Rules I Don’t Use, Replace, or Revise

I used to play a heavily house ruled GURPS variant for a long time (alternate attributes, different skill progression scheme, 3-second combat turns with completely different combat mechanics, etc), but a bunch of years ago I decided to return to the roots and get some experience in running vanilla GURPS. After some games, something clicked for me, and I didn’t see a point in all of those house rules anymore – I’ve been running GURPS with very few house rules since then. I don’t think any I use are made out of whole cloth, it’s just simplifications or slight tweaks to published rules. I don’t feel “full” house rules are needed at all, since GURPS offers so many dials you can turn to get the experience you like.

There’s a whole bunch of published rules I don’t use though – but most of them are optional anyway. It would take forever to enumerate all of them because most are just small things, so I’ll just talk about a few notable ones.

The Hit Point System

I only use hit points in pickup games and other games which are intended for a “public” audience. For what I call my “private” games, I use the Conditional Injury rules from Pyramid #3/120. Actually, I’ve used a similar system in the aforementioned heavily modified GURPS variant I used to run. But Conditional Injury is much more elegant. I use such systems because I was never a fan of a death by a thousand rat bites, and sometimes they’re more survivable and feel more “heroic” than the default HP rules, both of which are a plus in my book.

I’ve developed a way to make using Conditional Injury quicker with rapid fire attacks, and I apply one other slight tweak to it: instead of using the Robustness Threshold and Wound Potential tables as published, I just use a straight SSRT progression. Most of my house rules are like that – if possible, try to find an already existing element of GURPS and apply it.

Grappling

I’ve been using Fantastic Dungeon Grappling ever since it came out, and never looked back. I even use it in my pickup games because it’s extremely simple and easy to understand. There are some situations where it takes a bit adjusting to (a couple of which I’ve outlined here), but I don’t see a reason not to use it in every game ever. Much simpler, and even cooler than the default GURPS grappling rules.

The only house rule I use was borne out of a discussion with the author – stronger characters have a bonus equal to the the ST difference on their attack rolls to break free.

GURPS Magic

Much like hit points, I only use this in my “public” games and only DF(RPG) ones at that. I vastly prefer magic as powers otherwise, taking elements from both Sorcery and Psionic Powers, though lately I’ve started experimenting with RPM a bit which I’ve otherwise avoided due to it being a completely new system and its tendency to upstage all non-practitioners.

GURPS Spaceships

While I like these rules in theory, in practice they suffer from two big problems. The first one is mostly due to my style of play – I need to flip so many switches to make the ships survivable enough and for the combat to work the way I want that I don’t feel the effort is worth it. The second problem is that the combat system is a completely new set of rules which I’ve found many players have no interest in learning.

I don’t run many games involving spaceships or other vehicles, but for when I do I’ve decided to use a modular ship construction system which is a mix of the Modular Mecha article from Pyramid #3/51 and vehicles as characters. As for the combat system – when I ran a mecha game I just treated the mecha as humans and used the default combat rules. Didn’t even bother mapping some of their stats to real world values because it wasn’t relevant. How fast can the mech run? I dunno, it has Move 6, the other mech has 5, you’re not interacting with other combatants anyway. I’ll use something similar for other vehicles if the need arises.

Oh – Conditional Injury is perfect for vehicular damage, and Mailanka has some great crippling rules on his Wiki which make it irrelevant to know which exact systems a vehicle has. He also has a great Action Vehicular Combat set of rules based on chases from Action and the Spaceships combat rules, but I don’t use those because of the same reason I don’t use the Spaceships combat system. Otherwise I would since they fit my requirements perfectly.

Cover

As written, the cover rules are very plausible and realistic. Can’t shoot a guy in a body part that isn’t exposed, and an exposed body part suffers a no greater to hit penalty than if it were targeted when its owner isn’t in cover.

Except this creates some perverse gameplay incentives that are noticeable in all but the most grounded, realistic of games. Why take cover so you can’t be hit in your torso armor, which is thicker than your face or hand armor? Why incentivize losing your arm, or skull shots by making the default, easiest target (torso) unavailable? Yes, other hit locations are harder to hit, but they offer commensurate rewards so taking anything but full cover isn’t really a win-win situation as one might expect. Especially against skilled opponents.

I haven’t done anything about this yet because the tug of plausible rules based in reality and my desire for few house rules is strong… but I might just say that any kind of partial covers gives the same penalty to hit all hit locations as it does to hit torso. Like, you don’t need to fully expose your hands and face to shoot, just partially. If your attacker suffers a -2 penalty to hit your torso, but a -4 penalty to hit your arm or a -9 penalty to hit your skull, taking cover is always a net benefit for you which is what I desire from such a defensive option. This is basically a simplification and abstraction of the existing cover rules from Basic and Tactical Shooting.

Active Defense vs Area Attacks

If you’re caught in the middle of an area attack and there is no cover nearby and your step isn’t enough to get you out of it… you’re outta luck. I mostly run cinematic games where this is completely inappropriate. So I mostly just say you can always dive for cover even when there is none… you find some microcover or whatever.

There’s another problem to this – due to the +3 to dodge while diving for cover, characters will generally always succeed at this. Yes, this makes them prone which is its own can of worms. It often turns area effect attacks into non-damaging setups for subsequent attacks. This isn’t a kind of incentive I like, but similar to cover I haven’t done anything about it yet due to my desire to keep changes to a minimum.

Honorable Mention: Unavoidable Damage on Getting Your Natural Attacks Parried

I just ignore this, it doesn’t fit the kinds of games I run. Monsters cheat. Players of characters with claws and sharp teeth like it too.

Thoughts on Game Planning

There’s a new initiative over on Mook’s GURPS Discord for blogging about a common topic – we settled on game prep as the first theme. Every GM prepares their games differently though, so what works for me may not work for you. With that out of the way, here are some thoughts about my own process.

Session Prep

I would describe my game prep as “just in time” and “lean”. I don’t have much time to prepare for games, so I must make the most of it. I can’t afford for anything I’ve prepared to go to waste, and since there’s no way to anticipate player actions, I only prepare the material that is likely to be needed during the very next session. It helps that I improvise easily, so even if I didn’t prepare something I have little trouble running it.

I do prefer to prepare the adversaries if possible, because even if I can improvise their stats easily, I’m not good at coming up with special and cool abilities on the fly. This is not a problem in campaigns where there are no such abilities – modern games without supernatural elements, for example, but can really rear its ugly head in fantasy games (magic, monsters etc.) and is a major problem in supers games.

For some games, “set piece” scenes can provide a lot of fun and be very memorable. The most recognizable of these are boss fights in combat heavy games, but they can also be chases, infiltration sequences and so on. The more sandboxy and player-driven your campaign is the less such scenes you will likely have, but they can still provide a lot of value. You should devote comparatively lots of time to prep them, but don’t try to thing of every single way your players will be able to interact with it – they’ll do something else entirely. So focus on the most important elements and mechanics. Speaking of the latter, it’s good to have the most important game rules used in the scene reproduced in your notes, if they are a key element of generating fun in the scene, and you’re liable to overlook them because you don’t use them often etc. You can also use “special” mechanics to abstract scenes that would otherwise be too tedious to play out on a round by round basis, or to provide additional fun. For example, in a siege I ran I had the players run over a field while under archery fire – everyone got attacked by three arrow attacks, and if they used dodge and drop for any of those defenses, they needed more time to reach the “finishing line” and got attacked once more. They could also pay more attention to the incoming arrows, which would give them a bonus to defend, but then they would need to make a DX roll not to trip up while running over the uneven terrain and “earn” another attack.

Campaign Prep

Minimal prep doesn’t mean I don’t have a plan for the campaign. I do tend to run more sandboxy campaigns, which on one hand works well with just in time preparation because you can’t possibly prepare everything and there is no intricate plot or sequence of events the players are expected to follow, but on the other hand you need to be good at predicting what your players are going to do next. Or just talking with them between sessions and committing on what to do next together.

