliens or non-rubber bodied types, but the latter are useful on their own.

- Make the meta-traits as simple as possible - don't include a lot of if:then or "raise X by Y" in them. The DF prefixes do this, it's true, but they also require a little more work to use. Once you start including variable modifications, expect the work load for using the meta-trait to go up.

- Use meta-traits to drive campaign themes. If all of your demons are unable to harm the truly innocent (directly), or all of your golems can only be disabled by removing their scroll, or all of your bug-eyed aliens have Lecherousness (after all, Mars needs women), put that kind of stuff in a meta-trait and use it widely. This will ensure players begin to see the patterns in creatures, and understand what drives them or harms them. It helps to establish a shared experience because of the commonalities between creatures.

Compare that to making up each demon, golem, or BEA separately. If each is basically different, with no common trait beyond a name with no shared game effect, then it's just a name. There isn't a predictive knowledge to be gained, just a pool of possible effects ("Demons can't harm the truly innocent. Well, some of them.")

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Technically Correct - the best worst kind of correct

In other words, exactly the opposite of what the Central Bureaucracy on Futurama says.

The way I see it, Technical Correctness doesn't have a lot of place at the game table. It's got a lot of place in a playtest, or when otherwise testing rules to see if they do what you put in the place intending to do. But once the dice hit the table for chargen or game, I figure that's over. From there, any broken rules you find or rules exploits you notice are only worth reporting so they can be fixed, not used for anything else. Game writing is technical writing, of course, and if technical errors occur, the goal is to fix the errors . . . not exploit them in game or online to pronounce victory over the rules.

There is sometimes an assumption that RPG rules are to settle arguments over who can do what . . . but I don't think that's what they are for. They're to set boundaries on your choices and link effects to them so you can interact with the imaginary, shared experience of the game table. I've written about this before, having written "GM toolbox" rules you could read broadly and use to justify almost anything.

Ultimately, the point of the rules are to facilitate an enjoyable game amongst friends. Anytime the a reading of the rules goes against that, the rules must give way. Aiming to be T.C. is the reverse of that. T.C., in my eyes, is:

- about winning. As if there were winners in a coop RPG.

- rule-lawyering. This is especially bad when people take a rule and argue with the GM and/or other players about the results of the rule. The rules aren't there as weapons for the players against the GM, nor are they weapons for the GM against the players.*

- munchkinism. Totally in-place in Munchkin. Totally out of place in the games that inspired Munchkin.

- Murphy's Rules generation. "Hey, it says here "For groups 1-10, and then "a dozen or more." A group of 11 is immune!" Funny stuff. Send it in to Pyramid, but don't play it that way at the table.

But basically, the time I want rules utterly hammered on is when they are being stress-tested. Once we play, though, Rule Zero trumps everything - the GM's word is law. But at even a lower level than that, there a basic understanding around my table that RPGs are about an enjoyable shared experience. If it's not fun, you can't even get to Rule Zero, and if it's the rules doing that, the rules must change.

It's funny, because I started writing this post days and days ago, but kept pushing it off until I had time to write more. But then a whole argument about the specific wording of one my posts on the SJG Forums exploded, and I figured there was no way to post this with it being seen as some passive-aggressive post about that. It is and isn't about that argument, of course. It's really a whole issue in general. I almost sat on this until I read Doug's post today.

My tabletop is blessed with players who can rules lawyer with the best of them, but do so only to see what's actually allowed and generally come to me to report what they see as exploits before they use them. Being Technically Correct, but not in the spirit of the rules or the spirit of the game (which is to have fun with friends), is a bad thing around my table.

What's odd to me is that it's possible people can take exception to this, too, arguing that Rules Lawyering is part of the fun. And it may be, for some - but I think it's so only if everyone at the table agrees that rules exploits and rules lawyering and rule-book quoting to maximal effect is part of the game. If so, great. But a good part of my intent here is to say, that's not my table, and generally, I write and act as if people play at my table. I think the aim of being exactly, literal-reading correct about rules (or doing things you can make the rules say is correct) is ultimately less fun than putting fun ahead of the rules. I've seen games disintegrate over rules arguments, but I have yet to see a game disintegrate over too much fun.



* Yes, even in Paranoia. There, the power of the GM and the setting is a weapon against the PCs, and the rules are just a way to express that. You don't have to rules-lawyer against the PCs in Paranoia to make that game work, the setting and situations do that without any further help.

PS - For another look at how I think rules should be made, and enforced, check out The Rule of Awesome.

The Known Entrances of Felltower

Hey buddy, how do you get into that place, anyway?

Much like my Monsters Encountered So Far post, I thought I'd do a roundup of entrances the PCs have heard of or confirmed the existence of for Felltower.

So here they are, as of 12/14/2014:

Bugbear Tunnels - a narrow entrance requiring crawling, from the surface ruins on top of Felltower. Current status: Unknown, known to the orcs, believed guarded or trapped.

Dragon Cave Mouth - a mouth-shaped cave on the west side of the mountain, leads to the cavern warren roughly 100' or so below the first level of tunnels. Originally guarded by a fierce dragon. Current Status: Occasionally used by orcs, otherwise unguarded.

Felltower Entrance photo felltowerfortifiedentrancesmall.jpg

Main Entrance - fortified main entrance under the castle (pictured above). Current status: Guarded by orcs.

Orc Entrance - unknown location, but it's known the orcs enter the tunnels under Felltower via a tunnel, possibly from a cave-riddled cavern to the north.

Underwater Entrance - an underground inlet to the Silver River believed to reach deep into Felltower.

Tower Entrance - there is a "hatchway" entrance under the collapsed ruined tower knocked down by the PCs. Current Status: Often locked from within, guarded by orcs, and inside the restored fortress of Castle Felltower.

Well Entrance - a secret entrance at the bottom of a dry well. Current Status: Inside the orc-guarded restored fortress of Castle Felltower, possibly blocked up.


There are rumors of other ways in, too, but they may have been identified already:

- the well. (almost certainly ID'ed.)

- the second surface entrance in the castle. (Probably the tower "hatch" or the bugbear tunnels.)

- possible entrances from other dungeons or caves far, far from Felltower. (In other words, find another dungeon, clear the sucker, and then march underground a long way, not even remotely identified.)



But so far, that's it. In case you are wondering why the PCs keep hitting the same well-traveled areas, you might understand a bit better. Many entrances are orc-guarded, and it's unclear how to effectively utilize the more difficult ones (the underwater entrance, say.)



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