The very minimum I prepare for any campaign is a short paragraph about each of the most important plot points, be they locations, events or people/factions. I try hard not to have more than 5 for each of those. Then I jot down the connections between them: how they relate to each other, their conflicts or alliances, why are they interested in one another, etc. This helps make the world alive and helps you provide clues and events during the game when you don’t have something prepared specifically. You can also do this visually using drawing, diagramming or mind map software. Then as the campaign unfolds, I introduce additional such elements, or elaborate the already established ones.

A Word on Maps

These days I run games exclusively online using VTTs, specifically Foundry, both voiced and text-only. With VTTs becoming widespread the pressure has grown in gaming circles to use maps, especially for combat heavy games. This is likely less of a factor if you only play in few groups or with close friends, but for someone like me who often starts new games recruiting through public channels the pressure can be felt as players’ expectations have grown. While maps can help with visualizing both the action and the environment, making them can be quite time consuming if done as more than sketches.

There is a variety of software for mapping, but each has its flaws. For example, I can make maps very quickly in Dungeondraft, but it’s missing a feature to copy/paste and move “rooms” or sections of terrain, which limits its usefulness for me to only small wilderness maps as I tend to copy/paste and rework my maps a lot. Dungeon Painter Studio has exactly what Dungeondraft is missing, but is notably clunkier to use which is why it takes me longer to make maps with it.

Different genres of games have different mapping needs. Running a dungeon crawl? You’ll need to map out the entire dungeon, or at the very least the locations where any action may happen. On the plus side, you can ensure that the entirety of the dungeon you prepared gets used by limiting “optional” areas and requiring investigative skill rolls only for “bonus” loot (this is good advice for all games in general – only require skill rolls for things that will not block the progress of the game if failed). For modern games, you will often need much less mapping since there are rarely dungeons, and when you do need it it is often easier to come up with map features because you can just pull from everyday life.

Conclusion

Ultimately, you can’t prep every single detail of a campaign, even if you have copious free time, invest a lot of it into prep, and enjoy it. You need to know your weaknesses and your players’ preferences and invest more prep time into things you can’t improvise easily and which will be of greatest interest to your players.

Nordlond Bestiary – Baenadyrid in Action

Nordlond Bestiary from Gaming Ballistic is an upcoming Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game supplement chock full  of gorgeously illustrated Dungeon Fantasy monsters (perfectly usable within the broader GURPS scope as well). Its Kickstarter campaign runs for another week at the time of this writing, so if you want more monsters for your DF(RPG) games, don’t forget to back it!

Chatting on the Gamig Ballistic Discord server the other day I decided to test one of the monsters being published in the book – the Baenadyrid, a small bug-like demon designed to swarm and soften up the opposition in great numbers. I pitted it against a 62-point knight built with Delvers to Grow. Now this is probably the most solidly built defensive character for that point level (with a couple points spent for extra gear beyond the default starting $1000), rocking 4 DR over most hit locations, a block score of 15, a parry of 13 with a balanced dwarven axe, and a dodge score of 11 – all including the DB from a large shield, which also doesn’t penalize him due to the Shield Wall perk from the Juggernaut upgrade module. Oh, he also does a very respectable (for the point level) 2d+1 cutting damage with the axe.

Here’s a transcript of the first 1v1 fight:

Round 1
Knight acts first due to higher Basic Speed, hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 11 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 12 injury, baenadyrid is out (-1 HP)

That went quick. A single solid blow from a beefy character, even at 62 points, will knock this sucker out. Let’s give it another go:

Round 1
Knight acts first due to higher Basic Speed, hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 5 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 3 injury
Baenadyrid does not go berserk (12)
Baenadyrid spits at knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 2
Knight steps forward
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid rolls 6 on 1d and spits at knight again (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 3
Knight misses baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid rolls 5 on 1d and spits at knight again (12) and misses
Round 4
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid rolls 3 on 1d, can’t spit
Baenadyrid steps forward and tries to slash knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 5
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid rolls 1 on 1d, can’t spit
Baenadyrid steps forward and tries to slash knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 6
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid rolls 4 on 1d, can’t spit
Baenadyrid steps forward and tries to slash knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 7
Knight hits baenadyrid with axe (13)
Baenadyrid fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 10 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 10 injury; baenadyrid was already at 8 HP and is now out (-2 HP)

As we see here, in the best case the baenadyrid can just delay its inevitable demise. Its best course of action would be try and grapple the knight using an All-Out Attack (Double) and hope that the knight fails his parry roll of 13 (14 with retreat) because he sure won’t fail at blocking. If it succeeds, the knight will have -3 to DX due to having a large shield in close combat on top of -2 from being grappled, and the demon is likely to win. If it fails… well, no sense protracting the fight anyway.

But how does the knight fare when outnumbered? Let’s see.

2 baenadyrids vs 1 knight

Round 1
Knight acts first due to higher Basic Speed, hits baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 1 dodges with retreat (11)
Baenadyrid 1 spits at knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Baenadyrid 1 steps forward (wants to grapple next turn)
Baenadyrid 2 spits at knight (12) and hits
Knight fails to dodge (11)
Spittle deals 2 corrosive damage
Round 2
Knight misses baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid rolls 1 on 1d, can’t spit
Baenadyrid 1 steps in close combat and tries to cutting grapple knight (12) and hits
Knight dodges (14) while retreating
Spittle from baenadyrid 2 deals another 2 damage, for 4 total
Baenadyrid 2 steps forward to close gap made by knight’s retreat and slashes (12) and hits
Knight blocks with shield (15)
Round 3
Knight hits baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 1 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 7 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 6 injury; 1 suffers -4 shock and is at 5 HP
Baenadyrid 1 steps forward and tries to slash knight (8) and misses
Spittle from baenadyrid 2 deals another 2 damage, for 6 total – reducing knight’s DR on torso by 1
Baenadyrid 2 steps into close combat and tries to cutting grapple knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks while retreating (15)
Round 4
Knight steps forward to hit baenadyrid 1 with axe (13) and hits
Baenadyrid 1 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 11 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 12 injury; baenadyrid 1 is out
… rest of the fight skipped due to Knight being superior in 1v1

With the demons not using All-Out Attack (Double) in hopes of grappling the knight, they have a really hard time doing anything other than corroding his armor. Even with that… the knight can retreat and dodge vs one baenadyrid at a score of 14, and block and parry the second one at 15 and 13, respectively. But let’s juice this up a bit more…

3 baenadyrids vs 1 knight

Round 1
Knight acts first due to higher Basic Speed, hits baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 1 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 7 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 6 injury; baenadyrid 1 suffers -4 shock and is at 5 HP
Baenadyrid 1 steps forward and tries to slash knight (8) and misses
Baenadyrid 2 steps to knight’s side and spits at him (12) and hits
Knight blocks (13)
Baenadyrid 3 steps to knight’s side and spits at him (12) and hits
Knight dodges (9)
Round 2
Knight hits baenadyrid 1 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 1 dodges with retreat (11)
Knight steps back to have 2 baenadyrids in front-side hexes and baenadyrid 1 at reach 3 in front hex
Baenadyrid 1 steps forward and spits at knight (12) and hits
Knight blocks (15)
Baenadyrid 2 steps to knight’s side and slashes him (12)
Knights dodges with retreat (10)
Baenadyrid 3, now in knight’s front hex, steps into his front-right hex but fails to slash him (12)
Round 3
Knight sidesteps so that baenadyrid 3 is in his front hex – baenadyrid 2 is now at reach 3 and baenadyrid 1 quite farther away
Knight hits baenadyrid 3 with axe (13)
Baenadyrid 3 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 5 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 3 injury; baenadyrid 3 suffers -3 shock and is at 8 HP
Baenadyrid 1 runs around into knight’s back hex, enters close combat and hits him with cutting grapple (9)
Knight dodges by retreating directly in front of baenadyrid 3, and turns one facing left so that baenadyrid 3 is in his front-right hex and baenadyrid 1 in his left side hex
Baenadyrid 2 runs around baenadyrid 1 and the knight, entering close combat with the knight from his rear hex, but misses with the cutting grapple (9)
baenadyrid 3 steps into close combat with knight as well but misses due to shock (9)
Round 4
Knight steps into the lower-left hex; baenadyrid 1 is in his lower-right hex, baenadyrid 2 is in his upper-right hex and baenadyrid 3 is one hex up from that
He changes facing so that baenadyrid 1 is in his front-right hex and baenadyrid 2 in his front central hex
He whacks baenadyrid 1 with his axe (14)
Baenadyrid 1 fails to dodge with retreat (11)
Knight deals 5 cutting damage (2d+1) for a total of 3 injury; baenadyrid 1 is down to 5 HP and suffering -3 shock
Baenadyrid 1 runs around the knight and enters close combat from his back hex, but misses (9)
Baenadyrid 2 enters close combat with the knight from his front hex and hits him with cutting grapple (12)

The knight is now in a pickle, because he is in close combat with 2 foes from diametrically opposite sides; this means that no matter into which hex he wishes to retreat, he has to evade one of the baenadyrids!

The knight makes a contest of DX at -5 (because the foe is standing) vs the baenadyrid 1 at his back and fails, so he cannot retreat from baenadyrid 2
The knight fails to dodge (11)
Baenadyrid 2 deals 2 points of cutting damage (1d+1) which doesn’t penetrate armor but also inflicts the same amount of control! The Knight is now grappled with a -2 DX penalty
Baenadyrid 3 performs a Move and Attack and enters the knight’s hex from one of his sides but misses the grapple (9)
Round 5
The knight attempts to break free of the grapple but he suffers a total of -5 to his DX (-2 from being grappled and -3 from his shield)! He fails to so (6), and we may conclude this fight now as with those penalties and 3 little demons grappling him, the knight is generally going down.

 

Ironically, it seems that the demons defeated the knight primarily through a quirk of the rules when a demon entering close combat misses the knight. Since the demon missed, the knight couldn’t retreat, and so remains in close combat. If another demon then enters close combat with the knight from the opposite hex than the first demon, the knight can no longer retreat anywhere without evading, which he is going to fail because evading has a base -5 penalty if your foe is standing. So it seems that even 2 demons could be able to beat the knight, but only through the exploitation of this rules quirk; the first demon runs around the knight and enters close combat from the back, and misses so the knight remains in close combat. The second demon then enters close combat from the front, and if the knight fails his dodge (without retreat), he is grappled, and will generally go down because his DB 4 shield is now -4 to his DX.

Conclusion

The knight used in these fights was likely the optimal fighter-type at 62 points. Other fighty characters would have likely fared poorer, but even non-fighter ones would likely come out on top against a single baenadyrid. That is fine. This is a monster you throw at the party in a 2:1 or bigger ratio to soften them up In such a case even a 62-point party probably wouldn’t suffer significant injuries, but their armor would be corroded and maybe some healing expended to set them up against the baenadyrids’ master.

Oh, this was also the first time I’ve built a 62-point DF character – I was extremely surprised at how solid the knight was even with so few points.

 

Disclaimer: I’m a subscriber of Gaming Ballistic’s Patreon and a fan of Doug’s work in general. So I guess you could call me biased. It’s good stuff though!

 

Update

By popular request, here is the knight used in the test. It is a 62-point Delvers to Grow knight with the juggernaut upgrade module who spent 3 quirk points for extra money used to buy a balanced dwarven axe, a large shield and huskarl’s armor. 

 

Alternate Star Wars Post-Mortem

My “Alternate Star Wars” campaign concluded a while ago, and I learned a lot from it – I’d like to share some of those lessons in case you find them useful for your own games. First, a bit of context.

The campaign was largely inspired by The Old Republic MMO, but I was 50/50 on deciding between running the game in the Star Wars universe, or making a completely custom setting for it. I didn’t really want to run Star Wars, I wanted to run something loosely inspired by it, a rule of cool space fantasy game with space knights, space wizards, commandos, gunslingers, smugglers and bounty hunters. In the end, I decided to use Star Wars after all because of loads of “content” already available which I wouldn’t need to come up with on my own. But I modified the setting heavily, uprooting some foundational ideas (such as how the Force worked), completely eliminating some elements and introducing many of my own. Some of it worked, some didn’t.

By the way – Psi-Wars was a great resource in running this campaign. It has a somewhat different style than I wanted for this game and I didn’t use anything from it as is, but its building blocks and friendly discord community were very helpful in making this game work.

Choosing a Setting

If you’re deciding between using an existing setting you intend to heavily modify, and making your own from scratch, I would recommend you do the latter. While an existing setting may have a lot of “content” you can use directly, heavily modifying it can cause big problems with expectations from players who are otherwise well acquainted with it. I’ve had a player quit the campaign because of it.

Another thing to consider with existing settings is the level of familiarity among your players. It’s often hard to engage players who are mostly unfamiliar with them, especially if there are others who are hardcore fans that geek out about various details, or if there are concepts important to you as the GM but that your players don’t “get”. The whole group has to buy into a setting, otherwise I suggest running something different. For example, I’ve never run a GURPS WH40K game primarily because a couple of my players, while not actively opposed or disinterested, really don’t have any familiarity or strong draw to it, while a couple others know a whole lot. Creating your own setting helps by putting everyone on equal footing, but it does mean more work for the GM.

Choosing Adventures

When I was preparing the campaign, I came up with a dozen different types of activities I could see running in the game. Exploring ancient tombs and looting them for artifacts, engaging in clandestine backstabbery between political factions, investigating mysteries of the Force, running bounty hunting and military operations, creating an underworld empire and so on. I presented all of those to the players and after a lot of discussion we settled on looting ancient tombs as the starting point.

Half a dozen sessions in, I realized I didn’t want to run anything similar to Dungeon Fantasy, which looting tombs turned out to be. So I pivoted the campaign into something more Action-y, with heists and paramilitary operations which I enjoyed much more. Lessons learned:

  • Collaborative campaign prep is great, but can vary a lot depending on the group. Since on average my players were not very acquainted with the setting, I think I would have been better served by deciding what the campaign was going to be about on my own and just pitching it to the players on more simple yes/no/maybe with slight changes basis. You have to know your group to make collaborative prep work, and a critical mass of players needs to buy in.
  • I strongly suggest you only offer to run the kinds of games for which you feel a very, very strong inspiration and not just “yeah, that could be cool, I could run that”. Otherwise, you could end up running something you’re not actually interested in.
  • Try to have really specific ideas appropriate to your position on the sandbox <-> theme park axis. If you run adventures with storylines, come up with specific stories with clear beginnings, midpoints and conclusions before starting the campaign. If you run sandboxes, prepare enough specific elements which will enable the kind of game you want to run. I went with only rough ideas which I intended to flesh out during the campaign, and the game suffered for it because in the end those ideas didn’t really develop into anything interesting.

How Forceful Are You?

Ask 10 people what’s the heart of Star Wars, and you’ll get 11 different answers. Games in the setting can be ran in a variety of different styles, with very different focuses. But the most important decision you need to make is how you want to represent Force users. Do you want the game to be all about them, walking like gods among men? Do you want to have soldiers mowing them down with hails of blaster bolts? Something in between? Not feature them in the game at all? How you run your game, which optional rules you use, what kind of equipment you make available, literally everything depends on this decision because it’s a big genre changer. Whatever you decide, you need to consciously select options appropriate to facilitate your chosen path.

Space Fantasy Blues

I chose to run a game where highly competent “mundanes” like soldiers, bounty hunters, gunslingers, etc. can go toe to toe with lightsaber-wielding Force users in close quarters combat (engagements in my games generally happen within 20 yards), but also where those same lightsaber users wouldn’t get mowed down before getting into melee range. That was some strong The Old Republic influence. It was doubly difficult not only because that’s the hardest choice to implement regarding Force users vs mundanes, but also because having melee combatants and gunmen equally viable in a space fantasy game is the hardest element of such games. GURPS does not support it out of the box and a lot of campaign design effort is needed for it to work.

A primary element of facilitating this was reducing the effectiveness of firearms to basically TL7-8 levels. Blasters had a recoil of 2-3 and accuracy of 6-8, rates of fire were capped to 3 except for heavy weapons. Targeting computers were the equivalent of magic items. Even when rapid fire was brought to bear, Conditional Injury made it less lethal than otherwise. This put gunfighters and melee men on about equal footing in regards to offensive capability, but initially there was still the issue of lightsaber users significantly outstripping gunfighters in defense. If you can only dodge your attacker’s lightsaber attacks, them being able to parry your shots with Precognitive Parry is very lopsided. I was apprehensive of using the usual countermeasure of Pistol-Fist parries due to the lightsabers’ destructive parry, but in the end I conceded to “if Judo parries are not actually slapping the weapon aside but body positioning mumble mumble something something instead, then Pistol-Fist is the same”. This improved the situation noticeably. Thanks to everyone on Mailanka’s discord for hammering this into my head!

Curate Your Tech

Whenever running a TL9+ campaign, I recommend you carefully curate equipment available from Ultra-Tech. This is especially important for space fantasy and other kinds of games where technological gadgetry is more a stylistic detail than tools giving significant edge over those without them. My games are not about gadgets, and having tons of various equipment giving large bonuses to skill rolls causes an arms race I find tedious. So I combed through UT and explicitly noted all available gear, and capped skill bonuses from gear to a maximum of +2. This saved me a lot of effort thinking about stuff like “okay, a highly secure facility should have these dozen kinds of sensors so that it can detect infiltrators equipped with the usual array of gadgets”.

I also think I didn’t go far enough. Looting ancient, dark tombs infested by vicious monsters loses a lot of its appeal if everybody has hyperspectral contact lenses. Having cool poisonous gas attacks is not cool if everyone has sealed armor – though I solved this by using a souped up variant of Erosive from Power-Ups 18 where failing a HT roll makes your armor lose the seal until repaired.

Ultimately, I’m increasingly becoming a fan of the idea that space fantasy and related games should be regarded as TL6-8 with just a sci-fi coat of paint and some very curated elements from higher tech levels. After all, these genres are inspired by fiction created during TL6-7 so more advanced concepts can put quite a few wrenches in them. When the realism of advanced technology being drastically superior to a more primitive one is not relevant for a game, this could even be taken so far by having weapon stats of blasters no better than TL7-8 guns, including having no armor divisor or maybe just armor divisor (2), and reducing armor DR to match. A problem with Ultra-Tech where several of (2), (3), (5) and (10) often occur in the same game is it puts a large cognitive load on players when DR needs to be divided, having no divisor or at most (2) in the game would make this easier. It also has the benefit of enabling some tropes like alien savages armed with axes being a danger for the protagonists instead of their attacks harmlessly bouncing off of armor.

Make Special Actually Special

From the start of the campaign I wanted to have some special abilities like short-duration personal force fields which were intended to give an edge to non-Force users and shore up gunmen’s defensive capabilities. I just picked something based on Psi-Wars and added a mundane skill requirement (Soldier or similar). The result? Everybody had them because it required almost no investment and I didn’t control availability. This ended up being very unfun and tedious – if everyone has it, it’s not special, and it just served to needlessly drag fights out.

Later on I repeated the mistake when I introduced “special weapons” like blaster attachments that let you shoot a cone of plasma or perform a bombardment-style area effect attack at range. Even with limitations like having 1 use per combat and requiring a couple points of investment to buy off some technique penalties, everyone who used eligible weapons had them, because why not?

The goal was for such abilities to be distinct, cool stuff specific characters can do, similar to how spellcasters have distinct spells. It looks like this either requires niche protection similar to Dungeon Fantasy, or making such special abilities require a more significant point investment like for example through imbuements. I think I’ll try the latter in my next such campaign.

Use The Right Tools

I kept all of my campaign notes in a single google docs text file. All of them. Campaign logs, monster stat blocks, adventure, scene and encounter writeups, everything during the whole lifetime of the campaign which lasted about a year. It was clunky – google docs was just slightly unresponsive enough with such a large file so that navigating it felt sluggish, and finding stuff I needed took too much time if it wasn’t together with all other materials relevant for that point in time. I still haven’t decided what I will use for my next campaign, but in the worst case I will split it up into separate files, one file per no more than a dozen sessions (one story arc, etc). I’ve tried various tools like Scrivener or wikis before (I prefer Dokuwiki), but it just felt cumbersome.

Concluding a Campaign

The game ran for a bit longer than a year. A couple months before the end I realized I don’t have any specific stories to tell any more and that fun would eventually peter out, so I decided to conclude the campaign by wrapping up the current story arc properly. I rarely do this, most of my campaigns end abruptly when either I or my players lose interest. Having a proper conclusion felt much better. So either plan campaigns with clearly defined endings and pathways to those endings, or be on the lookout for when either you or your players start losing interest. Okay, do the latter even when you do the former, it can happen to anyone. And when you notice interest starting tanking, put a satisfying wrap-up into motion.

Rapid Fire in Conditional Injury

There was a discussion on the GURPS Discord between Douglas Cole, fellow discordite Dingo and myself today about simplified handling of rapid fire attacks with Conditional Injury. By using those rules as published, each penetrating hit from a rapid fire attack would need to roll for wound accumulation separately, if it weren’t more severe than the character’s current wound in the first place. This results in many accumulation rolls slowing down play so we were looking at how to speed it up. Eventually, we settled on abstracting all hits from an individual rapid fire attack into a single injury and then rolling for accumulation only once using the rules already in place. Here’s how it works.

Roll damage for all hits from a rapid fire attack normally. Note the number of hits penetrating DR, and use the highest damage one to determine initial severity. If only one penetrated, we’re done. Otherwise, look up the number of penetrating hits in the Linear Measurement column of the Size and Speed/Range table, and increase severity by a number of levels equal to the corresponding value in the Size column, plus one.

This increases wound severity of rapid fire attacks by one level for two penetrating hits, two levels for three hits, three levels for five hits and so on. Once the final severity is determined like this, it is applied as a single new wound, causing at most one roll to accumulate.

This both simplifies rapid fire attacks in a very elegant way, and makes them more dangerous on average when compared to vanilla CI.


If less lethality is desired, I’d use an alternative solution which modifies the accumulation rules instead:

Roll damage for all hits from a rapid fire attack normally. If the character is not yet injured, set their wound severity to the level indicated by the highest damaging attack that penetrates DR, and consider only the remaining ones for accumulation. If the character is already injured, look at all the penetrating hits. If the highest damaging one would indicate a more severe wound than the character’s current one, set severity to that level and consider the remaining penetrating hits for accumulation. Otherwise, consider all penetrating hits for accumulation.

Now check for accumulation (if any penetrating hits remain). Out of all the hits considered for accumulation, figure out the base penalty to the accumulation roll due to wound severity based on the highest damaging one. Make an accumulation roll with that penalty, plus a penalty equal to the number of hits considered for accumulation. If you fail, increase wound severity by one level as normal.

This variant results in less severe wounds from rapid fire attacks than the first one, which may be preferred in games where rapid fire shouldn’t be significantly more dangerous than a hit with a vibroaxe, for example.

On the flipside, it’s not nearly as elegant which is why we originally discarded it in our discussion. It modifies wound accumulation rules instead of “core” CI rules. This isn’t ideal because the accumulation rules are already the least solid part of CI and something that could be thrown out entirely without loss if a better solution could be found.

New Advantages in Delvers to Grow

Gaming Ballistic’s Delvers to Grow by Kevin Smith doesn’t just bring lightning fast Dungeon Fantasy character generation for GURPS and DFRPG, it also introduces a bunch of advantages and perks you may want even if not using the character module system presented within. Some are imports from GURPS not previously available in DFRPG, some are new takes on familiar advantages, while a couple are brand new. All are useful!

But to me, it is even more important how some show that it’s perfectly fine to do some things which are often considered non-kosher by the fanbase, proving that the system is robust and can be further streamlined without breaking anything.

Expanded Bardic Talent

Not content with your bard only able to learn spells from the Communication and Empathy, Knowledge, Mind Control and Sound colleges? Take this instead of regular Bardic Talent and add one of Animal, Healing, Illusion, or Protection and Warning to the list!

Fevered Defense, Mighty Blow, Two-Weapon Training, Walking Armory

The former two perks introduce their namesake extra effort combat options to DFRPG, while the latter two are ports from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 3: The Next Level and Gun Fu, respectively. Naturally, Walking Armory is adapted for the Dungeon Fantasy genre.

Herbaceous Mastery

This allows druids to brew healing potions and natural preparations using the Dungeon Brewmasters rules from Pyramid #3/82, briefly reprinted here and adapted for use in DFRPG. Essentially, it is a maximally limited Quick  Gadgeteer allowing druids to serve as solid party healers.

Heroic Spellslinger and Weapon Master (Missile Spells)

One of the long-standing complaints against GURPS Magic is missile spells taking forever to use in combat. With these two, mages are able to sling fireballs as quick as scouts shoot arrows. While it’s right and proper that they cost as much as the two equivalents for archers, there’s still a bunch of regular spells that can have at least the same effect on a battlefield in roughly the same time, and those don’t require you to invest 20-45 points in order to be able to do so. Still, this is as much as missile spells can be fixed without reworking the core of the magic system.

Rapid Switch

A simplified combination of the Reverse Grip and Quick-Sheathe techniques from GURPS Martial Arts in perk form, this lets you switch between different weapons as a free action, stowing away the old weapon and drawing the new one. It even allows you to switch between weapons not allowing for Fast-Draw as a Ready maneuver.

Master at Arms

Dislike the need to specialize in a single weapon to be an effective combatant? Sad that your players sell all the nice magic weapons you place as loot simply because they lack appropriate skills to use them? Unsure if weapon skill talents are fine? This talent is for you! It does have a solid prerequisite, but it adds +1 per level to all skills allowing attacks and active defenses, at a very reasonable price. Personally, I really hope this will encourage more GMs to allow weapon skill talents, and use more talents in their games in general.

Scroll Scribbling

This leveled perk is essentially a severely limited version of Gizmo allowing you to to prepare temporary scrolls. It’s too slow to use in combat and the scrolls expire rather soon, but anyone can use them!

Soul Warding

Don’t like how Holiness is only useful for some holy abilities? This import from GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers for Holy Warriors is a great step in making Holiness more useful. It gives DR against attacks from demons, and you could easily build an equivalent for other thematically appropriate foes.

Vanishing Act

A pet peeve of mine was that Backstabbing could only be used at the start of combat in DF and DFRPG, while GURPS Action, Monster Hunters and After the End have expanded it to be usable multiple times during combat itself. This advantage finally backports this to DFRPG and reduces the penalties for doing so.

Wrestling Master

This is a port from Pyramid #3/111, including an adaptation for Fantastic Dungeon Grappling. I’m very glad Wrestlers were included in Delvers to Grow and otherwise feature prominently in Gaming Ballistic’s offerings. 

New DFRPG Kickstarter: Delvers to Grow

Gaming Ballistic has launched a new Kickstarter project. Delvers to Grow by Kevin Smyth is a DFRPG supplement scratching two common itches: character creation taking too long even with the distilled ruleset and 250-point characters having too many moving parts for players inexperienced with the genre. Both have one thing in common: too many choices, and DtG reduces this down to just half a dozen major ones per character while still producing effective, flavorful characters at 62, 125 and 187 points fully compatible with the DFRPG profession templates.

Delvers_Mockup_SMALL
Art by Ksenia Kozhevnikova.

I had the privilege of running a bunch of playtests at the 125-point level, and I can confidently say that DtG delivers what it set out to do. It was a meatgrinder scenario where characters would die often and each player would create several different characters during a 4-hour session. Some players reported character generation time (including gear and spells) as low as 10 minutes, even complaining that half of that was wrangling with GCS or GCA. Now for first-timers this will likely be higher, 30 minutes seems to be an average. Even for those with no prior DFRPG experience whatsoever or those who get overwhelmed with too many options, it shouldn’t take longer than an hour and they’ll have a fully fledged character ready to throw some dice at the table.

DtG achieves this by having each character built from a base template (one for each of three categories of characters  – “strong”, “fast” and “smart” – at each of the three point levels), up to four 25- or 50-point profession and “upgrade” modules, and two -25-point disadvantage modules. Finally, each character chooses a couple gear packages and in case of casters, one of several spell lists available for each profession. Unlike the 250-point profession templates, you get no more than a couple choices within each of the base templates and modules, and many of the modules offer no such smaller choices at all. If this seems too constraining – it really is not, because the way you can mix and match the modules results in a wide variety of builds even within a single profession. You can always loosen it up if more customization is desired – DtG is simply a tool to speed up character creation, not a prescriptive rulebook to follow to the letter or else.

Aside from being a great DFRPG resource, DtG left an important impression with me. While the endless options and fine granularity of GURPS character generation are one of the main reasons why it’s my favorite game, over the last year or two I grew to like “profession” templates very much as a tool for illustrating character archetypes, effective builds and even setting flavor for any given game. I like the chunkier, simpler evolution presented in DtG even more and will seriously consider it for all my GURPS material going forward. And if anyone asks me what should be done to get more new players into the GURPS ecosystem, my first answer will be “this”. So much this.

New DF Profession: Monster Slayer

There was a discussion the other day on the GURPS discord on how to build a “monster slayer” in Dungeon Fantasy. My first thought (and I wasn’t alone in this) was “all delvers are monster slayers, aren’t they?”, but it was clear that the original question was about a delver specialized in hunting and exterminating dangerous beasts as most recently popularized by The Witcher. Two lines of advice were presented: just pick any of the more combative professions and give the character some appropriate skills like Naturalist, Physiology, Tracking and Traps, while the other was to look at Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers and create a new profession based on the three presented there. This piqued my interest so I gave it a go.

The three slayers from DF 20 are all fighter-types specialized for killing a rather narrow class of foes. They are similar to the holy warrior in that they don’t have access to Weapon Master, super-high weapon skills or huge strength, but compensate with specialized knowledge and exotic abilities potent against their chosen foe. To differentiate them from (and give an edge over) other professions that are traditionally also strong adversaries of these kinds of creatures, these abilities, while supernatural, aren’t magical or holy and otherwise don’t possess any kind of power modifier which would disable them in specific circumstances. This is attributed to the “power of their souls” gained through exotic means, harrowing experiences etc.

While I took a lot of the same cues, I decided against my Monster Slayer having similar supernatural abilities. His intended targets are broader in scope and have little in common aside from the general theme of “exotic monster” and being highly lethal, so it would be hard to find a proper theme for such special abilities other than the more generic magical ones. Since I wasn’t interested in developing a witcher analogue for DF, I decided on a more mundane approach.


The Monster Slayer

You are a delver specialized in exterminating dangerous creatures preying on civilized folk. Your quarry is for the most part quite “natural”, if rather exotic – you leave supernatural foes like demons, constructs and elementals to others. If the countryside is terrorized by an owlbear or a hydra prevents safe travel through the forest, you are there to save the day.

Specialized knowledge and gear, careful preparation, cunning and grit are the tools of your trade. You uncover, track down and eliminate some of the most lethal creatures out there. While you’re quite a capable warrior on your own, you prefer to stack fights in your favor using traps, surprise attacks and dirty tricks, especially since your battles occur on your quarry’s territory.

Monster Slayer Advantages

Foresight [5 or 10/level]

See Pyramid #3/53 p. 32-33. Monster slayers make thorough preparations in pursuit of their prey. Foresight facilitates this without requiring the same of the players. Some useful types of actions for the 5-point version include ambushes, getaways, research and survival (as described in Pyramid), or setting traps. A suggested limit for starting slayers is up to 30 points in any combination of Foresight, including Gizmos (see below).

Gizmos [5/level]

See B57 and Dungeon Fantasy 4: Sages p. 4. All items from the Monster Slayer Gear section below are considered appropriate to the Monster Slayer profession.

Heroic Reserves [3/level]

See Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers p. 5.

Higher Purpose (Slay Monsters) [5/level]

You get +1 per level on all attack, damage, defense and resistance rolls against all monsters belonging to the following classes: dire and giant animals (but not ordinary ones), hybrids, plants. You also get this bonus against members of the mundane class which are of SM +2 or larger, or display traditionally monstrous characteristics. Creatures like medusas, siege beasts, dragons, trolls, werewolves and “generic mouth-and-tentacles creatures” are all fair game, but orcs, dinomen and others which could be considered “people” (even when stretching that term to its limit) living in large, organized societies never are. Consult your GM.

You are not compelled to pursue every single qualifying creature, only those that prey on civilized folk (so friendly giants are exempt, for example). But if you ever avoid confrontation with such a creature, or back off from pursuing one you’ve engaged, your bonus turns into a penalty against all qualifying creatures until you slay either the original offender or another creature of the same or greater threat. Merely running away from a fight does not trigger this – strategic withdrawal is part of the job but until you slay your foe you must behave as if under an Obsession to slay it. If you resist the Obsession, the penalties kick in.

Slayer Training

See Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 13. Monster slayers make good use of Slayer Swing at Neck [4/skill], Slayer Swing at Skull [5/skill] and Slayer Thrust to Vitals [3/skill].

Stalker [5/level]

See GURPS Power-Ups 3: Talents p. 15.

Utilitarian Naturalist [5/level]

You have a knack for understanding how living things work and exploiting their biology. You get +1 per level to the Cooking, Naturalist, Pharmacy (Herbal), Physiology, Poisons and Surgery skills. You also get +1 per level on Survival rolls to remove external parts from dead critters and field dress game.

Very Rapid Healing [15]

Use the version from DFRPG which lets you recover more HP every time you heal.

Monster Slayer Perks

Monster Slayers may buy as many of these perks as they will, and they don’t count against other perk limits.

Bane Brewer

See Pyramid #3/50 p. 33. You may only choose from the Animal, Hybrid, Mundane and Plant specialties.

Dirty Fighting

See GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 11. Helps start fights by hitting monsters in sensitive hit locations from long range.

Finishing Move

See GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 11. Synergizes well with Slayer Training.

Focused Fury

See GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 18. Synergizes well with Finishing Move.

Reach Mastery

See GURPS Dungeon Fantasy 11: Power-Ups p. 11. Invaluable to slayers opting for Polearm or Two-Handed Axe/Mace.

Scent Masking

You minimize your bodily odor by maintaining a careful diet, and with adequate preparation you may fool the discerning sense of smell many monsters possess. After taking half an hour to smear yourself and your gear with local plants, soil and so on, you get +1 per level to use Stealth against creatures with Discriminatory Smell, and they get -1 per level to track you. You may take up to 5 levels of this perk.

Sure-Footed

See GURPS Power-Ups 2: Perks p. 8 or GURPS Dungeon Fantasy Denizens: Barbarians p. 18-19. Monster lairs often feature rough terrain, and this puts slayers on equal footing.

Planned Assassination

See Pyramid #3/50 p. 34. Your target must be a valid subject of Higher Purpose (Slay Monsters).

Practical Poisoner

See Pyramid #3/50 p. 34. Monsters tend to have high HT and HP, so slayers like to apply multiple doses of poison at once.

Monster Slayer Skills

You may learn Blind Fighting and Body Control without their usual prerequisites. Learned this way, Blind Fighting may only be used against living creatures, and Body Control only for affecting involuntary bodily functions or flushing poison.

Monster Slayer

Attributes: ST 13 [30]; DX 13 [60]; IQ 12 [40]; HT 12 [20].

Secondary Characteristics: Damage 1d/2d-1; BL 34 lbs.; HP 13 [0]; Will 12 [0]; Per 14 [10]; FP 12 [0]; Basic Speed 6.25 [0]; Basic Move 6 [0].

Advantages: Combat Reflexes [15]; Higher Purpose (Slay Monsters) [5]; Stalker 1 [5]; Utilitarian Naturalist 2 [10]; and either Danger Sense or Peripheral Vision, both [15], or 15 points chosen from any combination of Foresight and Gizmos. A further 40 points chosen from among ST +1 to +4 [10/level], DX +1 or +2 [20/level], IQ +1 or +2 [20/level], HT +1 to +4 [10/level], Per +1 to +6 [5/level], FP +1 to +4 [3/level], HP +1 to +4 [2/level], Basic Move +1 or +2 [5/level], Basic Speed +0.75 [15] or +1.75 [35], Acute Senses (any) [2/level], Damage Resistance (Tough Skin, -40%) 1-2 [3/level], Danger Sense [15], Enhanced Block 1 [5], Enhanced Dodge 1 [15], Enhanced Parry 1 (One Melee Weapon skill) [5], Extra Attack 1 [25], Fearlessness [2/level] or Unfazeable [15], Fit [5] or Very Fit [15], Foresight [5 or 10/level], Gizmos 1-3 [5/level], Hard to Kill [2/level], Hard to Subdue [2/level], Heroic Reserves 1-13 [3/level], High Pain Threshold [10], Higher Purpose 2-3 (Slay Monsters) [5/level], Luck [15] or Extraordinary Luck [30], Night Vision 1-9 [1/level], Peripheral Vision [15], Rapid Healing [5] or Very Rapid Healing [15], Recovery [10], Resistant to Disease (+3) or (+8) [3 or 5], Resistant to Poison (+3) or (+8) [5 or 7], Signature Gear [varies], Slayer Training [3-5/skill], Stalker 2-4 [5/level], Striking ST 1 or 2 [5/level], Striking ST 1 or 2 (Only on surprise attack, -60%) [2/level], Utilitarian Naturalist 3-4 [5/level], Weapon Bond [1], or more monster slayer perks.

Disadvantages: -50 points chosen from Bad Temper [-10*], Bloodlust [-10*], Callous [-5], Code of Honor (Soldier’s) [-10], Compulsive Vowing [-5], Greed [-15*], Honesty [-10*], Loner [-5*], No Sense of Humor [-10], Obsession (Monster-Hunting) [-10*], One Eye [-15], Overconfidence [-5*], Selfless [-5*], Sense of Duty (Adventuring Companions) [-5], Stubbornness [-5], Vow (Own no more than a horse can carry) [-10], or Wounded [-5].

Primary Skills: Naturalist, Physiology (Animals), Physiology (Hybrids), all (H) IQ+1 [2]-13‡; Physiology (Plants) (H) IQ+0 [1]-12‡. One of Crossbow or Thrown Weapon (Axe/Mace or Spear), both (E) DX+3 [4]-15; or Bow or Throwing, both (A) DX+2 [4]-14. One of these two melee skills packages:

  1. One of Polearm, Spear, Two-Handed Axe/Mace, or Two-Handed Sword, all (A) DX+4 [16]-17.
  2. One of Axe/Mace, Broadsword, or Spear, all (A) DX+3 [12]-16; – and Shield (E) DX+2 [4]-15.

Secondary Skills: One of Knife (E) DX+2 [4]-15; or Wrestling (A) DX+1 [4]-14. Navigation (Land) (A) IQ+0 [1]-12§; Observation (A) Per+0 [4]-14; Poisons (H) IQ+0 [1]-12‡; Stealth (A) DX+1 [2]-14§; Survival (Any) (A) Per-1 [1]-13; Tactics (H) IQ-2 [1]-10; Tracking (A) Per+0 [1]-14§; Traps (A) IQ+0 [2]-12.

Background Skills: Spend 8 points among Area Knowledge (Any), Connoisseur (Weapons), Current Affairs, First Aid, or Gesture, all (E) IQ+0 [1]-12; Armoury (Any), Interrogation, Merchant, or Research, all (A) IQ-1 [1]-11; Blind Fighting (VH) Per-3 [1]-11; Boating, Boxing, Climbing, Riding (Horse), or Throwing, all (A) DX-1 [1]-12; Body Control (VH) HT-3 [1]-9; Brawling, Forced Entry, or Knot-Tying, all (E) DX+0 [1]-13; Fast-Draw (Any) (E) DX+1 [1]-14#; Camouflage (E) IQ+1 [1]-13§; Carousing or Swimming, both (E) HT+0 [1]-12; Hiking (A) HT+0 [1]-12§; Intimidation (A) Will-1 [1]-11; Mimicry (Animal Sounds) (H) IQ-2 [1]-10; Net (H) DX-2 [1]-11; Scrounging (E) Per+0 [1]-14; Search (A) Per-1 [1]-13; Surgery (VH) IQ-1 [1]-11‡; or to improve primary or secondary skills.

* Multiplied for self-control number, see B120.
† On hearing of or encountering a monster as defined per Higher Purpose, make a self-control roll. Failure means you have to track it down and slay it. Also roll whenever an intelligent monster communicates with you. Failure means you treat everything it says as lies.
‡ Includes +2 from Utilitarian Naturalist
§ Includes +1 from Stalker.
# Includes +1 from Combat Reflexes.

Customization Notes

Being caught off guard by their quarry means death for a monster slayer, which is reflected in the required choice of advantages. Beyond that, an ideal slayer should be strong, tough, cunning, observant, well prepared and skilled at arms – it’s hard to be all of that at once, so individual slayers specialize. Increased ST and DX, Enhanced Defenses, Extra Attack, Finishing Move, High Pain Threshold, Slayer Training, Striking ST and Weapon Bond help in direct combat. Increased Perception, Acute Senses, Danger Sense, Night Vision, Stalker, Peripheral Vision, Camouflage, Scent Masking, Stealth and Observation help the slayer get the drop on the monsters and not the other way around. Bane Brewer, Foresight, Gizmos, Naturalist, Observation, Physiology, Planned Assassination, Poisons, Practical Poisoner, Research and Traps stack the deck in the slayer’s favor. Increased HT, Hard to Kill and Subdue, Luck, Rapid or Very Rapid Healing, Recovery, Resistant and Tough Skin help the slayer survive.

Slayers prefer cutting and impaling weapons since their targets are generally fleshy and chopping off important bits or striking at vital points is the quickest way to victory. Many prefer to have both in a single weapon so Broadsword, Polearm (for use with dueling varieties) and Two-Handed Sword are the most popular weapon skills, but some choose Axe/Mace, Spear or Two-Handed Axe/Mace instead. Crushing weapons are specialty tools most often used by those already favoring axes or polearms. Most slayers use two-handed weapons because they hit the hardest and are more convenient to use along other tools, but some prefer a shield and a one-handed weapon because monsters hit hard as well. All slayers will want to start an engagement with a ranged weapon; Crossbow or Thrown Weapon (laced with poison!) if they prefer a single hard hit and then to wade into melee, or Bow if they like to keep their distance as long as possible. Knife or Wrestling are indispensable since many monsters like to grapple.

Slayers come from many different backgrounds. Some are consummate professionals and protectors of innocents with Code of Honor, Honesty or Selfless, while others are self-centered brutes with Bloodlust, Callous or Greed. Many are Loners, or scarred by their experiences with No Sense of Humor, One Eye, or Wounded.

The selection of supporting skills is wide. Area Knowledge, Boating, Climbing, Survival and Swimming help the slayer traverse the wilderness to their quarry. Carousing and Current Affairs let them learn of monsters plaguing the locals. Interrogation lets slayers question their more intelligent victims if they have friends or relatives nearby, while Forced Entry helps break into their lairs. Merchant is crucial for slayers who want to get paid for their work, while Surgery and Survival lets them extract valuable bits from their prey. Knot Tying and Net help capture monsters alive.

Slayers often trade the 5 quirk points for cash for weapons and armor, but are also likely to spend them on more Foresight, Gizmos, Higher Purpose, Slayer Training, Stalker, Tough Skin, Utilitarian Naturalist, perks, or for improving skills.

Monster Slayer Power-Ups

Monster Slayers can already choose a wide repertoire of abilities at start, and they mostly become better by becoming more versatile. They can also simply get more of certain traits.

  • Any combination of Foresight and Gizmos up to 60 points [5 or 10/level].
  • Enhanced Block up to 2 [5/level].
  • Enhanced Dodge up to 2 [15/level].
  • Enhanced Parry (One Melee Weapon skill) up to 2 [5/level].
  • Heroic Reserves up to 20 [3/level].
  • Immune to Poison [15].
  • Monster Slayer perks.
  • Ridiculous Luck [60].
  • Stalker up to 6 [5/level].
  • Striking ST 1-10 (Only on surprise attack, -60%) [2/level].
  • Utilitarian Naturalist up to 6 [5/level].

Monster Slayer Gear

Monster slayers use a variety of special gear to stack the deck in their favor. Here is a list compiled from various GURPS Dungeon Fantasy supplements.

  • Acid (Adventurers, p. 28). For use against monsters whose Regeneration, Regrowth etc is foiled by acid.
  • Alchemist’s fire (Adventurers, p. 28). Like acid, but against monsters susceptible to fire.
  • Anti-Toxin (Adventurers p. 28). Can be produced with Gizmos when you can afford several minutes of delay in neutralizing the venom.
  • Bane (Treasure Tables p. 37). Toxin tailored to a specific species. Packs a decent punch and slayers can produce it with Gizmos.
  • Bladeblack (Adventurers p. 28). For taking out the toughest of monsters.
  • Blinding Gas (Ninja p. 15). Even though many monsters have Discriminatory Smell, a monster that can only smell you is better than one that can both see and smell you.
  • Caltrops (Adventurers p. 25). Good for hit and run tactics when you didn’t prepare a trap.
  • Fire Resistance Potion (Adventurers p. 29). Recommended against fire-breathing monsters.
  • Manuals (Sages, p. 13). Fine or very fine versions are useful for various knowledge skills in the slayer’s repertoire.
  • Mind Fog (Ninja p. 15). A clumsy monster is a greater threat than a blind or paralyzed one, but mind fog has the advantage of affecting its targets even on a successful HT roll.
  • Mirrored shields (Adventurers p.27). For use against monsters with gaze attacks.
  • Monster Drool (Adventurers p. 28). Weak poison which makes a poor choice for Gizmos, but potent and still cheap when applied in quadruple doses.
  • Monster shackles. Massive ones used by slayers who keep their prey alive. DR 8, HP 20. $1600, 16 lbs. Large enough for up to SM+1 monsters; double the cost and weight per SM above that, and multiply HP by x1.25.
  • Nageteppo (Adventurers, p. 25). Budget alternative to blinding gas. Can be gizmoed to boot.
  • Necromantic Preservative (Treasure Tables p. 24). Keeps dead monster bits fresh.
  • Paralytic Slime (Ninja p. 15). For when you need the monster alive or do not wish to invest in bladeblack.
  • Salamander Amulet (Adventurers p. 30). Crucial for slayers specializing in fire-breathing monsters.
  • Serpent’s Amulet (Adventurers p. 30). Used by slayers who didn’t invest in Immune to Poison and tired of guzzling antidotes.
  • Silver weapons (Adventurers p.27). For use against monsters with Vulnerability to silver.
  • Slippery Oil (Treasure Tables p. 23). Helps to escape the grasp of grabby monsters.
  • Spiked armor (Adventurers, p. 27). Makes grabby monsters regret grabbing you.
  • Thieves’ Oil (Adventurers p. 29). A more expensive version of slippery oil with no downsides.
  • Traps (Adventurers p. 26). An immobilized, grappled monster is much easier to deal with. Two variants are available to slayers in addition to ones from Adventurers. Large monster trap: 2d+1 cr, ST 24; $720, 25 lbs. Humongous monster trap: 4d+1 cr, ST 40. $2000, 70 lbs. Fine versions are available as well for double the cost: increase the damage and ST of the mini and man trap by 1, monster and large monster trap by 2, and humongous monster trap by 4.
  • Universal Antidote (Adventurers p. 29). For the nastiest of poisons when you don’t have the luxury to wait for an anti-toxin to take effect.
  • Wolfsbane (Adventurers p. 28). Slayers can use this to keep lycanthropes at bay and pepper them with ranged attacks.

Heroic Power Items

See Dungeon Fantasy 20: Slayers p. 21. These function as power items whose energy can be spent like Heroic Reserves.

Reflections on Conditional Injury Tweaks

In my previous post I’ve suggested some tweaks to Conditional Injury and now that I’ve had some time trying them out, I thought I’d share my impressions.

More Finely Grained Severity Thresholds

I’m using the variant where the default GURPS injury multipliers due to damage type and hit location are applied before looking up severity. My players were happy that there is now more differentiation between their characters, and were motivated to increase their HP scores more than previously.

However, after a while we forgot about this because we’re using an injury calculator, same as we did for the default Conditional Injury rules, so for us the benefit isn’t very noticeable. And statistically, it doesn’t really matter because the way Conditional Injury handles it by default produces the same results on average as this approach. So I can only recommend this if your group likes the additional detail and is really bothered by the original system being that coarse grained, or if they find the default GURPS injury multipliers noticeably easier to use than the Conditional Injury ones.

Injury Accumulation

The decision to use HT/2+3 instead of straight HT has proven to be a great one, as the frequency of accumulation actually happening now feels just right. On the other hand, losing FP if you don’t pass the accumulation roll by 5 or more is very easy to forget and experience has shown that it is a nice detail, but not crucial. I’ll definitively try to remember it more often because I like making FP matter.

A side benefit of this is that cyclic damage works better (assuming you just let it inflict normal CI wounds, without tracking it separately). It’s still not great, but it’s much better than with straight HT rolls for accumulation and it’s quite workable, especially if you pay attention to losing FP unless you pass by 5 or more.

Pain

Since my last post I’ve started using the pain rules from Conditional Injury instead of shock, and I can’t see myself going back ever again. I like them that much! They add a very nice effect of injuries lesser than reeling mattering more than just in that instance when you take them, incentivising the players to take care of them instead of just ignoring severity -2 and lesser ones.

But with all of the usual HT rolls made due to injuries and the extra roll for accumulation, adding another roll on top on that can be a bit too much. Which is why I do the following:

  1. roll for accumulation if already injured
  2. make a death roll if warranted
  3. make a roll to stay conscious if warranted
  4. make a single roll for knockdown/stunning and to determine the effects of pain

The roll to avoid knockdown/stunning gets +3 from High Pain Threshold which also makes sense for the roll to reduce the pain level, so they might as well be unified. The only bump in the road here are injuries to vitals and skull which apply a penalty to knockdown/stunning since that penalty should not affect the pain roll, but it’s easy enough to take that penalty into account for the knockdown/stunning part but not for the pain part. As a bennie to my players, if a knockdown/stunning roll isn’t indicated, I consider the pain roll to have been automatically successful as well. This effectively adds just one extra roll when compared to vanilla GURPS instead of two and I’ve found it a significant improvement in my games.

Conditional Injury Impressions and Tweaks

I’ve been using the Conditional Injury rules by Douglas Cole published in Pyramid #3/120 for the better part of the year now and I’m very happy how they turned out in play. Yet they are a rough diamond, and likely need some tweaks to reach their full potential. Here are some ideas inspired by my experiences.

Logarithmic Injury

A very nice property of Conditional Injury is the way robustness, wound potential and injury severity are set up, it’s a great step towards logarithmic GURPS. It works especially well in situations where there is a scale difference between combatants (for example, spaceships), you can really feel that SSRT love. The only wrinkle is the linear nature of DR subtraction in an otherwise logarithmic playing field. Without DR, we could move our rules even more in the logarithmic direction by further abstracting damage so that each attack is rated in its average wound potential, with a chance of doing enough damage to result in a potential one level higher or lower.

If we take a look at the roll probabilities of any given damage roll and how robustness thresholds and wound potentials interact, we can notice that this is what generally happens anyway. There’s about a 15-25% chance for the attack to result in a wound potential of one lever higher than its average, and the same chance for one level lower. We could convert the damage dice of an attack directly into wound potential, and handle the  chance of +/-1 level by for example just rolling 3d; a result of 7-8 or lower would indicate a wound potential one level lower, while 13-14 or higher would indicate one level higher.

But with DR, we have to make additional considerations. Looking up DR on the wound potential table and reducing the wound potential of an incoming attack by that level overstates the impact of DR (significantly in some cases, less so in others). An alternative would be to use armor as dice, another idea proposed by Douglas in Pyramid. DR would be converted to dice, those would be directly subtracted from damage dice, and if any dice remain, their average wound potential could be looked up on the table and the roll for the final wound potential made as above (or alternatively, just roll the remaining dice as damage and look up the resulting wound potential on table). A downside of this approach, if it may be called that, is that under default GURPS rules an attack can still cause injury as long as it does not strike DR of about 1.7 times its average damage. This is a departure which could be fine for some situations (firearms come to mind) but maybe not so fine for others.

… or maybe not

On the flipside, the “full” logarithmic behavior could be too coarse for application in the “couple guys swinging swords at each other” space. In a lot of games, players eke out as much ST as they can since every level increases swing damage by one, seek out fine and enchanted weapons to get that extra +1, etc. Unfortunately, anything less than +1 damage/die (which would roughly correspond to a +1 wound potential shift) is effectively ignored by Conditional Injury. To add insult to that injury, HP don’t matter outside of specific breakpoints as well. Taken together, this can be very unsatisfactory coming from default GURPS.

So if we don’t want to go on a quest for pure logarithmic GURPS, we can go in the other direction and make the mechanics more finely grained. Instead of using robustness thresholds and wound potential, we can determine injury severity based on the ratio of damage inflicted and HP of the target:

Damage inflicted in % of HPInjury Severity
10% or less-7 or less
more than 10%-6
more than 15%-5
more than 20%-4
more than 30%-3
more than 50%-2
more than 70%-1
more than 100%0
more than 150%1
more than 200%2
more than 300%3
more than 500%4
more than 700%5
more than 1000%6 or more

The benefit of this approach is that every level of HP matters, and thus every point of damage you can squeeze out has a better chance of making a difference. Injury multipliers due to damage type and hit location can either still be handled how CI proposes, or be reverted to the default GURPS behavior in which case injury severity would be looked up after any injury multipliers have been applied to damage penetrating DR.

For simplicity, every character could have a table with these breakpoints on their sheet.

Bits and Pieces

Injury Accumulation

In my experience, injuries almost never accumulate due to significant bonuses to HT in most cases. At the minimum, the bonus attained from sub-0 severity injuries should be removed. Alternatively, Douglas also has a  “save vs death” idea where he proposes using HT/2+3 instead of straight HT for some rolls, which could fit this purpose nicely.

We had a chat on this topic on the GURPS Discord, and came up with a solution I’ll try out in my campaign:

  • Instead of rolling straight HT – injury severity for wound accumulation, make a roll against HT/2+3 – injury severity (so severity -1 and lower wounds give a bonus); on a failure, your wound severity increases by 1. On success, it doesn’t, but you lose 1 FP due to blood loss, system shock etc. On a success by 5 or more, you suffer no ill effects.

This uses the same injury severity modifiers as the published version, but while they make passing the roll way too easy in that case, their interaction with the above “save vs death” roll seems much more appropriate.

Oh, I don’t really think injury accumulation should be an optional rule. I’ve already had players frustrated by not being able to cause useful injury to tough opponents due to the generousness of the accumulation rules as published, and not using them at all would only exacerbate the problem.

Healing

I’m using time-based recovery with the exception that a successful application of First Aid still reduces injury severity by a full level. In addition, I do not limit the maximum severity which can be treated with it. I have used pure time-based recovery at the start of the campaign, but that made First Aid rather useless in a cinematic game with a lot of injuries. For context, magical healing using the aforementioned time-based recovery variant is available as well albeit not as abundant as in for example Dungeon Fantasy, and there are expensive superscience medkits that reduce severity by a level (cumulative with First Aid, but only applicable once per injury).

Stuff I’m Not Using

The Pain rules seem nice but I haven’t used them yet because I didn’t want to overcomplicate the introduction of a new, already complex enough system. I don’t use the Bleeding rules because they add a post-combat effect that seems more trouble than it’s worth for my campaign, and I don’t have a need for Variable Injury. I would use Deadly Fatigue, but haven’t had a chance yet.

Variable Injury could, by the way, be a useful component of a system with low damage variance. But otherwise I think it makes the system too survivable, and it’s already more survivable than default GURPS.